I’m just back from twelve days in Nicaragua. It’s a bit longer stay than I usually have, but the agenda warranted the time. And partly due to that longer duration, I had a chance to experience some aspects of Nicaragua for the first time, hiking to some rather remote spots.
Now that I’m back and catching up on E, postal and voice mail, I’m back in the flow of communications with my usual circle of contacts. They are always interested, curious and a little mystified, I think, about my travels there. Yesterday, one of them wrote to me an innocent thought: “I bet you’re glad to be back home after being down there so long.” I thought about that comment all day yesterday; I’m not exactly sure why it stood out in my mind, but I have some thoughts around it.
Down there. The phrase felt as though it had something potentially condescending about it, as though there might have been some sacrifice or hardship involved in going there. I’ve probably fed that notion by many of the things I’ve written about the difficulty of life in Nicaragua. But beyond its struggles, it’s a beautiful country, a warm and hospitable culture, inhabited by people with inspirational stories and lives to share. And for Nicaraguans, it’s home.
I am glad to be home, of course. Always. This is my home, where I am “at home,” the place where Katie, our kids and I think of when “going home.” It’s a reflection of who we are and that, I suppose, is what makes it comfortable, content. And even though Katie accompanied me on this most recent trip and I didn’t have the usual separation anxieties, we were both glad to come back to the place we have adopted as our own. Most living creatures seem to have the need for a place to which they can return.
During a visit with local doctor yesterday, he asked, “Is it really pretty bad down there?” (Down there, again.) I did my best to deliver balanced reporting, relating the work of the Foundation with some extremely poor people, but also sharing the stories of people who live with a richness and groundedness to their lives that some of us only dream about. Are they poor? I guess it depends in part on how one defines being poor. Too many Nicaraguans have too little to eat, insufficient shelter, little formal education and very limited vocational opportunities. They are not naiive; they understand with painful clarity the material affluence of other nations. But they have also learned what it means to enrich their lives through spirit and spirituality, through tradition and being home.
So on this occasion, after being in the country for nearly two weeks, instead of feeling weary or eager to return to the U.S., I felt very much at home. Nicaragua is becoming a “home away from home” in its feel, in the faces of its people, in the growing familiarity of its language and the persistent hope that permeates some very difficult circumstances. I have begun to experience what Father Fernando Cardenal means when he says, “The poor have needed me. But I have needed them more.” They have become teachers, mentors, role models that I could never have imagined if I had never had the opportunity to be among them. What a gift!
There seems to be a threshold of some sort that I have crossed in my developing relationship with the people of Nicaragua. This is not something political or ideological, but more personal in nature. It’s a step beyond the comfort of my home and the material excess of my life. Where will it take me? I don’t know, but I have the curiosity to find out. As Father Cardenal further states, “The United States is not the real world. Nicaragua is not even the real world. But here in Nicaragua we come close to the real world.”
It occurs to me that our time in this life ought to include coming as close to knowing the “real world” as we possibly can. It’s both our right and our responsibility, as human beings who are hard-wired to discover the meaning of our lives….