Category Archives: Music

Departing Nicaragua: A Short Rant

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On the plane from Managua to Texas, I was unhappy.  I was not ready to leave the country and was even further annoyed by our traveling companions on the flight.  Being the mature twenty-something that I am, I plugged in my headphones and scrawled a two page rant in my journal:

taking off from Boston at the beginning of the trip. We’ve come full circle.

Ugh, I can’t believe we’re leaving already.  I could definitely stay for at least another month – we’ve seen such a tiny piece of the coutnry and I’d love to see the Caribbean coast.  Part of me thinks that if I didn’t have obligations for work next week, I’d absolutely arrange for a longer stay.  Sara and I are already trying to plan our next trip.

There was a security check before we boarded the plane.  The person who searched my bag was perplexed at first by the overall style of my backpack, so I had to help him get it unclasped enough to open it – and even then it was so tightly packed that he could barely get a hand in.  Re-closing it was another struggle.  I handed him my purse and told him I’d take care of the backpack.  He opened and dug through my purse, pulling out my copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  He flipped through it, looked at the cover, looked at me, and looked back at the book as if I was weird for having such a thing in my possession.  I felt judged but, it’s all good, I read what I want.

Let’s be real here for a second. How could you not want to read this?

Something I noticed about Nicaragua is that it seems to get a lot of missionary groups.  Sara and I aren’t together on this flight and I am surrounded by one such group with t-shirts that say “Involving People to Inspire Nations for Christ.”  Consistering the missionary spirit is part (there were many factors) of what turned me off to Catholicism, Christianity, and organized religions in general, you can probably imagine how I felt about this turn of events.  I realize Nicaragua is a Christian country, so it’s not as though they’re telling the people that their native religion and traditions are worthless and wrong (that damage was done when the first conquistadors arrived centuries ago.  Admittedly, it was not all bad, as the natives stopped sacrificing their daughters to volcanoes, but still.).

The issue I have with such missionary groups is that it appears they go into the situation with (conscious or subconscious) feelings  of superiority, maybe even a degree of white supremecy and definitely a ton of privilege.   This is theoretically made more harmful by the fact that they believe they’re being humble and helpful to the natives because, in the U.S., we do things the right way.   I am not at all saying that I’ve never been guilty of this.  In fact, I’m fairly certain I had a similar self-concept on the alternative spring break trips I participated on in college and even perhaps when I first arrived in India – that self-confident, self-assured idea that could change the world and make things better for peopel in these places where the society was not like our own.  How naive it was to believe that a week’s trip to a place can make any kind of lasting difference!  One cannot possibly make any change until he or she has learned the culture and understands what motivates people in the area and how society functions.  Learning takes years and committment and dedication to your chosen task.  As I’ve said before, it is so easy to flit in and out of a country.  You “live like the natives” for a week or a month or a year, but then it’s back to what you’re used to.  One week provides barely a peek at a culture that has been a millenia in the making.  When I left India after a year of working and living with the people in the area, I barely felt like I had a handle on the culture.  I was more comfortable, to be sure, but I was still just learning.

It is wildly selfish and conceited and irresponsible of us to walk into a situation with which we are unfamiliar and uneducated (because no matter how many books one reads on the subject, experience is infinitely more important (if you, like me, are a Harry Potter fan, then you might be thinking of Hermione’s disagreement with Umbridge’s claim that reading about defensive spells will be more than enough to get them through their practical exams.  Geek moment over.).

No, but really.

Without being intimately familiar with a culture and a people, attempting to stir up any kind of change in a limited period of time is nearly impossible.  Factor in your imminent departure and all your good intentions are even less likely to succeed.  Think about how you might feel if someone from South America, Asia, or Africa walked into your neighborhood, started making changes, and then left.  Attempting to impart change without being aware of one’s own biases and using strategies based in one’s home culture is ineffective, unsustainable, and inconsiderate.  It is so much more important to first learn the culture and then to give the people themselves the tools and skills to be their own agents of change.  Don’t go in as a savior, go in and empower.

I don’t know how to stress all that enough.  Nor was I anticipating going on such a tangent.  Essentially, the traveler, the potential do-gooder, must accept that they travel for themselves alone – to experience new cultures and to allow themselves to grow, to be changed by the people and cultures they experience – rather than to change what they see.  Accept that you are but a temporary, fleeting moment in the daily routine of the people you meet.  They may even remember you years from now, but if you’re in a touristy area, they’ve probably seen many like you.  The best thing the traveler can do is to meet each person as a fellow human, regardless of language or station, learn their story if possible, and remember that they, themselves, represent an entire country.

Appropriately, Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know” is playing right now.

I hate that we’re taking off right now.  I also hate having an aisle seat.  I can’t help wondering when I’ll be back (I refuse to think “if”) and how this beautiful country will have changed in the interim.  I hate leaving new places and I dislike returning to regular routines.

Also, the flight attendant just suggested over the intercom that people shut their shades if not enjoying the view so that others can better see the TV monitors.  Gross.  That isn’t what this is about!

Final thought:  I should not wear white because I will inevitably draw on myself.

 

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What is Atole?

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Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t handle new foods really well.  Calling me “picky” is something of an understatement.  I started teaching myself to cook dinner approximately two months ago, when I realized that I actually want to try and be a healthy eater.  Prior to that, cereal was my lunch and dinner.  Vegetables and I have an extremely tenuous relationship:  I am only just now attempting to make myself eat more vegetables (this means once or twice a month).   Seafood revolts me outright.  While I’ve improved dramatically since returning from India (and hopefully people who have been paying attention will attest to this), the prospect of new food, specifically when someone else is providing it, stresses me out immensely.  I hate offending people and it seems to me that rejecting food is a surefire way to do that.  On the other hand, the idea of eating any kind of fishy creature makes me want to throw up.  I suspect that would be seen as offensive as well…

Granola bars are always a safe bet.

But, back to Nicaragua and Roberto, Sr.

After leaving Volcan Masaya, Roberto drove us to the market in the city.  On the way to the market, Roberto told us we were going to try something called “atole” later on.  Having never heard of this and being concerned about potential ingredients, I asked what atole was.  Roberto explained, but unsurprisingly, my ingredient-related vocabulary is weak (if non-existant) so all I was really able to comprehend was that it involved corn.

Exterior of the market (swiped from a Google search)

Masaya’s market is the largest open-air market in Nicaragua, which is pretty sweet.  It consisted of a labrynith of stalls and courtyards, full of salespeople hawking their wares.  It was a little touristy, but if you were willing to poke around, there was some unique stuff.  I struggled with the haggling.  Every time I’m in a place where haggling over prices is expected, I do my best to live up to the expectations but the conversation usually ends up sounding like this:

Me: “How much for this?”

Vendor: “100 cordoba”

Me: “I can give you 60?” (poorly done, you’re supposed to drop by half and then increase)

Vendor: (laughs) “100.”

Me: “O-okay.”

Shameful.  Fortunately, we had Roberto who, when we wanted to make a purchase, would handle the haggling for us.  He saved me at least $30 in total by casually telling the vendors what we’d pay, instead of asking hesitantly as I have a tendency to do.  At one point, Sara was trying to figure out the cost of a t-shirt.  When the vendor told her it was $5usd, Roberto caught my eye over her shoulder, winked and shook his head to indicate that we could find a better price elsewhere.

Interior of the market (also from a Google search because I tend to avoid taking pictures in marketplaces)

Our expedition to the market was entirely too successful.  Once we finished up, Roberto took us to a nearby street vendor for the aforementioned atole.  When we realized we were going to be eating street food, Sara and I had a mini celebration in the back seat.  Earlier in the day, we had been (half) joking about using our last day in Nicaragua to go to as many street vendors as possible, eat as much of their food as we could fit into our stomachs, and then deal with the aftermath of those poor decisions while on the plane.  This street vendor  had two cards situated next to each other on a street corner.  One cart had a pot of some kind of thick, opaque liquid while the other had little empanadas.  Roberto first offered us the empanadas, which had sugar on top and something reddish-orange inside.  He said it was queso, but it didn’t taste like that.  They were extremely good.  However, Roberto clarified that this was not the atole.

Atole!

Process of elimination indicated that the stuff in the pot was the atole.  This caused me some anxiety – what was in there?!  The vendor gave us bowls and spoons made from coconut shells, which was extremely awesome.   She then served us the thick, white liquid and put some cinnamon on top.  I know I like cinnamon.  This was comforting to me.  Regardless, I still felt pretty apprehensive because I had no clue what I was about to eat.  The only thing I knew was that I had to try it because Roberto was so excited about it.  So I did.  And it was good – very sweet, creamy and warm.  With the cinnamon, it was kind of like eating pureed oatmeal.  We all had another empanada, finished our atole and then Roberto tried to pay for us.  We nixed that quickly and said we wanted to pay for him because he’d been so awesome all day.  He allowed this, but then paid for the empanadas.  Sneaky.  

Back in the car, Roberto explained that this particular vendor made the best quality atole in the area.  Apparently, atole needs to be started at 4am.  It needs to be stirred all day and is literally just made up of corn and cinnamon.  He promised us it was very good for the system, all natural, no chemicals or preservatives.  He told us that he didn’t bring everyone for atole, only the “chicos y chicas mas bueno.”  That was adorable.  He said that for the malo chicos y chicas” he drove very fast and didn’t do anything special.  Furthermore, since we were over on time (we were about an hour past when we were supposed to have returned to the hostel) he was going to tell the hostel that the car broke down so we wouldn’t have to pay the extra $7/hour.

As we got closer to the hostel and he learned that we were leaving the next day, he said he wanted to drive us to the airport.  We were going to have to pay a taxi to get there anyway, plus he was charging a fair price and we were devastated to be leaving him, we agreed.

After saying goodbye to Roberto at the hostel, Sara and I walked over to the mall in search of a music store.  We found one, but pickin’s were seriously slim and none of the artists recommended to me by Roberto, Jr. or the waitress from the coffee shop were there.  I did buy a salsa CD, but unfortunately it’s awful.  Although it was getting darker when we left, we wanted one last meal (and not from the food court).  There was a nearby restaurant called El Churrasco that we passed every time we went to and from the mall, so we decided to try it out of curiousity, even though the doors were tinted and it looked closed.  I could see two waiters inside leap up from their seats as I opened the door.  We were the only two customers there, even though it looked like a nice restaurant.  Expensive, too, as we learned from looking at the menu.  We decided to stick with appetizers (grilled plantain and cheese for her, grilled chorizo for me) and alcohol (last chance for Flor de Cana, Nicaragua’s #1 rum!).  The food was excellent and although it was a little awkward being the only two people in the place, we managed to survive.

I want Roberto to adopt us. Also, as one of my friends pointed out, I definitely missed the black pants, striped shirt memo.

The next morning, we were up and out by 4am.  Before we knew it, we were at the airport again.  We had one of the security guards take a picture of us with Roberto – one last picture in Nicaragua!  Checking was easy and I was able to help a Nica woman and her mother (92 years old and adorable) fill out their travel forms.  I was so proud of myself for remembering what ama de casa meant, as I don’t believe I’ve heard it since vocational vocab sophomore year of college.

There are more pictures that I would like to add to this post… however, Sara needs to send them to me first.

Chocolate – Snow Patrol

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Since I just turned 25, I felt it was the time to share the song that inspired the title of this blog. You’ll understand after 58 seconds in, but I encourage you to keep listening because they’re a great band and it’s one of my favorite songs.

(Funnily enough, it has nothing to do with chocolate)

In Honor of Indian Independence Day…

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Indian Independence Day, August 15, 2009

Unfortunately, this a belated post because I wasn’t at a computer yesterday.  However, since it was a huge part of my experience in India, I can’t let it pass unnoticed.

“Lakshya Toh” is the song my class XII Science students sang at the school’s independence day festivities.  I must have heard it twenty times a day in the week leading up to August 15, 2009.  It was stuck in my head for a solid two months after, but I feel a strong affection for the song nontheless.  Though my Hindi is by no means fluent (or even functional), I take great pride in the fact that I can “sing” along to this song.

Listen, enjoy, and imagine 60-odd 17, 18, & 19 year olds belting it out in the middle of a field.

The Traveller’s Effect?

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Our last full day in Nicaragua was Sunday, July 2nd.  We were up at some ungodly hour to take Courtney to the airport, then Sara and I returned to the hostel where we discussed future travel plans and got some advice on traveling in Mexico from John.  (The more I hear about Mexico in my travels, the more intrigued I am…)

After a four hour catnap, we went in search of breakfast and ended up back at the mall, in a coffee shop with connections to the coffee plantation we’d visited on Volcan Mombacho.  I really enjoyed the music that was playing there, so I asked our waitress whether there was an album I could buy or if she could tell me the name of the artist so I could go get my hands on the music myself.  She said the music was streaming off the internet, so she didn’t have any answers for me, but she was more than happy to write down some music recommendations for me.

I save everything.

The music was awesome.  I’m currently obsessed with Fonseca, whose song “Arroyito” I shared in an earlier post.  I’ll share “Enredame” now because it’s also excellent:

 

I wasn’t sure how I felt about Camila y Frank Reyes’ song “De que me sirva la vida” until I listened to it a few times, because I usually have to be in a certain mood for a power ballad.  So, listen to it a few times and it will suck you in.

 

The thing I love about foreign music is that you really don’t have to know the language in order to enjoy it.  I tend to sing (terribly) along to Hindi, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese songs and know very little of most languages.  Of course, if you turn the sound off, it’s obvious I’m only making the sounds, but I choose not to see that as an issue.

Back at the hostel after breakfast, Sara and I met Roberto, a 19-year-old employee at the hostel.  He had a larger-than-life personality, describing himself as having once been good looking “before the gringo food.”  We learned that gringo/a is a term used mostly just to describe Americans.  I had previously assumed it meant anyone from Europe or North America.  He had some strong feelings on the dancing skills of the American females, explaining that he’d been dancing with an American girl once and “was confused.  I didn’t know what she was doing.”  This was pretty funny, as I imagined the girl as doing some kind of crazy booty dropping or hippie dancing.  He also said, “I think the blonde hair, blue eyes people, they don’t like us.”  He was speaking in terms of romantic relationships, but I thought it was an interesting statement nontheless.  As a tourist or a traveler, you visit a place, you make friends, and you have an awesome time that you then go home and tell friends and family about.  It’s hard to keep in touch with people you meet and then leave behind.  If they’re other travelers, then they understand that this is how it goes.  Sometimes you’ll meet again, but more likely you won’t.  It’s all up to serendipity, really.  But, if you bond with someone who isn’t a traveler, a native in a place you’re visiting, what effect do you have on them when you leave?  Travelers are very good at flitting in and out of places without setting down roots.  I understand this:  roots are scary.  Personally, I’m more afraid of stagnating than I am of chaos.  The thing is though, it’s very easy to get caught up in you and in your adventures.  For you, every interaction you have, every challenge you struggle through is part of the bigger picture of your life.

I’m pre-coffee at this point (and a little jittery), so bear with me if that became nonsensical.