December 2009


Christmas morning we gathered all the young men and boys in the village.  I had gathered baseball things from the St. Johns Church fair for the boys, and we used to opportunity to encourage them to organize a baseball clinic for the younger kids.  We then gave the small gloves and bats to the older boys.  Given the male dominated drunken scene on Christmas eve that began with a cock-fight in the afternoon, it was a good opportunity to reflect with the boys how they want to spend their free time.  Before we actually gave the bag of baseball things, they had come to the conclusion themselves that taking sports more seriously could encourage the young kids to stay away from alcohol and violence, and also elected a small group of older youths to become leaders and run the baseball clinic.

Later in the day we met with the young girls and also used the opportunity to talk a little about family planning and education.  It was a smaller group than the boys, and they already had elected three leaders and begun a project planting pipian and vegetables.  Earlier in the day they took advantage of the cock fight to make some money selling tacos and repochetas.  Our gift to them was a full size volleyball net and new soccer ball with a good pump.

Unpacking the gifts for the nursery school with the help of Ninoska, a friendly four-year-old neighbor of Melaña.  Several of the mothers and the girls looked on. Some big bouncy balls and an abacus with little plastic bears to learn basic math seemed to be the most immediately popular.

The big Christmas day tradition for the kids is walking to the river, where there is a giant swimming hole.  We gathered chigüines, frisbees, and soccer balls and set off for the forty minute walk.  The best game of the day was climbing up onto the fallen tree (on the right side of the picture) and jumping off while trying to catch the frisbee.

The swimming hole was the largest and most beautiful I’ve been to here.  It was large and deep enough to really swim laps.  La Arinconada is lucky to have several accessible paths to this river and another little stream.  Many villagers use the rivers not just for pleasure but also to bathe and wash clothes.  It was a peaceful and beautiful way to spend Christmas day.

Here is a gallery from the Christmas Eve celebrations in La Arinconada, El Sauce.

Rachel helping to pack the truck – backpacks, piñatas, extra candy, balloons, lots of vegetables, gifts for kids, baseball bag, and toys for the nursery school.

First stop: buy fireworks.  Apparently they are as important as ours are on New Years, lit off right at midnight on December 24.  Nicaraguans couldn’t celebrate anything without a little bang.  Purchased: sparklers, flares, and several “volcanoes” that spew sparks up six feet into the air.  My favorite oddities (plans for New Years are forming…): the mini Nicaraguan bull costumes the shoot sparks, and the “Laying Hens” that spew fireball eggs.

As we neared La Arinconada, we let off a few flares to announce our arrival.  A few minutes later we were met head on by a sprinting crew of chigüines, who delightedly rode on the tailgate for the last kilometer of the bumpy ride.

Melaña had everything prepared to make her famous stuffed chicken. She skins the chicken, carefully keeping the entire skin intact. It takes her about an hour for each chicken. Then she cooks the meat and mixes it with uncooked rice, vegetables, fresh herbs, and ketchup, worchestershire sauce, and mustard. The mixture gets stuffed right back into the chicken skins and they are sewn up like rag-hens.  As they roast, the rice expands and so when they came out they were all puffed up like fat little chickens.  An impressive and artistic culinary endeavor.  I loved it.

Brigido arrived and started singing with the kids.  We followed with some games – water balloon toss turned out to be a huge success.  After smashing the three piñatas and finding a light bulb and car battery to attach it to for some light, we finally we ready to start handing out gifts as the sun was setting.

Our Santa Claus, Gregorio, with a chigüine.

After the chaos of handing out presents to over 100 kids in the dark, and a looong dance party and a nap before setting fireworks off at midnight, we sat down to a very elegant Christmas dinner with Melaña and her family.  We all took turns slicing into the roast stuffed chickens, and toasted with some wine we brought from León with us.  Merry Christmas!

Lucky for me, Christmas preparations usually don’t only mean running to disasterously full Long Island malls at the last minute, but are also filled with lots of home cooking and family time.  This year the main christmas celebration will be bringing loads of gifts up to a small settlement called Arinconada in the mountains about 2 hours north of here.

I returned to Nicaragua with suitcases of toys from St. John’s Church Christmas fair and donated by a parent of the Waldorf School of Garden City to donate to the Arinconada preschool.  Melania, a friend of ours and the founder/teacher of the preschool, came to Leon and tested out some of the puzzles and toys.  They all passed the teacher test!

The next task was to pack 100 little bags of gifts for the kids at Arinconada.  We bought bags and bags of little toys by the dozen, and divided the kids up by age.  Rattles and little plastic bowls for the kids under 3, toy cars and little dolls for under six, and bigger dolls and water pistols for the older kids.  And balloons and candy for everyone.  The process of packing it all up into packages starting with Rachel, Simon and I making a giant soup to feed all the elves we had invited to help us.

The giant soup was actually ENTIRELY EATEN during the night, possibly the most impressive part of the activity.

Many friends came over to help, including my actress friend Sobeyda and her son, Fabrizio.

Simon and Sobeyda working on boys 3-6 packages.

Fabrizio and I struggled to get everything for girls 6-12 in the bags, and finally did what every other group had to do as well – tape things to the outside!

We got all the packages made and even had birthday cake for Nestor.

We are leaving today to go and throw a Christmas Eve party at la Arinconada.  I wish you all a happy, peaceful Christmas full of friends, family, and lots of good food homemade food!

The center of Leon, sparkling in the strong Christmas sun!

I spent three and half weeks catching up with friends and family in the states, finding out what has changed during the last ten months.

Now I am back in Leon, finding out what has changed in Nicaragua in the last month.

The streets are filled with fake Christmas trees, plastic toys and imported apples and grapes for sale.  Every night there are dance presentations and concerts in the parks.  Bands of boys wander the streets after 4 oclock in the afternoon with gigantona puppets, pepe costumes, and drums, and stop and perform in front of houses for a few cordoba.  There is cheesy Christmas music in all the supermarkets, just like at home.  So far, Christmas is marked by familiar tinsel and consumerism.

The shift into Christmas season in a Christian dominated country was anticipated.  I didn’t anticipate the news I received from Luis, the coordinator of the Reforestation Project.  Maximino Munguia, one of the farmers from Las Limas, where I stayed and worked for two weeks in June, passed away suddenly at the end of November.  He was 49, and I was told he died of a heart attack while sleeping.  He lived by himself on the very small farm his grandfather bought, 8 manzanas along a river.  I worked with him for two days, building a compost pile and planting trees along the edges of the fields and riverbank.  He was game for anything, and happily included the neighbors kids in the projects as well.

Maximino was one of the most amicable and outgoing participants in the project.  He always broke the ice at our workshops by asking lots of questions – usually preceded by a completely un-selfconscious apology that he received a strong blow to the head several years back and has trouble remembering facts so could you please repeat that information?  He always mentioned this cheerily, with a smile so wide that it made you wonder if he didn’t really enjoy that blow to the head!

It’s definitely a tragedy for his family to lose such a young positive man, and sad for our project to lose an enthusiastic participant.  I’ll always smile when I think of him.

Maximino on the far left, with some of his family members, who came to help him the day we distributed the plantain corms.

Maximino always stepped forward. He was one of the first to volunteer to graft a tree at our last workshop.