To Nicaragua

2 January: Preparing to go to Nicaragua, with this blog and thinking about poverty and what ordinary Global Notherners can really contribute to improve the world. I am bringing quite a lot to read compared to my previous trips (when I had no time to read, or sleep, due to work load). (The large number of loyal Spanish books – ones that join me on every trip to Spanish-speaking countries – is limiting my book space a bit!) So far, my list is:

Viktor E. Frankl Man’s search for meaning

Martin Buber Good and Evil – inspired by a discussion of Martin Buber by Quaker Parker Palmer

I am thinking about adding a wonderfully courageous book I admire although I have not yet read it: ‘Black like me’ by John Howard Griffin. The similarity with poverty is striking: ”an important part of my daily life was spent searching for the basic things that all whites take for granted: a place to eat, or somewhere to find a drink of water, a rest room, somewhere to wash my hands.”

4 January: Arrived in Managua. It’s late and dark, so I haven’t seen much, but I did read ‘Black like me’ on the journey. I was struck by his description of the ‘legal minds’ in the background providing supporting to the more vocal racists: ”They deliberately choose to foster distortions, always under the guise of patriotism, upon a people who have no means of checking the facts.” It reminds me of Linda Roth’s comment about US media coverage of Nicaragua in the 1980s: ”Every time I read the news weeklies or the speeches by the administration spokespeople, I worry for the future of democracy in our country, if an informed populace has anything to do with that…. The different forms of misinformation are mind-boggling. There are the plain and simple lies. There are the more subtle cases of insinuation. And there are projections like crazy.’’ (from an interview with Linda Roth, Bearing Witness, Building Bridges 1986.)

John Howard Griffin’s having lived as a black man, due to his being seen as one after he darkenened his skin, and despite his not altering his own background or biography, was so powerful that he became a person called on to voice, from a white man’s mouth, the perspective of the black man. He notes repeatedly that he was only voicing the same perspective that black men spoke about, but his voice was heard while the others were not listened to. This phenomenon occurs anytime there is an ‘other: women and men also do not hear each other. And the smooth, false facade of ‘middle class’ life in North America also does not hear the realities of life for most of the rest of the world.

I have started a project of stitching on my towel a stitch for each day or event. So far, it has two stiches: a black x for the travel day to Nicaragua, and a pink circle for the first night. The idea of this project was inspired by seeing string balls in a museum near The Dalles, Oregon, just three days ago. The string balls were strings which were knotted or given a bead to mark time periods and also sometimes events, creating a personal record. This was apparently a tradition among some of the Native Americans living in the interior of Oregon and Washington. The stiches on the towel will similarly mark days and events during this trip. It struck me, though, that I am inspired by Native traditions, I am the opposite in being unrooted from any locality.

I bought a little travel sewing kit in Houston airport as this idea developed. It was made in China under a trademark for a manufacturing company with a native tribe name. So, even the natives may not be developing their own communities with their businesses. The US has given away its power by outsourcing almost all production, forgetting that the base of the pyramid is in fact the strongest. After production, even service has been outsourced, leaving only consumption as the role of the US in the economy. The imbalance of this was underscored for me by the grateful reporting on the news of an Indian call center setting up a subsidiary in a town in Texas hit hard by loss of manufacturing centers. Jobs may be brought there, but the profits and control will be with the owner. The significance of this to the role of the US in the economic model it promotes, seemed to be lost on the reporter entirely.

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