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The sea and the girl that sells animal figurines

Her name is Alexandra and she lives in Mangua, Nicaragua. Here the sands of Pochomil are black, and the waves hit the backs of those bathing for the first time, as if to refute the very name of the ocean that soaks the beach where she sells her crafts.

 

Text and Photos: Francisco G. Navarro

 

Small figurines depicting the marine and coast wildlife, which have been crafted by local artisans using small shells from the Pacific Ocean itself.

Alexandra’s skin denotes one of those surnames typical of Nicaraguan ancestry: Ambota, Nayamari and Postosme, but never Debayle with its French connotation, like the immortal princess from the poem by Rubén Darío.

Alexandra, eleven years old, is always accompanied by Daniela, nine, and Allison, six. Together they form a graceful trio of sellers that zigzags along the beach under the shade of the ranchones (rural wooden houses) with their thatched rooves, between multicoloured hammocks and tourists with delicate city skin waiting for a more agreeable afternoon sun.

The girls carry small red buckets in their arms that look like nests filled with the handmade animal figurines. After eight hours of showing, offering and bartering – essential skills of any trade, no matter how basic – these figurines will provide enough to bring some food home to her family.

Ceviches, seeds, seafood cocktails, vigorón, caramel and meringue for the adults, and little roosters and turtles for the children.

Photo: Pixabay

Among those looking to make their daily living is a grandmother collecting empty beer cans, with a time-weary face that has already carved out all possible furrows in her skin. There is a seller with his ice-cream truck and bell offering Eskimo products, a famous brand that was thrusted onto ice-cream sellers in Nicaragua.

There is another character that looks like something straight out of a travelling circus, with his trousers tucked into his socks and performing music in different languages, including Tibetan folklore which he sings a capella. He sings as if the find sands of Pochomil were a tropical garden in another Tower of Babel.

Alexandra approaches the visitors with her zoological figurines enveloped in corduroy cloth. She ends up selling an armadillo, or ‘cuzucu’, as it is known to the people from this part of the world.

The girl stands her ground when it comes to haggling, which she shows with the armadillo that she sells for 10 córdobas. If she isn’t tough, she won’t earn anything. This is mathematics she has learned well in the school of life.

Alexandra is already in sixth grade, and reading is what she likes most at school, though she hasn’t yet read the poem written by Rubén Darío for Margarita Dabayle: “the beautiful girl, across the sea, beneath the sky, (that went) to cut the one white star that left her wondering a sigh”. (Translation into English by C. John Holcombe)

She promises to herself that it will be the first thing she asks her teacher Magalis to read when school starts again and she can go back to studying. Here, Alexandra is an innocent, fragile and wandering trader walking along the sandy darkness, in stark contrast to the strip of light of Pochomil.

In the place where Alexandra’s winged feet flutter, the smell of saltpeter replaces the ‘subtle essence of orange blossom’ from the poem, and instead of a lark there is a mangrove swallow singing in duet with a chattering chocoyo.

The most likely is that Alexandra, Nayamari?, or perhaps Postosme?, will never again know to whom she sold an armadillo made from a thousand shells intertwined. (PL)

(Translated by Lucy Daghorn – Email: lucy.daghorn@gmail.com)

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