Australian Visions of a Nicaraguan Landscape

Photography and Philanthropy in Nicaragua

 

I couldn’t help but overhear them, and I didn’t try very hard not to either. The first thing they said repulsed me, I wasn’t entirely sure why. The second confirmed my feeling: these people don’t understand Nicaragua.

I don’t much, either, for that matter. The first time I flew to Nicaragua, airplane thoughts became goals in my journal, scribbled questions I might be able to ask people I would meet. I wanted, above all, to leave with an understanding of what it was like to be a Nicaraguan.

“What’s your passion? What do you love to do?”
“What’s your greatest difficulty? Your greatest hope?”
“How much do you make a day?”
“If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?”

At the bottom of the list, I summarized the questions: “If I were born a Nicaraguan, what would I think like, aspire to, fear, and regret?”

 

Nicaraguan kids

 

As it turns out, those answers don’t come easily from a conversation with a stranger on the street. My ambition was admirable, but understanding a people requires much more than ten days of curious questioning. I wanted to see behind the mask of everyone I met, to see others for who they were.

We do not travel as empty vessels. We do not see the world as it is. We see the world through our own history, our own country’s standards, our own myths. We see the world as outsiders. The goal of good travel is not merely to compare what we see with what we’re used to, but to see the world through the eyes of the people we meet.  Good travel is not easy.

I found myself eavesdropping shamelessly on the Australians next to me and scribbling the agitated thoughts their conversation guided.

“Don’t take any pictures that are too terribly sad,” one counseled the other. They talked of the great suffering of these people, and how sad it was. I recoiled at the tone of it. Feeling certain they saw more suffering than existed, Western eyes grading a developing country by Western standards, giving the people a test they don’t care to take.

Later, “It’s so beautiful here.” “I know,” another responded, “I’m reluctant to put pictures on Facebook because it looks like I’m in a tropical paradise.”

The contradiction of these two thoughts was apparent to me, and I seethed at their attitude towards this place. On one hand, they saw a great suffering but didn’t want to express it by photography or words so they wouldn’t depress others who saw and read. On the other hand, they saw great beauty but didn’t want to express it so others wouldn’t think they were having an easy time in paradise.

Why not just express the truth?

Ah, but the truth isn’t easy to come by. To find the truth we have to become a Nicaraguan, learn their history, lament for their losses, revel in their revolution, awake in terror in the night for fear of assassins, glorify the jungle rebel who fights against all odds. We must smile at the beauty around us.

We must not carry our own country with us, but walk naked through the streets and allow those we meet to clothe us.

That’s what I aim to do.

 

Survey in Naranjo

 

Here are some upcoming articles I’ll be doing about Nicaragua.  If you have any questions you’re curious about, send them to me.

  • Anger towards America
  • Contras and Sandinistas
  • History Timeline
  • The Jaguar Smile, a book review
  • With the Contras, a book review
  • Blood of Brothers, a book review
  • Transition from La Chureca to Villa Guadalupe, what it was like for the people
  • Economics – wages of bus drivers, taxis, what tourism does to a city
  • Writing from Villa Guadalupe’s students

Please subscribe, share, and let me know you’re reading!

– Jeff

Nicaragua, Day 4 – Pimps and Other Economics

20121111-185637.jpg

This man is a pimp.

Not in the way we use that word in High School – “Ah, man! That’s so pimp!” Literally, this kid sells women for a profit.

The first time I was in San Juan del Sur, one of the first kids who talked to me called me over and said, “Hey! ¿Como está, amigo? ¿Te gustan las chicas Nicas?” (“Hey, how are you, friend? Do you like Nicaraguan girls?”)

Tonight, Britney and I were eating dinner and we saw this fine chap. He came up to the 2nd floor of the restaurant, which we were enjoying just fine by ourselves, sat down, and started making out with one of the girls. He was wearing a ridiculous vest that showed his chest and abs, and, based off my first experience, I assumed he was a pimp and the girls were prostitutes. I faked like I was taking a picture of Britney and I, from different angles, and snapped this photo, and then we asked our waiter. He tilted his head and scowled, wondering why I was asking, but after I assured him I was “just curious” he admitted that he new the guy and was pretty sure he was, indeed, a pimp.

I saw an elderly lady, she looked around 75 but was probably 55 or so, who was sorting through trash to find cans and bottles to sell for 9 Córdobas a pound (about $.375). She usually gets between 3 to 9 pounds a day, using a walker to get around from restaurant to restaurant. She doesn’t have any family in the area, but is likely here because tourism makes it easier to survive. I told her to meet me at 5:00 and I’d buy her a meal, chat with her, and pay for her taxi ride to the outskirts of town. I was planning on spending about $25 on supplies for her as well – whatever she thought she needed. She wasn’t there, probably not trusting that I would be either – if I wasn’t, and she waited, she’d have to make the long walk home in the dark.

The girl we helped yesterday – Mariselda – her father rents out an acre and a half of land for 2,500 Córdobas a year and makes about 5,000 Córdobas a year from his crops – beans, corn, and rice. His seven brothers help him with his harvest and he helps them.

The taxi driver who picked us up from the ferry today made $24 (576 Córdobas) to take us for the 45 minute ride to San Juan del Sur (we split the cab with some other Americans). He pays 180 Córdobas a month to be part of the cooperative that operates out of the ferry area, and pays them about 30% of each taxi fare as well.

Those are just some random facts, in case you’re as interested as I am.

Many Nicaraguan youth leave their families and migrate to Costa Rica to find work, unable to scratch out a living here.

A million people make a million different decisions based on what they know and what they think will benefit them and their family. A strong economy would do more for these people than any social program. I’m happy to do what I can to help individual people, though I’m even happier to see successful organizations like Project Schoolhouse and Comunidad Connect that have a consistent and long-term impact.

I’d be happier if we all weren’t needed, if the economy were strong, if these people each had opportunity.

Idealism, socialism, and militant control have left deep scars in Beautiful Nicaragua.

20121111-192841.jpg

On a lighter note, the beach in SJDS is absolutely beautiful. As the tide went out and the beach grew, locals grouped together and played fútbol until dark. The brief but warm rain made the sand glisten even more against the light of the setting sun.

******************

(p.s. – I’m not trying to give a bad rep to San Juan del Sur by pointing out the pimp. This place is fantastic. Tourism, unfortunately, attracts a different type of economics which can be very good, and most often is, but can also be very bad. 99.99% of them are great, sincere, happy, and awesome people and the town is very safe.)