As my time in Nicaragua comes to a close I have begun to reflect on what I have seen and done here. By no means does three weeks make me even close to an expert on this culture and what makes it tick. However, I do like to think that I have gained some insight through personal relationships that I could never have received through any amount of research or statistics. The friendship that I have built in just three weeks feel strong enough to last a life time – and that makes my heart happy. You see, I am a “people-person” as some would say. As a people-person I have been observing the ways in which people around me interact with one another and in-turn how they interact with their community.
More specifically, I was curious as to how women felt, acted and interacted. The most startling and obvious difference from American culture was the age in which most girls were having kids. It was far from uncommon to see a 15 year old girl lugging around her three and one year old children. I was curious if this was seen as problematic in this culture or if the “American” lens in which I see the world told me it was a problem that needed to be changed.
I sat and talked with one young mom at a local baby blue church down the winding, dirt road from the farm. I am drawn to babies and conversation can be easily stated (in any language) through simple questions about a baby. I soon came to learn more about the sweet young girl holding an infant. I learned how drastically her dreams of college and a career translating Spanish to English (or even any job potentially) went out the window. This young woman was not a statistic to be analyzed, but a woman to be loved and cared for. She is a woman to seek clarity from and learn from. I cannot tell you how to change the inequality that forces young women to take on the full burden of a child instead of both the man and the women. But I can tell you there is at positively one women who desires change. (And many more with whom I spoke to on this topic after this encounter). This experience has reignited my desire to see inequality of men and women disappear. It was different than what I had anticipated seeing the inequality as, but nevertheless just as important to address.
Who needs a schedule anyways? ME. That is who most certainly needs one. I thrive with routine, punctuality and above all; A SCHEDULE. While living in the United States my desire (i.e. need) for plans and specific time frames that correspond with those plans is rarely ever questioned. In fact, the overwhelming majority of my peers support me and see it as an expected part of life. It became all too apparent that what I had believed to be “common sense” was far from that for my new Nicaraguan friends. I was challenged to see that people can feel successful, productive and worry-free with or with-out a concrete schedule/plan for the day. I saw that people could also feel lazy, stressed or disorganized without a schedule. This forced me to see American “productivity” in a new light. Our success through out each day is often measured by the number of things we checked off of our list in the shortest amount of time (I know you college students out there understand that one all too well). However, there is no correlation to success and punctuality/scheduling here. This has stretched me greatly. Mainly because it forced me to see that I had somehow allowed personal success to mean something that I could not achieve in this culture. Coming to Nicaragua to intern on a pineapple farm in Nicaragua had meant in my mind that I would be able to serve the locals and the farm well, learn, and gain new insights – all while being actively “productive”. I am still in the midst of this “slow paced” life driving me a bit stir crazy. But, at the end of each day I feel myself one step closer to seeing the value in this style of living, respecting the culture, the people and their decisions (even if they are far from what I am accustomed to).
Culture shock is supposed to hit hard upon arriving to a new country and seeing the vast differences in people, business, food and lifestyle. Yet, stepping onto the pineapple farm in Ticuantepe, Nicaragua felt nothing short of home. I did not feel overwhelmed with the unfamiliar stares of locals as I rode up and down the dirt road filled with pot holes so big I could swim in. Rather I felt the genuineness of curious eyes that for one reason or another in the U.S. we try to hide. (I admit it can be rather strange to have all eyes on you- but a friendly kind of strange). I did not feel overwhelmed by the lack of electricity or the lack of hot showers. Rather, it was humbling and eye opening to experience firsthand the reality of millions of people’s lives. Sadly, I did not feel “shocked” by the inequality in our world that allows a whole community to survive off of one small “waterfall” and another community to use that same amount of water for just one family. One week in Nicaragua did not shock me; it confirmed on a deeper level that this world is full of inequality and injustice paired side-by-side to beauty, hope and joy.