Monday, December 11, 2006

¡Bienvenidos a Los Hervideros de San Jacinto!

-Come on in, cross the gate!
-Where am I?
-Come on in, and I will take you a tour. In Hell.
-Where is Hell? Is it not far away from us, the sort of place you may go to after you die? Or is it some terrestrial version of it, say Iraq or Darfur?
-Ha. Well certainly no after life yet, let's constrain ourselves in Earth. And no, (thankfully) it is not Iraq. Why, you thought Hell is only there? Or where you hear about war and disaster and big money gets involved too?
-Well, no... But...
-But what?

-Where are we?
-Will a name matter to you?
-Okay therefore. We are in Los Hervideros de San Jacinto.
-I told you it would be pointless. Come on here, come see this.

-Is this geothermal activity?
-Yes, indeed. It is where the earth boils and steam comes out of it...
-Is it because of the volcano I see further afield?
-Yes, the area is very volcanic. Hervideros in Spanish means hot bubbling springs..
-It is very beautiful! But I would imagine hard to live around.. The smell of sulfur, the hot steam coming out of the earth, the hearing of bubbles all day...
-This is one way to see hell... There is something else I want to show you.

-This is Hell too. Wanting to be able to live a decent life and not achieving it. Living in p-o-v-e-r-t-y, relying on whoever tourist will show up to see the Hervideros for maybe, say, US$0.50, relying on whatever you produce, not having enough money for any decent clothing... Poverty is everywhere.
-I know, I can see...
-You can see it because it is obvious of course but you can see it because you have the eyes to see it. If you lived far away you would not be able to. Who in the world you think cares about those destined to live in Los Hervideros de San Jacinto? If you lived here you would not be able to see poverty either...
-How so? It is all around me...
-Because it is all around you my friend. Because you have to try to find someone who has a clean shirt. Because you have to try to find a hut that is "liveable" by (average) health standards. Because poverty is all around you, your eyes get used to it, you get used to it, it does no longer bother you. In the same well you get used to sulfur smell. Horrible as it may appear to you, you get used to it when you breathe it all day and all night long. Plus, if you want to make money, you go to the hervideros when tourists come, you kneel, you show them the mud hole, you tell them the story... And, sulfur smells so damn well when it gives you half a dollar...

-I see.. People here are taken by this way of life... They have not seen anything different.. This is the way they have grown up, the lifestyle they pass to their children.. But, on the other hand if you think about it, this is their life, why change it? Does anyone have the right to?
-You are right here, perhaps. Perhaps not though. Because no matter how you want to preserve the local life, the culture and tradition of a group, can you say they are fine if they lack such basic things as education? Healthcare? What sort of a life is that where you may die at any given moment because of a mosquito, because malaria pills are too expensive for you?

-It is time to go. Is there anything to be said?
-So much and so little. It is time to go.
-For us that have the option to get out of hell. For the rest it is going to be a fine night next to the hervideros.
-Even Hell is not fair in Earth. Some have the option of getting in and out. So easily, and yet for others there is no way out whatsoever.

Los Hervideros de San Jacinto is small village located 25 km north of León, a famous colonial city in Nicaragua. Despite the fact it attracts some tourists, the village is typical of the region. Tourism is not yet developed in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the continent with 50% of the population living in poverty and over 30% of its people unable to read and write. The country has witnessed a 50-year right wing dictatorship, followed by a tough communist rule and a ravaging civil war that claimed at least 50,000 lives. It is only during the last 15 years that Nicaragua has been experiencing democracy.


Siddhartha said...

Nice blog first of all.

What strikes me most, in general, is the concept that the so called Western World has about poverty. What you perceive as poverty in the US for example, is much different from what people perceive in my country (Greece). The example of Nicaragua that you gave, it might appear as indeed hell to an average American, and Greek for that matter, but it may not be the case for somebody living in Venezuela, Botswana or Senegal.

I sometimes wonder, what we perceive as poverty? The inability to live at accepteble standards (to put it simply) or the inability to buy what we want? I think we have totally missed the point of what poverty realy is. (sometimes I am mising it) The average Greek experiences poverty, in the everyday life, either through a beggar in the streets, traffic lights, or through various humanitarian adverts in TV. To the former s/he closes the window and waves with the hand to go away, while for the latter s/he will change chanel. The rsult of that is that they identify poverty with financial problems that they experience: inability to pay back bank loan, morgage, car installements etc. They watch the guy with the new Mercedes SL driving and say that 'Boy, he has it good, while me I am stil trying to pay back my Hyundai'.

When do we actually realize that we have it good? Only when a natural catastrophy occurs somewhere in the globe, and then and only then do we bother to help. And for how long? Till the news of the tsunami become old news. Till we suck back ourselves to our own little word, which becomes smaller and smaller, and try and see how we can make our lives even better, no matter how good they might already be.

Poverty, or better, true poverty? It has become an unknown word to us, just as wealth, will (forever?) be an unknown world for places like the example you gave.

Anastasia said...


Thank you very much for your comments. I understand your concerns about poverty and its different facets in the world. However let me assure you that the purpose of this 'observation' was not to classify poverty in Nicaragua but rather to talk about the community and the village of San Jacinto.

Myself I am very sensitive to cultural matters and oppose vehemently ethnocentric perspectives and any type of generalization. No matter what though, still the description you get will be that of a Greek living in America visiting Nicaragua- as you would have put it. However, let me assure you that poverty was SO widespread in Nicaragua that regardless the framework you adopted you would have come to some similar conclusion.

In my description, I avoided to the extent possible, comparisons or the use of "standards" or even reference to the UN Millennium Development Goals- and that was not without a purpose. And this is what probably explains my over-emphasis on the use of the word poverty too (for lack of a better way maybe). Instead, my only allusions where with regards to education and healthcare: institutions (or goods if you prefer) that people appreciate all over the world and references I needed to make for a third party (ie the reader) to comprehend what I was seeing.

A Western judging Nicaraguans as poor for not having a car or a DVD or -you name- does not concern me. Similarly, a Senegalese not thinking Nicaraguans as poor because Nicaraguans have banana trees similarly does not concern me. Perception is one thing, is relative, is based on own's frames and it does not give me much at the end.

However, there is a big risk here. If you close your eyes and you say everything is fine, 'it is just different', you miss the bigger point. We live in a world that interacts- what we do here in Boston affects people in Nicaragua, in Greece, in Senegal everywhere and this is not talking about politics here.

The people in Nicaragua and San Jacinto do not live isolated; the cultivate bananas which then they load to big trucks and bid them farewell. What they get for their bananas is an X amount of money that will enable them to live or die. Because Nicaraguans can no longer choose how to live and prosper in their own unique ways. When I get my bananas for a few dollars because I like bananas and bananas are cheap and in return they get a few cents for all their labor to produce the banana that is sitting on my place, I contribute to their poverty and their inability to buy a shirt for their children or to buy medications for the grand mother falling ill. Because bananas wait for me in the supermarket no matter when I decide to go, this means that kids in Nicaragua have to produce infinite amounts of it and miss school. Because of all that I contribute to their poverty, or if you wish, to decrease of life standards.

Because of all that poverty in Nicaragua affects me. But even if we don't get the economic standpoint here and even if we don't use the word poverty because is highly controversial, we must admit that inability to access to basic goods is a subject of concern and to hide ourselves behind the mask of relativism is convenient yet a lame excuse in my eyes.

You may name it and perceive the way you wish, but to tolerate poverty just because other people are poor or just because it is the fate of the Nicarguans (as I have heard people saying) is unacceptable to me, or because 'they do not suffer natural catastrophes' is unacceptable all the way to me.

Anastasia said...

Because the previous comment was becoming too long, I wanted to put a few things about our western world here. I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis of poverty in the western world. They say of Americans that they are the 'best dressed poor people of the world' and it is true I believe because there are very poor americans working two or three jobs. Because they hide behind nice clothes (which they can buy because of the huge sales that are frequent in the US) we may think them as not being poor.

There is however a big distinction to be made too: people in the western world can be poor because they choose too. And you choose to be poor when you buy an SL Mercedes with loans and you cannot afford to buy other basic stuff. And this is where you analysis about the morals of our societies come in. But I want to stop here saying though one last thing: people in some other places of the world, not so far away, do not have the choice of not being poor. And this is of course easy for us to ignore particularly if a couple loan payment past-due notices sit on our dining tables.

Pixie said...

Ι wasn't aware about this village and really I am not well informed about the current situation in Nicaragua so I want to thank you for providing also some general information, an introduction.It must have been an enlightening and horrifying experience at the same time as places like this village that you described a poverty that is so different compared to what we call poverty here in Greece.If you think that they have suffered civil wars and exploitation have lived their lives without being able to change their current state.They were fighting for their mere survival.What was the purpose of your visit?I can't imagine the personal stories and trauma that its villager carry.

siddhartha said...


Please excuse me for missing your point in this wonderful blog you have made. It wasn’t even my intention to try and shift the discussion in another direction. I dislike generalizations myself, but unfortunately I see that this is what people do in most of the cases.

You are very correct when you write that people in the “western” world have a choice regarding poverty, unlike those in Nicaragua. You are also correct when you state education and healthcare should be something that all people have access too. And to make it even more efficient (I think that’s the word), I would add “proper” education and healthcare.

I see that this in fact “proper” education is what lacks from our “western” world. Yes we do have access to education. But what kind of education? The kind (at least in Greece, I am quite sure elsewhere as well) so ethnocentric, that I would be surprised if one in two Greeks could place Nicaragua on the map. (Neither could I 5 years ago) What I am trying to say is that if education doesn’t start to address issues like the one you did, I can’t see people even bothering about them.

I am not giving up on the issue just because there is simple no solution. I just believe that if you don’t educate people on cultural awareness, very few of them will bother to learn it later on. If we don’t teach our children to be more aware on matters like that, this will just continue on and on. If we don’t make them understand the importance of the benefits they enjoy (education and healthcare) how can we expect them to think and understand the disadvantages of their absence? Yes, our children need to know about the importance of their identity as a nation and its history. But they need to know as well, that as their identity today was created and shaped through events during the course of history, so did the identity of other people around the globe, but not necessarily in the same way.

Anastasia said...


thank you for your comment dear pixie. You were not supposed to know anything about this village, no worries. In fact this is what prompted me to write this entry: the very fact that there are millions of such villages around the world that nobody really knows about. And yet it is important to transcend the boundaries of our own world and get to know how other people live. It is also important because we tend to speak of politics and politicians (I am alluding here to talks and debates about Mr. Ortega and all the media attention last month) knowing very little about the country and the people of Nicaragua. Can we talk about politics and not talk about the people?


thank you very much for you follow-up. Of course education is key. I could not agree more. And yet it seems that those responsible for educational reforms have a different opinion on the matter: our lack of sensitivity about other people is truly disturbing. It will be up to the future generations to change that or else I see no reason to hope for world peace or prosperity.

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