The Life of Liz

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. ~Anne Frank

Friday, June 3, 2011

Neither Here Nor There

I am losing my grip on my identity. I don’t say that as necessarily a bad thing; it’s more of an observation I had occasion to make recently. Let me tell you about my past week and maybe you will understand what I mean.

On My Vacation From Hell:

The first part of this story takes place in Leon, in the campo (or countryside, if you prefer the English). If you happen to be from St. Louis, the best way to describe staying in Leon is: it’s like going girl scout camping in the Climatron. Freezing cold in the morning, super hot and muggy during the day, very tropical smelling, no basic sanitation.

I went with Eli, a brother, a sister, and their respective spouses to meet his grandmother (on his mother’s side) and the two remaining siblings I didn’t yet know (I have now completed the set of 10!). It was, in every conceivable way, a nightmare for Team Me. Indoor plumbing? No. Drunk uncle harassing me in super slurry, unrecognizable Spanish? You betcha. I tried so hard to have fun ‘cause Eli adores the campo; it’s the scene of his favorite childhood memories. Alas…

First of all, I should explain that I already had a cold when I left Managua. So I already wasn’t feeling great when we finally arrived around 9:30 at night and commenced standing out in the rain for a while. This is the point when the drunk uncle showed up and I very seriously considered running away in a panic. Then we took a twenty minute hike through the mountains to the place where we were going to sleep for the night. Now, I am not opposed to hiking in general, but I generally prefer it to happen during the day and not at 10:30 pm without a flashlight, in the mud.

After a lovely visit to the latrine, I went to sleep only to awaken a few hours later suffocating on my own snot. Sigh, I did not sleep well. 6:00 am rolled around and I was shown to the bathing room. Oh great, thought I, what fresh new hell awaits me now? The shower wasn’t so much a shower as much as it was a 50 gallon metal drum half filled with freezing cold water and a bowl. I did not break down into tears at that particular moment, but the day wasn’t nearly over yet.

Oh, did I mention I woke up without any voice? I couldn’t talk to anyone. Score. I don’t know if everyone thought I was stupid, shy, cold, rude, or just odd, but in any case, I don’t think I was much of a hit. I am also afraid I deeply offended Eli’s aunt by not eating much of anything the whole time I was there. Yes, I do like the food, I tried to assure her in my croaking whisper, I’m just not feeling well and not very hungry.

Since my body’s defenses were at a low point, the obvious next step was the spend the day under the hot sun with little water, riding a horse. As it turns out, Eli is a cowboy and he loves riding horses. He got up on a horse and made it do all kinds of fancy passes. I failed to make my horse go forward. So we ended up riding double to go and visit the cemetery where his mom is buried. I should mention that Nicaraguan saddles include a thick rope which secures the saddle to the tail of the horse. Guess what I was bouncing up and down on? When the horse started trotting, I gave Eli a nice introduction to the world of English swear words.

On the way back from the cemetery, Eli hands me the halter and tells me I need to learn to drive the horse (do you drive a horse? I don’t even know) for when we have a farm. I beg your pardon? I couldn’t be a bigger city girl. Never in my life have I entertained the desire to be closer to nature. I suggested maybe we discuss it later.

It’s also important to this story to  note that I have been having some troubles with my kidneys since I came to this super hot climate. This suddenly flared back to life when we got back to grandma’s house. Thanks horse. If you’ve ever had a kidney infection, you will understand how I ended up sitting on a rock beside the latrine, sobbing. At this point I did something that, in retrospect, was kind of shady and underhanded. I chose that particular moment, as Eli was holding my hands and would absolutely have thrown himself into a fire if it would make me stop hurting, to tell him that I don’t want to live in the campo, I hate animals, I don’t belong here. He promised me we could live in the States our whole lives if I wanted. He’s a good man.

The three hour drive home involved more pain and more tears for me. I nearly broke my finance’s hands from gripping them so hard. On the plus side, he’ll be marvelous when I’m in labor.

On a Trip to Jinotega:

The next day, fervently praying I’d recover from both my wicked cold and my kidney ills, I repacked my overnight bag and headed out with Rigoberto to join up with a group of young people from Pittsburgh here for a two week mission trip. After two days of feeling like a hopeless outsider, a clueless foreigner, I was looking forward to spending a couple days with my fellow Americans.

Except that I’m not so American anymore. For one thing, I can speak two languages. Let’s all take a moment to let that sink in a little, shall we? I CAN SPEAK SPANISH!!! YAYYYYYY. Ahem, back to the story. At the hotel, the proprietor made everyone sign in and all the Americans needed to write down their passport numbers as well but the locals didn’t need to. I didn’t take my passport with me and the lady didn’t seem to mind. Rigo and Cigar (the other local with the group, acting as their translator) told her I might as well be Nicaraguan and she accepted it.

For another thing, people already knew me. While I am still treated like an Honored Guest, I no longer feel like a Stranger. It made me really proud when the pastor of the church surveyed the whole group, then looked at me, turned to Rigo and said, “she’s one of us.”

I felt different from the other Americans. Really different. They were all very nice people, with great hearts, and I liked them a lot, but I couldn’t really relate to them. I remember a time when I was afraid of things like bugs and ate cereal for breakfast instead of rice and beans. I remember a life where I used to put on slacks and go to work every day, where I could go weeks without mopping the floor and not notice. I remember a time when I didn’t know that yucca makes you fart or that cashew trees bear fruit too, as well as nuts. I remember it, but vaguely, like looking at a favorite childhood toy. That life doesn’t fit me now any better than the clothes I brought.

I don’t have any tidy way of summing up who I am now, or exactly where I fit in this world, if anywhere. Mostly because I don’t really know. I feel neither here nor there most of the time. Sometimes I sing the National Anthem and feel a great swell of pride in being American, born in the greatest country on earth. Other times I am deeply ashamed of my country when I see us through other people’s eyes. I live mostly somewhere in the gray between.

Oh, and in case you were wondering. I accomplished nothing on the Jinotega trip as my cold ran wild in the cold mountain air. I went to the clinic (which turned out to be right across the street from the church, que suerte!) and the doctor, after listening to my lungs, gave me antibiotics and ordered me to go to bed and stay there before I developed pneumonia. He told me three times to rest, wrote it down, and even told me in English, so I figured he might be serious.

I am much better now.


Molly June 4, 2011 at 3:24:00 PM MDT  

AAAHHH! Your stories are so thrilling and genuine. I really enjoy watching you change and grow, and am not at all afraid that you cannot name your exact identity- can anyone? You are epic. You are awesome....and suerte :D I love you lady!!!

John June 4, 2011 at 5:00:00 PM MDT  

I love what God's doing in your life. Stay awesome.

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A brand new mom trying to navigate the crazy world of mixed families, babies, and working full time. Phew! Just writing that makes me want to lie down.


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