Swings and Roundabouts

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A week ago, a neighbor died who was like my comadre de Nicaragua. I heard Tuesday morning, saw her body on her bed. Nicaraguans don't do embalming and all the mortuary makeup that turns the person you knew into a wax effigy. The body on the bed was a very dead body. By afternoon, her son had done all the things needed. What was left of her was in a casket in what had been the front room store. Wednesday, in the rain, I walked behind the coffin with the neighbors and family to the cathedral where someone sung the song my mother had requested for her own memorial services and after the funeral mass, we follow the hearse to the Municipal cemetery where the grave was waiting. From what I could see and hear, Nicaraguans don't have much of a graveside ceremony, no speeches, just family and teenaged sons of closer kin throwing the black earth onto the casket, so black the earth looked almost unreal, and glistening with rain. I waited until two neighbors who weren't kin to her started to leave and we left, me getting teased about my agnosticism, me telling them I did respect religion (whatever's the real rooted religion of a place, not those coming in to make a living converting Christians to another brand).

Saw Roberto later that day in the house, looking utterly exhausted. His wife handed me back a jug I'd used to bring juice over. We talked, promising always to be part of each other's lives. I went to Paquita's sister's store and recovered the umbrella I'd loaned strangers, kicking myself mentally for doubting even a little that I'd get the jug and umbrella back, for having been tainted by that expat paranoia. And it wouldn't have mattered if I hadn't.

All this week, the front of the house has a shrine, burning candles. When my mother died, a friend told me that regardless of the goodness or badness of the relationship, an important person had gone from my life and to give myself a year to adjust. I expect Roberto will give himself that year, and at the anniversary of her death, we'll do a vela again, under an awning, sitting around on plastic chairs remembering her. Then in November, Day of the Dead, some of us will go to where Paquita is buried next to her mother, and talk about her. And I will never have learned enough Spanish in time to have heard all the stories from her and should make the phone call to arrange for Spanish lessons in Matagalpa so I miss fewer words when other people tell her stories and theirs.

(And to stop procrastinating on that one, I stopped writing this and made the call. I start Friday. $270 for Friday and three days a week for three weeks more.)

Earlier today, I stopped by what ws Paquita's house, now her son's house. Roberto and his wife and his son are going to live there. He's hired someone to run the front room store. I'm not sure what his wife does, but pretty sure she also works (teacher). Roberto today was "un poco triste." We explained to the store manager in Spanish and broken Spanish how his mother had taught me some of the Spanish I have, and and also taught me to slow down and exchange pleasantries before doing business, and to exchange good wishes when leaving. I wasn't bad at that before as it's also part of US southern culture, but mheh, I could stand some improvement after all the years spent up north.

He's a lawyer, working here. Don't know what they did with the house in Matagalpa, but I get the impression things there are rented out pretty easily, too.

The house I'm in was taken off the market when the rent went up. Things we all probably expected to happen didn't happen.

I never knew how old Paquita was, guessed in her 70s since I think Roberto is in his forties with a teenaged son. Don't know if she'd been here for the 3 days of fighting when the Sandinista came in from two directions and Guardia snipers who'd tied themselves to trees along the creek dangled dead (the man who told me this seemed to be reliving it himself, demonstrated briefly how the dead dangled, told me about it two weeks ago).

A friend who lives in London says expats come in two kinds -- the ones who want to import their home countries to the new place (even London has American expats who complain about what they can't get there) and ones who "go native," as he, married to a Singaporean guy, said. I don't understand why anyone would move to a place to be around US stuff and people who resented small refrigerators (one British friend said he didn't eat stale food).

Paquita's death was many things for this neighborhood: loss of a sister, loss of a mother, loss of a neighbor. I wasn't sure where I fit in during those two days, but it was the only time I felt culture shock, disorientation, in any kind of major way. In two days, I moved from being more of an observer to being more of a participant. I'll always have some English-speaking friends but I think the ones I have are more Nicaraguan-facing than looking for other expatriates to help them reimport parts of US culture (and I find US hippies as likely to do that as anyone else).

The more I participate in life here, have Nicaraguan friends whether they're bilingual or not, the more they're people, not The Nicaraguans, the more I get what I came here for.

Didn't learn the right way to spell her name until the week before she died, but I had always pronounced it correctly.

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