A mamon looks like a shrunken down lime. Underneath its leathery skin is a large pit, encased with a fleshy beige pulp. To eat the mamon (if you can call it eating), you peel the skin and then suck the gelatinous pulp off the pit. The tartness leaves a fuzz on your teeth that your tongue, confused, continues to trace. It's a minimal payoff, and one that makes you wonder if mamones are more of a distraction than a snack.
Mamones come in bunches like grapes, except they hang from trees that grow in abundance across Nicaragua's landscape. And on a late summer day in El Naranjo, we were hunting them.
Paul had only asked for one or two mamones. But in Nicaragua, tasks are performed very slowly and thoroughly or not at all, and so an old man in the community set our sights much higher. Not just a couple mamones — a couple dozen. Something novel we could use to woo the German volunteers out of their solemn efficiency while they were busy mixing concrete.
So Paul followed the old man and I followed Paul and we trundled through strangers' backyards, stepping over lines of barbed wire and around bushes, inspecting each tree for signs of the tiny green fruits. The old man stopped a few people along our trek, tipping his cowboy hat and hiking up jeans that gravity would soon reclaim.
"Do you know who has mamones?" he'd ask.
"You could try this person's yard," they'd reply, because there were only so many people in El Naranjo, and why wouldn't you take from your neighbor's tree? Finally, we came upon a big mamon tree, branches weighed down with fruit. The old man, who looked as though a strong breeze could topple him, suddenly sprang into the air.
He leapt and leapt up at the tree branches, a cat batting a dancing string, until he snagged a low branch and plucked one large bunch of mamones.
Prize in hand, we ate a few mamones as our reward before presenting them to the Germans, who remained largely unamused. Earlier that day we had visited a woman's house. It was 40 square feet and used to hold five people—a couple fewer now that her daughters were grown. Heavy rain had once flooded her home, eroding parts of the dirt floor. But soon, Gracias a Dios, concrete would smooth the floor and counter the rainy season's threat. She served us coffee, a clear-ish, saccharine liquid, and we sat in plastic chairs around her living room. I tried to hold onto her Spanish, nodding when I caught pieces of her struggle. It didn't seem like much, but Paul told me that the next day she asked about me. I can't recall much else from that day, but it's funny how some memories stay with you, like the grainy feel of a foreign fruit on your teeth, and the smile of a stranger who can tell you're listening.