December 18, 2007

Coming To America

Angela and I are now in Colorado, and it's been a very nice visit so far. The trip up here was also a good one, including aerial views of an erupting volcano near Guatemala City, Los Angeles during the day, and Denver at night. Good stuff. It was also the first time that Angela had flown before, so we were lucky to have nice, smooth flights.
Upon arriving in L.A., our layover city, we were greeted by some funny things (a guy in the immigration line wearing a hat that said "Fuck White Supremacy" in hand-written bubble paint...he was also reading Ayn Rand) as well as some not-so-funny things (Neil Diamond belting out a jazzed-up version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" in the airport Burger King food court). But all in all, it's good to be here, and it's a completely new and fun experience for Angela, which makes it fun for me, too. Here are a few selected pictures from the last couple of days:

Here is Angela in Los Angeles, in front of her first plane ever.

This picture was actually only staged, but farily realistically. She really enjoyed flying.

Another first for Angela: snow.

Here are Angela and I in front of my grandma's house (the flag is there because we believe in Liberty, dammit!)

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December 12, 2007


Hello Everyone,

In honor of the upcoming coffee harvest (yes, it's upcoming), I've added a new page to dedicated to all things related to producing that tasty black elixir you enjoy every morning at breakfast (at least, that is, you enjoy it if you're not a big pussy). In any case, if you click here:

it should take you right to the page. However, in the past my links from Blogger have been crap, so if it doesn't work, you can go to, then click on the link on the left that says "Stories and Stuff." From there, go to the first story on the yellow tab, entitled "coffee."

I hope you enjoy the page as much as I enjoy coffee.

Which means I'll surely be disappointed in your level of appreciation for my page.

Think about's deep.


The Management

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December 7, 2007


I hate low doors.

(Yes, that's the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat...aka my robe)

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Last night our neighbor and niece Mariela came over to bring me and Angela some food that she had made. She remarked that it was too bad that there was not a picture of her on the internet, but there WAS a picture of her dog (that's Ginger, from the posting on Nov. 26, "My Old Nemesis"). Well, she IS actually on, under the wedding photos, but just to put her mind at ease, here is a picture of Mariela (in white), with her sister Lupe, and her cousins Veronica, Enrique, and Donald:

There you go, Mariela.

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Something I Can't Figure Out...

So last night, I was watching the movie "The Queen," alone, while Angela slept (she turns it in early many nights). Anyhow, "The Queen" is a movie about the Queen of England. I was enjoying it with a cup of wine, and I was wondering to myself:
"Is this totally gay, what I'm doing?"

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November 26, 2007

If Only I Were An Engrish Teacher

If you've never checked out the site, you really should. It's a site where people around the world take pictures of signs or products that butcher English in their overzealous translations.
So, in that spirit, I was recently in a store here in San Ramon that has a lot of weird, cheap stuff imported from China. I have no idea why I had my camera that day, but it was a good thing I did, because I came across this product. I'm still not entirely sure what it is, but it's got some weird English:

Especially if you zoom in on the picture, you can see that it is an "Oxygen Bar," if something like that can be placed in a small box. On top it says:
And at the bottom it reads:
If that's not poetry, I don't know what is.

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Speaking of Night-Time Incidents...

Since I just wrote about Ginger, I remembered that I had been meaning to post this following picture for a while. I guess I talk a lot about the shit that comes into my house at night, like the lizard in my toaster, the various roaches, beetles, and flies, and God knows what else. But about a month ago, I saw this little guy hopping around our living room:

Sure, he's a frog, but he's freaking cute. Plus, he was really tiny, about the size of a quarter (that's about the size of a five colones coin, if you're nasty). I think his major problem was that he was caught in a piece of Angela's hair that he picked up from the ground along the way. So when I took his picture, he just kind of sat there. Expressing as much bummed-out emotion as a frog his size could reasonably be expected to express.
Plus, I guess frogs are cold-blooded or whatnot (what am I, a frogatologist??). Since it was a chilly, windy night, he was probably just trying to find shelter.
Anyhow, I was going to leave him in the Torture/Crucifix Room, but, as with most good Torture/Crucifix Rooms, there's no ventilation and no real way out if you're a frog. So, I just put him outside and sent him hopping on his way. Hopefully he made it to wherever he was going.
Godspeed, little froggy!

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My Old Nemesis

This posting pretty much speaks for itself, I suppose...

OK, maybe it doesn't speak for itself. At all. So I guess I'll have to speak for it.
Anyhow, Angela and I live next to Angela's sister Toni (Antonieta). Her family has this little dog named Ginger, which used to bark all night and keep me awake (although I seemed to be the only one affected by this). So, after dropping hints, they tied up the dog at night, and now she doesn't bark at all. Man 1, Perra 0, if you're keeping count.
This picture above was one that Angela got off of her niece Adriana's camera when we were downloading our wedding pictures. I have no idea what the hell is going on with the dog in this picture, but after seeing it, I can begin to understand a bit more why Ginger might have needed to bark all night to let out a bit of pent-up aggression.

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November 20, 2007

Resident Evil

This is probably, in all honesty, the most complicated thing I've ever done.

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November 3, 2007

It Looks Like I'm One Of Those Guys...

So, It looks like I'm one of those guys who...
1. Drives a RAV-4
2. Owns a black and a brown belt
3. Calls guacamole "guac"
4. Actually buys those almanacs at the grocery store (they have them here, too)
5. Is a homeowner (oh man, I still need to put up a picture of the shack on our property!)
6. Gives his students a writing assignment after watching a movie, just to ruin the fun
7. Rips off both David Letterman and Jeff Foxworthy in one fell swoop
8. Speaks Spanish
9. Has a blog...AND a website
10. Teaches high school

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Getting a Bonner*

As you may have noted from my postings on this blog lately, I've grown obsessed with my cluster map. I love it. And I was happy to see it when my friend Brad Bonner put up a cluster map on his site, too. His link is here, so check it out quickly, or else this posting won't make any sense:
Anyhow, if you look at the right side of his blog, you can see HIS cluster map.
"Fucking A! How the hell did he get all those dots?!" I thought. I was getting envious. Sure, his work is much better than mine. And after all, a photo is a more universal image, and my blog is light on the photos and heavy on the words. So it'd stand to reason that someone from...what!? that a dot from SIBERIA on his map?!...uh, where was I? Oh yeah, it'd stand to reason that someone from United Arab Emirates or north north north Canada would be more likely to come across a web site with pictures, than a website with musings and bitchings about life as a teacher in Costa Rica.
Still, I was jealous. His map is impressive. So, tell your friends about sitzblog, or visit it from exotic locations.

*(Yes, the title is spelled correctly, so no, it's not dirty)

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Famous Brother

I mention my brother Paul a fair amount in this blog. I do that for two reasons:
1. Paul is cool.
2. I think the only reason people come to this site is to see if they get name-dropped.
In any case, my brother is studying music and video production or something similarly technological and complicated in Australia. So I guess he was in a music video that one of his friends made as a final project. I thought it was cool so, despite the fact that Paul himself called it "Corny. As. Hell.", I still decided to post a link to the video here. I think it's actually cool. Have a look at it if you want:
(Paul is the one with the scraggly beard, not the boobs)

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October 27, 2007

Wedding Pictures Finally Finished!

Well, it's only taken me months of preparation and about 20 hours of work at an internet cafe (no need to thank me; I like to use chairs that prevent me from feeling my shins), but I have finally finished the wedding picture pages on . You should check them out. They're really pretty good. There are the official pictures from Brad Bonner, as well as five smaller pages of pictures from friends and family. You can get to them by going to the site and clicking on "Pictures" on the left. From there, go to "Wedding," one of the yellow buttons on the top of the page.
I hope you enjoy them.
I have also added a few smaller things to the page recently, and if you'd like to look at them, you can subscribe to the VIP area.
Yeah, right. Just kidding. If you want to see what's new, click on the "What's New?" button on the left of the site.
Have a good one!

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October 21, 2007

An Open Letter To Paul Sitzman, My Brother

An Open Letter To Paul Sitzman, My Brother:
If you are reading this, you are probably on your fancy trip to Japan, China, and India (you lucky, despicable creep). Since I can’t be there, I’ll just have to live vicariously through you. For that reason, I will be deeply, deeply disappointed if you don’t do or haven’t done the following things:
1. Sing a karaoke version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” in a Tokyo karaoke bar, preferably accompanied by Scarlet Johannson
2. Use your powers as a warrior (and an Orientalizing Imperialist, if you’re a lit. theory freak) to teach some honorable but nevertheless anachronistic samurai warriors how to fight for their freedom and try to overcome the challenges of modernity
3. Turn into an anime character and show a creepy smile with your eyes closed…just for a bit, at least
4. Get involved in a medium-speed pursuit while riding in a rickshaw or, better yet…
5. while driving a rickshaw!
6. Get “Shanghaied,” whatever that means
7. Commit seppuku, especially if you can manage to do it in front of an emperor (any will due) or at least a crowd of Asian Tourists With Cameras (any will do)
8. Eat food that makes you have do use the john with the flaming force of a thousand demons, only to discover that the bathroom has no toilet paper
9. Wear a Coca-Cola shirt with the logo written in Sanskrit
10. Take part in a colorful and ostentatious, yet supposedly impromptu musical number (you’ll get extra respect points for each of the following items you include in your personal accessories while singing: neon clothing, peace fingers, a smirk, a skateboard, a basketball, a high-pitched voice, Reebok Pump high-tops, Ray-bans, and any sort of pan-out camera shot depicting you spinning in circles with your arms extended)
Good luck, and take lots of pictures, you lucky, lucky rat.
Your Brother.

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The Little Differences: Mucho Macho?

Around a week ago I was watching TV with Angela, waiting for the news to tell us of the results of a free trade referendum (Yes, we really are that nerdy). In any case, the news programs didn’t have the information yet, so we turned the TV to channel 2. We don’t have cable, and there aren’t too many stations anyhow, which makes it even more surprising that channel 2 is dedicated to playing music videos. Even more surprising is that the videos aren’t just Reggaeton bullshit; the station actually play music worth listening to including older, rare music videos that you might not find many other places (for example, videos for groups like The Doors or Creedence, for whom I didn’t even know there were videos). Anyhow, the station was playing a program called “Generation X,” which is a show that is heavy on 80s hair band videos. As we watched a succession of videos from Poison, Cinderella, Twisted Sister, and the like, we began to play a game we called “Man or Woman?” Basically, the hair metal bands in the 80s were, by sight alone, nearly indistinguishable from the 80s girl bands. For example, you could be watching a video from Damn Yankees or Bon Jovi…or maybe it’s the Bangles! The only way you can really tell is if some random member of the band (usually a guitarist) takes off his shirt. Then you know it’s a group of guys, and probably hair metal.
Still, I think that my favorite video for the evening was the one for “Carrie,” a “Monster Ballad” by the group Europe. At one point, the singer belts out his ballad on a darkened set, and behind him we see a picture of a person on a screen. Now, we are probably meant to assume that the person in the picture is the Carrie who inspired this particular piece of schmaltz. But in reality, judging by the fact that the rest of the band had make-up, soft-focus features, and long, curly blond hair, the person in the picture could just as easily have been the band’s male drummer.
All of this got me thinking (you know me: always thinking about shit). My “Ponder O’ The Day”? Gender issues and cultural values. Things like that. I have made many observations about my time here in Costa Rica in this blog, and I thought I’d share a few more interesting ones. Some definitely have to do with gender roles and life in a machismo-fueled society, and others are just things that I’ve noticed about life in Costa Rica. To paraphrase Vince Vega in Pulp Fiction, they got the same shit over here as they do over there, but here it’s just a little different.

CULTURAL OBSERVATION NUMBER 1: The Stay-At-Home-Mom is not extinct; she is alive and thriving in Costa Rica.
In most places in the world that I’ve been to, it’s relatively common for a woman to take time off from work when she has a child, and that time can extend from a period of six months to, well, the rest of her life, I suppose. Here, though, the culture seems to be much more traditional in the sense that many women don’t even begin to study or enter the workforce in the first place. Many merely get married at a young age, have children, and then stay at home to care for those children, clean the house, and cook.
As in many countries, this trend seems to be changing here, but it does seem to be slower to change than in the US, for example. One reason for this change is probably that birth rates are falling. I don’t need any statistics to tell me this, either; I just need to look around and see observe Angela’s family. My mother-in-law is one of 19 siblings, and my father-in-law is one of 15 siblings. Angela, on the other hand, is one of five siblings, and the average number of children in the next generation after hers is two or three per family. I’m not a sociologist, so I guess it’s not really up to me to determine why this is happening, or what it will lead to. I just think it’s an interesting observation.
However, one thing that this does seem to translate to: as families have less children, the mothers tend to work more outside of the home. And this makes sense. But the gender roles here are often still cemented into the places where they were in the past. For example, many people see it as odd or noteworthy at best (and a travesty at worst) that I do much of the cooking for Angela and myself. I do have a theory about this aspect, though: they’re all jealous. The women are be jealous that they don’t have a husband who can cook for them sometimes, and the men are jealous that they don’t know how to cook for themselves, and are therefore stuck eating beans and rice three times a day.
The fact remains, though, that I really enjoy cooking and baking, and although people mention to me that it’s nice that I do so, I know that Angela gets a fair amount of shit from her female coworkers and friends about this issue.

CULTURAL OBSERVATION NUMBER 2: Marketing agencies (especially ones that market booze and weapons) seem to be doing their job quite well, if the conversations I’ve observed are any indication.
From what I’ve seen, women here talk about stereotypical “women stuff,” and men talk about “guy stuff.” Whenever I sit with my female coworkers, they tend to talk about chocolate, food, and food preparation. And sometimes even cleaning or sewing. On the other hand, when I sit with guys, especially my male in-laws, the testosterone sometimes gets so thick you could cut it with a machete. For example, we went to Angela’s parents’ house on Father’s Day (if there ever were a ballsy holiday, this is it). After I greeted the women congregated in the kitchen, I went to the living room to sit with her dad, her brothers, her brothers-in-law, and a scattering of nieces’ boyfriends. As we drank beers and/or whiskey mixed with ginger ale, we (seriously) talked about the following topics, in increasing order of mention:
It was during one of the gun talk tangents that one of my brother-in-laws, who will remain anonymous (to keep you guessing if you ever visit), pulled a miniature pistol about the size of a bottle opener out of his boot. He said it almost caused him a fair amount of trouble when going through the bank metal detector one time, but that he still carried it around out of habit.
Another cool guy fact: In almost every car driven by a male here, you’re bound to find a machete. Seriously. At first I was joking about this around a year ago with Angela, when we were driving in her car and I told her I wanted a machete. I jokingly asked her if she carried one in her car “for protection,” and she said she did, but that it was her dad who had left it there. Sure enough, in the back of the car was a dingy machete in a fancy but worn-out leather holster. I then asked how many machetes her family had, and she had no idea. Later that night I did a random count just walking through her family’s house and found three within sight.
Also, even our friend Juan Manuel, who lives in the middle of the city and whose car probably hasn’t left asphalt in this decade, also carries a machete in his car. When asked why, he responded that he wasn’t sure. My theory? Because he is a man.

CULTURAL OBSERVATION NUMBER 3: Costa Rica has a dental paradox.
If that makes any sense. Let me explain. See, almost every teacher in the school I work at brings a toothbrush and toothpaste to work and brushes after lunch (and it’s not just the Kindergarten teachers setting a good example for the little tykes). Some even floss and then brush their teeth in the teacher’s lounge.
At the same time, there’s probably a good explanation or two for this phenomenon: first of all, many of the common drinks in Costa Rica, including “frescos” (which are mainly a bit of fruit juice with water and a shit-load of sugar) and coffee contain an alarming amount of sugar. The part about the coffee especially surprises me, since this is where coffee comes from, but I’m the only person I’ve come across here who drinks coffee black and straight-up. In any case, if you consider the amount of sugar in the daily diet here, and combine that with the family pictures depicting older relatives with gold- or aluminum-capped teeth, it’s no wonder people are motivated to protect their teeth.
I said there was a dental paradox, though, and it is this: many people don’t even have their own teeth here! I have been realizing this very gradually, like a character in a sci-fi movie who realizes that the people in his hometown are gradually turning into aliens or zombies. I certainly noticed the gold- or aluminum-capped front teeth, as exhibited on my youngest niece and nephew, as well as on many, many other random people I’ve met along the way (especially in Nicaragua!). However, Angela recently revealed to me a shocking truth: In her family of seven, only her and one of her sisters (once again, I’ll leave her identity a secret to keep you guessing in case you ever come visit) still have their real teeth. In the case of both of her parents, her two brothers, and one sister, they all decided that it’d be cheaper, less maintenance, or…well, God know what they decided, to just have the dentist pull out all their teeth and replace them all with some fake ones!

CULTURAL OBSERVATION NUMBER 4: This country seems to get by on a mixture of hypochondria and bravado, both of which are balanced out by faith.
At this point I could probably write some sort of doctorate thesis on this topic, so I’ll try to just give you one or two examples of this. The most prominent example I’ve seen is in the cars, and Angela and I both find this one interesting: Although people here are generally very observant about keeping their cars clean and trying to raise healthy, loving families, almost no one here wears seatbelts, nor do they ask their children to do so. Many cars don’t even have them (although I have no idea how this came to pass). In addition to this, drunk driving seems to be a time-honored tradition, despite the fact that basically everyone knows a friend or family member that either got into an accident with a drunk driver, was driving drunk and got into an accident, got into trouble with the cops for drunk driving, or got into an accident involving a drunk driver where someone died.
We both think this is quite remarkable. This happens when people leave all sorts of parties and social events, and it is basically a given fact that on most nights, there will be numerous drunk drivers. Even at our wedding, many of the male guests were drunk, but they still drove their friends or families home in their cars. This, while the women (who generally had not drunk as much, or in some cases hadn’t drunk at all) sat by in the passenger seat and watched as their drunk husbands, fathers, boyfriends, or friends drove them home. To be fair, though, most of these women probably didn’t even have a driver’s license (which is another observation in and of itself).
There’s an Interesting Twist, though: In a random sample I did in my mind, I noticed that nearly every Costa Rican car I’ve been in has some sort of religious paraphernalia. And I’m not talking about the mere “Jesus Fish” on the back bumper; I’m talking about crosses hanging from rear-view mirrors, Virgin Mary stickers on back windows, magnetic Virgenes de los Angeles on the front dash guiding the way, and even prayers stuck to the front windshield imploring protection from God, Jesus, angels, or assorted virgins. I do not mean to make light of the devotion of the people that have these accouterments, but they do beg the question: Do people put these figures in the car to protect them because the people drive drunk, or do they drive drunk because they have the figures in the car to protect them?
Another example of this phenomenon, which will hopefully end this posting on a slightly more positive note, can be seen in an average Costa Rican’s reaction to the cold or to water. I have been informed that it is definitely unhealthy to do many things involving coldness or wetness, including:
-taking off my shoes and socks and putting my bare feet on the floor
-walking from my car to a building in the rain, without covering my head with something (anything seems to do, even a towel)
-working at the stove, and then working at the sink, without a pause of a few minutes in between the two
-going from hot to cold in general
I’ve been warned that the penalty for doing any of the above things can be small, like catching the flu, to big, like my face will literally warp and become distorted for the rest of my life. Seriously.
The jury is still out on this one. I believe that it’s a bunch of crap, but Angela and I have had to make a deal. If I take off my socks and shoes, I have to either wait 10 minutes to walk in bare feet, of else I have to wear sandals around the house. If I do this, she’ll wear her seatbelt.

So, in the end, these differences, although notable and sometimes humorous, can be bridged, and we can arrive at a common ground. I hope that this posting was at least a little bit interesting, and that you didn’t stop reading when I stopped talking about 80s hair metal. I also hope that you don’t misunderstand me. When talking about the people or customs here, I’m just trying to be humorous, but not to mock the people here. Every place and every family has its weird points and members, and that’s what makes each of them unique and interesting. Also, the majority of the people here are incredibly nice and have treated me incredibly well, and the people who do the things mentioned in this posting are generally the ones I care about most here and who I’m closest to. Still, this is a blog for people in the U.S., so the stuff that seems odd or different is usually what stands out and tends to get reported.
Anyhow, I’ve kept you long enough, so I’ll let you go. Besides, I’ve got to change into my sandals so I can polish my machete.

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

October 11, 2007

The Only Type of Cluster Better Than Honey-Nut Clusters

So I've been a big fan of this cluster map that I put on this site. If you click on it, you can see a bigger map. Apparently, at least 10 people from Colorado have visited this site. Also, more than 10 from Costa Rica...that'd be me, only 10 times. There are some other cool ones, too: see that dot between Iran and Russia? That's Julien and Martha. Japan, I'm assuming, is my brother.
There are also some questions, though. Now, the map doesn't show too much detail, but I'm wondering who's visiting my site from the following locations:
-Missouri(?) or they even have electricity there?
-The Canadian border near Quebec and New York?
-The DMZ between North Korea and South Korea?
Anyhow, this is good stuff for a geography nerd. Keep the visits coming, and if you go some place exotic, read my blog from there.

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October 6, 2007

Wedding Pictures and Cluster Maps

Look at this:

This is a slideshow of my wedding pictures. Look at the pictures. Enjoy them. Take a picture of the wedding picture slideshow, if you feel so inclined. The photographer, Brad Bonner ("Consummate Photographic Professional"), went to a lot of effort to get the slideshow up and running.
Also, check out the "Cluster Map," on the left sidebar. I stole this thing from Julien and Martha´s webpage (which you should check out; it really is great and is setting a new stanard...for, uh, everything). Theoretically, in a few days this cluster map will begin to show dots from the places where you view this page. So, if you're in an exotic locale, check out this blog so I'll get a sweet dot! (Paul, this means you, you Japan-visiting punk!).
Hope everyone is well!

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October 1, 2007


As I mentioned in an earlier post, Angela and I went to Panama two weekends ago to renew my tourist visa. It was a very nice and relaxing trip. We went to Bocas del Toro, which is an archipelago near the Costa Rican border, on the Caribbean coast. Here are some pictures:

Angela and I in a "water taxi," which is Spanish for "overcrowded motorboat."

A fairly typical scene in the area, of tourist hotels on stilts. We stayed in the village on the primary island, though, since we were on a bit of a budget. Still, it was cool there, too.

A cross at a cemetery next to a pretty nasty beach on the main island. Fortunately, there were many boats that would take you to other islands in the area with beaches that were much more beautiful.

Still, the beaches don't have these: meat bikes! This guy was my favorite meat bike conductor, partially because of the lazy eye and the soda-pop eyeglasses, and partially because he gave us directions. The meat bikes are impressive apparati, though, as they incorporate an entire functioning charcoal grill, a cooler, a rider, and an umbrella when it's raining. And after putting all that crap on top of a bike chasis, it still moves!

Here's Angela with the pride of Panama (at least to a buzzed mind). Panamanian beer is actually quite a bit better than Costa Rican beer, and now we feel kind of gypped.

Angela with a nice sand turtle she formed. I was busy making a sand sea serpent-like thing.

Panama! Panama-ah-ah-ah-uh-uh! Panama! Panama-ah-ah-ah-uh-uh! Damn Van Halen.

Give me some sugar, baby.

A table at a colorful café.

A boat through a border.

Angela stirring an Alka Seltzer.

Kinda thinking...or something.

This is back on the Costa Rican side of the border, on the trip home. This guy was selling oranges that you could squeeze and suck the juice out of. (In my best Ronco voice): But that's not all! He also had a little contraption that peeled the orange before your very eyes! In the end the machine left a lot of peel on the orange and you still had to pick it off your hands, but dammit, gizmos and gadgets are just cool, especially when superfluous!

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Nice Happy Sunsets and Nice Happy Clouds

So things here in Berlín--notice that accent? It's for real--are going pretty well. Work is boring, but that's why we have work, I guess. But I can't really complain. So, here are a few nice pictures to match a nice mood:

This is Angela walking in the fog in Berlín. We walked down to San Ramón one day, for the Costa Rican Independence Day. We had to get up really early in the morning, since it's like 12 kilometers away and all downhill, but it was well worth it. The views were awesome and it was a fun experience.

This is my Brad Bonner-y picture of the day. As a continuation of the "religious mixed with profane" theme that seems to be part of the place where we live (see the post about the "Crucifix/Torture Room"), we have here a Virgin Mary next to some barred windows. It's at the entrance to the small house on the back of the property where we live.

Speaking of that, here's a Jesus that's in our garage. Seriously, all this stuff was there when we moved in.
Now watch me totally get Bob Ross on your ass:

Here's a less taxing image: a palm tree next to a neon sunset. I can't believe that these colors are real. This is taken from our garage.

Here is our niece Adriana with Angela. They're both enjoying the beautiful sunset (and a boozy drink made with cacique and the limes from a tree in our backyard).

Another view of the sunset, where you can sort of see the Berlín church in the lower left. You can also make out the Gulf of Nicoya, if you know where to look.

Here is yet another view of the sunset. This is also taken from the side of our garage, where we used to burn our dirty toilet paper. We've since moved the burning spot to a hole in the back, in respect for this view. It also provoked a discussion about cultural values, since nobody in Berlín takes advantage of their sweeping views. Kinda funny, kinda sad.
And that's it for the photos for now. But doesn't it make you want to visit? Well, come on over.

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Facing Death Daily

So, think about it: What would YOU do if one day, you innocently reached for a colored 4x6 card on the floor and--Oh shit! What's that? A scorpion?!

Why, you'd have no other choice than to kick it's ass in the traditional Costa Rican way: machete vs. nature. And in this match, nature almost always is the loser:

(Notice the scorpion...he's actually there) Here's another photo of the deadly encounter...the one that was TOO HOT for the TV, and TOO HOT for the tabloids!

That's right, scorpions aren't just in the desert anymore; turns out they've evolved to super-human levels, and are now found in cloud forests. Humanity, take note: get a machete.

(Yes, there was a scorpion in our house, and yes, I killed it. But he was actually hanging from the ceiling and moving very slowly...Nevertheless, it didn't seem to be too good of an idea to leave him alive, so I sprayed him with some toxic crap and took some pictures--and dramatic liberties)

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September 26, 2007

A Few Things

Hi everyone!
Well, it's been a bit of time, but I've been busy.
Also, it rains here basically every afternoon this time of year, and I can't really use a computer too well to post a blog entry, since many hosues here don't have breakers and we're worried lightning will fry our appliances. Which actually happens here, I guess. But in any case, it's a bit depressing because the whole morning, it's usually sunny, warm, and beautiful, but right around 3:30 (the time I leave work), it starts to rain, usually till 8 or 9. I feel like I'm in this short story we read in elementary school. It was called something like "Summer For A Day," and there's this classroom in a colony on the planet Venus, where apparently it rains constantly, except for one hour every seven years. So there's this girl (Margot, I think), and it's the day where there will be an hour without rain, but some dipshit bully locks her in the closet and she misses the sun, and will have to wait another seven years to try to see it again.
Um, so I guess I'm Margot, and my closets are my classes full of complaining kids. Let's go with that.
Anyhow, just a few things you might think are interesting:
--I went to Panama. I went with Angela. I had to renew my visa again. I'll put up a few pictures soon, but don't worry, there won't be a long-ass story like the time I went to Nicaragua.
--Speaking of Nicaragua, Primitivo died recently. If you remember, he was the old man in the pictures. When I got back from Panama, Samuel was gone, and they told me he'd gone to a funeral for his father-in-law. So, just in case you were following that story, I thought you might want to know.
--Also, I've been working more on . I don't have the wedding pictures yet, because I'm still waiting on a disc of pictures to be sent from the U.S. But that'll be next. For now, I've got some Costa Rica pictures from 2006 and 2007, as well as a "mixed bag" picture page. Check them out sometime if you get the chance. Who knows, you might be in there!
That's about it for now. Sorry I've not written anything recently, but things have been pretty busy.
Take care.

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September 2, 2007

Welcome to the 20th Century!

Well, well, well...
We got a telephone! As you know, Angela and I recently moved here to Berlin. We thought that nothing compliments a place to live quite like a telephone. So we ordered a phone line to be put in. To do that, we had to go to my by-now-nemesis, the ICE, or Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. We went to the branch in San Ramon, since we technically live in the area of San Ramon. There, the friendly agent told us it would take anywhere from a year to two years to install the phone, since the box in Berlin was evidently full. He pointed out, though, that some of the lines from the box were broken, and that the agency could possibly fix them, which would free up a line for us. Still, he said that it might take a long time for it to “occur to” the ICE to fix the lines, which is why he gave us the 1 to 2 year waiting estimate.
We left the agency, and I showered a flurry of profanity and anti-bureaucratic insults at the ICE’s door. I was a bit annoyed. I mean, a phone isn’t totally necessary, but it still kind of sucks to be cut off from the outside world. Angela does have a cell phone, but there’s hardly any reception here in the mountains, which makes a cell phone even more annoying and intolerable. Also, if you have a phone line here, you can at least get internet, even if it is dial-up (official motto: “Better Than Nothing, But Just Barely.”) That saves us a drive to town to use an internet café.
In the meantime, I also talked with Angela and found out something quite interesting. As it turns out, there wasn’t even a telephone at all in Berlin until about 10 years ago! Not even a public one. In fact, the ICE didn’t install a phone until the people from Berlin and two neighboring towns gathered together and demanded phone service. And this is like 1997 we’re talking about. It’s weird to think that my grandma grew up with a phone but my wife didn’t. In any case, I guess I should be happy that the ICE didn’t install a series of soup cans connected with string.
So, we weren’t sure what to do. Then it occurred to me: why the hell were we trusting the ICE? Those guys are so full of shit that it wouldn’t have surprised me if they had already had a phone installed in our house and just didn’t know about it. Well, that wasn’t the case, but we did try talking to the people in the branch in Palmares, a little city that I am beginning to like more and more. I went to the counter and told the guy my situation. I told him that the guys in San Ramon said it’d take up to two years to put in the line, and he said, “Oh, for God’s sake…” and pulled out a map. In about 3 minutes he’d found a different box in Berlin, and put in an order for the line. We had a phone two days later. So, the Soviet-style sons-of-bitches in San Ramon can suck shit (See that? Repeating the initial sounds of words? It’s called alliteration, specifically consonance, since I’m repeating the sounds of a consonant. I guess I do learn something by teaching my students about poetry…). And Palmares has another feather in its cap.
Now, we just have to get some decent internet. The guy at the agency in Palmares told us we should call their office every week until they gave up and installed it. Hasta la victoria siempre, I guess. But we do have a phone now, and if you ever want to call it, the number is 452-3357. If you’re calling from outside Costa Rica, the country code is (506). The website has some good, cheap phone cards. So, let’s talk.
Also, I’ve finally been adding some crap to, the flagship website of Sitzco Amalgamated Enterprises, LLC. The site is coming along nicely, and has a few new pages. I’m adding stuff every week, though, and I hope that people will check it out (and will someone tell Andy Parsons he can start checking it again every day?). You can start at the “What's New?" tab on the left, so you can see what’s been added recently.
That’s it for now. Hope you’re all well!

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August 24, 2007

Pics of the New Digs

As I may have mentioned a few times, I now live in Berlín. No, I've not given up on Costa Rica and gone back to the Tschermans; instead, I just moved to a community that was evidently founded by Germans a few centuries ago. Angela and I moved into a house that her brother bought with the money he got from us when we bought a piece of land he had (follow that?). In any case, we're right in the midst of her family, and our house is within shouting distance of her sister Antonieta's house.
Things are good in Berlin, especially since her family has let up a bit and stopped coming by daily to bring food and help clean the house. I personally felt rather positive about that part, but Angela was feeling suffocated. I suppose that might have also been a result of living at home for 27 years, living apart from her family a month, and then moving right back "home" again. Go figure.
Anyhow, the house is kind of old, and it was effectively abandoned for 5 years. But her brother Ronald was awesome about getting it repaired and cleaned up, which for me fueled many fantasies about leaving those whining students at school and joining in on the fixer-upper bonanza. Still, I had to work at my regular job and couldn't help Ronald much, unfortunately. But the house looks great, and it's feeling more comfortable every day. I've never known what it felt like to have a place to call my own, where I could put a nail wherever I damn well felt like, without worrying about a landlord's wrath when I moved out. It feels "cool."
So, we're Angela and I are now enjoying the beautiful views of the Gulf of Nicoya (still very far away), and enjoying doing married things, like cooking and killing cockroaches together.
Life's pretty good. Anyhow, I was going to include some photos of the inside of the house, but it's really not too interesting, I guess. In any case, the most interesting part is what I've come to call the Torture/Crucifix Room. Tacked onto the back of the house, apparently as an afterthought, is a fifth bedroom. Ronald (and the interior decorator) must have forgotten that room, because it looks like it was kind of thrown together at the last minute, and when we moved in, the only object to speak of in the room was a damaged crucifix. Also, despite the electrical lines, the room doesn't have any electricity. And the only entrance is from the outside. So, we couldn't really use it for living quarters, so now we just hang the laundry in there if we don't want to put in the dryer and if it's raining. Still, take a look at the room, and tell me you don't agree it totally looks like you could torture someone in there:

Detail of the room, with non-functioning light socket (or possibly it only works when plugged into a victim tied with dingy handkerchiefs to a wire mattress spring).

Extra exposed electrical lines, next to a defunct outlet. For the torturer who wants to break the monotony and take the pain outside on nice days.

The room's eponymous battered crucifix, which can be used to remind the victim that you are punishing him because of his imagined transgressions against God and the Kingdom of Heaven; can also double as a blunt object.

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August 18, 2007

A Visit From the "Germans"

Last weekend Angela and I had our first visitors in our new place in Berlin (pictures of which I will post soon...including pictures of the creepy Crucifix/Torture Room). The visitors were Tessa and her boyfriend Peter. I know Tessa because she is the youngest daughter in a lovely family from Hannover, Germany, that I and many of my friends and relatives have mooched off of for many years. Peter is her boyfriend. They were both very nice, and it was really fun to have some guests. We mainly hung out in Berlin, checking out the coffee fields and relaxing, but we also had some time for a few machete hijinks. Anyhow, here are some pictures. Most of them Tessa took, but the ones that she's in I took:

I gotta hand it to Tessa, because this picture totally rocks. I'm going to rip off the idea and pass it off as my own right away. Anyhow, this is (obviously) the toilet paper roll in our bathroom in Berlin. The room really is that green.

This was taken outside of Las Musas, an outdoor pool. I think it's cool that Peter, Angela, and I all look like we were photoshopped in from different pictures. Especially since I look like twice the size of them. It's called trick photography, kids.

Peter and Tessa eating some blackberries that a local Crazy Guy in Berlin scaled a hill to pick.

Peter didn't take my special Machete Safety Training Program. Fortunately, asses can be surgically reattached.

Tessa preparing to take vengeance and cause a severed ass of her own.

Here's a good picture of Honorio, my father-in-law (hmm, that seems strange to say it), that Tessa took.

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I Fully Endorse This Product

The next time your kitchen sink or any other type of plumbing stops up, you COULD pour in some sissy treatment like Drain-O, OR, you could pour in this!: That's right! Desatorador Para Tuberias! It'll desator your tuberia before you can say, "Damn!" It's the only drain-unclogging product that tells you right on the bottle that it will "violently heat water." As you don the rubber gloves and pour the liquid down the drain, you can hear the trademark hissing sound and you can watch the smoke rising from the water...that's how you know it's working! Bet you didn't think water could burn, did you?? Well, with Desatorador Para Tuberias, now it can! It'll get your sink water back to flowing so quickly, you'll wish it would clog up again just so you could use it again to watch the smoke fly! Here's a black and white picture (because black and white is sexier) of Desatorador Para Tuberias in its natural habitat:

(You can also see the burn marks to the right of the drain...a sure sign of a successful product!)

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

July 29, 2007

Nicaragua: Introduction

These next few entries on my blog will be about a recent trip that I took to Nicaragua. I also obviously got married since I went there, and I intend to write and post some pictures about that, too. But since I went to Nicaragua first and began writing these entries first, I’ll post them first. They’ll be divided into a few entries, so that you don’t get as bored.
In any case, I went to Nicaragua with the purpose of renewing my Costa Rican tourist visa, which stipulates that I can only stay in the country for 90 days at a time; after that, I need to leave the country for 72 hours before returning again. Many foreigners living in Costa Rica without permanent residency have to do the same thing, and Nicaragua is a popular destination when leaving the country, since it’s a bit closer than Panama, and significantly cheaper.
When I got to Nicaragua, though, my trip slowly developed into something much more than an ordinary vacation, and it is still affected me for a long time, not only mentally, but also physically (ugh). Hopefully the impact of this trip on me will become apparent as you read these next few blogs. I hope that it will be at least a bit eye-opening, and hopefully you will enjoy it, as well. I very much hope that it won’t merely be a reflection of my deeply personal contemplation and therefore just an exercise in vanity or ego.
Maybe this doesn’t make any sense. But, if you have a bit of time, just read the entries, and maybe you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

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Nicaragua Part 1: Once Upon A Time...

It seems like everybody around the school where I work wants to learn English, with the notable exception of my students. Most of the kids seem to not care one way or the other about my native tongue. Not counting a small, hard core of dedicated students in my classes, most of them seem to goof off, not study at all, and attempt to get by on the English that they’ve learned in the first few years of elementary school. Aside from my students, though, I’m surrounded by people who want to learn English: the parents of my students, the administrative personnel at the school, the other teachers, the cleaning staff, and even random strangers I meet on the street or on the bus. One of those people is Samuel, the security guard at the school.
Samuel is contracted by a private firm to carry out the security detail at the school, which includes a 12-hour-at-a-time shift, since the school is guarded 24 hours a day. He presents a welcoming but reliable face for the school. He wears a purple uniform with a prominent 9-mm pistol on his belt, and when he smiles, which is often, one glimpses a mouthful of gold-capped teeth, including an incisor with a little gold star in the center. He’s good-hearted, friendly, hard-working, and, as it turns out, Nicaraguan.
I found out about his citizenship as I was giving him an English lesson in my break one day. He had said that since he was working at a bilingual school, he wanted to be able to say at least a few phrases in English to the parents or visitors that came to the school speaking little or no Spanish. He asked me if I could give him a private class outside of school, and offered to pay me something. I told him I had little time outside of school, but if he’d take a quick lesson here or there when I was drinking my coffee, I’d be happy to accommodate him, and he wouldn’t have to pay, either.
Samuel is not the fastest learner when it comes to English, but then again, he’s 37 years old, which is a relatively late age to begin learning a first foreign language. But what he lacks in language skills he makes up for in commitment and motivation. I often scold my 7th, 8th, and 10th graders, chiding them because their parents pay tons of money for them to get a good education and learn English, despite the fact that they usually don’t even put forth the smallest effort. Samuel, on the other hand, has independently dedicated himself to improving his life in any way he can, including learning English, which can open up many possibilities in this country. I tell my students that Samuel is my best student because even though he’s not perfect, at least he tries. My students glance up, and then go back to day-dreaming about their cell phones I confiscated earlier in the class.
In any case, when Samuel and I were covering the basics of English, we came upon the question, “Where are you from?” He answered, “I am from Nicaragua.” For me this was surprising, although that is probably just because I’m not from around here. Every person I’ve mentioned this to since then has said, “Of course he’s from Nicaragua. Just look at his gold teeth and listen to the way he talks.” Guess I missed that. Then again, let’s see these guys attempt to distinguish a Texan from a run-of-the-mill hick, and see if they can nail it. Still, I’m getting off track. The point is, Samuel is a “Nica,” a term that is used by both Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans and doesn’t seem to have any negative overtones. I think it’s just easier and quicker to say than repeating “Nicaragüense” over and over.
I had last entered Costa Rica on April 8th, which meant that my visa would expire on June 7th or 8th, depending on whether one considered the 90 day visa as exactly 90 days, or a cool three months. Either way, June 7th was the day of my wedding, and I didn’t want to get deported for my honeymoon. Although I hold the Costa Rican migratory authorities in the absolute lowest esteem and continually doubt their abilities to operate efficiently, I still didn’t want to risk any sort of fines or illegal status while I’m still waiting for the approval of my permanent residency, so I decided that I should leave for the 72 hours, just to be safe. Plus, I needed a little vacation.
I came up to Samuel about a week before I was planning on leaving to go somewhere, and I casually asked him, “Hey, you’re from Nicaragua, right? When’s the last time you went back there?” Well, it turned out that he’d not been back to see his family for about two years, partially because his passport had expired, and it would have been a hassle to go to the Nicaraguan consulate in San José to renew it. Plus, he informed me that his family was pretty poor, and since his family came from the part of Nicaragua in the far north near the Honduran border, it had just been too far and too expensive to make it back there frequently.
I proposed a deal. I told him that one way or the other, I’d have to leave Costa Rica for 72 hours, and the best option up till that point would have been to just cross to a Pacific resort on the other side of the border. However, if I could stay at the small house he told me he still had in Nicaragua, I’d pay for his passport renewal and his bus tickets, which together only came to about 50 dollars. I told him that I’d probably pay at least that much for a hotel for three nights, but that I’d much rather have an authentic experience with a person from the country, instead of just sitting alone on a beach and not actually seeing anything of the country I was supposedly in. He agreed, and we decided to set off on the following Saturday and return the Tuesday after that. It’d turn out to be a whirlwind tour far more “authentic” then I could have ever imagined.

Samuel took this picture of me, and I guess that it's the only proof that I have that I was in Nicaragua...besides memories, that is. Awwwww....

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Nicaragua Part 2: Getting There

You have to get up pretty early in the morning to get to Nicaragua. According to the bus plan we’d worked out, we’d need to take three buses to get to Pantasma de Maria, the village where Samuel was from. As it turned out, we actually needed four, but more about that in a moment. In any case, the first bus left at a definite time: at 3:30 in the morning, a Tica Bus would stop on the freeway outside San Ramón and pick us up. It did. Besides the fact that they kind of screwed up our reservations, and besides the fact that it sucks to get on a bus at 3:30 in the morning, things went fine.
It took a few hours to get to the border, where we got out of the bus in order to go through exit and entry procedures in the immigration and customs departments of each country. It was around this point that it became clear to me that I was possibly sitting next to The Biggest Bitch in The World. I had greeted her with a friendly “Buenos Días” when I got on, but after getting no reply, I just went to sleep. Fuck you, too, then. All the way from San Ramón to the Nicaraguan border, this same fat lady next to me was mumbling to herself and shaking her head. I just thought she was crazy, but it turns out she was much worse. From a glance at her passport, and from her insistence on speaking in snippy English at the conductor to berate him, I knew that she was American, and that her name was Deborah. But for the sake of a smooth story and to not name names, let’s just call her Hoebag.

Anyhow, to leave Costa Rica, we had to get out of the bus and wait in a line for Immigration to stamp our passports, and Hoebag, who was sitting near the window, tenderly suggested that I move it so we could get the hell out of the bus. I moved it indeed, cutting in front of a few people in the bus aisle, and we waited outside in the same line that everyone else from the bus had to wait in. Then, when getting out of the bus again to enter Nicaragua (borders here are complicated), we needed to take down our luggage to have customs review it. I pulled my backpack down from the overhead rack and Hoebag, who was chomping at the bit to get out, apparently was glanced by my backpack. She mumbled something. I said, “Pardon me?” To which she gently replied, “I said you just hit me in the fucking eye with your stupid backpack.” I told her I was sorry, and that I hadn’t intended to do so, to which she replied, “How fucking long are you going to wait to get off this bus…can we leave?”

I sort of doubted Hoebag’s injured eye story, considering that she was wearing large eyeglasses and a hat, but if I did “hit” her in the eye, perhaps it was just the universe working itself out. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a world where bitches don’t get hit in the eye with luggage. Besides, a few minutes later I wished that my backpack had somehow popped her eye right out of the socket when Hoebag put on another presentation.

Everyone from the bus was waiting with their bags in a line, and an old lady in her 70s or 80s hobbled up with her bags and a confused expression on her face. She seemed to be trying to figure out if she was supposed to wait in this line, when Hoebag offered the lady the following piece of advice: “No no, you have to wait in the back of the line just like all the rest of us!” She began yelling at the poor lady. “You get your ass back there; there’s no way you’re getting in front of me!” The poor lady, who obviously didn’t understand English, made a soothing gesture with her hand, the universal signal for “take it easy,” which pissed off Hoebag even more. Hoebag once again ordered the lady to the back of the line. After we got our bags checked, we all waited outside the bus for about 30 minutes, including Hoebag, the little old lady, and myself.

When we got back on, some British girls had changed buses, and Samuel and I took their seats immediately. Hoebag presumably continued on to her final destination of El Salvador where, with any justice at all, she insulted another old lady and was subsequently maimed by a crazed pit-bull belonging to a member of the Mara Salvatrucha. We can always dream, can’t we?

So, the remainder of the first bus went pretty smoothly, but by the time we got to Managua, my stomach was feeling a bit off, possibly from the shitty food they’d given us on the bus. The food made me feel like I was in one of those 60s or 70s novels about a near future where the world is controlled by totalitarian governments and the narrator describes eating food replacement items with depressing names like “syntho” and “nutrical,” or where all sustenance for a day is gained from a single pill. Whether the bus took us into the future as envisioned by a campy dystopian novel or not, the sandwiches were rubbery and the coffee tasted slightly ashy.

In any case, to make things worse, by the time we got out of the bus, a wave of heat enveloped us. I headed directly to the bathroom, and while Samuel waited outside with my bags, I had a nice series of dry heaves and then desperately evacuated my bowels over the seat-less toilet. Neither of which was particularly fun but, hey, vacations are about trying new, exciting things, right?

I came out of the bathroom and sat on the floor. Samuel had already enthusiastically procured a taxi to take us to the next bus station, conveniently located on the other side of the sprawling Nicaraguan capital. I objected, saying I thought it might be best to just sit on the floor for a while and then die, but he and the taxi driver assured me that after getting out into the fresh air of the taxi, I’d feel better. So with my head sticking out of the open window of the taxi to better inhale the pestilent, polluted air of Managua, we hauled ass across town.

We had missed the bus to Jinotega by a fair shot, but apparently there was a bus to Matagalpa, from which we’d be able to catch the last bus to Jinotega. Possibly. At the bus station, the taxi let us out, and I walked over to a stand of bushes and threw up. A minute or two later, as I was sitting on the ground with my eyes closed and trembling quietly, a man started shouting at me. I replied with a meek, “Como?” He asked if I was going to Matagalpa. I informed him that I was vomiting. He said well, if I was going to Matagalpa, I’d better throw up on the bus, because the bus had to leave. He said I could open up a window, and thereby be on the bus and vomit, simultaneously.

How can you argue with reasoning like that? For the next three hours or days, I sat in a seat in the back of the bus with my eyes closed, as I for some reason clutched a long-sleeved T-shirt in my hands. I think I believed it was the only thing keeping me alive, somehow. I was buffeted by a constant flurry of hot dusty air, which left what passes for my hair these days blown back and caked stiff, and left my left ear black with soot and dust. A few hours into that ride, I was quietly praying that I’d get randomly shot by some Bedouin sheepherder like Cate Blanchett in “Babel,” just so I could be taken to a forgotten village to be treated for a gunshot wound by a local veterinarian…basically, anything to make the bus rides stop.

Occasionally, I did in fact stick my head out the window to throw up a bit, and remarked to myself at the abstract beauty of my foamy vomit flying back behind me like sticky, white streamers, making the colorfully-decorated bus look like a float in the world’s worst Homecoming parade. It was kind of fun, all things considered.

When we got to Matagalpa, we quickly changed buses for Jinotega. I actually have no recollection of this part of the journey, but I believe that on that bus, I sat next to Samuel while my head bobbed back and forth like a jack-in-the-box. I offered him my peanut butter and jelly sandwich I’d brought, and I began to feel better. My only clear recollection is actually not really clear, mainly because it was based on such a strange event. I remember waking up at one point when I realized that the bus had been stopped for two or three minutes. I asked Samuel what was going on, and it turns out that the bus had stopped because in the yard of a house we were passing by, two boys were out front playing with machetes, trying to attack each other. Our bus driver had pulled over to yell at them. I guess that’s just one of the hazards that comes with living, loving, and leaving in machete country.

In Jinotega, we’d missed the last bus to Pantasma. According to a group of old drunks on a bench, though, we’d only missed it by five minutes, so we commissioned a taxi to take us on a mad dash to catch up with the bus, already on its way to Pantasma. Somehow we made it (well, I say “somehow” as if I didn’t actually understand how we caught up with the bus; we caught it because the driver hauled major balls on some seriously potholed country roads using techniques that would make Bo and Luke Duke proud).

The bus from Jinotega to Pantasma was actually sort of enjoyable. Early in the trip, I gave up my seat so a girl and her mother could sit down, and I walked to the back of the converted school bus, where the last row or two of seats had been removed for cargo or standing passengers. I was taller than most people and I had to crane my neck just to stand there, and my head still often hit the ceiling when the bus went over holes in the road. Still, the reason it was kind of fun was that it turned out the back of the bus is where all the manual laborers sit around on bags of corn and drink beer. After I was standing there for only about one minute, they offered me a beer, which I politely declined, saying with regret in my voice that I’d thrown up on the last few buses, and that it might be better to not repeat that. After about the fourth time they insisted, I finally accepted a beer. It was shitty and probably one of the worst beers there is out there (Let’s put it this way: there’s a reason Nicaragua isn’t really known for its beers), but it was cold and it actually hit the spot. It was the first thing that had helped me that day, and I was grateful for that.

Before they got off the bus, the workers offered me two or three more beers, which I subtly passed on to one of their cohorts, a young 22-year-old man named Jenny (really). He was a very nice guy who asked me questions about the U.S. He was trying to speak English with me, and he wasn’t too bad at it, but as he kept drinking the beers that I passed on to him, his skills declined sharply. Still, he was very friendly, and it seemed to not just be the result of the alcohol. At one point, he asked me if we were friends, and I said, “Sure.” He asked me if I remembered his name, and when I told him it immediately, he was impressed and said I had a good memory. I didn’t tell him, though, that he had the same name as my childhood dog. Nor that it was a girl’s name.

After however many hours of traveling, we finally pulled to a stop on the side of a dark road, and Samuel told me it was time to get off the bus. The village of Pantasma was dark, because evidently the Powers That Be shut off the electricity most nights sometime around 6 pm. The darkness lasted for anywhere between 1 and 3 hours the nights that I was there, but there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to how it worked. In any case, one of Samuel’s nieces was waiting in the road where the bus had stopped, and she walked with us to the house that Samuel owns.

Samuel had told me that his house was humble, but I hadn’t realized how humble it actually was. It was really a one room wood house, but since it was on a slope, the area beneath the room had also been turned into a sort of second room. Off to the side of the upstairs room was a kitchen with a dirt floor and a wood-burning stove, the smoke from which exited through cracks in the wall and an area between the wall and the ceiling. In the yard behind the house were three outhouses and a bucket shower, which a few of the neighbors seemed to share.

As for the cast of characters, I immediately got a lot of names thrown at me, and I was never entirely clear on the names or the relations of the people that I met. I was also unsure whether it was appropriate to ask or not. Samuel usually just introduced people as “my (type of relation),” for example, “my niece.” To make things more complicated, he tended to refer to most males as “Chico,” which didn’t help me much (although I do think that one of the guys there actually was named “Chico”).

When we got to the house, though, I was pretty exhausted. Samuel and I ate a meal of rice and beans alone in the kitchen, and we chatted a bit. I could hardly eat anything, since my appetite was still off, but he assured me that if I didn’t finish the food, someone else would.

After that, we sat in chairs and chatted with some members of his family, and when he saw me nodding off in my chair, he helped me to fix up our sleeping area. We slept on the planks of the wood floor, which we covered with a piece of cardboard and a sheet. Fortunately, I’d brought a blanket. I rolled up an extra pair of pants inside my lifesaving T-shirt, and as Samuel chatted away I fell into sleep like a rock.

Samuel's sister preparing something in the kitchen at night. The bottom flame is the stove, and the top is a cluster of candles. It was dark when they cut the electricity, but kinda cozy.

Samuel with his mother. I never met his father, who apparently lives in another village.

The wood-burning stove in the day. It'd be fun for a day or two, but after that, you might get tired of suspiciously smelling like bacon, even though you never ate it.

Samuel with Charita and Primitivo. For an attempt at a description of everyone's relations, see the text.

Samuel with his sister and a niece. The niece is wearing some of the clothes that Samuel brought in a gigantic sack bigger than me (literally). He was kinda like Santa Claus with Grillz.

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