Saturday, May 22, 2010

Survivor Nicaragua

Nicaragua was just selected as the host country for the 21st season of Survivor. The host, Jeff Probst, described the country as the land of “impenetrable terrain, smoking volcanoes and savage wildlife." That's pretty accurate when describing all of Nicaragua, but maybe a little over the top for the show. They're filming in one of the nicest areas of the country.

Should be interesting to see if Land, the documentary film about San Juan del Sur's quick development, gets any more buzz because of the show.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Happy Birthday, Cristian

I was in Palacaguina on a training visit, a weekend trip designed to give me a chance to visit the town I would live in for the next two years, and was meeting my host family for the first time. I had gone around the room and met just about everyone – Maria, Estela, Angela, Herman, Sergio Luis, Carlos, Erlinda, Carmen, and Emanuel – when Rosa walked up cradling Cristian. I wasn’t really sure what to do when she introduced us. It was hot and we were all crammed into a small concrete front room that offered no breeze. I was overwhelmed with the number of people staring at me and the number of unfamiliar names that had just been thrown my way. I had struggled through each introduction with the Spanish of a three year old, and now I had to come up with a reaction or something to say to a sleeping baby. I asked how old he was. Six weeks. And then I said that he was the first person I had met in Nicaragua that knew less Spanish than I did. I said it more as a truth than a joke, but the whole room shook with laughter. I had only been in the country for six weeks but I had already learned that it wasn’t hard, as a self deprecating foreigner with a thick accent, to get Nicaraguans to laugh, and this proved to be an extremely easy crowd. Cristian had helped me knock my first impression out of the park.

After that first introduction though, we didn’t really bother with each other much. In fact, we got off to a fairly cold start. As far as I could tell, Cristian didn’t do much other than shamelessly breastfeed, making any entrance into the common area a dangerously awkward experience, and steal the hammock from me during his mid morning naps. There was only one time that I held him. His mother was running errands and his grandmother was in the kitchen, so I was left to answer his cries from the hammock, picking him up and tenderly consoling him. He quickly stopped crying and to thank me peed all over the front of my shirt. After that, I stayed away from him for the most part, preferring instead to spend my time with his older brother, Sergio, who offered abilities I found more appealing – jumping, running, playing, walking, talking, joking, laughing.

But Cristian didn’t hold my cold shoulder against me. He grew up quickly and within months was greeting me upon my arrival at the house with a big smile and my name, “’veeed.” When he was learning how to walk, Sergio and I would sit on opposite sides of the room and have Cristian try to walk from one of us to the other, betting candy on how far he’d make it before falling. After he was more sure footed, he’d walk over to me to slap a high five or compete with Sergio for space on my lap. It was fun watching him grow up and by the time he was more safely trained at using the bathroom, he had won me over. By the time I left, I knew I’d miss him just as much as his older brother.

Through my two years living there, Cristian’s family repeated my initial joke about my Spanish at least once a week. Jokes or remotely funny stories had a tendency to be frequently retold among Nicaraguans, and no matter how many times they were shared, they always seemed to earn the same reaction. The one hundredth time something was told was just as funny as the first. It was boring at times, always retelling the same stories and jokes, but the ease with which the laughter came was reassuring. No matter what, laughter was just one old story away.

Last week, Cristian turned four years old. I called him to wish him a happy birthday and we briefly chatted. His responses were mostly “yes’s” and “no’s,” but he did ask me when I was coming to visit and generally spoke very well for a four year old. When he returned the phone to his mom, I told her that his Spanish was now better than mine. Her reaction was predictable – a hearty laugh. I like to imagine that 20 years down the line, I’ll be in Palacaguina for a visit. We’ll all be crammed into the same front room, and I’ll tell Cristian the story of the first time I met him. Without a doubt, he will have heard it before but no matter. It’s comforting knowing that the story will be met with the same reply as that first day. The whole room will shake with laughter.

Happy Birthday, Cristian. May your Spanish always be improving.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Obama's UM Commencement Address

President Obama using John F. Kennedy's introduction of the US Peace Corps to inspire UM's 2010 grads to willingly contribute part of their lives to the life of our country.