Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pretty Ponies

This last Sunday was quite possibly one of the most spectacularly fun days I've had yet in Nicaragua. Alta (Dutch roommate) and I went off to Masaya, a small town about 30 km from Managua so that she could look for a new place to live and so I could do some shopping at the famous Masaya artisan markets. We had no idea when we planned the trip, but it turns out that last Sunday was Masaya's fiestas patronales (patron saint day festival), and oh my good lord, it was fantastic. Telling you the story is actually a little frustrating, because all I have to go on are photos and words, but photos and words could never capture the sheer noise, energy, noise, excitement, noise, noise, noise of this fiesta. On every street corner, in every park, from the bed of every truck that passed by, music blared. Hip-hop, reggaeton, salsa, bad 80's pop songs, revolutionary folk music. And on the streets, marimba bands, mariachi bands, brass bands, lone minstrels, break dancers with their boomboxes, and traditional folkloric dance musicians all played simultaneously, competing for attention, space, and sound. It was spectacular.

The whole town was given over to an equestrian parade that was supposed to start at 2, which, if you've spent any time at all in Nicaragua, you will know that the parade was actually going to start at 4. So Alta and I had most of the afternoon to toodle around, so toodle we did. We shopped, had lunch, and finally settled down at a sidewalk cafe on the parade route and commenced drinking beer. This was fantastic. You can order beer by the liter in Latin America, and it doesn't come in a paper bag with MadDog on the label.

A marimba band settled down right next to where we were sitting, and it suddenly was the greatest place on earth, sitting in plastic chairs at a plastic table on a sidewalk in a small town in Nicaragua with a bunch of other people, all of us roasting in the sun, drinking warm beer, and waiting for a parade to start. So naturally, we danced. (This guy got a little fresh!)

After an hour or two, the gigantonas (giantesses) started making their way around, dancing through the streets to make people laugh and get them excited for the coming parade. I didn't get any good action sequences, but basically the guys stand inside the giant doll frames and dance around while the drummers bang away and the little kid/dwarf runs around collecting tips and telling ribald jokes.

Finally, drunk, sweaty, thrilled to our toes, we spotted the first horses coming down the way, and oh, my goodness they were so pretty.

Some of the cowboys weren't too bad lookin', either!

And oh, you should have seen some of the costumes on the fancier riders. Like check out this fine lady of the aristocracy. Keep in mind it's probably 500 million degrees outside, and she's wearing a leather hat, leather boots, and a wool blanket. But look at her smile!

After the finer specimens of equine excellence had passed by, then came the beer-drinking, cigar-smoking cowboys,

the campesinos (as these guys rode by I wanted to shout out to them, "We don't need no stinking badges!")

and the... wait a second. Is that Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau... in disguise as a Nicaraguan cowboy? I think yes.

Then came the little kids, (OH MY GOD THESE BOYS ARE SO CUTE)

And more little kids on bulls. I guess they ran out of horses?

But of all the things I saw, and believe me, I saw some wonderful things, I think this is my favorite. Does this lady have a horse? No, she does not. But does she want to party? Yes she does. And so off she went, balancing a liter of beer on her head, dancing down the street like the whole damn parade was her own personal private party. Cheers, dancing beer lady. I love you so much.

So that was my day in Masaya. Alta and I had so much fun, nearly got trampled to death by temperamental horses spooked by huge wild crowds and loud music as we scrambled around trying to get the best pictures ever in the history of the world, and partied like true Nicaraguans. I love fiestas patronales.

Monday, September 29, 2008

In Which Amazing Cheastypants Shamelessly Courts Her Father's Admiration

All right, internet, I need some help. My father, the inimitable Superdad, in addition to being cute, adorable, witty, completely lovable, and devilishly handsome, is a whiz-bang puzzler. I mean, the guy owns books about chess and has actually read them. Not that he needs to read them to dominate a game or puzzle, cause he's just about the smartest human being I've ever met, and I routinely feel really incredibly unbelievably dumb when I watch him do anything. I mean, this is the guy who, the night before he sat for the bar exam read a book about calculus. Calculus, for crying out loud. To help him think logically.

His puzzle d'jour is Suduko. Soduko? Sudoko? Shit, I can never remember where the O's and U's go. Anyway, he works those puzzles like they're crack, and sometimes I come in to his study and watch him work on them for a while. Initially, I tried to figure out the puzzles and help him solve them. Ha! What folly. Eventually I had to admit it: I am no match for the formidable strategic powers of the Amazing Superdad when it comes to these types of games. "But no fair!" cried my inner me. "I want to play, too!"

Well fear not, internet. I have a plan. You see, many, many years ago, a professor of mine wrote the following about me in a letter of recommendation: "While I would never say that Cheasty is brilliant, I will say that she certainly has a lot of smarts." I remember reading this as a callow 20-year-old and being offended, like who the heck was this person to decide whether I was brilliant or smart? OF COURSE I AM BRILLIANT! Time and experience has changed my mind, however, and I now consider it one of the finer compliments I've ever been given. In my years of graduate school I have met a handful of brilliant individuals, and while I certainly admire their intellect, I know for a fact that I am not among their ranks, and that's ok. I like having my smarts, because my smarts means that while I might not figure something out quickly, I can always figure out who can help me figure it out. So to speak. (Ah, Cheastypants, erudite as always, my dear.)

So here's where you come in, my dears. Below is a picture of a Suduku puzzle I tried to solve the other day.

As you can see, I knew when I was beat, and gave up. So help me out. When the answer isn't obvious, what are some of the methods I can use to structurally visualize where future numbers are going to need to go? Should I be thinking in straight lines? Boxes? Can I use diagonals? How, for example, can I figure out where to put the 9 on the bottom middle box? I've been using straight lines and intersections, but now I'm stuck, because my old methods aren't working anymore, and I don't know how to think strategically about this sort of puzzles. Numbers scare me!

Oh, help me, internet. Teach me the ways of Sudoku. I have an improbable dream of sitting by my Superdad's side one day to work a puzzle together. And on that day, I want to feel like I'm actually contributing something besides moronic comments like, "Oh, yeah, I was just about to put that, too." One day I want to lean over and say, "Hey, the 7 goes right here." And then maybe Superdad will look at me like this:

P.S. An apology to Crasey, who is convinced that I'm trying really hard to put every single bad picture ever taken of her up on the internet. Sorry, babe. Normally I'm unaware that you consider them "bad pictures," but I can kind of guess your reaction to this one. Loves ya! Squee!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

And Sick Again, Not That It Stopped Me

Happy Monday, my sweet petunias! Here in Nicaragua they have a saying: "El lunes, ni las gallinas ponen," which roughly translates to "On Mondays, not even the hens lay eggs," a sentiment I embrace fully right now. So here's me, wishing you an egg-free Monday. Join with me, people, and lay no eggs today.

Oh, sigh, who am I kidding. I've got a million eggs to lay, and I'd better get started soon, or I'll have to lay twice as many on Tuesday, plus I'll have to deal with some pissed off farmers. Farmers? I think I'm taking this analogy too far now. I will stop.

So remember how on Thursday I said that, because I'd miraculously healed myself overnight from a grodie sickness AND managed to get some fantastic work done, AND go swimming, that I was a rock star? Actually, I believe that I said I was a ROCK STAR, all caps. Curses, Cheastypants. Why do you always go and jinx yourself? Naturally, having done all the amazing and wonderful and glamorous things that I did on Thursday, on Friday I had a relapse of the horrible-terrible-icky-poo-disease-o-rama. This relapse was pretty bad, and I ended up going to the emergency room in the afternoon, where they thought for a while I had dengue fever, which, thank-you-god, I do not have. But if you want to know what my horrible-terrible-icky-poo-disease-o-rama felt like, read the wiki site on dengue and it was sort of like that, all except the rash. It hurt. Anyway, they put me on a gurney and trundled me off to do some blood and urine tests, refused to give me a blanket even though I was FREEZING on account of how I had a 102 degree fever and the blanket would make my temperature rise. Is that true? Anyway, I lay there shivering and moaning for a while until the meds and IV goop they gave me started to kick in, at which point I conked out like a drunk on the street. Seriously, would an atom bomb have awoken me? Who knows. All I know is at one point a doctor came in a shook me awake, mumbled something about "virus," and "paracetamol," and then I fell back asleep. Eventually I woke up, wondered what had happened to the IV that used to be in my arm, and what the heck I was supposed to do now. So I got up, staggered out to the desk, blinked owlishly, and asked a nurse what I was supposed to do. Go home, she said. Well, first pay up. Then go home. Take lots of paracetamol for your virus (which virus? we'll never know) and get lots of rest. Ah. Ok, then.

Honestly, I really did have the best intentions of doing just that. And I have been pretty good about taking the drugs (he he), but this weekend was so completely chock-full of fun, interesting, and exciting things to do that I ended up not really resting at all, Mom please don't kill me. No, really, Mom. Here, let me tell you what was at stake, and then you decide if you would've had the will power to stay in bed, sweat lightly, and swat at mosquitos all weekend. First, Monica's 30th birthday party, followed by SALSA DANCING!! Come on, like you could say no to that. Then, a trip to cute little Masaya, a town about 30 km from Managua with wonderful artisan markets and p.s., today was their patron saint fiesta day and PAAAAARRRRRTTTYYYYYYYY!!!! Woo-hooo!! Every year on this date in honor of San Jeronimo (Geronimo is a saint? Who knew?) they have a huge really famous EQUESTRIAN PARADE!! Horses! Men and women in cool outfits! Bands playing! People dancing! Beer! IT'S ALL SO COOL! And last, I had tickets to the Ballet Folklórico tonight, at the national theater, which is a pretty posh place (even the bannisters are wrapped in red velvet, how about that for fancy) and the dances are spectacular and the music is wonderfully toe-tapping and hummable, and I already had the ticket so I just couldn't stay home. You understand, right? Right?

Hello? (*tap, tap*)

Just to get you through the day, here's my favorite picture I took this weekend. More pictures and detailed stories of the weekend to follow. Off to catch some zees now.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

And A Special Shout-Out For Penata, the Radiant Birthday Girl.

Oh, Penata. I'm sorry I didn't write this yesterday on your real birthday, but friends, family, Internet, would you all please wish a very happy birthday to the most wonderful girl in the world? On that day almost two years ago when I needed a roommate and somebody suggested you, I was less than enthusiastic. I mean, who wanted to live with a stranger? But oh, my goodness, how lucky I got. How lucky we both got. You moved in and we instantly threw the best party in the history of the world. God, I will never forget those wine stains on the white carpet. Or Nan running in, drunk as a sailor, pouring white wine on top of the red wine stains, swearing that it would help the stains come out. God, that was a great party. We looked around the next morning and it looked like somebody had slaughtered a goat in the living room. But that wasn't the only great thing about living together. Miraculously we found our wardrobes doubled! You need shoes? I got 'em. I need jewelry? My God, do you have jewelry. We laughed together, we cried together, we went dancing, drank ourselves silly, shared our hopes and crushes and heartaches. I decided I would marry your brother (you know, once he's legal), and you bemoaned the fact that the Fairy King would never be yours. Oh, how much fun we had!

And then we moved into the Tweed. Oh, Tweedettes, how I miss you! *Hi Umulu! Hope you're having fun at ACL this weekend!* More fun, more great parties. Leave a key under Edward if you're going out, sit down on the counter and swig some wine while we cook a fabulous meal, be quiet, Cheasty's studying over in the Punishment Chair, does anybody want some tea?

My dear, you are wonderful. I hope your birthday was the greatest birthday in the world. I miss you so much, and I officially forbid you to go do your research year in Mexico next year. I just can't take two straight years without my Penata!

Better Than Ever!

First, thank you all for all your well wishes and advice over my recent trip down Sickypants Lane. Sorry I've been AWOL, but I've done nothing but lie in bed and moan for the past four days. I honestly don't remember the last time I felt so completely run down, achy, and miserable. Happily, after days of wondering whether I was going to die, I woke up this morning feeling like myself. Yay! I had planned on going to the doctor this morning, but since I felt so perky, off I trotted to the Ministry of Health.

Ah, the Ministry of Health. No soap, no toilet paper, no running water. Unbelievable. Just flushing the toilet involves three trips, a bucket, and a water barrel. But guess what happened there today. WARNING, WARNING, GEEKY HISTORY NERD RAPUTURES TO FOLLOW. IF THIS WILL BORE YOU, PLEAE AVERT YOUR EYES. I can't remember if I told you earlier about the really incredibly frustrating process of using archives down here, though my history buddies reading this will certainly feel me. Basically, you have to go to an archive or library and talk to the librarian, describe your project, and then you sit at a table and wait for them to bring you documents. They do so, but slowly and parsimoniously. Painfully. So painfully. But more than anything it's just frustrating because you never know whether they're really paying any attention, or truly understand what your project is about, etc. I mean, are they really bringing you everything of interest? I perpetually feel like they don't really understand what it is I'm trying to do, no matter how clearly I try to explain everything that might be of interest to me, and that if I could only get back there myself, I know there'd be lots of very amazing cool stuff I'd never see otherwise.


Today when I got the the archive I asked for the HUGE STACK of documents I had reserved for further perusal last time I was there. "Oh!' the librarian replied. "When you didn't come back the very next day, we re-shelved it all." ALL? My God woman, I know I've been sick for a few days, but I told you I'd be back, and that was about 3 full days of work right there! At first this seemed a tragedy, but it shortly turned into the greatest thing that could've happened. The librarian, a very lovely woman, I'm sure, just seemed so overwhelmed by the possibility of locating and bringing me every single document AGAIN, that she finally said (OH MY GOD I CAN'T BELIEVE SHE SAID THIS) "Well, how about you just come on back into the archive with me and look for whatever it is you want?"

I, the Amazing Cheastypants, was invited directly into the Sanctum Sanctorum. I GOT TO HUNT THROUGH THE ARCHIVE!! Oh, thrills, oh chills, oh happiness. Just me, the mice, and the spiders, sitting on the floor, climbing up the shelves, poking through dusty crusty volumes of old ministry archives. Ahhhhh. I found so many cool things.

So all in all, a very good day. I feel great, my work just got a million times better, and, I didn't die of the mystery body achey-fever-sicky-poo-disease-o-rama. Best of all, I went swimming today. I AM A ROCK STAR!!!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ahhhh! Dot the Doctor!!! Por Favorrrrrr!!!

Definidly sick. By stobach hurts, by dose id 'tuffy, i hab a feber, an' by skin hurts. I slept all dab day. *sniffle*

I'b going to watch a bovie dow an' feel sorry for byself. Hobefully I'll feel bedder by toborrow an' I can ged back to work.


Monday, September 22, 2008

I Love León!

Uf, well I'm feeling pretty sick today. I've got a fever and achy skin, a headache and a sore tummy, so we'll just see how witty and erudite I can manage to be while feeling like, as my little sister Crasey likes to say, "inside-out-flaming-asshole." I'll do my best, and where I fail, I hope some of these pictures take up the slack.

Today somebody asked me what it was that I liked so much about Latin America, what it was that kept me coming back again and again. Strangely enough, in 12 years of travels in Latin America, that was the first time anybody had asked me that question, and I was momentarily stumped. What is it that I like so much about coming down here? God knows it's not cause it's easy and beautiful and safe and clean, though at times and in places it is. It isn't because I love the culture so much I want to become a part of it, though I do enjoy and admire Latin American culture. I think that what I like so much is the contrast. I don't know, I guess it's just that no matter what is going on, it's always, at the very least, interesting.

This past weekend in León was an exercise in Latin American contrast. One of the oldest, grandest cities of colonial central America, it was founded in 1524 by conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, it's chock full of beautiful old churches, historic buildings with walls up to three feet thick, and cobbled streets. Out of windows and off rooftops, you get views like this:

And how's this for completely wonderful, the city is dotted with stone lions!

I always love me some stone lions.

Alta and I puttered about happily, strolling through the streets, taking pictures, oohing and aahhhing over gorgeous churchfronts

marching bands in the street, little boys attacking piñatas,

and a church processional carrying a huge float with a lifesized model of their patron saint around the central plaza.

We did pause to wonder why the streets in another part of the city were virtually empty, why people were setting off rockets so frequently that it sounded like the city was under bombardment, and why there were police all over the place, but in the end, we just shrugged it off and kept wandering. Meanwhile, in another part of the city, demonstrators set fire to a car, shut down the road to Managua, and staged conflicting protest marches along routes destined to collide. Hence, the enormous police presence. But how wild is that, you know? Political demonstrations, religious processionals, colonial architecture, kids with piñatas, rocket fire, burning cars. What else could you want in a vacation spot?

Ooh, I know, how about a drive-by kissing from a half-naked guy in a horse-drawn cart?

Okay, I'm feeling wiped out, so no more chatter. I'm off to drug myself and go to sleep for the next 48 hours.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I Am In Love. Also, Very Wet.

Happy Sunday, my poppets! Here I am back in Managua after a fantastic weekend off in the colonial town of León, about 90 minutes northwest from here. I am completely in love with that town, and I'm dying to tell you all about it and show you some of my pictures, but first things first, I've got to dry off. As Alta and I walked home from where the bus dropped us off this afternoon, it started raining. Although "raining" seems like something of an understatement, as within 10 minutes, the streets looked like this:

Within seconds we were completely soaked and no taxi would pick us up, so we had to wade home through filthy, foul Managua rainwater up to our knees in many places. Up to our knees! In ten minutes! My god, it was gross, all the trash floating down the rivers, er, I meant to say streets, and at one point we walked past a fountain of waste water spewing up from an overflowing sewer line, and uughghghghghghughghghghgh gross-o-disgustingpants-ick-ick-woof-barfy-mcbarfyson. I was WALKING IN THAT SHIT! Here, this is me BEFORE I realized just exactly how foul all the water was.

I'd post a pic of how I looked afterwards, but you don't want to see that face, not that we paused long enough for another photoshoot. We finally made it home, where I jumped in the shower and scrubbed nearly all of my skin off. I'll post pics and stories of León tomorrow, but for now I've got to go wash my clothes, finish saying ick ick ick a million times, and get some dinner. Back to the archives tomorrow!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Am A Solid Lump of Rock

I´ve always liked swimming. Swimmy, swimmy, swimmy, that´s me. Amazing Swimmypants. Except that I´ve never been any good at it. That is to say, I know more or less the movements, I believe I do them more or less correctly, and I feel like I´m working pretty hard. But I look all around me and in comparison with the folks in other lanes, I might as well be swimming backwards. I hate going slower than other folks. HATE. IT. Not that I´d ever admit as much in public. Oops, I just did. Well, whatever. What I admit on the internet stays on the internet.

So down here in Managua I´ve been swimming a lot more than normal. I do this both because it´s a relatively accessible sport (hard to come by around here) and because my housemate Alta, with whom I spend about 98% of my free time, is a swimaholic. And damn, she´s really really fast. Five feet, eleven inches of Dutch swimming torpedo. She swims so much faster than I do that I give her the Doppler Effect in my head as she zooms by. (Zzzzzeeeeeoooowwwwmmm!) And in spite of this semi-ritualistic exercise in humiliation for slow slow slow little me, it´s been a load of fun. She taught me how to swim butterfly stroke and taught me some tips to swim the breast stroke and free-style a little faster. But best of all, she inadvertently taught me another lesson, and I will love her forever for it. This slowness? Not my fault.

In the past I always chalked up my inexplicable slowness to a lack of training, or perhaps a lack of eptitude. But no, it turns out I was wrong to think there was something wrong with my effort or skill. It turns out, as Alta illustrated for me the other day, that I am not made of bone, fat, and muscle like a normal person. No, it turns out that I, Amazing Cheastypants, am a solid lump of rock.

No really, it´s true. Alta and I were fooling around in the pool after swimming laps yesterday and we were remembering about how when you´re a little girl you have tea parties on the bottom of the pool. ¨Hey, let´s do one now!¨ I exclaimed, and promptly dove to the bottom, seated myself cross-legged on the floor, and began to pour cups of tea for Alta and me. Then I noticed that Alta was having a hell of a time staying down on the bottom. She was, in fact, working seriously hard just to stay somewhere near the bottom. What the heck? Why is she having so much trouble? We ran out of air and surfaced. ¨My God, Cheasty, how did you stay down there like that?!¨ she asked me, as she buoyantly bobbed on the surface of the water. Well I´d told her before that I don´t float, but she hadn´t believed me. I am a solid lump of rock. I don´t float, I sink. And AS A RESULT (why hasn´t this ocurred to me before?) when I swim I have to move all that non-floating mass through the water. No wonder I´m so stinking slow. At any rate, that's my theory and I'm sticking with it.

Sigh. I feel so much better about myself. I´m just a solid lump of rock. Not much I can do about that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ten Thousand Spoons

Ever since the day Alanis Morisette burst upon the scene with her linguistically erroneous ditty about unfortunate coincidence, I've been a little confused about what, exactly, constitutes irony. Is it really just a case of having 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife? I think not. I think that's just a pain in the ass. Maybe if you can only find 10,000 spoons when you need a knife one day, and then the next day you need a spoon but all you find are thousands of knives? Yes, I think that's irony.

So how about this. Today I was doing research in the archive at the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health. In the midst of reading endless tomes about the importance of promoting good hygiene to reduce levels of contagious disease, I suddenly needed to use the restroom. "Yay!" I thought. "Potty break!" Not that potty time is really all that exciting, but it was a reason to get up from the table and walk around, which made me happy. So off I trotted to the bathrooms, where I found that in THE MINISTRY OF G.D. HEALTH there is neither toilet paper nor soap. Let me repeat. No toilet paper. No soap. Ministry of Health. Is that ironic? I don't know. But I do know this: it'll be their own fault if I inadvertently set off an epidemic of contagious disease. "That's right, you lousy sons'a'bitches!" I'll holler, as they drag me off in handcuffs for being a disease carrier and a menace to public welfare. "You can call me Typhoid Cheasty. Now stock your bathrooms with Palmolive and Cottonelle!"

Monday, September 15, 2008

Feet Sore, Heart Happy

I'm going to have to come up with a new way of describing absolutely phenomenal weekend discovery trips. I unknowingly and prematurely trumped my own ace at the beginning of the game when I referred to the Laguna de Apoyo as "Heaven," and now I'm regretting it because where I went this weekend is presenting some stiff competition. Alta (the Dutch girl I live with) and I went off on a spontaneous long weekend trip to Estelí, a town in the Segovia Mountains northeast of Managua by about 2 hours. We had initially planned to go on a tour of a coffee plantation, go see a cigar factory where they still hand-roll cigars, check out the Museum of Heroes and Martyrs (from the Sandinista Revolution) and maybe go for a hike or something. Except, ha ha, it's independence day weekend, and everything was closed. EVERYTHING. Even (especially) tourist activities. So OK, abrupt change of plans. We toodled around Estelí for about a day just sort of soaking up local life. We ate mangoes in the park, watched parades and concerts and went to the Estelí food festival, had a nice dinner, walked the town, went to mass, watched the men sit in rows at the shoe-shine station in the Plaza Central. Men are really serious about keeping their shoes clean and shiny here, it would seem. Here's a pic of me in front of the church in the main plaza.

And here's Alta, buying mango.

After that, however, everything in town being closed, we decided to change plans and go off to see the Reserva Natural Tisey, which is quite possibly one of the most beautiful mountainy places I've seen in a long time. I'm given to hyperbole, however, as you probably know by now, so let me show you some pictures later and you decide. First, though, I want to tell you about getting there. My goodness. Do you ever have one of those days where you feel like little angels might be flitting about your head and making good things happen? Well, we just had two of them, back to back. First of all, rather than wait hours for a bus, we decided to walk up the mountain to where there's this little cooperative community at the very top that is sort-of-kind-of set up for tourists. When I say "walk," of course, what I mean is "hitchhike." (Start breathing again, Mom. It's safe in the countryside.) So with our backpacks strapped on, off we set up the road. In all, we only walked about 2 or 3 hours of what would've otherwise been an 8 to 10 hour hike, because so many people gave us lifts a little ways up the road. The die-hard Sandinista in a red jeep was memorable, but I think my favorite ride was from a guy in an old battered pick-up truck who let us ride in the back with his pig. We named the pig "La Cena" (dinner) and rode off up the mountain with the sun on our faces and wind in our hair. God, that was fun.

We walked the last hour and a half up to the cooperative, and you want to know what? They make cheese!! Imagine my surprise. Here we are in the dead middle of nowhere on a mountiantop in the most rural and inaccessible mountains in Nicaragua, and I'm offered my choice of Swiss, Tilsett, or Gruyere with my lunch. I could probably devote an entire post just to how freaking cool this cooperative community is, how nice the people are, how cool the projects, how exciting the atmosphere of a coop where they've all decided to work together for the community, reinvest all earnings in the community, etc. Nicaragua is sort of a paradise, where fresh fruits literally fall off the trees into your lap, yet in spite of that natural wealth, the poverty you see, especially in urban areas, can be pretty shocking. La Garnacha is wildly impressive, for all that at first glance it looks like any other dusty collection of run-down shacks in the mountains with chickens running loose. They've built little wooden cabins for visitors to stay in, and a little restaurant where you go in and order "dinner, please." Or in the afternoon, "lunch, please." They've got an organic farm, a herd of goats and a herd of cattle, flocks and flocks of chickens. And best of all, they've got well-fed, friendly dogs and cats.

So we rocked up on foot in the middle of a national holiday weekend, nobody knowing that we'd be arriving (hell, we barely knew), and they just rolled out the red carpet. Oh, of course we'll have room for you! And while we ready the cabin, why don't you go have some lunch in the little restaurant over there! Or if you like, you can take a quick hike over to the overlook we've built just down the path there, it's quite lovely. We had lunch first: beef soup.

Then we hiked out to the overlook and promptly passed out from an overdose of gorgeous:

When we revived, I took another look and became instantly giddy at the stupefyingly wonderful view:

Sigh. What a wonderful place to be. Later that evening during dinner some of the local folks came in to see who we were and what we were all about, and we stayed up talking until the outlandishly late hour of (gasp!) 9:00, after which we snuggled down under blankets to shiver ourselves to sleep in the cold night air. I am pleased to report that in the morning, The Amazing Cheastypants Hair appeared to be much revived.

After splashing about in some HOT WATER SHOWERS (!!!! YUM YUM!!!), we went off to order "breakfast" and then set off down the mountain with a guide named Eliodoro to see a local wonder, the cliff carvings of an artist named Humberto Ramirez. First, a note about the name Eliodoro. Every person I've ever met named Eliodoro has reminded me of a very friendly and huggable teddy bear. I think I love the name Eliodoro. Next, a picture of the artist. Also, Alta and I, neither of whom are as tall or as short as we may appear here.

He has two teeth (both rotten), stark white and wildly bushy hair and eyebrows, and he smells absolutely terrible. However, this guy is incredible. About 30 years ago he decided to stop drinking liquor, and in order to help himself stop, he decided to do a carving in the cliff near his house each time he wanted a drink. Using only a small took shaped sort of like a machete/axe and a hammer, he has carved this. (Click on the picture to see full size -- promise, it's worth it!)

And this (click to embiggen):

It was a long, hot, and difficult hike to get to where he and his 4 siblings live, but my god, was it worth it. First of all, they live in paradise, perched on the edge of an overlook into the lowlands heading west toward El Salvador. Also, the paths around their property are practically overgrown with orange, lemon, banana, papaya, coffee, avocado, asian plums, and pineapple plants, not to mention the thousands of wildflowers they've seeded along the edges. It was heaven. Eventually, of course, we hugged everybody and left, but as we picked our way back up to the main roadthrough the ravines, over rocks and boulders, through cow pastures and over streams, I couldn't help but wish I could stay there forever. Only, you know, with running water. And maybe pizza delivery, just for every now and then.

Exhausted, Alta and I stumbled our way back up to the road, and down a ways to where there's a little posada with a teeny restaurant, where we collapsed into plastic chairs and practically inhaled our roasted chicken, rice and beans. And wouldn't you know it, a couple also eating lunch there was from Managua, and we chatted for a second as we were both on our way out, they to their car and we to keep on hitchhiking, so they offered us a lift back to the big city, thus sparing us the ordeal of over-crowded public transportation, not to mention 5 or 6 hours of waiting around for various buses to get us from there to here. And you know what? About 45 minutes into the ride we're just going along chatting, and the woman asked us where in Managua we lived, what sort of situation it was. And I described where (you know, where the old house of the Mejia family was, three blocks up, one block toward the lake...), and how we live with a Nicaraguan lady and her Swiss husband, and this gal suddenly snapped her head around, and said, "What? By any chance, do they have a daughter named Monica?" Why yes, they do! Oh my God, she and I work together, can you believe it?! What a small freaking world, right? How cool.

So here I am, back home safe and sound. My feet are killing me, and my toenails might very well fall off or something. I've never gone hiking in converse tennis shoes before, and I have to say I don't recommend the experience. But oh, my heart is so happy, and I feel so wonderfully energized from this fantastic journey. I almost don't even mind that my hair once again looks like an exploded Q-tip head. Goodbye for now, my poppets. I'm off to catch some zzzzzzzzzz....

First, A Clarification

After I posted the picture (see post below) of Smiley, my high school sweetheart, I talked to my family, all of whom know and love the dude, and almost all of whom made some comment along the lines of "where the f*ck did you get that picture of Smiley" or "what the hell happened to Smiley" or "my god, he looks like a serial killer." I know. I did, to be fair, say in advance that it was possibly the worst picture ever taken of him, but I feel bad. So here, just in case you were wondering, is what this fine fellow really looks like. My apologies, Smiley. I hope this makes you feel better!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Out To Lunch

Off to the mountains for the long weekend, be back Tuesday! Be safe in the storm, friends and family in Texas.

Friday, September 12, 2008

... And Never the 'Twain Shall Meet

For some reason, I, the Amazing Cheastypants, being glamorous, sophisticated, unspeakably gorgeous, and wildly talented, have inexplicably spent the vast majority of my 30 years on this planet as a single woman. In the course of these years I've spent a lot of time pondering the mysteries of meeting, dating, and marrying, and basically, I feel like I don't get it. What's more, I secretly suspect that I will never get it, and spend the rest of my life wondering what the heck I was supposed to do. But this summer I had something of an epiphany while hanging out with my high school sweetheart one afternoon.

This guy right here is a grown-up version of my high school sweetheart. *Hi, Smiley!* We're still good friends, and every time I get back home I call him up and we spend some time happily puttering around together. He's so much fun, and I always find myself wondering about those 'what ifs.' I mean, he's wonderful, funny, smart, energetic, charasmatic, and while this is probably the worst picture ever taken of him, he's really good-looking (inspite of those ridiculous lambchops and the faux-ferocious frown). So why is it that I inevitably end up feeling like 'what the f' just happened?

Well, my poppets, this is why. See that little leafy-fruity-looking thing Smiley is holding? I don't know what the heck it is, and neither does he. But while walking past that tree we both noticed it, and exclaimed simultaneously. You know what I said?

"Ooh, they look like little hearts!" (*chirp, chirp!*)

At the exact same moment, Smiley said, "Hey, those look like testicles!"


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Something Funny, Something Wonderful, Something Lovely

First, something funny. Today I saw a woman with absolutely enormous breasts wearing a t-shirt that said "Big Rack Billiards." I'm just going on context clues here, but I think the joke was unintentional.

Second, something wonderful. OH MY GOD I´M SO EXCITED!!!! I can hardly sit still, I keep jumping up and down and squealing. It´s probably too early to celebrate, but I just met with a health researcher at the archive and she´s going to put me in touch with DORA MARIA TELLEZ! As in Comandante Dos in the Frente Sandinista! As in the Minister of Health in the 80s!! Squeeeeeeee!!! The ball is really rolling, as I have several interviews set up already, and now THIS! OK, i really should calm down, this can´t be good for my health. Oh, but i can´t, I´m so happy that I don´t even care what a disaster area the humidity is making out of my hair. Yayayayayyyy! Oh, please please let this all work out.

And finally, just because you deserve it, here is something beautiful. It's the outside of a pitaya (dragon fruit). Insides to follow at later date.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Amazing Cheastypants Hair Declared Natural Disaster

MANAGUA, NICARAGUA -- Today, despite the best efforts of shampoo, conditioner, fancy hair creams, curling gels, blow driers, combs, brushes, and hairclips, the Amazing Cheastypants Hair was declared a Natural Disaster Area by local officials. Representatives from the U.S. Embassy here in the Nicaraguan capital blamed the disaster on spiraling inflation caused by humidity, and called upon Nicaraguan officials to accelerate their annual calendar and cancel the monsoons scheduled for the remainder of the fiscal year. Nicaraguan officials at the Disaster Relief Center declared their intention to ameliorate the situation by scheduling periodic removal of the Amazing Cheastypants Hair to drier mountainous zones, but decried the U.S. government's attempt to once again change the course of Nicaraguan history to suit its domestic interests.

Supporters of the Amazing Cheastypants Hair mourned the loss of what was once considered a national monument, and declared their intention to host a memorial service for what was once a glorious and bouncy mane, lauded by poets, artists, nature lovers, and glittering stars of the literati. "People deserve a chance to remember the Amazing Cheastypants Hair as it would have liked to be remembered," declared ACH Fan Club President Trixie Von Coiffure. "Every time I think about what that horrid humidity and those torrential rains did to our beloved Amazing Cheastypants Hair, I have a nearly uncontrollable urge to hit something."

Details have yet to be finalized, but services will be held somewhere in the American desert, where the Amazing Cheastypants Hair was reputed to be most happy.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

If This Is Heaven, Sinning Isn't Worth It

Well, it's official, ladies and gentlemen. Heaven, it turns out, does exist. All those bible camp picture books I read as a child, however, were wrong. There are no winged angels playing harps, nor are their white-robed choirs singing the Alleluia Chorus. I didn't see God personally, nor did I see St. Peter, but given the context, I rather doubt they are old white men with beards. Heaven, it turns out, is right here in Nicaragua, and it looks like this:

This is the Laguna de Apoyo, a crater lake in the heart of an extinct volcano, surrounded by rainforest. I went there this last weekend with two of my roomates, Sirena (from Spain) and Alta (from Holland). Can you guess which one is which?

We stayed at a little posada on the lakeside staffed by the most pleasant people God ever created. I can't describe how wonderful this place is, with it's cute little wooden cabins, beautiful flowers, burbling fountains, hardwood decks, gorgeous restaurant, and super-awesome swimming docks. In fact, I am sort of hesitant to post pictures of it because there is no way on earth that a digital image could capture the way the water absorbed the sunlight and then reflected it back up to the surface in splintery rays of light that looked like they were coming up from the bottom. The water is as clear as tap water, but so deep that it reflects the green from the surrounding vegetation and the blue from the sky and is all aquamarine and lovely. Sigh. I had such a good time.

We went swimming out into the middle of the lake on the first day, (that's me, and see those itsy bitsy little specks off in the distance to the right? Right by the shoreline? Probably not, since they're so tiny, but that's Alta and some Danish guy who decided to join us for our swim. Soooo far out!)

On the second day when it was much nicer (blue skies! in the rainy season!!), we just splashed around on inner tubes and in rafts, jumped off the dock, and then we rowed this inflatable raft out into the lake and promptly capsized it. As none of us could stop laughing long enough to muster the strength to jump back in the damn thing, we had to swim back to shore dragging the silly thing with us. Also, we sat around and read our books, got totally and completely sunburned, drank beers, danced salsa, ate delicious food, took naps, and basically lazed around. ¡Qué vida más rica!

And here, apropos of absolutely nothing, is a picture of the cutest little mushrooms I've ever seen anywhere. The biggest among them is no larger than the eraser on a #2 pencil. Is this a great country or what!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Lifestyles of the Not-So-Rich and Famous

All right, so my last post was really nothing but some good old-fashioned bitching about the weird and scary things that had happened to me, and while it felt good to get it off my chest, afterwards I worried that it was sort of karmically bad juju to focus on the not-so-good. Well, it can't have been too bad, because I'm on a total high right now, and today I've got nothing but good news to share.

First of all, I started working in a new archive, and it is WONDERFUL. The Nicaraguan Central Bank started a library about 40 or 50 years ago and now it's tremendous, with a complete collection of newspapers, magazines, and all the things I need to read for my research. Plus, the building itself is light, spacious, windowy (if such a word exists), and moderately air conditioned to about 75 degrees. The seats are exactly the right height from the ground so my feet touch completely and I don't have to sit on the edge. The tables are exactly the right height so I can cross my legs comfortably underneath, but not so high that I feel like a munchkin at the big kids' table. In other words, it is honestly the most comfortable archive I've ever worked in. Not to mention, the archivists are completely awesome, nice, curious, friendly, welcoming, and helpful. And not just after they get to know you, which as far as I can tell is the norm in historical archives, that you have to build a relationship with the librarians first, and then they're awesome. These guys are top shelf right off the bat. PLUS, you can take digital pictures for free. As many as you want. I'm going back this week, and I can't wait!

Second, PrincessPi asked me the other day in the comments section what exactly it was that I was working on down here in Managua, and the thought that somebody was interested thrilled me little pants off. So I thought I'd give a brief summary for those interested. Sadly, I am not, as PrincessPi suggested, hunting for a treasure map, or anything nearly that exciting. As some of you probably know, I'm doing my PhD in Latin American History (at UT-Austin), and now that I've finished 3 years of classes, comprehensive qualifying exams, and masters thesis writing, this year I'm doing some dissertation research. My diss will be about the Sandinista's attempt to institute a comprehensive, socialist health care system (a la Cuba or Costa Rica) during the early years after the 1979 revolution. So at this point, basically I'm just sitting around, reading annual reports and plans from the Ministry of Health, journals and reports from the Health Care Worker's Union, books of statistics, newspapers, magazines, and all that junk. It probably sounds really boring, but it's actually really fun for me. I've also been working connections to get in touch with some health care workers and government officials from the time period to do oral history interviews, and things are looking good. I'm hoping to have some interviews set up by October. So that's my project in a nutshell (help, help! I'm in a nutshell!). Hope I didn't put you all to sleep.

Third, can I just mention for a minute how lucky I got with this housing arrangement? I might be all adulty and grown-upish in the States (ha! don't laugh.), but no matter how old I get, moving to a new country always brings out the little girl in me. Teresa, the woman who owns the house and runs the operations here, is sweet, helpful, organized, patient... she is, more often than not, exactly what I need for whatever occasion arises. My own private in-house cheering section. On Friday when I came home in a foul mood after the scary taxi ride with bleeding blisters and a sore neck from the crazed yoga instructor, she took one look at my face and said, "Oh, dear. Shall we go out and have some tea and pie?" And then Alta (the Dutch medical student who's working in Managua, also living in my house) came in from her first week of work at a Managua hospital, and she also looked a little shell-shocked. So Tere took us out to have cakes and coffee at a little tree-house cafe just a few blocks away. We cheered up almost instantly. So lucky.

Speaking of housing, here, finally, are the pictures I promised to my family of the house I'm in. They're not stellar, but they give you a basic idea. The person in some of them is Chilo, the maid, with whom I've been watching a Nicaraguan soap opera in which the main character is a sex addict and in the course of her wild and wooly ways, contracts an STD and gives it to her husband and then she tries to kill herself and ends up in a coma for a month, after which she emerges miraculously healed of her sex addiction, but now her husband won't let her spend time with their daughter. It's all very dramatic, and we've seriously bonded over this woman's effed up life.

Here's a view of the house from the living room, looking at the kitchen. Sorry it's blurry.

Here's my bedroom with nun-like small bed and blue walls. I like it.

Here is the side garden, patio, and outdoor dining room, where we eat dinner each night while little animals chirp all around us.

This is the back garden, where we hang out the laundry to dry, and to the right side is the bedroom with private entrance (woo-woo!) that I'm going to move into when the Spanish girls leave next week.

And here is Chilo on the back patio where we go to sit around, read, gossip, and cut our toenails. Among other things.

So that's home, for now. I like it.

And the last thing I was going to tell you was about the ABSOLUTELY GOLDEN AWESOME AND TERRIFIC weekend I just had. But I'll tell you about it tomorrow. I'm tired now, and I'm going to bed. Ooh, I just killed a mosquito with the one-handed-grab technique! Damn, I'm getting good. Love from the land of Nicas, over and out for now.