Sunday, August 06, 2006

disparities

Yesterday Andrea and I went to the nicest mall in Managua, called the Galerias, to check it out. I was prepared for a slight cultural shock, and I definitely experienced one. This mall is open air, so in one sense it is just like some of the other commercial centers in Managua, but the store selection is bigger, the stuff you can find is nicer, and when we walked into Siemens (a department store), I thought we had walked into Macy's. Appliances, furniture, candles, musical equipment, books, coffee, clothes, shoes, you name it and it was there. Even the art for sale looked like it belonged in a Target store. Oh, and did I mention the food court? Some local places like Valenti's pizza were represented, but there was also a Burger King and an American Donuts place. The entire concept of a food court is imported, of course, but an upscale food court with frapaccinos and pita sandwiches for sale was pretty unbelievable.

Even though Northamerican culture and commercialization has reached places as far away as Shanghai and South Africa, it's still weird for me to encounter it here, in Nicaragua. Whenever I see a familiar store or restaurant here (Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Subway, Radio Shack, Shell, etc.), I find myself thinking, “What country am I living in?” The globalization phenomenon just smacks you in the face here in a way totally unlike the States.

The incongruity between the extreme wealth I witnessed today in the Galeria and the extreme poverty I have witnessed in places like Limonal (a barrio in Chinandega), Santa Maria (a rural community in northwest Nica), and even along the bus route to the office each day (where children board to beg for pesos, and families living in shacks of corrugated metal are a common sight) brings the stew of compassion, frustration, guilt, and helplessness in my soul to a boil. Like in every developing country (and the USA), there is evidence all around me that the abundance of some Nicas has not trickled down to the many in need. Women walk the streets of my neighborhood, hoping to find customers for their homemade products, while down the street middle class Nicas dine at TipTop, a fried chicken place. Some barrios (like mine) have paved roads and sidewalks; some, like Batihola Sur (where my friend Jairo lives) have only dirt. In the parking lot at La Union, the grocery store here, new Montero Sports are parked next to 15 year old sedans. At the cafe I ate at today, people drank te jamaica (a popular local beverage) out of fancy glasses, while just around the corner, a comedor will sell you a fresco para llevar (to go) in a plastic bag with a straw.

Every week there are editorials in the papers here decrying the government's pitiful response to the issues of poverty in this country—health, employment, roads, etc. But years of experience tell me that it is not simply the government that has a role to play in the transformation of this country and its many disparities, but churches, leaders in every sector, and each individual. But transformation does not happen overnight, and even in my three years, the disparities that drive me to despair are not going to disappear.

Some thoughts from Oswald Chambers that I have been reflecting on in relationship to all of this:
We have no concept of what God is aiming at, and as we go on it gets more and more vague...we do not know what God is after, but we have to maintain our relationship with him whatever happens...the main thing about Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain and the atmosphere produced by that relationship...”
The scale of these disparities that I must grow accustomed to is far beyond my abilities, but I must trust that God has brought me here, He has compelled me here, to be part of a bigger work, the ends of which I may never see. And the most important thing I must do when confronted with days like today, is remember that my relationship with Him and the people He places around me are the most important work I have here in Nicaragua.

May it be so.

1 comment:

anyacamille said...

My favorite backwardness-of-globalization story from Bolivia is the time I was watching a telenovella with my host family, and they asked me if these were dubbed into English and shown in the States, the way North American shows are dubbed into Spanish and shown down there. I don't think that "The A-Team" (which I watched frequently in its dubbed version) is necessarily a better show than "Mujeres in Roja" or whatever, but it would just never occur to most people in the States to watch such a thing.

Perhaps living amidst such pervasive poverty actually makes it easier for those who are wealthier to ignore it. It's often the shock of seeing poverty unexpectedly that jolts people into doing something about it.