Nicaragua completes our year of travel. This time we tried something a little different than our normal trips by spending much of our time volunteering at La Esperanza, Granada, Nicaragua a learning center for children of all ages who come to learn English, Math and Art. Ched has a bit of advantage over most volunteers, including me, since he is retired from the school system in the US after 24 years of teaching. He has a Masters in Education and a Masters in Art, yet what we have experienced here is nothing like he has ever dealt with in his many years of teaching. He has a special ability to communicate with children that is very impressive, which really came in handy here. Very few of the volunteers who come here have any experience in teaching and only a few speak any Spanish.
We’ve seen so many of the children that are dedicated to learning English, the class we have been volunteering for, and they come every single day although they are not required to do so. I have to wonder how many children in the U.S. would make that same commitment without being required to. The poverty level here is horrific as we are reminded each and every time we make that 2- mile walk to school through congested, trash filled streets, fighting our way through the crowds of people at 7 in the morning. A typical day’s walk to school consist of dodging in and out of people pushing wooden carts with wooden wheels packed with fruits and vegetables dropping them off at roadside stands that offer them for sale. The majority of the time the streets are muddy with cars driving through pushing people out of the way as they go, honking their horns at people, bicycles, and animals, dogs and horses that are wondering about the streets. I have yet to see a pasture with horses but I have seen many horses wondering around freely feeding on any grass they are fortunate enough to find. Most of the homes here are small shed type buildings with tin roofs, some with dirt floors and some structures are nothing more than a stable with no walls only tin nailed together, yet you see families living there.
After passing the market area we see buses lined up going to Rivas another city about an hour south of Granada. Most people here, “the gringos”, refer to them as the “chicken buses” for obvious reasons. You can see most anything being transported on these buses along with the people including chickens. A bus ride to Rivas is offered for less than one US dollar. We also walk pass a Tortilla Stand with two young girls making and selling tortillas to people who pass by. As we pass the homes many of the children wave to us that we later see at school and many of them we never see at school.
The horse and wagon still play a big part in day-to-day life in Nicaragua. You rarely go out without seeing them being used along the streets for hauling everything from building supplies to fire wood to furniture. The most unique transportation still in use here today is the horse drawn hearse with glass all around displaying the person who has passed to spirit inside with white fabric draped along the glass. It’s common to see the funeral procession moving slowly down the street with the family walking behind hearse.
There are many grand old buildings in Granada, beautiful churches, hotels and scads of restaurants. One favorite place to visit is the Choco Museo. They teach you all about Cocoa, which grows all around this area, along with giving you many samples tempting you to either sit and have one of their delicious drinks or perhaps take some home. I opted for the Chocolate Mojito and Ched had one of the non-alcoholic drinks both of which were very tasty. Next door at the Coco Spa they offer facials with a cocoa base. I did not try the facial thinking that it seems a shame to waste all that delicious chocolate but the massages they also offer look very tempting.
Granada is quite beautiful despite all the poor living conditions. Central Park located in the city center is a gathering place for locals as well as a few tourist. It’s usually hard to find a seat on the many benches in the park where people come to enjoy the air. I would have to assume they come here since most of the places here do not have air-conditioning. One of the most important things I have noticed is that the local people seem to be happy with very little stress despite their living conditions. I suppose the statement I’ve heard so often in life applies here: “You don’t miss what you never had”.
The main street starting at Central Park and running all the way down to the lake is called Calle La Calzada although the locals call it “Calle Gringo”. The reason they call it Calle Gringo is because that is where all the tourist, as well as Ex-pats, gather at the outdoor cafe’s most every night. This street is very good for people watching if you’re into that sort of thing and I’ve been known to do a little people watching in my time. Many of the locals will come by to entertain you, everything from Musicians to Acrobats twirling fire sticks, not to mention many of the locals pass by the tables attempting to sell their wares to who ever may be sitting there. You will also see a few panhandlers, especially one woman with six children and one on the way who works the area every night, having her children work all the people for money or whatever they can get stopping at each and every table and refusing to leave until they get what they want. She can get pretty nasty if you refuse to contribute to her family fund. Apparently business is good because the children appear well fed and healthy. Another interesting point I observed was various different American or possibly Canadian men, elderly to say the least with very young Nicaraguan women or should I say “girls”. Many of these men look to be in their 80’s and the girls could be anywhere from their teens to late 20’s. I had to stop and say a little prayer for these girls realizing how desperate they must be to feed themselves or their families to accept a life such as this. I did pay close attention trying to recognize any U.S politicians or Hollywood Actors or Directors that may possibly be in the area. I have to report none seen at this time. LOL!
When we are not volunteering at the school we have been able to take a couple of side trips to some beautiful areas near Granada. One of my favorites was a boat trip to the islands located out in Granada Lake, Monkey Island, Rock Island, and San Pablo Fortress.
San Juan Del Sur on the Pacific Coast was another weekend trip. The area was beautiful with a lot of Expats living there and a few bars and restaurants where most of them spent time, one popular place was Big Wave Daves.
Our time has come to an end in Granada, celebrating the last day of school with a Christmas Party for the children. Just as the rest of the Christmas Celebrations we have observed while being here the party was quite unusual. About 100 children stood in line in the rain outside La Esperanza waiting to get in as the party started much later than the time they had been told. Once the gate opened the room filled quickly and the sounds of the children talking and laughing were out of control. The people who were in charge were all natives with a little help from the volunteers. As I stood there looking around the room and wondering what they may have planned for activities or games for the children, (as we would expect back home), I noticed one of the women in charge walking about the room with a balloon stuffed inside her shirt looking as if she was about to give birth. At first I thought she was making a joke but she never took the balloon out of her shirt. Then I noticed four giant speakers that had been brought in and another one of the guys with a computer selecting music to play. I thought this to be a bit odd since we had been told for the entire time we were there no Wi-Fi was available. Suddenly the music started and was turned up so loud you could hear for blocks away. The DJ stopped the music and the girl with the balloon in her shirt stepped to the center of the room asking for children to come up and enter a dance contest that was about to begin. Several children that appeared to be 9 to 10 years old stepped up to enter the contest. The music started with Salsa and a variety of other music and the dance began. We were in total shock to see children of this age, or any age for that matter, bumping, grinding, and doing the bootie shake that I have seen in a few late night clubs back home. The girls were rubbing up against the boys and the boys rubbing up against the girls. At the end of the dance they ask the rest of the children to judge the winner with applause of hands. After announcing the winner this group sat down and another group of much younger children got up to dance performing the same moves. This time there were 5 and 6 year olds. We go to the Latin Socials often back home and have seen some hot steamy moments on the dance floor but never have we seen anything like this. I have to wonder is this the culture here?
At the end of the dance contest the girl who had been walking around with the balloon in her shirt since the beginning of the party started to move about the room moaning and groaning and producing an odd scream turning her back to the crowd of children she popped the balloon under her shirt then turned around again holding up a baby doll shouting “Praise Jesus”. A few of the male volunteers started to march around the room toward her carrying flowers and other gifts. Not until that time did we realize she was attempting to reenact the birth of Jesus.
Although the party was not over for the children it was for us. We said our goodbyes and walked our two miles back to La Casita soon to be on our way back home to the States.