Granada v. Leon
Trip Start May 12, 2009
24Trip End Sep 29, 2009
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Fabulous news. I just came back from an awesome photo shoot with some excellent little models. At a Granada nonprofit known as Casa de Los Tres Mundos (House of Three Worlds), I stumbled across a traditional dance class. Teenage girls were taking part in the class, learning to twirl skirts and step to the beat in the classical way. Off to the side, four little girls rolled on the ground, hiding among their billowing white sateen skirts. It just called out to photographed.
I stepped to the side and fiddled with the combination lock on my backpack to get my camera. I crouched on the ground alongside the girls and asked if they wanted their pictures taken. It was a blast to take pictures because they were just natural models, smiling for the camera and twisting the white skirts around their little pinkie fingers. Then it really got fun when I handed off the camera to a 6 year old little boy and he took pictures with me among the group.
Casa de Los Tres Mundos (http://www.c3mundos.org) is an organization dedicated to reviving and nurturing Nicaraguan culture. They hold traditional dance classes. They sell native crafts. They do cooking classes. They are really trying to swim against the current of this huge tidal wave of American culture that flows in through the televisions and consumer goods that remesas buy.
For example, it is common to see adult men and women boarding a chicken bus with a large plasticized tote emblazoned with Winnie the Pooh. If not Winnie, then certainly Tigger. There is a remote chance it could be Dora the Explorer. These totes seem to very durable and dirt cheap. And covered in Disney characters.
Yesterday, I rode a collectivo from Managua to Leon. It was raining, and it was hot. The already tinted windows of this dodgy van were fogging up from the inside. I had a privileged window seat, which means I had only one person by my side to keep an eye on. The woman next to me waged a quiet war for elbow space as she balanced three trays of sweet rolls on her lap during the 2 hour ride.
In this old beat-up van, the nicest thing one was the newer cd player stuck in the dash. We listened to Michael Jacksonīs greatest hits... twice. After twice through, the driver had mercy and kicked it over to Tengo Celos, a popular song here. On repeat. (Fanny Lu- Tengo Celos http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKZFtm0M6fc) The little toy hanging from the rear view mirror was that blue little alien from the Disney movie about the girl in Hawaii...and he had Elvis hair. This is what I mean... a deluge of non-native culture. And not good culture at that.
When I joined the funeral procesion to Granadaīs old cemetery and laid a pineapple at the grave, and watched sunset from the parque central, I knew I was in love. I knew this city would stay with me for awhile. During my time in Granada I felt very safe. People greeted me and certainly watched as the gringa walked down the street, but I felt their interest was politely limited. I came to have a certain routine and bought pupusas from the Pupusa Lady in the park every few days. Pupusas are little greasy things made of white cheese and some kind of cornmeal, served to me on a banana leaf. I played with certain kids who hung out in usual places.
Best of all, I made some great connections with friends in Granada. I had the most spectacular birthday celebration! (More on that to come)
Yet Leon is the rival. If Granada is religious, grounded in tradition, a city of pastel colonial buildings and evening strolls by the the lake... then Leon is the younger, rougher, more brash younger brother. I will say younger because a higher percent of the population is under age 15 in Leon than Granada, which inevitably translates into more street children.
Leon is an active city. Leon has an energy to it, and you must be slightly more aware walking the streets are you will left behind the momentum of it. Leon is slightly sexier... the hem lines are higher and shorts are shorter. I am usually very aware of whether women wear shorts above the knee, at the knee, or capris. Here in Leon, I am seeing shorter shorts than anywhere else in Nicaragua.
Leon is more physical. As soon as I walked down the street past dark with a daypack for the first time, I knew this wasnīt a good idea. Street children brush against you as you walk by... and I notice those hands trail towards my pockets and my bag. Very subtle, but very predictable. The older women who beg on the street are not shy to reach out and tug on my clothes. I immediately understand why I had been advised by a fellow traveler while in Panama that when in Leon, not to carry a bag after dark.
Which leads to the story of my evening at the hostel. I checked into a trendy backpacker hostel and was relieved to find it peaceful. The owners are socially aware and walk a fine line to keep the right kind of clientele. For example, there are no locking doors. However, to get from the street through the bar and back to the hostel, you must walk past three security guys. They stand at particular posts and pay attention to everything happening. Guests walk straight by and into the dorms (which do not lock). Actually, I donīt believe anyone in my dorm even closed the large double doors with iron doorknobs the whole time I was there.
The dorm stands behind of a wonderful little lush garden. Their are vinca (a type of cactus similar to large yucca plants from Colorado), sawgrass, violets, ivies, decorative grasses, and hibiscus bushes surrounding a waterfall which pours into a pool decorated with broken pottery and inhabited by a collection of box turtles. It was especially nice under the full moon.
After I rested and cleaned up, I was taking in the courtyard when Anna, a French woman walked up. "I just slapped a child!", she exclaimed. Together with Julie, from Belgium, we heard the story. She was just walking away from the ATM when a street child approached her to beg for "one cordoba, senora, one cordoba...". She said, "no, I donīt have any". Maybe not the most believable thing after leaving the ATM... The child, a boy of about 10, responded by grabbing her crotch! Out of reflex, she grabbed him and slapped him. She walked back to the hostel stunned by the rude behavior, and at her own reaction! We consoled her, saying that the it was good she disciplined him and maybe, maybe- he learned the lesson.
Anna and Julie were a pleasure to chat with, and we went out to find a soda (cheap, basic eatery). Anna shared about how she was recently fired from her job in France, and was quite happy about. In France, this means she will receive compensation from the social department, and help finding another job when she returns home. Best of all, she receives money from the govenment even while traveling!
Julie, only 20 years old, said she was shocked at the poverty of Nicaragua. We had each seen many anecdotal things suggesting how the people respond to this reality. Similar to Panama, it is a psyche that embraces opposites. Many Nicaraguans want to travel, yet may realize they will never have enough money to do so. Julie stayed with a family where both the mother and the father confided in her that they were unhappy in the marriage. The mother worked two jobs... the first, teaching Spanish in religious charity schools and the second was working in a comedor (restaurant) in the evenings.
Both Julie and Anna impressed me as worldly and attentive travelers. I was surprised to see this headline today: French tourists seen as the worldīs worst
Like all generalizations- including this one ;) - it is not a very good indicator of reality. I am happy that people like Julie, Anna, and myself are traveling the world and becoming more aware citizens. It is so unequal, the distribution of privilege in our world. And I hope those of us with computer access, English language skills, and the like who are reading this are mindful of that.