Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Extreme Nica

Another day, more manifestations of common Nicaraguan themes. Perhaps the hardest to avoid is the inseparable relationship of extremes, particularly regarding the scale of wealth. Granted, every place on Earth has both rich and poor people, but I have not seen wealth and poverty coexist in such close proximity to each other like I have here.

My time with the kids is a good example of this tumultuous marriage. Before I come each day they spend their time washing car windshields, begging for a Cordoba or two. Then, for about an hour and a half or two hours each day, they have lunch and hang out with me. Juxtaposing merely their physical locations, the street and the Western-style mall, allows one to see this dichotomy. Although the mall and the street on which they work are a mere 200 yards apart, the figurative distance is virtually infinite. This, alone, is a striking comparison.

What I think is more interesting, though, is comparing their responsibilities. For most of the day they are forced to be adults, forgoing the innocence and joy of childhood and facing poverty head-on. For a few hours each day, though, they can simply be kids. I’m encouraged that they still maintain the ability to have fun, be silly, and cause some trouble in the midst of their situations. Watching them eat their lunches, wear their goofy hats, play on the mechanical toys, and scream for ice cream reminds me that they have still are just kids.

Spending time with Ninoska today provided a poignant tangible example of this abstract notion. Initially she refused to join us for lunch, saying she had to keep working. Eventually she caved, however. She is usually the most overtly happy kid, but today she wouldn’t touch her food and spent the meal with her head buried in her arms on the table. My repeated questioning of what was wrong was always met with her simply shaking her head.

I got Kevin to explain her sadness, though. He told me that she wants to go to school tomorrow, but doesn’t have the 100 Cordobas (approx $5.50) for the month of school. While all of the other kids are attending school Ninoska has not been this fall, claiming that her school doesn’t offer her grade until January.

Armed with this knowledge I tried to ask Ninoska about the issue but realized that she didn’t want to talk about it. Although my Spanish is clearly very limited I tried to tell her that I think education is very important and that I wanted to help her go to school. She repeatedly told me that I spend too much money on her already and that she was sorry, but she couldn’t allow me to help.

With my heart broken (another common theme) I pushed hard only to find my efforts repulsed with equally-strong determination. Eventually she offered a compromise – she would accept my money if I agreed not to buy her lunch tomorrow. Finally I got her to accept, very unwillingly, the money and lunch tomorrow. Hopefully she can go to school tomorrow. I'm not confident in my interpretation of the situation, though, so we'll see.

Ninoska’s situation is a perfect representation of the result of the clash between her fleeting youth and prematurely-developed adulthood. She is selfless to a fault; not wanting to receive my assistance even though I sincerely want to give it to her. At the same time, though, she is still a child so naturally she allowed her emotions to get the best of her. Today’s events demonstrated how these two extremes of development can truly coexist.

On a lighter note, here are some less-intense highlights of the past few days:

-I went to the market today after lunch. I got a haircut (for about $1.50), bought some gifts, and drank some juice out of a plastic bag after ripping it open with my teeth.

-Yesterday a father-son team of clowns performed on my bus. It was very entertaining despite the fact that I understood about 7% of their skit. Bus performers are not uncommon here. Many give some sort of monologue then go around asking for a Cordoba. Sometimes I encounter guys preaching the Bible out loud, too.

-I forced myself to sit through the painful Ravens’ game Monday night. I could probably devote another whole blogsite to my opinions on the Ravens but, for your sake, I will merely say that if Billick doesn’t turn to Boller this weekend I will be quite upset.

-I somehow managed to pass my Level III Spanish test.

-Yesterday I found out that a coffee shop I go to sometimes offers delicious salads. I thoroughly enjoyed eating fresh vegetables.

-We will be home one week from tomorrow. We’re excited to see everyone!

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