Friday, April 10, 2009

Stolen Safes and Contra Fighters

Man, I love this place! I´ll have to start at the beginning because it´s been a long week. We were staying in the little Hospedaje run by Doña Coco, this lady that seems like she´d be really sweet except that she yells everything (which may be because she thinks it´ll help us understand the Spanish, but comes across as abrasive) for the first few days we were here. We have spent almost every afternoon in the park here, which is beautiful and a center of activity when it´s not siesta time, and a good shady place to sit and read when it is siesta time because the whole town is shut down. Our Couchsurfing host, Casey, arrived back home and we met him Monday for lunch and then moved in. His house is actually a group living situation for all the volunteers in the area working with Blue Energy Group, which is working around here setting up wind turbines and water purifiers. There are normally a lot of people here, but most are gone for semana santa, so we have our own room and bed. These kids are really cool, from America, France, Australia, and England, and each night we sit around talking, joking and drinking after dinner. They normally have Kitchen Mamas who cook and clean for all of them, but they´re gone this week (one of them had her 2 brothers kidnapped by the Sandinistas and so joined the Contras and lived in the bush for 4 years, constantly worried that she might be killing her own little baby brothers), and we´ve been cooking for ourselves. On Tuesday we were awakened by Casey knocking on the door because the 2 safes they keep in the office (and nothing else, including all the computer equipment) were stolen by someone who knew about them and had a key. It was like NYPD Bluefields and there was big drama because cops were swarming all over the place (if this had happened in Atlanta we´d get one bored looking cop and a "we´ll let you know") and we all gave fingerprints and statements and there´s now black fingerprint dust all over the office. It doesn´t look that hopeful that they´ll be found, but the thieves also will probably not be able to open the safes, so at least nobody wins.
Within minutes of getting to Bluefields, we were greeted by Charlie, the local Rastafarian welcome wagon/drug dealer, and since then we have seen him and/or hung out with him every day. Charlie´s story: he fled to Costa Rica as a refugee when the war was going on so he would not have to fight (he was 13 at the time), was told that if he came back and cleared 1 sq Km of land and defended it with the help of the supplies the American planes were dropping including food and AK47s, he could keep it. It was attacked by the Sandinistas and he ended up fighting for the Contras, fled back to Costa Rica and since then has lived the charmed life of traveling all over Central America and Europe, several times funded by pounds of drugs he found washed up on the shore, fathered 2 children in Europe, and has girlfriends now all over the world. He´s also a bit of an opportunist, I think, and has shacked up with a few older gentlemen as well. He may have his problems, but all in all, he´s a good guy and we like him.
One day when we were in the park we saw this guy playing with the largest 2 year old on the planet (Christian thought he was like 5 and maybe retarded) and we started talking to him. His name is Franklin and we have hung out with him every day. Franklin´s story: He was kidnapped as a child by the Sandinistas (which we have found out was a very common practice here) and sent to Cuba where they taught him how to fly fighter jets, but when he found out his sister was pregnant back home he decided to escape, and made it to Bluefields, but the Sandinistas were after him so he SWAM like 30 miles north up the coast to join the Contras, and spent the next few years in the jungle (or the Bush, as they say around here). At one point he had infections in his feet and an infected bullet wound in his upper thigh and couldn´t take another step, but said that if there was a God, then please save him. He woke up in a hospital and had had a dream of walking through the jungle but no way of knowing how he got there, and ever since has been very strongly Christian but anti- religion (he says the Pope is the Anti-Christ). After the war he was back in Bluefields and had a girlfriend for 5 years who was the love of his life and who died when the bus she was in went over a cliff on the way to Managua (having been in those buses, it´s true), and hasn´t dated since. Then he worked on a cruise ship and went literally all over the world for years, and then was back in Bluefields a few years, and while he was in the hospital one day a Ukranian lady was there who had given birth 2 months early and needed blood. He donated his blood to her and they became friends after that. A year later, she had an emergency back in the Ukraine and had to leave her 2 sons here for a year, and that is JoJo (now 7) and Joseph (the giant 2 year old). Franklin has been taking care of them for a year, with the help of his father and the income from their cockfighting business) and she´ll be back next week to get them. There´s also a sweet little girl named Stacy (also 7) who is enamored with me and gives my flowers and seashells every time I see her. Her mom will be back next week as well. Also, he helps with a ´gym´ that contains only a boxing ring and couple punching bags in the pee-stained cement shell of an old movie theater, and where he meets about 12 teenage boys every morning from 4 to 6am to work out and show them that there is more to life than drugs (even more tempting in an economy where the only really lucrative businesses are cruise ships and drug dealing). Franklin is an amazing guy. He has taken us to see Pool Rock, which is this gigantic rock perched on top of a smaller rock on a huge hill overlooking Bluefields and all the islands around it, and which has a hole underneath that they say goes to the center of the earth but that´s been filled in by dirt because they also say there´s pirate treasure in there and people were coming to dig for it (if you saw how precarious this rock looked you´d see why they filled it in rather than have people digging out the support around it). He also took us to a lagoon near the airport where Christian and I went swimming today and he and Charlie just watched (they were told as kids that if you swam on Good Friday you turned into a fish, and if you climbed a tree you became a monkey, but I think they just didn´t want to get wet). There were a bunch of kids swimming and a few couples, one of which was adorably in love and very affectionate, and it turned out that all of the 10 boys swimming were theirs, so they are clearly doing something right. It´s really great to really get into a place like this and see how the culture and the history affects the people. I don´t know how often that happens because everyone we meet assumes that we´re going to the Corn islands or El Bluff (which are the local tourist attractions and about the last place we want to be during Semana Santa). I love it here.

1 comment:


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.