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Can we build a Bridge?

August 21, 2008

So, a question asked routinely in Nicaragua is what we can do for the security here. For me it seems it would take a paradigm shift.

Processing the disparities of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ in my own mind feels so unjust.

Imagine… some families we work with earn $40 a month. What must it feel like to the locals on seeing an invasion of foreigners on their land flashing around $40 or more just for a dinner for two in an upscale restaurant?

What must they feel as they see us with all kinds fancy gear that we wave around, obliviously shooting pictures and videos, listening to ipods, playing on our laptops, driving around in new rental cars (locals always walk or bike)?

Then we marry their lovely young women and sometimes men. We buy their property and turn it over to millions of US dollars by selling it to our peers.

This has bothered me long before the crime wave started.

While compassion or empathy won’t cure, it can help to look at the root causes of the situation. I think we need to look at the whole picture and work with the local Nicaraguans to make their lives better especially if the motive to move to their country is to live better and often more luxurious lives.

Connect with them…. We need to think before inviting them to our homes which even if simple to you will be luxurious to them. And if the home is luxurious to you as well, you can imagine what they must think if they are from a hut with dirt floors. Create a friendship on common ground which may mean a walk near the lake, a coke in the park. Don’t invite them to places they can’t afford then treat them because they can’t pay. It creates more division and depowers them.

We could say we worked hard for our money and can now enjoy the fruits, but they work harder than most people I have ever met and they barely survive. As a matter of fact, many need their children to work to just to survive.

If we do good things for them (not just giving them things since this just feeds the cycle, but by actually helping to empower them) this will be recognized and create more natural protection and less division.

Our neighbors have the power to naturally protect us or not. If they see us in trouble, they can help or not. If they see our home being robbed they can call the police or not.

One night as I reached my door, a man on glue jumped out of nowhere and blocked my door. My heart jumped. My hands trembled as I asked him to move. Luckily a gentlemen who had been walking next to me for some time with his young daughter came to my rescue and literally forced the man to move so I could enter. He waited until I was safely inside. I wonder if this type kindness will continue if we ‘gringos’ continue in the manner we are.

I think bridging the gap as a community of expats is the most effective way.

I recommend that when moving to this country one should try to learn the language, grasp the subtleties of unspoken language, stay humble, be thoughtful, walk in others shoes mentally everyday and not give money since that only will make one an ATM not a friend.

We should make our presence a worthwhile one and not one to be resented. Know the locals as people who have much to offer if we can only take the time to take in their richness.

– Kathy Adams

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 1, 2008 5:19 pm

    Frank, it’s so nice to meet you! We have almost met many times as we do indeed travel in the same circles (Donna Tabor, the Stealey’s and others). We may have even rented your home for our donor tour a few years ago.

    I agree wholeheartedly that there are many excellent people doing great work directly and indirectly in Granada and I am lucky to have many of them in my circle of friends and some we partner with as well.

    My article was originally written a year ago in response to a tragedy which created many security discussions amongst expats. It was also a reflection on the subtle ways we can possibly make a difference and connect with locals on an equal level thus learn what they are really about and what they really need to make their lives more productive.

    In my 6 years in Granada, I have seen the number of humanitarians and developers rise to new heights. It is unfortunate that there are still many more of the developers than the humanitarians. I am so glad you support Donna in her efforts! She is a legend in Granada.

    There are no easy solutions to the problems that exist in Nicaragua. Development will happen. It is my hope that somehow it can happen in a way that is more productive and empowering for the locals.

  2. Jim Grant permalink
    December 6, 2008 12:47 pm

    As a gringo who has recently passed his 65th birthday and has also heard the call to help those who need my help so desperately, in order that they can achieve a level of sustained self-sufficiency, this issue of gringo influence troubles me.

    There is much about our USA I really do not like, and our commonly disliked behavior among natives of other countries does not speak well of us.

    I have been helping a small family in Puerto Cortes, Honduras, for close to two years, and though I am tempted, from time to time, to gift them with this or that, I recognize the pitfalls in unconstrained giving, but I also am reluctant to excessively introduce North American (e.g. USA)influences. I will continue to help them learn to help themselves, but it is my fondest wish for them that they improve their lot in the context of their wonderful Honduran history and culture – that they not become indentured servants to their neighbors to the north in any regard.

    To that end I have made it my business to learn passable Spanish (self-taught, and at a sturdy 65 years also), and over the next three months will be working on an accelerated tutoring program so that when I arrive in Honduras just before Easter, I can meet my new friends on their turf, on their terms, and in their language.

    I believe firmly that I must approach my work there with humility, and as a very fortunate guest, not a rescuer, a religious zealot, or well-to-do gringo.


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