Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
“Tu gloria, tu gloria, gozoso este día, O dulce María, publica mi voz, O dulce María, publica mi voz…” These are the words to a popular chorus dedicated to Mary that is heard all over Nicaragua during the days leading up to December 8th. The flutes at the CCBN, the choir, the recordings at the mall, people humming on the street – pretty much everyone has the catchy tunes stuck in their heads. And not an hour goes by (not even the early morning hours) when you don’t hear a loud boom coming from a firecracker. All this bulla (or joyful racket) is setting up for what is known in the Catholic world as the feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception (her conception, not Jesus’), or Purísima as it is known here. To celebrate, many people construct altars in their houses to honor Mary. Then, on the evening of December 7th, old and young alike go out for the Gritería (basically, this translates to “Yelling Fest”). Groups of friends and family go door-to-door and sing one (or sometimes several) of the traditional Marian tunes after beginning with the greeting “¿Quien causa tanta alegría?” (“Who causes such joy?”) and response “¡La concepción de María!” (“Mary’s conception!”) Then, the members of the household give out sweets, fruit, or other goodies to the singers. It’s a lot like Halloween in the U.S. with a few tweaks.
For many, the celebration is an excuse to go out and make merry, but for others this celebration is deeply spiritual. Many are giving thanks to Mary for answered prayer. For example, the Arts Coordinator at the CCBN told me about some of the blessings he has received from the Virgin. Suffering from cancer and struggling through chemo a few years ago, he woke up one night crying out to the Virgin, asking her to end his pain. Soon after, his doctors told him he could stop chemo, and today he is cancer-free. He gives thanks to the Virgin every year with his family, usually waiting until the popular celebrations have subsided to honor her in a more personal way. I, too, joined in the festivities Monday evening, finally able to sing along after having learned the songs with the choir. I was struck by the joy and diversity that marks this yearly celebration as one of the most important on the Nicaraguan calendar.
Last week Greta and I had the opportunity to take a two-day retreat to Granada for some relaxation, planning, and reflection. We had an incredibly rich experience, getting away from the bustle and noise of Managua and finding a peaceful space to do some long-term thinking for FOBV. We talked about our role as accompaniment at the Center, discussed ways to strengthen our relationships with VMM, FOB, and the CCBN, reflected the challenges we’ve experienced in the first five months of our program, and planned for our spiritual life, the blog, and next year’s English class. In the midst of all that we made time for some sweet chocolate pancakes and walked around picturesque Granada, enjoying the colonial architecture and people-watching.
One of the most interesting conversations we had was about how we see our task of “accompaniment.” While a lot of different definitions may exist, we envision accompaniment as a role that involves asking key questions (especially “why?”), working on collaboration by connecting key project members, keeping the project moving, and encouraging a group to focus on their reality. I’m not sure what I thought accompaniment would look like when I first got here, but now I feel strongly about how important it is to keep our role sustainable by being “accompaniers” instead of “leaders” or “organizers.” If Greta and I left tomorrow, the projects we are involved in would continue just fine without us. While our role in them is important, the projects do not revolve around our ideas and actions; rather, we support and encourage the projects as they grow out of the initiatives of CCBN staff.
In terms of the blog, we discussed our goals and what kind of a voice we want it to have. We feel that as two volunteers living and working in a Nicaraguan context, we can share our personal experience on the blog as a way to give our friends and family in the U.S. insight into Nicaraguan life without presuming to represent the entire country and people. Our major goal is to cause our readers to think “Oh, I didn’t realize that...I wonder why that is?” So please, let us know if you react like this!
After all the reflection on our first five months at CCBN, we returned to Managua Wednesday afternoon feeling refreshed and excited about the next stage of our term here. We really are part of an exciting and dynamic program and are learning tons. In fact, one of our main problems is that time is flying too fast to enjoy it all!