“One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.”-Henri Miller
It was past midday now, and the sun beating heavily. The rumbling of the people and the peaceful chaos of the markets were different then they were back at home, but I felt more than welcome in this city as the heavy air swirled around me. To the west, the soft waves of the Pacific nipped the Nicaraguan shore, while on the east, brick walls painted by the locals contrasted heavily against the backdrop of the mountainous terrain.
Granada featured an astonishing amalgamation of Spanish, English, and French architecture. And as I passed the pastel coloured shops, I couldn’t resist the rich taste of coffee that spiraled its way around the road. As I entered Café de Las Sonrisas, rusty voices and the sound of spluttering car exhaust outdoors were the only disruption to the silence of hard work. All workers were engrossed with serving customers or threading hammocks. but still enthusiastic to converse with me despite my broken Spanish.
“Buenos, comment éstas,” my conversation would begin and from there I could pick out some main words from the worker’s lives. During the brief time I spent at the Café of Smiles, something magical happened, I discovered the language of empathy. I had thought that if I couldn’t speak the language it would be a barrier for me to help in the community, but through exchanging smiles, something clicked within me that allowed me to understand the worker’s lives. The workers here were different in every aspect compared to the workers I knew at home. Despite having physical restrictions or being born with limitations, they did not let it get in their way of happiness. As I left, all I could remember was the tinkering laughter and the joyful smiles in response to my smiles.
The magic didn’t stop there, just across the province of Managua in the rural city of El Trapiche more smiles anchored me back down. While I communicated with the children by teaching them how to draw Snoopy, they answered back with their gratitude by smiling. Doing silly faces to make them laugh and see their frowns turn upside down may be such a simple thing, but to see how its influence on others can bring such joy means the world to me. This is why when I first met little Mario all I could remember was the way his eyes lit up when he talked about what made him happy.
“Hola, mon numéro y Cecilia, y tu?” I hesitated slightly when I approached him. At first confusion clouded his eyes but he quickly recovered, “Mario,” he grinned. He was a smart seven year old to understand me despite my mistakes! His teacher even told me that he wanted to become a teacher so he could help other people in his community. Just like Mario, I also wanted to unlock potential in others but if I hadn’t gave him a reassuring smile I would have never been able to make that connection.
In hindsight, the prospect of visiting the country I was helping was exciting but frightening at the same time. I wasn’t sure what to expect in a developing country but I am so fortunate to have a familiarity with smiles that allowed me to feel at home. Because whether in the sunny Nicaragua or rainy Vancouver, a smile is a smile.
A smile paints so many beautiful characteristics in the people around me. I see courage when my friend decided to keep living despite abuse in her home. I see a passion for learning at the local church and where I teach art. I see acceptance for life’s circumstances among the seniors at the city senior center. And I can see that under the surface of every smile there is the want to love and to understand.
For me, genuine smiles will always be token of remembrances as they exemplify true happiness beautifully. They are the pursuit of warm fuzzies, and most importantly, they are my home.