I’ve been here for more than two weeks, now. The first seven days passed by so quickly I was convinced somebody had actually stolen a day! I’m still coming to terms with Netty, my netbook, so sometimes things don’t appear as they should. Let’s not talk about the blog that vanished just as I was about to publish it – not once, not twice but three times. We’re back communicating again, I think. Never mind, what luxury to have wifi in a Third World country?
My friend Jemimah Knight suggested I keep a note of my Facebook posts for a book. That tickled me as I thought I might have just enough for notes and reminders for this blog. However, I seem to have posted so many updates in just two weeks that it took me an hour to paste everything into a document. It’s no wonder people are still asking me where I am or where my blog is… err please refer to post number 9,000,075, paragraph 4!?
Outside the comfort zone
My Bikram yoga teacher, Paul, always talks about “stepping outside of your comfort zone”. After three years of practising I’d say I’m doing it right now – so much so that finding myself in Nicaragua, Central America is further out of my comfort zone than I could ever have imagined. Not everywhere has running water, and if it does you can’t always drink it, we don’t have hot water (the last time I was anywhere near hot water – except for cooking pasta, rice or boiling eggs – was 28th September 2011).
Furthermore, I hate mosquitoes and have the worst reaction to them (in fact a recent bite swelled up like a golf ball), I don’t like grime, I detest a lot of insects such as cucarachas and centipedes. All-in-all I like my creature comforts. So here I am in a cucuracha-mosquito-scorpion-loving hang-out in Nica – one of the poorest countries in the world.
What am I doing here?
I’m working as a volunteer with La Esperanza an organisation that provides education to primary school children in Nicaragua. It has also helped to build schools and houses. In fact, an American couple I met during my first week were here for 12 days to do just that. Imagine that for a holiday. Wow! That’s what I call admirable and inspirational. So, here I am hoping to make a difference to the lives of children I’m working with. And perhaps write a little something for the charity’s website.
Luxury is in the lap of the beholder
Having read an email that mentioned wifi and a washing machine in our rented house, I thought I’d be in the lap of luxury – something five-star, perhaps? Myself and Teresa, who’s from Spain and arrived on the same day, were dropped off at our home for the next few months – La Casita. To say we were horrified would be an understatement. We had a choice of three rooms and, quite frankly, we were not keen on any of them – especially since when it rains water falls into two of the house’s four bedrooms. Teresa chose what I thought was the best room but as is always the case in life – there’s always a silver lining.
I got the room with space to practise Bikram yoga! I was so grateful that I’d packed my mosquito net – it has another role – to protected me from whatever creatures may drop from the ceiling!
Moaning aside, I have a roof over my head and am living in absolute luxury compared with the living conditions of the children I’m teaching and their families. Many people live in conditions equal to those we witness in television aid appeals like Comic Relief. Imagine a one-roomed corrugated plastic shack with no washing or toilet facilities and you’re close to seeing what some people in Nica have/don’t have.
Cleanliness is next to …
We went shopping the day after we got here and purchased a number of cleaning items including a new broom. I’m delighted to have packed four packets of anti-bacterial wipes – much to the ridicule of many Facebook friends. Teresa, my flatmate, had packed mops! Kindred spirits, methinks. Sadly, the Westerners who lived in this house previously didn’t clean it and left behind what could be described as microbiological heaven. The pillow on my bed could have walked itself out of the door.
Contacting the “outside world”
I will forever be amazed that having described the living conditions, we do have internet and cable TV – including BBC World TV News! We can even buy mobile phones for about $12. It is such a contradiction – poverty and modern technology. Connecting Netty to La Casita’s wifi link was for me what it must have been like for Neil Armstrong to take those first steps on the Moon. And I was more than grateful for this modern mercy as I cowered under my mosquito net on that first night and wondered if the tropical rain outside was going to wash us to Guatemala or Costa Rica.
Food glorious food!
I’m pretty sure somewhere in the guidebook it said you needed to take vitamin pills but fresh fruit and vegetables are in abundance – in Granada, at least. Vegetarianism is pretty new here but hey, I’m a carnivore and I’m well-catered for. The chicken and red meat that I’ve bought so far have been tastier than anything I’ve ever had in the UK. As far as my food comfort zone is concerned – I’m in heaven. I can’t believe how well some of my dishes have turned out especially since I don’t have all my cooking paraphernalia.
The rice is not “easy-cook” and, in fact, it reminds me of the rice my mum used to buy back in the seventies when you had to sieve it for grit and other non-rice contents. Nonetheless, my dishes have been good (even if I do say so myself).
The only thing that does bother me is that all the seasonings appear to contain mono sodium glutamate – as does the chorizo I bought (note to self: check the labelling). An extra Bikram yoga session or two to detox (?!)
One thing I didn’t anticipate was an appetite for shopping in Nicaragua. I seem to have shopped at every opportunity. Purchases so far include: two purses, another bag (yes, I know I purchased one at Miami airport), a mug, a tortoise-shaped doorstop-cum-pen holder, two other pen holders-type objects, several plastic containers which happen to be Lock’n’locks (for those of you who’ve seen my special cupboard in the UK, you’ll understand), two frying pans, material (ie cloth), various cleaning products and some lethal mosquito and cockroach killer which was almost the death of me – I’m still coughing as a result of the noxious fumes! But don’t think I’ve finished shopping!
It transpires that the ‘Libre’ is not specific to Cuba. Nica has its own which is made with local rum. The best ones are made with 7-year-old Ron de Caña. It doesn’t take long to become an expert in this field. Hic.
For those of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter you’ll be wondering what happened to the mincing locksmith, the frisky bull and the racing pigs but I’ve written un montón already and I don’t want to bore you. Those tales plus Chicago Jim, Nica’s Most Wanted and the Dog Lead Thief will have to wait until the next (or the next) edition of Carta de Nicaragua.
To be continued…