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Current Location: Harvest House Guesthouse, Leon, Nicaragua

06.16.14

Price of beer in a bar: US$0.86

Song currently stuck in my head: Dance Yrself Clean (LCD Soundsystem)

I’m not a patient guy.  In fact, I don’t really consider patience a quality.  Saying you appreciate someone’s patience is like saying “You know, I really like Dave because he never mentions how much money I owe him.” You might just want to keep that to yourself. Most of the time, if you’re keeping someone waiting you’re the problem and the discomfort you’re feeling is not the impatient person “being rude” but your own inconsideration being brought to your attention. The position from which you’re passing judgment is not exactly the “moral high ground.”

Of course there are matters of degree at play.  Downtown Chicago hummed at a quickened pace compared to small town Indiana.  When the two intersect, mainly on 3 day weekends perfect for trips to “The City,” you find slow moving walls of obese tourists walking as many abreast as the sidewalk will accommodate, sometimes literally arm in arm, eyes straight up at all the tall buildings, while people in business attire check their phones and fume behind them trying to find a way around without stepping into traffic… the contrast couldn’t be more apparent.  I often had to point out to my then fellow urbanites that to tourists from the surrounding Midwestern towns, the sidewalks themselves were a novelty, so expecting them to understand that they were an important aspect of downtown conveyance and not just another big city oddity was probably asking too much. I can’t imagine the last time my parents walked a block’s worth of sidewalk in their own town, but I’m pretty sure we’d be counting in years and I wouldn’t be surprised if we reached double digits.

I feel more at home in Chicago gear, but if you put me on a beach in these countries I downshift pretty smoothly to adapt to the local rhythm.  But I’m not on a beach, see?  I’m in a town of 200,000 (or something).  Driver’s here honk their horns just to remind you they’re behind the wheel. There’s traffic and noise and dirt and coffee.  The vibe puts me in a Chicago state of mind, which is, all things considered, not advantageous around these parts. The best way for me to maintain my sanity in a city like Leon is to avoid having anything to accomplish.

Nicaraguans are patient people. From the periodic bank lines that stretch around the block to the infamously liberal meaning of “manjana,” they seldom seem to be in a hurry. Their approach is similar to the stereotypes of American Southerners and habitual pot smokers worldwide, both of whom consider it demeaning to appear as though your time has value (For clarity’s sake, I’d like to point out that I’m not saying pot makes you less deliberate in your actions, but I do think you need to be predisposed to viewing things with a certain fatalistic lack of urgency before you can find being stoned for more than a couple of days at a time at all desirable.).

It’s hot in the American South, so hurrying has historically been particularly unappealing. It’s hot here, too, especially so in Leon and especially so this time of year, and it’s not much cooler inside, so there’s not much reason to hurry. My fragile gringo flesh wants out of the sun as fast as possible, but the Nica preference for shade, though apparent, is considerably more casual. Also, there aren’t really sidewalks here per se.  There’s an area between the curb of the road and the wall of the adjacent building, but it’s probably more accurate to think of it as that houses stoop.  It’s obstructed as often as not, by temporary setups like vendors and deliveries as well as permanent aspects of infrastructure like guide wires for telephone poles or the steps to a building. Calling this street shoulder uneven alludes to a level of geometric consistency that is, frankly, the wrong starting point.  The “sidewalk” will abruptly rise or fall 2 feet in a single step. It’s not meant to be walked along, it’s meant to be crossed.  You’re better off in the street, but the gringo in me (and the buses blasting by) leave me reluctant.

After years of frustrated gringos huffing and stomping off in anger when no indication of dinner was apparent an hour after ordering, the service industry here in Central America seems to have gotten the hint.  People study tourism in college here and come out with a promising career ahead of them.  I adapted to the old standard of service quickly and never had too much of an issue with it; you either ordered well in advance of mealtime or bought something pre-made (buffet style, or there’s usually some type of slow cooked meat or soup that’s simmering on tap when you arrive).  But I’ve certainly noticed the difference between then and now.  My waffle took 15 minutes or so this morning and I experienced a mild annoyance before I remembered where I was.  The service has gotten so good that you can lose sight of reasonable expectation.  This is what we call a “quality problem”; the kind of problem you hope you have.

It used to be par for the course to order food, be charged up front, have someone leave the joint with your money (and your change) and return 20 minutes later with a bag of groceries; your groceries. At that point food preparation might begin.  Some of this might have been due to my lack of savvy when placing the order; menus, like local ATMs, made all kind of promises with very little chance of delivering on them.  But if you’re willing to pay US$9 for a steak, the restaurateur is willing to roll the dice and see if they can track down a steak.  Perhaps I’ve gotten better at their system as their system has its self gotten better.  Either way, I seldom seem to wait an hour for food anymore.

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