Saturday, September 29, 2007

Just to help you visualise this a bit better.

Let me just preface this with the caveat that Nicaragua is indeed the second poorest country (after Haiti) in the Western Hemisphere. There definitely are some rougher sights to see, But I don't want you all to get the wrong idea about where I live, but here are a few places I get to hang out. Oh darn, eh? ;)

At the pool in our yard. Hmm, Its not TOO rough here I supposes...

Our "Lunch Room" at work.

My living room.

The Office (Forget the British vs US debate! this is the Nica Version).

At the Cheyanne Concert- well, technically BEHIND the concert, but we saw him!

Work's backyard. Uh huh.

Top Ten Things that Are Fun in My Life in Nicaragua

10. I get to facebook for my work. SERIOUSLY! The facebook group is where it is at, add me and join the group if you haven’t already!

9. Lunch is always a surprise and an adventure. Most days Marta, the receptionist comes in and tells us what the three options are and I choose whichever one has ‘pollo’ in the name, but really, I have NO IDEA what these foods are that they bring in from the comedor. But they sure are yummy.

8. Viva la musica! There is always something funny and upbeat being played. And while I am not yet a true raggaeton fan like my roommate Shannon, I am starting to broaden my horizons. The recreation club across the street, Motestepe, has a giant party every Saturday. That isn’t really the fun part, its actually loud and annoying that they are still thumping out music into the wee hours. The fun part is that I am really starting to appreciate Sean Paul, and he has them to thank. Also, this is a place where my heart can sigh for joy over Enrique Iglesias and no one really looks down on me (Come ON, don’t even try to tell me you don’t get a little jazzed by “Don’t Turn Out The Lights”).

7. Its always an adventure to figure out within the first .26 seconds that you meet someone what language you should address them in. And then it gets even more entertaining when they assume you don’t understand them, but lo and behold, you do. (Cackles with glee).

6. FINALLY, an entire country on my time schedule- late for everything! If it doesn’t happen today, no te preoccupes! Mañana!!

5. The Marachi pub was seriously the highlight of my weekend last weekend. There is something about plump jolly mustached men in pants with bells on them that just makes my little heart happy.

4. I already mentioned in an earlier post about the address system here, and I am really starting to jive with it. Its so much easier to just say “oh you know where this is? Yeah, four blocks down and to the left” and EVERYONE understands you!!

3. Every time I get out of a cab the driver gallantly says “a la orden, siempre, a la orden!” (‘At your service, always at your service!’). You know, chivalry isn’t dead, its almost dead, but that’s not quite dead.

2. In one sense there is a lot of red-tape in the developing world, but in a lot of other things, they really know how to get it done. Don’t want to wait to turn right at a red? Just cut through the gas station at 50km/hr! In fact that red light is really more of a suggestion than a command after 7pm anyways, so apply that only when convenient. And they don’t have change smaller than 25cents, so if you owe 13, you are big winner!!

1. I live in Paradise. I was having this rant the other morning; it was one of those mornings that I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed and was mad before I could even make it past the alarm clock. It’s a common syndrome in a foreign country to blame all the different things or frustrations of the life working abroad. But then my roommate told me to go sit outside to the pool (please see photo) and suck it up because I live in, ahem and I quote “a freaking paradise!” And you know, I went out there (sulking, after she left for work… without me, because I had to wait for the bleeding internet company, which in the end was not as bad as I expected) and read Nehemiah and was SO blessed. I do live in a freaking paradise, in so many ways,

I have no excuse to take this all for granted.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Dissertation on Cell Phone Etiquette, applicable to all parts of the world.

A few thoughts on Technology in the Developing World:
Cell phones. Now, some of you may or may not know that my pet peeve is answering the cell or responding to a text in front of others. I have been guilty it of course - its hard when its blaring at you and you know its your mom....- but it has been emphasized to me over and over again, how exclusive it is when you answer and someone else awkwardly stands there, pretending to look at whatever happens to be just over their shoulder, so that its not completely obvious that they are hearing every word. Desperately, they grasp for anything on which to focus. "Hm, look at all that grass over there....sure is a lot of, whoever Jimmy is talking to sounds pretty cheesed...I wonder if its about that thing that he mentioned when Doug called five minutes ago....uh, grass, right lots of ... grass...oh, there is even a duck. Ducks are nice. Jimmy's friend... hurumph, not so nice as that duck..."

[Editors note: all internal monologues should be read with a British accent, unless otherwise specified. Generally, John Cleese does my audio, but on occasion I have found either Bob OR Margaret to be quite good as well if you need a referral. Her Royal Highness is, of course, reserved for special occasions].

But this is the developing world right? Surely people aren't as attached to their phones here like they are back home. Or not. You find yourself sitting in a restaurant surrounded by four other people and realize you are the only one NOT checking your text messages. You can't, because your phone is at home. Then you get the feeling of self-satisfaction that you are not as dependent on external applications to make your social life seem more full. This feeling is soon overshadowed by wallowing in self-pity that even when you did have your cell phone with you earlier (before the battery gave out because you forgot to charge it), no one had texted you all day.
Waahn Waaaaahn.
Welcome to the glamour of working in Nicaragua- scratch that, ANYWHERE.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The "Everyone Needs a Good One of These" type of story

May this moment of folly bless your day:

So I figure that everyone needs at least one good Trapped-in-the-office-[insert location of small space] story. Here is mine, it occurred today:

So I was in the bathroom earlier, and had a small moment of panic when the door wouldn’t open, but a few hard jerks and I was out. Ok, so after round two of coffee and some H2O hydration (as is very important when living in a tropical heatbox) I had to go again. So off I go to the bathroom. Now first let me pause and set the scene for this washroom. My office is essentially a really nice Nicaraguan house. The bathroom, therefore is a single-occupant unit. But it has a nice window up high that does not see outside, but rather into the office next door (it sits higher than my head, which of course makes it a little less fun). Its not particularly large, and the shower stand open and gaping in half of it, but that is mostly occupied by a large garbage can that never seems to hold any garbage (at which point I would contend that it should heretofore be referred to as simply a 'can').

Anyways, I do my thing and then go to leave, and of course, its totally stuck. Awesome. So I jiggle it like I did before, I turn, I pull, I bash… eventually the darn knob breaks off… but not entirely, making it essentially useless.

Any rational person would have chosen the next plan of action therefore to be a yell for help. Somewhere between my total mind blank on the Spanish word for “heeeeeelp meeeeeeee!”, the fit of giggles that I had and the slight embarrassment I was feeling, I didn’t have the presence of mind to do much but hold the still-attached, but broken handle in my hand meanwhile thinking “bathroom doorknobs are so not sanitary, I have got to use hand sanitizer when I get out.” Now all the while I have been hearing the voices of the office next door (that is usual, the window isn’t particularly thick, actually I think it was a crack open anyways). So I start knocking- on the door “hello? Anyone in there??” On the window oh yooohoooo, its nosy Gladys Kravitz from next door here.” Hurmph…I'm not getting anywhere.

After few minutes of this huffing and hawing a face appears above me- Nubia, our office manager, soothingly saying “oh don’t worry, Kiki, we’ll get you out of here.” Now at this point, it wasn’t so much that I was worried, as trying not to laugh. Well, long story short, 15 minutes, two electrical workers, one office manager, a kitchen knife and a Phillips head screwdriver and I am free- just like that.

It was a terrible ordeal, but I want to thank all the people who didn’t give up the search, who worked to free me. Now that I am safe and free the first thing I am going to do is eat a peanut butter sandwich- not because while I was in there I was thinking “when I get outta here… if I ever get outta here, I am going to eat PB and J,” but actually because that’s what I brought for lunch today.

I was comforted to learn from Nubia that I am not the first one on whom this catastrophe has befallen.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

I can't believe I am about to say this

Did I leave Vancouver? Of course I did, otherwise I wouldn't miss home, family or dear friends. Also, when I walk outside, I would get drenched and the temperature would be in the early 20's. Here I get drenched but its in the 30's. I am sitting at an cafe not far from our house, watching the torrential downpour, as it darkens into night here in Managua. Rain will always mean home in my brain
Today and yesterday was Independence Day (I know, I know, I would also have called that Independence Days, but they didn't consult me either), and because of these holidays, the city is dead. Everyone is at the beach. Apparently Nicaraguans are patriotic there, but not so much here. I was sort of hoping to catch some sort of cool festivity, but honestly, there is nothing going on. That's not true, there were parades apparently, but I saw nothing of them. I did, however, get treated to the giant stilt lady and her spinning square-head mascot side-kick. She comes with an entourage of two drummers too. They just wander the streets at night in front of all the patio restaurants in our neighbourhood.
I feel a bit deflated. I think its partly the rain, partly the gradual realisation that "living and working abroad" will inevitably settle into "living and working" unless I am exceptionally pro-active about remaining a tourist. And even if I did, I am not sure that's the best thing to be. I want to get to know my new digs, but I suppose there will be times, yes even in a foreign country when rain will keep you from doing anything terribly exciting. Shock and Disbelief.
On a bright note, I went to Leon this week to do my first set of client visits there. It was really cool, a bit more like the Central America I am used to, in that the architecture was closer to Antigua's. we met Hugo, the rural loan officer at the MiCredito office and spent the day driving out on these crazy rutted dirt roads, and then back on the same roads which had the mammoth potholes kindly filled in by the rain (did I mention its the rainy season right now?) and a kid part way down, but he used his shovel a bit more constructively than the heavens used water (Rob, you would have been all over it!). The farmers were really cool to meet.
It is a funny thing, sometimes this week I was not exactly apprehensive about doing these client visits, but more that i would be apprehensive about them. Isn't that funny? Who gets worried about worrying? I guess I just knew that this opportunities of getting to meet with clients who have benefited from Microfinance was a huge part of the attraction of this job. I knew that I would enjoy them, but there is a part of us that every now and then gets very worried that this thing that you have a great feeling about, might somehow not be as magically wonderful as it is going to be. But no, so far, it actually is so good. I am so grateful, still aware of challenges and problems I have to figure out, but very thankful for this time. And, yes, its possible to be thankful to be one place while missing home as well. But it sure is a funny thing to feel.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Some photos from our tour of Mangua

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

This Week’s Instalment of ‘Things That Make You Go “Hmmmm…”’: Life in Nicaragua:

This weekend Keith took us interns on a lovely Sunday tour of Old Town Managua. We started off by getting a better view of the city from above, standing on -----, a giant hill overlooking all of Managua. It used to be ol’ Somoza’s bat-cave (slash military hub, and also, notorious torture chamber location), where he could comfortably look down upon his kingdom. Then the earthquake and revolution struck, a couple statues were toppled, buildings demolished and well, now it’s a national monument and park. Interestingly, as some may or may not be aware, Managua is (apparently little-) known for not having standard addresses. Its true. Everything is in correlation with other landmarks (i.e. my work address is something along the lines of Villa Fontana (neighbourhood name), 1 block north of Club----, 75 feet to the east. No street names, highway numbers, just “2 blocks west of La Union, 1 block south,” and the like.

Moreover, the address directions are not just ‘east’ north, south west, as we would write in English. Oh ho no. North is ‘al lago’- literally, ‘towards the lake.’ Lake Managua is the northern boundary of the city. For east they say “arriba” (‘up’) and west they say “abajo” (‘down’). Well what comes up and down in the east and west respectively? The sun of course! South used to be said “al montaña”- ‘to the mountain,’ because before the earthquake the city only went as far as Somoza’s crib. But now it is well beyond, on the south side of the mountain, so never mind that (these directions really are just a suggestion, as you will soon find out).

So to recap: no address in the prosaic sense of the term. All addresses shall cease to name a particular street (pah! Too many names for the taxi drivers to learn!) and postal codes are strictly forbidden (you already have your licence plate, that’s enough alpha-numeric memorisation work if you ask me). Everything is referred to as north, east, west or south of a particular point of reference (a gas station is good enough).

A good grid-system and we are away to the races, right? So imagine my consternation, (mental constipation if you will), when atop that historic hill, Keith explained to us that the latest brainchild of the city planners was, get this: ring-roads. Yep circular roads are the main thorough-fares of choice in a city based on compass directions and (sometimes transient) landmarks. Hmmmm.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Quick!! before the power goes out!! post!!

I seem to be living in a funny balance of irony. I am currently in a down-trodden paradise. My house compound has a pool that is shaded by a swaying palm and bougainvillea leaves. I have a bathroom to myself. There is extravagance in the grass, the trees, the flowers.

But I hesitate; I shouldn’t drink the water. And the toilet in that private bathroom is, shall we say, temperamental. Outside the walls of our compound are streets that are littered with trash… and more palms and flowers. Birds of paradise stand above open storm drains with sewage in them.

I finally got a chance to talk with my supervisor today (isn’t this funny: my boss is FIVE countries away from me! Talk about hands-off management style). I got a not a little giddy when he gave me leave to use any down-time “to go out and get the street shots and some video clips.” There is a funny irony about this place though. I have license to go to town (literally) with my camera and my ideas; but somewhere inside me there is a real aversion to flashing around my new wide-angle lens, lest I get mugged or someone beats be with their cart for taking a photo of them selling ice-cream to street kids. Like I said, down-trodden paradise. I just have to get over myself and my aversions (with some handy Spanish-translated waiver forms), step past the gaping open holes in the side-walks (which, as Marshall says, are a drunken accident waiting to happen) and focus on the birds-of-paradise- the flowers and the life here.

I know, that last bit was a bit of a cheesy analysis. I re-wrote this post so many times that I hereby give up.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Talk about Culture shock

1. Chepe is definitely not an iguana, but a gecko with a voracious appetite and solid digestive tract. I have seen him far too many times. I am sad to bid adieu to the phantom iguana.
2. The Angolan National Ballet is not, um, the same type of ballet one would find in a Nutcracker production from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Last night Keith took us to the Ballet at the gorgeous Teatro Nacional Ruben Dario. When we approached we walked through these three story columns in the dark because of the power outages that are scheduled nightly. It was pretty awe-inspiring- and that was just the outside. Inside we were treated to a couple hours of the Angolan National Ballet- Kilandukilu. It really wasn't ballet in the Western sense at all. No, come to think of it, it was about as close to Swan Lake as a pot is to a garlic press. Both for food, that's about it. But it was certainly entertaining and they had some mad skill.
My thoughts were musing most of the time on how starkly visible the cultural differences are through dance. Moves that in Canada would be interpreted one way, may not have meant anything close to what I was thinking in the Angolan context. Then, just to really mess things up, I thought of how it appeared to the Nicaraguans in the seats around me. It was odd to think of it through not just one cultural filter but essentially three.
Final point, Keith, one of the guys who works for MEDA here, who grew up in Africa said after that it was more what he figured they perceived the western perception of traditional African dance to be, and not what they might preform there, ceremonially or artistically. I wondered what would possess them to modify it like that in an exhibition performance such as this? I also would have loved to see the real thing just to be able to compare it.
The highlight was when one of the guys put out a fire- that he had already swallowed and brought back -with his backside!
The Angolan dance in Nicaragua. I can't wait to get into a conversation that starts with "yeah, when I saw the Angolan National Ballet in Managua...."

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Notes on Chepe and Shane

So another day, another dollar. I am slowly getting familiar with my surroundings. And by that I mean our apartment. Now I mentioned yesterday how our wonderful caretaker showed me what that mysterious knob under the toilet tank was for (thus letting the blessed waters flow abundantly- but not too abundantly, all within moderation of course). Today, I was in the shower and thoughtfully gazing at these little black things that seem littered around the nether-regions of our bedroom and bathroom. At first I thought they were dead Nicaraguan flies, but now, upon closer inspection, I have decided they are iguana poop. I have yet to see an iguana, however I have seen a gecko, and these seem a little large for his little body, ergo, it must be, from the phantom iguana. I will name him Chepe Alvarez, the Phantom Iguana. We will live in harmony, since his poop has not, as of yet, proliferated profusely, not is it particularly dirty. He's a very tidy little iguana. I say little because his poop, is not very large either, certainly bigger than could be produced by a gecko, but smaller than normal iguanas. He was the runt of the litter, poor Chepe.

On a serious note, I was reading The Irresistible Revolution on the way here, and its been quite challenging to the way I live my life. Its funny you know, because I have thought about many of the same scriptural references that the author, Shane Claiborne mentions (like the time where Jesus tells the rich young man to go, sell all that he has and give to the poor, then come and follow him -Matt 19:16-22). Sometimes I have thought, maybe we are supposed to take this literally. But I have never followed through. Now comes along this book about a group in the Church who has, and the blessings are mammoth, both for themselves and for those in the community around them. The difficulties are somehow "pure." They are crying over things that matter, that are worthy. Its just so exciting, you want to get in on it. If you want a copy, I am sure Jon Morrison can give you one (ps, Jon, I took your book to Nicaragua... sorry (...ish)'bout that. I'll bring it back, in eight months, give or take, but I don't feel too bad, considering the author left a quote in the introduction something along the lines of: "if you bought this book, dear reader, I thank you; if you borrowed it, I honour your frugality; if you stole it, may it add to your confusion." I think I am more confused about who would be the type to steal a book from a store).

Well, on that note, I will say, keep checking, i love the comments!! and also, check it soon, as my roommate will soon have a youtube link for the lightening storm we experienced in the plan down on our way through Honduras and Nica.
That is all. Good talk.

Just changing my profile picture, don't worry about it

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

En Managua por la primera vez

Bienvenidos a Nicaragua!
Thank you Augosto C. Sandino (or at least the folks running your airport who thought to put that giant sign up).
I am here in Managua, Nicaragua for seven months as the MedaTrust field coordinator, an internship position with MEDA (for those of you who needed to be caught up). What that means exactly... I have no clue at this point (I am not sure if I am supposed to admit soemthing like that in such a public forum, but I think the only person currently reading this is, once again, my mom- Hi mom!). I am starting to feel like my feet are on the ground a bit. They are more than they were yesterday as I flew through lightening storms from Honduras down (gracias, Hurricane Felix). Our arrival was greeted by a torrential downpour (did I actually leave Vancouver?). But the morning always brings a different word. It was cloudy still but just as muggy and warm (a balmy 28 degrees currently) and I was able to see that there are palm trees every two feet, bougainvillea-covered walls and the office I work in has a beautiful lush garden to eat lunch in every day. Ok, so it can't be that bad right?
I am pretty overwhelmed though, which is a natural reaction when even your most basic needs are suddenly turned upside down. On the one hand, I don't really even know where to get food. On the other, I couldn't figure out the toilet (you never know when you are out of your own country, maybe flushing isn't standard procedure around here). Toilet has been taken care of with the help of our very nice guard. And the food we are going to take care of that this afternoon. However, for a moment, knowing you are totally dependent on others, and some of whom you have trouble communicating with, is a strange feeling after having been completely immersed in the spirit of independence of North America. Its probably not a bad thing to shake it up once in a while, because after all we are told "to be joyful always, praying continually and give thanks in every situation" (1 Thess. 5:16).
I am very thankful for order-in lunch, for Santiago the guard, and having Wendy here to show me around today.
I am praying for confidence and peace about how to carry out these next seven months, and also for Santiago to figure out the problem with our air conditioner.
And I rejoice in pollo y arroz for lunch.