Nicaragua Part 3: Being There

As I mentioned before, I stayed for Nicaragua for only two entire days, but those days still left quite an impression. The first day I basically sat around and aged a day, and the second day, I went into the village with Samuel and some of his family.
Most Mondays, when I return to work, I ask my students what they did over the weekend. I am always surprised by how many of them say “Nothing” (actually, about half of them say “Anything,” since they still need to sort out that language problem). I usually say something like, “What do you mean, you did nothing? You have 48 hours to account for. Did you just wake up and sit in a chair and look at the wall all day?” Typical annoying teacher. But, as it turns out, it really is almost possible to do literally nothing, and for a significant period of time, at that.
The first day I woke up and proceeded to move from plastic chair to plastic chair, and although I didn’t look at a wall, I did watch the street for hours on end which, as it turns out, isn’t that much more interesting than a wall. If anyone were to have asked me, “Hey, what’s going on in Nicaragua?” I feel that I could confidently answer, based on my field research, “Not that much.”
For most of the day, Samuel was busy distributing the big-ass bag of clothes he had brought, and was busy telling his personal testimony. I hadn’t really realized before, but he was an evangelical Christian, and he was happy to talk about his experiences over and over and to praise the Lord. All of which is fine, but since it’s not for me, I was left to contend with a rather boring day. At least I got to know the various members of Samuel’s family and friend circles a bit more.
One of these people is an old man named—seriously–Primitivo. And yes, it means the same thing in Spanish. I had noticed an old guy with a cane the night before, and I was able to gather that he was Samuel’s father-in-law. The next morning, then, I realized that he was in the same room as us, sleeping in a bed. The term “bed” conveys a bit more of a sense of comfort than actually existed, though. He was actually sleeping on a wooded bed frame with pieces of hard leather stretched in a cross-hatching pattern throughout the empty space in between. The leather straps were then covered with a piece of cardboard and a sheet. No wonder he began his days by spitting up gobs of phlegm.
I also realized another reason for the phlegm when I noticed a handwritten chalk note above one of the windows. It read: “Primitivo Gamez se enfermó el 26 de NOV del 2006.” This meant that he had gotten sick the previous November and that someone had decided to record it on the wall, for whatever reason. In any case, he didn’t seem to be terribly sick, but at the same time, one could easily tell that he wasn’t having an easy go of it. He generally hobbled around very slowly with his cane, and when he sat down, it was very hard to hear his voice, let alone understand it. His voice tended to be very quiet and almost squeaky, and when he talked about his family—especially his daughter, Samuel’s wife—that voice would quickly crack and he’d begin to cry. This would literally happen dozens of times a day so for me, a relative newcomer to the Spanish language, he was a bit of an unconventional conversation partner.
Nevertheless, we sat on the porch in plastic chairs for hours and hours. Occasionally, he’d say something and I’d try to understand it, but if he asked me a question and I tried to reply, we’d have a completely different problem on our hands, since he couldn’t hear well, either. We eventually fell into a good sort of conversational groove wherein both of us were content. That groove consisted in dozing off most of the time, and we’d occasionally jerk our heads up in alertness to mumble something like “hot day” or to kick at emaciated dogs or stray pigs trying to sneak into the house to steal food. Occasionally, Primitivo would wake up and work at his throat a bit, hocking a giant lougie or a snot rocket onto the porch in front of us. I was beginning to understand the logic behind dirt floors.
Through the day, various people walked by the house, and even though I was wearing a hat, many of them stopped to look at me, and I could tell that an American was a bit of a novelty around those parts. A few guests came to the house, too, since they’d heard that Samuel had come home. I also realized that whoever made up the stereotype about British people having bad teeth had obviously never been to Nicaragua. And I’m not only talking about the gold-capped teeth. I saw many a mouth with nary a tooth. Although I saw a fair number of policemen, I never did see an inspector from the Colgate Cavity Patrol.
Another character who figured prominently into the day was named Charita, and she was an older lady who lived in the area below Samuel’s house. I believe that she was related to him in some way, but I’m just not sure how. She was a little woman packed with energy and, possibly, neuroses. People said that she had epilepsy, but when she had one of her supposed epileptic attacks, she was really just walking around the kitchen rambling at people. I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think that’s epilepsy. Still, I sort of dig the tendency towards self-diagnosis, since it’s cheaper than paying for a doctor and more entertaining.
After God-knows-how-many hours of porch sitting, Samuel finally returned from wherever and said that he’d like to cut down an avocado tree that was beginning to destroy a cement retaining wall below the kitchen. He was afraid, with good reason, that the kitchen might slide down the hill by the next time he returned. I helped him with that for a while, and was pleased to discover that the avocado tree had at least never given fruit. We then “constructed” a system to hold up the dishwashing area of his kitchen, which was really just a piece of wood jutting out from the back wall of the kitchen. In any case, though, it was beginning to rot and fall down, so we put the trunk of the avocado tree underneath it to sustain it. Brothers gonna work it out.
The whole time we were working in the back, we were serenaded by a neighboring parrot which would periodically screech, “Mamaaaaaa!” Then, when it got no response from its mama, it’d change to, “Papaaaaaaa!” It was kind of unnerving, like something out of a suspense/horror movie, right before Samuel turns on me with the axe.
As the daylight began to wane, I noticed I smelled like ass, and I asked about the shower. It turns out that a bucket shower is about as straightforward as its name implies. I stood in a wood structure with black plastic on the inside, with the top open to the sky (as well as to the back windows of the houses above). I’m a pretty tall guy and I was sticking out of the top of the shower a bit, but I didn’t really worry about peeping Juans from above, since I got the sense that that wasn’t something to be concerned about. Sort of an unspoken “Don’t show me yours and I won’t show you mine” type of policy. Plus, it was getting darker by the minute, and the cold bucket water I’d retrieved from a neighboring well also motivated me towards opting for a quick shower.
Still, while I was showering I paused for a moment to look up as the first stars of the night began to emerge from the darkness. It was really pretty beautiful, and for a moment I felt as though I’d gone a couple hundred years into the past when a bucket shower or a river was probably all most people had to get clean, if they were lucky. In a way, it was a nice feeling, where you begin to think, “Well, if there’s a nuclear war and indoor plumbing is wiped out, at least I could get by doing this!” But at the same time, it was comforting that I didn’t actually have to.

Samuel working on cutting down the avocado tree. Did you know that avocados grow on trees? No shit.

One of Samuel’s nephews. I can’t remember his name, but who cares, since he’s just so adorable.

The ominous note, written in chalk above the back window (overlooking the bucket shower), stating that “Primitivo Gamez se enfermó el 26 de NOV del 2006.”

A fleet of outdoor shitters. Accompanied with a barbed-wire clothesline, a must for this summer’s fashions. Seriously, though, these guys may not recycle, but they sure do reuse. Which Bobby Majzler says is the most important of the Three R’s.

The bucket shower, as viewed from above. This picture was taken from the “Primitivo Gamez” window. (Not pictured: author’s dick.)

Another one of this kid. Hopefully your internet browser settings aren’t aligned to filter out “cute stuff,” of your computer will catch on fire right…NOW.

Some kids playing with marbles in front of an evangelical church in Pantasma de Maria.
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