Children of the Caribbean

Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island are Nicaragua’s little slice of the Caribbean. I was lucky enough to find paradise between the two for a week of clear water, soft sand, fresh seafood, and reading. However, I also was lucky enough to talk to locals and visitors of the island and learn that it is not paradise for everyone, especially for the children. One day on either of the islands is enough to notice how freely the children roam. As bigger kids barely carry around smaller kids, they seem to occupy themselves and find home in many houses. At first, I associated this reality with the communal nature of Nicaragua society and family. I see it in León too. Families are bigger, and children stick together. But several people on the island articulated to me on different occasions a different kind of reality. According to them, people on the islands have children to have children, frequently without specific intention. They do not particularly care for the children, only to give what is needed. One mother even said to me that when she became pregnant at a very young age, she did not mind. “I Corn Island cloudssaid, ‘okay, I will have the baby.’” Teenage pregnancy in the United States, meanwhile, is almost always a distressing, upending experience involving an overwhelming sense of sacrifice. I never once considered before my time on the island, that the meaning of having kids could be so drastically different across cultures. And if having a child can mean something so distinct, so can the sensation of being a child.

Beyond this puzzling disinterest in children, I also was made aware of more insidious realities that children face. For example, I had a conversation about young children who work as vendors, selling food and other items. I was told that it is common for these children, mostly as girls, to be sexually abused and then given money to keep quiet. They will not talk about what happened because their families rely on this income. In this way too, the sensation of being a child is undeniably different from my learned ideal. Being so aware of and a part of the family economy at a very young age is a unique and heavy weight. Even further, the mother that I spoke to also told me an alarming story. She was woken up once from a brief nap by a child reporting that two boys had locked her young daughter in the bathroom and were touching her. The mother went to the parents of the boys and when he heard what happened, the father of the five-year-old boy embraced his son and declared that he would be a good man. The mother of the victimized girl was horrified. We talked at length about how she has to be so careful to protect her daughter from these kinds of dangers.

In the span of only a few days on the island, I became conscious of so many of the hardships facing young boys and girls there and in Nicaragua as a whole. Now as I return to school, I think twice about my students who wake up at dawn to sell food. I think twice when I see young girls wear make-up and dress up as though they have been aware of the weight of their appearance for many years already. I think twice when I am frustrated with their work ethic or commitment. It is a sad truth that the feeling of being a child is not always a light one.

Kara Fitzgerald ’16