This post is an excerpt from a writing course I am currently completing, hence the slightly different style. Comments or critique are welcome!
The view laid out in front of me is wide and open. It funnels my perspective down to the valley and the centre of the small departmental capital of Somoto. The sun has started to go down. It is golden hour. I bid the community leader Don Andre buenas noches and head back down to the centre of town and my house. This walk from the eastern most barrio of Somoto, derogatively called “la chureca” by the local Somotenians after the main garbage dump in the capital city of Managua, is slowly becoming familiar, each walk fading into one common blurry path, etching itself into what assuredly will become my closet of memories for this town.
Leaves from a lone mandarin tree ahead of me float down and land on the small, uneven dirt path that separates sector 24 from sector 20. On both sides there are homogenous grey concrete houses, built 5 years ago with funding from a Spanish organization. The black tarps chaotically placed here and there between adobe brick houses, wooden frames, and grey concrete blocks catch my eyes. The sound follows me as I walk downhill. Every 7 seconds or so I hear a distinct crack from the tarps as the wind runs through them. They become consistently less prevalent as I head downhill, the omnipresent destitution of the peripheral barrios giving way to a more nuanced, less offensive type of poverty.
I enter sector 20. The plots of land here are bigger, the houses less organized, more individualistic. A man exits the outhouse in the backyard of the house on my right, still doing up his belt. He walks funny, both of his legs stiff in front of him, his beer belly protruding from his rolled up grey t-shirt.
A man swings open the gate to his house on my left; his clear eyes look at me suspiciously. The Gaelic lettering on his caps spells the name of some American baseball team. His done-up friend leans on his polished Yamaha motorcycle looking out of place, juxtaposed by the dusty cactus and barbed-wire fence. I reach the cross in the road, referred to here as the “crossing of the pit” because the crossing lies at a large depression formed by two hills on both sides and the sewage from the surrounding streets tends to snake its way down and pool in toxic puddles, forming these permanent ditches of hostile sludge. It is impassable, I am told, during the rainy season. I accidently step in a puddle of grey water crossing over one of the ditches. The filmy dark water squishes uncomfortably between my flip-flops and the scent of sewage and refuse fills my nose.
The road curves in front of me, shooting me out onto the main road of sector 18. The road here is already wider, with fewer potholes. Two streets over I see two children ride down a paved road on bicycles. The older child’s bicycle is too small for him and he looks comical with his knees and elbows splayed out beside him.
The door to the church is open as I pass by. A few people sit of the simple wooden benches as they praise the lord in off-tune voices.The singing follows me for another block until I reach the first real paved street and a passing car drowns it out. The car’s stereo is blasting a popular Romero Santos song Propuesta Indecente. The bachata beat is catchy but the lyrics are obscene and the young man driving the car gives me a knowing grin. I feel a slight whisper of fear creeping up my neck: the car is brand new and pimped out which can only mean one of two things – gangs from Honduras or drug money – but aside from his sleazy grin he passes without incident.
I head down the main street of Barrio 10. The new renovations on the street almost give it the impression of belonging to the other side of the river, the “right” side of the river, the side with cobblestones and sidewalks where it is safe to walk alone at night. A man stands on the back of a parked truck, hauling sacks of rice off of it. His body is covered in sweat. His T-shirt is covering his head from the sun.
I cross the river, the tributary of The Rio Coco that separates The Barrios Unidos from the rest of Somoto, the poor from the rich, the have-nots from the haves. Three blocks up I turn east at the central park. The Pizza seller outside the park leans over his greasy counter to whistle at a passing girl. The girl turns to yell something at him. They both laugh.
An orange seller sits in the shade as I turn the corner to my street. His Cowboy hat is pulled down low. His wares pile around his feel. He plays absentmindedly with the machete in his hand. He is old, his face wrinkled. He looks like he has had a hard life. I feel the urge to ask him about it. He strikes me as the kind of old man that would have great stories to tell.
I am almost home now. I see the Pan American Highway in the distance and the huge almond tree in front of my home. A piece of cardboard is hung on the iron fence of my neighbours as I pass it. On it is scrawled in legible writing: Se vende Leche, Crema, Cuajada, Queso.
A plastic gum wrapper dances over the street in front of my shoes. My nail polish on my big toe is chipped. It is the same colour as the white washed wall to the entrance of my house. I take my keys out of my bag and look up at the hill where I came from. The last of the sun’s rays dance on a forest of aluminum roofs. Somewhere in the distance, or perhaps it is now just a distant memory, I hear a tarp crack in the wind.