Friday, April 3, 2009

Cultura and Lionel Richie

We have pictures online! Putting them on the blog made it ridiculously slow but Christian has a lot of them on his flickr account, so you can go to and put in his name ctkucera to view all of them.
So we left Ocotal Wednesday morning, heading back to Ciudad Dario to pick up our boots. We made it there by late afternoon, and Christian is thrilled with his boots, but mine were not even close to fitting (maybe it took too much leather to cover my fat feet?), so I didn´t buy them. Oh well -it was worth a shot. So we spent another evening in Ciudad Dario watching 80´s rock love ballads in the restaurant where we ate dinner. 80´s rock love ballads are EVERYWHERE and I´ve definitely heard Lionel Richie´s " it me you´re looking for?" more times in the last month here than in the last 2 decades in the US, and it´s prompted all sorts of discussions where Christian insisted he was Nicole Richie´s dad (it was a draw because he adopted her).
So now we´ll have a Nicaraguan culture lesson: The week before Easter is Semana Santa (Saint´s week) and everyone in Central America heads for the beach, so it´s very difficult to travel and we´re holing up in Bluefields in the hope it will be relatively tourist-free. Some other images from the Western side of the country include: most of the houses are cement block, with stucco over it, or maybe just on the front. In places where they care, it´s painted bright colors, with tin roofs. Tile is in a lot of places, including sidewalks, walls, courtyards, etc, and it will often be in really pretty designs. All the kids wear uniforms for school with navy blue pants or skirts, white knee socks and white shirts. The little kids go to school in the morning and the older kids in the afternoon since it´s usually just one room. There´s no grass anywhere and the yards are packed dirt, usually with pretty flowering plants just spread out over the whole yard. There´s almost always laundry hanging out on the line. People are outside way more than in the US and there are cheap plastic chairs and rocking chairs on all the porches so that people can sit and watch what´s happening (we are a big happening) when they need a break. The other day we actually heard, "Gringoes...woooowwww," (this was in Ciudad Dario where they don´t get many outsiders). There are fruit trees everywhere and now in the dry season a lot of them will be completely bare of leaves but have big fruits hanging from dry, brittle branches. Almost everyone litters and thinks nothing of it, so there´s trash along the sides of the roads, and the way it´s kept in check is by people burning it, so during the day there are lots of trash fires around. Everywhere there are vendedores, which are people selling everything from foods of all sorts to plastic toys. The food sellers attack the bus at each stop, going up and down the aisles yelling whatever they´re selling, ¨aguaaguaaguaagua¨ or ¨gaseosasgaseosasgaseosasgaseosas¨(soda) or whatever. This is usually handy on long busrides because then you can eat without losing your spot and having to stand. They just sell until the next stop and get off so they can get on the next bus (and I imagine tap the next guy´s hand like a relay race because then another guy comes on). They also carry what they´re selling in big tubs on the top of their heads, which is a good way to carry heavy things all day. Water is intermittent in most places, so most people have buckets of water in their bathroom for flushing or rinsing. Public bathrooms are appalling, and they usually cost money, have no toilet seats because no one would sit down on them anyway, and are so small that you better head in backwards (if wearing a backpack) because there´s not enough room to turn around. The cemeteries are beautiful because all the gravestones are painted all different pretty colors and there are tons of fake flowers in them everywhere. Also, people are SO nice and in any public place, even if we already know where we´re going, they´ll help us do whatever we´re trying do or give directions. We don´t even have to ask most times, they just offer. Also, it´s not socially unacceptable to pick one´s nose in public and people do it all the time. A few times they´ve been helpfully giving instrucutions with fingers up their noses.
So we left Ciudad Dario the next morning, since we´d just come for the boots, and spent the next 8 hours on buses, watching terrible latino music videos (think middle aged men, not too good for a mullet or two, with young girls in bathing suits dancing with ass and crotch close-ups AND American celebrity news - Did you know Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon are dating? I KNOW!). We went to El Rama, which is the port town on the Rio Escondito where we had to stop for the night before catching a boat to Bluefields the next day.
The next morning, we got up at 5 to be at the dock for the boats leaving, and were packed like sardines, 5 rows of 4 people and the luggage in the prow, to take the 2 hour speedboat trip to Bluefields. It was incredible. The mist on the water that early in the morning looked like a fountain show, and as it cleared we´re going down this river with coconut and date palms lining the shores, passing houses that are either made of boards and on stilts with tin roofs, or huts made of bamboo with thatched roofs. This town is totally different from the rest of Nicaragua. It was settled by Afro-Carribeans, so there is a lovely mix of black and brown people and a lot of people speak Creole, which we thought was like English but can hardly understand a word of it. The Spanish here is a lot clearer than Northern Nicaragua, and thank God because I´d almost accepted the fact that I didn´t actually speak much Spanish at all since I hadn´t understood most Spanish conversations for the last 3 weeks. Also, the people are generally taller so now I only stick out for being white. We have a nice little room for a few days (without water though, so we´re making due) and are waiting until our couch-surfing host gets back into town. I´ll let you know what happens from here.

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Chuchi - this is probably my new most popular word. It means snobby or fancy, but is used in the Peace Corps as anything nicer than dirt roads and shacks, or for a person, anyone who showers with hot water. Living in the city, I am super chuchi for here.

Fuerte - literally means strong, but because the culture is based on talking around everything, it´s when a person says anything they want in a direct way - it means asshole

Puede ser and otro dia - literally means "could be" or "another day", but because noone will directly blow someone off, both of them mean "never" and are the answer to a question of when something will happen

Deseas, en tus sueños, Que Arriba Perra/o and Es lo qué es - these are the terrible translations of American sayings that are not used here and don´t really translate, but we say them anyway. Literally they mean "you wish", "in your dreams", "What´s up bitch/dog?" and "it is what it is"

Qué guapa - this means "what a hard worker" and is used by Paraguayans every time I do ANYTHING manual, including carrying a dish to the sink or sweeping out my room. I don´t think they have high expectations for Americans and work.

Saludos - sending saludos by way of a mutual friend is how people tell each other they have a crush on them. The most serious kinds are given with a pinch on the arm and they mean business.

Thumbs up - this is done everywhere here and is a simple answer to pretty much any question. I will probably have carpal tunel in my thumbs when I leave here because I do this so much.

No se como comer esta - this is how one refuses food in Paraguay. Literally, it´s "I don´t know how to eat this" which creates an internal struggle for me each time it´s said because I want to be a smartass and explain that, just like any other food, you put in in your mouth and chew, but I don´t think that´s acceptable here.

No Más and Un poco - this is said after almost every phrase for no real reason other than to make everything sound like it´s not a big deal, even when it really is. Literally, it´s "No More" and "A Little", so the translations are something like "Sit down no more", "Come here a little", and "Do you want dinner no more?"

Cocido - this is a hot drink mixed by carmellizing sugar with a little yerba, adding just enough water to wet it, and then adding more sugar. It´s served by the thermos-full just before bed.

Mosto - this is to sugar what crack is to cocaine. It´s a "tradional" drink capable of putting even the sweetest tooth into a diabetic coma, and is served continuously at fun gatherings like funerals.

Ch-ch-ch-ch - this is the sound Paraguayans make to get each others´attention - like "Psst" . It´s especially used for catcalling, and they have nothing to follow it with - they just want you to look.