|Emy Louie, Consulting Services|
|Emy Louie, Consulting Services|
July 14, 2018
I Just wanted to write to you to tell you how my life has been since I arrived in León, Nicaragua, this time around.
The other day, I went back to the hostel I stayed for three weeks in March 2018. This time around, I went just to use their pool. Now, except for one person, the staff is entirely different than before. The old staff all left, likely due to the protests which first erupted on April 18, 2018.
Most of the staff were not locals. Two Italians working there went back to Italy. The Latinos were not from León, also moved away.
Now, I have yet to see and hear an English-speaking Caucasian. And from what I read in "Expats in León" Facebook page, 75 percent of the expats left León. So, the interesting thing is myself, because the locals, in the past have primarily referred to me as Chineta, which is an endearing term for a Chinese person.
So, the very thing many hyphenated Americans and I complain about in America, is they are not seen as Americans and they sort of have an identity crisis—identifying with the country of their heritage or identifying with their chosen country to pledge allegiance. The association with race instead of nationality is working to my advantage here in Nicaragua. They see me as Chinese, which, is correct racially. Yes, my parents are from China. I was born in Hong Kong. I look Asian. I am seen in a different light or different category than a Caucasian. Here is why.
Back in March 2018, I was on the chicken bus in Nicaragua, and this local grandma looking type was with a young child. The grandma said to the child, "Look, you keep on looking at the gringo." And the grandma wasn't referring to me. She pointed to this Caucasian man.
So, if I was a non-Spanish speaking Caucasian, I wonder if I would now, not be welcome here in Nicaragua.
The locals could have a town mentality, and if they don't like you, they might tell you and beat you up. Because in March 2018, this is what happened: some 35-year-old Caucasian man, Chris, was drunk and meandered outside way pass midnight. The locals started throwing small things at Chris. Chris mouthed off, thereby stoking a fight and then the locals took a brick to his head and left Chris on the street to perhaps die!
Instead of staying two days in León, Chris stayed for three weeks during the same time I was staying at the hostel. A person working at the hostel took him to the hospital where he stayed for several nights. Chris had stitches on his head.
As seen from a Nicaraguan, Chris probably displayed the fraternity gringo American stereotype. And in July 2018, there was a notice by the United States embassy encouraging their citizens not to frequent strip clubs in Nicaragua-a predominantly Catholic country. I believe unruly American behavior in Nicaragua is not tolerated by the Nicaraguan locals. To Americans, perhaps this behavior is seen as freedom, which they think the Nicaraguans don’t have. To the Nicaraguans, this behavior is seen as disrespectful. Thus, the clash.
And the local men can be aggressive, which I address separately.
Anyway, yesterday, I went up to a local young man, and what appeared to be his mother. She, like the older locals, display almost a leathery, brown skin. I bought an avocado for 30 Córdobas or 96 cents US, from her as I have been primarily shopping from individuals who sell fruit and vegetables.
In addition to buying an avocado this morning, I went to have breakfast at a dive. The two local ladies, whom I loosely call "mother" types made me scrambled eggs with tomato, a local and my favorite dish-beans and rice, and a piece of tortilla with coffee with cream and sugar, for 50 Córdobas or $1.60 US. I eat this in likely, an adobe building, on a wooden chair. I sit down and dine with utensils that are hand washed. Yes, I love the simple and cheap (to me, due to the US to Cordoba exchange rate) homegrown local food.
A hearty breakfast and fruit like mango or avocado in the afternoon and I am happy!
I believe eating and buying local is a good excuse to meet them and is critical in creating more goodwill without being patronizing.
So back to tourism in León which has practically ground to a halt. A fancy hotel is closed, a high-end leather goods store opened by an American is closed. And most disappointing for me, the León language school appear to be closed as well. I bought a drink at this tie die and beading store, and except two locals working there and me, the place was deserted all the time I was there.
On July 12, 2018, after 24 hours of arriving in León, I noticed three people were glued to the news. At the hostel I stayed at in Managua the night of July 11, 2018, after I checked out, I walked over to the entry to wait for my taxi. The tv was on, and I'm guessing it was news of the latest protest.
Also, I got into a taxi. While waiting for the traffic light to change, the taxi driver grabbed the newspaper.
Lastly, I got to the house I am renting out at in León, and the host had the tv on to the protest. My landlord said about 25 people died in León because they were young men with faces covered who were manning the walls or tranques that were preventing cars from going through town. And this entire period of what he calls "war" started on April 18, 2018, when an old man was beaten to death due to his protesting against the Nicaraguan government.
For me, I get local news from specific indicators: my host, the Expats in León Facebook page, the opening or closing of La Colonia Supermarket and the opening or closing of the language school.
By now, you may be wondering why I am staying in León.
Today, I walked near to the central town square and went into one of my favorite cathedrals as León has many cathedrals. I took respite in the cathedral for an hour. Two other women were in the church. The church contained fans to cool people off. A gentle breeze went through the doorway. I admired the thick adobe walls of the cathedral by looking onto a small-town park through a thick, tall wooden side door. Outside, there were trees with ten benches with about 15 people sitting around under the trees.
A few birds flitted in the church. They were also on the trees outside. Literally and figuratively, churches such as these is where people find sanctuary. And as you will begin to understand, like this church, I thoroughly enjoy the architecture here in León.
Regarding more architecture, the house I am staying in is an adobe house. It has thick walls: three bedrooms, three outdoor rooms and three courtyards. For example, this morning, it was a sunny day and typically hot. I did a wash cycle laundry. I saw the washer and said, "oh, it's a regular washer,” an American style large capacity washer.
I threw my clothes in the washer and dialed the knob to "small" load. After, I hung my clothes in the courtyard, out in the sun. Surrounding me were ten feet tall walls of adobe. Later, after three hours, even my jeans dried, and I took all the dried clothes back into my room.
I was completely ecstatic because as you know, depending on what subdivision one lives in the states, hanging laundry outside is illegal. So here I am, I went all the way to Nicaragua, so I can hang laundry to dry in the sun (the eco-friendliness) with adobe walls and houses around me (the architecture) and trees, birds, and courtyards (the open air, composting capability) to give me shade and entertain me.
I have a regular sized room all to myself, which is luxurious for me considering I have been staying in a "hole" for weeks at a time. I stay at hostels where I take the lowest bunk of a three-bunk bed.
How do I stay in hostels, you may ask? Earplugs and a covering for the eyes do wonders. Pack very lightly, so one has less to deal with and less space to use in a hostel, and finally, use space conservatively. No "spreading out one's things all over the place." The packing light mentality also attracts backpackers, which is another subject altogether. Backpackers are into carrying less weight on themselves and enjoying the outdoors.
Back to the adobe house I am staying.
Come to find out, the host of the house I’m staying at, either was born in or raised in León and then lived in California for years and then returned to León. Most of his friends are Americans. He listens to rock music. He is bilingual and perhaps 57 years old. Can't tell due his curly hair and tan. He said his family was rich and then the Sandinistas took everything around the 1970s. His family had a large construction business.
However, he says he has a nephew who has a house at the beach. As you can imagine, having local contacts with whom there is mutual trust is very important.
Here is another indicator of the level hospitality of my host. Back in March, when I saw the place for the first time, a Caucasian man, age 60, was staying at the house. The two times I bumped into the Caucasian man, he was quiet and later, he left some books at the house. That's a good indicator: my host of the house can host a person who reads books.
So yes, in León, I love the architecture, the outdoor living, the simple town life of walking out on the streets and greeting people. The thing I continuously need to address is minimizing my mosquito bites and staying cool.
Yes, the political situation is understood, but for whatever reason, I am not worried about it, but I keep abreast. It's in the cards I am here. Soon, I will see Mike in Costa Rica as I lead a local León lifestyle and somewhat jet-setting lifestyle.
Emy Louie is a consultant and the author of "Fast Trains: America's High Speed Future.” From 2009-2016, Emy served as the Director of Public Outreach for the US High Speed Rail Association. Since 2008, she has taught continuing education classes on design and urban development to architects and engineers. In 2007 and 2008, she hosted her radio show. Emy has a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.