I've finished uploading pictures from yesterday's Mombacho trip and zipline tour. The videos are on their way up too, but they take a lot longer to upload. There are also a few videos from the baseball game, including the "si se puede" chant.
Last night my host brother Noel asked me for some music for his ipod (he has a new 80GB version I've never seen--very slim with internal speakers and video). I gave him a whole range, including the Beatles, Jay-Z, Michael Jackson, and others. This morning, when I was taking a shower and getting ready to head out, I heard "Earth Song" blasting from the kitchen (Brie, I hope you see this), and could not have been much happier. I hadn't even recommended the song. It was just the one he chose to put on first. Of course, he then did in fact make me happier by following it up with "Chacarron," the greatest song in the world. Apparently a chacarron is a type of insect, though I couldn't work out what kind.
I thought I'd talk a bit more about baseball crazyness here, and the fact that it's a universal language. Whenever I get into a conversation with a local, it's almost always very easy to talk about baseball. Most people wear caps of various US sports teams (caveat in next paragraph). As I think I've mentioned, the Yankees are extremely popular. What's interesting though is that although people know a lot about the game itself (and that includes the Major Leagues) they are completely disconnected from its history. This isn't particularly surprising, as I'm certain the Major Leagues have only been popular here for as long as they've been televised here. Nonetheless it was interesting to get into a conversation with someone yesterday who had no idea that the Dodgers and Giants used to be in New York, and had never heard of Jackie Robinson. His name was Job (insert Arrested Development comment here), and he drove me out to the volcano (insert Job vs the Volcano joke here). At any rate, Job is a fan of the Florida Marlins, because he likes the fact that they're a team of young upstarts, as opposed to the Yankees, who go out and buy all the best players (his words, not mine). The fact that he knows enough to know that, and to make the more complicated decision about fandom indicates to me that he's a serious baseball fan with a good grasp of the game. So it was interesting to me that even for him, baseball basically started within the last 10-20 years. It's also worth noting, by the way, for seamheads out there, that the level of play here is really quite low, perhaps even lower than I initially realized. One of the best players in the league, Augustin Septimo (who hit two homers in the game I attended), is a 25 year-old shortstop. In 2008, his age 24 season, he put up a a 576 OPS in the Marlins FSL affiliate. This year, he played in the Indy Leagues, where he faired a bit better (.779). He was one of the league leaders in home runs here this season, with 5 in a little over 50 games. So the game I went to was basically the equivalent of seeing the Newark Bears with a more rabid fan base.
The other thing I wanted to discuss (again) was the poverty, because there are just some interesting things to contemplate here. It is an extremely common sight to see a Nica walking around in a shirt that says, for example "Monmouth High School Track." A large portion of local clothing clearly comes second hand from the U.S. This occasionally makes for some it-would-be-funny-if-it-weren't-sad moments, like the guy I saw in a "Rush Week 2003" t-shirt. As an American, it's quite an uncomfortable feeling, and it definitely makes one pause for a moment. Considering the amount of old t-shirts of that ilk that I gave to Goodwill when I moved out of my apartment, it's entirely feasible that I could see someone walking around here in my old Wesleyan Orientation Leader t-shirt. The thing that's most striking about it is the extent to which even the relatively well-off people here live to some extent off of our second hand goods. It's the second poorest country in the hemisphere (after Haiti--donate here), so it's not exactly a surprise, but one is constantly reminded of the fact that Nicaragua-rich is still Rest-Of-World-poor. Nicaragua-poor, of course, is pretty destitute. Most of the kids don't make it past fourth grade here, and a lot of them start huffing glue before they even reach double-digits. It's heartbreaking, and there's still a serious need for international aid here. But what is also interesting about it is that, at least in Granada, the majority of people still seem to get by reasonably well and at least on the surface appear to be reasonably happy. This is, at a minimum, a country that functions, with an economy that may not be growing, but does exist. But in every way you can think of, it lags far behind our standard of living--tickets are handwritten receipts, you cannot buy anything on the internet, and transactions are almost universally conducted in efectivo (cash), except at the places designed for the wealthiest tourists.
What's tough is that I really don't know what the solution is. More tourism adds some money to the economy, but comes with a whole host of other serious issues, both for the locals and for the tourists. For centuries, there was a large bull shark population in the lake (it connects to the Caribbean via the Rio San Juan), but that was grossly overfished by the Somoza administration for leather and shark's fins, and is now, for all intents and purposes, extinct. They have a variety of interesting fruits (nispero and zapote, for example), but I've heard that most of them spoil quickly, so exporting them wouldn't necessarily work. They have very good coffee, which I think helps some, but it's not something you can use as the base of a monocrop economy when people can also get it from countries like Colombia and Costa Rica. So there's not really an answer to the major problems here, as far as I can discern. Focusing on the kids and keeping them in school is a good start, certainly, so, to that extent organizations like Casa Xalteva do a reasonable amount of good. Beyond that, there's really no obvious solution, and it seems like exactly the kind of place that is likely to get forgotten in a global recession.
Anyway, I'm not sure there's a particularly ideal way to end this post except to say that this trip is reminding me of just how incredibly fortunate I am in a nearly infinite number of ways (not the least of which is the opportunity to take this trip, and the comfort to be able to contemplate this stuff from my perspective instead of the local one).
And with that, I'm going to finish my lunch and head down to the lake to hop on the four-hour boat ride to Ometepe.