Elaine, Leon, Nicaragua

September 10, 1999


We're getting some beautiful colors in the dye jobs, and this time I'm keeping a record of all the recipes with yarn samples attached to each one. Now, if I can just convince them that 1 Tablespoon is one tablespoon leveled off and not something scooped willy-nilly out of the jar, they'll be able to repeat and repeat.

At Mirna's house I share a room with 19 year old Mirna and her 16 year old niece, Idania. Idania works as a domestic for an elderly couple about 2 miles distant. She starts at 5:30 am and works till 2:30 pm. Mondays through Saturdays. She cooks, cleans, washed clothes, irons, sweeps the yard. She earns 200 cordobas a month doing this ($16.00). On Sundays she goes to "secondaria" (high school) where she is in her 3rd year. When she comes home she washes clothes, but it's almost a running joke with us = as soon as she starts scrubbing her clothes the lightning starts, then the rain. She keeps washing and hangs up the clothes in the rain. There's no other time for her to do this .

The concrete sinks are out-of-doors and have a flat washboard cast into a shallow part of the sink on one side. The center of the sink is a deep basin where the one faucet is. They wash garments one at a time, dipping up water from the deep sink to wet it, then soaping it, and they have excellent bar soap. They rub and scrub this one garment until it's filled with suds - this isn't a gentle process - then they dip water to rinse it thoroughly, hang it on the line, pick up the next garment and repeat the process. Idania has to count on her clothes getting dry in the mornings when it is usually sunny but almost always dry.

Mirna gets up at 3 am to get breakfast for her brother who starts work (security guard) at 4 am. Some days she goes back to bed, some days she stays up and washes clothes. My clothes, too. They won['t let me do anything - not wash my own clothes, nor dishes, or anything. I appreciate their sweet consideration and desire to do things for me, but sometimes this enforced idleness is by far the most difficult part of being here.

One thing Nicaragua has is lots of private schools. They have it so you can work and go to school nights, or Saturdays, or Sundays. You have to pay, of course. Out of the 200 cordobas Idania makes each month, she pays 50 cordobas to go to school.

Of course, public high school here isn't free, either. It costs 12 cordobas a month to go to public high school - that's $1 a month which doesn't sound like much unless your income is somewhere between $10 and $20 a month. But public high schools aren't open on weekends, so if you have to work and you still want to go to school you have to go to a private school.

Bayardo's loom has been fixed and Danelia did it. She amazes me. She has so many health problems, yet she comes in and plugs away every day, often times grimacing from pain as she works. In changing the cloth beam on Bayardo's loom, she was down on the floor under the loom, taking out the old warped beam and replacing it and the uprights holding it with a new one she found. There is a lot to be said for being short when you have to crawl under a loom, believe me. Every day finds Danelia under someone's loom or other, adjusting the tie-ups, pulling out knots with her teeth, balancing lamms - whatever needs to be done.

I was about to note that Cerro Negro had quieted down-- and it had. Then this afternoon we had another tremor. I'm getting superstitious about opening my mouth. If we've had a bright and sunny day all day and I do so much as comment, "Well, today was a day without rain," sure as shootin', in 10 minutes clouds will have blown in and it will be pouring. Like now.

They have two seasons here: summer when it's hot an wet. They all like winter best because there is relief from the heat once in a while. Last week they asked me about the seasons in the north. What was spring, and what was autumn? I tried to explain how one season passed into another, what it was like, and how important each season was.

Then I noticed a big shade tree in the grounds at the coop, and darned if it didn't have a bunch of red and yellow leaves scattered throughout, and some were lying on the ground. I told them how all the leaves on trees up north would change color like that, then all would fall to the ground, and when spring came new leaves would grow. But I decided that they may think it's winter here, but nature thinks it's fall.

Diogenes, Danelia's son, is working on the new bridge at Chinandega. His job will be over with in December. He's a welder-burner and a mechanic. For this work he is paid 10 cordobas a day - 60 cordobas for a 6 - day week. The current rate of exchange is 12.25 cordobas for one U.S. dollar. That means he makes less than a dollar a day, about $5 a week.

Most prices here are about the same as they are in the U.S., some higher, sometimes fresh fruit is cheaper. Heck of a note, isn't it?

Danelia told me Diogenes had a lot of work after Hurricane Mitch (and this bridge is a part of that work) and he managed to save enough money to buy himself a new bike. That's eleven months it took.

People sometimes day to me, "But they are used to it, aren't they?" and "But they don't know any better do they?" My answer is, yes, they are used to it, and yes, they do know better. They know their world is unusually hard and they always hope for better. It isn't a lack of industriousness that is keeping these people poor. It's a lack of opportunity.




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