For nearly two weeks now, I’ve slept under a mosquito net hanging from the tin roof that sounds like a mellow snare drum when it rains. My host mother makes fun of me for washing my hair in the backyard during late afternoon storms, but I don’t want to be the one who uses the last of the family’s water supply for the day. She runs the house (and the neighborhood, for that matter) and her name is Auxiliadora, but everyone calls her “Chilo.” She has a son named Francisco who visits daily but lives in the next town over, and a daughter named Chilito, who sleeps in the room across the hall from me with her five year old son, Diego. Diego is my best friend.
Most evenings, I walk home from Spanish class, and as soon as I turn onto the street where I’m staying, Diego drops his toy tyrannosaurus and runs down the street yelling, “Nickelodeon!” before giving me a monster hug. Even after four hours of struggling through Spanish verbs & vocabulary, it’s hard to feel down when Diego and his amigos insist on playing “Frisbique” until dinner. Chilo is a wonderful cook who refuses to let me go to bed or leave the house without a generous serving of gallo-pinto (beans mixed in rice), fried plantains and whatever fresh juice she’s fixed for the day.
Most mornings, I pile into a large van (called a microbus) packed literally nose to nose with Nicaraguans, and hold my breath until I arrive at the bottom of the barrio, Tempisque. From my drop-off point, I walk half an hour up the smokey valley toward Volcan Masaya, whose toxic gases turn children’s hair blond and limit local crops to pineapple and pitahaya (dragonfruit). I may very well be wrong, but from the look of things, many families in Tempisque have to choose between feeding their dogs and feeding their children.
While my heart breaks for each dog I see with its skin stretched tight across its ribcage and collapsed stomach, my mornings are instantly brightened by infectious laughter of the children. Despite their permanently soiled clothing and near complete lack of dental hygiene, the group of over 100 kids between the ages of four & ten love to play games on their donated Samsung tablets, and will read for hours if they have someone listening to them. Though I often leave the Panama School exhausted from my active duties as class jungle gym (praise Allah for lice repellent shampoo), I don’t think I could ever tire of the affection Nicaraguan children show.
I intend to update this blog with volcano adventures, Gato burgers, and bathroom humor more frequently than every two weeks, but staying connected over WiFi or 4G simply isn’t as big of a thing here… And I must admit, it feels pretty good.