Category Archives: A Little Bit of Judgement

Departing Nicaragua: A Short Rant

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On the plane from Managua to Texas, I was unhappy.  I was not ready to leave the country and was even further annoyed by our traveling companions on the flight.  Being the mature twenty-something that I am, I plugged in my headphones and scrawled a two page rant in my journal:

taking off from Boston at the beginning of the trip. We’ve come full circle.

Ugh, I can’t believe we’re leaving already.  I could definitely stay for at least another month – we’ve seen such a tiny piece of the coutnry and I’d love to see the Caribbean coast.  Part of me thinks that if I didn’t have obligations for work next week, I’d absolutely arrange for a longer stay.  Sara and I are already trying to plan our next trip.

There was a security check before we boarded the plane.  The person who searched my bag was perplexed at first by the overall style of my backpack, so I had to help him get it unclasped enough to open it – and even then it was so tightly packed that he could barely get a hand in.  Re-closing it was another struggle.  I handed him my purse and told him I’d take care of the backpack.  He opened and dug through my purse, pulling out my copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  He flipped through it, looked at the cover, looked at me, and looked back at the book as if I was weird for having such a thing in my possession.  I felt judged but, it’s all good, I read what I want.

Let’s be real here for a second. How could you not want to read this?

Something I noticed about Nicaragua is that it seems to get a lot of missionary groups.  Sara and I aren’t together on this flight and I am surrounded by one such group with t-shirts that say “Involving People to Inspire Nations for Christ.”  Consistering the missionary spirit is part (there were many factors) of what turned me off to Catholicism, Christianity, and organized religions in general, you can probably imagine how I felt about this turn of events.  I realize Nicaragua is a Christian country, so it’s not as though they’re telling the people that their native religion and traditions are worthless and wrong (that damage was done when the first conquistadors arrived centuries ago.  Admittedly, it was not all bad, as the natives stopped sacrificing their daughters to volcanoes, but still.).

The issue I have with such missionary groups is that it appears they go into the situation with (conscious or subconscious) feelings  of superiority, maybe even a degree of white supremecy and definitely a ton of privilege.   This is theoretically made more harmful by the fact that they believe they’re being humble and helpful to the natives because, in the U.S., we do things the right way.   I am not at all saying that I’ve never been guilty of this.  In fact, I’m fairly certain I had a similar self-concept on the alternative spring break trips I participated on in college and even perhaps when I first arrived in India – that self-confident, self-assured idea that could change the world and make things better for peopel in these places where the society was not like our own.  How naive it was to believe that a week’s trip to a place can make any kind of lasting difference!  One cannot possibly make any change until he or she has learned the culture and understands what motivates people in the area and how society functions.  Learning takes years and committment and dedication to your chosen task.  As I’ve said before, it is so easy to flit in and out of a country.  You “live like the natives” for a week or a month or a year, but then it’s back to what you’re used to.  One week provides barely a peek at a culture that has been a millenia in the making.  When I left India after a year of working and living with the people in the area, I barely felt like I had a handle on the culture.  I was more comfortable, to be sure, but I was still just learning.

It is wildly selfish and conceited and irresponsible of us to walk into a situation with which we are unfamiliar and uneducated (because no matter how many books one reads on the subject, experience is infinitely more important (if you, like me, are a Harry Potter fan, then you might be thinking of Hermione’s disagreement with Umbridge’s claim that reading about defensive spells will be more than enough to get them through their practical exams.  Geek moment over.).

No, but really.

Without being intimately familiar with a culture and a people, attempting to stir up any kind of change in a limited period of time is nearly impossible.  Factor in your imminent departure and all your good intentions are even less likely to succeed.  Think about how you might feel if someone from South America, Asia, or Africa walked into your neighborhood, started making changes, and then left.  Attempting to impart change without being aware of one’s own biases and using strategies based in one’s home culture is ineffective, unsustainable, and inconsiderate.  It is so much more important to first learn the culture and then to give the people themselves the tools and skills to be their own agents of change.  Don’t go in as a savior, go in and empower.

I don’t know how to stress all that enough.  Nor was I anticipating going on such a tangent.  Essentially, the traveler, the potential do-gooder, must accept that they travel for themselves alone – to experience new cultures and to allow themselves to grow, to be changed by the people and cultures they experience – rather than to change what they see.  Accept that you are but a temporary, fleeting moment in the daily routine of the people you meet.  They may even remember you years from now, but if you’re in a touristy area, they’ve probably seen many like you.  The best thing the traveler can do is to meet each person as a fellow human, regardless of language or station, learn their story if possible, and remember that they, themselves, represent an entire country.

Appropriately, Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know” is playing right now.

I hate that we’re taking off right now.  I also hate having an aisle seat.  I can’t help wondering when I’ll be back (I refuse to think “if”) and how this beautiful country will have changed in the interim.  I hate leaving new places and I dislike returning to regular routines.

Also, the flight attendant just suggested over the intercom that people shut their shades if not enjoying the view so that others can better see the TV monitors.  Gross.  That isn’t what this is about!

Final thought:  I should not wear white because I will inevitably draw on myself.

 

Nicaraguan Mallrats

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Let me begin by saying that we were a little intimidated by Managua.  We had heard a lot about what not to do there and were feeling less than encouraged by guidebook quotes like, “tourists tend to land in Managua and leave.  Quickly.”  We’d also heard a lot about how unsafe and discombobulated the public transportation was (everything from it being impossible to figure out to the great likelihood of being robbed at knifepoint while on it).  Our hostel had a list of warnings on the wall, right next to a map that clearly outlined “safe” and “unsafe” neighborhoods.

However, we’re not the kind of people to sit in a hostel all day because we’re afraid to venture outside.  We didn’t do anything really extraordinary, but we did end up sharing what is a pretty common pastime with a certain class of people in Managua.

the mall.

We went to the mall.

Stop.  I hear you judging (I’d be judging).  Before you jump to the conclusion that I’m a mallrat or start heckling me for going to a mall when I’m in a freaking foreign country and could be doing ANYTHING else, let me explain.  I hate malls with a burning fire-and-brimstones passion.  If I go to hell when I die, hell will be a shopping mall around Christmas.  Commercialism and chaos.  I did have a brief mallrat phase when I was about 12 (I lived in South Jersey – there really isn’t much else to do), but I got over that fast.

So, obviously I was a little annoyed to be in a shopping mall in a foreign country, even though our options were limited.  However, as I looked around and slowly noticed that we were the only tourists there, I realized that we were, in fact, sharing an experience with the residents of Managua.  I decided to enjoy it.

Having spent little time inside malls since before India, I was overwhelmed and occasionally found myself casting my gaze around for a nice quiet space with minimal sensory stimulation.  However, I persevered and we wandered aimlessly around for a bit, before deciding the ultimate experience would be to see a movie in Spanish (well, subtitled in Spanish).  Sombros Tenebrosas (or, Dark Shadows) was the movie of choice.  Ticket buying was in and of itself an experience:  apparently going to the movies on a Saturday night is THE thing to do in Managua.  Everyone was seeing either Ice Age 4 or Madagascar 3.  Tickets were less than four dollars.  That alone made the entire experience worth it.

Since we had about an hour or so of extra time before the movie, we decided to complete our Nicaraguan mall-going adventure by venturing down to the food court to see what we could find for dinner.  It. Was. Insanity.  Absolutely packed.  I briefly contemplated the fact that if I was doing this in America, I would be seriously cranky.  But, it was Nicaragua, so I rolled with it.  The sheer number of people packed into the space was overwhelming.  There were also a concerning number of fried chicken places.  In a feeble attempt to be somewhat healthy, we ended up at a place called GoGreen! that did paninis, salads, etc.  I got a quesadilla that sounded good on paper, but in practice was so bad I gave up after half.  Courtney’s panini was likewise.  I decided it would be a better choice for me to have gelato instead of eating any more nasty, uncooked, limp, cold quesadilla, so I bravely navigated my way across the food court to the gelato place, where I stood in line behind two teenagers who were clearly on a date for what seemed like an eternity.   My length of time waiting on line was increased when two people casually stepped in front of me.  There’s the very real possibility that I was allowing for too much personal space between myself and the two teens.

the food court. Ignore the watermark, I swiped this from Google. Bizarrely, none of us thought to take pictures while in the mall…

As I learned, the way this gelato place worked was that you paid first, then ordered your ice cream.  I successfully managed the first piece, then waited for another period of time to place my order.  Clearly, I wanted gelato pretty badly.  I learned quickly that I was not allowed to order two flavors together and that the flavor I wanted more was a “different price.”  Okay.  So, as I was debating my options, the guy scooping the ice cream said (in Spanish), “Reese’s! You’ll like it, here, try!” and pushed a sample into my hand.  Never one to say no to free ice cream samples, I tried it.  I felt bad ordering hazelnut instead because he clearly wanted me to like the Reese’s.  However, as he handed me the hazelnut, he said, “disfruta!”  This means “enjoy!” except he said it quickly and I wasn’t fully paying attention (ice cream can be quite the distraction), so I said, “que?”  He repeated it in English and said, “you can enjoy!”  It was the highlight of my day.  I promised I would and returned through the sea of tables, chairs, and people to Courtney and Sara, who’d been wondering what on earth had happened to me.

We learned the hard way that the staff will not allow you into your theatre until the exact time printed on your ticket.  Our movie started at 4:10 and we were not allowed past the ticket stand until 4:10.  Also, our seats were assigned, which was actually kind of awesome.  We got to choose the seats at the ticket booth.  America should pick up this habit, because arriving late to a movie and getting crappy seats is never fun.

After the movie, we stopped by the supermarket to get some stuff to nosh on for dinner.  For some reason, I wanted tortilla more than anything else, so I bought a small pack of those (mistake: they were terrible).  We also found Nica chocolate (previously mentioned in the “Coffee, Volcano, & Where Almonds Come From” post on the former Blogger-hosted blog.).  I bought a bar of the 75% cacao chocolate, which was so rich that it took me two days to get through half the bar.  It was so gloriously wonderful though.  I’m devastated that it’s gone.

Leaving the store (foreign grocery stores are always fascinating, by the way), we realized it had gotten dark.  As we’d been repeatedly warned against wandering around after dark in Managua, this was not ideal.  Fortunately, the walk was not long and we made it back safely, where we met Roberto, a 19-year-old native who worked in the hostel.  He was hysterical and I’ll be talking more about him in the next post.

We decided to hang out on the patio behind the hostel, where I planned to do some writing in my journal.  However, we met John, an older American, and Malcolm, a 20-something from Toronto, instead.  We chatted a lot about traveling and where everyone had been. We also had a nice, healthy conversation about politics, which is always interesting, if one-sided.  I meet very few travellers who tend to be more conservative, which I’m inclined to believe is because traveling opens your mind to the point where it’s hard to accept certain policies or conservative belief systems.  (Obviously, I’m speaking in generalizations here and as we all know, there are exceptions to every rule)  Regardless, conversations and nights like that are the reason I really enjoy the hostel lifestyle.  The people are always interesting and everyone has fantastic travel stories.  Malcolm mentioned that he’d been in San Juan for a night and had stayed at the Naked Tiger hostel.  His review of the place made us exceptionally glad that we’d opted out.  Apparently, although the location was beautiful, the owners weren’t very hospitable, the other visitors acted as though they were above everyone, the nights were madness, and therefore, it was predictably weird during the day.

patio & pool, by daylight, minus the bat

As we sat and chatted, there was a bat that repeatedly swooped low over the backyard pool, occasionally skimming the surface.  It did it a few times before I realized it was drinking the water.  Very cool.

Next time:  Taking Courtney to the airport & Robertos 1 and 2

“Quieres Bailar?” (Or, Why I’d Rather Dance in San Juan) (Repost)

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As any female who’s ever ventured out to a club will tell you, there’s something about dancing that seems to make it okay for random males to attempt to grope you.  Maybe it’s the modern day mating call, maybe it’s programmed into their genetic makeup, I don’t know.  They’re persistent, too.  If you escape, they tend to follow.   This gets old fast and you wonder, “why won’t they just let me dance?”  Because, if you’re like me, you get really frustrated when someone throws off your groove with the rather uncreative dance moves that seem acceptable for many (not all) of the male persuasion.

This is how I dance. You can understand why I dislike being interrupted

Before I proceed, I should disclaim that I’m sure there are females guilty of doing similar to what I’m currently accusing the male population of doing.   I also don’t believe this is all guys.  There is a specific type of guy who goes out to clubs, gets hammered with a single purpose in mind (hint: dancing isn’t that purpose), and doesn’t respect either the bodies or wishes of those he accosts.  That is the guy I’m talking about.

So, you can imagine what I expected when Sara and I ended up back at the Iguana one night and found it had turned into a full-on dancehall.  Predatory hazards or no, I’m usually not one to turn down an opportunity to dance, so obviously we started bopping around.  Eventually someone came up to ask one of us to dance.  Except he actually asked and didn’t grab.  Weirder still, when we declined, he left us alone.  Following this unexpected exchange, I started paying more attention to the dancers surrounding us.  There were dancers who fell into the category described above, but they seemed to be fewer and didn’t pose a threat.  There were also knots of guys in tank tops with huge arm holes, backwards 80s style baseball caps and knock-off Ray Bans who jumped around exuberantly.  They posed a threat only to our overall physical health as they were falling into chairs, tables, and people without care.  And then there was a third group who could actually dance.

You’re shocked and want to know more, I can tell.

The trend among the Latinos (I’m not sure if they were Nica or otherwise) who wanted to dance with us seemed to involve the following steps:

  1. Strike up a conversation, however stilted, due to my Spanish deficiencies
  2. After a reasonable amount of time had passed, ask to dance.
  3. If accepted, dance, but don’t grab hold like she’s a life raft right away.
  4. Dancing becomes more relaxed, but no violations of personal space ensue.

Also, they could dance.  It. Was. Awesome.  I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun dancing with anyone at any dance club ever.  We did salsa and a little bachata and a little hybrid.  There was one song that started and the guy I was dancing with got super excited and exclaimed, “samba?!”  I’m learning samba, so I was equally excited.  Obviously this style of samba was different from “competition” samba, but still incredibly fun.  This guy had been dancing with a beer in his hands at first, but then put it down because we were becoming pretty energetic.  We cleared a pretty solid space on the dance floor because we were moving all over the place and even attracted a small audience.  It was epic.  He was completely appropriate and didn’t try any funny business – entirely a gentleman.

Salsa Dancing Dog GIF - Salsa Dancing Dog

A salsa dancing dog. Family, can we talk about training Doogan to do this?

When the song ended and I thanked him for the dance, he returned the thanks and moved on to find another partner, instead of hanging on for song after song.  It was refreshing.
Obviously, they weren’t all as respectful as that guy, but if you told them to go away, they took the hint for the most part.  There are exceptions to every rule, but it’s nice to know that somewhere in the world they’ll actually dance with you (none of this shuffling business) and respect your wishes.
I leave you with yet another gratuitous beach picture:

Right across the street from our hotel.

Next post:  The Belgian Who May Have Changed My Life