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  • My plane arrived in Managua, Nicaragua around noon. The rainy season had passed but it was still hot and shirt sticky. This was my first trip to Central America and the night before i made the mistake of reading an online travel advisory. As if tourist's past misfortunes could predict my fate. In short, it said Managua might not be the place for my camera and I. The team i would be working with wouldn't be joining me for another day so for the moment i was alone. Greeted by another language and culture i was unskilled in coupled with not having slept the night before, i began to slowly withdraw and say my goodbyes before my hellos. I caught a cab to the hotel i was staying in and stared out the windows, taking in the people, the colors and the frantic commotion of the capital city. I shot here and there out the window and was of course reminded by the otherwise silent driver to be careful with my camera.

    After checking in at the Pyramid Hotel and talking for a bit with Manfred, a French gentleman who ran the place, i ordered some fish and rice and sat alone on an upstairs terrace and read my book for a bit. Johnny Got His Gun, by Donald Trumbo. I had known of this story for years, having watched Metallica's One video which used clips from the adapted film. The newly quadriplegic Joe Bonham, waking up from a coma in a war hospital, newly amputated, newly blind, newly deaf. Face, mouth and tongue obliterated. All senses depended upon for so long, now gone. A fully operating mind but a prisoner in his own body. Reading it could almost give you a panic attack just to imagine for one moment how that would feel. To be alone and have no one to connect with for comfort, exchange, aid or just to break the monotony of the mind's movement. It would all make sense in days to come. If the timing of books doesn't reek of divine order then i'm not sure what does.

    I left and walked through the city against Manfred's advice. Past old Coca Cola murals, dogs chained in yards, old ladies on porches with glaucoma, palm trees and security guards- often napping or lazily announcing their presence in front of every business and group residence. I ran into some kids playing in a culvert and photographed them which brought about a few smiles but they quickly faded into glances of faded curiosity and indifference. I photographed another young man in front of a shop of sorts. He didn't seem to mind at all but it remained a neutral interaction at best. There was no future for he and I and i could feel him wondering why i was there and imagined him telling me that i wasn't needed in Nicaragua. This evolved into morbid reflection and for the rest of the day, i carried around a westerner's fear, guilt and arrogance that surely stopped any relationship that might have formed from coming to be. It became the dramatic feeling of being unwanted and unloved and i missed the day before, back in Texas, when so many people knew how important i was. I had so many phone calls, emails and taps on my door that told me so. I was somebody then. But not now.

    I thought of Cathleen. She and I had dated 4 years ago. She was such a tragic beauty. The most playful mind, the brightest blue painted eyes, the ability to quote every book she had ever read with present relevance, the clothes that looked like a quilt made of random fabric that somehow worked perfectly every time. All overshadowed by a great sadness and isolation that always returned, eventually being more than i felt i could assist with. When it was over i would wonder why she just couldn't allow herself to have relationships and be a part of and experience the life i was so certain she was born to live. I never figured out why, i just saw that she couldn't or that she wouldn't. Maybe she felt tragically different. Maybe it was wounds from explosions past. Maybe what she heard and what people were saying were in fact two different things. For whatever reason, she was an outsider.

    My first day In Managua, i was too. My feelings of separation from the rest of the human race ultimately became a quiet hostility. I was not only nothing like them, i was nothing like myself. Throughout my life, i had at least been able to attract people to walk down the road with. Here i had given up on that. It was just accepted for the moment that i was alone, unnecessary and subsequently better off in my room. As my night at the Pyramid went on though, it all started to take a different shape. I remembered a lot of the lonely people I had seen in my life who camped out on the fringes and sidelines. I could see and feel them now, especially Cathleen. I regretted ever saying the words, "I just don't understand" so often when people's symptoms of being alive were merely different than mine. I realized how many people truly felt alone and of course now that it had happened to me, it was kind of a big deal. Then i fell asleep.

    The crew arrived the next morning and it's amazing what sleep followed by interaction will do for someone. The therapeutic value of an alliance with another is without parallel. We went on to do great things while there, formed friendships with each other and more importantly with people who called Nicaragua home. The language barrier was overcome by sincerity in most situations. I remembered that i am a part of life and have much to add to any room i walk into. I remembered that people are often about as closed or open as the person they were locking eyes with. And i understood that as someone who is blessed to be surrounded by people and their encouragement that it is my duty to extend that same inclusiveness and openness to all, as much as humanly possible. I think i came home and did that a little more than i had before.

    The book didn't end so well. Joe manages to eventually communicate in Morse Code by banging his head on his pillows and requesting that he be put out of his misery or put in a glass box and paraded around to attest to the horrors of war. The doctors grant him neither wish and he fails to escape his tortured existence. Some outsiders find their way in though. I talked to Cathleen the other day. She wanted to get a piece of furniture i have held all this time to go into the house that she and her new boyfriend will soon be moving into. She said she is happier than she’s ever been. I believed her.
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