“I’ve got it easy,” I’ve often told volunteers who are leaving Nicaragua headed home to the U.S. “I get to stay here, but you’ve got to go do the hard work in the Belly of the Beast.”*
I’ve always been sincere when I’ve said it, but now more than ever, I really mean it.
For weeks now I’ve been struggling to find a way to talk about what’s going on in the U.S., to at least allude to the elephant in the room. There are the abuses too egregious to ignore, already affecting us out here in the Rest of the World: the immigration ban, ICE raids, climate change denial. There are the looming threats to poor and people of color in the U.S.: DAPL, Betsy De Vos, Jeff Sessions, Congress.
I’ll admit that part of my hesitation to broach the subject of the U.S. is that I don’t live there anymore, and I haven’t lived there for 16 years. Yes, I’m a citizen of that country, and as such exercise my right and fulfill my duty to vote, to contact my elected representatives, to make my voice heard. (By email, mostly. And electronic petitions. Oh, and protesting in front of the U.S. embassy in Managua when things really get out of hand.)
But I’m not there on the ground getting arrested at protests, which I strongly feel is also my duty as a citizen. I’m not there in the streets getting sprayed with tear gas, giving up my free nights to look after children whose parents have just been deported, or freezing my ass off in North Dakota. In short, I’m not risking myself or my situation.
I feel guilty that I’m living a cushy life here in Nicaragua.
Plenty of people would scoff at the idea of a privileged life in a Third World country, and plenty of people have told me they admire my sacrifice. I’m not sure that they mean by sacrifice – yes, our only source of water is profoundly contaminated and has to be hauled by ox cart from a well one kilometer away. Yes, my family and I have had dengue, chinkungunya and zika. Yes, we kill an average of three scorpions a week and large spiders are so frequent that our daughters put them into “tarantula” and “half tarantula” categories.
But here’s the difference: my girls are citizens of this country and their parents are not, but unlike immigrants in the U.S., I do not fear armed masked men coming into my house and hauling my husband and I away to be deported.
Here’s the difference: in Nicaragua nobody is debating rolling back health care access, we already have universal free health care.
Here’s the difference: I happily send my kids off to school and I have never, ever worried about someone shooting up their school, because that doesn’t happen here.
You can see that I’m not making sacrifices. I am a coward. I want to hide here in my Third World utopia, where progress is being made paso a pasito, where things are getting better little by little: more people now have enough to eat, their kids go to school, they’ve got a park to play in with free wifi and a cell phone to connect to it. These are small victories, but they’re indicative of big, big change for a little country.
I can celebrate these victories, even with all their imperfections. Because this country feels like my home now…while my country does not feel like home anymore…not just for me, but for a LOT of people.
Because there are so many who, unlike me, do not have a safe place for themselves or their families, I know I have to step up and face the Beast.
Right now, I’m facing the beast by sending messages to my governor to remind him that the constitution doesn’t allow us to discriminate against people based on religion.
I’m sending encouraging messages to the Seattle City Council while also considering lobbying them to annex North Idaho (just a one inch strip across Washington state ought to do it).
I’m praying for all those in the Belly of the Beast: may you act, may you do so out of love, may you have the strength and the courage and the stamina that I lack.
Finally, like so many around the world, I’m gearing up for another protest in front of the U.S. embassy. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this time, those inside were wishing they were outside with us. – Becca
*”The Belly of the Beast” was a term commonly used in Nicaragua to refer to the U.S. during the U.S.-funded Contra War which killed 50,000 Nicaraguans in the 1980s.