A Life in the Present

As I watched the microbus pull away, I felt the sinking feeling in my stomach again. This was a feeling totally new to me, and not easy to define. It bordered on the lines of terror, curiosity, and helplessness. Throughout my time of study I had briefly greeted this feeling, but now it had decided to skip the gut and go straight for the chest. The pressure was rising into my throat and I was on the verge of tears. But I held it together; trusting that these strangers I just met will take care of me. Either way I didn’t have a phone or computer or any way to escape even if I wanted to since I had no idea where I was or where I was about to go. So I followed them blindly, surrendering to my fear and helplessness.

We passed by my host mom’s daughter’s house in El Crucero before heading to the rural community where I would be living for the next six weeks, called Santa Julia. As I tried to catch bits and pieces of rapid campo Spanish, I discovered they were trying to decide how to transport my gigantic gringo-sized suitcase. Finally I saw my host dad, a flaco, offbeat war veteran nicknamed “El Zorro” (“the fox”), zip up on his motorcycle as my host brother propped my suitcase on the back and hopped on as well, sandwiching the suitcase between them. That wasn’t even the best part. An older gentlemen on a horse trotted by and hoisted my barrel of purified water behind him, continuing down the path like this was perfectly normal.

Looking back, I see this was a humorous insight into Nica culture lesson No. 1: Strangers will go out of their way to make sure you get where you need to go. And without much thought or planning, things always seem to fall into place. This insight continued to ring true my first day in the campo as my host mother, Lola, and I started the trek on foot to Santa Julia.

One Cannot Exist Without the Other

I could feel the upheaval as soon as I entered the room. My mom was nowhere to be seen, and my Nicaraguan host dad, Reynaldo, was shuffling around in the kitchen. It was early in the morning, and he was aimlessly pacing around. Eventually, he put away a rusty metal serving spoon, hanging it on a nail in the wall. He turned to grab a wooden bowl off the windowsill, stared at it, and put it on a different shelf. He didn’t seem to know what to do with himself.

I was new to most things in Nicaragua, but I knew for certain that my father was not the normal family cook. Although I had seen him in the kitchen several times, it was only to bring pichingas full of water, chopped firewood, and sacks full of lechuga inside for my mother.

My dad looked at me, gestured toward the steamy arroz and frijoles warming on the clay stove, and said, “Your mother is in town today for a routine doctors appointment. She made breakfast before she left this morning.”

Really? I thought to myself, She’s gone one day and my dad can’t make his own food? I knew men and women in Nicaragua were expected to fulfill certain roles in the household, but this seemed ridiculous. I finished eating my arroz and frijoles by myself and walked back to the bucket of water sitting on the wooden countertop. Normally, my mother would take away my dishes before I had a chance to wash them, but today I was on my own.

To My Mother


On cold and snowy Colorado nights, when with the turn of a knob I can have a hot bath, I think of you. On beautiful sunny days when the sky, framed by evergreens and rugged mountains, is a blue you can’t believe until you see it, I think of you. When it rains and the rivers and streams turn to rust from the rocks and hills around them, I think of you, and the red dirt of Zimbabwe. It’s as if the rocks I climb here wash away until they become the dust that coated my feet as I walked the streets of Bulawayo, where you became my mother.