Hola mi amigos y amigas!
Karen Smith and I returned from our Nicaragua adventure with the UU College of Social Justice and it was an amazing journey. It began several weeks before we departed as we studied the history of Nicaragua, with an emphasis on U.S. involvement, influence, and interference.
Harvesting Coffee Cherries
We also studied intercultural competency: how to be good guests, develop self-awareness of our identities and privilege, and begin considering how we will take the learnings from this journey back home.
The people we met in Nicaragua were generous, hopeful, and hard working. Many had overcome circumstances that might seem insurmountable to some. We met strong, powerful, soulful women who were savvy business women and leaders in their communities. We lived with families in Quibuto for two days and developed deep heart connections. We experienced the life of a coffee bean from first planting through harvest, cleaning, drying, milling, packaging and shipping.
Removing the pulp from the cherries
We met farmers who care deeply for the earth and shared with us the effects of climate change that are threatening their livelihoods. One thread in all these encounters was the optimism of the people… they were living into the endless realm of possibility.
I have a story about myself that I can’t learn another language…there’s no possibility in that story! The challenge I set for myself before the trip was to deeply examine my discomfort with language barriers. I stayed with people who spoke no English, and I had no interpreter to support our communication. We had basic conversations that were frustrating and difficult. I was not able to have the deep conversations with my hosts that others in our group enjoyed with theirs. We could not enjoy sharing stories, or discussing theological or political ideas.
In reflecting on this experience, I could see some of the ways this limits my interactions here: with all the work that is needed for immigrant justice in Gwinnett County, I am not able to fully participate in the call to support the Latinx community in our own backyard, and I hesitate to join our groups at El Refugio because of this language barrier. I avoid engaging with local Hispanic-owned businesses, and I can only communicate with our landscaper through his sons. I’m ready to change my story to one that is based on unlimited possibilities. On the last day of the trip, each person in our group made commitments about our next steps after this journey. One of my commitments is to learn to speak Spanish.
Russ and I took some Spanish classes before the trip, and we hope to continue with those in the fall. I’m using DuoLingo and SpanishDict apps to practice every day (I’ve started a DuoLingo club…let me know if you want to join). We have the Pimsler Spanish program in MP3 form and we’ll be listening to these over the next few months. Yet, I know the most important aspect of learning a new language is to practice through conversations with others. I hope there might be people in our congregation who would like to form a Spanish conversation group starting in the fall. Ideally, this group would include people who are fluent in Spanish, and those who are learning.
I told my Nicaragua family (Leonel, Azucena, Arlon, Cristian, and Arelys) that I would return when I could speak Spanish more fluently. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could create a whole delegation from UUCG to go together! What are the other possibilities we might live into if we expanded our congregation’s fluency in Spanish?
There was a great deal to reflect upon from this journey. I will be sharing on specific aspects of this journey in future blog posts through the month of March.