One of my favorite parts of Spanish is the suffix -ismo. For me, the English -ism brings to mind a fairly unhappy array including racism, sexism, classism…

But in Spanish, -ismo can be added to pretty much anything, from drugs to grammar. Some of my favorite examples:

  • tobacco > tobaquismo (tobacco use)
  • Daniel Ortega > Orteguismo (his political approach)
  • Hugo Chavez > Chavismo (his political approach)
  • imperial > imperialismo (something the aforementioned political approach habitually denounces)
  • sendero (trail) > senderismo (hiking)
  • lo (a Spanish pronoun) > loismo (misuse of said Spanish pronoun)

Flooding in Nicaragua

During my stay, Nicaragua’s two largest lakes reached record heights, surpassing the floods resulting from Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Cocibolca (The Lake of Nicaragua) inundated one town that is not expected to be recoverable for three years. Xolotlan (The Lake of Managua) flooded Tipitapa and many of the communities around its shores. Local news channels showed footage of the flooding and scenes from refugee centers almost every night. President Ortega’s approval ratings have increased during the flooding; the government’s response is well-regarded, as are the additional refugee-center jobs being created (largely for Sandinista party members). While acknowledging factors contributing to these record floods, such as unauthorized low-lying settlements and an antiquated storm drain system, the Nicaraguan president’s jury is not out on for the fundamental cause: world capitalism (and the climate change it causes).

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Buses of Managua

Managua is a relatively low-density, sprawling city. After the 1972 earthquake heavily damaged the historical center, rebuilding radiated outwards, with a great deal of construction taking place in outlying lots owned by the Somoza regime. The first old school buses from the US came in the mid-1970s as a response to the earthquake, and their history in Managua is intertwined with the city’s sprawl. On an average day, about 800 local buses are on the road in Managua, transporting 855,000 passengers on 34 numbered routes. While many of these buses are conventional and transit-style former school buses (with back doors added), some are transit buses manufactured by Dyna (in Mexico) or Kavz (in Russia).

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Bus Music Videos

I found a frequently running TV commercial for a local Nicaraguan radio station to be quite interesting. The commercial opened with a scene of a crowd of people waiting at a bus stop, looking frustratedly at their watches (a situation that most Managuans can easily identify with). A new Kurgansky Avtobusny Zavod bus finally pulls up, and the petulant passengers board and sit down. The bus driver then turns up the volume for the advertised radio station, and the passengers start smiling and dancing happily in the aisle.

The use of the bus in the commercial was interesting enough, but I decided to do a bit more research on the song to which the passengers were dancing. The song, which I also heard on some of my daily microbus commutes from Ticuantepe to Managua, was Juan Luis Guerra’s “Bachata en Fukuoka.” Yes, that’s Fukuoka, Japan – the lyrics include the “kon’nichi wa,” “ohayō gozaimasu,” and “arigatō gozaimasu.”

To sum up, I was watching a Russian-made bus in a commercial for a Nicaraguan radio station that used a Dominican artist’s song that includes the Japanese in the lyrics, and for which the official music video has shots of the Los Angeles skyline and the Metro Gold Line. As David Harvey writes, “collage and eclecticism have recently come to dominate” in contemporary music (The Condition of Postmodernity, p. 301). The song’s music video (which also happens to involve people sitting on a bus) exemplifies the “depthlessness…in a whole new culture of the image or the simulacrum.” The split-second clips of freight locomotives along the Los Angeles River or Japanese characters on a storefront have nothing to do with their actual significance or meaning, but are instead used just as images.

I couldn’t find the Nicaraguan commercial online, but here is the official “Bachata en Fukuoka” music video:

The “Bachata en Fukuoka” video’s various transportation mode are nothing compared to the buscentricity of another one of Juan Luis Guerra’s songs from this year, “La Guagua” (“The Bus”). The refrain of the song can be translated as “Shift into gear and straighten it out | so that the bus will go in reverse!…| Bring me the maraca and give me a party | so that the bus will go in reverse!” The majority of the music video (embedded below) was filmed on a 1980s Blue Bird All American FE. Highlights include the bus driving backwards through the countryside, the driver eating spaghetti and shaving behind the wheel, a cow with 3-D glasses, a trombonist wearing an I ♥ Fukuoka shirt (in reference to the previously discussed song), and the climactic scene of party-goers at a concert for which the stage’s background is the silhouette of the back of a school bus. I’m not sure why Juan Luis Guerra is so interested in buses, but I’ll take the music videos for these two songs (both of which were on A Son de Guerra, the 2010 Latin Grammy Best Album) as a sign that buses figure prominently in the collective consciousness of Latin America.

Vehicles of Ticuantepe

Various vehicles that regularly passed by where I was staying in Ticuantepe.

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Sights of Managua

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Trencitos (train rides) seem to be everywhere in Nicaragua. The major malls (Metrocentro, Multiplaza Las Americas, Galerias Santo Domingo) all have small train rides for kids, and the tourist destinations of Puerto Allende (in Managua) and Masaya have larger, tractor-sized ones. Maybe this trencito obsession is an attempt to fill the void left by the 1993 decision by then-President Violeta Chamorro to close the country’s rail lines and sell the equipment and tracks for scrap. Though Doña Violeta is widely regarded to have been one of Nicaragua’s best presidents, a number of people I spoke with regretted this decision to scrap the national rail system. It does seem a bit short-sighted, especially with the recent development of plans for a Pacific-Caribbean rail canal.

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Except for the two weeks I stayed with a family in Managua, my base for my two months in Nicaragua was the Viva Nicaragua Hotel in Ticuantepe. Ticuantepe is a quiet, suburban/rural town that is increasingly a bedroom community for workers who commute into Managua. Buses and microbuses running to the Capital from the outlying towns of Jinotepe, La Concepcion, San Marcos, La Borgoña, and Ticuantepe passed by the La Gloria subdivision (i.e. grouping of about eight houses separated by grazing cows and plantain trees) about every five minutes during the morning rush hour. Basically a quiet guesthouse with four rooms, the hotel was a great place to relax, go for a swim in the pool, cook for myself, and practice my Spanish with the caretakers and fellow Spanish students.

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