Debbie of Retired & Rewired in Nicaragua recently posted The Decay of Dignity and triggered a memory from four or more years ago when I was passing through Rivas Nicaragua. Rivas was my timeout spot, where I threw on the brakes and rested while making the required 72-hour ‘border exits’ out of Costa Rica to keep my passport in good standing.
I often chose Rivas over the highly-popular San Juan Del Sur because I wanted to immerse myself in a typical Nicaraguan town untainted by tourists. I usually rested the first day, ventured around the town on the second day, took the ferry to Debbie’s beloved Isla Ometepe on the third day (for lunch and to see the museum!) then prepared to return to Costa Rica on the fourth or fifth day. Most every morning I arose with the chickens and explored the streets in search of photo moments in the early-morning light.
On several previous trips to Rivas, I crossed paths with a weathered man with a perpetual ‘fool-on-the-hill’ manner that made me wonder what drug had fried his brain, or if a lifetime of drinking home-brewed sugar cane liquor destroyed his mind a little at a time. I don’t enjoy photographing misery or the dark side of a man’s character, but this man photographed well; he had presence! Perhaps there was more to this man with the foolish smile?
One morning I spotted him walking up the sunny side of the street, and I stopped (on the shadow side) and prepared to photograph him as he passed.
“Click,” went my camera when he stepped into range.
“Click…. click,” it captured several more steps.
Just as he passed across from me, he halted, pivoted 45 degrees and faced me. Looking directly into my eyes, he smiled, bowed slowly, then turned and resumed his walk.
On another trip, I was hurrying to the local print shop and stepped around him on the shady side of a sidewalk. Not taking time to acknowledge his presence, a smaller part of me obviously did. (Daily Prompt: Gut Feeling) While in the printers, I kept thinking about the man, and something seemed wrong – perhaps out of place.
After leaving the printer’s, I shopped for a few items in the supermarket before checking out of the hostal. As I waited in line, my thoughts kept returning to the man, half a block from where I stood. On impulse, I added two ice-cream sandwiches to my modest purchase, then walked around the corner and hoped he would still be there.
He was sitting there with his back against the wall and his legs stretched out in front; a small plastic bag beside him held a few items. He watched as I peeled part of the paper wrapper from the ice cream sandwich then handed the sandwich to him. He held it and looked with suspicion as I peeled my ice cream and took a bite.
I asked, “What is your name?” and he continued to stare at me.
Nearby, the shoe-shine man laughed and replied in English, “He says that he is crazy!”
“But he’s not a drunk, is he?” I asked. When I raced by earlier that day, I glimpsed several small bottles of fruit juice in his plastic bag. He didn’t have alcohol as I had assumed!
“No,” the shoe shine guy replied, “His name is Maestro Gabriel, and he was a great teacher… until the earthquake hit and the roof fell on his head. He’s been crazy ever since.” With that he laughed and asked for part of my ice cream.
Maestro Gabriel continued to look up at me with suspicion, so I said, “Goodbye” and left him with the melting ice cream sandwich.
As I walked toward the hostal, Phil Collin’s song played through my head as tears welled in my eyes.
I’ve not returned to Nicaragua since that experience, but when I do, searching for Maestro Gabriel will be top priority. Just as high on the list will be visiting Ometepe and seeing Debbie and Ron, who will surely help with the search for the Maestro.
Please visit Debbie’s post that triggered this story:
The take a sensitive cyber step into a nursing home for a touching story here:
And if you’re not comfortable interacting with complete strangers, enjoy Linda/Rangewriter’s heart-warming post to see how random acts of kindness recently affected her, and how those acts have the potential to domino!
Linda – Rangewriter: http://rangewriter.wordpress.com/2014/11/30/random-acts-of-kindness-squared
It’s really easy to extend a warm smile to someone who has less than you or to leave a thoughtful gift that might enhance the quality of someone’s day. Pause in your hurried day and stop to speak to a young child or to a frail or lonely person.
Once when painting a small watercolor sketch in San Juan Del Sur, I stopped working when an older sea captain ambled along and visited for a while. He was fighting cancer and said as he left, “Thank you for taking time to talk to me. You helped me forget about my pain for a while.”
We all have gifts to share, and it’s our duty to be kind to our fellow man.