Not Broken

On Sundays the only bus leaving my town is at 5 in the morning, so Saturday I set my alarm for 4:43. I’m going to Managua, so I need to be on that bus. When the beeping wakes me up I snooze it and sit up, feeling my head push up the low-hanging mosquito net like a tent pole. My face still feels strange from my soccer collision on Friday. I touch my nose and feel the dull roots of pain tug through my teeth, nose, and eyes. That can’t be good. I sigh and un-tuck my netting from the wafer-thin mattress and grope across the room for the light switch. The things I’ll bring are laying out already, so I grab, stack, shove, and do my final mental checklist as I scan the room: toothpaste, toothbrush, underwear. Check. Power cable for computer? Not check. Why? I get the reckless and strange idea that I will be living on the edge, somehow roughing it, by leaving it behind. I make a mental note to see how that pans out for me. Outside I meet a fellow volunteer who is visiting with a friend and will also be needing to exit the town. We wander in search of the bus. We find it.

The ride passes groggily and the ferry that we board mercifully has a decent little cafe on the main level that churns out gallo pinto, eggs and cheese on styrofoam plates. Tastes better than it sounds. The ride is nice, thanks to the unusually well-designed layout of the ferry. It looks a lot like a Burger King dining area, with vinyl plastic booth seats around plastic laminate tables. I imagine a young Nicaraguan boy growing up around his dad’s ferry business and how one day a BK commercial provided the inspiration for his secret dream to recreate the cheap, tacky, yet comforting atmosphere of a fast-food joint and change the family business forever. I wonder how that’s panning out for him.

Standing room only as we board the bus to Managua, but time slips by and after an hour I get off at a stop near my training town host family. The visit is wonderful. My family is welcoming, I brought some pictures I printed from training, a t-shirt for Consuelito, and mangoes to share with everyone. Alicia, my 11-year-old sister takes me to play in the park like old times and my mom gives me extra food. I’d like to stay longer, but I feel like a seventh wheel and I’m anxious to get to Managua before dinner. I long to lay in my hotel room, soak in the solitude and clean sheets, and use free wireless internet.

Soon I am in a spacious room with two queen beds, A/C, and a flat-screen tv; a different universe from the one I normally inhabit here. It’s unsettling and thrilling and I don’t know what to make of it, so I open my laptop and log into taxslayer to e-file my taxes. My eye continually flickers to the battery icon, like I’ve opened a message that will self-destruct in four hours. It’s a race to the finish. The juice lasts through the tax return, podcast downloading and a nice skype date. Why didn’t I bring my power cable, again? Oh, well. I’ll be going home soon.

I’m sucked into cable-land for the next two hours, on a carousel of bad shows and movies that my thumb uncontrollably flicks through. I’m stuck on automatic pilot and I feel like I’m separated from my lifeless body as it is subjected to bbc, cnn, tbs, amc, hgtv, mtv, nick, wb, a neverending cacaphony of drama and dark alleys. A tiny person in my brain finally manages to knock my thumb into the power button and I am released into restless sleep.

I wake early for breakfast, reading and kicking myself for not bringing my cable. My nose still hurts. I chuckle at my whiny inner dialogue to keep from getting depressed. Breakfast is good.

The office is welcoming, secure, and cool. I wander between the book loan library, my project manager’s empty office and the medical office waiting room. Three hours until my appointment at the hospital. A taxi will take 15 minutes to take me there. It dawns on me that I will need to stay another night in Managua. With no laptop battery power, I get a sinking feeling that I knew I had coming. I sigh and wait for the taxi.

The hospital is both familiar and exotic. The reception is open and airy, like a modern urban office building. The stairs and hallways are light and clean. The waiting area and doctors offices are arranged differently from US hospitals, however. Each doctor has their own room with four chairs outside the door for waiting patients. Some have small desks with a secretary attending to business while the doctor attends to patients. As I walk by the other rooms on my way towards Dr. Alvaro Fuentes’ office, I glimpse the inside of one in the style of a laminate-victorian era dining room, almost expecting to see a fireplace flickering with antiseptic flames. The impression is of people waiting to enter into sci-fi portals sending them to different time periods or geographic locations. The doctors must construct his or her own portal-cave the way they imagine that their patients will feel most comfortable.

I sit down and stare at the wall. It’s a dull peach color, with small arrows pointing along the bottom towards the exits. The arrows would never be noticed except for the position and boredom of the waiting patients. The longer I look at them, the more urgency they acquire and the faster my eyes fall on them only to be whisked forward to the next to the next and so on like a pinball caught up in some vortex bonus round of the machine while the player waits and watches with a deep satisfaction for its release.

Literally six minutes after walking into the bright and dentist/library/African mask-themed portal that the otolaryngologist has designed as his exam room I step out with a sense of relief and embarrassment that I have come all the way to Managua to be told that, ‘yep, I sure did get a bonk on the nose there.’ That’s it? Nothing broken? ‘Nope. Have a nice day!’ Still, it was nice to get away for a couple of days. If only I had a power cable…

I find a power cable. A friend and fellow volunteer also stuck in Managua, John, has brought his and when I tentatively plug it in my laptop does not explode. The charging light flicks on and I smile as I fell myself slipping through fate’s grasping fingers. Then I feel nauseous and lay down for two hours. I don’t feel any better. The rest of the afternoon is spent eating bread and bananas, watching a panel discussion about journalism, and trying not to barf. John comes back from some social outing and I flop halfheartedly in his direction and ask him how his evening has been. He tells me and I’m happy for him but still feeling barfy. It’s another three hours before I can actually vomit and then fall asleep.

Tuesday goes a bit smoother, but the six hours that it takes to get back home are trying. The ferry back to the island is so rough that if I hadn’t been gripping the railing and propping a leg up against the wall across from me I would have been lifted off my seat and dropped painfully with every wave. A 14-ish girl throws up over the side next to me.

I crawl into my mosquito net that evening, tuck it under the wafer mattress, and try to fall asleep, but all I can think of is hospital buildings, power cables, the book loan library and a cheap breakfast on a styrofoam plate. I don’t know if my trip was a success or a failure. Was it pleasant on balance, or was it more of a pain? I decide that I don’t regret it, but that it could have gone better. Next time, I’ll just bring the damn cable.

A familiar sight from my bedroom. I love the sound of webbed feet on linoleum.


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