Thursday, December 28, 2006

Navidad en Nicaragua

We miss seeing everyone over the holidays!

Navidad here in Nicaragua was very low-key. It was refreshing (for me) not to be drowning in commercials and Christmas carols. Gift exchanges in San Ramon were very modest. The big moment of anticipation was staying up with family and friends for 12:00 midnight on the 24th. The tradition is to have a dinner at midnight and then the gift exchange. Brad and I cooked up a big pot of homemade pudding (delicious...with locally made chocolate) and gave that to our friends as gifts.

Other then visiting with friends we have not been doing much because a lot of things are closed during this week. We have been playing a lot of SKIP-BO (a card game) with our friends Alvaro and Ivonne. We have also been taking lots of walks. The weather here is absolutely is transitioning into spring and the air is cool, the sun is warm, and all the birds are going crazy. We might be taking a mini-trip this weekend to Granada or Leon before we pick up our friend Caity at the airport on Sunday in Managua. I am very curious about New Years eve. Apparently, (or at least from my translation), people make big dolls or scarecrow type things with old clothes which they burn for the new year.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Purisima & other odds and ends

Things remain interesting here in Nica. and the past few weeks have been busy.

We returned from an all too brief visit with the Wilson clan in Florida for Thanksgiving. We had a great time catching up with family, sharing stories, eating, sleeping, and generally being lazy. Brad and I also got to satisfy some nagging cravings (right after we exited the airport in Miami) a dunkin donuts egg and cheese bagel sandwich for me and a McDonalds burger and fries for Brad. We also relished in listening to NPR. Although the visit definitely helped refresh our perspectives on being in Nica and reminded us to take advantage of our remaining time, we had mixed feelings about returning.

When we reached Managua, we ended up in the wrong immigration line (for tourists, we have residency cards). A little frustrated, we were the last people out to the baggage claim. Once we saw our friends Alvaro and Ivonne waiting for us at the airport exit, it felt a little bit more like home. We were excited to get going; to be back in San Ramon. That was right before I went to pick up my suitcase (black with a rainbow belt around it), the last remaining piece of luggage, only to realize it was Henry Boufous fróm Chinendegaega Nica not Cynthia Gorman from San Ramon(welcome back to Nicaragua!). Identical bags...what are the odds? It took us over an hour to file the missing bag claim. The whole time I pictured Henry enjoying my newly bought American sunblock, snickers bars. We did eventually recover the bag (two days later with sunblock and snickers in tact). While this experience was a bit stressful and defiantly humorous, it was great reminder that once you are here, you just have to go with the flow.

I was surprisingly excited to eat rice and beans again.

Within the week of our return, Brad got sick and we spent two days in the hospital. He is fine now and back to his normal, energetic self.

After Brad recovered, I had an adventure of my own. I decided that it would be great to do a homestay out in the campo for a week, a great way to learn about how people in the country live, practice my Spanish, cut coffee during the harvest. I was supposed to go for a full week. Well, I only lasted two days (something about the latrines), but I did have my very first motorcycle ride! Our friend Javier drove me out to the town where I was staying. Once my heart stopped pounding in my ears and I was not paralyzed by fear (we were on a winding, mountainous road with gravel, mud, w/o helmet - sorry mom), I enjoyed the hour long ride through coffee plantations and small pueblos. We stopped at some waterfalls along the way and by chance saw a baby sloth `actively´ jumping from tree to tree for fresh leaves. Once we arrived, I stayed with a very kind family that is part of an all-womens farming cooperative. I watched them make tortillas, I cut coffee, practiced my Spanish, drew with the little kids, ate rice and beans, and asked as many questions as I could about their lives and work. It certainly felt like an adventure and I plan to return for another visit in the future.

I made it back to San Ramon in time for an interesting Nicaraguan holiday called Purisima, which is a kind of Halloween for the Virgin Mary. Those who participate go house to house and sing in groups at an alter that has been set up featuring the Virgin Mary. In return, the host gives everyone in the group a little bag of treats. Kids with backpacks, stuffed with goodies, filled the sidewalks in Matagalpa on the evening of Purisima.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


We've been fielding a common question since arriving in Nicaragua. "Have you found a good cup of coffee yet?" Well, here's evidence that Bradley has been putting some of Matagalpa's coffee to the test. Pictured above is our friend Demetrius, from New Jersey, who is living and working in Ocotal at El Centro de Idiomas . Cynthia, Demetrius, Alvaro, Me and a few other friends went for an afternoon to SOLCAFE the coffee processing center run by CECOCAFEN, one of the organizations I am working with this year. Here's Cynthia evaluating coffee just brought down from the mountains.

Coffee production/farming is a very labor intensive process. Depending on how much money you have to invest and the scale of your coffee farm you can find a range of commitments to producing high quality beans. Small-scale farmers for one, commonly depend on coffee as their main source of income and invest tons of time (not so much money) in their coffee (which puts food on the table and sends their kids to school). Many of the coffee farmers I work with make somewhere between 400 and 1000 dollars a year before expenses (leaving very little for savings). Pictured below is a farmer who is pulping his community's coffee. He'll work 8 hours a day on this pulper for about 3 months. If the community had the money to invest in a machine, it would cut down on his hours incredibly. Next year they hope they earnings will be enough to do so.
Now that you have some pictures to help you...I'll just say that from the coffee bush in the mountains to the sluuuurrrp, the coffee in your cup passes through a rigorous process. Bradley is certainly not an expert taster, but I'd can honestly say, there is nothing like meeting and working with the humble men and women who have devoted years of their lives to producing the coffee we love.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Before I arrived in Nicaragua, I anticipated that my art would be a kind personal refuge in the same way it was at home. Fortunately, given my level of fluency, it has been more useful and has provided me with a great tool for communication.

Art has been one of the ways I have been able to connect with people of all ages…shared enthusiasm, interest, desire to learn new things.

Here is a picture that our friend´s son, Ramon (9), drew of San Ramon:

Currently, I am learning from a friend Hazel (Alvaro´s sister) how to paint landscapes that are characteristic of this area:

I would like to begin doing art projects with the children of the cooperatives involved in Brad´s research. While Brad and Alvaro are doing interviews the children are usually circled around watching (for as along as they can stay quiet and still-which is not long). When they can sit no longer, they become fascinated with the other foreign element in thier pueblo, La Chelita (who knew that a parked car could provide such entertainment). Instead, I imagine bringing crayons and paper so the kids can draw the animals on thier farms, things in the forest, etc. If anyone has any ideas for art projects that require very little or natural resources please send them my way!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Vamos a ver

Before the election results were official, people in San Ramon began to celebrate. The past three days have been filled with rojo y negro (the Sandanista colors), parades, rallies and other festivities. We are living in the heart of Sandanista territory so there has been a lot of excitement over Daniel Ortega´s victory (with 38% of the vote). Boisterous caravans of supporters have been weaving through the streets during the day and evening in pick-ups and trucks stuffed with kids, parents, bother and sisters, parent, grandparents.

Luckily, the elections passed without any major problems or incidents. As they say here, it was ¨tanquilo¨. Regardless of the victor, it has been refreshing to see how seriously people treat the right to vote (the voter turnout was 70%). Young people are also more active because the voting age is 16. Despite the celebrations, I think many people were surprised that the FSLN won and not the ALN (the Liberal-conservative party). Some are concerned about how other countries (such as the US) are going to react. Others are hoping that the change in government will direct some much needed funds towards health, education and other basic infrastructure (maybe the roads will be fixed!). Most people commenting on the election results end by saying ¨vamos a ver¨ (we´ll see).

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand...

A little Duran Duran to get the creative juices flowing. Cynthia and I are sitting at the end of a busy day, recuperating after a busy week and preparing ourselves for our first observation of Nicaragua's national election on Sunday, November 5th. Cynthia just reminded me that today was also our first day eating rice and beans for 3 meals. We are deepening our love affair with the northern highlands everyday. After a month of crazy feeding schedules, cooking experiments and some intestinal infections caused by eating out too much (so it has been diagnosed) we are breaking into the local cuisine and local markets. Our house assistant Veronica hooked us up with a local farmer who produces Yucca, Chaya (variety of small squash), and Ayote (variety of large squash). We are also buying beans and rice in bulk and venturing into the cavernous market in La Guanuca. On my recent trips into the campo (countryside) I am meeting and making friends with a lot of farmers who have gifted platanos, bananas, oranges, sweet limes, mangos and peppers in massive quantities. Cynthia and I are well stocked.

This past week gave us a bit of a scare for the first time since arriving to San Ramon. Cyn took ill and over the course of 24 hrs. got very dehydrated. We went to a clinic in Matagalpa where she was diagnosed with a digestive infection. After a night in the hospital and a few IVs Cyn was back on her feet and back to her art work. She's been taking it easy for the week and has finished her meds. She'll start back up with language school next week, but only 3 days a week from here on out. I am so proud of Cynthia, she has passed through her first (and hopefully last) major health hurdle that stares down every gringo in Nicaragua.

From the Sports News Desk, I've been playing and coaching soccer for the Pumas a local team. Last week I scored my first goal (and probably my last) and we won our first game of the season. Our team is a bit of a motley crew. This past week the coaching staff (me and Alvaro - my research partner) decided to start all the youngest players on the team (and the gringo) to give the chavalos (boys) a chance to strut their stuff. We've been having a tough time as a team because of divisions caused by big age differences among the starters. Feuds were erupting between the adults and youth on the team over practicing, drinking/smoking, and talking trash. It looks like the young guys (16-18) won their position as the starters and we'll just have to wait and see if the older guys stick around for the rest of the season. This old gringo, for one, is planning to stay and see if these young guys can make it to the finals.

We've done a bit of traveling lately in our new car (La Chelita) and with friends Alvaro and Ivonne (see picture above).

On Saturday we ventured out to an area called El Chile. El Chile is an indigenous community about 40 minutes outside of San Ramon. Getting to El Chile is a trek. The roads are not paved and you have to cross a few rivers/big streams (thanks to our manly mobile we made it without any problems). There we visited a weaving collective formed by a group of indigenous women.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

La Chelita

A new addition to our life here...La Chelita. After two weeks of stress (and neglect of the blog), we finally found and bought a camioneta, or pick-up. It is a very manly mobile(big tires, no power steering). Honoring the Nica tradition of naming your automoble after your loved one, we named it La Chelita. This translates roughly to¨little, light (skinned) one¨. It is common here to have nicknames based on your appearance, for example, el gordito (fat one), la negrita (dark-skinned one) etc. So, La Chelita both suits the white color of the car and the name of Brad´s loved one.

Top 10

Top 10 favorite things about Nicargua so far (in no specific order)...

1. Maduros (fried, matured plantains. Very sweet.)
2. The Italian Restaurant in Matagalpa (nothing is better than homemade ravioli after eating rice and beans, in different combinations, at every meal).
3. Fruit, fruit, fruit...bananas that taste like apples!
4. Las Vacas (the cows). They are really cute, and its not because I´m a vegitarian. They have big ears (Cynthia).
5. The great love Nicaraguans have for American 80´s music
6. Veggie burger made from the flower of a banana tree
7. Our neighbors, especialy their daughter, Sareta who yells ¡Hola! and ¡Adios! whenever we come and go from the house.
8. The smell of clean floors (Brad).
9. The smiles of people who get rides (after a long and drawn out process, we finally bought a pick-up truck).
10. Diminutive language...Nicaraguans love to add ¨ita¨on the ends of words. There is no equivilant in English, but basically means smaller than small. So instead of saying ¨frijoles¨, someone might say ¨Frijolitas.¨
Bonus: Seeing green in October!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Catching up...

Last Friday Cynthia stayed home instead of going into Matagalpa for her class. She spent the morning with our house assistantVeronica who took her around town to buy some staples: frijoles (beans), cuajara (a type of local cheese), crema and arroz (rice). These four things, in different combinations, are used for every meal of the day. Veronica also taught her how to clean and cook the beans San Ramon style.

[Cynthia]: That morning I learned another important bit of local knowledge. Our arch enemy...the parrot, has a name. Lora (actually this is what parrots are called in Nica). And, Veronica talks to and whistles with it while she is working. This may explain why the Lora feels so comfortable making a racket and practically sitting in our living room. This is where the enemy sits for most of the afternoon (the view is looking up from the courtyard in our house) taking advantage of the sweet acoustics.

Things have been moving along here in Nica. Brad´s work is gaining momentum, while I´m perpetually frustrated by the fact that I am not fluent in Spanish immediamente! I did not realize how tiring it is to learn another language (as many of you know) because your brain is always doing double or triple its normal function in a conversation (recognizing words, figuring out the context and a response). Still, we are having lots of adventures...

[Bradley]: Lets begin with our first hike led by a friend and neighbor William. William came by the house around 8:00 a.m. to invite us on a long anticipated hike through the mountains surrounding San Ramon. San Ramon is in the base of a bowl of mountains rising up to 22oo meters. The town rests at about 800 meters. William suggested we go "up there" (pointing in the direction of a large mountain in the distance) which would only take "a little while." You know about 1-2 hour walk on a fine sunny Sunday afternoon. was the most beautiful day we've had so far. Oh, and the hike took 5.5 hours and we covered about 18 kilometers. Peter (Cyn's Dad) would've been proud.
Here's Cyn and William on the road from Ciares toward La Garita. Cyn and I weren't prepared at all. You see in Nicaragua folks who live in the campo - countryside - have a different sense of distance and time. When you ask somebody, like a local, where something might be, and they explain that its right over there, you may not understand that "right over there" may mean half a day's walk. With smiles and no particular place to be we just lugged along up to the top of Cerro Apante home to many local farming communities and a natural bioreserve. Apante separates San Ramon and Matagalpa. In fact, Matagalpa is seen faintly in the next foto.

So Matagalpa is about 8 kilometers away in this foto, abd you can barely make out the cathedral in the center right. Hiking isn't the only thing tiring us out lately. Cynthia is still pushing the envelope with her workout vids and Bradley just joined a local soccer team - The Pumas. Although Cyn's work out vids are SUPER exciting, its earthshattering that Bradley has put the cleats back on again... He started in his first game last weekend and had one assist (tie game 3-3). He played the first half in defense and moved into the center forward position in the second half. He's playing with a bunch of whipper snappers who can run...he's still recovering. Below are some pictures from the first days ceremonies - a parade of league teams (Brad's team is in black and white stripes) and a photo from the local pitch (field).

Brad's work is coming along. He was recently invited to participate in the 15th Annual Assembly of the UCA San Ramon - the local cooperative business that helps find coffee markets for its members coffee. He also facilitated the first of many youth forums bringing together 15-25 year olds from the farming cooperatives. He has been asked by the cooperative to help develop a youth-based curriculum for community service and to find a strategy for supplementing the rural education system with alternative courses. He has just started talking with the local university about collaborating. The picture below is from the elections at the UCA San Ramon's assembly. The picture is of the newly elected members of the committees which oversee the work of the directors and make all the key decisions in the organization regarding loans and repayment, technical education and outreach, and transparency. As you can see they are swearing to an oath overseen by a lawyer, municipal official and the delegates. This day was very impressive for the formality and professionalism exuded by all in attendance. A very special organization. (First on Left is a friend Harold and Third from the left is my neighbor Sebastian).

Cynthia has been busy with classes (of course) but still finds time to paint some beautiful works of art. See her below working on a new experiement in our living room. And look at the product! And bids?

We love the fruit here in Nicaragua. Everyday we eat fresh produce and drink yummy tropical drinks. Below is one of our favorites...Pitaya. Its a purple fleshy fruit from a cactus like plant. The seeds are crunchy and the flesh is like jello. The flavor is not too sweet, its the texture that is soooo good. If you make this into a refresco (refreshing drink) you might add sugar and some lime juice. Or just cut it in half and eat with a spoon!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

¡A La Guanuca!

The journey between San Ramon and Matagalpa is very scenic. The road winds up and down the hills, passes by small pulperias and ‘mom and pop’ shops selling everything from gravel to guajara (a local cheese), small clusters of houses with clothes hanging on clotheslines. People come on and off the bus in what seems to me like random stops leading to no where. The road is surrounded by vibrant green mountains, sometimes engulfed by voluptuous rains clouds. Cows, sheep, goats, chickens graze by the side of the road.

Since I began my Spanish classes on Thursday, we’ve traveled into Matagalpa everyday. This will be part of our routine for the next two months. I will have one-on-one instruction three hours a day, five days a week. The classes have been great so far; I am eager to become conversant. It also gives Brad a break from my constant barrage of questions about Nicaragua and Spanish. In a place where people go with the flow, it’s also nice to have something to structure the day around.

We finally turned in our ridiculously small rental car (his name was stupid car), and have been taking the bus back and forth to Matagalpa. I’m glad we had the car for a few days so I could see my surroundings (the windows on the bus are tinted to block the sun and its hard to see outside). The ride is very bumpy because the road is littered with potholes and the buses are all school buses. Taking local transportation lengthens the journey by about fifteen minutes between San Ramon and Matagalpa because the Buses (big yellow school buses) don´t have that much horsepower. We catch the 8:20 bus to Matagalpa, which takes us to La Guanuca section of the city. La Guanuca I a reference to one of three indigenous groups in Northeast Nicaragua (Sumo, Miskito, and Guanuca). La Guanuca were the first to ethnically mix with colonizing groups, creating what Nicaraguans call güegüense or mestizaje. La Guanuca is the place where all the buses from the Northern regions come to Matagalpa so in many ways it represents the intersection of two cultures – one indigenous rural campesino lifestyle and one market urban lifestyle. La Guanuca is a mixture in a place.

From La Guanuca we either walk to the language school or take a taxi to be at the school by 9:00. Taking the buses has helped me feel more comfortable and connected. Brad usually hits the internet café or goes to the library to work for a few hours.

We are home in the afternoon. This also happens to be the time when our neighbor’s parrot is taking its afternoon recess. The parrot sits in a tree right next to our window and whistles for a few hours. It drives me crazy. Brads is trying to teach it another song.

We just recently got our stove cooking – there has been a gas shortage to go along with the telephone outage, daily brownouts, and water insecurity. Its been a pleasure to make tea and coffee, to sit and talk, and listen to Duran Duran on the computer when we have electricity. Last night we cooked up a feast of rice and vegetables with nuts and drank fresh mint tea.

Brad had an incredible meeting with a neighbor who happens to have played a key role in supporting a group of coffee workers intensely effected by the crash of the coffee prices starting in 1999. He may have told you the story about the plantones – a group of some two to three thousand people who moved to the side of the road in Matagalpa because they owned no land and had nowhere to work after the banks foreclosed on the large coffee plantations in the area. It was a desperate time for these people. Brad is trying to resurrect some of this history to include in his project. Our neighbor has agreed to help him get the project off the ground.

All is quaint and cool in San Ramon. The rains keep coming. Our only complaint is that our clothes never seem to get dry after a washing.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ay Nicaragua, Nicaraguita!

I've been in Nica for six days and it already feels like a great adventure; its hard to choose what to write about...the first night I arrived, Brad took me to see Carlos Mejia Godoy, a Nicaragian musical legend. While I understod next to nothing during the performance, I got a glimpse of the passion Nicarguan's have for their country and shared history. The audience sang along with Carlos for the entire two hour performance. It was an incredible experience and appropriate introduction to Nicaragua. According to Brad, the concert is a rite of passage. Despite my fatigue from travelling, we stayed until the end to hear "Nicaragua, Nicaraguita."

"Ay Nicaragua, Nicaraguita,
la flor mas linda de mi querer,
abonada con la bendita,
Nicaraguita, sangre de Diriangén.

Ay Nicaragua sos mas dulcita,
que la mielita de Tamagas,
pero ahora que ya sos libre,
Nicaraguita, yo te quiero mucho mas.
pero ahora que ya sos libre,
Nicaraguita, yo te quiero mucho mas."

A beautiful song...but, I have been overwhelmed by Nicaragua so far. There is a lot to take in: new smells, sounds, colors, people. My ear is starting to get accustomed to Spanish, but it is difficult not being able to communicate directly with the people we encounter. Perfect motivation for one of my goals: to become proficient in Spanish.

San Ramon is a unique place. It reminds me a lot of Sitka because it is surrounded by beautiful, lush-green mountains. It has rained alomost everyday, which provides a nice break from the heat. The house is really neat because everything is open. We have a courtyard/ garden inside the house, so even when we are "inside" it feels like we are outside. Everytime of day has its own sounds. The roof is made of corrogated metal, so when it rains it kind of feels like you are in a big tent (which I love). All these sounds and sensations put me at ease because they remind me of being at camp, and of camping with my dad and brother. Some of my happiest memories of childhood.

Odds and ends: so far I've seen an armadillo, a very large lizard, lots of chickens, barking geckos, lots of cows and horses, and some neighborhood semi-domesticated parrots. We do not have gas or a refrigerator in the house yet, so we've been eating at the local comedors. This has been one of my favorite experiences because they are run by neighborhood moms who cook up meals for those who stop in. They love to chat and have been very welcoming. They lovingly reassure me that they will help me learn Spanish and that we are welcome in San Ramon.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Where is San Ramon?

Here's a map of Nicaragua and a link to a local resort/project near our home in San Ramon call Finca Esperanza Verde. In fact, oddly enough, the general manager of Finca Esperanza Verde, a local Nica, is our landlord.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Rain, Rain, Rain

Wholly molely [sp?] You have never seen rain like this. At 5:00pm last evening dark clouds rolled over the western mountains carrying a payload of cold rain. Thunder shook the hillsides. Lightning lit the grey-blue sky. Birds flitted from branch to branch. Children ran. Women holding babies scurried home in the moments hesitation before the dump.

I was walking. I was meandering. Meeting new neighbors in the street. Talking about flowers. Getting used to the pavement. Getting used to the idea of living in San Ramon. Getting used to the smiles on the street. And the indifferences too.

I was walking when the clouds emerged from behind the houses. You could see them, dark grey, climbing over and peaking out from overhangs and the gutters, around corners. In moments the mountains visible from the street were enveloped. In seconds the street was flooding. Dogs ran for cover. Sound was full of water. Nothing could be heard.

I run for cover under a mango tree. Thick, lush and green. A small river forms on the far side of the street and little candy wrappers float by. After a few minutes a neighbor that I don´t know hails me to come under their patio roof.

I find myself inside their home for 45 minutes waiting out the storm. Rocking on a rocking chair. Wondering how big the drops of rain could be.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Tranquilo como Camilo

So sometimes the lights go out. And sometimes when the rains come down hard the water gets turned off to protect against mud. And yes we haven´t had a telephone line for a week. Oh well.

Life is just a little slower here in San Ramon. Everywhere has its pace. In New Jersey you know the pace just by asking someone ¨how´s it going.¨ 9 out of 10 answers will be I´m pretty busy¨or ¨I wish I more time.¨ Here in San Ramon the same question will usually generate this answer ¨- ¨tranquilo.¨ I don´t think that deserves a translation.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Chickens in Nica

Generally, I do not have much in common with 4-8 year olds. I may, however, have found one shared interest with our nieces and nephews: chickens. Last week, while at Ty and Michele's house for dinner, I sat on the back patio with Mia, Matthew and Sander. After asking how uncle Brad was doing, Mia asked what Nicaragua would be like. Hmm...I did not know how to answer this question. For Sander and Matthew, Nicaragua may be no more than a name, and maybe to Mia, a landscape filled with Mayan ruins. Given my own uncertainty about what to expect, I answered by sharing one thing I was excited about: the possibility of raising chickens while in Nicaragua. Oddly, this is one of the many things I have been genuinly excited about as I anticipate the move (of course its a bit outlandish.)

My enthusiasm was quickly matched by all three in the group. The conversation soon centered around what the chickens would be named. Running, whirling and twirling around the patio with glee at the thought of having chickens as pets, the kids began to offer some suggestions for names, including: Noodles (for a chicken who loves to eat noodles); Pighead (has a big nose); Pepi (small or baby chicken); Toothbrush (has buck teeth); Burning-Fireball (runs fast); Ice-Fireball (slow runner) and Clown (a funny chicken). Michele added a little vegetarian humor and suggested Nugget and Sesame.

I dont know what to expect in Nica., and have a small wave of anxiety every time somene asks me if I am excited, (or even better, what I will be doing). I do, however, welcome a pace and lifestyle different than life in NJ. Chickens with buck teeth or not, I think I could get used to waking up to our next door neighbor's rooster rather than an alarm clock. And, eating fresh eggs each day.

Casa de Cafe

Today I've been max-ing out my welcome at the Casa de Cafe. The CdC is a Managua-based coffeehouse that serves up a good breakfast and lunch...the coffee could be better ; )

I've been hanging out taking advantage of the free wireless internet. Logging like 3 hours on Skype in the past two days and eating plenty of good food at great prices. (Wow am I plugging this place or what?)

My brother Jason always says that if you sit in one place long enough, things will happen. You'll make friends. You'll witness an accident. You'll get mugged. Then you can write about it.

The vantage point from the top floor, and the breeze at the CdC, make all the difference when you are solo in Managua. The cafe has been here since 1998 - so I spent a lot of afternoons working here during study abroad. It is familiar. I have seen an accident out front. I have made friends. I've never been mugged. (knock on wood.)

Over my left shoulder I can see the mountains to the south of Managua and the large distant black profile of Sandino that sits atop Tiscapa where the government sits today. Agosto Cesar Sandino is a (debated) national hero whose leadership in fighting the occupying US marines in the 1920s is respected as a patriotic act similar to the minutemen of New England. He helped unite the country divided by political differences during that time. Pretty much all Nicaraguans respect his legacy which stands at almost mythical proportions. Although his memory has been adopted for many causes (including the revolutionary Sandinistas) his sense of Nica patriotism crosses most political lines. Hence his figure still stands by the government offices as a national symbol. Others say it stands atop the Tiscapa to represent the haunting past of the civil war during the 1980s.

The sky is blue and large white clouds float by.

Pasen Adelante!

Please come the greeting goes in Nicaragua.

Cynthia and I have settled on a second apartment together. Many of you have visited us at our last home in Highland Park, NJ. And others are living in our last home (hi Sham, Arian and Joa). For the record, our apartment at Adelaide Gardens was one of the sweetest places I have ever lived and that was because all of our friends and family visited. It had a cool spirit to it. The neighbors were great and it was nice and green during the summer.

So it was hard to try and top our last experience. But........I think this house might do it.

Here's our little casita where we'll share our third year of marriage!

Its a three bedroom, 0ne bathroom, home with a nice sized kitchen and a largeish living roomish greeting area. We have a small inner patio with an open ceiling where we can plant flowers. And we have very well maintained grounds around the house. In the rear there is a cute little backyard with an area for chairs and a table. (a little fuzzy).

Cynthia asked that I don't show the inner house until we get it decorated and we have lots of people inside... But I'll say that there are two guest bed rooms and guest beds so we're are open for business whenever a visitor (or four) want to come by...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Bievenidos a San Ramon, Matagalpa

Writing from Managua at the Case del Cafe (wireless internet):

"Welcome to San Ramon. Its been a week of whirling winds here in Nicaragua. And I'm not talking about the weather. Since my last blog I have been trying my best to build a beautiful nest (nido) for Cynthia and me to live in for the next year. After linking up with a dear friend Chris Bacon - and his wonderful wife Maria Eugenia (Mari) I feel like I found the secret stash of twigs and leaves to construct a super comfortable home.

Since every family member and friend is a bit tense about the idea of us living abroad, especially in the rural areas of Nicaragua, I can honestly assure each and everyone that our life here is going to be safe, fun and well shared with a kind, local community.

Before I left the states Cynthia and I usually had to field a troubling question for which we had no anwer. Where are you going to live? Cynthia always looked at me and shrugged and then we'd offer our uncertain answers...Jinotega? Matagalpa? The Northern Mountains? Esteli? Up North? You the central highlands?

Well to all our friends and family who doubted we'd even go to Central America, let alone Nicaragua, here is our address.

Bradley Wilson, Casa de Dona Yelba, Detras del Estacion Shell, San Ramon, Matagalpa, Nicaragua. (The beauty of this address is that you need to have friends here in San Ramon, Nicaragua to interpret it).

And if you think that it isn't an address, then you've never been to Nica. You see, addresses are not based on central planning and numbers. Addresses are relational. So, directions are relational too. In Managua for instance the 4 cardinal directions are represented like this: (North - "toward the lake" - South "to the south" - West is "up" and East is "down"). As you can see - if you aren't completely confused now - the directions are based on the location of Lake Managua and the mountains in the West of the city.

So Cynthia and I will be living in Ms. Yelba's House (our landlord) behind the Shell Station (which isn't really that close) in the quaint town of San Ramon in the province of Matagalpa - 12 kilometers outside of the city of Matagalpa.

If you want a synopsis and first impression of the town here we go:

San Ramon is the birth place of coffee in Northern, Nicaragua. It is more tranquil than the now bustling city of Matagalpa which is overpopulated and at times overwhelming. San Ramon is surrounded by green lush mountains dotted with the foot prints of simple agriculture and coffee farms. In the city horses and cows vie with cars and buses for paved street space and a constant flow of people move from place to place greeting each other with the common "Adios" or "Hola" (Hello) or "Que te vaya bien" (roughly in short "I hope that all goes well") or Oye (I'm listening). When people see me - and I kind of stand out - you'll hear "Oye Chele" - or "Whats up whitey." There are older ladies in town who make and sell fresh tortillas in the morning and afternoon, and our neighbors produce and sell their own raw milk. We'll be able to get fresh milk and cheese daily just by reaching a pitcher over our fence, boiling it and adding it to our coffee. I've already tried it...Its wonderful! The pitfalls of a town like San Ramon is that its a bit more remote from telephone and internet connection and sometimes the lights do out. Well, really, this isn't unique for San Ramon. The problem recently is that copper prices have risen and some robbers stole the wiring from a part of the telephone poles between Matagalpa and San Ramon. It rendered the town phoneless for the past week. But, with a cell phone and a short 15-20 minute bus ride or drive to Matagalpa I think anyone can stay connected.

More to come including pictures of out little abode and some notes on friends I've run into so far like Alex Mansell (Tyler's roommate and family friend), Chris and Mari Bacon (research partner) and Ayn Setright (the director of my study abroad program here 6 years ago) who just so happened to be picking up her new cohort of students at my hotel this morning in Managua.

Surprises around every corner.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Mr. T and me

We have been packing a lot endless amount of boxes from our apartment, bags for the cruise and suitcases for Nica. Although packing is tedious, it can be an adventure because of the odds and ends you (re) discover. This afternoon, as I was unpacking from the cruise and repacking for my next two weeks of wandering, I re-organized Brad's closet at his parent's house. I missed Brad in Nicaragua, so it was fun to look through some of his childhood treasures. One of the gems I found was Brad's old sticker collection (ha!) photo album filled with stickers (the joys of childhood). Flipping through pages of scratch n' sniff and ET images, I was surprised to find an entire page filled with stickers of Mr. T from the A Team and the Super Friends! Brad has always said he loved the A Team and Mr. T, and this was a testament to that devotion. Finding the page of stickers sketched into my mind a little piece of Brad's life long before we met in college. It was nice to feel like I was learning more about Brad despite the distance (US-Nica). As I gear up for the next round of packing (my stuff for Nica) and round of goodbyes, it's nice to know that, sometimes, you can learn a lot about the people you love even when you are far away from each other...geographically. Thanks Mr. T!

Ya estoy en Nicaragua...

There are smells for every occasion. During the holidays it's warm ginger bread, cookies and spices. During the summer it's the bay and sea spray. In my mother-in-laws house it's gormeh sabzi, rice, and garlic. During the spring it's cut grass and cherry blossoms. Home smells like musty basements and your best friends house smells like a dog.

When I got off of my flight 985 to Managua on August 26th at 6:20 p.m. I inhaled my Nica memories through the pungent reak of Pine Sol. I could smell the recent, attentive cleaning given to the tarmac and the baggage claim. My feet hit the ground and I was in Nicaragua again. The slow motion flight and the holding pattern I have found myself flying for the past three years was over. I landed. And here I am in Nicaragua again. The smell of floor cleaner pierced my mind like a diver into a placid, clorine rich pool.

In Nicaragua everyone cleans their floors each day, sometimes multiple times during the day. So its not odd that this smell brought me back to the memories of my life here in 1999-2000 and for those few weeks in 2003.

Well I'm here in Managua on the morning of my second day in Nicaragua. I'm sitting in the Hotel Las Mercedes a high class joint across from the Aeropuerto Sandino anticipating a fun day traveling to San Ramon, Matagalpa a small town just north of the city of Matagalpa where Cynthia and I plan to set up camp for the year.

Entonces - Well Then...

Friday, August 18, 2006

It's hard to say goodbye...

The Wilson Family came together tonight to wish us well on our move. Bradley leaves for Nicaragua on the 26th and Cynthia is soon to follow. We're both joining Cynthia's Mom (Fahimeh) and step-dad (Reza) for a week-long cruise on the Caribbean Princess before our year-long sojourn. Newly engaged Cyrus and Laura (Cyn's brother and fiancee) are coming along for the cruise too.

Farewell's are always tough. Especially when there are kids involved. Tonight's family dinner was no exception. Wesley, Sander and Matthew kept all of us howling with their innovative dance moves to Shakira. Kids grow up so fast. Who knows how much they'll grow up by the time we return. sniffle sniffle.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It's time...

This web-blog is a diario comunal for all who find our simple life intriguing, for our parents, and for our enemies, wherever they may be. In a few weeks I (Bradley) will set off for Nicaragua. My wife Cynthia will arrive within the month.