Saturday, December 06, 2008

Back from the dead!

It has been forever. It has been two years.

So much has changed. I actually came across my blog Googling myself (I'm updating my CV--I'm not completely narcissistic!). I read what I had written. I started thinking about this journey I've been taking the past few years: so unexpected, so terrifying, so confusing, so right.

I doubt anyone is reading this anymore. Who would check a blog that has been totally dormant for 2 1/2 years? But reading my blog reminded me of how much I like to write, not even necessarily for readers.

In case someone is reading this, here's the brief update:
G and I are now happily married. A few conversations about dreams and plans over beers turned into a decision to get married. Neither of us believes in marriage; the idea was (in May 2007) to get married to begin the arduous visa process (duh duh duh). We got married on both of our lunch breaks in city hall; I was wearing a purple tank top and he, a black button down shirt. It was a secret ceremony. The idea was to have a birthday party in June in which would announce our marriage as a surprise. I, of course, can't keep a secret. The news came tumbling out as soon as I saw another human being who would care. We had a makeshift celebration of a sushi lunch and then a whole ton of rum. We had a larger, more formal party in June 2007. My family came down and it became somewhat of a wedding; as close to a wedding as I could muster. It was simple and kind of silly but hopefully fun for all involved.

The whole thing happened in a blur. I remember the night before the marriage. After months of intense heat, the kind that builds on itself, the sky broke in a raucous, exhilarating storm. It felt liberating, but also sad--the beginning of the daily rains, the grayness, the humidity, the mosquitoes. I lay on a mattress in the middle of my office and cried my eyes out. I don't know why. It was painful somehow. It might be the way everyone feels right before they get married.
Things didn't go quite according to plan. G quit his job and somewhere in between our wedding and getting our act together to apply for his residency he found something new. He went to an audition for a new TV show. As an actor. The show is a melodrama--a weekly series produced by a Nicaraguan NGO to educate the population about issues such as gender relations, domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation. It's a simple but powerful concept: use a format (telenovela) that people will actually incorporate into their daily routines to start conversations about sensitive, mostly taboo topics.

I admire the show, but it hasn't yet gotten off the ground. More specifically, it has been a sort of a financial limbo for the last year. (What hasn't?)

In the meantime, I ended my work with Witness for Peace. I wrote an article about migration. I have to say I don't really love it; it was edited to death and conformed too closely to the WFP line of thought, which is muddled and not rigorous. Whoa, true confessions! After that, I spent a few months regrouping (very necessary). I also began doing some consulting work; short-term contracts doing translations and project work.

As I recall, and things are always different in hindsight (I'm kicking myself for not having kept a journal), it was a time of uncertainty. We started living in a small dysfunctional rooming house for solidarity workers. The people who ran it were Quakers; they were for the most part petty and unkind and made my life somewhat miserable. We stayed in a tiny makeshift room that had been built in the garage. The walls were concrete and it was stifling. We were next to a group of large dogs with personality disorders; they barked incessantly.

It wasn't a completely awful experience. We got free housing for six months, and got to meet new people (although many were high maintenance, what a bore). It gave us some relief from the urgency of making enough money to meet housing costs. I can't complain.
It was in this period that I fell into my newest career incarnation (too many in too few years, I think): teaching. It wasn't a complete turnaround. I had been teaching before, with Witness for Peace, but not in a classroom setting.

Three choice words to describe my first teaching experience: chaotic, grueling, heart breaking. The school was a private school and a mess: they had no structure of discipline, all curriculum followed textbooks page by page, and there was no consistency in any form of decision making across the board. Kids would fail many classes many years in a row with no support or consequences. I would begin class and students would continue talking as if I wasn't there. I would send a student to talk to the principal for throwing a chair (the only disciplinary resource available), and she would send them back immediately to imply that I was overreacting. The kids were the children of professionals, a pretty mixed bag; some filthy rich and snotty, but most were down to earth. They are kids and for the most part, blameless; it wasn't their fault every classroom was a war zone. I'm sure in the right environment, with limits, they wouldn't be disasters. It was the model for how not to run a school, which I guess taught me something.
I would come home every day drained and beaten down, often to have to attend to guests complaining about the heat, mosquitoes, or dust. Gustavo was perpetually frustrated; he was waiting to hear whether or not he was going to be in the show. And waiting. And waiting. I'd retreat into our hotbox and stare at the crumbling ceiling. Okay, I'm being dramatic. Needless to say, it wasn't our best time. But it was formative. I'm glad to have gone through it. It gives us something to look back on.

Now we're in a sunny, airy apartment with a balcony. I am teaching at a different school. It is a school that caters to the top 1% of the population, the oligarchy; the small group of families that control this country. Most of my students have live-in maids, many of which carry their backpacks for them, and drivers. Many of them have helicopters. They live in mansions and go to country clubs with membership dues in the tens of thousands of dollars. They have very little concept about some basic things beyond their bubble. I'm teaching social studies, and I actually love it: I love designing projects (they'll actually get into) and finding new ways to get them interested in learning. I want to surprise them and make them question some beliefs they have, but gradually and respectfully. Teaching is consuming. My social life has evaporated. I get up at 4:30 in the morning and spend every waking minute planning, evaluating, assessing, and brainstorming. Discipline isn't perfect, but I think it's as good as it gets--I'd say definitely calmer than my high school, for example. It's a good temporary solution. I am learning so much, and it's stretching me in good ways. I don't think I could teach forever. As much as it is stimulating and engaging, and as much as every day is different, I can't shake the feeling that I'm on a treadmill--everything revolves around a group of 12-year-olds. It makes me want something more. But I guess every job is like that.

I'm more confused than ever about the future. I don't know if I should go to grade school, look for jobs, stay here, leave. The series is still up in the air.

I don't know if I'll write in this blog again. We'll see.

If you've read this, leave me a comment!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

oh, how i hate the peace corps.

Not that it's evil, but it's ineffective and the volunteers are OH SO annoying. Just yesterday I met a volunteer here who said his job is to "teach farmers how to farm better". Interesting, I thought, so I ask, " Are you an agronomist or something like that?" No, he says, I have never even stepped foot on a farm until I came here.

Fucking arrogant pricks. (Not him, the institution.) How do they think it's okay to send stupid post grad Americans to communities to "teach" people who have dedicated their lives (and often cases, generations of lives) to learning about the idiosyncrasies of farming when they have absolutely no experience in it? Now, if it were some kind of interchange, where the peace corps volunteers knew about some sustainable techniques that were really helpful based on their own experience (like some organizations that connect farmers around the world with each other), that's one thing. It's another to assume that some 22 year old from Georgia, just because he's American, will be able to help those poor farmers with his, um, americanness?

Also, they just announced they were going to send lots of new volunteers to teach English to "help Nicaragua prepare for CAFTA". Right, so now that those farmers you used to "help" will be displaced and will probably be working in sweatshops or migrating to Costa Rica, you're going to teach them English why?? Fucking US.

Monday, April 10, 2006

mi soledad se siente acompanada...

Well, I haven't written in so long I'm not going to bother trying to update. I just wiped my nose with pepper on my fingers and its burning. Shit.

I guess I can say that my mom came to visit, which was amazing but made me really homesick; I had a delegation where for the first time I felt really comfortable with what I do because I've learned so much and the delegates loved me and I loved them; I'm starting to think more seriously about grad school (moi? I know, it's crazy); I had a belly dance performance in which I did all right and am already looking forward to the next one. I'm now in the office alone for the next month and am going to start going hardcore with my project (I keep saying it, but it's for real this time!!). So I'm feeling good.

The only thing that's really got my head spinning is this whole love thing. Cheesy I know. But I feel like I am really, truly, in love, and it makes me feel crazy. Sometimes it's not great and we fight and scream and can't understand each other but most of the time it's wonderful but then I start thinking about the future and I get overwhelmed. At the end of two years if I don't want to stay here forever, which neither of us do, we have to face the big scary decision of, basically, whether or not we get married or stay together. Foolishly I used to think we could go to a place where neither of us is a citizen, like, say, Brazil, but then I remembered that, oh yeah, since I'm a citizen of the most powerful country in the world and he is a citizen of a not so powerful country, I still have a huge advantage legally basically everywhere but Cuba (which, miraculously, he grew up in and wants to return to, so we could try that out). I feel torn between not wanting to think about it ever and knowing that it will be incredibly painful if my term ends without having thought about it; plus one of our favorite activities to do together is dream. So I don't know, because even if we were to stay together I'd want to see what it's like to be with him somewhere other than here, where our bond is challenged, before I commit my life. It doesn't work that way though. You can't just immigrate if you have a girlfriend that's a citizen; you have to be at least engaged and committed to marrying within 6 months. And even if he did, would his skills as a lawyer and university professor be valued or would he end up like the taxi drivers that I'd meet in DC that were all engineers and doctors?

So in a kind of careless, roundabout way this is my tribute to National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice, which is inspiring to me here from one of the sending countries, where I've met so many people cruelly deported after spending thousands of dollars to cross the border and months making it through CA and Mexico, so many people whose livlihoods have been lost now that land holdings are back in the hands of few and the market for campesinos is ominous, a country soon to suffer a fate similar to Mexico's now that CAFTA just became implemented. It is inspiring to see the hundreds of thousands of people marching in the streets, and I hope some of my friends there marched for me, knowing that I would have been out in the streets too.

No more walls that cost millions of dollars, no increases in deportations and criminalization of poverty, yes to legalization, yes to respect and valuing the backbone of our country.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006


I forgot to mention that a lot of Nicaraguan workers on strike. Teachers just ended; government workers just started; public transportation in Managua; and, the scariest, doctors are on strike. Although there are definitely a lot of complicated politics at play, the role of the IMF and of neoliberal politics in all of this is hard to look by. The IMF mandates a cap on social spending, including health care and education, meaning these professionals get a whole lot less than they should. (My coworker wrote an article about this recently.) Neoliberalism says that privatization is always more efficient and better for everyone in the end; what happens with the bus strikers, for instance, is they want subsidies from the government to be able to pay the insanely expensive oil costs but to also be able to make prices affordable for most people. The government doesn't want to do this, saying it's inefficient. So, the bus strikers have begun burning tires, people are getting used to walking a lot and crowding into trucks, and oh yeah, dying because they don't have access to doctors. Shit.

I went out with some Danish friends the other day. Naturally, the topic of the cartoons came up. I used to really strongly argue that there were no limits to free speech, but as I've gotten a little wiser, I question that belief. Whether or not it should be made illegal may be another question, one that I have yet to decide about. I do think it's interesting how the media keeps framing it as a religious issue, as so often happens with Middle East issues: Muslims are only upset because it's against their religion to depict the prophet Mohammed. Well, I'm not going to suppose to know why they're protesting, but at least to me the bigger issue seems to be that the cartoons were equating the demagogue of more than a million people with murder and terrorism. That seems to me like making a cartoon with Jesus killing an abortion doctor or something; the point is, it's not only depicting Mohammed, it's also denigrating an entire group of people. So, does that excuse burning the embassies? Well, as MArk Levine points out, the embassies themselves (as well as US air bases in Afghanistan) could be interpreted as symbols greater than just anger directed towards the cartoon. In any event, I think the media has (surprise, surprise!) distorted the issue. Overall, I think this is an interesting sentiment expressed by Reza Aslan:

Of course, the sad irony is that the Muslims who have resorted to violence in response to this offense are merely reaffirming the stereotypes advanced by the cartoons. Likewise, the Europeans who point to the Muslim reaction as proof that, in the words of the popular Dutch blogger Mike Tidmus, "Islam probably has no place in Europe," have reaffirmed the stereotype of Europeans as aggressively anti-Islamic. It is this common attitude among Europeans that has led to the marginalization of Muslim communities there, which in turn has fed the isolationism and destructive behavior of European Muslims, which has then reinforced European prejudices against Islam. It is a Gordian knot that has become almost impossible to untangle.

And that is why as a Muslim American I am enraged by the publication of these cartoons. Not because they offend my prophet or my religion, but because they fly in the face of the tireless efforts of so many civic and religious leaders—both Muslim and non-Muslim—to promote unity and assimilation rather than hatred and discord; because they play into the hands of those who preach extremism; because they are fodder for the clash-of-civilizations mentality that pits East against West. For all of that I blame Jyllands-Posten. We in the West want Muslim leaders to condemn the racial and religious prejudices that are so widespread in the Muslim world. Let us lead by example.

The issue may be a little deeper for me than stereotypes and tolerance, but I think it's true that the incident, as portrayed by the media, has become "fodder for the clash-of-civilizaations mentality". And that is just unfortunate.

Monday, February 06, 2006

It's that time again!

The third transit strike since I've been here. Bus drivers say petroleum prices are too high, government says they should be able to hack it, they say no please subsidize us, and then....STRIKE! It's crazy to think about the effect oil, and the discovery of it thereof for an energy source, has had on this world. jesus. i guess it's walking/taxis/riding in the back of trucks for a little while.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

So I haven't written in a long time...

Bullet points:
-There is a very small community of activists, politicians, writers, intellectuals, etc. in Nicaragua. It constantly surprises me how easy it is to meet with major figures, and talk like any two people in the street. This is what I've been doing the past few weeks.
-I sometimes get very tired of the very white, very self-righteous community of mostly Christian solidarious US citizens that live here. A lot of them are doing great work, but I can't help but feel that a lot of them feel a lot more validated by their fame here than they would in the US, where they'd be small small fish. Am I the same way?
-My relationship with G is a spiritual experience, but a very confusing one. Last night he was heartbroken because of the state of the world; Nicaragua is fucked. With both teachers and doctors striking because their salaries are ridiculously low (as mandated by IMF regulations), with a 70% unemployment rate, he's feeling lost and like he's wasted the past 7 years of his life here, since he came back from Cuba. He is worried the US will rig the elections so that the right wins again, in which case he said he can't help but keep living here. I can't tell him not to despair because I have no idea what its' like to be him. I also don't want to feel like he's my own personal project. I also want to support him, and to feel like we're creating a world of hope together for the two of us. I do not know how to do this.
-My coworker the other day made a joke about criminals getting ass-raped in prison. First of all, having met victims of prison rape through my past job, it disgusts me that in popular culture it's acceptable to joke about these human rights violations as if they were ever humorous (count the number of prison ass rape jokes you've heard in movies and tv shows. Disgusting, isnt' it?) Second of all, the bigger problem is that criminals are accepted as throway people. Since millions of people are behind bars for a certain drug addiction which has been criminalized (which, shockingly, falls upon racial lines), and are there as a result of a racist penal system, which is part of a much larger racist socioeconomic system. Even if they have committed a crime, they are still fucking human beings and deserve rights. Anyway, the fact that a so called progressive person has succumbed to the disgusting idea that prison inmates are throwaway people from whom anal rape is just a funny part of life is shocking to me. Furthermore, I hate being preachy and self righteous, but I fear I didn't state my opinion strongly enough: I just reminded her of basically those two points: that a) rape is never funny and b)dehumanizing prison inmates as criminals doesn't exactly jive with the values that we purportedly share. I'm still obviously upset about it, and I think it relates to my second point, in which I feel kind of alienated from a lot of the Americans here, in addition to being a foreigner myself.
-Beyond these inquietudes, I've actually been extremely happy recently. In love with G, doing work that I feel is meaningful, taking French and bellydance classes (random, I realize); in other words, keeping busy. I'm also trying to track the elections here, which I'm going to be talking about soon. Oh yeah, and politics in the US=too depressing; Alito? SOTU? jesus, folks.

Friday, January 06, 2006

World Social Forum.

Caracas. (Or Mali, or Pakistan...)

Be there, with me.

Our thoughts: bus Managua-Panama City. Ferry to Colombia. Bus to Caracas. We will do it.