Wednesday, September 27, 2006

leaf, rag, bookshelf

A heart grows weak
like a trembling leaf
blown hither and yon
by the winds of change
that blow with caprice
through the busy city streets

A spirit grows tattered
like an old cotton rag
bleached and battered
through constant use
cleaning oak, ceramic, tile
til it loses color and form

A mind grows burdened
like an old bookshelf
ceaseless quantities of information
maintained in a finite space
the mounting weight of many pages
could break it any day
could break it any day
-pjn 9/27/06

Saturday, September 23, 2006

what i'm missing tonight

In no particular order (and certainly not comprehensive)...

Chilaquiles, hugging my niece and nephew, homemade meals at Amy's, Wednesday night dinners and music practice for CWS, lunches after worship, evening walks downtown, Trinity House, greeting time, Taco Cabana, the San Antonio skyline, Communion, driving, sermons in english, Madhatter's, the affection of old friends, Beto's, SoulHouse, phone calls, liturgy, books in English...


The tears have came easily today. And my heart hurts tonight, as I remain awake and unable to rest into the early hours of a Sunday morning in Managua.

Oh, friends, how I wish I could see you, hug you, laugh with you, hear the stories of your day, be near you, just for an hour or two. But since I cannot, know that I miss you, I love you, and my thoughts are never very far from you.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

swimming upstream

They tell you in your pre-field training that living in another culture can bring new levels of self-awareness—and it's not always easy--in fact, sometimes it's downright painful. Well, that's been true this week for me.

I have always known that I am a slightly Type A personality when it comes to office environments. I admit it: I like structure, organization, meetings, planning, clear expectations and deadlines. I definitely value relationships (though much more so in my personal life) and take initiative to cultivate them, but I also take a strong interest in getting things done.

However, it's becoming clear that my office here in Nicaragua is Type B—and in fact, the entire country is decidedly Type B, laid back, relaxed and ambiguous in many respects (which is to be expected in a relationally driven culture, but also leads to things like “la hora nica”, wherein every appointment is “mas o menos” and one is only truly late after an hour).

The funny thing is, when it comes to the tangible organization of space (like desks or closets, for example), I am decidedly Type B (as Andrea could attest). But, when it comes to mental organization, I have my own file cabinet with invisible color coded labels for everything imaginable. I never forget things I read or that people tell me, I always remember times of appointments, promises, etc. Even in my personal life, I hate being late—but yet I love spontaneity of plans, like the day Andrea and I decided to randomly explore a new bus route one Saturday.

But perhaps it is something about being immersed in this “extreme” Type B context that pushes me into my more Type A coping strategies for dealing with the stress of the unfamiliar. I crave meetings, plans, prioritized goals, information, the concrete, the knowable to help me navigate this vast ocean of uncertainty in which I live each day. Lately I have felt like I have been swimming upstream, as I suggest/implement a few new features of our office life as part of my role in the area of communications.

The absence of some anchors of “normalcy” in one of my primary contexts of cultural learning and adjustment (my office) lately has led me to this prickly place of insecurity and helplessness where I sit and sigh and wonder: is there a place for a Type A fish like me in the Type B lake of Nicaragua?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

ometepe pics...andrea style

My roommate Andrea is obsessed with picasa, and has already posted a bunch of her photos there and a few of mine from our trip this past weekend. Check it out if you're interested.

Monday, September 18, 2006

3 kayaks, 2 islands, and 1 tropical storm

Just like in the United States, a national holiday is a perfect opportunity to travel here in Nicaragua. Thus, Friday morning Andrea and I left the big city life for a tranquilo weekend in Ometepe (we were also celebrating Andrea's birthday—she turns 26 tomorrow, FYI). In case you don't remember, Ometepe is the giant island created by volcanic activity in the middle of Lake Nicaragua that I wrote about a few weeks ago when I was there on a work-related trip.

And in fact, the majority of the trip WAS peaceful and relaxing. Lazy mornings sipping cafe con leche and watching the light change over the lake as the sun rose, afternoon naps on the outdoor hammocks, leisurely hikes along the foresty paths near our (cheap but beautiful) beachfront hotel Charco Verde, seeing fishermen catch our dinner in gigantic nets, taking pictures every 30 seconds as the sun set over the western sky and produced fiery colors worthy of National Geographic...

There might not have been much to write about, had it not been for Saturday afternoon when our friend Anne joined the two of us for a little kayaking on the lake. Everything started out perfectly normal. We paddled out of the bay, pausing frequently to admire the view behind us of the Volcan Concepcion, the larger of the two volcanoes on the island and veered left around the bend in the trees, where we hoped to get a view of the other volcano, Maderas. Eventually we had both volcanoes in sight, and could hardly believe our good fortune, as both were virtually cloud-free (the combination of the hot volcanic air and cold exterior creates a seemingly endless amount of steam around the top of Concepcion, so seeing its upper opening is almost impossible).

The sky was a gorgeous, perfect shade of blue, and eventually a tiny isleta (island) that we had seen on a previous hike came into view, and we spent a few minutes debating whether we should continue into the more open water between us and the isleta to check it out. Needless to say, we were all very curious about this tiny island in the middle of the lake, so we kept going...not noticing the clouds building in the distance, of course. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We made it across the open water in what seemed like no time at all, and when we reached the isleta, we disembarked long enough to realize the entire thing was totally grown over, and there was no obvious way to hike up to the top, so we (remember we are in bathing suits and flipflops) tiptoed our way back through the weeds and ants (and who knows what else) back to our kayaks, at which point we decided to kayak around the side to see if there was any other entrance we might explore. Finding none and observing finally that the sky appeared cloudier and darker than before, we decided to head back to Charco Verde.

About 10 minutes later, the wind began to rise, and the water grew a bit choppier and we noticed the dark clouds behind us had gotten bigger and darker, and were coming our way. Always the transparent one, Andrea remarked, “I'm scared.” I was scared too, but I tried to reassure her by saying, “Our God is the Lord of the wind and waves. We will be fine.” So with a bit more urgency we pressed on around the first forest-filled corner and headed for the second, after which we would be out of open water and in much safer territory.

However, as we pushed for this second milestone, the waves suddenly became our enemy, as the strengthening wind was pushing them directly against us. And as we rounded that corner (still about 20 minutes from our hotel bay), it became totally impossible to paddle and the rain began to come down. “We have to go for shore!” Anne shouted over the wind. We quickly paddled to some nearby rocks (thank God we happened to be relatively close to shore) where we anchored our kayaks and took shelter underneath a huge tree hanging over the water. At that exact moment, it began to pour.

Then the wind picked up even more, and the water began violently moving toward the center of the lake. Anne, Andrea and I looked at each other and realized we had made it to that point just in the nick of time. Where we had just been, there was no shelter we could have taken, and if we had continued toward the hotel, we would have been caught in open water again.

It poured, and poured. And poured.

Someone mentioned later that there was a hurricane in the area, and these showers might have been a residual tropical storm. Even if there wasn't (it turns out the closest one was in Mexico), it sure felt like one. The rain was pelting us like bullets, and the air grew quite cold...Anne was the first to have the bright idea of holding onto a rock and submerging herself in the lake, which was much warmer than the air. We soon all followed suit, laughing at the absurdity of the whole situation. “We just had to go see that island...good thing we didn't decide to kayak around the whole thing!” I commented.

Eventually Anne left us to go back to the hotel on foot to assure our other companion Sylvia (who had elected not to join us kayaking) that we were still alive and safe. After she left, Andrea and I began to sing hymns and worship songs (“God of Wonders” takes on a whole new meaning when you are personally in the middle of a tormenta!) until the wind and rain finally “ceased” (after slowing down and coming back 3 or 4 times, we decided it was took much to hope for that it would stop altogether, so we settled for “navigable”), then anchored Anne's kayak to Andrea's and proceeded to paddle back to shore.

Needless to say, we were wet, cold, and very tired when we finally set foot on dry land—eer, wet sand—again an hour later. A few minutes later, with dry clothes and hot coffee warming our chilled bones, we were good as new (even cracking jokes about being near death!)...but I don't think any of us will be kayaking too far from shore again (at least not in Lago Nicaragua) anytime soon.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

dias de patria

In case your world history is a little rusty, today is an important day in the history of Nicaragua (so is tomorrow)...the day of the Battle of San Jacinto in 1856 which led to the independence of Nicaragua from the forces of American William Walker, who had declared himself president of the country.

From an editorial in the national newspaper La Prensa today (translated from Spanish, of course)....

“The battle of San Jacinto whose 150th anniversary we celebrate today, is without a doubt one of the most important pieces of national history. According to historians and military experts, what happened in San Jacinto on the September 14, 1856 was not exactly a battle but an isolated fight between Nicaraguans and the band of fighters under the command of William Walker of the United States. The Battle of San Jacinto is not called as such for the strict significance of the word battle, but for its value as a patriotic symbol. It represents the entire national war against the foreign invaders and the recovery of national sovereignty.

This battle also was the first successful military action that Nicaraguans engaged in after the Pact of September 12th, in which the liberal and conservative parties (who up to this point had been disputing each other's political power) laid aside their own interests, their partisan ideas, and joined forces to fight against a common enemy.

In this are two of the most important lessons of the national war and in particular the actions of the 12th and 14th of September—the first of a political character, and the second of a military nature. First, it is always possible for Nicaraguans to unite in the struggle for an objective of genuine national interest, that which is more important than political flags, parties, and leaders. But, also, knowledge of the Nicaraguan identity demonstrated that it is not only foreigners that pose a threat to the country, but also those nationals who act against their own country.

In reality, today Nicaraguans are not fighting an external enemy but are rather confronted by a national one that is seeking to snatch the liberty of his own brother, to oppress him. An internal enemy that must be destroyed with the same valor and resolve with which the heroes of San Jacinto destroyed the forces of William Walker on September 14, 1856.”

Happy Independence Day(s), Nicaragua!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

the micah challenge

Last week the Nehemiah Center hosted a training called "Dejate tocar por los pobres" (Let yourself be touched by the poor), led by a passionate Peruvian woman named Erika Izquierdo, which is part of an international campaign known as the Micah Challenge. The Micah Challenge is based on Micah 6:8, and its primary goal is to promote the achievement of the 8 Millenium Development Goals. A whole network of Christians from relief and development and justice organizations around the world have joined forces to advocate for these goals, as an expression of an integrated understanding of mission and community transformation. In their own words:
“Integral mission or holistic transformation is the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. If we ignore the world we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world. Justice and justification by faith, worship and political action, the spiritual and the material, personal change and structural change belong together. As in the life of Jesus, being, doing and saying are at the heart of our integral task.”
Micah Declaration on Integral Mission

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sunday, September 10, 2006

the weepies: wow!

Lest anyone fear that living in Nicaragua prevents me from finding new music to love, worry no more! Thanks to the amazing phenomenon of podcasting through itunes, I have no shortage of national and international news and entertainment at my fingertips (most of it free or very cheap!).

Through one recent NPR podcast, I was introduced to The Weepies, and for anyone out there who has any inclination toward the folk genre of music, I highly recommend their stuff...especially World Spins Madly on, Living in Twilight, and Gotta Have You.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

a vela to remember

Earlier this week I attended my first vela (wake) here in Nicaragua. My dear friend Hultner received a call late Tuesday morning at work that his wife Tania's abuelita (grandmother) had died of a heart attack. It was a week of mixed blessings for him and his family, as they just received news a few days ago that they would be able to move into their new house.

My colleague Anne told us that people are buried really quickly here (due to the prohibitive cost of embalming), but I didn't realize how quickly until that night when we found out through our Nica friend and mutual neighbor Maria that the vela was that evening (and the burial would be the following day). I was glad that I had decided earlier to make banana bread for them, which was already ready when Hultner called to give us directions, and Andrea and I took a taxi (at 8:30pm, the latest we had ever gone anywhere at night here in Nicaragua) to the funeral home.

When we got there, Hultner greeted us with sad eyes and a weak smile. It was the saddest I have ever seen him, and my heart just ached for him. But, always thinking of others before himself, he took us around and introduced us to all his family members, including Tania's mom, who was a sweet and strong woman who told us that her mother was a woman of deep faith in Christ, and did not suffer in her last hours, and now was with her Lord. It was amazing to me how many people were there given the short notice (word of mouth must be very effective in these situations here) the big front room there were probably about 60 chairs and almost all of them were full.

About 30 minutes after we got there, there was a service of sorts, in which some of the family members led music/worship and Hultner's dad (a pastor) gave a short evangelical message (“the best way you can honor the memory of this woman is to give your life to Christ”). I was watching Hultner most of the time, whose vacant stare remained for most of the evening...he stood alone in the corner, and did not sing during the music, nor did his facial expressions change during his dad's sermon. It made me very sad to see his grief—in fact, he seemed more impacted than Tania, whose makeup perhaps hid her pain from view.

Even though I did not know Tania's abuelita, I was very moved by the whole experience of being with their family for this deeply personal occasion. Like evangelical wakes in the States, there was lots of talk of the joy of a daughter going home to Jesus, but that did not keep a few people from crying (including me). Finally around 10:30pm, Andrea and I decided to leave, and gave parting hugs of consolation to Hultner and Tania (“buenas vecinas”, they called us). Even though it was an emotional experience, I was glad that we were able to go and support their family during that bittersweet time.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

reimagining american public space

this link is primarily for my creative director friend paul, but also for anyone interested in urban design and architecture, or the advent of a new magazine dedicated to GOOD.

their self-identified mission is, " to stimulate the culture of good by creating dialogue around things that matter."

how refreshing.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Sunday, September 03, 2006

how beauty is destroyed

Every day for the last two months on my walk home from the bus stop to my house, I passed this little patch of grass between the sidewalk and the street, covered with trash. One day last week, I noticed that all of a sudden the trash was gone, but instead of grass underneath, there was nothing but dirt. All it took was a few months of plastic wrappers, aluminum cans, and decomposing food to completely destroy the beautiful green cover of that small rectangle of reminded me of the science experiments we used to do in junior high where we would create these elaborate displays explaining photosynthesis or how batteries work. Only here it was no experiment...but the real live consequences garbage has on the environment.

One thing that takes getting used to here is how blatantly disregarded the natural beauty of the land is, especially in the cities. Trash is just everywhere--in the streets, the parking lots, the sidewalks, vacant lots. People throw their fruit pits, plastic drink containers, candy wrappers, and anything else they want to get rid of immediately onto the ground. In most cases this is not for lack of appropriate places to put the trash, but rather for convenience or out of ignorance. Many people do not seem to realize or care about the effects of such behavior on the health of the community—even though there is this public awareness campaign sponsored by the mayor's office with signs all over the place about a “Managua limpia y saludable” (A Clean and Healthy Managua).

On a larger scale, one of the most truly beautiful features of Managua, its lake, is stunning to look at, but has been totally polluted by chemicals and now offers no economic or recreational benefit to the community. Instead of attracting tourism and business, the historic downtown Managua area near the lakeshore is deserted. My Nica friends even tell me it is dangerous to be down there alone during the day.

When we don't see creation as a gift to be cultivated, protected, studied, and enjoyed, its beauty is destroyed. Either in an instant or over time, the treasures of the earth that give us life, peace, joy, sustenance, and pleasure are reduced to nothing more than the patch of dirt on my daily walk home. This aspect of the ministry of reconciliation that God has given us has often been overlooked or marginalized by Christians, but “ya es hora” (it's past time) for us to reclaim this part of our spiritual heritage—not only to seek the reconciliation of men and women to God, to one another, and themselves, but also to the creation left in our hands to restore.

“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed...”

Friday, September 01, 2006

TLC from HIE

This was a tough week, with a grace-laced lining.

On Monday, my battle with a horrible sinus infection began. For a few days, I tried to force myself to continue my life and work here as if everything was fine (thus the trip to Limonal Tuesday), but little by little my resistance crumbled, my body lost its ability to fight, and my emotions slipped into a mixture of frustration and self-pity.

By Wednesday, I was worn out in every way so I came home early to rest. Around 6:30pm, someone called and asked me to bring my tape recorder and my camera to the office the following day to document a training and some testimonies that were going on. I'm sure I didn't sound very energetic, but I agreed. Ten minutes later, Hultner (Nica friend) called. People don't usually call each other here just to chat (cell phone minutes are expensive), so I asked him how I could help him.

No, I don't need anything. I just wanted to see how you are doing. You didn't look well this morning.” When I explained I was still feeling sick and tired, he said, “You know, Pamela, maybe you should go to the doctor....Seria bueno.” He then proceeded to tell me about his and his wife's doctor who lives 4 blocks away and who I could easily go see the following day. He even told me he would call and find out when might be a good time for me to go. (Doctors here keep office hours, and appointments are rare, but sometimes it can be helpful to know if it's a busy time or not.)

I don't know why, but this gesture of kindness moved me greatly and I almost started crying before I even hung up the phone—and I did cry for quite a while afterwards. Perhaps it was the contrast between the phone calls, or just how tired of being sick I was.

Thursday morning I felt just as awful, but I forced myself to go the office because I thought I was needed. By about 11am, I was done. Normal requests sounded demanding, and even sitting in an office was more than I could take. So one of the other staff drove me and Andrea home, after which we went to see the doctor Hultner had recommended. Doctor Diaz was a very cute man with some funny habits, the strangest of which was talking to himself while typing out my prescription.

After I took my medicine, I spent the afternoon doing as little as possible, and by evening felt my energy and my good humor returning (though my congestion was still as annoying as ever). Right before Andrea and I sat down to eat dinner, the phone rang. Who else, but Hultner calling to check on me.

How are you?”, he asked (in English). “I'm better,” I replied sincerely.

It's good to hear you smiling,” he said (again in English). I don't how he could tell, but I really was smiling.

After a short conversation, I told him, “Thank you for calling to see how I am doing. I really appreciate your kindness. I don't deserve friends like you.”

Yes, you do,” he replied.

“And thanks for talking to me in English...” I added. (Hultner is bilingual.)

You're welcome...I know it's easier for you to speak and understand...”

I can't get over how thoughtful this dear Nicaraguan brother is. Of all the people I know in Nicaragua (other than my roommate, who has been patient and grace-filled all week long), Hultner was the one who offered me the most compassionate attention and care. And today? Well, I'm still congested, but I can tell the medicine is working, and I am sure by the end of the weekend I will be as good as new.