Thursday, June 28, 2007

the next 10 days

Early tomorrow morning (5am to be exact) I board a bus for Costa Rica, where 12 hours later I will catch a plane that will take me through Panama City en route to the Dominican Republic, where I will spend the next 10 days serving alongside a team from my home church in San Antonio, TX in a small community near the Haitian border called La Meseta, where we will be engaged in ministry projects through FH that address both physical and spiritual needs there. It will be my 4th visit in the last 5 years, and I could not be more excited to have the opportunity to see old friends from home and kids that remember my name without ever having to ask me.

This great adventure, however, means that I will be away from this blog until Sunday, July 8th. I will miss you, my faithful online readers (all 5 of you), but I promise lots of good stories and photos when I return.

3 John 13-14

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

it's not just about the money

"Pobreza no es sólo falta de ingresos, pobreza es no tener poder, no tener acceso a las autoridades, no poder influir en nuestro destino, no tener iguales derechos que otros”.
"Poverty is not just a lack of income; poverty is to lack power, to lack access to the authorities, to be unable to influence one's own destiny, to not have the same rights as others."
(Quote from a Swedish development worker,

Monday, June 25, 2007


Yes, juggling. I thought I had seen everything on the interlocal buses (live chickens, people singing, selling everything from tamales to soda to baked goods, kids begging, etc), but I was wrong.

Today, in the middle of my trip home from Chinandega, a man got on the bus with another one of those stories about how he was trying to make money to get somewhere to visit a sick relative, and I assumed he was going to sing. But after he finished telling his story, he said, "I hope you will like what I am going to do." And what did he do? He proceded to take 3 limes out of his pocket and juggle them--in the aisle of a moving bus on a Nica highway! And not just your standard 3 limes up in the air; oh no, this guy was swinging them down and under his legs, switching up his throwing rhythm, you name it. He was a professional! So I try to make it a rule not to give people money here, but this guy definitely earned his living this afternoon, and I could hardly help myself from grinning when I handed him a small donation.

Just another example of how there is never a dull moment in this land of lakes and volcanoes...and jugglers!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

day in diria

Diria is one of Nicaragua's "Pueblos Blancos" (White Villages), a group of small communities to the southwest of Managua, each known for some particular artisania (furniture, plants, chimes, pottery, etc). They all have really fun names that reflect their indigenous heritage--Masatepe, Diriomo, San Juan del Oriene, Niquinohomo, Catarina--and the old arts of folk dance and black magic are also said to be alive and well there.

My friend Wendy and I's afternoon trip to Diria was motivated by something else, however: a chance to see a spectacular view of the famous Laguna de Apoyo (a crater lake formed where dormant volcano lies) from another mirador (much less commercialized than the other one everyone goes to), and a chance to hike down to the shore to swim in its cool and refreshing water. There is no development on this side of the Laguna--just a small sandy beach and lots of trees. Gorgeous! We got more than we bargained for with the steep incline, though, and while I was able to make it to the bottom (45 minutes or so) on my own two feet, about halfway back up after our swim I sent Wendy ahead of me to bring her car down because otherwise we might have spent 3 hours making the climb due to my poor out-of-shape heart.

The coolest thing, aside from the gorgeous view and the pristine forest all the way down the path, was the family of monkeys we encountered on the way down, who of course immediately stopped doing anything when we approached to lock their wary eyes on their North American guests. (I'm just glad I got a photo--they were so cute! One even had a small baby!)

All in all, it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

a is for alba

While it hasn't gotten a lot of attention in the North American media over the last 6 months, the new trade agreement ALBA (Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de América) organized by Venezuelan President Chavez (initially a bilateral agreement with Cuba), which Nicaraguan President Ortega signed during his first week in office, is beginning to bring some concrete results to this country.

This past Thursday, as part of the ALBA agreement, BANDES, the Venezuelan development bank, opened its doors here, and distributed $10 million to Nicaraguan institutions (ENACAL, the water company, Minsa, the ministry of health, the post office, and an electric company) along with $10 million more for different cooperatives of small agricultural producers here. The recipients have a 2 year grace period, and 5% interest after that.

When the news first came out that Nicaragua would be entering this agreement, many people were worried that it would send a negative signal to the United States regarding this country's participation in CAFTA. However, most of the media interviews with national economists point out that the 2 agreements are more complementary than contradictory, as the scope of the ALBA agreement is intended to help the Nica agricultural and energy sectors as well as support cultural development within Latin America. It obviously has no bearing on the trade rules Nicaragua has with imports and exports to the US-which according to one local economist, primarily benefit agriculture-industrialists (that is to say, large sale producers of corn, sugar, etc).

As part of ALBA, the Venezuelan government also committed to provide Nicaragua with 32 electricity generating plants, fertilizer for crops, free or low cost eye surgeries, an aluminum processing plant, among other things. While many of these promises are obviously "de largo plazo" (long term in nature), the opening of BANDES this week is a hopeful sign of Venezuela's commitment to Nicaragua's future social and economic development.

(Note: All details about ALBA were obtained from information available on Nicaragua's official government website and El Nuevo Diario.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

dead dog dirt

It started out like any normal morning. From the microbus stop at the entrance of Nejapa (the neighborhood where our office is), Andrea and I have a 20 minute walk to the office. Right at the entrance is a cemetery. But as we passed the cemetery that morning, there was something different. On the side of the road was a bloated dead dog, gathering flies and creating one of the nastiest odors imaginable. Now, I have seen plenty of dead animals here in the middle of the highway--frogs, birds, cats, dogs, but never in a neighborhood, and never right outside a cemetery. "Why is it there and not being buried by someone?" Andrea and I wondered. The saga continued the next day when the dog was half covered by a box--and then yesterday someone decided to cover it with dirt. Not move it or bury it, but cover it with dirt. Dirt that is now being invaded by maggots. (Oops, was that too much information?)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

bread and justice

"O God, to those who have hunger give bread;
and to us who have bread give the hunger for justice."
A Latin American prayer
Several years ago when I worked for City Year, I had the opportunity to hear its co-founder Alan Khazei speak on numerous occasions; he always talked about how one of the principal outcomes of a year of full-time community service for many of the young adult participants was that their "justice nerve" would become activated through their contact with children, families, and communities whose needs went far beyond better jobs or after school programs. An awareness of how systemic, structural obstacles like government policies or the unwritten "rules" and values of a neighborhood could destroy opportunity as well as hope in the lives of the materially poor. Such an awareness would make it clear that while the altruistic impulse within them (and within me) is good, compassionate, loving, etc., it is not enough.
It is not enough because giving bread to hungry people does not end hunger. Hunger (and a lot of other problems facing Nicaragua and many other nations) will end when we truly believe in the God-given equal dignity and worth of every person and our commitment to social and economic justice infiltrates everything we do, from the policies formed at the highest levels of government to the way communities organize themselves to the way parents raise their children and how men and women treat one another.
Then too, will the lion and lamb lay down together and war will be no more...
(Seven years after my City Year experience, my justice nerve is more sensitive than ever.)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

"fuera de los pobres... hay salvacion."

Apart from the poor, there is no salvation. This is the thesis (in the tradition of liberation theology, which is alive and well here in Nicaragua) of a recent article by Jesuit priest Jon Sobrino published in Envio, the monthly magazine published by the UCA (Central American University) here in Managua. Some excerpts:

"En el mundo de los pobres se genera una lógica que permite ver la realidad de otra manera. Permite ver que salvación no es adecuadamente idéntica a progreso y desarrollo, distinción que nos parece muy importante. Y permite ver que de los pobres puede venir salvación. Para los no-pobres, es la experiencia de gracia. La opción por los pobres no versa ya solo sobre dar a ellos, sino sobre recibir de ellos."

In the world of the poor, there is a logic generated that allows one to see reality in another way. It allows one to see that salvation is not identical to progress and development, a distinction that appears very important to us. And it allows one to see that from the poor can come salvation. For those who are not poor, it is an experience of grace. The option for the poor is not about just giving to the poor, but receiving from them.

"Los pobres evangelizan, salvan, “por cuanto muchos de ellos realizan en su vida los valores evangélicos de solidaridad, servicio, sencillez, y disponibilidad para acoger el don de Dios.” Es decir, salvan por el espíritu con que viven su pobreza."

The poor evangelize, save "insofar as they live out evangelical values of solidarity, service, simplicity, and willingness to use the gifts of God." This is to say, the poor save through the spirit in which they live in their poverty.

"Por su cruda realidad pueden producir conversión y compasión, y también verdad y praxis de justicia. Y por su espíritu, multiforme, pueden humanizar de varias formas el aire impuro que respira el espíritu... Podemos pensarla [la manera en como viene la salvacion de los pobres] de tres formas: nos ofrecen una superación de la deshumanización, nos brindan elementos de humanización, y nos invitan a la solidaridad universal."

Through their unpolished reality they can produce conversion and compassion, as well as truth and the pratice of justice. And by their multidimensional spirit, they can humanize the impure air that the spirit breathes...we can think about this salvation the poor bring us in three ways: they offer us a way to overcome dehumanization, they show us elements of humanization, and they invite us to universal solidarity.

"En el proceso de salvación hay que eliminar muchos males, y hay que luchar contra las estructuras que los producen. Pero, cuando el mal es profundo, duradero, y estructural, para sanar de verdad, hay que erradicar sus raíces…desde dentro."

In the process of salvation, we have to eliminate much evil, and the structures that produe it. But, when the evil is profound, hard, and structural, to truly heal requires one to erradicate its roots...from within.

[On a related note, billboards have been popping up all over the country lately with Daniel Ortega proclaiming, "Arriba los pobres del mundo!", or it's the poor's time to be on top of the world...but is that really the answer?]

Friday, June 15, 2007

color me happy

As Peter and I drove up the pothole ridden highway between Chinandega and Somotillo on Wednesday, I could not help but marvel at the brilliant hue of green in every tree, shrub, and cornfield we passed. Just one month into the rainy season, and the whole northwestern region of Nicaragua has literally come back to life. "Greener than the greenest green" was the only thing I kept thinking to myself. Add that to the strikingly clear blue sky and the puffy white clouds looking more crisp than a freshly bleached sheet in the sky, and you have one of the most picturesque mornings I have witnessed thus far in this country. Two hours of indescribable beauty, and I did not take a single photo. I think that would have spoiled it somehow--as if beauty that perfect really just deserved to be noticed and enjoyed in all its glory, not captured in some digital lense that could never do it justice anyway. [I did take one when we arrived at our destination, Ojoche, which you see at left.]

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I almost passed out today. Literally.

After waiting 2 hours to see a doctor about my sinus and throat issues and being given a prescription, I proceded to walk back home (about 8 blocks away). On the way, I passed a pharmacy, so I went in to buy the medicine I needed. So far, so good.

The woman took my doctor's note ("would you like to know the price first or does it matter?" she asked. What?! When would you ever hear that in a US pharmacy?) and went to go look for the pills requested. All of a sudden, as I am standing by the counter waiting, the voices around me begin to seem very far away, like a distant echo...and the room starts to get real fuzzy...and the vibrations of the music playing feel like they are crushing my skull, and I think to myself, "so this is what it feels like when you are about to pass out".

I leaned over the counter to keep my balance and focused all my energy on maintaining consciousness; I somehow managed to take my change from the woman across the counter and toss it in my purse and walk out the door. "Focus, focus." I told myself. "At least pass out in your house, not on the streets of Managua." I walked quickly but carefully the last 2 blocks to my door, breathed a sigh of relief when I arrived, whereupon I immediately downed a glass of water, a piece of toast, and an apple.

I am pretty sure the entire incident was caused by (1) recovering from illness and (2) walking in the midday Nicaraguan sun on an empty stomach. But thank God, all it took was a little caloric intake to restore my sense of balance, hearing, and vision to normal. Crisis averted. : )

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sunday, June 10, 2007

before and after

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case, I have to agree. At left, a graphic from the 2006 United Nations Human Development report, presented in Managua last Tuesday at the Central Bank. The pictures clearly demonstrate how Nicaragua is losing an alarming amount of its natural forestation every year (to the tune of 70,000 hectares annually).
The focus of the report was on the world water crisis, and the presentation highlighted its particular manifestations here in Nicaragua where issues abound--water sources, water quality, distribution systems, and pricing fairness, among others.

mombachito, take 2

So I was back in the mountains of Boaco this week, visiting the rural community of Mombachito, whose leaders were preparing to host their very first "Campana de Prevencion de Salud", focused on educating folks about how to lower the incidence of malaria, diarrhea, and other parasite-induced enfermedades.

When D and I arrived Wednesday afternoon, however, things did not look good. The committee had not met since our last visit 3 weeks prior, there was no event program, and the raffle of a canasta basica (food basket) appeared headed for disaster. D and I looked at each other in disbelief. How was it possible that so much time could have passed with so little progress?

At our committee meeting, we laid out the options. Either cancel the event and risk losing the confianza of the people who had been invited or go forward and make the best of the situation as it stands. After an extended discussion, the committee decided to go forward.

It was a learning opportunity for all. The committee learned that it could not rely on outsiders (me and D) to solve its problems, and that organization, compromise, and communication are the most important tools available for its success. For my part, I learned that a lot can be accomplished in one day when people are dispuesto a servir (ready to serve).

And so it was that from 10am-2pm Thursday, D and I worked alongside the committee (who walked long distances to the meeting despite the pouring rain) to prepare pamphlets, design signs, and figure out the logistics of the following morning. At the end of those 4 hours, it looked like everything was in order, and D and I spent the afternoon with Elisabeth (a community development promoter) visiting homes in the community. Which was fine until we realized that dusk was falling and none of us had brought a flashlight. Traversing the steep, rocky path (made more treacherous by the mud puddles remaining from the day's rain) in the daylight was difficult enough--but the situation soon became comical as the cloudy sky eliminated all source of light from the path on the way back down the hill, and D began yelling, "Carlitos, help! We can't see!" I am happy to report that we arrived home without serious incident other than a large quantity of mud on our sneakers.

Friday morning dawned sunny and clear, and after bathing in a nearby river, I joined the group of willing volunteers who came to blow up balloons, hang a mural, and prepare for the arrival of other community members. Given that it was the first event of this nature in the history of this community, I was pleased with the turnout of 25 people and the short presentations of the committee members on the health topics. (I also led a short biblical reflection on John 10:10 as part of the event; I definitely still get nervous when I speak in front of large groups in Spanish). The only hiccup was the raffle, which due to miscommunication and confusion wound up taking 2 hours to resolve. But at the end of the morning, I definitely felt like we had seen some development in the leaders and in the community.

Unfortunately, thanks to some pesky bugs that inhabit the coffee farm in the area and the climate shift, the 2 day trip left me with a fever and a serious head cold, from which I am still recovering.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

"se fue la luz"

It was a phrase uttered many a time last summer. "The lights are out." Many people thought that with the election of Daniel Ortega last fall, and the developing friendship with Venezuela (the 4th highest oil producing country worldwide) that all of Nicaragua's energy problems would finally be over.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Union Fenosa, the private company that distributes electricity in this country, has just announced energy rationing that will affect 106 neighborhoods in Managua, and many others around the country in the major cities, according to a story published in La Prensa. The power outages will be daily (at least this week), from 3-6 hours in duration, depending on the neighborhood and their payment/fraud history. (The neighborhood where my office is located, Nejapa, is one of those selected for the 6 hour outages. Good thing we have internet at my house, or I would get nothing done when this happens.)

The larger issue involved here is the shortage and inefficiency of the existing power producing plants in the country--so when even one of them breaks down, there is automatically a short-term shortage in the national energy supply. And of course it doesn't help that the price of imported energy these days is so high.

Just another fact of life in the developing world.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

news summary

For anyone who is curious about what is going down here in the public sphere...

1. There was an article in today's paper about the continued influence of Walmart in the country, as it now owns the majority of the country's grocery stores and is providing a lot of jobs, as well as new products to consumers. For better or worse, it is reported that Nicaragua is the Central American hub for the global retailer.

2. President Ortega is set to travel to the Middle East, including a trip to visit Lybian leader Gadhafi.

3. There is a lot of coverage of the situation with the refusal of the Venezuelan government to renew the license of a popular but controversial Venezuelan television station, which was involved in the 2002 attempted coup of Hugo Chavez. If you get a chance, I recommend googling "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" to watch the documentary about it. (I think the documentary illustrates that popular opinion was definitely in Chavez' favor at the time, and that it was not in fact the station itself but its ownership and management which was implicated in the coup. Given that, my personal opinion is that the individuals involved should have been prosecuted but the station allowed to continue to broadcast.)

4. There have been several high profile deaths of Americans reported here in the last several weeks in Granada and Esteli, and while there is certainly no need to panic, the U.S. Embassy reports that petty crime and robbery against U.S. citizens is rising. Please pray for the continued safety of all cross-cultural workers and their families who are living here, as well as teams who come to visit and serve.