A word or two from the author
I’m not so much a wordsmith as wordy and so, I seem to have written an awful lot without getting to the juicy bits. Week three has passed and I’m hurtling towards week four at shuttle-speed and I still haven’t described any of the characters. Before I do, I just want to mention photographs. I’m not here as a tourist and I can’t think of anything worse than having some crazy foreigner with a camera invading your privacy. Generally, I ask before I take pictures but also, because we’re told some places aren’t safe and foreigners have been attacked and robbed we tend not to carry cameras all the time – that means shots of the family of four on the bicycle or the bull mounting the disinterested cow are not here but I am – safe and sound to try to tell the story and paint the pictures and, if you’re lucky, add one or two snapshots.
The frisky bull, the racing pig/s and the mangy dog
I’ve made a mental note to myself not to wear the red cut-off trousers I purchased thinking I’d look good teaching the children (and maybe blend in – wrong region, the Caribbean’s a few miles east, I believe!). The walk to school is an interesting one. The road disappears and then before we know it we’re slipping and sliding along a muddy track which is even worse when it rains. That the fancy red pants would end up mud-splattered is one thing, the main reason for putting them to one side is that I wouldn’t want to alert the attention of the frisky bull that has occasion to cross our path every now and then. The last time he was accompanied by three or four female companions none of which was the least bit interested in his attempts to mount them. Moooo.
But the bull isn’t alone, there are some cheeky little pigs that are (or should be) tethered by rope or string but I’ve seen running with a chewed-off bit of string dangling from their necks. The first day it was a lone porky going at the speed of Usain Bolt. The next time there were two in a neck-and-neck sprint – Usain and Asafa.
And then there are the dogs. I hear one of the volunteers was attacked by a dog but it must have belonged to an ex-pat because the one’s I’ve seen have barely had the strength to stand up on four legs. Gladly, the neighbour’s dog , Frijol (no pictures yet) is a healthy vet-approved size.
One angry man
Having ducked and dived the frisky bull and the racing pigs I then found myself in contention with an angry one-legged man in a wheelchair. It was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I see him around Granada all the time. On this occasion he happened to be on la calle comercio which is the start of our walk to San Ignacio. He’d been remonstrating with a taxi driver about goodness knows what but probably to do with “rights of way” – there are shops and stalls on either side of the road and first thing in the morning the tiny space there is is filled with pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, bus drivers and several people in wheelchairs. It’s a tight squeeze.
One day, early on at La Casita the maintenance man appeared. At that point I didn’t have a working shower and there were one or two other problems – not to mention the lack of cooking pots. I explained all this in Spanish – it is a Spanish-speaking country, after all. He waved his hand in alarm, “No hablo español.” So, I had to go through the whole palaver again in English. I took it upon myself to teach him a little Spanish. Jim is from Chicago and has the most beautiful accent. He’s been living in Granada for two years but still knows less than the basics in Spanish. “I just can’t retain the information. It’s in one ear and out the other,” he explained as he proceeded to confuse cabeza and cerveza. Fortunately, boozy showers heads were not installed. For several days the other girls in the house thought I was making up a character called Jim and I actually started to wonder if he was a figment of my imagination. Then, a few days later, a number of pots and pans appeared in La Casita. Then, a day or two later Jim reappeared with a remote control. Next, the old dodgy toaster was replaced with a brand new one. The next time Jim appeared I asked him how the coffee maker worked.
It didn’t. He said he’d take it away and short fuse it (!) He returned that weekend with a coffee maker which was hot (ie had just been used to brew coffee). There’s either some poor Nica out there wondering what happened to their coffee maker or Jim gave us his own machine. Chicago Jim hasn’t been seen since…
Nica’s most wanted
The younger volunteers are pairing off with the local Nica lads. Interestingly, the director of our charity says that it’s the same men who seek out new volunteers. She wants to put a picture of their mug shots on the office walls to warn newcomers se busca.
I was in a nightclub a couple of weeks ago dancing away when I was joined a young muchacho. I believe this 20-year-old was called Wilson Chilson but it was loud and I’m of an age. Anyway, after some minutes of dancing he declared undying love. I found myself hiding in a corner at the end of the night. Since then myself and Teresa have been magnets to the craziest people – generally, we’ll be standing at a bus stop waiting to go back to Granada after a day out and someone who is either high on drugs or drunk will approach and confess their love!
The mincing locksmith
The teaching process is very adhoc for us so sometimes we find our school day is cut short. This happened about ten days ago. I found myself with some spare time. I was going to practise yoga and cook. I’d bought a piña and some pepino and I was feeling good. That is until I got to my front door. I couldn’t open it. I tried several times. I even called one of the neighbours from across the road to make sure I wasn’t doing something wrong. No. The lock did not work. I called in at the charity office and explained what had happened. I had to recall from the depths of my memory cerradura and candado but I had to look up in the dictionary cerrajero although when all’s said and done there’s no word to describe the being that appeared. I was told the locksmith would be there in 10 minutes. That’s 10 Nicaraguan minutes during which time I melted in the sun and my cucumber and pineapple cooked. A note here, many people do quite literally travel by horsepower.
People came and went and then what I thought was a woman appeared, swishing her hips and swinging her handbag. “Well, that’s not the cerrajero, they said it was a ‘he’”, I thought. Said character minced their way towards me and said “Hoooolaaaaa!” his voice sang in a very distinctive Manchester-Canal-Street-London-Soho-way. Daniel, had shaped eyebrows, eyes that had recently donned make-up, shaved legs and a handbag for his tools! Sometime and three glasses of water later (for Daniel, the locksmith) I was inside. Phew. Someone had tried to open our door with a key which had broken inside the lock. What happens here is that when people find keys they sell them on. The purchaser then goes from door-to-door trying the key until they get lucky and can get into a house and help themselves to the goods. It caused great consternation – Teresa now has her door locked most of the time and we’ve all purchased padlocks for our bedroom doors.
The dog lead thief
If it’s not nailed down or if your eyes aren’t on the ball it may disappear – including your home contents, it now seems. While having a drink with the charity director the other night we waved away lots of street traders and beggars. Her dog – Nico – was off his lead which was on the table. That is, until someone came along who tried to sell us cigarettes and put down his basket. The next thing we knew was that he and the lead had gone. If you’ve seen the dogs in Nicaragua (those owned by locals, that is – see the picture in the item about mangy dogs) then you’ll know they don’t have leads so what he will be doing with his ill-gotten gains I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine.
Rain, rain, go away
It’s the season for it and apparently it may get more intense as the winter draws to a close. I saw a headline from La Prensa today which said Nicaragua was under alert from storms headed in our direction. It’s tedious when it rains as there’s only so much walking around you can do when you’re soaked to the skin. It also means that schools close. This week the ministry of education advised that all schools in the region would be closed on Wednesday and Thursday as Nica felt the tail end of the torrential rain which has hit other areas of Central America. About 36 people have died in this country. Volunteers, tourists, retirees and westerners have a lot to be grateful for – watertight roofs over our head (although drops of water do fall onto one of my flatmates when it rains in her bedroom). But for many of the children we teach, and their families, things aren’t so luxurious. Often they have homes made of a variety of materials including corrugated plastic – there are lots of holes and far from torrential-rain proof. So when it rains children don’t come to school as they, their families and their homes are drying out. Many of the parents don’t want their children catching colds or falling sick because they can’t afford the medical care or the medicines.
There’s always somewhere to go. Stick with me because you haven’t heard about the bull in the china shop, supermarket sweep Nicaragua, first contact, the day of the scorpions and much, much more.
To be continued…