I try to extract a promise from Jonah, no winters, I say. Let’s see how many years we can go without winters. I am a chill-gets-into-the-bones kind of girl and the weather makes my moods brittle too—snappish and cold.
But it is in Nicaragua that I realize that winter is a coming together, the way it sounds in Little Women—all the family gather in the living room to stay out of the torrential rain. The corrugated steel roofs make sprinkles sound like pebbles falling and a regular rain like sticking your head in a waterfall. Nothing can dry in this weather, and Jonah says one morning, “we may not do laundry again before we leave.” I’m a bit disappointed by this, since I have began to love the solid, sweat-producing scrub of laundry by hand. Here a one-piece sink and laundry station has a section like a washboard, but all set in concrete, the ridges pull and bother the clothes, getting out stains and thinning fabric. I love the movement of it and of hanging the clothes in the burning sun to heat.
Right before the rains start we do a load, and a few days later our towels and underwear are still not dry. I think about what a luxury windows and washing machines and dryers and heaters and air conditioning and roofs are—the elements of climate control.
But everyone is calmer and a little stir crazy in the Nicaraguan winter.
Our family, formerly loud, sunny, humorous, stands by the doorway in silence, eyes downcast, watching the rain. Nancy is still in her bright yellow low cut tank top with its weave along the bust and yellow and silver braided sandals. It feels like there’s been a death—Dona Clara who always looks her best and seems to take her shop very seriously is still in her pink silk nightgown and says there is no point in working, no point in going to the shops because no one will be there to buy.
The winter rains are the enemy of work. Clay can’t dry, ovens can’t be fired, and the one tourist who comes during Nicaraguan winter stays grumpily in his hotel. Alfredo says that it is a time to sleep all day and eat nothing, because there is no money coming in. “Como osos,” Jonah remarks, like bears.
Even Alfredo or Urraca, our ebullient host is quiet. Urraca is the word for a bird that crows constantly, won’t shut up, and everyone in town knows Alfredo by that name. Patricia, my pottery teacher, already reserved, sinks into a deeper contemplation. In class she tells me how sad the rain makes her and about the baby she lost years earlier, the twin of Juan Felipe, an especially bright boy in our class. In the winter stories fall into place.
Only little Ale seems to be invincible to the rain, trying to rush out in the downpour as a moto takes her papa to work, where he expects to sell nothing. Her fingers spread out like little wings as she strains forward to follow him and Nancy holds the back of her sweater
And I love the rain at night.
Usually nights in San Juan are an armageddon of animal sounds, like that scene from Lady in the Tramp, where the dogs bark signals out to each other and wake up the whole town. And if they’re not howling at each other, they’re taking offense at a concrete wall, and the roosters join in even though the sun won’t rise for another 4 hours. Then there are the teenagers with radios, the men shouting to each other, and the sellers that arrive at dawn shouting, “Pan y pan!” and “Atooooooooool e atooooooool e atoooooool!”
But this rain thunders on the corrugated tin roofs at a volume that drowns out all other sound. I jump out of bed to witness what gushes of water must be falling from the sky and my eyes pop open at the way the tin roofs funnel the water into streams that catch the light of the streetlights and fall like molten gold.
I get in bed and for the first time since my arrival, I sleep through the night.