We’re in Somoto, one day away from the border with Honduras! All day we’ve been riding through passes between old, green volcanoes. We’re not as high as we have been, but we will be a great deal higher tomorrow. This morning in Estile, looking north, we could see rain on the peaks on the hills north of us, and the ride started under cloudy skies. By the end the sun was out fiercely.
As we travel from south to north (and uphill) through Nicaraugua, we wondered what the country feels like to David. The Caribbean side, once a protectorate of the British, and largely undeveloped, remains separate from the western, Pacific side. They speak Meskite there, an English pidgeon. West of the mountain chain that continues down to become the Andes, is the Spanish side. Here, the split is not clearly north and south, or urban and rural (though that is strong), but primarily rich and poor.
The rich live amongst the rich, but not with them. Anywhere there are rich, there are many more poor, hoping for some of that trickle down to trickle down.
Erica, and Yihara, for instance, live in San Benito. Theirs is a neighbourhood of dirt roads, houses made of corrugated tin and wood about 200 square feet in size, and yards perhaps a little larger. The roads, when we first went there to drop Erica off, were rutted with gullies a foot or more deep. Side allies were impassable, with trenches that our truck could not have cleared. This happens every year during the rainy season, when the roads turn into rivers. Yet two days later work had already been done to grade the main street. The houses look wretched, not just to our eyes, but in comparison to other houses even in the same neighborhood, and certainly to many of the grand houses, with iron railings and ornate gates. Yet in some there are TVs, and computers, though not many. And everywhere there are signs of care and beauty. Flowers planted in a tire, or an iron grillwork fixed over the window of a crooked shack.
The people are dressed in immaculately clean clothes, and are sure to greet us as we drive by. The children are lively and brave, but courteous and happy too. One boy, given half an energy bar, saw that a small girl had gotten nothing, so he broke his in half and gave it to her. Then he saw another, smaller boy who also had none, and broke his quarter into half again. It reminded me of communion.
Yet the people here are one level above our worst off – the homeless. In San Benito and the many places like it, there is water, schooling, church, shelter. There isn’t much security, as in proper houses where every window is barred, but the fences are all barbed wire. Canada once had places like this, and still does in many northern communities, but the climate and general wealth has pushed them out of sight for the most part.
Many people here don’t send their children to school simply because they can’t afford decent school clothing. The reasons for that poverty are complex, and often involve abuse, or abandonment, or dependency, but the cost to the future generation is staggering. It is women in this situation, seeking to raise enough capital to improve their children’s fate, that are typical of those that the LendingJourney tries to reach.
Quite often you’ll see people carrying (or children dragging) long branches of a serious looking tree. These long treks across swing bridges, beside the road, and down lanes end up, with a good helping of mud, being baked into something like this:
This is Theresia’s house. I tell her “I really like the way your house looks,” to which she answers “It’s just for me, but thank you for saying so.”
Today we followed Oscar, a pastor that David knows, through town to visit with some abandoned seniors. Their current dwelling is a large and airy single story structure, “built by the Spandiards.” These men and women have been stranded here by relatives or neighbours who cannot or will not care for for them. Some are here only during the week, others for the duration. Jan gives a short talk about the Lending Journey, and the bike ride; How its main purpose is to let people in Canada and the States know about the hard working but poor people of Nicaragua, who with a little help can accomplish great things (that part goes over well). So that they may not be forgotten or overlooked. He ends with a quotation from scripture: “Look – I have engraved you on the palm of my hands.”
We handed out small gift packs – they were very kind to us, those old folks. It takes a great deal of grace to receive. Children and the humble are the only ones that are any good at it, really. In the end, we left feeling far more blessed than blessing.
Outside in the street, a topsy-turvy sight delighted us:
A gaggle of pretty young women drifted towards the young man under the horse. He carefully positioned it by the sidewalk, and stood looking at it admiringly for a moment, as if it was a surprisingly fine looking horse to have come across just now. Then he turned nonchalantly towards the girls, with a meaningful look. They passed by, talking and laughing. With a sigh he resumed his burden and walked off down the street.