Costurera

Standard

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

Standard

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.