Oh, to be back in the US of A
In the next 2.5 weeks in the US, I have people to see, places to go and adventures to prep for. Lots to do and not very much time to do it in. So far being back has been simultaneously refreshing and unnerving. Seeing my California loved ones, visiting familiar places, spending time in my hometown, eating delicious food; all this has been such a gift and yet I still feel a sense of longing and loss for Nicaragua. Since I have been here I have had some beautiful moments. I went to San Francisco to get my visa for Spain (because that trip is coming up quick), and while we were there we decided to spend some time in Ghirardelli Square. We walked down to the wharf and had the most delicious crab sandwiches followed by Ghirardelli ice cream cones. Then today, after a long, stressful and ultimately pointless visit to AT&T to try and fix an apparently unfixable phone situation, I went for a run down the Los Gatos Creek Trail and spent a little time in downtown Los Gatos. Tonight, I have a delectable home cooked dinner to look forward to and tomorrow a lovely lunch reservation at one of my favorite restaurants before my flight to Washington. California is treating me incredibly well thanks to my generous family. Yet, I am still missing my life in Nicaragua, the simplicity, the closeness and most particularly the Spanish. This I did not expect. I expected to feel some relief to not have to speak Spanish everyday, but now that I am back I find myself wanting to speak the language more. I can feel nerves in my gut telling me that I will lose my Spanish. Every moment spent speaking and surrounded by English is one moment less learning and expanding my Spanish vocabulary. To help assuage these nerves, I remind myself that soon I will be in another Spanish speaking country. Spain is just around the corner; I fly out August 24th to France and soon after I pop over to Spain for my semester of Spanish learning. That helps with my longing for the language but to help with my missing Nicaraguan culture I have been reflecting and remembering that I am not saying goodbye, I’m saying goodbye for now. My story in Nicaragua is not over; I have not reached the ending to that story. How I see it, Nicaragua and I are in a partnership, co-writing a book that started a year ago and will continue on as long as I have the privilege to re-enter the land of lagos y volcanes.
My Last Day
My last day….how did this come so quickly? It has been such a blessing to work at Corazón Contento with such an amazing and dedicated group of co-workers. Since I walked through the gates I have been made to feel welcome and valuable. The work I have done in Nicaragua has been hard but incredibly rewarding. I have noticed these two adjectives often go hand-in-hand. I feel as though in my short time here I have been able to use my gifts and collaborate with people here to make an impact. The opportunity to work and create alongside such determined and hardworking people is something I will miss dearly.
I realize I have not shared too much about the nature of my work specifically at Corazón Contento. It seems fitting to describe what I have accomplished as I close out my time in Nicaragua (for now).
In working at Corazón Contento, I have presented on the importance of integration for people with disabilities in different locations around Nicaragua for a wide variety of audiences from high school students and organization staff to family members and universities. Each time I did it I improved. With every presentation my Spanish got better and I got more feedback on how to adapt my slides to make them more meaningful in a Nicaraguan context.
I also worked more directly with the participants both in groups and individually. For different participants at Corazón Contento I worked in a more one-on-one capacity doing physical therapy and seeing how we could brainstorm ways to gain more independence with minimal resources.
Promoting Corazón Contento’s mission was another aspect of my job. I created 2 brochures one in Spanish and the other in English to place in businesses all around Granada to spread the importance of integrating people with disabilities into society and particularly in the workforce. In Nicaragua there are laws in place to encourage the presence of people with disabilities in the business sector, but the implementation of those laws is lacking. This is why the work Corazón Contento does revolving around advocacy is so important. In my first few weeks here I mentioned to the team the Disabled and Proud photo campaign I had helped implement at my university and in discussing this idea with my supervisor and the staff we came up with the photo campaign Granada Integra (Integrated Granada) for Corazón Contento.
This campaign had two objectives: to further help promote integration in Granada in general and additionally to help advertise for Disability Week at the end of August. There are several different activities that each member of the Corazón Contento team has worked so hard to plan. I am overwhelmed at all that they are going to accomplish in just 1 week; it was honestly such a gift to be able to witness all the time and effort they all invested in Disability Week. I am sad I will be missing it but I will be cheering them all on and supporting them to the best of my ability from afar!
All this said, I feel like I have only just begun. I feel a fire inside me telling me I need to come back. I have made some really beautiful friendships and I feel there is so much more for me to do here. When I came here last summer for the first time I thought I fell in love with this country and my time here has only solidified that feeling in me. There are countless lessons that have been planted in my like seeds and as I move forward I know they will grow. Those lessons are immense gifts that will help me discover my calling and will guide me to see how I am meant to affect change in this world. My path is slowly unfolding before me. I only need the courage to follow it.
The Gift of Time. The Need for Presence.
Time is flying by. I cannot believe in one week I will be leaving this beautiful country. My mind is divided. I have so many thoughts running through my head of how to make the most of my time in California and Washington before I leave for Europe and after that how to make the most of my time in Europe while I am there. All of this takes planning, I know that, but I hate that I need to do it here. I am trying to plan my days and weeks in other places so I make the most of my time in the future, yet in doing so I am starting to feel like I am expelling too much of my energy thinking about what is to come and not embracing the moments in front of me. I think some of it has to do with my desire to be around people I know and love. I am looking forward to spending time with them but I need to be careful. I cannot let my hopes and excitements for the future cloud my view of what is happening right in front of me every day.
I think I can even expand this to my life in general. I spend so much of my time thinking about how I can be my best self and what I need to do to get there. Yet I forget that everyday I have the opportunity to be my best self. By being present and living my life in a loving way I am being my best self. I think I have been confusing what my “best self” means to me. I used to think I had to graduate, fall in love and find my vocation in order to be my best self but I no longer think that is the case. Being my best self is intimately tied to being present to the people around me and giving each person the love and care they deserve. Being present and honoring who I am today and how I feel at any given time is how I embody my best self. In my work here that is really relevant. I have difficulty passing time with some of the students because they make me feel insecure. I need to embrace these moments all the more. Just because it is difficult or unpleasant does not mean I cannot still learn and grow in those moments. Frankly, I think it is important that I do so. If I speed through the difficult moments here, and in my life in general, I am going to miss out on a lot of knowledge that could make me a better person and more fully able to show love to others.
Who Am I? How Do I Move Through The World?
The events that have occurred both here in Nicaragua and in the states, during my time abroad, have made me think an immense amount about the identities I hold. My sexuality, my gender, my ability, my race, my nationality, my class, all of it. I feel as though I have placed myself under a microscope and I have been splicing and smearing my identities on different slides to see how they interact and behave in certain contexts. Working with people with disabilities very different from my own, I wonder who am I as a person with a disability? Sitting in the audience of a drag show remembering and celebrating the lives of LGBTQ people, I wonder who am I am a straight, cisgender person? Reading American news and perusing social media, I wonder who am I as a white person? Walking down the street, not knowing how to respond to aggressive cat-callers, I wonder who am I as a woman? All of this is to say; I am wondering who I am and how I move through the world in my body. A body I am proud to call my own and one I fight to prove is sufficient and perfectly able. My body is charged with contradiction. I am an able disabled person. I am a privileged and oppressed person, like so many others.
My privilege comes in many forms but the privilege on my mind most lately is my whiteness. In the past week, during one of our lunch breaks at Corazon Contento, three of my coworkers and I were talking about piercings and tattoos. (For the purposes of this post I will call my male coworker “W” and my two female coworkers “G” and “T”). G and T had asked me if my nose piercing had hurt and if I had any tattoos. I said no, but that I had thought about getting a tattoo. I then asked W if he had a tattoo and he said yes and that he would like another one. He said if he were to get anther tattoo though, he would like to place it somewhere lighter on his skin. He gestured to his forearms and said if he put a tattoo there no one would be able to see it. I nodded and after a moment of silence W said he did not like the color of his skin. He said he would prefer to be lighter. He turned to G and T and asked if they felt the same way and they nodded silently. A pause passed and then I was asked a question I had never thought about or been asked before, “Do you like the color of your skin?” A simple enough question but one with so much under the surface. I fumbled for words, Spanish words. I eventually came up with “más o menos,” an answer that did not match or honor the gravity of the question, an answer that, in its simplicity and brevity, proves my privilege. The fact that this is a question I have never had to think about or reflect on is the definition of white privilege. When I walk down the street in the United States on a regular basis, I do not think about my race. I do not worry that my race will bring me harm. Black and brown bodies are being wiped off this earth unjustly. Black and brown lives are being dehumanized and devalued. This is because deep in our foundation, there is an idea, an invisible, hushed, unspeakable notion that black lives do not matter. We need to respond to this whisper beneath the surface that has shaped so much violence and crime. We need to respond by saying loud and proud that Black Lives Matter, because they do. By breathing this, saying this and living this phrase hopefully we will make a change for the better. I need to continually learn how to live the phrase Black Lives Matter through my white body.
In the same way it is equally important for me to understand how I can use my disabled body to bring awareness to the social justice issues in our society relating to disability. I do not understand the oppression I face in regards to my disability. I do not have terminology that has been created to describe the discrimination I feel. I often translate from Critical Race Theory or Queer Theory trying to make sense of my experiences. We, people with disabilities, do not talk about our oppression or common experiences because we do not understand them as shared. We are often born into a fully “able-bodied” family, learning to experience our disability and find our way through the world on our own. We have individualized education plans, which are incredibly important but that simultaneously foster this idea that one’s disability is an individual experience. We go through life learning to manage the physical, social, and occupational obstacles on our own. We see media and rarely see our community represented and when we do, it is a far cry from the lived experience of disability. Also, the people playing the roles in mainstream media are rarely themselves disabled. This is why a conversation needs to start around disability. So people do not have to feel so alone and isolated. As with everything it is about balance. Finding the equilibrium and the best mixture of conversation and personal reflection, speaking out and listening, allyship and advocacy. Thinking of these actions not as either/or options but as different ingredients to a necessary recipe for change.
This idea does not fit well into our world that reveres and thrives on dichotomies. I think for many these dichotomies give the illusion of order in a life that leans toward entropy. Good and bad, heaven and hell, male and female, black and white, able and disabled. What would it mean to say no one is ever fully good or bad, that dichotomies merely perpetuate an absoluteness that does not exist? In this world that allows for minimal human complexity, I find myself lost and having trouble understanding how to hold my identities when they seem to reside on polar opposites of the privilege and power spectrum. On one side there is race, an identity in which I experience a lot of privilege and a social justice topic that is very public and discussed with much seriousness. On the other side there is disability, a place where I have experienced oppression and a topic that is hardly discussed and very much invisiblized or patronized in mainstream media. I need to learn how to navigate and fight oppression, whether it is an oppression I personally experience because of my disability or an oppression I do not personally experience. This is why intersectionality is so incredibly important and why I have to get a more nuanced glimpse at the kind of allyship and advocacy work I can do.
We could ALL think more critically about our privilege and oppression. In fact I think we should, regardless of the privilege to oppression ratio one may possess. It’s possible that by understanding one’s own experiences of privilege and oppression and coming together, we may be able to start uncovering the systems in place. Then, with hard work, passion and love we can start to change those systems and the world as a whole for the better.
Some Highlights from 3rd/4th Week:
It has been a fairly long time since i have posted and it is because of everything I have been experiencing and feeling without having proper words to express those things. This will be a smaller post (small being a relative measure) but I am working on a larger reflection that has to do with how I am experiencing my identities of privilege and oppression. For this reflection I will only talk about a few highlights. This past Friday I had my first presentation at Corazon Contento for the parents of the students who attend and work at the organization. I think it went really well. At first, I had a difficult time reading the room. I was unsure if I was successfully engaging the audience in the topic but by the end of my presentation on the importance of educating and integrating people with disabilities in society we were all having a really fruitful conversations. Many people gave me hugs after I was done, thanked me for sharing and congratulated me. It felt good to be acknowledged and appreciated for my work here.
I am so excited to continue doing my work and expanding on my presentation for different audiences. I have already set up some other meetings and I look forward to working with those organizations and schools to create the best presentation possible for those specific groups.
I had the wonderful opportunity to talk/see some of my family and friends over Skype/FaceTime during the past few weeks. It has been so nice to get some much needed advice and feedback on what I am experiencing here. It is easy to get caught up in everything here and it is nice to remind myself of my loved ones back home.
I was also able to see some people from home in person. One of my favorite professors and a former classmate of mine (both of whom I have been with to this country) were in Managua for a little while and I was able to see them before we left. It was nice to see familiar faces in a still fairly unfamiliar place. Each day I am learning more about the culture and my surrounding but is always nice to have a little bit of the known and comfortable. We were also able to discuss some of what is going on in the US which I very much needed. I have been seeing so much on social media, so much pain and hurt around gun violence and the importance of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I have not had anyone to talk to here about it because 1. I do not have sufficient Spanish vocabulary on the subject and 2. not as many people know about those issues specifically here in Nicaragua. I have more on this topic and on my experiences of privilege and oppression here but that will come in my next post.
Finally, we are to the present. Today! I spent a wonderful day in the sun at a beautiful hotel pool. I am currently feeling the pain of not enough sun screen, but other than that is was a day well spent. Me and a fellow volunteer hung out by the pool, drank a Piña Colada and a Macuá, read some of our books and watched the EuroCup. It was a beautiful and relaxing, sunny Sunday. Happy to be here and exciting for the weeks to come!
This week has been one full of transition. I have had 3 big changes in the last week: the research portion of my trip officially came to a close, the Clapp scholars arrived for our immersion program and I moved into my space in Granada. The Clapp scholars are a group of students from Seattle University, myself included, who received the Clapp Humanitarian Scholarship. This scholarship has helped me find community, make some of my closest friendships and has helped me make so many important connections, including the one that led to my internship here in Granada. As a group we all went to the UCA and had a meeting with an UCA professor on the culture and history of Nicaragua. It was a fascinating and lucrative conversation. I feel far more prepared to dive into my work at Corazon Contento with a higher level of cultural competence. We discussed race, gender, disability, colonialism and conquest, attraction, class and cultural expression. One of the highlights of the meeting was learning about the güegüense, a classic Nicaraguan dance originating in Masaya during the 1800s. This dance is done wearing masks of different sorts and is known to be a symbol of the essence of Nicaragua. Although it could be interpreted as merely a dance, the güegüense is a way of working around systems of power. The masks of the dance symbolize playing the powerful game while the dance itself shows the work of the historically oppressed. It is a way to trick the rich into thinking they are getting what they want. This still shows up in Nicaraguan society today. In certain policies, there are safeties in place for the powerful who try to protect themselves from potential fakers who appear to support while beneath the surface, they may not.
After this discussion our group went to an orphanage called Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH). This organization has international funding with offices in the United States, Canada and Europe whose purpose is to fundraise for the orphanages located in Nicaragua, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico and Peru. NPH is committed and promises to never turn a child away from their services. This is very much connected to how the organization began. Fr. William Wasson, founder of NPH, always had a concern for the poor and vulnerable and this passion followed him to Mexico when he was assigned to a chapel in Tepetates. One year, a young boy was caught for stealing from the collection plate and sent to prison. Fr. Wasson discovers the reaon the young boy did this was to support and feed his brothers and sisters. When Fr. Wasson found this out he helped get the boy out of prison and allowed him to stay at the chapel. This was the beginning of NPH. The next day we went to El Limon Dos to play volleyball and visit with Casa Verde. This is an organization built around empowering young adults and giving youths a place to work and play.
Over the last week I have felt more confident in my Spanish and I was told at both the UCA and at Casa Verde that I am “casi Nica.” This means “almost Nica.” I was so flattered when I heard this from two local Nicaraguans. I have been trying so hard to use language that is local and learn from the Nicaraguan people I have encountered. Although there is always more for me to learn here, this must mean the Nicaraguan accent has been sinking in the more I speak and the Nica slang vocabulary has been growing the more I engage. Being able to meet people from the UCA and visit organizations like Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos and Casa Verde has helped me obtain a deeper understanding of the culture and context I will be working in.
Yesterday I moved out of the beautiful UCA guest house that has kept me safe, cool and well fed over the last few weeks (and each of the times I have stayed there in the past). I was excited and nervous for what the day had in store for me. Upon arriving to Corazon Contento in Granada, I go to grab my bag and discover that my water bottle was completely empty leaving my purse full of water. This left my iPhone, my Nica phone and my wallet completely submerged in water and my passport and computer damp. This was not an ideal way to start off my day, but I got a new Nica phone and I was able to fix my computer and beyond that everything else I can live without. After dealing with the consequences of my purse flood, I said goodbye to my group. This was a moment with tears and hugs. I knew the day I would go off on my own was coming, but I was going to miss my safety net of people. After saying goodbye, I spent some time at Corazon Contento, ate lunch there then headed back to the guest house where I started unpacking and making my room more homey. As much as I have loved traveling around the country, I am ready and excited to stay in one place. Tomorrow I will be shadowing a fellow intern and seeing what I would like to do for my internship during the week. On the weekends I will be presenting to different Universities, schools, families and other organizations/groups the importance of educating people with disabilities. This will be an amazing first taste of international disability advocacy. I of course need to be aware of the fact that I am from the US and will need to follow the advice and potentially expand on the work of local disability advocates. The link to Corazon Contento’s website is: http://corazoncontentogranada.org/home/ for anyone who would like to take a look. I am ready and excited to get to work!
Arrival and 1st Week:
For this summer I am excited to say I will be spending 2 months in Nicaragua! This is my third time in the beautiful country of Nicaragua! I have been blessed in my experiences and welcomed with open arms by the community each time I have been here. This trip has been no different. After 25 hours of travel due to a plethora of delays and transit problems, I arrived in Managua, Nicaragua along with 3 other Seattle University students and our professor on Tuesday June 14th. After a night of much needed rest, we went to the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) and met with Nicaraguan peers. As a group, we discussed our research and how we would be splitting up our work and analysis. Our research goal was to collect oral histories from family members in Chinandega, a rural community about 2 hours outside of Managua, who have been affected by migration. These past few days of interviews have been profoundly impactful for me and have opened my eyes even more to the multifaceted nature of this topic. The stories I was invited to hear were such gifts and the people who shared their lives with me have such strength and generosity of spirit. We spent 5 days in Chinandega collecting life stories and returned to Managua today, June 21st. We spent this morning in Granada exploring and spending time with our new friends from the UCA. Granada is where I will be spending 6 weeks for my internship, so it was nice to get a sense of the area with a group of friends before I set off on my solo adventure on the 27th of this month. We will start our analysis of the oral histories tomorrow. This will also involve planning for what project we want to create with the stories of love and resilience we were so graciously given.