Certainly the hurricane was a terrible experience that had drastic and lasting effects on Nicaragua. But for many it seems like just another in a series of serious difficulties in their lives. I think the hardest thing for me, after a year of living here, has been seeing the effects on people, especially women, who have little hope of moving beyond subsistence.
I live with a fairly typical family: a mother with a series of children by different and now-disappeared fathers. Each relationship represents an unfulfilled hope for respect and affection but most of all economic security—enough money to feed the kids and pay the bills.
The emotional atmosphere in my house fluctuates rapidly. Sometimes the mom has a boyfriend and some money appears. Everyone has a good meal, Mom laughs, the kids get kisses. But suddenly money is scarce again. Mom is tired, frustrated, and depressed. The kids get yelled at, threatened, and told they are worthless. For the kids and mothers life has always been this way. Most don’t have hope of anything different: there is not even the expectation of a good education, a living wage job, an egalitarian relationship, kids raised without shouting and hitting. Living with that desperation and tension in my house for a year has been eye-opening. And difficult.
But I am sustained by the Nicaraguans who work 12 hours a day to support their families and move their country forward. I think of the faculty at the Spanish school who at night teach adults to read; of my Cenzontle co-workers who study math or computers in the evening; of my neighbor who raises six grandchildren while her daughters work in Guatemala and Costa Rica, where factory jobs are available; of another neighbor who lost her parents when she was 13 and took over raising herself and younger siblings. I am sustained by the children who live in my house, their love and resilience, their capacity to be gentle to one another in spite of the violence done to them by the world.