Children gather into groupings like pool balls on a billiards table. One child stands on either end and tosses the rubber ball as the kids in the middle scatter and run. The smaller ones inevitably get pegged first, to shouts of “uno, dos, tres, cuatro.” After four hits they come to lean against the tall stone wall leading up to the raised sidewalk. One niño is more ambitious than the other children, jumping higher and running faster to dodge the ball and then angrily cursing, “miedra, miedra!” when he’s the second-to-last one out.
It was a pleasant surprise, on my first visit to Central America, that my friend had enough electricity to plug in a mini fridge and a fan. There’s an extension cord running across the ceiling of the large room outside of my bedroom to allow me an outlet in the room. Originally intended for the fan, I choose instead to charge my kindle most nights. My laptop is staying with friends right now, as there are no 3 pronged outlets in my home with which to charge it, nor is there internet. To turn on the fluorescent light in the front room, you gently touch the end of 2 live wires together.
I have my own bathroom where I stay, a true luxury given the number of people sharing the space. The sink outside the bathroom has a bucket underneath to collect the water as it is not connected to plumbing. To flush the toilet, dump one or two full buckets of water in. In a country where outhouses are more common than indoor toilets, the indoor toilets that families have often don’t include toilet seats, and so I have an indoor toilet with no seat. The shower, initially just a pipe sticking out of the wall, now has a shiny new showerhead. Truly I feel spoiled.
Perhaps it’s because of a lifetime of squeezing onto chicken buses seating 4 or 5 to a seat, or maybe it’s a result of living with generations under one roof, but the concept of personal space seems almost nonexistent in this culture. As a North American, I was raised with a broad definition of what space is “mine”. I first began to redefine this space when I moved to Texas and realized that my favorite yoga teacher in town was also everybody else’s favorite teacher. Practicing with the edges of my mat overlapping those around me, sometimes with someone else’s foot on my mat or hand in my face forced me to look within for that quiet space. Turns out, those crowded classes were good preparation for living in Central America. I often find myself at work sharing one computer between two or three people, each person reaching for the mouse to open the window they need, dipping in to quickly grab information, and twisting back to make room for each other. Ademas, it’s not out of the ordinary for four people to occupy the space I once considered large enough for only me – one person using the computer, another chatting on the phone, and another helping a customer as I contort myself into a small area to open the cash drawer and make change for a customer. At times ,I have to bite back a feeling of annoyance at having to share such cloee quarters, but these feelings are short lived. I feel grateful to have first learned this lesson on my mat.
My morning taxi ride cost me double what it should have today. My sense of direction has always been a challenge for me, and I’ve heen taking a taxi to work in the mornings as I slowly learn my new neighborhood. Today, when I handed el taxista my twenty cordobas, he folded it into his pile of money and refused to give me my change. He told me the 10 cordoba price for a taxi is just for nationals. Having no other resource but my words, I unleashed a torrent of Spanish invectives at him before loudly slamming his door. My enoja, anger, rose up and burned hot. My coworkers later told me how to look for his taxi number and report the infraction. Good to know for next time.