Wednesday, May 31, 2006

photos and contact info

That is where you should go to see my pictures from the last two months.

Also, real mail of all kinds is welcome and can be sent to me at:

Centro Nehemias
AP 1076
Managua, Nicaragua

: )

no ordinary taxi...

Another story for which a picture would have been worth a thousand words.

Yesterday morning I awoke at the crack of dawn to meet Anne and Heather on the esquina nearby because we had to go to Managua for the day. As we approached the road that leads to the bus terminal, Anne proceeded to hail the first cab that appeared. As it slowed down to pick us up, Heather and I noticed that this cab already had 2 passengers in the backseat--and it was not a sedan but a hatchback. The taxista, anxious to earn a few more cordobas, assured us we would all fit. I had my doubts, but what are you going to do? We were already running late. So Anne took the remaining spot in the backseat, and the driver told us that me and Heather could sit in the front seat with him. That might have been true in a sedan or if we were each 10 years old, but two grown women?

After I got in, it became clear that this was going to be a tight situation. Literally. Nevertheless, I squished myself over to the left as far as I could until I was practically embracing our driver and sitting on top of the gear shift, and Heather squeezed in next to me just enough to shut her passenger door. Given that it was 6:45am and I hadn't consumed any coffee yet, I did the only responsible thing one would do in this situation: I began to laugh uncontrollably. “Of all the taxis in Leon,” I sputtered. “And Anne chose this one.” “Oh this isn't even close to being full,” Heather commented. “I've seen taxis with twice this many passengers.” The driver was amused by my antics, I think; after the other 2 passengers got out at their destination and we rearranged ourselves, he turned to me and asked, “Are you comfortable?”. We eventually reached the terminal without incident, despite the obstacle of my left hip on the shift for ¾ of the journey (it's a good thing we never had to go higher than 3rd gear).

Once we got to Managua, I had another “first”--riding a city bus there. We were the last ones on and thus stood toward the front of the bus. I was holding onto the back of driver's seat while carrying Anne's backpack on my shoulder, and every sudden turn or speed change sent the bag flying into his head until Anne took it from me. It's seriously a miracle that we didn't have an accident. Of course, blessed Anne assured me this bus was far from full-- “full is when people ride in the cargo hold”. I am proud to say, however, that I managed to hang onto the handhold, unzip my purse, pull out my busfare, and close my purse without falling over—all while the bus was in motion!

Later in Managua, when I was retelling this story in a meeting, it seemed even funnier and I could barely choke the words out I was laughing so hard. “One day soon these experiences will cease to be funny and just become normal,” I concluded. “But until then, aren't you glad I'm able to laugh about them?”

Monday, May 29, 2006

chickens on board!

I wish I had a photo of this, but you will just have to use your imagination on this one. This morning my friend Heather and I boarded a bus to Santa Maria for a Mother´s Day program. It was just like any other trip on the Chinandega-bound bus until a Nica woman boarded carrying a huge burlap bag with 3 small holes, out of which poked the heads of 3 live chickens! The woman held the bag over her head as she walked down the aisle of the bus and these 3 chickens literally passed right over me as she searched for a seat further back on the bus. Believe it or not, the chickens seemed quite tranquil, despite their captivity...

(Aside: Mother´s Day is May 30th here and it is a huge deal. All the kids have the day off from school and instead of giving cards and families going out to lunch, there are these huge productions at all the schools and most of the churches involving music and dance and poems and gifts. Will post photos later this week.)

ruben dario and charismatic catholics

For the first time since I arrived in Nicaragua, I wasn't leaving town for the weekend, so after a leisurely breakfast Saturday morning, I strolled downtown in search of the Ruben Dario Museum. Ruben Dario is the most famous poet in Central America, and is a native son of Nicaragua. I walked for over an hour in search of this mysterious building (that happens to be right next door to Comedor Lissette, where I have eaten about 5 times).

After wandering around the museum (not at all like the museums in the States—everything was in black and white, for one, and many of the text displays showed serious signs of dirt and aging) for a bit, I ventured back out onto the street in search of lunch. One block north of the Museo was a little bodega that claimed it served the best refrescos in town. Since I can't seem to pass up the opportunity for a fruit drink in this country, I immediately entered the place and ordered an orange-pineapple fresco sin azucar, which turned out wonderful. So wonderful that I asked for another and an avocado sandwich on top of it. It was so nice to eat something not fried and not involving chicken (the safest meat to eat, and thus the one I choose 9 times of out 10).

Later that evening, I passed Anne's house and she invited me to this prayer group she goes to on Saturday nights at her neighbor's house. As we were about to knock on the door, Anne asked me, “How do you feel about being prayed over in tongues? It'll be translated.” Having never been prayed for in tongues (never mind by charismatic Catholics), I did not know what to expect.

When we entered the room, there were about 12 Nicaraguans there, including Don Benne, the only person besides Anne I knew. The prayer meeting had already started and several people in the group were praying aloud simultaneously or in agreement with one another (it's hard to tell when it's in your second language). After praying and singing for a while, I was startled when one of the woman gently took my hand and led me across the circle of chairs to the other side where 2 men and 1 woman laid hands on me. The woman prayed for me in Spanish, and then the 2 men began to pray...they alternated speaking in tongues and translating for one another as they did. Much of what they prayed for was for God to remove my worries and anxieties and burdens and anything not of Him. As the prayer meeting went on, several other people were prayed over in a similar manner, interspersed with songs of praise. Towards the end, Don Benne read a portion of scripture and then asked those of us who had been prayed over how we felt now. I could honestly say (in Spanish) that I felt better than when I arrived. “Como?” Don Benne asked. “Con la paz de Dios, la alegria de Cristo, y la presencia del Espiritu Santo”, I answered. “Eres catolica?” he inquired. “Soy evangelica,” I answered. “Pero soy cristiana primera.

I didn't know what to make of the wide eyed looks I received. It is extremely rare here for evangelicals and catholics to talk to each other about spiritual things, never mind pray together. There is a serious divide between the 2 groups here, a sad witness to the unity of the body Christ prayed for during his last hours on earth.

After the prayer meeting, Anne invited me over for tea and we chatted about the experience, parents, God's redemptive power over our lives, counseling, dealing with pain and the process of growth as Christians we experience. I am so glad I have had all this quality time with her and Heather before moving to Managua. Their friendship has been a blessing.

Gracias Senor por todos tus bendiciones este dia. Tu eres maravilloso, lindo, poderoso, lleno de amor y misercordia y bondad. O Agua Vivo y Pan de Vida, gracias porque Tu me has dado todo que necesito para vivir. Aleluia!

Friday, May 26, 2006

TGIF, and a prayer request

This morning I went on a tour of Leon's oldest and most impressive landmarks, the Cathedral. As in most colonial cities, the Cathedral in Leon is in the very center and it is the tallest building in la ciudad; thus from its rooftop you can see the rest of the city laid out in every direction. It took a hike up some very narrow and dimly lit staircases to reach the top, but wow, was it worth it. A sea of red tile rooftops, churches, and street activity is visible from every side, as well as the Parque Central and the volcanoes that arc around the northwestern side of the city.

Back on the ground level, I saw this plaque on the wall (photo at left) with selected quotes from Nicaraguan writer (and possibly priest—I don't know) Alfonso Cortes (1893-1969). A rough translation:

“Time is hunger and space is cold;
Pray, pray, that only submission may fill the anxiety of emptiness.”

“The dream is a lonely rock
where the soul rests
Let it ring out within each day of life”

“O, the dead who have never lived!
O, the living who will not die!”

Violence in Managua

One of the subplots of life in Nicaragua is the ongoing tension between the college students and the police in Managua. Students here have been upset for weeks about a number of things, including the cost of transportation as well as the dearth of health care (though it appears the doctors who were on strike are no longer) available. The other day I was in Managua for the day and found myself with a few blocks of an area where students and police were in the middle of a violence exchange of gunfire. Thankfully the roads were blocked off and I was never in any serious danger, but one of my friends here had a bomb explode within a few feet of her car while she was out driving that same day. Things appear to be getting worse, not better. Newspapers and TV reporters here have covered almost daily the students in different areas of town who are burning buses and attacking police in the city. The headline Thursday was “Managua Bajo de Asedio”, or “Managua Under Siege”.

Dios, por favor tengas misercordia en este lugar y traigas Tu paz aqui...Amen.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

culinary homesickness

It´s one of the best comedores in town, but I just couldn´t get excited about my scrambled eggs, rice, and tomato salad last night at Lizzette´s. I picked at my plate with all the enthusiasm of someone who heard their dog just died. Staring out the window onto the narrow street where college students scurried to and fro, I remarked to my companions that what I could really go for was a chicken quesadilla, some chips and salsa, and a little cafe after dinner. (BTW, I wish breakfast tacos were non-perishable, so someone could send me some chilaquiles). As I sippled my limonada, I reminisced for a minute about my favorite dinner memories in Texas, most of which involved a homecooked meal around a table with cherished friends...and a leisurely cup of coffee to top it off.

Believe it or not, as good as the coffee beans are here, it´s rare to find anything but the instant variety in the restaurants around Leon. So I invested in a small pot, which I have used to implement a new coffee-making technique involving boiling water, coffee grounds, and a strainer. While I have periodic access to the kitchen in my boarding house, not having a kitchen of my own has been a harder thing than I thought to adjust to over the last few weeks. While it´s possible to eat a meal for under $1 here, it wears a little on me not to have my own refrigerator, and to only buy what I will eat in the next 24-48 hours at the store (including non-perishable items). If you keep anything (especially something sweet) around longer than 2 days, it´s a fairly good possibility that the ants will find it, even in a sealed container. (I keep my sugar and bread on the highest shelf from the floor, which so far has been successful, but with the rain coming more frequently these days, who knows.)

O Dios, make me grateful for the food I have, the resources that make its purchase possible, and the Pan de Vida that sustains me in all things. Amen.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

“I wondered how the poverty, the lack of good food and good housing would affect me; I was afraid of becoming depressed by the misery I would see. But God showed me something else first: affectionate, open, and playful children who are telling me about love and life in ways no book was ever able to do. I now realize that only when I can enter with the children into their joy will I be able to enter also with them into their poverty and pain. God obviously wants me to walk into the world of suffering with a little child on each hand.” -Henri Nouwen, Gracias

Interspersed between language learning and cultural adjustment, the most significant moments of my time thus far in Nicaragua have involved children. The students in San Geronimo who crowded around me during a visit one day asking me word after word in English, offering me treats, and eager for hugs. The little children in San Ramon, a tiny community outside Leon I visited last week with a neighbor. Despite dirty faces and matted hair, these children greeted me with smiles and kisses. Their meager circumstances did not prevent them from proudly introducing us to their perro, and her 6 perritos. The simple joy with which they played in the dirt and loved on their pets left me humbled and speechless. When have I ever been able to forget what I didn't have and live in the moment?

And then of course there is Majurie.

While walking along the beach with some friends, we saw a Nica girl selling jewelry and trinkets. I wasn't planning on buying anything, but our negative responses did not deter her. Even after we refused her, she continued to walk alongside us until I started talking to her. Marjurie is 11 years old—she had long dark hair, and wore a light t-shirt and white cotton pants that she had rolled up to keep them from touching the sand. She told me her favorite subject in school is math and that she lives with her mother and sister and brother in town—and that her dad had already died. With a smile that could light up the darkest room, she told us stories of how whales washed up on the beach and were eaten by snakes, and how she likes to swim.

Finally I stopped and took another look at her bowl and decided to buy a necklace. I thought that was going to be the end of it, but even after the transaction, Majurie continued to walk with us. Eventually my friends and I stopped and sat down, and Majurie sat down with us. As we talked in English, Majurie watched us with great amusement, and began playing in the sand. First she drew creations in the semi-wet sand, then began to dig a hole in which she buried my friend Kathy's feet. After a while all of us were covered in sand, but before we could walk down to the water, Majurie emptied out her pink bowl of trinkets and ran down to fill it with ocean water. When she brought it back, she offered it to us to clean off our hands, and when none of us seemed capable of successfully removing the sand completely, she did it for us.

How often in my life have I treated relationships like transactions? How often in my life have I chosen a task over a friend? When have I served for the simply joy of being with the one whom I am serving? How many opportunities have I missed learning from someone because I assumed they had nothing to teach me? When did I give with no expectation in return?

“And a little child will lead them...”

Sunday, May 21, 2006

noticias politicas

From the NY Times:

"In Nicaragua, Mr. Chávez has thrown his support behind Daniel Ortega, the former leader of the communist Sandinista revolution, who is running for president in November elections.

"I shouldn't say I hope you win because they will accuse me of sticking my nose into Nicaraguan internal affairs," Mr. Chávez told Mr. Ortega, who was invited on his radio show in late April. "But I hope you win."

Mr. Chávez pledged to supply cheap fuel to a group of Sandinista-run towns. The gesture was interpreted by opponents as a naked ploy to influence the vote and criticized as a backhanded way to funnel money to the Ortega campaign. Nicaragua's government called on Mr. Chávez to stay out. "We hope this partisan support comes to an end so that Nicaraguans can freely choose who we want to be the next leader of Nicaragua," Foreign Minister Norman Caldera told Nicaraguan television this month.

The American ambassador to Nicaragua, Paul A. Trivelli, speaking to Nicaraguan media, accused Mr. Chávez of "direct intervention," but analysts said it was too soon to say what effect Mr. Chávez would have on the vote. "

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

sights and sounds

Roosters crowing on my patio announce the coming of the day. Water dripping of the roof after a late night rainstorm. The constant whirring of the fan that keeps my room a bearable temperature. Early in the morning women proudly sweeping the dirt off the sidewalk in front of their homes. Children dressed in trademark white shirts and navy pleated skirts or pants atop of bicycles on their way to school. Piles of trash waiting to be picked up on the streets. Money changers standing on the banking corners waiting for customers. A blaring horn signaling the noon hour all across the city. Men drinking cerveza in the downtown cafe during lunch. Women cooking and selling food on every square inch of available sidewalk. Students selling artistic creations on the edge of Poet's Park. University students carrying Jansport backpacks. Colorful historic murals decorating cement walls. Taxis honking as they approach intersections looking for fares. Cathedral bells ringing.

sobre la iglesia

Another post for Paul (though I hope other readers find this interesting as well). I can't take credit for the insights that follow. I've selected them from one of the books I read about Nicaraguan history recently, called Nicaragua in Focus, published by Interlink. Personal comments are italicized.

“Spanish colonial authorities used religion as a means of control in Nicaragua with great success. The church colluded with colonial authorities for many years, preaching subservience to its native congregations. Church leaders were extremely wealthy and supportive of the conservative ruling class, a reality that is still present today.

The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has rarely spoken out against the status quo. Only in the late 1970s did bishops here join the ranks of the anti-Somoza movement. However, lower classes of catholics actively participated in the Sandinista revolution under the influence of liberation theology doctrine. The most radical parallel might go something like this—Sandino was Jesus or Moses, Somoza was Pharaoh, and the masses like the Israelites. Priests and nuns were vital in the urban insurrection, acting as messengers and providing shelter for guerrillas. Many clergy members were given positions in the new FSLN government.

Pope John Paul II condemned the activity of these clergy as contradictory to the Gospel when he visited Nicaragua in 1983. When the Sandinistas were defeated in 1990, a conservative bishop was appointed to the region, who openly supported the Liberal Alliance (kind of a misnomer, as they represent a conservative political faction here in Nicaragua). The Catholic influence in Nicaragua today is largely symbolic, and limited to major festivals and celebrations.(Schools here close for the entire Holy Week in the spring, and for “summer break” in December and January, during which there are several religious observances that attract a large number of Nicas.)

Meanwhile, the Protestant influence began to greatly expand in the 1950s and 60s, especially Baptist, Episcopalian, and Assembly of God denominations. (There are 9 Assembly of God churches in Leon alone.) Much of the leadership of these churches is now Nicaraguan, due in part to the pro-Somoza North American Christians who fled the country during the Sandinista revolution. Today about 1/3 of the country belongs to some Protestant church.”

[One more note about the Catholics. There was an article Monday in La Prensa, one of the national Nicaraguan daily papers here, about the soon-to-be-released Da Vinci Code movie. The local Nicaraguan bishop was quoted as supporting Catholics who might want to see the film (with a critical eye of course), while the Salvadorian bishop condemned the film and urged his congregations not to see it at all. An interesting contrast in Catholic leadership. ]

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

some random reflections

The trip out of the city is always a learning experience in any culture. Here in Nicaragua, the road to Poneloya was on the rough side, cattle crossings a common sight, and bumps a frequent part of the ride. The terrain was fairly green for a while, but there are some semi-arid areas along the way, much less inhabited. From one side you can see volcanoes off in the distance, and from the other side you can see poorer Nicaraguans who live out in the campo making a subsistence living while making their homes in shacks the same size as my room in Leon.

Leaving town last Friday in a bus, I felt much like the many Nicaraguans who rely on public transportation to get where they need to go—I felt much less common ground on the way home when a new friend (Orlando) and his son (Raymond) took me, Anne, and Heather home in an air-conditioned sedan. The contrast between our comfortable method of transportation and the many people we passed standing in the heat on the side of the road or riding bicycles was palpable. I was grateful for the less time-consuming process of getting home, but the whole weekend is a microcosm of the tension I have been feeling between my “rich american” identity and my desire to live like the majority of people here, simply and without so many of the amenities that most people here do without...

The western influence here is everywhere—from the clothes the college students wear, to the things you can find in the market, to the music I hear in the restaurants and buses here. American brands—clothing, food, toiletries, bands—are inescapable in the city. I was surprised (but should not have been, I suppose, given all of this) that my new friend Orlando's son Raymond's favorite music was Journey and U2, which we listened to on the car ride home Sunday evening.

I have noticed that there is a distinct difference in how I am treated when I dress like a tourist (think shorts and a tank top) versus an “expat native” (think capris/jeans, and a collared shirt). When I greet people, they are more apt to talk me if I look like I belong here, and the vendors on the street are more likely to ignore me than when I look like a visitor who doesn't know anything.

Two things I am having a hard time adjusting to are being tired all the time (they say it takes a while to get used to the constant heat), and being bitten by various bugs. It doesn't matter if I wear bugspray or not, by the end of the night, I am guaranteed a new abrasion somewhere on my body. When the rainy season starts, everyone uses mosquito nets, which I hope will be effective, as I can only imagine what happens when the moisture level here rises.

While we were at the beach Saturday, we took a long walk down the waterfront that eventually led to some rocks which we promptly climbed. It was well worth the sore feet we suffered, as from the top we could see another sturdy rock with a cross perched on its surface, while wave after wave crashed against it. The whole scene reminded me of the parable Jesus tells in the Gospels of the man who builds his house on the rock, that was battered by the storm but could not be destroyed because of its firm foundation. Lord, may that same foundation continue to gird me here, as tiny frustrations mount and tears come too easily. Thank you for my Spanish teacher and Nicaraguan friend Lorena who encouraged me today when mis emociones flooded mis ojos in the middle of our simple conversacion.

Por favor, ayudame, Senor. Quiero tener esperanza en mi corazon en cualquier lugar donde yo estoy. Poco a poco, yo se que estoy creciendo y Tu eres conmigo siempre. En el nombre de Cristo. Amen.

Monday, May 15, 2006

nuevas amigas

Since I talk so much about them, I thought you should meet my new friends and fellow FHI staff in Leon. Anne is on the left; Heather is on the right.

Ponelona Sunset

For less than $1USD and in a little over 90 minutes, I traveled this weekend to the coastal village of Ponelona to enjoy la playa with my new friends Anne and Heather. This was the sunset Friday night.

a little historia politica

At the request of my friend Paul, here is a (somewhat) brief synopsis of the events leading to the Sandinista Revolution here in Nicaragua and a little of what has transpired since.

The story begins when a young Nica man named Augusto Cesar Sandino witnesses the US invasion of Nicaragua to sustain a failing Conservative government here by brutally crushing the Liberal rebellion. After spending a few years in Mexico, Sandino is inspired by the unionization efforts of workers there. He returns to Nicaragua and becomes a general for the Liberals, engaging in guerrilla warfare against the US installations in northern Nicaragua. In addition to his warfare strategies, Sandino formed agricultural coops of landless peasants, and fought on behalf of exploited workers. Finally the U.S. Marines left around the time of the Great Depression and Anastasio Somoza Garcia became president of Nicaragua. Somoza ordered Sandino shot, but Sandino's body was never found.

The installation of Somoza began a long and powerful family dynasty, under which power was centralized in the hands of a very few, elections were shams, and financial gain was limited to those within the dynasty. Somoza Garcia was well educated and has a successful relationship with U.S. Presidents, creating a lucrative trade relationship with the US at the expense of local natural resources and sustainable economic development. Somoza is remembered for several positive developments in Nicaragua too, including the construction of some public buildings, a railway, city water system, the airport, and the Pan-American Highway. Members of Somoza's family remained in power from 1937-1979.

In the 1960s, a student named Carlos Fonseca Amador revived the Sandino image and ideals to inspire a new political and guerilla movement which became known as the F.S.L.N. (Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional). FSLN was initially supported by college students and city dwellers, but soon earned the loyalties of poor campesinos, and by 1979, had developed enough military strength to overthrow the dictatorship. After winning the war, FSLN had the tougher job of reorganizing the government and economy, a process which included the redistribution of thousands of acres of land and a massive literacy campaign, among other things.

From the beginning, FSLN encountered opposition, internally from the business community and externally from the world powers who were concerned about the Marxist tendencies of the new regime.The US began financing the Contras, former members of the Somoza national guard as well as campesinos unhappy with the FSLN's policies. By the end of the 1980s, the Sandinista government and the Contra war collapsed, and a Central American peace accord was reached. The agreement included pledges from all countries to permit full freedom for political parties and periodic elections (externally monitored).

For the last 15 years, while strongly contesting many elections as a legitimate political party, the Sandinistas have remained unable to retake the presidency, as members of other parties and coalitions have managed to defeat repeat FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega. Since the revolution, a “reformed Sandinista” party has also formed, known locally as MRS. MRS, FLSN, and two different Liberal coalitions have formed to vie for the presidency this year. It remains to be seen how the elections this November will turn out.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

after 7 days...

Well, it's been a week. Still so much I have to learn about this city (never mind the country), this culture, the language. That is the overwhelming feeling I left yesterday with. I am a learner and that is just all there is to it. When Lorena (my Spanish tutor) and I were meeting yesterday and talking about the 3 perfect tenses, I became a little frustrated with myself because I didn't already know some of the things she asked me.

Yes, I admit it. I was frustrated. I think I was also tired because I almost started crying in the middle of my lesson. A totally disproportionate response to the realities of learning, I know. And on top of that, I know that the more I think I know, the more I will simultaneously realize how much more I don't know at all.

I was also frustrated today by the quest to find the supermercado La Union. I was down in the tourist area buying a map and some postcards and then it took me almost 45 minutes to go 4 blocks, because I found myself going in circles and unable to decipher the map I was given. It doesn't help that none of the streets here are really marked except for Avenida Central, the street that goes right through town to the central mercado and Cathedral. The same thing happened yesterday when I embarked on the seemingly simple task of finding the post office that Heather had told me was on the same street as a restaurant we had eaten at the night before. Of course I did not remember any of the landmarks on this street until I had gone about 10 blocks out of my way and backtracked in several different directions. And even then I could not find it on my own but had to ask several people how to get where I wanted to go. Some good things came out of my prolonged search for the post office, though. I wound up in the university district which was an area I had not seen yet, and I discovered a used bookstore where I bought a book of Nicaraguan folklore (in Spanish of course) which looks really good.

So I have a lot to learn. And to help with that, my other new friend Anne has been graciously lending me book after book. The latest ones are on the geography of the country and a memoir of the Sandinista revolution written by a well-respected local author. I also have several books on Spanish grammar, in which I desperately want to improve, but am finding to be a mentally draining and emotionally involved process. So, as I drifted off to sleep last night, I found myself yearning to see a light not only at the end (because there really is no end), but also in the midst of, this tunnel of learning. Lord, how I need Your light each and every night.

los ninos de San Geronimo

Tuesday I accompanied my new friend and fellow FHI staff member Heather to the private Christian elementary school where she teaches twice a week. The school is located in a poor neighborhood called San Geronimo. During recess, these children all wanted to learn words in English from me. As you can see, we quickly became friends!

when I open my door...

This is what I see. Que linda, no?

One of many churches in Leon

Monday, May 08, 2006

tidbits of learning in Leon

Things I have learned after 2 days in Leon:

1. Always greet people with "Buenas". It´s not just short for "Buenas tardes", it´s the polite way to say hello to people, both friend and stranger.
2. There are 3 markets and they get progressively cheaper the further you are from the bus station.
3. The cheapest grocery store in the area is called Pali and is less than 5 blocks from me.
4. Nicas distinguish (like many Centroamericanos) between Catolicos and Evangelicos.
5. Nicas are friendly and open and will answer almost any question you ask.
6. It´s okay to show up unexpectedly on someone´s doorstep as long as you´re not there for a meal.
7. Leon is a predominantly Sandinista city...and being Sandinista is not a division based on rich or poor as much as it is based on age. Many of the older people prefer the Somoza era to now.
8. Nica Presidente Bolanos is seen as a friend of the US more than a friend to his own people by many of the people I have talked to here.
9. Fruit is plentiful here, but vegetables are not. And the poorer people eat little of either--they mostly eat rice and beans (in a dish known locally as Gallo Pinto).
10. The secret to staying cool here is to walk in the shade, do nothing between 12pm-4pm outside, or to sit near a fan at all times.

living in Leon

Leon is about an hour drive from Managua on the carretera to the north. There is a beautiful section of the drive right where Lago Managua and Momotombo (the volcano) are visible from the highway...tons of gorgeous vistas, valleys, and hills everywhere...though it does get a little browner as we head out of town to the drier region of Leon...
Something didn´t work out with the Maritza, the woman I was supposed to live with, so I spent the night with Chris and Phil Wilson of Living Waters instead. They have a huge house with lots of spare bedrooms for teams that come down to work with them. I was grateful for the bed and the air conditioning (very rare here), but anxious to move in with the other family Anne (one of the other FHI staff living here) had worked out.
Leon is a very colonial city, tons of Spanish influence everywhere--the food, the architecture, the cobblestone narrow streets with colorfully painted walls--you have to look carefully or you will walk right by the place you intend to go. 20 minutes will get you to the center of town and anywhere you want to go. Even though it is an old city, there are a lot of modern conveniences, including a huge supermarket where you can buy almost anything you want, a movie theater (which is showing MI 3 right now, if you can believe it), and vegetarian restaurants.
I´ve met way more expats here than I ever expected and that has been both a blessing and a challenge, because it means the temptation to speak English is more present that I would like, but I have very much enjoyed my new colleagues in ministry here--Heather, who teaches at a couple schools here in Leon, and Anne, who lives here but works primarily with a community called Santa Maria about 30 minutes north of here (I go there on Thursday and will post my observations next weekend).
Sunday was the first day I wanted to cry. The stress of not being settled by Sunday afternoon got to me a little bit, and when things didn´t work out with the second family, I was feeling very frustrated....I tried to remember that flexibility is the most important thing in situations like this, so I am very grateful that Anne, who was helping with this whole process from this end, took the initiative to investigate some other options yesterday evening with me, and I wound up at a boarding house owned by a Dona Leticia and her brother. They are very nice people and the room I am staying in is just big enough for a bed, nightstand, fan, chair, and storage rack. I also have my own bathroom with a small mirror and cabinet (though the water pressure leaves something to be desired). The best thing about this place is the patio. Right outside my room there is a patio full of lush green plants, which I am sure I will enjoy seeing every day.
More to come.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The first photo of me in Managua

That's Lago Managua behind me. I'm at the top of a very tall hill near the center of the city. Thanks to my friend Antonio, I was able to capture the moment. : )

Catedral Antiguo en Managua

Lago Managua

Taken on Thursday, May 4th on my first tour of downtown Managua, given by one of my new friends, Antonio, who works with the Nehemiah Center and helped me retrieve my luggage.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

the first day...

Well, I made it! At approximately 9pm local time last night, my plane landed in Managua International Airport and I entered the tedious customs process, after which I learned that my luggage had arrived the night before and was being stored in a warehouse nearby which I could not access until today, and thus I would have to go 12 more hours in the clothes I left San Antonio in on Tuesday. A small price to pay for a safe arrival!

I was met at the airport by Kim Brown, the FHI/Nic country director here, who was ecstatic to see me, given her long wait, two nights in a row, for my arrival. We drove through town in the dark, so it was difficult to form any impressions...but I will say that there were many similarities to my experiences in other Latin American countries. Crazy traffic, crowded streets with vendors of many kinds, houses of various condition, and political posters stapled to poles everywhere.

After about 30 minutes, we arrived at the home of the Aherns (Shannon and Kathy), who live and work in Colonia Becklin, the barrio in which the Nehemiah Center is located. After some small talk and introductions, we headed for bed. It took me less time than I expected to get used to the intermittently loud barking of dogs in the neighborhood and to forget that mosquitos were hovering over me justing itching for a meal. I slept well until daylight, when I was awakened by the sounds of the Ahern´s daughter getting ready for school. Breakfast consisted of a smoothie, bagel, and fruit, and then it was off to the Nehemiah Center to meet the other staff.

I confess most of their names are still a blur, except for Antonio, who was given the task of accompanying me back to the airport to pick up my luggage later that morning. Being an extrovert, he was eager to share his insights into the city with me, and we spent an hour after our airport errand touring the famous sites in Managua--the President´s house, the old cathedral, Lago Managua (huge!), and some of the other statues and landmarks in the area, including a statue of Ruben Dario, the most famous Nicaraguan poet in history, and remnants of the Somoza era here. I was amazed by all of the trees--Managua is a very green place! It was a visually impressive and stirring experience, being introduced to the city in this way. (I did take some pictures, which I will post the next time I am able to use a computer.)

In the meantime, here is the plan for the next couple days of my life here--tomorrow I will be attending a Nehemiah Center Servant Leadership Conference for indigenous leaders, eating dinner with Kim Brown (my boss) and meeting some of the other international staff. Saturday I travel with Kim and another IS, Heather, to Leon, where I will spend the next month or so. I´ll try to post again once I´m there. In the meantime, know that I am blessed here with new friends, a growing love for the culture and temperment of my new neighbors, and only a few small mosquito bites!

Hasta nos vemos!

a lot of love, a little late, a long night, a blessed life

Forgive me in advance for this extremely long entry. I´ve got a lot of ground to cover.

It was Tuesday afternoon, May 2nd , and I was driving to the airport with my friend Lesley to board a plane that would eventually bring me to Managua, Nicaragua, where I would be spending the next 3 years of my life. My dearest friends in all the world were there to see me off—Cara, Judson, Karen and Shannon Pappas, Lexi, Byron, Helen and Mike. Like all grand adventures, there was plenty of drama before I even got through security. First, both my checked bags were overweight, so I had to pay a fee to check them. Then, after a round of hugs and a prayer and a few words of love, I approached the security checkpoint, only to be told that I had to go back and get my carry on backpack approved. I hadn't cried much up until that point, but the unexpected has a way of bringing out latent emotion, just looking for an excuse to show itself. What happened next is all a blur to me—all that stands out to me is every one of my friends jumping in to help me in some way. When it was all over, my tote bag was full, my backpack was checked, my laptop was secure, and I was finally ready to go. I took a long look at everyone's faces as I made my way through the security line. Right after I got through I walked to the left so I could see back to where they were standing. All of them were right there, watching me, waving. I finally turned away, and as I walked a little further, suddenly there was a loud yell, “We love you Pam!” from across the room. I turned and smiled at my amazing friends through my tears, and kept walking...slowly.

When I got to the gate, I sat in silence for a few minutes, unable to do anything. I took out an apple someone had given me and slowly ate it. Then I decided to look at the scrapbook Lesley had compiled for me with the letters my friends had written to me to send me off. Reading the words of encouragement, love, and support contained in the beautiful book brought me to tears again. There is something truly overwhelming about realizing how much you are loved.

I put the book away, just as the airline personnel informed us our flight to Houston would be delayed, due to bad weather that had put the plane we were to board behind schedule in coming to San Antonio. We landed in Houston around 5:20pm, and knowing that I had a tight schedule, I booked it across the airport, hoping that they would hold my 5:45pm flight to Managua for me. By the time I got to Terminal E, I was heaving. The woman at my gate told me that my plane, which was still sitting at the gate, had already pushed off, and I had been rebooked on the next flight (Wednesday). For the second time Tuesday, I burst into tears. As emotionally ready as I thought I was to leave the country, I wasn't ready to spend another day alone in the States. My body was wracked with sobs as I realized that, for the next 24 hours, I was homeless. The man at the Continental counter took my boarding pass for my missed flight and handed me my new one. As I continued to cry, he said to me in a matter-of-fact way, “Ma'am, people miss flights like this every day, but you seem awfully upset. Is there something wrong—something we should know about?” I was still crying as I said, “Yes, sir. I just left all of my family and friends in San Antonio, and I am probably not going to see them again for 3 years. Forgive me if I am a little emotional. I'd appreciate a little understanding.” At this he took great offense. “Ma'am, that's why I asked. I wouldn't have asked if I didn't care.” It was like something out a personnel training handbook—the guy knew the right things to say, but had no grace in his demeanor to demonstrate his sincerity.

Finally I was downstairs waiting for my hotel shuttle, drinking my Sprite and trying to see the good in this drastic change of plans. Here I was, stuck in Houston, with nothing to do, no one to see, nowhere to go. All I could really do is rest and reflect. There is great comfort in finding a silver lining to the clouds in life...and when I had found this one, I found an immense sense of comfort, not loneliness or despair. Even if I didn't have a single change of clothes.

I slept a bit fitfully but was thankful for a comfortable room and a nice bed. Wednesday morning my FH placement rep S. shared a story with me about his own experience with bring short-term teams back and forth from Nicaragua, and at one point how exhausted he was, and how much he hoped for a break. At that moment, on one of his flights, there was apparently some overbooking, and he wound up in First Class. He shared how that brief reprieve made such a difference to him, and how much he hoped I could see this as that kind of gift from God as well. That he knew once I hit the ground in Managua I would be in high demand and full speed ahead. That maybe there was something God wanted to tell me, or maybe He just wanted to give me some rest before that stage of the journey. Based on all of my delayed emotional reactions over the last 24 hours, I have to agree with him.

I lay in my hotel bed until close to check out time trying to rest and listen to what God might be saying to me. I can't say I heard anything profound, but I have a strong sense that God really was trying to give me something good, and wanted me to recognize it as such.

I walked outside the hotel to catch my shuttle and when the driver turned around to ask me and the other 2 passengers which terminal we needed, I was shocked when the gentlemen behind me said, “Managua?”. I turned around and asked in Spanish, “Are you going to Managua? That's where I'm going!”. You can imagine all of our incredulity in this moment as he and his wife and I realized we were headed to the exact same place. In the ensuing conversation, I learned that Senor and Senora Mendoza were Nicaraguan naturalized citizens of the U.S., who had lived in California and Phoenix for the last 22 years. They were both pastors of a large evangelical church in east Phoenix, and their son was the pastor of one of their daughter churches. They were headed to Nicaragua for a week of vacation and meeting with other pastors and churches in northern Nicaragua. I was able to share with them that I was moving to Nicaragua to be a missionary for 3 years, which they found impressive (as well as my fluency in Spanish, amazingly), and that the organization I was serving with had its US headquarters in Phoenix! My new Nicaraguan friends were so gracious and gave wonderful advice about being careful in Managua, famous landmarks in the area, the signature dishes of the country, and some unique palabras nicas.

Truly, if there is one thing I have been reminded of over the last day or so, it is that all things do work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. So I drank my last Starbucks frappaccino, read my last hard copy of a U.S. Newspaper, and waited peacefully to board my flight to a new home. Aleluia.