Tropical Storm Matthew hit Nicaragua last week. For the first time in my almost year and a half here, the Peace Corps put its Emergency Action Plan into effect. For me, this meant that for one night I stayed in a hotel in Estelí playing cards and watching reality shows. The storm turned out to be less dramatic than expected – at least during that first day. After we went back to our sites, though, it just kept raining. In my part of Nicaragua, the storm has been more dreary than dangerous. But in other places bridges have been washed out, and entire neighborhoods have been inundated.
Even here, though the river did not overflow its banks, it would be hard to overstate how wet it got. No one has done laundry in the last five days because absolutely nothing can dry. My yard has gone from jungle to swamp. All the weeds have turned brown and fainted into the muck. The ground is so soft on some of the little roads you can sink in up to your knees if you make a wrong step.
Although today was a nice day, the first without rain in quite a while, we Peace Corps volunteers been advised that we are not allowed to leave our sites due to the state of many roads and bridges around the country. Lake Managua is full, and many people living around the lake have lost their homes. Also, according to rumors that are flying around my community, there may be another storm system headed our way.
Ironically, everyone spent the whole year praying for rain. I have been here now for two harvests. The first one was bad because of a drought. This second one is even worse because of too much rain. It all leads one to wonder, do they ever have a good year? I asked one of the farmers I know when the last time was that they had a good harvest, and his reply was, “Ah, well, not last year, and not the year before that. I think it was---yep, it was three years ago.” Which means that in the past four years only one has been good for farmers here. To me, those do not seem like great odds.
The silver lining to this rain cloud is that even with a poor harvest, most families are able to scrape together at least enough to feed themselves for the year. I asked my neighbors (a family of four) how much they needed to put away, and they told me they like to have 8 quintales (800 pounds) of corn and 4 quintales (400 pounds) of beans. This year they just barely made it. However, since they didn’t produce enough to sell, they will have no cash to buy things like sugar, oil, coffee, clothing, shoes, and soap. Likely, the man of the house will travel to another community in the off-season to cut coffee or work in a tomato field.
No doubt, this has been a bad year, the worst in a long time, according to some. But what I realize from my conversations with people is that a bad year is really not out of the ordinary. Yes, it’s bad, but bad is normal. As I heard my neighbor Marina say to a friend from out of town when asked how her family is doing, “Estamos jodidos pero contentos.” We’re screwed, but at least we’re happy.