Caught in the Rain

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 7

I like walking in the rain here.  It rains hard.  I’ve walked in everything from the lightest mist to a lean-in-at-45-degrees-to-keep-from-getting-blown-over gale. 

Getting caught in the rain used to carry a negative connotation in my mind.  I’ve lived places where sleet and freezing rain can kill you.  But in the first months we were here, our friend Samuel made an acute observation:  walking in the rain is exactly like walking not in the rain, but cooler.  Either way, you quickly become soaking wet.  But when the rain soaks you, it feels nicer and smells better.  Granted, your shoes might sploosh and squish more.  There’s a bit more likelihood of rubbing a blister if you’re walking a longer distance, but other than that, plus the looks you get from Nicaraguans and gringos thinking you’re crazy, walking in the rain beats walking in the sun and heat.

I’ve never seen a game of ultimate cancelled here, nor failed for lack of participation, due to rain.  Let me say that again: in the six-plus years we’ve lived in Managua, where it rains six months a year and forty-five inches in those six months, not once have we called off a game.  Ultimate is highly impacted by rain, considering we play with a light, aerodynamic piece of plastic, and running up and down a field also changes quite a bit when the field is mush.*  But I’ve seen twenty people sitting under cover, watching the downpour, all look at one another and then stroll out into it for a game.  That may prove nothing other than that I’m far from alone in my insanity, but I found it encouraging.

Today I was walking home after an appointment, a fair distance.  When I started I could barely detect the rain.  But it slowly increased, whether because I was walking into the storm or because it started coming down harder.  In the last two kilometers, it seemed to get stronger with every step.  By the time I reached the last, steep uphill before our street, I could barely see and had to keep wiping water from my eyes.  

But I was happy.  I’d had a really encouraging time with someone I mentor who is growing and making great life choices.  That gets me high like nothing else.  Transformation is my drug of choice.  I was praying and using my hands as windshield wipers and, by the time I got to our front step, I was actually–wait for it–chilly.  A little bit.  Our son saw me and, while I unlaced my sopping shoes, ran and got me a towel because I needed to warm up.  

That’s a treat here.  Something worth writing home about.  Kim made soup tonight and it was perfect.  

Tonight it is seventy-seven degrees and though it’s eighty-nine percent humidity, the heat index feels like…seventy-seven degrees.  The late afternoon rain did its job.  

I hope I get caught in the rain tomorrow.  

 

Post-Script:  No, I don’t carry an umbrella, unless I’m protecting my dress clothes.  Yes, flooding is a different story.  This is just rain.  

 

*Personally, I far prefer playing on the soft, squooshy, even standing-water field over the baked-like-concrete field we get in the dry season.  My well-traveled legs vastly prefer the wet field.

Costurera

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 5

Seamstress.  

We have a neighbor about three blocks up the street who has a sign out offering mending and alterations.  

She looks about fifty-five to me, but I’ve been fooled before.  I know people here who appear ten to twenty years older–to me–than they actually are.  Lack of dental care, poor nutrition, too many years of too long hours take a toll on the body.  Living in the barrio can take a toll on the body. 

She has a beautiful smile and, when she smiles, which is frequently, her face brightens.  Her wrinkles are adjusted for smiles.  She is clearly one of those people who has smiled a lot in her years.  

Today, I had to pick up six pairs items, pants and shorts, school uniforms* that she had hemmed for us.  They huge road machinery is still working on our street–paving!–so I had to tiptoe around the work site by the side of the road; a big stretch of the road is now wet cement.  

I got to her house and she greeted and welcomed me, smiled at me, then went through five or six plastic grocery bags, seeking to identify the clothes that belong to us.  She found them and laid each one out for me, showing me what she had done.  I then handed her a shirt that my son had just gotten that had already opened up a hole in the seam at the left shoulder.  She waved her hand and told me that she would fix it but would not take anything for it, that it was nothing.

Then I handed her two hundred cordobas, asking if she had change.  Two hundred cordobas is just over six dollars (30 cords to the dollar right now). She gave me one hundred eighty cordobas in change.  That meant she had done the altering for sixty cents. 

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Shouldn’t it be more than that?”

“No.  And this shirt is nothing.  It will be done this afternoon.”

“Okay.  You’re sure?”

Now even by the standards of our barrio, that is too little.  But she wasn’t changing her mind.  So I thanked her and clasped her hand and blessed her and tiptoed my way back through the road crew and tools and crying concrete.  

About 45 minutes later, our neighbor Mileydi tapped lightly on my door.  

“The costurera is here.”

I went out and greeted her.  She asked me how much I had paid for the mending and I told her twenty cords.  

“Okay,  My daughter asked, ‘Momma, how much did he pay you?  You only got twenty cordobas.'”

“How much was it supposed to be?”

Cien veinte .”  

Fortunately, I still had the 180 cords of change in my pocket.  I took them out and handed her the hundred cord bill.  

She hesitated.  Asked how much the change should be.  I showed her the hundred cords in one hand, the eighty in the other, said, “I gave you cien cords, so veinte more, one hundred minus twenty  is eighty.”  

She kept smiling but didn’t seem convinced.  I walked her through the arithmetic again, then twice more.  Finally Mileydi walked over and, as far as I could hear, repeated the same thing I had said but in better Nica Spanish, without the gringo accent.  

Our costurera smiled at her and closed her hand on the hundred cord bill.  

“Si.  Gracias,” she said.  Then she handed me the shirt, already stitched.  

Nada,” she insisted.  

Now during all of this, I offered all hundred and eighty cords, and then the fifty and then the twenty in addition to the hundred she accepted.  Repeatedly.  She wouldn’t take them.  But she smiled bigger and told me her daughter was right.

“Tell her I kept asking.  Tell her the gringo is not a ladrón!” I said, smiling back.  Mileydi laughed at me.  

And our neighbor walked back home.  

You would imagine, before you entered this culture, that you could just insist on overpaying.  And you could.  And we do, sometimes.  But doing so can risk damaging the relationship.  There are Nicaraguans who see all gringos as rich and seek to overcharge at every opportunity.  And there are also Nicaraguans who refuse to take even twenty cordobas extra, because her price is twenty cords per garment.  She doesn’t do math well.  But she’s rightfully proud of her work and she won’t take more from us than from her other neighbors. 

Because she sees us as neighbors, too.  

Humidity

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 3

Humidity

We base the humidity comfort level on the dew point, as it determines whether perspiration will evaporate from the skin, thereby cooling the body. Lower dew points feel drier and higher dew points feel more humid. Unlike temperature, which typically varies significantly between night and day, dew point tends to change more slowly, so while the temperature may drop at night, a muggy day is typically followed by a muggy night.

Managua experiences significant seasonal variation in the perceived humidity.

The muggier period of the year lasts for 9.2 months, from March 22 to December 28, during which time the comfort level ismuggy, oppressive, or miserable at least 73% of the time. The muggiest day of the year is September 23, with muggy conditions100% of the time.

The least muggy day of the year is February 1, with muggy conditions 64% of the time.

https://weatherspark.com/y/14372/Average-Weather-in-Managua-Nicaragua

 

First, this is not a whining post.  Please don’t hear my tone that way.  To describe living in Managua without discussing heat and humidity would be like describing living in Breckenridge, elevation 9,600, without mentioning thinner air.  It becomes the constant of your life, your normal, but it’s also the underlying factor that impacts almost everything.  There are studies linking climate to a culture’s characteristics, but that is beyond my expertise.  I’m just talking about living with humidity.  

It rained this morning.  That cooled things off and I thought we might have a cooler game of ultimate today.  I was wrong.  The sun came back out by 8AM and the heat spiked.  When I checked the weather report at 1PM, it said 79% humidity, 93 degrees, “feels like 103.”  Not a dry heat.  If you live in a tropical climate, you get used to heat, you suffer, or you leave.  

The Nicaraguans I know are adapted to the heat and the humidity.  I believe every Nicaraguan I have known feels cold when it gets below 80 (which it doesn’t that often).  Adults don’t wear shorts much, except when playing sports.  I consider myself playing sports all the time.  I tried for two years to adapt to wearing pants and failed.  I wear them only when my social situation absolutely requires it.  

My son has also adapted to humidity.  He prefers wearing pants to school over shorts. He dislikes hot showers, even when we’re back in the States and they’re available.  He and my middle daughter (who is simply cold-blooded) use flannel blankets here.  Did I mention it rarely drops below 80 degrees?  

Humidity drains energy.  For me, it erodes patience.  We’ll be home for dinner together, it may have been a perfectly fine day, and I will feel myself growing irritable.  My kids haven’t done anything wrong, certainly nothing unusual or unreasonable, but I’m hot and sticky and when you add that to tired and hungry, it can go south quickly.  I’ve learned to recognize that and do what I can to cool off.  

When people tell me they could never do what we do, sometimes they mean “I could never live someplace that hot and humid.”  I understand.  Humidity holds heat in the air.  Probably the hardest thing about living in Nicaragua for me has been suffering insomnia; I think the hot nights cause it, at least in part.

I talked with friends yesterday who moved back from Matagalpa, a city in the mountains of Nicaragua with a much more temperate climate.  They’d been in the States for a month and he said when they got back “There was an inch of mildew covering everything.”  Humidity.  The first apartment we lived in here had poor ventilation and though we would scrub the floors with fungicide-laced cleaner, by the morning the grout of the tile floor had a strip of mildew again.  Every morning.

Our first year here, the heat shocked me.  I vividly remember sitting in our second house here, a much cooler, better ventilated, nicer home, at dinner time, so about 6PM.  The sun had gone down.  We were eating salad.  In a few minutes, sweat began to roll down my temples.  My arms started to shine.  I wasn’t playing ultimate, I wasn’t walking, I wasn’t even eating hot soup–I was eating cold salad.  The exertion of lifting the fork to my mouth caused me to sweat profusely.  

I’ve adapted since then.  Bodies are amazing.  I remember when we moved to Breckenridge, CO, and I was freezing all the time.  I don’t know if the temperature ever reached 80 degrees in the three years we lived there, but we definitely had 9 months of winter.  After a while, I could climb stairs without panting and would take off layers when the temperature got up to 45 or 50.  Likewise, though this morning I felt out of shape from our U.S. visit and certainly felt my age, I could also feel my body already readjusting to the humidity.  

Now, as I write this, the rain has come back.  We are having a genuine thunderstorm (not one of the wild ones, just steady thunder in the background and hard rain with a light breeze).  This is precisely why I prefer rainy season.  

Nicaragua has rainy season, dry season, and the end of dry season in which the rain doesn’t fall but the heat and humidity creep up and up and up some more.  I’m sure I’ll describe each of them in detail.  The saving grace of rainy season is that sometime every one to three days, the rain falls and knocks some of the heat out of the air.  If we don’t have rain, as in the drought we suffered last year, the heat just keeps climbing to miserable levels.  In August so far, the percent of relative humidity has bounced between low 70s and high 80s. The day I flew back, we had 89% humidity, without rain. 

Right now, of course, we have 91% humidity because there’s water falling through the air.  Even with this, and the temperature plummeting to 81, the  Weather Channel still tells me it “feels like 91.”  But to me, it doesn’t.  Thanks to this breeze, I feel cooled off and can bear this furry cat cuddled up against me.  If it keeps on like this, I might even drink a cup of tea.  I love hot tea but probably drink fewer than 10 cups a year here, because if you can’t eat salad without sweating…

 

Post-Script:  The water is off again.  I think they broke another pipe.  Feeling cooled off with this rain helps a lot, though.  

 

managuahumidity

Average-Weather-in-August-in-Managua-Nicaragua

If you do check out this link, scroll down to the humidity section and check out the “Humidity Comfort Levels” graph.

 

No Water, Day 2

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 2

The first day without water, everyone groans.  It’s an inconvenience.  Often it happens late in the day, so we might come home from school or sports practice to discover it.  We still have drinking water and, almost always, our back-up tank has plenty, we just have to fill buckets.  Flushing toilets means hauling those buckets back and forth.  Washing dishes becomes more complicated.  

But today we don’t have water again, and this starts to become a challenge.  Buckets get hauled to the showers.  Sinks get water containers for hand washing.  But the real issue is laundry.  We’re in the rainy season.  We don’t have a dryer, so once clothes are washed we need them to dry in the sun.  Plus, having them sit around dirty isn’t always a pleasant prospect, because did I mention it’s humid here?  When we do have water again (tomorrow, Lord hear our prayer), it’s not so easy to do multiple loads because that requires multiple loads to dry–did I mention it’s rainy here?  

A dear friend and mentor of mine, Rowena, who died many years ago now, once described a conversation she had with God about being with people who are suffering.  She told God, “You know I can’t do that, because I love them too much; my heart is too soft and I can’t bear to see them going through that.”  And God told her, “That isn’t love.  See the person you think is cold-hearted?  The one who is actually with them?”

“Oh,” Rowena said.*

We don’t live in poverty, we live near poverty.  We live next to people who live in poverty.  The difference is monumental, perhaps incalculable.  Living in Nicaragua, we face some inconveniences, like going without running water.  We lack some gadgets that make life more comfortable.  Air conditioner, dishwasher, dryer come to mind.  These do not qualify as real suffering and are well worth getting to live where we live and trying to be the neighbors we hope to be.  

I got to buy five tortillas this morning from our neighbor across the street.  She doesn’t have running water, either, but got some from somewhere to make her tortillas.  We compared notes on being without water, pondered if the huge bog in the middle of our under-construction street explains where our water is going, and speculated when they might finish the road work.  

I have, in moments of desperation, washed my hair with drinking water:  I discover too late that we have no water, our back-up tank is empty, I need to be somewhere looking halfway presentable, and there I am.  It feels ludicrously extravagant–like buying nice stationery to use as napkins–and drives home that I live in a developing nation, and in a barrio that is definitely still developing.  It also proves the point that this is not poverty for us.   

For our inconveniences, maybe even more for the sake of our neighbors, I’m praying for water to start running through our pipes again.  

 

 

Post-Script:  Long after I wrote this, just before we left for our back-to-school open house, I heard that glorious sound of a faucet left on!  The water is back!

 

 

*She was one of my favorite storytellers.  I miss my friend.