From "Creed," by Dom Helder Cámara

I want to believe that the whole world

Is my home, the field I sow,

And that all reap what all have sown.

I will not believe that I can combat oppression out there

If I tolerate injustice here.

I want to believe that what is right

Is the same here and there

And that I will not be free

While even one human being is excluded.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My favorite readers (Part one)

Just a quick photo post with some cute stories of my favorite library frequenters. I will first say that showing up to a community library in Nicaragua for fun is an INCREDIBLE feat. That is, showing interest in reading, or even just leaving your house and street during ¨free¨time as a kid, is a miracle. That´s why these two deserve center stage for a few moments.
The young lady in this photo is Brenda. She can´t afford breakfast or lunch, so she comes to get a free meal at the project every morning. She´s eight years old and one year ago read like a pre-schooler. But after a year of coming to the library and asking to read a story to me after eating, she´s reading at a first grade level, and advancing fast. More importantly, her confidence and positivity have visibly improved. What I love about Brenda most are her deep dimples, which barely show in this shy photograph, and the toothy open smile she greets me with.
Stay tuned for future favorite reader posts...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Think Twice

Happy Holidays. To the Christians, Merry Christmas.

Today I found myself walking home from the bus in a drizzle and passed an open sewer. One of many that I´ve passed multiple times. Twenty feet long, ten feet wide, and thirty feet deep, there is room enough that a large car, let alone a small human, could easily plunge into it. Which has almost happened to me during rainy season, when torrential downpours turn streets into rivers you can´t see your feet through.

It´s hard to describe the choking odor of gathered garbage, but I´ve encountered it plenty of times in Nicaragua, and this was one of those times. Thousands of styrofoam plates, chip bags, straws, chicken bones, and soiled toilet paper floated threateningly to sea. Very slowly. Like they were enjoying themselves with sneers on their greasy faces.

Managua is a big city that thrives on consumption, but it isn´t like major US cities, which hide the scars of wasteful living behind investment. That is, the reason we middle-to-upper-class Estadounidenses can afford to live the way we do, with televisions, and cars (I will never forget the embarrassing moment when I told my best friend here that my family owns three cars), and plastic and microwaves, is that we have money to avoid suffering the effects of them. The majority of Nicaraguans can´t afford to do that. And since, through JVC, I´m trying to live more in tune with the majority of Nicaraguans, heck, the majority of humanity, I stood my ground outside that sewer and let it choke me for a minute. I thought twice. I recalled that the past three days I had purchased three delicious kalala frescos (passion fruit juice) in a plastic bag with a plastic straw. Three bags and three straws in three days. How much will I contribute to that plastic river in a week? In a year? How much do people who live like me contribute in a year? I shuddered at the thought. But was glad for it, the second thought.

December is the craziest month in JVC Nicaragua world. 2nd years leave with tears and gratitude, newbies arrive with energy and anxiety, families fly in with dumbstruck faces and suitcases packed with cookies, peanut butter, and new underwear, and Heather goes to stay with the JVs in Belize for a week (!!). I left the JV house today after a delicious banana-oatmeal smoothie, flying through my to-do list of people to visit, dishes to bake, emails to send, questions to ask. I was carrying 400 cordobas--about $17--with me to pay for a light bill.

Then I passed a young man rummaging through a trash river on its way to another sewer, looking for something to sell to a recycling stand so he could buy breakfastlunch. I doubt he´ll get dinner. Slow down, H, I told myself, and think twice.

That´s what I hope to do this Christmas.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Daily Life

Being a JV is thrilling. Soul-shaking. Fulfilling. Challenging. Insane.

And sometimes boring. That´s right. Too bad life can´t always be a roller, I don´t mean that.

What I mean is, it strikes me that I have grown bored of my daily routine in Nicaragua, when six months ago I was still reeling at the idea of having moved here, and all the while the people who read this blog have absolutely no idea what that routine entails. And so I offer my daily schedule, realizing how superfluous that sounds.


I wake up reluctantly around 5:50, usually go for a run or crazy dance for a half hour, and then it´s a banana-milk-peanut smoothie with Thomas and Sean while Tobin does yoga in her room. Thomas and I both work at Proyecto Generando Vida in Barrio El Recreo, so it´s usually an unspoken race to leave for the bus first, around 7:20.

Mornings at the Library

After walking to the project from the bus stop and greeting co-workers, a lengthy feat in a country full of such chatty, friendly people, it´s about 8:00. Then Damaris, Clara, Eliezer and I get to work. Damaris is a mid-30s Nicaraguan señora with beautiful sad eyes, a round face and figure, and a very difficult home life. She is incredibly strong and loving. Clara is a spitfire Guatemalan possible-nun-in-training, who likes joke-complaining to God and talking about beautiful men. She´s a riot. Eliezer is possibly my best friend in Nicaragua, a 19-year-old accounting student who´s always smiling despite his awareness of the oppression around him. He inspires me and makes me laugh.

Upon opening, we always sweep, mop, and dust everything for the first thirty minutes (though this has always seemed silly to me), because either dust or mud takes over the library overnight. Then we help the earliest ¨usuarios¨ to find their textbooks and ¨hacer investigaciones¨ while housekeeping—organizing puzzles, indexing literature, searching for good children´s stories in our collection.

Between 10 and 11:30, children who come to the project for a free breakfast every day usually run by the library to borrow a game, playdough, or, in rare cases, a book. I like to sit outside the library reading a story in a funny voice to get them interested. These are poor kids with bloated bellies and an interesting smell. But they´re beautiful and resilient. When they peace out for afternoon classes, we take off for lunch.


When my three co-workers leave, I close the door, turn off the light, turn on the precious air conditioning, and sit in front of it for ten minutes. I don´t do anything; it´s a necessary break for a reality around me that can be pretty taxing. I then meet Thomas for lunch at a local family´s home.

Though they´re poor, they´re probably one of the wealthier families in El Recreo. Doña Sobeyda, a sixty-something, busy and chill señora, makes us rice, beans, tortilla, chicken for Thomas and steamed vegetables for me. Four generations live in that house, eight people sleep there, and it´s always full of lunch-buyers, friends, cousins, kids. I usually bring a story to read to Melitza y ElsaMaría, two adopted nieces who come for lunch, showers, and playing.

I´m at the point of relationship with this family where Kenia, Sobeyda´s 30-year-old daughter, can make fun of my hair, or Melitza y Elsa can climb all over me.

I then escape from the girls and head to the hermana´s house. PGV is run by the Congregation of the Sisters of Zion, based in Costa Rica. Four sisters live at this house, and they give me everything I need as a weak-stomached, learning gringa—sunscreen, underwear, chocolate, listening hearts and ears, and, quite conveniently, internet access. I´m usually able to check email at their house, and then Manuela, a smiley Guatemalan novice, lets me nap in her bed.

Insane Afternoons at the library

I return to the library no later than 1:50 to prepare for the usual onslaught of post-morning-classes users. Some days as many as one hundred arrive within a three-hour period to borrow text books and copy passages to use for homework. It´s always a challenge to promote the library as a place of quiet study, in a neighbourhood where firecracker noises and reggaeton music are perfectly normal and capable of passing through the windows in broad daylight. It´s even more of a challenge to get kids to think for themselves when they´ve grown up in a broken education system that stresses absorbing information and spitting it back out.

Once, for instance, a sixth grader came in looking for what animals the colonizers brought to Nicaragua (the answer ended up being pigs, chickens, horses). When I asked her who colonized Nicaragua and when, she admitted not knowing what the word ¨colonize¨ meant. Then I recommend she look it up in a dictionary, but she didn´t know how to use one.

The small victories keep me animated amidst these realities. I know one seven-year-old in first grade who simply decided to arrive every day to read with me, and now, a year later, reads at her age level and has surpassed her classmates. And I know an eight-year-old boy who defies cultural norms and borrows stories every day to read at home while his parents watch soap operas.

Dinner and the Aftermath

As much as I love the project where I work, I admit I´m usually relieved to walk to the bus station with Thomas and head home. We stop and talk to familiar faces along the way. I love that we´re perfectly safe in a dangerous barrio because of these people.

When I get home, there´s usually something to be done before dinner—making it, which is my job once a week, or handwashing clothes, or preparing the month´s budget, or making some calls to plan a dance outing. Nevertheless, there´s usually a few minutes of relaxation time, where I catch up with my community mates or play guitar. I really cherish these minutes. Personal time is such a privilege, people! Parents know that well!

We sit down and pray over rice, beans, watermelon, pineapple, tomatoes, squash, soy meat, etc. Sometimes we talk about haircuts, apples and spinach (HOW WE MISS THEM), memories from the States, or silly things we do that make Nicaraguans roll their eyes. Other times we talk about poverty, oppression, faith and doubt. But mealtime is such bonding. No wonder Jesus dug dinners with disciples.

Once a week we have spirituality and community night, where we pray, play, and reflect together. Other nights we have friends over. Other nights I don´t want anything to do with any of this and I close my door and bury my nose in a book or my fingers in a guitar. And that´s okay sometimes.

But I´m being honest when I say I always go to bed grateful and looking forward to the next day´s challenges...and smoothies.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Solidarity of Six Million

I´m about to be vulnerable to all you readers (what else is new?). A few weeks ago I was staying at the Ciudad Sandino house, and my incredible commate Tony and I decided to watch The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a Shoa movie (Shoa is better known as the Holocaust, although this term is less politically correct). It was the first movie I´ve seen in a while, and it´s quite...powerful. So Tony and I, afterwards, spent about twenty minutes crying and processing. The end result for me was this somewhat depressing, somewhat empowering poem, which I hope you can read and not take at face value. And challenge me on it as you see fit please!

The Solidarity of Six Million

I am heavy.
I walk beneath the weight of six million incinerated Jews
Gasping and clawing in mortified confusion
Canaled into concrete rooms like cattle
By their own kind.

Beyond the memory,
I carry the burden that this happens every day,
Every day,
While we scribble, dine, avoid, ignore.
There´s work to be done.
Because they may have been crushed, but they aren´t gone.

They are alive in their ebony brothers in Somalia,
Their Muslim sisters in Xiajiang, their café cousins in América.
Those whom our decisions and indecisions oppress, forget.
Even today.

Yes, they are alive. They hear me.
They live forever waiting for somone to lift the latch on the steal door,
to let them out, to scream NO or WHY,
or at least, to stand with them, the crackle of the fire of oneness
surrounding us all.

And if those concrete rooms, those ashes, seem too far away,
I turn to face Nicaraguan children, addicts, veterans who saved my life in that war,
and now waste away, forgotten, just like the six million.

Oh, how I labor to find the fresh air of freedom.
But my people cannot breathe.
They live, trudge, die in concrete rooms and behind steal doors, even today.
Even today.

But for them, the six million are not a weight.
They are a force,
to fill them with strength and anger,
an ENOUGH that echoes to electrity their feet and hearts
from the Earth and sky.

I year for that force. I yearn to be full of the strength of six million.
I yearn to detach from the vacuum of opulence around me and live truth,
live connection.
And so I pray to those faces in history, in heaven,
that they flow through me,
That they fill me with the fire that burned them
So I, led by their living legacy,
March behind the hungry, old, hopeless, poor,
the People,
the smiling souls of six million alive in billions more,
who, together, will open steal doors,
Will move mountains.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My JVC Mission Statement

I thought it would be valuable to you all, and shameless of me, to post my mission statement. We wrote these during a 5-day retreat where we processed the past year and prepared to welcome in the new one. It describes what I hope to be the purpose of my life, which, granted, is a work in progress. Enjoy?

My Mission Statement

I, Heather-Hache Mae-Maya Colbert-Moline, have been given life.

This life is loved by those who have given it to me.

This life is deep. It is illuminated by questions, perseverance, courage, strength, fire.

This life is harmonious, awash with music, expression, and a dance of joy.

And I have been given a Quest.

This Quest is unique to the poetry and compassion of me. It has surfaced in books, chapels, volcanoes, journals, cliffs, mosques, faces, hearts, oceans and hugs.

This Quest is simple and eternal. It leads to God. But because I don’t know what that means, I say to Truth. To a Truth beyond—beyond words, logic, individuals, religions—and within—within hearts, beings, beauty, struggle.

I accept this Quest because I yearn for this Truth, this Knowledge of Love.

And I accept this Quest because everywhere I turn, I find the miracles I need to complete it.

I find solidarity. The tender steel bond between Questers, a bond that calls those who have been given life to give it up, give it back.

I find dialogue. An awareness of the wisdom and energy we awaken in each other, led by those who seem to have been given the least.

I find intimacy. Trust, honesty, challenge, wrapped in glances, kisses, embraces, tears.

I find the Earth, her selflessness, her call to simplicity and radicality.

I find vision, the ability to see through heaven’s eyes, to give thanks, to wait, to leave myself and fly.

When I grow weary of this life, of my humanity, I will unwrap these miracles. And I will listen to the yearning within me, to the chant and rhythm I hear on the other side of green mountains, where I will look back—and forward?—in gratitude at the Truth my searching has slowly, gloriously revealed.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

An angel visited me today

I was mopping the classroom at the project y llegó un muchacho (a young man arrived) looking for the library. He was flaquito (very skinny) with consequently pronounced muscles and starry eyes. I went out to clean the mop, not thinking twice about him, when I happened to turn around and found him staring at me and positively beaming. ¨Le ayudo?¨ I offered (can I help you). ¨No gracias,¨ he laughed. ¨De hecho, I come to thank you.¨
As we say in Nicaragua, ideay? It´s a phrase that means ¨what the heck.¨
¨For what, you´ll want to know, right?¨ He laughed again. ¨Es que, I´m from this barrio and I live ten minutes away near the gasolinera, where you walk by on the way to work. They told me (Spanish can be very vague…who´s they?) you work at the library nearby, and that you are from afuera (outside the country). So I came looking for you, just to tell you thank you for being here. Thank you, thank you for the work you are doing.¨
I stared at him, smiling and sputtering. ¨Uh,¨ I said. ¨Pues…¨ I just kept smiling until I found it in myself to say, ¨Thank you. Thank you very much. Really. That´s incredibly kind.¨ He kept staring and I kept double-taking until I regained composure and reached for his hand. ¨Sorry, it´s kind of wet. But what´s your name?¨
¨Carlos Prada me llamo. And don´t worry, I´d shake your hand even if it were covered in mud. Mud,¨ he emphasized, laughing a third time. Then he promised to come back, and left.
And I am left confused and grinning, a great combination. A Nicaraguan who doesn´t know me crossing a dangerous barrio in search of a library, in order to thank a random chela (foreigner) for being here. I am usually very cautious of compliments like ¨Oh you´re so brave I could never do that¨ and ¨Oh good for you for helping people,¨ because in Nicaragua I´ve felt so much more deeply and learned so much more than either of those could ever express. But this surprise comes at a low in the roller coaster. These days it is hitting me just how, well, not easy it is being here. I feel hugged by God, through a stranger. I feel encouraged that people I don´t even know are with me. Not to mention everyone I do know.
I hope that you can take someone by surprise today and thank them for something they do that goes unnoticed.

My best friend

In Nicaragua, my ¨current best friend´s name is Max.¨ I say current in quotes because quién sabe for whom I will have fallen in a year from now. I say Max in quotes because that´s not his real name and I´ve changed details in this post to avoid embarrassing him, if he reads it. I say best friend in quotes because I don´t think he would call me his best friend, and because the term means something very different cross-culturally. It doesn´t imply similar upbringings, coffee dates or sleepovers. It doesn´t even mean hanging out together—violence, poverty, schedules, distance, and simple living prevent much of that. This bestfriendship between Max and I means we connect, and he makes me think and laugh when we are together.
Max is tall, thin and pale for a Nica and a few years younger than I, with intense brown eyes and unfortunate teeth, which is how mine would have looked too if my parents couldn´t have afforded braces. He was born in raised in my work Barrio, El Recreo, one of the poorest and most dangerous sectors of the city. I bought him lunch recently so I could claim his time for a while.
Mostly, he talked, prompted by my nosy gringa questions, and I listened. He talked about loving to read and learn despite his public school teachers who showed up every once in a while and could care less about teaching or their students. They frequently accepted money to give passing grades to richer pupils. He talked about four years from now, when he´ll finish his accounting degree from a prestigious university which he is attending on scholarship, and what he dreams of doing--¨finding a job with a good company and a good salary that will allow me to stay with a family,¨ something his runaway father and drunk brothers never dreamed of doing. He talked about whether or not he wants to leave the Barrio, his dangerous home, which would mean abandoning his family and the few good people he knows here, but also creating a better life for himself and his family.
As he spoke, he squinted and blinked very slowly and took long pauses, as if every word weighed down on him just as much as his everyday reality. I felt invasive; the cliché image of a kid with a ponytail and magnifying glass inspecting and gawking at a wriggling ant came to mind. Only that image doesn´t even begin to explain what I feel for Max. Because the ant isn´t the kid´s best friend.
Max is an anomaly who gives me hope for the future of the country. Too many times I hear the same old story—abandoned mother and abusive father with hyperactive, ignored, sometimes abused children, who end up hanging out on street corners hiding drugs and watching pirated porn movies.
But Max is studying calculus three, accounting, liberation theology, and now, with help from a certain friend, a little English once a week.
This post is dedicated to the incredible people I know who weren´t given everything on a silver platter—who have been kicked around, squeezed, threatened—and have still come out loving the world and wanting to give of themselves. You know who you are and you know I know who you are. Thank you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lessons from the Dump

On Saturday we went to the city dump. Why would we do that? In the States, dumps are festering and far away places that allow materialistic citizens to forget about the consequences of their actions. In Managua, La Chureca is part of the city, between Lake Xolotlán, which has been polluted to the point of ecological death, and Barrio Acahualinca. There´s a bus route that goes right to the barrio, and as soon as you get off, though you´re still surrounded by homes and stores and faded parks, you also surrounded by the fumes of the dump.

Another detail. La Chureca is the home and workplace of Managua´s poorest. Two hundred families live on the side of the dump and search through garbage heaps for food scraps and things to sell to recycling posts. And five hundred workers arrive at five in the morning to spend all day there, heading home with a little money to buy a meal for their family. So the dump in Managua is also a neighbourhood, a work camp, a business. It´s also an infierno (hell), according to a newspaper article I found about it before going, and according to me.

Here is part of a reflection I wrote in my journal when we got home.

Some of us (not me) stuck on rain boots, and we headed toward the lake and dump on our guide Yamila´s paved road, eventually turning left onto a trash-lined alley. Through the rainy mist and trash fumes I could see heaping gray-brown piles rising out of the mud, as high as hills, but made of everything—tires, diapers, cookie wrappers, discarded needles, banana peels, and scraps that were so degraded and mixed that they had become one with the mud.

We trekked up a sopping hill of compacted trash. The utter separation but proximity of that world surprised me. We had left a poor but peaceful barrio of tin houses a moment before, and were now entering a trash tundra. Children—much too skinny and young—running, jumping, smiling, or wide-eyed with trauma and maturity, swept by us to plunge into piles.

Dump trucks, ironically labelled ¨Managua Limpia,¨ passed on their way up the hill. The vested workers hanging onto their beds whistled at us. My sneakers sunk into seedy mud and I felt the toxic ooze between my toes. I took a labored breath and told myself, ¨This is what you asked for. Here we go.¨

There were a hundred workers that day, which was a lower than usual, due to the rain. I cannot grapple with the fact that the workers there looked completely used to everything. They poked and hauled and smiled at each other´s jokes. The smiles mystified me. I couldn´t smile. This experience is hereby added to the list of times I have seen Nicaraguans smile and wondered if that´s what they´re really feeling. So much can hide behind a smile.

I am surprised I wasn´t even more emotionally moved. I think it was the rain. No matter where you are and how dirty you get, water heals. I felt separated from the workers by a mist shield. And from the fumes. They say the fumes of La Chureca are the hardest to bare—they make your eyes water and throat close up. But the rain kept them tamed so that they burned less.

I did feel one thing, strongly. Mistfit. Tourist. Ickily privileged. I watched while everyone else dug and pushed and scurried over the best trash, sometimes clawing at each other, sometimes getting pushed full-bodied into a pile of mush by a fellow hungry worker. I watched, with my hands in my pockets, my fingers fiddling with guilt, incredulity, helplessness, and powerlessness, instead of trash.

My God Scavenger Hunt

Those who´ve followed my random interests and travels have probably observed that I like God. Tehe. That is, I like experiencing the different ways culture and heritage play into our concept of God and I like arguing with those who seem to have closed God in a box, as we all seem to do.

Nicaragua has provided the opportunity to grow in this interest. Although my community and I are Jesuit Volunteers and thus resonate with a liberation-theology-Catholic perspective, I have been able to explore multiple views of the divine. Here are my reflections on a few of them.

God Among Us: Comunidades Eclesiales de Base (CEB)

Our favorite ¨mass¨ to attend regularly is a Christian Base Community, much like CLC groups at Catholic campuses. A group of family, friends and neighbors meets every Sunday at 9:30 in an auditorium to read the Gospel and talk about living it out, share bread and wine, and sing and sway to guitar, marimba and drums. There is no priest. I like this. Firstly, there are a shortage of priests in the world, and Catholic communities in poorer places have had to adapt like this CEB has. Secondly, this weekly celebration is a reminder that a chaste, adult man isn´t necessary to encounter God. At the CEB, teenagers and grandmothers preside at the altar, guide the conversation and share their thoughts. We´ve liked it so much that my commate Tony and I facilitated a celebration with and for the 9 JVs, modelled after the CEBs. We took the readings from Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, and the teaching of Buddha, and we sat around candles and a globe. God was personal, internal, comfortable, empowering.

Universal Energy: Buddhism, Yoga, and Tai-Chi

Two of my commates hold views in line with Buddhism. They practice yoga and tai-chi regularly and have helped me to respect my body, accept all of my thoughts and live in the moment by paying attention to my breath. I have also learned inclusive language from them. They believe in sending and receiving energy from the universe. This is their way of prayer, and there is something quite enabling to all people in difficult times, religious or not, about being able to say ¨I send you positive energy¨ rather than ¨I pray to my God for you.¨

La Pachamama: Mother God of the Earth

During our retreats, we have focused on the theme of God in the wild, of respecting nature as a miracle and as the Mother who gives us life. In the Andean spirituality of Bolivia and Peru, God is Pachamama, a feminine spirit alive in nature. We sometimes meditate on Her image, and this holds us accountable to living simple lives in solidarity with the poor. My belief in stewardship for the Earth has been expanded. The Earth is no longer ¨given¨ to humankind; rather, She is the Giver and the Creator. I am thus much more likely to think twice about my enculturation into a wasteful, consumerist society.

Iglesia de Dios: A Venture into Firey Evangelization

I recently accompanied my friend Edwin to his evangelical Christian service. Jehova´s witness, Mormonism, and evangelical Protestantism are quickly overtaking Catholicism in the number of converts per year in Nicaragua. This service took place in a high-ceilinged, linoleum-floored hall with huge electric lights and hundreds of plastic wicker chairs. The first half of the service consisted of ear-drum bursting, joyful praise and worship music, led by a hefty guitarist who sweated and jumped in his shirt and tie. Hands reached toward heaven and worshippers spun in circles for almost an hour. Edwin spent most of the first hour speaking the words of the songs to me so I could understand better.

Next a small, put-together pastor took to the pulpit and pulled out his Bible tranquilly. Before I knew it he was screaming into the microphone about what love really means and the brilliance of the prophet Isaiah. He spoke for a half hour, interrupted by ALELUYAS and LA GLORIA DE DIOS from his enthusiastic congregation. We sang and danced a little more (which was interesting, because outside the church, members aren´t allowed to dance or drink), greeted Edwin´s family, and left.

I enjoyed witnessing people on fire in their faith, whether or not I shared it. The experience was loud and intense, and I found myself wanting a little reflection time and a little more variety. I also wish I had gotten into a better conversation about convictions with Edwin. The stereotype is that evangelical Nicaraguans are closed-minded and pushy, but he was nothing but welcoming and happy. Good for him, good for them.

Saint Peter of the Rich: a Conservative Catholic Church

My commate Tobin and I once attended a Catholic mass in an infamously well-off barrio called Martha Quezada, also called Gringolandia, for all the embassies and gringos (white people) found there. San Pedro´s is huge, new, and glistening, quite an anomaly according to my Managua experience. Imagine leaving work amid cardboard homes and hungry children and then entering a palace full of ironed silk shirts, pearl earrings and diamonds, to talk about God, a God who supposedly hears the cry of the poor. It didn´t make sense. And it made me think about every time I´ve attended mass amid the rich of the States—do people commit to serving the God they believe in by living for and with the people that God loves most? Or do they too easily forget the reality of the world?

The next day I told my co-workers I had gone to mass at San Pedro´s. They´d heard of it and made fun of me. They call it ¨San Pedro de los Ricos,¨ or Saint Peter of the Rich.

In the future, I hope to attend a Korean church nearby, and have conversations with some of the Muslim vendors at one of the markets. Not only because I like talking about God—it´s more that I like talking to and learning from people.

Friday, June 24, 2011

(A non-Nicaraguan´s somewhat useful view of) Nicaraguan Politics 101

Psychological sidenote…lots of things are hitting me hard lately. Well, at least my blogs will be more interesting now.

A little more than a quarter through JVC in-the-field living. WHAT. My relationships are deepening and I am more aware of the situations of oppression that affect my friends here. One of these oppressive cycles is the Nicaraguan political sphere. Knowing, however, that my blog readers know very little about this (unless you´re a Vega, I´m aware they make up a large percentage of my fanbase), I have decided to divulge an incredibly partial story of this chaos. Prepare yourself.

The two main characters in my grossly abbreviated version are the United States and Daniel Ortega.

Ortega is the head of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), the revolutionary party which ousted Nicaragua´s most infamous leader, the dictator Somoza, in the 70s—the only revolution to ever ¨succeed¨ in Central America. Certainly, that´s saying something. The Sandinistas saved Nicaragua from a US-funded tyrant, and followed that up with a nationwide, unsurpassed literacy campaign. But it´s also saying something that Ortega´s face is more common in Nicaragua than Kim Jong Il´s in Corea del Norte. He´s currently running for a third term as president in November…which is against the Constitution. So he´s trying to declare the Constitution unconstitutional, and to brainwash people, there´s FSLN propaganda on every street, in every house, blasted from every radio station. VIVA DANIEL is the most common graffiti slogan, as if the people want him to live forever. Their billboards, quite inappropriately, are lazer pink and blue with yellow and green writing—straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Their slogans are ¨You win!¨, ¨United for the Common Good!¨, ¨Christian, Socialist, in Solidarity,¨ and, my favourite, ¨We continue changing Nicaragua!¨ I´m thinking…you´ve been in power twenty-plus years and Nicaragua is still the second poorest country in the hemisphere. I think someone else should get a turn.

I must admit that FSLN is doing wonderful things for certain people. A couple years back they built a million-dollar bridge leading into the neighbourhood where I work, allowing local residents and I to cross into El Recreo without entering a trash ditch. Also, in the mountain community where we went to language school, FSLN is funding a solar-powered irrigation system. But you never see the good works of the government without a huge announcement that Ortega did it, so you should vote for him in November, thank you very much.

All of this propaganda would be fine, I say, if opponents to the party were free to speak their minds.

This is not the case.

One of the only surviving opposition parties, the Partido Liberal Constitucionalista (PLC), recently approached the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) in hopes of submitting an official plea that Ortega´s bid for re-election is illegal—they´re right. But there were two hiccups with this plan. That morning, the Juventud Sandinista (JS) showed up on the steps of the CSE. Most of JS is formed by high-school drop-outs who are compensated by Ortega´s cronies, in good grades or cash wads, to do whatever he says. They pitched ten tents and said they would be camping in front of the CSE in the name of ¨peace and justice and free elections.¨ PLC couldn´t pass them to submit their election protest. So much for free elections. Oh, these kids were also accompanied by the national police, who are paid by—you guessed it—Ortega.

Second problem with the PLC´s plan. An article in one of the only havens of free speech left in the country, El Nuevo Diario, publicized that Ortega has been channelling millions of dollars into the pockets of upper CSE officials, guaranteeing their loyalty. Chances are, if PLC made it into the building, the plea would have been ignored, because the chamber is full of his beneficiaries.

Some, well, ¨fun¨ side notes connected with this case. The journalist who exposed the corruption in the CSE received multiple death threats afterwards, which have been submitted to Nicaragua´s human rights watch. And El Nuevo Diario, which has been drowning in the current economy, has announced that it´s going to be sold to a prominent Sandinista family who has the cash to run it. So much for free speech.

More evidence of Sandinista manipulation? A couple months ago, the opposition parties together announced that they would be organizing a march to—you guessed it—protest Ortega´s candidacy in November, which is, I repeat, illegal according to the Constitution. FSLN found out, and suddenly, every few blocks I came across a pink-blue poster announcing a ¨March for Peace and Justice¨ organized by JS (do they do anything new?) which just happened to be taking place on the same day and at the same time and place as the opposition´s march. The latter never occurred. I went to the market that day and was thronged by hundreds of Sandinista youth singing peace songs. No opposition in sight. The Sandinistas were too many. I do feel, sometimes, that I live in a temporarily subdued war zone.

But if you think Ortega sounds like a bully, wait til you here about the guy he helped overtake. This guy´s name is the United States. He has ransacked Central America for two hundred years, using the profit to make his richest citizens richer. If you need evidence of that and don´t plan on living here any time soon, I can send you more than a few book titles. Until then, suffice it to know that the US embassy in Managua is the biggest compound in the country, a marble and glass fortress surrounded by a twenty-foot cement wall decked in security cameras. I´ve seen it up-close when I entered to apply for Nicaraguan residency, and at a couple protests. The compound even includes apartments and a supermarket so that employees don´t have to enter the real Nicaragua. I can also tell you that ¨American Clothing¨ is all the rage (even if it is made in China), English is the coolest thing no one can afford since Hannah Montana on cable TV, and I am treated like a princess thanks to my skin and hair color…a privilege that has come in handy when I need a toilet and get ushered to the front of the line, but leaves me with knots in my stomach.

And that, friends, is the same feeling I´ve got now that I´ve offered my view on current Nica politics. Don´t take too much to heart, because there´s not much to be done about it. Yeeha. I mostly just wanted to share a little of the reality here with you. Obama´s not so bad. And no matter how many times I find myself protesting outside an American embassy, I´m grateful to at least feel safe lambasting my own government. This is a privilege Nicaraguans don´t have.