Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

Watch out for the fat ladies


The Los Quinchos school in Barrio San Judas in Managua, Nicaragua, takes some of the city's toughest kids and turns them into scholars. Most of the children who attend Los Quinchos have spent time on the streets hawking water and snack foods (and sometimes their own bodies) to make a living.

It's a revelation to see how a bit of breakfast, a few books and some very dedicated teachers can turn hundreds of young lives around.

For our documentary about the school, we needed some shots of street-vendor children at work. Our friends at Los Quinchos said that we should go to the Mercado Oriental, the Eastside Market, to see just how tough the lives of these children could be.

The Mercado Oriental is renowned for its crime levels, especially theft and muggings.

"Watch out for yourselves," said a worried-looking teacher, "especially for the fat ladies!"

Our guide explained as we drove across the city that there is rumored to be a gang of fat ladies who travel in a pack through the market preying on unsuspecting shoppers. Their modus operandi is to surround their mark, jostling him or her with their prodigious haunches and busts while young cutpurses and pickpockets slip between their legs stealing everything they can.

As obvious tourists, we would be prime targets for the fat ladies of the Mercado Oriental. My heart raced with trepidation.

We were fine, of course, in part because of the presence of our guide, a Baptist seminary student who looked like a linebacker for the Miami Dolphins. But the story of the fat ladies stayed with me.

So I was surprised to read recently that similar stories exist in Kinshasa in Congo. There's a great book about the Zairean dictator, Mobuto, by a journalist named Michela Wrong, that recounts the dangers of being trapped by hefty broads in the marketplace of that central African capital.

Same M.O.

So what's going on here? Globalized urban myth or rising new crime phenomenon?

Just to be sure, if you're heading out to the Farmers' Market in North Hatley this summer, stay alert for heavy women with shifty eyes. And if the fat ladies get you, don't act surprised.

The poor people of Nicaragua just can't catch a break. The week after I left that Central American country, the summer rains started and never stopped. Massive flooding in the capital. Thousands of people displaced.

Imagine living in a hut with a dirt floor and tin roof, with only a little charcoal burner to cook with. And then imagine that minimal housing under three feet of water. That's home for a large portion of Managua's population now.

In poor countries people live so close to the edge that any difficulty at all pushes them over. What would simply be a run of inclement weather for us becomes a disaster for them.

And even though their homes look very modest by our standards, they represent as much investment and hope for them as ours do for us.

If you get a chance to help out the people of Nicaragua and Honduras, both hit hard this summer by rains, dig a little deeper in your pocket. Spend some of that money that wasn't stolen by the fat ladies.

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