Category Archives: Blog

“LASTIMA” ES UNA PALABRA MUY FEA

Mi primer día entero en Nicaragua. La noche había sido de pesadilla. Hacia el final de noviembre, mi hotel, un lugar encantador en cualquier otra temporada, se transformó en una especie de refugio militar cuando las bombas comenzaron a estallar por la madrugada. Algo asustada, caminé hacia mi maleta dando traspiés, me vestí y dirigí a la recepción, preocupada por aquel implacable martillar.
“Tranquila,” dijo la recepcionista con cansancio, logrando sonreír. Es el mes antes de las navidades. Es el mes de la Purísima, quien pronto daría luz al niño Jesús. Y los festejos duran varios días. “Me estás cargando,” pensé. “Sí, señora, así se festeja en toda América Central este mes,” agregó.

Por eso, cuando entré al Café de las Sonrisas unas horas después, estaba algo atontada, irritada y resignada a soportar otras tres noches de estas payasadas. Una muchacha bonita se me acercó, sonrío amablemente y colocó el menú sobre la mesa. Le di las gracias pero no me contestó. Estaba demasiada cansada y sus malos modales me importaron un bledo. Le eché un vistazo al menú, encontré el café y dirigí una mirada somnolienta a mis alrededores. El café era del tamaño de un pequeño almacén. Mitad restaurante y mitad jardín tropical, tenía un cuarto adjunto repleto de hamacas en fase de construcción. Dedos ágiles y elegantes tejían en medio de un silencio monástico. Un hombre mayor sentado a unas mesas de distancia volteaba las páginas de su guía turística, haciéndolas crujir. En la distancia, comencé a oír al pueblo despertar lentamente. Entonces caí en la cuenta de lo que sucedía. La pared detrás de mi estaba cubierta de ilustraciones en lenguaje de señas. Nadie decía nada en aquel café porque todos los empleados eran sordos.

Tio Antonio y El Cafe de las Sonrisas

Tio Antonio con hijos y nietos y yo

Dos horas después, con altos niveles de adrenalina luego de mi tercera taza de café y otro cigarrillo, me encuentro conversando con el tío Antonio. Se dice que los hombres son incapaces de hacer varias cosas a la vez. Quizá esto es cierto de algunos hombres. Si algún diccionario tuviese un espacio en blanco donde ilustrar el concepto de la multitarea, pondría una foto de Antonio allí. También es una máquina de ideas, el dueño de dos establecimientos que ofrecen trabajo a nicaragüenses con discapacidades.

En una vida anterior, había viajado a Nueva York desde España, su país natal, para renovar su colección de zapatos de lujo, ido a todos los conciertos de Bruce Springsteen en su mitad del mundo y sido el dueño de un restaurante muy exitoso. Debe de haber impuesto una disciplina castrense en estos últimos. La forma en que maneja sus asuntos en Nicaragua sugiere que es un hombre que supervisa sus negocios de forma constante. Luego, vendió su restaurante y viajó a Costa Rica con el plan de jubilarse con un habano en la boca y un roncito en la mano. Pero entonces, su agente inmobiliario le dio una pistola. “Algo para tener a mano, por las dudas.”

Dijo “no, gracias,” hiso sus maletas y se fue a Nicaragua, donde literalmente encontró una vida radicalmente distinta. Diez años después, ha adoptado 8 niños y es el dueño de dos negocios que emplean a personas con discapacidades casi exclusivamente. No necesita una maldita pistola. Tiene toda la pólvora que necesita y enciende llamas a su alrededor. Llamas de amor.

Sucede que si naciste en Nicaragua en la pobreza y tienes una discapacidad, si eres sordo o ciego o si naciste con un brazo de más o de menos, estás jodido. Tu madre será rechazada por la sociedad. No existen escuelas para personas con semejantes maldiciones y siempre dependerás de tu madre, quien también sufre la maldición de dios misericordioso, habiendo parido un ser imperfecto, porque nunca encontrarás empleo. Es entonces que descubres el proyecto de Antonio. Comienzas lavando platos o tejiendo hamacas…o limpiando pisos. Recibes un sueldo. Te compras una bicicleta. Sales a pasear en ella y sientes las brisas sobre tu hermosa cara, bañada por el sol. Puedes comprarle un ramo de flores a tu mamá. Descubres que eres una persona capaz, quizá más capaz que el resto de nosotros en algunos sentidos. Esto es lo que el tío Antonio ofrece a la gente.

Se trata de algo más que ayudar a individuos. Este hombre quiere cambiar nuestra forma de pensar. Quiere que tú, sí, tú, dejes de sentir lástima por un hombre que porta un bastón, un niño en una silla de ruedas o un perro con un ojo de vidrio. Así es, la lástima es una palabra muy fea en el mundo de Antonio. Por eso, cuando le pregunto por qué no utiliza la idea de su proyecto para expandir sus negocios, se ríe y sencillamente responde: “Porque la gente quiere dignidad, no lástima.”

Para encargar una hamaca, visitar el café u obtener más información sobre Tío Antonio y su Café de las Sonrisas, visite TioAntonio.org.

Pity is a Bad, Bad Word

My first full day in Nicaragua. The night had been a nightmare. My hotel, a lovely choice any other time of year, now at the end of November, turned into a war bunker when the bombas started going off at 2 am. Startled, I stumbled over to my suitcase, donned some clothing and anxiously made it down to the reception accompanied by the sound of ruthless pounding.
Tranquila,” the tired receptionist managed a smile. It’s the month before Christmas. It’s the time of the Purisima who is about to give birth to Baby Jesus. And it lasts for several days. “Are you friggen kidding me,” I thought. “Yes, Senora, it’s like that all over Central America around this time,” she added.

Tio Antonio y El Cafe de las Sonrisas

So when I walked into the Cafe de las Sonrisas (Smiles Café) a few short hours later, I was groggy, annoyed, and resigned to three more nights of these antics. A pretty girl approached, smiled gently and placed a menu in front of me. I thanked her but received no reply. I was too exhausted to give rat’s ass about cordialities. I looked at the menu, found coffee, and then my glazed eyes made their rounds. It was the size of a mini warehouse. Part restaurant, part tropical garden and then an adjacent room filled with hammocks in the making. Agile and elegant fingers weaved in monastic silence. An elderly gentleman a few tables away rustled the pages of his guidebook. And then off in the distance I could hear the town coming to life slowly. And then I clued in. The wall behind me was peppered with sign language illustrations. Everyone was quiet because they were deaf.

Two hours later, with adrenaline running high on the third cup of coffee and yet another cigarette, I am talking with Tio Antonio. They say men can’t multi-task. Maybe some can’t. If there was room in the dictionary for an illustration of multi-tasking, I would plaster Antonio’s face all over it. He is also an ideas machine. And he is the owner of two businesses that employ handicapped Nicaraguans.
In a previous life, he would fly from his native Spain to New York to replace his array of fancy shoes, attended every Bruce Springsteen concert within his half of globe, owned a successful restaurant and probably ran it like a tight ship because the way he manages his way around his Nicaraguan life suggests keen and constant oversight. Then he sold his restaurant. Flew to Costa Rica thinking he would retire with a cigar in his mouth and a roncito in his hand, until his real estate agent handed him a pistol. One more life utensil. Just in case.

He said, “No, thank you,” packed his bags and off to Nicaragua where he literally stumbled into a radically different life. Today, ten years later, he has adopted 8 children of his own, owns two businesses that almost exclusively employ people with physical disabilities. He doesn’t need no stinking gun. He is on fire himself. And he lights fires. Fires of love.

You see, if you are born in Nicaragua, are of humble background and have a physical disability such as deafness, blindness or were born with a limb too many or too few, you are screwed. Your mother is shunned. There is no school to teach a cursed individual like yourself. And you will forever be dependent on your mom – who has also been damned by the God to give birth to an imperfect creature – because you will never get a job. So then you discover Antonio’s project. You start washing dishes. Or you weave hammocks. Or you clean floors. You get paid. You buy yourself a bicycle. You ride it and feel the breeze on your beautiful sun-drenched face. You can buy your mom flowers. You discover that you are capable and indeed, more capable in some ways that the rest of us. This is what Tio Antonio gives people.

But it is not just one person at a time. The man wants to change attitudes. He wants you, yes, you, to never ever again pity a man adorned with a white walking stick, a kid in a wheelchair or a dog with a fake eye. Yes, pity is a bad, bad word in Antonio’s universe. So when I ask why he doesn’t exploit the concept behind his project as a way of encouraging business, he laughs at my silliness and simply replies, “Because people want dignity. Not pity.”

To order a hammock, to visit the café, or just to find out more about Tio Antonio, Café de las Sonrisas please visit: TioAntonio.org.

Randol – Musings from my trip to Nicaragua November 2015

Randol was my guide on a recent trip in Nicaragua. His job is to take tourists up treacherous paths so they can lay their claim on Trip Advisor to climbing peaks of volcanic mountains. Randol is also a dad, ex-husband of two and about 35. With the few dollars he has made through tourism, he has bought himself a piece of land, built a sturdy hut, planted a few banana trees and – by default of feeding them regularly – adopted a couple of stray dogs.

The morning of our meeting, he came to pick me up, looking sort of glum, but maybe it was just the reflection of how I was feeling faced with an 8 hour hike. It did end up to be the second most difficult physical challenge (childbirth still ranks first) in my 39-year-old life. By the time we got up and down the mountain, I had avoided slipping to my demise dozens of times, repeatedly fallen down on my behind, injured my leg twice, and made my next plan with Randol. Two days later we were going to go on a 15-km bike ride to another part of the island. Nearing absolute exhaustion, we parted ways that day as I retreated to a shower, a double mojito and the sunbed for the rest of the afternoon.

That day I had pleasant thoughts of Randol. He was somewhat shy. Calm as a cucumber up on that freaky climb. Patient. Extremely knowledgeable about his environment. I liked him. I was looking forward to our bike ride together two days later.

And then it all changed. The next day I ventured into the nearby village for dinner. As I entered the restaurant, I was greeted not by the waiter, or the owner who had just opened his restaurant that week, but Randol. Except that Randol was loud and somewhat wild. Upon seeing me, he threw up his arms, got up from behind his table, staggered over, threw those wild arms around me, and called out a boozy Holaaaa Vienaaaa! And then he proceeded to invite himself to the table I went and sat at.

Oh boy. Had I been tipsy too, sitting with Randol in that little restaurant, lulled by the cozy, tropical warmth, I may have enjoyed his drunken monologue. I may have grabbed onto his monologue to engage in my own. But instead, a little flustered, I picked up my phone, told him that I needed to call my son, and then had the first and really long fake conversation with no one. I held that phone to my ear, spoke actual, real sentences in Polish, in hopes that Randol would go back to his own seat.

But it was not to be. Instead, he ordered another beer, then wobbled on behind me, and asked the waiter to put his new beer on my bill! What! My ears perked up tall as I listened to what ensued. The waiter refused his request but Randol kept on trying to convince him. HE said, “But she took one of my cigarettes!” This was comical. And unfortunate.
Suddenly, I did not think the same of Randol anymore. I felt a little betrayed. A little saddened. I politely asked Randol to leave me to myself and reminded him that we were meeting the next day for our bike ride. He walked away ignorant of my disappointment.

Now I am getting to my point. You see, I became very perplexed after the Randol ploy took place. I did not and still do not fully understand why it is that when I walk through a Canadian shopping mall, where everything is engineered to treat me like a walking ATM, from the excess oxygen pumped into the air, to the perfume that distinguishes one store from another, the obvious fake smiles, the pumped up prices, or the pseudo-discounts, hidden costs… why is it that these shameless schemes don’t bother me? Why is it that a villager in a developing country who tries to better his lot with a little ruse bothers me more than a mega corporation trying to add an extra 0 to their annual revenue, in part, on my account?
I still don’t know. But the reflection changed my attitude. I still like Randol. I think he is a cool cat.

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