Joy

Managua, Nicaragua

I saw absolutely nothing in this city.  This is really just a story of how I ended up there.

I was sitting next to a Nicaraguan woman on my second flight (Atlanta to Managua), a plane consisting mostly of tourists and volunteers, but few locals.  She was surprised that I speak Spanish.  (Well, my fluency is another matter, but I can more or less carry a long conversation.)

It was Reyna’s first time flying – she had made her way by car to Atlanta from her rural home in Alabama to make this flight.  She had immigrated from Nicaragua 18 years ago with her Mexican husband (via an 8 day journey over land), and hadn’t been back since.  The thing was… they had to leave their three boys — at the time just shy of 13, 10, and 3 years old — behind since they didn’t have the legal papers.  For whatever reason, what I can only presume as a chance to provide extra income for her family, they followed through with their plans and left the kids with their grandparents.  All subsequent contact was by phone.  As she talked about this, she cried.  Even I cried a bit.

Now, her kids have all grown up, and two of them are married, one with a little girl!  She had been sleepless for a week waiting for this moment.  18 years without seeing her loved ones, just about to end.  But her fears about flying for the first time, not knowing how to do anything, having to deal with mostly English-speaking staff, they were palpable in her face.  Just before takeoff, she grabbed my hand to show me how nervous she was.  Her palms were drenched in sweat.

She liked her life in Alabama – quiet, living on a farm, working in a clothing factory.  There weren’t many people living around, and even less who were Spanish speaking, but at least there was a small community of around 10 Nicaraguans in the area, all of whom she knew.  Flying, travelling, being in a big city… that didn’t appeal to her at all.  But of course, she’d do it for her family, and she was planning to stay in Managua for two months.  And she brought many things with her!  She admitted that her large family was poor, and so she brought back with her 5 pieces of luggage – mostly filled with clothes, but as I later found out when she went through customs and had her giant luggage searched, even a television and some random old but usable electronics.

I tried to keep her distracted during takeoff, turbulence, and landing, telling her that planes are safer than cars.  (I’m not sure if that’s actually true, but it wouldn’t surprise me.)  I helped her fill out her many customs forms, translated the announcements before they were said in Spanish (since she was confused as to what was going on), made sure to get her to look out the window once in awhile to see the sunset above the clouds, and finally to get her to see her home city from above (granted, it was all dark) when we got there.

To keep herself further distracted, she buried herself in her Bible.  Very Catholic indeed.  “Dios te pusó aqui conmigo!” is probably the most heartfelt, nicest compliment I’ve ever received.

We landed just fine, and as we walked towards the arrivals area with the crush of the crowd… there they were, her family.  Her three sons were already crying and sobbing as they gave her a group hug, and she was too.  One by one, she hugged the 10 or so other relatives present with her, while one of them filmed the whole thing on their old flip phone.  She met her daughter-in-law and her granddaughter (now 7 years old) for the first time!  Everyone was producing a bucket of tears and wailing, and it took a whole ten minutes before they started to settle down.  There were a few repeat hugs.

And there I was, standing right behind her.  I was filmed yelling to the airport agent who was helping her with her carts of stuff, telling him to stop and wait (he didn’t see us well behind him).  Well, that caught her relatives’ attention.  “No te vayas!” Reyna said to me as one by one, her relatives glanced at me.  Half of them were all like “who is this guy?”, but the others were shockingly nonchalant.

I was due to head to Granada immediately, via bus or taxi, since I had a hostel reservation for that night.  On the flight, Reyna had offered to get her family to drive me to the bus station, but I was told that the buses did not run that late at night (it was already 9).  Taxis were expensive, at $40.  So instead… she suggested that I just stay at her family’s place for the night!  Her eldest son nonchalantly agreed.  I was initially hesitant to abandon my reservation, but felt that their hospitality was something not to be turned down.

So off we went.  I was squeezed into the backseat of a van with her daughter-in-law, granddaughter, and two sons (five of us!), not exactly sure where I was going, but I just went along with it anyway.  As they drove around, her son who was driving pointed out parts of the city that they used to go to all the time, and enjoyed her shock at how much things had changed.

We drove into what seemed like a poorer neighbourhood, and stopped at her parents’ place.  It was a bit awkward sitting around witnessing a teary family reunion…then having the attention turned to me.  (Reyna constantly explained everything.)  While I tried to introduce myself a few times, no one particularly seemed to care, and they (even Reyna) eventually forgot my name to the point that I was just referred to as “el chinito” (“the Chinese boy”) for the rest of the night.  Of course, they just laughed when they realised that I could understand most of what they were saying…  But they were a very friendly bunch, especially when Reyna and her sons had to step out for a bit and left me alone with her parents and sister.

They asked me what I was doing in Nicaragua.  “Estoy aqui solo para pasear” is a very foreigner-oriented answer that merely confused them.

I tuned out for a bit and had to pause for a second.  I was sitting in some random person’s house in Nicaragua, absorbed into a family.  Just 12 hours ago, I was freezing in Boston.

It soon became apparent to everyone that I was exhausted.  I had taken two flights and started the day very early, while Reyna had some strong coffee on the flight and was just too excited to see her family again.  Also, I began to stop understanding what was being said to me… Functioning constantly in Spanish tires me out.  So they decided to let us go for now.  We walked to Reyna’s sons’ house.

It was…decidedly sparse.  Poor, yes.  Corrugated metal roof, no furniture, just a dusty tile floor and several rooms with mattresses on the floor, a washroom, an empty sink with an ant trail, a fridge, a hammock…  I wondered where they cooked.  No matter.  But I was grateful to have a roof over my head, and for them to offer it.  Reyna had brought an inflatable mattress home with her, so that was lent to me for the night.

I mentioned that I was thirsty.  One of her sons told me they had no cups, and just to use the sink.  I politely declined… probably not a great idea for a non-local to drink the water.  As I went to bed, they went to get food – Reyna hadn’t eaten in a long time out of nerves.

The heat was stifling, I was sweaty, couldn’t use the shower earlier because I didn’t know how, couldn’t sleep because of the rooster crowing (at every hour of the night…), the chirping geckos, some mosquitos, and of course, because Reyna and her sons were talking all throughout the night until 4 am.  I didn’t mind any of it.  She called her husband around 11 pm, with her sons huddled around her on the phone.  She wailed about the legal papers, so loudly and so emotionally that I got up to check on her.  Her eldest son was already hugging her, and motioned for me to join in.

At 7 am, I woke up her second son, and we took his motorcycle to the bus station.  I thanked him, and told him to thank Reyna for me.

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