Life Imitating Fiction

Life Imitating Fiction

garbage truck

I suppose it is inevitable that a person who has studied literature all her life would notice scenes from well-remembered books throughout our Nicaraguan experience.

We were following this garbage truck the other day, watching as five men gathered bags of garbage, threw them up onto the top, dumped out their contents, and sorted as they drove: one bag for aluminum, one for plastic, a pile of flattened cardboard, bags with food for animals, and the retrieval of anything with possibly usable parts, such as the fan we could see at the back. The cloth bags themselves were thrown over the sides to be reused as garbage bags by anyone who picked them up. It reminded me of the opening chapter of The Ghost Map, which chronicles London’s waste disposal problems and aggressive recycling underculture in the mid-nineteenth century.

primary kids in the cave

Primary children upstairs in the “the cave” without any elbow room

From the same time period, I am constantly reminded of scenes from Tom Sawyer. For instance, the mouse that ran between my feet and then skittered around the front of the church in Granada Sunday captured the attention of all the little boys, who were much more interested in catching it than in listening to any discourses. Tom Sawyer’s pinch bug in church, and the dog it bit came to my mind.

During the reconstruction of our regular church building, we are using an old rented gym. there are no windows, but it has a population of bats, so it is aptly dubbed “the cave.” When we lock up, we padlock an iron gate, and then we pull down and padlock a steel door over that. Every Tuesday morning when we unlock again I expect to see Tom Sawyer’s “Injun Joe” stretched out on the floor by the door, having died unable to escape from the sealed cave where he was hiding. (This is actually a valid fear, because there is a homeless women who always comes into the building whenever it is open, and she showers and sometimes wanders upstairs alone, so we do worry that we might lock her in some day.)

rough road

Our scariest literacy experiences come from Charles Dickens. Most of the streets here are not paved, and after the torrential rains, water runs in ruts over a foot deep, sometimes as much as eight feet wide across the roads. Usually our 4-wheel drive RAV can handle roads we would never think of attempting in Illinois, but one dark night I had to drive while Frank got out and pushed the car through the mud. Straight out of the opening scene from A Tale of Two Cities.


And one day we made the mistake of asking a friend who sells clothes in the open street mercado if there was anyone who sold plastic dish drainers. She promptly left her stall to her companion and led us past the beggars and lottery ticket sellers, into an opening between two stalls. We entered a warren of stairways, shadowy passages, and booths of the old market building. Upstairs, past the fish market, butcher, and shops that apparently had nothing in them, we finally arrived at a woman who had two plastic dish drainers. We bought the larger of the two, and followed our guide out. As we regained the street, she warned us, “Don’t go in there without someone to take you.” Straight out of Oliver Twist. (We didn’t go back inside the Mercado building to take a picture.)

Our greatest fear is that we might be anything like the missionary in The Poisonwood Bible, a culturally insensitive and self-righteous American who arrives in the Congo and immediately offends everyone at the welcoming party by choking over their spicy food and berating them for their lack of clothing. They can’t even understand his words, but they know they don’t like him. He is constantly frustrated by his inability to persuade anyone to be baptized in the river, which he fails to understand is filled with crocodiles. We do love the people we are working with, and we try to serve them without giving any offense, but who knows what crocodiles we might be stirring up?


5 thoughts on “Life Imitating Fiction

  1. Wow! What a fascinating post you put out this time. We love reading these and this one was amazing!! Elder Maxwell, I believe, said, “if you want high adventure, serve the Lord!” (Or something very close to that). All we have had in the last two weeks are temple miracles and three weeks of student demonstrations wanting democracy and freedom for Hong Kong from China. It’s blocked off a good deal of the transportation in the city which is beginning to wear thin on everyone. However, we are hearing today that quite a lot of the student barricades have been removed and traffic is better. It has been relatively peaceful except when the locals and others from the mainland have tried to beat up the students. Hk police have protected both sides quite well, but the only thing the news shows us the little bits of violence. Keep on keeping on. Sounds like you are doing wonderfully well. One of our highlights was a young newly married couple from Pakistan who came to be sealed. Next week we understand there are about 60 saints from Thailand coming with many for the first time. The HK temple is not large so it will be a fascinating week with only two endowment rooms. Love you car too, by the way. Take care of yourselves and thanks for your posts. What a blessing to be involved in the miracle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul and Ann

    Sent from my iPad


    • Ann and Paul,
      We think of you often when we see news about Hong Kong. You are in the middle of history. Years ago, when I was teaching at NIU, I had a student from Hong Kong. He wrote an essay about the coming return to Chinese control, but then he was afraid he was somehow going to be discovered by the mainland Chinese government and thrown into prison, so he withdrew his paper. I had a hard time comprehending a young man in rural Illinois fearing the long reach of Chinese intelligence.

      We do hope all can stay peaceful as much as possible. I think Hong Kong is a light to the nations, and once people have been free, they don’t want to lose what they have. So much depends on freedom. You have a temple, and people in Hong Kong have freedom to worship that the mainland does not enjoy. I think if I were there I’d want to stand with the protestors.

      Thanks for your comments. We feel very far away at times! Ellen

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