Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Home for the Holidays

The weirdest thing about coming “home” (a term that keeps getting harder to define) to the States is…well, everything. We were last home 5 months ago and in the time between then and now have gotten more used to the way that things are done in Nicaragua. There’s a pleasant familiarity with the things in the States—along with an arrogant presumption that everything’s done better—but also an odd foreign feeling along with it. It’s like something distantly remembered. Nothing is quite the way that I expect it to be.

Policemen dress and carry themselves in a manner that commands respect, hot water comes out of the tap, lines are organized and no one cuts, public trashcans are numerous, traffic laws are more or less observed. The roads are smooth and only used by cars. The car we are driving here is a gasoline-powered automatic transmission sedan, not diesel-powered manual transmission SUV. I reach for a clutch that's not there, wait for the nonexistent ignition light to go off, and after the engine gently sneezes to life, the near silence makes me wonder if it's even on. The streets are wider, the trees are shorter, the toilets are taller, the doorknobs are lower. Houses have floors with carpet and bathrooms have bathtubs and sinks with stoppers. At the store, toiletries are cheap; at the restaurants, food is expensive. And above all, there’s so much unspoken trust and safety that I could just bask in it. You can walk around at night. You can leave a car parked outside without worrying about it.

At the heart of this is a fundamental difference in mentality. In the States (at least for most people), the infrastructure is such that someone is going to take care of you should you need help: policemen, social security, unemployment, homeless shelters, etc. Broken systems, but safety nets nonetheless that allow the freedom to take some risks with your possessions and your money.

In Nicaragua, few if any can hope in a system that will take care of them. Jobs are scarce, a living wage is scarcer, and enough people have learned that the most dependable way to survive is to take what they can get before someone else does. No one’s going to kindly let you in front of them on the road, too many people will cut in line to make waiting in an organized line practical. Bank accounts are hard to get, which means that if you set aside savings, you have cash in your house that can be taken. The police force is sadly underfunded and unaccountable, making it easy to commit crime—either without getting caught or by buying your way out.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this exactly, but these are the things that have been going through my mind in the 24 hours that we’ve been in the States. If you’ve read this far, what are your thoughts?


  1. Similar thoughts go through my head regarding life in Southeast Asia. Most of the stories children hear growing up in my country are stories about out-witting others, protecting your stuff, being on the lookout for evil men, and finding cunning ways to get away with stuff. Rather, stories Americans hear growing up emphasize fairness and justice.

  2. That's really interesting! I hadn't thought about what that looks like on a childhood level before: no Superman who helps the little guy and fights for "truth, justice, and the American way." Thanks for your thoughts.


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