Kaimana Wolff's Blog
February 14, 2013
Canada Reads is too competitive, a friend suggested today. Too brutal. He doesn’t tune in.
I imagined my book La Chiripa in that competition, advocated, I would hope, by someone just as fierce as its feisty, teenaged, flaming-redhead protagonist, Pira.
But what if the incredibly popular national host asked one of those negatively slanted questions, as he did today, “In which book were you least able to identify with the characters?”
Terrified that some panelist might vilify Pira or Alma for shallowness or failure to grow, would I be on the phone, or twittering? “Leave my book alone, damn it!”
What about today’s last question: “In which book did you experience the least emotional impact from the characters?” (Sorry for paraphrasing, Jian!)
I’d be hammering on the door, probably, shouting, “A zillion readers can’t be wrong! Give me back my book!”
This entire event is so full of Canucktitude, I’m oozing maple syrup. Or maybe drowning in it. I hadn’t realized until today that these books are supposed to be about Canada. Or its history. Yes, we are still at that stage. Proof? This question: “Which book does the best job of portraying Canada’s history?”
Maybe Jian didn’t actually say, “Canada’s history.” Maybe he said only, “History.” It hardly matters, since all five books portray Canadian and only Canadian history. It suddenly occurred to me that it was more than likely that these five books had been chosen with Canadian history as one of the criteria.
Oh oh. This is the point where my novel could lose. Probably no one would argue that it does less than a great job of portraying Guatemalan history, as Guatemala is the setting where my little Canadian family acts out a crucial chapter of its story. But I’d have to go pound on the door again unless La Chiripa’s advocate piped up, “It is Canadian history. It shows how Canada has had its head in the sand all these years about world affairs and the impact of that willful blindness on one family of Canadians.” Wow. Give that panelist a bottle of maple syrup, a big one.
Besides, the antagonist, Matt Wayne, is really an American. That ought to count for something. Something about the history of American-Canadian relations.
Nope. I’m not ready to lay my book-baby down on the altar of Canada Reads, no matter the perks that follow the sacrifice. I think I’d have a nervous breakdown. The book is strong and ready; the author, not so much.
I should have played hockey. My parents should have bought me boys’ skates and forced me to get up in the dark for practice, perhaps the first girl in Alberta to compete in a boyish sport. What were they thinking, these silly European DPs? Then I would have had a real Canadian story to tell.
“A swimmer in a cold and urgent sea”–the book’s last line
February 10, 2013
As there’s never time for everything, today presented me with a difficult choice: nag the PTB (Powers That Be) to make a decision on my kids’-poetry project, or pay respects to a recently deceased person I had never met. Not exactly a fun afternoon. I would have to climb the walls of my reluctance to do either.
The kids’-poetry project was in danger. For five years, the competition and its little anthology of winners had flourished, attracting more and better poetry every year. Parents had approached me to relate how much publication of their kids’ work in a real book had meant to their families. But now, in what should be the project’s sixth successful year, inexplicably the PTB seemed to be deciding against participation. Without them, there would be no competition, no little book to form an enduring record of what kids in our community now thought—in poetry—about life’s big questions. The negotiation had been going on for three months, culminating in the PTB’s suggestion that the local paper’s annual kids’ writing competition provided just as much value to the community as the 400-plus poems in the anthology, and with me feeling sadder by the day as I faced the probable demise of the best project I’d ever been involved with. Small wonder I shrank from finding out the final decision on a dismal Friday afternoon.
Then there was this memorial, for a man I’d never met. I had tried to meet him, but my efforts to contact him had gone unanswered. Not the most comfortable situation, either. If it were you who had died unexpectedly at a ridiculously young age leaving behind a gaggle of teenagers, I scolded myself, wouldn’t you want everyone, even those who barely knew you, to give some comfort to your family?
I couldn’t get around that argument; so I pulled myself together and went, although, walking up the driveway, half hoping it was canceled or I’d come to the wrong place, I wondered what on earth to say to these people I’d never met before today.
I needn’t have fussed. A friendly, inclusive smile greeted me and the truth worked fine, as it usually does: “Hi, I’m here to pay my daughter’s respects to your family. She worked with your dad and really liked him.”
As it turned out, they recognized me as “the kids’ poetry lady.” Although lady is probably too nice a term for me, I accepted that definition. And then it happened.
One of the kids mentioned that she had won a small honor in the competition last year but had never seen her poem in the anthology. Her poem, one of the intensely personal and very moving works that came out of a school where, for the first time ever, we had held a slam-poetry workshop last year, was a tribute to her father, the very man whose memory we were honoring today. The poem was a thank-you to him for coming to terms with his battle with alcohol.
“You’ve never seen the book?” I was incredulous. In such a small town, how could the book have failed to find her? “Excuse me.” I turned away to hide the prickle of tears at the back of my eyes. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
I happened to have copies of the anthology in the back of the ancient Volvo. I dug one out and read her poem again, there in the street, before venturing back in with two copies, one for the young poet and one for her mother.
Together we read the poem to this man who had been taken from his community so suddenly and so soon. The mom said, “He knew you loved him, Honey.” I congratulated the girl on being a published poet, over a gigantic lump in my throat. We all had wet margins around the eyes by then, and we were not ashamed.
When I left, I felt fifty pounds lighter. The occasion I had dreaded had turned out like the finding of a miraculously sunny glen in the forest on a grey and rainy day when you had almost decided a walk was not worth the effort. Literacy and literature are worth our every effort. Books are worth the effort. Publishing our voices is important in ways we cannot begin to guess when we do it.
Poetry is worth everything we can give it. Poetry is the voice of our souls.
*Same Sea* and *One Moment* are the 2011 and 2012 anthologies of Powell River’s kids’ peace poems.
February 5, 2013
My mother sometimes reminisced, with a giggle still nervous from all the undeserved punishment her father had heaped upon his once precious eldest child, how one day his interminable dinner prayer had gone awry.
These stiff, upright orations to God bookended every meal: before, as the food cooled on the table, and after, as the others, in what would eventually become a nine-member family, amused themselves with impatient thoughts of the rest of the day’s business. My grandfather was a severely righteous man who believed in inculcating godliness into every life’s every moment, whether bending oaken staves for the barrels he made in his coopery or bending his wife’s desires to his own physical needs. Doing one’s duty was the minimum penance God exacted from a person for the privilege of membership in the exalted “Article 33” chapter, the stricter version of the Dutch Protestant church.
To hear my mother tell it, no good deed went unpunished, at least for the eldest child.
Part of Pake’s [Pah-kuh’s] prayer always thanked God for His blessed, heerlijk [delicious] daylight. During those darkest days of the Great Depression, devout Christians too poor to pay the electric bill had to scratch around for positive items to accredit to God’s goodness. There wasn’t a lot to excite the sense of gratefulness in those days. One dark, clouded, stormy day, Pake stumbled a little in his oration before the meager meal and, before he could stop himself, thanked the Almighty for the heerlijk night light.
Any sarcasm from the children warranted a hefty parental blow. Joking about God? That would have brought down Pake’s wrath in the form of shunning, or at least imprisonment in the unlit coal cellar for several hours. Small wonder the children around the table suppressed a gasp or a giggle into their clasped hands, waiting for God’s wrath to strike Pake down.
To their surprise, God waited about fifty years to respond. Pake had plenty of time to make amends.
Doubtless, almost everything I write makes my grandfather roll in his grave. Unless the Almighty has taught him a thing or two in the next life, he must be mystified as to why the Lord has not struck his eldest grandchild down, decades ago, to the vile ground from which she sprung.
But not today. For there is such a thing as heerlijk nachtlicht, Pake. It’s right here, the morning after what was supposed to be the last day of the world at the end of the Mayan calendar, the day many humans believed would deal this sinful world its just desserts. The day the mighty mills of God forebore, once more, from grinding willful humanity into apocalyptic dust.
Here in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, the delicious night light pours through skylights into the stone and clay bathroom of my briefly rented space. All that needs to be seen shows itself, but modestly, in spirit with the rest of creation on the darker side of the planet. Here I can perform ablutions and cleansings in natural peace and dignity. It is raining, fingers of cloud drumming hard, then soft, on the curves of see-through roofing. The mysterious black and grey shapes of night slither into ever more revealing colors, seducing me from the dark sleep of my beginnings into another day of blessed life.
Unlike my grandfather, I know I will not be punished for savoring the delicious night light. Even the gods cannot deny that we light lovers are, after all, simply children of Earth.
somehow night makes them more meaningful
A lit church at night draws you hither
Kids know the magic of the night; the sheep is not so sure about all this ceremony at the church.
A small light sends a message of security and warmth
January 30, 2013
For several Saturdays, I’ve been trundling boxes of local books to the Farmers’ Market, where all things local are permitted to be sold and one simply gives the Market a percentage of the day’s sales. And until last Saturday, I have had to pay over to the Market the sum of…nothing.
Enviously, I watched people lining up to tables loaded with green stuff and baked stuff and honey and eggs, while those of us with non-comestibles stood around twiddling our thumbs and making polite conversation.
All those good smells of real food gave me a hint. Was the way to our readers’ hearts through the stomach?
I baked up some Dutch goodies, since one of our authors has a Dutch name. How about something arguably pagan, and something Guatemalan, to go with Bellica and La Chiripa? How about speculaas cookies in the shape of dog bones, to go with How to Keep a Human?
The next market day I arrived with four loaves, a sample dish, and our books. You guessed it: I had to pay the Market its pittance at the end of the day, both for books sold and goodies. A little bit of sugar makes the literature go down!
If you can’t make it to our Market, you just have to visit our online store at katandwolff.com but you, too, can nosh and read simultaneously. Here is the easy recipe for Ontbijtkoek (breakfast cake).
Yes, the Dutch have funny ideas about what constitutes a good breakfast, but try a slice of this with vanilla yogurt on top and you may be a convert.
Heat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mix all these ingredients to smoothness, but no more. Pour mixture into a loaf pan and bake for 80 minutes.
½ c. honey
¼ c. dark molasses
½ c. demerara sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. cardamom
½ tsp. ginger
½ tsp. coriander
½ tsp. cloves
¼ tsp. nutmeg
pinch of whole salt
1 c. whole-wheat, all-purpose or similar flour
1 c. rye flour
1 c. milk, fresh or from whole-milk powder
If you add raisins or other dried fruits or nuts, either roll them in flour before mixing into the batter or drop them into the top of the loaf, to prevent their sinking to the bottom.
December 7, 2012
[image error]Why had Senora Julia invited me to stay with her?
Possibly, I thought, because I’m younger and can cook. Possibly because her lovely house with the sixteen mango trees and the pool, just three kilometers from the beach town of Las Penitas, was for sale. Perhaps she thought I could help find a buyer for these magical 2.2 acres? Only a hundred grand and change, after all!
Perhaps she thought I would be enchanted by the place and buy it myself?
My friend Chris warned me about an anarchic plenitude of cats. Unherdable, ungovernable cats. Muchisimos gatos. A meowsma of cats, in fact. No worries, I told him. I like cats. Almost as much as I like dogs—except for those whiny Siamese.
Apparently he and his friends laid bets on how long I would last, the record thus far being a dismal three days before something had to give.
In my travel journal that first day I noted Senora Julia had twenty-seven cats. Very pretty cats, and not Siamese. Most were friendly, some to the point of peskiness, but a few, including the big, sexy, bossy tomcat, were standoffish and you wondered why any human would ever feed them.
Clearly, the cats owned the place. They sat on the chairs (which were covered in protective plastic); they curled up on the tables (denuded of anything breakable). They decorated the window sills and fringed the fridge door. The gas stove had a warming tray down its middle, like a hob, which invariably spent its time giving one cat or another pleasure. The perfume of singed cat hairs added olfactory mystery to the kitchen. A few privileged mommy cats slept on Julia’s bed, and all the teenagers were bound and determined to invade the guest room, where, Julia warned, they would get into everything—books, suitcase, clothes and toiletries—before leaving a final aromatic gift on the bedclothes themselves. (Julia was dead right about this.) The gravid females gave birth in various cardboard boxes scattered throughout the house and shat where they pleased, about eighty per cent beyond the patio, in the not surprisingly fertile dirt. The young toms held spraying contests—who could leave a mark closest to the front door?
[image error]Any cooking activity—which Julia herself never indulged in, leaving it to her staff or guests—started two dozen cats singing the MeowMix song as they danced in dizzying figure eights around the putative cook’s feet. However, they had not counted on my having a meow aria of my own, in a louder voice, signaling supremacy in the kitchen as I poured drifts of baking soda onto the counters and stove to clean them of pussy puke. Plus, I used my long ape arms like windshield wipers on the counter, in yet another test of whether cats always land on their feet when you force them to fall three feet. (They do.)
Over two dozen cats regarded me with grave suspicion until I brought out a rattle of cat kibble and dribbled a little fish juice over it. Then they rushed me in a friendly game of Trip the Stupid Human, a game which, despite the moronic simplicity of its rules, never fails to amuse them without end.
Several sneaky felines decided on a game of football with my glasses across the saltillo tiles. By the time I’d retrieved my eyesight, thinking how smart I was to have brought along two pair, two furry marauders were shoving their cute little noses under the cover of the pork stew cooling on the counter. “Away, you cats!” I cried while using my flipflop to terminate the experiment of another cat bent on testing how good I was at closing the fridge door. Just in time I remembered Julia telling me how one of them once made a serious attempt to munch off her toes. No wonder she carries a cane!
Once they were all occupied, fighting over the last bit of kibble, I sat down with a weary sigh on the plastic-covered chair—right in the middle of a sizable wad of cat poo.
My sundress has never been the same.
Next morning, I counted only sixteen cats. Where were the other eleven? Or thirteen? Or twenty? Had they succumbed to the BogeyPussy, a.k.a. the jaguar or the puma? Had the plumper ones been Taken?
Another possibility presented itself as Julia and I walked to a spot on the highway where the bus between Las Penitas and Leon would deign to stop for a labor-intensive passenger in her eighties—on top of the hill, where stopping would not require so much gas to get going again. “Don’t step on that,” warned Julia in the middle of a sentence, pointing with her cane to a swirl of red, black and yellow on the side of the highway. It was a deadly coral snake, dead itself thanks to some quick-witted Nica who had relieved the reptile of its head some hours earlier. There was no bulge in the belly that could have represented kibble-gone-kitty-carno, but where there is one deadly snake, doubtless there is another. Cats love to play. Are they smart enough to avoid these colorful swirly toys?
Ah, Julia, Amiga, Senora de las Pussies! I’ll never forget your sweet exclamations over the tender love the mommies lavished on their kittens, on your bed, under your caring hands and eyes. There’s more than one way to get through one’s eighties and El Camino de Gatitos is far from the worst choice. Just understand that selling your house while it’s under a feline spell is a dim possibility. La Finca de Gatos waits for a serious cat-lover—or another kind of human altogether.
I, the wolf lady, am not she.
December 6, 2012
I once put out a little chapbook entitled How I Died.
“Hmmph,” snorted my mother. “Who wants to read about that?”
“Pretty well everybody, surprisingly enough,” I replied. This was true, even though I hadn’t acknowledged at the time how many deaths I’d had, thinking of dying more in the sense of the ends of relationships than of physical events.
Well. That changed.
There was the afternoon of my babyhood when my mother napped in the attic we lived in while I was reputedly enjoying an afternoon nap in the pram on the roof—not uncommonly in the Netherlands—until my mother arrived to find me caught by my swaddling clothes on some bit of roof edge sticking up which was preventing a fatal fall.
There was the Saturday afternoon when my toddler’s hand stretched out toward the open guts of a Fifties radio and electrocuted me.
Skipping over youthful flirtations with suicide, which everyone in his or her right mind goes through, there was that unseen car whizzing through my life at 150 miles per hour in the Seventies, the time I nearly froze to death in Yukon in the Eighties, The Caesarian which saved two lives in the Eighties, the adventure with my collapsing back in the Nineties, the even more startling adventures of the Second-worst Divorce in Vancouver’s History (a judge’s words, not mine) in the Nineties, and cancer in 2010.
Now, I could add Nicaragua to the list. I counted up my lives: better than any cat. I have almost lost my physical life eleven times. This is Life Twelve.
I must be a wolf. Even cats don’t survive this well.
Here’s what I wrote while in shock.
“I’ve just been hit by a truck. Dead center. He was sitting there, waiting to make a turn and accelerated into me. I didn’t have a chance. As I went down, I thought, ‘This is it—mi ultimo minute.” Muerte en Nicaragua.
“Blood on my face and in my mouth. Clusters of noisy people. I clutched my bag and looked up. The bugger never even got out of the truck.
“Supportive hands put me into a taxi and a policeman got in beside me. My head hurt and I couldn’t tell up from down. Blood from my jaw and face. I begged them to take me to the hotel because John would know what to do and I could phone Chris from there for advice by they insisted on the dread…
where they could not have been more kind, running me around in a footless wheelchair to get x-rayed and tested via blood and urine (The bathroom had no papel—can you believe it?), a bottle of saline and whatever goof they injected, doing a fine job of masking the pain.
“The police wanted me to go to the station and make a statement. I got out of that by suggesting tomorrow morning.
“The hospital wanted me to stick around four hours. I got out of that by insisting on going to Dr. Baldizon, my dentist, suggesting he could ensure there was no concussion before letting me go. Then a lawyer turned up—I didn’t know she was an abogada—and took charge. She shepherded me, at my request to make a donation to the hospital, to the Director’s Office where I tried to donate $100—but they can’t accept dinero, only materiel. Then she accompanied me in a taxi to Dr. B’s office, shoving a bottle of water into my hand and not letting me pay for anything.”
You can see the cut on my face, but it didn’t erase my smile.
I never made the police report. The only result of such action would be the loss of the driver’s job. Or jail. And another impoverished family. So what would be the point? Just more work for lawyers. Judging by the glimpse I had of the driver’s face as he sat in his truck while the taxi scooped me up, I figured he probably already sported a brown stain on his pants from having hit a tourist. That can’t be good for one’s driving career.
The cut through my cheek healed fast, as did the gash on the shoulder. For three nights or more I slept half sitting up, worried about the way the room swirled around whenever I moved my head. I attended a private clinic which told me nothing but wanted to give me three prescriptions, one for the pain I did not have, one for the insomnia I did not have, and one for the vertigo.
The prescription didn’t seem like the right way to go. I would just have to deal with the persistent dizziness myself, I decided, and promptly discovered a natural-medicine practitioner who does chiropractic as well as acupuncture and herbal solutions. Apparently I have a whiplash type of injury to the vertebrae in my neck. It could be worse. Three treatments with this natural-medicine practitioner in Leon, at twelve dollars each, helped a lot.
When the room swirls, as it still does at least once a day, I remember with gratitude that I have begun my twelfth life.
December 5, 2012
[image error]I confess to letting more than a couple of tears slip on finding in the mail a thoughtfully provided early application for my government pension, scrawny little thing that it promises to be. Not that I prefer the only alternative—never reaching the pension age—you understand. As I tore the envelope, these words tore my mouth open: “What? Already? Damn you, Big Brother! I’ll fix you—I’ll, I’ll…I’ll retire to the tropics!”
This brilliant idea came to me in spite of the fact that I’ve already spent a decade of this life in the tropics and I never want to see another six-inch centipede in my life.
Yet here I am, nicely becalmed at Senora Julia’s house, which I once dreamed of buying as our new family estate, complete with pool, coconut palms and mango orchard. For tiny money, it must be added. Nothing’s pricey in Nicaragua since the Crash of ’08.
Welcome as is the opportunity to relax, sleep in, swim, chat, listen, dream and basically accomplish not a damn thing for awhile, guiltily free of electronic tyranny, I would not willingly step into Julia’s shoes for all the Canadian timber marked for export. Maybe not even for an oilsands-CEO’s pension!
Imagine yourself in your mid-eighties, with osteoporosis bending your back in directions you have never considered, two hip transplants to get used to, and all the liver spots, cataracts and other frailties that seem to arrive inevitably with age. No spouse, no kids, no family for thousands of miles.
Your dirt driveway slopes at thirty-five degrees from the noisy highway (mercifully silent overnight). Its fancy gate consists of poles, barbed wire and a lock. The house sports a fenced yard, barred windows and doors with grates. The interior doors all lock. The solid-wood doors are beautiful but have swelled and don’t close properly; so some boast a second lock, foisted onto the door by means of a chunk of two-by-four hammered on.
There must be a night watchman on duty but the level of trust is so low that the front and back door grates are locked and the kitchen windows and door are locked within, to prevent theft by the staff.
There are three staff, all members of a neighboring family. Theoretically, the night guy is here from early evening to six in the morning, the day guy comes at seven thirty and stays until four, and the housekeeper comes for four hours from eight to twelve, all of which apparently costs about $300 per month. Shockingly low wages, but apparently normal. Small wonder that all you get for that is iffy presence.
There’s still cat shit on a dining chair. The saltillo tiles are only partly sealed. The palapa, not properly supported, sags under the weight of its brick roof tiles. The floors are never clean enough to accommodate the Hawai’ian habit of leaving one’s shoes at the door. The trash is flung into the ravine that curves around the property. There is no sign of innovation in the garden unless Julia vigorously instigates it. The day guy cleans the pool and rakes the orchard daily—then dumps the precious mulch, bagged in plastic, into the ravine!
So surrounded only by poverty, ignorance and theft, Julia’s life resembles solitary confinement. That’s not taking into account the cats, who are hard to count, because they refuse to stay still long enough. An hour ago, there were twenty-eight. At least.
[image error]The Cat Pack both delights and torments Julia. They are her secondary jailor. Right now, everyone’s on siesta, Julia in bed and twenty-eight cats splayed on chairs, counters, beds, tiles, tables—it all seems muy amable. Just wait two hours, though, when the little buggers decide they need their next infusion of cat food—NOW! They’re mewling and fawning and crowding one’s legs—maddening! And expensive! Julia estimates three pounds of cat kibble daily, not to mention sardines and rice and little treats. That’s got to be another $300 per month, and Julia’s far from rich. It must stop somewhere. I want to shout, as I imagine the gods above shouting about the mewling, puking human masses burgeoning below, “Can’t we neuter the damned things?”
I thought I liked cats but Los Gatitos venture far past my tolerance level. Nobody likes cats on counters, stoves or tables and what they do to furniture is unspeakable. There’s not a single piece of upholstery in this house, on account of the cats. Whenever food needs to be thawed or stored for even a few minutes, into the big oven it goes, on account of the cats. Julia has no art or fragile items around, on account of the cats. Why, last night one of the little monsters tried chewing on the heavy soapstone sculpture I’d centered on the dining table, thinking it cat-proof. This morning five of them broke into my room and woke me, rustling away among my bags for the chocolate croissants I’d planned for our breakfast. It’s too much for a doggy person. I growl savagely at them in Wolf but they refuse to believe I’m canine.
I start knocking cats off counters, tables and stoves today as soon as the housekeeper has cleaned the surfaces. I’m cooking today, which is too difficult when you can’t set anything down anywhere safely and have no clean working surface. I don’t yell or remonstrate in Wolf, English or Spanish—I just knock them off their cute little feet. What fun! They learn pretty fast. I get a meal cooked.
No, I decide, Nicaragua is not for me as a place to retire. Too poor, too hot, too larcenous, too corrupt, too catty, and too darned much work! I want to be lively retired, not tired retired.
I’d rather go to the dogs.
December 4, 2012
[image error]Hola, readers!
As I type this, my daughter is hard at work formatting and uploading my latest offering to the world of books: a non-fiction guide to dental tourism in Nicaragua.
I know. Sounds boring. But I swear to you, it’s not. Won’t take my word for it? Take my daughter’s word:
Mom, when are you taking me to Nicaragua? I just finished reading your book and I really want to go now. You make it sound like so much fun!
You may notice, this post is written under the name Eva, whereas my traveling adventures posts are generally under the name Kaimana. There’s some overlap here — as Eva, I tend to blog about education, fixing brains, how-tos rather than abouts. As Kaimana, I blog about my life, which includes my travels. However, I’m publishing Million Dollar Smile as Eva van Loon, via The Pack Press‘s Smashwords profile. The book, while also an entertaining account of my travels to Nicaragua, is mainly a guide to dental tourism.
Here’s the long description of the book:
Can you guess the safest country in Central America today? Nicaragua!
Can you guess the cheapest country in Central America today? Nicaragua!
Did you know that Nicaragua boasts highly trained dental professionals whose up-to-date services cost a small fraction of the same services in North America?
Did you know Nicaragua is packed with spectacular mountain scenery, great beaches, historic cities, endless sunshine and hospitable people eager for your business?
This book will help you navigate the world of dental tourism in Nicaragua, as well as teaching you enough Spanish words to keep yourself out of trouble. Eva van Loon uses her first-hand experience of Nicaragua to help you find a way to save your teeth for a fraction of what it would cost in Canada.
Dental health is essential for overall health. Bad oral health has been linked to a host of health problems, from heart attacks to cancer. If you have dental problems but trouble finding the money to fix them, give this book a read. It may just save your life — or at least your wallet.
Over the next few weeks expect to see more posts here about my latest trip to Nicaragua, in honor of the release of the book. As soon as Million Dollar Smile is available for purchase, you will be the first to know.
December 3, 2012
Wasn’t there a hotel chain that some decades ago adopted the slogan “No Surprises”?
A hotel wouldn’t want to try that on in Nicaragua. Few businesses in Nicaragua, methinks, would think that a good slogan—who’d believe it?
The way the flights from Vancouver work, you start out at an unseemly early hour, eke out the day with two or three flights through Houston and maybe Denver, thank your guardian angel the TSA didn’t make you miss your plane this time, and arrive at a nice, cushy chain hotel across from the Managua airport just in time to spend, in Nica terms, a small fortune on dinner before crashing for the night. In this way you spend, in just twelve hours, more than you will spend on accommodations and food for the next five days. But the pools are great, the wi-fi is steady and the money is still only a fraction of North American prices; so why complain?
I woke the morning of the first full day of my second sojourn in Nicaragua ready for a hot shower and a traditional breakfast of eggs, fried plantains and gallo pinto (rice and beans). I flung back the shower curtain happily and found—no taps!
Late the night before, I’d noticed the substandard condition of the light switch in the bathroom. Hmm…. But it worked; so who cared? Now I got it: someone had made off with the taps and had indulged in funny business with the wiring as well, after the copper, no doubt.
My friend Chris, who had kindly driven all the way from Leon to pick me up, laughed. “Welcome to Nicaragua, land of liars, thieves and pretty whores!” He was quoting a Nica friend, Nicas being the only people who have a right to make such judgments about Nicaragua, after all. Chris was not at all perturbed about the missing taps, although I worried a little about becoming a suspect, as if shower taps were universally acknowledged to be a desirable souvenir of the tropics.
Naturally the hotel graciously delivered me to a fresh room, fully equipped with the niceties of a shower and electricity. See? No surprises. Better yet, We’ll make it up to you if there are surprises.
I reflected that the hotel had never made it up to Chris for the lights that had gone missing off his truck in the fifteen minutes it had taken him to pick me up, same time, same place, my first trip to Nicaragua.
I had little doubt there would be plenty of surprises, again, in Nicaragua. The first one was a large box store, shopping for the family being one of Chris’ missions in coming to Managua. I had to shake my head hard to rid myself of the sense of being back in Maui’s Costco store, where people meet all their friends on Saturday afternoon. I’d had no notion such a store existed in Nicaragua, in the first place, and the second surprise was the prices of what I call Dulces de Veneno (poison candy), the over-processed American delicacies and so called bargains that are really just colored, high-fructose corn syrup solidified in shapes that look like food. This stuff didn’t run much cheaper than in Maui.
Clearly, this was not a place where liars, thieves and pretty whores shopped. The surprise for me was that there are enough people in Nicaragua, reputedly the poorest country in Central America—and that’s poor!—to support such a store.
I bought some local currency and some fancy food to share with my hosts. My best find was a piece of fish labeled as trout which looked, smelled, and tasted like salmon. I’m still surprised about that one.
As we started our drive out of town, I noticed a large, fancy, rose-colored building, a monument to the blessings of an education in architecture. “What is that beautiful castle-like thing?” I exclaimed, hoping it was dedicated in some way to public service.
“A department store,” said Chris, unsurprised except, perhaps, by my admiration.
The emporium’s name? Carrion. I kid you not. This cracked me up: didn’t these people own a Spanish-English dictionary? Carrion: in English, the dead flesh on which vultures feed. Attracted by the smell, no doubt.
Perhaps the name was suitable for a high-class department store after all. Likely only a very few of Nicaragua’s liars, thieves and pretty whores ever trod those polished floors.
The smell of money is not so far from the smell of poverty, after all. No surprises there.
October 14, 2012
1. Lock the hotel room from the inside by sliding the bolt home–while your roommate is outside. Now go to sleep.
2. Leave town on your own without telling your roommate or even leaving a message. That’s the job of a concierge, isn’t it?
3. Don’t pay the hotel, lunch, or taxi bill when you go.If your roommate wants the money, well, come and get it!
Returning to the hostel fro breakfast to find my decades-older traveling companion gone without a word, I felt first relief coupled with concern. Then I realised that she could probably continue on her own without anybody’s help or companionship, since that’s precisely what’s she has always done. So I relaxed and gave thanks for the release her rudeness gave me. I was suddenly, deliciously free.
I climbed onto a chicken bus and went “home” to my favorite hotel in Leon.