“April’s Happy Fool”
©Doug Evans Betanco 2008 (1326 words)
While bathing in the río Limon, under sprays of yellow orchids, a gold-lit haze of bees, I notice “Old Gibraltar” below my chest in 2006 has evolved to a flab plateau, here in Teotecacinte, 2008, Glenwood’s Sister City. I have ribs. Although I chose to moderate my weight loss after an obsessive February, I’ve probably—My scale got stolen in March!--lost 10-15 pounds of mondongo, since February 1, mostly in my face, upper body and legs. I still resemble a pink candy apple on two skinny sticks in the morning mirror, even when I hold in my stomach, playing Arnold Schwarzeneggar.
Oh, well. My original goal, 40 lbs. in 3 months, would’ve stretched me into perfectionism, part of the old Doug complex, not the new don Douglas Betanco, pensionado. Five pounds a month is healthy, and there’s always mañana. I’ve bought a belt to keep my pants up, always a good sign. My cheekbones show now, and those Cary Grant creases beneath them, once mere dimples, continue to deepen. It’s been a shrink/grow vacation, replete with passion, change and painful joy.
Semana Sancta in Nicaragua deepens me. Teote is where almost everyone celebrates Holy Week openly, from Palm Sunday to Easter, in the streets; where Judas Iscariot—my friend, Chindo Sanchez, an unforgettable Saddam Hussein mask on his head--rides a donkey backwards through town, interrupting traffic on its highway for two hours on a holiday Thursday; where Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ, dubbed in Spanish, replaces novellas on the Teli for a week of very human and divine DVD. It’s where tears of loss and then of gracias flow, at the soul-magnifying candlelight mass for the Resurrection. Semana Sancta’s rollercoaster of sorrow and joy knocked me free of self-absorption and mission, for a moment, changing the rhythm of my trip completamente. Even thinking of it now brings agua sagrado to my writing table. Then, in the middle of March, I stopped writing, except for my daily journal, and quietly evolved with Diós for three weeks.
As a direct result of Semana Sancta 2008, I have a newly-official son: my legal adoption of Ramón Ernesto Evans Betanco, is final in Nicaragua. I feel more honest, somehow, after calling him “my son” for fifteen of his 23 years. I’ve helped my sister Olga with his upkeep, along with eight other sons and daughters “de Douglas,” kids whose fathers had abandoned them. I’ve been a good father figure, though mostly from afar. Ramon’s run my errands; walked hundreds of miles with me as a guardia con machete around the lonely campo; taught me Spanish idiomas; and now teaches me to ride mi caballo Triunfo. We cried together in the Easter Eve candles at the iglésia, a very special bonding. He’ll be entering the States with legal documentation, though he’ll be leaving his mother and several sweet girlfriends pining. Starting at Square One in both trade and language acquisition, Ramon Ernesto wants first to be an English-speaking electrician’s helper, then, eventually, to build an electrical supply business here.
I’m also now living in my new cuarto, of adobe, pole, tin and stucco. I dug and mixed the mud (with my feet, a la "I Love Lucy," and molded the bricks, all on my own new land here. I love its spaciousness, its ceiling three feet higher than in my former room. A band of clear molded plastic roofing brings extra light to my writing room. Best of all, it’s been built insect-free, for nightly comfort. Though the open eaves of the usual construction help cool down conventional rooms faster than my standing fan, this room’s back window will soon hold an air conditioner. Already, having no mosquitoes in the kneehole of my escritorio is delightful. I’m sleeping disentangled from my mosquitera for the first time in Nicaragua. The rest of my wing will be ready for my return in January.
I also paid a visit to Lito, the oldest hijo de don Douglas, 32, serving a year in the state penitenciaría, the darkest place I’ve ever been, with the most malo energy, even on visiting day. Bad juju, all around. Sadly, he’d become an alcoholic thief after 2000 and is now paying the piper. About half of Teote’s young men, most often the ones who don’t see coyotes in their futures, drink too much guaro here, after their eight hours in the tobacco fields for $2.50. He’s promised me a changed life, and I’ve facilitated his early release for good behavior. Alcol is a hard one, as I know, and, even harder, with so little opportunity here for him to fill that hole with meaningful work. Today, we’re visiting Chindo, head of the local Sandinistas, who’s promised to sponsor his local recovery through Twelve-Step practice while I’m gone, since the Teote AA chapter is defunct. Clearly, my relationships here are deepening, as I plant seeds and cuttings in my south-of-the-border jardín.
What else is new? A million small and very necessary changes: buying glasses for mi madre dona Eva; opening the new servicio at the finca; establishing work projectos for my other children, a few scholarships for English lessons; finding new clothes for the youngest kids de don Douglas; and a new flashlight and straw hat for mi padre. I have also been given a hundred trinkets, photos, lunches, dinners and breakfasts, a couple serenatas, and also a new sense of honor. Whereas I used to do all the visiting, now everyone’s coming to me for café and a chat. It must be all the silver shining in my hair these days, though, really, I’m feeling years younger.
In addition, I’ve written 35,000 interesting words, full of angels and real estate, mostly up on my blog, which needs some closer revising when I get back to Internet daily, now an inconvenient bus ride away in Jalapa. Next trip, “Explorer” will be on mi escritorio in Teote, or bust! I’ve reread, with the extra time, all my Judith Krantz novels, in counterpoint to Nicaragua’s total lack of glitz, and a current book by Noam Chomsky, a truthteller when Americans need more of it.
All in all, I’ve had another whirlwind trip, I see now, though somehow slower, done perhaps with greater grace, as I savor things, now. Yesterday, I did nada except walk the five miles ‘round the campo with Ramon and play with my puppies, now two months old. From dainty, vicious Pinta, a whippet, and noble Kilér, the Chow from Hell en la noche, have come sensitive “Pinto,” a black and white whippet macho, and <strong>“Espiritu,” a romping-ghostly-grey bearcub, eventually a great, hairy male like his dad. Their evocative faces, their innocence, have won my heart completamente. I wash them every day with flea shampoo, a major step in domesticity for me.
Watching them play with little golden cherries from my nance trees beats evaluating papers or, worse, the haunted national news. Sorry, IP, I haven’t seen a newspaper for 75 days. My pups are ferocious enough, swatting fruits across the swept yard like seasoned soccer players. Pinto caught “Spiri” in the nose with one just now. Apparently, it hurt for a puppy-yelp second, before Spiri pounced.
I’m a tad concerned I’m becoming too mellow.
The most exciting thing that’s happened in a month is happening as I write: it’s raining in sheets on my new tin roof—Water-tight!-- for the first time in 40 days, inundating my gardens gloriosos in the middle of the Dry.
Gracias a Diós para todo! I need to go dance in la lluvia for a minute. Excúsame, por favor.
Now, that was a refreshing change!
If I want something more radical, there’s always tomorrow. Who’d have thought I’d find mañana-thinking so comfortable, after years of being such a whipmeister? My students must be laughing bitterly, but, retirement takes both mind-retraining and deeper waters for my soul-swimming. Here’s to all Glenwood, a toast with potable agua de la Brigada de Glenwood Springs, from one happy April’s fool, grinning ear to ear, a sopping-wet loco in Campesino Heaven, Nicaragua.