Solid Sense of Direction . . . of Where Things Used to Be

My dad has a good internal compass. I remember as a child he always wanted to know the cardinal directions because somehow knowing that the river was north from where we were staying would help us navigate our family of 5 around in our blue Chrysler minivan. At 10 years old, I thought he was nuts. Now I realize, he wasn’t, and he’d do well driving in modern day Nicaragua.

“Where the House of Jokes used to be. Five blocks toward the lake, two blocks east, 1/2 a block south.”

This is an acceptable form of giving directions to taxi drivers in Managua.

No street signs, no house numbers, no other clear landmarks. Just some strange quasi-cardinal or relational points of reference that will guarantee you will arrive. Seriously. It works every time!

In fact, it became quite clear to me after a while that “magnetic north” here is Lake Nicaragua and not Hudson Bay. Somehow, each person carries with them an internal compass that lets them know which direction the lake is. Consequently, many directions in the capital take the form of using “North” as the Lake whether or not the Lake is North, East, West or even South. People will understand you if you are using the lake as your point of reference.

Roll with it, use it. It doesn’t matter if you agree with it or not. If you want to get anywhere in Managua, stick to the custom. The lake is always North.

Probably my recent favorite was this: “Where the tennis courts used to be.”

Doesn't look like tennis courts does it? Well, this is where they used to be.

In Leon, as the story goes, about 20 years ago they built a basketball court next to a school. For some reason, it was never completed or never used, so they turned it into some tennis courts. People doubt whether those tennis courts were used either, because now there aren’t any tennis courts. Just this big wall that surrounds the corner. I laughed when people told me that was the proper way to refer to the location, but I trusted them, so in the afternoon after visiting a school quite far from our original destination, I said to the taxi driver, “Where the tennis courts used to be.”

Off we went, and sure enough 7 minutes later he dropped me off where I needed to be and I reconnected with my colleagues.

Yet another point of reference in the lesson of cultural assimilation.

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