Your buildings are brightly painted, orange and yellow hues that compete with the sun for attention.
Your churches are historic marvels, reflections of the Spanish architecture of 500 years ago—tall archways draw you in to gaze at the carved stations of the cruz, intricate tile floors, and altars celebrating the mother of Christ.
Your streets are narrow cobblestone, a mixture of the colonial and Somoza eras—arranged in a simple grid of calles that invites the stranger to wander.
Your mercado is loud and colorful, like your history, and its vendors bring life to the tranquil ambiance that pervades most of the city.
Your parque central is lush, green, and elegant, becoming a lunchtime haven for the weary sojourner.
Your lake is grand and picturesque, an amazing natural resource that gave you birth.
Yet where are your people, O Granada? For in your restaurants, your churches, your historic landmarks, and your parks, only the sound of English-speaking voices is heard, the faces of tourists outnumber your own, and your musica and comida tipica are hard to find. In your oldest building (El Recodo) is a cafe with the appearance and offerings of Starbucks, with not a natural refresco or nacatamale to be found.
Oh, Granada! What treasures lie hidden behind your westernized veneer? What stories do your people carry deep within? Where is your soul?
The world may never know.
[In an ironic turn of events, the day after Andrea and I visited Granada, there was an editorial in the local paper by a Granadino, praising the investment and tourism-friendly changes that have occurred in Granada over the last few years. I have to respectfully disagree with the point of view the writer expressed; while I am glad to see the economy of Granada prosper, I am disappointed it has come at the expense of some of the true character of the city and its people. Perhaps I am idealistic and this is just the way things are; nevertheless, Leon (the other historic colonial city in Nicaragua) is just as beautiful, just as interesting, and has lost none of its indigenous character in my estimation.]
2. I have lost 8 pounds since moving to Nicaragua.
3. Andrea makes excellent animal theatrical productions on the wall when we have no electricity (like last night). We managed to entertain ourselves for 2 hours in this way...you really had to be there.
4. I know enough Spanish to talk for 4 hours with Nica people we invite to our house for dinner (like Wednesday night).
5. Tomorrow Andrea and I are taking our first trip to Granada, the other historic colonial city in this country.
Today’s story is about language. Or more precisely, translation. One of my key responsibilities here in Nicaragua lately has been translating stories about people and communities—stories of transformation—from English into Spanish. In the last week, I’ve translated 4 different entrevistas/historias (interviews/stories) written by other people in English into Spanish for distribution within Nicaragua. These stories have been about youth outreach programs in Chinandega, art programs in Ciudad Sandino, school improvement programs in Managua, and community activism in the barrio of Pedro J. Chamorro. It is amazing to read the things community leaders, pastors, teachers, and youth say about how these programs have improved their neighborhoods, and changed their own personal worldviews. Poco a poco, Nicaraguans are changing their country for the better!
So, back to the point. After translating each of these stories, I send them to, yes, you guessed it, Hultner (one of 2 people in the office who speak better English than I speak Spanish). Hultner has graciously agreed to edit my “traducciones”. Which is a good thing, because, as I quickly found out, even with my extensive grammatical base and a good Spanish dictionary to help me with the words I don’t know yet, I still make quite a few errors when I write. I suppose I should be happy that my errors are mostly in the realm of “article use”—i.e. “a”, “de”, “en”, and “por”. I should be happy that my friend Hultner so readily agrees to help me in this way so that I can improve my Spanish. But my ego is a little bruised today after seeing 16 red cambios (changes) to one 2-page document (I know, I know, 16 errors out of 1,000 words isn´t that bad), and I am feeling discouraged. The funny thing is, I easily make 16 errors in every conversation I have with someone in Spanish, but for some reason, seeing my written errors hurts more (perhaps this has something to do with how proficient I feel writing in English).
Anyway, I think somehow Hultner could sense this, because in the message he included with the latest story he reviewed for me, he wrote the following:
“BUEN TRABAJO PAMELA! (Good work, Pamela!)
No te desanimes por los pequeños errores, ya verás mis errores cuando traduzca algo al inglés. (Do not be discouraged by the small mistakes. You will see my mistakes when I translate something into English)
So a few weeks ago, I was involved with designing an invitation to a dinner party for Christians in the arts and media being organized by the Nehemiah Center, and then I also volunteered to come up with a cute table decoration...so what did I come up with? Paper flowers, of course, arranged in little bundles which were put in blue plastic cups on each table. And where, you might ask, did my inspiration come from? Why, Fiesta in San Antonio, of course! You can take the girl out of Texas, but I guess you can´t take Texas out of the girl...
This weekend Andrea and I went to Leon to visit Heather, and Saturday night there was a public commemmoration of a student massacre that happened back in the 1950s...4 students who were protesting the Somoza government were killed.
Anyway, what you see at left is my first encounter with live big band music in Nicaragua, part of the commemmoration activities. This band was really good, and it made me miss all the live music opportunities in Texas.
I´ve made many mistakes in the last two months since I arrived in Nicaragua. Some grammatical, others cultural...for the most part, all comical. Today, however, I made a new kind of mistake. Relational.
It all started harmlessly enough when one of my colleagues invited me to lunch at the buffet down the street from the office. We were joined by my good Nica friend Hultner. We spent most of the meal discussing what happened yesterday during the Sandinista celebration of their victory over Somoza back in 1979 and the current political climate here in the country. Then, just before la cuenta (the bill) came, S. asked, “So, how´s the house?” After I briefly discussed our progress to date (all we need is a desk and some bookshelves), I launched into a story about our last experience at the Huembes Mercado looking for those two items.
“We stopped at this one corner, where there was this small bookshelf, and they wanted C$260, which I thought was reasonable, so I asked how much the other larger one was and the guy said C$480. I couldn´t understand how the addition of one shelf practically doubled the price, but the guy would not budge. Then his business partner came over and told us that in fact, the smaller one was C$350. I didn´t think it was right for them to raise the price on me. I don´t want to buy anything from those kind of people.”
I don´t know if it was my tone or inflection or the look on my face when I said that last sentence, but immediately S. and Hultner exchanged a look that told me everything. I had clearly just made a very bad verbal choice. A very bad verbal choice in front of a Nicaraguan who I like and respect immensely. A very bad verbal choice that quite possibly might affect our short but growing friendship.
As they exchanged this look, they both stood up from the table. I knew something was wrong. I had just made a terrible relational error—speaking in a judgmental, generalizing way about Nicas in front of another Nica. When we got back to the office, I burst into tears. I was arrepentida (regretful), triste (sad), and more frustrated with myself than I have been since I got here. Never in a million years before I came did I think I would ever do something like that. Words are things you can never truly take back, so I have always tried to choose mine carefully and with full awareness of their significance.
Not today. Today, I was quick to speak, and slow to listen. I wanted to make amends, so I tried to gather myself back together and immediately found Hultner and tearfully apologized.
“I am so sorry. I did not mean for that to sound the way in came out. I don´t want you to think that I don´t love this country and Nicaraguan people, because I do.”
Hultner just looked at me with a small smile, and said. “Thank you. It´s okay. You were just joking.”
I hope he forgave me. I know he will not forget what happened today. But I hope we can still be friends. . . .
The postscript to this story come from the conversation I had with another Nica in my office shortly after all of this happened, and she encouraged me to realize that I am still very new here, still learning, and that whatever I said cannot truly reflect my heart, “or you would not be here,” she observed. She continued in her perceptive way…
“God is always speaking to us, and always teaching us, and obviously He wanted you to learn something today. So learn, and don´t look back. Don´t worry about mistakes. No one is perfect, no one has a script. At the end of the story, you´re going to be who you´re afraid to be.”
May God overcome my fears and at the end of the story, may I be the woman He wants me to be. Amen.
Last Wednesday Andrea and I were both sick but we went to the office anyway because Andrea had to sign some paperwork. By about noon, we were both wiped out and Andrea decided to call in sick to her Spanish class and I decided I just needed to go home and rest. The drive from the Nehemiah Center to our house in Las Brisas is about 25 minutes, which I thought I could just manage. We began our journey down the hill and everything was going fine until we passed 7 Sur, and saw la policia standing on the side of the road. As we approached, an officer signaled for us to pull over. I was totally confused. I was going the speed limit, I hadn't changed lanes in the wrong place, and I wasn't tailgating.
When I rolled down my window, the officer told me the license plates on the FHI Jeep I was driving were out of date and he was going to have to take my license and fine me C$200, which I was going to have to go to a local bank and pay and then pray that the government here had not lost my license by the time I went to retrieve it. Trying to stay in control of my emotions, I attempted to explain to the man that I didn't know my plates were out of date, and that it wasn't my vehicle...I was just driving it to get us home faster since we were sick (Andrea, meanwhile, was doing an excellent job staying calm and helping me translate this guy's Spanish). The officer, while sympathetic, didn't seem to budge. He insisted on seeing my license and another piece of documentation about the Jeep and its registration. So I reluctantly gave him both items. He started to write the ticket, but when he looked at the registration document, he looked up at me again and asked, “Are you Christians?”. Surprised by the question, I replied, “Yes”.
The officer handed back my license and registration and said, “Pasale” (which means, "go on"). I was sort of in shock. According to the law, I should have been given a ticket that day. But, by the grace of God, Andrea and I were spared the cost and hassle of that experience.
[Preface: Thursday afternoon, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Hultner, one of the Nicas I work with at the Nehemiah Center, about cultural views and attitudes about women, both Nica and gringa. Hultner is 29, married, and has one daughter. He is a passionate, articulate 29 year old youth pastor for a small church in my neighborhood and facilitates leadership development opportunities for Christian youth all over the western coast. Below, an abbreviated version of our conversation.]
PJN: Can you explain why Mother's Day is such an enormous deal here and yet there is so much machismo here at the same time? H: Women are respected as mothers here. Having children gives a woman more credibility in Nicaragua. But, at the same time, women are viewed as weak, so men often treat them badly. PJN: Women appear weak. H: No, here women ARE weak. PJN: Who imparts this idea? H: The women do. For example, mothers tell their sons to go play baseball, soccer, etc, but they tell them, cuidase su hermanita (take care of your sister). Boys grow up hearing from their mothers that their sisters are weak. PJN: So girls aren't allowed to participate in sports? H: It's not that they aren't allowed. It's just not expected. PJN: And what do Nicaraguans think about women who aren't married or have children? H: Usually, they think something is wrong with them. So, many Nica women try very hard to get married or have children before they are 30. PJN: What about a gringa like me who is almost 30 but not married? H: Gringas are special. PJN: What do you mean? H: Nicaraguans have a history of racism. PJN: [puzzled] How? H: For a long time, most Nicaraguans have believed that North American culture, race, etc. is better than their own. It's just how it's been since the Spanish came. So Nicaraguans don't have the same expectations of gringos. They don't expect you to be like them. They think you are smarter, richer, better than them. PJN: So for example, if I were to walk into a church here in Nicaraguan not wearing a conservative dress, what would the people think? H: They would think, well, she is gringa, she can do whatever she wants. PJN: But isn't it better to try to adapt to the culture, to do what the people here do? H: Yes, Nicaraguans appreciate that. It shows you care. PJN: And what about now, do Nicaraguans still have racist tendencies? H: Yes, “negro” (black) is viewed as bad. There is a lot of division between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of this country. PJN: Because the people of the Atlantic coast are darker. H: Yes. PJN: In the United States, we've spent the last 100 years trying to change the idea that skin color has anything to do with someone's value as a person. It's very uncommon for people in the States now to be racist. H: I met a missionary in the States who told me that black people are stupid. PJN: I can't believe a Christian said that. That is not the majority view. And it's not true. What do you think? H: I have had the opportunity to develop a different (biblical) worldview, so I think very differently than most Nicaraguans.
About an hour southwest of Managua is the indigenous artistic center of Nicaragua, where generations of Nicas have poured their lives into the creation of beautiful painted pottery, hammocks, and furniture (including wooden rocking chairs, couch frames, and woven chairs). Towns with poetic names like Masaya, Jinotepe, Carazo, and Masatepe sit bundled together in this region, quietly perfecting the arts of woodwork and clay with pride and dignity.
Upon entering Masatepe, where Andrea (my roommate) and I journeyed with another friend Heather Saturday, we passed store after store offering us various wooden furniture with decorative cushions. Everything looks attractive and well made, which made it difficult to decide what to buy for our living room, the only room in our house that had yet to be fully furnished. We visited about 4-5 different shops, all eager to show us gringa women all that they had to offer. Finally we decided on a medium wood color and a blue/beige/green pattern for our cushions, which they were going to make in 3 days and then deliver to our house.
After making our purchase, we went to quite possibly the only genuine restaurant in Masatepe and I had the best baked chicken I have ever eaten in my entire life, and a delicious naranja/papaya fresco (I had no idea that that combination could be so good!).
As if that wasn't enough activity for one day, a Nicaraguan named Jairo who started a Christian-based art program for children and youth called ArtePintura (affiliated with the Nehemiah Center) invited us to come to one of the barrios in Masatepe called La Curva to see one of the classes in action that afternoon. When we arrived, Jairo explained that the afternoon class being held in the small cement building was led by his mother, who lives across the street and is a volunteer for Jairo's program. Gathered inside were 10-12 ninos of ages 4-16 sitting on wooden benches eying us with great interest. Behind them on the walls was an assortment of artistic drawings and paintings done by these children, some of them with obvious talent. Of special interest to me was the work of Ariel, a young man with a gift for portraying the landscapes of Nicaragua. I was so enchanted with his work, that I bought one of his 4x6 paintings on the spot.
ArtePintura has free art and music classes in Managua, Masatepe, Cuidad Sandino (just outside Managua) for about 60-70 jovenes. The participating youth are provided with materials obtained through the sale of Jairo's personal artwork and that of another pupil of his named Franklin. Eventually, these students' work will be marketed in the USA through a microenterprise initiative called NicaMade, that another ministry colleague here has begun to develop, as well as through direct sales here in the country. It's exciting to see committed Christians working in the arts to make a difference in the lives of their communities—and what is the fruit of their work?
Hope, the cultivation of creativity, and an increased understanding of our potential to be co-laborers with Christ in the work of building the Kingdom of God.
My roommate Andrea is a trip. She is seriously one of the funniest people I know. One of the best things about living with her is that we both have this tendency to randomly break out into song after the other of us says anything remotely close to an existing song lyric.
These are some of the things she says regularly that I love.
1. "Seriously" 2. "Do you hate me?" 3. "Everything is fine" (especially in a high pitched voice after seing a cockroach) 4. "I hate feet". 5. "I´m taking my boyfriend [meaning the fan] to bed with me" 6. "I love it!"
Andrea is from Pittsburgh, studied International Relations and Spanish in college, and says that "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (the movie) is the story of her family´s life (they are from Cyprus).
This is the logo for a new initiative of the Nehemiah Center (where I am serving here in Nicaragua) to engage Christians in the arts and media in the transformation of this country. As my good friend Paul often says, artists have a key role to play in the Kingdom of God.
One of my projects last week was to design the invitation to a function of this developing association of artists in the Managua area this coming Thursday. One of these artists that I have had the privilege to befriend over the last few weeks is Jairo, a young Nica man who has started a whole Cristian art program for youth. More about that tomorrow.
“As I write this, I am sitting at our small but cute wooden dinner table adorned with a blue tablecloth and white placemats—a small gesture of solidarity with our new host culture whose national flag is blue and white as well. Yesterday, Andrea and I spent several hours in the main market, Huembes, where we managed to find a small coffeetable, a couple of nightstands, and a hammock for the patio.
It seems like a small thing to talk about the evolving state of our house here, but it represents something much more important—the investment (not only of money) I am slowly making in this tierra verde, this land of lakes and volcanoes, and its people. The more this house becomes a home, the more I feel at home here...not because it's anything like places I lived in SA, but because God is growing something new here in my heart and in my life...this house is part of the fertilizer, one of the nurturing elements of my life here that makes it possible for me to serve.”
“I can tell my emotional attachment is growing because of my reaction to a bit of sad recent news...one of the 4 major candidates for President, Herty Lewites—the former alcalde of Managua and leader of the MRS party—died suddenly of a heart attack Sunday. Many people were devastated by this, as Herty represented the future of this country, an alternative to the “Danielistas”. I was very moved by the coverage in the local media here, and brought to tears by a televised musical tribute accompanied by fotos of Herty during his public life. This was a man of solid character, totally devoted to his country. What a sad, sad day it was in Nicaragua!”
There's something about being in another country that makes even the most ordinary aspects of life an adventure in themselves. Take driving, for example. Most of the time in the States, my brain went into cruise control for the commute to and from the office, shopping trips, and visits to friends' houses.
Not so in Managua. This week, I had my first opportunity to drive in the city, as I had to go to airport to meet Andrea (who arrived Saturday night). I was extremely nervous, as you might expect. Managua is a city the size of San Antonio and the roads, drivers, and signage are all much less predictable.
I was going to have to drive for my first time EVER in Friday rush hour traffic (to get the Jeep from the office to my house) until a coworker agreed to drive me and my friend Heather home after a meeting he had. This turned out to be a great alternative, as Friday afternoon is one of the worst possible times to drive here.
Saturday morning, Heather and I ventured out on our own, though, to run some errands near the center of town. One feature of driving here in Managua that is unique is rotundas (or roundabouts, if you like), but not your run of the mill rotundas. Oh, no. That would be too easy. These rotundas have traffic entering from all four sides from multiple lanes, and you have to pay VERY close attention to what lane you are in to avoid a serious accident. The outer lane is for people who enter the roundabout with the intent to turn right at the first possible point, and the inner lane is for those who are turning at some later point, which requires changing lanes midway through the rotunda, a very scary process, I might add, since I have now done it a couple times (each time holding my breath and praying for dear life).
Every rotunda here is also a distinct work of art-- in the center of each circle is a sculpture of some kind. Some are military (e.g. A man holding a gun up in the air), some are abstract (like the cement spiral I saw yesterday), and some landscaped with greenery. The good thing is that once you recognize the rotundas, it's easy to figure out where you are in the city. Most of the time, you're either going “al lago” (to the lake) or away from it.
Anyway, by the time we had picked up Andrea and come back home on the Carretera Norte, I felt like I had a good handle on driving here. The first key seems to be to drive with confidence—make quick decisions, and think ahead about where you are going. So when I took Heather back to the bus terminal Sunday, I felt little apprehension—I knew exactly where I was going and the kinds of things to watch out for (buses suddenly stopping in the right lane, taxis pulling in front of me at the last minute, and biciclistas taking up half a lane). The other key to driving here is to make sure your doors are locked and firmly refuse any unwanted attention from salespeople or windowwashers, who congregate on every major intersection looking for customers.
And now—after driving to and from the Nehemiah Center in rush hour traffic, dealing with stoplights that don't function, and left turns out of parking lots onto major roads here (where there is no middle lane to scoot into)--I am, in the words of my roommate Andrea, “a real Nica”.