Thursday, March 26, 2009

I´m just not that into you.

¨I think you just had your official welcome to Managua, Molly¨laughs my curly haired friend Amy from Rhode Island. Four girls squished into the back seat of a taxi in the heat of the Nicaraguan evening on the way to spin class turned into another eventful moment in the life of Molly Bryant. The stories keep building. Yesterday I was reminded that I am, indeed, immersed in another culture. A culture altogether different than my own; one that has undoubtedly provided moments of confusion, frustration and terror (which just comes with the territory of international travel) but mostly it has provided moments of pure humor and hilarity. As soon as I forget that I´m traveling through Central America, a man in a wheelchair tries to make out with me. At a stoplight. With a plate glass window as our only barrier.

´Tis true. I do not exaggerate, my virtual friends. Last night, our taxi driver Fernando pulled up to the stoplight of a busy intersection and immediately locked the doors and asked us to roll up our windows. We obeyed without question knowing that robbery has been on the rise here in Nicaragua. As I was innocently chatting with my friends and moving to the salsa music on the radio, a man´s face appeared directly to my left. Inches away. My eyesight might be horrific but I do have excellent peripheral vision. I slowly turned my head with the face of someone who might be described as one who feels both guilty and nervous because they know they shouldn´t be looking at whatever it is but they can´t not look at the same time. I looked. Failure! Never look.

¨Ho-laaaaaa!¨says the man as he nods and literally licks his lips. Cringe. I smiled and turned away. Surely the man will get the point. I´m just not that into him. He taps on the window. Shudder. He bangs on the window and starts talking. Holy shit. The car errupts into uncontrollable giggles. I try to remain adamant that I will not even laugh because that will just provoke the situation. Do not laugh. And then...

He sticks his mouth on the window. The window that is inches from my face. I turn to give him the look of ¨Ya Basta (Enough!)!¨And then I see it in plain view. His mouth. His tongue. The window. A part of me was literally scared. I wouldn´t say that it´s the most comforting thing in the world to have a man in a wheelchair make out with the window the lies adjacent to your body. Yet, slowly... slowly... slowly... a smile emerged. Then a snort. Then a snicker. And then laughter. Uncontrollable, deep laughter. Tears begin to stream down my face. With each kiss from the man, more tears. Tears of terror, tears of humor and tears that inevitably come with a situation like this. And then the car lost all control. It was contagious. And that damned stoplight lasted for what felt like hours.

Thankfully I had 50 minutes of spinning class from an instructor that had dance moves I´ve never ever seen before and who yelled at me to go faster to take my mind off the classy man at the stoplight. Perhaps we will meet again. Perhaps not. At least we had those 5 minutes together. On the street. With the doors locked and the windows up.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Chip. Mouth. Crunch.

3:30 am. My roommate has just entered our bungalow. The door swings and makes a screeching noise against the tile floor. The light switch is turned on. Then off. Then on again. It is our last night in El Salvador and while half of the group stayed up drinking rum and Cokes and probably a healthy dose of tequila, the rest of us had less rum and Coke and tequila, played a few raucus games of UNO, danced Latin American style around the living room and descended the stairs to sleep in our comfy beds for the last time at a more decent hour, although decent is relative.

3:35am. The light is turned off yet again. She noisily walks to the bed that is a mere foot and a half from my tiny bed that is squished in the corner with sheets that don´t fit and a few springs that have slowly made their way closer and closer to the surface and my spine. She has changed clothes and is now ready for sleep. What else could she do? I assume that now all will be quiet. I can go back to sleep. I love my sleep.

3:38 am. Plastic bag crumpling. Still crumpling. Plastic bag falling to the ground. Hitting the ground. My mind races, what is happening? Then I hear it. It becomes clear. She is opening a bag of potato chips. At 3:38 in the morning. An hour and 7 minutes before I am to wake up and get on a bus for twelve hours that will take me to Nicaragua via Honduras and the open road. Bag opened. CRUNCH. Is she really doing this? How could she do this to me? She loves me! Crumpling. Chip. Mouth. CRUNCH. Chew. Chew. Chew. Each movement is like an audible bomb. Chip. Mouth. Crunch. At this point, not only can I swear on my life that she is eating each chip inches from my ear with the intent of instigating a physical brawl, but the bag must be three feet tall. It is never ending, these chips. They continue taunting me and screeching with laughter as her teeth descend on their salty bodies. Chip. Mouth. Crunch. CRUNCH.

3:52 am. The chips have been eaten. The roommate is asleep. I am awake with the echoes of fried potatoes resounding in my ears.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Highways and Byways

As we drove down the dirt rode, our fingers sticky from the fresh papaya, the sun began to set. Colors splashed across the sky and the night time coolness slowly descended on the Salvadoran countryside. The four of us squished into the old beatup Toyota pickup truck driven by our host mom, Elena, who just so happened to be a Catholic nun and one of the wisest women I've ever met. She casually asked us questions about our lives, and slipped in the seemingly insignificant question, "Do any of you know how to drive a stick shift?" Two of us said that we knew the basics of it, but we hadn't driven one in a long time. The conversation moved on, nothing too spectacular.

Suddenly, we were on the highway, darkness rapidly approaching, and we were literally averaging 35 mph. Something was clearly not right. Elena delicately pulled onto the shoulder and sweetly said, "Girls, I'm sorry to do this to you but I can't see." The four of us gave each other fearful glances wondering what we were supposed to do.

Elena: Can one of you drive?
Marie and I looked at each other with complete bewilderment
Marie: No. I really don't know how to drive a standard. It's been way too long.
Molly: I don't think I can do it. I really... I just don't think I can do it either... I mean... no. No.

After about two minutes of discussing the situation that was at hand... sitting on the side of the highway in El Salvador at night with a nun and a pickup truck full of people and no one to take the wheel...

Molly: Okay. I'll do it.
Elena: Wonderful! Let's switch seats.

I shakily opened the door, slipped into the driver's seat and adjusted the mirrors only to remember that the entire bed of the truck was full of chairs and other equipment from the day. I could not see out of the back window... at night in El Salvador. But there was no other choice, someone had to get us off the highway and back home. Someone had to drive that damned stick shift.

Literally making the sign of the cross, I put the car into first and took off. Cheers and laughter and applause errupted inside the truck. Elena could not stop encouraging me and telling me how great I was doing. Second and third gear came quickly, and the highway unfolded before me. If it hadn't been for the fact that I hadn't driven a standard in about three years and even then, it was only for a summer, or the fact that I held the lives of four other people in my hands, I might have enjoyed the drive. Instead, my knuckles were white and I thought I might have some type of emotional breakdown when, or more realistically if, we ever made it back safely.

It was completely black on the highway, no street lights to be found anywhere. We desperately searched for our turnoff, although with Elena's lack of sight it made it all harder. And then we saw it... our road that would take us back. I slowed down, put on the turn signal and waited until the massive bus that was coming the other direction passed me. Then... the car stalled. On the highway. At night. In El Salvador.

My next task was to turn the car back on, put it in first and make a left turn on the highway without stalling in the incoming lane. As I look back on this moment, I realize that it might be the most pressure filled moment of my life. If I stalled the car while turning left, we were in a massive amount of trouble. Real trouble. My mind raced with plans of survival. I envisioned screaming, "Get out of the car! Run!" I would run around to the other side, pick up little Sister Elena and carry her off the road. She couldn't run fast enough, could she? Plus, I wasn't sure how to say it all in Spanish. There would be no other way out. So Elena squeezed my hand and told me that I was going to do fine. Quietly freaking out in my head, I breathed, put it back into first gear and made a left turn onto the dusty dirt road that bumpily and yet safely led back to the church where we were staying.

We survived! Cheers, screams and huge sighs of reliefs filled that little pickup truck. Elena repeated over and over, "You're a star! You're a star! You have shown me confidence! A star!" As I got out of the truck that night, my legs and hands still shaking, I smiled a smile of survival and accomplishment. And then I ate some ice cream.

The end.