My work with Seeds is becoming increasingly engaging. My main assignment right now is working on the newsletter, a fulfilling task for me as writing remains one of the joys and passions of my life. The newsletter is also in the stage of evolution, which gives me the opportunity to imbue it with creativity and innovation. My boss is the marketing and fundraising manager at Seeds, and I proposed to her that we start an essay competition amongst the english-language classes to include in the newsletter. She was encouragingly responsive . I have also been assigned to write educational research articles, which provide me with the intellectualism that years of scholarship have taught me to crave. Next week, I am going to be conducting interviews in one of our schools for a marketing project. I am somewhat nervous about my spanish ability, but I know that I have the supplementary tools of the tape recorder and an open heart to facilitate the process.
I am falling in love with my coworkers, whose spirit of welcome pervades their work and lives. Last weekend, my coworkers took both Eleanor and me to a hike on Sunday to “La Peña de La Cruz,” a cross at the top of the mountainside of Jinotega, a town several hours to the north of my home home in Matagalpa. We would not have known about the trail without them, and after the hike they gave us a local tour of the cathedral of the small town of “San Rafael Del Norte.”
In my free time, I am self-studying about Nicaraguan history. The intimidating 400-page anthology, Blood of Brothers by Stephen Kinzer, is one of my most consistent companions in Nicaragua.
A complete analysis of US/Nicaragua relations is beyond both the scope of this post and my capacity as a temporary resident, but I can say that America has had a decisive and arguably destructive role in Nicaraguan history, culminating in a CIA-led counterrevolutionary war (“contra war”) under the Reagan Administration that destroyed what many believe could have been the world’s first successful socialist democracy under Sandanista leadership. Nicaragua became, in Kinzer’s words, “an arena for the confrontation between superpowers,” as Reagan Administration dismissed UN condemnations of their intervention in Nicaraguan sovereignty and covertly backed the war, often manipulating vulnerable Nicaraguan immigrants as well as the precarious governments of Honduras and El Salvador to support their cause.
My studies increase already high ambivalence about my identity as an American. The owner of my apartment is Canadian, and the keychain of my housekeys carries the flag of the maple leaf. When I wear it around my neck it feels like a mask of my origin. When I meet people outside of work, I usually say that I am from California, not from the United States. Perhaps this is a disingenuous distance from the imperialistic policies of my country, but as my patriotism dwindles I feel more and more Californian and less and less American. This past Friday was the 37th anniversary of “The Republique,” a decisive revolutionary tactical retreat of the Sandanista rebels that overthrew the Somoza regime. There were massive demonstrations all over Nicaragua, and I received email notices that it was inadvisable for Americans to go. However, I did not have work that day, and boredom mixed with curiosity compelled me to seek out the demonstrations. What I found was a laughable contradiction to what my emails portrayed as danger: a parade largely composed of residents of the town, including elementary-school aged soccer teams and a high school marching band. The tone was of celebration, not protest, and the spirit was a well-earned joviality and pride, not a threatening indignance.
I walked away with a renewed respect for Nicaragua, while the past week of recurring instances of police brutality in the states have broken my heart and made me seriously question whether the freedom America celebrated on the fourth was earned when so many of our citizens of color don’t basic freedom from fear and assault. My studies of Nicaraguan history and my support of the Black Lives Matter movement are giving me a new lens through which to look at American identity, and it is mostly unfavorable. But it is a dissatisfaction that is coupled with the determination to make it better, to be an ally to communities of color and an advocate to the #BlackLivesMatter movement as much as possible.
Apart from my studies, I am learning a much more subtle curriculum on what makes up the tenor of Nicaraguan life. There are many things I do not appreciate, specifically the catcalling and “machista” culture that my Americanness cannot protect me from as many men see female presence on the street as invitation for harassment disguised as admiration. This is not unique to Nicaragua, as I have experienced it my entire life, but it is especially apparent here, where I am almost always walking alone, and the language barrier adds to a lingering feeling of uneasiness.
However, the regular kindness and openness I receive vastly outweighs these. It is a habit of mine to go on urban walks, and one night I lost track of time and found myself in an unfamiliar neighborhood as the sun was setting down. Starting to become bewildered, I reached out to a pair of elderly woman I found leaving a cafe and asked them if they thought it was safe for me to keep walking to my intended destination of a concert venue. One gently grabbed me by the arm, expressed her concern for me, and told me is was wisest to go home and have una noche tranquila en cama, a peaceful night in bed.
I felt my irritance at machista dissolve in her maternal care for a solitary young woman, followed her advice, walked home, and finished my night with a feeling of security that can only be evoked by caring older women.
My three-block commute to work finds me passing a family home that regularly leaves their door open. I met them because the son was outside drying their freshly bathed dog, Pinky, and I could not resist asking if I could pet the her.
This small act of connection is now cultivating a relationship with the entire family, as now every time I walk by someone is there to greet me, usually with Pinky as well. I have formed a particular bond with the mother, Karol, who has been so generous as to invite me into their home.
She works at a bilingual school, and our conversations are defined by alternating bursts my broken Spanish and her slow English. She asks me questions about my work, if I am married, and whether my boyfriend loves me properly. She tells me about her life, offers advice about what to eat, and tells me not to trust men in both English and Spanish. Later today, I am going to a fair with a male friend I met at an art festival. I am excited but her words are not far from my mind. I feel like I am starting to form a community here. I fear that I will have to leave as soon as it feels solidified, but I am so grateful.
Seeds for Progress, Nicaragua