The Trip Down: Managua - The ridiculousness of helplessness

Looking back on my journey through Mexico and Central America, Part V.

This photo was taken a whole year after the post that I am re-sharing, below. It was taken in Costa Rica, but of youth who are originally from Nicaragua, with whom I worked as part of my internship, and whom I now consider my friends. I was looking for a photo that would convey the feeling of this post, which is that things are not easy, but that helplessness and despair don't have to win the day. These youth really showed me that - with their exuberance and zest for life, and their willingness to give a try to any crazy project idea I threw at them. Here, they helped me make posters depicting how they, and we all, "shine the light" in situations of darkness.


This is the fifth and final in a series of posts here on the blog. I am doing a review of my life and travels throughout Latin America, and I thought I would unearth my former blog for you, dear reader. I first wrote these posts on my way to Costa Rica back in 2008. That was when, in August, I flew to Mexico City and proceeded to take buses through Southern Mexico and the four other Central America countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua) until I reached Costa Rica.


I had decided that this would be a good idea, since I had friends in all of the capitals of these countries. It would be like a classic US-road trip to see friends, just on King Quality (Greyhound-style) buses, with border crossings and passport checkpoints, sleeping in hostels or in indigenous villages in the jungle, and carrying all of the possessions that I planned on using for the next year of my life. Mom and Dad, how you let me do this trip, I’ll never know, but I’m glad you did.


It is at once inspiring, terrifying, embarrassing, and nostalgia-inducing to read these posts. I like to think that my writing has improved some since I wrote them. And my confidence. Some of my “major insights” or observations from back then today do not seem all that major. I miss being 24 and jetting off to explore countries I love. And I also don’t miss it – after all, I now have a great husband, two fun kids, and more good fortune than I or anyone deserves.


I am embarrassed and surprised to read some facts in these lines, because of how I felt at the time, or because I had totally forgotten about them until going back and reading.


Here is the fifth installment, originally entitled “The ridiculousness of helplessness.” It's the second of two posts I made from Nicaragua, before reaching my final destination of Costa Rica.


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September 8, 2008


So, here I am, as if I had never left. Well, that's not quite true. The host family has a different cat this time, a calico named Casilda, who basically sleeps 23 hours a day by the door (when she's not sleeping she's eating — I'm not exaggerating). And our little grupito of estudiantes from the Estados Unidos is not here, but Kelly Bay is! And what a great time we had yesterday at the Plaza Inter, eating ice cream and talking about the temptation to feel guilty about being Americans, our feelings of helplessness in the face of global problems, but also the great joy it is to connect with people here in Nicaragua (and everywhere, really) and the ridiculousness of helplessness.

Casilda


I had really been thinking about that when my family went to the Black Hills of South Dakota this past summer. I was thinking about the Black Hills in their geomorphology (yay, Valpo class!) and how the hills are a giant volcanic monolith. I was thinking about the many generations of trees that have covered those mountains, especially after driving through areas with recent forest fires, and I realized that even those majestic trees, even the ones that I have known, individually, for my whole life, are more like grass in the grand scheme of things. Isaiah talks about humans as grass, also, and really, all of our best efforts and political movements etc etc etc are ultimately like those forests in the Black Hills: majestic and beautiful, but destroyed in an instant.

Prayer flags at the top of Black Elk Peak in the Black Hills, with new trees growing the shadows of dead trees, the background. The land, the rocks, are ancient, and sacred to the Lakota people. The forest teaches us about resilience.


The Mayan ruins, also! Central America is full of ruins that have been covered by grass and trees — even in the middle of Guatemala City, by a mall called Miraflores, there are several mounds that are temples underneath. Right next door to one is a McDonalds. Ha! I wondered how long it will take before the McDonalds and our whole civilization are covered by mounds… According to the Mayas, 2012 is the end of the current era (the end of the last era was predicted, and that's the day the Spaniards showed up). I don't know about the prediction, but the basic point is that we're really not all that we're cracked up to be.

Entire civilizations are covered by jungle, to be unearthed again one day. Will ours be any different?


What does this have to do with Batahola? Just that the happiness of being here with the family and the neighborhood is all that I can think to ask for, at this point. I would still like to work to find solutions to the poverty that people have here, and I do denounce the political corruption that is plaguing this country right now, but it would be silly to despair. Despair also makes sense, I think, and is a perfectly legitimate response to the state of the world, but it cannot be the only one.


What strikes me more now are the interpersonal clashes, more than the more structural things. I find that my culture is one of self-sufficiency, and the culture here is one of dependence on family and friends. It's very beautiful, though shocking, sometimes, to my sensibilities. I hope that I can continue to assimilate some of these differences and eventually come out more able to deal with both the structural and the personal shocks.


So, anyway…


Today the electricity went out for about 8 hours. I woke up, the fan that had been blowing on me throughout the night silent and still. Huh, I thought, that's annoying. When I realized the electricity must be out, I was frustrated. Not until I came out of my room for a refreshingly cold shower (I LOVE cold showers here, I mean really, you've never felt anything so nice) did I realize the implication of an outage for the neighborhood. My host mom sells ice cream, so her freezer was no longer cold. Others around sell milk or meat, and cannot keep their wares refrigerated. Internet, music, fans, lights, etc. Gone.


Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, but Coni says that in the last year, there have been months when the electricity went out every day for 8 hours. !!! Never a notice. The people in charge just shut it down. But the bills remain the same: more than $50. My friend in El Salvador pays $7 a month for water and electricity. ! It's really debilitating, here.

Kind of one symptom of the current government, which is headed by Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista who became president at the time of the revolution in 1979. There was a lot of hope about his government, but he has kind of gone a little dictatorial. There are some good things, like universal education and health, but also a lot of censuring and power-mongering. It's kind of sad, actually. I have been trying to give him the benefit of the doubt…


Even the priest at the cultural center talked about it at mass last night. He spoke about Christian reconciliation and love as not possible in the political realm: that politicians can practice reconciliation and forgiveness, but countries are not run on those Christian ideals. Interesting, because I think in the 80s the churches were saying that the revolution was espousing exactly those ideals.


Hm, I could say more about all of this, but I'm sure that will come, later, in more concrete ways as I start working in Costa Rica.

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