Other than having a clever name, I wasn’t quite sure how or when I’d begin this story. I didn’t know if I’d have anything interesting to say until we got up into the hills and started seeing 19 year old moms with 5 kids already, dads with machete wounds and small brown children with bellies full of worms and luminous eyes. Thankfully, I didn’t have long to wait as the Muse of Good Blogging Intentions smiled on me and unfolded a colorful story right into my lap last night.
My friend, Sherry, is the leader of the medical mission group with whom I have gone on multiple trips to Nicaragua. While a very competent leader, she is on this trip “only as a nurse” and has left the leading to me. However, we leaders frequently have a hard time switching into follower mode. To that end, she and I found ourselves together at the Augusto Sandino International Airport last night at 7 pm, waiting for a plane that was delayed until 8. To while away the time, we wandered over to the Flor de Caña Shots Bar, the only place in the whole airport with any charm or personality, and ordered a double rum and Coke.
A brief word about rum and Coke. The first time I came to Nicaragua, we stayed with host families. The lady of the house took her daughter and me out for drinks one evening. I had learned in the previous town that the name for a rum and coke is Cuba Libre. Full of my new knowledge, I cheerfully ordered a Cuba Libre from the young waitress. She looked at me, horrified and confused. My host mother, convulsing with laughter, managed to gasp “You just ordered free pussy!” I now know better than to ask for a Cuba Libre. I now just order rum. And. Coke. Una Coca-cola con ron. No more confusion.
As we were getting up to leave, the scantily clad shots girl who had set up shop at the front of the bar which felt like one of those charming underground cuevas in downtown Madrid filled with loud Spaniards eating tapas and drinking sangria, offered us both un trago compementario. I happily accepted and Sherry decided not to partake. I am convinced that this was the crucial difference in how she and I handled the situation in which we found ourselves some hours later.
Once we had ascertained that the first plane had come in, carrying two of our three doctors, she headed back to the hotel to continue handing out room keys and checking on the rest of our people. I stayed at the airport to receive the next group coming in.
As it turned out, two of the doctors’ bags had been rerouted to a location called Porton Seis – Door 6. After significant back and forth with the customs lady, we got directions that seemed like they might work “Take the sidewalk outside the airport way down until you come to a dark outdoor hallway. Walk down that, past the gas station until you get to Porton Seis.” Hardly instructions to inspire confidence, especially on a dark and rainy night, but one of the doctors claimed “I know the way!” and set off at a swift trot with the other in tow. They agreed to fetch their bags and return to the hotel on their own, using the airport shuttle.
The next plane arrived with the rest of our team and I ferried them to the hotel, assuming the other doctors were already there. Except they weren’t. Sherry met me at the door with a stricken look on her face. “Have you seen the docs?” she asked. “I haven’t seen them come in, and I still have their room keys.”
In my relaxed, three-shot head space, I was certain there was nothing to worry about, and that since they’re both grown men who have been to Nicaragua before, they were probably just fine. However, another person’s worry has a way of working itself under one’s skin.
I have to confess that her concern was contagious, or at least the notion that I should be worried. And then my hyperactive imagination took over. What if they just caught a taxi from the mysterious Porton Seis and an unscrupulous taxista took them for a long drive, relieved them of their wallets and luggage, removed their kidneys, and dumped their bodies in bathtubs full of ice with a little message pinned to their chests? How would we ever find them? On a more practical note, what do we do then? We can’t run a medical mission trip without the medicos. How long should we wait before notifying next of kin? Would the show go on? Would we all go home? What’s the protocol for a tragedy of this magnitude? “I’ve never lost someone on a trip before,” Sherry said solemnly.
Whenever I start feeling anxious, I find that making a plan is helpful in moving through the anxiety. I wanted to visit Porton Seis just to…I don’t know. Just because it seemed like a good thing to do. So off we went in the airport shuttle. The bored gatekeeper removed his ear buds long enough to let us know that our doctors had, indeed, come through and retrieved their bags. Some time ago. With that, Sherry I looked at each other. Aha. They were probably both at the hotel, having slipped by her somehow and checked themselves in.
We went to their room and knocked at the door. One of the doctors opened, hair bristling from the shower, in mismatched flannel pjs, with toothbrush in hand. The other we found by the pool, enjoying the night air, sipping a glass of lukewarm white wine, with a cheeseburger on the way.