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.

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.