I will now talk about 3 biases I faced when coming here to Nicaragua. Please understand that the point is NOT to say one of the cultural perspectives from which these biases came is better than the other.
1. Talking about weight almost always has bad connotations.
True, in the U.S. talking about weight is pretty off limits. We are extremely touchy with that subject, and almost every person thinks they need to lose or gain weight. Here, however, where someone might still make a hurtful stab about another person’s weight, the verbal context is what matters instead of simply the words “gordo” (Fat) or “Flaca” (skinny). The first time one of the staff members made some comment about one of his co-workers weight, I was completely shocked (Imagine big eyes, jaw dropping, quickly putting finger to lips to shush him, “WHAT, NO, NO, NO!”, type of shocked). Not that there aren’t eating disorders there or insecurities over weight, but those are not as distinctly attached to a certain body type, at least as far as I observed, and the ownership of more or less weight is not immediately seen as a moral discussion as it arguably appears to be in the U.S.
2. Time rules.
I believe this particular discussion holds true to more than simply Nicaraguan or Hispanic culture, but I was amazed by the relational vs time orientation in Nicaragua. When leaving to Nicaragua I assumed that people in Nicaragua and other Hispanic cultures were simply late to most appointments, like they just kind of set their clocks half an hour back and uniformly elected this new time to arrive at all functions. However, this mindset still grew out of my U.S. time orientation- still putting time as the ruling factor in the calculation. I discovered, however, that this culture actually views time as subordinate to relationships. Time is merely the chosen mode to order our relational interactions. For example, should one plan a meeting for 8:30, that number simply signifies the time around which the meeting will occur. Should you happen to receive a phone call, be in a conversation, or have a co-worker bring cake into the office, those interactions will almost surely take precedence over attending a meeting when a certain number is on the clock face.
3. Declaring your authority and enforcing hierarchy is negative:
This concept is still somewhat puzzling for me to explain, but I will do my best. I am studying social work and have thought extensively about the use of power structures and the fact that all men… and women, and children, and LGBTQ persons, and everyone, are created equal. I went to Nicaragua, therefore, and was somewhat disturbed at the flaunting of power and the distinctly hierarchical societal rules I could so easily perceive. I hated the fact that men viewed themselves generally as more important than women, and even more that many people took my word as gold and truth because I was from the United States. Power, authority, honor, and conversely shame and weakness were emphasized more highly than I had ever seen before. Another way to explain it is to say that if you had keys you jingled them, and the more you had, the more people could hear them jingling.
I was continually frustrated with this power structure until one day my boss looked at me in a meeting and said, “I do not have all the authority in this center. Each of us has our own kinds of authority and should try to use it well.” I then realized that whether we realize it or not, whether we want it or not, and however hard we try to get rid of it, all of us have certain types of authority. I can do many things with the authority I have. I can abuse those under my authority, I can neglect those under my authority because I am in denial of that authority or do not take it seriously, I can discover that that authority has been given to me unrightfully and seek to restore it to its proper owner, and I can continue to use that authority I have for good. Some of these decisions are inherently immoral and some of these are situationally dependent, but whether or not I like it, I will always have some sort of authority. I believe that this perspective is sobering and empowering, and one I had not thought about distinctly before. I am not trying to say that I understand this perspective as a whole now, but I am more able to understand certain aspects of it and willing to try to look for ways in which I can deconstruct harmful perceptions while still respecting cultural values.