Saturday, October 27, 2007

highs and lows

High #1: My roommate and I took the GRE today, and I am thrilled to no longer be studying words like celerity and reliving the horrors of high school geometry. Hopefully the results in 6 weeks will at least provide me a decent shot at admission to the Masters program I am hoping to attend.

High #2: A delicious celebratory lunch at Ola Verde, a fabulous trendy restaurant where I ate some great beef and vegetables, a la china.

High #3: Tomorrow morning I leave for a week-long conference in Costa Rica with an awesome Nicaraguan woman named Elizabeth.

Low #1: I am getting up at 3:30am to take a 10 hours bus ride to San Jose tomorrow.

Low #2: Elizabeth hails from Somotillo, one of the communities most severely hit by the leptospiros epidemic, and she told me how she visited some of the rural areas where the people are very depressed, not to mention "consternada" (judged) now as their community is being called "dirty."

Low #3: The leptospirosis cases have risen from 311 to over 500 in the last 2 days. The hospitals are full. There is a shortage of the needed medicines to treat the symptoms, never mind address the root causes (infected animals and their droppings, contaminated soil and wells, etc.)

It's hard to not be excited about a trip to Costa Rica, but my heart is heavy with the national crises affecting so many of my friends and co-laborers here right now, and I wish there was something more I could do to help. Truly, I think helplessness is the absolute worst possible feeling that exists.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

como si fuera poco

"It's like we're reliving the 7 plagues," someone commented today, and truthfully, the recent series of disasters here in Nicaragua is of a magnitude that rivals the old biblical story in Exodus.

First, as anyone who follows this blog or Nicaraguan current events knows, Hurricane Felix hit the Atlantic Coast with a vengeance in early September. The short term crisis is being handled, but thousands of people remain without homes or an independent food source to sustain them when the aid runs out, never mind resources for medicine, school, etc.

Then, of course, the rain did not stop. The government statistics say that in some parts of the country, it rained 52 days straight. (In fact, I think we've had one 24 hour period without rain in the last 2 months.) The ground became saturated, laundry became impossible to dry, the streets turned to rivers, and on the Pacific side, large portions of already planted seed was lost due to flooding. Last week, the Rio Grande in Matagalpa rose above its banks and flooded a whole section of the mountainous region's capital city, leaving a muddy mess, and hundreds more homeless people in its wake.

Then, 3 days ago, an outbreak of leptospirosis was reported in the northwestern region of the country, Chinandega. One young man died in a rural community called El Ojoche, one of the very first places I visited as part of my work here--and a place where I have friends---within 48 hours the whole region was quarantined by the health department as more than 50 potential cases were identified--mostly youth or young adult men--who were then brought to nearby hospitals, given antibiotics, etc.

Today I was up in the capital of Chinandega doing a couple of interviews for future stories I will be writing, and there was another big storm. Later I found out, through a health educator who visited Ojoche today, COMO SI FUERA POCO (as if all of this wasn't enough), that two nights ago a tornado had passed through--and took their entire harvest with it. All of their basic grains and beans for the next 6 months that had been harvested. Gone. Months and months of labor, lost in one night.

Houses, roads, harvests, forests--dessimated. Women, men, children--homeless.

What can I even say in the face of so much destruction and tragedy?

This country and its people need the support of the international community now more than ever--money, medicines, and especially seeds to replant the fertile ground of this beautiful land. But more than all of that that, they (we) need to find that place deep within where the most important seed--the seed of esperanza--still lives, despite the despair that is closing in on all sides.

Esperanza that can only come from God.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

rainy weekend

That's basically what it looked like all day Saturday in Poneloya, the beach near Leon where I, my two roommates, and friend Anne spent the weekend. We're at the tail end of the rainy season here, and it has been a doozy. As if the damage caused by Hurricane Felix wasn't enough, the entire Pacific region has taken a beating over the last two weeks, and now there is concern that the country could be facing a serious food insecurity problem for the coming year due to the destruction of so much of this period's harvest. Even my coworkers with middle class incomes have been telling me that prices on basic foodstuffs are rising quite rapidly, to the point where many people already cannot afford to buy beans for every day consumption.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

vision of community

My deepest and truest experience of community in my nearly 30 years of life is still the 6 months following my senior year of college when I shared a house with 4 other amazing young women on E. Ridgewood. Cooking meals together, throwing parties together, pooling our resources to share the costs of life based on means...I think it was during that time that the dream of incarnational neighborhood ministry was first planted in my mind--and this perhaps idealist notion of moving into a poorer neighborhood with a group of friends just to be a living witness to the love and truth of the gospel, in community, though shelved for a time in the recesses of my mind, has never really disappeared.

In fact, lately this vision has only grown stronger as I get glimpses of this very same model lived out my Nica brothers and sisters. Take Daniel and Darling, for example. Both successful educators by profession, they decided to move into a poor rural neighborhood on the southern outskirts of Managua, where they began a church as well as a school for the community. The primary school classrooms are literally 5 steps from the very house where this couple lives. There is no dividing 'life' and 'ministry' for them; they are one and the same. Their commitment is to the development of this entire community, and they have made it clear with their money, their time, where they chose to raise their children, and how they embrace the teachers and staff of their school as their own family.

There is messiness and beauty in this arrangement, as there is in any authentic expression of community.

But sometimes I think Christians in my culture look only for the beauty while trying to avoid the mess. And so when money and circumstances permit, many move to better, nicer communities--frequently under the auspices of perfectly understandable motives--safety, security and quality education for their children, higher property values, etc.
But here is the question that haunts me: if we truly believe that all of us are God's children and equally valuable and loved in His eyes, why would we ever leave some of God's creation to suffer or just 'make due', while we pursue our version of the abundant life? How have some of us arrived at this place where writing a check is all that is required of us to be faithful to the example of Jesus--who gave without ceasing, but didn't even have a bank account? Isn't the real giving found in relationships--where the natural exchange of resources, ideas, encouragement, and hope--takes place in all of its fullness?

And so as I ponder this vision of community, I am watching, waiting, hoping, praying that God will allow me to live out this messy calling (either with friends or my own family) one day soon.

the storm still rages

I know we're all under compassion fatigue, but it bears noting that while the hurricane season appears to be over, the cleanup and recovery process has really only just begun on Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast.

From an article in the Central American University magazine Envio published recently (excerpted, and translated from Spanish).

"400 thousand hectares of forest devastated. And the yucca, rice, plantains, fruits, everything ruined, almost everything lost. The animales surely dead and those who survived, without their habitat. What are they going to eat for these next few week, months, in the year to come? What are they going to sell, with what are they going to buy salt, oil, soap, clothes, medicine? How are they going to pay the costs of school for their children? From a social reproduction standpoint, Hurricane Felix destroyed the economic equilibrium between the needs of the community, the resources of the forest, and the relationship between them, which translates into the material goods and symbols that Bilwi (the city) obtains. One does not even dare to speak of an incertain future, for the primary worries are still in the present.

Said one man, 'the worst is yet to come. We are campesinos and if we do not begin to plant we will not eat." The gravest reality is not clearing the way to the land, which could take more than a week. The most serious issue is that they don't have seeds to begin the planting cycle. With the forest devastated, more than ever their lives depend on clearing the way to their gardens, obtaining seeds to plant, avoiding what would be a second tragedy--brushfires when the rainy season ends.

Looking at the map of the area, with the exception of the work of the World Food Program to bring food to all of the affected communities, the aid has followed and continues to follow the route of the institutions who already work in certain territories. In this way, the communities least attended before the hurricane, continue to be so afterwards."

Monday, October 15, 2007

clownin' around

There's very little I haven't seen on a Nicaraguan bus, but one of the more colorful oddities are the clowns. Yes, I said clowns. With all the festive garb you would expect, and slightly scary painted faces, two clowns boarded my bus back to Managua on Sunday afternoon with a brief (and hardly intelligible--for me, a not-native-Spanish-speaker) stand up routine. Still, for their effort (and courage--would I EVER board a bus as a clown? Hmmm. Let me think.), I rewarded them with a small donation. And in return, one of them gave me a big smile for this photo.

The incident was all the more amusing because just 12 hours earlier my roommate and I had been discussing with our cab driver her clown-related fears. Maybe don't look too closely at this photo, A. :-)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

dia de la raza

In Nicaragua, as in many Latin American countries, October 12th (what in the US is called Columbus day) is celebrated as Dia de la Raza (day of the race). I missed the party Friday morning due to a site visit to a school where we work, but here is a taste of the cultural celebration held in my office to commemorate and celebrate our intercultural ministry.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

my friend, fatima

I had no real agenda when I went to see her on Tuesday. And maybe in some countries that would be considered 'inefficient' or 'wasting time.' But not here. One of the highest honors one can give in this generous and hospitable culture (where everyone has more time than money) is a personal visit.

And so I showed up at Fatima's doorstep Tuesday morning with nothing but a copy of our latest magazine, which featured a story about our work in her community and some beautiful photos of Fatima in front of her house---and some apples for us and her two boys to snack on. We talked about all kinds of things--the incredible amount of rain we have been getting lately and its effect on her community (all the roads are dirt and the majority have become small rivers in the last week), the fungus-like thing on her son's ear (they were headed to the clinic later this week to get it checked out), her patio garden (the compost for which was soaked by the rain and she will have to start the process again), her attempts to keep the peace with another group of leaders recently elected in the community, the merits of fruit beverages over soda, my trip to the States, the difference in the pace of life one finds in the two cultures,her older son's aversion to his shoes, and of course the magazine. She was excited to see her friend Rosa on the cover, but with typical self-depreciation, took one look at her photo and said, "que gordita".

Eventually it was time for me to go, and even though it was drizzling out and her kids were no doubt ready for lunch, she insisted on walking me out to a safe place to catch a cab (about a 20 minute walk from where she lives). Along the way her younger son entertained us with small playdough creations and jumping over puddles (which made his mom just a little nervous--"que no te caigas!').

And when we finally reached the calle pavimentada, we hugged, she thanked me for my visit, and I got into the cab.

And I thought, this is friendship.

Monday, October 08, 2007

recordando che

Today marks the 40th anniversary of controversial guerrilla fighter Che Guevara's death. For those unfamiliar with Latin American history, Che is an icon, his black beret with single star still a common sight on t-shirts, murals, etc., and his revolutionary ideals the inspiration for much of the leftist political activity in places like Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Central America.

"Born Ernesto Guevara in the Argentinian city of Rosario in 1928, Che trained as a doctor before being caught up in the political conflicts sweeping Latin America. His conversion to revolutionary Marxism began after he traveled across the region in 1952 and 1953, and was shocked at the economic disparities in the region. His life changed dramatically when he met Fidel Castro and his brother Raul in Mexico in 1955, and became convinced that violence was the only way to overturn an unjust social order. He quickly joined the Castros' armed uprising against the then Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. After their revolution triumphed in January 1959, Guevara was appointed Cuba's supreme prosecutor, in charge of the trials and executions of hundreds of people linked to the previous regime. He later held the posts of industry minister and governor of Cuba's central bank, when he advocated nationalising private businesses. He dreamed of a classless society where wages would be made unnecessary and money abolished. In his spare time, he wrote books about the theory and practice of guerilla warfare. Growing restless and not content to rest on his laurels in Cuba, Guevara sought to spread revolution around the world, travelling in 1965 to the Congo with a group of Cuban revolutionaries to join up with Marxist guerillas there. In late 1966 he set off once more, this time to start a new anti-US guerilla movement in the jungles of eastern Bolivia, hoping to create "two, three, many Vietnams" in Latin America. But after 11 months at the head of a small band of rebels who failed to find mass support, he was captured by US-backed Bolivian soldiers on October 9 1967. He was shot in a schoolroom the following day, and his bullet-ridden corpse was put on display in a laundry, eyes wide open. He was 39. " Source Article

Sunday, October 07, 2007

cramming coffee cake concert

that about sums up my saturday. since andrea had her camera and i didn't, check out her blog for the photos.

today i (1) went to an english-speaking church with my new roommate alicia, (2) ate a tuna melt for lunch, (3) grocery shopped (twice--once in the air-conditioned la Union, and later in the local market), (4) studied alegra (GRE countdown: 21 days), (5) read some newspaper articles in Spanish about the increasing incidence of HIV in northwest Nicaragua and the latest spin on who's got the political power around here, (6) looked at a co-worker's photos of the damage caused by Hurricane Felix and felt sad and overwhelemed, (7) watched some Grey's (my one pop culture weakness), and (8) waited for an email that never came.

i'm tired and a little sad tonight. not the best way to start the week, but hopefully a good night's sleep will help.

hasta luego.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

with new eyes

Some stream-of-conscienceness ranblings on my time in the States...

In Texas it didn't take long for me to note how incredibly big everything is--from streets (5 lanes on one side of the highway? are you kidding me?) to houses to cars to shopping malls. It took slightly longer to realize that unlike Managua, there are hardly any taxis on the streets, and barely a bus to be found. I found myself a little lonely when I drove around the city alone running errands--even the radio seemed like poor company when I had grown accustomed to a variety of personalities sharing my daily bus route, as well as a pleasant cacophony of voices, music, and traffic related sounds. I missed my daily walks, but greatly enjoyed my opportunites to drink Dr. Pepper. I found myself overwhelmed by suburbia. I missed my daily coffee with my roommate, but greatly enjoyed pancakes and breakfast tacos--both much better in TX than any version I have made here. My jaw dropped to the floor the first time I paid $8 for lunch (that would be 3 very large and delicious lunches in Nicaragua), but within just 2 weeks I found myself succombing to my largely dormant and/or minimal materialistic tendencies (and quietly justifying it--"well, I mean, I DO need new clothes that actually fit"). On Sunday I realized how much I missed the gentle but powerful liturgy when we closed our worship service with a version of the doxology and the kyrie.

And as I traveled across Managua via taxi for the first time in 2 weeks last night, I saw this city with new eyes--and sharp pangs of sadness descended into my spirit as I realized that living among the poor for so long had desensitized me to its everyday manifestations--brought clearly into focus again for me by the 11 year old girl washing windshields at 7pm on the north highway that takes me home....what does it say about me that it took a 2 week saturation in the middle class wealth of my north american world to reawaken my mind to the every day struggles that 90% of the people I know here are facing?

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

Monday, October 01, 2007

there and back again

I had a wonderful time reconnecting with old friends back in Texas (and Phoenix!) over the last 13 days--and just want to say thank you to all of you for the overwhelming shower of love, support, encouragement, and hospitality you poured out over me...I am refreshed, inspired, grateful, and beyond blessed to have friends like y'all.

But, it is good to be back in my own living room, sharing life with my wonderful roommate, and gearing up for the return to "normal" life here.

More reflections on the trip manana.

p.s. Thanks, Texas, for giving me a glimpse of autumn again.