A couple of weeks ago when the US election was happing up north we also had municipal elections down here in Nicaragua. This means every municipality’s office of mayor was up for election. The day of the election Jacinta and Oscar both came home with ink on their thumbs, a symbol that they had voted, as you have to put your fingerprint on your voting card. Jacinta was so excited about the results that she left the radio on all evening to hear about what was happening. Of course, we didn’t know anything until well into the next day, but it was fun to stay up and wait. Alex and I played cards and read a book in Spanish. Alex and Jacinta also taught me some new vocabulary words. Later in the night Jacinta was talking to me about her political opinions, and got talking about the war in the 80s, and what it was like after the Sandanistas (the liberal party down here) came into power. What she shared with me made me feel blessed for not having to endure that type of hardship, but even more so that she wanted to share her story with me.
Jacinta spent the time she told me about in her stories on her mother’s farm, which I have actually now visited. After the war resources were scarce, and she told me that once a month there was one little store open per neighborhood to go buy supplies. A lot of items were rationed by amount. For example, in one month each person was rationed half of a block of laundry soap. There was also one place to get food from. She said a lot food was bad and smelled terrible when it was cooked. She also described making “fresco” or juice with the sugar they were rationed. The sugar was so dirty that it turned the juice black. You couldn’t really buy anything you wanted, including good clothing. Every Sunday it was required to do communal labor as a group for the whole day without pay. There were also town meetings, and if you weren’t present Jacinta told me people became suspicious of you. She also mentioned how scared all the children, including my host brother Oscar, were to leave the house, saying they walked around nervously. It sounded like everyone was on edge, not just the children. And what I’ll never forget is that she just kept telling me “it was terrible” over and over again.
Watching her play with Tanya’s (my host sister) baby after telling me all these stories and seeing how happy she is today truly inspired me. How can I ever complain about anything in my own life when after all that, this family is happy to sit down and share a laugh with me? I remember thinking that these are the type of stories you read about in books. These are the types of stories you feel bad about, but are always just a little out of reach. Just far enough out of reach, that you can step back and not feel bad about what you heard tomorrow. These are the types of people that most people just hear about, but never actually connect with. When you do, I think it changes you. I had another similar experience that I felt I had to add to this post as well.
Recently, I went to an old city in Nicaragua called Leon for a little rest and relaxation time. Our new US arrival and a fellow Nova grad, Julia, came with me on this trip. We spent our second day wandering the city and visiting a cool art museum as well as a museum for the revolution, or the war that took place in the 80s. We didn’t know it at first, but we got a tour guide. My Spanish is good enough at this point that I understood almost everything he said which made the tour really special for me. He started the tour by saying that essentially the US government has done some terrible things to Nicaragua (which is completely true), but that he differentiates the people who visit like us, from what our country does. And he appreciates our friendship, and that people like us want to visit and learn about Nicaragua etc. I think some people in America need to take a page from his book in that regard.
At the end of the tour he took us to the roof. (I was a little concerned at first) We had an amazing view of the city, and he pulled out an old black and white photograph. It was him at about 17 years old, and he pointed to a building in the distance where it was taken. He was holding a gun and smiling in the picture, and explained to us that he was a sniper during the war. He told us about how he thinks it’s terrible that young people in the US need to go fight on foreign soil. He said that he knows one day North America will find peace, and that he only wants the young people of our country to be able to pursue a great education and live happy lives. Again, I was inspired. This man clearly didn’t have high opinions of US policy but here he was walking us, two Americans, around the museum and telling us his country’s and life stories like we were old friends. And it was voluntarily, because no one at that museum is paid for what they do. We took some pictures and thanked him for the tour, and went on our way after that. But again, I feel the connection I made with that person is something that has changed me a little, and I will never forget that.
A lot of my experiences in this manner are hard to explain but I’ve tried to explain it to myself like this. I’m meeting so many people whose lives and stories are so different from my own. I will never fully be able to understand the struggles the people here face though I may try. I feel like, for just a short time, my own life is crossing with those a world away. However, we can connect with each other, and laugh, and form friendships. And when I go home, these stories will still exist and continue to happen. My only hope and fear now is that when my life changes again I’m still in contact with people who want to hear these stories, and who want to imagine what another life is like. If you want to disregard the struggle that is the rest of the world, you’re only selling yourself short. In a way my experience here has made me uncomfortable, but there is a desire for change in the discomfort that I know will fuel my actions for hopefully the rest of my life.