Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Brief Intersection

In 1925, a baby was born into a family of 8 in a rural area surrounding Managua, Nicaragua. She followed a relatively traditional path of marrying in her later teens, bearing 6 children of her own, and spending her days as a wife, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. Although she did do a bit of traveling within the Central American region and the US (Florida primarily), she never stopped calling Managua her home. She lived through a number of hurricanes, two devastating earthquakes that destroyed the city, and a substantial amount of political instability. In 1979, in the midst of the “The Revolution” here in Nicaragua, two of her six children were killed. From that day forward, she never renounced her loyalty to the Sandinista Party.

In May of 2008, a local volunteer from the US showed up at her door to inquire about an available room she was renting out. The house, which she had lived in since building it with her husband in the 1960’s, was a very simple house in a very middle class neighborhood in central Managua. After coming back several times and asking a ridiculous number of questions, the volunteer decided to rent the room. In mid June, I moved in.

My first run-in with Dona Coney took place on my first night at the new place. Upon returning from the “parking lot” down the street, I informed her that “all was well, and that I had lined up a place to park my motorcycle in the evenings” (leaving any type of vehicle outside after dark is not an option if you want to keep it). She nodded disapprovingly and said “OK”. Approximately one hour later, she informed me that she needed to discuss something very important with me. She asked me to sit down and proceeded to explain to me that she just couldn’t understand why I wanted to park the motorcycle down the street. More specifically, she just couldn’t understand why I wanted to park the motorcycle in the parking lot down the street when I had a perfectly acceptable place to park it here at home……..i.e. in the living room! I explained to her that the motorcycle was dirty, had the potential of smelling like gasoline, and that I didn’t want to mess up the house. She didn’t accept my rebuttals. She insisted. I conceded. From that day forward, the motorcycle has called the living room its home.

My next run-in took the place the following day. Upon leaving for the internet café, she asked where I was going with my laptop. I informed her that I was heading down the street (about 3 blocks) to the local “cyber”, and that I would return shortly. The response was effectively:

“What are you, nuts???!!!” “You can’t carry a laptop around in this neighborhood……take that thing back inside…….that’s CRAZY!!!!!”

I assured her that it would be fine, and that I would be especially careful. She waited outside until I returned home an hour or two later. Following that episode, we pretty much had the same conversation each day, as I walked down the street carrying the laptop. I never conceded on this one. Neither did she.

For the next several weeks, we would have our daily chats about the history of the house, the neighborhood, the family, or my work in Managua. Although she expressed very little compassion for the community with whom I spent my days, she regularly helped “those less fortunate” in OUR neighborhood with plates of food, etc.

Despite being well into her 80’s, she was EXTREMELY active and had virtually NO health problems outside of cataracts. Mentally, she was very sharp and held the unquestioned position of being the matron of a large family. She was always up early, sweeping the house or cleaning something that was probably already clean (she couldn’t understand how I could sweep without subsequently mopping the floor). Since we shared a wall between our rooms, I would regularly hear her working on various projects, sometimes late into the night. She would bring me dishes (the NEW….BEST dishes) or small furnishings to use in my room, she would ask me each morning how I had slept, forced me to take her special cough syrup when I was sick, worry if I was out late, and seemed quite intent on finding me a “nice Nicaraguan girl”. All in all, she showed me a great deal of kindness over the short time we knew each other. I appreciated that.

Several weeks ago, while I was on a bus, returning to Managua from Costa Rica, Dona Coney got out of bed to answer an early morning phone call. Upon doing so, she slipped, fell onto her left side, and fractured her hip. She lay on the floor for the next two hours until someone finally discovered her. From there, it was off to a local hospital by ambulance to await surgery for the next week and a half.

Despite the EXTREMELY strict visiting policy of the local hospital (one hour per day……one visitor), I was able to visit her one time prior to her surgery. Not surprisingly, she asked about the motorcycle and the laptop, and instructed me numerous times in regard to my personal safety. I gave her the usual assurances and directed the conversation back to her current health situation and comfort. I told her I would see her in a few days, back at the house. Despite her previously active lifestyle, she was going to need a considerable amount of help in the coming weeks. I assured her that we would all be playing a part in that.

The following Tuesday, I spent most of the morning dealing with logistical aspects related to my recent auto accident. Since it was the official “surgery day”, I spent the afternoon hanging out with “the little sisters” at home, awaiting news of the outcome. About 4PM, while I was sautéing vegetables for that evening’s dinner, the girls left the kitchen to answer the door. From the screams and tears that erupted in the following moments, I knew what had happened. Dona Coney’s time had come. Although the surgery had proven to be successful in the repairing of her left hip, she died of a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung) shortly after.

And with that, the short intersection of two VERY different lives came to an abrupt ending. As for me, I’m still renting out the same room in the same house in the same middle class neighborhood in Central Managua. As for Dona Coney, well, the adjacent bedroom is now strangely silent. Immediately outside my door though is a small table. Atop the table are several bouquets of flowers, a burning candle, and a photo of the recently deceased matron of the family. This small memorial is all that remains after yesterday’s conclusion of the “official two weeks of mourning”. It’s a symbol that Dona Coney, wherever she may be now, continues to live on in the hearts and minds of her family and friends. It offers a bit of peace and comfort to those who continue to mourn her recent passing. And it’s a tribute to the special person that she was, proudly placed to be the first thing one sees as they enter the home. Proudly placed, that is, just a few feet from that motorcycle in the living room.