Thursday, August 28, 2008

hellllllllloooo friends

Coke: learning the art of sharing
So, if you hadn’t figured it out yet, Nicaraguans have an obsession with gaseosa (this in itself is funny because it just means gaseous…), which is soda or pop or coke as we call it in various parts of the states. There is the drink of choice, Coca-Cola (yes, they do prefer it to Pepsi here….they are pretty sharp folks), Pepsi and then a variety of Latin American specialties…rojita, a disgustingly sweet bubble gum red drink (which I got to take in a tiny copa for communion last week), marinda, an orange soda, salva cola, a not too shabby knock-off of pepsi and great for when you are counting cordobas, and then the kola shaler, a nica specific drink I have yet to try. All this to say, the primo gaseosa is Coke, and it is not cheap. One two liter costs 25 – 30 cords, when you consider that in a family this will be gone by the end of the meal, it is something that is enjoyed but at a price (a lb of rice is 20 cords, and 1 lb of rice 15, both of which will make a meal). Something I have noticed in all this coke drinking is how you can observe the love between family members and friends by the distribution of Coke. First, all guests get a full glass, no questions asked. That includes the chelita (me) for at least the following several visits after the initial visit. Then come the half full glasses to children, oldest to youngest, and a glass shared between parents. Sometimes there is enough for everyone to enjoy a full glass, but as the amount in the bottle gets lower, you see the glass passed around, making sure that all get to enjoy it. Parents and older siblings always give it up for the younger ones. For example, when I went to visit my training family, I was given a glass, then everyone else received a glass. Then the second round began, myself and the older brother and the nephew getting half-portions. The youngest sister woke up from a nap and was sad to see the coke gone…and here’s when I got my first “I’ve integrated” moment…I offered the rest of mine to Athzyris and she accepted. It seems so simple, but in observing the ways these people live their lives for the past three and a half months, I was able to walk alongside them in a way that made sense. And for me, who feels lost 90 percent of the time, that was really cool.

[I realize this is only one frame of the nica relationship with coke, so please don’t go away from here thinking all nicas have this art of sharing coke…just something neat I’ve noticed about a family I’m close with…but for real, most of them love coke…I’ve been told “sos nica![you’re nica!]” by some of my friends here because of how much I love soda.]

Anda Por Las Aguacates: a look into how I might be crazy
So, when the 400 some students I happen to encounter in a given week realize I’m a real person with a family and what not [this does not happen often], they get this wide-eyed look. They ask, is your family here with you? Are you married? Do you have kids? And when the answer to all of these is no, and they realize I’m here solita [alone], they get this haunted look and ask WHY. And some days, I do not have an answer. The best part of this job is realizing how the only thing that matters is people and the relationships you can have with them…but also the hardest, because it makes me that much more aware of what I left in Kansas [which, by the way, being from Kansas is another reason I’m not yet “real” to these kids…most haven’t a clue where that is, nor can they picture it.] An utterly amazing and authentic community that made me feel like I was walking in the realest reality possible, a family that I am learning to love more fiercely than ever before, work that made me feel satisfied and purposeful, and surroundings that invoked imagination, enjoyment and creativity. When I consider all this, I end up asking myself the same question as my students. Why? I don’t really know. I mean, I have the answer that I know is true – I took this journey because I needed to, for a number of reasons, and I felt God calling me to walk this way. But it’s not something that yet resonates through every fiber of my being…it’s kind of like answering 27 to what is the most fulfilling part of life. It just doesn’t quite make sense. [Who knows, maybe 27 IS the most fulfilling part of life…any one good with numbers out there?]

Not really a point to all this, except to say that in this part of the journey, I feel good about being here but I really have no clue as to how it all fits into the bigger picture. And mostly, I don’t look into tomorrow if I can help it…I just do today, because that is what I have and the only thing I can imagine dealing with. It’s a way of living I often strove for in the states but to actually be walking it out is not as satisfying or dreamy as I imagined. I guess most things are never really as luminous as we imagine…but I am thankful to be realizing this lifestyle. Even if it’s not what I thought.

Real: a missing component
Reality…think Matrix. Or Kingdom of God. Or imaginary numbers. This concept of realities intangible in some aspects and yet no less real. This gives me comfort, because here, in El Crucero, I am not a tangible reality yet. I know that sounds silly, but let me try to explain. Have you ever had a foreign exchange student friend? Did you ever stop to consider what they ate for lunch and if that was what they usually at back home? Or did you ever wonder what their nightly routine was at home, and how it might be different in the States? What about the quirks in conversations they had in their native language that are largely absent in a second? I am convinced that without hearing a person speak in their native tongue and understanding them in that language, it is impossible to fully know them. There are many a Nica here that speak English, but it is only when they speak Spanish that I see who they really are…and they are fluent speakers [this is also not even touching on the fact that a second language is part of you, but that is for another post]. All that to say, the me who is “me”, goes unrecognized and unsought out for the most part…not because Nica’s are not kind and inviting people (because they most certainly are) but because there is still this foreignness…this otherness that leaves one unknown for a while. I know that it won’t always be like this, but it is rather strange to realize how long the process of becoming these peoples’ friend will be. And that to them “friend” might mean something entirely different than to me. Strange and isolating at times, but at the same time, making me all that much more grateful for the people here that I do feel like I connect with and those back home I have gotten to keep close to my side.

Trends: a look at Nica fashion
Things you can expect to see regularly here in Nicaragua:
- Well-makeuped women and girls out in public, always
- These same women and girls in the most unkempt wear and hair when cleaning or lounging around the house  [I love this trend]
- Umbrellas in the sun – no one here wants to be tanner…it is seen as much more attractive to be lighter skinned [which, yes, leads to racism]
- Earrings and high heels are a must, even if its raining and even if you have no where to go
- Small hand towels or handkerchiefs – for wiping off sweat, dripping refrescos, dripping groceries, rainwater from the downpour you just walked through, etc
- Cell phones…and a growing number of mp3 player earbuds
- Frilly aprons filled with bills of the many, many vendors of bread, candy, corn, gum, etc. If she’s wearing something frilly and pastel around her waist, you can buy something from her, guaranteed. You will NOT see men wearing these, obviously.
- Plastic woven bags called sacos, both in bright stripes and plain white
- 10 of the same vendor on whatever street or block, sometimes situated in front of each other (be it a general food shop, a bread shop, a snack vendor, an ice cream vendor, etc)
- Hollering men hanging out of buses inviting people to get a ride to “mnowua” [Managua] “nundiemay” [Nandaime] “riyamba” [Diriamba], etc
- Heaps of trash
- Tight, tight jeans
- Men carrying 2 ft long machetes, and no one acting fearful of said men
- Massive amounts of gel in the hair of men from the ages of 12 to 30
- Messenger bags = student. Hardly anyone uses an actual backpack, and if they do, its simple and worn on one side to the front usually
- Socks and sandals, often flip-flops
- Men sitting on corners
- Plastic hair clips – few women wear their hair “suelto”…loose. Too hot, too windy and too much of a hassle.
- Advertisements with people who are white. Lots of them.
- Seven words for the same thing, and seven meanings for one word
- Dramatic gestures for the smallest thing, yet the tiniest nose twitch to let you know they don’t understand.
- Rice. Lots of rice. Complete with a conversation about how the price of rice is ridiculous, which leads to all prices, which leads to discussing the poverty and difficulties these people face everyday. Yet you will almost always be offered something to eat, and you should always accept.
- Stark realities: MetroCenter in Managua that looks just like many a nice shopping mall in the states, and the barefoot 5 year old at the next corner, extending his dirty hand from his torn t-shirt to ask you for a cordoba because his family sent him out there to get money.
- Skinny, skinny animals
- Floors being swept and mopped, multiple times a day
- Second hand vehicles and buses in various states of disrepair and yet full of people, usually beyond capacity
- And my personal “favorite”: the look that says, you are not like me…all I can say about that is I will have so much more empathy for immigrants and foreign exchange students when I return.

Profe: a missing piece
A lot of students, ok almost all, do not call me Profe. They call me Sarah, and they use the vos form with me. At first, I didn’t think twice about this. But I am realizing that what this means is I am not seen as a teacher to them. And this is a problem. Without this title, the authority that comes with it and the ability to get things done in the classroom, I have had to fight to do a lot of things with them. It also does not help that I have a large number of students, two days with each school a week and little time outside of class to study their names. So, this begins my nightly study of photos and name lists I made and ignoring the calls of “Sarah!!” until they change it to Profe or teacher. It seems so silly, but I’m realizing it’s a big deal and will make or break the rest of this year…especially with my 14 and 15 year old first year boys.

Addendum: A lot of this changed as I taught alone most of today due to my teacher having impromptu meetings with the director about last week’s field trip.

Sliced through: Rilke
I am praying again, Awesome One.

You hear me again, as words
From the depths of me
Rush toward you in the wind.

I’ve been scattered in pieces,
Torn by conflict,
Mocked by laughter,
Washed down in drink.

In alleyways I sweep myself up
Out of garbage and broken glass
With my half-mouth I stammer you,
Who are eternal in your symmetry.
I lift to you my half-hands
In wordless beseeching, that I may find again
The eyes with which I once beheld you.

I am a house gutted by fire
Where only the guilty sometimes sleep
Before the punishment that devours them
Hounds them out into the open.

I am a city by the sea
Sinking into a toxix tide.
I am strange to myself, as though someone unknown
Has poisoned my mother as she carried me,

It’s here in all the pieces of my shame
That now I find myself again.
I yearn to belong to something, to be contained
In an all-embracing mind that sees me
As a single thing.
I yearn to be held
In the great hands of your heart-
Oh let them take me now.

Into them I place these fragments, my life,
And you, God – spend them however you want.

The Book of Pilgrimage in the Book of Hours, Number 2

…I’m the one who’s been asking you-
It hurts to ask – Who are you?
I am orphaned
Each time the sun goes down.
I can feel cast out from everything
And even churches look like prisons.

That’s when I want you –
You knower of my emptiness,
You unspeaking partner to my sorrow-
That’s when I need you, God, like food…

Book of Pilgrimage, excerpt from #3

…If we surrendered to the earth’s intelligence
We could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
And struggle, lonely and confused.

This is what the things can teach us;
To fall,
Patiently to trust our heaviness,
Even a bird has to do that
Before he can fly.

You too will find your strength.
We who must live in this time
Cannot imagine how strong you will become –
How strange, how surprising,
Yet familiar as yesterday.

We will sense you
Like a fragrance from a nearby garden
And watch you move through our days
Like a shaft of sunlight in a sickroom.
We will not be herded into churches,
For you are not made by the crowd,
You who meet us in our solitude.

We are cradled close in your hands –
And flung lavishly forth.

Book of Pilgrimage, #26

Reflection: one liners.

I’ve decided that my work here is only worth as much as I value the people I’m working with.

Small Things
The smallest things can cause a swell of gratitude in my heart these days. Today, it was the 15 minute respite from the rain that allowed me to catch a moto taxi to school without getting soaked. As I was waiting for said taxi, I saw the most brilliant full color rainbow and strains of Bob Marley’s “everything’s gonna be alright” began to echo in my mind. It was a good moment.


luke said...

such a good post sarah. thanks for writing it all for us! i especially like all that about the coke--i think i would fit in too :).

good to chat briefly today. praying for you sister.

lauren said...

Sarah, thanks so much for sharing all of this...your honesty and strength are really encouraging. I hope all continues to go well...your wisdom and peace with walking on a path that's not all explained yet definitely make you "Profe" to me. :) Love the Rilke, too.

Sara said...


I thought about making this a total surprise but (a) having something to look forward to is always nice and (b) I have this slight paranoia that someone will intercept this delivery and make me look like a horrible friend.

What I'm trying to say is, something is on its way to you...get ready female!

And also, I was thinking...what if we started our own Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? You, me, Steph...just think of the possibilities. Hahaha. Juuuust kidding. --I mean, unless you want to...:)

Dee-Anna said...


Dee-Anna said...

sarah...i am a buddy of lauren's and had been reading your blog awhile back and had sworn you wrote a blog about favorite things, one of which included a web site that did canvas prints really easily....was it you or someone else? do you know what i'm even talking about? perhaps you could help :)

lauren h. said...

something's in the mail for you :-)

Steph Moore said...

ohhhh it's so good to hear about your life and of all your thoughts as you experience it. i keep talking about you to my roommates..and i usually begin by referring to you as "my friend who lives in Nicaragua.." but apparently i talk about you pretty often because they have recently interrupted me and said "oh you mean sarah."

it made me smile.

and p.s. your "matrix" theory is right on!

i miss you sooooooooooooo much bff. for real.