Last night was crazy! We had been at the construction site all day and the sun was already setting when the driver dropped us off at the NICA school. One of the women who runs the school invited us to her house for a glass of Flor de Caña. Hillary is an American ex-pat who’s been living in Esteli for a few years now and she’s been great at giving us tips on adapting to our new surroundings. She’s also one of the few people here who can afford to keep alcohol handy for entertaining. Most people buy, trade or grow what they consume on a daily basis. My family doesn't even have a refrigerator. Our kitchen is a small room with a table, a stove and two small cupboards that hold salt, dry beans, and other bare necessities. The sink is outside and it’s used for washing hands, clothes and dishes.
Anyway, I’m getting off track. Christie and Nancy, two of the students who are studying Spanish went with me to Hillary’s for the local rum. Occasionally, if gaseosas are available, Flor de Caña is mixed with cola and lime to make a fancy Cuba Libre but tonight, we drank it warm and straight. We only had one drink before we realized it was getting late and our families would wonder where we’d gone, so we decided it was time for us to leave. Christie, whose Nicaraguan family lives way on the other side of town was afraid to walk home alone as it was well after 10 pm and quite a distance.
Since Nancy and I live in the same neighborhood, we walked Christie home first before turning back toward our own houses. We were having a great time, talking and joking along the way when we suddenly heard automatic rifle fire in the streets. We jumped over the shrubbery of a nearby house and ducked behind the bushes, our hearts pounding as we tried to calculate the proximity of the shots and whether or not they were approaching. The sound of the automatic rifles was close but didn't seem to be advancing.
I was acutely aware that if someone sprayed our hiding place with bullets, the hedges would offer no protection. I crouched, thinking of hitting the ground belly first, like I've seen in dozens of action movies but as I deliberated, the gun fire suddenly stopped. Nancy and I froze in our crouched positions, listening to see if anyone was coming, trying not to move, daring not to even breathe. Minutes crawled by while we looked at each other, waiting for more gun fire, preferably in the distance but it was eerily quiet - no sound coming from any of the neighborhood houses, everyone lying low.
After what felt like a very long time we felt bold enough to signal and start whispering to each other, neither of us sure if it was safe to get up and start walking home again. Eventually, we worked up the nerve to resume our journey. Our easy, joking stroll a thing of the past, we became Olympic speed walkers the rest of the way home, pointing out good places to duck in case the gunshots came back. The whole experience felt surreal: one minute we were drinking warm rum, the next we were dodging bullets. It’s almost as though we have to ignore the war to continue with everyday life. It’s oddly easy to forget about the war but we are in a state of emergency. The war does exist and it’s all around us.