Nica thoughts

View of roadside into Granada from car

View of roadside into Granada from car

As we gear up to leave what has come to feel like a home away from home at La Mariposa in Nicaragua, here is some of what I have come away with.

I can’t say that I miss working, but I definitely miss my work-a lot. So who would have thought that I would come across an opportunity to practice a bit of speech and language therapy in a local clinic? There is a physical therapist who works with children with disabilities, doing home visits, working at the clinic, and a school as well. However, according to her, the closest speech therapist is probably in Managua. A fellow student, Mark, accompanied me twice, and aside from being a physical therapist himself, also served as translator. Meeting Juanita and getting the opportunity to meet and work with her patients was a tremendous learning experience for me, but equally frustrating given that I was trying to do therapy in a language where at this point, I could be diagnosed as having a major language delay myself. What also struck me, but of no surprise, was the amazing work she is able to do with such limited resources…more on this later. I was reminded of what my old grad school professor used to say-that we should be able to do quality therapy with nothing but a pen and paper and to heck with the bubbles, games, toys and stickers. I agree for the most part (although there have been days where a sticker has saved a session and my sanity!) and it was humbling for me to see the room in this clinic.

Being in one country for over a month was an effective reminder that we are NOT on a vacation. The fact that we were able to spend so much time in one place gave us the chance to learn more about and connect more meaningfully with the country’s history and the people who live here. We got to visit the major tourist sites and cities such as Granada, Managua, and Leon (my favorite), as well as local markets, fiestas, schools, and internet cafes, and have traveled by microbus, taxi, Jeep, pick-up truck bed, boat, on foot and by horse. We were able to see and experience the astounding beauty of the landscape. We swam and hiked, zipped over trees, walked through caves, and peered into volcanoes (those sulfur fumes are no joke…thank god for the gas masks). I have learned that I quite enjoy Nicaraguan cuisine (never tried the iguana soup, but no big deal), and that drinking the water or other beverages with ice won’t kill you. We even took salsa and merenge lessons (thank you, Bergman for not laughing-for the rest of you, sorry the pictures seem to be missing). There are malls and mansions, and often a few feet away, a house made of sticks or cardboard, or corrugated tin, but both the houses of a family nonetheless. Nicaragua, like most places, seems to be a medley and mix, and not all the pieces seem to fit, but it is what it is. I highly doubt we would have come to appreciate the complexity of Nicaragua and make such wonderful friends (both locals as well as other travelers like us) had we only been able to come for a few days or a week. Our time here is over, but I already want to come back.

Finally, I never quite realized just how easy it is to forget, ignore, or simply be unaware of how other people live, while we go on with our day to day lives. I am used to reading an article, or seeing a TV special, or hearing about Brangelina’s efforts to save the world, but never have encountered anything first-hand enough to make it personal. I’m used to finding myself feeling sorry for the subjects of these news stories, and thinking how sad I am for them and how fortunate we are, as I turn the page or change the channel and enjoy the luxuries of home. It is almost ridiculous how convenient it is living in a country where food is available in limitless options; where basic needs like clean air and water are not only present, but demanded and produced; especially now with the knowledge that one of our teachers wakes up at midnight somedays and walks for seven hours to get water for his family before coming to teach us our Spanish lessons. We, here as foreigners, talk about where we’ve traveled and what country is next on the list, while our other teacher tells us his dream of visiting another country, any country. Nicaragua has a history of being taken advantage of and stolen from and lied to. It has had most of its resources stripped against their consent by countries, especially the United States, and its people the victims of war, purposeful use of poisonous pesticides and numerous other atrocities. The people we have met and encountered have every right to hate us, or at the very least treat us neutrally or warily. So much of what we have and why we live our lives at home has come directly at the expense of what we have taken from these people. However, even knowing this, everyone has been kind, patient, interested, and welcoming.
Even given the hard facts about the unfair and exploitative relationship between our countries, rather than being blamed or made to feel ashamed, there has only been tolerance and a certain sense of quiet acceptance of the circumstances that have contributed to their current place in the world. As one of our first teachers put it during a discussion about his life, “A life without troubles is not a life” and also simply that “Nicaragua has not had good luck.” From here he went on to teaching us a new verb tense. It is for reasons like this and people like him, that Nicaragua is going to hold a special place in my heart and I am determined to remember everything about my time here. And someday soon, I would like to do something real about it, however small. The wheels are turning……

Here are some resources for anyone inclined to learn more:

Blood of Brothers (by Stephen Kinzer, recommended by our teacher)

The Whiteness of Power: Racism in Third World Development and Aid (Paulette Goudge, our friend who is the owner/director of the La Mariposa where we stayed)

The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (Salman Rushdie) (our friend Jason is involved in and working with this community) (another project of Jason’s)

Posted: February 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Nicaragua | Tags: , | 1 Comment »

One Comment on “Nica thoughts”

  1. 1 Mark Shiffler said at 12:41 pm on February 20th, 2009:

    Hi Mari and Jeff,
    Penny read the Honduran fiasco story
    to me. You both
    write really well and we had a great
    laugh. I also really appreciate the
    short time that we were able to spend
    with Juanita, and was impressed with
    how much she accomplishes with a good sense of humor and little equipment. Hope that you have found some high tides and green
    grass to offset the shit holes.
    We are going to head in the direction]of Panama today. Hope
    to hook up with a family and go
    to a festival with them in the town
    of Las Tablas. With luck to a nature
    preserve in between. . . safe journeys
    to you both. love, Mark and Penny

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