Leon, Nicaragua

October 10, 1999

Hi there -

The mood at the coop has really changed this week. The past few months have seen few visitors and fewer sales, but this week that wonderful medical team from North Carolina kept coming in and buying and buying.

Even the sound of the shuttles has a happy and excited note, and I'm not sure why that should be, but it's true.

The medical team is that group who come to Nicaragua every year and do free, open - heart surgery on kids. Wonderful people. They go home today, so yesterday they were going to have a party at the hospital for their patients, all except the ones still in ICU.

"I love coming here", one of the women told me. "There are wonderful people. The nurses we work with have learned so much since last year. Even just since we've been here this year. The kids get wonderful care."

The weavers don't talk about the sales they make, but they do talk about the open - heart surgery - children who are cut open to fix their hearts. Yes, it's a wonder to me, too.

Friday I got to play tourist for the first time in all my years coming here. Danelia took Rosa Maria and me on the 6 a.m. bus to Managua. We went to see her daughter Jasmina, Mario, and 10 - month old Sebastian.

Mario is an artist, a singer, and a published author of children's books, so we lucked out.

We went to the National Casa de Cultura where we met Wilmar Lopez, the one good historian of Nicaragua. (I watch him on TV on Sundays.)

We visited artist's studios and saw students hanging a show of remarkably good work. I was impressed. All types - "primitive", modern, traditional, paintings, prints and sculpture.

Then we went to the old cathedral that was ruined in the earthquake in 1972. It has no roof (well, plastic now) and great cracks splitting it's walls and columns, but still beautiful. And my camera battery gave up just then, so I couldn't take any pictures, darn it.

We drove by the new cathedral with its modern architecture. Pretty ugly outside, but the inside may be beautiful. Modern architecture can be inspiring - I don't know why they chose that design. Maybe it's supposed to be earthquake proof.

There's a statue in Managua celebrating the victory over Somoza in 1979. It's a great big figure of a tattered soldier, rifle in one hand, with both arms raised in a "Yea - we did it!" triumphant gesture. I'd only seen it from the side before, going down the highway. Mario took us to the front. "Look at this ugly statue", he said. "It's called the Hulk Incredible" (Incredible Hulk) And darned if it doesn't look like him.

We drove to Granada, where Mario related much of the history of this beautiful colonial town.

In 1852, William Walker, an American, decided he was president of Nicaragua. Granada was his capital. He burned it down in 1856 then had very elegant buildings constructed, most of which still stand and are still beautiful. But Walker not only thought all Nicaraguans were his slaves, but he decided he should control all of Central America. He went to Honduras where, fortunately, he was shot.

Most Nicaraguans know well the story of William Walker. Funny our history books never mention him, isn't it?

There's a "convento" (monastery?) antiguo in Granada that is being restored with the help of Sweden. It's huge and beautiful (Walker used it to house his troops and put the inhabitants in prison). Sections of the walls are left uncovered so one can see the wall construction (often adobe.)

There's a room added on the house mesoamerican sculptures. There are over 30 of these big things, almost all are figures of a man with a frog on his head, or a lizard or a jaguar or an eagle, and so on. I was fascinated by the work primitive people managed to do with primitive tools.

The lake at Grenada is the only fresh - water lake in the world that has sharks in it. The theory is that ocean sharks were trapped by volcanic eruptions, and managed to adapt as the water changed.

After Grenada, Mario drove us through forests on a country road. I was glad it wasn't raining or it would have been slick mud. There were many places only one car could go at a time, up and down hill to the Laguna del Apoyo. We drove by the house of President Aleman, his private residence, and I was surprised. It's a nice place on the lake, but it isn't grand or magnificent. Not what one thinks of in terms of presidents, big shots, and wealthy people. And his driveway is steep - one would need good brakes to not end up in the lake. We kept going on the miserable road till we came to a school of Spanish language. An altogether pleasant place. It's aimed at environmentalists. It would be a great place to go if they'd fix the road.

On the return trip, there was one place Rosa, Danelia and Jasmina had to get out and walk up the hill (my age saved me) because the car couldn't make it loaded.

Now, how come, if the president lives out there, they haven't improved that darned road? Think of all the people who live on that road whom it would help.

Friday, with all the sight - seeing, was a great day. No rain all day, either, nor most of Saturday. But of course that couldn't last. It poured last night, and this afternoon, writing this, I've had to move around to keep out from under the drips.

The last screen printing jobs at the coop were great success. I felt pretty darned good about the printing, and I think when they try it themselves, if they don't quite start off right, they'll be able to figure out what to do to get it right. I mixed extender in all the colors that needed it and had some of them blending colors on the screen. (Can't teach all of them at the same time, I need to concentrate on 2 or 3 and hope they'll get it down pat, otherwise there's bound to be one of the group who doesn't understand and ends up confusing the others.)

Monday, Oct. 13

I got up early this morning to watch the 6 a.m. news. There are still cars and trucks imbedded in mud up to their axle's on some of the roads. Imagine being the driver of a big truck of seafood from Costa Rica heading for Guatemala and the tens of thousands of dollars lost. They are working hard on it, once again putting in temporary bridges and scooping gravel from here to there.

I don't usually get up early. I did my first year here, getting up before 5 because they did. It took me a whole year to realize I wasn't doing them any favors. If I get up early they right away start "taking care" of me. If I stay in bed, they get on with their washing, ironing, cooking beans, sweeping and mopping, and they don't have to run and bring me a drink of water or pull out a chair for me or whatever they think I need. It's kinder to stay in bed, at least until 7:30.

This morning Danelia rebelled at my attire and wouldn't let me leave the house until she'd ironed my carefully twisted skirt and my blouse. I suppose she thinks my deliberate wrinkles are a reflection on her. J

You know, when we were in Granada Mario drove us to a marina on the lake. He wanted to rent a launch, but the women all nixed that. There was a beautiful restaurant there overlooking the lake and it was noon, so I said we should go up and have lunch.

They didn't have snacks or sandwiches, so I suggested we eat the fish dinner. Danelia and Rosa at first refused, but I prodded them. The lunch was on me, and I had a bit of trouble translating that, but got it across to Mario, who explained.

Danelia, especially, was getting physically sick at the thought of paying so much money for one meal. I was determined not to eat on the street. By the time we were served, they were all reconsiled to it, though, and the fish was delicious - and whole, with that darned head again.

The whole dinner for 5 of us, including their Cokes and my coffee, cost $20. Cheap actually. I didn't let them see me tip the waiter. They don't spend $20 a month on food for their families.

The next day at the coop, Danelia told them all about the wonderful lunch and how much it cost. I'm sure everyone was wishing I'd given them the $20 instead.

It's hard to deal with this sometimes. Like buying the cheapest tuna in the market when what I want is Bumblebee albacore - and knowing they think the cheapest is too expensive. This last month I have been buying apples for myself - it doesn't come out of their money and I need the solace of familiar food at times. But I feel guilty about it.

So it goes.



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