Wednesday, August 30, 2006

seeds of hope

I remember someone saying in my pre-field training, “The story of man began in a garden and ends in a city.” The speaker was trying to make a point about the way God created a world for us to discover, investigate, cultivate, and develop. With all due respect to my trainer, I think perhaps gardens have been vastly underrated. At least based on my experience in El Limonal yesterday.

El Limonal is a small community (in Chinandega) of transplanted people who lost their homes in the mudslide of 1998 caused by the rains of Hurricane Mitch. The community's homes are mostly made out of black plastic, scraps of wood and corrugated metal. The roads in and out of the community are all dirt (as are the floors of the homes), and flood with even a small amount of rain. As if this wasn't enough to deal with, the community is located between a dump and a cemetery (a location chosen for them by the government). What would the spirit of these people be like, I wondered.

I got a glimpse into that very question by attending a meeting of women in El Limonal who have been meeting for months as part of APECS, a women's health support group, but are also now participating in a 3-month class led by 2 of my fellow FHI staff focused on developing a community garden. Instead of skepticism, I found enthusiasm in these women for the potential of the natural environment around them. For while they lack the amenities of the “developed” world, they are rich in natural resources (trees, fruit, plants, etc.), and several of them already use the small amount of land they have to grow fruit or herbs to treat common medical problems.

The class met in the shady “backyard” of a community leader's house (Fatima) and provided an excellent example of how to integrate spiritual principles with physical needs. We spent the first part of the class studying Genesis 1 and discovering that God has created the world with order, beauty, and the intention for humankind to maintain loving stewardship over all of His creation. We heard the story of George Washington Carver, who lived out this principle, and discovered hundreds of uses for the peanut, among other things. And we heard presentations from several of the women themselves in the community on different plants and fruits available in the area and what uses they have.

Like seeds in the ground that have yet to sprout are the signs of transformation growing in Limonal. One day soon the sparkle of hope I saw in these women's eyes will be as bright as the stars in the night sky.

Monday, August 28, 2006

better late than never

So probably only a few of you, dear readers, know that I have this wonderful FHI website in addition to my blog, which unfortunately has been ridiculously out of date until this evening.

I am happy to report that I have spent several long hours slaving over it, and if you visit said website you will now be able to see a sampling of photos from April in my pre-service training all the way through July here in Managua.

And, I promise that this other website will have a fair amount of August pictures too before the end of this month!

p.s. No registration required!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

new orleans, i never knew you

and maybe i never will...

the politicians fight
the leaders blame
the people cry, "for shame, for shame!"

money is late
homes are crumbling
deep within, spirits are tumbling

a community waits
a city holds its breath
will this story end in life or death?
-pjn 8/27/06

Friday, August 25, 2006

there is no such thing...

as an ordinary day in Nicaragua. The latest example of this occurred earlier this evening when Andrea and I set off for the airport to pick up our boss, Kim and her family, who were returning from the States. Everything seemed to be perfectly normal when suddenly up ahead we noticed that cars on our side of the street were coming toward us! I immediately slammed on the brakes as we approached the scene.

In front of us and off to the side of the road were 3-4 small fires that were blocking the access road of the north highway and the lanes on our side of the road. In addition, a crowd of people appeared to be gathering on the side of the street. It was hard to tell at first if there had been some kind of accident, or if this was another of the many protests we have been having lately in Managua over the energy and water crises. Either way, there was no alternative but to join the rest of the drivers on our side of the highway who had proceded to turn around and make their way back to the nearest crossover, and without any police presence, turned the right lane of the opposing traffic into a temporary solution to the blockage. As we got closer, it did appear to be more like a protest and I wondered what it would be like when we were trying to come back the other direction. [I am proud to say that Andrea and I both have cool heads under pressure, and neither of us panicked in the midst of all of this.]

Sure enough, after successfully navigating our alternative route to the airport and picking up Kim and the fam, when we approached the same point coming home there were 20-30 people and several fires blocking the entire road in both directions, and police were directing all traffic off onto a side street, which we were forced to take around the protest until we could get back to the highway.

It sounds absurd to say this, but we were never really in serious danger. While the crowd seemed intent on destroying property, they did not attempt to endanger anyone's life. And we all eventually made it home safely.

[Insert sigh of relief here.]

funny story of the day

It was a breakfast conversation about good posture, that was all.

But somehow, I got the idea that I should pick up the huge plastic container of sugar on our table and attempt to balance it on my head to demonstrate to Andrea that I could be like the Nicaraguan women all over town who walk long distances with baskets full of bread or fruit on their heads.

It worked for about 2 seconds. The instant I took my hands away, the container went crashing to the floor, and even though it was closed, the force of the fall left us with a big pile of sugar all over the tile near our table.

I should have seen it coming. But, thanks to our really big dustpan and some bleach, I think we managed to clean it up enough that we won´t have an ant infestation later today.

I told Andrea, "this obviously means we can never have a conversation about good posture again."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

at 7 Sur

I thought I had grown accustomed to the whole public transportation experience in Managua.

First, the city buses. Bright, colorful school buses jammed packed at rush hour. Stickers adorning the inside and various religious phrases like “Dios es Amor” everywhere. Ayudantes (busdriver helpers) taking your money as you board. Anticipating your stop by about 500 feet wherever you go.

Then, the interlocal buses. Mostly bright yellow buses, but also secondhand buses from all over the world (Japan seems to have a particular interest in this country) that wind up here in Nicaragua. Ayudantes jumping out to entice you to board by yelling every future destination. “Carazo, Carazo, Carazo...Diriamba, Jinotepe”. The standing room only principle is widely applied—sometimes to the point of absurdity.

And who can forget the microbuses...every color and condition imaginable, these vehicles are built for 12, but as they leave town it's virtually guaranteed that your nose will be near someone's armpit or your knees bunched against the people sitting facing you, as the ayudante continues to solicit passengers, until he himself is hanging out the window just to get a breath of fresh air.

So my daily routine includes all of this, with one key transition point: 7 Sur. That's Kilometer 7 of the South highway out of Managua, for the uninitiated. All of the major public transportation options intersect here and it makes for quite a mess. Lots of people, lots of buses, lots of noise.

Oh, and did I mention the food? Every vendor imaginable—water, gum, bread, roasted corn, fruit, and whatever else you can carry or sell on the street is available here. And unfortunately, by the end of the day that means there are plastic water bags, candy wrappers, half eaten cobs, soda bottles, and more littering the sidewalk and bus lanes in the area.

Today I observed something I had never seen before. A covered truck appeared and a man jumped out, ran at light speed through the crowd and eventually came back with 7 other men who boarded the truck. Who knows if they were going home or to work, but that is a new transportation option for me here.

But surely after 3 months of this similar experience on the streets of Managua, my eyes should just glaze over and nothing should phase me, right?


Standing on the sidewalk waiting for the bus that would take me home, I found myself looking around and thinking... “Why does there have to be so much trash in the street? How can anyone live in these houses behind these storefronts? If that man over there sells all that water, he's only going to make C$30 ($2)...even if he sold 5 bags like that today, how can he possibly survive, never mind feed his family? What kind of world do we live in when these elegantly dressed women with jewelry simply ignore the hard-working women on the street in their aprons and chinelas?”

Finally the 118 bus came. I boarded, took my seat, and found myself sad. Just sad.

for the news junkies

There´s a lot going on in Nicaraguan politics and economy at the moment. Here´s the Cliff´s notes...

1. There´s an important presidential election in November, the campaigning for which has begun in earnest, with TV, radio, and press coverage saturating the country beginning this past week. Daniel Ortega and a businessman named Montealegre are neck and neck in the current polls, but there are 2 other candidates, and you only need 35% of the vote to win.

2. There´s a serious energy crisis here that has provoked riots, violence, and media outrage on the editorial page over the last 2 weeks. Even the hospitals and critical public services have been without electricity for large portions of the day lately.

3. On the public health front, there´s a social debate intensifying in Nicaragua over the right to an abortion. Public opinion here is majority pro-life at the moment due to the Catholic church, but an advertising campaign is in full swing to convince women to think differently.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

a few boaco photos

Coffee beans on the vine
Hiking on Don Chico's farm
Street scene in the city of Boaco
Carla, metal art teacher, and a community member admire their work
Don Chico teaching us about sustainable farming

Of course, for more, post a comment and the album is yours. : )

ometepe photos

That's Lago Nicaragua behind me...
A little map of the island
Charco Verde, the green puddle with Lake Nicaragua just beyond it
Me with Darling Lopez, a Nica CHE trainer, and Patty, a participant from El Salvador
(If you'd like to see more, post a comment and I'll email you the album if you haven't already received it.)

every day is a winding road

5 Departamentos, 10 Days, 500 miles of winding Nicaraguan roads

Boaco: Two days after the long day in El Ojoche I wrote about last week, Andrea and I headed to Boaco, “ciudad de dos pisos” for another glimpse of NicaMade in action. Volcanoes and mountains are an ever present part of the landscape as the temperature drops and the altitude rises. The road is paved and smooth all the way into town—which is a smaller colonial city than Leon or Granada, but with many of the same features: narrow stone roads, Spanish architecture, houses built into the hillside. The big difference? Steep, steep hills. The FHI Jeep almost did not make it through the city and up into the mountains where we eventually wound up, at the home of Don Chico, where the NicaMade meeting that morning was being held.

With the help of a talented young couple from Managua, the people in this small pueblo are learning the intricacies of metal art and producing beautiful magnets with Nicaraguan designs. From Don Chico we learned the ins and outs of coffee cooperatives, and saw a true sustainable family farm, where they not only grow coffee, but vegetables, fruit, fish, and even a variety of trees. The land in the area used to be used for grazing, but 10 years ago, a bunch of people planted trees in the area which now provide shade for the coffee and have enriched the soil with the help of natural fertilizers. Now it is lush and provides a living for an entire community. This community doesn't have much, but it has land, and thus the food and animals that provide the basic essentials of living that are not available to their counterparts in the city who are without work, and thus lack land, money, and food.

Matagalpa and Jinotega: Last weekend, our incredible neighbors (the infamous Gutierrez family) invited us to spend the weekend with them in Matagalpa, where the majority of their family lives. We left Managua Saturday morning in an ambulance-like vehicle owned by Francisco's NGO, Accion Medica Cristiana. It was a tight fit with the 10 of us and all of our stuff, but between Francisco's jokes and the abuelita's homemade ice cream which we ate out of cups along the way, the 2 hours were bien divertido. Our first stop once inside the province was the coffee beneficio owned by Francisco's family—we got a grand tour of the place, from the bean selection to the roasting process, and of course purchased some freshly ground Magsa coffee (which thus far, is the best coffee I've tasted in this country).

After lunch, Francisco, Alicia, and David (the middle child, who is college age) took us up, up, up to the northern edge of Matagalpa province where there was an unbelievable view of the valley below, where we took pictures from every conceivable angle. Then, as if that wasn't enough, they brought us to the most famous destination in Matagalpa, La Selva Negra (Black Forest)—which is both a coffee farm and a hiker's paradise, a romantic getaway and a historic German landmark. After exploring for a bit, we sat on the patio of the restaurant and sipped coffee and watched the mist fall over the pond as the rain poured down on the water. Put simply, it was incredible.

Sunday was another day of adventure, as we ventured even further north into Jinotega (where the temperature is like New England in October—I actually wore my windbreaker for a couple hours!) and to the Vida Joven Campamento, where we spent the day hiking and enjoying God's creation with the Gutierrez kids and a few of their many cousins. What a refreshing experience to spend a weekend with a family who seems to genuinely enjoy each other's company, that freely loves and pours out kindness to others. Francisco with his quirky sense of humor and fatherly manner of sharing knowledge and experience...Alicia with her motherly grace but fiery personality...David with his love of music and endless questions about the English language, Karin with her sensitive heart and big smile, and all the others with their endless sense of adventure. These people are quite possibly the best neighbors in all the world and I was sad to see the weekend come to an end.

Ometepe: For those unfamiliar with Nicaraguan geography, the island of Ometepe is located in the southern part of Lago Nicaragua, about an hour's ferry ride from Rivas, which is a small town 2 ½ hours south of Managua. Believe it or not, I was going to this island for work! A training was being held on the island for Nicaraguan community leaders interested in beginning a Community Health Evangelism program (CHE), and I accompanied the team of trainers in order to learn more about the program and meet the Nicas who would eventually be developing local committees to promote wholistic community development and women's health using the CHE model. The CHE model was developed by Medical Ambassadors years ago and is now used all over the world as a sustainable community development model. We stayed at a small vocational training center on humble bunkbeds and ate rice and beans for three days straight...but the important thing was getting to really learn more about the implementation of CHE in a community—how communities are chosen, how leaders are developed, what kinds of trainings community leaders and women's support groups receive, effective training methods, etc. And of course this was all in Spanish, so it was kind of like a mini-immersion experience. (The only person there besides me who spoke substantial English was Anne, one of my FHI coworkers). And meeting the people, who I hope one day I will be writing stories about, sharing the transformation occurring in their communities as a result of this development approach.

Of course, I couldn't just leave the island without exploring a bit, so I stayed one extra night with Anne at a nearby hotel, and in 24 hours, we hiked, saw some incredible views, kayaked & swam in Lago Nicaragua, and ate some delicious fish. Ometepe is a hard place to leave, but by Saturday I was missing my roommate (and my own bed) so it was time to go. Getting home was an adventure all its own, though, as I missed the 1:30 ferry and was stranded until 4pm, which meant I would not get back to Managua until after dark (not a good idea for a single woman traveler). Gracias a Dios, the trip was totally uneventful and I even had a pleasant and talkative taxi driver from the terminal back across town to my house.

What a whirlwind these past 10 days have been! I'm definitely ready for a more “ordinary” week here in Managua. Though, of course, as I have come to appreciate here in Nicaragua, there is no such thing.

(To those of you who are wondering when and how you can see all the fabulous photos I took on these adventures, a link will be forthcoming soon.)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

where have i been?

The answer to that question is long and complicated...since my trip to El Ojoche, I have been to the mountains of Boaco, the infamous Selva Negra of Matagalpa, the Vida Joven camp in Jinotega, and have spent the majority of the last week on the island of Ometepe...will post lots more pictures and stories in the coming week about the work (and play) that has characterized all my recent travels...but tomorrow is a day of rest!

Monday, August 14, 2006

arco iris

Yes, this picture was taken in Nicaragua...from the house of an FHI board member whose view includes most of Managua.

Friday, August 11, 2006

witnessing transformation in el ojoche

My earliest wake up call yet in Nicaragua came on Wednesday when Andrea and I awoke just after 4am in order to leave Managua with our Nica friend Peter to go to El Ojoche, a small community of 35 families up in the mountains of Nicaragua, 5 kilometers from the border with Honduras. The drive is a good four hours, and that's if the rain hasn't made the all dirt and extremely uneven roads impassable. The trip was beautiful in every way—physically (the volcanoes and landscape of northern Nica are breathtaking), emotionally (making new relational connections in a community), and spiritually (seeing God at work). So why did we go?

First, Peter was going to buy products. El Ojoche is one of several poor communities involved in an economic development project called NicaMade being led by one of my FHI colleagues Shannon. Each community has developed marketable products (Ojoche's is pottery) and NicaMade helps sell these products in Nicaragua as well as in the States in order to help provide a sustainable living wage to these hardworking people.

Second, the participating community members participate in a monthly training/Bible study on business and communication ethics—this month's topic was honesty. The idea is that it is not enough to provide economic opportunity—without an appropriate worldview, more money will not do much to transform a community. There were about 12 women present, and as Peter's talk progressed, it became clear that they all understood the importance of honesty and the truth in their development as a cooperative business enterprise, but putting that into practice had not been happening consistently. Herbert, a Nica community development worker, was present, and he made some wise remarks to the group about the importance of including one another, giving others the benefit of the doubt, and sharing information and skills within the group in order to make the most of this opportunity for everyone.

Third, I was there to interview community members to learn more about the story of Ojoche over the last few years in order to write a story about the community for future publication. I spoke extensively with three people, Herbert, Bernancio (another CDW), and Pacita (a participant in the NicaMade collective). From these conversations I learned that for many years prior to the involvement of FHI and the ECS program (“community health evangelism”), Ojoche had a reputation as a “dirty” community, and its people were given little or no respect, nor did they have much pride in themselves. Work was scarce, disease was rampant, and the community and its leaders were divided.

But, as a result of the equipping of a group of leaders through the ECS program and the grace of God, things began to change. The two “sides” of the community (arriba and abajo) began to communicate and collaborate. People learned better health practices to reduce malaria, diarrhea, vomiting, and fevers. Churches came together and formed a leadership committee that represents every denomination in the community. Families have begun to find ways to solve their problems without violence. And now NicaMade has entered the picture, and people are beginning to see economic changes as well.

And all of this change has not gone unnoticed by Ojoche's neighboring communities. When it came time for the 9 surrounding communities to select their area representative, they selected as their president a resident of El Ojoche. The smallest, formerly least respected community in the area is now the home of the region´s public representation to higher levels of government here in Nicaragua.

If that isn't transformation, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

my new haircut

My first haircut in Nicaragua...I´m pretty happy with it, considering it only cost about $3.50! (BTW, the painting on the wall behind me was done by my Nica friend Jairo who I´ve written about in my newsletter)

no ordinary monday

It sure wasn´t. So many things to share...but I will share just the most memorable, our dinner with the Gutierrez family. Andrea and I had invited them over to try in some small way to convey our appreciation for everything they have done for us in the last few months to make our life in Las Brisas so wonderful.

I tried a new recipe (sweet and sour chicken), plus some standbys (rice and glazed carrots), and the chicken took FOREVER to cook (I'm slowly learning how gas stoves work), and I was worried the family was going to come over and have to wait a long time to eat, but at about 7:45pm David (their son) came to the door, and told us his father was on the way, and at la hora nica (8pm) they arrived and dinner was served. It was perfect timing, of course, because the chicken had just finished, and I had time to distribute it evenly among 6 plates—well, I thought we were a total of 6, but in fact the abuelita (grandma) of the family came over too, and so we wound up being 7...7 people around a table that normally seats four (!). It looked like it was going to a tight squeeze, and the plates were really close together, but it appeared in the end that we had just enough space, just enough dishes (the only clean dishes left in the cupboard after dinner were coffee mugs), and just enough food (after the main course, Andrea asked everyone, “Alguien quiere mas?”--anyone want more?, and I turned to them and interjected, “Sinceramente, no hay mas”--honestly, there is no more--and everyone burst out laughing). But Alicia and Francisco had brought ice cream, and between that and the Matagalpan coffee, no one went hungry.

What a rich time we spent together. Some of the topics of conversation during dinner: pets (the Gutierrez family has this adorable chihuahua named Oggi who came over midway through dinner and stood guard at the door as though he were protecting us), music (David plays guitar and piano), food, Nicaraguan history (particularly regarding the Costa Atlantica), Matagalpa (the region of Nicaragua de donde la familia es), teams (Alicia is a dentist and she and Dr. Francisco hosted a team of medically trained people out in Matagalpa last week at a clinic there), language learning, family, politics, and more.

And as if that weren't enough for 2 and ½ hours, Alicia suggested we conclude by sharing some passage of Scripture that meant something to us, and Francisco shared from John 15, and then I shared from Philippians 3 (“whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ"). I almost started crying by the end. Alicia then shared the amazing story of her mother's poor health and how the entire family spent a day fasting and praying and that God healed her. Then Francisco shared a lengthy story about (and requested prayer for) a community in Rio Coco (near the border with Honduras) named Amak which has been heavily affected by what can only be called the forces of spiritual darkness. A huge group of women have been affected by some kind of spiritual hysteria, which has both physical manifestations (convulsions, vomiting), and spiritual effects (women in hysteria “naming” other women who then are affected by this same malediction). We spent some time in prayer (David the son is an eloquent prayer), and then concluded by singing a worship song in Spanish called “Eres Todopoderoso”.

It is hard to convey in words what a special family Francisco, Alicia, Karin, and David are. (They have another son Roberto who was away at school tonight). To me, they represent the essence of the unmerited favor of God in my life here. What have I done to deserve these amazing vecinos? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Yet they have taken us (me and Andrea) into their hearts, treated us like members of their own family, offering us their time, energy, resources, love, and prayers without hesitation.

I come to give, but find myself receiving so much each day. The compassion and kindness of God poured out into my heart and life through the generosity and gentleness of people like Francisco and his family never ceases.

And I never cease to be amazed.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Yesterday Andrea and I went to the nicest mall in Managua, called the Galerias, to check it out. I was prepared for a slight cultural shock, and I definitely experienced one. This mall is open air, so in one sense it is just like some of the other commercial centers in Managua, but the store selection is bigger, the stuff you can find is nicer, and when we walked into Siemens (a department store), I thought we had walked into Macy's. Appliances, furniture, candles, musical equipment, books, coffee, clothes, shoes, you name it and it was there. Even the art for sale looked like it belonged in a Target store. Oh, and did I mention the food court? Some local places like Valenti's pizza were represented, but there was also a Burger King and an American Donuts place. The entire concept of a food court is imported, of course, but an upscale food court with frapaccinos and pita sandwiches for sale was pretty unbelievable.

Even though Northamerican culture and commercialization has reached places as far away as Shanghai and South Africa, it's still weird for me to encounter it here, in Nicaragua. Whenever I see a familiar store or restaurant here (Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Subway, Radio Shack, Shell, etc.), I find myself thinking, “What country am I living in?” The globalization phenomenon just smacks you in the face here in a way totally unlike the States.

The incongruity between the extreme wealth I witnessed today in the Galeria and the extreme poverty I have witnessed in places like Limonal (a barrio in Chinandega), Santa Maria (a rural community in northwest Nica), and even along the bus route to the office each day (where children board to beg for pesos, and families living in shacks of corrugated metal are a common sight) brings the stew of compassion, frustration, guilt, and helplessness in my soul to a boil. Like in every developing country (and the USA), there is evidence all around me that the abundance of some Nicas has not trickled down to the many in need. Women walk the streets of my neighborhood, hoping to find customers for their homemade products, while down the street middle class Nicas dine at TipTop, a fried chicken place. Some barrios (like mine) have paved roads and sidewalks; some, like Batihola Sur (where my friend Jairo lives) have only dirt. In the parking lot at La Union, the grocery store here, new Montero Sports are parked next to 15 year old sedans. At the cafe I ate at today, people drank te jamaica (a popular local beverage) out of fancy glasses, while just around the corner, a comedor will sell you a fresco para llevar (to go) in a plastic bag with a straw.

Every week there are editorials in the papers here decrying the government's pitiful response to the issues of poverty in this country—health, employment, roads, etc. But years of experience tell me that it is not simply the government that has a role to play in the transformation of this country and its many disparities, but churches, leaders in every sector, and each individual. But transformation does not happen overnight, and even in my three years, the disparities that drive me to despair are not going to disappear.

Some thoughts from Oswald Chambers that I have been reflecting on in relationship to all of this:
We have no concept of what God is aiming at, and as we go on it gets more and more vague...we do not know what God is after, but we have to maintain our relationship with him whatever happens...the main thing about Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain and the atmosphere produced by that relationship...”
The scale of these disparities that I must grow accustomed to is far beyond my abilities, but I must trust that God has brought me here, He has compelled me here, to be part of a bigger work, the ends of which I may never see. And the most important thing I must do when confronted with days like today, is remember that my relationship with Him and the people He places around me are the most important work I have here in Nicaragua.

May it be so.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

the 50th time is the charm

Here I am enjoying our hammock for the first time...

hammock time!

So about a month ago, Andrea and I were in the mercado and discovered a great assortment of hammocks made here in Nicaragua, and within our budget. We decided on a cute blue and white one (yes, the colors of the flag here), and then for the next four weeks it sat wrapped in protective plastic in the corner of our living room. There was one major reason for this—and that was that Andrea and I had zero experience hanging hammocks, and felt certain that if we tried on our own, we would either fall to the ground every time we tried to sit in it, or the ironwork we tied it to would be pulled off our windows.

Yesterday, though, a window of opportunity opened when our neighbor Francisco came home. We felt sure that he would help us, but he and his family have done so many amazing things for us already that sometimes I wonder if we are relying on them too much. So, I told Andrea that we should invite them to dinner as well sometime next week to thank them in a small way.

As you might expect, after some small talk and accepting our dinner invite for next Monday, Francisco agreed to come help us. We thought we had everything we needed: the hammock, a bunch of rope, and a chair (to stand on). Immediately Francisco asked us for some matches to burn the edges of the rope to strengthen it. Then he proceeded to gaze at the available ironwork and ceiling beams available to tie the hammock to. He has a very analytical mind, I think. I supposed that should be expected, since the man IS a doctor.

Anyway, the real drama began after one side of the hammock was hung, and the other end needed to be anchored to a ceiling beam far beyond any of our reach, even with a chair. This would have been made incredibly simple with the aid of a ladder, but since we didn't have one, it was on to Plan B.

Francisco stood on the chair and attempted to throw the rope over the beam and onto the other side. After a few tries, he asked us if we had a hanger (keep in mind that these conversations are happening in Spanish, and there was plenty of misunderstanding along the way). We didn't know at first what he wanted, so we brought him a broomstick and a bucket. Finally, with the help of a dictionary, we figured out he wanted something with a hook, but of course we had nothing like that.

Sensing the futility of his own efforts, I think, Francisco called over our wall to his son David who was playing the keyboard and asked him to come help too. When David came over, Francisco told him to climb up on the top of the back of chair, while he braced the seat and spotted David, who deftly pushed the rope through a narrow opening and over the beam to the other side, after which Francisco expertly knotted it. Meanwhile, Andrea and I watched in disbelief as our neighbors risked their lives to help us hang this hammock! “Cuidado (careful)” was all we could say.

Not to worry, though. David made it safely down off the chair, the hammock is securely anchored on our front patio, and we are loving it! And how can we ever say thank you, I asked, as they were leaving?

Lunes,” Francisco replied. (Monday.)

[And if blogger didn´t hate me, you would see a picture of me in our new hammock too. Sorry.]

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

a moment of jealousy

fact #1: ten days ago one of my colleagues down here received 4 letters in the mail from home (i know this because i personally delivered them to her from the office mailbox).

fact #2: i have received 4 pieces of real mail (excluding bills) in the last 3 months.

fact #3: today a bunch of mail came, and there were 4 more letters for the same person.

fact #4: instead of being grateful for what i have received, i am comparing myself to others. and feeling jealous. and sad. and wistful.

i wish i were more "spiritual", but this is the truth. laying it all out there. just wanted to give you a little insight into my heart today.