I spent the rest of the morning studying for the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). I have quite a bit of free time these days, since I don’t start teaching my 16 hours a week of English class until February. So, I figured that I would study for an Anglo-centric exam that I need to get a good score in so that I can get a Master’s Degree and continue spending my money. I was surprised how quickly I understood the math problems. Math made me cry from middle school through high school. It took me forever to understand, and I hated myself for not being as good at it as I was at other subjects. It wasn’t until last year, where my job became explaining mathematical concepts to 5th-7th graders, that math became less of a monster to me. I didn’t think math was something one could conceptually understand until I began leading conceptual math classes. I would start class with a new math problem, and my students would take 5 minutes to solve it. Then, we would spend half the class discussing their strategies and their answers. At my school, teachers rarely just gave formulas to students. We didn’t just sit at the elmo and do the problems while our students mindlessly copied them. We believed that our kids were smarter than that. They were. They inspired me to see something as daunting as math as something you just need to be patient and positive with. Ultimately, solving problems is pretty rewarding.
At around noon, I worked out, had some more eggs and beans for lunch, and went for a walk to the grocery store(s). I wanted something for dessert, but I didn’t know what. I ended up buying a bag of buñuelos (a doughnut-hole-like fried ball of yucca dipped in syrup) for 20 cents. With each dip of my delicious, spongy yucca doughnut holes in the syrup, I gained a spring in my step. The warm sun shone down on me as I cruised down the narrow sidewalk. Walking on the sidewalk downtown is like playing chicken. Many parts of it can only fit one person, so it’s always a game I play with incoming strangers to see who will jump onto the curb first. When walking behind people, I usually end up doing passing them because I am an impatient American when it comes to walking down the street. I ended up buying pancakes and syrup, because I was craving them after watching the episode of Breaking Bad where Walter Jr. would rather have pancakes than drive his new PT cruiser on his birthday. As I decided whether to buy the Aunt Jemima syrup or the Nicaraguan brand, I looked at the ingredients. I would buy the one with the least chemicals. I’m not sure why I was so surprised to find out that the Nicaraguan one had fewer chemicals and that it was made of sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. Fortunately, I’m in a country where it’s normal for things like soda to be sweetened with sugar. It’s not like back home, where “Throwback Mountain Dew” is marketed as a special treat because it’s made with real sugar, like back in the good ol’ days.
As I walked back home, I decided to take the long way along the small river, and to stop by the bus station to ask if the buses to Managua were running on the same schedule tomorrow, since it would be a holiday (even though the holiday is today, but Nicaraguans need their holidays to be fully accounted for, so the holiday will stretch for 2 days). I’m going to spend the entire week in Managua for training, where I will be co-facilitating a workshop of teaching multi-proficiency-level classes. I’ll also attend NicaTESOL, two day a conference for English teachers. Hopefully the roads won’t be too busy tomorrow. You never know what can happen here. It could take me 2 hours to get to the capital, or it could take 4. I’ve learned not to drink water before or during the bus rides, since they do not have bathrooms on them, and the bus station doesn’t either. Living here brings the term “holding it” to new heights.
I tried to take a nap when I went back home, but the fireworks and music blasting wouldn’t let me have it. I ended up packing for Managua. Around 7, my friend and fellow English teacher, Meyling, texted me to ask if I still wanted to experience the holiday. I said that yes, I wanted to, since I needed to get out and relax after packing. I told her I’d be in the Parque Morazan in 10 minutes to meet her and some younger friends. As I left my house, it was dark outside, but people filled the streets, laughing, singing, and throwing firecrackers. I noticed that people stood in line to sing outside some houses, which all of a sudden had amazingly ornate altars to the Virgin Mary. This is like a mix between Caroling and Trick-or-Treating, but most of all, dedicated to a religious figure. I made it to the park, where Meyling found me and asked why I didn’t have a sack to put my treats in. Oops. I had forgotten that I would be getting free treats tonight.
Five minutes later, we hiked up a hill to sing. Hoards of people stood in lines to sing in front of what seemed like every other house. Some home owners spent their time shooing people away. Maybe they had set up an altar, but they had run out of sweet lemons to give out. Yes, they are like lemons but sweet. The ones I’ve had taste like a flavorless orange. They are green on the outside, and white on the inside. They taste too plain for me, but it’s a tradition to pass them out here. We made it to our first house, and stood in line for about 10 minutes. The door would open about every 5 minutes to let a group in, and out they scurried like mice, with a bowl of a masa-based stew, called “Indio Viejo”. The last time I tried it, it tasted like vomit. It looks like orange vomit, and the texture supports this suspicion. I was hoping I wouldn’t get any more of this dish ever again. The door opened, and we rushed inside to stand in front of an altar to the Virgin, which had candy canes, holly, and Christmas lights all around it. “¡Quien causa tanta alegria!?” (Who is causing so much happiness?), a woman in our group yelled, as is the custom. “¡La concepción de Maria!”, we answered. I read Meyling’s songbook over her shoulder, but couldn’t really follow along, because we kept switching songs arbitrarily. There were lots of songs dedicated to the virgin. As we sang the songs, the woman who let us in came around with a tray of the indio Viejo in paper cups with a spoon, and she made sure each one of us had it as our parting gift. We went outside, and I ended up eating the whole thing. It tasted kind of like tamale stew.
We went to several other houses, but we only stayed at a few because there were just so many people, pushing and shoving to get their treats for themselves and their kids. It was like a more competitive version of trick or treat, where you have to earn your treat by singing to the virgin. I had fun singing and spending time with Meyling. We ended up going to less crowded houses, where women passed out little bags of candies, cajeta, and oranges. I ended up getting much more candy than I thought I would. The last house we went to was right outside of my place. I never would have known that there would be enough room in that little house to create not only an alter, but a harden inside the house. The walls were covered in artificial plants and moss, and Christmas lights were strewn everywhere. I was impressed with the set up of the altar. I wondered how long it took the to put this amazing creation together. They also ended up giving me a cup with the holiday’s customary question and answer. It reminded me of all those years I’d gone trick or treating (yes, I was one of those annoying high-schoolers who would go ask for candy). Despite the noise level, it’s one of my favorite new holidays.