Mas o menos! More or less. Our hosts in Nicaragua taught us that no Spanish vocabulary is complete without these necessary words. Everything is mas o menos, more or less. And, one more very essential word for communicating in Nicaragua is chunche, which means thingamabob or doohickey. With these simple phrases one can communicate all that is needed. Asked how you are doing? Wave your hands up and down in a balancing gesture and say, “Mas o menos.” Can’t remember the name of that tool or object you need? Just point and say, “El chunche, por favor.” What we learned in Nicaragua is that you don’t have to know a lot of words to communicate well, you just need a lot of heart and a good sense of humor.
For three days and nights we, University of Iowa Lutheran Campus Ministry, were guests in the homes of members of La Red de Jovenes contra Violencia, the Youth Network against Violence, which is an outreach program sponsored by the Women and Community Association of San Francisco Libre. SFL is a remote municipality on the opposite side of Lake Managua from the capitol city, about 45 miles by rugged roads that take 2 1/2 hours to traverse by car or truck. We stayed in houses that lacked indoor plumbing, some with dirt floors, and others where cooking is still done on open fires. We witnessed the poverty of the people, but more importantly we learned about their indomitable spirits, their profound hope and faith, and their determination to change their environment and culture for the better. The Youth Network is working diligently to break cultural cycles of sexual exploitation by addressing issues of STDs, preventing unwanted pregnancy, and breaking down gender roles that keep women oppressed. In the neighboring village of La Conquista we met some brave and remarkable women who have created and maintained a local farm cooperative that provides assistance and low interest loans for women struggling to improve the lives of their families. Back in Managua, we learned about the current political situation in Nicaragua, recent progress made in education, health care delivery, and access to public utilities, and we visited a unionized sweatshop where we witnessed the mass production of clothing being sold in the U.S. under the brand names Levi and Dockers. It was an eye-opening experience all the way around.
Mas o menos? More or less, we all came back changed by this experience. None of us will ever again take for granted things like potable water, inside toilets, good roads, and affordable clothing. Hopefully, we will be more mindful of where our food and commodities come from and use our influence as enlightened consumers to advocate for the rights and well-being of those who produce them. Our goal is to continue this cultural exchange into the future by bringing a delegation from the Youth Network to Iowa next year. If all goes as planned, Gloria Dei members will have the opportunity to meet these amazing young people and host visitors from Nicaragua in our homes, too. Now, if I could just remember where I left my chunche!
Written by Pr. Rob Dotzel, University of Iowa Lutheran Campus Ministry Pastor