In the morning, my counterpart and I took a bus to another school where I was to work, and I met with the principal. School was in session, but a handful of students were outside class. Some of them were selling tostadas with beans and cabbage. I snacked on one, and then I met with some of the staff in the office. An electric tea kettle sat on the floor, vapor puffing out of its spout. I was to work in this school as well, but my second counterpart wasn’t available to meet with me. Fortunately, Tania knew many people there and I was able to introduce myself confidently to the principal and other staff. I explained to almost everyone I met that I knew Spanish because my family was Mexican, and that I would be here for two years. The two-year thing is a sure-fire way to raise eyebrows. Time has gone by slowly, yet quickly for me. When I arrived in country, my 27-month stay seemed like it would never end. Now, I only have about 24 months left.
After visiting the school, we stopped by another feminist collective. We asked to speak to someone in charge, and one woman met with us to schedule an appointment to meet. From my past experiences, appointments are rarely honored here. If you want to speak with someone “important”, you usually have to catch them as they are walking in or out of the office. Then, they will gladly help you. On the flip side of this, Nicaraguans value having enough time to get to know someone, so I’ve learned to pick my battles and appreciate the fact that someone would a lot a longer time than I thought I would need in order to get to know someone. I made an appointment to come back to speak with someone in charge on November 14th, and then we were invited to an improv “group therapy” theatrical performance. I really didn’t know what this would entail, but I hadn’t even been presented with the opportunity of attending any sort of performance since I’ve been here, so I gladly confirmed that we would be back at 6 PM for the show.
After another morning of hiking through the hilly town, I treated Tania to a drink at the café. She had a jugo de Jamaica (hibiscus flower juice), and I had a cold glass of chocolate milk. We chatted in order to prolong our inevitable hike back to my house in the heat. This town was definitely not as cool as I thought it would be. I brought my long sleeve shirts to be in what felt like 90-degree weather. I’d still rather be hot than wearing a down coat, which is what I was doing in Boston at this time last year.
At 2 PM I went to another local community-based non-profit, where I met with Sergio, who specialized in environmental work and who had experience with disaster relief. I hadn’t planned on talked with him for an hour about the severe environmental impact that Hurricane Mitch had on the region in 1998, but so it went. The woman who was in charge of the education program was out, so I gladly chatted with Sergio over a warm cup of…something. It tasted like a mix between coffee and apple cider. He spoke about 80% of the time. I nodded and scribbled down any interesting thoughts into my mini notebook. I learned about how mining companies have continued to exploit this country’s wealth of natural resources. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Americas, yet mining companies are able to extract the relatively small amount of wealth that does exist. Unemployment rates have forced people to sell their land and emigrate to Costa Rica or the U.S. in order to support their families.
Sergio was passionate about environmental education and how it could prevent unemployment, disease, and emigration. I was confused about this, and he gladly clarified. Global warming has caused droughts and crop failures. Right now, the drought has caused bean prices to increase to about $1 a pound. About half of Nicaraguans live off of $2 a day. Beans are very nutritious, so this price increase has contributed malnutrition. Even my host family says that they put less beans in their gallo pinto, because they are so expensive. Anyway, back to the crops. Sergio argued that farmers’ practices need to adapt to climate patterns. Unfortunately, farmers who followed traditional “planting dates” often face the brunt of unfavorable weather patterns. We have the technology to predict the weather, and farmers should be using this basic technology to guide their planting schedules. Instead, they follow outdated methods, such as planting strictly on the first week of May, as past traditions might dictate. If more farmers knew about more efficient practices, they would earn more of a profit, and fewer of them would emigrate.
The warmer weather has also increased Dengue rates in the region, Sergio added. Since Matagalpa is a mountainous department, mosquito-borne illnesses weren’t as common as they are now. He added that malaria still isn’t as common, but that Dengue rates have shot up with the recent rains and warmer temperatures. The government is serious about Dengue. My house in my training town has been fumigated several times by government officials. They even fumigated my arm by accident when I stood outside of the house!
Chatting with Sergio about the environment was a nice intellectual detour from my English-teaching-centered world. It reminded me that there are different ways of approaching social justice work. Maybe I’ll come back later to chat with the woman I originally intended to chat with, and maybe I’ll figure out what that hot drink really is made of.
Later that night, Tania and I met up for the feminist collective’s theatrical performance. We were told that it was meant for adults ages 12 and over, but people still bounced toddlers on their laps in the back of the room. Hey, not everyone can afford a babysitter. I really didn’t know what to expect from the performance. I thought it might be like a Nica version of the Vagina Monologues or something. It ended up being completely different and wonderful anyway. Tonight’s theme was “Indigenous heritage”. It was a form of group therapy I’d never seen before. An audience member came up to the front of the room and told the director about his or her racialized experience, and then a group of four women would act out how the audience member felt through heartfelt, emotional, hilarious performances. The director just assigned each woman a role, but everything else was improvised-even the music. A woman on the right of the stage had three simple instruments with her, but somehow, it all worked out beautifully.
Some audience members shared their experiences with internalized racism, facing discrimination as indigenous people, as well as loving their dark complexion. My favorite story was about a woman of African descent who was bullied in school for having an afro. “Turon! Turon!”, they called her, naming her after a Nicaraguan dessert that’s basically a popcorn ball with honey drizzled all over it. One day, the woman said, she snapped and stabbed her bully in the hand with a pencil. From that day on, they left her alone. When her mother found out about this, she defended her daughter for having defended herself as well as her race. “I’m proud of being black”, the woman said. She has made it a point to share this pride with her children. When she told the story, the air was tense. When the women acted it out, it was tense, until one of the light-skinned Spanish women took a stick and pretended to stab her bully in the hand with a pencil. Then, she dared anyone in the audience to call her “turon”. We all laughed, and I thought that this performance was a witty way of showing the absurdity of racial discrimination. The dramatic performances poked fun at racism, especially when the darker skinned women yelled racial slurs at the lighter skinned Spanish women. It was a play on race that I had never seen before, and I appreciated it. I’m definitely coming back next month for the performances.