The wind was, as it is in the summer, hot, dry and dusty, whipping through the cab as we wove through Managua’s constant traffic. I was late to pick up my parents, hence the taxi driver’s urgency as we chatted. The conversation turned to, as it has with many Nicaraguans, different cultural attitudes about family.
It’s common here for children to live with their families through adulthood-three generations in one house, supporting each other. Ricardo for instance, lives with his mother. “If I wasn’t there to look after her, she wouldn’t have anybody. Does your family live together?”
My closest extended family, grandparents, live a good two hours away in New Jersey, and the rest are scattered. “No. Most move away for work and school.”
He tells me he’s got a sister in Atlanta. “En los Estados Unidos, la vida es dura. Trabajo y familia después. No una casa completa” He looks at me in the mirror and I hum my assent.
It’s interesting, I think. That to him, life in the United States, often written in the narrative as a land of opportunity, is harder, with it’s overarching emphasis on work and success over family. That we don’t grow up in a true home, with family scattered far and wide. They say home is where the heart is, and in that sense, technically my heart was scattered across the states of the Eastern Seaboard.
But here I do have a home. Ricardo, with his kindness and hilarious one-liners. Juan, who works crazy hours as a pediatrician and still comes home with a big smile and hug for Carlos. Giraldine who runs a department at the university, studies into the wee hours of the night and is an amazing mom. Carlos, the feisty but adorable two-year old who enjoys my piggy back rides and fluorescent-colored water bottle. Andrea, my little sister. She’s eleven, sassy, smart, thinks Superman is cute (which I will never stop teasing her about) and plays a wicked game of air hockey.
And my host mom. Mi mama who has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known. You can’t help but fall in love with her hilarity, her kindness, her strength. She rescues stray animals, and opens her home to host people from around the globe. She has dozens of children around the world, and I am so glad to be one of them.
Moments with them are the real heart of my time here. Of watching movies, and going out for pizza with my sister. Of playing peek-a-boo with Carlos, and sharing my day with Giraldine. Of evenings at the dinner table with my host mom, talking about movies, politics, philosophy or just laughing at each others stories. When Andrea told me she would miss me, when my mom calls me hija.
And I understand now, what the cab driver meant. Most might think a Nicaraguan life would be considered harder. But these past eight months have been characterized by an aching amount of heart, an overflowing richness of soul in one small, bright orange house.
If home is where the heart is, then I think I’m finally home.