Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Nicaragua: Silent Smiles, Hammocks & William Walker

Knowing that I am in Granada, Nicaragua with my husband, visiting daughter Eleni, her husband Emilio and their 16 month-old  daughter Amalia , my friend Evi Adams, who lives in Israel, sent me the following from the magazine Journeywoman:

CAFE OF SMILES IN GRANADA, NICARAGUA - Writes Regina in Cuenca, Ecuador - I recommend Café de las Sonrisas or Cafe of Smiles, a small restaurant behind the Hammock shop near the square in Granada, Nicaragua. It is run by a deaf and physically challenged staff. Adding to the serenity of the quiet courtyard restaurant lined with hammocks, is the fact that not a single word is spoken. In fact, not a single word will be spoken by your waiter for the entire time you're at the cafe because they can't speak. The Cafe de las Sonrisas is the first coffee shop in the Americas, and the 4th in the world to be run entirely by deaf people. You might think it would be difficult to communicate with a deaf mute waiter, but it's actually quite easy and educational. You're shown to your seat and your menu has an explanation of how things work, along with some helpful photo illustrations of a few commonly used phrases in sign language like "thank you," and "please," and "I would like. .. " If you're not up for the signing, you can just point to the photos in the menu; it's really that simple. And the coffee? It's great and the food is incredible.

So today Eleni, Amalia and I headed off this morning to Café de las Sonrisas, a short walk from their home.
 The sign outside the door promised “great coffee and an unforgettable experience” 
 One wall was lined with the hand signals for sign language. 
 Amalia was fascinated with the inner courtyard and all the hammocks 

  Each table had stickers to point to with useful phrases (like “bill” and “toilet”)
 The trees in the inner courtyard were hung with photos of smiles.

  Amalia and our waitress had no trouble communicating

She loved the banana pancakes and we loved the tropical juice drinks.
 She quickly made a friend – a girl of three who spoke both English and Spanish.
 There were child-sized hammocks too—but Amalia was wary. 
We looked in at the adjoining hammock wokshop.  Some of the workers had heir children with them because it’s school vacation time.

A tree was hung with doll-sized hammock.

 Besides the restaurant and hammock workshop, the building serves as a social center for people who have any difficulties such as deafness—helping them in four areas: education, health, infant and mother care and social interaction.   It’s called Tio Antonio.
On one wall leading to the restaurant is a mural illustrating the history of Granada.  A central figure is William Walker with the hangman’s noose around his neck.  He was an evil, colorful American adventurer who tried to take over Nicaragua (and several other countries)  as his private kingdom, importing his own mercenary soldiers.  His saga is worth looking up.  Here’s the first paragraph about him from Wikipedia:

William Walker (May 8, 1824 – September 12, 1860) was an American lawyer, journalist and adventurer, who organized several private military expeditions into Latin America, with the intention of establishing English-speaking colonies under his personal control, an enterprise then known as "filibustering." Walker became president of the Republic of Nicaragua in 1856 and ruled until 1857, when he was defeated by a coalition of Central American armies, principally Costa Rica's army. He was executed by the government of Honduras in 1860.

Walker wanted to re-introduce slavery to Nicaragua, for one thing.  Here’s more of his story from Wikipedia:

Walker took up residence in Granada and set himself up as President of Nicaragua, after conducting a fraudulent election. He was inaugurated on July 12, 1856, and soon launched an Americanization program, reinstating slavery, declaring English an official language and reorganizing currency and fiscal policy to encourage immigration from the United States. Realizing that his position was becoming precarious, he sought support from the Southerners in the U.S. by recasting his campaign as a fight to spread the institution of black slavery, which many American Southern businessmen saw as the basis of their agrarian economy. With this in mind, Walker revoked Nicaragua's emancipation edict of 1824. This move did increase Walker's popularity in the South and attracted the attention of Pierre Soulé, an influential New Orleans politician, who campaigned to raise support for Walker's war. Nevertheless, Walker's army, weakened by an epidemic of cholera and massive defections, was no match for the Central American coalition. On December 14, 1856 as Granada was surrounded by 4,000 Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan troops, Charles Frederick Henningsen, one of Walker's generals, ordered his men to set the city ablaze before escaping and fighting their way to Lake Nicaragua. An inscription on a lance reading Aquí fue Granada ("Here was Granada") was left behind at the smoking ruin of the ancient capital city.[12]

Granada’s Merced Church, which we pass every day, is an active church but still shows the scars of  Walker’s attempt to burn the city in 1856. 

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