I awoke this morning after a restless night’s sleep spent dreaming that contra armies were raiding Gigante. I really mustn’t read my book—Blood of Brothers, about the civil war in the 80’s—before I go to bed. It’s actually 2008 and the civil war is long over. Although, oddly enough, the president of Nicaragua is the very same man who was president during the war.
I awoke this morning and was thrilled to see daylight. As of last night, I now know what absolute and total blackness looks like. I found out during and after a very scary, very loud and very wet thunderstorm. Eyes closed. Eyes open. It didn’t matter. The same blackness, enveloping everywhere. Until, a rip of lightening lit up the sky and burned, I mean burned, my pupils with its brightness. When you’re above a small town, on a beach in Nicaragua, and the power goes out, no moon—it’s dark, cabrón.
It had been pouring all evening long, but nothing out of the ordinary. Juan, Adam and I put on Hay algo sobre María. The power kept flickering on and off, forcing us to restart the movie each time, and the rain kept getting louder, so finally we just turned it off and stared into space watching the rain. Louder it pounded, and Juan and Manuel went outside and dug a trench to divert the water from coming into flood the backroom. And I watched. Frightened, excited, a little wearied, I watched the rain. Watching the rain is one of my favorite pastimes here, and this storm did not disappoint, although with all the rain we’ve been having, it was a little draining. More rain. More water. More pounding water roaring overhead, pushing, pushing, down.
Adam, Juan, and I walked downstairs to cower under the zinc roof on the flooded ground-level (my classroom) and to watch the storm and ascertain the damages it might wreak. Amid our stupor of shock and awe, the same thought occurred to Adam and I at the same time—we were standing in three inches of water, barefoot, watching a lightening storm. In the only metal structure on a giant hill. I quickly turned to go back upstairs. Not a moment later, lightening struck. Actually, it struck at the Gigante beach, about half a mile away. I learned the next day it struck Gigante three times, twice on the beach and once on a tall tree next to one of my student’s houses, all within these 10 seconds of noise and fear and light. Lightening and thunder were simultaneous and the thunder screeched upon us, towered in its sounds, on top of us, in me shaking my stomach. It may have scared the crap out of me and I may or may not have screamed like a girl (drowned out by the louder-screaming thunder) and hid behind Juan (unseen in the blinding white light followed by complete blackness). And then the power went out.
Thank goodness that I found batteries for my headlamp and that it is now in functioning order. It was even sitting by my side in the common room, a rarity in itself. I grabbed my flashlight, holding onto it like a security blanket, and sat down to compose myself. We arranged our chairs and stared out at howling blackness, punctuated by pupil-burning whiteness. I had a beer to calm myself down. And then went to bed in absolute blackness.
I awoke exhausted from the night’s excitement, not expecting power and not finding any. Nor coffee, to my dismay. The morning and afternoon bled together in an exhausted rainy funk. Although I did finish my book, the 500-pounder, I mean pager, about Nicaraguan life and war. In an amazing stroke of Nicaraguan serendipity, the power came back on just as it was about to get dark.
I am irrationally attached to electricity. A young-ish guy came by on Monday to use the internet, and told me of how he was living with his friend, a Nicaraguan, 20 minutes inland, and that the house didn’t have electricity. So you go to bed… I asked. Yeah, at like eight, and I get up at 5:30, he said. It really doesn’t sound that bad, said I, and he agreed. Brio’s electricity went out for 24 hours not even the next day and I decided my affinity for electricity, and corresponding frustration when it disappears magically, has to do with expectations. It’s really the not knowing that gets to me, rather than life without it. Apparently, I am a planner, and I like to know what my day will look like—which is really just stupid as stupid can be in Nicaragua. Yet, still I think…I shouldn’t use my computer just in case it’s out for days and the batteries already dead, it could be out for days, I need to do laundry this weekend, are the drinks in the fridge still cold, what are we going to do tonight, when it’s dark…I swirl in my mind. And then in a split second, the fans start twirling, the lights switch on, the electricity mysteriously arrives and everything is for sure again, everything is known. The internet pops to, and I eagerly sign on to find that nothing is new and that I didn’t need it after all.
In many ways, Nicaragua has forced me to confront (or at least acknowledge) my discomfort with the unknown, specifically waiting through the unknown, through power outages that are generally short and unimposing but always last time-unknown. The rain, for one, makes every class period a question mark. Monday through Friday, at 10:00, 3:00, and 6:00, I peer over the roof, down the hill to the road where students arrive, and wonder… who might show up today? Will anyone show up? Composing a lesson plan in my mind for the various options that could ensure, one arrives or nine arrive, I wait. Selena, a reliable 11-year-old, appears on the horizon, her head bopping up and down as she struggles up the hill on her bike, and I remember why I’m here. 6:00 is still the problem class… no one showed yesterday, as I stood at my post watching the darkness roll in without any students accompanying it.
I awoke today to hot coffee which I so appreciated in all its glory. My original plan of an early morning run was dashed when I realized it had rained all night long, and still was, and would until the afternoon. However, my spirits were much improved from the day before. Juan and I had a lovely chat over breakfast about Nicaraguan politics, which I actually consider myself at least decently well versed in after reading a 500-page book about this very subject. I’m feeling a bit like a politics junkie whose source has dried up, especially since all this convention excitement is going on back home and I’m so far away. Talking Nica politics was a nice second, a good fix.
Three of my students in the morning class braved the rain—shocking—so we played food bingo for a mind numbing two hours. The good news is that I think they’re learning, and I’ve actually picked up a few Nicaraguan food terms along the way myself.
The rain broke after lunch for a bit. Neither Adam and I had left the hotel in three days and were both a bit stir crazy (I can’t run, he can’t surf) so we went for a walk to check out the surrounding roads and the rivers we heard had risen to new heights. Indeed, they had. There is actually a word for the little valleys in the road that turn into full rivers after rains—quebradas. We arrived at the first one (the quebrada mentioned in an earlier story with Ioxlina) and forged it. (I tried to forge the river but my oxen died…Oregon Trail, Nica style.) But actually, by forged it, I really just mean I rolled up my shorts and walked 12 feet across a muddy river. We continued through the shallow-flooded roads until we reached Rob’s reserve, Zacatan, and decided to walk through it to check out the once-dry waterfall we had seen only weeks before. If I wasn’t convinced before that my Chacos were worth all that damn money I paid for them, then consider me convinced, as our path mostly found us walking upstream in a fast-flowing, rocky creek. We wandered through trails, jumping in and out of the creek when we could, and made our way through the forest. The arrival at the waterfall was a bit anticlimactic after all this trekking, but it was much more about the journey than the destination. Where two weeks before, the ledge and the corresponding creek had been completely dry, now it was a flowing fall—about four feet, the pool below it, bubbling over with cold water. And then we walked down the creek, out the reserve, forged the river once again, and returned to Brio, content with our little adventure.
I awoke this morning, rolled over in a haze, and noticed the little red light on the surge protector was off. You know what that means…se fue la electricidad. No internet again, and I’m… again not knowing, wondering. Breakfast of scrambled eggs, gallo pinto, and tortillas, coffee, like normal, always delicious. One student shows up for my morning class. It’s clear as can be, so I’m not so happy with the wee-ones.
How can it possibly be Friday? I’m not sure I did anything this week. Actually, I am working on a few freelance articles to try to submit to travel magazines. One is titled, ‘why stray dogs suck in Latin America’ and recounts the now infamous Snickers bar story. I’m kidding. Actually, sort of.
And, four hours later, I walk into my room and find the fan merrily twirling along, acting as if it never stopped.