It is extremely fortunate that our first panga trip brought us to Haulover's shore. If it hadn't, and I'd been able to keep focusing on how miserable I was, I'll be candid enough to admit that the aftermath of that trip would have been a dismal experience for everyone around me; I was in a nightmare of a mood. As it turned out, once we'd struggled onto the dock and had a moment to look around, our predicament seemed a matter of total insignificance when compared to the surroundings we found ourselves in.
Children were everywhere. Underfoot, to te right, to the left, running around, laughing, peering at us shyly, playing together: one couldn't look more than a few yards without spotting a child. Most of them were barefoot, which perturbed me. While we were eating dinner (which was shrimp and rice cooked on coconut milk. Ironically, while shrimp is expensive and a delicacy in the States, along the coast of Central America it's a cheap, staple food. Consequently, we were fed shrimp several times a week, which posed a problem for me, because I hate seafood. I'd be perfectly content to never see a shrimp again.) I watched a small troop of kids running around outside the window, not a show to be seen among the whole lot of them. I asked Laret how it is that they don't get worms or other diseases and she told me that they often do and children in places like this frequently die of worms. That, like many other things we saw in Haulover, broke my heart all over again.
These are houses, not sheds. The tiny building in the center is an outhouse. Haulover has no running water at all, so there are no proper toilets and no showers. Our house had a toilet, but it didn't flush. Right next to it, there was a huge basin of water with a little bucket floating in it, and we were told that after we used the toilet, we should just dump buckets of water into it to flush it. That didn't work. Needless to say, we didn't use the toilet all that often (I used it a grand total of once and then waited until we reached the panga station the next morning).
The showers are even worse than the outhouses. In the yards of most houses we saw, there were little wooden stalls on stilts. They seemed to have no particular function, so I didn't think much of them, until I noticed a pair of legs peeking out from under the bottom of one. As I watched, an arm came up from the top (these stalls are not especially private, as there are no floors and no roofs on them) and dumped a bucket of water down, informing me that this was a shower.
Some houses have sheets of some sort of metal as roofs. Apparently, these aren't particularly safe, because I have heard that in bad storms they have been known to fly off of houses and slice whole trees in half, to say nothing of people.
That dirt trail is the closest thing there is to a road. Like I mentioned before, there aren't any cars, so the lack of roads isn't particularly devastating, but it does make walking in the dark hazardous. Also, the town generator is only on during the day, walking any time after sundown isn't the greatest experience. We stayed for only on night in Haulover and at 4:45AM the next morning, we slung our bags over our backs and, with the help of one flashlight, all five of us (we were accompanied by one man from Bluefields) struggled over a 45 minute trek to the panga station. From that walk alone, I pity the people of Haulover for not having a road.
I adore that little girl in the purple dress, but I was (and still am) worried about her. She had a terrible, hacking cough, and while she was playing she'd have sudden coughing attacks, after which she'd pop her dirty little fingers back into her mouth, like any small child should be able to without running the risk of falling terribly ill. Laret reminded me that her immune system could run circles around mine, but I didn't find that especially comforting because there were plenty of things on the ground that she may very well not be immune to. For example, since no one can afford to feed their horses, the horses run wild until the owners need them for something. Of course, this means that there are huge piles of horse droppings everywhere. Horse droppings are poisonous, and if they get into an open wound or onto a child's hand it can be fatal. Seeing this pretty little girl dashing about without shoes and sucking on her grubby little hands showed me how precarious life is for these kids.
I wish I got a better picture of that little girl, but she was so shy we never even spoke to her. At first she would come and stand by the fence outside of our house, call "hi!" and run away. Eventually she got more bold and made a little game of it, camping out on the side of the house with a gaggle of her little friends. We gave all the kids we met handfuls of pens and candy. I wish I had the words to describe their eyes when they got their meager little presents. Maybe, to them, they weren't so meager after all.
Even the horses in Haulover looked like they weren't very well off. And clearly the boys were more interested in the horses than the horses were in the boys.
Whoever it was that fabricated the story that roosters crow exclusively at dawn ought to be locked in a cage and forced to listen to roosters crow as they actually do. . . CONSTANTLY. In reality, they crow, peck at the ground, run a few feet, crow again, and repeat that process over and over and over all the live long day. All throughout the night, roosters ran around outside of our window, presumably doing exactly what they'd been doing all day. All I know is that they made such a racket it was worse than having an apartment right next to train tracks and leaving all the windows open.
From top to bottom, Angela, Pastor Lewin, and another lady I was never introduced to. Angela had us over to her house and we met her children. Her oldest child, a girl, probably about 10 or 12 years old, went around with a basket, selling pastries she'd made. Laret wouldn't eat (or let us eat) anything from a basket, but we gave them money anyway. We walked through the village with Angela and her children before sundown, and discovered that they do have a nightclub, though without electricity after sundown, I can't understand what they do in there, or how they see anything.
This troop of munchkins followed us into our house and we weren't entirely sure what to do with them, so we took pictures! None of them had shoes either, but by evening I was used to that. We gave them all presents and they hung around watching us as though we were the circus. We basically were, I suppose. When we arrived in town, they even rang the church bells to herald our coming. I'll admit, sometimes it was a little unsettling to be the center of attention, but we survived.
Step dance classes took place in the church. Aside from the nightclub, the church was the largest building we saw around. I believe the school was a separate building, but I was never quite clear on that.
The kids picked up the dances so quickly we ended up teaching more routines than we'd anticipated. The chaperones encouraged the kids to ask us questions about our lives back the the States or about school or anything else, but they were so shy they wouldn't say a word. Eventually I got them to loosen up by giving out pieces of candy, but even then they weren't very talkative.
Our house! From the outside it looks lovely, no? From the inside, oh boy. The first thing we discovered was swarms of fire ants in our beds. Fortunately, we'd taken with us this heavy-duty bug spray with Deet, so that killed them off or scared them away. There were three bedrooms, one for Laret, one for me, and bunk beds for the boys, so everything seemed perfect until we discovered bats in the house. It was after our walk with Angela that I saw a pair of bats swooping around the main room. The bats flew into a hole in the ceiling and I flew into a panic, because I then realized that they actually lived in the house, they weren't visitors. Joey decided to use the bathroom and discovered that it had no ceiling, so it was also bat-infested. To top matters off, the boys room also lacked a ceiling, and. . .
. . . this is what it looked like (those little brown things are bats sleeping). I freaked out over and over again. A man from the village was visiting us at the house when we discovered the bats, and he became very excited at the prospect of killing them. He tried to get Daniel to climb up on the top bunk to poke a broom at them (which supposedly kills them. . . ?), but I finally managed to get them to just close the door and leave the bathunt for another day. As we were standing there outside the bedroom door, Daniel suddenly glanced over my head and said, "uh, Leah?" I turned and saw a pair of bats swooping around behind me and in a panic I dashed into my own room (which, fortunately, was bat-free) and started laughing/sobbing hysterically. The boys eventually yielded to my entreaties that they sleep in my bed for the night, so we trundled off to bed in my nice, safe room, which held no greater danger than a couple of lizards that clucked at us from the corners (these lizards made weird sounds that I can't find a better word for than "cluck").
Somewhere in the midst of this drama, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to use the bathroom until we reached the panga station because the bats wouldn't go to sleep until sunrise and sunrise wasn't until 6AM, by which time we'd have reached the dock. It was a far from pleasant evening. To make things even worse, the temperature in my room reached a million degrees after we'd been in there for only a few minutes, and we realized that three people in a tiny room, especially in such a climate, was a recipe for disaster. Daniel and I stuck it out, but Joey was too uncomfortable to stay and he went to sit on the porch for most of the night. On the whole, we probably didn't sleep for more than thirty minutes at a time. Arriving back in Bluefields the next morning was like returning to paradise, which is amusing, because only a day earlier we'd considered our stay in Bluefields to be "roughing it."
I think our stay in Haulover taught me more than the rest of the trip put together about how easy life is in the US. As Laret put it, we always think we need this and that and we don't have enough to buy this thing or that thing and we think it's so horrible, but if you seriously think about it, most of us have always had running water and shoes. I admire all the people I met in Nicaragua, but especially those from Haulover, because they manage to be generous, content, and amiable in spite of not having much in the way of modern conveniences. They're not living in a box; they know exactly what it is they don't have. Bluefields is right up the river, and Bluefields has running water, paved roads, and loads of other luxuries that are nowhere to be found in Haulover. So one can't say that the people there are happy becaue they don't know anything else, yet they manage to love life in spite of that. This is most admirable.