“Buenas!” is the greeting we use in Nicaragua to announce our arrival at someone's house – no one has doorbells, and you usually arrive at a fence or gate, which isn't great for knocking. It is also what people say as they arrive at the pulpuria next to the Casa Misionera, and I still haven't mastered hearing the difference between a “buenas!” at my door and the bank-teller like window where people buy the wares of the pulpuria. This has me, in my desire to be a welcoming presence in the barrio, frequently answering doors that aren't really for me and getting to see who has come to the store my neighbor Gladys keeps in her house.
Mostly there are kids. School is out, so the children accompany their parents, or get sent on errands, or are offered a couple cordoba for candy or gum. When kids come to the pulpuria, they play in our front yard. We put down gravel over the hard-packed dirt that surrounds a handful of jungle plants planted there, which has inspired a new game: Throw The Rocks.
One day I decided to join the juganderos, a girl of about six and a boy closer to four years old. They were playing the current favorite version of the game: Throw the Rocks in the Hole. I grabbed a small handful and began tossing rocks into the hole in the sidewalk. I didn't find it very challenging, so I tried to ask the children how it was for them. Through the screen of my very limited Spanish, I got the impression that it wasn't amazing for them either. I then tried to explain that the logical end of this game was going to be all the rocks in the hole, and none on the garden, which I thought would be no fun at all. I tried to teach them to juggle the rocks, but they weren't finding the challenge of throwing and catching the small stones worth the amusement it offered. They preferred challenging me to juggle four rocks, which had a similar lack of payoff for me. After a few minutes they took off, all of us smiling.
This leaves me wanting to find a new game to play with the stones. I want the kids to feel like the Casa is a resource for them, as is its intended purpose. As a resource, I also want it to be something that the children feel encouraged to take care of. I wonder if helping the kids find a way to play in the yard can be a part of a process of seeing all of the community's (and the world's) resources as available for use and worth taking care of. I don't pretend that finding a new game here will, by itself, keep these kids from becoming the robbers who are spoken of so often in the barrio, or from becoming the robbers-with-ties my neighbor Max talks about. I do feel like it is worth trying to make a difference in every small way I can, and getting to look out for evidence of changes down the line.
As of right now my leading idea is to start a rock-stacking contest...