Leon, Nicaragua

Sept. 18, 1999

This week I moved to the house of Rosa Maria, and I got to see and
hear the news for the first time in a month. (Mirna's house doesn't have a
TV or radio.) I saw Hurricane Floyd hitting the Carolinas, New Jersey, and
Manhattan. I also got to watch the De la Hoya and Trinidad fight. What I see of those two young men, I like. So I was hoping for a draw, and it almost
was, just two points different. What a contrast those two are to the likes
of Tyson.

Rosa Maria's house has a dirt floor as does Mirna's. Rosa's house has
outside brick walls alongside the walls of the houses next door and across
the front. It's about 24 feet wide, I'm guessing, and has some interior
posts to hold up the roof, but there are no interior walls. What they have
is boards or ropes stretched from the interior posts to the walls over
which is hung heavy brown plastic, to divide the area into rooms.
My room is in the front of the house, and has a rope stretched across,
hung with black plastic for the fourth wall. There is a multi-colored
crocheted curtain in the "doorway" that was made by daughter Fatima, very
pretty. There is also a wide shelf across one wall with a beautiful
crocheted cover, and some doilies, also made by Fatima. She's trying hard
to bring some beauty into their home. There is also a jar of giant
philodendron leaves on the shelf, and another on the table with the TV. If
you're wondering why I'm remarking on this stuff, it's because it's the
only house I stay in that has these concessions to beauty inside the dark
walls of the house.

Sept. 20
I gave my first-ever shot this morning and I'm surprised I did it.
Danelia came to work with a single-use hypodermic needle and a vial of
B-vitamins. She said the doctor ordered such shots for pain in her
shoulders, and she asked me to give it to her. I didn't want to, but with
everyone else coaching me (they all said they'd never done it either)
somehow I got the needle in and emptied. Thought I'd die.

Yesterday I went to a First Communion Mass with Rosa Maria and her
grandkids. It was in the Ermita de Dolores Church, so I finally got to see
the inside of the church I've passed by hundreds of times. It's a very
modest church and has quite a bit of statuary. Including one of the Virgin
de Dolores, which I noticed is mounted on wooden poles, as so many of them are, to be carried in processions. Each seems to have it's own

After the mass we were invited to the house where we were served lunch
and the kids had a pinata party. The house was the former home and offices
of an old doctor who died four years ago. His widow and some of his kids
live on the property, which is fairly extensive. But you would be amazed
at how modest the house and offices were.

A son, apparently a friend of Rosa's, sat with our group and talked of
his dreams for the place, then took a half-dozen of us for a walk on the
property. He wants to preserve the grounds as a natural forest, perhaps to
be used by the university for environmental studies. He said he hoped
there would be several small forests like his preserved in Leon before
everything is destroyed. He was an excellent guide as he indicated the
various trees and plants, and commented how this one needed that one nearby to grow well, etc. He hopes to do this privately, without asking for
government help. "They interfere," he said. "I don't think it would be a
natural forest with their rules."

It was an interesting afternoon. I wish him well

Sept. 21
Boy, did we get rain last night! I don't think it was any stronger
any time during Hurricane Mitch, but it didn't last as long, thank

It broke with a force none of us expected, and the thunder was right
on top of us, shaking the house. Rosa's roof didn't have too many leaks,
but where her house butts against the neighbor's wall, there is no
flashing, so the rain streaked down the wall (it doesn't in ordinary
storms) and Rosa ran around pulling everything away from the wall.
Too, her house having a dirt floor means it's at ground level. The
ground slopes toward the street, and her patio (back yard) is higher than
her "floor". That meant that the water was sheeting across the floor while
Rosa and Walter tried to keep it swept out. There is a drain in the back
yard, but the water was coming too fast. Little Allan (age 5) kept
asking me, "Se cae mi casa?" (Will my house fall down?) I kept telling him
it wouldn't, and hoped I was right.

Water ran down the street about 12 inches deep. It lasted for 5-6
hours is all. It was enough! The next morning the sun was out and hot and
drying. One would hardly have known it had rained in the night.

Sept. 23
I have little money to spend here, as you know, so what I have, I
think about hard, trying to think of what will do the most good.
They've had several thefts at the coop since I've been coming here.
There is a small garden area in the front of the building, surrounded by a
wall of concrete blocks six feet high. The blocks are attractive, but the
openwork makes a ladder for agile toes to climb. They part the barbed wire
at the top and come in and do damage. They not only cut colchas (cotton
blankets) off the looms, but they are so rough about it, it destroys the
threading and messes up the warp. That's worse than the lost blankets.
We decided, instead of an electric fence, to raise the wall. I got an
estimate for what it would cost and said "go ahead".

There are now three courses of plain concrete blocks, reinforced with
reebar, on top of the fence. And on top of that is a run of broken bottles
set in concrete. It looks formidable, and it's now 9 feet 2 inches high
not counting the broken glass. Putting the glass on top takes knowing how.
They made a "form" of boards on top of the blocks with rebar for
reinforcement, and poured (troweled) concrete into that, 5 inches deep.
For the glass, they bought a sack of old pop bottles which they broke
themselves and imbedded in the concrete. It has to be done so nothing can
hold water for mosquitoes to breed in. Three men worked two days on the job, not counting the day the "contractor" spent buying everything that was needed, and getting it delivered. They worked hard and I was impressed with the pains they took.

For this skilled work, I was charged 400 cordobas for all three of
them. That comes to $32.00 US at the current rate of exchange. I feel
ashamed of myself. There isn't a heck of a lot I'd do for $5 and a few
pennies a day. How about you?

I was tempted to give them more, but the women thought that was a lot
of money. Also, if I did, the next guy might think I was a real sucker and
try to take advantage. The whole job cost $100 material and labor.

Rosa Maria is a wonderful cook. In fact, part of her living is
cooking for others. She uses all the good things to cook with: onion,
garlic, parsley, green peppers, oregano, black pepper. The other weavers
avoid them like the plague and can't believe I really like that stuff.
When they ask me about how I want something cooked, I always say soup.
When they fry meat, chicken, or fish, it's fried to death, to me it seems
dried out and tough.

One evening Mirna's brother brought home several small fish he'd
caught in a net. Mirna cleaned them, leaving the heads and tails, and put
them on to fry. I timed it-- she fried them for 22 minutes. I was glad
I'd already had my dinner. I think this over-cooking (well, it's
over-cooking to me) is probably because they are taught to cook things
well-done for safety. They all seem to boil their milk and drink it hot or
warm-- they are pasteurizing it-- they don't drink raw milk.

For lunch one day Rosa brought me a fish she'd cooked with onion,
fresh peppers, and garlic. Black pepper, no salt, for me. She cooked it
wrapped in aluminum foil, in her frying pan. She kept turning it from side
to side, so it would cook evenly, like in an oven. (None of them has an
oven.) She said she learned that from a foreigner she cooked for. He
didn't like greasy food so he didn't want anything fried. The fish was
marvelous, and all the weaver's tasted it and asked questions, but they
picked away the onion and garlic.

Spaghetti here is something else. The sauce is "crema", a cream with
something to make it pinkish. It's sweet and smooth. I've been eating it
when it's served to me so they probably think I like it. I was ashamed of
myself last week. When I was presented a plate of spaghetti for lunch, I
just couldn't. I lied and told them I had an upset stomach, not to worry,
and just didn't eat lunch that day.

They often don't approve of my choice of food. I bought tuna fish,
mayonnaise and bread one day and suggested it would be an easy dinner, but
no, Mirna insisted on cooking. A sandwich wouldn't be good for me. What I
got instead was a mound of cold mashed potatoes surrounded by crackers. Of course the family ate rice and beans. If they'd lay off the salt, I'd
probably enjoy that.

I asked Mirian how her rabbits were after that big rain. She said
they all drowned. Poor things! Mirian's back yard is flat, and has a
concrete block wall on 3 sides, and a little curb to keep water out of her
kitchen. She, too, has a drain in her back yard, but she must have had six
inches of water, at least, build up in the yard. How awful for those
darling rabbits.

Monday, Sept. 27
Yesterday Rosa Maria's brother Manuel sent word that he had a big
lizard he thought we should come and see. We all got on the bus and went
to Poneloya.

Rosa's brother has a small restaurant and bar that overlooks a sandy
beach on the Pacific. Yesterday morning he looked out and saw a crocodile
on the beach. It was mad, he said, and I'm sure it was scared, too, to be
so far from home. Apparently the recent heavy rains washed it down from
whatever river it lived in, out to the ocean.

It got ashore, but wasn't doing too well maneuvering in the sand.
Manuel lassoed it, then got another rope around its jaws and took it to his
place. It's about 10 feet long. He put it in a water trough alongside his
well. There was a steady stream of visitors while we were there, including
a TV crew. He still has a rope tied around his middle, and Manuel would
pull it to raise the gator up so he could be seen. The gator would snap
his jaws and lash his tail, which kept everyone at a distance. I felt
sorry for him, but I wanted to see him, too, so I guess it sort of needed
doing. I hope he's getting some rest now (the gator, I mean.)

It rained all night and all this morning. I haven't gone to the coop
yet. It would mean wading through quite a bit of water. Kids are playing
in it, floating rubber flip-flops for boats, but I'm a bit old to get so
wet I think.

I've been really wanting to make a basket but I haven't seen any
suitable vines. Yesterday I asked Rosa Maria if I could cut some of the
air roots of her giant philodendrons. They grow outside here, of course,
and there are these long roots hanging down the walls. I cut a few and
started weaving them, then Rosa cut a whole bunch of it. I know you're
supposed to work with dried material but I didn't have any. I've made a
couple of small baskets, one to keep garlic in. Now I expect someone to
tell me that philodendron roots are poisonous. They may crumble to dust
when they dry for all I now, but right now they are rough and I love them.

I was hoping to get to Guatemala this trip, since I was so near, but
it isn't going to be. The week I planned to go with Danelia we had so much
rain there were floods in the north of Nicaragua and Honduras and El
Salvador. The rain has been pretty steady right along, and today, after
raining steadily all last night and all day today, there was lots of
flooding shown on TV tonight. Not a good time to travel by bus.

Weds. Sept 29
There's a yellow alert out for the whole country, and flooding


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