I was an awkward kid at age five. Each week at St Anthony’s primary school, we had the horrible activity of “health hustle”, a half hour aerobics session led by one of the teachers for everyone in kindergarten.
Unable to tie my shoelaces, I awkwardly changed from my pooh-brown Clarks (I so desperately wanted pointy shoes like the other girls) into my sneakers for the inevitable moment where we would dance to songs I wasn’t cool enough to know the words to.
The younger, cooler teachers used to favour Kylie Minogue’s “locomotion” and Carole King’s “I feel the earth move”. Mum wasn’t the biggest fan of Kylie Minogue so after months of begging, she bought us a different version: the Smurfs’ cassette tape, and we learnt the locomotion that way.
Carole King came later, in my teen years when I realised she was responsible for some of the music I liked the best – you know, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey (Don’t judge me).
But I digress.
This week, literally, we have felt the “earth move, under our feet”….
This week has been a strange week, filled with ups and downs, altas y bajas is what we say in Spanish. The heat has increased to a level where water on the ground almost vaporises. The walls of my room are thick concrete and as I ran my hands over them last night, it was like touching a warm cup of coffee. The fan in my room sounds like a WW2 fighter jet about to take off, and basically, it just blows hot air around the room. Before leaving the house today, the back of my neck and the bottom of my hair were already wet from sweat.
The closest I’ve come to airconditioning here consists of sitting in “ropa interior” after a shower for a minute or two in front of the fan.
I’m badly sunburned after an hour and a half walk in the barrio yesterday. I should learn my lesson, but I’m a little slow. I wore a hat, but it didn’t protect my neck or arms, so last night, I was feverish, hot and grumpy.
I’ve never had a cucumber facial or anything like it, but that was what the sisters recommended to me…cucumber and crushed tomato to refresh the skin.
But, my mood was lifted immeasurably by a beautiful two hour mass we had around the table in our house. The mass was celebrated by Basque Jesuit Zubi, who has been 30 years in Nicaragua. We were joined by the Rector of the UCA (University of Central America) Padre Chepe and a Jesuit scholastic. The mass was to celebrate the entering into postulancy of two Nicaraguan girls Wendy and Raquel.
This is their second “etapa” (phase) of the journey to enter the Company of Mary Our Lady, and both girls spoke movingly of the very present work of God in their lives.
Between tears of joy and sadness between Raquel and her mother, and the palpable sense of agape in the room, the atmosphere made me forget the headache and sting of the sunburn and enter into a sacred moment.
Afterwards, we shared a feast of fried tortillas with beans, chicken, cheese, cabbage and lettuce.
Life is different here.
I find myself all at once missing some of the comforts of home, my family, the cat, the Canberra weather; but so deeply happy here that there is no longer any anxiety.
It’ll sound strange, but since arriving in Nicaragua, I have found that paradoxically I’ve had no trouble sleeping and no moments of panic. It’s ironic that packed amongst my luggage are sleeping tablets and valium and the packets are basically full.
Yet, leading up to my trip in comfortable Canberra, I was profoundly anxious and irritable and short with everyone around me.
Life here is more difficult and intense, and is lived very much out loud. Music plays until late in the night and roosters start crowing at 4:30am. The noise can be a bit over the top, but I’m filled with a strange sense of calm.
My daily work keeps me more than busy, I’m finishing off four promotional videos for Redes de Solidaridad and teaching workshops in the afternoon at Colegio San Francisco Xavier (Fe y Alegria school).
The bajas are very real though.
I was moved to tears watching the funeral of Bishop Michael Putney, and the beautiful testimonies to his life from Archbishop Coleridge and others. I could only connect for bits and pieces on YouTube and have yet to watch the whole thing.
On Sunday, rather than going to the parish, we went for the first time to Batahola, which is the site of a weekly “Misa Campesina”, which is basically a “Mass of the People.”
In the end, they didn’t sing the famous “Vos Sos el Dios de Los Pobres” (You are the God of the Poor) Mass setting, (which is incidentally banned in Nicaragua, but still sung with gusto by the Italian volunteers I work with) but the wall-to-wall colourful mural was enough to keep me entranced for the duration of the mass.
Occasionally, the more bizarre occurrences keep me entertained.
The other day was a one-hour workshop on parasitosis and diarrhoea.
The practise of getting up at 5:30am and eating dinner at 8:30 at night is taking some getting used to; and remind me if I ever decide to go to the “Mercado Oriental” again that it is a bad idea.
(*This article is translated from Spanish and originally appeared on the Redes de Solidaridad blog on 5 April)
In Barrio Nueva Vida, the poverty is extreme. There is no doubt about that. In addition to this, the barrio is known as a place with various social issues.
As a result of this, different NGOs are present in the community, accompanying the people, walking with them and helping them to build a better future.
There are many ways in which one can help in this important work.
In Redes de Solidaridad (Solidarity Network), for example, volunteers come from lots of different countries. At the moment, the volunteers are Spanish, Italian and Australian.
I’m one of those volunteers, and my mission is in the area of communication. Through photography and videography, I am working with the people of the barrio to project and show a little of the reality of Nueva Vida, and also raise the consciousness of the problems, and the joys of this place.
There’s lots to be said for a simpler life. It can bring moments of gratitude for simple things.
Like, in place of air conditioning, sitting in shorts and a tank top with a bit of soapy water on your face; or the joy of slowly letting go of things.
St Ignatius in the spiritual exercises talks of disordered attachments. The nuns here say that my cat is my disordered attachment (affecto desordenada, or is it my affecta desordenado???)
Ignatius was referring to the things that keep us weighed down.
Like the story of the rich young man who, when confronted with the challenge to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor, went away sad.
Most of us do go away a little sad.
I went away from Australia a little sad that I hadn’t fulfilled my promise of packing light, taking three bags instead of two (which quickly became four….).
But little by little, shedding layers has been a lesson here for me.
I’m a bit like an onion at the moment. Peeling off layers, revealing hopefully, a purified version of myself.
Last week, with no notice, I taught a two hour journalism class to fifteen highschoolers.
I had, fortuitously brought along an iPad, a camera and my phone, though, I’m fairly convinced now that we could have managed with a piece of paper to share.
Such was the richness of the conversation that the lack of technology didn’t hinder us.
A few pieces of paper, some toilet paper rolls and a whiteboard marker is all we needed for a workshop with about 30 kids today.
Brazilian bishop Pedro Casaldaliga when interviewed by journalist Mev Puleo said the following:
“We need a civilisation of love and sharing, a certain sobriety that will be a model for our children. Nature teaches us this. You see the children of rich people who have lots of expensive, new toys in their house, and yet they get a stick, some twine and a tin can and make a horse! and all the toys that daddy bought just sit there.”
We become creative when we have little.
So, through this learning, I’ve been slowly letting go of trivial things. My favourite jumper, superfluous camera lenses.
But it is an important challenge which is posed for us in the short clip Landfill harmonic which looks at the group of young people in Cateura, Paraguay who have made an orchestra out of rubbish.
They have literally used recycled oil cans, coke cans, recyclable materials that had been thrown in the trash to create a symphony orchestra and, are currently touring with Metallica.
We might be able to let go, but to what extent do we remain attached? What do we count as rubbish? What do we know isn’t rubbish, but that we can live without?
And what ends up on our shoulders when we remove that weight we were carrying? Shedding the layers is important, but the how and why is important too.