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.

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.