Monthly Archives: May 2016

Day 404

This is a story about Black Nicaraguans and the love I found amongst them. I went to visit Bluefields and Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua. It is where the “black” people live. I have to say this trip changed my life. I found that their history was very similar to our own. They were initially shipwrecked on the coast of Nicaragua. At that time, it wasn’t a part of Nicaragua. The indigenous people became a British colony. Then the British shipped slaves over from West Africa. When slavery was outlawed in 1840, the slaves became workers and it’s how you get the diverse looks of the people. Some are very dark and have wide noses with afros. Others are light skinned and have big, wide curls, not kinky at all. They are as colorful as you would expect black people to be. When Nicaragua conquered and claimed the land, they were unable to get through the dense jungle and essentially they were spared from the first war of Somoza. But after the war was won by the Sandinistas, there was another smaller war fought to conquer the Coast. The people will tell you they believe it had nothing to do with the land and everything to do with killing all blacks. Finally, a peace treaty was written, allowing the land to be autonomous. However, despite their autonomism, their representatives are Managuan (Spanish) and the government has mandated they teach in Spanish. They are not given the rights they were promised in the treaty. Now, Bluefields is almost entirely Spanish. Everyone speaks Spanish and it’s only about 30% blacks. However, 45 minutes south in Pearl Lagoon, it is 90% black and only 1% speak Spanish. I only spent two days in Bluefields which left me to spend 6 days in Pearl Lagoon.

I have been on a pursuit to study Universal Blackness. Most often, the black perspective is told from an African American lens. But I am sure that being black in America is entirely different than being Black in France than being black in Nicaragua. My trip was enlightening. I was excited to see people who looked like me. I was excited to find grape flavored everything. The rest of Nicaragua seems to have no appreciation for grape although, in my opinion, grape is the best juice and the best soda. I had coconut bread, soda cake and piko. I ate fried chicken for almost the entire week I was there. I was embraced entirely. People spoke creole to me and I tried to understand. I had my hair braided there. (Which is a foreign concept in other parts of Nicaragua. They think my braids are pretty but foreign. They want to touch them.) I wore my afro and no one stared. It was wonderful. I heard my music. While waiting for a boat, Cece Winans played! It warmed my heart to see little brown girls with afro puffs and wearing clocker balls in their hair. I never knew how much I missed those things until I saw it. While I found many differences, I found that a universal blackness does not exist. However, it seems that there is a universal attempt to silence blackness. When I spoke with community leaders, they complained of their history being erased and being forced to speak in Spanish, not their own tongue Creole and the English. It sounded a lot like what I feel when I hear that slavery is being taken out of the history books and how I feel lost when I try to think of my lineage and my history past my great grandparents. It was sad. It both warmed and broke my heart. I could talk for hours on my trip and everything I learned there, but for this email, I will stop while I am ahead.

God knew what He was doing when I was assigned a different site. I don’t think my service would have been as fulfilling if I was living there. For one, I wouldn’t have learned Spanish. For two, I wouldn’t have been able to teach people what it’s like to be an American. They thought I was one of them. However, I am so glad to have had the opportunity to visit there and speak with the people. I was able to see the discrimination between black Nicaraguans and the Spanish looking ones. It appears that wherever there is colonialism, there is colorism. Black Nicaraguans are definitely discriminated against and they hate traveling away from the Coast. When they do, people make inappropriate comments and stare. I have personally felt this awkwardness. It is not always like that. My own community has accepted me. First, they didn’t want to believe I was an American. They kept telling me I was from the coast, in part because I am black and in part because my Spanish is so bad. (Coastians prefer to speak Creole or English.) But then I showed them pictures and told them about my family. But I have heard people call me “negrita” – little black girl and they love to touch my hair. My first host family tried to shame me into straightening my afro. Not everyone is bad, there is always good to be found where people work hard to love. Love is the deciding factor. Love changes things.

If you ever want to come to Nicaragua, the Coast would be top 5 to see!

Oven Building

This month, in the Adventures of Janae, I built an oven.. wait for it… FROM SCRATCH! Yep, sure did. Oven building is a project we often do in rural areas to help prevent smoke inhalation. Women are expected to be the sole cookers and usually families who can’t afford gas use wood. That’s dangerous in a small room and as a result rural women die early from smoke inhalation. The oven is built outside and it’s more efficient in wood burning. You build it using, horse manure, dirt, a sticky glue mixture made from soaking dragon fruit leaves in water, clay bricks, and one large barrel.

The process is as follows:

-dragonfruit leaves, soaked for two days in water is used as glue, mixed with a little water, horse manure and dirt.

-Bricks are cut into the necessary size and often times clay bricks break

-a base of two layers of bricks are built first and it must be level

We had the additional obstacle of building on a hill. The women we worked with lived in a very rural area and were unable to get proper notification. So they had to scrape the glue material from the leaves by hand.

It was messy and hard. You have to use a leveler for every brick laid. Often times we had to cut the bricks with a machete to get the right fit. The dirt mixture smells a bit, but only when it’s wet and the sun is disrespectful in Boaco, Nicaragua. Still, the people were overjoyed to have an oven. A cooperation of three families will be using to sell bread in their small community. This oven is literally a means to have money to put food on the table. It’s great to know, one small oven changed these women’s lives.