Sunday, April 18, 2010


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.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


I worked hard all day on a very small proposal for ReWA that took much longer than it should. I broke down and turned the air conditioner on at 3 o’clock. I have discovered that working in the back of the house cuts out the door distractions. Since the monitor and keyboard got stolen, there’s no reason to work at the front desk anyway. Surprisingly, I actually enjoy working here. With Angel to drive the kids around, Christina to clean, Moni to cook and shop it’s easy to sit down and get to work. I guess I normally do the work of 4 people at home. Hmmm. Oh, how I will miss my staff!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Pesaj and Semana Santa

We spent the first night of Passover on Little Corn Island. I had 2 boxes of matzah, some amazing live salad greens from Steve Ensalada by way of Peta and a beet. The chef at Casa Iguana was very obliging. I asked him to roast the beet, boil us half a dozen eggs, wash the greens and find us a bottle of wine. We were stumped by the bitter herbs, because he couldn’t come up with horseradish, or even regular radish. No biggie, it was kind of a pseudo Seder anyway. Fortunately I realized they thought boiled eggs with matzah and salad was our dinner and clarified the purpose of the ceremonial foods in time to get our dinner reservations in. Glad they were serving chicken.

We sang our blessings and ran through the Haggadah rather quickly as a very big moon rose over the Caribbean Sea. The kids didn’t want to sing songs because they are at a painfully conscious stage.

We had a second Seder Friday night in Granada with the Ginsberg family so that I could get a chance to make matzah ball soup and matzah almond roca. The horseradish was again a little problematic, but Laurence assured me there is horseradish in Dijon mustard so we put some of that on the Seder Plate.

When it was time to open the door for Elijah, we heard drums coming down our street and opened the door to find a different prophet covered in blood and stretched out on a funeral pyre.

His mother was gazing down at him. They were held a loft by a group of young folks wearing purple hoods and robes. The pointy capirote (hoods) always remind me of the kkk but it was so hot these guys had theirs rolled up over their faces and looked more like purple smurfs.

Whereas I was running out of the house during Purisima to catch every passing of the Virgin, I found I was less motivated for the Semana Santa processions. I find the images of Jesus so much less compelling than Mary. I also may be experiencing a little band and float burnout after all of these months in Granada. There seems to always be a procession in the streets.

But the oddest interpretation of the season had to be what Avi saw in Masatepe. I wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t shown me the pictures. They have an event there each Good Friday that is simply referred to as the Judios (Jews). Many groups of men dress up in matching short skirts and wear pointy hats covered in crepe paper. Each group has a contraption of chains that they pull through the street. A designated Jesus and/or Judas is bound in the middle of the chains and pulled. At first he is held off the ground and flying through the air, but as the runners tire, he gets dragged along the pavement. Major road burn. Also small children are walking around dressed up as Jesus and one lucky youth gets to be tied to the cross and raised up in the town square.

The official news report is 95 dead in traffic accidents (28) drownings (41) homicide (20) and a gun fight (6) for the week of the heaviest traffic and partying of the year. Talk at the kids' school was about the 12 who died when a pickup full of young folks being driven fast by a drunk had a head on collision with a small bus.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What We Found on Little Corn Island

Not a single car or truck on the island. The main thoroughfare is a sidewalk with dirt paths leading off to beaches. Loads are transported by hand carts or wheelbarrows. There were a few bicycles and a few boats. The beaches are soft light sand ringed by coconut trees. Mango groves cover the two hills. The water is every color of blue green you can imagine.

We stayed at Casa Iguana which had simple brightly painted plywood cabanas scattered on a small cliff overlooking the beach on the east side of the island. That side is blessed with an almost constant wind. The west side with the village and the pretty sunset is stifling.

Three delicious meals a day were served in the lodge looking out over the water. We rented snorkeling equipment to explore the reefs right off the beach. For our big outing, we walked to the north side of the island and found another beautiful beach of white sand and coconut trees.

We slept with the Caribbean Sea breeze in our faces. We swung in hammocks. We read books. The boys paced the beach engrossed in a conversation they seemed to have started many years ago that we can never figure out.

What the US embassy wants you to know

Safety Precautions during Semana Santa: March 27 - April 4, 2010
This message is being issued to urge U.S. citizens to exercise extra caution over the Semana Santa (Holy Week) holiday next week. Semana Santa is a religious holiday in which thousands of people leave Managua to visit beaches and other tourist sites across Nicaragua.

The U.S. Embassy recommends that adults supervise their children at all times while in or near water. Many of Nicaragua's best-known resorts do not employ lifeguards to supervise swimmers. Nicaragua's Pacific coast is generally regarded one of the most treacherous in the world and emergency rescue and medical services are largely non-existent.

And in general, don’t forget . . .

Nicaragua lacks tourist infrastructure. Except in the cities and major thoroughfares, most roads are unpaved. Public transportation is unsafe and there are no sidewalks. Most essential services are sporadic. Most hospitals are substandard.

Domestic travel within Nicaragua by land and air, particularly to the Atlantic side, can be dangerous. Domestic airlines use small airstrips with minimal safety equipment and little boarding security.

Police coverage is extremely sparse outside of major urban areas, particularly in Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast autonomous regions. Lack of adequate police coverage has resulted in these areas being used by drug traffickers and other criminal elements. Street crime and petty theft are a common problem in Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields and the Corn Islands along the Atlantic coast. For security reasons, the Embassy has limited travel by its staff to the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions (RAAN and RAAS), including the Corn Islands. Given the area’s geographical isolation, the Embassy’s ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens who choose to travel in the Caribbean costal area is constrained. Police presence on Little Corn Island is made up of volunteers with little to no formal training, and is minimal on Corn Island and other remote areas.

In late 2007, a U.S. citizen was assaulted and violently raped while on vacation in Little Corn Island. U.S. citizens have previously been the victims of sexual assault on this island and other beaches in the country. The Embassy recommends traveling in groups when in isolated areas. Single travelers should exercise special caution while traveling in the Corn Islands and other remote areas of the country.

Spring Break on Corn Island - getting there

I was nervous about the trip to Little Corn Island. I was freaked by tales of tiny planes landing and taking off from Bluefields and the size of the boat from Big Corn to Little Corn. The trip was a perfect example of why I need to force myself to do some things even when I am scared and even if other people confirm my worst fears. I had a completely different experience. If I had backed out because the anxiety was too much for me, I would have missed a fabulous trip with my family to a tiny Caribbean island.

The plane WAS small and the airport experience was unlike anything I have ever seen. We were told to arrive an hour and a half before the plane was scheduled to leave, but since we already had our tickets and it was such a small plane in such a small country at such a small airport, there seemed to be no reason to get up at 3:30 in the morning. Well, there sort of was. The people who got there early got a boarding pass. The rest of us didn’t, even with tickets waiting in a line that really wasn’t moving while one ticket agent checked everybody in for multiple flights. Then they announced the boarding passes 1-12 should board. We still hadn’t moved and they announced numbers 12-24. Panic. A Managuan whipped out his cell phone and made a call and then ushered his family and all their bags into the boarding area. Jonathan, the New Yorker, got us to the front of the line. The agent weighed us with our bags and wrote it down on her sheet. She gave us some reusable plastic boarding passes. When we got to the gate, the other Corn Island passengers weren’t there. What no one bothered to tell us was that they send three planes of various sizes depending on how many people have bought tickets. Two twelve seaters had already left. When it was our turn, we filed out to a surprisingly comfortable, but completely rectangular two propeller plane (SD3-60). It was pretty old. They threw the bags in the hold and we took off in a matter of minutes.

After awhile the flight attendance walked through the aisles with a tray loaded with Styrofoam cups of Rojita and packets of butter cookies. She went up to chat with the pilot and then wondered back to her seat. I was happily surprised to see us flying over the coast and heading directly to Corn Island. Easy landing on tiny runway, we walked down the stairs and into the small arrival hall where someone wrote down our passport numbers. Everyone waited for a bit. When we got our bags we opened the door and everyone else left then too. Taxis were waiting and we loaded into one for the short ride to the dock. The ponga (smallish open boat with benches) was waiting. We waited in the shade. Eventually the driver started to load people in and we crowded 5 to a seat until the boat was full. We were glad when they passed out life jackets for everyone. The boat started to pull away and a taxi came up with someone in it, so they lanquidly walked over to the boat and got in. We pulled away from the dock and another taxi came up so we made a turn and came back to get two middle aged tourists. They got stuck on the end of the seats. It was pretty choppy and they got drenched.

After a thirty minute trip over the open water in full sun, we pull up to the dock on Little Corn Island. No taxis waiting here because there are no roads, but there were guys with wheelbarrows.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Back and forth

Before I went back to Seattle for the week, I was thinking now and then that maybe one year was too much and we should have stayed shorter, say 6-9 months. What more is there left to do? But the short trip made it terribly clear to me that I don’t want to go back yet. I like it a lot here. I am reluctant to return to what seems to be a mountain of commitments and a lot more work. At the very least, I want to maintain the back and forth. Before I had a sense that I had a year here and there were things to accomplish – support projects, get the book together, learn Spanish – and that those things would be done at some point. Now feels more like the regular flow of life. I don’t try to accomplish anything particular in Seattle, I just continue living my life and meeting my responsibilities.

Topsy turvy. Even though I work for an organization in Seattle, it was harder to get work done there than here. I was “on vacation” there and out of touch, just like I used to be when I came here. It has very little to do with physical location, but the perspective of where is home and where is away. The foreground and background keep switching.

I think I want to make sure I come back for at least a few weeks a couple times a year to maintain that feeling. I was thinking I needed to have something here to force me to come back– a job, a company, a project. But now I see I don’t. I have the same life, the same job either place.