I just went to a Sunday morning church service in the beautiful yellow and red soaring cathedral in the middle of town, directly off the center plaza. I was walking by right at 11 a.m., the church bells started chiming, and I decided to attend the Catholic mass. This cathedral is emblematic of everything Granada. It is the centerpiece of the town, shifting colors as the sun ascends and descends, visible from the top of towering Volcan Mombacho and from everywhere in the city, occasionally in the same eyeline as Lake Nicaragua.
For some reason, I needed some sort of affirmation of… something. Perhaps cultural, perhaps Nicaraguan. I wasn’t that I expected a Catholic mass to provide that; it was more an interesting way to spend a Sunday morning, sitting in a cathedral with hundreds of practicing Nicaraguan Catholics, observing their observation of faith. It was a noisy service, in the open cathedral, as the ice cream man jingled his bells outside, cars honked, taxi drivers yelled; bright and breezy, the wind wandered in off palm fronds outside. The priest intoned far away up front, into a microphone, occasionally audible. Kids wandering in the aisle. It was nice to see Nicaraguans dressed in their Sunday best, families together, kids squirming as kids do in their seats.
A man came around with his collection bag, and a dirty street kid who sat through the entire service several rows in front of me called him over and dropped several pesos into the white, flowered bag, sagging with contributions.
I normally eat lunch outside of Centralito, a basic restaurant on the main street where volunteers get a 10% discount. Street kids come by all the time, begging for money or food, asking you to buy whatever trinkets they sell. As I’ve become a familiar face, they get more aggressive in their quest for alms. A couple of days ago, a boy who always comes by and asks me for money did what he always does: “dame un peso, solo un peso, tengo hambre,” he whispers, touching my arm. No, lo siento, I normally say, a believer that giving them money only perpetuates the problem; they usually move along at this point. But, this day, this boy sat down in the chair next to me and proceeded to harass me for the remainder of my meal, even after I asked him explicitly to let me eat in peace. “I’m hungry, give me food,” he said, attempting to grab at my plate. He pounded the table, I’m hungry, I’m hungry. I finally gave up, got up to pay, and left, irrationally angry at this little boy for harassing me. But mostly, angry at Nicaragua for perpetuating this problem, for turning a blind eye (even as I do the same) as its kids beg for money from foreigners; angry at parents for sending their kids out to beg, sad for those who don’t have parents; angry at the boys that spend the money they make on the streets to buy glue and sniff it, boys that then slump around the streets and harass foreigners because we must be rich (and, aren’t we?).
Even as I sit here typing this, vendors and peddlers come into the cafe and ask if I’d like to by ceramics, cashews, whistles, stickers; the variety of things for sale continues. I’ve started ignoring many of them, annoyed by their impunity, shoving things in my face and whistling loudly in my ear. I’ve said no, I’m sorry to at least fifteen in the past half an hour. I try to ignore them, because I don’t know how else to handle it, just as I don’t know how to handle all the kids who beg. I don’t want to turn a blind eye, but I also can’t not. But–then I’m treating them as if they’re invisible, invalidating their existence; and isn’t being invisible the most infuriating, degrading thing you can render on someone? I don’t know.
I also don’t know anything about this street kid who dropped money into the church collection bag, where he got his money, why his clothes are dirty, if he’s hungry or not; but even so, he dropped money into the bag and stayed for the entire service. There is something touching in that and that alone, quite apart from context or reason.
I’ve sort of been in a funk these past several days, homesick for something nebulous, consisting of people, place, things, all swirling together so that I long for things that don’t make sense. (For example: a pair of jeans, my bed, a hot shower, my running shoes, salads.) I think I hit some sort of three-month mark in which all things Nicaraguan sort of just grate at me and contribute to a hazy exhaustion which makes nothing easy. I haven’t been sleeping well because my house explodes around 8 a.m., and I am up, no matter what time I’ve gone to bed. I also haven’t been exercising as much as I should, which means that I am sorely lacking in those endorphins I love so much.
Even so, I had a lovely hour of just sitting in the breeze inside this church, missing home but somehow enjoying the feeling of missing something, people, and of being here. Nicaragua is beautiful and hot, sunny, hot, tropical, and it’s Sunday and I’m sitting here in a cafe, writing, so what else can I really ask for.