Absence and Presence in Rural Nicaragua
Talolinga is home to 54 Nicaraguan families. The only access to this rural community is via a steep rock incline that a truck can barely traverse. A horse can do it in about an hour. We as Nicaraguan summer fellows were very lucky to spend a short time in this community and see its beauty, as well as to see the results of the community’s relationship with Project Gettysburg-León.
PGL sponsors three scholars from Talolinga to study at an agricultural college. One of these scholars was our guide and friend during our entire stay and I cannot say how impressed I was by his character and work. I am lucky enough to live on my university campus, so I walk less than ten minutes to class. My brother, who I previously would have thought unlucky, commutes from home for over an hour to get to class. The journey of Edward and the other scholars puts these to shame. The students leave their homes in Talolinga at about 3:30 in the morning to begin the one to two hour trek downhill and to the nearest bus stop. They then proceed to take four separate buses to arrive at school. This whole process is repeated at the end of the day, and the students finally arrive back home at about 10PM.
This impressive commute is evidence of the scholars’ extraordinary sacrifice and dedication toward their education, and toward their community. I would like to think that my education serves my home community, or at least the communities where I hope to work in the future. For the Talolinga scholars on the other hand, there is a strong, undeniable link between their education and their community. It is the job of the scholars to bring what they learn back to Talolinga, to disseminate new ideas of planting, diversifying, composting, and more. Our time in Talolinga was spent observing many of these new ideas at work, seeing some of the PGL-funded projects like a communal shower house, and simply interacting with the community. We briefly experienced the daily diet of rice, beans, and tortilla for every meal. We pushed off using the latrine until it was necessary. We slept on cots and in hammocks. We played soccer on the most uneven surface possible with dozens of kids. And because we only did these things for two days, it was not hard to appreciate them. It was not hard to admire their simplicity, their lack of material possession. But I was left thinking that it is easy to do these things when you have the luxury of leaving this reality. It is entirely different to wholly experience and understand this reality. After leaving Talolinga, I had a hard time reconciling all the positives and negatives of our visit. I had a hard time not feeling like we, especially as students not fully linked to PGL and its work, had walked through poverty like a museum exhibit. I thought that even our admiration could be a form of condescension. Is it not condescending to admire a community for the absence of things it might desperately want but simply cannot have?
After lots of thought, finally I took the advice of our country directors and decided for myself that the best way to not focus on or romanticize all that is missing, is to ask people what they love most about what they do have. In Talolinga, they love that everyone works together to provide for the community. They love the importance of family. They love that there is no violence. In the end, these achievements and values are not simple at all.
Kara Fitzgerald ’16