Friday, April 11, 2008

A Hospitality Lesson

I have been a little harsh on my dear little country of Nicaragua lately. I always am after a visit. You can see I am conflicted; there is so much to love, so much that is different and fresh, even a lot that is old fashioned. Then there is the corruption, the raping of the country by the left and the right, North Americans, Europeans and fellow Central and South Americans (yes I am speaking of you Hugo). I guess I want to believe it is a paradise, that everything is beautiful, everyone is having a beautiful life, that my friends there are happy.

And many are. One of the staff at the hotel in San Juan del Sur got married to a Spanish lady and went off to Barcelona. "It was hell", he told me. "Big, crazy, noisy, expensive, I came back here." He found there really is no place like home.

My travel partner Bruce was amazed at the place; as a first time visitor, he was taking it all in.

"My GOD!", he exclaimed in Managua one afternoon, "I have not seen that in years!" Bayardo was taking us around town and had stopped to fill his car with gas. "Uniformed gas station attendants, have not seen one of them since I was a kid". Sure enough, every Texaco station has uniformed attendants to pump your gas. Clean, pressed uniforms, worn proudly. Nicas have a pride in their work and in cleanliness, despite the trash that litters the streets. Trash collection can be spotty sometimes. The country has the cleanest dirt in the world, it is not uncommon to see someone sweeping the dirt outside their home, making sure all the leaves and trash are picked up.

Bruce, Hector, Bayardo and I went to a gay nightclub in Managua our last night there. The place was nice, in a good area and looked to be fun. Inside it was not fancy, but had cold beer, good music, a nice dance floor and a good crowd of people for being somewhat early in the evening.

For the non-gay readers, a lesson in gay bars is in order. Here in the US, when a fat old Queen like me enters a gay bar, the crowd looks to see who came in and when noticing I am not a young stud, they turn to back to their drinks and ignore me. That is why I avoid the places like a plague.

At Club Tabu, it was different. People greeted us; "welcome"! "Would you like to dance?" When Bruce, Hector and Bayardo and I began to dance, many joined us, switching partners, cheering us, "great dancer Gringo!" one called to me as I showed that I can still move. I felt more at home there than I ever had a bar here.

You see, hospitality and community are still prevalent. Nicaragua is still a front porch society, people gather in the streets, sidewalks and porches to talk, watch a communal TV, play and eat. Even in sprawling, crazy Managua, you can go to the corner Pulperia and get all the neighborhood news and just about any item you want. A stranger is not a threat, but someone to welcome.

One of my favorite treats in Nicaragua is the weekend Nacatamale. A huge cornmeal tamale stuffed with spiced pork, rice, potato, raisins, and sometimes olives and wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf. I bought two from Angelita and took them back to the hotel Bruce and I were staying in Managua. I asked the young lady in the hotel if I could get two forks as a friend had made us Nacatamales. She got us a couple and I was happy to eat my treat in its leaf.

No, not to be in my hotel, the young lady thought. Soon plates, napkins, coffee and juice appeared. She could not bear her guests to eat like common folk, we were guests for Christ's sake.

Try getting service like that in a $60/night hotel in the states. Or having a Texaco pump your gas for you.

Maybe we are missing something after all.

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