It was dark early, in El Hormiguero, which is a town where the only electricity was the kerosene-powered generator we brought with us to run the dental equipment and charge our opthalmoscopes. It was dark early, and the stars were bright and beautiful and so close, so very very close. Why is is that the exchange for civilisation is a loss of the stars? It was dark early, and we only had so much kerosene, carried on a cattle truck ride from Siuna or by mule back from the city, and the generator was loud and dirty. It was dark early. The local women brought us candles - twenty Cordobas for a dozen - about a dollar a pack. Each candle burned for an hour or two. We played euchre, which it appears is a game found strictly in Indiana and the Church of the Brethren. What a shame that is. We played euchre and drank seven-year rum, golden and dark and so smooth it would make you weep for the shit that is passed off as rum here. And Paul and Mark had their guitars, and Don had his harmonica (just the C one, mind you, so everything was in the key of either C or G), and I knew all the old songs they played. It became a game, almost, trying to find a song I didn't know at least the chorus of. It's not the first time I've been told I'm too young to know the songs I sing. And then they stumbled on "Country Roads".
Country Roads by John Denver
Almost Heaven, West Virginia!
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.
Life is old there, older than the trees.
Younger than the mountains,
Blowing like a breeze.
Country Roads, take me home
To the place I belong.
Mountain mama, take me home
All my memories, gather round her,
Miner's lady, stranger to blue water.
Dark and dusty, painted on the sky,
Misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye.
I hear her voice,
In the morning hours she calls me.
The radio reminds me of my home far away.
And driving down the road,
I get a feeling that I should have been home yesterday,
I don't know how I'd never heard it. They didn't know how I'd missed it.I love John Denver. But I caught on quickly, and ever since then I've never been able to hear the song without thinking of those nights in Nicaragua, in a little village called El Hormiguero - The Anthill - at the end of a long and winding, unpaved road, two days' travel from Managua.
To be fair, I should tell the bat story while I'm talking about Nicaragua. This is one of Mom's favourites in all my travel stories.
They didn't have electricity in El Hormiguero, as I mentioned. We had flashlights and we had candles, and the candles were cheaper and more reliable. They also didn't have plumbing, but the school we'd set up the clinic in had two very nice outhouses. Nice, as far as outhouses went. No stink, really, and the four-inch spiders were harmless, and the cockroaches that lived in the toilets only came out at night. It became custom to walk into the outhouse and stand quite still with one's candle, letting the spiders and the cockroaches and the miscellaneous other insects remove themselves to the dark corners before taking the cardboard toilet seat (wrapped in duct tape for extra damp-proofing) and setting it down on the toilet. And then it was custom to drip a little wax on the beam on the back of the door and settle one's candle in the hot wax so that one didn't have to hold the candle while doing what one had come to the outhouse to do.
It is important to note that the doors to the outhouses opened inward. This will come into play later.
So, one late night around 9 PM I go down to the outhouse, and I perform the rituals of ablution. And I stand up and reach for the cardboard toilet seat, and there is a flutter and a whoosh, and Something Black shoots up out of the toilet.
I like bats. I think they're cool. But when they come flying out of the toilet unexpectedly, and the wind from their wings blows out my candle, leaving me in a Very Dark Outhouse, I tend to think a bit irrationally. Okay, I panic. So does the bat, not having expected to be Peed Upon, I would imagine, or to be Suddenly Swatted At. It flutters around the outhouse, discombobulated and searching for its Usual Exit (the door, I would assume), I flail around the outhouse, forgetting that the doors open Inward, and manage to jam the door shut. In my panicked state, I am convinced that I've locked myself into the outhouse, because now the door won't open at all, and that the Bat is going to Eat Me. It took me a good hard several yanks before I got the door open, grabbed my candle, and came tearing up the walk toward the school, wailing that a Bat had just come Flying Out of the Toilet and tried to Kill Me.
Everyone laughed at me. It's all right. Now that I look back at it, I laugh too.