I’ve spent the past three months of my life telling people in the United States that I was spending my summer interning in Nicaragua. I’ve spent the past three months of my life listening as people tried to politely ask me why I was coming here, then retold secondhand horror stories about Central America and crafted aggressive attempts to deter me. In the same vein, I’ve spent the past three months of my life honing my argument: “Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America. I have experience living on my own in big cities. I’m going to be fine.”
Granada is no Managua, and Nicaragua is no Honduras. But since getting here, I’ve been able to see what people were worried about. Drunks gather on some street corners, holes spontaneously open up in the street and a man literally jumped out of a doorway and kissed me on the back of the neck.
I’ve learned to put safety before feelings, clutching my purse close to me even if that might come across as rude or guarded. I’ve learned to trust my instincts and to get in a cab after dark. I’ve suffered the embarrassment of getting lost, hailing a cab and being told by the driver that I was around the corner from my destination. I’ve also suffered the regret of not hailing a cab and walking for 25 minutes in the wrong direction.
Granada has a witching hour, when the streets become much more dangerous, and when the Gringos who came here to party become just as aggressive as any local. It’s then that the whistles, the stares and the greetings on the street become less friendly. You learn to be as wary of the crowded streets as the empty ones. Yes, to the untrained eye, smaller dangers abound in the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.
Yet whenever I begin to doubt Granada and think about becoming as cynical as many of my fellow North
Americans, I just need to wait until dusk. Every evening around 6 p.m. or so, Granada transforms into a Pan-American Mayberry. Doors are thrown open, rocking chairs are dragged out onto the sidewalk and kids play in the street. Parque Central fills with couples holding hands, a pickup soccer game and the sounds of vendors packing up for the night, weary from a day of hawking goods. Walking down any street, you are followed by a chorus of “buenas noches” and “adios.”
Calle Libertad, where I live, becomes truly idyllic after dark. Grandmothers chastise giggling kids, fritanga stands pop up to feed the gossip mill as much as the hungry stomachs, and flirty teens shyly hold hands. I suspect if anyone tried to lay a finger on me at this hour, the unofficial neighborhood watch would eagerly shake off the cobwebs in my defense.
A gringa traveling alone adjusts to whistles and comments. But during this peaceful time of the early evening, the most I’ve garnered was a nostalgic catcall from a group of grandfathers before their apologetic wives playfully smacked them.
These precious hours are the difference between visiting a place and really living there. Most people passing through might spend this lull at dinner, cooling off at the hostel, or resting up before a big night out. I have the pleasure of being able to throw open my doors and watch Granada as it eases past at a snail’s pace. Maybe one day I’ll be invited to join the rocking chair brigade.
It can be hard as a (relatively) pampered North American to live in Central America. Every time I put toilet paper in the trashcan instead of the toilet, I get a little wistful for home. But then there are moments like tonight. As I begged the fritanga lady for more plantains, two figures turned the corner and stumbled towards me. While I prepared to shield myself behind the hulking preparer of pollo, the streetlight revealed a pair of bashful seven year olds on rollerblades, slipping, sliding and giggling their way down the street. And with that image, I wrapped my banana leaves around my street-food dinner and returned home, ready to face another day of hard living in beautiful Nicaragua.