Everywhere I go, I am harassed in the streets by teenage boys: “Hey Mami! I love you! I want to kiss your body all over!” etc. And of course the whistling. The way female tourists are treated here bothers me for a lot of reasons, and I still can’t quite figure out what goes on in Nica boys’ minds. Can it really be that they just want sex? I think it may be more of a male bonding experience. Whatever the case, it needs to stop; not only are their actions grossly disrespectful, but they create a divide between Nicaraguans and tourists. I feel like I can’t interact with teenage Nicaraguan boys because they treat me like a zoo animal. If their goal is to be with a foreign girl, they are doing a pretty bad job of getting one.
Las Tias, one of the street kid projects Quetzaltrekkers supports, offers extracurricular classes designed and taught by Las Tias volunteers. One of the volunteers is a Belgian girl who has done two treks with me. She is teaching a class on the behavior of Nicaraguan boys towards girls, tourists and locals alike, and the goal is to lure young boys out of the habit. Their obscene remarks and catcalls have become so engrained into the culture that the only way to cut it short is to start young and explain that the behavior of their older brothers and fathers is not ok. I was so happy to hear that this girl was taking on that issue; it’s the first I’ve heard of action being taken. That aspect of Latin American culture is a huge turn off. There are so many amazing aspects of Latin culture; it’s a shame that the rudeness of the male population is the most prominent cultural image I have been getting here in Leon.
I remember the moment when I first knew I absolutely had to visit Latin America- after watching the movie “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.” I was with Alia and we were in the basement of our Seattle house. We were probably 14 or 15. We were already interested in Latin America, but seeing that blonde girl in Cuba finding that amazing cute Cuban dude, becoming a part of the culture, and learning how to dance like a Cuban... that was inspiring. I remember lying on my back and daydreaming for an hour or so- I HAD to go to Cuba. Of course, Cuba isn’t the easiest place to get right now. So I signed up for Amigos de las Americas, crossing my fingers that I’d be placed in the Dominican Republic. They ended up sending me to Nicaragua. There I truly fell in love with Latin America, for wholly different and much more realistic (and mature) reasons.
After discussing Cuba and the D.R. with other travelers, I now know that the scenes from Havana Nights are less of a reality today. The sweetly romantic story may have been closer to the truth in the late 50’s when the movie took place, but today I would be treated differently as a white girl. I have been told by several people that Cuba and the D.R. are THE two most sexually aggressive countries they have visited. I have heard stories of extreme harassment, sex tourism, and even Cuban men breaking into bathroom stalls where American girls were peeing. I still want very much to visit Cuba and the D.R.; I just know more now than what Hollywood has to say.
The closest experience I’ve had to a scene from Havana Nights happened the other night when a group of volunteers went to “La Olla Quemada” for Salsa Night, which occurs every Thursday. It happened to be a particularly special night because they were celebrating the birthday of an elite member of the “salsa club”, a group of professional salsa dancers. I had such an incredible time- it started out slow but as the night blossomed I fell into my groove, found a patient, nice Nica who could dance really well, and let the music take me into its spicy spell for hours and hours. This was no night club; this was real culture. THIS is what I love about Latin America: Their spice for life, joy, and indulgence in the moment pours out when they dance. It’s incredible; I’m so jealous. Every Nica guy at Olla Quemada could dance. Watching the members of the salsa club, my heart was torn out, I was captivated- as Andrew put it, it was “something more than just dancing- you can’t just call that dancing, it doesn’t do it justice.” Dance is their chosen form of expression; I find it to be catalyst for the soul of Latin American culture. Way to go Nicaragua! On a personal level, salsa is so much fun after a little practice. You stop thinking and just spin and turn and shimmy and swing your hips and shake your head; you feel the music sweep you. I wish I was really good. And it only helps that salsa music is the best.
What a breath of fresh air from the other nightclubs in Leon. Three Quetzaltrekkers volunteers recently returned from a two week long vacation to the Rio San Juan and the Corn Islands, which are on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. Chatting with Julia, she expressed how she had also been disenchanted with Leon, and traveling to other parts of Nicaragua made her realize again how wonderful Nicaraguans are and how great the culture is. She spoke most highly of the smallest towns they passed through; especially El Castillo, a tiny riverside village. The Rio San Juan forms the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, but belongs to Nicaragua and is a major source of Nicaraguan pride. I’m looking forward to refreshing myself on Nicaragua. Only four days until Tom comes and I go on vacation! I’m really looking forward to it J
Of course, I’ve discussed the negative sides of Leon heavily here, and in reality the city is a beautiful and thriving cultural center. Maybe I also need to see other sides of Leon before I run away. Here are some nice shots of my current home:
"La Catedral" on the main square.
La Catedral at sunset.
La Iglesia de la Reccolecion. Only a couple blocks from Quetzaltrekkers.
La Iglesia de la Reccolecion again. Kids play soccer on the front patio.
Sunset standing right outside the door of Quetzaltrekkers. The silhouetted church you see is La Reccolecion.