Nicaragua Diary, Day 12
In May of 2015, I pulled out to make a left turn and a large SUV, a Toyota Prado, crashed into me. It hit my driver side door, crushing it in, and spun my van around 100 feet in the opposite direction, where it slammed up onto the sidewalk so forcefully it snapped my front wheel sideways. The photo tells you all you’d want to know.
The collision gave me a concussion, broke a rib on my left side, and left me incoherent, though speaking, for at least a half an hour. When I returned to awareness, it felt like swimming up out of the deepest dream, except waking up did not make the dream go away, it confirmed that all of it had been real.
I’m immensely grateful that I’m alive after that accident, that my body and mind work the same as they did before I got hit, and that I have no conscious memory of the being hit. I’m unspeakably grateful that no one else got injured or killed by my car when it hit the sidewalk.
Almost every single day I live in Nicaragua, I make that same left turn at that same intersection. Three times in a day is not unusual. We live about 8 minutes from school with no traffic, 15 minutes when traffic starts to get busy. We have three kids who attend our school, my wife works there and I work/do ministry/coach/play there. We go back and forth a lot.
It’s a terrible turn. It’s a left turn across three lanes of oncoming, two of which are coming from a one-way down a steep hill, so they have plenty of speed built up, and a third is merging in with the two. Thus, much jockeying for position, many vehicles switching lanes. This is the southern edge of Managua, so buses constantly flood in from two different highways, Carretera Sur and Carretera Vieja Leon, that join at that point. Taxis, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians standing in the middle of the road, horse carts, ox carts, stray dogs, all the usual variables.
There is a bus stop just to the right of this left turn, which makes seeing cars coming from the right, the ones you’ll be merging with, very difficult. There’s a strip mall to the left of the turn, but sometimes the buses decide to stop in that driveway, instead; a bus had done that the day I got hit, and I was creeping out, creeping out, trying in vain to see around it, and finally the motorcycle in front of me went, so I (mistakenly) took that to mean I had space, too.
I hate this turn. I hate making this turn. I pray as I drive up to the stop. I ask God to protect me, to clear the traffic, to give us a space. Sometimes it is surprisingly easy, and I can just pause and pull right out with no one close. Other times, people are flying down the hill at me and I can’t sneak in between them. Most of the time, probably 70%, I turn right, get over into the left lane, find a driveway on the left into which I can go and and turn around so that my right-left-turn around-right take the place of that one big left.
I’ve struggled a lot with why I need to keep making this turn, day after day. During rush our, few cars are come into the city (oncoming lane, the one I got hit by) but a slow, steady line of vehicles are inching out. At those times, turning left usually means pulling out into the oncoming lanes and waiting/nosing in until the folks rolling at 5 kpm let us in. I’ve had close calls since my accident happened, both as a driver and, more often, as a passenger. I hate each of them. I try not to freak out. I usually squeeze my fists or grab handle above the door or grip the steering wheel tight enough to pull it off.
And then I’m going on again, motoring toward the school, navigating all the craziness of the lanes and the people stopping at those cheese stands blocking the right lane and buses switching lanes just before the big turn where the two highways separate again. Driving to school as if everything is normal, as if this is just another trip there, no problem, as if everything is fine.
Because everything is fine. I didn’t get smashed into this time. I’m not unconscious but talking to the police. I’m not on my way to the hospital, wondering if that pain in my side and back and head means more than a short-term recovery.
I think of that as “my turn,” though obviously not in a positive way. Once, when I was walking to school–which I do, frequently, and yes, this is partly why–I was discussing with God why I have to keep making that turn, keep reliving that day after day.
I don’t want to offend anyone here, because mine is a smaller thing–though if my seatbelt hadn’t been on, I’m certain my accident could have left me paralyzed, brain injured, or dead. But God told me that I now have a small amount of empathy for people who have to keep facing their abusers, day after day. I don’t want to offend you because turning left onto a busy, crazy highway does not compare with looking someone in the face who knowingly hurt you and got away with it. I got hit by a man who had no desire to hit me and who had nightmares about it afterward.
But God showed me that coming back to this corner time after time helps me understand a tiny bit more what abuse victims go through. Taking my turn multiple times each day teaches me what feeling helpless in the grip of persecution might be. No, I haven’t gotten hurt again. But I know I could. Any of these times.
I don’t know what it’s like to be hated for the color of my skin. I live in a country in which I am a minority, but I am not hated or persecuted for being chele, for being a gringo.*
But I do think about what that must feel like, to come up on it time after time, to face the people who hate you for being who you are, for looking like you do, for living in that body, in that skin. To keep having to come to that turn, over and over, but having to be ready for it at any time, every moment. I am watching video of you doing it again and again.
I do think about how you face an abuser when that is simply part of your life, when there is no way around it.
I think about how scared I get when I face my turn, but “normal” life keeps going on.
I think about how much grace you show when you face your turn. And I thank God for the strength you’re given to keep coming back.
*Being overcharged in various situations does not, in my mind, equal persecution, nor does having to face more red tape. Both can frustrate and discourage me, but they are simply: a frustration and discouragement, nothing more severe.