|Looking from the square to the Iglesia el calvario on a sunny, dusty Saturday|
When we said were heading to Leon once our Cuso International placements ended, our Nicaraguan co-workers warned us about the heat.
They forgot to mention the dust storms.
It is hot, heading to 36 today. But we’re pretty good at handling heat by now.
But the dust, it’s new. We’ve been here a week. For the first few days, we just marveled at the need to sweep four or five times a day and the way every surface was covered in fine black grit in a matter of hours. It didn’t seem that surprising, since windows and doors needed to be open to battle the heat.
Yesterday, things got crazy. The winds were much stronger and the dust storms turned the sky a pale yellow, blocked the view of nearby hills and even made it hard to see churches from a few blocks away. The six-block walk to the market was decidedly unpleasant as dust coated skin and scratched at eyes. Drivers coming into town had their headlights on at midday. (Not the norm here.)
Our house has windows and doors that we can close. Lots of people, including some of our neighbours, make do with sheets hung over the windowless gaps in the wall.
Partly, Leon is just a victim of its environment. Strong winds - about 45 km/h an hour as I write this and gusting way higher - sweep toward the Pacific coast, about 20 kms away. We’re surrounded by volcanos, and the fine ash from past eruptions travels easily.
But people here also point to the loss of windbreaks and ground cover that stopped soil from being blown away. The big agricultural producers of sugar cane and peanuts take a lot of the blame, and the Google satellite view of the region shows vast areas of soil waiting for planting - or to be blown away.
It’s not just the big producers though. Poor families cook with wood, and windbreaks are convenient places to find fuel, whether to use or to stack in the yard and sell to other people.
It’s blowing even harder today. The doors and windows are rattling, and you can see the dust clouds racing across the sky. The winds produce mysterious cracks and bangs from all directions.
We were going to head to the ocean, but it seemed a like a better day to stay in the house. We’ve got a little terrace off the kitchen, with walls about four metres high on two sides and an end wall of brick and corrugated tin that towers about nine metres over the space. They break the wind and it still gets sun.
And the terrace has a pila - a concrete sink with space to store water and wash clothes. We’ve also got a big blue plastic barrel which, as veterans of Central America, we keep filled with water. If you get hot, or dusty, you can just dump buckets of water on your head.
Which, it turns out, is lucky. Yesterday the water was off by 9:30 and didn’t come back until 5 p.m. It’s out again today.
Angry Leon residents marched in the streets last July to demand the government do something about the dust storms - plant more trees, make stricter rules for the big farmers. They worry about illness as well as the pure unpleasantness of being pelted by dust and finding everything you own covered in grit minutes after you’ve cleaned up.
If they take to the streets this month, I will be with them.