The morning air is rich with the smells of hot earth, warm tortillas and wood smoke. The aroma of roasting coffee seeps in through the chinks in the adobe walls, accompanied by the muffled laughter of children playing soccer in the street. This is Nicaragua.
Daily life is slower here, unburdened. There is an ease about the way it moves from quilted farmland to sandy beaches. To the artist's eye it is a still-life of ashy volcanic peaks and broad lakes molded as the country's nickname implies. The land of lakes and volcanoes is home to nearly 6 million Nicaraguans possessing an arsenal of fresh ideas and refreshing priorities that make up the country's identity.
You work to live here, not the other way around. The elderly and young are to be respected, not hauled to an old folks' home or dropped off at day care. There is a sense of quiet pride among city dwellers extending out into even the most rural of countryside. La vida Nica embodies the relaxed daily rhythm that feels natural in an otherwise hurried world.
As I descend the steps of the rickety bus the streets, barely three meters wide, are bristling with life. Every door is left ajar. The dogs are the only ones to sense stranger's breath; they begin to bark from within the shrouded courtyards, the darkened back-alleys.
Everything is foreign. Nothing is real, yet everything is real. It's touchable. It's tangible. It's the way these people live. Kindhearted and generous, these Nicaraguans welcome us strangers. Warm embraces and quick, sloppy cheek-kisses are a thing of normalcy here. I hesitate at every waiting face, extend my hand, but do not dare to shake. Where are they? An explosion of red nearby catches my attention. A woman sporting tight, raven-colored tendrils atop her head, soft chestnut eyes, and a (Product) Red t-shirt stands before me. Hola. Me llamo Lydia, she says. Su tía. Your aunt. My host aunt. My aunt.
Lydia leads me down a street, extending its way off the main, past small single-floor homes made of brick and concrete. Suddenly, I see a face peek through the doorway of a salmon-colored home. A flash of brown and then it is gone. Inclining my head, I look into a murky corridor with an ignited stove at the end and an older lady bent over it. She seemed to be cooking. Not a sound, nothing but the burning heat from the coals. Fragrant, smoky-summer smells. I cross the threshold and enter, nearly bumping against a rectangle coffee table standing in the middle of the room.
The woman hurries away from the stove and runs toward me, limbs flailing, the gold between her incisors catching the light from outside in a toothy grin. She pulls me close to her body, her flesh perfumed with sweat and woodsmoke. "Hola chica! Cómo te llamas? Tienes?" asks my host mother, a glass of icy Coca Cola in her hand.
Retreating to my bedroom, situated behind a rosy floral sheet hung where a door should have been, I peel off my blue jeans. Relief. I sense happiness rising in me like warmth, from my feet to my shins, my thighs, my chest. Hungrily, avidly, I inhale the fragrance of La Villa and of my new home. The aromas of friendship, passion and unwashed humanity are overwhelming, remnants of a life in America which now seem more foreign than here.