Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Pinturas painting in the Casa Misionera
One day in a primatology class at UC San Diego, as she was teaching the class, my professor kept glancing at the clock on the wall, until the entire class had looked away to see what it was she was looking at. She did this to illustrate a basic primate behavior – we all want to see what others in our species see. We can see this phenomenon in blockbuster movies, where people go to see the film “everyone is watching”, and which has the huge lines outside the theaters. When I was growing up, I heard stories of people in the Soviet Union lining up at stores just because they figured, if everyone was lining up, there MUST be something good for sale. I like to imagine this extends to a deeper level, and we also want to see things as others see them – to understand how they understand the world (I know I want to).

Two days after I arrived in Managua, I was cementing a concrete utility lid into the sidewalk, as such items have cash value, and are sometimes known to disappear in this cash-poor neighborhood. As I was pulling errant gravel from the garden out of the crack around the lid where the cement would go, two little girls came up to me to ask what I was doing. I don't know whether it was the braid on my face or head, or the remnants of nail polish on my fingers and toes, but they also asked if I was an artist. I gave my standard reply to that question – that I believe we are all artists. They then asked if they could help. We continued digging the rocks out of the cracks, and were soon joined by two boys. When it came time to spread the cement, using the best tool I could improvise – a piece of cardboard, we all took turns, with occasional ayudantitos digging right in with their fingers.

The next afternoon, one of the girls showed up at my door, and came in to look around the house. She asked me a few questions about myself and the house, and I did my best to answer them despite not understanding all the words she used, nor the words I thought my answers needed. As I sensed she was looking for something to do aside from leave, I offered that I had some books we could read. We sat in the rocking chairs, and took turns reading; me fumbling through the Spanish, her making up stories based on the pictures in the books.

Paintings on the fridge

As we were putting the books away, she noticed the poster paint stored in the cabinet, and now she wanted to paint. Not long after we began painting, she went out into the street and returned with three other children, and we spent the rest of the day painting and playing games. The children kept me busy portioning out cups of paint and whatever one-sided used paper I could find in the house, hanging pictures on the clothesline to dry, and trying to resolve minor disputes without the words to do so while, my friend Jerry did some cleaning and slept on the couch and Heidi and Mercedes, leaders in the Bufones Fieles community in Managua, talked religion and philosophy over cups of coffee.

Though slightly overwhelmed by the chaos, I was immensely grateful for how the Casa Misionera had become almost exactly what I had hoped for in just a couple days. I am also filled with wonder at how eager people of all ages seem to be for something useful to do, even something as simple as cementing a lid, and how that can be an entry into relationship. Sometimes as I walk the streets or talk to people at work, or the store, or a party, I feel like we are all waiting for someone to open the door and let us out of a culture that tries to confine us to an identity as consumers, and into a culture of helping, and the wonderful connections that abound in that world.

How great it is to be offered help, and how great it can be to be asked!
Pinturas with their favorite paintings of the day.  Click here to see more artwork.

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