Friday, February 26, 2010
I hardly ever conjugate a verb right, and almost every word I say is slightly wrong. I speak Spanish like it was written in Hebrew and I am reading it without the vowels. I sounds good to foreigners, but is unintelligible to natives. These natives are like certain US citizens in isolated communities (if there is such a thing anymore) They can’t understand anyone with an accent. They just hear the words a little funny and switch off. I have been on the other end of that one so often that I know what they are going through. Fortunately, I still have some time to work on this.
I like being in the midst of the flow and cross of languages. Almost all of the visitors here from US and Europe speak Spanish and English too. Today I was talking to a young German woman, I started out in English then we mixed in some Spanish and upon learning that I spoke German we switched to German. Just for fun, because clearly she spoke English better than I spoke German. But as someone who spoke all those languages, she understood that I really wanted to try to speak German. But it is really funny now. I speak German briefly maybe once a week. It is really hard to keep my brain from switching to Spanish. One because I am talking about things that happened here and two because it has just moved to the top of the foreign language pile. Nearly everyone I am speaking German to speaks Spanish so they don’t even bat an eye or look confused when I throw in a Spanish phrase.
But the funny thing is that I don’t notice I’ve done it until after I’ve said it, and then the Spanish word is right on top and I focus on finding the German word and it is hard to find. Also funny when I speak German to someone who doesn’t speak Spanish and incomprehension flickers in her eyes when I throw in really simple Spanish words that just pop up. Because it isn’t the normal words one uses in place of the language one is speaking in like nouns or adjectives. It is more likely to be little words like but, very, much, because. Then once I have said a few words in Spanish, it is like turning a car with bad steering, I’m leaning and turning the wheel toward German, but it keeps going straight toward Spanish. Oddly, English never mixes in. That would be the normal thing. To automatically throw in one's native language.
It has been a good year to come. Jules’ junior year and the beginning of the college plans. A reminder that we are each constructing our own life, there is no pyramid, no ladder to success. I feel like we have found the life that is right for us, as a family, even though in some ways we are backsliding. I have no idea what we are going to do when we get back home.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Mombacho Volcano is the dramatic backdrop to all postcard perfect shots of Granada. I often gaze at its cool heights from my sweltering balcony and wish I were there. Saturday, our friend Mitch, owner of Hotel Spa Granada, a fabulous place NOW OPEN in the center of Granada, invited us to explore the property a friend of his has on the mountain. The trip had been part of a package promotion for Valentines Day at the Hotel. Since technically, the hotel wasn’t open, no one signed up. Great opportunity to see Mombacho in a way I have always wanted to. We joined Mitch and his wife Amanda, and the young French couple that runs the hotel, Alain and Clara Isabelle.
We started with a boat ride from Marina Colcibolca through the Isletas. As soon as we were out on the water, Jonathan and I said to each other, why don’t we do this more often? It was so great just to be among the islands with their fancy villas, or simple fishing shacks. The effects of the drought were evident as we looked back at the desiccated foliage of the mainland, but the boat turned toward the green slopes of Mombacho and we headed across the open water to Raul’s land.
Ten minutes later we pulled up to the dock and were met by the caretaker who lived in a small house by the water. Chickens and ducks were wandering around and beans were cooking on an open fire. He led us up the road to meet our horses. On the edge of a plantain field, we each picked a horse and mounted up. Mitch picked a horse that looked more like a mule. I just grabbed a red one. Turned out to be a good horse. She took off with just a little encouragement. Mitch was whaling on his mule to no avail. Amanda had been insistent that she was not going to ride, but Mitch refused to believe just how serious she was. She asked for the smallest horse, which looked pretty funny because she was the tallest one there. As soon as she climbed up, she had a panic attack and had to get off the horse. Amanda walked into the field retching. She composed herself quickly, but refused to get back on her horse, or any horse.
We went first through the plantanos then through fields of cacao. It was the first time I had seen cacao growing on the tree. The cacao pods grow right off the main branches and trunk. They start out a red color and then turn yellow when they are ready to harvest. At least that is what I think. The guide knew nothing. Maybe there were two different kinds, yellow and red. One of the workers cut open a pod for us and the cacao beans were inside in a white milky pulp. We sucked the sweet pulp off of the beans. I mistakenly chewed my bean. It was kind of bitter.
A little higher up came to the Hacienda which had magnificent views across the Isletas and back toward Mombacho. We got off the horses and picked some mandarins and oranges off of the trees. Amanda announced she wasn’t going any further but she would happily sit and read her book. We left the backpack with the lunches with her and rode farther up the mountain.
We rode through coffee and cacao plantations. One small hacienda had cacao spread out on concrete pads to ferment and dry. The coffee season has past. While it got greener as we went up, even the coffee looked a little dry to me.
After a couple hours, we came to a place were we could see down to the lake again. There was an old shell of a structure with the roof caved in. Just needed a little work. We had some oranges off the tree and contemplated the next leg of the trip. The guide was supposed to take us up a path on foot to the crater edge where we could meet the road down the other side of Mombacho and our driver. Since the guide didn’t seem to know which way to go even when we were on the road, and the trip had already taken more than twice as long as he had said it would. We decided not to continue on that way and return down the mountain for lunch. We were all tired of riding the horses. We started to walk down, but it was going kind of slow and we were hungry, so we decided to run. Mitch opted to get back on the horse but Alain, Jonathan, Clare Isabelle and I took off.
Running down a mountain is actually one of my favorite things to do. We had to watch our feet, but the trail was a road, so it wasn’t that bad. We flew with dogs chasing us and hacienda guards looking at us quizzically. I got too hot, so I stopped to change from my jeans into a pair of shorts I had in my purse. I was more comfortable, but I think that is why I was covered in ticks when I got home.
We got back to the Hacienda and found Amanda relaxing on the gazebo. Mitch wasn't there yet so we went down to a small sulphury pool fed by hot springs just below the house. It felt great. Would have been perfect with a Toña. From then on the thought the ice cold Nicaraguan beer became an obsession. We had our lunch noting the lack of beer and ever diminishing store of water. After we left the mountain, we traveled over to the new Jicaro Lodge in hopes of a cold one and checking out the place. It is some slightly interesting, but not very well integrated "eco cabins" crowded onto a very small Isleta. We were literally escorted off the island by a young smug gringo manager because he didn't want to destroy the vibe. Don't ever go there. I am hoping that on the week ends, their neighbor villa owners face their speakers toward the island and blast them. Quiet is so not Nica.
We still needed our beer, so after our boat ride back to the main island we sat outside at the Restaurant at the Asesse marina and had a few cold ones. They were playing the worst Merengue songs they could find. Really loud.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
So we headed out that way, but decided to stop at the Granada Private Hospital instead because the wait is shorter usually. They recommended a shot of hydricortisone. OK we paid 130 cords (7 dollars) in advance for the consultation with the general doctor and we paid another 130 cords for the shot.
But it didn’t help and later in the afternoon Jonathan was feeling dizzy and his legs were getting numb. So Thelma drove him from work to the public hospital - called Japones - because they donated it to Granada. I took a taxi to meet them. We went to the emergency pavillion which looked like every other building in Nicaragua - wide courtyard, tile floors and outside corridors with rooms opening off. We waited at a desk while the clerk finished his call with his friend, but then we were seen immediately by the doctor - we walked behind the desk and sat by down in a regular office across from a guy with a list and a blood pressure cuff. He took Jonathan’s blood pressure, noted his age and told him he needed a shot of anti-histamine just in case he was having an allergic reaction. (He had already taken two benadryl.) We told him about the shot at the private hospital. He said, how much did you pay over there? We told him and he said, here it’s stronger and its free. Good to know. They didn’t have any antivenom either. We decided, if the scorpions were really deadly here, they would have antivenom or would at least suggest we go look for some elsewhere.
We took the prescription for the shot and walked over to the emergency room. There were four people sort of standing in the middle of the room waiting for a attention, a doctor talking to a drug distributor at her desk and several medical personnel and two patients on gurneys. One had a busted nose and was on an IV and the other was just lounging on a dirty sheet on the gurney. He got up and left. Jonathan moved up in line and gave the nurse or whoever his prescription. He was told to sit and wait on the gurney the other patient had just vacated. The sheet was not changed. He sat down and I wondered over to watch the nurse get the syringe to make sure she took a fresh one out of the package. Which she did. She filled it up with the medicine, added a little water from the tiny package of water and then attached a line and one of those little needles that go in your vein. Then she walked over to Jonathan and put the needle on the dirty sheet. He picked it up before it could touch any germs. Then she stuck it in his vein and I had to leave so I wouldn’t faint.
I watched the other health care worker put on gloves and empty all the basins into a toilet that was over by the window. He rinsed them out with water from a faucet on the wall and stacked them up. There WAS a big bottle of Maxi-cide and he used proper technique to remove the gloves and cleaned his hands with afterward with alcohol gel. Still. I used a higher standard of sanitation to wipe noses in preschool than I have seen in hospitals in Nicaragua.
Jonathan sat around and waited to make sure he didn’t have either a strong reaction to the medicine or an increased reaction to the venom. Then we just walked out of there and took a cab home. The only bureaucracy was to write his name and age on a list. No charge.
Back at home, I am scouring web sites and trying to figure out just what kind of a scorpion it is. All the antihistamine has pretty much knocked Jonathan out, but I have to keep going to check on him to make sure he has not suffered heart or kidney failure or respiratory distress. His legs and tongue are still numb and his finger hurts.
All this has of course taken me to the place I never want to go here. What would we do if something serious happened to the kids? We would just have to high tail it to Vivian Pellas in Managua, but it is a forty minute drive at break neck speed. It is clear that there is no trauma capacity in Granada. I saw a women being wheeled on a stretcher into an ambulance. It looked like a regular mini van, donated by the government of Taiwan. Maybe there was some kind of electronic box in there, but it certainly wasn’t like an ambulance at home. I keep telling myself, its ok. There are kids all over the place here and they get along just fine without the advanced medicine we are used to in the States. What makes my kids so special? But it doesn’t really make me feel any better.
Jonathan seems fine this morning, just a little numbness left in the legs and tongue.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
All of the mourners left the cathedral after the coffin and followed the carriage across the Parque Central and through the streets to the cemetery. Kathy’s riderless horse with her boots and hat draped over the saddle proceeded the hearse, lead by her groom.
At the cemetery, they carried the coffin from the hearse way back to the family tomb. The family said good bye. Crying and wailing as her coffin was shoved into the tomb, her father cried My daughter, my doll. Then we stood around as a mason bricked up the hole and plastered it over. I walked out of the cemetery behind Sandy, said good bye and walked home through the town as the sun was setting.
We squeezed into a side room that was really the kitchen. Carlos read a prayer. We said Kaddish in Hebrew and then Sandy said it in English, his voice awfully breaking and hoarse and full of pain. We said it with him. Then the 23rd psalm. Everyone circled up and shook Sandy’s hand because that is what Carlos told us to do. The kids and Jonathan and I went to the front room of restaurant to say good bye to Kathy. We gathered around her narrow elaborately carved mahogany coffin and looked at her very still face. The room was full of gigantic flowers.
Then we went and sat with the other mourners outside and caught up on Jewish Community gossip. Kurt said, with the Weinsteins we have a quarter of a minyan at once. Gerald remarked, it is easier to get a minyan in Granada than Managua. Later Gerald’s wife came up to me and said, we couldn’t remember your names, we just kept calling you the family with the beautiful sons. (Hijos lindos) I volunteered to take care of an Oneg Shabbat for a group of Jewish kids who come down to do some service work. I figure I will make my kids go.
One of Kathy’s sisters brought a tray of coffee around. She could hardly keep from crying. Then the honeycake and mandarins came out. Glad I brought them. Sandy is still shattered of course. For the first time I noticed the oil painting of he and Kathy smiling together, somewhere pretty and warm.
We headed over there as soon as we could. When I saw that Kathy’s was closed for the first time in living memory, I knew it was true. We found Sandy in his office with Lionel, the director of the Granada Bancentro, and Terry his good friend and regular customer. He was shattered, breaking down as he told us what happened. People kept coming in and asking – why are you closed. And he would say, my wife committed suicide last night. Elliott, one of the cadre of older Jewish men usually hanging out with young Nicaraguan women came in and said, I heard what happened, I’m really sorry. Sandy was telling us that he had no clue why. Kathy told her beloved horses’ trainer that he could have the horse if anything happened to her. Elliot kept saying, what does that have to do with anything? Sandy was exasperated that Elliott didn’t get it and Elliott thought Sandy was just breaking off on a tangent. Two old guys frustrated with the other’s mental capacity. Sandy finally said, Do you understand what happened here? Kathy shot herself in the head with my Colt 357! Elliott began to keen and fall over and make awful noises in the back of his throat. He had thought the restaurant was closed because Kathy’s mother had died. Her sister, Rachel had to go get him some water and find him a chair. He came back, hung onto Sandy for a while and then left.
Sandy said over and over, I never go to funerals, I don’t know what they do here. Her family is taking care of everything. Sandy acknowledged that the body was coming back and he would have to go to this funeral. His totally broke up and he said, I will have to sit with the body this time.
Sandy heard a shot last night and couldn’t climb the stairs to the Kathy’s bedroom which was locked. He had to send the guard to look in the window. Police arrived quickly because they had been right across the street. They took the body and a lot of pictures. They fingerprinted Sandy and everyone else (with paraffin of course).
You live long enough in Granada and eventually you will know the person the funeral car is announcing and you will listen to know where and when the funeral will take place. I just thought it would be one of the many older folks I know, not Kathy. Of suicide. I heard the chimes of the announcement – Descansa in el paz del senor, Kathy Solarzano de Perkoff, duena de Kathy’s Wafflay house . . . . I had to ask Manny across the street what time the funeral will be - 2:30 – because I still miss a lot of words.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Tuesday morning Moni our cook arrived at the door with food to cook for 10 people and several large melons. Since she is in her last few weeks of pregnancy, she took a taxi. I asked her as I have every morning recently, how are you feeling. Are you having any contractions, yet? She said, no, I feel a little funny, but I have an appointment with the doctor at noon, so I’ll just go right there from here. I’ll go now with you in the taxi. No, no she said I’m fine. Later. OK I said.
It was a typically hectic morning and I was working on a tight deadline. I had 4 guests who were completely self-sufficient, but still needed some direction and reassurance once in a while. I was trying to make sure Fabiola and Jorge were signed up and outfitted for school. The needy, inexperienced substitute maid (who is here because Christina is on maternity leave) kept interrupting me to ask basic housekeeping questions, give me gardening advice or relate some random family tragedy or past employer injustice. Plus several fruit sellers, shoe shine boys and plant salesmen standing at the door who wouldn’t take no for an answer easily. Just to say I wasn’t really paying that much attention to Moni that morning. She marinated our beef for dinner, made a beautiful salad for our lunch and cleaned up the kitchen.
Then she said – I’m leaving now. Wait a minute, I said, I’ll give you money for the doctor and you can prepay for the delivery. Moni had been planning on having her baby at the public hospital, but I was getting increasingly uneasy about it, so a few weeks ago I went over to the Private hospital to see how much it would cost to have the baby there. They had several packages to choose from which ranged from US $ 280 for a normal delivery and stay in the maternity ward to US $530 for a cesarean, tubal ligation and private room. $320 gets you a the basic package with a private room for your night in the hospital. Tell them we will pay for the cesarean package if you need it I said as I thrust 16 twenty dollar bills in her hand – about twice her monthly salary.
I wasn’t that surprised when she didn’t show up for dinner, but I was worried that perhaps she needed the cesarean and they wouldn’t do it because she didn’t have the money in hand. All other kinds of irrational fears kept going through my head. Jonathan called her aunt, the only phone number we have for her, and tried not to sound like he was wondering if Moni was planning on coming over to fix our dinner. The baby was already born! A boy! Everyone was doing fine.
Big relief. We still didn’t have time to make dinner even though Moni had done almost all the work. We went out for pizza.
The next morning I went to see Moni and the baby in the hospital before they checked out. The Hospital Privada Colcibolco had always terrified me a bit because I remember seeing it the very first day I came to Granada. It is a low cinderblock building like any other along the highway from Managua. Its fluorescent lights illuminated the tired couches in the waiting room and I just thought, please don’t let me ever have to go to that hospital. But everybody here is pretty happy with it. I walked in past the statue of the Diviño Niño in his little pink dress and said I was here to see Moni, which room is she in. Just go over to the hospital area and ask the nurse they said. The hospital section was a big room with a pharmacy at one end and a nurses station at the other. Several wooden doors opened off each side. It had the same red and gray cement tiles as my house and half the other houses in Granada. There was a gurney but no sign of any other equipment. I stood outside the second door and called Moni? Her mom got up to let me in.
The room was like an ordinary bedroom with a single bed – it did move up and down, a beaten up bedside table and a cane rocking chair. There was none of the sterile environment (it was very clean though) monitoring equipment and other things that are in the most ordinary hospital rooms in the United States. Moni shared a bathroom with the lady next door.
Moni was pretty perky for someone who had just given birth and Santos Daniel, her baby, was strong. They both had slight fevers from kidney infections, but antibiotic shots were administered to both and they went home with a whole bunch of medicine. The pediatrician came by to check the baby out and then we were just waiting for Moni’s doctor to come give her the ok to go home. The baby was big – nine pounds – and was born FORTY MINUTES after Moni arrived at the hospital. Now with her bouncing baby at her breast and everything safe behind her, she admitted she had been in labor since midnight, but wanted to finish work before going to the hospital. This was her third baby; she knew they came fast.
All’s well that ends well, but I had no idea how close we were to having a baby born in our kitchen. I asked Moni if I could take some pictures of her and the room because my friends in the United States would want to see what a hospital looks like here. She said she had seen TV shows where they showed birth in the United States and there were always a lot of people around. Is it really like that she asked. Yes it is, I said. Not here, it’s very simple and quiet, she replied.
Monday, February 1, 2010
It only took me a month to catch the blog up to real time. My parents have been here for 3 weeks bringing with them a lot of decaf coffee and recent fiction. The first three days I read two books and now I am having to pace myself so that I can get enough sleep. Lisa and her sister were here for a week and brought even more books and decaf coffee. It's been great to have all the visitors and catch up on the doings back in the Northwest.
Here's a picture of us having our fabulous fish dinner on the beach.
The highlight was definitely the last game of the professional baseball world series here - even though we lost.
We drove a spectacular road to Baños. As we climbed the rainforest flora changed back to Paramo. The road was very basic although reputed to be the highest paved road in Ecuador. It wasn’t really paved of course. We came to a bridge that had fallen and were confused about which way to go until we saw a line of small rocks going through the river. That was the way to go. Jonathan drove slowly through, but not so slow as to get stuck. The pass went through beautiful lake area with fog drifting through it. The road didn’t go where we expected it to, but that didn’t stop everyone we asked to tell us to just keep going.
So we had expected to spend the night in a small town with a great market the next day, but found ourselves at dusk in Riobamba. We stayed at the Hotel Zeus which had had a bizarre make-over in the seventies from which it never recovered. We ate some bad Chinese food and strained our eyes to see the view we were promised of Chambarazo from our room.
Next day was New Year’s Eve and our first task was to find someone to wash our mud caked clothes which I had prewashed in the mirror walled Jacuzzi at the Zeus. We found an obliging laundry that would be open until 4 and then checked out of the hotel and drove to Chambarazo. We had been given conflicting directions and we didn’t have much time, but we were determined to at least get to the base of the mountain whose peak, due to the earth’s bulge at the equator, is the closest point on earth to the sun.
We drove up the mountain, more spectacular views, ho-hum and across a vicuña reserve. Their was a lodge at 4800 meters where the path went up to another lodge from which people could go to the summit. We arrived with a group of school girls and boys who were eager to practice some English.
The path was lined with gravestones of people who had died on the mountain. Jonathan insisted on reaching 5000 meters, but the kids and I were dressed for lower elevations and sat in the lodge and drank instant coffee. Jonathan was exhilarated from the experience and the kids were convinced the altitude was giving him that fatal false sense of confidence they had read about in Into Thin Air.
We all got down safely, got our laundry and drove to Baños. Since it was New Year’s Eve, we were stopped quite often on the road by children dressed in costumes and stopping cars with a rope across the road. You just need to give them a nickel or a dime, but we had been stopped so many times we were out of small change and the last ones looked at us incredulously when we gave them a dollar.
As the night wore on, the children were replaced by widows of the old year. These were guys dressed in drag carrying baby dolls and collecting money to take care of their “children.” It gets old real fast.
We stayed in the Posada del Arte which was fortunately in a quiet side of a very loud town. At midnight, everyone burns the old year – effigies you can buy along the road or make yourself. Extreme creativity was displayed. The streets where choked with smoke and some of the piles were giant. In the square, kids were jumping over the fires and fireworks were shooting into the crowd. Not a bombero in sight.
We went to bed (relatively) early despite the noise. We spent the week end in Baños, but we didn’t like it much. A little too much like Hood River, Oregon. We were ready to go home. Sunday we drove to Guayaquil to fly back to Nicaragua.
We were all so happy to be back in our own (mostly) scorpion free beds.