Watching the World

When I was living in Nicaragua, I worked at a small university that was a forty-five minute bus ride away from my house.

Every day, I would shut down my computer, say goodbye to my co-workers and catch the 119 back home. If I was lucky, I would get a seat, if not, I would grab onto the handrail above me and guess which seated bus rider was most likely to vacate their seat next.

The bus dropped me off two blocks from my house, and as I walked home I said good afternoon to the man on the folding chair whose girth spilled over the sides, the woman selling drinks and chips by her doorway and the group of men on the corner that were either playing chess or watching a soccer game on a small tv high on the wall.

I lived down a little alley barely wide enough for two cars to pass. The children who lived next door played in the street as the sun set and the grandmother two houses down swept the front porch while sounds of the day’s soap opera could be heard from the living room.

I lived in a little pink house with small red flowers crawling up the left side. Every day, I would walk up to the front gate and find my host grandmother, Norma, sitting in a white rocking chair. She was nearing 85 and spoke in a soft blur of Spanish. I rarely understood what she was saying, but every evening, she would hold my hand between her soft, wrinkled ones, smile up at me and reassure me that supper was waiting for me in the kitchen.

As I walked to my room, she went back to watching the little world that played itself out in the alley every night and I would smile at the culture where homes extend to the streets and community is created on the front porch.

Yesterday, as I was driving home, I drove past an elderly couple sitting next to the steps of their house in worn folding chairs. Like Norma, life whitened their black hairs and spotted their brown hands. They weren’t talking or looking at each other, just sitting and watching the cars drive by.

If I had been walking, I would have asked them what street they used to sit on and what neighbors they used to watch. I would have asked them how far they were from home and how they have made Worthington their new home.

I imagine they used to live on a street similar to the one that I lived on and that they have spent countless nights sitting outside their home watching people pass by. When they moved to Worthington, they found a world completely different than the one they left, but in the midst of newness and confusion, they were able to find two chairs and watch the sunset and neighbors pass by like they had before.

Even if it wasn’t an intentional decision, they have maintained a habit that they started long ago — probably one that their parents and grandparents unknowingly taught them and that they carried to their new home.

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