Feliz Año Nuevo todos!!

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I spent a few days prior to and New Year’s Eve in Masaya, just south of Managua. The small city sets in a volcano and an active one of that. When I would actually think about it, I would think it was pretty crazy that people live there at all. Nicaragua is about the most seismically active place on the planet and Masaya is an extremely active volcano. It’s also quite perplexing to me just how much they love fireworks there, after a fairly recent history of a bloody war that involved a lot of gunfire and a high death toll in that region. Maybe they like the edginess it creates because, hell, the volcano may blow at anytime anyways, or maybe it’s symbolic and celebrates their ongoing history of rebellion, or maybe because the children just take delight in the noise and find it festive, but all I really know for sure is they love lighting those little firecrackers and throwing them in the streets.  All day long I might add. It scared the crap out of me every time. After several days I finally learned to read the signs and brace myself against the impending explosion at my feet or behind my back. I began to recognize the excited sounds of a small group of children slightly elevated than in normal play, the particular Spanish words that accompanied a lit match to wick,  the urgent flinging movements that would follow, suggesting the pitch of the lit firecracker. If I missed those particular sounds and movements as I took in all the other interesting street activities of Masaya and an explosion did happen near me, I would noticably flinch and I will confess that internally I would do that quick assessment of whether I’d actually been shot, moving through a series of rapid thoughts of whether I would even be able to tell if I had been shot and whether I felt a warm liquid running down my body anywhere.  Because really, the first day or two I was kind of stunned by this new phenomenon, particularly with the multiple rapid fire ones that sound something like a semi automatic weapon. I know from other past experiences that pain sensation can be delayed when you are stunned. Of course I always felt silly when I jumped out of my skin and gasped audibly, and the children, though not intending to scare me, all laughed and ran around quite pleased with themselves when the realized that they had. Fortunately I’m okay with providing some humor to the good folks and children of Nicaragua. And it takes time to realize that walking through a very poor barrio in Nicaragua is very likely a different experience than walking through similar kind of neighborhood in the States, especially at night.This all led up to New Year’s Eve, where the neighborhood kids also had lots of sparklers or luces de bengala and they ran around throwing them up in the trees with great joy and over into people’s yards where there were recently piled dry leaves over garbage waiting to be burned. Really, I was prepared for the city to burn that night and also enjoying the utter delight that these children were experiencing. They would run over to hand me a lit sparkler while rapidly firing off some Spanish I couldn’t understand and we would wave them around. And no one else seemed phased by them being tossed about onto all kinds of flammable objects. Maybe because none of the houses are of burnable materials so how bad could it get really. Meanwhile, in the neighborhood I was staying, people walked about dressed in their best clothes, sharing plates of a traditional chicken dish and drinking beer while the children, with their hair clean and slick and in their Sunday best as well, gave it their best shot to burn the place down. And imagine the most happy Nicaraguan dance music blasting and competing from various households with people joyfully laughing and dancing on their porches and in then the streets. Well, personally I’m not real keen on the whole midnight ritual and I would call 9 pm my Nica midnight since I’ve been here.  With so little electricity and lights I often retire by 8 p.m. So even though in my mind’s eye I saw the city engulfed in flames, I managed to nod off ( likely dreaming of shootouts and other more apocalyptic scenarios) only to stumble off the couch very startled in time to witness more light in a night sky and more noise of celebration then I have ever experienced in my entire life. At 11:45 the fireworks started for the next fifteen minutes and it was the most joyous mayhem. Everyone in the whole city must have had fireworks. People must have spent a week’s or month’s wages on fireworks. The buildings are low in Masaya, so the city was lit up in every neighborhood and by the time I was fully awake and standing out front, the sky was filled with constantly flashing colored light through a thick veil of smoke and people were cheering and kissing and hugging and imagining greatness for the new year. I was self consciously alone in the front walk but the children were still awake and unabashedly ran over to greet me with cries of Feliz Ano Nuevo. It was a sweet experience and soon the fireworks were all used up and I could return to my slumber. Throughout the night there was the continued but less seldom and much mellower sounds of celebration. Masaya is truly a town that never sleeps and the houses are all partially open, so there is no escaping this reality.New Year’s Day the streets were filled with used up firecracker paper and a few children were running about, hoping to find that one firecracker that didn’t go off the night before and still had some life left in it. But mostly it was quiet as everyone spent the day recovering with their families!

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Las Mujeres Solares y Las Cocinas SolaresThe Solar Women have just opened their restaurant! It’s been a big step for them to opened their doors and invite in the public.  It’s a lovely adobe building that they built 2 years ago and it is exciting to see the bustle of activity finally happening there. Hopefully people who travel this route will stop as they get to know the restaurant, because anyone that is driving on PanAm 1 and can afford a vehicle can probably afford to buy lunch, though no one in this community can! They have very little capital to invest, so for now they are mostly relying on the volunteer groups to cook for each day. It’s a good place to start to gain confidence and comfort in their new business. They know how to cook but don’t have background in running a business, so they are learning how to run a restaurant as a women’s worker owned cooperative.  They have some experience with outsiders, due to the exposure with the renewable energy workshops, but I still believe it is an incredible challenge and a really big step. Susan Kinne, the director of Grupo Fenix has helped them to keep in touch with their collective vision over the years, to help keep them on track and avoid getting lost in the petty issues that can arise in such community endeavors. I wish them great success with it!Meanwhile, they have recently received an order for 20 cocinas solares or solar cookers to go to a community in Chinendega, so I was able to see them working on the cookers this morning. Maria Magdelena, a student at Las Mujeres Constructoras, does a lot of the carpentry. They all participate in painting, fastening hinges, placing the glass and such. Some of it’s very particular work, so the women who have shown particular finesse in these different steps of the process now build the cookers and take great pride in their business.

Los Ninos
Most of the children help in the household throughout the days, as there is much to do in gathering water, wood, grinding corn, taking care of younger siblings, washing clothes and sweeping inside and out.  A few have televisions in their homes and I can hear the family watching novellas during the day as I pass by.  But generally, when they have time to be with their siblings and friends and play together, I see them in the road or in the fields and it usually involves some found object such as a sack, a box, an old tire, dry corn cobs, a stick or possibly a homemade kite.Whereas bikes are more often associated with play for a lot of children in the States, here they are transportation and the children run important errands on them for the family. As they get older they are able to act as more of a taxi service and deliver family members speedily to the bus stop! There is usually one bike and so, one size for the family to share and the children just grow into them over the years.
Here are some other photos from different celebrations and scenes in December as I travelled around Nicaragua.
And, again, Happy 2012 to all!!

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