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.