Saturday, April 18, 2009

El Sontule

Sandinistas. The Contra War. President Reagan. US foreign policy. Torture. Inequality. Rape. Money.

These words infiltrate my mind as I sit in this house in the middle of Managua. They are words that were once only defined by other words with other meanings in other times. However, as I sit here, legs folded in a comfortable chair, I cannot escape these words. They carry a new weight. They hold within each syllable a story. It is a strange phenomenon when words become personal.

Last week I stayed in the very rural village of El Sontule. No running water. No electricity. No internet. No sink. No door. No luxuries. Mountains surrounded the valley that held my wood plank and cement home. As I stepped outside in the mornings, the brisk air awakened my senses and the view was indescribable. Each night as I carefully made my way toward the latrine, I stopped to stare at the stars- the most brilliant and numerous stars I've ever seen, second only to Mt. Gemi in Amedzofe when the electricity would go off in the surrounding villages. It was romantic and breathtaking.

Aside from the simplicity of a life lacking in luxuries that I tend to always fall in love with, I had the incredible opportunity to live with one of the strongest and bravest women I have ever met. Isabel, a mother of six children ranging from 26 to 8, survived the Contra attacks on her community. Kidnapped. Tortured. Raped. The Contra War hit me like a slap in the face. It is not a story told by politicians and authors and journalists. It did not end in 1987. The war continues to rage. And as I sat there on the wooden bench next to the stove heated by dried corn husks, I listened to Isabel. She spoke delicately and intently. She made the war real as she showed us the mountains where she hid and escaped. We walked on the same land. We looked at the same trees. And at night, we stared at the same stars.

In countries where history, culture and politics merge so drastically and conflict so often, it is easy to overlook the personal stories. It is easier to read about war and human rights abuses and torture than it is to stare it in the face. This week, I was forced to stare it in the face. And I am honored to have the opportunity to hear firsthand, to translate the words, to sit with a strong Sandinista woman in her own home and to glance into a community with a heavy past and a bright future.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Because it's been too long...

I'm sitting in the darkened living room of my mom's high rise apartment in Venezuela. The bright lights of Caracas illuminate a city nestled beneath breathtaking mountains on all sides. For some reason, I am forcing myself to blog. It's been too long since I made the effort to write for writing's sake, so tonight, as I sit with my legs propped up on the leather couch, I will write.

For the past three months I have been living among the people of Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Currently, I am living with the Sandovals in a small neighborhood in the middle of Managua, Nicaragua. The barrio of Batahola consists of dusty roads lined with cement block homes behind hammock hung porches. Not too quiet, not too loud, Batahola is tight knit and quaint. My house is hidden from street view, tucked behind two larger homes and a high concrete wall. We have no porch or hammock like our neighbors and our kitchen is outside, but what we lack in material possessions is readily made up in the personalities of the family. Papi, Mama, Jose Leo, Carmen, Leito, Lupita and Andre. What a family. Chelsea, my roommate and very close friend, and I have the incredible opportunity be a part of the lives of these amazing people.

Each night I take a bucket bath of the water saved from the days allotment of usuable agua. I attempt to clean the dust and sweat that accumulates throughout the miserably hot days of March and April in Managua. The rains have not come to temper the heat yet they taunt us with each passing cloud. After my bath, I sit with my family and watch telenovelas, futbol, talk, color with the children or read homework articles about the Sandinistas and revolutionaries. It is simple and crowded but very welcoming.

This past week I have been with my Mama. Oh how wonderful and altogether lovely it was to see her face! It was unreal. I walked through the Caracas airport, excitement building as I rushed past immigration toward my beautiful Mama. Over the past 7 days we have visited the ocean, drank refillable coffee cups, sat on the roof of a building with a view of the city drinking wine with her friends, met with a Chavista priest, peaked into mass, layed out by the pool, got sunburned, got tanned and simply spent much needed and much welcomed time together.

As I leave this world of air conditioning, toilets that let me throw toilet paper into them, constant electricity, hot water, a refridgerator full of food, cool nights, washing machines, spectacular views and time with my Mom, I am mentally preparing for the transition. When I arrived in Venezuela, to say that I experienced some culture shock is an understatement. Now as I pack my little bag that holds two pairs of clothes, a toothbrush, my journal and a book, I prepare to re-enter the Third World. It is more uncomfortable and harsher than this cozy apartment or the backrubs that my mom generously gives me when I visit, but the Third World enchants me. With all the normal amenities lacking, Nicaragua has a charm that shouldn't be ignored. I'm sad to say goodbye to my mom, as I always am and always will be, but I'm ready to embrace the next month. The final month of this little adventure of mine.