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Published: April 1st 2009
This is one of my favorite views from Tiscapa Crater (an extinct volcanic crater)
Since my time in this country is dwindling down, I have tried to soak up every experience here and let it permeate through my entire being. Often, it is very hard to put into words what life is like here. However, I hope my journal hints a little bit into this experience. And, I only have 2 more months worth of stories to tell from my time in this beautiful country.
It’s hard to believe that after all the things I have gone through and triumphed over in my time here, that I am still standing strong. When everyone else had left early or left after the year, I was the only one in my group to stay. I guess this is testimony to the love I first felt for this country since I first visited it in January 2007. Although masked with a huge wave of despair with the poverty I faced on that first trip, I have found a love unlike any other. The good memories I have experienced here continue to bring me through the hard times.
The day after I got back on the island after being away for 2 months, I visited Shirley
At the new home near Jinotepe
in the monastery. Already haven sold her property, Shirley is also leaving, like the rest of us. Many of the parents of volunteers in my program have stayed at the monastery, as well as former volunteers who have come to visit. Today, I met a man on the ferry who knows a couple from Alaska, living in Rivas right now. Being a small country, it is easy to know someone who knows someone else. He said they have bought property and will turn it into a resort. I told him I also knew this couple. He called them sharks, after money of course. I was honestly flabbergasted, as this monastery is very close to my heart and to Shirley’s. What this island needs is not more foreign investment and uninteresting properties, but family owned haciendas, like this holy monastery. It is quaint and small, housing 3 small buildings, one for visitors.
I was walking back to our home next door from the monastery, along the beautiful beach dirt road. Along the way you pass the Spirit tree, as I like to call it, as well as beautiful views of Lake Nicaragua. However, along my peaceful walk, I encountered a
A Nican Squirrel!
I never thought that these guys existed!
family of cows and bulls…just wandering…they were right by my entrance gate…Being naturally afraid of large cattle, I found another gate, further away. Since it was locked, I did the traditional duck and roll. Although I was dirty from scrunching myself under the gate´s tight gap, I was happy I did it…better this than face the bulls…. I returned to the house hot and now dirty….
Jayden, the volunteer turned sub house director, left NPH this week. He was having a hard time living two lives, away from his wife. They had to locate to one place and they chose California. I happened to travel to the office the same day he was moving out. So, I was able to have transport. However, my transport was on a tractor on the back of his truck. Riding down the highway on a pedestal (or tractor), I felt so out of place. The tractor stuck out enough and then this white woman riding on top of it must have been a very interesting site! For once in my life, I wanted to blend it, not stick out like a sore thumb…However, whenever you can get a ride in this country, you
I knew I shouldnt have given my students my camera!
take it, even if it means being stuffed in the back of a pickup truck or riding on a tractor on top of a truck bed.
After working in the office (my work requires a lot of time spent at the office), I traveled to the newest property for our children: Casa Padre Wasson. While there, I was connected with a MN Peace Corp volunteer. Knowing a mutual friend, I was asked to deliver him a package this mutual friend dropped off for me to give to him. We found out we both went to the same church in Minneapolis. It’s just funny how small this world is sometimes. I invited him to mass with the kids. The kids go to mass in the community. After walking what seemed like 20 minutes, I asked how much longer…”oh, just up there…” I dislike the indirectiveness in this country! You are never given a straight answer. However, just one of those things I put up with to have the experience I am having here.
At mass, it turned out to be the Stations of the Cross instead. And, unlike the chapel on the island home, there were no fans. For
Some of my favorite older girls in Managua
a long hour, we all stood up, rotating to face the different pictures. I felt sick to my stomach in this heat…and on top of that standing on tired feet. I really thought I was going to throw up. I tried to muster up strength, remembering that Jesus carried a cross up to that hill in excruciating pain. If he could do it, I could handle this. I was relieved when the event was over. It just wasn’t a comfortable situation to be in. In my Catholic experiences in this country, I have been very thirsty for real dialogue, not mere lecture and repeating stuff. I know that these types of rituals are very important to Catholics; I am just not accustomed to them.
When we all got back, I was hungry to greet all my kids. I haven’t seen these ones for 2 months either. One of the best things to do is to let all barriers down and participate in the giving and receiving of love for these children; they are so hungry for it. And, to develop trust with these kids is an ever-deeper accomplishment. To know that your presence in their lives makes them a
Fried tortilla and liquified beans
Although it may not sound appetizing, this is one of the favorite dishes here.
lot happier and that they come to you for anything gives one a sense of responsibility to not mess up the relationship. Once broken, their confidence is shattered. This is why paying special attention to your actions is needed as well as the need to follow through with your promises you give them, because they never forget what you say.
At dinnertime, we waited 1 hour for everyone to get to the dinner table. Here in this country, everyone waits. And, people show up late because they know nothing will start on time. However, this just breeds more lateness until it is so embedded into their culture. I was slowly getting sick from my empty stomach and was dying to just get some food. When everyone finally made it to the dinner table, the director gave a long dramatic speech, repeating many things over and over (they like to do that here). The speech went on for too long, which is quite common in a dramatic culture.
While I was waiting for everyone to come to the dinner table, I took the time to sit back, studying the behavior of these kids. For a year, I have lived in their world…and it is very interesting. They are always having fun, talking, gossiping, and make a big deal out of everything, even the small things. They are loud, just to be loud, and will say anything to get what they want. They don’t have any sense of order. Even getting food for dinner is a very long process. People are cutting in line, not even caring if someone behind them hasn’t ate. And, if they have already ate and want more, they will lie to get more, stabbing people in the back to get it. I often take a back seat in these types of things and wonder how they got that way, but when I am feeling bold, I will say something. I told the kids they needed to learn one word for the day: patience. And, I know I cannot change a culture, but it is my hope that by example, I will teach them something. That speaks louder than anything I will ever say to them. Despite all these things, I know I will miss all these things.
That evening, I watched two girls doing homework with the CD player blasted to full capacity. They always do this! I wonder how they can concentrate! And, they always have music on, doing chores, cooking, or for homework time. I gave them a disc of new music and they still chose their regaetton, which they listen to all the time over my classy music. Quite an irony.
I was onto Managua next, to visit the girl’s home there. As I waited by the highway for the bus (which have no schedules in this country), I laughed at all strange things the cars did, just because I was a gringa with a large backpack they happened to see. I got a lot of honks and yells. I have learned to laugh at these things and have fun with them, rather than get mad or annoyed. I finally got the bus I needed. At the bus station, I also had to laugh at the way the Latinos conduct business. There could be 3 buses all going to the same destination, but they will all try to outwit the other, as if it is a competition. Instead of filling up one bus so it can leave faster, they all fill up people and they all wait till they are full. Since the driver wants a good full load to receive the maximum amount of money, we wait until it is full. I asked the man next door if this was a competition. He lied and told me that he was going to a different bus station. The woman behind me told me that wasn’t true. How people justify their lies is very baffling to me.
Arriving in Managua was comforting, as usual. I loved seeing my ladies. Although I have had a harder time getting close to most of the girls in that house (Latina women are hard to befriend in my opinion), I am really close to a select few, my favorites.
Remember when I said that the kids in this culture make a big deal out of everything? Well, imagine this in a small house with 12 girls, all yelling to get each other’s attention and whining at the smallest things. One has a have a lot of patience in tolerating in type of behavior. They were happy that I was there to take photos. It was hard not to get the posed shots, but I was able to get some good candid ones.
I was off to a Rotary event next, invited by one of my Managuan friends. One of my goals upon entering this country was to make connections with other goodwill organizations in the country and see which ones are able to help NPH, my organization. This event was their anniversary, the perfect event for networking. It was at a really nice home in Managua, fitted with a pool and 3 floors, a rarity in this country of one- floored homes. One thing I noticed was how happy everyone was. Not even caring what other thought, people danced, laughed and just lived life. I really admired this. I guess in a land that survived 2 wars within 20 years, you learn to enjoy life now, for you never know what tomorrow may bring. And, as usually happens in this country, I am always asked why I am not living in this particular city (this time Managua), if I am married or will be, and when will I be back. Latino’s are very welcoming and also prideful of where they come from. They genuinely want to see you again. I absolutely love this.
Leaving Managua brought tears to my eyes. Leaving this place and returning to the island is usually very hard for me every time I make the trip, at least for at least a day until I get too busy to even think. Maybe it’s for the absence of a city that I cling to when life is too lonely here on Ometepe Island. Maybe it’s because I am still battling whether or not I should take the job I was offered to teach at a Christian Academy in Managua or work for some other organization. Maybe it’s because the ripping off has really gotten to me but then realizing that this is all done out of survival for people who can barely feed their own children or send them to school.
I met an interesting man on the ferry to Ometepe Island today. He was one of many tourists, normal on these boat trips. I was telling him how frustrating my day had been. First, I was taxied into Managua’s Huembes Station, where 6 men were jumping in my taxi, grabbing my suitcase, demanding where I was headed. I was shoved into a bus that I had thought was doing direct to San Jorge (to avoid a small taxi ride between Rivas and San Jorge). I was told yes by two different people. And, as predicted, the bus didn’t go to San Jorge. Gosh…those Nicaraguans will literally tell you anything just to get what they want. They don’t even think about your needs. I asked where the bus was going and the man told me “yes”…Was he really listening? Probably not. They direct you to the wrong bus and then demand a tip. Everything is very messed up. This time, I handled my own luggage, to avoid confrontation from the workers. Last time, I let them take my bag, as they were so insistent that they were officials working for the bus company and that everything was going to be okay. They later demanded a tip too high that I was willing to pay. Then, getting off on the highway, I wanted to get a taxi to the ferry dock. I was still outside of Rivas a little and when I tried to get back on the bus to get closer into town to avoid a more expensive taxi, I was shoved back to the streets, being told that I would just have to take a taxi…I asked 3 men the price into town. They all told me over the price I knew was just. I just had to cave in and pay it, as I was out of time. He justified it by telling me that within 5 days, oil prices spiked…whatever story to make himself feel better. I paid him without saying a word and left.
But, back to the ferry. The man was telling me that here in Nicaragua, life is about survival. People are after your money just to survive. This means that more than likely, you won’t be killed or raped; they would rather have your money. So, I am safer here than Chicago, where this man is from. Among other insights, he also told me that a yes does not mean that they understand you and more than likely, they are not even listening. Even Latino’s within a culture are not listened to by their friends, as everyone is out for himself or herself. Friends will steal from their friends, even screw them over for women, just to do it. This side of the culture is very different from the side of the culture that I love, which is the family unit. The family sticks together, even including non-family members into their household. No matter how old you are, you are expected to pay visits or live at home until you marry. If you marry, you will more than likely live close, to keep the contact. This man told me to go with the flow and try not to get caught up in the complexities or annoyances. Life is too short to complain all the time.
Arriving on my peaceful Ometepe Island, I was welcomed home. I arrived when all the kids were out for an excursion. I always like it this way, as things are very peaceful. I have the whole property to myself. The sun is hot and shining and I know I am in the middle of paradise. The scenery takes over and I am happy to be here, outside in the elements, although I am sweating and very hot. I would rather be here than locked up in a home in the middle of winter. There is something peaceful about walking up to the NPH gate, being greeted by the funny and friendly gate men, who like to crack jokes all the time. When the kids are here, I love them shouting my name as I pass, just to say hello.
As I approached our home tucked safely back on the beach, I finally relaxed. I gladly took a cold shower and satisfied my hungry stomach with the amazing gallo pinto our maid, Kenia, cooked. I just sat on our wooden table and listened to the voice of the wind, very strong but also very comforting, as it is a sign of life. I listened to blue and green birds chirping and basked in the presence of my palm trees. The sounds of the waves were crashing in the background. Life here is peaceful, but sometimes I miss the city. On the other hand, this is the perfect place to reflect, draw nearer to God, and to participate in the most rawest elements of life: participating in the life of these kids and forming strong bonds with the people in your life.
After about 4 hours, one of my boys paid me a visit, little Jeffrey. He walked all the way back here just to say hello. I whisked him off his feet and spinned him around. Loving these kids brings me so much joy in life. Although the Rotary Party in Managua was fun, I have more fun with my kids. It’s also because I didn’t know many people in this club. I would rather be with my kids sometimes, with whom I feel more comfortable. You can skip all the small talk and get down to business of what you really feel.
That night, I handed out more photos. I am still working on them. Even though they all have photos, they want more. I guess that is the life of a kid though; even I was like that. Shortly after dinner, 5 girls were taken to the clinic, as they had eaten poisonous seeds at the beach earlier that day and were vomiting. They were given medicine and hooked up to fluid all night. Monique, the volunteer very close with these girls, stayed in the clinic all night, stroking their hair until they fell asleep, which meant I walked home alone. Although terrified, I tried to find peace. Only here in Ometepe can I walk underneath the stars, feel the wind against my skin, and stumble along the dirt road with no flashlight. The shadows of the trees are very amazing and beautiful. I cannot find this type of environment in Managua, Rivas, San Jorge, even Jinotepe. The island is very special and I have to take advantage of it while I am living here.
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