Elaine, Leon, Nicaragua

July 23, 1999

My first morning I woke to the TV Noticias. It was all about a nation in pain, mourning the loss of "Jon Jon" Kennedy, and at least 20 minutes was given to a review of the Kennedy presidency with all those endearing pictures of JFK Jr. as a child -- always referred to as "Jon Jon". Last night was a somber presentation of the burial at sea. I, too, mourn.

Food here being such a problem as they try to please me, I decided to go to the market yesterday and take charge. For breakfast, I bought three packages of a local granola and a box of powdered milk. It turned out that the milk was from New Zealand and is rich whole milk. I should have read the label more carefully. It never occurred to me it wouldn't be non-fat. I'll probably get used to it.

I also bought toilet paper for the coop and for the house where I'm staying (Mirian's) because it's a luxury they don't allow themselves so I feel guilty when they buy it for me. This time I read the label. It says its completely biodegradable, is good for the health, will not contaminate the water, will not pollute the environment. I liked the reference to the burning, because all the people I know here do not flush their paper but put it in a pail and burn it. I assume that's because they usually use pages from their kid's old spiral notebooks for "papel hygenico" and that won't flush.

They had too much rain here in June. I could see from the plane that the lakes were too high, with trees standing in water around the edges. But July has been too dry, they say. There hasn't been any rain since I've been here but that's what, four days? I guess the specter of last year's constant rain is still with me. Danelia is out watering the pipian (summer squash) that is small and limp, where last year it was lush and fruitful.

Danelia is not well. She went to the doctor Wednesday and came back and showed me medicine I was not familiar with. She also showed me a 2 1/2 inch wide cotton band stretched around her chest and a "mecate" (rope) she called it, a 3/8 inch soft cotton cord tied around her lower abdomen. She gave me medical terms I didn't know, probably wouldn't even know in English. And still she works.

My Spanish has improved but I'm not sure my Nicaraguan has. I had no problem with the Spanish of the women from Pro-Mujer nor that of the Italians who did not speak English. The taxi driver, who was obviously educated, and I conversed easily for 90 kilometers or so. On the NICA plane to Managua I watched "Shakespeare in Love" in Spanish and had no problem with it. It's still a struggle to understand the people of the villages and the women of the coop. But I shall learn.

Danelia has brought a hammock to the coop and they make me take a siesta after lunch. Yes, they make me-- they take me by the arm and lead me too it and say: "Descanse, Elenita" and that’s that. I rest, I nap, and so far am grateful for it.

We do start the day with a 35 minute walk to work in an already hot sun. Their day is arduous, but so far mine isn't. Right now they are putting on a 100 yard warp for colchas (blankets) on Mirna's loom. You wouldn't believe how difficult that is with six or seven bodies straining to maintain the tight tension needed (to wind the warp on the back beam).

Oh, God-- Cecilio's mama just came by. She's home from the hospital, and had to go to the Centro de Salud (Health Center) for a check up. Of course that meant a lot of walking, and a rough ride on a bus. She seemed glad to see me and talked a bit. No more red meat, she said, only chicken, vegetables, and fruit. "And no salt, " I said, and she laughed and said, "Si, no salt." She's pale, and looks weak.

I'd hate to be sick and come home to the homes these women do. But that's a good share of the world. We're spoiled, and how much, we don't know.

There's a good crop of mangoes on the tree here at the coop, and they are bigger than in years past. I remember the year we had the big flood in Northern California and how marvelous the rhododendrons were the following spring. So maybe this is one benefit of Hurricane Mitch.

There's a new school, public, up near Mirian's house, built with international aid since the hurricane. I'd like to see lots more schools. That is one thing this country needs.

The road from Managua too Leon is beautiful now, no longer full of pot holes (but that will come, as it does to all roads.) The road is still a 2 lane highway, but it's wider, well-marked, and has reflectors along both outside edges, and it has wide verges so the broken-down trucks and cars no longer have to park in the road proper. There are new bridges all the way, and the road was straightened. I could see the washed-out bridges of "Meetch" off to the side as we passed them. Everyone's proud of the highway and tell me it was done with "ayuda internacional" (international help).

I forgot to pack my hair-cutting equipment this year (and my earrings and I'll find out what else in time.) No electric clippers doesn't mean I don't give haircuts. I gave four haircuts today, all with the coop's kitchen Fiscars that I brought down last year so they wouldn't use their good scissors to cut cardboard. Ana Maria's hair was beautiful as it was, but she wanted one of those danged "hongo" (mushroom) cuts. It came out pretty good, considering. Danelias's cut is cute, and she looks ten years younger or more.

During all this hair cutting I'm sweating and there's a breeze and the cut hair flies to my face and arms so when I get through with a cut I look as if I need a shave. It's hard to get off, too, and I still have some sticking to me.

Ana is now winding skeins for a new dye job. I, for one, really enjoy the dyeing and they seem to too. Especially since the acquisition last year of the automatic washer to spin out the water. I think they are getting a bit more sophisticated about color, too.



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