To Berlin, San Isidro, Matagalpa, Nicaragua, that is. In fact, I’m back at my house in barrio Berlin in the town of San Isidro, which is home for the moment. It’s just across from las naciones unidas (the United Nations), in case you get lost.
The barrios in this part of town are named after the places or organisations that donated the pre-fabricated houses that make them up. The reason for the donations was hurricane Mitch, which struck in October 1998. As always seems to happen with these things, people say that different ones managed to take their cut, and if the buildings were donated, the land certainly wasn’t - which means that people are still paying off the $1000 or so they were charged. But at least it meant that many who may never have been ordinarily able to own a house now do. A lot, including the one I rent, have been gradually enlarged and improved since then, but they are still the smallest and cheapest houses in town (unless you count the ones made of straw, mud, plastic, corrugated iron, etc, but I didn’t really think of them as rental options). So thank you, people of Berlin for providing me with cheap housing.
Continuing the theme of strange place names, I recently spent a day on a building project in the town of Muy Muy. No, you’re not forgetting your GCSE Spanish, it does mean ‘Very Very’. You would think that the first question anyone would ask on entering the town would be ‘very, very..what?’ I half expected to find a sign as we entered, saving the towns folk from having to explain it a hundred times a day. But no, nothing. Not only that but as I asked the rest of the volunteers who had been there for a number of weeks, it became clear that not one of my Nicaraguan colleagues had thought to ask. It was not until the last minute, as the bus was going to leave, that I spotted a family sitting out on their front step and ran over to ask them. I had started to think it was a stupid question, so I was relieved when the ladies I had approached unhesitatingly called the spokesman of the house to explain it to me. “Don’t you know yourselves?” I asked. “Yes, but he tells it better.” So I wasn’t the first to ask.
On the way home I soon realsied why everyone had been in a hurry to leave before it got dark. Our old driver had some kind of eye problem which left him completely blinded whenever there was an oncoming vehicle, even if their lights were dipped. This meant that every time another vehicle came towards us he slammed on the breaks and stopped until it passed. Better safe than sorry. Those who came closest to death were the unsuspecting people riding their unlit bikes home along the road, they were only saved by the chorus of middle aged women shouting ‘¡cuidado la bici!’ from the back of the minibus each time we were about to take one out.
Lucky for you, I lived to tell the tale, and here it is: muy muy is from the indigenous Náhautl language meaning ‘lots of otters’. Apparently back in the day the river was much wider and the area was full of them. So there you go. In fact, many of the unpronounceable names in Nicaragua are Náhautl, but I have to admit, this one threw me, what with it being in Spanish and all.