Thursday, June 28, 2007

Veintiocho de Junio

This morning Adam, our housemate Teddy, and I walked a half an hour to one of the schools where Adam teaches music. The small 3-room school tucked down a dirt road is painted light blue and white and has a single swing set which is also painted light blue. As we round the corner we hear reggaeton, a popular type of music that sounds like Latin rap, attempting to project through the speakers of a very small boom box. On the sidewalk four young girls dancing clearly in ways they had seen on television. The small audience sits in miniature chairs around the performance and is very attentive for young elementary children. They are having a Maestro Felizidad (Happy Teacher Day) celebration All of the kids are dressed nicely. Some of the girls are even in frilly purple and yellow dresses.

Here, many aspects of life are nice on the outside; the clothing, the homes. But as we get to know the locals, the poverty becomes more apparent. In the main neighborhoods of Granada, the colonial homes, rows and rows of them, with their beautiful ironwork and colorful facades are just that – facades. Behind the giant double doors, bright red, blue, yellow, green, one enters into a meek cinderblock room with a dirt floor and a few wooden rocking chairs for furniture. Though the children are dressed nicely, they are seen in the same outfit nearly every day.

Off of the main paved roads are several dirt roads where the majority of the poor Nicaraguans live. One of Adam’s schools is located down one of these dirt roads near our home. This afternoon we walked down this road to visit the students (who weren’t there due to a short winter vacation) and got to see several of the shacks and the families who occupy them. The homes on the dirt road haven’t the colonial facades. Some have no facades at all.

Every day, as Adam puts it, is Take Your Kids to Work Day.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Veintisiete de Junio

Today Adan and I were not home much. We went on several errands and worked on the Café until dark. Lilly and Donna (project coordinators for Building New Hope) stopped by the café to see that we were still sanding and painting and cleaning. Pleased at our initiative, they invited us to dinner. We went to my least favorite street in the whole town, Calle Calzada which, frequented by foreigners and large groups of dopey white teenagers, feels like church camp in Europe or something. It definitely doesn’t feel like Nicaragua.

As we sit at our outdoor table amidst a swarm of irritating foreigner kids buzzing in twangy English, a young Nica catches my eye. He sits across the narrow road and silently with his hazy red eyes, begs for leftovers. I notice him as I swallow my last bite. As the swarms buzz away, the young man inches slowly and humbly across the road. The waiter is clearing plates and refuses to look up at the young man who is kindly requesting the half-eaten pizza crusts that are buried under oily napkins. As the young man meekly extends his arm toward abandoned scraps, the waiter zips in and snatches the plate, adding it to the pile in his arms and shaking his head at the pitiful beggar. I sense his embarrassment and though I’ve always felt more compassion for those who ask for food over money, I know there is nothing I can do for him at this time. I intend to buy him a plate of his own but realize that we haven’t a centavo on us, and I cannot bring myself to ask Donna to buy him some food. At that moment, I feel choked because I cannot help this very hungry person and I am certain that, back at home, my kitten has just died.

When we get home, Adam looks me in the eyes and says quietly, “Do you want me to go upstairs and check?” I stand in the kitchen and wait for him to return, already knowing what he will find between the toilet and the adobe wall. When he came back downstairs, he made a ‘nada’ gesture with his hands and a single click sound with his mouth; he reached for a plastic bag, and disappeared back upstairs.

I don’t feel as much relief as I thought I would. I feel, instead, a hallow frustration and a dull ache of failure.

We went from 4 cats to 2 cats in one day. Aries is missing in action and we fear she may have fallen off the balcony and gotten swept away with the trash on the curb. We cannot think of any other explanation, for she was in our room the entire night and when we woke up, she was no longer in our room. She was no where to be found.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Veintiseis de Junio

Between the toilet and the adobe wall of our bathroom, barricaded into the corner by various jugs filled with water, lies Salvadora. Every 30 seconds, I peer around the wall, hoping to see her lying perfectly still.

I hope to find her dead.

Several hours ago, my lean was very slow and calculated, preparing my emotions for what I might find. I would wince my eyes and let one see before the other as I would tilt myself into the view of her.

Yet as the hours, twenty-four of them, have passed with her lying on this blue tiled floor, I’ve had time to consider the alternative to her living through this hell. With that in mind, I now habitually and obsessively bend around the corner in the middle of every minute, hoping to witness her during or after her final breath.

At first it only happened once an hour. She would be bundled in a cooking pot next to my side of the bed, swaddled in dishrags to keep her bones warm, sleeping deeply, when slowly her eyes would open. Her cedar brown eyes would widen and widen, making way for her enlarging pupils and the devil behind them. Next, her tiny pink nose would turn white and begin to confirm the rapidly increasing breaths, in and out, faster and faster. Next, all of her tiny limbs would become unnervingly stiff and force her to coil awkwardly right out of her pot and onto the cement floor. She would twist and writhe in silence, often folding as if there we an invisible string tied around her neck, tying her skinny body into knots. After a few seconds she would begin a growl that grew and grew until it was a piercing shriek of tremendous agony, many moments long. She would seize and tremble, contort and wail until, after 3 minutes, the devil would leave her. She would take a tiny gasp, release a petite meow and fall right back asleep, exhausted.

First, this took place once an hour and lasted a short time. But over the past two nights, these fits began occurring every 10 minutes…. on the dot. The volume of her wail now amplifies through the house and through the night. Ruling out demonic possession, we have decided she has either been trying to pass an awful infection or has been dying for the past two days.

Observing this suffering, I come upon a dismal dilemma: Shall I continue feeding her? For a short time, she was looking very much alive and healthy, sucking eagerly from the syringe, but as she deteriorates, as the disease takes over, she is recently only in two conditions: seizing or sleeping. I wonder if, by feeding her, I am keeping her alive only so she can suffer. I decide to keep feeding her, but do so less and less frequently, as it gets difficult to get a sleeping kitten to swallow.

Most terrible is the fact that there is absolutely nothing that we can do. There is only one animal clinic in this entire town and the veterinarians are volunteers who come to Nicaragua only for sporadic weekend trips. There is no veterinarian this week and no one cares about dying kittens because there are too many mouths to feed as it is. I fight a few disturbing ideas to help terminate her distress. I think of lifting her frail body and setting her gently into the depths of the toilet water, knowing she would be too weak to argue. I think of swaddling her in plastic, or simply holding my finger over her tiny nostrils.

I obsess mentally over her condition and what to do about it, concluding only that, at this time, I am as helpless as she is. I am left to battle against my attachment to this wee being. I do not simply give her permission…

but I command her to die.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Veintiquatro de Junio

(This is Adam's account of our day, he captured it better than I could, so I re-posted his entry here):

I went over to our manager’s house yesterday…

“Hey, Adam, can I ask you a favor? The vet found this black cat in the street. It looks pretty sick and malnourished. Could you ask Sydney if she could take care of it tonight and then tomorrow you can take it back to the vet.”


I peered into this small water tin and inside three little dish towels lay the skin and bones of a small black alien with white boots and a white nose. Its ochre green eyes filling half of its comparable oversized skull.

Sydney showed up at her house and we took it home. She fed the little soul some baby food mixed with soy milk through a syringe only to get about half of it into its tiny little mouth.

We all slept.

6:00 am another feeding.

8:00 am one more feeding. We take her/him to the vet. The gatito is not looking good, barely able to keep its head up, it can’t even stand up, its feet sprawling like a black spider web.

The vet looked at the little kitten with the hardened eyes of a doctor who had seen a million animals come and go, in and out of the hospital in more ways than one.

You see in Nicaragua, the cats have their own city, built on the rooftops of tattered houses they play, breed, eat and shit. Nature’s way…cats on top, people inside, dogs on the streets. Cats have a gestation period of 64 days which means that they can become pregnant, give birth, raise their young and get pregnant again all within three months. Usually a liter is comprised of about 3-8 little ones for a maximum of 24 cats a year or a minimum of 9. Either way, the cat population is a double edge sword for those with weak hearts. A liter half passed is both a blessing and a problem depending on how many cats you are already caring for.

For our little one, our care is only part of the solution because we are going to find it a home in the United States. For other little ones, it is to the rooftops to fight for their bony little bodies.

The vet emptied its bladder manually, he gave it a few CC’s of antibiotics, and sent us on our way. We returned home with the knowledge that it was a little girl with stomach worms, fleas, cuts and bruises, and a small chance to live.

As we approached the door to our guest house, she began to yelp incessantly. We took her inside and laid her on a table and the most incredible thing happened
She started to convulse, legs twitching, head throbbing, eyes blinking, all of it with sudden yelps, cries rising from the fight with el ladron de la vida. Sydney broke down instantly, the suffering of something so small, helpless, scared, unresponsive tearing at a heart so large, unconditional, sensitive and bursting with hope.

“Adan, Adan we have to take it back to the vet. Maybe he can do something.”
The walk back was tormenting, “I don’t think it is a good idea, baby,” I replied, only to realize that doing something was better than sitting there watching the whole thing happen.

We put her in the water tin, left our guest house and returned to the vet as quickly as possible.

I swear the cat died.

We arrived disturbed and uncertain. The towels were still pulsing, warm to the touch…all good signs of life.

The doctor administered some saline solution and some cortisol. The cures at the vet were hydration, electrolytes and adrenalin. The cures at home are swaddling, syringe feeding baby food each hour, and promising her love if she would only live.

Right now it is 12:32 pm and Salvadora is alive. She is aware, fed, pooped, played and full of life. I think she saw the light, got scared and ran the other way. We saved her and she saved us from witnessing the passing from life to death. I have seen rocks get crushed, I have seen insects flip over and cease from moving, I even seen aquarium fish fight for their dorsal balance only to lose their brilliant color. I have never witnessed a mammal lose that which it has gained over a million years…the warmth of its blood.

Sydney is getting ready for bed. Nico is sleeping in his box. Aries is trying to eat some beads. Salvadora is breathing steady

Friday, June 22, 2007

Vientidos de Junio

We are currently taking care of four orphaned kittens:

Meet Nico. He is equivalent to a human toddler. He is super needy and will only stop his incessant crying if someone is holding him. He sounds like a deflating squeaky toy and he looks like a cross between a gremlin and Quasimodo. He is SO annoying with his constant need for affection, but one cannot help but love him, especially when he latches onto our pants like velco and climbs all the way up to our shoulders. This is actually a very flattering photo of him. Be not fooled.

Meet Linda ("pretty" in Spanish) Linda is the equivalent of pre-teen. She's like a thirteen-year-old girl going thru puberty.. her voice has even changed! Her meow is 3 ocataves lower and nothing about her is kitten like anymore. She’s not whiny and is easy to please. She spends all day climbing trees and chasing butterflies.

Meet Aries. He is the equivalent of a an 8-year-old boy. He was found drenched on the pavement after a giant thunderstorm. He was dragging his back legs behind him because for some reason they had very weak muscle and had no form to them. The vet made him makeshift casts out of masking tape, which he wore for a few weeks. His legs now function perfectly and his only flaw is a bit of skiddish shyness. His fur is incredibly soft and he is very loving to the other kittens.

Meet Salvadora. We’ve named her this because she is very sick, but we are going to save her. She was also found abandoned and is clearly malnourished and very ill. She has giant eyes that remind us of the eyes of starving children in Africa. She will look and feel healthier soon, I hope. We are feeding her with syringes and keeping her swaddled in a dish towel.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Diecinueve de Junio

So, here we sit with the wind loud in the trees of the garden beside us. The garden is right now a wall of black without even a touch of light to make out where it begins and ends. Adan hovers a mini flashlight over his reading and i soon will do the same for there is exactly nothing else that can be done in this large house in this small town with no electricity and no running water. We are not irritated and instead have adjusted in these two weeks to the uncertainty of everything.

We cook in the dark, we read in the dark, and sometimes when the water works but the lights do not, we shower in the dark. And when the lights work but the water does not, we cook with dirty hands, empty our intestines without flushing the toilet, sweat through our clothes and crawl into bed with no showers.

When there is no electricity and no running water there is absolutely nothing to do but idolize the universe. Across an unfathomable expanse, the stars can be seen for lightyears and one cannot help but bow with a novel respect. When there is no light and no water, there is nothing to do but look at the stars, talk about the stars and take photos of the stars through the ironwork of our balcony.

When there is no light and no water there is nothing to do but kiss in the dark. There is absolutely nothing to do but rediscover the texture of one another’s lips in a pitch black kitchen.

There is exactly nothing to do but sit on our balcony and listen to Spanish humming from the dark sidewalks, nothing to do but listen to our neighbors creak in their rocking chairs and purr in melodic conversation. With no electricity, there is nothing to do but shine flashlights on spiders and marvel at the acute angles of their many skinny legs which create Spiro-graphic shadows on adobe walls.

There is nothing to do but write by candle light, play viola on the balcony, search for kittens with flashlights, swing in hammocks in the pitch black garden, and feel completely content with the uncertainty of everything.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Dieciocho de Junio

Here, the elderly have phenomenal faces, a story in every line.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Diecisiete de Junio

Today we did the tourist thing and took a boat tour around the Isletas, which is a cluster of tiny islands that people live on with amazing monkeys and colorful birds. You can click on the pictures to see them closer! (You've gotta see the baby's face under the umbrella... lil cabbage patch cheeks.)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Dieciseis de Junio

After our morning Spanish lesson we search for Lilly to help out in the café and when she is nowhere to be found we fall asleep in hammocks reading sad and bizarre books. It is a blessing and a curse having no cell phones. Adam gets a haircut, I make him shave his gotee into a skinny Mexican moustache and then we find an internet café to let the family know we’re still alive.

We then search for nocatamales (a special Spanish dish served in banana leaves, that we hear are quite good). We walk the whole town, with folks telling us to go 4 blocks west, then four blocks east and when we finally give up our search, a big ass NOCATAMALES sign falls at our feet.

We sit outside the restaurant and chat with the street kids until the restaurant owner wildly waves his hands at the children as if shoo’ing flies and sends them all away. We didn’t get a chance to tell him that they were not bothering us. We went on drinking our mimosas and taking photos of the electric blue and black sunset clouds, simultaneously bright and dark.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Catorce de Junio

I refuse to focus on the distasteful aspects of this experience, however they must be noted for my future memories of the complete encounter.

For example, It’s really quite hot here and the only relief is a nice cold shower or three. Even a brief rinsing grants immense liberation. HOweVer, devilish water shortages hold hostage even DRIPS of deliverance and I am left to my sticky swelters, fiddling with the faucets in vain hope – all day long.

And….. I can’t think of anything else that bothers me right now. We came here with really low expectations in the area of comfort and convenience, so we’ve got it pretty good. So I guess that’s the end of my complaining.

We’ve just returned from a movie night with some foreigner friends of ours and discussions about how much worse it could be make me forget my other grievances. Things ain’t so bad.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Trece de Junio

Standing in the regadera fria con cervesas frias, nosotros practicamos nuestro espanol y discutimos sobre quien es bossier. Due to a water shortage todo el dia, Adan no pudo flush el inodoro earlier y no pudo lavar his crapped-in panties. Entonces, nuestro habitacion huele muy terrible. Mi amiga, Jen, y yo fuimos nadar en la picina a una hospedaje.

Later in the evening, we met Francisco, a Nicaragua native who is our age, in the square while I was hoping to take sunset photos. He spoke with adan while I zipped around and captured a few moments and faces.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Doce de Junio

Today, I hiked Volcano Mombacho. I took in all the Amazing views and snapped many photos of the landscape and our town from above.
I went with Jen, a volunteer, who is ready to leave Nicaragua and never come back. She’ll leave behind her kittens and her English accent.
“oh its absolutely boilin”
“it cost a biddy fortune.”
“a great big pot and a titchy one.”

She can’t stand Nicaragua and complains about it constantly. Maybe I’m just on a New Experience high, and by the end of my summer here, I too will be ready to leave Nicaragua and never come back. But I really believe the experience is ours to create.

We can either dwell grumpily on all the power outages, the lack of decent healthy food, the outrageous heat, the lack of organization… or we can focus on the unique way of life, the new culture, the laid back atmosphere, the glorious and most welcome rain showers, the colorful buildings and the friendly people. We could either isolate ourselves in our apartment, avoid the busy streets, and ignore the neighbors ....or we could search for adventure, CHOOSE the busy streets, and meet our neighbors, and actively seek ways to serve the country. Its going to be what we make of it.

Running to my Spanish class in 100 degree heat, boilin’ sun, mid-day… I could have turned a ditch into a lagoon with the sweat dripping from me today. Laguna del Sydney. Now I understand why no one is in a hurry.

Well, except for these three little ninas.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Diez de Junio

His name was Yader.
“Mmm comida….” Pacing around the outdoor tables, pesky as a fly, he asks again and again for leftover scraps from abandoned plates. “Sientase.” We have him sit with us and we offer him my plate. Shoveling with both hands, he takes brief brakes to answer our questions. Though he clearly wanted to continue his quest for food, he took the time to explain that his parents cannot work due illness (asthma & feet issues) so he has to fend for himself and his sisters. He’s fourteen.

He has to fend for himself too.

We went to the Mercado today. Lost in the maze of booths selling everything from bras to matches, mangos to soaps, we found ourselves in the raw meat section where flesh cut who-knows-when sits under a sweaty sun blood-soaking wooden tables. The meat is swatted by a rolled up newspaper in a vain attempt to keep the flies from first dibs. I hold my breath until I find my way out.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Ocho de Junio

Today we got filthy. Paint dust and dirty water filthy.
Café Chavalos is a restaurant that is opening to help the barrio boys with jobs as cooks. It is a program that gets very troubled teenage boys (drug addicts, murders, theives, etc.) off the streets by offering them chef training and jobs at the Cafe. Adam and I spent all day painting, sweeping and sanding, laboring for the good of the kids. It was great to be working so hard, doing the difficult annoying tasks, knowing that it is all part of a big picture to help Nicaragua.

We just watched a late night street soccer ball game. They had been playing since sunset, and are still playing. The street is not blocked off and cars still pass thru the middle of their games.

More children playing in the streets.