While in Nicaragua several weeks ago, I had many opportunities to hear from rural Nicaraguans about their current economic circumstances in light of the global crisis. Naturally, most of the news was bad, compounded by an unusually harsh drought which hit the country last year. In light of the early rains which had begun to fall, hopes were high that this year’s rainy season would choose to be rainy. I heard many stories about scarcity of food, non-existent crops, real hunger and growing uneasiness about the future. This is a telling message, given the already-impossible conditions in which many of these people live. Once again, and as I have observed here many times before, I was moved by the resolve and resourcefulness of these rural Nicaraguans to survive in the face of relentlessly traumatic conditions.
One afternoon I was engaged in conversation with my Nicaraguan colleague, talking about U.S. reactions to the economic crisis and the circumstances in which U.S. citizens found themselves. I related the difficult unemployment conditions and the struggles faced by many in the wake of losing a job. I mentioned what I saw as a continuing crisis in confidence being experienced by people in the face of increasingly contentious party politics. I talked about linkages to other countries and how their experiences definitely impacted our own. And then she affirmed an eerie feeling that I have had for some months now.
She told me that her son was living and working in the U.S. and experiencing the global economic meltdown in a very different way than that being felt in Nicaragua. In frequent communications between the two, her son observed on more than one occasion that many U.S. citizens seemed to be almost dormant in their reactions, as if waiting for the economic cloud to lift or for the government to enact some quick fix for relief. In his view, it was as if some person or some entity bore responsibility for the conditions and once the culprit was identified, relief would soon follow. After a brief pause in our exchange, my colleague said that according to her son’s perceptions, many in the U.S. don’t seem to know what to do. Most people don’t know how to grow food or save it. She mused that, strange as it may seem, when a calamity occurs, Nicaraguans might be better prepared than those in the north. After all, too often it’s been a way of life in Nicaragua .
This observation made for the second time the notion has surfaced. I made much the same observation at this site back on February 17, 2009 in a piece I called “The Further We Fall.” Only this time, the recognition came from a more experienced, reliable source, from someone who has truly lived in both realities.
I still find myself asking the question, especially in the face of tumultuous times, “Who’s learning from whom in all of this?”