Tuesday, January 15, 2008

::Mourning Doves In Nicaragua::

Two weeks ago I sat in the Houston airport waiting for a connecting flight to Nicaragua. I accepted my fate begrudgingly, found a roosting spot and pulled out from my bag a novel my friend Anna gave me. A book she listed on her Myspace favorites called Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. The language I found was epic, every word a carefully hand picked berry that Abbey dutifully polished on his shirt close to his heart and carefully placed in his bucket. Berries that he’d later make into the juiciest, sweetest pie for his five closest friends. There’s a line in the book that brings me to this present moment. Late morning, sipping a cane sugar cola from a glass bottle and listening to the mourning doves from the courtyard of my hostel in Nicaragua. The sound these birds create is something nostalgic for me. As a kid I would listen to the forlorn D minor bellow of this bird outside my bedroom window like a nature’s lullaby.

In Abbey’s book he writes: “Also invisible but invariably present at some indefinable distance are the mourning doves whose plaintive call suggest irresistibly a kind of seeking out, the attempt by separated souls to restore a lost communion: Hello…they seem to cry, who…are..you? and the reply from a different quarter. Hello…(pause) where…are…you?

I’m not sure how it happened but I’m happily surrounded by friends who are great writers. I mean really great. Had they been born in an earlier century they would have been in social circles with Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. In fact they would’ve been Fitzgerald and Stein, hopefully without the hang up of alcohol abuse. But for me, writing does not come naturally, nor do I foresee ever rightfully owning the title of a writer. My emails are lazy, I’m a horrible typist, and my hand tires quickly when I write. My journals teeter between psychotic and pathetic. The one script I’ve been known to write well are break-up letters: passionate and from the heart. A genre of writing that, hopefully, I won’t write much more of in my lifetime.

I’ve grown to respect great writing, so Thank You Edward Abbey for describing something I’ve always felt on a molecular level, but never knew how to find the words like in the dialogue that the mourning doves share.

When I first contemplated getting a ticket to Central America to visit my friend Lisa I was a little uncertain if I wanted to go. I knew some sort of get-away was imperative for me but I have never been drawn to Spanish speaking cultures, Nicaragua wasn’t top on my list. I suspect my aversion to the Spanish language came from my youth. I grew up in a small town where the neighborhood kids who came to jump on our trampoline had names like Juan, Jesus, Hector and Lupe. They would ask me, ” Jew wanna come to my ouse for deener?”

Words like; Hola, Dinero, Que pasa and the ever-displeasing mental image of Gracias pronounced “Grassy-ass” were imbued into our everyday speech. Later in life living in New Mexico an ex boyfriend would entertain himself with the cartoon voice of Speedy Gozales, “Hey Ese, Que Pasa your Sombrero is too Beeg.”

Relaxed, in the warm morning air of Nicaragua I’m happy to declare that I am kickin it in a Spanish speaking country and I’m even growing fond of the language. Who knew. Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere next to Haiti, yet somehow this country encapsulates the most kind hearted people I’ve ever met; my safety has never once felt threatened.

I theorize that the Nicaraguans serene nature is somehow woven into their infinite helix. Music plays a large factor into their chilaxed disposition a spiraling staircase of DNA comprised of musical instruments. The blend of the accordion, guitar and trumpets are like an airborne tranquilizer. To demonstrate the tender heart of these people, on several occasions I have, overpaid; sometimes the equivalent of fifty US dollars or more; the street market people, the ardent sales man, the taxi drivers and to my good luck a sympathetic smile to coddle my ignorant gringo ways come to their lips as they hand me back my money. Mind you, I have traveled a fair amount in my lifetime and this does NOT happen anywhere else in the world, especially a country as poor as Nicaragua. One evening strolling through the street markets to get a late night snack I was discussing with my friend Jonathan from Connecticut how strangely big hearted Nicaraguans were, and just then I looked over and saw a police officer with a hand gun strapped to his side kneeling down to tie the shoe of a homeless guy.

There is a Dutch woman named Dorien who heads an organization called MPOWERING PEOPLE. My friend Lisa has been working with her to orchestrate hundreds of street kids in a 45-minute play with handmade, but functional props to depict the history of Nicaragua with a message of empowerment to females and children who are often victimized by family. I saw the play last night. The kids took the stage in one of the poorest villages outside the town of Leon. I didn’t understand a lick of the language but when the Spanish Conquistadors came out of the shadows and shouted “Christiano, Christano!” and then beheaded the loin clothe clad indigenous people the walls of my heart collapsed and my eyes welled with tears. The play was captivating, something Dorien and a group of people have been working on for almost a year; writing the script, costume designing, rehearsing, and promoting. This was a huge task to organize and they managed to pull it off with flying colors.

Dorien is strong in stature with long red hair, which is often disheveled and wadded back in a messy ponytail. She looks at you with nurturing blue eyes; benevolent, and exhausted from trying to save the world. I don’t know what her religious orientation is or if she even has one, but regardless, to me she is like a Twenty-first century Jesus. When I think of what Christ looked like when He hung out with the people I think of that ubiquitous Sunday school image of Christ surrounded by and walking with the children. His comforting hand on the shoulder of one of the boys, a baby resting on his chest and all of them looking up at Him smiling, while a cotton puff cloud-like lamb rests in the foreground. That image is Dorien; replace the cloud like sheep with a mangy, emaciated, diseased and dirt-ridden dog. She sits with the sick and the poor and tries her damnedest to help anyone in need. She’s known for miles, people yell her name as she walks down the street, running after her to be near her. Dorien! Dorien!…

One day, in the same village where the play took place we went to a little corrugated tin shack of a house. An old woman a foot shorter then me with one tooth in the center of her upper gums greeted us with rib crushing hugs. She first embraced Dorien and then around the circle of people; Lisa, Dorien’s visiting parents and myself. When she came to me, she held my face with her small hands and then with one hand gestured emanating rays of light around my head. Dorien translated what she said, “You are like an Angel from heaven.”

I felt my face light up in the aura of acceptance, that sort of special feeling of confirmation that you get when babies and dogs take an instant liking to you. This “supernatural divine occurrence” happened a few times on my journey; situations where I felt singled out from the crowd as if someone from a higher place was trying to send me messages of love. On the beaches of Bonita, four of us travelers sat facing the sun, reading, listening to the oceans roar when a little boy came by and with long strands of grass he wrapped and twisted little flowers for each one of us. We gave him in exchange a little money and then carried on reading our books. Continuing to stand over me and blocking my much enjoyed sunlight he started folding another piece of grass skillfully creasing it in half and then into the shape of a cross, he handed it to me, and In Spanish he said, “This is for you.”

“O’ no, no gracias. Yo no dinero.” I said, which was actually true because Lisa was spotting me until I could get to the next ATM. He insisted and said, “It’s a gift for you”.

Now, its possible that this is all coincidence, maybe he thought I needed a cross to ward off evil werewolves under the night’s full moon, but the thought did enter my mind that maybe these are little messages from God, communicating like the mourning dove.

Hello…I Love you,..(pause)… Hello….I’m right… here….

The diminutive old women, after she pointed out my golden rays of light, started to cry and told us her daughter who is only thirty was in her corrugated tin home dying of cancer. The irony of this scenario momentarily stopped my heart. I currently struggle to make sense of my duties and place with a terminally ill stepfather who too is dying of cancer.

I felt helpless. This poor women who obviously loved her daughter greatly had no hope so I asked Dorien to please translate that if it was possible, I’d like to pray for them. It was the least I could do. In the darkness of their shack I sat on the daughter’s bed while she cried, holding her hand and her mother’s. The three of us. The room was pitch black with only a bed and an oscillating fan. I saw only the incandescent glow of their eyes and stumbled awkwardly through a prayer asking the Lord to please comfort this family and help the daughter endure any pain that may be inflicted on her body by the cancer. When I said Amen, they followed by saying, ” En nombre de Jesus Christo Amen.”

As I was leaving, the daughter cried in fear and gripped my hand piercing my wrist with her nails. After we left, Dorien quickly got on her cell phone and in Spanish arranged for a doctor to travel to the village and get the girl pain medication. The following day, Dorien went to the Nicaraguan hospital and donated her blood to the girl.

There are many questions I battle with being a Christ follower and in a way I have learned through my friend Don’s writing that it’s ok to ask these questions, like “Why are most Christians, jerks?” You see, Dorien overwhelmed me with her kindness. Her heart is the embodiment of true compassion. This kind of compassion was the opposite of my experiences in Managua at the orphanage. A missionary lady who worked as a coordinator to bring down teams from the states to help build new housing and schools for the locals and another affluent woman in her fifties visiting from the states to adopt three babies were my company for the week in Managua. It was one of those situations where immediately I knew; they were not interested in getting to know me.

Not once did I experience sincerity from them. I wondered how they could do what they did with such little structure of compassion. I suppose some people are just good people and others think all they have to do is call themselves Christians and leave it at that. Not only did they treat me poorly, but they also treated the locals poorly as if they were somehow better then everyone else. I thought of confronting them, but I don’t think they could grasp just how insensitive they were. I tried like a bullied school kid to engage in their conversations but my words would only fall out of my mouth flat in the dust. They’d turn their attention away from me and start talking to one another not even hearing me, like my words lacked breath, like I was invisible, like they were deaf, except to each other. Other times I’d try to act perky and pretend their coldness went unnoticed I’d say something like, “What time do we head to the orphanage today?” They’d talk among themselves, giggle share an inside joke, pause, look out the widow for a while to contemplate the change of weather and then lethargically say, “Oh did you say something Melanie?”

…What happened to my emanating rays of light? Did they not see them too? My failed humor was constantly taken the wrong way and instead of explaining what I meant, I took their looks of annoyance like a cockroach in my half eaten sandwich…Gulp…

When we went out to eat we’d pray before and then because something wasn’t right with the meal they’d throw a fit and demand money back. I was embarrassed to be white and embarrassed to be Christian. Even more fatal I started developing a complex, asking myself if anyone anywhere had ever liked me. I desperately needed to get back to Lisa.

Day six into the trip I started to regret ever leaving Lisa until I arrived at the orphanage. At the orphanage all my frustrations were forgotten. This is where I fell in love with Alexandria, a one-year-old baby girl. The moment I saw her the universe shifted, like the great ease of ancient tectonic plates falling into place for a temporary slumber. Somehow, I refrained myself from immediately running to her side and lifting her to the great baby gods in jubilee. Instead, mentally half present I held and comforted other children to sleep, all the while watching Alexandria in my peripheral to see if she equally noticed me. I can tell by watching her, she feels and hears everything intensely. Immediately, when she caught my eye and lifted her hands to me I felt deeply protective of her. For five days, I spent time getting to know her, and in the wake of my inability to ever remember the correct lyrics of any song; I think there’s a name for this disorder, something like, Lyrical-Popcornheaditis. I sang to her Christmas tunes, “O holy night, the stars are brightly shining…” and Paul Simons “Slip Sliding Away” and “Me and Julio down by the Schoolyard” as she fell asleep on my shoulder I softly sang… ” He said Dolores I live in fear, my love for you is so appalling I’m afraid I will disappear…slip sliding away..” not a typical infant lullaby, but I tried to exercise a constant voice around her. I noticed as the hours and the days went by the more she recognized my presence as a person of solace.

I’ve tried to pinpoint this love. I’ve been in love before, and to this day I am often weighted down by him, the “Impossible” love. I drag him with me in my mind and heart everywhere, even here to Nicaragua. This kind of love is written about in Latin countries where a man or women will love each other for fifty years and may have never even kissed one another. This impossible love of mine has warranted volumes of break up letters.

But this is not the same kind of love that I felt when I saw Alexandria. I have only been hit by Cupid’s arrow twice in my life. The knowing, when upon first sight you can actually feel the piercing of cardio flesh that aches in the voice of fate. Crossing paths with Alexandria felt more like an arrow from cupid. Through research I have learned that the adoption process doesn’t look promising; too much difficulty with the Nicaraguan government. They’re disorganized and inconsistent with the law. But, I plan to do what I can, even if I have to learn Spanish and if I can never help her find her way out of the orphanage she now inhabits part of my spirit and I will always pray for her. I hardly saw this coming when I first contemplated buying a ticket to Nicaragua. But, soaking in the sun and surrounded by the events that took place; the good and the bad, I’m happy I did.

Melanie Brown

Melanie's work can be viewed at www.melanibrown.com

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