Landing in a third-world airport beats a trip to the local theme park anyday. Those of us who weren't soundly asleep as we flew over Nicaragua were treated to a magnificent landscape full of lakes, rivers, islands, and volcanoes before experiencing the touchdown onto the actual runway; those of us whose heads were buried in our pillows experienced only the whiplash and the sheer terror. With a loud and sudden "boompf," American Airlines Flight 969 smacked the Managua runway like an Olympic snowboarder about to lose his footing. The plane bounced twice for good measure, as if to say, "Welcome to Nicaragua -- now pay attention!"
And pay attention we have. We've been in the country for only a day and a half now, and already we've done enough to fill pages. Our first meal was in the house of Irene, a cheerful hostess and the owner of the oldest building in Granada, constructed in the 1500s. The house had belonged to her grandparents but was confiscated during the Sandinista regime. For many years it was the headquarters of the chief of police, but eventually it fell into decay. Five generations' worth of paintings were looted, the century-old piano was taken for an officers' club, and the structure itself eventually began to give way. When it was finally in ruins, Irene was able to regain the house as the rightful heiress; these days, it's a breathtaking Nicaraguan dwelling featuring impressive collections of paintings, artwork, sculpture, and other manifestations of culture. We were treated to an amazing pork dinner served on fine dishes. All of us were overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality we were shown.
A student holds one of Irene's puppies!
Today was the first day of classes. For our first class, the eight of us gathered around a monitor as Dr. Bryant, our heroic professor, lectured in Spanish over the history of Nicaragua. The U.S. has a long history of intervention in this country, from the Monroe Doctrine to manipulating Nicaraguan politics in the era before the Panama Canal. Many actions have been taken by the U.S. Congress to defend the interests of businesses located here. By the end of two weeks, I hope to have gained an appreciation of the long history between the two countries, and what can be done to improve relations. To this day, the U.S. is often referred to as "El tiburon," or "the shark."We broke up into groups of four for our next two classes. My group was with Senor Bayaro first, who had us participate in conversations. Then, we went over the grammatical corrections he had for us -- never the mistakes, only the corrections. That way, we will forget out mistakes entirely. The second class was with Senora Cecilia, who taught us the legend of "la chancha bruja," or "the pig witch." Apparently, a famous witch once brought a small big out into the street and made it expand until no one could cross. These days, children generally don't believe these stories: when she tried to teach it to a group of young children, they all responded, "No hay una chanca bruja!" ("There isn't a pig witch!")
This afternoon I headed to Los Pipitos, a school for children with disabilities, with three others in my group to do volunteer work. Most of the children are only able to communicate in a limited fashion, so there was a gap to bridge at first. I'd brought my favorite Spanish-language magazine with me -- "Winnie el Pooh" -- and read to a couple of the kids for a while. We also played ball and did arts and crafts; I taught one of the kids how to peel the backs off of stickers and stick them to papers. He was soon hooked. I think we went through at least thirty alphabet stickers, though we didn't quite manage to spell anything today! My job for the two weeks is to build a website for Los Pipitos (I brought my laptop, and I'm staying with the owner of a local Internet cafe) so I'm excited to try my hand at that.
I've been too busy living my schedule to take much time to look it over, but in a couple of days I know we'll be off to do some turisty things. One weekend we're going to the beach; another, we're going to go off a zipline on a volcano. (There are volcanoes everywhere here, and the natives have told us they're still active. I can't determine if they're serious or not, yet.) I should be able to write again soon, so stay tuned!