In my ever-growing frenzy of anticipation for getting home and being done with this siberian death-march of a research trip, I feel that I might be doing a disservice to the very wonderful country that has been my home court since last August. So while the next few days might be dominated with thoughts of RED WINE!! HOT SHOWERS!!! WASHING MACHINE!! DRYER!! CAR!!!!! MY OWN HOME!!!!! FAMILY!!! FRIENDS!!!!! MY BIKE!!!, I would like to pause for a moment to talk about the things I will miss in Nicaragua. Well, to be more specific, the things I will miss in Matagalpa, for, having arrived here yesterday, I find my distaste for Managua unchanged, though I do like the family I stay with here, and having wireless internet at home. But that doesn't make me love the city any more, especially when the headlines of yesterday's paper read: "Violent crime in Managua up 47% in 2008." Sheesh. Glad I was here to witness most of that historic year.
The rest of Nicaragua, however, really is something special, so today I'm writing about the things I will remember fondly when I'm back home and settled in in Texas.
1. The number one thing I'll miss, without a doubt, will be the fruit and vegetable vendors. In most towns in Nicaragua the fruit sellers set up on street corners, where they hawk tables full of oranges, papaya, watermelon, mango, jocote, cantaloupe, and bananas. The vegetable vendors, on the other hand, walk the streets with little wooden push wagons, pausing every few meters to sing out the produce they've got on hand. Potatoes, tomatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage, peppers! And oh my goodness it's all so fresh and delicious and CHEAP! I made a huge vegetable curry the other day. I filled a big bag full of veggies, and I mean it was FULL, and the whole kit and caboodle cost me $2.50. Genius!
2. Baseball. Well I've already told you how much I love the baseball games here, but since that recent post I've gone again, this time to a Matagalpa v. Rivas game. This was big time, Nicaragua's version of the major leagues, and while I didn't think it was possible, this game was even more entertaining. You want to know why? It was awesome: the Rivas team brought brujos (witches) with them! The Rivas region has some towns that are pretty famous for brujería, so I guess for good luck, some of them travel with the team. There were about three or four of them, and they walked around the stadium waving mango leaves, rattling shells, chanting incantations and whoa, Nelly, did the Matagalpinos get steaming mad! "Hey, egg-sucker," one of them screamed, "aquí nos cortamos café, no mangos!", which literally means, "here we harvest coffee, not mangoes," which only makes sense in light of the fact that the Matagalpan region is an economic powerhouse (coffee) while Rivas is traditionally much poorer. Thus, "cutting mangos" was code for "we've got money, and you don't." Well the crowd picked that up, chanting it, and needless to say, there were fights. Altogether, it was one of the more entertaining games I've ever seen.
3. I'll miss the way people sit around in their doorways, just checking out the action. It's a small city, everybody knows everybody else, and in the evening folks just hang out. I love it, especially in contrast to the way we all live in our closed-up little boxes in the States. I mean for God's sake, I lived in Austin for 3 years in two different houses, and in neither case did I even know my next-door neighbors' names. In two months in Matagalpa I knew not just their names, but also their life histories, medical maladies, and the whereabouts of all their children.
4. The efficient (if grotesquely uncomfortable) bus system. True, it has caused me much pain and aggravation, but honestly? For a poor country, it is ridiculously easy to move around in Nicaragua. Sure the buses are crappy, uncomfortable, hot, and usually overcrowded, but when it comes right down to it, if I needed to go to some distant city, I could get there that same day. Without a car, that's just impossible in the States.
5. Telenovelas. Latino soap operas are an art form. Let me be clear: they are painfully melodramatic, unrelieved by bursts of humor to alleviate the strain of watching lovers torn asunder, families split by jealousy, murder, deception, and intrigue. I can only watch them in small doses, really, but oh, those small doses are wonderful. My favorite novela right now is called "Sin Senos No Hay Paraíso," ("Without Breasts There Is No Paradise") a Colombian soap about women who get breast implants, but they are deceived by wicked men who don't give them silicone implants, but implants of COCAINE!! Then the women are sent to Mexico for some bizarre drug exchange, etc, etc. Basically, it's a lot of greasy looking guys and dumb broads with huge breasts bouncing around the television screen being alternately stupid and creepy in nice cars, mansions, and at the beach. My favorite parts are where the creepy looking guys make the dumb broads with huge breasts frolic in the water while they sit and ogle them, mostly because, without intending to, it ends up looking like an intentional parody of a basic porn motif. But it is neither intentional, nor a parody. It's just bad acting, bad script-writing, and I love it! In Matagalpa I always watched it with the grandmother in my house. She loved it too, but for a very different reason: whereas I thought of it as just a horrid form of poorly-done titillation, she sees the whole thing as a cautionary moral tale. "See," she explained to me, "This show teaches young women that they can't trust strange men!"
6. Random church processions in the street. Not much more to say, I just like them.
7. Piropos. I hate to admit it, but part of me thinks I might miss it when nobody calls out to me how beautiful I am, or what lovely eyes I have, or whatever other little compliment men toss off to women passing by on the street. I know they can get annoying, and sometimes they can be crass or rude, but honestly. What's wrong with having somebody tell you they think you're the cat's meow every now and then? Yes, I might miss that.
Ok, I could go on, but I think that's a good summary of my favorite things about Nicaragua. I'm off to the Cuban embassy now, to see if I can look at their archives from the 1980s. Wish me luck!