Saturday, October 24, 2009

Climate Change, Miskito Style

Yesterday, I attended an all-day workshop on climate change with the other teachers of Escuela Maureen Courtney. It focused on the climate change and the rights of indigenous peoples. In Nicaragua and in other places, the government has used "environmental protection" as a reason for appropriating indigenous lands for activities like reforestation. Primary focal points for countries like Nicaragua are adapting to the realities of climate change, which have already greatly damaged the people's livelihoods, and recognizing that they are not the primary cause of this damage. They are looking to foster sustainable development while holding developed countries like the US accountable for their role in climate change.

During the second half of the day, four women who are working in rural communities to help them understand climate change discussed how the Miskito and Sumu women have merged the science of climate change with their own religious beliefs. As they explained:

In the past, the Unta Dawanka prohibited us from hunting more than our fair share. The mermaids took care of the river. The gnome, the eyes of the water, took care of the trees. Every tree had its owner, and one had to ask the owner permission before removing branches or cutting down a tree. If we did not obey, the owners of the forest would punish us. We have lost this way of thinking. We have come to believe that Caoba trees are valued only in money. The owners of the forest are angry.

I'm going to talk with the religion teacher about adapting some of these women's thinking and strategies into the religion classroom to teach environmental stewardship. I don't know how open she is to incorporating non-Christian spirituality, and I know I don't have the knowledge base to do so, but there are people in the community who do. It seems like the job of religion class to impart their knowledge, albeit in a Christian context.

Towards the end of the workshop, they showed us this really cool video. It's in Spanish, but it's pretty easy to follow:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The Miskito independence movement Wihta Tara has been marching for about three days, and the entire town has more or less shut down (though some of that may be because it´s raining so much). I heard that there were people throwing stones and pro-Sandinista folks lighting tires on fire down at the central park, but this entire part of town is quiet now. The Wihta Tara headquarters, which is also referred to as the Miskitia embassy, is only two blocks south of our house. There was a police blockade by it earlier. Police were grabbing young men as they walked by and pulling up their shirts to see if they carried any weaponry, but besides that everyone was mostly just standing around and waiting.

The conflict has brought out a lot of the racial tensions in the city. Creole and mestizo folks have very strong prejudices against the Miskitos. On Sunday, we were eating lunch at the house of a mestiza woman we are helping with some English translations when Wihta Tara marched by the first time. She explained to me that they were mostly thieves, delinquents, and people who generally didn´t want to work. Despite Wihta Tara´s emphasis that they are a nonviolent movement, they seem to be widely perceived as violence-obsessed. I think both sides have some truth in their versions. The man in charge of trash collection, whom we had spoken to the day before, explained that Wihta Tara was a bunch of old people who wanted to go back to the days when people hunted with bows and arrows.

He did also make the point that the original Miskito monarchy which Wihta Tara is trying to reinstate was only a puppet of the British government, anyhow. The presence of imperialism on the Atlantic Coast is interesting this way. It has long taken the form of economic conquest, even when political conquest was the primary form of empire elsewhere in the world. However, it is the political conquest of the past 100 years, and especially the last 30, by the Nicaraguan government that has the local people up in arms.

The politics are accompanied by the economic reality that the wealthy here tend to be Creole and especially mestizo, and the Miskito people tend to be poor. This is especially visible in the two schools where we work. The private Catholic school is overwhelmingly Mestizo and Spanish-speaking. Several of the teachers characterize the students as spoiled rich kids (comparatively) who expect to live off their parents´money and don´t feel the need to learn or be respectful. My experience teaching there does not lead me to disagree. The kids at Maureen Courtney, the special needs school, are predominately Miskito (because, according to one mestiza woman, the Miskito parents don´t care for their kids as well).

All of this makes for a mildly uncomfortable position for me as an outsider. Though they do think I am monied, no one really bears any grievances against me as a white person or American. All their resentment is for one another. This is, in the end, the legacy of European imperialism on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Critters in My House

Everywhere. Always in the kitchen. It doesn't matter if you keep the food off the counters or not. Upsetting at first, but now I'm zen.
2) Geckos
Friends! They eat bugs.
3) Cockroaches. They cause abjection, but mostly harmless as far as I know.
4) Mice
In the kitchen and in my bedroom. Quite elusive. They eat clothing and bite, but I don't know if I would be able to kill one even if I wanted to. They're fast.
5) Tarantulas.
Uncommon, but poisonous. Better off killed.
6) Mosquitos (called zancudos)
Of course.
7) Blanquita
The puppy. I'm okay with her in the house, but Eric is firmly against it, so we try to discourage her presence. She is very determined to be in the house, and gallingly audacious about it at times.
8) Beetles, flying insects, other unidentified bugs.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Esther and Cinderella

I wrote a poem last year that I have been working on for awhile now. It's a dialogue between Queen Esther of biblical fame and Cinderella. It just received the "finished" stamp of approval from my writer's group, so I thought I'd share it here. Note: Some of the formatting isn't going through on the blog (the italics aren't working for some reason), so it may be unclear who is talking when. Just know that when the stanza changes, the speaker changes. I'll try to fix that when I can.

Upon the lush throne of accident or destiny,
Cinderella stumbles into a new dance, new partner,
Once upon a new dream.
Not a fairy godmother, nor a prince,
But resplendent in regality all her own.

“I, Hadassah, sprig of myrtle
Thrown to a night sky which kept me, impossibly,
Transforming me to Esther,
the star that knew not how to shine.
But how my people wished upon me!
As you dreamed a wish for a better morning.
I held vigil over the night sky,
Guarding my people against
terror that wastes at noonday”

“Transformation can carry you only to
the horizon of imagination.
What wondrous dream led you to light!
Light spills forth with hidden fantasies
The morning wind still dances last night’s waltzes
As mice strut like broad-chested horses.
Magic surrounds you, dear Esther.”

“The glimmer of fireflies draws your gaze from approaching hellfire.
You need not fear a homely reality,
The greatest comfort lies in the hardiest of shoes.”

“In the vilest reality lies a seed of dream
Waiting to turn the world inside out.
I fear not. I water the seed.”

“I know you, Cinderella,
For I wore your slippers once.
Destiny, rising impossibly to fit the arch of my feet,
Settling into them with the weight of a little girl’s fears.
They were shoes for a road I never imagined.
Down a long, lonely hall,
Towards a king, uninvited,
To woo his power to give life and death.”

“A man who would not sweep the frightened little girl
off those quavering feet, even if he could
Lift her into a heaven she had not dared to seek. “

“He had been the royal man of my fairy tale,
Standing before an endless sea of maidens…”

“His eyes fell to me, the color of morning wind,
With magic equally strong!
In his gaze, not even love, but a dream of love,
Yet it held power to sweep away a thousand dagger-eyes
of a thousand stepsisters. “

“…His eyes fell to me,
Eyes that had long forgotten the difference between
The power of a man to love
And the power of a man to rule.”

“Yet at last attired on every limb
To match the beauty of your dreams.
Freed from coarse, colorless poverty
That stifles the dreamer.”

“Free from the disfigurement of poverty
Into the chains of wealth. I had beauty, perhaps,
But what greater beauty than freedom from the interests of men?
Such freedom I had none.”

“I never had much to do with the interests of men;
The interests of women chained my feet.
But in the shadowland of imagination,
Where dreams and distant memory play as one,
I found freedom in a dance.
I spun gladly, and alone.
Until into the dance came another,
One man with an interest.
From his interest grew love,
And in that love I found still greater freedom.
Love and wealth caught me in one embrace,
But the greater by far was love.”

“There lies a greater love you may yet discover.
Beyond the infatuations of a prince,
Beyond the flitting of your imagination,
Deeper relationship draws you out.
The love of my uncle planted a seed-
A love for a people,
That love called me to freedom,
called me to my feet.”

“Or your knees, in tears, perhaps?
Begging the king to intercede on your behalf?
That is the strength to which you call me?”

“Strength to use what power you have
In the name of love, a power far greater.
Your shoes,
Such fine shoes for one who has not learned to walk.
For what time such as this
Have you come to the place where you are?
Fairy godmother, helpful mice, persistent prince,
Always dancing in the misty haze of dreams,
she never takes the lead.
Stepping lightly, lest the shoes shatter,
Piercing her little feet like nails.”

“Fairest Queen Esther.
Dreams do not deceive my consciousness,
Dreams choreograph my dance.
I worked for years, but not to be loved.
Not for a mother’s love, unearnable.
I worked to survive.
I found love in the overlooked, the forgotten,
in dreams.
You scoff at how daintily I step through life.
But here’s the thing. I lived! I loved!
That is my testament.
I loved through the whisper of dreams.
My dreams grew so strong, they made themselves reality.
They became a mother, watching over me.”

“The world has yet to ask you to look beyond your dreams.
Perhaps I envy you for that.
My uncle I have rescued, his accuser the surrogate sacrifice
Like Vashti before him,
Appeasing the king’s peculiar honor…”

“Prince Charming, indeed!
Poetic justice lends its lyrics to a song no heart should sing.”

“…now a writ the king has bidden me write
To protect my people as I protected my uncle.
Sturdy shoes to guard their tender feet,
Never to be dashed against a stone.
They shall shout light and whisper joy,
Gladness and honor will be their song.”

“I saw love that wasn’t there,
And it appeared before my eyes!
The world is really a wonderful place,
If we only imagine it so.
Is it really so hidden from you, Esther?
A world where no one seeks your harm?”

“Cinderella, magic is not to make dreams real,
But to safeguard the dream
From those who would see it end.
To unite, to defend,
To destroy, to slay
Not only the men who would harm us,
But women who suckle vainglories into
Children bent on robbing the dreams
Of their unwanted stepsisters in the land of Ahasuerus.”

“Like the marching army plowing through
the spider’s elaborate gossamer,
Plans enacted too quickly leave dreams in tatters.
If my eyes fell to the perils that threatened my dreaming,
If I tried to vanquish every foe,
My fear would never end.
I would sleep fitfully until all my fears were gone,
With a kingdom’s power at my feet,
How many dreams can fear destroy?
Endless fears lead only to endless grieving.
Is love your motivation, Esther, or fear?”

“Fear for those I love.”

“Do you love them enough to abandon your fear?
To let love lead you into the fairy tale
which promises to transform the world
And, in its hidden beauty, possesses the power?”

“If I had your vision,
Could I also have your faith in vision,
Or is it the other way around?
I cannot dream when robbers break in at midnight.”

“Then I will dream for the both of us.”