What If We Didn't Go Home?

“So, when exactly are you coming home?” my father asked.

“I don’t know, Dad. Our visas allow us to stay in Peru for at least three months, then we’re thinking of heading on to Argentina and Chile...”

The broken and sputtering magicJack connection at the South American Explorers Club in Cusco broadcasted about every third word of our conversation, but the message that traveled down the steep stone streets of the ancient Inca capital and across the continents to the lush green lawns of Newark, Delaware, the college town I’d grown up in and where my parents still live, was crystal clear: We weren’t coming “home”. 

The truth was, my husband, Hank, and I had no idea when, or if, we were going home. We didn’t even know what “home” meant anymore. We’d been winging it, temporarily inhabiting Mexico, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Peru: itinerant and loose in the world in a manner that both worried and intrigued family and friends back home.

We were four thousand miles from our homeland, eleven thousand feet above sea level, south of the Equator where summer is winter, and living in a fourth-floor walkup without heat. Yet, life felt sweet and rich and fortunate. 

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Nicaragua: Can you keep a secret?

words + photos by Ellen Barone

Here's the truth: I want to tell you about Nicaragua and its wild, deserted Pacific beaches, active volcanoes, colonial cities, coffee plantations, and verdant mountains— but then again, I don't. 

Writing about delicate cultures like Nicaragua, where complex political, geographical and economic realities have resulted in hardships on one hand - and a simpler, more grounded way of life on the other - always brings up mixed feelings in me.

I want tell you what is great about Nicaragua – a country where gracious women with colorful bundles perched atop their heads amble past colonial buildings painted in faded pastel colors; where green, cloud-fringed volcanoes tower over terra-cotta rooftops; where roadside stands overflow with a colorful bounty of tropical fruits and vegetables; where a quilt of fertile plots blankets the valleys and gentle sloping mountains – but I’m afraid you’ll go en masse and turn it into the Familiar.

While the United States has a shady legacy in Nicaragua, I, an obvious American, was welcomed there.  More than a million Nicaraguans live in the United States, and just about everyone seems to know someone living in Florida, Texas or California.  "The conflicts are in the past now," a taxi driver in Managua said gently. "We are, at heart, poets, not fighters.”

I experienced this gentle forgiveness and genial warmth often during my three trips to the country. Trusting, honest, and helpful, the Nicaraguan people are the real spirit and charm of the country. Ask for directions and Nicas, as they call themselves, are likely to set aside what they’re doing and lead you where you want to go. Poke your head in an open doorway and they invite you in. Ask to take their photograph and they reward you with a dazzling smile — spontaneous and heartfelt. Express interest in something they are doing, whether it’s weaving a basket or painting a pot and they’ll show you how it’s done. A simple “Como está?” (“How are you?”) and the floodgates open, releasing a charming torrent of Spanish. Their convivial and heart-felt responses are sprinkled with mimed expressions and gestures, as if they anticipate a foreigner’s language difficulties. 

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