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Just taking a look at the bright side. (Easily done when surrounded by sun!)

Written on: Friday June 19th, 2009

A journal entry from: Guatemala, mi amor.

    Just taking a look at the bright side?  One of my favourite things that I have learned on this trip is about the Russian Automobiles.  During the American embargo, Nicaraguans were not able to access American cars so their Russian friends, I use the term 'friend' loosely here as it should only be a loose term in this context, exported a number of automobiles to Nicaragua.  Now, these cars are something else.  For one, they look reminiscent of the drawings of cars I used to make in grade 4.  That doesn't mean that they're ridiculous looking like my artistry, it just means that they have clean and simple lines like a long rectangular base topped by a television box? on wheels.  When it moves, it shakes from side to side almost like a washing machine.  You can also hear them before you see them.  To the car's credit, it was made in the 70's and so the fact that some of them still function shows that the car was actually well built (probably like a tank).  Also to the credit of many mechanics in Central America, they are expert fixer-uppers.  If they want that car to keep running, they would make it happen.  'Taxi' driver Roger's truck that I rode in to the beach in the other day was an example of this. Every time we hit a bump, the driver's door would pop open.  The truck had character and it still got us to the beach and back!!  (As I was typing this, a Russian car drove by.  There aren't many out here still so consider my day made!)  
    Next, I'm staying in a sleepy beach town where there's great surfing, friendly people and great food.  Plus, I'm sleeping in a 4-person room with my three friends that has a balcony overlooking the beach for $7 a night.  You can't beat that.  I did get heaps of ants that bite in my big travel bag, but the oatmeal that exploded in my backpack some 3 weeks ago was the major cause of that, not the hostel.  What I wouldn't have given for a vacuum.  I digress ☺ We have found a great café here in San Juan del Sur, and we have found our favourite beach (well, the only beach that we've actually seen?there are several but we keep returning to the same one).  I find that I can only spend so much time in places like these before I start to think that I need to do something else a little bit more productive; however, it has been a great experience and I've been really grateful for the pick-me-up.  We all needed a holiday and I needed an opportunity to reaffirm my love for Central America.  
    During the actual class, we had the opportunity to speak with different people with different backgrounds.  There were several speakers that stick out in my mind.  One was Maria from CISAS, a Nicaraguan organization that deals with things from human rights to the promotion of primary health.  She helped start the People's Health Movement and has been a key player in promoting primary health care for all at the international level.  She is a passionate activist and has spent decades in Central America which, in my book, is incredible considering that she and many others who stayed were at great risk and could have left to their respective countries throughout the civil wars that took place here.  
One of the ones who had stayed includes a woman named Rebecca.  We visited a place called El Cua and in this region, the conflict was intense.  A man named Benjamin Linders was an engineer that went from Managua to El Cua to create a hydroelectricity project as the community was so far away from any centre large enough to be able to provide electricity.  This project was very important, but also very threatening to the new government.  Benjamin Linders, who dressed as a clown to entertain the kids in the town, was brutally murdered by the Contras likely in an effort to stop the project.  Rebecca, a friend of Benjamin's, also went from Managua to El Cua in the middle of the conflict and took over the project.  She told us stories about how she managed to avoid the Contras, but was still at great risk of succumbing to the fate of Benjamin.  She is still there after about 25 years and has helped the community greatly by completing the project.  She was soft spoken and seemed to only want to speak with us minimally, but her impact was great.  She offered advice to those of us who were interested in entering this type of field of work.  In sharing our experiences with our house family, my roommate Sydney and I found out that the grandmother at our house was a teacher in El Cua during that time as well.  She told us that it was a dangerous time for her as a teacher and risked her life to continue offering children an education.  She taught with two teachers from Cuba.  The Contras targeted teachers (well, generally the educators and the educated) particularly the teachers from Cuba (for obvious political reasons).  The Contras pursued her one night but as luck would have it, she had gone to her family's home outside of El Cua at her uncle's insistence.  She continued to teach despite the risks.  
The last speaker that I enjoyed surprisingly enough was Michel from CIDA.  That's right, we spoke with CIDA.  They offered an interesting perspective of development that does not necessarily align with my viewpoint on how the work should occur, but it shows how the work does occur.  It's like a business.  They're business people and diplomats.  They operate according to the wishes of those at the top who make decisions on behalf of all of CIDA's aid money and who likely don't have a clue as to the reality on the ground.  CIDA is very much a top down organization.  I know you're wondering how this is 'looking at the bright side'.  Well, the CIDA organization is one of thousands just like it.  It's important for us to understand the inner workings of these types of organizations to gain a deeper understanding of how they operate, as well as to either confirm or remove any prejudices that we previously held before speaking with the officials.  All I will say is that it's a business... just as I thought.   
    We were given the opportunity to see much of the Nicaraguan countryside.  I appreciated that aspect of the Guatemalan term abroad and that sentiment has been felt here as well.  The countryside, although arguably not as nice as Guatemala, is gorgeous.  Particularly after it has rained, the land becomes beautifully green and lush.  I could just sit in chicken buses for days and just watch the countryside go by.  I'm very excited to be taking the bus down to San Jose to catch my flight.  The Costa Rican countryside is apparently something to behold.  
    I am eternally grateful to have been able to see another part of the world.  Particularly after the Guatemalan term abroad I recognize the benefit of taking courses or learning from the countries in which we travel.  It enriches the experience to no end.  Human interactions take on a different meaning and the environment in which you walk takes on a new appearance.  We are able to see things through a different lens when there's an understanding of history, culture, politics and economics.  I haven't written very much about this class and I won't only because in the great scheme of things, I still personally gained from the experience regardless of what occurred in the past three weeks.  As well, it pushed me in a new direction that I hadn't necessarily considered before so for that, I should be thankful.  I am also truly grateful to all the people I have met and to the friends I have made along the way.  These experiences would not be nearly as memorable or meaningful without them.
I won't write any more posts as I officially have less than a week before I return home.  Thank you all for keeping in touch over these past six months.  I have greatly appreciated hearing stories from home and hearing about your lives.  I will be in Saskatoon from the 28th of June until the 4th then I will be moving out to Victoria until I manage to round up my wayward ducks and get them somewhat lined up.  
Take care all and see you soon!