In the meantime: The conference went well, including an excursion with a handful of Dartmouth students to a bar called "The Library," where we were surprised to discover scantily-clad "librarians" dancing on the bar. We had a good time regardless. We even went to the STFM dance and had a marvellous time. I will detail all of that at some later time. Right now, I give you the first night's entry.
The first thing that strikes one is the heat. Indy was a sheet of ice, or impending ice, when we left; the first twenty miles of our journey south driven at a cautious pace. I have gone from winter rain to air-conditioning to the humorless climate-control of a jet at twenty-nine thousand feet. Stepping off, I am blanketed in summer.
They have improved this airport since last I strode off an airplane into the sweltering summer heat; we exit onto a walkway instead of bare tarmac, and the armed guards I remember so clearly are gone. But inside it is still a large and echoing barn; we stand in lost lines for a bored officer to stamp passports, scribble initials, and collect a $5 “Tourist fee” from each of us. He, like the security officer at the check-in gate, compares passport with name and scowls. I turn pages, show him the amendment. He is satisfied.
Customs proper is an open door through which we push luggage carts loaded with an assortment of bags. We have counted the medicine bags twice (nineteen) and each of us has seen his or her own checked luggage on one of the carts. My sleeping bag and pillowcase are still strapped to the top of my mother’s Jansport backpacking frame in total defiance of the ticketing agent’s dire warnings.
And we load ourselves into a schoolbus built in Indiana (Blue Bird, it reads on the side) and slide bumpily through the roads. This is a wild, poor, paradoxical, beautiful country. I grip the open window of our schoolbus and peer out, for all the world like a child again. My hands are dirty; my hands will be dirty from now until I leave. With the air cooling my face and lifting my hair (I knew I would lose my ponytailer before even arriving in Nicaragua) off of my sweat-soaked neck is carried away somewhat of the sticky, cloying quality of the air.
We pass Pizza Hut and Sherwyn Williams and Texaco and GlaxoSmithKline, obscene neon-lit havens of culter and American [I will not learn until much later that to the rest of North, Central, and South America our insistence on calling residents of the United States “Americans” is presumption of the most withering degree] sanctity scattering, bright, among houses with walls of corrugated shack-roof tin. Roses bloom wild over trellises warted with stone, whitewashed and graffiti sprayed. The air is heavy, hot, changing its scents from instant to instant – shit and sweat and dry earth and sewage and tropical, lush plants. The roses, lovely and brief, are scentless in the night.
There is a man, back turned, relieving himself against the wall in a splash that lasts our passing. A moment later, a white mongrel echoes him on white rose trellises. Music blares from passing cars; the Spanish-fluent in the bus snigger behind our windows. Children run in front yards that pass for sidewalks (or is it the other way around?); people loiter outside ubiquitous cantinas painted in bright colours and barred in white iron; open houses are decorated in plastic furniture and colourful hangings. Bare-chested men, insouciant youths; girls with the aching long-legged cleanness of adolescents; pouting teen-agers. There are trailer parks of bits and pieces our pour would throw out, an appaling poverty – and they abut on verdant expanses of land, Texaco stations, busy intersections. They hail our bus on corners, thinking we will provide them a ride.
The Casa has prospered, in the four years of my absence. It now has air-conditioning, televisions, new paint. A twist of fate lodges me in the same room as four years’ previous. I call my Angel, drag him out of bed to refill my phone card – 199 minutes free becomes 114 minutes talk time; I need to know that I can hear his voice when I am crazy with loneliness. The darling, the angel that he is, he has given me a card to open when I am lonely, and I ache for love, knowing that.
I buy a Victoria – Nicaraguan coolers are stocked with smooth and pleasurable beers – and sip it on the porch as noisy preparations are made to take the college kids (I feel os very strange, separate from all) to a cheap bar. Preparations are made; they pile inside a minivan. I decide not to go along: they are already stacked in the minivan and the appeal of a bar is low.
I join the adults instead; eavesdrop on a conversation about the way things are changing, the politics of the old site. We are going to a new location now, these last two years; the old one is politicized. They charge for those who do not share their political beliefs; they shun the man asking to teach literacy indiscriminately. Their practice has become capitalistic, hierarchical, this clinic of a commune of women – and we the capitalists are appalled. But such is the way of things. The seed planted there better than ten years ago now is a thriving growth; it is time for the planters to move on.
Do I miss my Angel already? I do, with the strange absence of something familiar gone. I will, when I curl into my bed to sleep tonight. But it is still don’t-touch-me hot and I do not need arms when the humid night is so amorous a paramour. The loneliness will come later; when novelty is familiarity, when the nights are still and soft and moonlit, when the village closes around me in isolation. Then will I find in me the ache that masquerades now as exhaustion, and cry myself to sleep. Now, however, I will drink smooth beer and listen to people speak in familiar rhythms. Tomorrow, perhaps, I will begin learning with pronouns.