Monday, April 9, 2012

Nico Lives Like a Nica

As part of my study, I'm staying with a Nicaraguan family. The mother of the house has six children and only the youngest daughter, age 17, is still at home, as her husband died about ten years ago; now she provides room and board to foreign students.

patio of house, open to the sky
The house is quite large: two rooms in the front , a hallway leading to an open-air garden, a dining room, a kitchen, and a patio on one side and four small bedrooms on the other side.

my bedroom
There are two bathrooms (I have my own bathroom, wow!) and even a washing machine in the second courtyard.

There's also a small cat that loves feet and sleeping pressed against a wall.

cat with feet
cat with wall
The middle class standard here is not the same as the middle class standard in the United States (obviously). Good reminder that the 99% at home are still the 1% globally. One thing I've noticed is that Americans tend to spend a tremendous amount of resources, money, and effort on their houses, but spend significantly less on their personal being. It's the opposite in many places—people will live in homes that would scream “total poverty” if they were in America. But the people living in these houses will take great care with their personal appearance, always well groomed, in clean if not downright stylish clothing. An interesting difference in priorities.

No air conditioning, though it's been INSANELY HOT EVERY SINGLE DAY. In the beginning of the week, I was drinking a gallon of water a day, sweating profusely, and sleeping from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. every day. Doing a bit better now. No hot water, either, but I haven't missed it at all (for obvious reasons).

garden, open to the sky
fried plantains, fried cheese, and salad
I've had a ton of problems communicating with the mother of the house. She speaks very quickly, which is a challenge. The bigger challenge is that she pronounces (or doesn't pronounce at all) certain sounds in ways that are totally different for me. For example, like many Spanish speakers, she doesn't pronounce the letter “s” at all. “No-so-tros” becomes “no-tro.” So if I ask her to slow down and to repeat herself, word by word, half of the time I still won't understand what she's saying, because I don't recognize the words! Other parts of the accent, like trading the “y” sound for the “zh” sound, are easier to follow. But dropping all “s” sounds makes español into epañó—a totally different language!

I can understand her better today (Sunday) than I could when I arrived (Wednesday), but it's still a huge problem for me. Most of the time I can get away with nodding and smiling, unless she's asking me a question (then I look like a grinning idiot gringa). I tell myself that it's good practice for understanding native speakers, since I can already understand Spanish professors with their clear diction and perfect pronounciation.

rice with chorrizo and fried plantains
The food is good, though based on starch and often fried. Lots of rice (with and without chorrizo), meat with lunch and dinner, fried plantains.

Once every other day there will be a bit of vegetable, maybe some cabbage or tomato. I love that Nicaraguan food is typically a little bit tangy, and it seems like there's a bit of vinegar or lemon juice in everything.

On my first day in Granada, before the homestay, I had vigorón for lunch (yuca root, pickled cabbage, and fried pork skin, the typical Granada dish) and nacatamal for dinner (meat with tomato and onion tucked into corn mush and baked in banana leaves).

Sometimes I grab a raspado, or shaved ice drizzled with red-colored, pineapple-flavored, sticky-sweet syrup, in the Central Park. So much for avoiding untreated water and ice.

It's quite different from how I eat at home (fried foods! refined carbs! lots of sugar!), and I haven't had much appetite due to the heat, but I'm going along for the ride.

nacatamal, corn mush with meat and veg in banana leaf
Day in the life: I've been getting up at 7 for breakfast. Classes are 8 to noon. Lunch by 1, then sleep away the hottest part of the day. Go out for a walk around 4 and stay out until shortly after dark at 6. Dinner at 7:30 or so, then read, watch TV, or attempt to chat with the mother. Hop in bed, point the fan at my face, fall asleep. Repeat.

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