Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 melds into 2008

Deep Thoughts for the last day of 2007:

These are the things that come into my head while (attempting) meditation:

- Are coconuts a nut or a fruit? (“Botanically, they are a nut,” it turns out- shout out to Wikipedia)

- I still have a lingering academic distrust of Wikipedia. I mean I believe what I read on it, but then on the other hand, I feel like I need a more substantial journal to prove anything. But this is my blog and not Biology 490: Tropical Vascular Plants, so the wiki answer will suffice. This time.

- Why do I wear jeans here when I never did in Guatemala and it was cooler in Antigua than Managua is?

- How long can I go without washing my skinny jeans- I don’t want them to stretch out… Come to that, how long can I go without washing that sweatshirt I bought a week before coming here? I don’t want the fuzzy inside to go away…

o I only wear these items at night for short periods of time when it is cooler and I am not doing a lot of activity, hence they are generally spared any excessive sweat or dirt. Its not THAT gross... i don't think.

- Why do people travel during the holidays? This is a serious irony- consider: the first Christmas was an imposed travel for the Holy Family. I bet Mary was just thrilled about hopping in the family donkey at nine months and having some quality time with several tens of thousands of her closest relatives. And yet we choose to run around like madmen battling airlines (I’d rather walk than take Atlantic after all the horror stories I’ve heard now- trust me, if you ever go to the Corn Islands, take La Costeña, you will thank me).

And now for something truly original:

So, what will this year hold? Let’s forget New Year’s Resolutions, shall we? Let instead have a few 2008 Wildest Dreams- which I don’t actually think are really that wild after all, just the dream of me being motivated and ambitious enough to carry them out is…

1) Write a book (working title so far: “You can’t make this stuff up” …. And that’s about all I got).

2) Do a photo exhibit. I have a concept at least. Let’s get some friends together and make this happen. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but why the heck not? By the way, when am I allowed to call myself a photographer? Once I have sold a photo? I got one on a travel site- but they use it for free, does that count?

3) Do another crazy road trip- Tacos in Tijuana- the Sequel or somewhere I haven’t been, like the eastern seaboard. Or Montana. Solid, dear friends may apply for traveling companion vacancies. Ability to read aloud to driver while in a moving vehicle and shared musical tastes are preferable.

4) Learn how to use a strobe. I am jealous of some people’s photos.

5) Go to more shows- like the one we went to for my birthday last year at the Media Club. That was a very happy memory from 2007. Not really an impressive dream or reaching for the stars, but I think when you find something that works, its important to keep it up. It will provide that necessary elements for sanity to carry out the bigger items.

I think that's plenty. Too many even. Let’s not over-do it.

It’s a simple to-do list. Resolutions are kind of personal, and far more meditative, and more outwardly focussed and... much more profound than I am able to come up with at this moment. I feel like I should have a list of truly thought-provoking and encouraging items for self- and community- improvement.

And just what is the difference between January 1st and, say, April 19th or September 3rd? March 12th for that matter? I used to always hate those creative writing exercises in elementary school where you had to write out your new year’s resolutions, because I never really made any, and knew that if I did, they weren’t going to stick just because of the date on which they were made. I've always been quite fond of March 12th come to think of it...

Well I am a real champ for New Year's festivity, aren't I? Maybe I've always had it in for New Years though. I don't want to start something off that I won't finish- not a project- a year. Why start it in a manner that I do not intend to carry out all year round? My roommate said something to me today- I was talking about how I am not the biggest fan of the crazy New year's parties and she pointed out that it all those did was make you start off the New Year tired, and that seems a bit contrary to the point making a big deal of starting the year off with a bang now doesn't it?

Am I Over-thinking again....? Mayhaps. I think for now, i will go clean the bathroom and have a snack. its these little steps that are so integral to getting that book written and all those other big items ticked off the list!

Monday, December 24, 2007

La Purisima, the precursor to Christmas

Christmas 2007

The calendar on my computer tells me it’s December 24, 2007. I know that is in fact, not true. The real date is July 14th. It’s a scorcher; the summer is only getting started. There is a nice breeze, but that somehow seems to take a break conveniently at the same hour of the day when the sun is its hottest. Either way, it certainly isn’t Christmas. Or is it?

Yesterday I was convinced that it was July 13th (Friday, naturally). There was no way it could be the day before Christmas. That day is cold and damp and generally a progression from cup to cup of coffee, coffee, Christmas tea, more coffee, Gingerbread latte, Christmas tea and finally hot water, to keep warm and awake.

Hm, come to think of it, I did have a similar progression- coffee, coffee, apple juice- which I suppose could be substituted for hot cider- caramel macchiato (“Que significa gingerbread?”) Christmas tea: maybe we’re on to something here kids.

I was thinking about it this morning as I sat with my legs in the cool water of our pool- the only cool thing about a Managuan morning, which at 9am already feels like midday. I read through Luke 2. It’s so easy to breeze over that after having heard it so many times. I sat there, attempting to snap myself out of the self-pity and strange sentiment that can only be described as ‘off’ that has been hanging over my head for the last few days (did I do something wrong? Am I about to do something wrong?). I wanted snowy mountains, I wanted my full Christmas tree covered in red ribbon, I wanted my own candle-lit Christmas eve service that I have attended every year of my life except for 2005. I wanted to meet up for the annual gift-exchange with my friends in the Ironwood Starbucks (tall, n/f ½ sweet GB latte, with a vanilla dip gingerbread biscotti). I wanted things that can only be made during this month and in an oven.

Then I got to thinking, The heat, the palm trees, the scrubby kids I was off to meet in a few hours- these things were all much more at home in the original version of Christmas. And quite frankly: a pinch of cinnamon with the grounds makes for a decent substitute for eggnog or GB syrup in the coffee; my brother came thousands of kilometres to make sure I didn’t feel this haze of depression; my mom sent three tubs of home baking; and I got to swim in a crystalline pool on a sunny day and play with some crazy, loving children, two of whom gave me bracelets for Christmas because they love me. I’m sorry, what? How is it that two little girls who spend their days (including Christmas and I’d hazard a guess, every other statutory holiday) squeegeeing windows in a busy intersection in a Central American capital of median global consequence- how is it that these two girls give ME a Christmas present off their own wrists?

Its just one Christmas to pass this way, but I would be a fool not to recognise that there is just as much to be thankful for this year.

And still I keep coming back to this thought that this is probably much closer to what it was really like. That isn’t a judgement on how it is here or home, although we could and often do go down that path so easily- perhaps with good reason. But regardless, the heat, the dirt, the foreignness of it all, and the fact that it seems like any other normal day for me here in Managua- At home I am so attuned to the culture and daily life that I can at once, tell you in is December 24th, even if I don’t have a calendar or way to tell the date. Here, there are differences yes, but for me to realise all the nuances, it takes more effort. And at any rate, what I have done so far, has not be spectacularly different from any Saturday that I have off: rest, read, check email, drink coffee, sit by the pool, go see some of the kids, swim, blog. The normalcy that I perceive for myself here was there for so many in Israel despite the profundity of the events taking place.

So, I arrive at a conclusion: this is but one special day, and I am thankful.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

You can't make that stuff up!

You can’t make this stuff up

That’s the new title of my book. Yep, I am going to write a book (but don’t quote me on that, in case I get distracted… oh look a bunny).

I have been gallivanting around with some characters lately and noticed something: life in Nicaragua is prime material for a book. Ooh, on second thought, it could even be turned into a movie! I can see the merch that will follow: t-shirts! Action figures! Happy Meal toys! Key-chains! Because promotion of shameless pop-cultural consumerism is really what I am all about here.

Or not

But maybe I will still write a book, you know, just for kicks. It’s one of those things that have always been in the back of my head to do, kind of like being Prime Minister for a little bit or running a fair trade beachside café or something.

There are just so many good anecdotes here. I solemnly promise you a full explication on what a bus ride to Matagalpa really means. I also will give you a dissertation on the finer intricacies of bacanalear-ing (“partying”-ing) when the trendy café bar tells you on a Saturday night to go away and come back tomorrow because they are “out.” Out? “Yes, out of everything. Come back tomorrow and we are at your order.” Insert appropriate door-in-face description and we are set. All this to come, and more- in paperback!

The issue I have with the blog medium is that I don’t feel like I am doing justice to all the events, ideas and people that are intertwined here. Sometimes I am actually baffled how perfectly it all works out. My life reads like a book, like someone is behind it all, planning it (wait a second…). Example: Two nights ago, I had a wrenching conversation with a Nica friend named Juan. We talked about the issue of me being an extranjera and being richer than everyone else. Later that night, while I was still mulling it over, and wishing I hadn’t said some things and that I could have said others through my still immature Spanish, Steph came home and told me of her discussion with Noel, the Matagalpan friend who gave us a ride back down to Managua. Obviously our conversations took different paths, because Juan and Noel come from very different social paths in Nicaragua- even geographically. But they said almost the exact words about the same subject, though our conversations arrived there from completely different routes and left from there to different destinations.

The next day I listened to another Nica telling me the frustration of conocering (meeting) a Gringa who had little apparent respect for the Nica life, or at least wanted to insulate herself from it as much as possible while she was here. I was frustrated for him, for all of us extranjeros who are fumbling around, trying to get it right, some try more (or less) than others I suppose.

Here are three Nica men who all think alike, despite growing up in separate barrios, separate towns even. Despite having different jobs, despite having different opportunities and experiences, it’s so funny how a culture can do that, eh? Their thinking, even their way of expressing it, are at times even identical. Its funnier even so as I start to let go of some previous notions of what it means to be a foreign development worker, what it means to be an extrajera in Nicaragua, and how that manifests itself in my daily behaviour, these three conversations take place, two simultaneously even. That’s the truly baffling part of it. How does it all happen at once, like a carefully-timed symphony? Each layer- the strings, the horns, the drums, and I do love those drums- produce a different sound but yet are playing the same tune.

Hm, Am I supposed to be paying attention? She asks wryly.

I know I haven’t really touched on this here with you guys. And this is largely due to the fact that I don’t even know where to start. How do you unpack all of this? And where am I supposed to hang it out when I do start. Its not dirty laundry, but sometimes it feels that way as I, at times, I struggle, fumble and stretch- a good, catlike, post-deep-sleep stretch- to understand better, combat lethargy and habit and make good the view from Managua, Nicaragua through the Kiki lens (which often bears a striking resemblance to a Sigma 10-20mm wide angle).

Monday, December 03, 2007

"Only in Nicaragua" or "I should have known..."

Well we all know that I have a slight addiction to coffee- caffeine is not the issue, although as I discovered on Saturday when i tried to substitute an hour-long Latin dance aerobics class, two bottles of water and a dip in the pool for my morning cup of coffee, its just not the same- and considerably more time-consuming and not really an effective use of resources if you ask me, but I digress (note to come on the Latin dance aerobics instructor who I may or may not have a platonic crush on now).

As I was saying: coffee, the great love of my life- because after all, you can sleep when you're dead! And I think I sufficiently proved once again the great lengths I would go for some of the good stuff. I have started brewing it at home and reinstated the early morning coffee sit-times (you may not remember those happy times which their roots in the 6am region of a Qwanoes morning, pre-Head Counselor Team meeting, post-RyRy setting the auto-brew button for me the night before. There is just something about having that dark and bitter brew in my hands to console me as I grieve the fact that yes, I am awake and no longer in my bed. Some mornings are worse than others, but between my shower and my coffee, just let me be.

So the coffee at work is instant. I feel that I need to just make that clear. It's not always so bad, but my tolerance levels have been going down lately. I cannot account for what makes a good day, and what doesn't but I think it has something to do with the fact that I have now moved to coffee completely black (a day to be reckoned with, to be sure. It crept up on me so stealthily, so steadily, that even I didn't realize, and now- there's no turning back). Instant coffee can be tolerated, enjoyed even during desperate times, if there is a significant amount of milk and reasonable contribution of sugar- thus disguising it beyond recognition so that it is not actually still considered coffee. I am fine with this arrangement. Some might say I am compromising my standards, that I am not a true coffee-aficionado, that my love is not true and pure. I counter that my love is so pure, that I will accept the poor thing in whatever state it comes- that is love, unconditional love (did someone say 'object lesson?' Thanks go out to Trinity Wester University, RCS and years of youth group for giving me this extraordinary ability that allows me to extract meaning from inanimate objects- its the same ability that allows me to deliver a homily on Hebraic ecumenical dialogue using nothing more than toothpicks, some jujubes and a pipe-cleaner. Just try me).

Anyways, all this to say that, despite my acceptance for work-coffee, knowing that in order to shore myself up, make myself to strong enough to love it where its at and not expect more from it, I had to first spend sometime with the real deal. So yesterday I was wandering the aisles of La Union (may or may not be owned by Wal-mart. Perdoname Señor), and I found, for the first time, a travel mug. There are all sorts of Tupperware and cups and plates- both permanent and travel-worthy, but none that could carry hot liquids between my kitchen and the office. So for 35 Cordobas (approx. $1.89) I bought myself a neon green travel mug, similar to those crazy plastic Shell ones we had for years growing up, scooped from one of the thousands of gas-stations Dad was making rounds to or a leftover from giveaways at the Abbotsford Air-show. I sensed that it was no Starbucks travel mug, It didn't look too sturdy and I can't say that I got absolute confirmation that the lid actually, technically closed all the way. And it certainly had no trendy coffee-leaf pattern in autumnal tones. Nevertheless, I figured (hoped) it would at least let me transport the brew to work and then I could transfer it to a more worthy vessel.

Boy, did I miss the mark. I should have known though. I was exactly half-way between the door and our gate and I sensed burning liquid on my fingers and one thigh. I noticed a drip, but didn't want to give up on the little mug that (i hoped) could, nor the precious commodity inside. So I left our place and got across the street and soon realized there was little hope. At this point I paused and thought "will it be bad to spill all over a taxi? I don't want to get it all messy on them- you know because the taxis are generally in such good shape to begin with... I felt a little guilty over my selfish and lazy motivation, but I really wanted good coffee and I didn't want to walk all the way back to the house to drop off the cup and forget about it. So i kept walking. When I finally did get in the cab, there was little hope. A puddle was forming in my hand which was cupped under the dripping stream of coffee. Don't worry, it didn't burn at this point- the mug wasn't that thermally-equipped. So i hummed and hawed as I realized that this cab ride was indeed as bumpy as it could get. Things were getting hairy, the backseat was filling up.

What else could I do?

Yes, that's right- I stuck my right arm straight out the window and rode with it like that, watching beads of the precious liquid stream away in the early morning wind. I realized that for all who saw me speed by, I was handing them yet another reason to stop and stare. As if I do not attract enough attention as it is, as a redhead. Now, I have a neon green tub for a hand sticking straight out the window of a taxi. I have said it before and I will say it again: Dignity has its price, and love will pay. But only today. Green mug, I have lived to rue the day that I took you in against my better judgment. But I suppose its not your fault. carrying a constant drip line of coffee or coffee-themed drinks has yet to catch on here, and the turbo-travel mugs in fashion back home are basically represented more or less here by plastic baggies with straws coming from them. You do what you can with what you got. Maybe i will try the baggie-approach tomorrow. I will let you know how that goes.