Saturday, September 10, 2011

Crying in Caterina

I am writing this on my laptop in the middle of a "tormenta"- the rain is falling really hard and its pitch black because the power went out.
Today we had a "charla" (workshop) on different environmental topics. It was in the bibliotecha (library)/alcaldia (mayor's office) in Caterina, which is a small little town across the highway from my pueblo. We walked there early this morning and sat in a training workshop for about four hours (in English, thank G-d).
Caterina is pretty tiny but it’s got the library, a big church and a few chachka shops for tourists. There's also a mirador (lookout) with an amazing view of Laguna de Apoyo, Granada, Lago Nicaragua and the cloud-topped volcano Masaya. The lookout also has a pool but the entrance fee is 20 cordobas, which is less than a dollar but since we make 35 cordobas a day ($1.50) no one wanted to pay that. So we went to a second lookout that only locals know about and it was just as gorgeous... and free. It even had stone benches to rest on and just enjoy the view. A bunch of us went to a little restaurant nearby (grass roof canopy, no walls, kind of like a sukkah) and had some Nicaraguan beer.
The food was kind of expensive- 100 cords for chicken soup! ($5.. haha, how quickly our monetary scales adjust!) The sun was brutal as we walked back and I lagged behind my companions           and found myself walking alone down a mostly deserted tree lined road to San Juan de Oriente. It was the perfect time for a little solo cry. I'd been feeling pretty melancholy and just lonely all day, especially with the group of volunteers. So I walked and sweated and cried, which actually worked out perfectly because the tears and sweat just all blended together on my face.
When I made it across the careterra (highway) and into the entrance of San Juan, the three other trainees in my group were standing out front of one the pottery shops. Allison was crying, but for a different reason- she'd accidentally broken a ceramic item in the shop. It was one of the tiendas that catered to tourists along the main road by the entrance to town. The shop owner wanted 500 cords ($25!).That was ridiculous and she didn’t have it on her. She had already tried explaining to him that we were volunteers here, we lived in the community, we weren’t tourists… she told him her host family’s name and asked to go home to get some money but I guess they’d seen too many gringos passing through and didn’t trust her.
By the time I came along, she was pretty upset and the others were just standing around, helpless, trying to console her. They were also convinced the ugly thing had already been broken because of how it cleanly split apart from her just tapping it. The theory was that they strategically placed it for unsuspected tourists to get suckers into parting with their American money. (I’ve never been back to the shop to see if there was another ugly ceramic mule in that spot to prove the theory.)
Miraculously, I had $20 bill on me, so I paid for the broken donkey (it really wasn’t worth that, but I was really not myself that afternoon so wasn’t up to haggling.) She paid me when we got back home and I swore to myself that if I was ever in a similar situation, I would either haggle them down… or just leave. There’s not that many police here to begin with and the only two I’ve ever seen in our town know us and know why we’re here.
On a random note, as I continued on my way home, still feeling pretty lonely and sorry for myself, a guy sitting in front of one of the small concrete houses here called out, “Where are you from?” When I replied “America”, he responded “Duh, where in?” He was dressed like most people here imagine an American- khakis, polo, loafers, thick gold watch. Turns out he was from California, married a Nicaraguan and they were building a house nearby. He asked me a bunch of questions about serving in the Peace Corps and couldn’t seem to wrap his mind around anyone wanting to live in a third world country and donate their time there. And for two whole years? Well we did find out one thing we had in common- we both loved oatmeal. Apparently on this last trip, he brought a huge bag of real whole oats with him (the “avena” here is different, its more like instant; it’s ground real fine and Nicaraguans DRINK it- COLD!) Anyway, this kind man came by my house with his wife and dropped off all the oatmeal he’d brought. I guess he figured I needed it more than him right now.
Usually when I want an afternoon snack, I just threw sticks at the mango trees and sweet, ripe fruit rains down. Oh and later in the house, there was an insect the size of a freaking hummingbird. I thought it was a bat! Turns out it was just one of the Nica moths.
Well now with the Tormenta going full blast, there’s no need to throw sticks; the mangos are falling like bombs on the roof every few minutes.
And something huge just smacked my head- the supersize moth trying to get the hell out.

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