Elaine in Leon

August 7, 1999


I don't know what Cerro Negro is going to do and I don't think it does either.

Yesterday, after a rough night, was fairly calm. Nothing happened last night either, that I was aware of. I think most everyone tried to catch up on the sleep they didn't get the night before.

You know how in California they teach you to stand under a doorway or get under a table during an earthquake? Down here, they run outdoors into the street. The houses are mostly concrete block, and if they break up in an earthquake, you can get hurt.

Today I was tired after lunch and as usual, Danelia hung up her hammock for me out between a couple of big trees in the yard. They practically pushed me into it, but I didn't mind. I was almost asleep and the women were inside weaving when a gust of wind came sharply, the trees over my head started waving around and the hammock was swinging.

Inside, the weavers let out yelps and Danelia came running out, then burst into scared tears. "I'm going to my house to see if it fell down, Elenita," she said. I slept for almost an hour. When I woke, Danelia was back and weaving. The radio was asking people to report damage. I figured that had been a pretty strong jolt.

There's constant fine sand blowing over from Cerro Negro. I have to keep wiping the grit off the paper as I write this. There will probably be a little sand in the envelope when I send this letter (not that I could see - Lolli).

I heard Mirian tell Ana Maria that I was "valerosa". I'm hardly brave. There isn't anything I can lose here but me. They can lose everything, especially the roof over their heads. If my feet had been on the ground when that bigger one hit, I may have been scared, too.

Sunday August 8

Cerro Negro has been behaving fairly well. Occasional smallish tremors and occasional spewing of sand.

I asked Mirian today what it was like, the last time Cerro Negro blew big. It was hot and dry in April 1992 (Beth Davis from Boston was working with the weavers through the New Haven / Leon Sister Cities Project at the time. It pretty much ended her time in Nicaragua. - Lolli). It shot ash and sand for 8 days, and she ended up with 4 feet or more of sand in her yard.

They had to keep sweeping the roof all the time to keep the weight of the buildup of sand from collapsing the roof. They wore hats all the time, or tied cloth over their heads, and wore cloth masks to keep the sand and ash out of their mouths and lungs. They couldn't keep the sand from piling up in the houses.

It was hard to cook and hard to get food. Cars couldn't drive on the roads, any more than they could in Washington after Mt. St. Helens blew, only it was worse here. The sand was gradually hauled away by big trucks that gradually worked their way up and down the roads, clearing as they went. The fine sand and the ash kept blowing around and around because the weather stayed dry. It didn't rain to settle the constant dust until August 15th, Mirian said.

What a hell that must have been! No wonder they are worried now. This family still mops the floor 6 or 7 times a day. It's dusty here without volcanoes adding more.

Cerro Negro started rumbling again just now.

The other day, Mirian asked me how much it cost to got to school in the U.S.. I told her school was free the first twelve years. Here they have to pay to go to "secondaria" but the primary is free. Theoretically, primary is also compulsory, but one sees too many kids who should be in school out selling on the streets. It's hard to pay for high school here, she said, especially if you have 2 or 3 going at the same time.

Then Norma asked me "In the United States, do the students kill students Latino and negro?" "No", I said, puzzled. "They do in Colorado", she said. How do you explain away that? Lordy.

Another day Norma and I had been talking about different things when she surprised me by saying "The people in the United States are all beautiful." Hug? "No," I said. "Some are, some aren't." "They are beautiful. They have white skin. Like yours. Not like mine." And she held out her arm. "It's ugly, she said."

"In the United States," I answered, trying hard, "There are millions of people who spend all summer trying to become the color you are. Some do it in the sun, but hundreds of thousands of people pay beauty parlors for artificial sun."

"It's ugly, " she said. "My baby, Mario's and my baby, will be negrita." "And it will be beautiful," I told her. "Thank you." She smiled at me. "It will be beautiful, but it will be negrita." I could have cried.


Monday August 9

This morning I asked Danelia what it was like at her house when Cerro Negro blew in 1992. (Beth Davis was staying with Danelia at the time - Lolli). It came in the night without warning, she said. There were no earthquakes, just sand. She woke in the middle of the night covered with sand. She didn't know where it came from.

At 5 o'clock in the morning there was about a foot of sand in her kitchen. The sand kept coming for eight days. It was terrible. They had to keep sweeping the roof, and tried to sweep out the house but it didn't do any good. There was sand in your hair, in your eyes, in your nose, in your ears, in your mouth, and in your face. Danelia still has ear trouble, she says, because so much sand got in her ears. "Don't get sand in your ears, Elenita!" she cautions me.

The chickens died from the sand. There was some chemical in it that affected their brains, she said, "Poor Things." They had to haul the sand from the house and the patio (back yard) in buckets out to the street, where, in a period of months, the city trucks came and hauled it away. "But no earthquake," she said. "Not like now."

The Sister Cities office has moved to a new address. I haven't been there yet. I guess they are still putting things away and organizing it. I don't go to the office much anyway.

This morning I rode in a taxi that didn't have a cracked windshield. That’s reasonable unusual for here. The taxis are all small cars and most are pretty rattley. It cost 10 cordobas for two of us to ride across town-- that’s 84 cents for two. It's no wonder they can't keep the taxis up.

Here, anything priced by labor is cheap, but that's all that is. Stuff in the stores costs the same as or more than it does in the U.S.. There are more and more U.S. products on the shelves, I'm glad to see. (It may as well be us as Europe.) They even have Ivory soap and Ivory liquid now. But it costs twice as much as in the States. When you figure what wages are (45 cents and hour in the Maquilladores, 80 % unemployment since the hurricane - Lolli) that makes it really high.

Mirian and Danelia are repairing Mirna's fly-shuttle and Mirna is picking mangoes as she waits. (I've developed a real fondness for mangoes.) Mirna has a long stick with a wire loop on the to bring them down. (Most mango trees are really tall, and most people have them - Lolli)

Chau, Elaine

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