Leon, Nicaragua

May 11, 1996

Hola, todos:
     The wood we got for loom repair turned out to be caoba Ė mahogany.  Gorgeous wood.  They cut it to our dimensions, 2" by 6" and it isnít 1 Ĺ" x 5 Ĺ", either.  Iíd love to take a bunch of it home with me.  Not sure what Iíd do with it, but I do love wood.  And it only costs 64 cents a board foot.  

Itís hot and has been humid for two weeks.  The lady at the bank said 38 degrees Centigrade was 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, so these days of 40
̊ C to 45̊ C arenít cool.  Sweat runs off me all the time, and off the others, too, but I was told as long as I have a sheen of perspiration, Iím fine.  If I ever get dry, itís a sign of dehydration.  So I drink lots of water, mostly lukewarm, all day long.  I wonít let them provide too many Cokes anymore, either.  Iíve cut back to one Coke a day, telling them I prefer agua.  The food situation has improved tremendously.  I do get salt-free meals, or nearly so.  The sugar is cut way back, and now they only give me twice as much as I want, not three times as much.

Well, Cecilio and I went to a carpenter and arranged for him to cut our beautiful mahogany into 24 inch lengths, band-saw out a U-cut, and drill three holes the six-inch distance in each piece.  They asked me to sit and watch until they got everything right, then I went back to the weavers.  Three hours later the carpenters were finished.  It cost about $18 American for 28 pieces to be cut.  They hauled them down in a wheelbarrow.

The roofs on the houses right here are metal, corrugated, though there are still lots of tile roofs around.  The underside if the roof is the ceiling Ė that is, there is nothing between the walls and the roof.  The gable is widely-spaced boards to provide ventilation.  Sensible.  But I have to tell you, you ainít lived until youíve been awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of a mango hitting the metal roof over your head.  It sounds like a bomb.

Iíve been here almost a month and the initial shock of seeing how little these people have has been tempered by the lives they live.
Mirianís house is full of people, mostly teen-agers like her own kids.  Cousins and friends who wander in and out, as her kids do in other houses.  They talk, they tease, they sing, they play ball in the street.  The adults are back and forth, too, sometimes cooking at Mirianís fireplace or using her wash sink.  Mirian has less than some others.  Her house has never been painted, she has no fancy grille work on her windows or doors as her brother next door has.  On the other side lives a niece and her family (wonderful kids).  Husband and wife both work.  He worked in Miami for two years until the job gave out.  They replaced wooden shutters in windows with glass louvers and curtains went up.  Their house is painted inside and out, just since Iíve been here, the front yard and patio landscaped and it looks very like Florida.  

There are no telephones in the neighborhood.  If someone needs to make a phone call, they go to the phone company, tell them who they want to call, then go sit on a bench until the connection is made and they are called to the phone.

Most streets have no names and the houses arenít usually numbered.  People seldom if ever get mail.  Telling a taxi driver where you want to go is simple: you just give him the name of the nearest church and tell him how many blocks up or down and sideways to go from there.  For me, who never knows east from west, of north from south, itís a real process.  I do lots of walking, miles of walking.  Thank goodness I did all that walking in Wenatchee before I came here.  And God bless SAS shoes.  No foot problems at all.

    Weíve worked every Saturday since Iíve been here, so weíre putting in six day weeks.  Weíve been walking a different way to work, less dusty than the way we started but it takes five minutes longer so itís now one-half hour to work.  Ana Mariaís is farther yet, but I donít know how much.  Iíll be there sometime this coming week.

    When I was in Mendocino with Lolli I packed up three boxes of 20/2 thread to send here.  One of the boxes was an apple box from Washington State.  When the container was unloaded, I sorted out the boxes for the weavers.  Lee loaded them in his van with a bunch of boxes for the Maryknoll Sisters, and the apple box got left with the Sisters.  When Lee brought the two boxes of yarn, a package of reeds and a box of paper to the weavers, I told him about the other box, the one with the ďmanzana rojoĒ on the sides.
    Every day the weavers asked me about the box with the apple.  When finally Lee brought it, Cecilio and I were preparing to go to the hardware store and left.  When we got back the box, unopened, was sitting on a table.  Ana Maria asked if she could open it, got a knife and cut the tape.  When they lifted the lid, you should have seen their faces fall when they saw the yarn.  They were expecting apples!  They laughed a lot about that, when they got over their shock.

Iím supposed to provide my own lunch, but since they provide it, I provide something.  When I get to the supermercado I buy Wenatchee apples if I can afford them.  They cost 79 cents apiece.  The goldens, that is.  The Red Delicious come in different sizes, so sometimes I get small red ones.  About 30 cents apiece: they cut them in sixths and eat core and all.  I love telling them the apples are from ďmi puebloĒ Ė my town.  They love it too.

They canít afford to buy potatoes at 25 cents a pound, so apples are out of the question for them.  Someone suggested I buy potatoes for the family so I did.  I picked out perfect little boilers while Cecilio watched in horror and kept pointing at the price.  I guess he decided I was a rich American.

To my surprise, Yenifer fried the potatoes.  Cut them into perfect tiny French fries.  Delicious.

Here, milk comes in plastic bags, as do lots of sweet fruit drinks.  No one has refrigeration unless they have a little store.  Food for the evening meal is mostly purchased hot, just before dinner, except for the gallo-pinto or rice, both of which would be superb if they werenít so salty.

If youíve been hearing about the explosion of evangelical Christianity in Latin America, itís true here.  There are two houses near here that have meetings every week, and I hear joyful singing and hand-clapping from them.  The husband next door is an evanjelico. Lots of cars and pickups have decals that say ďJehova es mi PastorĒ or ďJesus es AmorĒ, things like that.  They say itís primarily because the Pope, on his visit to Latin America several years ago, blew it.  He told the priests they shouldnít be involved in social welfare causes, and they shouldnít oppose their governments which were oppressive dictatorships and women should keep having lots of babies for the church.  He was here in February this year, and while he was welcomed and idolized by many, the newspapers (many of which I read) reminded people what he said back then.

There is hardly any paper here.  Thatís why Iím writing on one-sided paper as they call old letters that I get from Leeís office.  People donít have rags, either, maybe one or two for cleaning that they take care of.

I donít know what happens on week days when the girls are in school, but on Sundays the girls are forever sweeping and mopping.  Itís 10 a.m. right now, and the house has been mopped twice already.  They wet down the yard and sweep it several times a day.  Last Sunday I counted seven times!

The girls wash clothes a lot.  I decided to do some of my own laundry to cut down on their labor, and I find their system very effective.  I really get dirty, too.  Embarrassingly so.  Itís all that carpenter work on the looms.

I told Hector, in the Estados Unidos, men wash clothes, sweep floors, cook and wash dishes.  And if he wants to go to the United States heíll have to learn to do that first.  Iíve reached the point that I tease him that when he gets to California, Immigration will ask him if he washes his own clothes and if he says ďNoĒ they wonít let him in.

Everybody seems to have some kind of a relative in the U.S. who has sent pictures home.  The mothers here want something better for their sons and daughters, so they ask me about it.  I tell them the most important thing is for them to become bilingual.  It is important for them to be able to read and write Spanish well.  There are many Hispanics in the U.S. who donít read and write Spanish well.  For people who are fluent in both Spanish and English there are lots of jobs, but itís difficult for those who arenít.  I really believe that.

The family I live with doesnít have a clock or a watch.  Thereís no problem getting up in the morning, the roosters tend to that.  They start crowing at 4 a.m., in fact.  The kids go to school from seven to eleven and are gone by 6:30.  (School apparently is in two sessions because the streets are full of kids in their blue and white school uniforms when we are walking home around six in the evening.  The weavers in the studio donít have a clock, either.  This may have something to do with their long hours.  They work until they are done or exhausted.  Iíve never before seen people work so hard.

A small plane is flying overhead this Sunday morning, circling this area.  There is a loudspeaker that is amazingly clear, and a preacher telling people to accept Christo now.  When he stops talking, a trumpet solo of ďHow Great Thou ArtĒ plays.  Heís moving on to the next section, and is more faint.  Evanjelico.

Hector wants to take me to the Casa Cultura this afternoon at three.  I want to go.  Alan took me to the bank to open an account because Lee will be gone in June, and I shouldnít be walking around with cash on me, but I canít write checks to anyone Ė Iíll go to the bank and withdraw however much money I need in U.S. dollars, then exchange for cordobas, maybe at the bank, maybe on a street corner.  Lots of guys to exchange with on the street corners.

Ah-yo,
Elaine

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