Any Other Girl

December 7, 2007
By Emma Redden, South Newfane, VT

When I laid on the floor of the Miami Airport
trying to find a little shut eye
music feeding into my ears, a phone at my side,
I was any other girl.
My Spanish-English dictionary proved a good pastime.
What new words could I learn between flights?
As we leave the ground my eyes linger below.
Will there be as many lights when we land?
It seems strange in the beginning.
Our airplane is a space shuttle.
If you can only go to another planet by shuttle, how are we going by airplane?
My introduction to this new place seemed perfectly fitting.
“Ladies and Gentlemen hold on, the landing is pretty rough.”
Was there a better way to sum up the next four weeks?
I thought not.
Arriving at our first temporary bedroom, electricity seemed unimportant.
We checked-in in hot darkness.
Nighttime seemed no deterrent for the heat.
My spine became a seemingly perfect riverbed.
After a breakfast of rice and beans
and the departure from our sheltered tourist accommodation, our trip began.
The bus station was filled with my fast beating heart,
crackling voices of women trying to feed children and
the not so comforting smell of insecurity.
I was no longer any other girl.
The color of my skin quickly drew eyes, inquisitive expressions, vulnerability.
Four hours of crumbling homes, foul smells and women’s comforting smiles
gave me a good taste of where we had come.
We arrived in Ocotal, a place that quickly became home.
Outstretched arms and gillo pinto were there to meet us.
Beet juice quickly made me sick and questions asked too quickly made me confused.
Hours of our day became filled with walks around town.
Daddy and I laughing, understanding our awkwardness.
The first cockroach to crawl through my room
became enough to think I wanted to go home.
That wasn’t true but I did need a roommate. Daddy resided in the bed beside me.
If only in my mind he did a good job fighting them off for me.
When we realized a name could do a lot to familiarize a strange creature
and that Junior wasn't so hard to capture under the red plastic dish,
our room became a triple.
Without more than the passing of a few days home had a new meaning.
Water wasn’t a promise,
Eggs, rice, beans, mangoes and ice cream became good enough nutrition.
Cobble stone streets, friendly faces and orange soda became an easy walk.
The woman at the calling center became a familiar face.
Other than each other, ice cream became our closest connection to home.
Soccer became our favorite sport. Yes, Brazil won.
Letters to Townshend, Vermont became my bedtime story.
Every time I wrote him I could swear he was listening.
School became a fun place to talk about the first thing we were going to eat when we got home, our other home.
Half a million passionate Sandinistas yearning for words spoken by their Comandante became a frightening night.
In the course of no time all, smooth roads, newly painted houses, drinkable faucet water, fair skin, quiet men and pennies became what were foreign.
How does that happen so fast?
Everyday was accompanied by a yearning heart for what was behind me
and an excitement for what was ahead.
After goodbyes, final Spanish lessons, and full memory cards the bus drove out of Ocotal,
just as easily as it came in.
The only difference was as I left
a little part of me stayed behind. I’ll be back to pick it up.
A few days and another bumpy runway later, we came to a new place.
The beautiful water took my breath away almost as easily as the discomfort of unwelcoming people and hidden drugs.
Bananas became three times as expensive, the language Creole, and the skin African.
Crumbling concrete became rusting tin.

Now my skin is saltier,
My Spanish is more natural,
My blood is nourished by white bread,
I am browner.

My recognition of not understanding is deeper,
My barometer for poverty has shifted,
My realization that the greatest thing a person needs is not a thing.
We need people in our lives to love with all our strength and to hold on to them
And never let them go.

I come home
My heart beating fast in anticipation of the arms I’m about to run into…

I suppose I am, again,
Any other girl.

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