Sunday, April 19, 2009

Home Depot, Frogger, And A Change Of Scenery

So I drove around Colorado Springs, past the big box stores, the malls, the businesses, the roads, the other vehicles on the roads, etc. etc. etc. And I just kept being struck by the absolute ENORMITY of it all. I’ll give you an example. The average hardware store here in Managua is about the size of the rental desk at your local airport. In contrast, as I was driving around Colorado, I continued to notice..........uh….well…..there’s another one…….HOME DEPOT.
And SPEAKING of driving……..

I know I’ve written quite a bit about the culture of third world traffic over the last year, especially after my little run-in (literal) with the transit system last year. But at the risk of being redundant, I have to say that I was ONCE AGAIN struck by the culture of transit, this time from the other side.

As a pedestrian, I’ve found navigating the streets here in Managua to be quite similar to the game FROGGER (think Atari…1983). The pedestrians are EVERYWHERE and cross one lane at a time, pausing regularly to stand on the painted (at least there USED to be paint) lane markers as traffic whizzes by VERY close and often VERY fast. It’s as if these poorly painted lines are capable of offering some type of traffic-shield or oasis of safety, like the “safety zones” from one of those games you would play as a kid. Fortunately, I haven’t witnessed any auto-pedestrian accidents yet. But I always imagine the post-accident conversation as the reporting is officer takes the report.

Driver……I don’t know what she was thinking. She crossed right in front of me!

Pedestrian…..NO! NO! I was on the line! I was in the safety zone! YOUR FAULT….YOUR FAULT!!!

To me, it seems horribly dangerous and unpredictable. On the other hand, if done correctly, it seems to be relatively quick and painless. The streets are all very small, and one can generally be across in no time.

Because I spent most of the vacation at my brother’s house in Colorado Springs, I was able to WALK most of my local errands. Obviously, along with that, I found myself crossing the streets on a daily basis. As I mentioned, in Nicaragua it’s quick and painless. On the contrary, in Colorado each crossing seemed like an eternity. Seriously! After looking both ways like the good pedestrian I am, I would regularly start to cross the street, only to be struck by the fact that after what seemed like a SIGNIFICANT period of time and several city blocks, I WAS STILL CROSSING THE SAME STREET!!!!!!!. It was incredible! I got to the point that I was having to give myself the same little pep talk that I give myself at the base of especially long endeavors of the athletic variety (i.e. mountain climbing).

“Remember Jason……you’ve trained hard…’re ready….this is NOT a sprint……this IS a marathon…..ready?......OK let’s cross.”

Driving. Driving in the US is quite unique in its own way, but before I go in that direction, I’ll make one last reference to the culture down south. Remember that Frogger game? OK, now we’re in one of the cars. There are the pedestrians wandering about the lanes, the taxies and buses with their utter lack of predictability, the wooden carts pulled by either people or livestock, the disrepair of the roads and other vehicles making their way along the same path of travel, the lack of actual lanes, the trash, old tires, and debris (often times on fire) sprinkled about the roadway, etc. etc. etc. It’s really not that bad and something that I think I’ve grown relatively accustomed to, but it’s ANYTHING but relaxing. Not unlike the scenario I just described above, I often give myself that little pep talk upon mounting the motorcycle each day. After all, to turn on the motor and enter the race without first putting on the proper “game face”……well…..that’s just asking for trouble.

But as I reunited with my trusty sidekick in the US (1990 Subaru Legacy sedan……280K and still going strong……baby!!!!!) and took to the streets, I found myself confronted with a challenge of a slightly different variety. The streets…..the traffic…..the whole system……so LARGE… SMOOTH….so PREDICTABLE….ORGANIZED…….and so…….aaaaahhhhhh…….utterly relaxing.
You see, the problem I found in the US was the exact opposite of the problem I have here in Nicaragua. The problem I had in the US was literally staying AWAKE! I’m not kidding. I would get in the car to drive somewhere, only to find that within 10 or 15 minutes, I was struggling to keep my eyes open! Everything was so tranquil and mellow…..the radio….…..the purr of the 1990 4 cylinder technology……the sun shining through the windows……the ease of it all… utterly……utterly…..

…..whoa, sorry about that, I actually just nodded off thinking about it.

……..Utterly relaxing. It was like getting some kind of transit massage. I kept thinking that I was like one of those infants that get placed in the minivan by their parents and driven around the block until reaching a point of slumber. Struggling with insomnia? I had certainly found the cure. And I know….I know….there are a myriad of dangers associated with being lulled into a sense of complacency amidst making one’s way from point A to point B. But the difference between my two respective cultures was comically astounding…….such worlds apart.

But alas, as both pedestrian AND driver in my great homeland, I survived my six week vacation and lived to Blog another day from………well, THAT brings me to my next story. The initial plan was to head south for ONE year. I took the leave of absence from the fire dept, made a few changes (sold a house, began my personal “liquidation of assets”, etc. etc. etc.), and pledged to spend the next 12 months working a few things out of my proverbial system. Not terribly surprising though, as the 12 months unfolded, I found myself unable to shake the increasing desire to stick around a bit longer. How much longer? That’s yet to be determined. All I can say is that at this point, I’ve labeled myself as “here indefinitely”.

Soooo……to prepare for the “indefinite” life change, I spent the six weeks in Colorado taking care of all the associated logistics. There was the official resignation from LFR, the completion of the liquidation (with my 2 new best friends……Craigslist and Salvation Army), the many trips and phone calls to the various banks, insurance companies, tax man, etc. etc. etc. But it wasn’t ALL business. I had a great time staying with family (maybe a little TOO good….tough to leave), caught up with some friends, and even survived a few Colorado hikes despite my 12 month hiatus from any form of physical exercise. Oh, and besides that, I became a temporary jewelry salesman to benefit the project here in Nicaragua (not bad for my first time out…..if I do say so myself).

And that was that…….six weeks in the land of plenty before heading south once again. I won’t lie…..last year was challenging in many ways, and I was certainly in need of some rest by mid December. But after my little Christmas break, I returned rested and refreshed (both mentally and physically), ready to pick up where I left off.

Before leaving the US, I was at the point of experiencing only the occasional moment of shock from a cultural perspective. When I landed on the other side though, I realized that I was in for yet another adjustment. I had been away just long enough to return to things looking different, smelling different, and seeming different than they had just six weeks prior. At the same time though, there was a pleasant familiarity about it all. I was welcomed back warmly by my “community” down here, I still had a bed to sleep in (albeit a filthy one due to the continual influx of dust from the street outside), and the motorcycle started…….eventually. Yep, it felt good to be back. I mean sure the Spanish was a bit rusty, but the passing busses didn’t even seem as loud as last year (yes I know……potential hearing loss on my part….but I’m choosing to focus on the positive).

Around work, there has been a flurry of activity as the school year has started up again. NicaHOPE has added a variety of new projects, and my personal level of responsibility basically doubled overnight with the addition of a second feeding program. Things are busy but good. Outside of work, I’ve been meeting lots of new folks, getting to know the country more (i.e. traveling), and pledging on a weekly basis to paint and decorate the room (it may actually happen eventually). AND…..I am happy to report that contrary to last year, I have remained physically healthy since my return in 09. Ahhhhh…….life is good.

So we’ll see where things go. As I mentioned above, the plan is to stick around for a while, at the moment quite unsure as to where or to what that may eventually lead. In the meantime I’m simply attempting to focus on the here and now…….the present. After all, that’s all we really have……right?

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