The first time I remember having heard of Nicaragua was during an evening newscast sometime in the autumn of 1980. The first time I had the opportunity to vote in a presidential election was November, 1980. Most of the students I knew at that time were somehow very certain about what was right and wrong in general, about what would be best for Nicaragua, about who could best lead the United States, and about lots of other things. And most seemed to have similar views to one another. Some days I was impressed by the coherence and consistency, others nauseated.
It was the nausea, in the end, that motivated me. That sickening feeling was not the result of judging people around me, but of realizing that I did not have sufficient experience to have such strong viewpoints. That was why I left college (the ad below, which I did not see until a few years after graduating college, summed up in 30 seconds what I had been looking for).
I now think about those experiences, the ones that allow an individual to set his/her own expectations, as an essential part of liberalism. Such experiences, to be effective, require curiosity; risk-taking; exposure; an ability to say I don’t know; a need to find out.
When I finally had the opportunity to visit Nicaragua in the mid-1990s I did so with a (still) open mind. I had the good fortune of access to colleagues who knew the country well–from pre-Sandinista times, during the revolution, and through its peaceful transition to democracy. And access to this book, written by one of those colleagues, which is something of a manifesto in favor of everyday life as a source of perspective.
Nicaragua was worth the wait. Still is. When Seth decided to spend his summer break working there, my hope was that he would see it for himself, and would learn something about himself and the world around him in the process; ideally he would be able to communicate some of that on this site. Ditto for Michael in his work in Kerala. Ditto for the other contributors that joined after them. For those contributors and visitors alike, the purpose of this site has something to do with perspective that comes from experience, from the shock of the new.