Flying into Managua at night, the city lights twinkle like a vast net of X-mass lights – alternating yellow and white lights pop up from behind jungle trees as the plane glides by. In mid-January the government's X-mass light displays are still up in major intersections. Managua is unlike any other city I have flown into because it is so flat – almost no buildings over one story have been built since the earthquake in 1972, and there are barely any downtown high-rises.
The sprawling sea of single-family homes reminds me of L.A., but it feels different to me than L.A., where the sprawl means so many cars and freeways, and isolation. In Managua, the homes are much smaller, and people rely almost completely on buses and taxis to get around. People are out in the streets with each other – waiting for buses, hailing taxis, walking, shopping at open-air stalls, selling water, watches or treats off of their own backs. The small homes are right up against each other, too; not only can you hear your neighbor's house, at night you can hear your neighbor's neighbor's house as if it is your own. Somehow, even the walls and grated windows don't seem to separate us so much. We all have them, and we are all held prisoner to the intense shortage of material wealth in the western hemisphere's second poorest country. Rich and poor, we all have something someone else might want, and might walk off with, given the chance.
My first night alone in the Casa Misionera was not an easy sleep. I was conscious that we had not had water in days, and needed to be alert for the sound of the pipes trickling or of my neighbors collecting water themselves – a pump running or the splash of buckets filling storage barrels. All I heard in the end was cats crawling across the roof, the wind through the trees, and the sounds of dogs barking and people blowing whistles in the deserted streets – I've been told the whistles are robbers communicating in some secret code, which intrigues me greatly.
The water did not come – leaving me to ask myself how much I really need, and how much trust I should have that it will come before the reserves are used up.
Welcome to Managua!