More Kids, Clowns and Pieces of Things pt. 1

More kids, clowns and pieces of things

This will be my last post in Nicaragua, so it’s going to be a little bit special.  It’s long, and I’ve decided to split it into three parts that I’ll release over the week.  It starts where I left off in my last post with Stalin and the neighborhood kids.

As I mentioned in the last post, I had created a store in which kids could buy prizes.  The absolute end-all be-all prize was a gift from my cousin.  It was a little red plush pouch with the words “SANTA BOWLING” embroidered in gilded lettering.  Inside were 10 little white pins and one oversized marble representing the bowling ball.  Before the store, I had tried to show the kids how to “actually” play the game, setting up the pins, strikes, spares, etc.  They didn’t care much for the orderliness of regular bowling but it didn’t matter, the games they made up with it were just fine with them.  This game was like a better version of marbles and marbles is huge for little kids here (sometimes Nicaraguan tastes really make me feel like I live in the 1950’s).  They even called the bag “chiboles-chibolines” which I understand as “marbles-marblies”.  To be fair, I didn’t know the word for bowling and just called the bag of pins and ball a “chunche”, thingy.  It turns out the word for bowling is ‘bolos’ which here more commonly means ‘drunks’, so it’s probably just as well that I didn’t use the right word.

So given its reverence, when this prize entered the store, it had to be assigned the highest price.  It served as a great incentive.  There is a maximum possibility of earning 7 points on a good day and the marblies cost 15 points.  The idea here is to teach the value of delayed gratification, saving, etc.

Once again, Stalin is the focus of this story.  He didn’t seem to be getting this notion of saving and regularly spent every point he earned the minute he earned it.  Then he would ask for chances to earn more points.  When he can’t earn anymore he asks me, “Why are the marblies so expensive?  I think 6 points is a much better price.”  And so it went.  I was perfectly happy to never give anyone the marbles to teach them a lesson.  I regularly encouraged them to save the points but always left the decision in their hands.  I think he assumed he would get everything in the store when I leave.  I realized that he might be upset when I leave and this illusion is shattered, but sometimes a little heartbreak is the best way to teach a lesson.

Recently, I was away for a few days and wasn’t able to play with the kids.  When I got home it was late in the evening and I went straight into my back patio to start washing dishes and prepare my dinner.  Not two minutes later a group of kids are at my door.  Sometimes I think they set up patrols.  I tell them that we can’t play today, that I’m too tired and so I shoo them out.  I go back to washing my dishes but shortly after Stalin and his little brother return and walk back into my house.  Stalin says something to me from inside the apartment like, “Hey, Juan, can we come back later and play?”  “No, pipe.  Qué sea mañana.”  Stalin agrees and rushes out the door, but his little brother has stayed behind and is playing with my chess pieces.  “C’mon, Yovani, it’s time to go.  Go find your brother.”  “And the marbles-marblies?”  “Don’t worry.  They’re there in the store.  You can try for them tomorrow.”  But as I’m saying this I turn and look at the shelf and sure enough there is a big glaring space where the bag should be.  The bag hadn’t been moved for at least 3 hours so there was of course a very clear layer of dust indicating where it once stood.

Fuck, man.  I mean just fuck.  Fucking fucking fucker fuck!  What a fucker!

I haven’t actually said anything.  Jovani squeaks out, “Stalin took it”.  Yeah, I know he did.  “Go tell him to come back here.”  I sit fuming in my house.  I don’t even know what to think or say.  Lots of volunteers get robbed.  It’s just part of being gringo in a poor community and having things that other people want.  Usually it’s cash, electronics or anything more valuable than some marbles-marblies.  But obviously it’s not the value of the item.  The marblies weren’t even the most valuable thing in the store, and I was fine with giving it as a prize anyway.  It’s the breach of trust, and the fact that he did it right under my nose.  Stalin hasn’t showed up.  I need to go look for him, and I could use the walk anyway.

I find him and his brother about halfway between our houses.  “Where are you going, Juan?”  To which I respond, “I’m looking for you.”  He quickly shouts back, “I didn’t take anything!”  Now, I realize I can’t actually be 100% sure it was him.  Other kids were in the house and Yovani is only 5; he’s not a credible witness. But still, methinks he protests too much.  I give a general scolding while only referring to the thief in anonymous terms.  I talk about how it’s wrong to steal; it needs to come back, blah blah blah.  We’re both bored by my tirade.  “No more games, and no more store until the marbles-marblies come back.  I don’t care who it was.  If it wasn’t you than you go and find out who it was and bring them back.  They just need to come back.”  Well, that got his attention.  And off he goes.

I get back to my apartment and realize that’s bullshit.  I definitely care who it was, and this isn’t going to be one of those times when you just say “All’s well that ends well”.  If it was something valuable I would only care that it comes back.  But there needs to be some justice here.  This is a moral crime and the restitution of property simply isn’t enough.  Stalin comes back maybe an hour later saying how he went to everyone’s house and turned up empty handed, but assured me George (A quick aside.  Although this is how the kid told me he spelled his name, everyone, including his mother, calls him /yon-BLO-ki/.  I don’t know how to reconcile this.) was the culprit.  Stalin thinks this is enough to appease me, and it is most certainly not.  No marblies, no games.

I’m in a bad mood the whole next day.  I really liked these games and put a lot of time into them.  I’m not sure I’ll even want to play should the marblies come back.  I’m thinking that if Stalin doesn’t bring me them of his own accord within 24 hours of having taken them, I’ll go talk to his mother about it.  He lets the clock run down to the wire and shows up just when I’m getting ready to go find him.  He comes to my door as though nothing was new, with the marblies in hand.  “Hey I found this in my brother’s bed.  Here you go.”   Man that’s spineless.  I know you’re 9, but still.  You’re going to frame up your little brother?  My dad told me once that when I was 9 I tried to pick a fight with some teenagers because they wouldn’t let my brother play “Streets of Rage” in peace.  I definitely wouldn’t sell him out for some marblies.  I thought Nica families were supposed to be tight.  I eventually got him to admit it was him.  “Go home.  You stole from me and then lied to me.  There will be no games today.  Maybe tomorrow.”  He’s bummed, but not destroyed.  I don’t think he really cares that he hurt my feelings.  In fact, he never even apologized or asked for forgiveness.

As Stalin leaves I undue the Gordian knot this kid tied in the bag (practically everything in Nicaragua comes in plastic bags and deftly tying strong knots is as much a national pastime as baseball.  Almost as impressive is their ability to bite open the corner of bags containing liquids and pour them out into a cup, while simultaneously using the other hand to drive, text, hit a dog, etc.) and it dawns on me that something seems wrong.

God. Fucking. Damnit.  You gotta be kidding me.  This stupid piece of shit.  Does he think I’m fucking stupid?  He didn’t give me the whole set (you could say it was only a tuco de la chunche).  The goddamn ball is missing.  That’s the most fucking important part!  And it’s goddamn huge!  Of course I’m going to fucking notice it.  Fucking hell!

The next day, the whole cadre shows up, bright-eyed, smiling and ready for game time.  My gate-door is locked but the solid door is open.  “¿Vamos a jugar?” The gall of it all just gets my ire up.  Yea, right.  Maybe we can play the “me punch you square in the face” game.  He even denies that he kept the ball.  This time I go off on him.  It’s cathartic for me and painful for him.  Neither one of us are bored by this scolding.  “When you tried to trick me you stole from me again.  You’ve lied to me three times in three days.  Why on Earth should I trust you to come into my house?  Worst of all, you won’t even admit what you’ve done or ask for forgiveness.  Friends don’t treat each other like that, and I can’t be friends with someone who steals from me.”  And so on.

He starts crying a lot and takes 10 steps to the side of my door where we can’t see each other.  I continue to talk to “George”, because I know Stalin can still hear me.  I explain the whole thing to “George” and why it was wrong and what needs to be done, and so on.  “George” steps aside and talks to Stalin, then comes back and tells me how sorry Stalin is.  “No way.  If he’s really sorry, he can tell me himself.”  “sorry.”, peeps out from behind the wall.  “No way.  If he’s really sorry, he can say it to my face.”  This was a long step.  I start thinking that maybe I’m being too hard on the kid.  He’s only 9 after all.  But then I think, “No, to hell with that.  He knows right from wrong, and he knows how to say he’s sorry.  I can’t give forgiveness to someone who doesn’t ask for it.  And to ask for forgiveness is to admit to a mistake.”

Finally he comes to the door and between hiccups and sobs a little “perdón”, chirps out.  I press him to say why he’s sorry, what he’s sorry for, but he’s frozen.  He can’t move or say anything besides that.  I realize that I’m just torturing him now.  Fine, enough.  I give him a typical spiel about how I hope he’s learned something, blah blah blah and we’re both appropriately bored again.  We talk it out a bit and eventually I tell him he’s lied to me again, so no games today and that maybe tomorrow he can come back.  Tomorrow, however, is the last day of school, he reminds me.  He’s going to spend winter vacation with his father and by the time he gets back, I’ll be gone.  So today is really the last day.  While contemplating this he asks, “Do you hate me, Juan?”

Maaaaaan.  That’s an awkward position.  I don’t want this to be our last encounter, but I also won’t be strong-armed into playing.  I still don’t even have any desire to do so.  I also still legitimately don’t trust them to come into my house.

I thought about it a bit and a solution struck me.  The circus was in town, and I had already made plans to go with some friends of mine.   I told him I would treat him to a night at the circus to show him there were no hard feelings.  He’d need to get his mother’s permission, but I’d pay for him to go.  I won’t give him the marblies; that would ruin the lesson.  He should feel bad and upset about what’s happened.  Sometimes a little heartbreak is the best way to teach a lesson.  But I should reward him for (eventually, sort of) owning up.

The notion of the outing further cements that 1950’s feel I have of Nicaragua sometimes.  Even just saying “the circus is in town” seems like something out of Boardwalk Empire (I know, not the 1950’s).  It just seems like everyone should be trading baseball cards and playing stickball in the street while the girls play with jacks.  Oh wait, yeah they do that too.  Still this retro activity seems like a nice way to put some closure on this one aspect of my life.  It’ll be a special treat for the kids and a nice way to say goodbye.

This may have been one of the most imprudent decisions of my life.

To be continued in part 2.

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2 Responses to More Kids, Clowns and Pieces of Things pt. 1

  1. Richard DeMaria says:

    Gail said that your last tuco was your best. I think that this one shares in that accolade. There’s something so personal and honest about these last two in which you are talking from the heart and not the head. The only way to describe this last blog is to say it was “fun” to read this one. (As I read it, I kept asking myself why you were getting so angry; there must be something more to it.)

    In any case, the last sentence about an “imprudent” decision leaves this reader eager for the next blog. Taking kids to a circus is an outing fraught with possible mishaps.

    Question: Did you promise to take just Stalin or several boys (“a special treat for the kids”) to the circus?

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