I’ve been back for about two weeks now and this final post has been lingering in drafts on my notebook and laptop since arriving on US soil in Houston.
In the middle of my experience when all of the narratives of suffering I heard were overwhelming me the only thing I could think about was being back home. Now that I’m here surrounded by those who care for me, and I missed deeply, I feel out of place. Just as out of place as I felt when I was foreign. Something at home is not the same. The home of old friend, new friend, family, lover, stranger, self are all lacking. It’s like I was surprised by the sameness of it all because I didn’t expect for me to be different.
I hope this isn’t confused with me feeling some self-rietious superiority of consciousness because of my experience, it’s more like I have to learn my reality again and I didn’t expect to have to do that. And of course there was the initial excitement of being back; the joy of being welcomed and the “look what I brought you” of unpacking. Now that it is has all faded though inside there’s a constant flow of questioning and comparisons of then and now; differences taking center stage. Outside I can only give apathetic, or artificial to minimize hurt. Reconciling that there are multiple realities that exist and must be navigated left me feeling too heavy for my surroundings at the present moment.
So Nicaragua, and Ixchen more specifically, have provided for me a search for authenticity that I didn’t know wasn’t present in my endeavors until I was forced to compare myself with the genuine in the life of those that I met and got closer to this summer. I’m sure my transition of arriving isn’t over yet but right now my hope is that I don’t lose the insight I gained during the stages to come that take me further away from the point of arrival.
Because of my limited access to internet these past few days and then the forgetting of my notebook at a distant center my experiences with Ixchen have all jumbled up into scattered thoughts because so much has happened. I guess I’ll start with the quote that titles the post.
On July 1st after spending the morning doing interviews and surveys at the Ixchen center in Tipitapa which is about 40 minutes away from the city I was invited to come along and help with the project Prevensida. As soon as I stepped back into the administrative office in Managua I was rushed into the car where I ate my lunch on our way over to the site. Let me backtrack; Prevensida is an one hundred percent donor funded project that allows Ixchen to go out into communities at high risk for HIV and provide tests, counseling, and condoms.Crowded in a pick-up truck we went out into neighborhoods in Managua where there were sex workers. The first group of women we approached were sitting outside under a mango tree shading themselves from the hot afternoon sun. As I followed behind Raquel, the Ixchen educator, to help with taking down basic information from the willing participants I wondered what my mom would say if she knew where I was at. I quickly brushed away the thought and Raquel proceeded to give what seemed to be her usual shpeel about Prevensida and Ixchen that turned uneasy glances to trusting strides towards the truck where the tests were to be done.
Throughout the experience I mostly felt out of place not knowing how to comfortably speak colloquially with the group of women as the Ixchen team did. I also noticed the paradoxes of the country where therapeutic abortions are illegal because of the strong Christian beliefs of those in power and yet sex work is legal. Throughout the city and beyond one finds banners and posters of the president Daniel Ortega with his slogan for Nicaragua: “Cristiana, Socialista, Solidaria”.
The, what seemed to me as, irony of ideology was no better reflected then in the second place we visited to conduct tests. The establishment that was called a bar but seemed to be a brothel (because of the sex worker waitresses and ready rooms) had a sign at the entrance that read, “Dios Bendiga Este Negocio”, and a giant painting of Jesus in a living room looking place with an adjacent altar of lit candles to multiples saints.
As I took down names, birthdays, etc of the women who would be given tests they shared their anxieties and appreciation for the service provided by Ixchen. They inquired more about what the center did and as the list was coming to a close end those who initially refused to take the test signed up as well. Once we were done there and piled ourselves back into the cramped truck the educators began sharing funny anecdotes from that day that then led to more stories from the past. There were giggles and interruptions as the driver weaved through the congested Managua streets and we munched on picos. During this time of laughter Claudia, another educator, stops and tells me that when I go back to the US I have to tell everyone that I met a group of women “que no ganan pero gozan”. Thus the title. And there lied yet another paradox: women who were dedicating their lives to helping other women legally, physically, and psychologically were ill paid.
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.