Normalcy is here, but in a very different way

by Mark Pleiss

Well, I’m sitting in my room again, and yes, it’s still hot as hell.

April is the hottest month in Managua. Temperatures right now are bobbing up-and-under 100 degrees, while I feign for just one early-April Iowa spring breeze.

But, as my new swarthy skin can show you, our bodies are adapting, and life has somehow taken a turn toward normalcy. Our neighborhood is starting to look a lot like ours back home, the people don’t seem quite as different and we hardly even notice the obnoxious fruit vendor that drives his truck with the speakerphone attached to it yelling all the names of the different fruits he’s selling.

Though we have settled into a routine, it’s nothing like what I’ll fall into again next fall. I spend my mornings at the Nicaraguan newspaper, La Bolsa de Noticias, where I tag along with a political journalist and help cover the news.

Because of the upcoming presidential election here, I’ve spent most of the time covering what the politicians are doing, which one time even involved attending a small gathering for one of the liberal candidates in the basement of the country’s chief political building.

There were fat guys with fat cigars all dressed nicely in shined shoes, black pants and flower shirts. Their young blonde wives stood around in the other room talking politics, and numerous people were shaking my hand – I felt like Johnny Depp in “Blow,” minus the cocaine.

But though many things have become typical for us, there is always at least one thing we see every day that shocks us. In a class presentation concerning poverty in Nicaragua, sophomore Tracy Robson pointed out that a very small percent of the population has almost all of the country’s money, leaving nearly 80 percent of the people in Nicaragua to live under the poverty line – below two American dollars a day.

A great example of this was when I drove by the Managua dump where one can find an entire neighborhood of human beings that actually live, eat and play in a rancid hump of waste that extends for miles.

And as I’ve learned from my travels, there’s only one way to comprehend things like this, and it’s certainly not through photos or television that can be shut off and forgotten.

One has to smell the trash and see the kids to even begin to understand how the United States and a few other northern industrialized nations really are the exceptions – not the way the world “really works.”

Every trip we take, whether it be to our internships or our weekend trips to different parts of the country, we constantly see the rusty neighborhoods of sheet-metal houses. We see the mothers washing their clothes and bathing their kids in the same river, and we’re always bombarded with beggars.

Because of all this, I’m a much different person than the one who wrote the first column. During that time, I was confused about a lot of the things I was seeing – and especially my role in what is going on down here. But after being around it and studying it for so long, I now have a better idea of how I fit into this world and what it is I as an individual need to do to help it.

And to me, this is good news. It shows how people can go from ignorant, to just feeling bad for it, to actually doing something. Most importantly though, this isn’t learned overnight, it takes a process – and it’s certainly not one that takes place in a three-star hotel in Europe for three weeks.

As a part of President John Byrd’s new plans directed toward having more diversity at Simpson, special emphasis needs to be given to international travel through the southern unindustrialized countries. Though it won’t necessarily bring in more minorities, it will cultivate the same cultural-learning the much sought-after minority students bring.

But, everything here isn’t always so heavy. We’re learning and seeing all this, but we also still haven’t sold all of our worldly possessions. We still enjoy the privileges of going out, taking trips to remote islands with crystal waters and even eating capitalist-sized portions of lobster.

It’s scary to think we only have about a month left, and now I’m starting to wonder what that first month home is really going to be like.