Wednesday, May 6, 2015

4/1/86, Tuesday

4/1/86, Tuesday

Welcome to the Norma.

After rounding up the Escuela Nica students and volunteers at the airport, the school representative dropped us off at a place called Hospedaje Norma, a hostel like no hostel I've ever been to. It looked like someone just gathered up pieces of plywood and slapped them together to create partitions over a dirt floor. Each “dormitory” contained three to six cots, a bare light bulb with a pull string to turn it on and off and nothing else.

Inside Hospedaje Norma
Sanitary facilities are minimal, as is access to electricity, even water is limited. I was surprised and somewhat disturbed to find that there was only one aluminum tumbler set atop a water jug for everyone in the hostel to drink from and that it was barely rinsed between users because water is too scarce to waste on rinsing. Water in that part of Managua is turned off two days a week (Mondays and Thursdays) in an effort to conserve it, so a much-needed shower after the long, sticky flight was out of the question because there was no running water last night.

Another surprise is that there is no toilet paper to be found anywhere or at any price. I was told, perhaps in jest, that La Prensa (the opposition’s newspaper) usually ends up replacing it in the bathrooms. I don’t know if that’s what I've been using but the squares of newspaper can’t be flushed, because they won’t dissolve as easily as toilet paper so they must be thrown in a tin can located right next to the toilet, making for a terrible smell coming from the latrines. The first time I used the toilet, I automatically threw my paper into the bowl after wiping, then panicked and scooped it out with my bare hands for fear of creating plumbing problems for the whole neighborhood. To top that off, I couldn't even wash my hands properly. The water that’s available for washing our hands is no more than a trickle from a community jug and there was no soap anywhere, so I was left feeling dirtier than ever.

The "good" toilet (with a seat) at Hospedaje Norma. 
In the morning we headed out to Esteli, about two hours north of Managua. We drove through the countryside which was quite a contrast with the city. It was green, lush and pristine – nature again proving its superiority over the man-made. We went straight to the Nica school where we would have the opportunity to meet the school staff, get to know our fellow students and later that afternoon, there would be a small ceremony to introduce us to our host families.

The introductory ceremony was arranged so that we would feel as comfortable as possible with families who would essentially be adopting us for the next month or so. I was greeted by my “new” little sister Lissette, a young girl with close-cropped hair and jovial, mischievous eyes. She has beautiful dark skin and a beaming smile. She greeted me warmly and apologized for the fact that her mother couldn't be there to welcome me.


Lissette was pleasantly surprised that I was not one of the students who had come to study Spanish, my fluency immediately set her at ease and she began to joke with me. I’m so glad they sent her, I can’t think of a more welcoming person. We walked back to our house and Lissette insisted on pulling my wheeled suitcase through the cobblestone streets of Esteli. Along the way she asked questions and pointed out places of interest. By coincidence, we happen to have the same interest: sweets!

“There’s a store near your school that sells snacks and ice cream,” she informed me.

“Sometimes they have banana splits. Have you ever had a banana split?”

“Yes,” I started to say but she interrupted me.

“They take guineo and cut it in half and then they put ice cream in the middle...” she proceeded with her enthusiastic description but I was still back at guineo.

“What is guineo?” I asked.

“You don’t know guineo? It’s a fruit that’s long and yellow and it tastes sweet and creamy...”

“We call that platano, or banana in English.”

“Oh, so you've had it before?” she asked, crestfallen that she wasn't initiating me into the delights of an unfamiliar fruit.

“Yes, but I wouldn't mind having one with you,” I said, tossing her a side glance. Her smile came back.

We’d gone about five blocks when I noticed Lissette struggling with the heavy suitcase so I asked for a turn pulling it. She resisted but finally gave in, shrugging her shoulders and handing me the handle reluctantly, as though doing me a favor. I became acutely aware of how many notebooks, crayons, pencils, markers, rulers and erasers were in the overstuffed bag and I worried that one of the two little wheels would give and break off. Now that her hands were free, Lissette switched into full tourist guide mode, pointing out places of interest to her.

“That place makes posicle, have you ever had posicle?” she asked.

“No, what is it?”

“Oh, it’s hard to describe, I’ll have to bring you back so you can taste it.” She gave me the smile of a kid about to put her hand in a cookie jar.

‘Very clever,’ I thought to myself, happy to have an accomplice. A little further down the road, we passed a fresh juice bar which sells freshly squeezed fruit drinks they call frescos, along with pastries. Lissette’s face was full of expression as she described her favorite treats. We were going to get along just fine.

Fun Size History: Banana Republic

Speaking of bananas, did you know that the banana was introduced to the United States in 1870? They were brought over from Jamaica and sold in Boston at a 1000% profit. The delicious, nutritious food soon grew in popularity, in part for its yumminess but also because of its cheap price. One could buy a dozen bananas for the price of two apples.

Before long, businessmen found that bananas became even more profitable when grown in countries where they could buy large plots of fertile land, clear them for banana plantations and then hire the now-landless farmers to work for near-slave wages.

A trio of companies, including the United Fruit Company (now known as Chiquita Brands) grew rich and powerful by exporting the bananas back to the United States for enormous profits. They formed mutually beneficial alliances with wealthy landowners in the host countries. They exerted enormous control over the governments of Central American countries and utilized the power of the U.S. military and C.I.A. to squash any attempted rebellions or uprisings. In 1954, the democratically elected president of Guatemala was deposed by the C.I.A. in a 
coup d’├ętat at the request of the United Fruit Company. In Honduras, the United Fruit Company was known as El Pulpo - the octopus - because it had so many far-reaching military/political tentacles.

The term Banana Republic was coined to describe a fictional country but it is widely believed that Honduras provided the inspiration for it. Today the term is used to describe a small, politically unstable country whose government is concerned with growing the economy of a foreign or corporate entity, rather than the welfare of its own citizens.

And you thought Banana Republic was just a clothing company.


  1. I love this! You are fpull of surprises, can't wait to read more.

  2. something that really needs to be seen, but won't. too hard to find alice.

    1. I've only just started to promote this but help me spread the word. thank you so much for your support!