Enough clutter. Enough confusion. Enough complications.

29 June 2012

La Lucha Sigue


I love Nicaragua. The last sunrise I see in Nueva Segovia (for now...) is going to be bittersweet. As my service comes to a close though, I find thoughts like “almost done, almost done” running through my head. I'm excited to move back to the States and spend time with my family. There are things that are important to me that just aren't part of my life here. Still, there is a part of that thought— almost done— that I'm not quite happy with.

From very early on in my service, I realized that my life in Nicaragua was not going to be the experience of living in poverty. I have earned too much yesterday (even if I don't use it) and I will earn too much tomorrow (even if I can't use it) to feel truly poor today. Plus, my Peace Corps stipend is designed to be sufficient and is reliably deposited at the end of every month; I have phenomenal health care; and if it comes down to it, I can always quit. No, my experience was never going to be living in poverty. Instead, it was going to be living with people living in poverty. It was not going to be living with uncertainty, but living with people living with uncertainty. And that is exactly what it has been. I have done my best to be of use to my community, but most of the time I am more student than teacher.

I knew something about development before I came to Nicaragua. I could tell you all sorts of stuff about the most cost-effective intervention to avoid pregnancy in teens in Kenya (educating them about the dangers of relationships with older men). I could write ten pages on when subsidizing uptake costs makes sense and when it doesn't. I can still cite you those facts and more. What I can't do is put what I've learned over the last two years in such pithy form. They weren't the kind of lessons that are easy to use to justify policy decisions. They're the kind of lessons that make you love a place and a community and, at the same time, say “I can't wait to go home”. I've learned a lot of them, but even so I know I've only scratched the surface. The surface, however, is deep enough to remember that life in my community is not going to change a bit whenever I take my leave of J√≠caro. The issues that are so important to life here, and to so many communities in developing countries around the world, have not improved a whole lot during my two years in Nicaragua. What's more, they exist and are often ignored in the home I'm going back to in a way that is just as pressing as in the home I'm leaving.

Yeah, I'm a bit burnt out. I'm looking forward to sitting around the fire with people I've missed and catching my breath. But “almost done”? No, hombre. No se termina la lucha; la lucha sigue.

20 June 2012

Sencillo?


For some time now I've been struggling with the idea behind this blog. At the moment I'm re-reading all my posts over the last two years to see if they at all fulfill the mandate that I set for blog two years ago. The idea was something like this:

Things are not as complicated as we like to make them. We clutter life up on purpose in order to avoid boredom, feel important, and to avoid dealing with certain things in their true form. When you strip away the trappings what lies beneath is more, well, sencillo.

I know I am guilty of hiding behind complexity. If we are ever talking and I try to end an explanation by saying “it's complicated”, please call me out on it. It usually means I'm confused and don't want to admit it. I use similar tactics in my mind and heart to avoid dealing with things that I read or see, especially with regard to poverty. You would think that an odd problem for a self-identifying “development economist” but I think you would be mistaken. It is, in my mind, our Achilles' heal, this desire to explain everything away and reduce things to a series of equations and variables.

I have many friends that work in impoverished areas around the world. Some are academics, some work in Christian missions, some work for organizations with humanitarian missions, some are on short term projects like the Peace Corps, and some have made life-long commitments. In all of these endeavors I have witnessed things that I both admire and question. I envy those who are not afraid to care enough to have their heart broken repeatedly. I admire those who see something that needs done and, quite simply, figure out how to get it done. I am frustrated by good intentions causing more harm than good for lack of cultural understanding or research. I am maddened by inertia, vested interests, and bureaucracy standing in the way of efforts that would achieve positive results. And I am disenchanted with those who (as I sometimes find myself wanting to do) think they can look down from above it all and explain it away.

All of this leads me back to the idea behind the blog. Is it true? Are things simple and we make them complicated? I know I've fought the temptation for the last year to write a series of entries called “Not-so-sencillo” in which I let loose all of the complicated emotions that build up as I walk through life in Nicaragua. Truth is, however, the topics of those entries would have truly been simple. It would have been my responses to them that were complicated.

I think I still believe in Sencillo as an idea, as an ideal, and as the name of my future coffee shop. As a blog, however, I do not. Not my blog, anyway. I will leave it to other, more capable, minds and pens to show us the simple side of life. I hope to keep writing, but it will need to be under a different banner. For most people, however, this blog has not been about the sencillo ideal but about my time in Nicaragua. In that regard I am not quiet finished. I have one month and two posts left. I plan to enjoy the month, I hope you enjoy the posts.