Saturday, November 25, 2006

Working Life

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua 11/25/06

A few days ago, I spent an hour or so in the office of "La Prensa", one of two leading daily papers here in Nicaragua. Dan and Cesar are using them to print some postcards that will be sold at the hotel here in San Juan del Sur. It was an interesting glimpse into everyday Nicaraguan life.

The offices are on the busy Careterra Norte in Managua. Once we announced to the guard that we were here to see Carmen Moya we were ushered to the parking lot. We entered the building through the shabby door, up a sterile concrete stairs to a large office.

A lady asked to help us and Cesar said we had an appointment with the aforementioned Carmen. They went to work and I waited.

The office was clean as a whistle as usual. Despite a lot of garbage in the streets due to inadequate services, Nicas are personally among the cleanest people I have ever met. The office equipment was old but usable. I have seen worse in some of the offices I have had. The walls were scuffed and sloppily painted. Evidence of a recent paint job could be found on the fronds of the potted palm next to me.

Across the room was an office with 3 large windows and a door. Obviously the woman in it was important. Not as important as Carmen since Carmen's windows had blinds and the wood of her door matched the wood of the frame. The other lady's office had no blinds, and her door was lighter than her frame. She had the fax machine, a computer and lots of files so I assumed she was the office manager. All the employees came to her with the papers and issues. She answered the phone and ran interference for Carmen. She appeared to be an efficient employee.

The most amusing employee was the older man who occupied a space between the office manager and a low tangerine colored wall. He meticulously read a form, punched it on top with a two hole punch, placed it in a large bound ledger and then went on to another. Despite a computer near by, I assume most of the records are still paper. After doing this for about 30 minutes, he attempted to log in his computer. He was frustrated in his attempt, whether it was his or the computer's fault I could not tell. After 4 attempts, each about 2-3 minutes apart,he looked around as if to see if anyone was watching, clicked off the computer and went for coffee. A wall paper of a fully clothed glamor shot of a lady filled the computer screen. Could not get away with that in the States anymore. After a coffee break, he returned and the computer decided to co-operate. He spent the rest of the time typing some form in the computer.... slowly and deliberately, looking slightly bewildered the whole time.

That was the way I saw the whole office work... slow but deliberate. Like Nica life.

I was also fascinated in a totally different way with a young fellow who appeared to be a mid level functionary. He had a desk in between the two tangerine walls; his choice of color I wondered? He worked hard and was neatly dressed in a "La Prensa 80 Anos" (Nicaragua has a long history of freedom of the press, unparalleled in Latin America) polo shirt and clean, pressed khakis. Where did he live? In a nice house with a car, was he a a resident of one of the poor dirty streets or did he make enough to live in a nice barrio with a house and AC? Did his whole family live in one small house and all sleep together in one room, did they have a tv... cable? How much does someone like him make?

He was obviously educated and a bit above average. In the States, he might own a small house or rent a nice apartment with a pool and fitness center, have money for a car and maybe a 401k. But average here is dirt poor in the states. I wished more for him, and the others in the office.. but somehow I imagine it is still a deep, frustrating poverty that we, in the US, can barely imagine.

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