nicaragua, a meeting of hearts

The other morning, moving from sleeping to waking, my first thought was “Holy smokes! Twenty years ago this month, Ian and I met in Nicaragua. Wow. We’ve known each other a long time!”

At the time we were both working for Witness for Peace, an NGO that did human rights observation and accompaniment of communities caught in the crossfire of conflict and a few other things. There were program sites in Mexico (where I worked), Guatemala (where Ian would go to work for a year), Nicaragua, Cuba and Colombia (just opening that Autumn).

But let me not get too distracted about Witness for Peace, human rights and democracy in the Americas.

Until the pandemic is no longer a major health concern, the only traveling I am doing is down memory lane. And today, the destination is Nicaragua.

nicaragua, word association

So what do I think of when I hear the word “Nicaragua”.

Well, as I already mentioned Witness for Peace (WfP), the wars the US inflicted upon Nicaragua and Central America generally during the 1980s, and next on the list: heat.

I don’t know if it’s true, but I think Managua, Nicaragua is one of the hottest places I have ever visited.

Meetings. I also usually think of long days sitting in meetings, because I was only ever in Nicaragua for work. We usually tagged on some retreat time too in scenic and relaxing places (Laguna de Apoyo or the beach). Team-building and work of another sort happened in these spaces.

I also think life-changing because going to work for Witness for Peace turned my life away from academia and towards community education and social organizing. It baffles me to think about “me all those years ago” who was in awe of consensus decision-making and the way the country teams collaborated with the Washington DC staff collaborated and related to each other as “equals” was a complete contrast to the work culture of a Japanese educational institutions.

Long bus rides. Not always, but several times I made the journey from Chiapas, Mexico (where I was living) to Managua by bus. We would leave San Cristobal de las Casas early in a collective taxi and then more taxis and several buses later arrive in Guatemala City before midnight. The next day along with the team from Guatemala, we would all carry on towards Nicaragua. As I recall we always stayed the night somewhere. But it was just that. Sleep in a hotel near the bus station and get up early to catch the bus the next day. We used Tica Bus the Greyhound equivalent to go from Guate to Nica, and compared to the transport the day before, between Chiapas and Guatemala City, it was comfy.

“Campo” trips, or countryside visits took on a whole new meaning too. Before WfP work, a visit to the countryside would have made me think of hiking or a picnic alongside a stream or a lake.

One of the field teams’ main responsibilities was to build relationships with communities organized and involved in social struggle. We worked with urban and rural communities. We built and maintained community relationships so that a few times a year we could ask the community to host groups of US citizens who wanted to visit them and learn more about their struggle and carry their story back to the US.

As part of the initial training we made a visit to a rural community. I also was really impressed straight away with NOG’s way of working and teaching. It was practical and hands on while also encouraging reflection and discernment. Is this right thing for my head, heart and body to do?

Five of us made the visit to the community, out past Granada, two trainers and us three newbies who were deciding if this was work for us. A countryside visit usually meant arriving in the community and going around to greet the various community leaders and friends to confirm or arrange later meetings. And then we settled in with families who hosted each of us. The rest of the time was spent having the appointed meetings, hanging out with the families hosting us and otherwise wandering around the community and catching up with people. We visited the school, the health clinic, the growers’ coop, and the corner shop, several times. Countryside visits, in my experience, also entail lots of time sitting outside the corner shop (or sometimes the church) drinking a soda and waiting for people to pass by and exchange news. It was like being an everyday anthropologist.

I loved it! I couldn’t believe this would the be work. OK. It also came with a lot of tears and tragedy. These communities often are facing down mining giants or projects sponsored international financial institutions. It’s always a David and Goliath story. But I was also glad to accompany these processes and be on what I believe is the right side of the fight.

Yes. Nicaragua has a special place in my heart. It is a place I have visited several times, but feel like I barely know, but at the same time I also feel warm and comfortable. I have fond memories of my time spent in there.

Well back on the bus, y’all. Time to get back to the next thing, this journey down memory lane is over. Thanks for reading and until next time.

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