Monday, July 03, 2006

Sitting on the Street

The main pastime in the evenings here in Nicaragua is to hang out on the sidewalk. It gets hot and stuffy inside, so people take their chairs and place them outside. I spend many an evening sitting in front of the house with Mari and her sons William and Alan as well as Mari’s brother-in-law. We sit and talk and watch the people walking past. It’s quiet here in the evenings and most of the traffic on our street is from people walking to the tienda on the corner to buy cigarettes, candy, soda or beer.

Americans build houses with backyards so families can gather in back of the house. That way children can play in a protected space and parents can barbeque out of sight of the neighbors. In Nicaragua (and Latin America in general) the paradigm is reversed: it’s rare to find a house with a backyard. Instead people gather in front of the house, in view of the neighbors. It’s much more inclusive this way.

Plus, we’ve been having power outages almost every evening for the past week. When the power goes out at night, people have no choice but to go outside because no power means no fans. And without a fan it’s nearly impossible to put up with the hot, stagnant are that’s trapped inside the house at night.

The moment the power goes, everything goes dark, and there’s a collective groan of frustration emitted by the adults of the neighborhood that’s intermingled with shrieks of excitement from the children. People grab flashlights or candles and head for the streets to pass the time and wait for the power to return. Luckily, we’ve gotten power restored within an hour or two most nights, but on night last week the power stayed off all night, and William and Alan moved their mattresses to the patio so they could sleep outside. where it’s cooler.