Wednesday, December 10, 2014

There's a million stories in the big city

Horse cart man  and cotton candy vendor
at the end of their day, Managua
    Oh, for a good newspaper that had an appetite for day-in-the-life stories from Nicaragua. I can't walk a block without being intrigued by yet another person scratching out what passes for a living in some unusual way, and would love an excuse to be talking to each of them about what their work days are like.
    There are the fire jugglers and the windshield washer guys at the big intersections, for instance. Are they putting in long days scratching for one or two cordobas from the handful of drivers who seem inclined to roll down their window long enough to pass along a coin? And what must it be like to be those women who spend their days walking right down the middle of the lanes of traffic whizzing by, selling oranges and little bags of fruit juice?
     Then there's the fellow who sells woven or wooden car-seat liners that people buy if they have a bad back or to stop their legs from sticking to the hot vinyl. He's set up in one of the boulevards between two lines of constantly moving traffic on one of Managua's busiest streets. I mean, do people actually pull over to buy a seat liner as they're driving along?
     A job that seems to be the lot of some of the poorest people is operating horse-drawn wooden carts. They own a horse, which in our land would signal someone who couldn't be all that poor, but one look at the skinny little creatures dependent on getting turned out in a vacant lot for a skimpy meal once in a while is enough to know that horse ownership is definitely no guarantee of wealth in Nicaragua.
    The carts mostly seem to work doing pickups of landscape and construction waste, with occasional forays into hauling vast bags of plastic pop bottles scrounged out of the garbage to wherever they go to be recycled. The carts weave in and out of the same crazy traffic as the cars in Managua, the drivers remarkably adept at crossing two or three lanes of traffic to make their left-hand turns.
     One of the most abundant jobs for men is working in security. Houses, businesses, even parking lots - they've all got their own security guy. I pass at least 15 every day on my eight-block walk to work.
Shoe repair outside the Roberto Huembe market, Managua
     One security guard who I chat with regularly works a 12-hour shift, six days a week, getting home to his distant village every night at around 9 p.m. long enough to stuff down a meal, have a quick visit with his family, and hit the sack for maybe 5 hours before he gets up at 4 a.m. to do it all over again. He tells me he's quitting for a new job driving ambulance in January, which makes me happy.
    (But while there's nothing fun about being a security guy in Nicaragua, it's still a good sight better than being a security guy in Honduras. Those poor workers were always the first ones killed when the armed robbers showed up. And they always showed up sooner or later.)
      The market vendors would be fascinating stories, too. Some of them look like they've found a niche - the butchers, for instance. But I do wonder how all the plastics vendors make a living, with their giant stacks of plastic chairs, buckets, basins, stools and Tupperware-style containers. The Roberto Huembe public market has quite a vast section of plastic sellers, but it's a stretch to imagine that there are enough plastic buyers to give them all a decent living.
      And how many customers are there for all the shoe-repair people set up just outside the market? Is there no end to the amount of shoes needing repair? Or are some of these men shoe-repair people by day, security guards by night?
     Same goes for the rosquilla sellers at the market. I'm not a big rosquilla fan myself - they're kind of like a hard little cookie/cracker thing, usually made with cheese - but Nicaraguans do seem to tuck into them with much gusto. Even so, the sheer volume of rosquillas at the market, in the streets, in the baskets of every vendor squeezing down the bus aisles to sell you their wares - well, it just seems to me that there isn't enough rosquilla demand in all the world to provide a fair wage to every one of them.
    In the town square in Leon, I saw a rough-looking old American guy apparently making his living doing levitation tricks and then passing the hat. While he always drew a crowd, I didn't see much evidence of anyone putting money in that hat. But he had a half-empty bottle of red wine tucked away in his big pile of stuff, and maybe that was good enough for him.
Meringue vendor, Leon

No comments: