Monday, November 24, 2014

Tap water, beer and beef: The surprising facts of life in Managua

Why does meat taste better in developing countries?
 We'll have been in Managua for a month as of tomorrow, just long enough that I'm no longer getting lost every time I walk out the door but short enough that every day still holds some surprising discovery. Herewith, a small list of things I hadn't been expecting:

  • You can drink the water from the tap in Managua. Who knew? I just presumed we'd be drinking bottled water for the whole time we were here, as was the case for more than two years in Honduras. But I kept hearing from one person after another that Managua gets good-quality water from a lagoon and then treats it. I broke down and started drinking it about a week ago, helped along by the fact that there's no store nearby selling those cheap 20-litre bottles of purified water, and I can't handle the environmental guilt of a giant pile of one-litre plastic bottles piling up. 
  • People like their booze around these parts. Admittedly, the organization I worked with in Honduras was Christian and opposed to their employees drinking, but even putting that aside, the country felt pretty dry. Here in Nicaragua, you never have to walk far to find an open bar full of people talking animatedly. And when the beer truck pulled up to unload what must have been 40 cases of beer at the feria my current organization held last week, I knew for sure that I was in a new land.
  • Religion is a different beast here. People still say things like, "God willing," when you say you'll see them tomorrow, but I don't see the same intensity of faith and complete trust in God that was everywhere in Honduras. Maybe that's what a long history of oppression and revolution gets you - skepticism. 
  • They've got terrific beef here. And cheap. You can buy a gigantic slab of tender, delicious filet mignon that would probably feed 10 people for $20 at the local PriceSmart. I am in steak heaven.  I don't know what they feed their beef cattle, but Canadians should be demanding that if their local stores are going to import beef, they should give Nicaragua a try. 
  • It feels pretty safe in the big city. You'd never want to be getting carried away with your feeling of safety in a big Central American city, but it has been really nice to be able to enjoy Managua without feeling like a target just because I'm out there walking. I even feel OK to pull out my camera for a few shots, something I would never have done in Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula. I go walking every morning around 6 a.m. with the landlady's dog, and so far all we've run into are other people going about their business. 
  • A mall is a mall is a mall. OK, maybe that's not such a surprise anymore. I've had a lot of mall experiences in a lot of different countries. But it still is remarkable to me that wherever you go in the world, you can walk into a mall and pretty much feel like you're right back in your homeland. Same design, same stores, same things on offer, even prices that are strikingly similar. Ah, consumerism. 
  • I can live without hot water. Not even a month before we left Canada, Paul and I asserted to each other that while we could live without a lot of things in this new stripped-down life of ours, hot water wasn't one of them. But then we got to Managua and learned that most of the rental housing just doesn't have it, probably because electricity's expensive here, the temperatures never seem to go much below 30, and the water's never really very cold anyway. So here I am, jumping into a an unheated shower every morning. And it's not so bad. Now there's a big surprise. 

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