A South Korean writer, based in the United States, offers this piece about the friendship and inspiration found in a small village in Nicaragua. Read Aran Son’s article, Beyond All Expectations.
Her life was almost snuffed out before it even began. Born two months prematurely to a young mother who already had another child, it was touch and go for quite a while.
The birth of her brother the next year added another mouth to feed. Without a father to help out, starvation was always just around the corner. Yet, she was loved and she knew it.
The start of elementary school was both a joy and a terror. Already in possession of a mental acuity far beyond her age, she loved her classes and became an academic star. But, her classes were only in the mornings and the kids harassed her about her shyness. She figured out that life wasn’t fair and decided that she didn’t care.
The advent of secondary school marked a major change for most of her schoolmates. Now, classes started at noon – so that everyone could work in the fields in the mornings. Physical exhaustion became a constant companion. But for her, it was no sweat. She had been out in the fields since she was seven.
There were still no books to study or take home, but that was OK. The subjects were now far more interesting than before. English and biology were her favorites. There was even a course on social ethics! She was enthralled and started to think about her future.
She saw her first computer when she was 14 years old. It was a foreigner who introduced her to the world of computing and the internet. She became painfully aware of what her school did not have and redoubled her efforts to learn outside the system.
Her ability to hold her own with others blossomed. Her first potential boyfriend popped into her life and was promptly dismissed. School was for learning, first and foremost.
Determined to get ahead in the world and armed with exceptional final exam scores, she applied to the local university and was accepted. But, finding enough money to continue her schooling was a problem. So, she got a job as a part-time farm worker, started doing laundry and selling fruit, coffee and honey in her spare time.
She applied for the university’s special Saturday-only, intensive learning classes and was accepted. Graduation was going to take 5 years of working Monday through Friday and then studying like crazy on the weekends, but she didn’t care. She wasn’t going to be like all the other women on her island and if this was the price of getting a decent education, so be it.
For her, marriage is something that may occur after she finishes her studies. This heretical idea is not something that she announces to one and all, as she knows she lives in a society where being married and having four kids before you’re 25 is the norm.
She knows that setting up a psychological practice that can support her and her family might be impossible in the next ten years. Since she likes teaching children, she will probably have to teach while getting her private practice off the ground.
To her, service to her family and community is everything. She can’t see any other reasons for living. This puts her at odds with the accepted norms of her village, which already value the individual higher than either the family or the community.
Living in a catholic country, she believes in God – but, not in religion. In this regard, she is different from the rest of the people in her village.
Death is a fact that must be accepted. It could come at any time. So, why worry about it?
Poverty is also a fact of life, but she pays scant attention to her meager belongings and surroundings. As far as she is concerned, she is already rich – in survival skills and abilities. That’s what really counts.
In her eyes, she is just following her mother’s footsteps. From her, she learned honesty, the value of hard work and entrepreneurship.
Her name is Jenny and she’s my friend. For what she has already accomplished and will probably become, I respect her greatly.
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The author, Aran Son, is a South Korean volunteer who is working alongside Jenny on a farm on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua before she returns to pursue her university studies in the United States. To contact Aran for any more information about this article or any future projects, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.