Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Typical Day

5:00 am. Wake up to the sounds of roosters crowing and my neighbor cutting firewood. Crawl out from under my mosquito net. Stumble up the hill to the latrine.

5:15 am. As soon as I hear my neighbor making tortillas, set out for a run.

6:00 am. Back from my run, go to my neighbor’s house to fill up buckets with water for the day. make oatmeal and tea for breakfast.

6:30 am. Water my garden, weed, take care of my plants, maintain my compost pile, sweep my house and my patio, and straighten things up around the house.

7:30-10 am. Hammock time. Read books, write in my journal, kick around ideas for the novel I want to write, come up with blog posts, do Sudoku puzzles, listen to my ipod, play my guitar, think about projects I might do in my community.

10 am. Now that it’s good and hot, it’s time for the water sports. Go up the hill to my former host family’s house and bucket bathe. Then do whatever laundry I have. I find it’s easier to keep up with it if I do it every couple of days instead of letting it pile up. I also hand wash my shoes, a practice I intend to keep up once I return to the US.

11:00 am. Lunch – either beans, rice, and tortillas at my host family’s house or whatever I can whip up using my propane stove. Yesterday it was whole wheat pasta with peanut sauce and Swiss chard from my garden. Sometimes my next door neighbor gives me an egg or two if her chicken has laid that day.

12-3 pm. More hammock time.

3-5 pm. This is when I do the bulk of my actual work, since this is when people are available to meet. If there are no meetings scheduled then I go around and visit people. This involves a lot of sitting around and talking about the weather – it hasn’t rained in way too long, and all the producers are worried about it – a lot of super-sweet and very weak coffee, and a lot of sweet bread and corn cookies. Sometimes there is corn on the cob, but that is trailing off.

5:30 pm. Dinner. (See Lunch)

6-7 pm. Hang out with my host family.

7-8 pm. I’m trying to get into the new soap opera, Rastro de Analia (Analia’s Face), since my whole host family – aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings – watch it every night. But the plot is pretty cheesy. Basically Analia is a sexy undercover spy who is trying to get even with the people who killed her lover. There are a lot of costume changes into ever more revealing dresses that show off Analia’s fake boobs and long legs. They should probably call the show something else, because the chick’s face is definitely not the focus.

8 pm. Go back to my little house and read in bed until I fall asleep.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Since arriving in my community, I have become acutely aware of my relationship with plastic. There is no trash pick up in this town. I imagine that this arrangement wasn't a problem before the advent of plastic packaging. People could just throw their corncobs wherever, and they would dry out and decompose. Same thing goes for any other kind of organic waste. But now almost everything comes with plastic - from bars of soap to bags of fruit to bottled drinks. And there is nowhere for it to go. Many people continue to treat all garbager as though it were as innocuous as corncobs; hence, the town is littered with chip wrappers, shredded shopping bags, and crushed soda bottles. For my own waste, I've started a compost pile, which takes care of most of what I generate - unlike my Nicaraguan friends, I'm not comfortable just chucking stuff - but the plastic I don't know what to do with. I save bottles for reuse as seed trays, but that still leaves me with all kinds of plastic packaging. Currently, I save it up and dump it in a waste basket in one of the bigger towns.

I'd like to say that I was working on eradicating plastic from my life, but if corn takes first place as the root of Nicaraguan culture, plastic might come in a close second (ditto for America). Plastic chairs are a must for receiving visitors in one's home. Without them, the social fabric of Nicaragua might come apart. Plastic water vessels are also indispensible, as the town only has running water for two hours a day. On my meager salary, which is not even as meager as what most Nicaraguans live on, it would be practically impossible to furnish my home without relying on Plastinic, the country's chain store where all things plastic are sold. Everything in my PC medical kit is packaged in plastic. I also must admit that I cherish packaged foods in a way that I never did in the relatively parasite-free land of my birth.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that doing without plastic does not seem either realistic or desireable. At the same time, it is important to recognize that plastic doesn't just go away. We as a species are choking out the oceans with plastic garbage (look up the Eastern Garbage Patch). Here in my community plastic trash is a horrible eyesore. Even when it finds its way to a landfill, our plastic trash will basically never decompose.

Plastic is a case in point for th edifferences between environmental problems in Nicaragua and in the US. Here, environmental problems are immediate and in your face. Pesticide use is contaminating the rivers that many people still use to wahs their clothing and themselves, and deforestation is changing rainfall patterns, causing farmers to lose crops. As in the case of plastic, there are good reasons why people keep spraying - otherwise they might lose their crops to pests or diseases - and cutting down trees - they need the firewood and the farmland. But environmental issues are never simple. If they were, they probably wouldn't become issues in the first place.