|Emy Louie, Consulting Services|
|Emy Louie, Consulting Services|
July 18 – July 26, 2018
Despite the political situation in Nicaragua, I can, in a house located in the town of León, live in nature and be on the ground floor and at the same time, not be in social isolation, which means there are people a few steps away that can help me at a moment’s notice. I can experience simple living and still be in access to food. Here are some of the things I do right in and around the house I am staying, all of which is within a two-minute walk from the house.
• how I stay cool
• how I keep the mosquitos away
• how I get food
• how I stay safe
• where I sleep
• what I do about menstruation
These are the food and shelter things, the basic survival and the basic comforts, I will address in this article.
With León being hot, I go to the pool to cool off, relax and to get some exercise. It's 138 steps or a one-minute walk to the pool which is located in a nearby hostel. Yes, I counted the steps.
The pool is big enough for me to do five swimming strokes.
When I first came back to the hostel a week ago, a ten-year-old daughter of one of the persons working there, saw me. The girl was quiet.
A few days later, when I got into the pool, the same girl went in also. With my limited understanding of Spanish, I think she said, "Rich people go swimming in pools." And here we are swimming in a pool, albeit a pool in a hostel! A few laps later, she asked me if I wanted to do a somersault in the water.
With my hands, I motioned to her a turning motion. I giggled, and then I said, “wait" in Spanish.
She may have to wait a long time before I do a somersault!
And then she motioned a handstand. I asked if I could help her do one, so as I held her legs up, she did do one.
It was my turn!
I did a handstand, and then I asked the girl, "How was my handstand?" She said it was fine. And then she wanted to play with me more! She treated me like I was a teenager, but I saw myself having to protect my own private time at the pool. Here I am: I wanted to relax alone in the pool, but I didn’t want to disappoint the child. And I surely didn’t want to appear like a haughty tourist.
I motioned a "no," and went about my quiet lap swimming at the pool for another hour plus or more.
THE GROCERY STORE
It's about 40 steps to the grocery store which is located across the house. The store, itself, is a house, and they sell various things. Forget just a corner grocery store; every fifth house seems to be selling something. It's zero steps to get some corn, avocado, pineapple or watermelon, etc. I am not sure, but I heard, “there are no rules” [about selling things.]
What happens is someone; usually, a woman in her late 20s or her 30s walks around with a basket or bucket of items in her arms or on her head, or she pushes a cart.
They say some words out loud and apparently; my host understands the words. Once you hear the words, you must get to the front of the house and flag down the "walking vendor," and if they are on to the next street, you need to chase them down.
Even when the vendors come to the front of the house, it's not even necessary to open the front door. There is a window with a metal or wrought iron grate, and you can stick your hand out the window grill to retrieve the food and pay for the items!
The window grills, along with the heavy wooden doors, and the tall walls around the courtyards should deter thievery.
Some days, the vendors could come by the house at least once an hour.
You may ask, “How does one hear them yell out?”
The streets are small enough, and the houses packed together enough that when my host and I are sitting within the walls of the house, we can hear the walking vendors, so this also means we can listen to most conversations outside, whether the conversations are next door or right outside our front door. The somewhat lack of privacy is balanced out by the ability to listen to vendors and hear other things going on around us. Thus, this lack of being completely isolated from each other creates community.
So, in León, especially around the house, the question is not what local food to eat, but how will I retrieve the food? Shall I cook it or buy it fully prepared? If I cook the food, where should I buy the eggs and tortillas? Should I buy it from a supermarket, from a neighborhood grocery store, or from a house? If I get fruit, like papaya, pineapple, avocado, pitaya, limes, should I get it from a supermarket, a stationary sidewalk vendor or a roving vendor? All the above options are within two blocks away from me.
Yes, the roads are narrow, about three car widths wide, paved with either asphalt or concrete pavers. And if there are no pavers, one will eventually hit a paver which tends to slow down vehicular traffic—the trucks, cars, motorcycles, and pedicabs.
This house I am staying at has a one car garage. Even then, private vehicles are just not used much, so pedestrians don't have to compete too much with vehicles, in general.
Occasionally, I hear a vehicle pass. Regarding sounds, except cars and motorcycles, I have yet to hear any other motorized equipment.
Electricity is pricey for the Nicaraguans, so people appear not to use much electricity at night. So at night, the streets may be dark; therefore, there is no light pollution in León. At night, I look from the courtyard, and I can see the stars quite well.
MY FANCY HAMMOCK
I have been sleeping in a hammock after the second night I got here at this house. The nylon, REI type hammock has a zipper-able mosquito net. I slept in this hammock twice already back in March 2018, when I was staying at a hostel in León.
The first night in the hammock at the house was tiring. The cat there scratched the bottom of the hammock, basically where my rear end is laying. I didn’t respond to the scratches. Good thing I didn’t because something else happened later! I’m sure the cat also helps with alerting those in the house any changes at the home, whether it is another new person, including me, or another animal.
I did something one cannot do in a hammock without suffering the consequences: I shifted my entire weight over to the left, over two feet, so I flipped over!
Yes, I did the captain’s flip in the hammock like in Gillian's Island. I landed on the mosquito net side, and I was struggling to get out. After a minute, I was sweating. I tried to get out from the mosquito net, but something was breaking or tearing.
I called out my host, “Efrel!” Even though Efrel has an air conditioner in his bedroom, he doesn’t use it because he says the electricity is expensive. So his window is open, and he heard me call for him, and he came out of his room, a little shocked that I am calling him at 10 pm. I said, “I am stuck in this hammock. Please get me out!”
He hoisted me out of the hammock.
After that night, I slept quite well in the hammock: no mosquitos, air circulation all around, partial view of the sky because I am outdoors. I feel swathed like I am in a womb. In this type of Spanish colonial house, I am sleeping in a “corridor,” which is an outdoor hallway, and the hall is usually at least 12 feet wide.
Getting in and out of the hammock is tricky. The weather cools off at night around 1 am, then I may turn off the fan which is pointed in my direction. I wear earplugs because the hammock is in the corridor close to the outside road, so I am not bothered by the cars or any music that is playing. Yes, there is a bar located 70 steps from the house. The bars in León serve liquor and have some television, but I have never seen much raucous behavior from the bars during any time I walk by them.
I also have on eye pads to cover my eyes, so if the host turns on any lights, it doesn’t bother me.
The morning is the best! My alarm clock is the sunlight and all the creatures, including the birds making all their sounds. When I hear these sounds, I stir in my hammock. A little later, I hear some big trucks pass. By then, I for sure, exit the hammock and go into my room to not wake up my host in his room.
A little later, I hear some motorcycles pass. During the day, the cars, motorcycles, vendors and a few people walking by are what I hear.
THE DUST AND THE MOP
After any short walk outside, a thin layer of dust accumulates on my skin.
Regarding dust, I use a damp handkerchief to cover my face from it, to wipe my face and neck to keep cool and to wipe away my sweat. The handkerchief is almost as important as my keys or passport! The fan is also very important as it’s pointed in my direction most of the time I am at the house. I also pour water in a ditch of the courtyard, and the water cools things down. Also, people wear a certain type of clothing to keep cool, and for me, I put on a hat, so I don’t get too much sun.
Now regarding the dust, at the hostels and restaurants, it's common to mop the floors with an old-fashioned mop. The other day at the house, I picked up an old-fashioned mop, which I haven't done for 30 years! I heard the locals use their hands to wring out the wet mop.
Talking about mopping, my host hired someone to mop my room with a disinfectant. When the maids come, I make sure all my things are put away and not able to be seen, and of course, I have a lock on my valuables. The host himself doesn’t allow the maid to go into his room.
When I first arrived a week ago, my host showed me how to work the front doors. A few days later, he had soap out on the lavatory sink.
THE FRUIT TREES!
Once a few days, the host picks sour oranges and guavas, both fruits I love. I drink the juice from the oranges and eat the guavas.
In the courtyards of the house, there are a total of three fruit trees which actively give off fruit. Also in the courtyards are two palm trees and a long hedge and some grass. One side of a tall wall has some creeper vine growing on it. There are some other smaller plantings where I throw my food scraps. Thus, due to the greenery and the roving food vendors, it can be easy not to go outside the house.
Regarding other fruit trees, I can see the fruit trees of the neighbors of the house behind me and the house next to me.
THE TAMPON SUBSTITUTE
You may think this is gross, but I found a way to use rags for my menstruation. And the rags work well! Nothing like just an old-fashioned method! I noticed the stores and even the well-known supermarket in town sell very little tampons. So I thought I would try the old school way of using rags for the first time; so I used cotton socks! When not in use, the clean socks are as is. When in use, I flip the socks inside out and use two for night time.
The process is tricky because in the morning, after a night’s sleep, I stand up in the restroom and the socks will fall out. Yes, it is a bloody mess! During a heavy flow, I wash socks twice a day, but because things dry so quickly in the hot weather, I can hand wash many small items without worrying that they won’t dry fast enough.
When I wash the bloody socks; I can smell the blood. I finally feel and see the menstruation instead of needing to hide the blood and feel like the blood doesn't even exist.
I even did this sock method when I went swimming in the pool, and the socks held in all the blood.
Often, one can tell a lot about healthcare by looking at the locals’ teeth. The quality of the locals’ teeth is erratic. Some people may have pretty good teeth, and some people have terrible teeth, where half of their teeth are missing.
The biggest challenge of outdoor living is the heat, mosquitos, and dust.
Whenever possible, to avoid mosquito bites during the day at the house, I am in front of a fan that is always on and pointing to my feet.
I haven't missed air conditioning much. The pool suffices! Also, after a morning drizzle, the air does cool off significantly: I can close my eyes, and I'm almost in Costa Rica, weather-wise.
But if the weather were even a tad chillier, every house would need hot water, and the home I am staying at has no hot water.
THE URBAN DESIGN!
You can credit the above simple lifestyle to those that laid out the city: those that created the urban design. As you could imagine, the house I am living in has no setbacks: it's just a house or walls, sidewalk, and the street.
An enclosed room, an 8-foot tall adobe or concrete masonry unit wall separates one house from another. The homes are also one story so that no one can see into the other’s houses. These walls offer privacy and fire protection. In aggregate, the walls keep the town cozy and walkable!
And these qualities pertain to León, not to Managua. I stayed in Managua several times, and Managua does not have the above same qualities. Managua is a large city. León is a town.
So, if you think all of Nicaragua is backward, think again!
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.