How many continents are there? If you’re like me, your automatic response is 7. How can it be anything else? North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. Well, this week I learned while that is the “correct” answer, it’s really only correct in the US. Education systems teach different number of continents depending on the cultural understanding of what a continent is. This number ranges from 4 to 7. Here in Costa Rica, they teach there are 6 continents: North and South America are one together. This concept blew my mind. How crazy is it that the world cannot even agree on such a trivial idea? Little did I know that this was nothing compared to the upcoming trip to Nicaragua and how it would expand my mind.
Before we went on our trip, we got to learn some folkloric dancing from Costa Rica. A group of women in traditional dress showed us some of the traditional dances from different regions of Costa Rica. After their presentation, the women shared some of their long skirts with us and hats for the guys in the group. We got to learn the steps to various dances. It was a lot of fun, but those skirts were very toasty!
On Friday, at the bright hour of 6 in the morning, we left to go to Nicaragua. The trip was very long and crossing the border got very confusing. At first they wanted us to stay on the bus, then get off the bus, then get back on. It was crazy but we got everything figured out in the end. We finally got to Nicaragua around 6 that evening and got settled in.
Nicaragua was a beautiful country in so many ways. There were artists, street performers, and people flooding the streets. The atmosphere was welcoming and electric. They even had TVs sitting outside the bars with the World Series Games on. With all the beauty also came a lot of suffering. While my SOLmates ate, children would come up begging for some of our food in exchange for little flowers or insects made from palms. Others would bring necklaces and hammocks to your table asking for us to buy their products so they can make a living. It was hard to say no to so many people who needed the help.
Fortunately, there is this great place in Granada to help those suffering. It is the Hammock Project started by a man who had a dream to start a restaurant. At this place he hires young adults and teens no longer in school (about 16 years old) to make hammocks. This people struggle to find jobs and this project gives them the opportunity to earn the money they make safely. We had the opportunity to help weave some of the hammocks during our trip. We even got to help weave a hammock made of plastic bags. This idea originated because Nicaraguans say the national flower of Nicaragua is “the plastic bag”. These bags flood the streets. This project is helping clean the streets while also making beautiful artwork.
This project also helps women stuck in abusive relationships. The founder explained to us how one day, a woman entered into his shop after being horrible beaten by her husband. When asked why she wouldn’t leave her husband, she explained how her children would not have food the next day if she left. This pattern is common in Costa Rica. Women are stuck in relationships due to economic struggles. Just in the 3 days I was there I witnessed the injustices women face every day in Nicaragua. It was horrible to see and feel completely helpless. The founder of the Hammock Project did not like that feeling either and started a program where these women who have children with disabilities or in bad relationships can gain economic freedom from their spouses. They make purses by hand which the store then sells. It was such an inspirational experience.
This man did not stop here though. We were fortunate to eat at his restaurant called Café de las Sonrisas (smiles café). It was not just an ordinary place though. All the workers at this restaurant are deaf. They cannot hear and cannot read lips. It gives opportunities to those who have disabilities to still provide for themselves. Life is hard enough as it is as a deaf person, let alone the difficulties in finding a job. It was amazing how devoted this man was to helping those in need in Nicaragua. He said to us “you will fall in love with Nicaragua, but it will also break your heart”. He could not have been more accurate in this statement. In the markets there were people starving, animals suffering, and a lot of unsanitary actions (meat was not refrigerated at all). It was hard to see animals being carried to be slaughtered and to see kids sitting by the road waiting for food. It put a lot into perspective.
Nicaragua has been one of my favorite trips this semester. It opened up my eyes to many of the injustices that people suffer every day. We also learned more about the country of Nicaragua, seeing an active volcano, a lake (which you should not swim in due to unsanitary purposes), and caves underneath the volcanoes. It was an inspirational experience, and more than just adding another stamp to my passport. I would love to return one day to learn more about the culture and people.