Our visitations last Thursday to families in our Child Sponsorship Program took us through the heaviest fumes my lungs have yet braved. With burning eyes and failing voices, we walked through white smoke so thick that shadows cut visible swaths of black in the milky air. Though worried for her, it was no surprise that Maudelia's two year-old daughter, who she carried at her side, carried in turn a coarse and incessant cough.
As we rounded a corner of the single-room school that services the area, I noticed a boy gazing down at us from his perch in the leafless branches of a tree that barely rose above the corrugated metal separating his house from the next. He wore only tattered shorts and splashed mud on his chest. He looked to be well past seven, the age at which Nicaraguan children begin their schooling.
After trading his name for mine I asked, "Y porque no andas en escuela?" And why are you not in school?
In the broken Nicañole that Chureca teaches its children, he patiently explained that he was not permitted the luxury of an education because the house could not be left unattended while his father worked in the trash.
Left with a piercing feeling of impotence and that now familiar loss for words, my gaze fell through the fumes to my feet and the mange-riden animal not far from them. The seconds passed, and not knowing what else to say to my new friend whose unfortunate predicament I had just reminded him of, I absent-mindedly directed my next words to the dog at my feet. "Qué nota, perro?" What's up, dog?
Laughter suddenly burst through the air. Surprised and confused, my downtrodden spirit eagerly soaked in his broad smile and careless cackles. And, in that moment, as his laughter infected the air, I knew that it was no less real than the smoke it joined.
As living conditions range, nothing that I have known has any liberty to call itself Chureca's peer. This reality in mind, I am constantly perplexed that thoughts of my mornings in that desolate place are inexorably... joyful. Though seemingly counterintuitive, I cannot ignore that each visit brings cheer with a frequency almost insultingly disproportionate to the surrounding destitution.
Nicaragua's second discourse, taught in strife witnessed and smiles wielded, has been that whether life exists in privilege or penury, whether found on marble floors or shattered glass, joy is resilient.