Hello, people whose world I will soon be joining. So begins my last week in Nicaragua.
I made it.
Although, examining those three words, I find them to be poorly chosen. Yes, I was put to the test by parasites, dust, the fumes of a poorly organized city, and more tryingly, a (comparatively) simple lifestyle which emphasizes befriending and accompanying the poor, and all the weight and hopelessness that implies. I feel their entrapment somewhat lies on my shoulders. That is, their enslavement in their lives and themselves is largely due to a legacy and culture I carry and have tried to unlearn, and an identity I cannot erase.
Yes, I made it, though I look four (and feel twenty) years older and yellower, as my very honest friends here say, though when I find myself quiet and allow my heart to absorb what it has found in these two years, I still buckle over in astonishment, expressed through laughter, tears, or speechlessness.
Yes, it is wonderful that I am still alive after the hardest two years of my life. But “I made it” is problematic for two reasons.
Firstly, the sentence emphasizes my initiative. As if I deserve praise and recognition for an accomplishment. But mostly I feel powerless in this experience, in this life, as if I have been plunged gearless into white water, and should be grateful, not proud, for having been plunged. And if I did stay afloat, it’s thanks to those who in some way offered me buoyance, though they themselves might have been drowning more than I.
Secondly, I’m not done yet. JVC is very clear about this from the very first discernment weekend. “I made it” could be better expressed, “I’ve begun.” Nicaragua has sucked me into a vortex of committed ruinage. I will never think or behave the way I did. And though they might forget my name, though I will probably become that-one-chela-who-told-stories-and-wore-many-colors (if they even remember that), I will never forget them. I seek to live in honor of them from now on. I seek to live consciously of, critically toward, and grateful for my reality. I seek to continue “living simply so others may simply live.” I seek to deepen my understanding of living the way Jesus and many others did and do. Most importantly, I seek love.
Perhaps you find this all idealist, silly, extreme. But those who set the world on fire have been called all of those things. (The Pharisees to Jesus: You’re silly)
And now for a change in topic and mood. Here’s what my days have been filling themselves with lately.
- 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!
What else do I have planned in the coming days? A goodbye party with 100 invites. A first communion for my best friend Yelba’s daughter.A trip to the market to be a tourist for the first or second time, to buy goodies for loved ones.And one last week of work. And then, amidst red eyes, hugs and tears, I’ll get on a flying machine to Portland, Oregon.