216 bananas

Life in the city moves at a different pace than life in Gigante. I blink, it is Sunday and I have been here a week. Granada sweeps me along in its lively streets, past colorful facades, neon storefronts, through the loud market street and into smoothie shops and internet cafes. It is a noisy city, sometimes shrill and grating, other times exhilarating and vibrant, but always alive, always present. Vendors walking along the street with baskets on their heads (the lucky ones stationed with a table on a corner) sell milk, peanuts, mangos, cigarettes, gum, water, juice, coffee, even cheese: anything and everything, and they yell and yell and ask and I say ‘no gracias’ again and again. It rains in the afternoons and evenings, and I take refuge in lovely cafes. I type away on my computer, drink café con leche, and watch pedestrians walk along the colorful (and touristy) cobblestone main street. Just two blocks from my house, there is a café called, I’m serious, chocolate. In a regal, colonial, wood building, the coffee is pricey and so worth it.

I’m in my noisy house now, the sound of Spanish telenovelas blaring on TV, the new soundtrack to my life. Candia, mi ‘mamá’ yells in the background to Ruina, the 8-year-old who traipses around the house, crying or giggling, always the center of attention. She was sick all week, and therefore out of school and under foot. Karla, a daughter who lives next door with her husband, yells from her kitchen and we hear her perfectly in our kitchen. Mother and daughter carry on a conversation, each in a separate house, hollering in the unique Latin yell that pierces walls. 

I sit in my room, door closed, attempting a moment of peace, and the noises surround, interrupt, interject. There is no quiet in this house, no moment of respite from the sound Spanish voices that gallop into my thoughts, making typing this sentence difficult. Shhhhh. I actually had to get up several nights ago, from where I lay trying to sleep three feet away from the TV, to ask Katia to turn the sound down, please.

This house is alive, that’s for sure: bustling, bickering, everyone in everyone’s business. My family is full of a bunch of know-it-alls, who tell me that bananas and oatmeal shouldn’t be eaten together (I disagree) and that gallo pinto is made of rice and beans (Yes. Yes, I know. I’ve been here two months). Candia, my senora, tells every family member or friend who comes by the house to look at me, look how tall she is! Several times daily, I smile and agree. This house is made all the more noisy in its stark contrast to my life only a week and a half ago in Brio, where the geckos made all the noise, where I could hear mosquitoes humming in my ears and the howler monkeys erupt into barks when the rain came. But, it is nothing if not boring, and for that I am grateful. Really, the house is lovely, my room cheery and bright.

I’m really trying not to be negative, and try instead to relish the hilarity in my life. Nothing is an obstacle, just another source of humor (ironic humor included). In this vein, I found out that the house only has a freezer, no fridge. So, I must wake up in the morning and wait for 30 minutes for my block of milk to melt enough for coffee. Anything that doesn’t freeze well is out of my purchasing power. This includes vegetables, which are therefore not a part of my diet whatsoever here. Yesterday, I went to the store and bought a thing of broccoli and ate it on the spot because my body so needed something green. Similarly, the one bathroom sink broke three days ago, so I must wash my hands and brush my teeth in the shower. 

My life as a writer has officially begun. I had my first ‘meeting’ with Jesse, the editor/owner/manager of Between the Waves on Wednesday. What he initially told me about my job duties is a bit different, as I am not responsible for all the content, only writing articles, about anything and everything (that the advertisers will like). As many as I can write, he will publish, in this coming issue and future issues. I have an enormous amount of freedom, which is both wonderful and incredibly difficult. I spent all day Thursday wondering where to even begin, as I have about ten ideas for articles, all of which Jesse likes and I want to write, right now. Scatter-brained, I did research for three simultaneously, and went home confused and stressed. After the same on Friday, I finally found my stride on Saturday, and wrote an editorial for the paper about noise in Nicaragua, which I will post after I edit it. I also decided that my first article will be about three local artists in Granada, whom I met today and will interview on Tuesday.

In addition to writing articles for the magazine, I’m also helping out with the Nicaraguan Post, a newspaper that is in desperate need of some help. It’s only six months old, and the editor is absentminded and so very not a journalist. I will spend every other Sunday copy editing the paper, not so much because I’m getting paid or particularly need to hone my copy-editing skills, but because it’s almost painful to read the paper right now. The most recent edition’s front-page headline reads “Government Announce Plan to Stop Homelessness.” Half the articles in the paper are right justified, the other half center. I smile even now picturing the conniption that Ania—the advisor of DU’s wonderful paper, The Clarion—would have if she were to read this paper.

I’m also going to do a food column every other week, in which I will review local restaurants and (I hope) get a free dinner. Darrell, the scatter-brained editor, also does not speak Spanish, and therefore cannot attempt to sell advertisements to anyone who does not speak English. I, the good person that I am, offered to help him sell to local business. Next week, I plan to walk around Granada, work my Spanish magic, and hopefully sell some ads, and then reveal in my 15 percent commission over a free meal.

On Tuesday, I began my stint volunteering with La Esperanza Granada. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, I will spend my afternoons tutoring high school students in various subjects. These students are all sponsored by La Esperanza, who buys their schoolbooks, uniforms, and pays the various frees associated with going to ‘free’ school. If the students don’t pass their final exams in December, they lose their scholarships and thus cannot finish high school. Only a few showed up this week because there was some special band practice all week long, so I mostly spent the afternoon commuting to the various schools outside the city (30-45 minute commute, a bit more than the walk up the hill from my lodging at Brio).

There are about 35 volunteers working with La Esperanza right now, a hearty community that has so far been very welcoming. The group is truly international, with only a handful of us Americanos, and this I quite enjoy. I haven’t gotten to know any one person very well; the group is so inclusive that anytime anyone does anything, 15 to 20 people show up. This is all very nice, but I’m a bit overwhelmed by big groups. There is, however, always someone who is going out or doing something, so if I go by any of the three volunteer houses, I am sure to find someone to talk to. The volunteer houses are fun, large houses with three rooms each, kitchen and living room, so it’s a shame that they are full. Although, my Spanish is chattering along nicely in my homestay, so I shall stay here and partake in the noise and nibble on frozen carrots.

One of the volunteers alerted me to the presence of a gym in Granada, a lovely if small facility run by an American that has now become the center of my social life. Besides the two treadmills and two stationary bikes surrounding a lovely courtyard, the gym offers several classes in the afternoon, which are generally full of volunteers. Dance at 4:30 is taught by Eddie, an hour of aerobically wiggling my hips that I quite enjoy, and Warren the owner offers yoga at 5:30. Exercise and being social: totally worth my $35 a month.

Today I went to Masaya with Emma, a very sweet and fun American volunteer. Masaya is the market town of Nicaragua, about half an hour from Granada. I arrived ready to buy some artisanias, but I left only with a gourmet chocolate bar (made in a castle in Northern Nicaragua, this chocolate is worth every cent of my three dollars). I was so looking forward to a meal out of the homestay, a treat in a restaurant, but we ate lunch at the worst restaurant I’ve yet been to in Nicaragua. The food wasn’t bad, but for six dollars, I got a chicken breast and French fries; for four, Emma got potato chips and melted cheese (otherwise known as nachos). Still hungry, we stopped to get some bananas in the outdoor market on the way back to the bus, and walked away with a dozen for eight córdobas, or about 40 cents. Yeah, bananas are cheap in Nicaragua, and also…they’re good. We therefore decided that bananas would be our new currency comparison. Rather than convert córdobas to dollars, we would convert them to their potential purchasing power in bananas.

For example: my 120 córdoba lunch could have purchased 216 bananas. I repeat: two hundred and sixteen bananas. 216 or one chicken breast with soggy potatoes. We took it further: a 300 dollar plane ticket to Nicaragua has the potential of buying upwards of 9,000 bananas. Do you even know what 9,000 bananas look like? I didn’t, until we passed a plantain truck heading out of town holding I estimate close to half this amount. For those of you not in the immediate vicinity of a whole lot of plantain-like fruits, let me just say—that’s a lot of bananas. 

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