Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bienvenido a Managua

On Friday night, after enjoying a perfectly uneventful day in the skies, I arrived in Managua. Because I was arriving after dark, I didn't get much of an aerial view on the approach. But, I DID see a LOT of lights, so at least there's electricity right?
Anyway, after navigating the baggage claim and multiple customs stations, I finally found my way to the doors marked EXIT. No surprisingly, along with incredibly high humidity (see "Jason and the magic afro" from last year's Panama Blog) and increasingly familiar smell seemingly common to this part of the world, I found myself in the chaotic melee of screaming taxi drivers. The GOOD news was that after only a few short NO's, I heard a familiar name......namely, uh, mine. Brad, Daniel, and Bismark helped me load up my bags into the car and off we went to the hotel.

Hotel Cisneros........This was the name of the hotel in which I spent my first five night. It was a nice little place behind their house (they being the Cisneros family) that consisted of about 10 small apartments and rooms. The rooms were simple but nice, and the breakfast pancakes were EXCELLENT (the phrase "best pancakes in Managua" came up more than once). As for the BEST surprise? Well, the wireless internet of course!!!!!!

My time in Managua.......I spent a total of four days in Managua, mostly driving from one end of the city to the other in an attempt to meet "someone" or accomplish "something" in a BIG hurry. We met with poor people (visiting with various residents of the dump), we met with rich people (dignitaries and people from the Italian embassy), we met with local people, and we met with LOTS of gringos (other people working in the area, representing a number of different organizations). For me, in addition to getting an excellent orientation of the city and all of it's "goings on", it was GREAT to meet the numerous aid workers in the area. I heard about ALL KINDS OF THINGS happening down there, from healthcare to schools to coffee cooperatives. Everyone seemed to have more work than they could handle, and everyone seemed eager to have me help them out. Although I don't know "exactly" what I'm going to do when I get back from language school, there's certainly ample opportunity to get involved in pretty much any area I want. I was also able to meet with a nurse from the clinic in the garbage dump, and she too seemed happy to have me help out around there (apparently they get a fair number of "machete wounds").

Managua.....I've visited a number of cities in Latin America, and they all tend to look the same to me. There are always the very poor areas, but there are also the more "developed" parts of town with the big American hotels, large casinos, plenty of KFC joints, and at least one or two GSOUS's......or grocery stores of unusual size (that was for you Princess Bride fans). As I drove around Managua though, I kept asking "so where is the nice part of town"? In other words, where is the commerce.....where are the buildings.....where are the hotels and casinos......where do the rich people live and shop? Interestingly enough, on the night of my fifth and final night in the city of....well, broken concrete..... I finally found it. Upon driving to a small gathering to celebrate a gringo-girl's bday, I noticed something incredibly strange. "Hey, why are there decorative street lights out here, and is that unusual glow in the distance what I think it is"? Beyond that, why do I suddenly feel as though we're riding on air? Why have we stopped dodging the potholes? Well, as for the lights that I found to be so intensely mesmerizing, they were decoration for the NEW ROAD!! The NEW ROAD also explained the strange sensation of floating. The Glow? Yep, you guessed it. It was the glow of NEON.....lights that is. Before I could say "delapidation", I suddently found myself in the middle of the "high end part of town". And although I didn't remember seeing a train, we had apparently crossed to the other side of the tracks.
OK OK....I'm kidding about all of this, of course. But, in all seriousness, Managua is unlike any other city I've been in. And the reality of it all is really quite simple......It's poor......really poor. No modern or upscale shops or restautants (minus the two blocks that I just described) coffee public art (unless you count the new lamp posts) public works......not much of anything........just a lot of dirt, trash, and broken concrete. Fortunately for Managua though, a city can never be judged by the beauty (or lack thereof) of its exterior. Rather, a city must always be judged by the spirit of its people. And as I made an increasingly number of friendships over my short stay there, it became increasingly clear that Managua is a truly beautiful place.

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