When I saw that my Peace Corps service was going to keep me in Nicaragua for over two years, I started thinking about what that meant. It means, if there’s going to be holiday, I’m going to be there for it. I didn’t think the first would actually be their independence from us!
Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s mostly true. September, 15th marks the day Nicaragua fought back against Spain and the 16th commemorates the battle against the American-born dictator, William Walker. I’m not going to get into the whole history of that because I'm no expert so, I’ll stick to what I experienced on Nicaraguan Independence Day. But since the preparations for this started way before, I think it’s best that I follow their lead.
Every morning, for about the past week and a half in this tiny town of La Paz, has been filled with the ringing and banging of hundreds of drums, snares and xylophones as all the children prepare for a grand parade up and down all five or 6 streets that make up this little pueblo.
The noise permeates just about everything. Even while at the school trying to observe their classes, the other volunteers and I were almost having to stuff our fingers in our ears to tone down the insistent “THRUM DRUM CRASH!”
The sound made studying impossible for both the students in the class and us volunteers trying to learn how to improve things. We all reached the same conclusion that if they practice like this for every holiday, and there’s a lot of’em down here, some kind of wall to separate the band from the rest of society is going to be at the top of the priority list.
Even when you go home, that’s not enough to escape. The students regularly practice marching through the streets in the late afternoons for the last few days before the actual parade.
“Imagine if these kids could put all this energy into something else,” said Carol, one of the 3 volunteers here in La Paz.
Well I tried to think what the town would be like without the primary school band, the secondary school band, the church band… Honestly, there’s nothing else left in this town for these kids to do after school. In the US, there are a million student orgs, teams, clubs as well as hot spots to hang out. Here… not so many. The bands are about it.
Finally, the day had come for everything these kids had been practicing for the real deal. The all dressed up in their brightest whites and most navy of blues, the colors of the Nicaraguan flag. Bright and early, they start their regimental procession over the cobble stones of tiny streets with no names.
A quick look through their ranks reveals that there is only percussion, no horns or reeds. What they lack in tone, they make up for in rhythm. A section of girls carry an instrument that looks like a round cheese grater and a whisk that they scrap together as they dance their way through the street.
Being one of only three Americans in the entire pueblo, and the fact that they’re celebrating freedom from a white American dictator, I expected some anti-American sentiment to be a bit of an issue, but surprisingly, I was being introduced to more people that day than the entire time I’ve spent here. In fact the people were so generous that if I ever uttered that I was thirsty, a complete stranger would dash in doors to her kitchen and bring me a glass of water.
Independence means something different to these people it seems. It’s not about kicking out the foreigners or hating their past oppressors. For them, it’s about becoming their own sustainable community and being in charge of their own destinies, not having someone tell them what is permitted. If they want to give water to a thirsty gringo, they can and they do.