Thursday, May 31, 2007

This may, or may not, be the final blog of this initial Nica experience. We'll see how the next week goes. As it is, we're scheduled to leave Managua on Fri. June 8, spend a few days on an island near Seattle visiting an old friend, then continuing on to Anchorage on the 11th. Depending on how things go with repairing the car, we should be back in Homer by the end of the week.

Although there are many reasons we are sad to be leaving, even temporarily, a new development has rendered us nearly paralytic in our desire to stay: we've adopted a baby duck. What happened was, I went along with Pat on one of his many chain sawing wood for the neighbors adventures, and as there was quite a lot of wood at this particular house (belonging to Walter, the young fisherman of a much earlier blog, and shared by two brothers, a grandmother, two wives, and at least four young children, including our buddy Donald), I was given one of the ubiquitous plastic stacking chairs to sit in and then one of the women came out holding this tiny duckling. Apparently its mother had been sold off too early and its egg was rammed under a hen until it hatched—at which point the hen noticed this chick was a bit odd looking and began to peck it to death. The kids saved it, just a few hours before we showed up, but the adults were ready to just let nature take its course—the duckling would make it, or not, without human interference. So they give the duckling to me to hold and somehow it ends up snuggled into my collarbone where it stays for the next couple hours until Pat's done. When I tried to give it back, it peeped as though its wee heart were breaking, so they told me it was mine to keep if I wanted it. Well if you've ever had the chance to hold a ducking, then you know I could no sooner have given it up than chopped off my left hand, and so the duckling came to be ours. Within hours it was running our lives, with us besotted, doing anything to keep it happy. We named it Einstein, mainly to amuse our friends who aside from not tending to name barnyard animals, certainly do not name them after world famous physicists. Reyna and Edwin have offered to take it in after we go, with Reyna attempting to assuage my remorse at abandoning him by assuring me that by the time we get back, he'll be big and probably ugly, and certainly ready to eat…Meanwhile, he sleeps with us at night for the warmth, and spend most of his days, when not splashing about in his little pool and eating, nestled in a bandana around one of our necks. Yes, there are pictures.

As far as the house goes, we're not quite as far along as we'd initially hoped…but at least the place is secure, and we managed to get a couple of the rooms painted. The final thing was to lay the floor tiles, but it turns out that the only place in SW Nicaragua to sell quality Saltillo (Mexican terracotta pavers) style tiles needs a month+ to prepare them (silly us, thinking we'd just go to the tile store and buy them), so we'll just order them and have them ready when we get back in September.

It has started to rain a bit, seldom for very long, and generally at the most inconvenient times, such as three minutes after I leave the house on my bike. As a precaution, I've taken to stuffing plastic grocery bags under my bike seat so at least I can keep things that prefer not to be rained on dry. And when the sun returns, usually within half an hour, you dry out very quickly. The other thing about the rain is, it makes Nica drivers, many of whom are what you might call, euphemistically, if you happened to be, say, Scottish, "fucking head cases", even worse. This is partly due to the fact that people here, for economic reasons, tend to keep their tires until they are smooth enough to drag a baby across, resulting in an insane amount of skidding, and partly the result of a disturbing lack of windshield wipers. Or, as I saw the other day, what appeared to be a pair of ragged socks attached to the wiper holders with bits of string. We now ride about in a heightened state of alertness, and so far have managed to avoid any unpleasant collisions.

As I write, there is yet another Evangelist sing-a-long taking place a few houses away. They have a large speaker set up in the street, and about 25 people are seated on blue plastic chairs facing a small stage. The preaching part seems to be over, and they have moved on to the yowling. I am quite sure tone deafness is a prerequisite to joining an Evangelist church here. There can be no other explanation for the eye-crossingly painful renditions of what might be, if emitted from other mouths, tolerable ballads. Of course there is a limit to what can be done with such soul-shaking lyrics as, "If you know Jesus, you know he's glorious", etc. Pat is lying in the hammock, ear plugs in, moaning softly for me to just kill him now to make it all stop. Although we will miss many things when we head back north, this is most definitely not one of them.

As a treat for our ever-growing crowd of beach kids, we decided to pile them into the truck, and along with Edwin's family, take everyone to a recently opened aquatic center in Potosi, about 15 minutes north of Buenos Aires. We arrived, four adults and thirteen children between two and fourteen, to find the place in the process of cleaning the pools (there are four of varying sizes and depths). Back into the truck to head to an older place with just one pool, where we were so horrified by the color and texture (yes, texture) of the water we tripped over one another getting back in the vehicle. By now the sky had clouded over and everyone was starving, so we decided to table the swimming idea and just headed to our favorite near-the-beach restaurant. We figured, correctly, that none of these kids had ever eaten in a restaurant before. We sat outside at little tropical tables, trying to ignore the amazing swarms of 'zayulies', tiny transparent gnat-like insects. The little bastards are completely harmless, but they appear near the beach occasionally in such colossal numbers and then just fly about for a while before dying in droves, ideally in your food or drink. The slightest puff of wind is enough to send them swirling away, and fortunately along with the darkening sky came some serious gusts, sparing us a total invasion. The kids were very excited, and a bit awed by everything. I ordered enough food for everyone, and the lovely waiter arranged for every kid to get his or her own plate individually served. Before and after the food, they played on the swing set and slide, also a new experience for most of them. (Rosita got to show off a bit here, as neither restaurants nor playground equipment are novelties to her.) We promised to try for the pools another day, but all in all, feeling like characters out of "Cheaper by the Dozen", we had a great time. And to feed all those hungry mouths, including full meals for the adults, with sodas and juices, and for Edwin and me, a couple beers, the bill came to $42 with tip, well worth every cordoba.

Yesterday may have set us on a new path here in Nicaragua: that of plantain farmers. We went with Edwin, his (Managua) brother Rei, his cousin Mario, and several nephews, to harvest a crop. They were at first very concerned, if not downright disturbed, by the idea of a woman joining in this typically male-dominated venture, but Edwin is by now used to my assumption that women are capable of doing any work men do, and I think by the end, the others were forced to agree. Their concern was not altogether misplaced however--this is hard work! You must first whack down the heavy cluster of platanos, then chop the tree down at about waist level. The bunches of fruit must then be hauled to the end of the row to await sorting and loading onto the truck, while the top half of the trees must be dragged out of the main path. We only did one section of around two acres or less, working for under two hours, but man, we were beat. The sun didn't help, nor the heat and humidity. And it's exceedingly dirty work as well, so everyone who makes a habit of this sort of thing has a set of clothes they use only for harvesting platanos. Pat of course took to it immediately. I was somewhat less enthused, eventually telling Edwin I definitely preferred working with salmon. Nevertheless, we are now talking seriously with Edwin and Rei about a possible future investment with them, perhaps forming a sort of cooperative. Vamos a ver…

Oh, and for the record, my throat is just fine, negative biopsy result, no worries.

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