Nicaraguan Chatter

I am reading, ´´Dark Star Safari´´ at the moment, during which the author, Paul Theroux, discusses at length the differences between various people and cultures of Africa. His writing is stellar and vivid. It has made my journal writing on this trip more vibrant. Thinking like Theroux, I´ve spent a bit of time considering what Nicaraguans may be known for.
Is their jungle beautiful? Absolutely. It is some of the greenest, most lush land I have ever visited. Today we climbed high in the Datanli-Diablo Jungle Preserve, hoping at each step to see one of the many monkeys or jaguars that roam the park. Alas, Nicaragua cannot be known for its ecological wonders because of their trash policies. Better yet, their lack of trash policies. They jokingly tell foreigners they live ´´like pigs´´ and don´t care that they throw all their trash just outside of their homes. Occasionally, they burn this trash, leaving a heavy plastic putrid smell in the air, matched only by the leaded gasoline busses clugging by.
Is their cuisine noteworthy? Yes. They have fresh fruit and vegetables and items I have never seen before. Their markets overflow with produce in every shade of the rainbow, in every size and shape. They have some of the best beef I¬¥ve ever eaten –cows without hormones are skinny vacas– and they grill chicken and pork to perfection. Even the tortillas are heavy and wonderful. Yet, they lack what makes Mexican food my favorite –spice. The food here is plentiful and delicious, but without spunk.
No, I¬¥ve decided Nicaraguans should be known for their mouths. They are by far the most talkative people I have ever met. They constantly tell jokes, talk about their political history, talk about their families, the lack of rain, the upcoming elections. It doesn¬¥t matter what the topic is, a Nicaraguan can talk it to death. I listened patiently as possible today as one man nearly ruined my jungle hike by pulling my arm every few feet to describe each plant in detail. Before my time ran out I learned a half dozen uses for several types of local wood. I was so wishing he would just go away that I considered my own uses for this precious export — bow and arrow, wooden mouth guard, planks on which to run back to my hotel…
There is something to the rainforest. Everything about it was exotic. The leaves on the pathway through the mountain were a thousand shades of brown, yellow and green. The birds calling to each other high from the canopy above sounded like a Mayan CD you´d hear in Starbucks. I kept shaking my head realizing this wasn´t a soundtrack. Climbing high above Lake Apanas, we finally reached the summit and watched the sun break through the clouds, sending golden beams down to the green forest floor. It was nothing short of enchanting. When we returned to our cars, the forest warden´s wife and daughter had just finished roasting fresh coffee and offered us each a small cup, boiled with sugar. This sweet, syrupy coffee hit the spot and could give Gatorade a run for its money.
Nicargua is a beautiful country. I am happy to be making friendships here and look forward to returning.


Up a Hill to Fetch a Pail of Water

I´ve just finished working six hours in the hot, humid sun. My fingernails are brown and red from the earth I´ve been digging. My neck is red and achy. My back is sore and my hamstrings are screaming in protest. My smile is from ear to ear.
We have been working on a water project for the last few days. Today we hauled piping up a large hill, through the jungle to be installed in a well. Imagine 13 Americans hauling three pipes in each shoulder, with backs already weighed down with overpacked backpacks. (Of course today was the day I thought I should bring a book in case we got bored. I cursed myself more than once for this foolish decision.) We marched through the trees, scraping our legs on spiny bushes and stepping carefully over the occasional pile of manure. Cows and horses grazed as we tromped up and down the hills, hauling the pipes in sections. Parrots called to us, high in the trees. We even heard rumors about a monkey or two.
The trenches had already been dug for the piping. It was our responsibility to line up each pipe from the the top of the hill to the bottom — about 1.5 kilometers. We are at 5,000 feet, and you can imagine it took about three trips up and down this hill with pipes on my shoulders before I found a place to ditch my backpack until the day¬¥s work was complete.
It took nearly a gallon of water, a Cliff bar, a banana, orange and handful of peanuts to provide enough energy to fuel just my system, but hours later, the pipe was complete and being placed together by the Nicaraguan plumbers. We followed behind them with shovels, carefully filling in the trenches with rocks and soil, being sure not to break the precious cargo we´d spent all day hauling.
It was exhausting work, but amazing. Working by my side was a 28 year old woman named Lorena. She told me she is an oddity in her village because she isn¬¥t yet married. I nodded my head, unsure of how much to share and thankful that 28 isn¬¥t considered “old maid” in the US. We worked together placing rocks and chatting. She was petite, with dark brown hair pulled behind a pink bandana, and flashed a wide smile with front teeth sloppily capped in silver and gold. She told me she was happy to come out and volunteer on the project because she currently spends two hours a day hauling water up the hill from the river below to her house. This is just for her consumption. Imagine if Lorena had a family! (She¬¥d more than likely send her children, actually. We visited with many kids taking our same route through the forest with jugs of water resting precariously on their shoulders.)
Once our new water project is complete, Lorena said it would take just two minutes a day to get her buckets full. I asked her what she´d do with the extra time and she smiled wildly considering her options.
I smiled back, thankful for my own.
Tomorrow, we meet with the midwives and work at the orphanage. The adventure continues.

Nos vemos,