Granada, Nicaragua 19 Nov 05
Odometer 10,379 m 16,703 km

Hot and humid that Friday night in the historic city of Granada, I ordered a cold one from the young Nicaraguan waitress and impatiently awaited her return. Tona is the beer of choice here and when served ice cold it can quench a tropical thirst.

What’s the hold up, I wondered, can’t you folks see I’m parched? At last, she reappeared.

Perhaps it was the primal need for fluid or maybe just my state of exhaustion, but when her warm hand slid the cold, wet bottle across the hardwood table, I reached out and grabbed them both.

“Perdon,” I said as I let loose long enough for her to free the bottle.

“No problema,” she softly replied.

Taking my first sip, I gazed up as she lingered long enough to get paid. Her eyes were unfocused, her manner strangely disconnected from the goings on around her. She took the change and returned to the kitchen.

Lager Especial proved silky smooth, fulfilling my quest to end the long day’s broiling ride on a slightly cooler note. As I savored each sip my eyes wandered about the room, filled with Latin music and a number of patrons in various states of lucidity. Then it struck me. What was it that I saw on that waitress’s wrist? Hmm, I wasn’t sure, but it looked like it could have been a series of needle tracks. Perhaps she's a drug addict.

Thirst extinguished, I decided to order up some dinner and summoned her over again.

"Quisiera algunas fajitas con pollo, porfavor (May I please have some chicken fajitas)?”

Sweat oozed from her pores, giving her smooth, bronze skin an other-worldly glow in the dimly-lit
cantina. She spoke faintly, making her Spanish all the more difficult to understand, but it wasn’t what she said that struck me--her spirit was sapped.

When she returned what seemed an eternity later, she reached out with the plate of steaming food and unintentionally revealed her wrist to me again.

“What is
this,” I asked while reaching out to grasp her hand?

She dropped the plate and began to weep. I only then surmised what it must be:
scar tissue from a failed suicide attempt. It sliced latitudinally across her wrist like the equator across the globe. Clearly, this girl needed help.

As the evening wore on and things calmed down she eased back over to my table where I convinced her to sit and join me for a few minutes. The story she told was heart wrenching, and I only understood half of it.

Eighteen-year-old Tatiana is the same age as my niece, but alone in Granada and barely surviving. She earns 50 cordobas a night, or about three U.S. dollars, working 15-hour shifts. Between paying rent and putting rice and beans on her table there will never be enough to buy a bus ticket back to her family in Costa Rica.

The saddest part was also the most immediate: she was
starving. Though we all know that starvation exists in the world, always has, always will, until you actually meet someone who doesn’t have enough to eat, you cannot fathom its intensity. My chicken fajitas suddenly seemed grotesque in portion. I stopped stuffing my face and offered her the second half of my meal. She briefly feigned uneasiness, then glanced around for her boss and polished off my plate.
The next day I bought her lunch, between her having to work from 8 to 11 AM, and 2 PM to 2 AM. Afterwards, I checked into bus tickets. Granada, Nicaragua to San Jose, Costa Rica costs only 12 and one half U.S. dollars--a sum as insignificant to me as it was insurmountable to her. I gave her the fare.
Tona beer
There’s a chance that Tatiana simply scammed me; complex schemes to bilk the gringos occur here everyday. But maybe, just maybe, my ordering that cold cerveza one hot Nicaraguan night helped save a life. I’ll never know.

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