Friday, January 20, 2006

Kicking it in Bluefields with my favorite coste�a, Angie Martinez. Posted by Picasa
Back in the U.S. and feeling fine.
Time to get back to my real life and go back to school...sigh.
But I will post soon.
I promise.
Don't give up on me, I really will have something interesting to say...real soon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Speaking in Spanish is hard for me.
I mean it is really, really hard.
When I speak, if at all, I am forced to speak slowly, carefully pronouncing words that don't quite fit in my mouth. I stumble, trying to make my English tongue do things it simply has been accustomed to doing.
I think more about what I really want to say and the words in my ever expanding vocabulary arsenal that will enable me to express myself. What do I really mean, what is that I really want to communicate? This is language stripped naked, down to the bare bones, and sometimes, I can't even manipulate this simple language.
I speak slowly, communicate more with my hands, eyes, my whole body. Lean in closely, devote my full attention on whoever is speaking -- I can't afford to miss anything. When attempting to reply, I stumble, often confusing tenses, pronunciation, and gender.
In short, Spanish makes me humble in a way that I never could be in English. I often don't like who I become in Spanish. A simple girl, quiet, to herself, struggling to communicate even simple things -- I need deodorant and toothpaste, sir. I miss the confident woman that I am in English.
Spanish makes me apologize. Leaves me vulnerable to criticism and correction. Like the friend, who, after reading my blog, gently pointed out to me that since I used ano and not año in one of my entries, I wished all of you a fabulous, happy new anus. Accents can be the line between clarity and confusion in Spanish, one simply cannot afford to forget them.
Sigh...and just when you think you're making progress.
The completely insane thing is that this stumbling with Spanish doesn't inhibit my ability to read the language at all. And I've become a reasonably good Spanish to English translator. Pero, por favor, don't ask me to do this process in reverse.
Coming to Nicaragua is good for me, because it makes me slow down, learn to accept and own my shortcomings, and not be afraid to admit that I am wrong and start over. Good skills to have in an unpredictable world.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

January 5, 2006

I am sitting in a bedroom with Scooby Doo curtains and a spider larger than any I’ve ever seen outside of a zoo. He’s kind of furry and when I took a photo of him, he had red-eye. I think he’s interested in me and wondering who this long-legged, funny-looking creature is. Right now, I’m tired and a bit out of it and too tired to either call for help or attempt to shoo him out. And I don’t want to kill him, somehow that just seems wrong.
I was sitting in a rocking chair this evening watching the news and it occurred to me that watching U.S. news coverage outside of the U.S. is a bit like having an out-of-body experience. Sort of like the feeling you have when you are having a great conversation with a person you just met and are really, really high. The significance of the conversation and this new person you really dig is not lost on you and yet you can’t quite take it seriously. Your head is floating into the ceiling and it’s like you’re watching this experience happen to somebody else who looks just like you.
Ariel Sharon, a man who has made life miserable for so many and in the last year has done a political about face that has confounded even the most cynical political scientists is in an Israeli hospital fighting for his life. It’s difficult to know whether to celebrate or mourn. Funny, I didn’t feel this strangely when Reagan died. That was clearly a time to celebrate.
More than 130 people dead in Iraq in the course of a single day. Suicide bombers strike again. Bush meets with old advisors, a tired Colin Powell attends, and the leader of the free world affirms yet again that the decision to invade, sorry, liberate Iraq, right or wrong, must be defended. We must succeed or the terrorists will. Somehow, I think they already have.
New York City experiences an unseasonably warm day. I wonder if people I love living in Harlem, Queens, and the People’s Republic of Brooklyn went outside to enjoy the weather.
I sit in Nicaragua watching the news and feel unbelievably disconnected. As if distance were an anesthesia that numbs the horror I feel at the direction our planet is going in. There are no words. These body counts, these lives are real and somehow, I can’t seem to force myself to believe that right now in this moment, in this wet, isolated corner of Central America that these events touch me, the lives of people I care about, the names and faces I know so well. My mind has floated off somewhere and I am numbly watching these things happen to people who are just like me.
Continuing in the vein of out-body-experiences…I took the bus from Managua to Bluefields and sometime between 6:30 Wednesday evening and 8:00 Thursday morning I was in Bluefields.
The trip went something like this:

Arrive at bus station at 6:30 pm – the Managua/Rama express is a tricked out school bus that probably took kids in Delaware to school in the 1980s. Still, you can’t knock the hustle, so I chill out, pull out a book, and wait to start loading the luggage. I meet a few Black bluefileñas who pull me into their conversation. Before I can correct them they assume I am a Bluefields daughter come home from the States. You look good, they say, and I can tell they’re trying to guess what family I belong to. Hudson? James? One of the women, who now lives in San Andres, Colombia tells me elaborate tales of bus choques, plane crashes and all manner of traveling devilry. But, she urges me to ask God for safety. Earnestly, she asks, Are you a Christian? Moravian or Baptist? I reply Baptist, my grandfather would be pleased, and shuffle off to see if we can begin loading our luggage. I’m just not mentally prepared for a theology lesson tonight.

6:50 or so -- Load suitcases onto top of tricked out school bus, which is named Beholden, after one of the oldest predominantly Black barrios in Bluefields. Solid.

7:15 – get into bus. Wait for two and a half hours. Tricked out bus is supposed to head out at 9 pm sharp for the El Rama, but…

Depart for the Atlantic Coast at 9:50 pm. Ni modo…

Drive for three hours. Stop to eat and pee in Juigalpa.

Nicaraguan drivers are amazing – we leave Managua nearly an hour late and arrive to our destination nearly an hour early. Increíble…

Wait at the wharf for two hours to board the next panga, that’s a dory with a motor, which won’t leave for another two hours. Fade in and out of consciousness with one leg wrapped around my luggage and the other in the legs of a plastic chair.

Panga arrives and I’m so tired I can’t even fully appreciate the beauty of the Coast. Palm trees, miles and miles of green hills, wooden West Indian style houses that perch over the moist soil on spindly, wooden legs. My God, even in my sleep-deprived delirium I am amazed by the wonder of this place.

Arrive to Bluefields around 8am and am greeted by an ever-reliable and patient homegirl who promptly takes me home and throws me into bed. It’s nice to be loved.

That’s the bare bones of the trip. Next time, I will stick to flying. Still, I’m not entirely sure how I got here (since I floated in and out of consciousness throughout the trip) but here I am in Barrio Pancasan playing with my friend’s son, Ricky and watching Tom y Jerry. It’s funny how I remember some things so well and forgot other things about Bluefields so quickly. The wetness, for example. Bluefields is located on the southern Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and is one of the wettest places on the planet with an annual rainfall that exceeds 2000 to 4000 mm. It rains all of the time, and I do not exaggerate. Technically there aren’t really even seasons per se, the climate is judged by the shift in levels of rainfall. So rainy season v. rainier season.
So it’s no wonder that no matter how much I shower, lounge around in front of fans, or do any manner of little things to keep both cool and dry, I always feel wet. My skin carries a slick shine and my clothing sticks to my skin in damp patches. I have a theory that the damp is good for my skin and hair since they are so moisturized from the climate, I have to do relatively little to either. Still, the damp has its drawbacks. Books, for example, simply can’t survive. You see them in offices or personal libraries, the pages and covers curling around the edges, the spines deteriorating. And technical equipment, like laptops, digital cameras, mini-DV cameras, and that phat iPod your Mama gave you for Christmas are constantly under attack. So I’ve taken to wrapping all of my techno-gear in plastic. I find that the plastic bags you get from the market work just fine.
But I’m back in Bluefields and apart from the wetness, feeling okay. I’m staying with my friend, Angie Martinez, an altogether inspiring and amazing individual (as you can see I make it a point only to surround myself with people who motivate me with their talent and spirit). The first Black woman I ever met in Nicaragua who proudly called herself a feminist, and I’ve been in love ever since. Being the rowdy feminist that she is, she is involved in a number of activities from running the only Black women’s radio show on the Coast to conducting research on the impact of HIV/AIDS on amas de casa to helping run a multiethnic women’s research and studies center at the URACCAN, one of two universities in the Región Autónoma Atlántico Sur (RAAS). That’s right kids, chop off 7 years and the adorable son, and you have found my freaky third world twin in Bluefields, Nicaragua. I suspect that this is why we are such good friends.
In any case, being so busy Angie hardly has the time to do the things that other women here spend much of their day doing – namely, being domestic. Cooking, cleaning, all of that gets done – eventually. So after waking up from my nap, doing a little reading and playing with Ricky while Angie stepped out for dinner with a friend, I decided to give her the gift that I’ve always wanted from others – particularly this semester when I was so consumed with doing well my first semester of graduate school that I cursed having to sacrifice 20 minutes of precious reading and writing time to showering and brushing my teeth in the morning.
I washed a sinkful of dishes.
Good gift, no?
Sending you all love with damp pajamas and dishpan hands…

My spider man just left. Perhaps he had another pressing engagement.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

La palabra del dia

PROFUNDIZAR: [pro. fun. di. sár] v. to deepen; to go deep into

Go on ahead and say it. Roll it aroud on your tongue for a bit. You are starting to like how it sounds...profundizar. ¡Muy Bien! Now try to use it at least once in a sentence today.

Monday, January 02, 2006

A view of Volc�n Mombacho from Granada. That�s right kids, I totally hiked that volcano...sigh.  Posted by Picasa

Aerosol murals outside of the Universidad CentroAmerica, amazing, huh? Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Jan. 1, 2006

¡Feliz Nuevo Ano! It’s a brand new year and I was able to celebrate the coming of 2006 in Managua with friends and Flor de Caña. I’ve been pretty busy down here and tramping around the Pacific coast, a side of the country with which I’ve only recently become better acquainted. The day after I arrived my friends and I visited Granada, a beautiful old colonial city only an hour away from Managua. We had a glorious time and as proof of my self-proclaimed status as a bad-ass I think you should know something.
I hiked a volcano.
And I’m not talking about no small volcano neither my friends.
I am talking about Volcán Mombacho, an active volcano that looks out over the city of Granada. When you reach the top you can see all of Granada; Lago Nicaragua, one of the largest fresh bodies of water in the Americas, and the Isletas de Granada. At our peak we were more than 1500 km above sea level. We took a guided tour through the volcano and there were two options: an abbreviated tour and a lengthier full tour that was about four kilometers. Being the true adventurers that we are, we, of course, chose the long tour. Three hours of pure jungle and natural beauty. I must admit I’ve never seen anything like it. After the insanity that is Managua, it was really quite wonderful to be enveloped by the silence of nature, hearing only the crunch of the ground underfoot, the songs of congo monkeys climbing through the trees, and the wind rushing through the forest. It was slightly damp as we walked through the jungles that surround the volcano and I was afraid that I would be cold. But by the end of the trip I was so flushed, sweaty and exhausted I couldn’t even think about being cold. I was so overwhelmed being there and blessed by having been able to experience this place with my nose, my hands, my eyes, my ears. Using the camera lent to me by my friend, the brilliant and beautiful filmmaker, Krissy Mahan, I filmed as much as the life of my battery would permit. Perhaps after editing all of this material, I’ll have a mini-screening at my home and folks can check out my journey to Mombacho.
I’ve only recently begun to appreciate how beautiful and necessary the environment is and I realize how important it is to do all that we can to protect it. Nicaragua, it seems, might make an eco-activist of me yet. Imagine that, a radical black ecofeminist. My parents have been quite tolerant of all my political changes over the years. I wonder if they’d ever get their heads around that one. Still, I appreciate their patience and their acceptance of my need to grow and expand my politics as I see and feel necessary. And given my growing love affair with Nicaragua I’m sure they’d understand.
In any case, as it turns out Mombacho is also an area protegida, which means that although there are people who live in the area (admittedly very few) everything that is done from coffee-growing to bathrooms must be environmentally sound and sustainable. The staff of the Mombacho Reserve are doing a fine job, the place is spotless, not a water bottle or cigarette on the ground anywhere. This place, like many other protected areas throughout the world, is constantly under threat and needs the support of people who recognize the importance of biodiversity, sustainable development, and protecting the environment. You can find out more about the Mombacho Reserve at
But alas, like all good things, our time in Granada came to an end and we had to return to Managua. Even the night before we returned people had begun celebrating the coming New Year, shooting off fire crackers one after the other for hours of end. They went off in rapid succession, like gunfire. We returned to Managua to my friend Yamila’s house and scurried our funky selves into the nearest shower to prepare for the New Year’s Eve party her parents host every year. It’s a small gathering of family friends and I felt quite happy to be there.
Yamila’s mother, Doña Sonia and her husband Juan were excellent hosts who saw to it that a sister got straight borracha before the night was over. It was a wonderful party and I spent the night talking, dancing, drinking, and getting chased around the house by a handsome and charming man old enough to be my grandfather. Don’t worry I behaved myself. It was flattering, to be sure, but also a little disconcerting to have a man flirt with me so blatantly in front of his wife, who seemed (or at least pretended) not to notice. She was very nice to me, however, and after giving me a back rub stated that I carry a lot of tension in my back (which is true) and offered to give me a massage/acupuncture session at her clinic here in Managua when I return from the Coast. My septuagenarian suitor was also curious because his wife was clearly significantly younger than him, at least 20 years, perhaps more. So the idea that he was interested in someone as young as me was a bit disturbing. It’s moments like that where I really begin to think about how race and gender (and in this case, age) dynamics come together in how people interact with one another.
This man spent the entire evening talking about how special the Atlantic Coast is and later in the evening used the same word to describe me: “Es una mujer muy especial – y lo sabe.” Perhaps, but I had to wonder. And when he kept asking me to dance, only to sit down sipping his Stoli, and watching me move I realized that perhaps there might be more to this than I had initially imagined. In Nicaragua, like in the U.S., the myth of the black seductress is alive and well. Black women from the Coast are imagined as being hypersexual and available as demonstrated in the inviting way that they move (how they walk and dance). It’s assumed that they are less inhibited in bed than Mestizas and make better lovers because they are sexually aggressive and indiscriminate. These common sense beliefs around black women’s sexuality inform daily interactions and perceptions of our bodies and shapes how people (of all races and genders) engage us. Benign comments then about they way one moves or one’s (sexual) desirability are always already implicitly charged with latent racialized understandings of the black female body.
Was I this man’s costeña fantasy? Perhaps, and the struggle is learning how to navigate the desires and discourses that are projected onto my black female body – a lesson I’ve been struggling to learn since the first time I came to Nicaragua. Let me know if you have any suggestions. Until then, I’ll stick to seducing men closer to my age and politics.
Happy New Year to all, I wish you the very best.