Because Everyone has Biases

imageThree biases:
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.



imageAlright, this is fairly unacceptable. I should probably update this blog more often! I’m going to try just posting little stories instead of giant updates because that will be less daunting, I think. Not that you all don’t deserve a rather giant update, but…
Right now the kids are on holy week break. During Semana Santa here, many people spend their free week going to the beach, relaxing, and partying. I am mostly just breathing and having fun remembering that I am not just the work I do here and watching Netflix, and eating mangos. Basically being super introverted and absolutely loving it. Not that I don’t kind of really miss all my little compañeros, and I will be more than ready to see them again when they get back.
Daily schedules and activities shift from week-to-week, but I usually get up early enough to see the kids off to school at 6:30 every morning, eat my oatmeal in various stages of dazed philosophicalness, and get ready for my English class which I have every morning but Wednesday at 8:30 . Teaching middle schoolers English is everything but peaceful and predictable, but we’ll get into those adventures at a later date.
So, yes, English class finishes and I do…? The next part of my schedule until lunch is probably the most varying part of my schedule and has involved everything from home visits and leading a meeting with community leaders to making tortillas with my middle school students. 12:00 is lunch, and I usually spend the next hour or so going through emails, filling out the endless skeins of paperwork which a social work practicum entails, or translating some document or another into Spanish for the purpose of good communication with my director. 2:00 p.m. brings my daily guitar class with Jesus, and at 3:00 I lead a relaxation therapy class with different groups of the younger kids which is an interesting test in engagement skills and personal creativity levels. The last hour of my day after 4:00 p.m. is always my favorite. The kids get out of tutoring at that point, and so we spend the next hour or so waiting for their parents to arrive and playing soccer, hop scotch, and guitar. Most of my favorite one-on-one conversations and interactions have occurred within this hour as the daily stresses of school and work are shoved into backpacks and set aside for a little while.
One other thing I have started doing is volunteering at the special needs school for a couple hours 3 days a week to teach non-visual skills, and mainly cane technique, to the blind students there. I really, truly love this opportunity to bust up a few low societal expectations and to watch my students start navigating their school more and more independently.
So now you all get an exciting accomplishment story and a funny/ gross foreign country story.
Cool accomplishment:
This past week the educational psychologist, Guadalupe, came to me on Wednesday to talk to me about a meeting with the local community leaders which the HCN would be leading on Thursday. The HCN has plans to bring in new children/ families into their program and wanted to engage the local community leaders in this process. We had already discussed this as an event, but on Wednesday, Guadalupe came and asked me to help facilitate/ present at this meeting. She wanted me to discuss our organization’s principles of partnership and the definition of “at-risk” as it refers to children. I was excited but mainly nervous. I had never discussed these topics in front of a group… of important political figures in the community… in Spanish… with one day to prepare. I crammed, and translated, and crammed, and worried once or twice. To my great relief, the meeting went off fairly seamlessly; excluding the extensive political discussions between different communities, but, everyone appeared to believe those were the most natural part of our meeting.
Funny story:
Yesterday, the professors had an abbreviated work day as the kids were not here and we were just making some posters to put up around the center. In the middle of the day we had a giant vegetable/ crab soup. When I say giant, I mean that the pot was like the size of a dog tub and literally full of soup. When I say giant, I mean that they gave us taurine of soup instead of bowls. Anyway, enough about the amazing soup. On Friday, Marisol had told me that all the ingredients for the soup were in my refrigerator, and she said that I shouldn’t let the “animalitos” scare me. I was like “wait; there are little animals in my fridge? What is this?” A former staff member who had come on a visit was there and said in English, “She means the crabs.” Unfortunately, I definitely thought she said “rats,” so that didn’t make me feel better. After I simply stared at them with a completely shocked face for a few minutes, they re-explained that there were crabs in my refrigerator. Alright, so back to Monday. Friday’s shock was only one-upped by one of the professors discovering an actual dead rat that had begun to rot in the unused bathroom adjacent to my kitchen. Oh, the very unfortunate irony.
Maybe that is a really unprofessional place to leave this post, but Franklin just came to invite me to dinner with him and his brother and their professor, so I am unashamedly leaving to eat Nicaraguan food!