Sunday, November 16, 2008

to costa rica and back again

Tonight I am a mixture of emotions as I sit at my kitchen table and reflect on the last 4 days. Thursday morning in the early morning hours I left Managua for San Jose (Costa Rica) with the Dordt students. Our trip’s purposes were twofold—to give them a feel for the culture and history of another Central American country, and to study the immigration issue up close and personal.

More than 500,000 Nicaraguans live in Costa Rica, where they work seasonal jobs like cutting coffee, construction, or as domestic employees. Many of them live in a poor barrio called el Carpio just north of the capital, where we went yesterday afternoon to visit with representatives of an organization that works there and hear from the Nicas themselves about their experience living in Costa Rica.

All of the people we spoke with have been living in Costa Rica for at least 5 years (one woman has been there 15 years), and have been back to Nicaragua very few times if at all during that time. They all said they came to Costa Rica because of the promise of economic opportunity, but most still appear to be struggling to get by. One said she did not want to go back. Others said it was their most cherished dream to go back to the country where they were born, the land they love. Their eyes lit up when our group shared all the things we appreciated about their culture, their food, their communities.

Later that night in our debriefing, someone commented on how it struck them that we (North Americans) have such facility of movement—that we just come and go as we please between these two countries—and yet these families have been living divided by a gran frontera, some for decades.

Crossing back into Nicaragua this afternoon, I marveled at how these two countries, which are so similar in indigenous roots, in language, in diet, in musical instruments, which are separated geographically by nothing more than a narrow river, are also separated by a grand canyon in terms of infrastructural and economic development. Walking the streets of downtown San Jose, one almost forgets that this is still Central America, so smothering is the presence of global corporations and businesses—in 10 blocks on the Avenida Central, only one restaurant offered comida tipica del pais. The rest were American chains.

And the people of these two countries—who ought to be in strong solidarity with one another as neighbors—are instead caught up in the tangled web that is woven when wealthy and poor countries share a border. The questions are familiar but still demand considerable reflection: What rights should immigrants have in another country? What responsibilities does the host government bear? If citizens of a country refuse to take certain jobs, is it okay for immigrants to take them? What is the appropriate Christian response to these issues? To raise these questions was a large part of the trip’s academic purpose.

But for me, the trip provoked a personal response as well. This morning, as we rose higher and higher out of the San Jose valley into the rolling green hills and gentle mountain ranges that dominate the northern CR landscape, I found myself longing for the more familiar sites that awaited me on the other side of Penas Blancas. And so when we crossed over and began the second leg of our journey through the narrow grassy plains that separate Lake Nicaragua from the Pacific Ocean, when I saw the familiar twin volcanoes of Ometepe island, when I glimpsed the silhouette of the well-traversed Volcan Mombacho on the horizon, when I noticed the women of Rivas and Granada and Masaya with their cast iron pots and make-shift grills on the streets selling pollo asado and tajada and frescos, my heart skipped a beat even as it smiled with relief.

And then it hit me like a bittersweet, unresolved jazz note….this is my home…a home that I will be leaving in 5 months. And I want to cry.


mystereiss said...

I'm sorry you're sad; it is completely rational to feel that way. I know there is melancholy in this post, but I was very touched by it all and think it's beautifully written.

mystereiss said...

dawn btw (above)