Nicaragua Friendship Mission, Days 1 & 2
Friends, it’s been a busy two days! Yesterday was our travel day from Kansas City to Managua — a long day that was made even longer by a variety of delays. Ultimately, we all made it to Managua by 9 pm (with no time difference between here and home).
After getting our luggage loaded on the van, our driver (Juan Pablo) and the director of Just Hope (Leslie) shepherded us to Hotel Gueguense for a night of sleep and the beginnings of adjusting to our new surroundings.
This morning we had breakfast at the hotel, which included the staple dish of beans and rice — known in Nicaragua as Gallo Pinto. After breakfast, Leslie began our introduction to Nicaraguan history by explaining the gorgeous murals that decorate the central corridor of the hotel. Included in that explanation was a description of a panel that shows many local dishes all made from corn. Corn is both a staple food and a powerful symbol of perseverance because during Nicaragua’s colonial past, the common people were cut off from most food sources other than corn. Their ingenuity allowed them to survive when their oppressors expected them to starve.
As we traveled around Managua, our history lesson continued. We visited various landmarks including their earthquake-damaged cathedral, national palace, and highest point (which once held the Somoza dictators’ residence). Through these landmarks, we learned the history of persistence, strength, and revolutionary spirit that is characteristic of Nica culture.
Just before lunch we beat an our journey from Managua to Leon. On the way, we stopped for pictures near two volcanoes, and had a lunch of quesillos (tortillas, soft cheese, sour cream sauce, and pickled onions). So tasty!
Once in Leon, we visited the office of Just Hope. There we were split into three families, given profiles and given the task of shopping in a nearby market for food. One family had 30 Cordova ($1), another had 60 ($2), and the third had 90 ($3). Using information about normal expenses for families in Chacraseca, like the cost of firewood for cooking and the cost of school uniforms and books, we had to decide how much we could spend to feed our families for a day and decide whether or not our kids could attend school. After making those tough choices, we then went into the market with our translators and decided what food we could afford to purchase.
The market was full of fruits, vegetables, grains, condiments, and the like — but we left with precious little food. Two groups were able to purchase food for the day, and the 30 Cordova group discovered that we had so little to spend that we could only afford food if we chose to cook twice a week and make those meals last for days. A pound of rice, a pound of beans, and one tomato would have to last a family of 5 for the whole week.
The exercise was difficult on many levels. We went back to Leslie’s home to discuss and process the experience. In each of the family groups, we discovered there was no feasible way to both keep our kids in school and feed our families. This meant that school was not an option, and that realization hit people hard. We’ve come back to this reality multiple times throughout the night.
After we finished our discussion, Juan Pablo drove us the final distance to Chacraseca. On the way we saw many interesting sights, including a man on a bicycle carrying a large statue of Jesus under his arm, and a clown climbing into the bed of a pickup truck. We settled into our space here at the peace house, ate a delicious dinner, debriefed the day, and now we’re headed to bed.
It’s been a hard day and a good day. It’s difficult head and heart work to hear familiar history told from a perspective that doesn’t favor your own nation. It’s also good work, for deep listening is one of the most central facets of friendship.
Tomorrow we have an early day, so tonight we’re off to bed. Goodnight!