Creepie Crawlies

>> Saturday, October 27, 2007

Since we live in a capital city close to Managua, we’re lucky enough to have other volunteers visit frequently enough. What has begun to trouble us, however, is the number of uninvited guests that have come into our house. Some are so unwelcome yet so persistent that we have to scrape them off of our shoes to get them out the door. Others behaved themselves well enough that we don’t mind keeping them around.

When we first moved in, we were surprised to see that some cucarachas were already living above our lavendero:I don’t know what this bug is, but it was pretty big:We saw a chicken walking around on our patio one day and it stumbled inside so we shooed it out, but then it started raining and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. We shut the doors to keep him out, but apparently the crack under our door is big enough for a small, determined chicken to squeeze his way through. Since we couldn’t do much about it, we just let him chill in a cardboard box until the rain subsided. He was pretty cool, so I’d consider letting him come visit sometime if there weren’t the risk that someone would accuse us of harboring a stolen chicken.Perhaps the most disturbing visitor made it through the mosquito net to creep around in bed. We saw him running across the sheets but even after taking apart the bedroom in a desperate search effort, we couldn’t track him down. One day when we weren’t expecting him we saw him up near the ceiling in a crevice:The only guest that we have had to… “dispose of” is the tarantula that we saw crawling around under our hammocks. Luckily we weren’t in them and my rush of adrenaline was accompanied by good aim to kill it from afar. We were too skittish to take the picture while he was alive so we waited until we knew he couldn’t get us. As a result, this picture is a little nasty, so click the link if you’re brave enough and don’t have a meal in your recent past or future.


There haven’t been any major catastrophes, but the bugs here are certainly much healthier, bigger, and more plentiful than they were in Missouri. And don’t think that just because we have lots of bugs that our house is especially dirty or bug-inviting; even the nicest houses have their share of cockroaches. We just assumed that like the chavalos, the bugs are interested in their new gringo neighbors and want to stop by and see how they function in their natural domestic habitat. Oh well, at least it forces us to have a clean house just in case an unexpected visitor drops by.


Surprise Fiestas

>> Tuesday, October 23, 2007

As part of the weekly fiestas patronales in Masaya, we heard that San Jeronimo, the patron saint of Masaya, would be paraded through the city along with another saint, San Miguel. I have asked several people why San Miguel comes along; I didn’t really understand the explanations I received, so I just assume that Miguel is like Jeronimo’s sidekick. Anyway, the Sunday of the procession was very rainy, so Paul and I decided to skip the cultural event in the central park and stay home. School was canceled the next day, so Paul was in Managua and I was home by myself when suddenly I was startled by a loud cheer outside. Okay, okay, I was taking a nap when it happened, but I was still jolted awake because far more than the normal few conversation were happening on our corner.

I went outside and asked a neighbor what was going on, and he told me that it was the procession of San Jeronimo throughout the entire city of Masaya. I was confused because I thought the procession was the day before. It turns out it was—the procession began on Sunday at 8:00 am and was still going strong Monday at 11:00 am. San Jeronimo begins his parade at the San Jeronimo church and then walks down every street in Masaya with marching bands and “groupies” following him all the while. The loud cheer was because sidekick San Miguel’s float had just passed; fortunately, I was just in time to see San Jeronimo.

Here you can see why I was alarmed with all the noise: the street was packed like this up and down our entire block. People were also taking a lot of liberties with our porch, but at least no one came inside. Fortunately, I could stand out on the porch to watch the procession so I had plenty of room and a good escape route when it started to rain. I also eventually made friends with some of the chavalos perched on the porch, and they were kind enough to hold my umbrella over the camera and me so that the camera wouldn’t get wet while I snapped pictures. Here is San Jeronimo approaching our house. San Jeronimo himself is perched on a float made of flowers and other greenery. The flowers are a little wilty but that’s probably because 1) this was taken at about hour 25 of the procession; 2) it was pouring and had been raining for much of the previous 25 hours; and 3) when the float passed, a lot of people reached up and stole a few flowers for a souvenir.Here are the guys carrying the float along the road; it looks really heavy! When it’s time for the float to be moved, a group of guys pick up the float by wood beams along the bottom, carry him along a little way, then set him down again.Here a guy is changing San Jeronimo’s outfit; someone in the crowd had crocheted a new hat, cape, and flowered skirt (?) for him, so this guy was the official clothes-changer (In case you’re wondering, Jeronimo was sporting a nice pair of orange boxer shorts underneath). People also liked to hand their children up to this guy and he would pose them near the Saint for a picture.As soon as San Jeronimo and the bands passed, the crowd dispersed and all was quiet again. I fear I’m becoming spoiled by all the festivals here; not only is there a parade or event every weekend, but now I don’t even have to leave the house to see them.


An Open Letter

>> Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dear October,

Normally this isn’t my sort of thing. I think that months are generally benign, and besides, what good can one strongly-worded letter accomplish? However, I hope that my words strike a chord with you because honestly, I’m getting a little tired of your antics. In the US, I am largely indifferent to and sometimes even welcoming of your presence. You change the colors of the leaves and almost always (with the exception of 1994, for which you can hardly be blamed) bring playoff baseball. Sure it gets a little colder anywhere north of the great state of Miami when you’re around, but at least it’s gradual.

In Nicaragua, however, you’re really annoying. You bring rains and not just any rains. These are not only biblical, but also spur-of-the-moment, didn’t-see-it-coming rains. Besides that, you can’t even be content with everything being wet while it’s raining. Nope, instead you seem to take sadistic glee in flooding the streets and creating disease-filled puddles in which to get wet even when the clouds take a temporary break to recharge. Moreover, it is almost impossible to do laundry when you’re around because 1) it’s almost always raining and 2) when it’s not, it’s cloudy with the threat of rain so the clothes don’t dry and sometimes even get moldy. I think even you can admit that this is a little unsporting.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm unwilling to compromise. For example, I rarely need to go outside at night, so why don’t you take a little time to plan the rains around human schedules. We are, after all, living in a fairly anthropocentric era, and it wouldn’t hurt you to take notice. I urge you to deposit large amounts of rain in la madrugada in order to leave the daytime relatively clear. If you are going to bring rain during the day, which I accept as inevitable, at least make it pretty obvious before I leave the house. No more of this sudden raining while I’m in the middle of a journey, ok?

Thanks for your time and for considering my humble requests.

Respectfully yours,



>> Friday, October 19, 2007

A few weekends ago we went to Matagalpa in the north to visit some friends. The city of Matagalpa is cool—we went to a nice coffee shop and I tasted good coffee for the first time in 6 months and afterward we tracked down the source of the coffee and I bought a huge 500 g bag for 30 c√≥rdobas (about $1.50). Afterward we went to a grocery store with peanut butter and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. (Never before in my life have I been so deeply concerned with the offerings of grocery stores, but here it becomes sort of a scavenger hunt and because I’m interested in it, I assume that you must be also. I apologize if that isn’t the case. I’d be pretty bored too if everyone wrote to me to tell me about the new grocery store in the US that has everything you could possibly want to buy. But I digress.) After lunch at a real Italian restaurant we made our way to the outskirts to see a real-life chocolate factory!

This chocolate factory is pretty small and doesn’t have any Willy Wonka-style security precautions. There were some short people running around, but I’m pretty sure that they were just children and not oompa-loompas. We just walked up to the gate and even though the owner insisted that he was gardening and not giving tours, he eventually relented after hearing that we were Peace Corps volunteers. Maybe because he felt that we looked underfed or maybe because he was really nice, he gave us tons of free samples during the tour, sometimes even opening up new candy bars just so we could try a bite of the “old recipe.”

The owner is an extranjero (foreigner) but the chocolate is pretty Nicaraguan. It uses cocao and coffee from all over the country and it’s made by hand in Matagalpa. Here are some pictures from the trip:
This is the cacao before it gets smashed up:
Here they crack the cacao by hand to begin the process of separation:
Here’s Holly and me on top of the castle:We all felt pretty giddy in the presence of so much chocolate:

After we were done and we had bought a 2-month supply of sweet sweet rations, we made our way to Nicole’s very small, very rural site. It was raining, and sometimes there aren’t many buses passing by. This was one of those times, so the bus that we took looked something like this:
Yeah, those are people riding on the roof. When our bus came, that would have been the only option, but the cobrador opened up the back door and yelled, “Make room for the gringos!” Never before had I felt so guilty and privileged, but I wasn’t about to ride on top of a bus on a terrible road for more than an hour to assuage my guilt. Instead, we were lucky enough to be crammed into the bus with no room to move. It was a fun trip and it was nice to see more of Nicaragua, but by the end of the weekend, we were ready to come back to running water, less erratic electricity, and a real toilet. On Sunday when we finally got back to Masaya after riding on bumpy, slow buses for five and a half hours we jumped in our hammocks and both thought to ourselves, “There’s no place like home.”


Rain Day

>> Thursday, October 04, 2007

At first, I was really disappointed that I was going to be a teacher in a place that doesn’t have snow days, the cold days where you get to stay at home, watching TV, and drinking hot chocolate. Little did I know that Nicaragua has an even better idea: rain days.

I had heard that school is canceled when it’s raining, but we had never actually experienced it until Tuesday afternoon. There have been plenty of days when it’s been raining, of course, but apparently there are a lot of unspoken rules about what does and does not constitute a rain day: first, it needs to be raining about 30 minutes before school starts, which is the time everyone is normally going to school. It’s rained lots of times around 3 or 4 o’clock, but by that time everyone’s already at school, so there’s no point in canceling it since everyone would get wet going home anyway. Second, it has to be raining hard. Little sprinkles or even the threat of really dark clouds isn’t enough to earn students and teachers a day of freedom. It also has to be the type of rain that’s going to last all afternoon, not just a brief shower that’s going to pass. I think there are probably other unspoken rules that we still don’t know, but I guess we have two years to figure it all out.

On Tuesday morning (school was already canceled Monday, remember, to allow a day of recovery from Masaya’s festivities over the weekend and is also canceled this Monday for the same reason) it started raining really hard at about 10:30 with no sign of stopping. I’m not going to lie; Paul and I were a little eager for our first rain day, but when the rain stopped at about 12:00, we both got ready to go to school. I decided to walk to school since the rain had cooled everything off, but of course it started pouring again when I was just far enough that it was pointless to turn back or take a cab. I arrived at school before my 1:00 class, but it became obvious that it was a rain day because there were about half a dozen professors and maybe 20 students there. I think this is sort of a chicken-or-the-egg situation; the teachers say they don’t come when it’s raining because the students don’t, but the students say they don’t come because no teachers do. Either way, they never even rang the bell for classes to begin. Those of us that were silly enough to come to school pretty much waited around until the rain let up to go home, and I also wanted to wait until my two classes would have been over just to make sure that neither of my afternoon counterparts would come and think I was lazy for not going to school (they never came). I made it home around 2:30 during a brief break in the rain and discovered that Paul had had the exact same experience at his school. Even though the idea of a rain day (presumably) is to allow everyone to say dry, there were plenty of neighborhood chavalos who took advantage of the day to go swimming:

And more chavalos that took the opportunity to dispose of some unwanted trash:

Wednesday was more of the same: it started raining a little before noon and really didn’t let up until after 3:00. Paul and I decided that we shouldn’t go to class since we doubted anyone else would be there (chicken or the egg?) and just enjoyed an afternoon at home reading while it rained. I’m not exactly sure if there is rain day etiquette regarding two rain days in a row, but I guess we’ll find out this afternoon when we go to school. That is, of course, unless it starts to rain.

UPDATE: Without a cloud in the sky this afternoon, Paul and I both went to school. Yesterday, Paul's counterpart didn't go to school at all, and mine both went, but there weren't enough students to have class. So it turns out we didn't miss anything and we didn't have to get wet.


Greased-up tree trunks and firework bulls

Last weekend we went with to la alborada (I don’t know how that translates). It’s a nominally religious festival for San Miguel, and for that reason it was at Iglesia San Miguel in Masaya. We were originally attracted by the prospect of people climbing a greased-up tree to get a prize. When we got there, though, we were pretty surprised to find out that it was also a fireworks show. I feel like we talk a lot about fuegos artificiales, but they're pretty invasive and a pretty consistent theme to life here (for example I heard some go off as I was writing that sentence). Fireworks in Nicaragua are scary because they’re mostly homemade and would most certainly be outlawed in at least 45 states in the US. There are a few types—the one most frequently encountered is one that goes into the air and makes a lot of noise. Then there’s the rare one that goes into the air and makes noise along with some colors and lights. The loudest one is a ground-rumbling firework that can be heard miles away. The final is one that you put into a torro (bull) hat and then use to chase after people:

Since words are inadequate to describe the terror you should feel upon seeing the bull for the first time, here’s a video to help you understand:
After the big fireworks the air is filled with sulfur and smoke, but chavalos still want their picture taken:
Holly and Miriam safely out of danger from the raging fireworks bull:
The whole festival centered around the greasy tree:
The promised pole-climb was a bit underwhelming because not many people were willing to do it. People were pretty smart about it, though. Instead of trying to climb it solo, a group of guys would climb on top of each other (sorry the picture is hard to see).
No one really got close while we were there because the guy on the bottom would always crumble and then all of the guys on the human ladder would slide down the tree. No one had gotten the prize (cash) in a little over two hours, so we decided to leave because it would go on until someone got it. We left to get some nancite helado and Holly spilled it all over herself and the ground but the picture has mysteriously been deleted (hmmm).

It turned out that a few minutes after we left someone got the prize, which of course only intensified the fireworks. Things finally settled down, but there is an exact replica of la alborada this weekend at a different church, but at least we can be prepared for the explosions this time.


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