Thursday, January 29, 2009

Post-Trip Reflections: Sara Cawley

Nicaragua seemed to have more of a community emphasis and stronger relationships than any place I have lived in the United States. As I would walk with my host mother or sister through Leon, they never failed to say hello to passerby or people sitting on their porches, whether they knew them well or not. Family members and friends would frequently drop in, and it was obvious to me that my host family was quite close. Relationships between young men and women were very different what I am accustomed to, however. My host sister Fatima, who is 20, has a boyfriend named Daniel, and while they were frequently together, they were never in a situation (that I saw) where other people were not present. When they spent time “alone” it seemed to be sitting on the front porch or taking a walk together. Although they had been dating for three years, they still acted at times and were treated by my host family like a high school couple that has recently begun dating. The entire vibe of the neighborhood was more active and loud than in the U.S., people walk instead of driving everywhere, and there was a center square where people could come together. The cities of Leon and Managua themselves were not what I was expecting, growing up with cities in the United States. Rather than narrow streets crowded with skyscrapers, the buildings were not over a few stories, the roads and the cities were more spread out. It was nice to be able to see the sky so much! Nicaraguan culture was also far more laid-back than the U.S. – people were just content to be, and it was a little sad to come back to my hectic schedule.

I think that immersion projects are excellent tool s to help people from the States better understand life in Nicaragua – reading from a textbook or hearing a lecture absolutely cannot compare to what I learned in even one day there. Being out of my comfort zone made me more likely to really open my mind, try new things, and view Nicaraguan culture, history, and way of life with as little prejudice as possible. It is difficult to try to explain to friends and family exactly what I experienced there, and how much of an impression it has made upon me – there is only so much pictures can show - but I know my passion for what I experienced is obvious. Although I feel like people here are too often content to simply listen and nod, I think I have convinced a few people to consider going on the next Nicaragua Immersion Project. I think that learning more about Nicaragua would help people become more interested in the country’s future – it is surprising to me, with the United States’ long history of involvement in Nicaragua’s affairs, that U.S. students learn so little about the country.

Trying to decide the best course of action for U.S. and Nicaraguan policy is difficult, any aid monies or outreach programs coming from the government will be tempered with a political agenda. I am sad to say that United States intervention in Nicaragua so far, has not been for the best…the Contra War stands as a great example of negative U.S. influence. The United States needs to begin asking Nicaragua and other countries what they need, rather than always forcing its own agenda. Nicaraguans are not stupid- they know what they need, and I feel as though some U.S. citizens mistakenly associate developing countries with naiveté and unintelligence.

I am still shocked by what I saw in the Leon hospital – the lack of privacy and the conditions were horrifying to my U.S. sensibilities. I do have to stress my respect and astonishment at the dedication the doctors and nurses displayed in that hospital, and what they accomplished despite a severe lack of supplies and equipment.

I was struck by how happy many Nicaraguans were, even though many of them should have been miserable by U.S. standards – I might even say they were happier than many people I know here. I find myself viewing my daily routine and my friends daily routine’s very differently after not having a shower every day – really, every shower I took in Nicaragua was inadequate by U.S. standards, and yet I managed completely fine. My shower after coming back from El Porvenir was probably the best shower of my life so far. I find myself thinking that we really don’t need to flush the toilet that much, and constantly turning off lights that my housemates have left on. When I go to Bullet for lunch, I find myself missing Gallo Pinto, amazingly enough. I am determined to learn Spanish, which I think is a beautiful language. The trip has also had an effect on my future plans; now I am certain that I would like to do some form of volunteer work at some point, and end up working for an NGO, interest group, or the government. Talking with the expatriates we met made me realize that I do not necessarily have to take a traditional path in life; regardless of my future path, I feel that being able to view the U.S. compulsion to always be on the go through new eyes will benefit me and my mental sanity.

Sara Cawley is a sophomore and majors in Political Science with double minors in English and Environmental Studies. She lives in a Domestic Arts theme house with 7 of her friends and says, "My housemates love to cook, I love to eat what they cook." Her parents are divorced, and I lived with my mom, step-father, and younger brother until college started; now she lives with my father in Waverly, Pennsylvania. She loves to read, go running, do outdoor activities, take naps, and spend time with her friends. On campus, I mentor a child each week through Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and am a member of College Democrats. She played on the Women’s Rugby Team until she injured her shoulder last year.

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