Whenever I begin to prepare for the next visit to Nicaragua, in this case next week, thoughts about the vast differences between home and there inevitably come alive. I suppose it’s due, in part, to some protective mechanism which serves to blunt the culture shock that I always feel, both coming and going. It’s difficult to not reflect on the differences. After all, when I leave the frozen tundra of Minneapolis, the temperature could well be minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, as it has been over the past week. That will stand in stark contrast to the 80 degree temperature I’ll likely encounter when getting off the plane in Managua. It truly does feel like a different world!
But my thoughts in preparation for leaving have little to do with the weather. I am always struck by and need to prepare for the reality of how the two countries are supposedly worlds apart, and how I feel about that.
Certainly, I will experience again the poverty that increasingly grips the lower classes; one cannot travel there and miss it. I know that I will encounter a mother, or a father, who is hurting over the inability to provide for a family, despite their serious efforts to overcome the circumstances that are stacked against them. I’ve seen the hurt in their faces before, but it always hits me again, like a punch to the gut that I know is coming but which I can’t escape.
Within our actual work agenda, we might well be working with cooperative members who are desperately longing to strengthen their organizations, to feel a part of something bigger than themselves, to succeed collaboratively. Their efforts are often stymied by the wealthy, those in power, those with voice, or other “gatekeepers” who believe that their strength stems from the ignorance of their workers, while they hoard information and outcomes for their own benefit. It’s a frustrating way of life that increasingly permeates more and more elements of the society in which they live. Make no mistake: they see and feel the manipulation. They just have a difficult time seeing how to change it.
I’ll hear a great deal about a government administration that still doesn’t seem to work very well, even after it has been in power for some time now. It’s a system that has tended to favor those who have wealth and power, despite ever-growing inequities. I’ll hear about claims against the president, and euphemistically soothing words from the man himself to assure the population that everything is alright. Meanwhile, elements of the nation’s democratic foundations continue to erode even as fundamental civil rights drift further away.
Funding for bright lights along major city thoroughfares will be evident. Lack of sufficient funding for schools and children will be just as clear. I’ll marvel at the intense beauty of the countryside and wince at the continued evidence of pollution and environmental spoiling. And I know that I’ll be struck once again at the excesses of some that have been built upon the expense and deprivation of others.
After wrestling with my reflections for a period of time, I’ll recognize that while there are miles that separate our worlds, we are perhaps not so very far apart after all. True, our economic wealth may be light years in distance from each other. But some things turn out to be quite universal, and while next week will be very different for me than this week, it will be very much the same….