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Innocence, Lost and Found This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     I choked on the noxious smell coming from something beneath my feet. Glancing down at a feral dog, I yelped and scrambled away. Its forlorn look, coupled with its protruding ribs, made me wince. Sympathy, I had been told, was something that could not survive in a third-world country, and yet I clung to my tender feelings with the desperation of a drowning sailor. How could I not feel my stomach drop just a bit when I watched a child lie in filth? How could I let myself become callous, and ignore the suffering around me? How could I lose the very thing that made me who I was and ignore the beggars, as I had been told to do?

I was in Nicaragua, and I knew that these people had no concept of what my life was like. Many wore cynical expressions, as though the world had battled against them and won, and they now wore the chains of bondage. Leaving the U.S. was a shock; it was startling to imagine that these two worlds could coexist. The people stared askance at my dress, and my behavior. I stayed close to my older brother, relying on his size to protect me from the threat that I felt having never seen anything quite like this before.

The markets were packed with people staring at me, and I could not distinguish between the naked curiosity and the distaste in their eyes. My family were the foreigners here: invaders stepping onto their sacred land. We wandered through their markets, clearly not the tourist area. We had never been a family to follow the rules, and yet I always found myself wishing we did. I held my breath for minutes at a time as we wandered through the meat sections, where the men gave me cold smiles and then dealt the killing blow to iguanas right before my eyes. They chuckled at my obvious discomfort. At the sight of the turtle eggs, I felt irrational anger build. How dare they steal these from turtles? The contrast between the pristine paleness of the eggs and the vermillion blood running from the tables was startling. I left something in those markets that I wish I could have back: my innocence.

The roar of a truck flying past shook me from my thoughts, and I looked around. I could not get used to the sights, no matter how many times I looked. Then I was lost in my memories of children with mismatched clothing, uneven smiles, and unmistakable friendliness crowding around me. Their bright black eyes curiously devoured my speech and my clothing as they picked at my heavy bag, wondering what the American girl was carrying.

I can’t speak a word of Spanish, and responded to their inquiries with smiles and the occasional “No, gracias” when I thought that they were being too forward. One girl with ebony hair and a bright face grabbed my hand, smiling broadly. Her lime shirt and bright pink shorts caught my attention, and I squatted to her level. I said something to her in English, and the children laughed infectiously. Their behavior showed an ignorant traveler what everyone knows: children, regardless of location, are without guile.

The girl tugged on my hand, and I followed her, for who was I to deny such an entreating expression? My long, colorful skirt dragged on the ground, and thinking of the dirt that I would have to scrub out later, I gathered some in my fist and held it up. The children’s eyes lit with mirth at my efforts to stay clean: I could see their grubby hands, dirty from playing. I wondered how their clothes were clean when their hands were covered in dirt.

I realized that this girl had led me to a rocky beach. I squinted in the glaring sunlight, and saw women scrubbing diligently in the water. With a heavy accent, the girl pronounced, as one would claim land as their own, “se lavan.” “Oh,” I said, nodding my head, guessing that they were doing laundry in the lake. I stepped closer, and the children nodded enthusiastically, pulling my clothing and running along the beach.

As I approached the women, I saw what they were actually doing: on an uneven surface, they rubbed the soapy clothing back and forth to remove the dirt, and then rinsed it in the lake. I saw the sheets from my hotel being washed like this, and I wondered how clean the fabric could get when my father had forbidden me to swim in this lake because of “pollution.” I saw a piece of orange trash floating on its surface, and

horses standing in it.

Confused, I walked back to the road, the children trailing behind me. They sang a happy song, raising my spirits and convincing me to forgive the foibles of this beautiful country, where my judgment meant nothing. I laughed with them as one of the children tripped, but noticing his silence, I pulled his arm and contorted my face. His russet eyes brightened and, reluctantly, he laughed then skipped ahead to join his friends. Nicaragua, with its beautiful lakes, unique traditions, and winsome people, captured my imagination and refused to let go.


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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