It’s a brilliant, sun-coated mid-morning in Granada Nicaragua, when passing the portico steps opposite parque central, I spot La Blanca, a Nica friend. She’s seated on the steps wearing a pained expression, holding a slightly swollen jaw that she informs me, owes to a toothache. “Why don’t you go to a dentist?” I expect the response to be that she’s broke—palmado. Instead, she tosses me a curve: “It’s too early to have a tooth pulled” she tells me —I’ll do it after sunset, it’s bad luck to have a tooth pulled in daylight.” Instantly I realize I’ve once again been borne into Nicaragua’s parallel universe, where common sense is an empty purse turned inside out; where Emotion serves as handmaiden to the Mother Goddess, Superstition, and Logic is the bastard stepson. Every time I travel, innocently, into this twilight zone, I experience a momentary dizziness, like Alice being carried to Wonderland. I’ve gone into unfamiliar and frankly, unsettling territory . Coming, as I do, from a land of Common Sense, I struggle to find context for a notion alien to my way of thinking. As I begin to regain my mental equilibrium, I recall thinking that those of us from the Developed World tend to make paint-by-number pictures; we favor a world that is easily de-constructed, sensible, rooted in material more substantial than a soap bubble. No kid-stuff for us.
I’m in the partially developed world however, where the bloodlines of Moorish Spain run deep in the history and culture, rivaling its Castilian ties, exposing its roots of Moorish civilization in Africa. Paul Bowles, the American writer lived many years in Morocco, the land of the Moors, and wrote of them with authenticity. In his classic novel The Sheltering Sky, two travelers, a married American couple, become lost in the desert and are driven to desperation. It’s not so much the arid sea itself that is the source of stress, as it is the internal displacement they feel. In this story in the land of djinns and fakirs, the void created by this psychological dislocation, and the absence of an alternative compass to that of a well-reasoned approach, leads to the breakdown of their marriage. It’s this kind of momentary dislocation that I’m experiencing. As an expatriate living in Nicaragua, in the long shadow cast by the fully developed world, I sometimes feel at sea here; the touchstone of rational thought suddenly turns to quicksilver, I look around me, and for a moment I wonder where I am, how I come to be here. It reminds me of the time I stepped onto the rail of a boat that suddenly begin drifting from the dock where my other foot was still firmly planted. Panic, splash. While an aching tooth isn’t on the level of being lost in the desert, there is still a common thread to the story; an entire body of superstitions that govern behavior among the Moors of North Africa, many of which are devoted to the activities one must never undertake under the bright gaze of the sun, but should be carried-out at sunset, in the night, at dawn, or under a full or new moon. Tooth-pulling just happens to be one of them. La Blanca had her tooth pulled—that evening.