Friday, August 8, 2014

"El Tope" in Diriamba / Transition Period

    I got into Diriamba right on time to see La Procesión del Tope and St. Sebastian's return to Diriamba. In Nicaragua, just about every city has a patron saint (Diriamba's is St. Sebastian) and the city celebrates their saint's day with festivals, processions, and folkloric dances. On August 3rd, Jinotepe (a neighboring city) celebrates its saint's (Santiago) day. A statue of St. Sebastian and one of St. Mark (for the city of San Marcos) spend the week in Jinotepe's main church to celebrate Santiago. On the last day of the festivities, the statues are returned to their city/church in a procession from one city to the other. 

 In the above picture, St. Sebastian (left) is being returned to Diriamba, accompanied by Santiago (center) and St. Mark. 

Along with the procession of the saints from one city to the other, the festivities include a marching band, a group of people on horses, carga cerradas (chains of fireworks), and the folkloric dance of El Toro Huaco. The dance has it's roots in an indigenous legend known as "El Cacaste". It used to be an indigenous ritual but was adapted into a Spanish and Catholic dance in celebration of St. Sebastian. Each of the dancers is a promesante which means they prayed to St. Sebastian for a favor and promised to dance in the procession in return. 

One of the dancers lent me his hat to take a picture with. It was surprisingly heavy! It is decorated with an array of fake colorful flowers and a crown of real peacock feathers.

    I noticed a lot more graffiti in Diriamba than I did when I visited last year. Some of it is vandalism and others are murals that were legally painted. At first, it was a little disheartening seeing so many historic or antique buildings in ruins, covered in graffiti, and/or breaking down. It is giving Diriamba a look of a run down city, a ghost town, or of a "bad neighborhood". However, after some thought, I realized there is actually a lot of potential for restoration and beautifying without ignoring this popular medium.
    I would love to one day have a cultural and art exchange in Diriamba like AOS provides in Estelí and San Juan de Limay. Seeing all the graffiti made me think that a collaborative spray paint mural could have a positive response or would muster up a lot of interest. However, there is also the possibility of it being tagged or vandalized.

      It was also so great seeing my family. My great grandmother really did not look well and I was worried that would be the last time I saw her. Fortunately, she is recovering and when I left, she looked so much better! If all goes well, we plan on going back to celebrate her 102nd birthday next summer. My visit gave my great aunt and I time to talk about family, my dad's childhood and father, my great grandparents, and the revolution. 
     My visit also worked as a transition period between the independence I experienced while in Esteli and Limay and depending/responding to my parents as the ones in charge. During the time we had in Esteli to work on our independent projects, I could explore the city alone, eat whenever/wherever I wanted, and make my own schedule. At home in Miami, I am under my parents rules and can't freely roam around because of responsibilities I have to attend to and a lack of a car. So, in Diriamba my dad and great aunt were making family visit and eating decisions for me, but I could walk from one grandma's house to other's on my own. It was unexpected and a little annoying to be told where and when I could go or couldn't go places, but it was helpful for getting when I got back to Miami. Now, I want to go back, but experience Diriamba on my own in order to discover things I wouldn't otherwise if I had a family member looking over me (just as I experienced in Esteli and Limay).

An Fluid Writing of Reaction

It has been two days since I officially landed back in the states, still in a constant turbulent motion of the return. This has been the first chance I have had to just sit and think and it is a bit overwhelming. I will be getting back on a plane on Monday (today is Friday) to head to family on the west coast, accompanied by one of my best friends, and I am still in the process of figuring out how to tell my experiences to whomever wants to listen. What do I share and what do I choose to keep to myself? In the silence I keep today I am able to reflect how keeping busy has allowed me a safe space from my thoughts for now. Making my way from airport, to doctor's appointments, then answering the millions of questions my parents have for me, I haven't had much time to sit with the affects of my re-admittance into the society we call "home". I find it easy to move back into the fast-paced existence of the United States because it requires little thought. I can now understand the conversations people are having and I am able to navigate my way through this world without any second thoughts, following rules that have been set by a government with the intentions they will be followed, along with consequences prepared for those who chose to break them and scattered throughout the country through simple signage thrown up on walls and barriers of concrete and metal. It feels much colder here and time is made into something more than what nature originally intended. As connected as I feel to this place, there is a major disconnect I am feeling as well (as only to be expected from living in such opposite cultures) and it isn't necessarily a bad one. It is a feeling of confusion within myself and how I will continue to move forward, which will inevitably happen whether or not I am ready. Simple things like our plumbing system, along with the vast amounts of foods we are presented, to the air conditioning flooding our buildings are all small things that keep hitting me like a ton of bricks, reminding me of changes I have endured within my own being. I am not scared, but highly interested in see where these new insights will lead me and excited to find solutions for each of these newfound obstacles within the culture that was once one with which I didn't have as many questions for.


Iris painting

Written August 6th 2014

As I sit in the Best Western Hotel Lobby waiting for my room for my final night in Nicaragua, I find myself thinking about some of my most favorite moments on this trip. They were the times when I was drawing and painting with Iris and Marvin, my host siblings. My host family’s house was often loud and crowded, which was sometimes overwhelming after a long day of working in the community. Iris and Marvin were the two youngest children living in my house. Iris was about 8. She was the daughter of Coco, the family’s live-in housekeeper. Marvin was 11. He was a cousin of the family. He was the newest edition to the house, living there only a few months. He moved from Estelí, a much larger community to live after his father’s death. They both always exhibited an excited but calm mood in my presence. We usually worked in silence, experimenting with colors, making simple art. These interactions always remind me of how connected we all are as people whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. We may not always have language or words but we will always have the ability to connect through actions.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Letter to someone back home #2

(written on August 3rd, on the bus ride from Estelí to Diriamba, translated from Spanish)
(To my mom and dad)  

    Here I am sitting on an express bus from Estelí to Managua. Tio Uriel will pick me up from the bus terminal and then give me a ride to Diriamba. I see mountains, agriculture, and the humble houses. In the beginning of July I kept asking myself, "how could you have left this beautiful land?" It saddens me that because your country was ripping itself apart you were forced to leave it behind. However, now I see you both with more admiration after realizing how hard it must have been to move on from this land with the possibility of never seeing it again.
    It must have been so difficult to leave a life so calm, so peaceful, with bountiful air to breathe and space to be, and where you knew everyone and everything to cross into new lands. These new lands led you both to a new country with different habits, customs, cultures, and language. A country that you had only heard said of without first seeing it or testing it out with your own eyes.
    I also think to myself, "how scary,"... and not just you guys, but every immigrant that leaves the comfort of their home, their family, without looking back, to go to a new place to get a "better opportunity".
     Mami and Daddy, my hat goes off to you.
     I have to say, your tierra is so beautiful, your people are so beautiful. Thank you for sharing it with us. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn about my culture, and making us proud of our heritage.

One Strong Country

Nicaraguans are strong. They grow up as children playing on hard floors or no floors at all. They learn not to cry when they fall down at a young age, which is something that American children struggle with. While at Doña Nidia's for breakfast and lunch everyday in Limay, I watched Herti run and fall on the floor just to get back up and do it again. I can't recall a time in my childhood where I did that. When I fell I was "hurt" even if I wasn't. Crocodile tears, as my family would call them, were a way for me to pretend to be hurt even when I wasn't. That isn't even a thought in a Nicaraguan child's mind.
As those already strong children begin to grow up they begin walking to school on their own and helping out around the house with chores that need to be completed. Both of those things are foreign concepts to me and my youth. The youth of Nicaragua grow up fast. Becoming adults at young ages, majority of the time that isn't the case in America.
During the workshops I made a connection with Joseling. I saw a part of myself in her and don't know if she saw the same in me because we had a hard language barrier. From what I can tell she's going to be a single mother at the end of the month to a baby that she already loves more than herself. I know that I never verbally told her how proud I was of her for being such a strong woman at such a young age, but I would like to think that via gestures and laughter, she could feel it.
Between the hot sun and the long days of work, Nicaraguans make their daily lives happen. They don't complain when something goes wrong, it rolls right off their backs. They learn to deal with life's challenges from day one, something that I wished I shared with them. Time is a concept not a lifestyle. I've learned more than I bargained for about my own culture by spending time with a different one. I thank Nicaragua for all that it's given me and I hope that I can make changes in my life to incorporate the things I've learned here.


It is my first day in the United States in 5 weeks. I keep thinking it’s 4:50 am Nicaragua time because right now it is 6:50 am here.
Last night – August 6 – I scooted through customs, security, and many gates in the airport with Beth before finding my own gate and settling in. I didn’t feel a whole ton of culture shock. After landing into Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., I saw my mom (which was awesome!) as she picked me up. We drove home. I rolled my suitcase across the patio into the house. Not a lot of culture shock. A form of culture shock didn’t occur for me really until this morning when she woke up early to go for a walk and I happily dragged out of bed to go with her (our morning walks are a daily ritual where she gets up early, it takes me forever to roll out of bed, and then typically I’m groggily running down the street after her and the dog to catch up). Once I caught up to her down the street and we began talking more about my trip. I was explaining to her some of the words exchanged in the goodbye ceremony with the host families and emphasizing how full of care all the host family’s words were when it hit me. It just seemed like there was something that kept feeling cheesy about the story I was recalling. It was not because she was casting any judgment, she was quietly listening. Though I kept pausing because I felt this sense of cheesiness hanging over the words I was saying to her. Finally I stopped and just told her how cheesy I felt retelling the story.
The feeling of my stories from Nicaragua seeming cheesy made me sad. It also made me confused. How could memories that filled me with emotions in Nicaragua feel different in the states just a day after the trip had ended? It makes Nicaragua feel like a dream or a cloud that drifted by overhead and has now dissipated.
My mom suggested that in a country like the US that is so “sophisticated”, the simplicity of life in other countries is not seen as something of value here. I nodded, feeling distant.

On the one hand, I believe she is right and appreciated her sensitivity to my weird feelings. And on the other, I am struck very blatantly by the reality that it is going to be difficult relaying the true beauty and specialness of my trip to Nicaragua and all the interactions I experienced to anyone here in the US.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ole Redfeet

Today was my final morning in Nicaragua. I woke up tender and sore from the past two days of beach time with burnt everything (but especially my feet) and cuts up and down my legs from the smart decision of swimming with the rocks amongst a very strong tide. As physically sore as I am I move my way downstairs for a 6:30 am breakfast, devouring a plate of fruit before hopping onto our 7 am bus to Managua. Although my whole body hurts I am not thinking as much about it as I am about how the time has already arrived for departure back to the states. Even after exchanging hugs, going through customs and making it back to my home in the states I still haven't fully come to terms with the fact that I am no longer on Nicaraguan soil...guess the sand in my shoes will have to suffice.

Getting Prepared for the Return Home

 San Juan De Limay
  The beach in Leon is beautiful. The landscape and social context here are very different from the rest of the places I visited on this trip. It is nice to reflect on my time here and have the ability to be alone, but it is also alienating in a strange way. The hotel is not super busy, but the feeling I get from this place is odd. All Art of Solidarity participants are seen as North American tourists and nothing more. We are not part of anything; we are annoying guests who always have bills to large that need to be changed into smaller bills.  In Limay we were greeted every morning on the street by friendly faces curious about our classes for youth. Or we would be asked what time to be at the preschool to work on the mural. We ate breakfast and lunch cooked by Dona Nidia, an amazing award winning cook in her small restaurant in her living room. Relationships were formed and things such as Facebook and email make it possible to retain those relationships. We worked hand in hand with each other. We were simply people, we were not North Americans or Nicaraguan, just people. Life was different and hard. I will not over romanticize Limay because the truth is the town has problems, but in Limay someone was always there for you if you needed help. Many times you didn’t even have to ask, our friends were often intuitive enough to see when we were in distress. It’s often hard to articulate my experiences in Nicaragua to others.  I just know coming here always seems to balance and center me. It gives me the strength to pursue the difficult and often draining nonprofit work I do in Baltimore, another beautifully flawed city. 
Suyapa Beach Leon

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mis uñas

The night of the dance and closing reception/art show I decided to walk home early to spend the evening with my family instead of dancing. It was a great decision! I had a mini party with my host family. Alyeris my host sister bought a 3-liter of pepsi and once she returned to the porch with it, we all rejoiced in soft drinks and loud laughs. They also painted my fingernails, which was a special little exchange. All of the women in that household had beautiful nails that were extravagantly painted and decorated. I felt like one of them with my manicured floral-ey design. Choosing to spend that evening with them gave me a final night of wrapping up my stay at my host family’s house. It’s a fond memory to keep returning to and mis uñas still are a reminder of time spent in my favorite part of Nicaragua – San Juan de Limay - with my host family. 

Harmony amongst kids

Normally in the States, I wouldn’t be spending so much time around kids and even if I was I would let them do their kid thing and the interaction would be sparse. I never found myself doing much babysitting or being a camp leader or anything involved immediately with children. I feel like I can take home with me a new openness to youth and see their wondering eyes at me as eyes full of curiosity. I feel as though the positive social exchanges with youth in Limay helped me find a security about myself among children and helped me see more the way they see, eyes full of newness and curiosity ready to know more, do more, see more.

I am currently going through my photos of the different stages of the mural. I think about the children of Limay and their excitement to help paint. I especially can still feel their insurmountable, high levels of energy – positive energy – the energy of youth. Closing my eyes I can almost feel the chaos of children whizzing around me while I tried to focus on painting certain detailed areas. I’m remembering their eager attendance at the Preschool in hopes of being handed a paintbrush loaded with some vibrant color. For me, the opportunity to paint the mural was an opportunity of interaction more than anything. Getting to know the kids at the youth art workshops every morning in addition to working with kids on the mural made me open up a part of myself to the rest of the community. I came to see the rest of the community as an extension of those kids’ families. It softened my heart.

This photo is of two girls that came up to me in the park while I was working on some independent work in Limay. They were timid. They stood around me acting almost embarrassed but completely curious about what I was doing and who I was. I openly conversed with them and they began asking me about where I was from and why I was American but looked Asian. I explained to them my adoption story – as much as I could of it in Spanish – and they understood and nodded their head. It was the first time I had taken a moment to face a local people and tell them about my origin and heritage and verbally share a piece of my dual identity instead of letting them assume the things they may assume about a “chinita.” Even though I cannot be sure they understood fully what I was saying, I felt like judgment of all sorts  fell away at that point in time for both of us.

Even at my host family's house, there was a little girl (my host sister's daughter) about the age of 3 named what sounded to me like Luz Elena. She was standoffish the first week of my stay with her family. But slowly she began to be the one to bring me things like juice or what have you from the kitchen while I would sit outside on the porch with the rest of her family and talk. She would be sitting on the porch with us under the stars and pat my knee, or sometimes just look at me for long periods of time while she perched on her mother's lap and the rest of us yacked. On our last day in Limay, during our goodbye ceremony with the host families, she came up to me and kissed me on the cheek. And when we were loading up on the bus and I had found my seat on the bus I watched her wave and wave and wave to me. It was silent communication but a form of love, the same kind of love I found among the other children. 

A 5am Realization

My alram didn't go off, and I wasn't even planing it, but when I turned over and opened my eyes at 5:15 this morning something told me to get out of bed. Thinking about it now, it was probably my grandmom. She loved the beach! As kids we spent every summer at a shore house with her for the month of August. Something tells me it was her who made me go on this trip.

The sun changes so quickly in the morning, and it reminded me of myself on this trip. I too had to change quickly to fit in with what was going on around me. The beginning was rough for me but this morning as I walked along the Pacific coastline, I realized wasn't afraid of Nicaragua anymore. It feels like a new home, a new part of who I am and that change happened quickly, before I could even see it happening.

Half of our group flys out tomorrow while the rest of us are here for one more night. I'm torn. Half of me can't wait to get on a plane and head back home, but the other half of me is set in confusion. Nicaragua feels so much like home to me that that half doesn't want to leave. There's so much more to see and do, so much more to learn from this place. I never thought I would have this conflict, but now that I'm having it, I'm glad. It makes me feel that I learned something about myself here. And I know that's why my grandmother always told me to travel, she knew that I would grow and flourish from it before I had even thought about stepping foot outside of my comfort zone. I'm thankful for her encouragement and for the opportunity to have spent five long, intensive weeks in Nicaragua. By being here I've learned that my life isn't over if the power goes out, get outside and look at the stars dammit! Nicaragua has tought to me to stop fussing over things that are outside of my control. Just like the sun, I have to rise and fall no matter what the day brings.

Leon: A Reflection of Sorts

Today is the last full day I have here in Nicaragua before I board a plane tomorrow to head back to the states. It's unreal to think that the four and a half weeks we have spent here are now coming to a close. It feels as though we just boarded our bus entering Managua just last week! We have been in Leon for three days now and it has been a great chance to reflect upon all that has happened. I can't speak for everyone on this trip, but I know I am returning home a new person. I still have a lot to reflect upon and I am uncertain how the transition will be tomorrow returning to my native land. I am full of excitement and sadness all at once, returning to a family and friends that I have years worth of history with, but I am also leaving behind two other families I have built here (luckily one of which I will still have a chance to see back in the states). I am leaving behind the town of San Juan de Limay, one which holds many hearts that have captured my own. I am also parting with my newfound sisters and brother, whom I have been blessed to share my time with during this journey. I feel enthralled knowing I will always have a place with them, but this next step will be hard for me knowing that we won't have as much of each other during this time of incoming transition. I can only tell myself this isn't the end for me here, because in my heart I have a knowledge that I will return to this land and I can only hope it is one day soon. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

In closing: here and yet not here

Although the trip itself is not entirely over, we have entered a transitional period that feels surreal to me. I'm not at ease in spite of the fact that we're in a very beautiful and serene place, and it's hard to imagine what it will be like to be back in the United States in a matter of days. Fortunately today has been full of powerful opportunities to reflect and step outside myself to admire my surroundings. In a form of poetic justice,  this morning began with a profound and surreal experience on the rooftop of the basilica in Leon. The roof is being restored, and is so pristinely white that visitors are not allowed to wear shoes. As a result, the strong sunlight is reflected in a way that is truly blinding. At some moments it was altogether too much and I walked very slowly along the railing with my eyes closed. We commented at times that it seemed like we were in another country altogether, but I would venture that we were in another realm.

After we regained our sight, we boarded the bus to head to the pacific coast for two days of relaxation and reflection. We got to spend all afternoon in and out of the waves, and played cards and climbed on the rocks at sunset to witness this beautiful scene:

It's a truly amazing place to be, I just can't say that I'm 100% here. With all of the wonderful connections we've made on this trip, my heart feels like it's in many different places, pulled in many different directions at once; here and yet not here. 

“Just a short little hike”….

….Thorns, branches, cactus, barbed wire, super steep hills, andddd flip flops.

The morning we were scheduled to head out of San Juan de Limay back to Estelí, some of the kids we had made friends with including Hesarela, los gemelos (“caramelos”), and Noel all invited us to go on a hike up to the wooden cross at the top of one of the hills. I had woken up that morning and gone to breakfast wearing flip flops not remembering that we were going to go hiking.  I went on the hike anyhow.  It was much more than just a short little hike. There was no exact trail either. And flip flops made the venturing even more special, right Maria? But in the end once you reached the top and had made it to the cross, it all was worth it. Breathtaking view. All the homes of our host families were visible from the top of the mountain and the sky seemed to be etch-a-sketching pictures for us as we sat and watched the clouds move.
view of the town below

one of the "caramelos" gemelos sitting atop the cross! for an even more spectacular view

clouds on the move over the landscape. I miss that moment breathing the cleanest air and completely in my own thoughts thinking a lot of my mom and dad both

July 21st 2014

It has been a little over two weeks since the funeral I attended in Limay on July, 21st 2014. Attending a funeral is something I never expected on this 5-week trip.

On July 19th 2014 after attending the 35th anniversary of the 1979 Sandinista victory over the Somoza dictatorship,  two women were shot and killed on their way home from the celebration in Managua. Both women lived in Limay. One was young and one was middle aged, I didn’t know them. However, I was shocked and scared by what seemed to be senseless violence on the surface. The attack has since been labeled a terrorist attack used to instill fear in FSLN supporters. There have been many theories about the attack, what the plan was and where the funding was coming from. All I knew was that country that led me down my current life path was in pain.

It didn’t matter how removed I was from the situation, I needed to show my support. This was the first funeral I have been to since my Mother abruptly passed away a little over four years ago. It was hard to be there, seeing the suffering on faces and hearing the agonizing cries of family and friends of the victims was unbearable for me.  I understood how they were feeling oh so well. As hard as it was to be there, it was also easy. I saw a lot of humanity in people that day.
We all gathered, grieved and tried to move on. I came out of the experience ok, but I know there will be people who are forever traumatized. That day people lost mothers, sisters, aunts, and friends. I hope all those suffering find peace, but know eventually the town and people of Limay will move past this tragedy. If I have learned anything from traveling to Nicaragua,  it is that resilience is abundant here.

Marmolina reflection

(written July 25, 2014) 
Today was the first day of workshops with Oscar making Marmolinas. After a delicious lunch at Doña Nidia’s comprised of fresh salad, fried chicken, rice, beans, tortillas, and fresh juice, we all walked over to Oscar’s home where he also has his workshop. We started by making drawings of the sculpture we each wanted to make. Oscar advised us to make simple designs so that we would be able to finish them. Once we all had our designs we went over to Oscar’s pile of Marmolina and he helped each of us pick a piece of stone that he saw suitable for the design we each drew. For example, I drew a small image of a woman sleeping, just her head and her arms wrapped around her face in a gesture of peaceful slumber. Oscar found me a piece of Marmolina that had a flat bottom for an appropriate base and a rounded top part to accommodate the head and the arms wrapped around the face. The moment everyone had their Marmolina and a seat, Oscar put us all to work. He handed us each machetes to hack away any large areas of stone that needed to be removed in order to achieve our desired forms. From that point, he and his studio mates walked around helping and guiding each of us throughout the sculpting process. We worked for about three hours, from 3 pm after lunch until 6 in the evening.

As a painter, I found it to be a challenge working three dimensionally and thinking in the round. It was certainly interesting to take to sculpting again though since I had not carved anything since we had a day working with soapstone in 8th grade art class.

Watching Oscar hack away at the Marmolina, I started to get the hang of the physical motions of carving away pieces of the stone. I realized that it requires a great deal of force to carve, even for the fragile areas of the sculpture that one would assume needed a softer touch.

Here is the final result of working on sculptures for 1-2 weeks in the studio.