These past few days at Centro de Mujeres Ixchen have been so enriching that I don’t even know where to start. The community of women who work in the organization are strong, independent, very sweet, amiable, and guided with a definitive sense of purpose in their work. The mission and services of the center are highly known in the city and beyond as I have found through a variety of interactions ranging from family to strangers who recognize that I’m not a native.
Pasantia is a new vocab word that I learned from Tania, the human resources coordinator of the organization who I have been in contact with since early December. From what I deduced as she eagerly led me through their administrative building and later on clinic and legal offices pasantia means something along the lines of internship. In each introduction I was greeted warmly with a light kiss on the cheek as is the custom here in Nicaragua when saying hello to family or friends. The two centers I have visited of the nine that the organization has are painted pink and purple with female silhouettes decorating the walls and radiating a certain sense of comfort and safety in an otherwise uncertain city.
Because I have a short 6 week visit I decided along with Tania to focus my attention on the development of a project that will measure the effectiveness of the services offered as well as a more nuanced research of the results of the program Alianza. My first few days were occupied with office work generating indicators of success, surveys to measure the indicators, and interview questions for a more in-depth understanding. Today I was finally able to interact with the usuarias (usuarias is the name given by the centro to the women who benefit from the services) and start my research. Throughout the day I saw how diverse the group of women who benefited from the center were; they varied in age, socioeconomic status, frequency of visits, and the service they were inquiring among other things. As I sat at the reception desk asking usuarias to fill out the survey women who both worked for Ixchen or were coming in for a service asked about my stay in Managua and shared with me some of their experiences and pastimes. The most striking was a fourteen year old girl who came in for prenatal care from a town on the outskirts of the city carrying herself with the self-assurance of an adult. Her curiosity and ease sprouted for me the thought that the richness of the center lies in the constant sharing of stories.
According to my grandma the quote of the title are words from Ruben Dario describing the United States (not sure if they are or not because I couldn’t find the direct quote online but it does not mean that her knowledge is less valid hehe). Ruben Dario was a Nicaraguense poet who is said to have led the Spanish-American literary movement of modernismo. After only being here about a week I can see where he’s coming from. I’ve never had fruit so simultaneously sweet and strange.
Can I play with you pweassseee?
Shortly after arriving I spent the weekend in Masachapa, a beach town about an hour away from the city. We left Friday night and throughout the bumpy and poorly lit ride to the beach my family told me about a finca we passed by on the road that was haunted. Each encounter of those who had gone in to try and live there after the owner disappeared was scarier than the previous one. I had goosebumps as they eerily told me a story about the brother who took over the finca. Supposedly once the original owner disappeared the brother was going to kill a cow one day to eat. Just as he was about to butcher it the cow spoke and said “hermano soy yo, no me mates” (brother it’s me don’t kill me). I was spooked once we got to our destination. I struggled to fall asleep in the cold air conditioned room but when I woke up I saw all of the beauty that was hidden in the darkness the night before.
The sun shone perfectly on the coconut trees and reflected the waves of the beach in the distance. As I drank my cafe con leche for breakfast I listened to the local town gossip that my grandma was catching up on. After breakfast and some swimming in the pool we went into the town to buy some fish. Marisqueria Jasmina was run by none other than Jasmina a woman who proudly said she had lifted herself into her position from her own merit after struggling through poverty when she became pregnant with her first child at 13 years old. She shared her narrative with no reservations and prompted me to take pictures. I learned the struggles of her oldest daughter as she talked openly about them with my grandma. Taking pictures I thought about my position behind the lens and although I asked the individuals who were working if I could take pictures of them I felt invasive and exploitative after each photograph. I worried about objectifying and generalizing the poor. All the while my family told me not to be shy “Toma foto! Toma foto para que vea la gente como se trabaja aca!” (take pictures so that they see how hard people work here). In opposition to Jasmina whose life story I knew the boys who worked gutting fish did not even share their names. I watched as they worked and wondered their narratives. In retrospect asking the questions that were left unanswered would have worked in demystifying their experience and given them voices of their own; somewhat leveling the hierarchy that exists between the photographer and the subject being photographed. The weekend taught me to take pictures that not only prompt the viewer to question what’s beyond the borders of the image but also to see the individual in the photograph as a dynamic participant in the production of what the image implies.
Mangos y Mamones en Nicaragua.