People come and go in our lives all the time. There are family members, of course. Then there are those who are outside the family scope, but who nonetheless impact our lives in significant ways, sometimes seen and other times unseen. This past week, The Center for Global Education, Nicaragua and the world lost one of those souls whose presence touched lives.
Jose was the driver, mechanic, ombudsman and one of the great fixtures and jump starter of CGE in Nicaragua: he was its first employee. He came to CGE 31 years ago, likely with little foresight about how that organization and the thousands of its travel clients would come to be an extension of family for him, nor how he would become so much a part of the family of his co-workers. This week, all of his families are grieving at his loss.
For most of us, traveling to a foreign country like Nicaragua takes us out of our comfort zone, an experience that is both desired yet anxiety-prone at the same time. For CGE participants over the past 30+ years, the imbalances created through exposure to a very different culture and reality were stabilized by the reassuring leaders of CGE. They are very good at recognizing our uncertainties, the chafing which inevitably begins to work on our sensitivities to justice and human dignity. They have methodologies which focus on processing our discomforts and making sense of what is senseless. They are skilled guides who deftly facilitate our transitions of thought and feeling, it is their expertise which provides the basis for our sought-after transformations.
But in the need to further connect with and understand those new experiences, we require other hand-holds to steady ourselves and somehow personalize the new context which has challenged our views. Most of us have needed some additional relationship or voice upon which to test our new sense of balance and stability. For many, that balance was offered by Jose.
He was always with us. Navigating the streets and carreteras, of course, but also helping us to reach other destinations that weren’t on a map or an itinerary. Jose was respectfully quiet with CGE groups, but once engaged, his voice invited a new discourse, his life an object lesson of the life and culture of Nicaragua. While a bulk of CGE teaching took place in the visits to communities and homes and in group gatherings, Jose served as a field tutor, one who would offer his own perspective, as real and as valuable as any we might hear. His gift to travelers, to all of us, was his mere presence, both unremarkable and essential at the same time.
Jose also provided the invaluable service of friendship. When we travel afar, of necessity most of us will eagerly seek the presence of a local, someone to trust, someone we might go home to talk about, in this case a real Nicaraguan whom we might come to know personally, someone who would demonstrate to us the warmth and receptivity of the country. Especially for North Americans, such affirmation is desperately sought, perhaps as a sign of forgiveness, that we gringos are OK. Jose gave us that, not only the first time I met him in 1990, but every time thereafter, right up to our last greetings in August 2014.
There are many of Jose’s colleagues who can and will offer more personal remembrances of this man, I’m sure. I only speak as an outsider who occasionally had the good fortune to experience and to observe his being among those who would learn. He may have been hired and paid as a driver, but he helped to take thousands of people to places they had not expected, neither on the road nor in their hearts. Godspeed, Don Jose….