Monday, July 5, 2010

Back Home

We have been home for a week. Everyone asks me, how is the transition going? Frankly, not that great. It has been cold and dark and I find myself curling up in my bed until the sun starts to shine, which has been about 5 pm when at all. I am never sure what I am supposed to be doing in the morning even though there is endless yard work and cleaning to attend to.

Great to see my friends as we huddle together wrapped in woolen shawls and drink summer cocktails despite the weather. I have trouble keeping up with the conversation because I feel out of the loop. Everybody’s children are much bigger. Some of them I don’t even recognize.

My neighbor across the street has a new baby. Another neighbor was diagnosed with ALS while we were away. My neighbor down the streets’ mom just found out she has stage 4 cancer.

I stood in line for an hour waiting for my new iphone.

We went to the fireworks last night. It stopped raining just before the show started. I wore wool socks, a cashmere sweater and a wool poncho. The display was almost canceled this year due to lack of funding. It was beautiful.

I ran all the way up Capitol Hill with Kerry this morning.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cape Cod

We are on the beach on Cape Cod. I feel like I am in an Edward Hopper beach painting. Very light colored, very quiet, very considerate, cool.

This was real, but it felt like a dream. The first night here, I encouraged the boys to go down to the beach at midnight because I wanted them to do something normal in real life. But by 1:00 they weren’t back and I was worried that they were lost. I went out on the road to find them, but I didn’t know where the beach was and I didn’t have a flash light. But I knew they did. I walked right, but I just found a lit up house where someone was having a party. I was pretty sure they weren’t there. I went the other way on the road. I would see a light ahead of me and think, there they are coming home. But when I reached it, it was a firefly. The stars were an arc over my head and the frogs were singing a lonely song. The air smelled like honeysuckles and roses. The trees leaned in from both sides. I kept walking on the road and came to a sort of sandy area, but there were too many paths going off and I knew I would never find them there and I would get lost.

I found my way back to the house, with rising panic, but knowing that they were perfectly capable of finding their way home. I woke up Jonathan and tried to call Jules on his cell phone, but the phone called an old number of Jules’ in Nicaragua. Just as we were going to go out in the car, I heard their voices and the crunch of their feet on the oyster shell driveway. I went to bed and slept cozily in a high narrow bed.

This is the last post about my hair

Wednesday –

I got an email confirmation of my appointment Wednesday at Sam Brocata Salon in SoHo. Taking the subway from the Upper West Side stressed me out because I was so worried about being late. As I climbed out of the subway, I was completely disoriented and had to ask directions. I felt awkward interrupting a woman typing on her iPhone, but since everyone looked too busy to ask I had to. We guessed together and looked up and there indeed was Grand Street.

I walked down the stairway off of Wooster Street into a concrete floored, brick walled clean and simple space with mirrors everywhere. I was on time. Checked in with one of the two beautiful people behind the counter computers and was escorted to the changing room. Marisa, my colorist, willowy and all natural blonde (looking) sat me in her chair and talked about my color. When she was done, the equally understatedly pretty Lisa discussed the cut. They left, and Joy introduced herself and gave me a neck message. All this attention is making me feel anything but relaxed although the vibe in the place was very low key. Marisa returned and we chatted about Nicaragua and her baby August as she gently painted the dye into my roots. Next she filled a large squeeze bottle with golden brown goo and worked that through the rest of my hair. I perused Paper Magazine looking for people I know while the timer ran, digitally, out of sight.

Chelsea led me to a big sink and worked huge volumes of water and soap through my hair, but then she had to go. Randall rinsed and massaged and conditioned my head. He took me back to Lisa who considered and cut my hair, fixing all the angles but not radically changing it. Then she asked me if it should be curly or straight and I picked straight because I never do that. She pulled out her blow dryer. I loved it because my hair was soft and straight and reminded me of the way it felt when I was in kindergarten. She recommended two products to keep it that way and I said yes. I was terrified they would be super expensive.

But they weren’t. I am finally old enough to ask first. The cute young man rang up my bill and I was mentally prepared for it to be 10 times the Nicaragua price. But it was only a hundred dollars more than Seattle. The tip envelopes stared me in the face. By now I had come in contact with 5 people in the Salon, each of whom introduced themselves by name. I hopefully asked if the stylists shared their tips with the helpers. Not really. So I distributed another 20% among the envelopes. I cut out Chelsea because she passed me on to someone else.

I looked great. I felt like my younger self. Emma met me for lunch and browsing. I only bought a sweater because the day before I bought a Nicole Miller dress at Purdy Girl. When I got home it occurred to me it was the 2010 version of a dress I had about 10 years ago

Columbus Circle

NYC is sticker and culture shock after Granada. I am exhausted. Is it age? Where is that shot of adrenaline that usually accompanies the stay in New York? There is so much merchandise here. People really care about their stuff. What stands out is the increased number of chains on one end and the huge number of precious cupcake shops on the other. Also, everyone rushes down the street looking at smart phones.

I am acutely aware of the amount of promise the year ahead held as we made this same trip last year. On the brink of an adventure then and at the end of another ordinary year now. The brain habituates.

I am having transition issues. I feel overwhelmed by the world here. People ask me about Nicaragua and I am completely inarticulate, unable to explain the differences, impressions. I have, at many times, nothing to say.

Whole Foods. Wow.

Central Park is full of blooming linden trees. The best smell on earth. I am running kind of slow; I love being able to go out later in the day and not suffer from the heat.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What my other half has been working on

It occurred to me that someone might be interested in what my husband has been doing this year. I haven't included the story of CO2Bambu in the blog, but it is an amazing social enterprise working on sustainable low cost housing and construction materials using Nicaragua's native Guadua bamboo. Jonathan joined the team for the year, and beyond we hope, to get things going and maybe just maybe it is ready to really take off.

You can see for yourself at http://co2bambu.com.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Saying good-bye is hard

It is hard to imagine not being here anymore. One always feels needed, if one is lucky, and imagines a small hole ripped out of the fabric of the community upon departure. I know it closes up soon. But I feel a little uprooted.

These are in the order of the pictures on the camera.

Angel, very aptly named, showed up everyday at an ungodly hour to drive my kids safely back and forth to school in Managua. The Carretera Masaya was the thing I worried most about my whole time here. He crossed himself and said a prayer before each trip and it always made me feel better. He proactively avoided riots and demonstrations. I have never owned a cleaner car. He was genuinely horrified when I told him I wash my car at home only once or twice a year.

He will be doing some independent tourist driving for other operators and hopes to buy a car with his brother and have his own business soon. He and his wife are expecting a baby in July.



Moni was our personal chef for the year. She cooked delicious meals and did all my shopping. I was so happy not to have to go to the store and to have a whole year off of cooking. I learned how to cook Nicaraguan food and crepes from her. She made it possible for me to enjoy sunsets with a drink in my hand or to keep working right up to the moment dinner was ready. She showed up for work the day her father died and the day she was in labor. She is planning on starting a small cafe in her house across from the bus stop.


Cristina is the keeper of Perla del Norte and has taken care of us and the house since we started coming down here. She is the best housekeeper in town. I know because we had a few substitutes while she was on maternity leave and they were frightening. I can pick up from here and return back to my other life, knowing that everything will be taken care of.

Avi has been a great friend this year. He is such a mensch. I've loved having him as one of the family. Always ready to help with anything, he has been a great Torah reading, basketball playing example for my boys. He takes his work (peace corps) very seriously and I've loved getting to know lots of committed but realistic young folks through him. He will start the next phase of his life when he leaves Nicaragua at the end of the summer. But until then, where will he eat, where will he do his laundry, where will he surf the internet?

Laurence and Thelma are the folks we have known the longest in Granada. They have included us in all the fun from day one and shared innumerable tips. It's been great raising (ha!) our kids together for the year. They also hooked us up with great people including Moni and Angel. And the other third of the Wednesday night supper club Melodi and Jeremy and the girls. They are just starting their expat life in Nicaragua.

Good bye to the beloved neighbors al frente, across the street. I so enjoyed the long evenings drinking wine in this rum and coke life. Their danish/chilean house was always an oasis of graciousness. And their kids are damn cute.

And of course, the Lopez-Rodriguez family who welcomed us into their family and shared everything. The pig business is going great. Omar is setting up a jewelry workshop. Lucia and Silvia are continuing their studies

There are more, but I have to go pack and I'm afraid I can't find all the pictures of everyone at the moment due to an i photo issue



Running/bike route along the Lake

Took my camera on the run the other day and on a bike ride later when the sun was shining











Sanitation engineers






















Family Transportation









Cows on the loose.
















Goats eating mangoes








Construction site













Malinche tree - Thelma says there is a saying that marriage is like a malinche tree. Beautiful flowers changing into long dried up pods.



No weed wackers here.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Eighth Grade Promotion














Noah ended up feeling like he made friends here, but there were times when I had grave concerns about the social experience at school. I really do want my kids to get out of their rooms, but when I hear about what goes on in the rough and tumble of adolescent life I wonder if it is worth it.

One last trip into Managua for Eighth Grade Promotion, except this time in a borrowed car because we already sold our beloved RAV 4. We sat by ourselves. The only person I marginally know, recognize, would be more accurate, is a mom who only speaks Korean and I didn’t see her when I sat down. The kids looked very spiffy in their dark pants/skirts and white shirts. Amazing how short and tight girls in eighth grade can interpret the dress code. It must be the age. I always feel the same way about the bat mizvah girl.

As the kids got up to get there diplomas, their names were like a who’s who of Nicaraguan business and politics. I usually cringe when teachers and administrators get up and say, you are the leaders of the next generation. Here though it is very likely true. It is a very small pond. These kids’ families have been in control for ages and they will continue. The student speaker, Krista, hit it right. She told her classmates, “We are sitting here under a million dollar roof [ANS has the largest covered athletic area in the country] and the only thing our country is famous for is poverty. What are we going to do?”

Noah said his not terribly emotional good-byes. With facebook, I guess you never really have to say good-bye. We went home to celebrate with lunch at Garden Café.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Fabiola’s First Communion









After many months of preparation with her Tia Lola, a catechist, Fabiola was ready for her first communion this Sunday. Mass was at 8:00 and I can’t believe that I ever felt rushed to get to services at home by 10:30. Jonathan and I were glad at least a few of the neighbor’s saw us dressed up and going to church.

San Jose Obrero is a simple church in Sabaneta. The priest wore a long black cosack and the nuns dressed like Mother Theresa. It was Mother’s Day, so the priests’ sermon focused on the wonderful love of the Nicaraguan family. Europeans and North Americans may shut themselves off from each other in their own rooms and surf the internet with little family contact. The Chinese abort their first child if it is a girl.


Things are not like that here where we still love all children and family togetherness.


Fabiola looked beautiful in her white dress and veil. She clutched her candle and rosary in lace gloved hands. I missed the actual moment of the first communion because I didn’t realize it would go so fast.




The piñata (party) was in the late afternoon. We were requested to come early, so we did. Fabiola was still in her white dress and sat in the chair of honor surrounded by her friends. Grown ups were seated around the room staring into space.

The wall of speakers is so loud that there isn’t any conversation. The mingle part of the party doesn’t ever seem to happen at the Nicaraguan parties I have attended. Maybe it is because here in Granada, everyone knows everyone. At first I thought I needed to make an effort and that people weren’t talking to me because they thought I didn’t speak Spanish. But when I look around, I notice no one else is chatting either. I helped pass out the soda to give me something to do.


It is always a challenge for my kids. They just sit in a rocker and look very bored. Silvia keeps asking, are the boys bored? Yes, I say, but it doesn’t matter.






Piñata time. Fabi starts swinging at the church bell piñata with a big stick. All of the kids take turns. The boys swing like mad, blindfolded, and the girls dance and take a powerful swat in time to the music. The piñata master raises and lowers it, creating a dance or a battle depending on whim. As the piñata disintegrates, the kids get closer and risk their lives to grab the candy. Marisela, the best dancer, gets another turn and bangs out a lot more candy. Then the stick is turned over to Jorge, without a blindfold. He beats it down and candy covers the room. The mob descends and tears the piñata apart. Mayhem ensues as about twenty children tear through the yard at full speed chasing and fighting with each other for bits of the piñata. Nobody got hurt and not a single adult ever intervened to tone things down.



I tried to dance a little, but I am very self conscious about my stiff hips and lack of rhythm. I study every one dancing, but still I can’t seem to mimic effectively. My movements are too big and off the beat. After about 4 hours, we left. We ate the delicious chop suey that Fabiola’s grandfather made over a wood fire, but they hadn’t cut the cake yet.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday morning walk


We walked through the market today on our way to church for Fabiola’s first communion.

I had to say to myself Wake up! Wake up! You will not see these sights for a while! Horses were outside my front door. Habituation is a fascinating fact of life. It is Mother’s Day here.






Lots of red balloons and hearts. I saw more than a couple bikes carrying two to three people, with the person in front holding a small elaborately iced cake, uncovered. I couldn’t get my camera out of my bag in time.



This little boy is peeing in front of a sign that says – Let’s work together toward a cleaner Granada! The fresh water sharks featured in the public service announcement are nearly extinct. It’s wearing a diaper.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Loners abroad

My children spent almost their entire lives in a big old house in Seattle. When I say almost their entire lives, I mean it literally, because we are a family of homebodies. Very few locations beyond the front door have the enticement and charm of sitting in our kitchen, gathering around our dining room table, hanging out on our deck or typing away on our computers. Alone. In our rooms.

Last year, I realized with a start that my children were monolingual and extremely introverted. It is my own damn fault for not marrying a foreigner, for passing on the painfully shy genes from my family, for not following through with those social skills clubs when they were little. My seventeen year old wants to be a biomedical researcher and my 14 year old wants to be a hermit, albeit a hipster indie kind of hermit. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I cringe whenever the newspapers describe some horrible terrorist or criminal as a loner. As if that explains a lot.

Even though we hardly ever even leave the house, we decided to spend my son’s junior year abroad – together in Nicaragua. People said, Aren’t your kids going to miss their friends? Well, no not really because they have always been each others' best friend. There was minor trepidation about leaving their buddies for the year, but I told them they would come back and find that not much had changed. They kept up on facebook, barely.

One of the reasons we felt it would work was because they are closer to each other than to any of their friends. We thought it would be good to force them into a different social environment, a different country, a different world. We didn’t have that many specific expectations for the year, other than the hope that we would get to the other side whole, with an expanded world view.

Perhaps in our wildest dreams we imagined ourselves fluent in Spanish, and fully integrated into the community. One of the things about travel is that you change your location, but you always take yourself with you. I was under no illusions that my children were likely to join a street soccer game or that I would become chummy with my neighbors. In Seattle, my best friend used to live across the street from me, but I didn’t really get to know her until she moved two years later.

Here in Granada, I did once pull my rocking chair onto the street like my neighbors do every evening. I forced myself to sit for a while, but I had a real panic attack and I had to go inside.

We have spent a lot of time in our house. Just like at home. I mean just like at home in Seattle. Hours pass and we are each sprawled on our beds, using our laptops. My work life continues to take place in cyberspace and it isn’t that different if it is from Capitol Hill to Rainier Valley or Granada to Seattle.

I may have had a slightly different vision for the year, but I can’t say I am surprised, or disappointed in the way it has played out. I have spent a lot of time with my teenage sons, which is something I do not take for granted. I’m glad that we can make our own home where ever we go. I feel part of two communities, even if I never sit on my front porch in either one of them.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Blintzes





We made blintzes last night to celebrate Shavuos. They are supposed to symbolize the Torah all rolled up and handed to the people standing at Sinai. It’s usually our biggest cholesterol laden fest of the year. At home we have the first of the local strawberries if we are lucky. Moni wasn’t able to find ricotta cheese at La Colonia, so I went back out to look for it but I couldn’t find it either. I substituted cottage cheese and cream cheese mixed up in my barely functioning blender. I had to look on line for the Settlement Cookbook recipe I always use. I couldn’t find it, but someone had posted Steven Spielberg’s mom’s recipe saying it was similar so I used that. Here it is so that YOU will not have the frustration of someone talking about blintzes but not giving the recipe.

Dairy Blintz Batter
• 3 eggs
• 1 cup milk
• 1/4 cup water
• 1 cup flour
• Pinch of salt
1. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Pour batter (about 3 tablespoons at a time) onto a hot, slightly greased pan, and rotate pan so that mixture covers bottom completely. Fry on one side only.
2. Turn pancakes out on a towel. Place desired filling on browned side, make an envelope, and fry in butter until brown on all sides. Serve with sour cream. Yield: 15 blintzes
Cheese Filling
• 1 pound Farmer cheese (dry cottage cheese)
• 2 eggs
• 1 tablespoon melted butter
• Sugar and lemon juice, to taste
• 1/4 cup raisins, if desired
Combine all ingredients and mix well

Yum Yum. They were a little salty, because I can't find unsalted butter, but very delicious. We had ours with Gallo Pinto for a well rounded Nicaraguan meal.

I did not stay up all night reading Ruth, but I look forward to a return to my normal biorhythm when I am in a cooler climate.

Books in the Park

I just did my hour of volunteer work for the month. I sat under the awning in the middle of the parque central to read books with kids in homage to Eduardo Baez, the charismatic director of Libros para Niños who died suddenly nine days ago. It is a big loss to the community. Libros is a terrific organization that is based in Jinotepe and puts a lot of books in the hands of kids. The library in Granada that partners with LPN thought the most fitting memorial would be to read books to kids.

Plopping down a basket of books and some cushions in the middle of town brings out a different group of kids than come to the reading corners. Several children where left all day. Their moms were out selling refrescos. I sat with one girl about 9 years old who worked hard to cover up the fact that she couldn’t read. Her brother, about 10 was sounding out words on a more difficult story book and she made fun of his laborious process. At least I can read! He shot back.

Another boy who was older, maybe 12, kept his bottle of glue hidden in his shirt. I wasn’t sure what the protocol was. Am I supposed to ask him not to sniff over the books. Anyway, I figured he could use some exposure to good reading material too. He listened to the story reader for a while and then I handed him a book about snakes to read. Another little boy covered me with a wet cough while we read about elephants. He was very intent on counting all of the animals in the book. He might not have been able to read, but he was enjoying his book!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Going Home

We have exactly three weeks left. The kids are coasting to the end of school. Jules only has 5 more days to go in with two not so major exams because he is done with the grueling AP tests. Noah has to hang out in middle school through exam week, but we are thinking of calling him in sick.

Previous to this year, three weeks was the longest time I had ever spent in Nicaragua. If I were starting at this point, with three weeks to spend in Nicaragua, I would think it is enough time to perfect my Spanish, do a volunteer project and see the entire country. But because it is my last three weeks of an entire year, it feels like I haven’t managed to accomplish those things the whole enormous time I have been here; I might as well pack my bags now and just wait for the airplane to take off. Perspective is everything.

Noah said the other day it has been the fastest year of his life. Mine too. But isn’t every year?

I am starting to think a little longingly about going back to Seattle. I can almost feel the cool air off the Sound and smell the yellow azaleas in Volunteer Park. I can’t wait to walk to a movie at the Harvard Exit. Visit Elliot Bay Books newly relocated close to my house. Run through Interlaken and the Arboretum. Vivace. Vietnamese sandwiches for a beach picnic. Columbia City farmers market.

I am so lucky to be able to be part of both here and there. What an incredible luxury to have the money and the passport to go back and forth.

This is hard for me to admit

I didn’t volunteer much here. I had every intention of responding to a community identified need and filling a gap but I just . . .didn’t. I expressed my willingness to several projects, but I did very little follow up. Because I didn’t really want to do anything. This is a pattern I have seen in myself at home where I also hate to volunteer. It is hard to admit, but it is the awful truth. I will undertake good work for low pay and give it my all, but I have a consistent aversion to volunteer work.


It isn’t just that I am selfish although that is the main reason; it’s that I over think it and bring myself to the point of paralysis. There is a lot of truth in the old no-good-deed-goes-unpunished adage. Having spent my working life in the non-profit sector, I am hyper aware of the crimes of good intention committed by volunteers eager to visit their expertise on the unsuspecting populace.

So I thought I was going to be able to work through this here, but it will just be one more thing for the list of what I thought I was going to do but I didn't.

But why do I feel so guilty? I wouldn't feel guilty about spending the year in Provence or Italy and not having a 20 hour a week volunteer job.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Vermin

We live in an open house in a tropical country and haven’t sprayed or fumigated for the last 10 months. Presently, ants sweep across the counter when anything is left out and swarm on the dishes I always leave for the maid to do in the morning. We have mourning doves in the rafters, bats living in the roof ridge and unidentified flying animals in our bedroom wall. At first I tried to get rid of them all, but now we have a peaceful coexistence. Except for the mice. When I notice they have been around, I set a trap. Mice multiply too rapidly and the cats that wander through the house to pee don’t seem to want to be bothered with doing any work.

The other night Moni told us she had seen a mouse scurry out of the oven so we set a trap and caught one teeny tiny mouse. Then the next night at dinner, another one popped up out of the burner hole. Then another one. Clearly an infestation of very bold or stupid rodents. We put a little peanut butter on the trap and tried to be quiet, which wasn’t actually necessary because as we ate our dinner, the tiny mouse licked the trap clean. It was apparently set for larger prey. We reapplied and readjusted. Waited a few moments and three mice were coming up to see what was for dinner. SNAP. One caught. The rest run away. Empty trap, reset, watch, snap. Next victim. Repeat. Total for the night – 4. I only felt fleetingly squeamish.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rain for Real


The rainy season, winter, has begun. It came several weeks early this year with thunderstorms and driving rain throughout last week. It is always a surprise when the rain returns to Seattle after the glorious months of July and August and you realize with a start that the weather can hamper your plans. Same here, but the six months of absolutely no rain were terminated with huge amounts of water falling from the sky instead of the gentle mist of the Northwest. I have never seen rain drops so big.


Back in December we had been so thrilled with the locally made opening skylights we installed in the kids room for ventilation. With the rain, it became obvious that each seam of glass and metal leaked, there is no seal and somehow large holes were torn into the roof in the installation. Miguel had to come again and again after each rain to problem solve and patch. The kids had a puddle in their room each morning and it was dripping on Ellen’s bed.


The rain coincided with Ellen’s week long visit. It was so fabulous to walk down the streets of Granada with her again! She loves it here for all the same quirky reasons I do. Good thing she is completely self sufficient in Spanish because despite my best intentions, I ended up working most of the time.

On Friday we hired a car to drive to San Juan del Sur and go to the beach. It was astonishing that in the course of just one week, the landscape has gone from brown to green. The dust isn’t blowing around anymore, but there is increased humidity making the heat, well, hotter.


We got Rene to drive us out to my favorite beach, Mahajual, which is down a dirt road. When we got there, the cooking fire in the beach shack was cold and there were a bunch of bored youth hanging around. We perused the menu, but only ordered cokes and hurried down to the beach. Ellen’s coke exploded all over her dress and as we stepped foot on the beach, the rain began to fall hard. We stood under a beach towel for awhile, but it rained harder and harder so we made a break for the cooking shack where they politely wiped some chairs off and positioned them so as not to be in any leaks. We waited. More rain.

How long does the rain usually last, I asked. Sometimes all day.

Rene, are you worried about getting out? I inquired.

No, no don’t worry we’ll be fine.


With no let up in sight Ellen proposed returning to San Juan del Sur for lunch. We ran to the car and made it up from the beach no problem. But the road to San Juan del Sur was turning into a river. We couldn’t tell how deep the water was in the low spots so we were waiting for someone coming the other way to see if we could make it. Rene kept asking me, should we wait or go ahead. I didn’t want to make that decision since it was his car. He went cautiously ahead.


Finally we made it back to the paved road. As we drove back into town, some of the steep side roads were like waterfalls. We ate lunch in a beach restaurant on the driest table we could find while rain pounded through the thatch roof and wooden shades. It did stop and we had about ten minutes to walk around in the mud before we headed to Managua to pick Jules up from school. We had mud up to our knees but I noticed a Nicaraguan woman in front of us was also walking in flip flops, but she was spotless. How do they do that?

Birthday in the Isletas


I cannot believe that my son is seventeen. He had to take the SAT in Managua on Saturday so his birthday on Sunday was meant to be a day of relaxation and recovery. Thelma invited us to go with them to her uncle’s isletas. The isletas are a group of many tiny islands in Lake Colcibolca near Granada. They were spewed out by the Mombacho Volcano sometime in the distant past.

Now they are the playground of the prominent families of Nicaragua who maintain houses there among the very close -knit families of the isletas. In their natural state, the isletas look like small piles of rock and grass sticking out of the water. Some have elaborate houses on them and some of them have shacks with pigs and chickens, something cooking on the wood fire stove and lots of little kids jumping in the water. Each tiny island has a name and someone who grew up there knows the name of hundreds of different islands.Transport is by boat.

We met the lancha to take us to the island at Marina Colcibolca. As usual, we were travelling lightly with only beach towels to sit on, pasta salad to eat and water to drink, all carried in a market basket. And as usual, the Ginsbergs brought a cooler on wheels full of a variety of delicious lunch food, ice, soft drinks, rum, hammocks to lounge in and folding chairs to sit on. Loaded up and off we went.

This was the last day of Ellen’s visit and I was glad to have the opportunity to get out on the water. Mombacho was beautiful in the distance. Everything is green again. When we pulled up to the dock at the isleta, the wizened caretaker came to help us unload. He had wild curly hair, a cadaverous face, lots of gold teeth and pronounced limp. He is nicknamed the pirate and spends his life living on a less than 200 square meter island covered in mangoes.

The island had a commodious palapa with a picnic table where the pirate set up the hammocks. There was an empty swimming pool that is pumped full of lake water only when Thelma’s aunt from Canada visits. We spent the day in the hammocks, in the water, eating ripe mangoes eating green mangoes and drinking rum. The lancha came back around 5 to take us back to land. By that time, the boys had become restless and reverted back to their much younger selves. The were pelting the mangoes with stones to bring them down and finally running around the island.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I dye my hair again

Some of you might remember my first Nicaraguan Salon Experience across the street at the Lesman Studio back in the fall. After that I started going to Doña Letty who has a nice place down the street. She has a corner building with a strong breeze that helps mitigate the chemical smells of the dye and nail products. I stopped by today to finally cover the encroaching gray. I was spending a really long time in the morning with brown eye shadow and a mascara brush. (Thank you so much Cheri for that absolutely priceless tip!) There is really no reason to put off going since it costs all of twenty dollars to have my hair dyed and cut, but still there is very little that tries my patience more than sitting and waiting for the dye to soak in. Which when I got there, Doña Letty informed me would take an extra long time because my roots are so very gray and stubborn. I didn’t have an appointment, but there was no wait. She was in the back, probably making lunch and her daughter and the rest of the staff were doing each other’s hair.

Instead of getting annoyed at the time stretching ahead of me, I decided to try to return to that place of wonder and delight I had lived in when I first came to Nicaragua and everything was so different and charming. This could be my last time at Doña Letty’s. Although for 20 bucks, I might as well get a touch up before I go to New York. I put on my smock and opened my book and sat down in the washing station which is just on the other side of the courtyard from Doña Letty’s kitchen. After a while her daughter called out from her lunch – “Hey mom, are you going to take care of this lady that’s waiting here?” Coming, coming she said. Same as last time, right? She looked at my hair and went to mix up the dye. I was glad she didn’t hand me the book of hair swatches that stylists here seem to always use. If I knew which color to pick, I would just get it at the drugstore.

A very old lady comes in and sits down to wait while she gossips with Letty about grandchildren and children. I can follow most of the conversation, but I am still disappointed to find that I can’t quite keep up. Whose baby is it exactly and has the four year old stopped nursing or the baby or the mother?

A Swedish girl comes in to get more blonde streaks in her hair. Funny, I always thought Swedish girls had those naturally. Her Norwegian boyfriend gets a cut and shave in the barber section.

Doña Letty scrubbed the dye into the roots, set the timer and then went to the kitchen to fry some beans. I read my book. Several small parakeets were chattering in a cage behind me. The timer rang and she returned to comb the dye through. It hurt a lot. She must have been using a very fine toothed comb. Honestly, I almost cried. Sat some more. Finally Jessica the clean up girl washes and combs my hair and sends me to the front. I mention in passing that I wouldn’t mind a bit of a cut too, so Letty sits me down and deftly wields the scissors and huge chunks fall before my eyes.

But this doesn’t bother me because in the last year, I have been cured. I can now walk off the street into a beauty parlor almost anywhere and ask them to dye or cut my hair. It is a great feeling of freedom. I asked Jonathan how he likes my new latin haircut. He says it is very Shakira.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Central American Premier of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Noah enjoyed a rather pedestrian career in the renowned Washington Middle School Senior Band somewhere in the middle of the clarinets. At the American Nicaraguan School, he is one of the best players, in the high school band even though he is still in Junior High. He also plays occasionally with the high school ensemble. He takes lessons with one of the best clarinet players in the country, but he almost never practices. It is drive like this that got him selected to play with the other members of the ensemble in the ANS high school musical – Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Practice was sporadic. Sometimes it would be scheduled after school and then not happen. Sometimes we told Noah it was just too difficult to arrange a ride and they would have to practice without him. He really wished he had not agreed to do it. At some point, some professional musicians were hired to fill in the gaps. There was an all day dress rehearsal the day before the opening of the play. We asked Noah how it went. It was a very Nicaraguan experience he said. First there was no power then when there was power, Fernanda’s amp cord wasn’t working because it had been taped together and we had to send someone over to her house to get another one.

The first night of the show, we all drove to Managua to the theatre of the Alliance Francais. Jonathan went down a one way street the wrong way on the advice of some drunks hanging out on the corner and put a huge dent in the car when he scraped the official Alliance Francais truck making an emergency u turn to avoid oncoming cars. As at all school events, I was struck by the whiteness of everyone in the room compared to any other room full of Nicaraguans I had ever encountered. I still feel terribly out of my league with the Managuan elite.

The play started with a sort of history of Broadway with various members of the drama club singing excerpts of songs from Rent, Wicked, West Side Story, Grease etc. I’m not sure why. Perhaps everyone needed a turn. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the length of a regular Broadway show just isn’t quite long enough for Nicaraguan attention spans.

Finally the play started. Noah played brilliantly. The acting was astonishingly good. It was in fact, the Central American Premier of the play. It was in English. The accents were perfect and the kids maintained all of the little tics and speech idiosyncrasies of their characters. It was several degrees of separation. Nicaraguan kids portraying caricatures of US social types. The family next to me asked what a Spelling Bee was. It is hard to explain to someone who never had participate in one in third grade. Not a single person laughed at the bar mitzvah jokes.

We got home late and the kids still had to get up at 5 for school the next day. There was another performance on Thursday night. The closing night was cancelled at the last minute because May Day celebrations were causing disturbances by the theatre with their mortars and fireworks. It was deemed unsafe to go on with the play. Thank goodness we got the message before Noah got all the way back into Managua in the midst of the rabblerousing. Only because Fernanda thought to call Jules on his cell phone.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rain




We have heard it has started raining in Panama and here in the mountains, but not in Granada yet. Stifling heat this morning. For about an hour, there was bowling lane thunder from the West and North and the sky got a little bit darker, although still clear to the East. The green parrots were flying around and squawking. It smelled like rain, but we did not get our hopes up because yesterday, same thing happened and it only rained in Managua.

Finally, the rain came. Falling steadily now for almost half an hour, but starting to let up now. It smells so good. Nothing like warm wet earth and warm wet concrete tiles. I can hear the car tires splashing in the street. The doves are fluffing and preening on the roof ridge.

I tried to take a picture off my balcony, but it is hard to capture rain from this angle.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Taxi Strike

For over a week now, the taxistas in Granada have been on strike. The are protesting the sale of 60 new medallions that came about as a result of a study showing that Granada needed more taxis. The taxis are all parked around Central Park. The taxistas are drinking beer, playing cards, harassing city workers. It got ugly two days ago when they started burning tires at around 5 in the morning. Then they shot off a lot of fireworks and mortars. Then they reportedly supplied a bunch of thugs with beer, sticks, stones and more mortars. Their targets were scab taxis at first and then just anybody. Finally, the police got the word from Managua to restore some order. See the police here are national, not local. They have no loyalty to the mayor who is a different party than their bosses. So they don’t do anything.

It would seem that the point of a strike would be to generate sympathy, but at the moment everybody is mad at them. People depend on the taxis to get to work because no one has their own transportation. Buses go but they are slow and crowded. One of the great joys in Granada is that a taxi costs 50 to go anywhere in the city. But folks are very pissed. They are fed up with taxistas charging more to go to further out neighborhoods. They are universally decried as being dirty and bad mannered. I once flagged one down who couldn’t open the doors of his filthy taxi. He may have been drunk.

Angel brings word of the situation every day when he comes in the morning. He has to borrow one of the bikes because usually he gets a free ride from one of his friends to our house. He says the problem is political. The mayor is liberal and the taxistas are Sandinistas. He says it is always like this; the mayor’s office refuses to talk until someone dies. One person dies, and then they sit down. Actually the did finally meet yesterday with the new bishop mediating. No agreements. This morning Cristina said they were burning tires over on our side of town because they realized taxis are operating along the edges.

Meanwhile, it is delightfully quiet in the streets because the taxistas aren't driving around honking at anyone they see pause for a moment on the sidewalk and the running has been great free from speeding taxis down by the lake. Things must be getting hard for families. It is unlikely that any taxistas have savings to weather a strike and there isn't any union to take care of them.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Have I mentioned its HOT?

Hot, hot, hot. I find I am not leaving the house much because it is so stifling out in the street. There isn’t anywhere to go in Granada that is cooler than my own house. We get a strong breeze and then there is always the pool. That never gets hot.

Hard to accomplish anything. I am sitting in the hammock and the roar of the hummingbird’s wings in my tiny courtyard is deafening. Even writing this paragraph I had to take a little nap.

It hasn’t rained since November and the countryside is crispy. Lots of dust in the air. They say the rain could start again as early as the end of the month. Can’t wait.