August 27, 2013

Trauma and Managua

Managua is a city with historical trauma.  Trauma from natural disasters, civil wars, economic poverty, government corruption, unemployment issues, you name it and unfortunately it is most likely found here.

These events and/or situations create what social scientists name “multi-layered trauma,” basically one bad event after another, all accumulated on top of one-another and often not worked through or processed.

Because of this history, most tourists don’t stay in Managua for long.  Travel guides tell visitors to pass right on through.  And if your flight doesn’t allow you to leave the city immediately, only stay for one night.

And this is where we live.

At first I was worried (as many of you might recall) that we were moving to a city that has “nothing good to do or see.”  That was all that I encountered in all of my readings before our arrival.

But this has changed over time.  Managua is the heart of Nicaragua – it’s culture, it’s history and it’s people.

The people of this city do have stories, many of them have seen and lived through countless difficulties and traumatic events.  They keep on going, they are beautiful and resilient individuals, but there is often a lot of unresolved pain.

The city itself doesn’t stand out with it’s “beauty,” but I promise you, beauty can be found – in the eyes and hearts of the people.  The courage and grace of these ordinary people, and the desire to be whole again is a great resource, but one that is often unrecognized.  The very people and places most ravaged by this “multi-layered trauma” can be the most powerful resources in the painstaking work of rebuilding communities and reconstructing nations.  I hope that we as aid and development workers can recognize the capacity in the people around us – they are the greatest resource to this country.

To read more about the psychological impact of multi-layered trauma in Nicaragua, click below:

Being Sensitive to Trauma in Humanitarian, Development Aid by Carolyn Yoder

Living and Surviving in a Multiply Wounded Country by Martha Cabrera

Child Traumatic Stress Network - see page 7

How to Heal? by Adam Shank

Trauma-Sensitive Development and Humanitarian Aid by Carolyn Yoder

August 19, 2013

When a Five Year-Old Tells You He is Hungry

A couple of weeks ago we were working hard in the kitchen, preparing a nice dinner for some friends and getting ready for a seminary lunch that we were hosting at our house the next day. Kevin walked across the street to buy some dish soap and pop (you can't have people over without having pop and/or juice) when our five year-old neighbor boy Pablo (name changed for confidentiality) told Kevin that he was hungry. He asked if he could come over and climb up our mango tree to pick some mangoes that he and his family could have for supper. Kevin welcomed him over and they worked together to collect a bag of mangoes for Pablo to bring home.


I stood at the sink, washing our dishes with our newly acquired dish shop with tears in my eyes. No child should go hungry, no adult should go hungry. Here we are right in the heart of it, needs all around us, but our kitchen always seems stocked and our bellies always have more than enough.  I put together a little bag of bananas and other fruits that Pablo could bring back to his house.  And yet, I knew that we aren’t getting to the root of it.

Pablo and his family live in the corner "house" of our street. "House" doesn't really give justice to what they live in. Basically it is a room for rent system. Families who are moving into the city generally rent a room until they can find a more stable place to live. There are dirt floors, a shared bathing area and a very primitive kitchen (no fridge, no stove, firewood for cooking). They share their home with ten to twenty other people, depending on the day.

As I continued to reflect I began thinking of a birthday party that we attended back in December.  Pablo was invited to the party, but his family was not.  The party hosts were serving Arroz a la Valenciana, a special Nicaraguan dish.  Pablo had a plate in front of him, but insisted that he was not hungry.  After a while, when nobody was looking, I saw him run his plate of food over to his dad who was standing out in the street.  It seemed like they had a mutual understanding of what needed to happen.  A couple hours later, when we left with a plate of warm leftovers, Pablo was standing outside.  I offered him what I had and he gladly took it.  I hope that it filled his tummy that evening.

When Kevin and I discussed the situation after he and Pablo picked mangoes, he reminded me not to feel guilty, but to act, to remember why we are here, to share and love those around us.  There are people hungry and hurting in all of the corners of this earth, and though you most likely do not have a mango tree growing in your front yard, I am sure that you can find a way to offer your blessings and gifts to those around you.

August 4, 2013

Living Here as a Privilege

Most of our friends, family and community that we interact with both here in Nicaragua and in the United States comment on what a sacrifice we are making to live here for three years.  Yes we miss our loved ones, dark chocolate, ethnic food, bicycles and the list could go on and on.  Going without many things that we had grown accustomed to is difficult, however, our time here is also helping us see how much we took for granted, the privileges and easiness that is afforded to so many people in the U.S.  Thus, we are recognizing that our Nicaraguan experience is more of a privilege as opposed to a sacrifice as we are given the opportunity to reconfigure our worldview through the process of building relationships with people from a culture other than our own.

We don't know many people who have the opportunity to live and work abroad for this period of time.  While living here in Nicaragua we are given the gift to live cross-culturally, learn a new language and political system, build meaningful friendships and learn and grow in this beautiful community that we find ourselves in.  Our life today allows us to sweat in the hot Managua sun, eat amazing fritanga food, interact with some of the most incredible and resilient individuals we have ever met, ride the bus routes and teach in classrooms that we could have only ever dreamed of.  Our experience has given us the opportunity to see and understand our great world through the eyes of the other and for this we will be forever grateful.  Our hope is that in this experience we can be transformed and that the people we meet will be as well; as we live life together.  It is a privilege to be here and we are so thankful, we would decide to do it all over in a heartbeat.