¿Por cuanto tiempo estás en Nicaragua? ¿Cuando te vas?
I have heard this question many times, from all people I've met down here. When a woman from the community and I first meet, she always says, how long are you here? When she realizes that I will be here for longer than a week or so, she’s more likely to talk with me, to let a friendship grow. But the second question is always, and when are you leaving? Everyone has to go sometime.
This kind of guarded relationship, where I am often asked for the length of my stay, makes sense. What would it mean to become close to someone, just to have that someone leave? And of course I am leaving. The frequency with which I get asked this question gives me the sense that temporary relationships from aid workers are not new for the Nicaraguan people. As the poorest country in Central America, Nicaragua receives a constant slew of aid workers.
These questions point to a particular predicament I find myself in, wanting to become close to the women I’m working with, wanting them to trust me, but also understanding the irresponsibility and naivety of this action. As Brown students, we often are made aware of the predicament of “aid” work, how trying to “help” can really hurt. When by attempting to “help” a group of people, we end up reinforcing a hierarchical relationship between developing and developed countries.
Am I an aid worker? Definitely on paper I am. If I were to die in Nicaragua, which might have crossed my mind on the top of the active volcano or at the drunken dancing horse parade, my obituary would read “American aid worker trampled by drunken horse in Chinandega.”
Hearing these questions so often reminds me of my separate and privileged position here. I’m glad that the women remind me of this, although it is sometimes uncomfortable. It makes me question what my most effective role here can be. I’ve found myself taking more of a backseat in the project. I organize, gather materials and support the women but resist occupying a major voice in the conversations. Amigos often encourages their interns to establish active relationships with the people that they work with, to lead the charlas or the classes. And while I think this is awesome for my personal development—developing my Spanish, gaining a new perspective and appreciation, all those things that come with travel—I can’t help but remember those questions. When am I leaving? Can I even establish that kind of trust with these women? What would it mean to ask them to trust me, just to have me leave?
Holding this tension has been one of the most educational parts of my time here. The constant maneuvering and questioning sometimes is paralyzing, but mostly enlightening and expansive. When I feel pessimistic about my ability to do a “good” thing here, to have contributed to some sustainable and helpful step, I look to the gardens. Regardless of my role, the seeds the women have sown are sprouting. They ask questions and offer each other advice. I don’t take these plants with me when I leave, but they remain to offer fruits.