we start our trip to granada with a trip to the cemetery.
it isn’t your average tour beginning — way to start off our day trip with a bang, right? — but it is an introduction into the city of granada because it’s the only one of its kind in nicaragua.
see, granada was colonized by the spaniards, which explains why the houses and the cathedrals and the graveyards look the way they do. the indigenous nicaraguans weren’t the ones who built giant churches. they weren’t the ones who constructed to-scale replicas of european cathedrals. they weren’t the ones who buried their dead in elaborate monuments complete with hand-carved statues and life-size crucifixes.
faith — and capitalism — seem like the strongest influences on the architecture here. the stones near the center of the cemetery, the tallest and most elaborate ones, are owned by hugely wealthy families. the others, the littler ones with names and dates in a larger structure, are rented out to those with money (rather like smaller, more morbid apartment complexes). and the smallest ones on the outskirts of the cemetery, marked sometimes only with a cross or a stake, are those that belong to the poorest people.
i can’t help thinking how ironic it is, these white white stones under blue blue sky covering dark dark injustices. this continuation of colonization and religion even when bones and bodies no longer care, when both death and love are “the great equalizers”, and yet those who love their dead insist on obvious inequality.
under the rule of the spaniards,
we’ve turned the cemetery into a business
and the cross into a status symbol.
if you were to ask me which part of my identity i am consistently the most conflicted about, it would be religion.
i grew up believing in a God that loved people and loved me, one that brought truth and light and softness, one that championed the oppressed and cared for the marginalized, that was always trustworthy and always just and always good. and that’s the one i still believe in, even though my understanding and interpretation of Them (does God have pronouns?) has changed and deepened over time.
but there are other versions of who we call God, versions that are white and/or rich, that advocate logic but not love (or, alternately, that produce emotion but ignore truth), that defend the innocence of the oppressor and place blame on the hurting, that are used to justify colonialism and invasion and injustice and prejudice.
and it’s hard, sometimes,
to remember that i share a faith with people who believe
in that God, too.
to remember that i am constantly trying to separate
what i have learned from Christianity
with what i have learned from capitalism.
and it’s harder still
to remember that i have directly and indirectly inherited
a religion that has silenced and exploited and crushed so many people so many cultures so many lives
so many so many so many
and i don’t know what to do with that.
i end my trip to granada with a trip to a church.
i’m alone for the afternoon — i wasn’t feeling well earlier this morning and so skipped out on lunch and ended up exploring the market and the nearby square — and so i climb up the stairs and duck into the cathedral partially because it was in my friend’s guidebook but mostly because it’s hot and i’m in need of a little quiet and a little shade and a place to catch my breath. it’s a beautiful beautiful building, as are many of the cathedrals in central america… the product of colonization, probably, but also a community space and a major landmark.
i used to visit churches when i was abroad during my junior year, too.
while church gatherings, ironically, don’t always feel like good spaces, the empty church cathedrals usually felt right. they gave me a sense of reassurance, somehow; being alone in a place that was strong and beautiful, that had stood for centuries and promised to stand for centuries more.
i don’t think i can erase histories of violence and oppression, nor do i want to. i can’t change the fact that christianity now is messy beyond belief, and i don’t know enough yet to fully sort out all the tangles of capitalism and imperialism and colonialism that are inherent in challenging my own faith. if anything, all i know from exploring this country (nicaragua is still a deeply religious country) and this city (granada is the oldest colonial city here) and the graveyard this morning is that, well, these tangles aren’t new.
the people in the cemetery are dead,
but the issues aren’t.
this religion came through conquerors, and yet
it comforts my grandmother, sustains my mother, guides my father, challenges me.
the issues are alive,
but so are we. so am i.
and i don’t know what to do with that.
(but i’m working on it.)