Category Archives: Culture

Viája a Nicaragua con Jessica – Travel to Nicaragua with Jessica

Today I am going to do something a little different and really fun for me.  I am going to introduce you to a student of ours that became a friend and now is more a friend than a student but that doesn´t mean that she has stopped studying with us, only that we could lose her as a student and still be okay, because you know, sometimes students move on and well,  that´s understandable and something we have to live with, but to have a friend move on? – well that would fall into a catagory all together different called ‘really sad’  so I hope it won´t happen, at least for a very long time if it happens at all.  We love it when our students become dear friends! 

JessJessica in Kayakica  runs a business called Un Buen Viaje and the second I can get away I’m taking one of her trips without a doubt.  In fact she’s got some coming up in the fall, and I may find myself on one of them……so anyway everybody…….. Heeeeeeeeerrrrrrre’s Jessica!

Joan:  Jessica, tell us about Un Buen Viaje.

Jessica:  ¡Un Buen Viaje! is my way of giving back to the country that has given me so much. After four years of research and a continuously vivid dream, I launched www.ToursToNicaragua.com. Together with two dependable local guides we are a small group travel company leading tours in Nicaragua. We take individuaP5170637ls, couples, families, photographers, birders, kayakers, hikers, history buffs, coffee lovers, foodies, really anyone who is adventurous enough to step out of their comfort zone and into this colorful, big-hearted country.

Our focus is on being responsible travelers. We emphasize this by engaging our guests in the communities in which we travel and encouraging active involvement. Our travelers learn about Nicaragua from the inside out, through the voices of its people, its complex history, and rich culture. It’s more than just a ‘place’ to visit or a ‘thing’ to do. It’s about treading lightly in our host’s backyard and showing thanks for their invitation to visit. Como la gente dice siempre, “a la orden.”

Joan:  HikingWhy Nicaragua?  What attracts you to this country in particular?

Jessica:  Nicaragua chose me, in a way. In 2002 Peace Corps sent me to the largest country in Central America as a sustainable agriculture volunteer, introducing me to a land of lakes, volcanoes, cloud forests, beaches, curious creatures, and vibrant and socially active gente with a complicated past. While I did not remain in Peace Corps, Nicaragua remained in my heart. It’s the incredible beauty, diversity, and perseverance of the people that keeps me going back for more. I can’t imagine ever running out of things to explore.

Joan:  Tell us about your experience in creating a Business in a country that has a language different than yours? P5070292

Jessica:  Most of the ‘business’ takes place here in my Minneapolis office. Starting a small international travel company is a lot like starting any other small business. Same hoops. Same hurdles. Getting to travel in Nicaragua is the reward for the hard work.

When I use P5150577my Spanish here in Minneapolis it’s mainly to connect with Nicaraguan businesses, organizations and individuals to ask for information or advice in their area of expertise. A lot of this communication is done via e-mail so I’ve definitely noticed an improvement in my written skills.

Of course, once we touch down in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital city, it’s all Spanish. Bilingual Nicaraguans are in the minority and English is practically non-existent outside of the capital city and Granada, Nicaragua’s hotbed for expats. In-country is where I’m most challenged and when the practice (Spanish class with Luis, e-mails, Twitter, surfing Spanish language websites) pays off. There are taxis to be called, reservations to be made, friends to visit, drinks to be ordered! I love nothing more than being in the moment, making it all happen with my second language.

Joan:  What if I don’t know Spanish and have no interest in learning it, can I still enjoy a trip with Un Buen Viaje?

The awesome thing about communication is that it is so much bigger than words. Imagine a handshake, a wink, a wrinkle of the nose or the forehead, a smile, a laugh, an “Ah ha!” I sometimes think those with a lesser understanding of the Spanish language than me often have an easier time communicating as it comes more from the heart than the head. Anyone with an open mind is sure to enjoy traveling with us.P5190693

Joan:  What if I am passionate about the Spanish language and culture, what in particular, does your trip have to offer someone like me?

Jessica:  Because only a minority of Nicaraguans speak English you are likely to find yourself immersed in the language and culture the moment you step foot in the land of lakes and volcanoes (and poets!). Our tours our designed to highlight Nicaragua’s diverse landscape, annual festivities, and musical and theatrical expression throughout the country. We create itineraries around these special occasions ensuring the opportunity for our guests to get a glimpse of life as it is lived by the people. One of our most favorite events in all of Nicaragua is Diriamba’s patron saint festival, which celebrates San Sebastian and takes place at the end of January. During the festivities, El Güegüense (Macho Raton), a satirical drama well known throughout Nicaragua, is performed in the city streets. It’s a synthesis of Indigenous and Spanish cultures combining theater, dance and music, and is considered one of Latin America’s most distinctive colonial-era expressions.

While NicP5210754aragua is not Peru nor Guatemala with their prevalent indigenous populations, massive ruins, and woven handbags, Nicaragua IS full of action. Nicaraguans always seem to be moving and shaking to their own rhythm, and they are more than happy to have you join in. Ya, estoy lista para ir!

Joan:  When is your next trip and when do I need to be in touch with you in order to travel with you?

Jessica:  We have several upcoming affordable tours and it’s not too late to make your travel plans with us. If you are looking for a custom itinerary or would like to choose your own travel dates, feel free to contact us to discuss the options. Vamanos!

October 24-November 4, 2009 (12 days)
November 21-29, 2009 (9 days)
December 2-13, 2009 (12 days)
December 16-27, 2009 (12 days) CHRISTMAS IN NICARAGUA!

Joan:  Thanks Jessica.  I’m thinking December 2 – 13….. hey, by-the-way, you and Michael wanna come over for dinner sometime next week?  Jessica?  Jessica?  Hey Jessica…..I guess she had to run…..

So anyway, there you have it!  My friend Jessica and her tour company Un Buen Viaje.  Here are some additional links that will connect you to all the action!   www.ToursToNicaragua.com www.ToursToNicaragua.wordpress.com (blog)  http://www.twitter.com/NicaGuide  ¡Un Buen Viaje! on Facebook                        Aquí estamos,  Joan

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Dicen que ahogarse no es tan malo – They Say That Drowning is Not So Bad

Now who “they” might be and “how” “they” might even be in a position to pass on this little ray of sunshine is a bit of a mystery in and of itself.  We need to overlook the teensy issue that this popular myth assumes that the Internal-consistency method of estimating reliability was employed to reach a conclusion which is just simply impossible in both method or outcome.  That is, if we were divide a group of dead people into two groups, those that died by drowning and those that died from other causes, and then we put to them the question; among the ways one could die, which would you rate as “not so bad” ….. well any live person can see that there are problems with this particular statistical method already.  Even if we could remember how we did that cool séance at that one junior high slumber party, we would still have the problem that one can only die, like really die, one time, and so the comparison between expiration methods is just not likely.

But let’s not be so literal.  Let’s take a look at the spirit of this myth and how we can apply it to our life here and today.  Yes, I have been up since 4 AM pondering this. 

It was actually something that came to mind at some point close to midnight on Saturday, August 1st, minutes before the publication deadline of our new edition of La Casa Rojas would have been missed.  A new edition is due out on the 1st and on the 15th of each month.  Now I, Joan, German, take this to mean “on the 1st and the 15th”.  Luis, him, Peruvian, takes this to mean “en el 1 y el 15 más o menos“.  And I know this.  Luis and I have been together for 7 years now.  I´ve developed heart problems over the issue and he’s developed tics.  So between my assuring him in precisely articulated syllables that he is to blame for giving me this latest heart attack and his jumping and twitching at first site of me when all I want to know is “how it’s  going”, we are well aware of the chasm that lies between on us on this issue.

There is always more work than we think there will be, but to this I say;  “We already know this, let´s give ourselves the room we need to accommodate the unexpected.”  “Don´t worry, it will get out,”  replies his modus operandi.   

So I struggle and flail and gasp and scream until I reach a point where I realize, anew, that all of that spent energy only delays un poquito, the inevitable.   And though I do hate to admit it, there  is something peaceful about that moment when we just give up and give in and relax to the forces greater than us.  No, no, I am not saying that I lose and Luis wins.  I would never say that…..I am saying  that there will always be that tension between Luis and I on our perception of time.  He’s more of a marathoner, I am more of a sprinter.  He’d rather pace himself and enjoy the view along the way, I’d rather get it over with so that I can kick back and forget about it.  He’s not right, but neither am I.  There are simply style differences. 

And so, though I will never be able to compare and contrast  the best method to die, I can tell you that if the myth about drowning holds any water at all, it’s all in the metaphor.  All the flailing and carrying on will not change the outcome, so when it’s you against the 30 foot swells just relax and ride it.  Peace is just on the other side of all your fussing.    Aquí estamos,  Joan

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¡Vayase! – Get Outta here! parte II

43 days later –  Buenos Aires –  departamento que da a la calle, el 3 piso, con balcón (mi eleccion de modo que fue posible ver todo el mundo desde mi dormitorio)

Luis is already in the throws of “fining tune”, (that´s “fine tuning” en inglés) MY well thought out choices for my VERY OWN SOLO experience here in Buenos Aires.  “Honey, are you sure you want to be so close to that busy street… you will never sleep at night.”

Joan:

Luis:  “What time are you meeting this guy you will do that work with?”

Joan:

Luis:  “Maybe I’ll go to the bookstore where you’re meeting him too, because I have a couple of books I want to buy for my classes. ”

Joan: 

1 hour later – Bookstore Coffee Shop – Joan and Dr. Cabeza sipping espressos y platicando  (going well)

Luis:  “Hola, mi nombre es Luis, soy esposo de Joan.  Mucho gusto.  Yo estaba buscando libros para mi trabajo, soy profesor de español en el estado de Minnesota, cerca de Canadá.”

Joan:

Luis:  “Honey, sorry to interrupt,  I just wanted to ask you if you want me to look for a good cookbook for us to take home with us.”

Dr. Cabeza:  “Mucho gusto Luis.  Por favor toma un asiento.  ¿Quieres un cafecito?”

Joan:

Following day – address in hand – making a dry run on the Subte toward place of  ‘pacentia’

Luis:  “Okay, what you want to do is get here early, cause you can see that it’s total chaos at this time in the morning.  Now, you don’t have your purse do you?  Remember how I told you to keep all your stuff in your front pocket and be alert to the people on your sides and behind you?” 

Joan: 

Next day – first day of pacentia – Joan heads out alone – but this, only after very long discussion the night before about how Joan has already lived 50 years very successfully on this earth, at times even averting danger due to her measured caution, agility and general lack of stupidity.  The deal was sealed however only after an agreement to carry mace concealed in closed fist and to check in by cell every two hours. 

Joan has effortlessly negotiated 3 subway lines and 8 blocks on foot,  is almost at the clinic door where she will begin her first day of work.  An experience, born of an idea, that she took from it’s vaporous inception all the way through to it’s no ‘detail left unplanned for’, reality.  (well, except for the buying of the plane ticket)  She will be working with a well known and respected Psychologist, Director of a Clinic for chronic drug and alcohol dependents, the same man who was appointed to this position by the Argentinean Undersecretary of Mental and Chemical Health who in turn reports directly to President Kirchner.  She will be meeting with this Undersecretary later in her pacentia and could even score an introduction to the Prez himself.

Just a few steps more and Joan will be ringing the bell of the Clinic’s unassuming and secured front door.  Suddenly, out of no where she feels the presence of someone walking up way too fast behind her.  It feels as though this person does not intend to pass on either the left or the right, but is heading for a direct hit to her back side.  Joan thinks quickly and remembering that one of our best allies is the element of surprise,  she decides to interrupt the forward momentum of this person but stopping abruptly and whirling around to face them.  To add more confusion and by so doing maximize her advantage as well hedge her bets by alerting those people on the other side of the street that there is something happening on this side, she decides to yell, “¡Vayase!”  simultaneously.

1.5 seconds later, plan in place – Joan executes it

Joan:   Stops, whirls, yells – “¡VAYASE!”

Person:  Unintelligible scream, then;  “Honey, ¿Qué haces?   ¡Me matas de susto!”

Joan:  “YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!”

Luis:  “I just wanted to make sure you got there safely.”

The people across the street stopped for a moment, looked our way, said something to one another shaking their heads as they spoke, then continued on.  It was pretty clear Luis and I knew one another – I suppose we looked like just another couple that could use the help of a counselor.         Stay safe and keep the love alive!   Joan

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¡Vayase! – Get outta here!

So we are in Buenos Aires about 2 years ago, Luis and I.  Reluctantly I brought him along on a trip that I arrange to get CEU hours for the renewal of my Psychology license.  He wasn´t invited initially mind you.  I wanted to do this on my own. 

The idea was to improve the Spanish I used at work.  I was already good at chatting it up casually with a native Spanish speaker, I could talk about the day´s news or what I thought would or could happen if something else occurred…I could even expound upon what the future held should you decide to embrace it.  Subjunctiveville.  I owned the town. 

But I was still missing two things critical to my practicing psychology effectively with the Spanish speaker.  The more obvious of these was  was vocabulary.  You know, how do I say …  Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Features of Anxiety and Depression, Differential Diagnosis of  Trichotillomania, Rule Out Borderline Personality, though this seemed quite straightforward and easy enough to pick up.  The less obvious but more critical thing I was lacking had to do with ‘world view’.   I didn´t quite get what was perceived as a problem and what wasn´t.  What the beliefs were surrounding why particular types of problems occur and what must be done to eradicate them, if it is even seen possible.  Fascinating stuff, but for other entries.  In this one I am wanting to talk about my marriage.

I´m fairly industrious and since all great feats start with nothing more than an idea and I was teeming with those … I figured I was off to a good start.  Idea;  study in Buenos Aires.  The obvious first step was to see if there were any conferences being offered during the time I wanted to go.  This investigation turned up a big fat ‘nada’, but not to go down with at least the appearance of a fight, I called Luis´ brother Dany, who lives in Buenos Aires and asked him who he knew, just to keep the momentum going.  Dany´s a heart doctor and not a head doctor, but I figured he probably has access to all the varieties through a hospital wide staff meeting or something, whatever, he´s sweet and I knew he´d come up with someone.  And he did.  Turns out it was not someone from the hosptial at all, but someone that happened to attend the same church he did.  Good enough.

Yippee, idea is turning into something that promises substance…. this is good.  Next – write letter to ‘head doctor’, (Dany didn’t know his specialty exactly, just knew he dealt with ‘los problemas de la cabeza’), tell him that I got his name from the guy with 4 girls that sits behind him and across the aisle at the 8 30 service at el Iglacia de San Ignacio, check.  Tell him that I want to do a ‘pacentia’ under him, offer some money for his trouble, sit back and wait.  Check, check, check.  Long story short, it’s a Bingo.  Time to buy the plane tickets.

After a long day at work, I come home to Luis jumping up and down.  “¡Habemos tickets!”   Luis, Southern Baptist, knows nothing of the Catholic tradition and found it fascinating when the new Pope was introduced to the world first with a ribbon of smoke from a chimney followed by the proclamation, “HABEMUS PAPA”.  So when ever something is really exciting to him, he takes liberties with the expression.  In this case “¡Habemos tickets!”   Brings to mind potatoes and chili peppers for me but anyway… when I heard him say “Habemos”, I heard the “…mos” part more than the “Habe…” part and knew I was in for the other shoe.  “Honey, I decided I am going too!”  What!?  What happened to all the “…you need to get out there and use the language, you need to take chances, you need to push yourself to the limit ….”?

…….to be continued…….             Joan

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Y entonces él empezó a llorar – And Then He Began to Cry

My comment was innocent enough, meant really just to break the tension; “No has tenido mucha suerte con las mujeres, ¿Eh?”  “You haven’t had much luck with the ladies?” 

He looked away from me then, his eyes searching something invisible to me in his perifery.  An ironic chuckle escaped which betrayed just enough emotion to cause a breach in his battle weary armor.  The tears burst through.  He was more surprised than I at how he crumbled … even though tears were not what I was going for specifically.  “La quiero, mucho.”  “I love her, alot.”  “Yo quiero que tengamos una vida feliz juntos.”  “I want us to have a happy life together.”

“¿Ella sabe que quieres esto?  ¿Ella quiere lo mismo?” “Does she know this is what you want?  Does she want that too?”

“No sé.”  “I don´t know.” 

“¿Con quien hablas acerca de las cosas personales?”  “Who do you talk to about your personal issues?” 

“Nadie.”  “No one.”  The tears continued.  He stopped searching his perifery then, found my eyes instead and smiled ever so slightly.

The human condition.  It takes surprisingly little to get beyond the veneer – if we cared to – if we needed to.  I know your ‘stuff’ cause it´s the same as mine.  The reverse goes without saying.  Remember “LIFE Magazine”?  It was famous for it’s photos not it’s words.  Why?  Because photos shoot beneath the veneer and beyond language.  Suddenly we are with the subject in their fear,  their lonliness, confusion, illness, hunger, mourning, celebration, relief, determination, victory. 

He has a life full of native Spanish speakers.  I am not one of those.  I am new to his language and yet with a bridge constructed of a few words familiar to him, I was was able to traverse the space between us to get  just close enough to let him know that I understood his human condition.  For the space of a few tears and a smile, he wasn´t all alone. 

Why learn another language? 

Well, could get you a new job, could get you your coffee the way you ordered it, could get you the best room in the hotel … or it could give you just one precious opportunity to ease the burden of another if only for a second.   There was more than one time that my life changed forever in that single second someone communicated to me that they understood me, that they were with me.  A picture may be worth a thousand words but one word can save a life.     ¡Salud!    Joan  –   Licensed Psychologist and Editor in Chief of  La Casa Rojas

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¡PELIGRO! Aprender español va a cambiar tu vida – Danger! Learning Spanish Is Going to Change Your Life

Many of you know from previous posts that Luis and I could not hail from more opposite extremes of cultural tradition.  My very German upbringing and his Latino has been the fodder for more color in our lives together than one could hallucinate after a few Pisco Sours. (actually, any descriptor that occurred to you before you actually read my artfully selected choice, “color”, would work here too)  How many pages is War and Peace or does the Iliad feel like it has? Well, that´s how many stories I have living with Luis – though he tells me he has at least double in ‘Joan’ stories.

Let´s talk color.  If any of you have seen the videos of Luis and I you will note that I am always dressed in some variation of  Black; that is, short sleeves, long sleeves, collar, sans collar, jacket, etc.  I may have thrown in a little grey once, but that is about as adventurous as I get with color unless I am going for maximum impact.  This is when you will see me play fast and loose with contrasts and throw in a blindingly white T.  Really, too much white or white in the wrong place, hurts my eyes. 

Now Luis will often be dressed in Black as well, especially if he is in the frame with me … I don’t usually like being in proximity to color either.  And to innocent voyeurs of these films all probably seems copacetic.  But what has gone on before the actual edited piece you all see is …  hmmm, how shall I put this … at least an hour of intense negotiation. 

Luis dons one shirt after another;  his Yellow, Red, Vibrant Blue, Kelley Green and his Violet.  With each color change, he walks out of the bedroom as though we had not had the discussion only seconds before that he really ought to take himself more seriously and wear one of the several Black shirts I have bought him over the years.  I’m flexible.  Any of them would do.

Scene change.  It’s time to paint our very modern Condo.  I do agree that the nearly all white walls are hideous and some shadow of color is called for.  At first we painted everything a very subtle beige which had a wild yellow undertone, well that is with the exception of one very dramatic long wall that followed the Dining Room into the adjacent Kitchen.  We agreed this crazy wall would wear a deep bricky red.  Don’t cringe, it was the kind of red that works well with hints of yellow.   But much to my astonishment, I warmed up to this color kick so much that in contrast, suddenly it seemed that the beige laid on the walls like a serious case of jaundice.

Too many unsuccessful trips to the paint store and enough nearly full cans of paint in our garage that we would could have been mistaken for the annex to our local Benjamin Moore led us to call in our good friend and ‘colorist’.  Please!  A colorist?  Desperate times as they say.  Remember I am German, we don’t call in ‘colorists’.  In fact I don’t recall ever hearing the word as I grew up.

Michael (of course, you knew it would be the proper of whatever name…) arranges 3 – 2 hours blocks of time with us.  One in the early morning light, one in the afternoon light and one with only artificial light – you know, like lamps and stuff.  Michael is lactose intolerant and if that doesn’t just say it all right there.

He brings in 4 cartons measuring about 3 feet by 2 feet and 1.5 feet deep.  He begins to pull out color “chips” and instructs us to say “yes” or “no” to the colors as he begins to deal them as fast as any Black Jack dealer I’ve seen deal cards in the movies…(remember, Joan is German, we don’t gamble).  The instructions are that we say what first occurs to us,  that we don’t over think it, that we don’t think about what colors goes with what and that we don’t worry if I say one thing and Luis says another.  (Phew, that’s good).  

So this is the way it went for 6 hours in various light conditions and in various rooms of the house.  When it was all said and done, we were handed a very complex color map of the 39 different and distinct colors that make up our freshly painted house.  That was not a typo, 39 is the number I meant to type.  And what’s more, Luis and I love it!

Okay, so it took a little counseling and mediation from a ‘colorist’, but in the end I moved a heck of a long way from Egg Shell and Luis moved a heck of a long from from Primary Colors.   We look around our home now and can see how each of us have really had a very significant impact on how the other now sees their world.  The colors in our home are truly symbolic and a clear outward manifestation of how blended we have become.  In fact we were so excited by what we had created together on the walls, we didn’t stop there …. we ripped the place down to it’s studs and completely rebuilt it.  We selected tile colors and designs for the bathrooms and kitchen influenced by our South American and Spain travels that even resulted in our ’tile guy’ asking us if we would allow him to bring his family through to see what we had forced him to do.

Did I ever think that learning Spanish would lead to my meeting my husband or kissing complete strangers in greeting or sitting close to someone when it wasn’t absolutely necessary?  Nope! We Germans don’t even smile that readily.  But these are some of the very happy secondary gains from my adventure to learn Spanish, an adventure that I embarked upon on a whim some 6 years ago now.  You will indeed continue to see me in Black, but don’t be fooled … there is lots of rich and vibrant color just a scratch below the surface.    Besos,  Joan    P.S.  Here’s a link to our home …..

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“Sólo nos queda pedirles que oren por nostros” – “I Only Ask that You All Pray for Us”

This is the way Álvaro, our author from Honduras, signed off on his note to me this morning.  I had been watching the news yesterday and saw how violent things continued in that country due to the recent “golpe de estado” that had occurred the week before, and wrote him a quick note indicating that he and his family and his country were in Luis´ and my the thoughts and prayers – adding the mother’s reflex, (begging the obvious that goes out to all regardless of their relation to us)….”Cuidense mucho”.

He described briefly the up to the moment having to do mostly with looking for the ‘good’ in the ‘bad’ and his ‘resigned reflections’ on human nature;  “There is more concern and worry with each day that passes , but no deaths yet.”  “Seven million people have been impacted by the spoiled childish political ambitions of one.”  “So many people both inside and outside the country have fallen victim to propaganda and believe that the ‘victemizer’ is actually the ‘victem’.

Now read this however you wish…the truth is, I do not know the political leanings of Álavaro…he writes for La Casa Rojas about how he experiences his life in his country, and one´s experience of one´s life is personal and universal simultaneously.

And it is this last point that I find fascinating …. our experiences are at once personal and universal.  I will be putting up Álvaro´s third installment of  “Domingo negro en Honduras, Historia de una crisis”later today.  With one final note of disclaimer I sign off for now…..La Casa Rojas is about giving outsiders an insiders point of view … we are not promoting the politics of any particular group … and our personal points of view are not necessarily reflected in the articles we publish.   Paz,  Joan  Editor in Chief, La Casa Rojas – the magazine

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