This past week I had the opportunity to spend a few days living in the campo (or countryside) here in rural Nicaragua in a community known as la Manantial with the SPIN students. The lifestyle of the campo is one of simplicity, dependent on acres of crops like maize and wheat to sustain them throughout the year. Rain is scarce, especially during this time of drought. Time in the campo follows not a watch but the sun and the rain. Neighbors are a short walk away, church an hour away, and high school twice that distance. It’s a very different world than that of urban Nicaragua.
For me, the trip brought me back to my roots, not necessarily of my heritage back in “the boonies” of Michigan, but instead of my humanity. For these few short days, I was stripped of many things I had become dependent on, things I’ve even gone so far as to incorporate into my identity as Kelsey. For who is Kelsey without electricity, 8 hours of sleep, two pillows, a hot shower and internet? Well, come to find out, Kelsey is still Kelsey without all those things. I slept in a hammock and shared a bed; I ate beans and rice for three days straight and fresh baked bread out of an earthen stove; I used an outhouse and a bucket shower; I weeded, dug in the mud, and spread fertilizer; I went to bed with the sunset and woke up with the light. Being in the country where the sun was the only source of light and where food was grown in the fields nearby, I was reminded of who I am and what I truly need. Turns out, I don’t need as much as I thought I did. In fact, I think I like this simpler Kelsey.
And so I want to thank Marta, Guillermo, Ismael, and little Douglas (who stole my heart) who were so generous to accept me into their home for a few nights and take me under their wing. It was a great experience, one I’d be happy to repeat.
A while back, while I was spending some time traveling around Guatemala last year, I wrote a little something after I briefly glimpsed the lives of people living near the city dump. Though very different, their story reminds me a little bit of the stories I heard of those living in la Manantial: a story of simplicity (at times true poverty) and a story of community (of being with those you love).
So I’d like to share with you what I wrote that one evening:
“Sun glistens, a dazzling display of energy dancing on the rooftops, blinding those with a mere glance. The metallic tin now a mosaic of reds, oranges, blues, grays, and browns, stained by time and rain. The walls it protects below stand sturdy, their dusty gray selves supporting the artwork above. To the front, a sandy brown path caresses the walls, ruts and ravines washed away here and there by foot traffic and heavy waters, its uneven surface wavelike and wild.
Within those stony blocks, beneath that sun-warmed roof, beside that well-worn path, there lives a family of many. Children with eyes bright and wide, filled with questions, hunger, and laughter. A mother with hands wrinkled deep with love, wisdom, and hard work. A grandmother whose every gray hair holds a story of pain, laughter, love and loss.
Their veins run fast with the blood of the forgotten, the lost, the hurt. Their lungs expand as they breathe in a deep breath, second by second living the reality that faces them. Today, a day so bright and beautiful and alive, holds within its grasp dark threads of doubt, abandonment, abuse and death, threads that cannot be cut from the loom of life.
Stepping back, those strands etch a deep beauty in the colorful display of the woven masterpiece, their inky rivers flowing to and fro, cutting a striking current among the blocks of reds, blues, yellows and greens.
In this masterpiece there is joy and sadness, light and dark, life and death.
And though difficult, the darkest parts make the brighter parts shine. The dark gives the light its name. It’s fuel. It’s hope. It’s beauty.
But what if I live in a world surrounded by the chaotic swirl of a rainbow? What if my life is enveloped in the colorful embrace of life? What if my world doesn’t extend to the darker strands hidden afar on the horizon?
Am I really living then?
Can I truly appreciate the beauty I’m immersed in every day if I have not yet tasted the other?
And what if, because of this, the colors around me are fading, disintegrating as the seconds pass? What if instead I am trapped in a world of grays, bonded by the monotone dullness of apathy, suffocated by nothingness?
In truth, the only color in this masterpiece lies next to the inky rivers, the places linked with those dark strands. Only those who’ve tripped on those strands, whose feet have blackened in those waters, whose lives have been ripped, torn, infected have within their grasp those colorful strands of life. Only those who have been lost, hurt, abandoned, or broken can see the hope and beauty in the rainbow around them.
Only their eyes have been opened.
For they were lost but have now been found.
They were once blind but now they see.
The sun glistens again, radiating in its setting brilliance. The metallic roof joins in the light dance, reflecting the rays in a blinding display. The walls begin to cool, their source of heat returning to its slumber. The path grows quiet, its dusty shores darken with the approaching night.
The children curl up together in their nest of blankets, feet, hands, and sleepy eyed faces. The mother coos a gentle lullaby, rocking to a steady rhythm of love and peace. The grandmother joins her daughter, head resting ever so gently on her shoulder. The night comes, weary eyes flutter and close, chests rise and fall in their nightly drumbeat of sleep.
The day has come to an end; tomorrow shall begin anew.”