Monday, November 27, 2006


"Be still my soul, the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful with remain.
Be still my soul; thy best, thy heavenly Friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end."
These are the words (to an old hymn) my sweet roommate left me with this morning before she departed for a week working with a team in Chinandega. How I desperately wish for His stillness to come...

Friday, November 24, 2006

dear friend...

Your photo sits on my nightstand in a tiny white carved frame, one of 2 I brought with me from home (picture frames were low on the packing list 6 months ago.)

I think about you almost every day, but I haven’t talked to you in what seems like forever.

I’d like to tell you what’s been going on lately—how much fun I have with the Nica women I work with, how one of them gave me a necklace she had bought for herself just to try to cheer me up the other day, how microbuses almost seem like an ordinary form of transportation now, how we’re planning a baby shower for someone, how every day brings a new project or opportunity.

I’d like to tell you what I’ve been struggling with lately—how I’m questioning the way I spend my time, my purpose and if I am making any difference at all, how finding God is often harder here than it was at home, how desperately I’d like to find a small group to join in my church.

I’d like to tell you what I’ve been learning about the people and culture of this beautiful land of lakes and volcanoes through their stories of resilience, patience, suffering, and love.

I’d like to tell you about the things that have made me cry in the last week—events around the world and down the hall.

I’d like to tell you about the roller coaster of emotions I’ve felt in the last two months—fear, excitement, hope, anger, pain, contentment, jealousy, sadness, joy.

I’d like to tell you a lot of things—the deep and not-so-deep, the colorful and gray, the ordinary and once-in-a-lifetime.

And I’d like to listen too.

I may be far away, but I still want to share my life and my heart with you.

Please don’t forget me. I love you.

-pjn 11/24/06

t-day slideshow

a nica thanksgiving

It wasn’t 46 degrees and there was no football watching, but my first Thanksgiving in Nicaragua was definitely a memorable one. I spent several hours the night before baking pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie to share with my coworkers and friends today. It was an adventure trying to make my very first pie crust from scratch—and trying to figure out the nuances of the gas stove, which is made more difficult when one does not have a thermometer and relies on approximate Celcius-to-Fahrenheit conversions like I do. But I am happy to report that despite these retos, the bread turned out excellent, and the pie—well, it looked edible and smelled delicious after an hour in the oven. So I consider that a success.

My Thanksgiving plans happened through a “6 degrees of separation” thing, through which Andrea and I came to know a Nicaraguan woman named June who married an American, wound up living in the USA for years, serves as a Sandinista army captain during the revolution, and now has a huge bilingual family here in Nicaragua. June is a sweet grandmotherly type and yet retains a fire in her eyes and spark in her tongue.

The house was a large, open air ranch style place, with a driveway and a backyard (both rarities here). Typical American furniture graced the living areas, while photos on the walls proudly display June in Sandinista regalia, war scenes, and her children’s milestones. On the table was a huge turkey with all the trimmings that looked like something out of Parade magazine. Family lounged on the couches (some smoking) and on the back porch sipping martinis and debating the latest political news, alternating between English in Spanish with ease and humor, depending on what they wanted to communicate. Like typical Nicaraguans, they treated us warmly and welcomed us like family. Like families everywhere, even though many of them don’t see each other often, they talk like people who have known each other forever.

We had a typical American dinner—turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, a broccoli/cauliflower/mushroom dish, corn, fruit salad, and pumpkin pie. Everyone raved about the food, and June blushed proudly, clearly pleased at her family’s delight.

For the first time in 6 months (and quite possibly the only time), I was in the middle of a serious upper class Nicaraguan party, complete with TV journalists, a member of the infamous Chamorro family, and a bartender/taxista hired by the family for the evening. It was a different kind of culture shock, for sure.

Memorable, though. Definitely memorable. And I am thankful for that.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

nippy in nicaragua!

I knew I wasn't imagining things. Today really was like an autumn day here in Managua (reminding me of the mountains of Matagalpa, where this pic was taken) and here is the temperature record to prove it. I woke up with a chill in my bones this morning, relished my semi-scalding shower, and even wore a sweater to the office. Wonders never cease.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"give them a light"

The translation, as promised to Duo Guardabarranco's song "Dale una Luz", which everytime I hear it, moves me to tears. My Nica friend Hultner says, "We have a saying as Nicaraguans--that we love life so much, we would die to live in freedom." As a student of American history, I told him that it was for that same love of liberty that Americans gave their lives 230 years ago. There is always more that unites us, if we only look for it.

"Give them a light"

In a place the sky cries with tenderness
In a place all is green in festival
In high waters not far from Corn Island and the Bluff
A man-child fishes, a bag in the ocean

In a place burns the sky with stars
In a place it saw me play as a child
I had friendship, a friend that will play no more
But the street, today it is named for him

In a place it rains so much it blocks out the sun
And the quagmire always kisses your knees
An elder is learning his first letters
He has no glasses but he will know how to read

In a place where the water is grand like volcanoes
And the shark made its nest in sweet water
The hurricane gives the forest mortal fear
Trembles the earth, trembles the ocean of this place

Give a light to the people who have searched for
Their freedom against heaven and against mankind
Give a light to this nation which loves life so much
In Nicaragua

What is so beautiful about this song is how it poetically represents the salient events of Nicaragua's history and culture and natural beauty, all in one. Stanza one is a reference to the Atlantic Coast, stanza two to the war that took the lives of so many Nicaraguans in the 70s and 80s, stanza three to the literacy campaign the Sandinistas led, stanza four to Hurricane Mitch (1998), and the final verse to the passion of la gente, that love life with all there is to love, but have struggled so much to find a light in the dark times that have dominated their recent history.

Oh, Lord, let your light shine in this land, in the hearts of Nicaraguans from Bluefields to Pochomil, from Somotillo to Penas Blancas...

Monday, November 20, 2006

the jesus meme

"The Jesus Meme is more than packets of theological information filled with objective rules or objectified rituals. The Jesus Meme is a life-or-death relationship with God through faith practices, stories, songs, beliefs, walks, ongoing traditions, upcoming technologies, and the connectedness of a social brain to the very Spirit of Christ. "

Read the rest of this article by Leonard Sweet.

dale una luz

A few photos of the Nicaraguan group Duo Guardabarranco (sister and brother, Katia and Salvador Cardenal) whose concert I went to Saturday night...below, the lyrics to one of my favorite songs they sing called Dale Una Luz (come back and visit later this week for a translation)

En un lugar llora el cielo de ternura
En un lugar todo el verde esta de fiesta
en altamar no muy lejos de Corn Island y el Bluff
Un hombre niño pesca un saco en el mar

En un lugar quema el cielo las estrellas
en un lugar que me vio jugar de niño
tuve amistad un amigo que no jugará más
pero, la calle, hoy se llama como él.

En un lugar llueve tanto que se apaga el sol
y el lodazal besa siempre tus rodillas
un viejo esta aprendiendo sus primeras letras
no tiene anteojos pero sabrá leer.

En un lugar donde el agua es a volcanes
y el tiburón hizo nido en agua dulce el huracán
pone un bosque en reverencia mortal
tiembla la tierra, tiembla el mar de este lugar.

Dale una luz a la gente que ha buscado
su libertad contra el cielo y contra humanos
dale una luz a este pueblo que ama tanto vivir
en Nicaragua...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

what i saw today...

while wandering the streets of managua today, i grew more in love with the city in which i have been planted...these are some of the things i saw and experienced

The list: Men trimming trees with machetes, a family riding a horse and cart, sharing the road with buses and cars, a university that is greener and more manicured than Trinity, a book on the history of Bluefields (a town on Nicaragua’s east coast), Che Guavara t-shirts for sale, Managua’s new cathedral, which looks more like it belongs in India than Nicaragua, a shack in a vacant lot, tons of palm trees, a Pizza Hut restaurant (where I ate my first calzone in 6 months…mmmm!), a statue of Sandino rising above the Managua skyline, a closed lookout point with a glorious view of Laguna Tiscapa, a monument to the students who carried out the Sandinista literacy campaign in the 1980s, a “Herty Vive” scrawl on a bridge, men playing checkers using chess pieces, a monument that looks like a knot, a coffeeshop that looks just like Starbucks, and a man selling kites. and that's just what i can remember.

i love nicaragua.

subway and christmas

From the "What country am I living in, again?" files...

Subway just opened on the main street near my house...
Christmas tree in the local grocery store--in early November...
(also notice the mountain of Colgate toothpaste...)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Saturday, November 11, 2006

la belleza de las isletas

Hundreds of years ago, a volcano near Granada called Mombacho exploded, spewing volcanic rock into Lake Cocibalca (also known as Lago Nicaragua), creating what is today know as las isletas. 365 of them, in fact (and they all have names!). In one hour today, me, my roommate Andrea and departing FHI staff Heather saw about 40 of them in an hour boat tour given by a sweet Nica man who actually lives on one of them! Now a lush green community, some isletas have houses, restaurants, or schools built on them, and others are totally deserted works of art. Pictures cannot do these marvels justice, but here are a few to whet your appetite for a must-see part of any trip to this country. (Do I sound like a travel agent?)

A hat is an essential part of any lake adventure!

Isn't it gorgeous!?

Even in the middle of the lake, you can't escape politics...if you look closely, you can see the red and black Sandinista flag, and below it, the flag of Nicaragua. This is definitely the order of some people's loyalties here.

Ready to visit yet?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

a book meme

For a change of pace from my all-elections, all the time blogging, I thought I would respond to the book meme idea posted on my friend Amelia's blog:

The rules are: 1. Grab the nearest book. 2. Open the book to page 123. 3. Find the fifth sentence. 4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog, along with these instructions. 5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest!

Well, the book that happened to be closest was in Spanish. So what follows is a translation, not an exact quote from "La Iglesia Local Como Agente de Transformacion" [The Local Church as Agent of Transformation].

"The historical model of mission that the church should realize we have been given, once and for all, is the person and life of Jesus of Nazareth. We could synthesize this saying that the mission of the church defines itself starting with the Kingdom of God and becomes a tangible paradigm in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The mission is not reduced to the transmission of a message but in fact includes concrete action. Passages like Matthew 10:7-8 and Luke 4:16-19 demonstrate clearly how much Jesus and his disciples preached the gospel of the Kingdom, healed, liberated, and demonstrated compassion to the poor,marginalized, and unappreciated."

I swear I didn't go looking for a cool or intellectual book. This is literally what is on my desk right now.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"tranquilo" v. "falsa paz"

Emotions ran the gamut among my Nicaraguan friends today as the reality of the Ortega victory set in. By far the dominant sentiment I heard was:
Tranquilo [No worries]. We will respect the Sandinista victory. We will give Ortega a second chance.
This is a man whose name invokes the full pendulum of nationalist feelings—either of pride or disgust, pain or elation. While he was responsible for leading Nicaragua in a time when brothers fought against brothers, food was rationed, and the economy crumbled, he continues to be a populist figure, a symbol of victory over a corrupt dictatorship, a source of hope for the poor campesinos who were ignored until the Sandinistas took power, and the reason that many people in rural Nicaragua can read today (thanks to the national literacy campaign they instituted, by far their greatest achievement).

But, not everyone is “tranquilo”. On the microbus to work today, I sat next to a man who was reading the newspaper headlines about Ortega’s victory and shaking his head in disbelief. “I take it you don’t like the news,” I commented. “No,” he replied sharply. “Ortega is going to ruin everything. No one is going to want to invest in Nicaragua if he is president. We’re going back to the 80s all over again.”

Last night two Nica friends visiting our house shared with us is that their biggest fear is what the United States response to this election will be. And then this morning, my dear friend Hultner asked me,
How is Ortega going to maintain good relations with the US when he owes Chavez so many favors already? And the [US] Democrats’ victory is only going to encourage Ortega to move further to the left.” He commented later, “Hay una falsa paz…a peace that is so fragile that it could break at any moment.”
While it has been peaceful here, there is indeed a heavy sense of uncertainty-a subdued atmosphere-a muted sense of color (other than the bright pink Sandinista hats around town). In some ways, the uncertainty has less to do with Ortega himself (who has made a lot of conciliatory gestures toward business leaders here and toned down his rhetoric considerably) and more to do with people’s fears about whether or not the country is going to be caught up in another tug-of-war between the United States and Venezuela. No one really knows what will happen. But painting the picture with polarizing, fear inducing headlines like this certainly doesn't help matters.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

with 92% reporting...

Yes, it's all over but the bombas (fireworks), which continue hourly here. After 16 years of the Partido Liberal Constitucional, on January 10th, 2007, Daniel Ortega will once again be this nation's president.

A quick breakdown of the numbers:
Daniel Ortega (FSLN): 38% (854,316)
Eduardo Montealegre (ALN): 29% (650,879)
Jose Rizo (PLC): 26% (588,304)
Edmundo Jarquin (MRS): 6.44% (144,596)

This result, in my humble opinion, was made possible by a number of diverse factors.

1. Most obviously, since the last election, the law was changed to allow a candidate to win with just 35% of the vote, and a margin of 5% over the nearest contender. The bar used to be 40%.

2. The ruling PLC has been best by financial scandals/corruption allegations and has yet to demonstrate an effective strategy for addressing the nation's most pressing issues. Many people were quite possibly ready for power to change hands.

3. Because of a pact between former PLC president Arnoldo Aleman and FLSN's Ortega, the nation's political infrastructure is controlled by representatives of these two parties. This made it difficult for the new dissident Liberal party and the dissident Sandinista party to compete.

4. In previous elections, the Liberal party was united around one candidate, but this year, their vote was almost evenly split between two candidates. The new liberal party, the ALN, was formed in protest to the PLC's pact with Ortega.

For those who may be wondering--were the elections free and fair and transparent? Jimmy Carter himself was here and it was reported in the local media that in his assessment and the assessment of the election watchdog group he leads, yes. Also, today I went to a briefing by elections observers from all over the country, and they all generally agreed that while the process was slow and tedious, anomalies were few and far between (some polling places closed early, some votes were marked null if any ink was on more than one candidate’s box, etc).

So, while it isn’t exactly a mandate, Daniel Ortega has indeed won the plurality. And as the people say, “Asi estamos”. More tomorrow on the mood of el pueblo.

Monday, November 06, 2006

election day pics and a few thoughts

Voting Site in Managua, Sunday morning

Thumbs up to these Nica voters
Just about an hour ago, the Nicaraguan electoral governing body released its third update, in which Daniel Ortega continues to lead the count (now with 40% of the vote tallied) by about an 8% margin. Whether he wins outright with the required 40% or scrapes by with a 5% margin, it appears likely (barring evidence of fraud or a drastic turn in the remaing vote to be counted) that Ortega will be Nicaragua's next president. It remains to be seen if his campaign rhetoric preaching peace, reconciliation, love, and concern for the poor will be matched by his behavior once in office (the new president takes office in January). I honestly don't know what to think. The world is much different now than it was in 1979. The threat of communism is dead. The revolutionary spirit which captured the Nicaraguan imagination 20 years ago is mostly just a memory for this country's young population. On the minds of most people here? The economy, unemployment, poverty, educational opportunity, trade, and infrastructure. How will Ortega's socialist agenda affect these important areas of Nicaragua's future? Will foreign investment dry up out of fear? Will corruption continue to mark government dealings or will there be a renewed commitment to "un pacto limpio", a key component of the dissident Sandinista movement which broke off the Frente recently? Will Ortega work with his opponents in a spirit of compromise for the bienestar del pueblo, or will he ignore the 60% of the population who voted against him? Will he respect the free press even if it critiques him, or will he attempt to shut down media who expose his faults? No one knows.
Many people wrote off Ortega long ago, thinking his place in history was already written. But, perhaps there is a different end to his story. I am willing to wait and see. A quote I read today captures the heart of the matter:
"History will judge societies and governments - and
their institutions - not by how big they are or how well they serve the rich and the powerful, but by how effectively they respond to the needs of the poor and the helpless
." (Cesar Chavez)
Whatever happens, Nicaragua and its people are in God's hands. I am not afraid. My faith is in the goodness and mercy of Christ, not the winner of this election.

11:17am election update: waiting game

For those of you not following the minute-by-minute news from Nicaragua, after a quiet day of voting with few notable incidents, a second set of preliminary results from Sunday's elections were announced early this morning at 3:30am. With 14% of the vote reported, Ortega leads with 40.04%, but US-supported candidate Montealegre is still close behind with 33%. However, the Ethics and Transparency Commission has also issued its own quick count results based on 15% of the voting centers, giving Ortega 38% and Montealegre 29%, which would make Ortega the winner. Oddly enough, the official government body that is in charge of the results has not announced any further vote updates since those given at 3:30am.

The media are being very careful to remind the public that the preliminary numbers do not signify any true tendency in the vote, and that it is impossible to extrapolate a winner from this percentage. Nevertheless, fireworks from the neighboring barrios continue, and the Sandinista sympathizers have begun to celebrate all over the country. People have been calling in from all over the country to the local TV stations covering the elections expressing various opinions from vocal outrage to tearful fear to lingering doubt to quiet confidence in the Sandinista victory. [As a reminder, a president can be elected in Nicaragua with 40% of the vote, or 35% with a 5% margin of victory.]

It appears that Ortega may have pulled off an improbably victory, but there are a lot of votes yet to be counted, so take what you read from the international press with a grain of salt. It ain't over yet.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

on election eve...

Some of the best sources of information about Nicaragua's national election tomorrow and background on the candidates and issues:

Circles Robinson, US journalist and blogger
National Public Radio (Reporting from Managua)
Christian Science Monitor (Evangelicals' influence or Ortega v. US)

And, on a lighter note, Andrea and I had the amazing opportunity to go with two of our good friends, Hultner and Tania, to listen to one of Nicaragua's legendary singer/songwriters Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy (whose brother Carlos is a VP candidate for one of the parties this year) at Managua's trendy cultural hotspot Ruta Maya last night. Thus the pic above (Luis is on the right. He may have white hair but his voice is powerful and suave, and his band's songs are creative, fun, and beautiful to listen to. If anyone has any interest in the folk music of Nicaragua, his is the best in the country.)