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A Gray Morning in Guaranja

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At seven in the morning the low-hanging clouds condensed what little moisture they carried onto the metal roof of the main bungalow. The sleeping valley was quiet and the precious drips fell onto the dirt courtyard, not enough to make any difference to the few chickens that
were already out, pecking for sustenance. This was the third day without running water and thanks to a few plastic jugs there was just enough for washing the evening’s dishes and a cup of strong instant coffee.

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Alejandra, as befitting her station as head of household, was already awake and stoking the wood stove to heat water. Whether or not the lack of water was typical, this being the month before the annual rains begin or caused by other factors, wasn’t clear. At 7am, nothing much was clear other than the fact that I’d found a partially full bottle of Coca-Cola, left over from the previous night’s events. Coke, it’s what’s for breakfast in a dry camp: sugar and caffeine, in one handy dose.

Alejandra, gray haired and shuffling along in her green Sesame Street t-shirt and blue/white checked apron, dispersed the mornings’ grain ration to the two flocks of hens with small fluffy chicks. The diminutive brown and black dog of indeterminate parentage nosed in for his share, as cereal is cereal and it was food. One of the larger black and white Muscovy ducks pecked away at a piece of Styrofoam, which wasn’t food.

The day before had been long and lasted late into the night,punctuated as usual by gunfire. It had somehow been decided to go to a different swimming hole, further away and have a picnic. The eight young girls, three neighbor boys plus Tom, his wife Ana, daughter Hilary and I were shoe-horned into the two cars available, a small Toyota and the long bed Ford pickup. An ice chest, pots, pans, towels and swimming suits filled the corners.

It was a marvelous little swift running pale-green river, set in a heavily forested canyon. Large gray and worn boulders provided waterfalls. Exactly where it was is still open to question, other than it seemed to be the river called Managua and several kilometers northeast of Gualan.

Later that evening and it was quieter than usual: the kids were fed early and TV kept them occupied while the womenfolk rehashed the day on the upper level. HBT and I, plus an occasional visitor kept our stations below, lit by the light of one bare bulb and ensconced on the old brown plaid couch. The ‘dead soldiers’, empty bottles of Coke and rum grew and crumpled cigarette packs littered the gray concrete floor.

The silence of the night, aside from the occasional grunting of the nearby pigs, was broken by a series of nearby gunshots. Six, I counted and definitely an automatic weapon. Should I give them a salute in kind? It might have been HBT’s idea or it might have been my own synaptic misfires of the biochemical kind. Some would call it a lack of impulse control or a failure of judgment. We were equally guilty although I have to take the blame for the shameful disregard of N.R.A safety rules. Rum and guns? Only in Guaranja, on a Saturday night.

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