lunes, 16 de enero de 2012

Jan 3 2012: After spending a couple days in Apompoa my mom and I travel on to Leon, where I will be volunteering for Quetzaltrekkers for 3 months. We will be in Leon for 3 days.

Finally in Leon. The hottest spot in the entire country, I’m told, and I’m going to be here for the hottest part of the year. I have a bit of time though; it’s “windy season” and verano isn’t until February, March and April. My mom and I are staying in Via Via, a beautiful hostel with strong connections to Quetzaltrekkers, where I begin volunteering on Saturday. All the hammocks are taken so I’m leaning against a tree next to the kitchen.  An upbeat medley of American 80’s music and Reguetton pumps from my distant right and a flurry of different European tongues drift over from my left.


La Catedral

My mom and I have spent today resting and exploring Leon. It’s quite a change of scene from Apompoa! There are a good amount of gringos- most of which seem to be German. It’s a young feel with a lot of youth hostels. I’m not quite in the mindset yet, probably because I’m with my mom. I think I’ll be really comfortable here though: there is a supermarket that sells whole wheat bread, peanut butter, apples, you name it- even BANANA NUT CRUNCH, my favorite cereal that I can barely find in the U.S. anymore!

Our hotel in Leon

It’s a relief to be here, to be honest. I wasn’t even sure I’d make it. We spent January 2nd in Apompoa and meant to take off for Ometepe early in the morning on the 3rd, but halfway through the night I woke up with violent stomach pains and threw up 5 times during the night. The next morning I had a fever (or at least we thought I did. The Rojas Leal family doesn’t own a thermometer, we didn’t bring one, the puesto de salud in Apompoa was closed, and so was the puesto in Potosi. Dalia and Raul moto’d over there in the morning to check, the sweethearts). 

Anyway, my mom deemed me unfit to travel. I spent most of the day in a fitful half sleep and when I started to feel better, sat outside with the family and tried not to breathe into much of the heavy smoke from the rustic outdoor stone oven. They were making cornbread. I was able to stomach a few bites in the late afternoon, but the thought of rice and beans made (and still makes, actually) me want to barf. I don’t know if it was the rice and beans that made me sick, but it was the last thing I ate and you know how that goes.

My hostmom making bread.

As I distinctly remembered from 2009, the quantity of the food served in the Rojas Leal family (and the rest of Nicaragua for that matter) is a little much for me. It doesn’t help that everything is doused in unnecessary amounts of grease and sugar. Breakfast was an over salted egg, fried platanos, and a heaping pile of gallo pinto. Lunch was rice, beans and soup, dinner was the same, plus a heap of salllty fried platanos. It’s tasty, just not for every meal. Nicaraguans add sugar to EVERYTHING- bread, apple juice, everything.

 I spent a good amount of time chatting with a woman who spends 10 months out of the year living and working in Cost Rican “porque hay mas plata”. The country is richer and much more westernized than Nicaragua. Apparently, the westernization is reflected in how they eat. “solo espaqueti, y no grasa!” she complains. Somehow the news has reached Costa Rica that eating healthy food leads to a healthy body and a long life… Clearly appalled, she went on to describe the obscene things Costa Ricans would so such as running in the streets and even going to gyms..! I had to laugh. The prospect of exercise for FUN is completely crazy to Nicaraguans. The woman made it very clear that she much preferred her own country and Cost Rica was purely a venue for earning enough money to come back for the holidays. 

The relationship between Costa Rica and Nicaragua is similar to the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. Nicaraguans go to Costa Rica to be house cleaners and gardeners for rich Costa Rican families. Gerald tells me that the influx of “plata” comes from their government’s willingness to open its arms to U.S. investments. The Intel Computer company is based in Costa Rica, and apparently generates a large amount of the wealth. 

Our taxi driver here, a friend of the Rojas Leal family named “Polon”, had strong opinions about foreign investments. I asked him his opinion of the newly elected Daniel Ortega, fresh into his second consecutive term since the 80’s. Polon had both positive and negative reports on Ortega:  On the upside, Ortega does great things for the poor. He has set up venues where poorer Nicaraguans can buy cheaper food, maternity leave laws, and better health systems, among other programs. However, he is unwilling to cooperate with the U.S. Of course, this makes a whole lot of sense. It was the United States that declared war on Nicaragua during Daniel Ortega’s original regime. A socialist to revolutionary extremes, Ortega attempted to distribute the riches of Nicaragua among the people screwing over U.S. companies “dependent” on cheap Nicaraguan land and labor. What ensued was a terrible war, but Nicaraguan spirit emerged all the stronger. Now, Ortega has slipped somewhat into moderation, perhaps due to age and experience in the dog eat dog world of politics. But according to Polon, many still worry that his renewed presidency alone will re-aggravate the United States. 

Although cooperation with the U.S. would most likely raise Nicaraguan standard of living, I can understand Ortega’s sentiments toward the United States. I also respect Nicaraguan’s fierce pride in their country and their drive to preserve their culture. But modernization is a steady, unstoppable force, and bigger Nicaraguan cities, such as Leon, are very modern. On the other hand, rural Nicaraguan small town culture does still revolve around poverty, lack of technology, and limited contact with more modern parts of the world. I was really shocked to see that my host sister Dalia had gotten a laptop since the last time I was in Apompoa- She’s  probably the only one in Apompoa to have one. My impression of Ampomopans in general is that instead of isolating themselves through individual technological devices such as cellphones, ipods, computers, Gameboys etc., they rely on human contact, on interacting with each other, for entertainment and passing time. Which is so cool, and so different from our ultra-individualistic lifestyle in the U.S. The contrast makes me realize how self-absorbed we are. 

Elvis, Ezequiel, Gerald and Joel, my friends in Apompoa, are really smart guys, but these are the rare smart guys of Apompoa. The minority goes to college; the majority either doesn’t want to, or can’t afford it, even though it costs about 10 dollars a year. It’s just easy for college to seem pointless. What would a girl do with a fancy degree when she knows all she wants to do is work at home in the family pulperia all her life? Nicaraguans are much more likely to complain about schoolwork than working in the fields or the factory.

My hostmom and hostsisters.

Possibly the best part of my stay in Apompoa was playing with the “chabalitos”, the little kids, in the park long after the sun had set, and climbing the swing set in the dark (which I painted 2.5 years ago… Now it has completely peeled off). The group of wild half-dressed kids kept growing and growing and we decided to move to the shabby baseball stadium, where we spent hours playing “tag”- really just running like crazy through the tall grass left untrimmed until baseball season, screaming and laughing under the stars and one dim stadium light.

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