Nicaragua Story No. 1: Hot, sticky, sweet
Granada, Nicaragua. April 2015.
I press my face against the window streaked with mud. It’s hot and I’m sweating, my thighs chafing as they stick together under my long teal skirt. I wish I had worn pants. My throat is dry, and I daydream of home. I reminisce about air conditioning. Some wifi. A quick car ride to the farmers market where I can pick out anything I need from practically anywhere in the world. I’m lost in my thoughts. We’ve been driving for what feels like hours, but couldn’t have been more than 30 minutes. I glimpse out the window streaked with mud and my thoughts of luxurious pleasures cease — a little boy is clinging to his young mother, tears running down his dirty face. I wonder if she just wants to go pee alone. I wonder if the pressure of motherhood that’s so present in developed countries weighs on this young mother’s shoulders like it does on mine.
Is she expected to always be “on”?
To feed her child organic, locally grown meals and to never glance at her phone when her kids are around?
Is she being given the side eye by people in the market, her child crying a mark of her failings as a mother?
I breathe a sigh of relief while stifling down an overwhelming stab of sadness. Thirty more feet.
A middle-aged woman hauls a cart full of pigs down the road. She stops and lifts a wriggling piglet by its hind legs to show to a prospective buyer. I’m sad for the pigs. They’re going to be someone’s dinner soon.
Another stretch of road. An old woman, selling pineapples to locals and tourists, shaded from the hot sun by a beach umbrella that looks like one I have at home. Locals hand her money, take their fruit, and continue on to the next stand. Tourists haggle. Bargaining a pineapple down from five cordobas to however low they can get it. She shakes her head no. I can see the exhaustion in her face — deep wrinkles making years of hard labor visible. Some of them leave, opting out of the pineapple in hopes that they’ll find a better deal later. Some of them hand her the cordobas and smile. “Gracias,” they exchange. Pineapple for money. Money for pineapple. The money goes in her apron, pulled tightly around her aging body. I wonder about her life.
Is she a mother?
Do her daughters come over for dinner? For advice about love and life?
Does she miss her own mama?
The chicken bus comes to a halt, dust stirs up all around. It’s the last stop and everyone stands up at once, eager to be escaping the suffocation of hot, sticky, tired strangers. Locals and tourists. Mothers quickly gather their children and their baskets full of empanadas and bagged horchata. Tourists, we take our time.
Everyone is off the bus and it lurches away, the driver eager to pick up another round of hot, sticky, tired people. Another round, another 40 people, another 200 cordobas.
I wander through the market, my thighs burning with each step. The trash-lined streets, the dozens of stray dogs nosing around the piles of trash in hopes to find some scraps, the unsupervised children wearing threadbare shirts as they kick cans down the sweltering sidewalk. I want a pineapple. I find the old woman, the pineapple woman. “Hola” I mumble, so weak in my Spanish that I hate even trying. She ignores me, I’m a greedy tourist. She’s right. I am. I pick up a pineapple and I put it back down. I spot a bag of pre-cut pineapple and ask “How much?” She tells me. 10 cordobas. Even in Nicaragua, they understand the price of convenience. I hand her 2 coins, take my bag of pineapple, opening it as I walk away. I don’t have a fork so I reach my fingers into the plastic bag. Hot, sticky, sweet. The acidity burns my mouth and my stomach - it’s the first thing I’ve eaten all day. Hot, sticky, sweet. Another piece goes into my mouth. Then another. And another. Hot, sticky, sweet. I eat the whole bag of pineapple. I want more, but I’m too shy to go back to the old woman, the pineapple woman, for more.
All I can think about is my daughter. I’m here and she is there and it pains me. It was my choice to let her go live with her dad. It was my choice to board a plane to Nicaragua. It was my choice to trade in school drop-offs for crowded hostels. It’s not that simple, of course. Is anything ever that simple?
I wander the market, my thighs burning so badly I think I might cry, and spot another pineapple woman. Younger, this time, but probably more exhausted than the old pineapple woman. Two small girls play at her feet. One of them tugs on her skirt and yells “mama” and she sighs. The other throws a rock at her sister. Their mother doesn’t reprimand her but her eyes give away her emotions — she is tired, the kind of tired that only a mother can be. I buy another bag of pineapple. Hot, sticky, sweet. I stash it in my daypack and save it for later.
My thoughts wander back to my own daughter. Her blond hair, her moon-shaped eyes, the way she calls me mama. My heart aches. In that moment, I’d do anything to go back in time and choose differently. I want to scream. Right there in the market, in a foreign country, surrounded by strangers. I miss her. I want her back. All I can think is “What have I done?”
I don’t scream. I swallow the pain and the shame and get on a bus, with dirty windows same as the last. I press my face to it and watch as we drive away. The faces that I see through the streaks in the glass reek of desperation, of complacency, of knowing that no matter how hard it is it is all that is. The dust from the bus settles over them, another layer keeping them bound to their pineapple stands. Hot, sticky, tired.
Back at the hostel, I share the rest of my pineapple with friends I'll never see again. The sticky sweetness drips down our fingers and faces as we laugh, connecting deeply, easily, temporarily in the way that travelers do. In their easy friendships, I find comfort and peace. All of us daughters, me a mother, all of us lost, seeking, healing in our own ways. It’s in this moment that I realize that not all of our mothers give birth to us.