I remember feeling a little impatient with puzzles as a kid. I loved the outcome, but I found it so frustrating that there was always that one tricky piece that looked like it fit perfectly just where I needed it, but it turned out not to be a good fit. Unlike other kids, I wouldn’t force it into the wrong place for the sake of making it fit. Unfortunately, a lot of our world operates like their piece of the puzzle is the most important, and absolutely, positively must fit into this one place this one way.
Let me explain something I learned in my two weeks in Nicaragua. It seems like the first thing to get neglected or tossed aside while making big development decisions tends to be the environment. Many of the groups we met with expressed concerns with the proposed canal that would cut across the southern area of Nicaragua. Not only would the proposed project displace thousands of indigenous people, but the proposed canal would also rip apart the biodiverse land, including a few protected areas. In some versions of the developer’s map, the cartographers conveniently erase part of the protected area the canal would effect, making it look like the canal would have no effect on forest reserves. They are literally forcing their canal puzzle piece to fit in a space it’s not meant to be.
Accurate map of preserved land that will be effected by the possible canal.
When asked about how the developers plan to accommodate for animal migration when the canal divides the natural habitat, these researchers said something along the lines of, “well if the animals can’t fly across the canal, they’ll learn to swim.” I’m sorry, what? It’s almost laughable how badly these foreign developers are trying so hard to make this impossible canal work. It’s not entirely laughable because this project was sold to a business in Hong Kong without the vote of the Nicaraguan people, and if the canal takes longer than 100 years to complete or if there are any setbacks during construction (natural disasters, protests, etc.) that cost the developers money, the Nicaraguan people must pay that debt. If the developers start the canal, realize it is not feasible, and have to quit, the Nicaraguan people will have to pay back the expenses.
Lake Nicaragua. Plans for the canal require continual dredging of the lake. To give an idea of how shallow the lake is, our small motor boat got stuck twice, and six people stepped into the knee-high water to push the boat to a deeper area.
Back to the puzzle: I’m going to be cliché for a second. Whether we realize it or not, we are all pieces of the same puzzle. When we try so hard to force what we think is best for the world, we ruin the pieces next to us, the pieces we depend on most. The canal is just one example we encountered. We also had the chance to meet with one of a former sugar cane worker who is leading the charge to fight against pesticide use after seeing thousands of her coworkers and neighbors die from kidney disease related to pesticide contamination. Some big businesses try and try to make their plans of more production and efficiency work that they neglect the health of the two most important resources: the people and the earth.
The biggest lesson I learned on this trip is how we are all connected. It’s easy as a student to get so bogged down in our specific degree programs that we forget the puzzle pieces we touch. I can try with all my might to solve all the health problems of the world with one simple method, but it won’t work without taking a holistic approach and considering all the factors affecting a person. I’ll force my piece to fit and I’ll ruin the big picture. Developers can try to create canals to reduce shipping time by a few days, but will devastate the ecosystem that is necessary for the canal to have enough water. Agricultural chemical companies can spray fields with pesticides and GMOs hoping the higher yield will help feed the world, but will kill the land and the people required to harvest the field.
Going into my fourth and final year of college, it’s important for me and my peers to keep in mind that we are just pieces of the puzzle, not the entire picture. Like all puzzles, there is a certain way all the pieces fit together to make it work. Our challenge is to be creative, to find how our pieces fit into this world to make the most beautiful, spectacular, fair and equal-to-all picture imaginable.