Tuesday, March 31, 2009

cerro negro

Very few of us would jump into action at the offer to hike an “about to explode” volcano – but we were uncharacteristically brave this weekend! Or perhaps we were just characteristically unaware and uninformed. Regardless, on Saturday morning Mose, Nikki, Christina, Jed, Michael, and I hopped into the car – ready to roadtrip it to León and face the wrath of volcano Cerro Negro. After arriving to the (really sweet!) hostel and wandering the winding streets of this colonial town, we met up with Wilbur, our guide… and our soon-to-be new favorite Nicaraguan man.

Wilbur (self-described as “short and brown”) led our crew to the foot of Cerro Negro… and then essentially straight up it. The mountain is literally a black sand dune rising 2,400 feet into the air, rockier on the “climp up” side and finer on the “slide down” side. After an hour and a half of trekking uphill and exploring heat vents in the crater, breathing in sulfur, and sticking our hands in oozing hot nooks and crannies, we prepared ourselves for the slide/fall/run down to the base. And it was awesome! – (although it lasted less than five minutes). With the adrenaline pumping and shoes full of sand, we felt like we were flying…

In the car on the bumpy ride back to the hostel, while joking with Wilbur and trying unsuccessfully to clean the grime off all exposed skin, we spoke of what a matchless experience the Cerro Negro hike was. The whole place had felt wild, almost outer-space-like. There were no other humans around; no signs or ropes or railings. We hadn’t filled out a waiver or signed our lives away. It was just simple… call the random Nica guide and then explore. In such a straightforward and minimalistic procedure there shines forth an unpretentious simplicity, one that has ceased to exist in the United States. And we found that refreshing; yet it would have been nice to know that "the volcano will explode any day now."


Friday, March 20, 2009

a new kind of dance party

It may seem oxymoronic to place a costly sound system within a pile of garbage, to pair a Northamerican college student with a dirty Nicaraguan child, or to see joyful dancing within a neighborhood of need. But last week within the trash mountains of La Chureca, Dia de Luz (Day of Light) called for a partnering of such opposites. Love, Light & Melody is an organization that works within the Managua municipal dump, loving on its inhabitants and seeking to serve them as they encourage both adults and children to seek a better life. Founded by musician Brad Corrigan (originally of Dispatch), this group plans Dia de Luz each year with the intent of bringing gringo and Nica together, uniting us as humans, and manifesting a joy through music that celebrates life.

This concert by Braddigan (the name of Brad’s current band, inspired by and centered around La Chureca) was preceded by many events throughout the week intended to connect and serve dump families. Many Manna PDs, along with a spring break group from UNC-Wilmington, were invited to assist in planting flowers around homes and participating in field games. Gringo and Nica dug together, played together, and ultimately danced together as the week drew to a close with the concert. And in this final event there was something surprisingly powerful. Set before a backdrop of garbage and smoke, Brad sang of walls falling down and the hands of a mighty creator. And filling a dusty field before the stage were people from the dump and the suburbs, from the developing world and the first world, from dirt floor shacks and air conditioned mansions. With dirty feet and painted faces, people tossed water in the air and danced hand-in-hand, perhaps oblivious to the the juxtaposition they formed, but fully aware of the delight found in unity and music.

The following day as Braddigan played a benefit concert at a beach hotel, he spoke of the need to bring the poorest of the poor to an ocean resort and the wealth holders of the world to a destitute dump. All people should be allowed to witness the beauty of the beach – and the beauty within a neighborhood of trash. Brad spoke of bringing our worlds of difference together and how significant it might be to break down the disparity between rich and poor and to expose each extreme to the struggles and splendors of the other. We are handicapped by the layers of separation existing within our globe, those that are perhaps forced to exist in order to maintain an apathetic comfort. So what a striking and influential picture Dia de Luz was in revealing for a moment the beauty of differences broken down in order to witness a union of humanity!

I can now confidently say that dance parties with trash and face paint are my new favorite kind…


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

sb09, nicaragua-style

For some college students, spring break means seven days of sun-tanned, alcohol-sodden fun. But for those who make the trek down to Managua, the week is far from parties and carefree lounging (although we throw a bit of that in too!) The arrival of Vanderbilt last weekend marked the beginning of Manna’s spring break season. Each week of March welcomes one or two groups of university students who live and serve alongside PDs in order to connect passionate young people in the States to the faces and hearts of the developing world.

Vandy’s group arrived eclectic and enthusiastic, excited to jump into life here. The week began with an overnight trip to Laguna de Apoyo and led into busy days shadowing literacy and math classes, helping in English groups, and co-teaching women’s exercise. The group witnessed La Chureca, planned a community-wide field day, and ate with a Nicaraguan family. And amidst, or perhaps despite, such a packed schedule, these students really loved on the Nica kids as if they’d be present here beyond a simple seven days. With stickers and candy and hugs and games, gringo and Nica came together over goofy photo shoots and four square competitions and semi-crazy (totally chaotic!) water balloon tosses. Yet with the culmination of the trip around a campfire Friday night on the beach, I realized how their reflection could so spur my own.

As the leaders of this Vandy group, Kyle and I walked away from the week with a new delight and fervor for life here. It is both gut-wrenching and incredibly precious to accompany someone as they witness a place as real and as injust as La Chureca. Leading these wide-eyed students through the mounds of trash, through the smoke and vultures, past the dirty children with their light hair and distended bellies, I was compelled to behold it all anew. And to see it with fresh eyes was to see it with a vulnerable heart, with a renewed sensitivity to the fact that life in this place is neither good nor right. Over the past seven months here, of entering this “neighborhood” within a dump twice a week, my emotions have become impervious, somehow indifferent to the poverty of this place. I used to cry; now it seems normal. And in this way I see the entries of these spring break groups as an immense gift – they keep us zealous and passionate, each time offering us new eyes through which to see the world we serve.

Thank you thank you, Vandy.