Emily and I are doing a lot of getting by here in Nicaragua. I came to Peace Corps with limited formal teaching experience, while Emily only took one year of Spanish classes eight years ago, but we’re getting by in the classroom and with español, respectively. We still don’t feel like experts in our new pursuits, but we do well enough to be successful. We’re working towards mastery, but in the meantime we’re having fun using this phrase to describe our progress:
Me defiendo como gato panza arriba – I defend myself like a cat with its belly up.
Me defiendo can best be translated into “I get by” but becomes more fun and descriptive when adding the cat imagery. I think of it as doing all that we can, scratching tooth and nail if necessary, to make it.
To see this dicho in a truly Nicaraguan context, check out this video of the incredibly popular and famous Nicaraguan Carlos Mejía Godoy (the one with the accordion) with his band los de Palacagüina. This song is called “Clodomiro the Ñajo (nasally voiced person)”, and in this snippet of the chorus the band asked Ñajo (played by Carlos Mejía) how he’s doing with the ladies. He replies by saying “Me defiendo, me defiendo como gato panza arriba.”