Published: June 4th 2009May 9th 2008
Well, I´ve certainly let the blogging go seriously downhill after Guatemala, and for that I apologize. It would almost be nearly impossible to try to recap everything that´s happened over the past 5 weeks, but I´ll give it a shot. Also my camera sort of stopped working after San Juan del Sur, sorry Uncle Tom, but there is a photo-sharing website in the works, so I´ll make sure to e-mail to people once everybody from the group has contributed.
So I moved in with a host family in Batahola, a community of Managua. My family consisted of the mom and dad, Carmen and Pedro, and their four daughters, Elizabeth (25), Kristhabel (23), Paola but pronounced like Pow-O-La (17), and Jocelyn (13). The family was great; they were really querky and we got along really well together. What was great about this homestay experience is that they don´t receive students regularly like my homestay family in Guatemala, so for them, having the student in their home really means the student becomes a part of the family.
The second week I was with the family, Jocelyn celebrated her 13th birthday, so there was a party at the house. Everybody pitched in money to help pay for the fiesta, and my contribution was to buy the piñata and other party stuff, like party plates and napkins. So Carmen, Paola, and I went to the market to buy a piñata, but the market was
So we (the other students) all lived in Batahola with different homestay families, and we would all meet up outside of the Culture Center in the community where a bus would drive us to the Center for Global Education´s main offices. It´s there that we would have our classes and speakers and eat lunch. We had class usually from 9 am until 1 pm, then we would have free time to do work until 5 when the bus would drop us back off in Batahola.
The History class was a basic history class of Nicaragua. It was colonized by both the British on the Atlantic Coast and the Spanish on the Pacific Coast. This split still creates issues and problems today. The first week we were living with our homestay families, violence had broken out on the Atlantic Coast in a place called Puerto Cabezas. There were supposed to be municipal elections there, but the people of the Atlantic Coast wanted to postpone the elections to dedicate more money to relief efforts from Hurrican Mitch/Felix which had destroyed so many homes and facilities. Tensions between the Pacific/Atlantic Coast goes back even further. There was the period of the Somoza dictatorship from the 1940s until 1979 when the Sandinista Revolution overthrew Somoza and he fled to Miami. The Sandinistas then implemented Agrarian Reform policies redistributing land and also began a Literacy Campaign in which 60,000 volunteers headed out teach people how to read and write. As one would assume, the Literacy Campaign would have taught Spanish. Well, a lot of the indigenous people on the Atlantic Coast don´t speak Spanish because the Atlantic Coast was colonized by the British. This is just another example of the tensions that exist within the country. The history class then went up through when the Sandinistas lost the elections in 1990 after the beginning of the Contra War in which the U.S. was funding and training anti-Sandinista insurgents from Honduras with money from the Iran-Contra scandal. This was when the United States sold weapons to Iran and used that money to fund the Contras. Also, and this is proven and documented, the CIA was selling drugs in South/Central Los Angeles to the Black community to raise money for the Contra funding. There is so much more that can be said about all of this, but I don´t want to bore people.
The Political Science class looked at the economic situation in Nicaragua. Apart from the corruption of different political figures of the government, including former Presidents, Nicaragua has been hit hard by the IMF/World Bank policies, and by CAFTA. The International Monetary Fund, IMF, and World Bank have structural adjustment policies that really push the economic agenda of the U.S., but in terms of stabilizing the economy of a developing country, like Nicaragua, in order to prepare a country to enter the free market. They also impede on the sovereignty of countries by basically saying ¨If you want to recieve international aid or help, you need to do this, this, and this...¨So when the United States wanted to negotiate the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), it did so bilaterally, not negotiating with the countries of Central America all together, but with each individual country. What that did is that it took advantage of what one country has, while it hurt the other industry in another country. For example, milk has a lower tax in El Salvador than in Nicaragua because it is produced in Nicaragua, so milk would come in through El Salvador rather than Nicaragua, and then circulated, hurting the Nicaraguan milk producers. But, the real downfall of CAFTA is doesn´t allow other countries to subsidize any of it´s agricultural products. Subsidize meaning that the government gives money to help farmers with equipment and lowering the prices of the goods. In the United States, the government has been subsidizing large corporate farms for over a hundred years. So products like rice or corn can be sold for a cheaper price than it cost to produce. For countries in CAFTA, like Nicaragua, farmers can´t compete with such low prices on the free market because government subsidies are illegal under CAFTA and the government can´t tax subsidized products from the United States. If they do, the receive sanctions from the World Trade Organization. The flip side is that foreign direct investment would come into the Nicaragua to set up maquila factories and create jobs. Well, if corporations create a factory in Nicaragua, like Cone-Denim which makes Levi Jeans, there is nothing really stopping the company from using unfair labor practices that violate workers rights such as low-salary, poor working conditions, and long hours. But, if workers try to unionize, the corporation will just leave the country and those jobs will be lost. For the workers in a country like Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere behind Haiti, that is devastating. There are companies that promote investment in Nicaragua, ProNicaragua for one, that says the Ministry of Labor puts too much pressure of investors and that scares away investment. Well, the MoL puts pressure of investors because some investment companies think it isn´t a bad thing to make employees work for 14 hours a day.
That sort of quickly re-caps the classes I´ve had while leaving out a lot. To finalize everything, all of the students had to do a final project. Some people did a project on how therepeutic abortion is illegal in Nicaragua, or on the Dole Banana workers that protest outside the National Assembly because Dole knowingly used toxic chemicals as pesticides that have proven to be fatal, or how people, including families and children, live and work in the city dump of Managua eating and selling the garbage. Two other friends of mine and I decided to do our project on children living and working in the streets of Nicaragua. The statistics are pretty crazy and I don´t want to overwhelm you with the really depressing facts, but street children in Nicaragua especially is a HUGE issue. So we met with different organizations that work with street kids and interviewed some kids working on the streets which was a really great experience. To add a creative aspect, we did a murel outside of the CGE office. The picture above is the murel we did. For those who know me, I have zero artistic talent, and neither do my two other friends, so we were certainly stepping outside of our comfort zone. Each one of incorporated an aspect of our childhood with the girl on the left who is supposed to be from a middle-upper class background. My friend Hannah incorporated the glasses she wore as a kid and that goes to show the differences in available healthcare that exists for other social classes, my friend Abby constrasted how when she was a kid she was always barefoot in the grass around her home with the barefooted-ness of street kids. I incorporarted how a big part of my childhood was playing sports and how that was a big of part of my social organizating with other kids while street kids work washing car windowshields, and that a form in which their organize.
So it´s the last day for me in Central America, which is crazy to think. I´m not sure how I´m going to be able to explain everything that I´ve experienced. So when you see me, try to give me some time when you are going to inevitably ask ¨So how was it?¨. It´s been an awesome experience and I can´t believe I´ll be going home, but I´m also ready for it I think. So I hope everybody has been doing well, and I´ll see you all soon!