Category Archives: United States

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.

 

Musings on Graffiti

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Sandinistas

On our way back from Masaya with Roberto, we passed a group of people wearing shirts in support of Daniel Ortega, the current president, and riding motorcycles.  Roberto informed us that they were Sandinistas, a political party named for Augusto Cesar Sandino who fought against U.S. occupation of Nicaragua back in the 30s (I feel rather hypocritical linking to Wikipedia, as I once told my students that if they cited Wikipedia as a source, “they would make me cry.”).  I believe the current Sandinistas are supporters of the Ortega, who was also a member of this group.

As we drove by the Sandinista biker gang, I couldn’t help but notice that they were all pretty young, roughly around my age.  This observation made me think of something David, our Granada tour guide, had said.  He was of the belief that this govenrment, these politicians, create evenets that suck in the youth and use them to make it appear as though they  have a lot of support.  More often than not, the youth aren’t aware they’re being used in this sense.  (On a related note: I just finished Game Change, a fascinating book about the 2008 election, that alluded to similar strategies used at conventions and rallies to make it seem as though the candidate is extremely popular.  Perception is everything, but that’s another rant.)  I also noticed that there was a black and red flag on the back of each bike.  After that, I started noticing that there were red and black swatches painted on walls and around telephone poles.  I’d seen them before, but now I started connecting the two as being Sandinista symbols.  Further (Wikipedia-based) research revealed that the red and black colors come from a Mexican anarchist movement that Sandino was involved with in the 1930s.  Additionally, there were many slogans painted on the cement walls that lined the main road into Managua such as “Viva Daniel!” “Viva la revolucion!” “Sandinistas” and “FSNL.”

Sandinista graffiti in Managua

What was interesting about all this, however, was that as we got closer to Managua, more black swatches appeared on the walls, as if someone had attempted to paint over the pro-government phrases.  On the city line was a phrase, “menos propaganda, mas informacion” that remains imprinted on my memory.  I feel as though we’re in a similar situation in America – most of what we hear is essentially propaganda, paid for by those with the money and power.  It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to separate what’s real from what’s contrived.  This makes it even more important to pay attention to what the media is saying and to attempt to read between the lines.  Critical thinking and reading skills are more essential than ever (I’m not just saying that because I’m an English teacher).  We can’t peacefully accept what the media and the politicians spoonfeed us, because everything they say is a means to an end.

That being said, make sure you’re registered to vote!!

Why is it called the “Big Easy”?

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This week, I’m in New Orleans for a conference.  Don’t worry, though, I’m taking plenty of notes on the experience to share with you on my return.

Any suggestions as to what I should do while I’m here?