School Builds and Carded Cocaine

20 Aug

My mother once said to me, “You have lovely writing, I only wish that you would write about something nice for once.” I don’t think that she realizes that I am writing about the dark, trying, and haunting, so that I may one day write about these “nice things” she speaks of.


The first time I had arrived in Nicaragua for a school build, everything had a dream like quality. Stepping off the plane into muggy heat and finding the person holding a sign with my name was all surreal for me. I didn’t come from a family that traveled. Actually, they did travel but they travelled as far North to say they’ve been near Alaska or as far south to say they have been close to the U.S. border on that side. Once, when we were young they took us across those invisible lines to a place where dreams come true. Disney Land. Nonetheless, extensive travel that entailed crossing over seas or landing on another continent had not yet been done. I indulged myself in every sound and sight and immersed myself in the experience. There are still nights where I hear a familiar bird call that reminds me of being on the cobbled streets of Leon.

I witnessed a lot of things on that first trip that were perspective shifters and it was hard for me to make sense of the level of poverty I was seeing. I walked by a family counting hard red beans into a red plastic pail. The pail was the size of a sand pail used by kids at the beach; this family was using it to count the food to be eaten by their family of four for the day. The pail was only half full when they finished counting. In these hard brown faces and dark obsidian eyes I seen so much of my people reflected back at me. I will never forget them.

I remember the young man who drew crosses in the dirt to communicate to me that his 7 brothers had died and he was the only one. I could tell by his face tattoos (tattoos being uncommon because of the risk of infection) that he was involved in a heavy hard knuckled life. We stood together under the mass of bright blue that made you want to believe in God on an empty dirt lot used for impromptu soccer games by the kids. I had no words, and even if I did, I didn’t know the language to say them so he could understand so we stood in silence and let the thick air around us encompass the memory laden words and swallow them.

Yet, there was a lot of laughter on the trip. Children played with us as we worked side by side and they passed us neatly packaged notes scribbled in Spanish that asked us to be their friends. We played soccer in one community that was based out of the Managua municipal dump and the kids laughed as they kicked our ass and scored goals without effort. We drew pictures with children, made friendship bracelets, drummed, danced, sang, and worked hard under the blazing sun constructing the school.

I had finally felt like I was making a difference. I could disconnect myself from the blackness of my past and see a way forward.

Fast forward 3 years and a relapse:

I was sitting in the living room of a drug dealers next to my friend and we were propelling forward at alarming rates on 36 hours of no sleep. This became normal. A sea of people entered and exited the place, stopping to bust a few lines, have a beer and make small talk. Most of them were faceless. There were always so many bodies and I couldn’t focus on those who came and gone or I’d lose my balance. My friend had this bizarre feeling of duty to watch out for me and take care of me. She would hold my hair back if I needed to puke, change my clothes if I had spilled my drink, buy me drinks if I had run out, and make sure that I was content sitting there on that couch high out of my fucking mind. Every weekend was a blur of people streaming in and out and my eyes were like a camera on slow exposure.

I always talked about Nicaragua and the two times that I went there to build schools. I clung to it in that drug den as if it was an invisible raft keeping me from being sucked down further. I had once done something human and I could take rest in that. However, I couldn’t rest in it and talking about it only made me more agitated and deepened the chasm between who I thought I was and what I was becoming.

They all talked about going to Nicaragua one day and building a school. We planned how we would contract work, what duties we would do, and how long it would take showing that…when you’re high on cocaine you can make some pretty fucking elaborate plans that will lead you nowhere.

I began to use my accomplishments as show pieces that made me feel worth something. It was as if I was showcasing a ransacked house with missing doors and dirty floors but I’m pointing on the certificates on the wall and newspaper clippings on when the house went to the U.N. with a delegation to speak for First Nation rights. It never made me feel human.

It was during this time that I began to formalize the feeling that my epic deeds and worthy causes were behind me and no longer tangible. Today I am almost a year and a half sober with one year left standing between my Bachelors Degree and my hand and I still struggle with conquering this feeling. I gave something up in that living room as the piles of cocaine and booze metamorphosed into futile and heartless conversation. I cringe inside when I think of some of the things that were said there under the guise of reality.

I did things like start running groups, build schools and the like because I truly wanted to make a difference in the world. I want to empower others to live out their best lives possible, I want to create better conditions for First Nations youth to live under, I want to see other people healthy and sober. I truly want good things for the world and want to be a part of making those things happen.

Dear carded cocaine feelings, you can now exit the dwelling because you’re not welcome where I’m headed. Just because I fucked up doesn’t bar me from humanitarian efforts for life. In fact, I can see my addiction as a fire that I am put into that helps purify me and remove a lot of the other attachments too. I can move forward now, knowing that my heart will not mislead me.

We gun’ change the world Biggie Smalls.


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