Sunday, December 21, 2014


My stalker.

His sister-in-law is my good friend, Martha, and before Martha and her hubby broke up I hiked up to their farm a handful of times to give spontaneous, ineffective English lessons and drink coffee.

Pablo is what you would call a strong man – his muscles have the benefit of a thin layer of fat over them, making him look as powerful as he is. Close to 6 feet tall, his frame is broad and round. At this point in time he was 21 years old and had been working on coffee farms since he was 5.  His facial features are soft, his nose being the most distinctive characteristic because of the pockmarks dug into the skin.

His rather un-impressive physiognomy was made up for by his serious manner, which, after a short time interacting with him was shown to contain an intense passion for poetry. His calmness, too, proves to be a controlled façade of his quick, deep shifts from mood to mood, which you could see in the clenching of his jaw and the hardening of his small, dark eyes.

I spent so much time observing him because the family refused to let me walk the 20 minutes back to my house alone, insisting it was far too dangerous. They may have thought that, or they may have been trying to set me up with Pablo. Or both.

We walked back from the farm chatting as best we could, as my Spanish was still less than fluent. He would tell me the names of flowers, trees, and birds, and point out sloths and howler monkeys that lived in the trees lining the small trail. I appreciated his knowledge and the palpable love he had for his surroundings. He talked animatedly about Ruben Dario, the most well known poet in Nicaragua. Poetry is an almost sacred thing here; poets are extremely respected and honored.

It became clear immediately the Pablo was a smart, determined, hard-working person. It also became clear that he let his emotions rule over his logic. He had a slight stutter that worsened when he felt defensive or upset. His frustration when things were not done or said in the “correct” way was obvious and alarming. Once he laughed derisively in my face when I said that yes, I did believe in evolution, and I could not understand why his reaction made me feel at once evil and stupid for believing it. After three times walking back with him, and three times having my arm jerked forcefully in its socket when he pulled me in to kiss me on the cheek, I resolved not to walk back with him ever again.  I dreaded going to the farm, or running into him in town.

When he started sending me text messages, I replied at first to be polite. I had not personally given him my number – Martha had, without my permission. His text messages talked about how beautiful he thought I was, how much in love with me he was, that I was the most amazing woman he’d ever met. When I stopped replying to his messages, he would send me 20 within 30 minutes, telling me in various was that he couldn’t understand why a woman so “bella” could be so “difícil”.  In one text he would insult me or say that I was insulting him. In the next he would praise my voice, or face, or gracefulness.

His grandmother, when she saw me in town, would ask me why I wasn’t coming up to the farm anymore. I told her that Pablo was sending me strange messages and calling me repeatedly and it made me feel uncomfortable. She refused to believe it, saying that he would never do that because he was a respectful boy, and that I must not be telling the truth.

Once, the grandmother called me, and said that Pablo was sorry and that I should come up to the farm. I told her I would be willing to talk Pablo about the situation in my living room if he desired. Later, when Pablo called me to talk with me, I told him I would not talk over the phone. He neither called nor texted me again for months… The next time I saw him was at a boxing match. I was with my boyfriend. Pablo was wearing a white tank top, black jeans, cowboy boots and nothing else. His shiny black hair was spiked into a small mohawk and he glanced over at me and Leonel consistently and pointedly, after which his friends would look at us and they would all laugh. I was terrified. His unbalanced messages had made it clear to me that he was potentially dangerous. Luckily, nothing happened, but I was paranoid for my boyfriend and myself for the next week.

Pablo disappeared from my life for so long that I had almost forgotten about him. Then, two weeks ago, my phone got a call at almost midnight from an unknown number. I answered because of the potential of it being an emergency – a friend, family member… it was Pablo. I was very confused and half asleep. “Pablo? Who is that?”

“You don’t remember me? It’s your friend, Pablo, Martha’s old brother-in-law… You must remember me. Were you sleeping? Why don’t you like me? Why don’t you come up to the farm?”  I didn’t feel fear, just annoyance at the absurdity of the situation, and at being woken up. I hung up and saved the number in my phone as “Pablo, stalker.” Never a dull moment in this life.

NOTE: I use the term “stalker” because that is what the Peace Corps Safety and Security Officer used when I called him to get advice and support early on. I do not use it in a sarcastic way. Stalking is a serious crime and paralyzing threat to the victims. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014


      The 6th of August is her birthday. She turned 26. The 27th of June is her daughter’s birthday, and when Gigsa celebrated her 26th year, her daughter was celebrating her 40th day.  She has no other children. I first met her before she was pregnant, but it is a vague memory. I really got to know her when I went to work in a community about a 3 hour truck ride away from the main town, where she was living and working as a nurse. 
     While staying in her health post I was at first nervous that she would feel like I was encroaching upon her space. But she welcomed me, and spoke to me that first night, us lying on our separate beds, as though we’d been friends for years. She rested on her side, her belly firm, large, perfectly round resting on the bed. My own belly was considerably smaller and softer and less perfect. I spent much of the week comparing her thin legs and arms to my ample ones, unable to shake the thought that my body would be better prepared to house and give birth to another human. 

       That night, she told me of how she came to be pregnant. There was a young man who lived across the street. His mother cooked the daily meals for Gigsa and the doctor of the moment (the doctor in the health post changed often), so he was known to her on a personal level before they became intimate. He was kind to her through the courtship, but while they were dating he starting seeing other women, so she broke it off with him. And then missed a period. 
        In addition to having a clashing blood-type with the fetus inside of her, she was terribly anemic throughout her pregnancy because almost everything she ate, her stomach forced her to throw back up. It was a terrifying sight, her tiny bones wracked again and again and again and again by the heaving expulsion of anything from tortilla to soup to meat to juice.

         Gigsa comes up to my chest - almost - but her bust size would be more fitting on somebody my height. She has dark, dark eyes, they look like bullets, and she is almost always smiling, even when she is crying, showing crookedly attractive teeth. Her family has chickens and pigs and 2 dogs and 7 children and a mother and a father and a beautiful garden in the back. They only have cotton curtains for doors because they are well known and loved in the community and don't worry about being done wrong. 

        "I know I'll love the little girl," she said to me in between complaining about the father and talking in a tearful voice about how she'd almost had an illegal abortion. Part of the reason she was tearful was because she already did love the little girl. The other part of the reason was that she still didn't want to be a mother. 
         However, the little girl (whose name changed from Neylgin to Natalia to Gisela to Nineth and finally landed on Neylgin Natalia) was born. The labor was intense, Gigsa unsurprisingly weak due to the life-sucking pregnancy. She and many of the health center workers were certain she wouldn't be able to finish the job... She did, though, coached along by the director of the health center.  She is now the most devoted of mothers, falling in love daily with Natalia's chin, nose, feet, and gurgling noises. My boyfriend and I visit her, and after the customary coffee I spend an hour on Gigsa's hard bed staring at her sleeping miracle or cuddling her throughout the house while she and Leonel do all the talking.

         Gigsa cannot keep a secret to save her life, energized as she becomes by passing on the latest chisme but you tell her everything anyways because she is always quick with a witty or raunchy reply. She is also the best listener. She looks right into your big eyes with her infinite night-sky ones and you know she wants to understands you, even when she can't quite.
         Her family bakes and decorates birthday cakes for the town to make extra money. For Gigsa's birthday, they made a chocolate cake with pineapple filling. It was delicious. 

Monday, August 4, 2014


Somber in his thoughtfulness, I felt a connection with him immediately. The ability to open up to his soft and probing eyes, the eagerness with which he absorbed a new idea. His lack of defensiveness; I believe they call it humility. His ears and nose are prominent traits from his father and mother, respectively, and he could never be as handsome with any other feature. He has skin that you can fall into, his hands obviously accustomed to hard work, lacking the near delicate nature of the rest of his physical body. Named for his father, the diminutive “ito” is to distinguish between the two men in conversation and in yelling for either of them in the house.

He is a father himself. Three girls. A husband, too. He would never leave his wife, loves her as much as he did when they married at the age of 15, but there is trouble in paradise. Not to be glib. The situation is complex. They depend on one another and face the same troubles most marriages come to face after 17 years and 3 children. Divorce is not the status quo.

The angst of the universe overcomes him sometimes, and when he was unemployed due to his political affiliations it was the worst. He stopped eating, “por la tristeza”, he said. His only joy came from his youngest child, Camila, who was learning to walk.  They laughed, played, snuggled together, were permanently attached at the literal hip.

I tried to motivate him to create his own work – he is incredibly skilled in a variety of things - and for brief moments after our talks he seemed to liven up with inspiration…but he was in a mindset where
nothing could be created. Only that which already existed vied for legitimacy. So, he left. To Costa Rica he went and not for the first time, I would later find out. His only brother lives there with his wife and their two children.  The worst part was that Jaimito and Camila were apart. She was starting to talk and would say a few words into the phone when he called to check in over those months.

When he finally, finally came back, I was asleep. I woke up to the sound of his voice and people joyfully calling his name mixed in with stories about the trip back home. He was leaner than he had been when he left which was quite a feat. Seeing him again was as wonderful as seeing my biological brother. Everyone was beaming that night.

Luck found him upon his return. He started working in the health center as an assistant in the laboratory, and moved on to driving one of the ambulances.  The ambulance job has no set hours – often he has deep, dark lines under his eyes from lack of sleep– but he loves the hard work.
When he was 11 they moved to Rancho Grande. Before that they lived, and he studied, in Mataglapa. He says as children he and his 3 siblings never fought, not really, and only a little once they were teenagers. It is hard to picture him fighting with anyone if you only know his sensitive side, which is an overwhelming part of his personality, but I have seen him smack his middle child, ignore his eldest daughter for days when she became pregnant at 15, and refuse to go home due to issues with his wife.  I have heard from his own mouth that he wished his wife didn’t work, and that he feels justified in having an “other woman”; pieces of the machismo culture that have clung to him.  He listens very intently and respectfully to me when I half-berate him for his infidelity and common or narrow perspective while at the same time not judging him as an evil person. We are all victims of our culture.

There is honesty between us that is a precious commodity in any relationship. “You can trust me,” he says to me one recent evening, sensing a sadness within me.   I was thinking much about death – it was near the time of my grandfather’s departure from life.

You want what he says about trusting him to be true, and for all the trust that he has put in you, you, with a sense of relief that you had almost forgotten exists, talk about how you feel, thus strengthening the ties of this new friendship. 

 When I first got to Rancho, he asked me why I was so quiet. Nobody had really asked me anything up until that point. He made an effort to sit with me and understand me a bit more. I told him that I was faced with a new culture, a new language, new food, new climate, a new job, far from my family and friends... I began to weep a little, and he, slightly embarrassed, surely, said, "I understand you now. I understand". In that response I gleaned his gentleness, his curiosity, his polite nature, but more than that his empathy, which is a characteristic that I find comforting and rare. To find that in such a new situation had a similar effect as pulling a blanket over yourself in the middle of the night when it has gotten cold. 

Friday, June 13, 2014


        My first friend in my new home. I was there for her 15th birthday, but here 15 is as old or older than I am. Families started at that age and younger are so common that I have to fight every day not to become desensitized. Some are wanted families, of course, but to distinguish between the forced and the eager can be difficult.

        Martha married - or rather, eloped - when newly 14. She didn’t have an actual wedding; not many do, especially in the rural areas.  But she moved in with her husband’s family, and was intimate with this boy, and that is the same thing.  She cared deeply for her partner, and was well loved by her mother-in-law, the boy’s grandmother, and her sister-in-law. They live on a coffee farm a mile and a half outside of town. Every day Martha walked to my home and spent the day from 6am until 6pm running around the house doing whatever she was called upon to do. Cook, clean, hold the baby, go buy rice, and cheese, clean, hold this other baby, sort the beans, clean again. She eats separately from the family, as is the custom here. She does not make very much money, considering her work; 650 Córdoba a month.  Roughly $25.50.

          She is smart. So smart. She was studying accounting on Sundays at the high school. She quit going to normal high school, because her beloved refused to give her any of the money he made, and didn’t want her going to school, anyhow. She was to be an Ama de Casa now.

         She would practice her English with me. To this day she is one of the only dedicated English learners I have come into contact with. She loves English, and she is good at it. She has an incredibly clear accent and an amazing memory. Shameless delight crossed her face whenever we were able to steal a few minutes together and chat, an exchange of language and laughter. Her smile reveals dimples and she has a tall, lean frame, soft skin and black hair that ends just past her shoulders which she wears down much of the time; a styling choice not made by many women.

         There was a time, after she stopped working in my house, when every time I saw her she was several pounds lighter. The thinness of her eyebrows paralleled. I commented on her disappearing waistline, the quickly lessening circumference of her arms. She said she thought she was pregnant. She prayed for pregnancy, she thought that would be her savior, her sunrise at the end of a dark and aimless walk.  She thought her husband would love her, then. He would bring her into his arms and kiss her forehead and love her.  A friend cannot say to another friend that a baby will not fix a broken marriage.  A friend can only be there to listen to the story of how he ignored her again, how he was drunk again and yelling again.      

        When she finally left the loveless farm, went back to her mother’s home, and went back to high school, she started to gain the weight back. Now every time you see her she looks healthier. Like the first time you met her, in the bright kitchen, and you were the one with sad and lost eyes.  She smiles her joyful smile, as she did then, and she gives you some of the courage with which she is filled. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Delegado Issmarck

         He is the middle-aged, head-of-district for the Ministry of Education. The first time you spoke with him he invited you to a meeting that was to take place minutes later.  In spite of your still very poor Spanish, you agree to stay because you have nothing else to do and because any observational opportunity that presents itself to you is worth taking advantage of. Also, his position of power and influence makes you feel as though you aren’t allowed to say no – that it would be viewed as impolite. A very strong case indeed could be made for deeming it rude to reject an invitation to something that will be taking place in that very room at that very time.

          He has the habit of kissing me far, far too close to my mouth when greeting and saying goodbye – which perhaps would be bearable if it weren’t for the cigarette smoke stuck on his lips and skin. This habit partially explains his distinct thinness. He has a golden grill on his two front teeth, which is half mesmerizing and half unnerving because while it is notably common in Nicaragua, it is fairly new to me.
          Another occasion – Teacher Appreciation Day – he invites me as a special guest to pass out certificates to the teachers as they cross the platform. He sent someone to my home two days in a row to personally hand me the invitation, as the first day I was not home when they called. He didn't know my last name so the paper just read "Licenciada Ilana" Never have I so acutely felt myself so tall and alien as I did standing on the stage in the front of that cement arena and the 500 people in it the afternoon of the event.  It was a kind and generous gesture on his part and at this point I would thoroughly enjoy another invitation - which I do not think I will receive.

          A generally calm - though decidedly energetic - man, he does not rule through fear.  This is obvious based on the behavior of the rest of the employees in the administrative office where he works. They have attitudes of informal respect – he is approachable. He does anger, however, as do we all, and his anger is a quiet kind of beast. Once I went to visit him, having been away for almost 2 months due to surgery, and he did not greet me with the customary kiss. Indeed, he spent two minutes ignoring me and another several asking me questions while still doing things on his computer. I thought I had done something wrong, and I had – I hadn’t come to visit him. The reasons I had for my absence were just, but why would he believe me? Only this present interaction could save me from the extended period of unexplained absence. The meeting ended with the customary kiss, and for once I was grateful of it.

          Though he has a wife and three daughters in one of the communities surrounding the town, this does not stop him from sending me text messages about the fact that he cannot stop thinking about my eyes.  His own eyes always look worn, as though he spends too much time in front of a computer and not enough time sleeping.  I was shocked when I received his intimate text messages, offended, and even slightly scared - would this ruin our working relationship? I had received similar text messages from other men whom I had given my number to, but never from someone in such a high position of power and politics. The culture of text-messaging here is free in a way that allows one to say whatever they want to say, and leaves them unbound by possible repercussions because a large part of the face-to-face culture is “saving face”. Don’t say something that will make the situation awkward. Telling the Delegado to stop sending me flirtatious messages would indeed make the situation… awkward. So what do the women do? Ignore them. Eventually the message is gotten on the other end. This knowledge comes as a bit of a relief to me because at that point I did not have the language to tell him exactly what I felt when reading his piropos.

         His days are spent in a large office with one window above his desk. There is nothing else furnishing the room besides a chair for visitors and several filing cabinets; a set of metal shelves that has papers strewn in a forgotten sort of way. I feel like I am in a submarine in that office, painted all blue inside with only the one window letting in the sunlight. In that office I inevitably think about the social games we must partake in to get what we want. Personal sacrifice often comes into play, regardless of the cultural context.
         There is one memory I have of him that stands out particularly. I was waiting to meet with him and ask for permission to start a certain activity in the schools, and while I was waiting, it started to rain. It began to pour. It was raining so hard that I was certain it was golf-ball sized pieces of hail, and I had never seen or heard of hail in this area. There were maybe 10 people in the office, including the Delegado. We stopped what we were doing, a bit out of necessity (you could not be heard over the noise) but also out of awe. Issmarck came out of his office to join the rest of us in watching the spears of water strike the ground.  I imagined an angry god releasing his anger by pelting the earth with soggy bullets.  It was a similar feeling to standing next to the ocean. It was a reminder, standing perfectly still in the room with a handful of others, and with the Delegado, that nobody is immune to the ultimate power of nature.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Doña Bemilda

When I first met her, she hugged me, kissed me on the cheek, and promptly apologized. I was laden with a heavy backpack and an equally heavy duffle bag, about to move into her house for 3 months. I appreciated her hug and kiss. It was what I was told to expect, and I had prepared myself for it. Her apology came from what she was told to expect – a person who isn’t used to touching other people, especially by way of greeting.
This became a ritual for us. Each doing what we thought the other would like, apologizing for it, and eventually, through honest communication with a heavy emphasis on laughter, we came to find out how the other actually operates. 

She’s 56 but she looks 66. Overweight, having been that way her whole life. She has shoulder-length soft hair that she keeps black through the magic of hair dye. Her eyes are shrewd and gentle all at once. She smiles with her mouth slightly open, her two top front teeth protruding out.  I think her beautiful. There are times when I have come into her house and found her dressed for church and seemingly glowing.

She lives on the same block that she lived on as a child, although there are far more houses there now. Her family used to own the entire block. Now, they rent some of it out, have sold other parts of it, and remain with two corner lots: that of her brother, and hers. Her house is a more modest affair than her brother’s, though both are fancy by the general standard. Every time I go back to visit, another flourish is added. She has been working diligently on a garden that starts on the back patio and winds its way around the side of the house, taking up the front deck as well. The side garden is a line of roses, named after her eldest granddaughter, the brilliant Salomé. The back garden has her own name, mostly herbs and vegetables, and the front blooms have been dubbed “Vanessa’s garden” – the name of a middle granddaughter whose energy is as impressive as that of the ever-growing bushes. 

“I’m evangelical now, so I’m happy”, Doña tells me one day over breakfast. I smile and thoughtfully chew my mango. Eventually I simply say, “I’m glad. You should be happy.” She almost always sat with me at breakfast, though she was rarely hungry enough to eat with me that early. Sometimes she would have a coffee. Presto, if she didn’t have the better kind of instant coffee, which is called 1890. Not a bad instant coffee, as far as they go. Though one still marvels at the fact that most of the country uses instant coffee though coffee is grown in immense quantities.

We would talk about all manner of thing, mostly over the dining room table, trying to understand one another. Here is where I learned the true power that mealtime can have in bringing people together.  Over time I sensed she had little self-esteem. This was proven as stories of her past unfolded. She married young, to an evangelical pastor.  She didn’t love him, but she wanted to get out of her home, tired of living under her mother’s roof. He took her to Honduras. He beat her, and eventually she left him, but only after giving birth to and partially raising four children. Her first son, a wise and gentle deaf-mute, still lives in Honduras with his own family. Her second son lives in the same town as she does. He is the Mayor, following his Uncle. The 3rd son is a professor of English and lives in a house attached to her own. Her youngest child, a daughter, lives in the city 10 minutes away, and their on-again, off-again relationship is the product of a difficult home situation and the sometimes desperate love between mother and child.  

She gave me fruit every day. And vegetables; she knew I loved them. She also made the best scrambled eggs I have ever eaten. She understood that I didn’t much like meat. That I needed to leave at 6 on some mornings to go running, and, yes, even if that meant jumping over the locked gate to avoid bothering her to unlock it for me.

She told me every day how pretty I was. She talked a lot about the physical appearance of others. How it changed throughout the month. If someone was ugly, or dark skinned. She often sounded as though it lessened her opinion of them. That she would have liked them if only they hadn’t been black. Between her and her brother I was exposed without mercy to the Racism that exists here. It is not a taboo topic.  People will tell you without shame that they do not like Chinese people, or “Negros”.  Even when I have pointed out that this is Racism, which I have not done to Doña Bemilda, there has been no glimpse of regret or shame; it is taken as a given, a popular opinion.

In many respects, Doña is not like other Nicaraguan women. She lives alone. She doesn’t like to cook, or clean. She is highly educated and independent, and travels to Honduras regularly to pick up fancy underwear and bras which she then sells to women in her town. She bathes outside on her back patio and I relished in being able to do the same. I discovered one day (don’t ask me how) that she keeps a machete under her bed. She is outgoing and practical and brave, but the truly unique thing is that she has taken her happiness into her own hands -
and it seems to be serving her well.

The bathroom of the house is next to her bedroom. She wakes early in the morning, before 5, and dresses and prays. I got up very early as well sometimes, and padding through the dark and quiet house to the bathroom, I liked to peek into her room and watch her absorbed completely in her hours of reverence. I knew that she was earnestly asking that everyone she knows and loves remain healthy, happy, and safe.  I knew she was thanking God for all of the joy that has befallen her, and asking for guidance through the pain that she still carries with her some days.

You feel filled only with love and gratitude when you go back to visit and find her, with her best friend and Salomé, seated in 3 of the four white metal rocking chairs that live on her front deck. You greet her with a simple “DOÑA!” and a hug and kiss, now a comforting greeting for you. She once told you that you shouldn’t call her Doña, because you would get her confused with someone else. But you replied that no matter how many Señoras are in your life, she will be your one and only Doña.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


He walks around these streets like they are his very own, like they are miniature models of streets that he has the privilege of crushing after he builds them.  He struts with his shirt off, loudly greeting people as he passes them, sometimes with the phrase, “Que Onda”, sometimes a hiss, other times an indecipherable noise that all men seem to call and respond to.

Husband to a host sister of mine, they have had three children together, the last being a boy in a generation of many girls.  Neither his first nor his second daughter could be said to be much like him, except, perhaps, in their ambitiousness and their manner of telling stories. Likenesses between he and his baby boy have yet to be determined. As of very recently, they have walking in common.

He and his wife supposedly married without the permission of her parents. One day she left the house, to be found later living with Vidal. She was 16 years old. He a couple years her senior. 
He is stronger than he used to be. His features are mostly symmetrical. His skin is practically hairless, colored like a well sanded African Mahogany. 

You don't know how he smells. You try not to get that close. You do trust him, as a member of the family. Especially because of the visit from your real brother. He came for Christmas, and Vidal attached to him immediately, talking with him, drinking with him, and at the end of the trip calling him his own brother as well.

He keeps me company on occasion at the famous dining room table. Around this table he helps me with Spanish pronouns, tells stories - which he is rather skilled at and clearly enjoys - eats dinner or lunch, and generally causes a ruckus. He will often burst into the house singing with his baby on his hip to disrupt whatever it is I am occupied with. Naturally, an adorable baby is a welcome break any time. On occasion we talk about politics, (Vidal and I, that is. Not the baby and I.) Or rather, he talks about politics and I desperately try to follow the conversation, which is clearly and obviously lain out in front of me, but at speeds that make the perfect organization of information almost for naught. I do pick up on the fact that he has an interesting point of view. He calls himself Sandinista, which is the name of the ruling party.  In the last election, in between promoting the party, he voted at least 4 times. He confides to me one afternoon in the fading daylight that he doesn’t approve of the current actions taken by the Sandinistas. But that, in the next election, he will still vote for them, and still canvas for them. His reasons are two fold. 1: the alternative parties aren’t much to be desired, either. 2: if your town is Sandinista, then it gets more financial priority from the government. Roads, schools, parks, and other various signs of infrastructure pop up weekly.

He used to intimidate me. Interestingly, I ceased being intimidated the day he hit on me for the first time.  He did nothing overt; it was simply holding onto me in a hug too long for my liking, lingering the greeting cheek-kiss a moment more than was appropriate, looking into my eyes without saying anything, but refusing to let go of the hand that I had proffered for him to shake. His hands are plenty worn, plenty callused. What from, I don’t know. His smile is distracting and cut with four false front teeth, sometimes they seem as though they are about to fall out. He is not much taller than I am – Maybe 5’10” on a day he’s feeling particularly confident and awake. He works long days, and as a result 50% of the time I see him in his home, he is sleeping. The other 50% he is watching television. Cable, naturally.

For work, he owns a microbus, which he uses to taxi people back and forth from the main part of town where he lives to a place 30-45 minutes away.  I rode with him once – he killed two Coral snakes on the road within 2 minutes of each other. Those are the only two Coral snakes I have seen. The only other snakes I have seen were one that spanned the entire width of the road I was running down, was a deep shimmering blue-green, and was thankfully without a head. The other was the fellow above. Not quite as terrifying. Vidal is also the provider of cable to anyone in the main town that has that luxury. A corner of his downstairs is filled with cable boxes and wires. There is something a bit voyeuristic about looking at those cable boxes.  Knowing exactly which channel people are watching in the comfort and privacy of their own homes.

You know very little about his childhood. When asked about his family, he responds that his family is your family.  You take that to mean that his family is not around, or not welcoming. It softens your disposition towards him.

When I first moved into the mountains, I was looking for an alternative ride to the nearest hospital, should an emergency occur and the ambulance be otherwise occupied. In addition to the microbus, Vidal has a small white pick-up truck. I gathered enough courage one day, maybe less than a month into my living there, to ask him if he would be willing to take me the 100 km from Rancho Grande to Matagalpa, should the worst happen. He was quiet a moment, looking earnestly at me. Perhaps judging if I was trying to take advantage of him - I truly thought he was going to say no. But he didn't. And it has made me feel safer. And that is quite a gift.