Praise for the Poets — Mary Millard, SNN Team Member
Greeted by slushy winter rain and expensive SUVs, my return to American suburbia was not what I had hoped. The seemingly endless day of flight delays and layovers was finally over. Yet somehow, instead of the joy of homecoming, all I could feel was an overwhelming sense of defeat.
I knew I had worked hard.
I knew the goals of Ceprodel and SosteNica were worthy of my support.
But after a week of nonstop action in Nicaragua, coming home to the smoothly paved streets and three-story houses of Rye, New York just felt… wrong. My own asphalt driveway, housing multiple cars, seemed to be reminding me that in the grand scheme of things, our sustainability project hadn’t really changed anything. I even felt disillusioned with the concept of returning to school, where my studies would continue in their slow and sheltered way.
During our time in Nagarote, everything the team did had a function and purpose; every action was a step towards our goal. The foundation had to be rebuilt to ensure a lasting model. The mortar had to be mixed to securely hold the stones. Our site was organized for order, and our roles were clearly defined. Even eating and sleeping began to feel less like leisurely activities, and more like necessary refueling sessions to aid our work. As an engineering major, it is no surprise that I loved living and working in this way – to maximize practicality and minimize waste. Systems optimization, as we call it. I was impressed by the resourceful way of life already so natural to the local people. On the Perez family farm, for example, dead leaves from their banana trees were used to protect their sapling lime trees. Leftover food scraps were not wasted but rather used to feed the family dogs. A repurposed bicycle served as an efficient well-water pump. Ah, sweet practicality.
Fast forward to Rye: a land of luxurious impracticality. How could I learn to live harmoniously again in this place, after having experienced the frugality of Nicaragua? The answer came to me as I was remembering the final day of our trip, when we toured the nearby city of León. To me, León offered the same feeling of resourcefulness evident in Nagarote; entire families set up shop in the bustling street markets, selling handmade tamarind candies and bowls made from carved gourds. Yet their public heroes, to my great surprise, were not laborers or agriculture innovators, but poets. Of all things to praise, in a country where survival necessitates practicality, these people chose poetry: a most inherently impractical practice! This juxtaposition amazed me as I saw museums, murals, street names, and even a “Poets’ Park” all echoing their pride. Reflecting on this at home days later, my perspective began to change.
The push towards a more sustainable future for global development can seem desperately urgent and immensely daunting. And it is. But perhaps we don’t have to be completely utilitarian about it. We can work with our hands and create practical solutions while still appreciating some of the inevitable impracticality of human life. The Nicaraguans seem to have mastered this balance; they love and accept flawed realities, while working hard to improve. Rigoberto López Pérez, Rubén Darío, and Alfonso Cortés taught me that no matter how drastic my actions may be, change will not happen overnight. Going forward, I hope to be a bit more poetic in my own fight for sustainability. Rather than look at the world’s problems with disgust and despair, I can try to see them as a Nicaraguan might: as creative opportunities.