Saturday, September 16, 2006

Food and drink in Nicaragua

September 12, 2006

I have the depressing admission to make that I ate lunch at McDonalds today. I wasn’t able to get out for lunch until quite late, and the only places nearby are a McDonalds, a Subway and a supermarket. This comes as quite a shock for someone used to fast-food-free Kyrgyzstan.

Here, there is a fried chicken chain on just about every corner. Sodas have made their incursion in the same way they have in the U.S., while in Kyrgyzstan, people main drink soft drinks only during parties and special occasions.

With even the local food leaning heavily on the fried side, it’s no surprise that obesity is an issue here.

“She’s a bit fat,” one man told me today, explaining why he thought a 63-year-old woman was healthy and would live a few more years.

“It’s only here in the Caribbean that people consider being fat to be healthy,” his boss, Armando, said. “But really, they could have a heart attack at any time. And it’s largely due to our diet and its effects on our health that our life expectancy is only 60.”

Right now, one city, Leon, is suffering tremendously from people taking in an unhealthy beverage. Aguardiente, an alcoholic drink similar to rum, but without the mandatory four years aging, is drunk mostly by alcoholics and the poor.

Vendors of this drink buy it in 55 gallon drums. And to each five gallons, they might add a gallon of water, increasing their earnings by diluting it. If they add too much water, they add a bit of methanol in order to retain the alcohol level.

Recently, someone added too much methanol, and people (mostly men) are falling by the dozens. Last I heard, 36 people had died. The hospital in Leon is full and patients are being transferred to Managua. The U.S. military has donated supplies and the front page news story today was that an antidote to the effects of methanol was acquired and being administered to the patients. Those who survive could face blindness or the ruination of their digestive systems.

I also learned today about a restaurant not far from my house that makes a famous sopa levantomuertos (soup to raise the dead). It’s only served from 8 p.m., contains lobster, fish and shrimp, and is served very hot, in order to sweat out alcohol. After drinking and dancing, when people are drunk and feel they can’t take any more, they order this soup and suddenly regain the strength to continue dancing throughout the night.

Hairy pig skin, methanol laced homemade alcohol, soup that makes one sweat. Yum yum.

One week after being virtually paralyzed by my lack of speech, I can now communicate. I understand most of what’s being said. I can read the local newspaper And while I think I still sound like an idiot, I can more or less get my points across.

Russian words dot my speech frequently. But other times, I try to think of a word in Russian and find I can’t reach beyond the Spanish. It will probably be another struggle to adjust when I return to Kyrgyzstan and find myself using Spanish words in the place of Russian.

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