So you might be a little frustrated that I have taken just a little too long to add a new post to my blog. I apologize and since it has been a while, I feel like I have a lot to communicate. I’m currently in San Salvador which is the capital of El Salvador. I’m not going to talk about El Salvador quite yet but will talk about that in a future post- stay tuned friends!
A few weeks ago, our group took a week-long trip to the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. One might think that the trip is simply a bus ride across the country. However once you get to a certain point in Nicaragua taking a bus or riding in a car is no longer an option because of the lack of roads available. So instead, we all got really comfortable for 2 hours as we sat in a speed boat traveling the rivers of eastern Nicaragua.
When we arrived in Bluefields we no longer heard Spanish being spoken; however, we were hearing English and we had to present our passports. What’s this? Am I still in the same country? The Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua which is split into two regions is so different culturally, historically, legally, economically, and socially. The main cause is that the Pacific coast was conquered by Spain and the Atlantic coast served as a British procreate for several decades. As a result, the people speak English. There has been a big struggle to unite the two coasts but also preserve the Atlantic coast’s autonomy.
Despite getting sick my first night in Bluefields, we quickly left the large city the next day to live in two separate communities. As a group of students studying, we had very limited information about this side of Nicaragua. Our goal was to discover its people and their history through listening to their stories. The group of 13 split up and I went to Orinoco to live for a few days. Orinoco is a small town of about 1,5000 inhabitants. Its culture and history is nothing like I have ever heard before.
The Garifuna people, those who live in Orinoco, have a rich history of overcoming adversity. First, their ancestors successfully took over a slave ship as they were coming over from Africa. They lived on an island for several decades and with the fear from being enslaved, they migrated to Honduras. Something then took place where their culture split up into Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Orinoco is the only community in Nicaragua where there is a large population of Garifuna people.
The Garifuna people lived in Orinoco peacefully until others from surrounding areas began to interact with them. The Garifuna people were discriminated against because they were different. They spoke a different language and practiced different traditions. As a result, the parents of the adults who we talked with decided to stop talking Garifuna and leave behind their traditions. Additionally, the Nicaraguan government made the decision at one point that in order to better include the Atlantic coast into the Pacific coast that Spanish should be the official language. Sounds simple, right? Wrong! This implied, for example, that the students now would have to learn only in Spanish, a language that might not have been comfortable to everyone.
When the FSLN, the revolutionary party, took power in 1979 things started to change in Orinoco. The FSLN gave the Atlantic coast an opportunity to define itself by reclaiming its indigenous and ethnic rights. Nicaragua is an ethnic rich country. As a result, the people of the Atlantic coast began to find themselves again. This manifested itself into Orinoco. The Garifuna people who lost their language are now sending delegations of about 10 students and one teacher every year to live and learn in Honduras where other Garifuna people did not loose their culture because of negative government intervention and discrimination.
One of the ladies who we talked to described going to Honduras. She did not know how to speak Garifuna but could speak Spanish, English, and a little bit of Creole. She was going to represent the Garifuna people of Nicaragua at a cultural event in Honduras. First, many Garifuna people in Honduras did not know that there were Garifuna people living in Nicaragua. Secondly, when she got up on the stage to present Orinoco, the others did not believe that she was Garifuna and she could not speak their language. However, when she and some others started to dance the traditional Garifuna dance, la punta, they knew she was one of them.
I had a chance to dance ‘la punta’ where you really have to shake your body! The Garifuna people are working hard to reclaim their culture. However, at the same time, Orinoco has many social problems that they are also facing. There are no jobs but students are encouraged to graduate high school and go to college. As a result, many of the young people are becoming part of the drug trade as the coast serves as a transit for drugs from South America to Mexico and North America. People do not want to work. Those who do try to work fish in bodies of water where there are fewer fish than in the past. Others spend 6 to 9 months working on cruise ships and send money back to their families. Some simply leave the community for the United States. It’s a sad story but hopefully their history of overcoming adversities will make them stronger.
So, I want to take a little time to reflect on identity because the theme was so strong in Orinoco. Identity is like cultural cues where we attach meaning to whom we believe we are or who society believes we are. I may say that I’m American so I identity with the American culture by speaking English and believing that American’s role in the world is to help others. I believe that one does not truly understand one’s identity or one’s culture before he or she experiences and learns about another culture. I know that I speak English and that America has always helped countries in the past but I didn’t digest it until I realized that my language could be taken away like what happened in Orinoco or that America’s influence in the world might not always benefit the people like during the 1980’s in Nicaragua and El Salvador. What do you at that point when you realize that when your identity that makes you usually feel so comfortable and makes you,YOU no longer might be a good thing? Identity crisis!
One solution to this problem is to communicate your identity. I may be American but I’m Taylor. There are things about me that make me different from other Americans. Through this, it might also be important to recognize that identity is always flowing, always changing. We always tend to think that we can’t change. However, do not give up who you are for other people and other cultures. We will feel uncomfortable at times with our identity but we can practice. Practice by putting yourself in new situations. Why not try by starting to travel. However, travel with a purpose. Don’t merely travel to travel to enjoy warm beaches but enjoy warm beaches and learning about the new culture you are living in by talking to the locals, reading about their history, and attempting to speak their culture. As Americans, we have created a world where it is to easy to be Americans in new places. Resist this!
In other news, here are some smaller things that have happen recently to me and to Nicarauga:
- President Chavez of Venezuela will serve another term as President which is great for Nicaragua because he provides Nicaragua with a lot of oil.
- Some of our teachers have included the President’s step daughters and the former Prime Minister of Nicaragua during the 1990’s. We also learned about social movements in Nicaragua from a staunch feminist.
- Spanish classes have ended and I have already completed 4 credits of course work.
- I met with some of the Sisters of St. Agnes in Managua and I will work with them in November in Waspam for my independent study project.
- I visited Granada which is a beautiful, colonial town in Nicaragua that served as the strong hold for the conservatives for years.
- We are over half done with the program- time flies!
- We visited a volcano and spent the day swimming in a lake where the water is warm because it is geothermal as a result of the volcano.
I can’t wait to write my next blog about my time in El Salvador where I will try to communicate the emotions that I have been experiencing over the past week.