(there are no pics because i have no more patience for wordpress malfunctions–you lose)
no one argues that Nicas aren’t hospitable. It’s uncomfortable how hospitable they are. They will give you their best bed, blanket, spoon, cup, and chair if you come visit. They will serve you first, they will boil water so you can take a warm shower, and they won’t let you leave without armfuls of gifts.
but what isn’t hospitable is the shiz they say. can we just talk about that?
i recently said goodbye to two girls i’ve called friends for almost 20 years now. it had been more than a couple years since we’d been together (reason #387 growing up stinks) and we made every moment of our nicaraguan reunion count. We boated and bused and drove. We got pulled over and escaped a ticket. We climbed a volcano and got heinously dirty. We ran through the forest in the dark of the morning lugging our suitcases in efforts to catch a bus. There was vomit and upset stomachs but much more laughter. We ate nacatamales and arroz relleno and chicken soup and reallly delicious tacos. oh, and cosas de horno. We drank beers in hammocks and in natural swimming pools. We cheered on my departments baseball team in the nica series finals. We celebrated my host sisters birthday with chocolate cake and dancing like idiots. We bought mints from a woman that asked for my shirt and than asked for Ashley–all of her. We designed cowboy boots and met my dog. We slept on everything from hammocks to cots to shared twin beds to mattresses in rooms chilled by AC units. And in the end, beautifully exhausted, we said goodbye until August.
i was on my way home, catching the string of buses north, jamming out to my ipod, and still reveling in the blissfulness i felt just being in their presence when my bittersweet mood was interrupted by the shiz nicas say. i was on the last bus of the trip, the one that would carry me to my community, and i was standing in the aisle because there was well over a hundred of us and all our city purchases on it. a woman sitting to my side began telling these young children standing in front of me and traveling with their dad about how lucky they are to be dark-skinned and not white. the father then made a comment about how the white girl(me) heard her comment and just like that I had to join their conversation. the woman asked me if i had kids, didn’t approve of my answer, and launched into a public lecture (she must sell shit in public places cause her voice booms and echos into every nook and cranny) about how my eggs are aging, i’m missing the train, it’s time already, i need to stop screwing around, i’m thinking horribly wrong living like i do, i’m going to miss out on the best part of life, etc. You see, while American’s joke about single women missing the train once they close in on 30, my community jokes about childless women missing the train once they hit 20. The American train is marriage but the tonaleño one is being a mom–dad involvement optional. this is a lecture i can’t go a week here without hearing at least once so i just nodded my head until she grew tired of her own voice. later i was explaining to a friend how frustrating that lecture is to me and how just once i’d like to be respected for my decision to want to be married and have lived a little before bringing kids into the world. he responded by telling me that a woman has the best chances of getting pregnant between the ages of 18-28. ugh. i don’t remember but i bet i rolled my eyes at him. within minutes of that conversation, we arrived at his house and exchanged a half-hearted adios before going our own ways. His sister happened to see us and quietly said “goodbye sister-in-law” to me.
by the time i arrived at my house, i knew exactly what had made vacation so incredibly beautiful. it was the absence of unecessary commentary and verbal judgement. i’ve grown a disgustingly thick skin here. because the truth is, it’s astonishing what nicas will say to you. or what they will say about you while standing next you and talking to someone else. and it’s one of those cultural things i don’t think i will ever completely get over. i just don’t agree with it. it eats away at the acceptance i feel from you as my friend or family member when you criticize me at every opportunity. that thick skin allows me to brush off the comments about how skinny or fat or pregnant i look, about my running wardrobe or the muscles on my back, about who’s my boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, and lover, about how filthy white people are and how we are lazy and only eat canned food, about where you saw me what i was doing and who i was with, about how much money i have and how i only want to marry a white boy. it allows me to respond respectfully when someone asks me if i know how to open a can or iron or wash clothes.
but the thick skin can’t stop me from the constant feeling of being judged. i would NEVER ever claim to be less judgmental than my fellow nicas, but there is power in silence. at least the power for me to forget that you are always judging me. i know my dearest friends are always forming opinions of me but they let me be me without throwing in all the unnecessary commentary; just as i am always considering the actions of my friends but in the end letting them be them. and this constant verbal judgement wears on my soul. i am weary.
one of the best ways i can serve the people in my community is by helping them network and linking them to new opportunities. As a pcv, i have the opportunity to help my community apply for small grants through USAID for community projects. a group of youth that work in sexual health in our community applied for a grant to build a youth house. it will be one of the only public spaces for meetings, workshops, counseling sessions, work stations in our community and will also house the office for the youth group.
so we wrote the proposal (all 20 some odd pages of it) and they defended it in managua and the project got approved. the defense was perhaps one of my favorite days of my time here. my counterpart for the project is 21 years old and i’m a big fan of him. I am not kidding that this kid could serve as a top-notch mayor in our town. He fearlessly leads hundreds of people in our municipality, organizes huge events, manages large projects, and brilliantly designs new ones to meet needs. He’s a motivator, a teacher, and comes through on his word. Basically, he’s a gem. But he’s not really recognized for the amount of quality work he does. But this day, this day in managua, the approving committee just fell head over heels in love with this boy. It was SO rad to see them affirm his leadership, accomplishments, professionalism, goals, etc. Nica to nica. Adult to youth. He is an amazing kid and they recognized it immediately and let him hear it. It was one of those rare moments where affirmation was pouring from someone’s lips and i was just beaming and nodding my head.
in fact, this kid is kind of famous among the pc community here in nicaragua. the staff is obssessed with him, many health volunteers would die to have him as a counterpart
so now construction is underway but at a standstill. why? because my local government made promises they didn’t intend to keep. they said lots of things to us and i knew they sounded to good to be true but there wasn’t too much to do about it. so we hesitantly and perhaps ignorantly moved forward and now there is no other explanation than being screwed over and at their mercy. it’s really upsetting. sure, there are legal documents tying them to their promises but what are going to do, take the mayor to court? as if i wasn’t famous enough in my community. just think, i could be the girl that took the mayor to court. WHAT a legacy.
really the most frustrating part about it is that the mayor holds all of the power. no matter how many visits we pay to the engineer and the finance guy and the mayors house, they just keep saying shit and doing nothing. i walked out of the finance guy’s office the other day REALLY upset and complaining, only to run into the welder who has been working on the project. he explained to me that the mayor’s office owes him the equivalent to 5 months of my pay here for outstanding projects, including ours. This man has huge debts to many food stores in town because he is working without pay and can’t feed his family. He has contracts signed for 50% of his pay to be received before starting work. but they haven’t given him a cordoba. He is at their mercy; knowing one day they eventually will pay him but also aware that demanding money upfront is putting his job on the line.
you know the best part about shit nicas say? the fact that they talk. they talk to everyone. i’ve written about this before but i love my little community because we talk to each other. we’re social. and that little fact holds incredible power. because sometimes the smallest word or shortest conversation can turn your whole day around. sure, sometimes it’s for the worse, but generally its for the better.
losing my filter.
the last pieces of the communication barrier are crumbling and with it i am losing my filter. words and phrases and whole arguments seem to just slip out of my mouth without even thinking about what i am saying. it’s partly a relief, not having to translate or conjugate anything before expressing yourself. in fact, it’s allowed me to put my sassy pants back on. Fiiiiinallly. but it’s also causing a little trouble. i now always have a response within a millisecond of someone addressing me. you call me white, i call you brown. you slur together dozens of cat calls as i pass you and i will stare you down, roll my eyes, and tell you to shut up. you ask me if i have kids, i say ‘no, praise jesus’. you touch me inappropriately and i will lecture you about it. you make a proposition and i will respond with an ‘in your dreams’. you tell me i’m dirty, ill tell you i’ve always dreamt of being brown like you.
my host cousin moved in with us this year. she’s the toughest person i have ever met personally. She’s super outgoing and inclusive. she loves meeting new people and is always down for a good time. she’s always laughing and making others laugh. she’s always helping and teaching and learning. she wakes up every morning with a smile on her face and never misses a chance to greet you. like no other person in nicaragua, i always get positive vibes form her. we are insanely different people; i would never do half the shenanigans she gets into on a regular basis. but she’s incredibly true to herself. when i got to nicaragua she was living in panama. about a year ago she came back and was living in the city which is where i intially got to know her. but now, we’re closer than neighbors and spend a lot of time together.
so about the being tough part. i’ve mentioned that as an outsider, a light-skinned human, and as a young female, I receive a TON of attention here. Constant. Often, I want to crumble under my community’s obsession with me. The thing is, it’s almost all positive. Perhaps not in my mind, but their intentions are not to offend me.
Other than being with other white, female, outsiders, I have never seen someone or something receive more attention than what we get on a constant basis. Except, when I am with my host cousin. It is the only time in this country that I feel as though all eyes are on her and not me. All comments directed at her and all thoughts on her. I feel invisible. It’s incredibly freeing. Seriously. At the same time, it’s incredibly upsetting because most of the attention directed at her is sarcastic, negative, and meant to offend. She identifies as a transsexual.
When we are together, we cannot walk 15ft without something being said about her; even in our own community people say atrocious things. it’s beyond disgusting the way they treat her. i don’t care what you think about her lifestyle, there is just no need for the commentary.
i cannot grasp how she gets through each day. and yet, she does not crumble. she is the toughest person i know because she doesn’t crumble under the shit nicas say.
something to chew on. they say between the ages of 15-24, a person is most likely to contract HIV/AIDS. In Nicaragua, women under the age of 18 and men under the age of 21 are not allowed by law to get tested for HIV/AIDS unless they are pregnant or with a legal guardian. Say wwhhaaaaaa??