Annalee and I spent the afternoon riding a chicken bus to La Calle Real — standing up in the aisle of a crowded chicken bus, full of colorfully-clothed people, passing savannah trees and dry grassland, with blue-purple volcanoes in the distance, hot as hot. Sweat beaded up my lip and drenched the back of my tshirt, wind whipped the flyaways tucked into my headband. After forty-five minutes of riding in silence with my thoughts, the rolling scenery, and the quiet lull of dozing Nicaraguans and murmuring bright-eyed, uniformed school kids, I started straining my eyes for signs of the Calle Real bus stop. Annalee moved to the seat just behind me and we both started conferring over which stop was ours and if they even knew to stop at Calle Real. After a few nervous half stops, we glimpsed the distant roadside pottery stand that signaled the La Calle Real entrance, and made our way to the front of the bus to hint that we wanted off. The bus rolled to a stop just long enough for us to step to the dusty ground before it picked up speed again, leaving us two white girls, gringos, alone in a dusty and deserted portion of Nica countryside. Thrilled that we had navigated our way to La Calle Real on our own, we picked our way through the now-familiar gap in the wire-and-wood fencing and began walking the dirt path into the community.
Seeing school at recess, we walked into the school yard, aware of the immediate stares an.d comments and some vocal “hellos” to our “holas”. After a few non-responses to our search for Mercedes, the school principal, we decided to look for Keidy, one of the students with the best English, to translate for us. Then one of the teachers came out of the classroom we had just inquired in, and with poor Spanish we told him that we had come to see Leycar and were hoping that Mercedes and a translator could come with us. Directing us to follow him, he found Leycar’s two brothers and a thirteen-year-old girl with “good” English and told them all to go with us, even though that meant leaving their classes and they had no idea what we wanted. Thus began our walk to Leycar’s house.
We tried to explain our plan and talk to our young guides as we plodded down the dirt and gravel road, across a sage brush field, and past two good-sized pigs tussling in the dry fields, but it was dripping hot and the conversation was faltering. We finally arrived at Leycar’s, and immediately his family pulled out plastic lawn chairs for us, even whipping one with an old towel to clean the dust off. First through our little translator, and then just with Spanish ourselves, we explained that we wanted to buy all of Leycar’s paintings. The lack of emotion on his face when we told him of this gargantuan purchase was a little unexpected, but the shock of it all was subliminally evident in the repeated clarifications of “Todos?” and the wide-eyed look on the younger brother’s face. After twenty minutes of Leycar and his father painstakingly taking the worn canvases off their frames, Leycar’s mother joined to help roll up each painting and secure with clear duct tape or strips of dark red cloth that she cut from her rag pile. Soon I had a bundle of canvas rolls sticking out of my backpack and we asked “Cuanto cuesta?” and then counted out $280 in fresh twenties to place in Leycar’s hands. We explained again our plan to sell them in the states and help him support his new business, and our plan to be in contact with him through international texting and Facebook. We asked if any of them had questions for us, and Leycar immediately said that this was good. After promises to stay in touch, wishes of good luck, and some “hasta luegos”, we departed with our little entourage — and a backpack of oil paintings — back to school.
Back in the schoolyard we thanked our little translator and tipped her a few cordoba, then waved goodbye to Leycar’s brothers as well and headed back out to the highway. We caught a passing bus like pros and began our rolling trek back to Leon, realizing how surreal this trip had been and enthusiastically dreaming for all that we could do for this talented young painter in the middle of a hot, rural, Nicaraguan village.