The first night on Corn Island, I was cold after my shower, so I turned my fan off before going to bed. I hadn’t been lying down long before I heard a telltale whine in my ear. Realizing that moving air can serve as more than just climate control, I decided my comfort was secondary to my not having malaria, and turned on the fan.
The fan stays on. (Except of course when the power goes out, which happens often. Then I’m comforted by the fact that the last death in Nicaragua from malaria was in 2006.)
Living here is a lesson in relative luxury and an exercise in shifting perspectives. Were the house we are renting here — with its water-stained ceilings, its non-potable tap water, its drafty doors, its low water pressure, its broken air conditioner — were it magically disapparated to Anytown, U.S.A., it would, to put it delicately, not be considered a “nice house.”
But we’re not in Illinois anymore (and we were never in Kansas). Having seen what I take to be standard middle-class living in Managua, and having seen the houses in which many people native to this island live, this house becomes uncomfortably luxurious, unnecessary in its sheer size and embarrassing in its bounty of amenities. We have hot water, a refrigerator, stonework showers, a washing machine, three air conditioning units, and more square footage than we can possibly utilize.
Remember that day in high school physics when you learned about how frame of reference can affect calculations? It’s like that, minus the mustachioed teacher.
Take, for instance, our itinerant roommates, the flies and mosquitos, the lizards, the spiders. We share this house with them much of the time. The flies get free reign because the upstairs air conditioner is broken and we have to open the screen-less windows to keep from broiling to death, and at night they are attracted to the lights. A spider has webbed itself into an upper corner of my shower, and another one I’m pretty sure lives in my drain; whenever I shower it comes out and waits on the wall for me to finish. There is at least one gecko who likes our kitchen walls (and occasionally the large window over the stairwell where he poses for nice silhouettes).
Back home, I would have freaked out about almost any one of these things (OK, not the flies, but they would’ve been very annoying). Critters and creepy-crawlies belong outside, not in our sanitized homes.
Here, though, I don’t care so much. If there are flies, fine, the spiders and lizards probably eat them; just keep them off my food. The lizards don’t bother anything, they just watch me cook from time to time.
Boundaries here seem blurred, relaxed: the house is ours but also theirs, and that’s fine. Things are more indeterminate, less fixed. And I no longer jump every time I see a lizard (sorry, Jill).