More School Problems and Irresponsible Tourism

This past week was a thick mix of school, secondary projects, and enlightening travels. In the public school, we had a short week of short periods devoted solely (at least in my classes) to grading. Unfortunately, this once again meant that I could not begin to co-plan and teach with my counterpart. It is easy for me to see and focus on the negatives in this situation. For example, I was very frustrated with my counterpart when instead of listening to a last minute presentation, she took selfies of us and posted them to Facebook. I was uncomfortable when my counterpart was scolded by administration for late grades, and when she attempted to bring me into the conflict. I was agitated as we sat in the heat and added and averaged grades for hours instead of giving class. But still, in between these negatives, there are undeniable positives. We are always late to class, but sometimes it is because my counterpart stops to talk to a student on a personal level who she knows self-harms. We were in trouble for late grades, but my counterpart wanted to give students until the last possible moment to earn much-needed points. Many of the students laugh and brush off a final grade of 30 out of 100, but some smile quietly with pride at a high score. More and more I become aware not only of the challenges inherent in my task, but in the challenges I myself have to face in trying to accomplish this task. It is not always easy to focus on positives as well as negatives, and it is certainly not easy to rid myself of the feeling that so many things are working against me. But if I spend my time here frustrated and finding different sources to place the blame for why I can’t make a significant change, no one will benefit. And so once again, the overarching message of my weekly blog will be a pledge toward patience, energy, and small accomplishments.

Weaving loomsIn other news, I am settling into my secondary projects at the weaver’s cooperative and also teaching English with the Access program. The weaver’s cooperative is a family-run local business for making hand-crafted cotton products like blankets. Every day, I am stunned by the amazing work ethic of this family. From sunrise, they do meticulous, physically-tasking work. And it is amazing to see how far they have come. They have told us already of several partners they have in the United States that sell their products. We have mostly learned and helped with tying knots, but we will soon move on to bigger things. My alternate mornings at Access are such a breath of fresh air. They help me not remain cynical about my experiences in the public school. The kids are engaged, committed, and endlessly curious. Their desire to learn English inspires me and makes me happy to teach. Part of their lessons have to do with American culture, so I have begun teaching them the states in alphabetical order through a song. Hearing them sing it even on break or while leaving class puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

Finally, we spent the long weekend on a trip to San Juan del Sur, a popular tourist beach near Granada. We divided our time between napping in our air-conditioned hotel and watching movies, and trips to the beach. Surrounded by foreigners and foreigner-oriented lodging and food, we were able to forget we were even in Nicaragua. Minus our scare on the last night which involved evacuating to higher ground due to a tsunami alert, it was a very relaxing weekend. It wasn’t until we returned that I began to think further about the experience and what San Juan del Sur can tell us about unhealthy development in Nicaragua. It is an attractive spot for tourists, but the prices and atmosphere are simply not for Nicaragua. Healthy tourism should not erase any trace of the host culture. Further, we witnessed only a small hint of the crazy party culture that flourishes there. Our higher ground during the tsunami warning ended up being a party hostel, and our ride back was with a truck full of drunk Europeans headed to the next bar as a part of “Sunday Funday.” This party culture is already troubling, but upon return we heard of even more insidious aspects that we did not witness, including the presence of drugs, prostitution, and child trafficking. Although our weekend was spent very sheltered, both physically and otherwise from these realities, we unknowingly were at least a part of an unhealthy environment. The most important thing we can do now is to be aware of these kinds of situations and to be proactive in the future about planning trips in a way that promotes healthier development.

Kara Fitzgerald ’16