Nicaragua. Where do I begin? Sitting back home on my bed in San Jose after two weeks away its hard to believe it all happened. Nothing’s really changed here which seems weird. I remember remembering one of my professors declaring “Nicaragua will be one of the most amazing experiences of your life” and that he was right. But why? My mind is still too much a swirling mess of emotions and contradictions to figure that out.
Let me start off by saying I saw many tourists in the colonial city of Grenada on our last day there, from Canada, the US, Europe…these people don’t experience Nicaragua. Their experience is like someone going to the beach for the first time who touches their toes in the water and declares “now I know what the ocean is and have been there”. Or perhaps more aptly, like a tourist who comes to a country only to spend time at the beach yet claims to have known that country. Yet perhaps my wink of a moment in the grand history of such place as Nicaragua doesn’t count for much better. But then again at least I had enough of a life there to understand I cannot claim to known that place. Because I don’t. I do not understand Nicaragua.
This is called the land of lakes and volcanoes but it is so much more. So geographically close to Costa Rica yet in reality so far from it. But it would be too much to try explain with my limited understanding how the history, the revolutions, the dictators, the foreign intervention, in this country have shaped it into what it is today. So I won’t attempt. Not yet, not in a one-way written monologue.
I suppose however, you are wondering what exactly it was I was doing there if I wasn’t doing typical touristy things. A short synopsis: When we first got there we spent a little over three days in the capital city of Managua where we were kept busy trying to absorb a bombardment of history, philosophy, language, images, emotions, and differing worldviews. Managua is one of the strangest, least touristy capital cities I have ever seen. In 1972 a devastating earthquake destroyed the downtown core, killing 6 000 people and leaving 250 000 without homes. As such from a hill in the center of the city you can hardly discern a likely place as a business district or a downtown or where people would commute into for work because these places don’t really exist as the earthquake altered the typical city layout that would have existed here.
But its not the layout of the city that is important to what I was doing. What is important are the people we heard from and the realities of contemporary Nicaragua we were faced with. During this time we heard from Dora Tellez a leader of the Sandinista Revolution that overthrew the violent, US-backed dictatorship in 1979, and current leader of the Sandinista Revolution Movement political party. She told us of the struggles of Nicaraguans and her personal current political struggle against “the new dictatorship” as she calls it, of her once friend and fellow revolutionary Daniel Ortega.
We heard from an American/Zambian/Nicaraguan organic farmer and his struggles against the industrialization and corporatization of food production that has resulted in so much poisoning of justice and of our own bodies. For him, the only way to be truly sustainable is not through fair trade, which is only a manifestation of the same system, or through simply buying organic, but of turning our lands back into spaces to produce the food we can eat living where we do.
A nun toured us around a church with vivid murals telling a concurrent story of Nicaraguan history and of the Christian story through Nicaraguan eyes. The evocative and controversial murals were only recently protected as a National Cultural Icon against the desires of many to have them painted over.
In the largest market in Central America we witnessed the work of Inhijambia, a Christian organization that is a very bright light in a very dark place. They take homeless children and any who wish to learn from within the market and start by giving them a basic education at a center in the heart of the market. If this succeeds they move them onto a main site outside the market where they continue to educate them, as well as providing children and teenagers with more education to graduate them with knowledge in such subjects and computing and math as well as music, sewing, and dancing that they are provided with the tools to make a living or go to college which many do. They also house at-risk girls in the compound. Members of our group were crying seeing the beautiful compassion and work of these people despite lack of funding and numerous failures.
We saw too a performance of the music of Silvio Rodriguez at the National Theatre, a Cuban folk musician who writes and sings songs of protest. We saw the torture chambers of the Somoza dictatorship turned Sandinista museum. We saw the great paintings and statues of socialist leaders from around Latin America, the great leaders of countries Nicaragua aspires to yet cannot reach.
I realize this is little better than an eloquent list of activities and I hate to write this way. Yet I need to write this way because I do not understand enough to interpret. I do not understand Nicaragua. I do not understand so I describe my experiences. But all of these little experiences were significant to this experience as a whole. Yet these were not even the most impactful part of my time there. When I remember Nicaragua it will be for the six days I lived with a Nicaraguan family in a small city less than an hour from Honduras. But that is a story for later this week. Right now I am tired and quite frankly sick of analyzing all of this so it is a story that will have to wait. And better that is does. Its not something I want to rush.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding.