by Sawyer Uecke
Being in León was a spectacular way to carry out the final moments of Semana Santa. Liveliness fills the streets, and one can sense the national Nicaraguan pride that shines in the grin of many. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to participate in a near century year old tradition with the family of my best friend, Isidro. His family lives on “La Calle de las Alfombras”, where each year several families sweep the streets, sell sweets, and, most of all, make beautiful murals made out of sawdust called alfombras, or rugs. In the evening, thousands of people come to gaze at the various murals created, all with their own special touch. The process can be long and brutal in the hot sun, but it was quite a surprise to see how simple it is, with such magnificent pieces of art as the final product. I am no artist, but the fellow neighbors who have been doing this art since youth were more than willing to teach me the proper techniques.
After digging out old pieces of 2×4, we arranged them into a rectangle style box that we proceeded to fill with sawdust. In order to have a base for the project, we doused the sawdust with water, constantly leveling it out until we had a thick, solid base. It took over 2 hours of spraying water from the hose to sufficiently dampen the entire area. In order to create all of the different colors, we mixed ink with water and then massaged it into plain colored sawdust. Electric blues, hot pinks, greens like a fresh cut lawn, and oranges the color of sunset emerged from an exciting yet extremely messy process. My hands still appear to have a tint of green on them! All of the neighbors share the colors they created with one another in order to have more variety. Once the artists had outlined the dynamics of the mural, I was given what seemed to be the most complicated task possible, to form the face. Yet with a heavy amount of instruction, I learned how to maneuver my fingers and knuckles with pressure upon the sawdust to form the eyes, nose, and lips. Accompanied by more guidance, we filled in the different sections of the mural designated by the drawing into the sawdust base with the colors available. From there, we were able to use a rang of materials that others had brought including: volcanic black sand from nearby Poneloya beach, a white chalk powder, and glitter. Following these magic touches and touch-ups surfaced one of the most beautiful pieces of art I’ve ever seen (partially because I took part in creating it).
As I previously stated, I am no artist. Before coming to Nicaragua, I thought that I had it all figured out. My heart lied passionately within the STEM field, to the extent that anything contrary to this was as a diversion. I was so caught up with progressing my knowledge within the sciences that I subconsciously was ignoring a goldmine of information waiting at my backdoor, silently knocking as if awaiting no response. The minute I came here and started speaking a new language, the world of linguistics entered that door, filling my reality with more perplexity. Teaching English ignited an unknown curiosity that I now have for my own language, constantly comparing it to Spanish, wondering how over centuries communication came to develop the way it has: simple in practice, yet complex in theory. Nevertheless, becoming immersed in the Nicaraguan culture has allowed me to continue to explore the other side of my brain, one that I kept dormant for too long. Whether it is from participating in activities like the creation of alfombras to taking salsa and bachata classes, the arts have become an area of knowledge that I wish to continue to pursue throughout my life. I am grateful that I have taken the time to invite part of the vastness of knowledge into my reality, and I will continue to do so with open arms, an open mind, and an open heart.