Monday, July 26, 2010

In dependence

Susan's birthday was on Wednesday, and we celebrated by taking a cake and soda over to the house of our friend Julie to celebrate. I was originally contemplating cooking a meal for their family, but after doing the math on the amount of food required to feed the 20-odd family members living on the property, I elected to just bring the sweet stuff. They were remarkably gracious about letting us stuff their children full of sugar and caffeine before bedtime.

Like most families in this area, Julie's family owns a piece of property on which they have built several houses. When one settles down in Nicaragua, one does not buy a house, one buys land and builds a house. The land and whatever houses are on it are passed down through the family. In Julie's case, there are three houses on the property, with family members running around between each one. This system ensures that there are always people around to watch the kids, which is especially important in the case of Julie's severely handicapped cousin Orlando. Julie plays a large part in caring for him and raising the small children, especially her baby brother Victor. “Sometimes he even prefers me to his mom,” she told me.

If the upside of this arrangement is the interdependence between family members, this is simultaneously the downside. If Orlando's mother has an argument with Julie's mother, for example, it would be very difficult for her to go somewhere else, because she would have no one to help her in the enormous responsibilities of caring for her son. This reality similarly prevents abused spouses from moving out. Incest is also a problem, and many children have to grow up coexisting with the cousins that raped them at an early age. Even in cases where there is no abuse, it is simply very difficult for young people to become independent and separate from their parents when they reach adulthood. Anita, my Nicaraguan mother in Nandasmo, feels that this is an important part of growing up that is lacking in Nicaragua. Even Adam and Eve needed to strike out on their own at some point, and their parental figure was God.

The difficulty with becoming independent is both economic and psychological. Selmira, our supervisor, once observed to us that it was amazing that we volunteers at such a young age were able to come so far away from home and be so clear in what we want to accomplish and have the ability to follow through. She made this comment while telling us about her nephews, who had gone to college in Managua, where they dropped out of class and spent the money their mother sent them on alcohol, while lying to her about it for months. Obviously, there are American young adults who squander their resources upon moving out of home and Nicaraguans who go away to college and do just fine. Still, she made a probably valid point that Nicaraguan youth aren't brought up to become independent in the way that American youth are. And with good reason, since many of them probably won't. Whether the cause is economic, cultural, or both, Nicaraguans put enormous value on sharing and mutual care, where the US prizes self-reliance. The result in Nicaragua is very lovely and Christian, wherein even those who are poor will generously share what little they have. But the flip side is the inability to separate from one's family, both economically and geographically.

Despite the negative aspects of large families living in community, it remains quite touching to see a gaggle of ten icing-smeared children spontaneously dancing to Shakira with their brothers, sisters, and cousins in the family living room.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Students Weigh in on Marriage

My dear readers may recall that last month I posted a reflection on the significance of Father's Day in Nicaragua. Last week, it fell to me to teach my third-year Christian Formation class about the sacrament of holy matrimony. After a lively discussion about the elements of a good marriage, I put it to them to write dialogues exploring the pros and cons of getting married. I offer some of their insights here, that the reader may employ to support, question, or otherwise further develop on the ideas I put forth. Common themes include a fear of divorce, mistreatment, economic insecurity. Also a strong connection between matrimony and being a good Christian, though with so many things here it's hard to tell if that makes it desirable, unattainable, or both.

1)It's not always possible to tell from their responses if they are interested in getting married themselves. These are more their observations of the views that surround them.
2) Men are rather unrepresented, because they are a minority in the class and tend to not turn in their homework. But that's another topic entirely.

Erely and Joddy (female):
Person 1: For me, marriage is good. For me, a person from the time they're born thinks about only being with one person to love and to be sure of their love they should marry.
Person 2: I disagree because if someday one of the pair doesn't want to stay married they have to divorce and, even worse, if it's through the church it's until death do them part and I wouldn't like that...
Person 1: That's not love. Love is sharing ideas, things, and problems. I see my companion's point but I still [support marriage.]
Person 2: the beginning is lovely but later shameful things come to pass...perhaps someday I'll support marriage.
Osmelda (female):
"Because of marriage the partners are happy and through marriage they follow the church, loving each other in the Lord. They don't think bad thoughts or have eyes for others, only for that man or that woman."
"It's bad to get married because as soon as they're married, whether it's by the state or the church, the first night they're already cheating on their wives, especially the men... if they marry in the church, two days later they don't go to church, they don't love their partner, if they have children they don't show them love and kindness but only mistreatment, a week later they want to get divorced, saying "I'm bored with you, I'm tired, I can't stand you," and they go around sleeping with other women and men."

Hellen (female):
"Marriage for goodness is good because it serves to form a family, take care of each's also good to be [together] in the good times and the bad, and in marriage there's happiness, sadness, and the spouse and children are there to comfort...there are some partners that don't want to have children, and some that do because a child is a blessing in the family..."


Doyly and Gino (male):

Person 2: I understand marriage to be a relation that exists between two people that love each other...I think that marriage is of little importance in life...I'm not getting married because you know I don't have money to buy clothes and celebrate wtih the family.
Person 1: I want to get married to be close to God that is on high and stay free of all evil.


Johana (female)

"Marriage is something beautiful before God and the world and for families...not everyone gets married for love, but for money and material goods...this is very bad before God... For this reason, it's better that they not marry. What's the good of a marriage that lasts one year or two and then they get divorced....and then they take away property, they threaten each other, etc."

[Note: Johana affirmed to me that she does want to get married someday.]


Karina (female)

Here, the majority of couples don't get married because they know that love isn't forever, because everything in this life ends, even love, in part because of infidelity, because both men and women are unfaithful."

Stefany and Ruth (female)

Person 1:"It's get married because the force of love is the union of two people...the married life is very happy when there's love and trust between them."

Person 2: "A married person lives in hell...the husband hits her, insults her, and chides her for everything."

Jahaira (female)

Person 1:When he marries, the person accepts God and his wife...Marriage is important for life and for our future.

Person 2: Marriage is sacred, but if I get married... I don't know if that man is going to mistreat me or leave me or kill me. Because of this I'm not going to get married... I can't marry a disrespectful and irresponsible man...and when I get pregnant he's going to tell me "It's not my daughter or my son," he's going to tell me to get an abortion. That's why I don't accept marriage.


Shanelia (female)

Person 1: What happened with your marriage?
Person 2: I decided not to get married because it can be a risk.
Person 1: But how, if marriage isn't anything risky, it makes you happy.
Person 2: But I think that if I get married I might experience tragedy, my husband might mistreat me.
Person 1: No, marriage is healthy if it's about loving each other mutually, of course you have to choose the right person.
Person 2: I never thought of marriage that way.
Person 1: You should, because marriage is a blessing from God, because from it children are born along with a pure love between the two partners that lasts until death, if you choose the right person.
Person 2: Thanks for your advice, now I'm thinking well.
Person 1: No problem, I hope to see you get married someday.
Person 2: Of course!


Nesly (female)

Marriage is good because that way we can show that we love each other, we need someone to love us. It's also important because this way we can show God that we love him, that we're faithful to him, that he is important in our lives. And that we love each other, and act in a rightful and patient way because marriage means a pact that we make with God.

Some people shouldn't get married because they get married for money and when there's money, there's love...but when the money ends the love gets lost.... If someone gets married for [wordly] interest and then divorce it's because they're not faithful to God.


Sandralee (female)

Many people don't get married, and many girls that get pregnant at an early age. Maybe because the men who get them pregnant don't have the ability to marry and maintain their wife.


Sterry (male)

Person 1: [Marriage] is terrible. I don't want responsiblity, I want to have adventures and lots of women.

Person 2: Marriage is something Christian. It's for loving each other, obeying each other, and respecting each other.

Person 1: I don't want to get married because it's not interesting for my life.

Person 2: But marriage is God's law.

Person 1: Of course...don't... say it [ellipsis original]

Person 2: You're joking, you could marry the woman you love.

Person 1: Don't sermonize!

Person 2: It's advice, not a sermon.

Person 1: Fine, I'll get married.

Noemi and Jolaina (female)

Person 1: I think marriage is a bad idea because...if the man is a drinker and machista, you have to tolerate his yelling and hitting. But if it's a religous marriage there's no divorce, it's until death.

Person 1: Marriage is nothing bad. When someone gets married they should love each other mutually, the man just like the woman. The woman shouldn't permit her husband to yell at her or lay a hand on her.

Person 1: But this can happen in any marriage because when a woman gets married she doesn't know what the man is like. At the beginning, he's all sentimental, but at the end he's bitter.

Solution: Because of this, there's dating so the partners can get to know each other well. When the man starts to talk rudely, better to end the relationship because it doesn't lead to anything. We women should defend our rights.


Helen (female)

"I think people don't get married very much because most of the population is very young and doesn't have marriage prospects. Most people get married when they have a stable economic condition."


Vicky (female)

Person 1: I want to get married.
Person 2: Why? You're really young.
Person 1: But I'm old enough.
Person 2: But why can't you be like me? I have my boyfriend.
Person 1: That's you. I'm me and you don't even want to have kids.
Person 2: Why should I care about kids?
Person 1: Yes, you have no heart.
Person 2: Why don't I have a heart?
Person 1: Because you don't even want to have one child.
Person 2: But a child costs too much.
Person 1: But a child is everything!
Person 2: How is it everything?
Person 1: Of course it's everything. A child is love, kindness.


Onier (male)

Joselin (fictional? woman): Are you going to marry me?
Onier: I can do you the favor, but the truth is I'm not ready.
Joselin: But I want to marry you.
Onier: We're young and I don't want to marry now.
Joselin: But I can't stand this anymore.
Onier: You know I don't work and I have my lackings.
Joselin: Tell me the truth. You don't want me.
Onier: It's not that. It's like I said, I'm not old enough to get married.
Joselin: You have someone else. That's why you don't want to marry me.
Onier: I can't do this anymore. I see that you want something serious with me and I can't see you anymore.


Iris and Meybi (female)

Person 1: I think marriage is good because it's where you unite your lives for your whole life.
Person 2: I disagree because you have to enjoy life and besides often there's infidelity.
Person 1: That's when they don't really love each other.
Person 2: I had a boyfriend and he cheated on me. Since then, I'm completely convinced that two people can't get married.
Person 1: You're wrong. If God's love is present, those people can understand each other.
Person 2: There's no love of God in people, only the devil's love.
Person 1: That's not true, because the devil's love doesn't exist in God nor in people.
Person 2: Ha ha ha, you're a genius. Marriage isn't for people.
Person 1: You don't believe the one that has to convince you. Open your damn eyes, blind girl!
Person 2: Reality is reality. Marriage doesn't exist.
Person 1: Of course it exists, you just don't accept it.
Person 2: It's fine, I'll get married or follow your advice. Thanks for your advice.


Margarita (female) and Kevin (male)

Margarita: I think marriage is sacred, serious, it isn't a game. It's when two people unite and give themselves to God...when you get married you have to be mature and aware of what you're going to do. It's necessary to have time to think and decide what you really want.

Kevin: Marriage is good for those people who want to form a good, dignified family with much love and kindness.

Margarita: I'm not going to get married, because you don't know what your husband is going to be like. At the beginning he treats you well, but later he mistreats you. That's why I don't want to get married, don't even think about getting married.

Kevin: I want to get married to live with my family and have lots of love together and live in harmony with God, my children, and my wife.


Esmelda (female)

For me the sacrament of marriage is important because it's good that someday we can follow a good path. Marriage is a promise that one makes with God to have faith in God and mutually act like a Christian. But for some people, they don't want to receive this gift or this sacrament. It's not important for them because they don't believe in God.

For others, they get married, but they leave each other again because one mistreats the other or the man wants to be with another woman, he doesn't love his wife or his children, abandons them and his children mistreat other people. Sometimes women part with their husbands. They run away when the man is at work, and the woman is happy with another man in the house.

..I don't know if I'm going to get married. I say I want to get married, but it may not be the gift God has given me.


Tayron and Kent (male)

Tayron: I think that marriage is a big responsibility for two partners, in which there must be: trust, kindness, care, and above all love. These things are vital in a marriage!!!! It's okay that a man or a woman gets married, but first they should choose that person well... ok!!!!!!

Kent: I think it's good to get married to have a family because through children you have a lot of help, because when they grow up they help us and also we have company through them, but also parents should be responsible in raising them so that their children grow up well.


Juan (male)

Person 1: A lovely marriage is that they feel a pure love between them and at the same time feel the love of our God and when they feel the pure love of God it's that they love each other and have an eternal marriage.

Person 2: I think it's a bad idea because if in less than ten years they separate they have to divide their material goods. When the love ends they live a war, they'll be unfaithful. Differences in opinion can come from having other children, economic issues.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Luto (or And Speaking of Death..)

Yesterday was a day of mourning in Puerto Cabezas. On Thursday night, a large truck carrying about 40 youth from the Central Miskito Moravian Church down the street took a turn too sharply and rolled over. They were on a mission trip to Waspam. Eight people died, including one of the pastors of the church, and dozens were injured. None of them were my students, although there was one Colegio del Nino Jesus student among the injured. It's the largest number of people who have died at one time in this region since the hurricane.

I accompanied two other teachers to the vigil in the Moravian church that had been going on non-stop since the night before. When people got word, they went to the church and waited all night for the bodies to start to arrive. When we got to the church, three of them were there; two boys in their late teens and one girl of about 8 or 10 years. There were crowds around the caskets, and several women weeping over the glass panels that opened on the faces of the young people. As best I understood him, the pastor was reminding people in Miskito to take their seats when they were done, to let the family and others have a chance to see the deceased, and to avoid crowding too much because it was very hot and people might faint. He also made announcements about when others were expected to arrive and when the wounded being treated in Waspam would be brought back, intermingled with words of reassurance about the power of God to deliver from death. One by one or in small groups, people came up to the microphone to offer a hymn. I was whisked into one of these groups by one of my companions, the music teacher.

I passed by several times later in the day. The number of caskets varied, as did the size of the crowds, but it was basically the same process all day and night. It reminded me of the tedious, even boring nature of grief as it simply lingers on, hour after hour.

The Canadian pastor of the Creole Moravian Church and her husband had described funerals in this city as more "organic," less sterilized than North American funerals. When I arrived I saw what they meant. The bodies of the dead are generally prepared by the families, not by professionals. I once heard Selmira half-joking with her sisters about which one would be painting her nails, and which would do her makeup after she died. While efforts are made to make the body diginified and presentable, they are nowhere near as extensive as in the US. Cotton had been put in the noses and, in one case, the mouth of the bodies to prevent leaking fluids. It just then occurred to me that they must do this in the US, but they take pains to make it not visible to the public. The same with the stitches that held together cheek of the little girl; there was no attempt to render them invisible. I remember, after my grandmother died, my mother reached out to touch her hand, and had to brush off her fingers a fine dusty paint that had been used to give my grandmother´s skin the appearance of life. The skin of these young people retained its pasty, ashen color of death. They were all dressed or shrouded in white, draped to conceal the worst of the head damage, but bloodstains had not all been diligently purged, a la Lady Macbeth.

All the while, I severely questioned my motives for looking upon those who had died. Was I motivated by a desire to accompany the living in their grief and the dead in their passing? Or at least an anthropological curiosity to see the burial preparations of the urban Miskito culture? Certainly these were both present. I couldn't help feeling my motivation also carried an element of a rubbernecker or a gawker, looking for shock and gore. Then I decided to look on this motive with compassion. I have generally only seen death when living people are made up to look dead or when dead people are made up to look living. How many times have I seen death just being death? I think of the times I came upon a dead squirrel in the yard of my house in Milwaukee, or the dead dogs in the streets of Managua. Every one of these moments jars me from my ilusion of life's security. I remember that I am like an infant who lacks object permanence, forgetting about that which is not in my line of sight. There is something compelling about looking upon the absence of life where it once had been. It is certainly a reminder of life's fragility, but I was more struck in the moment by life's power to transmit expression, color, dynamism, and love. It was as if lightning had struck the coffin, leaving a hole in the fabric of the living world, to be gradually be filled with more life. I was left wondering where all that energy had gone. It couldn't have just vanished. Just as I had forgotten death by its absence in my life, so had I been desensitized to soul, by its abundance. The absence of the soul was so conspicous as to leave no doubt in me that it had at once been present, and had since vacated the premises.

In the end, I find myself yet again realizing that I am not, nor will I be completely acclimated to life here, in this place of abundant life and abundant death.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dia de los Muertos

...was back in November. I wrote a poem about it, which I just came across while organizing my files. I submitted it to my writers' group, where it was met with mixed reviews. Since long distance, in this case, has precluded an in-depth editorial conversation, I let the project lie like the dead people we commemorated that day. But since blogs are all about first drafts, mediocrity be damned, I present my poem for your potential edification:

Dia de los Difuntos

Pines, as I know them,
Are the green that remains through the harshest winter
There is another evergreen, all but forgotten in my world:
That of the land which knows no winter.
In this place, palm trees and pines grow together
Up from grass that grows exuberantly
around the graves of so many little ones.

Look, there’s my husband. In the dark blue.
My eyes find their rest upon the immaculate tomb.
“Que lindo es!”
How lovely it is.
How lovely he is.

In a place of so many palms,
Pine is the symbol they claim.
As hearts enduring a hidden barren season,
The abundant death shrouded in abundant life.
Grief thrives like the flora,
But they have not come to grieve.
They have come to accompany.
as I have come to accompany
The living, and today the dead.
See, love, a foreigner has come to visit you

Cleaning, painting, tidying their homes,
Most families simply sit,
Gladly accepting the hospitality of their loved ones’ resting places.
A girl of 10 reclines upon a tomb no larger than her own body.
Two children resting in each other’s presence,
A mirror image in life and death.
Two old women sing
I do not know if the pitches they seek are the same or different
But their voices meet in startling harmony,
Not quite unison and not quite dissonant.

They pray for resurrection and eternal life in heaven,
Yet the spirits never leave them on the journey,
Can never escape their care, even in heaven.
Lord, remember those dead whose names are lost to us,
Lest they have need we cannot know.
In heaven or on earth, walking together as a community unbroken

In this place, the land of the palm and the land of the pine are one.
Under their protective shade, families are whole again.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Bit of Litter-ature

"You know," I said to Kate, a volunteer in Managua, as we stepped over the rotting carcass of a dog on the way to the grocery store, "Puerto Cabezas really is prettier than Managua, though there's more trash in the streets there.

"There's MORE trash in the streets there?"

In Nicaragua, and especially underdeveloped areas like Puerto, the burden of what to do with the byproducts of consumption is borne not by the government and the poor neighborhoods that get stuck with trash disposal sites. It's borne by every individual. I've only ever seen recently dead dogs in Puerto Cabezas, and only maybe twice at that. I don't know if people clear them out, or if the impressive rate of decomposition, in no small part due to Bilwi's army of vultures, takes care of them before I notice. Dead dogs notwithstanding, Bilwi does have a lot more trash in its streets than Managua. It's not because the people are more apt to throw trash here than in Managua. Both places teem with litterbugs. It's because Managua has trash collection services, while Bilwi, for all intents and purposes, does not.

Our first exposure to Bilwi's garbage disposal policies came shortly after we arrived. The guys we were living with at the time started a cheery bonfire just outside Susan's window. We watched in lurid fascination as a plastic chair melted into oblivion.

Burning is the most common means of trash removal here. Larger organizations and wealthier folk pay for private trash removal services by men who take it and do God knows what with it. When we moved into our new house, I thought, "Good gracious, I can't burn my trash. I'm an American, for Christ's sake." So I dutifully sojourned to the municipal services office on the other side of the city. I met with the man in charge of trash collection, and he assured me his people could come and pick it up. After several weeks of faithfully putting our trash outside, to have it ripped apart by the dogs, and then putting it out in rice sacks, to have it sniffed at longingly by the dogs, we finally realized that the mythical trash men weren't coming.

Indignant, I felt a surge of capitalist righteousness rise within me. "If we can't get the public service to pick up our trash, we might as well contract someone that we can refuse to pay for not removing our trash!" And so we did. Unfortunately, private contracting does not guarantee regular pick-up, only squabbling over payment. So much for capitalism. After months of trash struggles, burning became more and more appealing. Susan forbids burning trash in our yard (something about toxic fumes...?) so I waited until she had left on vacation to try my hand at burning trash. It may be toxic and un-American, but turns out it's satisfying and oddly thrilling. Just don't get the fumes in your eyes. It burns.

The official government position is that people should bury their trash. My response is "Where, next to my well?" Burying the trash means I'll be drinking it eventually. Burning it means I'll breathe it. Chuck it in the ocean, and it'll come back in your seafood. In the face of these options, maybe the best one is what so many people opt for; just throw it by the road. It may be unsightly, but at least I'm not consuming it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Out of the Closet with a Stack of Books

One of the joys of my time here in Puerto Cabezas is the amount of reading I've been able to do. Book after blessed book, I curl up in my hammock and read for hours, or until someone comes to the door or window looking for attention. I've long contemplated writing a blog entry about the reading I've accomplished, but I've been balking for several reasons. First of all, I figure, anyone in the US can read a book, even more easily than I can here in Nicaragua. People want to hear about life in Nicaragua, not about the time I spend engaging in reading, that most un-Nicaraguan of activities. This is an oral culture. People spend time talking about Ruben Dario, not poring over his collected works time and time again. This brings me to my second reason, which is guilt. I feel a bit guilty for the time I spend in my room with my books, or the time I read instead of talk while waiting for dance practice to start. I should be using the time to immerse myself in the local culture, part of which involves NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, SHOULD YOU FIND YOURSELF ALONE.

Then, today, I opened up that gem of a blog written by Peace Corps volunteer Jake Grossman. I found that he had written an entire entry not only reflecting upon the importance of books in his life in Paraguay, but reporting detailed statistical data he had carefully compiled on the books he had read, which is double the number I have read. I thought, "Wow, if this most excellent international blog can extoll the joys of reading, why can't I?" And so the story of my reading hobby is declassified from the top-secret files in my heart. (The story of my romantic life, however, has lost the petition for declassification for the time being. Besides, it may end up being the primary plot thread that ties together Puerto Cabezas: The Book)

I haven't spent free time devouring books this voraciously since grade school. Susan attributes it to the lack of other activities in which to engage, but I think it's more than that. First of all, I burned out a bit on reading after college. I'm finally over it. Secondly, I believe the sheer enormity of reading possibilities I had in the US actually limited the amount of reading I did. I would go into the wonderful, magical downtown Milwaukee Public Library and be so overwhelmed by the options that I would end up leaving with no book in hand. On the chance I did find a book, I would think, "Oh, this isn't SO great. There are so many other choices that I should go find another." And so my reading career faltered.

Here in Puerto Cabezas, I read whatever other ex-pats offer me. Susan and Lee, for sure, but also Deborah, the Canadian pastor of the Moravian church down the street, and Solveig, the Norwegian nurse currently working at a local university. Deborah and her husband Don have been my primary dealer of reading material. My parents have also brought me books. The book that I am reading now, James Michener's memoir entitled "The World is My Home," is one my family and I found in a hotel in Granada, where it had been abandoned after being checked out from the Miami-Dade Public Library (judging by the due date, not so very long ago).

As it turns out (and as Jake mentios), the books I read haven't been so terribly far removed from my experiences here. Diana Gabaldon's Outlander tells of a woman who builds a new community about her after being ripped suddenly from her own place and time. I could relate very much to her sense of being caught between worlds, despite the gentle waft of Harlequin rising from its pages, diminishing my normally robust apetite for reading. I do have to question the wisdom of my pastors who gave me The Sparrow before I left Milwaukee. A book about a missionary expedition that ends in massive bloodshed and the brutal deaths of nearly all involved is not exactly what you want to be reading when starting out on a year of service. Still, it was a lovely theological exploration with compelling characters that reminded me of the long and mixed tradition of overseas service workers and seekers in which I find myself. Jan Wong's excellent memoir Red China Blues was a lovely companion, sharing experience both the allure and the struggle of spending an extended period in another country, especially a poor one. Above all, that's what these books have been; companions, new friends to accompany me on my journey and share their wisdoms. Even Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, which I venture is about as unremarkable as one would expect from a book that draws its critical acclaim from Julia Roberts and Elle magazine, proved an amiable companion that provided a word of unwavering self-love and care at a time when I needed just such a message.

As my options close, my mind opens. I try out new books I would not otherwise have picked off the shelf, and I have not only made it through most of them, I have enjoyed them vastly. I've rediscovered that feeling I had once in college, when, curled up in bed with a theology book, I heard someone having sex. I smiled to myself and realized I could not be any happier than right there, where I was, with only my book for company.

The Books I Have Read in Nicaragua Thus Far :

1) The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell
2) Shibumi by Trevanian
3) Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
4) The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud by Julia Navarro
5) Red China Blues: From Mao to Now by Jan Wong
5) The Lost Chord by Ian Thomas
6) The Devil in the White City: Murder, Madness and Magic at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
7) The Eight by Katherine Neville
8) White Stone Day by John M. Gray
9) The Doomsday Key by James Rollins
10)Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
11)Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
12)Life of Pi by Yann Martel
13)The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by AJ Jacobs
14)Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia
15)Games for Actors and Non-Actors 2nd Edition by Augusto Boal
16)The Time-Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
17) Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal
Currently Reading:
Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal by Rachel Naomi Remen
Bible: A Biography by Karen Armstrong
The World is My Home: A Memoir by James Michener

Books that I made a grand effort at and have yet to finish:
Canterbury Papers: A Novel by Judith Healey
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Ultimate Guide to Puerto Cabezas

I imagine that some of my readers are currently saying "What gives? You haven't posted in two weeks!" I also imagine that the strength of this sentiment is directly proportional to the number of gene variations my reader and I have in common. In any case, I'll have you know that I have been most industrious these past few days, churning out the ULTIMATE (or at least above average) guide to Puerto Cabezas for those who will be coming here in the future. All the while being pitying the poor souls for not being able to arrive in Puerto with no idea whatsoever of what it was like, where they would be living, or what they would be doing.

Here are some excerpts that I hope the reader will find propitiatory:

First of all, you may be wondering, “What is this Bilwi/Puerto Cabezas business? Which is it? Am I going to Bilwi or Puerto Cabezas?” The correct answer is: it is both. You will be going to both places at once. “How very postmodern,” you reply. “How is this possible?” Bilwi is the name of the city, and Puerto Cabezas is the municipality. “But a municipality traditionally encloses no other governed districts. How can a city be located within a municipality?” You silly Anglophone! The city of Bilwi and several surrounding communities comprise one governmental district which several geographically distinguished regions. Bilwi is the urban(ish) center of Puerto Cabezas. The entire region is communally owned by various indigenous groups. I'm not sure what this means politically, but our friend Blanca says it's why the tourism industry will never take hold in Puerto. Apparently capitalists dislike communally owned territory.

As your levels of ennui begin to increase, I come to the more important question: “What am I going to do there? Where will I go?”


Puerto Cabezas features a plethora of restaurants and little cafes called comedores. Here are the ones I know best:

Kabu Payaska- One of the best restaurants in Puerto, Kabu Payaska is the classiest restaurant with plastic chairs you'll ever find. Located overlooking the beautiful Caribbean Sea, you will discover it truly lives up to its name, which is Miskito for “Sea Breeze.” As befitting such a location, it is especially known for its seafood dishes. An excellent choice for entertaining visiting family and friends.

Oasis- Located in the Loma Verde neighborhood on the far south side, Oasis enjoys the rather dubious distinction of “Best Pizza in Puerto Cabezas.” It really is quite tasty pizza. It also offers a wide array of brightly colored fruit juice options. The slow preparation time will allow you to enjoy a luxurious social hour with your friends, all while ensuring that health code is properly followed in the kitchen, which is separated from the dining area by a glass window. A delectable and, by US standards, economical choice for large groups of people.

Comedor Aquí Me Quedo- This adorable little restaurant is located next to the central park. It features typical Nica food- gallo pinto (beans and rice), fried chicken or other meats, tajadas (fried plaintain strips), fresh fruit juice. I can get a drink and food to last me for two meals, all for the reasonable price of 70 córdobas (about $3.50).

Mini-Market- A convenient 5-minute walk from our house, this mini-supermarket features a small cafe that sells tasty burgers and mediocre pizza that is quite possibly the second-best in Puerto Cabezas.

Other Food Places

“Familia Meza Chow”- This yummy-foods shop is located near the two schools, and is a popular hangout for students after as well as during class hours. It sells cakes, cookies, sweet breads, and homemade soft-serve ice cream.

Panaderia two houses down from “Baby's House”- This secret little gem is not marked by any sign, and until last week simply worked out of a house. It was known of only by word of mouth, like a hot Prohibition-era speakeasy. They now have a little wooden store-like structure that makes them easier to spot. This nameless bakery sells all sorts of sweet bread deliciousness.

Susana's house- Susana is the sister of Selmira, the directora of Maureen Courtney. We have a standing invitation to come to her house for lunch on Sundays. It is scrumptious and the company is most pleasant.

Mercado Central- One of the two open-air markets in Puerto, the Central is known as the Miskito market because most of the people who sell there are Miskito. You can buy produce, meat, clothing, basically anything that's available in Puerto is found here. Admittedly, that's not saying much.

Mercado San Geronimo- the Mestizo market, because most of the people who sell there are Mestizo. Smaller than the Central, it's also prohibitively far away from our house.

Supermercado Monter- A shining monument to the economic stimulus that comes from one of Puerto Cabezas' primary sources of income, drug trafficking. It's the only place in the city where you can buy liquid milk.


Casa Museo- Located right across the street from our house, Casa Museo features the colorful and whimsical artwork of Creole artist and Puerto native Judith Kain, as well as a variety of other costeño cultural pieces. Also a hotel, it´s a convenient place to store visiting family and friends.

Comisión Anti-drogas- This Austrian-funded non-profit features the premiere school of costeño dancing in the RAAN, out of which the nationally touring dance group sensation Sweting draws its membership. The dance teacher also offers aerobics classes in the evenings for 100 córdoba per week. Along with dance, the Comisión offers free classes in painting and guitar for young people.


Malecón- a discotech and restaurant. The floor is kind of small and the music is hit or miss, but it's a nice little place with good food and air conditioning. It's owned by the mayor of Puerto Cabezas, who endears himself to his constituents by not charging cover. Perhaps for this reason, it is the pre-party spot for most people going out on a Saturday night. It's busy until around midnight, and then everyone clears out and goes to Rincón. It also has a staircase that takes you down to the beach.

Rincón- the most popular discotech in Puerto Cabezas. It plays good music, but it's a little small to handle its reputation. It gets pretty crowded.

Miramar- The discotech with the largest dance floor. It attracts a younger crowd, and if you go you will likely see some of your students.

Polideportivo- An indoor basketball court that's also a venue for dance shows and any other large event.
It's across the street from a concrete soccer court. I say court, because field just wouldn't be accurate.

La Policia- A big huge field- really a field- by the police office where people play soccer. I guess they do that so the police can keep an eye on the vagrant youth.

Estadio Ernesto Hooker- baseball stadium where the local team plays.

La Bocana- A strip of beach where one of the rivers empties into the ocean. La Bocana is a good place to go swimming. During Semana Santa, it's transformed into a hot social area with swimming, restaurants, bars, dancing, live shows, and boxing.

Tuapi- A community near Bilwi, about 15 minutes away by car. Tuapi is known for its beautiful rivers, where people go bathing and picnicking. Just make sure the local brujos don't slap their mojo on you.

FAQ's For Pacific-side Nicaraguan:

Question: Do they even speak Spanish there?

Answer: 55% of the population of Bilwi speaks Miskito, and there is a Creole English-speaking community, as well. However, nearly everyone also speaks Spanish, which is the lengua franca of the area.

Question: So there are a lot of black people, huh?

Answer: The Coast has a strong African heritage that comes from slaves brought over by Europeans, so there are many people who are darker skinned that what is average in the Pacific. However, there is also a lot of Dutch and English as well as Spanish ancestry, so there are some people who are as white as any European. Throw in a mix of Miskito, Rama, Mayangna, and Chinese heritage, and you end up with pretty much every variation of skin color under the sun in this one little city.

In conclusion, most Pacific side Nicaraguans don't really know anything about the Atlantic Coast.