Archive for June 2013

True Confessions of an MCC Worker

June 20, 2013

MCC workers generally pride themselves on being the most enlightened, culturally sensitive international presence on the block. Whether its missionaries, other international NGOs, or embassy employees; we passive-aggressively  joke about how well we walk with the poor in comparison to these other groups (with the exception of Catholic nuns) and we tend to use the most respectful and humble language to talk about what we do in other countries around the world.

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Every MCCer begins his or her term with phrases like “accompaniment”, “mutual transformation”, “walking alongside”, “your liberation is bound up with mine”,  “relationships are what really matters” and other such self-effacing thoughts bouncing around his or her head. Talk about results and measurable change is only whispered behind closed doors. This humble way of looking at what we do is probably the main reason I chose to work with MCC over other organizations. I believe an honest look at history teaches us that international involvement in countries from the Philippines to the Congo to Chile to Nicaragua hasn’t really worked out so well for native peoples. Hence our need to be intentional about what we do and realize that if we’re not careful we can easily cause more harm than good.

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So, in light of those words of praise and recognition for the humility with which we strive to work alongside our brothers and sisters in foreign lands:

Why do I FEEL so FREAKING SUPERIOR all the time??

The truth is it’s pretty dang (excuse all the euphemisms) hard to be humble. I don’t know if its my college education, U.S. cultural influences, or my religious enlightenment; but I often find myself feeling smarter and just plain better than the people that I live and work with —

Taking a shower or eating a pineapple at night makes you sick?
Haha, how quaint.

The devil is making so and so do such and such? The Simpsons are full of diabolic symbols that are corrupting our kids?
I stopped believing in that stuff years ago.

I know I didn’t come here thinking I was going to fix things and you all certainly know your own context infinitely better than I ever will; but just do it my way and I promise you’ll get better results!

How easy it is to become the know-it-all North American that I so loathed during MCC orientation!

The truth is I am very proud to be working with MCC and of the way that Marisa and I have tried to walk humbly with our God and with our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters over the past three years. After three years I can say that I have experienced such ethereal things as “mutual transformation” and still maintain the belief that building good relationships is probably the most important part of our work.

Ugh, but the intense desire to see concrete results, the need to base my self-worth on my accomplishments, and the feeling that my advanced education and more “modern” science-based mind make me superior to others often gets in the way. Certainly I have much to share and give, but I have just as much if not more to receive. Its something that I’m struggling with and hoping that more often than not my way of being matches all those pretty words.

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People to Remember – Margarita

June 11, 2013

IMG_0336_2As Marisa and I begin to think about heading back to Virginia at the end of July, we want to take some time to remember and honor the people here in Nicaragua that have made our three years so wonderful.

It’s only right to start with our Nicaraguan host mom, Margarita, as Nicaraguans are fiercely loyal to their moms. From the first day in her home when I accidently walked past her room before she was fully dressed and totally embarrassed myself, I knew we would have a close relationship. It was just one of the funny, awkward (probably the most awkward) experiences that happen when you live in close quarters with a new family in a new culture, but the unknowns lead to vulnerability, which opens the door for true relationship.

Margarita, in many ways, is the archetypical Nicaraguan woman; she has lunch ready for her husband and his employees at noon everyday, she keeps a clean, tidy house, she a devoted member of her local church, and she loves her children dearly. She is happy to have her two adult children living in her house and continues to care for them even now that they’re in their 30’s and she is raising he 12 year old grandson as if he were her own.

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However, as we have come to learn, once you really get to know someone they begin to break the categories and stereotypes that you tend to label them with and become complex, unique individuals. Needless to say, Margarita is much more than a traditional Nicaraguan housewife.

Margarita smiles as she tells the story of her time working in a U.S. owned garment factory during the war soon after she was married. Even though the U.S. government was funding the counter-revolutionary war that had her husband in the northern mountains fighting his own countrymen, she fondly remembers her friendly American boss, proudly proclaims that she never missed a quota on the number of jeans she had to sew, and laughs as she remembers the volleyball games they played during their lunch breaks.

Margarita is also a savvy business woman and when she and the other members of their transportation cooperative found out that the president was embezzling huge amounts of money, she helped lead the way to forming a new cooperative where the profits would be shared equally among members.

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In many ways Margarita adopted us as her own kids during the 8 months that we lived with her family. I will always be extremely grateful for those times when she noticed how tired we were from trying to adapt to new work routines, the heat, and a new culture and went ahead and mopped our side of the house as well as hers or invited us over for dinner so we didn’t have to cook. Perhaps the thing I’ll remember most about Margarita are the mornings we spent talking over the breakfast table during our first weeks in Nicaragua. Even though she probably had a million things to do that day (cook, clean, iron, run errands, pay bills, etc. ) she would sit at the table and talk with us as if there was all the time in the world and never gave any indication of being in a hurry or needing to do anything else. She never made a move to leave until Marisa and I said we had other things to do. This incredible lesson in hospitality and prioritizing people and relationships is one that I will carry for the rest of my life.

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