Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Interlude/Prelude to an Epilogue: And Now What?

My roommate Alan left on Thursday. Alan got here a day after I did. He's become a good friend to me as has John, my other roommate.

I leave in less than a month. Back to Denver. I realize a month is still a lot of time - hell, most people don't get to spend one month doing what I've been doing let alone five months. Even still Alan's imminent departure has put it in the forefront of my brain: I have to go back. And I don't know how to or what to do and, quite honestly, why I should.

Not entirely true, I know why I do have to go back: Money. My house. My dogs. Some people I dearly love and care for that I want to see. My health has taken a bitch slapping here and I need to go back to the States where I eat a little better, am not constantly surrounded by people who chain smoke and hence have me chain smoking.

Don't get me wrong - I love Nicaragua. Giacomo Belli described Nicaragua as 'The Country Under My Skin' in her book with the same title and Nicaragua is under my skin, it's where I feel at home, it's where I know how to navigate the universe a little better than maybe I do in Denver, language barrier and all. And I love Granada. Calle Santa Lucia has been my home for more of the past year than any place else. That said, I don't want to spend the rest of my life here.

Before I decided to come back here I did plan on leaving the country again for a period of time. My initial plan was to go to Cambodia and Southeast Asia for a while. But I loved the work I did here, loved the project, and have a weird phobia of a meaningless life. So I came back. And I have worked hard. And I am proud, so proud, of the work that's been done and the amazing people I work with. But I have no intention of settling here permanently, though it would be easy to do so given the resources.

The world is a big place. There's a lot of other places - and a lot of other projects - I'd like to work on. Occasionally I have to be a grown up and make some money. And I don't want to spend the rest of my life a transient - one place to the next. I always want to travel but I need to set up a homebase some place, somewhere that when I come home actually feels like home. Where will that be? I don't know. But I do know it won't be Granada. And I need to figure it all out.

I'm not convinced I know how to do that - figure it all out.

In a month I have to get back on a plane. I know when I get on the plane it's going to feel like I just left yesterday but when I get off the plane my life is going to be completely different than it was when I left. I left in the middle of winter, owning a car, having some relationships I don't have any more. Even with my good friends in States there's a crevasse of time and space that we've sort of been yelling across for the past few months.

The people who know me in the States who have come to see me in Nica have made the same comments - you seem lighter here, easier, more in your element. I don't know how much of that has to do with Nicaragua itself. I have a weird skill, an odd tic - I am the most in my element when I am the farthest away from what is comfortable. I'm quite sure that if you put me in Phnom Penh or Estonia or Senegal I would seem more in my element than I do in Colorado. Unfortunately, however, this is not a terribly marketable skill.

I don't know how to re-adjust to the US. The thought of chain stores, super highways, convenience stores - just seems so damn complicated. I don't drive a car here. I ride a bike or I walk. And I won't even get into the work issue. Here I work hard and I do dirtier, harder work than I would in the States. But I keep odd hours, have no real 'boss' - you can't really count Donna as a boss. The thought of a desk tying me down eight hours a day is completely incomprehensible. As is the thought of going back into an American animal shelter - with all their funding and equipment - to work.

Think about it for a second, though - I have been gone for five months. I have not really used American currency, been in a big box store, done all the things we do every single day in the States. I kiss people on the cheek when I meet them here. I am used to being called 'La Finn' or 'Feen'. I buy most of my food from neighbors who cook it in their houses or on the street. Enormous amounts of my time are spent living outside of my comfort zone.* I am constantly surrounded by noise and friends and stimulation. Not artifical stimulation - not TV or radio or what have you - but actual stimulation - people in the streets, endless parades, loud music, sidewalk parties. My life is lived primarily outside. My living room where I work on my computer, watch the BBC, eat, is an outdoor courtyard. For the most part if I'm inside I'm doing stuff in the clinic or sleeping. The only time I wear actual shoes is to work and I hate wearing shoes. I cannot imagine the silence, the sterility, the formality of the States again.

Meanwhile Alan's hammock sits empty - the green and white one closest to the TV. For a day or two we left his stuff up by it - the big bottle of weird juice stuff he was always drinking, his enormous ashtray. He left it like that when he left and we jokingly referred to it as a shrine to Alan. The next day the cleaning lady came and picked it all up - put his juice stuff in the fridge, emptied the enormous ashtray.

But his absence made me think. Alan used to listen to all my existential crises, my relationship woes. And as Alan has said to me a million times in response to said crises and woes, while lighting his trademark cigarette, 'Well there's really no sense in worrying about it now, is there?".

Though with a little over three weeks remaining, it might be a good time to start worrying about it.

Godspeed Alan. I miss your odd brand of Manchester-Accented-Football -Screaming-Antisocial Zen already. Thank you for being such a good friend to me, mi hermano.

And Then The Remedy: Into The Ocean

For the first time since the now-infamous Kidney Infection Incident, I went back to the ocean.

I didn't go to Las Penitas. From what I understand everyone I know out there is fine, though the hotels are tore up something awful. A Nica friend was really excited about a party in San Juan Del Sur so I went there. They stayed one night, I stayed three.

It's been a long time, two months, maybe more - since I've gotten to be out on the waves. I blew the first hour badly. Sometimes I forget that surfers taught me to boogie board which is a bad thing and I am not a surfer, nor am I even a swimmer. I have no business paddling out past my head and trying to catch anything before it breaks. Particularly at Majagual. Las Penitas is rough - it's got a bad cross break and it's easy to get tumble dried even in the shallows.** Even at high tide, Majagual is positively gentle comparatively as well as incredibly shallow. You can get a nice, long ride without going out past your neck. But the first hour I get nothing - I ride in a few feet and lose the wave, bob around endlessly.

I come in for a drink of water and a guy from DC gives me some golden advice I forgot "jump that bitch when it's whitewater and ride it like you own it all the way to the beach".

Thank you, generic DC guy.

The first decent ride feels like sex, love, Christmas morning, the Easter bunny, chocolate and really good sushi all rolled into one. By the fourth one I'm spinning the board, rolling it, having a blast. And for the first time since I got sick I feel alive, really alive, again. All better now. I've been all better for a while but there's just something about the ocean that makes everything one hundred and twenty percent better. Yes my eyes sting, I spit salt water, I still suck pretty badly, my 'active sport' sunscreen lets me down and it will take me hours and a bucket of conditioner to undo my terminal case of saltwater hair but it's all good. Todo es bien.

Coming back? Todo es bien. Having no clue what to do next? Todo es bien. Everything is okay. The ocean, like an old friend, is here. And I'll be back at least twice before I have to leave. And on top of this being the easiest beach to ride, it also has a lot of good memories for me. After a while I take a nap on my board. I wake up, go in the water again. In the trees near the beach the howler monkeys are hooting bloody murder at each other. The Pepsi from the bar at the beach is too sweet but they don't have diet. Todo es bien.

That night I sleep the sleep of the dead. The happy dead.

* I am not a toucher - the cheek-kissing is part of living outside of my comfort zone but it's a Nica thing - it's rude to not do it. They do it when you are introduced, when you say hello, when you say goodbye - men, women, everyone. And a lot of Europeans do it, too. It's kind of funny that the queen of the hands-off-stranger will have a terrible habit to break regarding NOT kissing people she doesn't know when she first meets them. Other things outside my comfort zone: dancing. Everyone - EVERYONE - here dances. In the streets, in the bars, in the clubs, everywhere. It took my Nica friends a long time to accept that not only will you never see me move like I come from Columbia, I will not even try. As for the 'La Finn' thing, that's a weird Nica tic - I don't know if they only do it with extranjeros or people with one syllable names or what but there are people here who refer to me only as 'La Finn' or my roommate as 'El John'.

** I've taken some fantastic tumbles in my life but my last trip to Las Penitas included one so monumental it can only be described as epic. And I learned a valuable lesson regarding the inadvisability of string bikinis in rough surf. I now have my boogie boarding bikini which is the equilivalent of a straight-jacket - nothing is making that thing come off. Nothing.

***Another odd site note about surfing and surfers that has nothing to do with anything: most surfers can't really surf. Yes, they paddle out, yes they essentially come in a bit and some actually manage to stand up on the board but not very many people can actually surf surf. And I don't just say that from being at Majagual - I've watched surfers all over the east and west coast of the US, I know a lot of surfers. The people that are actually good enough to get up on a wave and ride it are a small percentage. Honestly, there's a lot of men in this world who just need to get over the whole ego thing and buy themselves a damn boogie board. ****
*****And yes, there will be an animal entry coming soon - this isn't the epilogue yet. But the infamous photo stuff: First pic, flowers outside my room in SJDS. Second, abandoned Texaco station near Mombacho, third, beach at Majagual. Fourth: some serious saltwater hair. *****