by McKenzie Shappell
Minutes from the city center of Matagalpa, set into a small plateau in the otherwise ascending terrain, is CEMNB. For clarification, see the title above. Its dirt and concrete courtyard are framed by three small but well-maintained school buildings, comprised of seven school rooms, a library, restrooms, and office space. The Nicaraguan national colors are emblazoned like a sprawling banner across each building; a white band of national purity embraced by the blue of the Atlantic on one side, and the Pacific on the other. In the middle of the courtyard, somehow more strikingly blue than the low buildings that surround it, a concrete platform rises from the dust, flanked by two bare flag poles. The courtyard itself is rimmed with a verdant canopy of trees and a low layer of flowering shrubs and sharp leaved ferns. It is a joyful place. One that exemplifies what it means to live with enough, rather than in the squalor of excess.
Today was a little rough. Despite the youth centered location, our visitors stemmed mostly from the elder generations and as such, brought a life’s many optical difficulties with them. Always kind, always patient, they showed up in enthusiastic throngs and indulged us our various examinations. The Matagalpa cold snap, in which temperatures still never dip below the seventies, kept us cool as we worked in somewhat confined spaces, often filled to the brim with waiting individuals and families from the surrounding barrio. It strikes me that we keep receiving thanks for having taken time out of our busy schedules to be here, but I can’t imagine that the gratitude equation evens out. For a certain financial expenditure we have been given the opportunity to take part in this thriving world of generous and humble people, teaching us more, conversation for conversation, than our feeble attempts to pronounce common place words could ever teach them.
In exchange we offer them a moment in the day, without which they would most likely have lived on, without incident anyway. Its not that what we are doing is useless, quite the contrary, it is simply that, for four days out of the year, we really can’t give ourselves too much credit. Such a thing would be disingenuous and would rob us of the opportunity to take in what this country has so selflessly given us; a warm welcome, a glimpse into another kind of life, and the promise of an experience that is, in the end, if not life changing, then truly life-affirming.