Though our journey through Nicaragua composed equally of cycling and riding on ferries and we spent a lot of time exploring the different cities and sights, this reflection focuses on our time cycling in the country. Our ride through Nicaragua was diverse in its landscape from through flat desert scrub to foothills of volcanoes – many of them active! – but the one constant seemed to be this unrelenting headwind against us as we rode.
The wind is mentally challenging. The landscape can be flat but still it is a struggle. With hills, you can see the climb and look back to see how far you have ascended. With the wind, it is just an invisible force that makes life harder when the landscape looks like it should be easy. Also with hills, climbing is an investment of energy. You work hard to ascend but you get it back in a glorious downhill. With wind, you get none of that effort back. The wind is draining and it is individualizing. Bryan could speed off ahead of me and I just felt slow.
It made me think of the challenges of structural violence, like the violence of poverty that puts extra stresses and challenges on people’s lives. Outwardly, it may seem like problems of their own choices while the larger structural forces of inequality remain invisible. Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere after Haiti. On our ride out of Leon, we stopped at a little roadside stand to buy a watermelon, the livelihood of a poor young family… emphasis on young. While children are often an expression of joy, hope and helps define the parents in society, a young impoverished family faces many burdens where children are an extra challenge to the ones the young parents already face. Both the husband and wife looked under than me, looked under than 20 years old and she was pregnant with their second child. The grandmother sat in a chair under the shade and she didn’t look any older than Bryan herself. They seemed happy and affectionately teased each other but I can’t imagine the challenges they face in their lives.
Similarily, the invisble force of the wind also makes me think of the challenges of mental illness. With a physical illness, people can understand better because there is something visible to witness. However, often with mental health, what is seen is just the reactions to issue rather the issue itself. There are stressors and struggles that seem invisible to someone who just sees a small picture of it. If you take a picture of someone struggling against a headwind, the wind itself is not seen in a simple snapshot.
The invisible struggle against a headwind every day of riding in Nicaragua reminds me to have more compassion in the world because rarely do we know the full story.