I missed the truck ride into town. Not surprising, so I decided to start walking.
I needed to escape; the last 8 days had been some wild ones hanging with the English and Kiwis. We had some laughs. When you spend that much time together you become a cog in the wheel and no one wanted me to leave. I had to sleep with my backpack so they could not steal it to keep me from moving on. We all speak the same language, but the English and Kiwis have so much slang that I only understood half of what they said. I had learned a lot in the last week. I told them in the future they should carry a dictionary of their slang for people who plan on hanging with them for more than a week. It would avoid some misunderstandings, but then again some of them were quite funny.
I was walking along at a good clip feeling the freedom of the dusty road. It was a dry land with a diversity of trees that were quite enchanting to look at. As I walked along, it felt like all living things were trying to suck the moisture out of me. There was a scattering of houses along the road all blasting music. They looked more like the outbuildings you would see on ranches in Wyoming, but no people lived in these buildings with their families. I would get the occasional wave from people out doing their morning chores, then the houses gave way to the wildness of the land and that winding road.
I heard them before I saw them—ump ump and getting louder—I looked up to see about 14 howler monkeys in one tree all moving out on the limbs to get a better look at me. What a collection of characters. One old boy had his knees high, elbows on the wing, scratching his cheek head tilted to the side wondering who I was. I had a good visit with them, got a chuckle out of it all and walked on.
I was getting hot and dried out. I knew that two miles from the beach camp was a little store, so I kept up my pace in anticipation of some cold juice. I got there with a powerful thirst and was greeted by a young boy holding a baby followed by the mother. I stood under the shade of that porch sucking down cold juice while the boy with baby moved closer to watch. I looked out on that wild land thinking it looked so much better from the shade. I said my goodbyes and walked out into the heat of the day, which was building fire. Just when I was thinking about hitching, a truck came along and offered me a ride. Good karma. They were headed into town. The teenager sitting next to me had on a baseball uniform and looked eager for the game. We stopped next to a cornfield and he got out and walked right into the corn. Christ, so it is true the story of the playing fields.
They say Leon is one of the safest cities in Central America. It is also one of the hottest. It is not a big tourist destination, so when I walk down the street I DO NOT FEEL LIKE A DOLLAR SIGN but a human being. Students stop me in the street to practice their English and ask where I am from. It is an old city with many churches that rise up against the faded buildings, radiating the passions and pains of the past. They still use horses here so the streets are full of horse and buggies that move construction supplies and serve as collectivoes to carry as many as 20 people like taxis.
At times it reminds me of Cuba, but here many of the children go hungry. Nicaragua is poor so that we can be rich; U.S. foreign policy has exploited this country for decades. There are many street kids here, some look 6 but they are really 12 and 14. The glue they sniff to take away hunger pains has stunted their growth. Last night when Joanna and I were eating at an outdoor café, the kids waited in the shadows. When they felt we had eaten all we could they asked us very politely if they could eat our leftovers, shyly taking away our plates. In the park there are many young barefoot boys who shine shoes. I get mine shined a lot to help a little. At times the boys argue with one another because they feel I am their customer and no one else should shine my boots. When they argue, their faces are those of grown men. Life is very hard here for them.
Las Tias means “aunts” and is an organization that the women of the market started to help out the street kids. I am working with some of the young men who are carpenters and are making furniture to sell in the market so the profits can help feed the children. They need tools, a planer, a good table saw. They are good workers, but it is hard for them to compete. I do what I can to help. Las Tias has two buildings—one for the young kids and another for the teenagers. Two days ago I visited the one with the children. It was so wonderful to see these kids looking so happy. When they look you in the eyes and smile it goes clear to your soul.
Then came the Americans from the Southern Baptist church. They made the kids line up on the basketball court and roared out their indoctrination. I had to leave. The church is dividing Latin America, telling teenagers not to use birth control and of course no abortions. Many young girls become mothers too early in their lives. It is a very big problem, and families are divided. Las Tias has no choice because these groups bring food and money so they have to swallow the conditions that are attached. They provide dental care but only if you go to church first. This city is raw. It is life and I feel happy here.
It was a hot night, so I decided to eat on the street—one of those places that had an outside barbecue with all the meats, potato, and salad for a whopping dollar. I sat at a table that faced a gothic looking church. It looked bigger against the dark sky. The food was good. I ate with ease and watched the action of the street unfold. A motorcycle went by with the boy in front driving, the father behind him and the mother in the way back riding side-saddle, her hands folded in her lap. How she managed to stay on is beyond me, but I think it is a genetic ability for all the women of Latin America can perform this feat. An old Fiat came to a stalling rest in front of me, the driver trying the starter a few times before coming out, opening the trunk, pulling out a stick and sticking it in the gas tank. Now I can relate to that little number. He then calmly took out a gas can, told the two women who were riding with him the news. They got out laughing and stood by the car calmly talking while he walked down the road with his gas can. A young girl was sweeping the street around me. This is a country of sweepers and moppers. Now I have always considered myself pretty handy operating the old broom, but this girl had the moves, pure poetry of the broom. I was entranced with her magic. The clopping of the horse hooves took me away from it. A man driving the horse and cart, standing up and screaming at the taxis that were trying to force him off the road. The women cooking at the grills were laughing at it all. The walls of time divided by the old and new. The man with the gas can returned, giving the hungry tank a little something to drink. The ladies climbed back in and off they went, you got to love it.