Superstitious Me

One of the first cultural novelties that we encountered upon arriving in Nicaragua was the superstitions that our host families had. They mostly amused us and we politely nodded and pretended to take seriously the admonishment not to ever shower after exercising (because if you’re hot, cold water can make you sick). If we came down with a cold it was likely because of a change in the weather (which causes colds). If we got diarrhea or just nausea, it was likely some milk-based product that ‘nos hizo daño,’ or ‘did us harm,’ rather than a foreign bacteria. If a rash burst onto our skin after going for a swim it was because of ‘bad water’ instead of microorganisms. For the first few months here I would accept this advice and then promptly either ignore it or come up with my own explanation that was surely more scientifically based. I’ve noticed lately, however, that at some point in the last 6 months I have begun to cite these very same superstitious explanations to give meaning to my ailments. If my nose is runny and I’m not feeling well I often explain to others, ‘It’s because the weather is changing.’ The explanation for a week-long illness of some kind offered by my host grandmother, that it was due to drinking a chocolate milk ‘fresco’ and then walking for two miles, seemed entirely reasonable. So what changed? Why have I begun accepting what seemed so strange and unscientific when I first arrived? My best guess is simply that it’s easier to be in agreement with those around me, and when I don’t know what really causes something, one vague narrative is as good as another. It’s more comforting to use a narrative that also provides social inclusion, understanding, and sympathy. Sympathy can be more important than accuracy, especially when there’s not a lot you can do about a virus or a mild case of diarrhea. Besides, isn’t science just a narrative that western civilization has adopted as fervently as any superstition? Sure, science offers more specific and productive explanations that have led to most modern innovations, but when you get down to it science can’t answer any question completely. Why does gravity work? Why are people the way we are? How should I understand my surroundings? Additionally, science has nearly nothing to say about morality or meaning, so maybe we in the west need to open our minds to other narratives in an effort to connect with others and consider explanations from other perspectives. Now, I wouldn’t suggest believing in ghosts or conspiracy theories, but things like nontraditional medicine have been very popular and beneficial. Perhaps some superstitions also have value that is distinct from their faithfulness to reality. After all, reality in a practical sense is simply the sum of our perceptions and beliefs. Why not be more flexible with our narratives in order to make our world a little better? These days, I try not to walk too far after drinking a chocolate milk fresco, just in case.

This is the result of falling asleep while your friends have your camera...


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Debra Lawsing on October 8, 2011 at 10:33 am

    As I get older I find that science doesn’t always have the only explanation. “Superstitions” are rooted in knowledge from centuries ago. It may not make sense when they tell you not to walk far after drinking chocolate milk but you never know. Maybe they know something that scientists don’t. It certainly makes the world a more interesting place.


  2. Posted by Allie on October 11, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Insightful as always. 🙂 Also, this post just made me really want chocolate milk. Hope things are well!


  3. whether or not they’re true, i’m all about using the superstitions here for my benefit whenever possible! yesterday when i knew the rain would mean that no kids would show up to class and the teachers would just be there waiting the 2 hours before they could clock out, i called in and said that since i had a touch of “gripe” i couldn’t “mojarme.” they responded with “claro que no! quedate ahi! ni quiere dios!! vas a hacer dano con esta lluvia!”


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