Monday, September 20, 2010

100 Things

I first heard about the 100 Thing Challenge while traveling in Belgium two years ago. Since then, the idea has grown much more popular. (See this website Those who accept the challenge strive to reduce their stock of personal belongings to only 100 things. I find this idea appealing, though whether or not it is possible depends entirely on how you count (i.e., do you count every fork and every t-shirt, or do you count ‘forks’ as one item and ‘shirts’ as another?). On the website, the originator of the challenge says to count only items that are mostly or entirely yours, not shared by a family or roommates. Since I live alone, these rules mean I would have to count everything in my house. For fun, I recently made a list of everything I own, just to see how many things I have. It turns out that if you include multiples of any item – food, books, pens, cups – you will quickly reach 100, no matter how minimalist your lifestyle; whereas, if you don’t count multiples, it could potentially be very easy for anyone to get under 100 things.

I have never owned what I consider to be a lot of things. I move often – in fact, if I stay through the end of my service in the house I am renting, I will have lived here longer than in any place in the last 12 years – and so it behooves me to be able to fit all of my belongings into a mini-van. I came to Nicaragua with less than 100 pounds of stuff*, a fraction (though a significant one) of my total belongings. I have acquired many items since arriving here, mostly necessary household things: a stove, a mini-fridge, dishes, a broom, a hammock, etc. My life here feels quite modest – I don’t have a single rug, a television, or any upholstered furniture - yet I am amazed at how much stuff I own in comparison with many of my Nicaraguan neighbors.

Stuff clings to me like burrs. It seems every time I leave the house I come back with more. Be it books from the Peace Corps library, groceries, used clothing from one of Esteli’s Ropa Americana stores, care packages, new pens or markers, whatever. It amazes me how my house seems to fill up on its own, without any conscious effort on my part. I thought this process was particular to the developed world and that it would not be part of my life in Nicaragua. However, I now think that this tendency to acquire things is a cultural attribute that comes with having grown up in a materialistic society. It’s not even necessarily that I am spending money to acquire these items. Many times they are gifts or things someone else is throwing out.

I am planning to come back to the US with almost nothing, and it gives me great joy to think about all the stuff I will be giving away or selling at the end of my service.

*This might be a more accurate way of counting how much stuff a person owns. It would certainly be much less open to interpretation than ‘100 things’. Though depending on the weight goal, it might be impossible to own things like a piano or a refrigerator or, for that matter, furniture. Maybe one ton of stuff would be a good goal.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Flooding of the Rio Viejo

Here are some images of flooding in my site this rainy season. This first one is of me standing in the road that passes in front of my house after it rained yesterday.

Here you can see where people will be losing part of the corn harvest, on top of the beans they've already lost due to excessive rains.

This river went completely dry during last year's drought and subsequent dry season.

What looks like a creek here is actually a road.

The water level rose high enough to enter many people's houses, some up to knee deep.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rainy Season Blues

I am getting pretty sick of the rainy season. It has been a rough one so far. Last year many farms lost their harvests due to drought; this year the farmers are losing again, only this time due to excessive rain. It has rained so much that the river actually changed course, overflowing its banks and taking over a dirt road as its new channel. Some families downstream have had to leave their houses for fear that they will be swept away in the night.

My yard is a complete swamp. My garden has drowned, and in its place a jungle has grown, practically overnight. Almost every other day I have to blaze a new trail to the latrine with my machete. I don’t even consider leaving the house without putting on rubber boots. And because there are so many places for mosquitoes to lay eggs, mosquito-borne diseases have been especially bad this year all over Nicaragua. Several of my neighbors have had fevers I’m convinced were dengue.

But the thing that is really making me hate the rainy season is that all of my clothes, my shoes, and even my bed smell like an old lady’s basement. I feel singularly helpless about the situation because on top of the excessive rains, we’ve had power outages. And when there’s no electricity, there’s no running water either, since our water system requires electricity. So ironically, we’re suffering both from too much and not enough water. Even if I could do the wash, there is a high probability that my stuff wouldn’t dry before it rains again, which would just start the mold cycle all over again. Just this once I would love to throw everything in a washing machine and then dry it in a dryer – even my pillows, my mattress, and my hiking boots, all of which are being taken over by mold.

I am grateful not to be among those who have lost their houses or their bean crops, of course; but I seem to forget every time I pick up a shirt and realize it’s too stinky to wear even though I’ve just washed it. Everyone says September and October are the rainiest months. We’ll see what they bring this year.