Archive for November, 2012

Red Flags come in all shapes and sizes. From relationship red flags, to red flags at work, they are there to help protect you from danger.

Red flags in Nicaragua (and a lot of Central American countries) tend to fall into two categories: conceptual and literal.

Some conceptual red flags include street drunks speaking English, children asking for money (as discussed in ABYM #9), anyone offering help in a market, anyone offering help with taxis, and people telling you there is only one of something.

Eye patches tend to be a dead giveaway….

 

There are a lot of educated Nicaraguans who can speak English in this country, but there are also a lot of people who live in touristy areas who have picked up English by growing up or living around tourists. Now, this skill should be celebrated, but unfortunately it is most commonly used as a way to mildly scam tourists. As I listed above, normally when people “help” you get a taxi or buy stuff in the market, it is because they approached you with English.

 

What really happens is many times they will forcibly inject themselves into any conversations with local merchants or taxi drivers and then demand a fee for their “help” from either the tourist, the cab driver, or both. They also can tell which kinds of tourists will be willing to give money and which won’t and so the only real loser is the merchant or the taxi driver.

Pro-Tip: This chicken is dead. Don’t buy it for lunch.

 

This type of situation generally arises when they ask you in English where you are from, what is your name etc, and most tourists have a strong sense of political correctness and are uncomfortable shooing them away or tell them to get lost. They are aware of this, and the more polite the tourist, the more assertive they are in taking control of any transactions that arise.

It is difficult to adjust to, but similar to telling street children to go away, you need to be very clear, and very confident that they are not needed. If (and usually when) they aren’t responding to the initial confident but courteous no, you just need to be a dick and tell them to leave you alone.

 

as long as you can juggle fire, English is not necessary

The red flag in this case boils down to this question: “If you can speak English…why are you street hustling?”

English is a very lucrative skill in these countries, Nicaragua especially. Anyone with fluent or near fluent English normally has very little trouble finding work. So their intentions are immediately called into question if they are using this skill on hapless tourists.

Tour guides like this rarely have trouble finding work

 

The other type of red flag (or pink in some cases) is a flag used by farmers and cowboys to indicate that cows are crossing the highway. This is very important to look out for as often the cattle trains encompass the entire highway for up to a few hundred meters. If you don’t see the flagger (or he wasn’t there in this case) this happens:

We fought the cow…and the…cow won.

 

In this case, the flagger on the East side was in the midst of the cattle, thereby rendered useless. It didn’t help that the driver was facing a setting sun at 5pm in the afternoon.

This incident taught me a lot about Nicaraguan law. For instance, it is the farmer’s fault if someone hits their cow while crossing the road and it is normal protocol to immobilize the cow immediately to identify its….cow number. I am sure there is a more specific word, but for all intents and purposes it is a VIN for a cow. Let’s call it a CIN.

This is how they should look in Nica

 

In addition, hit and runs can occur, but not in the way you think. In this particular instance, after striking the cow, the cowboy rushed all the cows (including the culprit cow) off into the sunset, thereby preventing the driver from getting a positive CIN.

Fortunately, communities are small here, and a local community member got a positive ID on the dastardly cow and was able to assist us and authorities to find out who it belonged to.

Look how guilty he looks….

 

That being said, the cops told us that they are an aggressive family and might come at us with machetes if we don’t send in a 3rd party lawyer first.

So next time you are in a fender bender and can calmly exchange information with the person without fear of violent machete death, take a moment to put things into perspective and be happy you aren’t driving in Nicaragua.

They keep one in the glove box…..always ready

 

If you had asked me 4 years ago if I ever planned on visiting Latin America, I would have responded with an emphatic no. Maybe it was all of the nature shows called “World’s Most Terrifying Insects” putting 8 of the top 10 somewhere in Latin America, or the stories (read: TV and Movie plot lines) about rampant kidnappings in South America, the whole thing was unappealing.

“Don’t mind me, I’m just crawling casually into your nightmares”

If you had asked me 2 and a half years ago if I would ever go here, after a dejected sigh that can only come from months of underemployment and job seeking, I would’ve said: “I don’t know…..for work I guess.”

So then when I was actually asked to go here for work almost 2 years ago, it was with subdued reluctance that I decided (conditionally) to come down here.

“So what convinced you to come down here? Was it the money?….yeah it was the money wasn’t it.”

Typically, I am reluctant but willing to do a lot of new stuff. I am fully aware that for the most part, I always enjoy new things. Despite that knowledge, I almost invariably need that extra push to try something. This “push” sometimes can be as small as a simple question asking me to try or do something, to more complex incentives.

The myriad of different experiences I have had in the last two years has taught me that one’s openness to new and/or uncomfortable situations doesn’t only reflect what activities they engage in, but defines who they are and in some ways, what they are capable of.

Turns out I am really good at riding apathetic cows

There is no right or wrong way to experience life, and as always, either extreme is usually not the best choice. Someone who lives a simple life who never experiences anything new is missing out just as much as someone who never stops chasing the world is missing the beauty of slowing down to focus on a few things.

Everyone has their own balance. That said, most people tend to be heavy on the safe side of the spectrum, and could do with a little branching out.

There are people I have met that view my life as a toe-in-the-water version of international travel. Conversely, I have met others who revere the very same experiences in a manner that would make you think I was bushwhacking jungles on Pandora. It is all a matter of perspective.

Pictured: Voracious terrastrial testudine with a reinforced plastron dining on a helpless meal

As you know by now, Nicaragua is crazy. Living here has been the coolest, weirdest and most rewarding time in my whole life. There is no single piece of advice I can give to someone that I will stress harder than to go learn another language. I don’t mean learn Spanish or German in a classroom. I am talking about living in a country, surrounded only by people who speak that language. Use a class to prepare, but then just leave it at that. Language is so much more than just a translation of words and sounds; it is a complete projection of who you are, what you are thinking and is framed within the cultural context of where you come from.

When you become fluent not only in the language but the culture of another place, it feels as if you have earned a second life. You can talk and genuinely be yourself yet sound and look absolutely nothing like you do in your original language and culture.

“ehhh ‘oo iz dis Sam joo spek of? Me llamo SannFrancisco Cantorrrr….soy de Nicaragua”

As I come up on two years here, I like to think of the experience to be similar to me trying Sopa de Juevos de Toro (Bull testicle soup). It took me a while to really give it a try. After I did I realized how delicious it is. And even after all this time there are still some lumpy parts with odd texture that you never fully get used to.

What the heck is this?…..