- Jana and I recently spent the night in the neighborhood where we work. I’ve only done it once before. El Recreo undergoes a juicy, goth makeover when it turns dark. During the twilight hours, families leave their tin houses to take in cooler air and rest for an hour before it’s time to wash the clothes and cook dinner, so there are more people to greet, and more time to greet them. I feel more connected with the community. It makes me wonder whether I’d ever be strong enough to live in a neighborhood like that, or in a house with a poor family. That’s truly solidarity. But the gangs and drugs and loud dogs also come out at night. So when 8:00 hit, Jana and I retreated to our friend Silvio’s street, and at 9:00, to his patio. From a safe plastic chair I heard drunken vulgarities over the barbed wire fence, and wondered whether being outside at night in El Recreo would be as dangerous legend tells.
- My friend Mey invited me to a Katia Cardenal concert on a recent school night. Jana and Sister Meli from Proyecto Generando Vida came along. I teared up during the deepest melodic segments. Colorful Nicaragua has awakened the musician in me, and I will feel so silent and white without her. Afterwards, sister Meli, of the Congregation of Zion, spent the night at our house. I like that some nuns can go to late-night concerts and spend the night in dirty-but-welcoming volunteer houses.
- On December 7th, the Nicaraguan celebration of “La Purisima” (the purest) Virgin Mary, Jana, Chelsea and I boarded four different Managuan buses and screamed Mary songs at the top of our lungs, accompanying ourselves with plastic bottles filled with rocks. This was a prank combining two Nicaraguan realities: poor children boarding buses with homemade instruments to sing and ask for money, and the Purisima tradition to go out and “gritar” Purisima songs around the city on the night of December 7th. It felt a little sacrilegious and disrespectful, but I wouldn’t have missed it. Our friends Kira, Velky and Fabi accompanied us, sitting at the back of the bus and pretending to be passengers who randomly decided to sing along. Some people laughed encarcajada. Others ignored us completely or stared pointedly out their windows. Many smiled secretly and tried not to notice. And a few blessed souls sang joyfully along. It was the closest to candid-camera I’ve ever gotten.
- On my last free Saturday in-country, I returned to my host family in El Arenal, the rural community where I spent a week during my first month in-country. It meant a lot to me to say goodbye to them because of how different we are and how close we’ve gotten…I’ve never experienced those so starkly and simultaneously. It was the shortest and best visit I’ve ever had with them. Mari, the oldest daughter, is pregnant, and told me she’s worried about the costs of a C-section in January. Javi, the youngest son, told me how he feels the community university group is losing its voice to “gringo influence”: nightlife, designer clothes, and a repudiation toward the farming traditions of the pass, in favor of glorifying the city. And Alejandro, their dimpled, smooth-skinned first-born, confessed he’s always had a crush on me. “But I respect you so much that I never wanted anything to happen. It would be too complicated.” What a visit!
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.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Friday, September 14, 2012
Sunday, September 9, 2012
I intend to blog about it soon, but for now, I would like the world to know I´m thinking about it.
Some ¨favorite¨ quotes of mine:
Next to money and guns, the third largest North American export is the U.S. idealist, who turns up in every theater of the world: the teacher, the volunteer, the missionary, the community organizer, the economic developer, and the vacationing do-gooders. Ideally, these people define their role as service. Actually, they frequently wind up alleviating the damage done by money and weapons, or "seducing" the "underdeveloped" to the benefits of the world of affluence and achievement. Perhaps this is the moment to instead bring home to the people of the U.S. the knowledge that the way of life they have chosen simply is not alive enough to be shared.
You start on your task without any training. Even the Peace Corps spends around $10,000 on each corps member to help him adapt to his new environment and to guard him against culture shock. How odd that nobody ever thought about spending money to educate poor Mexicans in order to prevent them from the culture shock of meeting you?
People who understand that your own bad consciences push you to this gesture would laugh condescendingly.
There is no way for you to really meet with the underprivileged, since there is no common ground whatsoever for you to meet on
If you have any sense of responsibility at all, stay with your riots here at home. Work for the coming elections: You will know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how to communicate with those to whom you speak. And you will know when you fail. If you insist on working with the poor, if this is your vocation, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell.
The damage which volunteers do willy-nilly is too high a price for the belated insight that they shouldn't have been volunteers in the first place.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Here was some of the lightly-drizzled wisdom shared on Sunday in Managua by Father Roy Bourgeois, a Vietnam vet who founded the world´s most influential anti-military movement, the School of the Americas Watch.
On Saturday, a fellow JV announced to me that Fr Roy was in Nicaragua with an SOAW delegation, aiming to persuade President Daniel Ortega to pull his troops out of training at Ft. Benning Georgia, the school whose graduates have gone on to murder Archbishop Oscar Romero, the four churchwomen in El Salvador, Sandino, the El Salvador Jesuits, and to lead oppressive, US-interest regimes throughout Latin America.
Needless to say, I followed him around.
I first caught him at 14th of September, a Christian Base Community (CBC) where I attend Sunday celebrations. Actually, he caught me. I showed up to 14Sept as usual, ready to tell the community about FrRoy´s 2pm talk at the North American cultural center in Managua, and then two large white vans pulled up outside. Many important-looking, kind-faced Estadounidenses rolled out with cameras and artisan garb. I'd never seen him before, but for his infamous searching laser blue eyes, I recognized Fr. Roy bringing up the rear. He was wearing a Romero t-shirt. With a few holes in it.
The CBC turned Sunday´s celebration into a call for justice and a dialogue with the delegation. ¨We have come, among other things, bringing an apology,¨ shared Fr Roy. ¨For countless years of suffering that our country has caused yours. We walk amid you humbly and hoping to learn.¨
Don Rafael, one of the community´s founders, monitored the encounter. ¨We´ve had good gringos in our midst before,¨ he said, glancing at me with a chuckle, ¨but we want to thank you for being in solidarity with us. May we work together to live the Gospel.¨
After a quick lunch at home, I headed to Casa Ben Linder, Managua´s North American culture house, where Father Roy shared some of his story. He has a softspoken voice, strained by past and present anger, and a tired angel-face.
A navy veteran who received the Purple Heart, Fr Roy´s true conversion came when he became a Maryknoll missionary in Bolivia. He witnessed firsthand the environmental, social, and psychological effects when the US treats Latin America as its backyard.
He first exercised civil disobedience at Fort Benning when he learned the US was using the base to train Salvadorans in war tactics, the same Salvadorans whose party had murdered Oscar Romero. Dressed as high-ranking officers, Fr Roy and his companions infiltrated the base with a boombox, climbed a tree at night, and played Romero´s final sermon into the barracks. It ends, ¨Stop the repression!¨
¨Needless to say,¨ Roy wisecracked, ¨they weren´t as amused by our efforts as we were.¨ The group spent a year and a half in prison, writing hundreds of letters to build up support for what would become the SOAW. Every year in November, thousands of protesters from all over the world gather outside Ft. Benning for a solidarity march and vigil. It takes three solemn hours for the throng to sing the name of every known victim of the School of the Americas.
My time in Nicaragua (at least for this round) is wrapping up. I leave mid-December. When this reality has hit my heart, I feel stripped from my core. I feel I will be leaving my soul in this country, and headed back to a place where the majority don´t (and say they can´t) live with their eyes and hearts wide open.
But Fr Roy´s visit reminded me that no matter where I go, I am not alone. There are people with me, people better than me. People who are willing not only to risk their comfort, but their liberty and their very lives, for the good of the most oppressed.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
¨Hola, Richard,¨ I smile, noticing scars he has from his ear and under his eye, and the glaring gap between his two mustard front teeth. I decide to give him my time for a few minutes, though I always struggle between paying attention to kids and the tasks that keep the library functioning. ¨Como estás?¨
Richard has never been the politest kid. He is barely nine, but cat calls me from corners, and loves screaming GRINGA or CHELA everytime I pass his house. Though I know nothing of his family, I assume he has a hard home life. There are some kids with hard home lives who are still angels. I would not use this word to describe Richard. I feel like every moment he´s about to lift my skirt or tear a book to shreds.
This morning he wastes no time starting a fascinating conversation. ¨Is it true that you´re a gringa?¨ The direct way he asks the question demands my immediate presence. ¨Gringa¨ is, to many Nicaraguans, a derogatory term for someone from the United States, referring to the ¨green¨camoflauge of US troops, who have never been the nicest people to invade Nicaragua.
¨It´s true,¨ I answer, resolved to ask him not to call me that word any more. ¨What do you think of that?¨
¨Is it true that gringos are bad?¨
I blink into his unblinking eyes. I am suddenly aware that this eight-year-old may know more about the history of his country than I supposed.
¨Some of them are. Do you think I am?¨
¨No, you´re not. But they are. Mi papa has a video where they kill Sandino. And they kill a lot of children like me. So they´re bad.¨
Richard has taken my breath away. The United States did fund the dictatorship that led to Sandino´s assassination. And in the 30s, 40s, and 80s, US troops did commit atrocities against civilians, even children, who stood up to their regime. This still happens around the world.
I know this. I just never expected that an eight-year-old Nicaraguan would.
He continued spouting history, of the Battle of San Jacinto, where Nicaraguans finally defeated the despot William Walker, a gringo who had declared himself president of Nicaragua, and of Somoza, and of the current favored politically party, the Sandinistas, who historically opposed external meddling. My mouth and eyes widened steadily.
¨Richard,¨ I gush. ¨You´re right.It´s sad. Gringos did kill many people. There are many who are very, very bad.¨
¨But you´re not bad, chela, right?¨
¨I don´t think so, Richard. What do you think?¨
¨What´s your name?¨
(He makes the characteristically confused face). ¨Je-ders. Like that?¨
¨Yes. Very good,¨ I giggle.
¨Can I call you that now, chela? Jeders?¨
¨I would love you to call me that, Richard.¨
He takes off pirhouetting through the library, oblivious (or perhaps not) of our stern shushing. As I´m leaving the project for lunch, I hear him call at me through the gap in a tin fence. ¨Gringos are bad! Gringos are bad!¨
My blood begins to churn more quickly, and then I hear him say, ¨But you´re not, Jeders.¨
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
- When I return in December, I´ll be thinking, ¨How wonderful were those two years with the poor of El Recreo.¨ But I´ll be saying that while surrounded in comfort. I don´t think the majority of my friends here would say, ¨Oh, how wonderful my whole life in El Recreo.¨ Would I say that if I knew I´d be spending the rest of my life here?
- I made friends with an English-speaking 27-year-old, a kind, gentle young man. He is very different from the aggressive, sexually charged young men I encounter on a daily basis. Every day I pass his house on the way to work and see him with his mother. When I see them, both of them leap to their feet and invite me in. They´ve also invited me to a wedding and a quinceañera. His mother even shoves him towards me when we´re together. Yes, we´re friends now, and I am grateful for our times together. But what was the fundamental reason for the way they´re treating me? The color of my skin. He would not have sought me out otherwise.
Monday, February 27, 2012
Yo soy Elias. I think I´m 13 years old, but I don´t know because we don´t celebrate my birthday. I love soccer. I love mi mamá, although I don´t think she loves me sometimes. I have two sisters and a brother whose tongue hangs out the side of his mouth and he can´t speak so he can´t leave the house and mi mama calls him Mudito (Little Deaf One). I don´t like my sisters but I have to take care of them because mamá doesn´t.
When I finish with school in the morning, I go look for women with big bags. I offer to carry for them and sometimes they pay me. Then I can afford lunch. Or I pick up plastic bottles near the basketball court and sell them to recyclers for a few reales. Sometimes I buy myself una coca-cola. Once I bought mamá an ice cream, but she yelled at me for wasting money, so I don´t do that anymore.
After looking for money I go to the library to do homework. It´s so boring and I don´t see why I have to copy pages and pages of text books into my notebook. I don´t know why I need to learn if some day I´m just going to wind up a vago like mi papá. That´s what mamá says anyway.
I finish homework as fast as possible so I can do something more fun. Like soccer with the boys on the field. But sometimes there aren´t any games going on because someone has stolen the ball, so I hang out in the library.
The gringa librarian´s mom came to Nicaragua and made Valentine´s Day Cards with us. I don´t have friends or a girlfriend so I didn´t care about them, but I made one anyway because they had glitter pens and salvaje (savage cool) paper. But when I was going to leave the gringa approached me and told me that they were missing glitter pens.
I have taken things from the library before. One time I took a pencil. They have so many and I didn´t have one in the house. But I didn´t take the glitter pens. So I lifted up my shirt and emptied my pockets so she could see. She stared at my tattered jeans and the plastic bag I use to hold them up around my waist. Then she said sorry and let me go. Whatever.
I went back to the library a couple days ago for game day. They let us play games on Fridays. Most of them are missing pieces and I don´t know how to play the rest, but it´s something to do, so I go. I was going to borrow Monopoly but I saw they had new books on top of the cabinet. I don´t usually touch books, but one of them was about the 2010 World Cup. ¨SALVAJE!¨ I yelled. Then I forgot the gringa´s strict rules about voices in the library. She came up to me shushing but was smiling. She told me I could read it. I didn´t know we were allowed to touch the books.
I´ve never read a book for fun, but this was different. They had player bios and team stats. Then Melvin saw me reading it and came and joined me to read the Brazil chapter. I guess we forgot what time it was and the gringa never came to tell us to lower our voices because when she tapped us on the shoulder it was time to close the library. She was still smiling.
I still don´t like books. But if they´re about soccer, I guess they´re okay. Maybe I´ll go back to the library tomorrow. And learn the gringa´s name. And I wonder if they ever found those glitter pens.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Warning. I’m about to bash my country’s government’s atrocities in Latin America. Surprise!
Sunday, January 15, 2012
So did I...three precious weeks with multiple wack-o activities--visiting the JVs in Belize!!--that I will go into in further detail más adelante. For now, enjoy these tantalizing pics.
In early December, the JVs and our friend Benja took to the streets to sing (and tocar) hymns to the Virgin Mary, in honor of her Immaculate Conception. Though hundreds of Nicas were out that night, you can be sure our group received the attention we (may not have) deserved. Feliz Purísima!
Some friends jamming to Nica tunes in our living room. Listen to a song they´re teaching me, by the famous Nica duo Guardabarranco!
The first English sign I´ve seen in a long time. When you reach Belize after leaving Guatemala, the color of the water changes from brownish-green to powder blue, and the stress leaves your chest. At least that was what happened to me.
The PG JV house! Complete with mold, ants, collapsing roofing...and smiley JVs (pictured...Allison, second-year from Wisconsin), coconut trees, hammock, fresh fruits and veggies (take that, Nica). Across the street from the Caribbean. Guau.
Okay, this photo has nothing to do with vacation. These are kids from El Recreo, the barrio where I work. I sign off with this photo to prove how content I was to come back to them :).