Story and Photos by Greg Rust

The pungent smell of burning trash combined with the sweltering heat took my breath away as I stepped onto the tarmac that spring evening in Managua, Nicaragua. The impoverished city assaulted me visually and emotionally. My pampered senses were bombarded throughout my stay.

The stares of the adults -- I could shrug them off. But the pleading eyes of the children will always haunt me. In a country where the per capita yearly income is $475 and the unemployment rate is 60 percent, many children (over half of the 4 million Nicaraguans are under seventeen) are victims of the streets. There, tattered and malnourished child entrepreneurs, dauntless in the pursuit of a meal, swarm like mosquitoes as they hawk Chiclets, cigarettes, and Cokes. Others just wave their tiny hands, grateful for any donation.

I tried to be a cultural chameleon, but the language barrier constantly set me apart. With the verbal skills of an infant, I did find solace with the children. We made paper airplanes and laughed as our inventions careened off the branches of a mango tree. Communication on the stickball diamond was easier; high fives and hugs are bilingual.

I will digest the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Nicaragua slowly. Flying home, while reading in USA Today of ball players turning down multimillion-dollar contracts and of the sexual appetites of our president, I was distracted by the whining of a dog named Billy seated among the passengers in first class. My definition of obscene changed.

Back home, as I comforted my daughter after a nightmare, we lay listening to a serenade of spring peepers and breathing in a fragrant potpourri of dogwood, redbud, and apple blossoms. I relished life's smorgasbord and felt gratitude for the roll of the die that landed me in my mother's womb. -- Greg Rust

Page maintained by Richard VandeVelde, SJ, [email protected] Copyright(c) 1999, Company Magazine. Created: 8/13/1999 Updated: 8/14/1999