You know, I've been in Managua for a good long time now, and Managua is not a tranquil spot. It's loud and dirty and difficult to navigate and full of strange people that walk too close behind you on the sidewalk, or spit little bits of roasted corn or rice all over your lap when you sit next to them on a madly careening city bus. Or throw large rocks at your head. Don't get me wrong: you do meet nice people in Managua, but even among the nicest folk the general attitude is one of defensive alertness, and just that atmospheric tension can really wear you down.
I've been working in archives where getting information is like playing chess against Bobby Fischer. Hmm... if I move my rook to the right, will the librarian bring me the budget meeting notes that I'm sure she's keeping hidden? Or will she shut me down with an impervious and glacial stare, declaring that "it does not exist." Maybe if I soften her up with gifts she'll let me see the video archive of interviews with health workers that is currently, inexplicably, closed to the public? So I show up with a super-dooper awesome pen in some bright and silly color, and she smiles and thanks me and coos over the smooth rolling tip, but no. Those videos are off-limits, and will continue to be off limits until the VCR machine is fixed. I point out that maybe we could transfer the videos to another place at the university that has a functioning VCR machine, and affix a hopeful smile to my face. No. It is not permitted to transfer the videos. Period. At another archive I've been waiting 2 months for some photocopies that I requested. Two months. I've shown up three times to see if they are ready, only to be met with apologetic smiles and a heap of ridiculous excuses. After the first time I requested the librarian's phone number, and she gave me the number for a local video store. On the third time I arrived to find that the librarian was going to be on vacation until mid-January. No photocopies.
I've lived through 24 consecutive days of torrential downpours, flooded streets, moldy clothes, furniture, bedsheets, you name it. I've been around while the city ground to a near-total standstill for riots, protests, marches, rallies, tear gas, machete-wielding thugs, improvised weapons, homemade mortar explosions, burning buses and cars, and other delightful elements of an electoral meltdown.
Managua has worn me out.
I am in Matagalpa now, a small but busy little city up in the Nicaraguan mountains. I'm drinking rum and coke, debating what I'll order for dinner, and I just want to take a moment to appreciate the moment. I am by myself, in a very hip bar with great lighting, good music, and lively conversations taking place all around me. I've spent the day walking about, introducing myself to new people, explaining who I am, what my project is, and asking them if they'd be willing to sit down with a complete stranger and discuss their personal and medical histories with me. And people here are friendly. Curious. Helpful. Open. Not afraid, not warning me of impending danger around every street corner. Not trying to get in my way, not stopping me from having information. I got in a taxi this morning and did not fear that the driver might beat me up and rob me, which is a thought that always crosses my mind in Managua. I feel relaxed. Not in an "I'm on vacation" kind of relaxed, but in the "I'm just going about my business and everything's cool" kind of relaxed, which is an infinite relief to me.
I like being here.