Nicaraguans, especially those that live in the countryside, have the tendency to be less than punctual. In Peace Corps we call this “la hora Nica” - i.e., plan for activities to start an hour or so later than scheduled - as opposed to “la hora Gringa” – things start right on time. It can be hard to count on people to be where they say they’re going to be at the time they say they’ll be there. Even when you make a concrete plan with someone, they’ll often throw in the caveat “si Dios quiere” – if God wants it. Basically, with all commitments the idea is that people will show up if they can – provided it’s not raining too hard, they didn’t feel lazy that day, or something else didn’t come up. If a meeting starts at two, the majority of those that are coming will probably be there around three. Some may show up even later.
I am getting used to this part of the culture. I padded the agenda of the community meeting I held recently with ample time to make up for the late arrival of 90% of the participants. You learn that it’s necessary to schedule things for an hour earlier than you actually want to start. You also learn not to try to do more than a couple of things in the day – one activity for the morning, one for the afternoon. And even that may be pushing it.
Yesterday I got a better idea of why people have this mentality. I was going around inviting people to another meeting to discuss the computer center idea, and I had to go out to the farthest house in the community – the last house on the other side of the river. I went with two chavalos (kids) from my neighborhood. We crossed the bridge and started trekking through the mud. I was wearing hiking boots, luckily. The farther out we got away from the bridge, the deeper the mud became. We ran into an older lady resting by the side of the road and offered to help her carry a jug of milk and a bag of tortillas back to her house. The mud got deeper. One of the kids had on sandals, and by this time you couldn’t even tell he was wearing anything on his feet. The bottoms of my jeans were caked with mud.
Finally, we got to the last house. We sat on the lady’s porch for a minute to rest, and we chatted about the meeting. “Well, I’ll do the best I can,” she said. “But I don’t use the bridge, and the water’s up to my waist now.”
“Why don’t you use the bridge?” I asked.
“It makes me dizzy.” It’s a suspension bridge, and it does bounce a bit, but I’m still surprised to learn how many people in the community prefer to ford the river rather than use it. Talking to this lady, I started to understand a bit better why people consider all plans tentative. If it has rained a lot the river may be un-crossable. Also, if the path gets any muddier, even the bridge might not be a good option.
“Ok,” I said, “Well I hope to see you there.”
“I’ll be there,” she said, “Si Dios quiere.”