The poignancy of standing on the very tarmac which was the last Nicaraguan soil I touched 32 years ago, is not lost on my over active sense of irony. The resort that we called home for 5 days used to be the beach residence of the brutal dictator Anastasio Somoza. The airstrip that belonged to him was used by American forces to extract their citizens from Nicaragua when the fighting got bad in 1979. The Americans had reason to flee. Their strong ties to the Somoza regime made them natural targets for the Sandinista forces on their march to the capital Managua. Having propped up the fifth wealthiest man (at the time) in the world politically they co-opted his ‘benevolence’ with the use of his beach side airstrip since the airport in Managua was essentially closed for business.
So I stand there on the tarmac and I am struck by the idea that this might the longest flat part of Nicaragua that I have seen for the entire trip. Its the part of the trip that least resembles this place of volcanoes and sprawling mango trees that squeeze the borders of the sky. Its the place where I am most aware of the fact that I normally live somewhere else. That runway of my last getaway forces me to recognize something about who I am. I am a leaver. Not that I necessarily am predisposed to leaving as feature of my personal character. I am leaver in the sense that I can and will leave. As much as I would love to espouse an affinity with this place as one its prodigals, I realize that belonging to this place comes with the cost of staying here. Its a cost I would gladly pay but I never really could. I can leave and that changes who I am.
That is what perhaps hurts the most as I stand there. There is a recognition that this place that holds so much of my childhood identity can never be and never really was home. They say that home is where the heart is. Its a wonderful statement but one we know is not real. Home is the place where you are not the visitor. The fact that you can visit a place (even for as long as a childhood) says little about its ability to be home – it has everything to do with your sense of position in the world.
For 5 days I wandered around in the same parks and gaze into the same blazingly beautiful vistas that he no doubt used to appease his guilt over the horrors of torture and abuse that he inflicted on the people. There is no lack of beauty here. It is also coincidently an all inclusive resort. All inclusive, that bastion of quintessential holiday package releasing your mind from the preoccupation of making choices about where to eat, what to drink or how much. Pretty sweet deal. This just happens to the only such all-inclusive resort in the entire country.
On the way back to Managua to take our flight home we pass this place. The rain had been falling all day – torrentially at times. This is someone’s home – this is the place where they are not visitors. The floor of their home runs with water when it rains. The place where I am not a visitor is well braced against the fiercest snow. I visit Nicaragua like Grandparents babysitting their grandkids – eventually they go back to live with their parents.
So I stand on the tarmac again because I can. I feel like a leaver. I feel dishonest. I feel alien. I feel also a certain dull ache of longing that cries to be left out on the front step with a old wooden top in my hand – and I never want mom to call me in for supper.
At once I am a stranger and friend but always a visitor…
…on the tarmac.