There’s a rhythm to life here. The accent is sing-songy – I’m trying to find an opportune moment to record it for a friend of mine. Nothing goes in threes here – it’s a list of four. The call for the bus: Managua, Managua, Managua, Managuaaaaaaaa; the sale of food: calala, calala, calala, calalaaaaaaaaaa. Even the travelling icecream man has four bells on his cart. I still want to pinch myself and ask – am I really here? But you know what, everywhere I go people say hello. This week, I noticed they were actually calling out my name: “Hola, Lynda” rather than “hola, linda” (hello, lovely/pretty/cutey etc) and a little boy shouted “thank you” as I left the school because I’d lent the children a ball so they could play football. It’s one big show. Talking of performances, there have been auditions for my new sidekick.
La Laguna de Apoyo
One Friday, after a trip to the lake park with some of the schoolchildren, five volunteers gathered to go to La Laguna de Apoyo. A trek and a half. The first leg was fine: we got the Granada-La Uca express and a seat each. There was no having to press a sweaty armpit into a stranger’s nostrils – or worse. The rest of the journey didn’t go so well. All I heard was something about a four-and-a-half hour trek to the Laguna. Night falls at 5pm so there was no time for any of that nonsense. Phew. We flagged down a wagon and hopped in the back even though it was full of people and their produce. The driver wanted a dollar from each of us – we got the price down to 10 pesos each. As we left one of the passengers said “and they were bloody ugly too,”. I’ve been here for 10 weeks. I am actually the most beautiful woman from Great Britain to have arrived in Nicaragua so they couldn’t possibly have been talking about me.
I was right because moments later a passing car of dribbling Nica men wolf-whistled and shoulted “guapas”. “We’re not ugly anymore,” I said. The girls roared with laughter. Maybe I should widen my UK stand-up and just go for the full international comedy cirucuit. Another walk up another steep hill and an hour or so later we had arrived. I was hungry and opted for fish soup. It was only about 70 pesos and included a whole fish. We played cards – a game that I was convinced the Spanish and the French girls were making up as they went along. In the excitement of it all Élodie, the French member of the gang of five, knocked her class of orange juice over me.
I’m ruling her out of the auditions altogther since that’s just plain over the top. Berta was out of the running too due to an excessive sense of adventure. A drunken man tried to get in on the act. He ordered the waiter to change the music and put on some reggaeton “…and pump up the volume,” he said. He then asked me to dance. I told him I didn’t like reggaeton. He neither heard my reply nor waited to see if I was going to get up and dance – he reggaeton’d off doing his own thing. Clearly couldn’t take direction so he was a no-no.
Slowly, slowly catchy monkey
Remember Clave de Sol – the salsa band? Well, they eventually started at about 9pm (2 hours later but an hour on top of what calculated).
It was worth the wait, though. I met another lovely Nica family and we danced the night away. Ivette invited me to her husband Silvio’s birthday party the following night. We hugged and said our goodbyes like we’d been life-time friends. I’m told Nicaraguan’s are not normally so quick to invite strangers into their homes but I was an exception. Lynda, Lynda, eres la reina… “Lynda, Lynda you are the queen,” sang the musicians on Teresa’s last night.
Party, party, party, paaaaaaarty
Ana and I had drunk two bottles of red wine the night of the salsa gig. Expensive, but a treat all the same. Teresa had gone and we had to drink to her health. The next morning the neighbours decided that too would party to Teresa’s health – at 7am. Ana and I took ourselves off to the supermarket. It was a bit sparce in Union. No Fresca which is a fizzy grapefruit drink. No coca cola. No blue cheese. I went next door to La Colonia – the rival. Who should I bump into but Silvio whose party I’d been invited to. I noticed he was buying massive bottles of rum so I bought a 75cl bottle of Flor de Caña Reserva since I couldn’t possibly turn up empty-handed.
I took Carmen along to the party with me. A man took a shine to her and asked if there was somewhere they could talk without me. Tut. The family’s pet dog got a little over-friendly and tried to mount her. He was quickly whisked away. I met a handsome man called Fernando. He looked like a ranchero: someone who might have starred alongside Yul Brenner in the Magnificent Seven back in the day. He had dark hair, dark eyes and dark brows – he may even have had a moustache but that bit escapes my memory. There’s not a lot of grey hair in this country and I don’t believe it’s down to hair dye. Fernando asked me to dance but I was a little too jiggy for his suavecito slow-moves. He left without saying goodbye. On reflection, perhaps he was a little short. Silvio plays in a rock band and his two sons sing too. A jolly doctor who was very very round said he preferred Salsa and Spanish music. There was no danger of me misunderstanding him as he said this several times – assisted by a large tumbler of rum. He was an extremely nice man with a good set of his own teeth, if only I could remember his name.
I mention his teeth because young toothless people are commonplace here. It’s the flaw of the caña. When the band and the boys finished the karaoke started. I’ll tell you now it took little to persuade me to get up and sing. Firstly, No Woman No Cry and then my favourite Bob Marley track Redemption Song. Rita Marley, you are history. Hello, Bob and Lynda! I’m currently awaiting my recording contract. What with book deals, film deals, music deals, and stand-up comedy gigs it’s a busy time for me in Nicaragua – in my head, at least.
Carmen’s audition for the sidekick role went very well. She had a row with the conductor on the Granada-La Uca Express – the same bus we took on the Friday only this time the fare was double at 20 pesos. Ana paid without complaining. Carmen said she was paying my fare as I’d paid for the taxi the night before. The to-do with the bus conductor went on for some time. He went off several times to collect other fares. I waited to be thrown off the bus in the middle of nowhere. Eventually Carmen paid him 30 pesos (15 pesos each). On the way back we paid the full fare without complaint.
The Englishwoman who went up a volcano
I know. I said I wasn’t going to do it again but I was at a loose end, on a post-party high. I dabbled with tourism again. This time it was a 5km hike up a steep track to Volcán Masaya. Sweat? That’s not the word for it. It was a full-on Bikram yoga soak. I was dripping and so was my lovely turquoise Managua-purchased rucksack (oh, yes I forgot to say – I bought another bag during the Matagalpan adventure.) Neither Carmen (in talks with Penelope Cruz for this role) nor Ana (Angelina) who’s a 20-a-day smoker seemed to produce a bead of sweat between them. Carmen admitted later that she does mountain climbing, fell running, has no sense of danger and wondered around the most dangerous areas of Honduras without a care in the world. She’s going to have to sort that out if she wants to take up Teresa mantle.
I should have been more paying attention because when we got up the 5km incline I then found we were following a guide. Don’t ask me where he came from or how it all came about because I was too busy trying to catch my breath and find my vision. The next thing I knew we were skirting the crater of Volcán Masaya. I did an elegant slip on my backside down a narrow hill. I stared death by volcanic crater in the face. Ana and Carmen laughed but it wouldn’t have been funny if I’d fallen into the blinkin’ crater, would it?
On the way back down the volcano Ana and Carmen started walking. I had in my mind we were going to catch a lift in a wagon. I followed them in shock. Fortunately, minutes later, a truck arrived. We squeezed on the back striking that Nica pose -balancing precariously, finding any available, or not available space, as the driver stopped at every twist and turn to squash any vaguely-moving beings on board.
And anything goes… on board
There’s no such thing as overcrowding and certainly no such thing as heavy goods in Nicaragua. A man got on the bus from La Laguna de Apoyo with two 10ft palm leaves. It sounds like the start of a stand-up routine but it’s a fact. They were about a third of the length of the bus. The conductor helped him to put them onto the roof – there was no fuss and no “you can’t carry that on here!” No items is too big for the Nica bus. If Ikea ever opens up here…
A little of what you fancy
There I was wondering what I’d do without Teresa when along came the beautiful Nicaraguan family. I saw Saskya, the girlfriend of the lead singer in Silvio’s band, in the street the other day – or rather she saw me and yelled my name and gave me a wonderful smile. I don’t think I’ve said it before: the women in this country are stunningly beautiful. Each and every one of them. Saskya and Silvio’s wife Ivette are no exception. It’s a country of models. I’ve promised Silvio and Ivette I’ll cook for them. And, Ivette’s invited me to another family party.
Humbled by humility
You can’t help but love the Nicas. Well, I can’t help it, that’s for sure. I’ve taken Nica Time to heart and up until a week ago I had failed to write a single word of the four articles I was supposed to complete. Guilt got the better of me and I busied myself with completing my interviews and writing three of the four features: a profile of Maria Antonia a volunteer at La Esperanza Granada who’s been sponsored through school and now through university, a story about the trip to the zoo (no children were eaten in the writing of that report) and the story of a little girl who won a charity lottery to get her family home, which was made of plastic refuse bags, repaired and improved. The third story took me to San Igancio, the neighbourhood which houses the school I’ve been working at, La Nueva Esperanza. As I write the waiter in the cafe I frequent has just told me that the local people call the area Pantanal and many don’t know it as San Ignacio.
It’s the poorest area in Granada and as I’ve said in earlier blogs you see scenes akin to those of other third world countries. In Carta de Nicaragua 2 I mentioned a couple who’d spent their 12-day holiday building a house – this was the house. I looked at the before and after pictures then I met Ana Jesus Martinez. What a beautiful, gracious and humble woman. What’s not to love. I could have cried for her. Six people lived in the shack. It wasn’t watertight and the roof was propped up with sticks. Kathryn and Rick from the United States donated money and their time and helped three other people to construct walls of wood and zinc and fit a proper roof. It’s a basic house but my goodness is this woman happy. She is so happy you really have to ask yourselves why you’re stressing about luxuries. Running water, a watertight house and a second room are this family’s luxuries. Ana is lucky – she has running water.
Many families collect water from a standpipe on the track. I’ve seen little children with pots and pans collecting water as I walk to school in the mornings.
In an ideal world they should be in school but survival is a higher priority. That’s why I’ve written the articles – to show how a little bit of time and a little bit of money can go a long way to making a big difference to these communities.
Rich man, poor man
Within three days I saw two contrasting sides of Nicaraguan life – the middle class and the working class. I would defy anyone to show me such a contrast in the UK – I’m not even mentioning the upper class here as I’m told you only meet them through introduction and they hang around in exclusive clubs that cost thousands of dollars per year for membership. There is a lot of controversy about how the problem of the poor is tackled. La Esperanza Granada says “a hand up not a hand out”. But there are Nicaraguans who say – a bit like some critics in the UK – that the poor don’t want to work and are just looking for hand-outs. If the children can receive education and see how it can bare fruits, can the cycle of poverty be broken? There’s also the issue of women being left holding the babies – linked to this the controversy of birth control and safe sex, question mark, exclamation mark. Ana is a single mother of five, a waitress I spoke to recently was a 26-year-old single mother of three who was only just getting her secondary education. Remarkable women with moving stories to tell.
A look at some of the Nicaragua’s little acorns: school trips, lovable creatures and the hardships of the young ones in the poor neighbourhoods.
To be continued…