Sunday, March 21, 2010

Re entry

At first, it felt cold and dark and green. I went to the grocery store at 10 o’clock at night. I was overwhelmed by all the stuff. Lots of plastic, lots of pasty white people. As I am driving my car around the same streets, I automatically revert to my other self. But the houses seem really big, the distances are huge just from Wallingford to Capitol Hill.

By Saturday I wasn’t cold anymore. The sun was shining. It was as if I was dreaming I was in Seattle on a beautiful spring day. I expected to wake up to the roosters and the birds and the band accompanying Jesus down the street any minute.

I’m having a lot of fun being a visitor for a week. Everyone is glad to see me. I wonder what the turn around time loop is for that. I could just keep shifting back and forth say every 4 months between Granada and Seattle and spend the whole time catching up with friends.

Hospital and Home

Baggage came quickly, even the large box with the broken espresso machine I was hauling with me. No wait for a cab and I headed to my parents house. Light rain was falling. My mom and my dog were both glad to see me. After a good scratch to Bernie’s ears, we headed to the hospital.

It was quiet there. My dad was in pretty good spirits and looking forward to heading home soon. I couldn’t help comparing the pure luxury of his simple hospital room to a few I had recently seen in Nicaragua. Still, there is no way a Nicaraguan hospital would have sent him home so soon.

The Hospital Director came to visit my dad because he saw he had come in as a result of a bike accident. He was able to identify the part of the Burke Gilman where the accident occurred before he even heard about it. Someone comes in about once a week from there. He hit it off with my dad as a mature, bike riding, administrator type and encouraged him to ride again when the leg was healed.

The big bummer is my parents’ bike trip to Holland in two weeks had to be cancelled.

The first day home, it really took two of us to sort everything out. It was hard. I felt like my dad was sent home with very little information about what to do if there was a problem. I did call the doctor on call at midnight to make sure shin pain wasn’t a blood clot. She said, no, but the fever could be a sign of a UTI and we should take him to his GP the next day for a test. She clearly had no clue what it had been like for my dad to make the trip to the bathroom, let alone out of the house and into the car again. And even after that call, his surgeon didn’t call to make sure everything was all right. Everything is all right, but still, if my dad was alone or had less on the ball caregivers, it wouldn’t be - and who would know?

So for all of the technology and advanced medicine, for which I am truly thankful, the simple human connection, coordination and follow-up was oddly missing. But I am nitpicking. My dad just had some major surgery the moment he needed it and nothing went wrong. The people he worked with in the hospital were attentive, supportive and professional. It is easy to lose sight of that bigger, better picture in the moment uncertainty and confusion.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Unexpected trip home

I could tell from my mom’s message that she wasn’t just returning my call. “Um I’ll send you some information by email . . . “she said on my skype voicemail. I called her right back. She was still at the house, just ready to go back to the hospital. “Your father fell and broke his hip. “ Even though he crashed on his bike and broke it, still breaking a hip doesn’t sound like breaking a leg, or breaking an arm. It is something that happens to old people.

Surgery was scheduled for that night and happily they did not have to replace the hip, just shore it up a bit with a plate and screws. The next morning my dad was feeling pretty good. It actually didn't occur to me to go home. I am, after all, living in a foreign country. The surgery was simple and easy and my dad is in tremendous shape. He is 70 years old and swims a mile at least 4 times a week. Sometimes 6.

Although things are not that serious, after hearing my mom talk about scenarios for moving furniture around their house and putting in rails and such to make the stairs easier and where to move the bed I felt overwhelmed for her. They have friends in the neighborhood and all of my friends have already offered to do anything to help, but it isn't the same. I realized I should probably go help her out. I would go if I were in New York, and it really isn't that much farther.

Maybe I am going because I feel guilty about leaving for the year. My unspoken deal with my family has always been that I can live where ever I want, but when needed I get there as quick as I can. So we searched for a free ticket and then a cheap ticket and then any ticket for the next day. I got the last seat on the plane and it happened to be First Class, but oh well. It was only a little more than the regular fair the next day.

Five o'clock Tuesday morning Bosco was there to take me to the airport. As we drove in we passed the buses full of vendors with market baskets piled high on the top of the bus. Everyone was waiting for the bus to go to work and I could here the roosters crowing as we went through towns. Fruit stands were already full of fruit as the sun came up. It was hot and hazy and I tried to image what it was going to be like to step out into the cold rain in Seattle.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why did we come here?

Now I am engaged in the same activities as last year at this time only in reverse. Like watching a film backwards. February of last year we were getting the kids enrolled at ANS in an amazingly efficient meeting thanks to Jonathan’s organizational skills. Now we are ignoring the repeated reminders to register for ANS and frantically trying to get a hold of the enrollment office in Seattle to make sure that our kids get to seamlessly return to their previous school path.

People do still ask, why did you come to Nicaragua for a year. The answer varies, probably because there is no simple answer. There is the short answer – we came because Jonathan was starting a new business. Or the slightly longer version - we found ourselves a little underemployed and decided to take advantage of the fact that we had a house in a much cheaper part of the world. Or the more philosophical – we had the realization that we were raising monolingual children and our life was very far from the international one imagined when we first met. It was our last chance to make our children live with us in a foreign country. Or the truth – I found myself overcome with a desperate desire to leave; to get out of the life I was living which was perfectly satisfying in so many ways, but filled me with dread and loathing in so many others. Jonathan and I took a good look and were very lucky to discover that we had some real options for the best of both worlds, completely going away for a year and returning to the same, but by then hopefully more rewarding, or at least more lucrative, life we had left.

Our greatest moments of happiness have always been far away from home but snuggly intact with our family; it was a dream we couldn’t defer. We assigned greater meaning to it – exposing our children to the developing world (they now have no patience for poor people) developing real job opportunities for Bottom of the Pyramid families (despite the fact that the powers that be don’t seems to care about real job opportunities) putting a year of work into working out how social entrepreneurship plays out in the real world on a scale that can make a difference (it doesn’t really). But the real reason was pure indulgence. We left because we could. We wanted to leave the gray skies, unhappy jobs, money anxiety we had last year and feel warm and happy and rich again. We just wanted to escape.

The escape wasn’t easy. We had to disentangle ourselves from thousands of things while making sure everything would be set for our return. Then we had to entangle ourselves to a thousand things here. It’s cheap, but our earnings still didn’t support our lifestyle until last month when Jonathan got a paycheck for the first time in a year. But we are living very lavishly.

Would we do it again? In a heart beat.

Running (you are warned)

I am finally running a decent amount again. It took an upcoming half marathon (thankfully up in much cooler Jinotega) to get me back to some semblance of discipline. I’ve been running with three friends in their mid twenties, children really. I can keep up, but I notice that they improve much faster. I told Clara Isabelle about the runner’s world personalized work out schedule because she is training for the Berlin Marathon in the fall. I feel like a drug pusher. Now she is trying to find a 100 meter incline in Granada to do hill repeats. Her runs have turned into workouts.

I myself am past the workout stage, although I may return in a cooler climate. At the moment I am content to head out the door and do easy loops by the lake or through town. I have to watch my feet so I don’t step in any wide-open street sewers or trip on people’s steps, invisible because they are covered in the same square tiles as the sidewalk. I always run through groups of children on their way to school in their white shirts and blue skirts or pants with their hair freshly combed. By the lake, boys are driving cows down to drink and graze. The trees are full of mangoes and people picking them. Its always pretty much the same, except the mangoes are getting riper.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The more things change . . .

It has taken 8 months for our lives in Nicaragua to be almost exactly the same as our lives in Seattle. This last week I was working on a grant for ReWA with its usual miscommunications, last minute scrambling and anxiety. Jonathan just spent 12 long days in a row working on funding proposals for CO2Bambu. We had to make numerous trips to Managua to get the kids back and forth to work with their friends on Science Projects. Bank transactions didn’t go through, taxes had to be filed. We were getting up early and falling into bed exhausted. I went to a parent meeting at the kids school and felt like I was the only one who didn’t know everyone. We have been missing many sunsets.

I hardly left the house, limiting my social contact to whoever happened to come by. (Avi mostly) When I did venture out, I went to the bank to get money to pay the staff. I ran into my neighbor, Anders, who was a little stressed out himself. He handed 20 cords to a beggar and turned to me and said, “What happened that my life in Nicaragua is now just as hassled as my life in Denmark?”

Getting things in Nicaragua

Back in September, we blew a valve on the espresso machine. The necessary part was quickly located online and we had it mailed to Jonathan’s brother David in New York. We gave him instructions to put it in a plain envelope and send it down. Which he did, on October 6. The part never showed up so we ordered another one and sent it along with a lot of other things, including a computer and clarinet mouthpiece, to Thelma’s sister in Florida so that Laurence and Thelma could hand carry it down here after Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, since Laurence has the same machine, but it is not in use, we swapped out the part so we were able to make coffee. So great to have friends!

Today, March 5, the package from David arrived with the little brass valve. Like almost all the mail we get from the states, it was opened and taped shut. Although this time without the little stamp stating that it had arrived at the post office that way. (Yeah right). The mail carrier brought it to the door and Jonathan had to show him his passport to get him to give it to him.

I think the way it works is that all the mail from abroad is dumped in a pile somewhere in Managua. If it is an attractive item, it immediately goes to the postal employees or is held for ransom from its rightful owners by demanding exhorbitant customs payments. The puzzling or less interesting items are just left there. Eventually someone might get to them or send them on their way.

Poetry Festival

While children all over the US West Coast are skiing, it’s the week of the International Poetry Festival here in Granada. The third week in February each year, the place is just crawling with poets. They arrive from all over the world and can be recognized by their badges. Just like at any other conference, but theirs say “poet” and their country of origin. The most recognizable poets in Nicaragua are Gioconda Belli and Ernesto Cardinal and the have a big presence at the festival.

Ernesto is always the same. He just turned 84. His shoulder length pure white hair flows under an ever-present black beret. As a priest, he was a very early liberation theologist who was a central figure in the revolution. Serving as cultural minister during the first Sandinista years, in the 90’s he broke off with the FSLN to protest Daniel Ortega’s authoritarian rule of the party. He was born in the house (Casa de los tres Mundos) that now serves as Granada’s cultural center and produces the festival.

Gioconda was another central Sandinista figure during the Revolution and Sandista government and since has become Nicaragua’s most beloved novelist and poet. She too broke with the FSLN and while she supports the “purist” Sandino party (MRS) she has focused her energies on literary activities over the last decade. She used the festival this year as an occasion to release her newest book.

Poetry is the most widely supported and developed literary (or any) art form in Nicaragua. Ruben Dario, the father of modern Spanish poetry, is a celebrated native son. Indeed, a huge amount of time at the poetry festival is devoted to school children reading Dario’s poems on the open mike stage. The newspaper has a weekly poetry section that highlights emerging Nicaraguan poets and established Hispanic poets.

For one week in Granada, poetry is front and center. There are nightly panels of poets reading in a different park or square throughout the city. The readings are followed by concerts that are widely attended as folks gather from all over town to listen. The poets change (some) from year to year, but the events are oddly all exactly the same. Last year, Jonathan had a lovely bike ride in the dark to the old fort to hear German, Spanish and Nicaraguan poets followed by a concert by the Kammerata Bach. The exact same schedule was presented this year.

Poetry really is taken to the streets. All day, there is an open mike in front of the Casa de los tres Mundos. There is a carnival where the parade stops at each major square to read poetry as it winds through town with the usual band and dancers. On Friday, the poets travel by bus throughout the district and read poetry in all the outlying towns.

Then, at the end of the week the book fair gets packed up and all the poets leave and the town goes back to its more or less illiterate state.