Thursday, May 31, 2007

rain, rain, & (you guessed it) more rain

Click for Managua, Nicaragua Forecast

So the ticker says "drizzle" but in fact it has been pouring all day since early this morning... much rain that I was using our broom to sweep water off our porch (which was falling in from the neighbor's roof) much rain, that I was worried about it leaking through the foundation (not to worry, the house is still very dry inside) much rain that I decided to wear flip flops to the grocery store earlier to avoid ruining a pair of shoes and it turned out to be a good decision because even with an umbrella, I soaked my capris in the process of stepping through large puddles and moving water. Yikes! (Yes, I did clean my feet thoroughly afterwards.)

So much rain. But I am definitely NOT complaining. The temperature here has dropped at least 15 degrees in the last week and I have worn 2 long-sleeve shirts to work this week. Yippee!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

when global becomes local

I've been reading the papers. I've seen the Al Gore documentary. I've even had a few heated (no pun intended) conversations with folks here in Nicaragua on the subject.

This topic of global warming now has the ear of the politicians and the press, and it should have every one of us concerned enough to (1) examine our personal lifestyle to see where we can make a difference and (2) pay attention to government activity on this issue and lobby against policies that make no sense (I'm not going to get into what those might be, at least not today.)

I'm extra fired up on this topic this week because of an article that appeared in the UK press about farmers in northeastern Nicaragua who, following all conventional wisdom (passed down for generations on family farms), planted their rice several weeks ago when it appeared the rains were quickly appearing (and it's true that in late April it appeared that the rainy season was starting). However, that isn't what happened. What happened is, the rains didn't come, but the rats did, and now most of these subsistence farmers' crops are ruined. Why? Because the formerly semi-predictable patterns of the climate here are now totally unpredictable. And yes, it is our fault.

Perhaps this change is not yet substantial enough for those of us who don't grow our own food or live without air conditioning to take notice, but certainly for the Nicaraguan poor, the impact of global warming, and its wider effects on climate patterns, are already creating a new level of suffering in a region that has borne more than its share of hard times and environmental disaster.

And the developing world will continue to bear the brunt of wealthy nations' excesses and irresponsibility unless those of us who have inherited some measure of economic and political "privilege" stand up and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

frijoles and eggs

That's what I (and at least 80% of Nicaraguans) ate today.

Not only is my stomach turning Nica, but apparently so is my vocabulary. Today, after correctly responding to a translation question from one of my international colleagues, my (bilingual) Nica friend IML told me that she believes I am now bilingual.

Glad that's settled. : )

Monday, May 28, 2007

a dark and scary night

So they say that Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America, and all my experiences over the last 13 months confirm that fact. Nevertheless, tonight I was scared out of my wits. I had gone to the national theater to see the local ballet folklorico with some coworkers who were here for a conference, which was very fun, but at 9pm when the show was over and I walked outside to hail a cab, every taxi in sight appeared already occupied. So I decided to walk (alone, in a dress and nice sandals, in the dark) up to the nearest intersection and hail one there. (I know, I know.)

Sure enough, 10 minutes later I was (I thought) safely on my way home. But not really. You see, cab drivers here have 2 common practices here that sometimes make me nervous. One is, you pay for your seat, not for an exclusive ride. The other is, drivers tend to push their gas tanks to the last possible drop before filling up. Five blocks into the ride, a sketchy guy hailed my driver down, and of course he stopped…as soon as I got a good look at him I could see he was drunk, and indeed he could not even articulate the directions to his destination, which thankfully made my driver pull away without giving him much of an opportunity to lean into the cab and scare me (although I was slightly freaked out). The taxista picked up on that and asked me if I was afraid. “Of course I was,” I said lightly. “This city is a little dangerous at night.” He smiled and we kept going, but as if that weren’t enough excitement for one night, suddenly the engine jumped and sputtered, and I realized we were about to run out of gas. We coasted for about another 100 feet, and the guy said, “sorry, vayase con otro”. I gave him a little bit of money for his trouble, but in my mind I was thinking, “Oh my God, I am alone in the middle of a neighborhood I do not know and I am wearing a dress and I am a perfect target right now.” So I did the only thing I could think of—I clutched my keys and a C$50 bill (hidden) in my hand and walked briskly down the street, pretending I was absolutely sure of where I was going and that I belonged there. I was thinking, “Even if I am robbed and they take my purse, I will be able to get another cab and get in my front door.”

I must have walked about 10 blocks before another cab drove by—by that point I was in an area I knew, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I took the rate he offered me and breathed a silent sigh of relief, followed by telling my new driver that my previous one had run out of gas in the middle of my viaje. “That makes me nervous,” he blurted out, and pulled into the gas station on the corner and filled up, even my house was only 5 more blocks away.

Obviously I’ve lived to tell the tale, so everything turned out fine thank God, but I had chills for a good half hour after walking in the door…I hope I never have to go through that again.

Friday, May 25, 2007

bills = culture stress

It´s a trivial thing, really. I don´t even know why I feel the need to vent about this publicly. But I´m going to anyway because I am stressed out.

Last Sunday, Andrea and I woke up to discover that our internet service (provided by the "santo company" Enitel) had been cut off. Since we are extremely responsible bill-payers, we immediately called to find out what had happened. "Our records show you haven´t paid your bill", the voice on the other end of the line said. Being a Sunday, there was nothing to be done. With Andrea out with a team and me totally tied up with a regional conference until all hours of the night, it wasn´t until Wednesday that I got a spare minute to go to the Enitel office and show my latest paid bill. Of course, it wasn´t until that moment that they decided to tell me that it was not in fact, last month´s bill, but NOVEMBER that appeared not to be paid. So I immediately went home and thanks to our VERY organized system of paid bills, I found the factura in question and brought it back to show the woman that this was most definitely not my fault. The woman sent me over to another customer service guy, who proceeded to examine the bank receipt printed on my bill and send an email to the technical people who theoretically would turn my internet back on. "Tomorrow morning," he promised with a smile. But it was all mentira. Thursday morning came and went, I went off to do some community visits with some out of town guests, and when I returned home last night, still nothing. So first thing this morning, I walk back over to the Enitel office, show the bill, explain that nothing has changed, and the guy who helped me before calls the main office to find out what´s wrong. "There was some kind of confusion with the number on the receipt" he says. This time he makes a copy of my recibo, sends it along to the main office, makes a phone call to verify that the process is now in motion, and I ask, "so am I going to have my internet back today?"

"24 hours," he replies. "WHAT???" I scream silently to myself. Outloud I say to him, "how is it possible it can take 24 hours to reconnect my internet when it´s just the push of a button somewhere? None of this is my fault, I have been without service for a week, and you are going to charge me the same monthly bill. I am sorry, this is not service." And with that, I stood up and walked out. What else was there to do?

As I walked home fighting back tears of frustration, I thought to myself, "why does paying bills have to be so stressful?"

"Part of the 3rd world package," someone told me later today.

A part that is more stressful than 99% of the daily challenges I face here.

Friday, May 18, 2007


The first three months are like cotton candy. Everything about your new life looks rosy and sweet and there’s no time to think about things like metaphorical calorie counting or crashing at the end of the sugar high.

But then suddenly something happens and the little things that used to be “cute” are now a source of frustration. Why do they have to pack the microbuses so full of people that my legs intersect with those of middle aged men I have never met before? Why are people always throwing their trash onto the street when there is a trashcan 50 feet away? Why does it have to be SO hot everywhere all the time? (The rains have finally truly returned, BTW—we’ve had three straight nights of downpours here—and the temperature is slowly dropping, though the humidity is still a little stifling, and we now have a horrible new bug infestation.)

Eventually these peculiarities of Nica life just faded into my daily rhythm. I smile at the strangers who occupy my microbus (and my personal space). I step over the plastic chips bags on the corner. And I just assume that the back of my shirt will be damp with sweat by the time I arrive at my destination.

And when all the external aspects of life—food, language, transportation, climate, bugs—here become more or less familiar? What then?

Then comes the hardest part of all. Because at some point along the way I think I stopped analyzing. I stopped trying to identify a rational explanation or a simple solution for all the suffering and poverty that passes before my eyes each day—like 10 year old barefoot children standing in the street washing windshields. Or the women cooking rice and beans in dirt-floor wood-burning kitchens where the smoke has nowhere to go but into their lungs. Or communities without even a basic medical outpost within one hour’s walking distance.

I stopped analyzing because somewhere along the way these men, women, and children, some of whom live in conditions unworthy of human beings loved by God, have become my friends. And they don’t need me to analyze them. So instead I visit their humble homes, sit at their table, eat their gallo pinto, and listen to their stories.

And I love them.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

boiling point

Here’s my new word for the constant suffocating temperatures that have a vice-like hold on dusty Managua: insoportable.

(Translation: UNBEARABLE.)

Up until the past few weeks, I thought I was holding up pretty well. I mean, come on, how many 100 + degree days did I survive annually in S. Texas?

So I thought I was tough. Unlike practically everyone I know here, I’d managed to sleep (comfortably) for 11 months straight with no fan.

But no more..

Today I took 3 showers, drank 3 bottles of water/Gatorade, intentionally went to lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant just to lower my body temperature to a tolerable level where I didn’t feel feverish, and took a taxi home just because it would mean less time out in the insoportable afternoon sun.

My body has reached a tipping/breaking/boiling point. And the horrible thing is, the air the fan inside blows at me is hotter than the air outside.

For the love of God, LET IT RAIN!

Monday, May 07, 2007

lessons from mombachito

This is going to be a very serious trip,” Darling told me as we headed northeast last Thursday into the mountains of Boaco.

Our ultimate destination? Mombachito, a small rural community where after 2 years, the community health evangelism program (CHE) was still struggling.

The problem(s)? To make a long story short, lots of miscommunication, misunderstanding, mistrust, and misgivings.

The mission? To get to the root of these issues, and figure out if the community still wanted to pursue this program, which develops local leaders to promote preventative health alongside the gospel, with the ultimate goal of achieving an organized community with a vision for its future and the will to act.

Time allotted? 48 hours.

Sounds like mission impossible, right? I thought so too, but God often does more than we ask or even imagine. And so it was through a series of meetings with community leaders, members, home visits, Bible study, and open dialogue, old grievances were aired and forgiven, leaders (old and new) united with renewed energy to work toward CHE’s continued development, and that allusive term “development” happened.

Not wanting to be perceived as the “know-it-all outsider”, I tried to keep my comments to a minimum in meetings and opted much more for extended discussions with Darling about what I was seeing. Above all, I saw a team fractured by accusations of favoritism, with a healthy dose of jealousy to boot. (This situation, by the way, had some external factors which I can’t specifically explain in this context.)

Suddenly, everything I learned in my speech communication classes and years of team management experience came back to me. (Somewhere, Dr. Hill is nodding and saying, “Didn’t I tell you?”.) And as I watched Darling utilize some of the information, analysis, and suggestions I gave her through our 2 days, I found myself humbled and grateful to be able to facilitate, in a small way, the interpersonal and small group development of the (very capable) community leadership team we met with.

I was equally grateful for the warmth, hospitality, and knowledge they shared with me. On this last point—knowledge—I owe a great debt to the farmers there who taught me about birds, crop seasons, water sources, well construction, and trees. I may have a college education, but my friends in Mombachito have an equally important education, gained through many years of living off the land, building houses from scratch, and creating their own local economy with little outside help.

Which brings home a point stressed again and again in development work—every community (even the “poorest”) has knowledge, resources, and a wealth of experiences within them, assets that must be identified and utilized if it is going to grow and develop. Otherwise, we’re talking about beneficencia, where one person gives to another expecting nothing in return, and that person over times begins to believe that a handout is all that is needed to solve his/her problems.

It’s just not so. What is needed is support, accompaniment, and tools that facilitate sustainable development, development that can continue without dependence.

There are no cookie-cutter models of how this is accomplished. But the kind of intercultural exchange I was part of this past week is a good start.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

unforgettable firsts

One year.

That's how long I have now lived outside the United States.

I used to think a year was a long time. Now I can hardly believe that almost 1/3 of my commitment here is over.

While most people I know have been marking the passage of time with landmark events like weddings, births, house purchases, deaths, and promotions, I have experienced my own share of “firsts”, though I imagine most of mine would hardly make someone else’s radar screen.

Some of the many firsts in my life since May 3rd, 2006:

1st Nica taco, 1st fruit drink out of a bag, 1st solo taxi/microbus interlocal travel, 1st horse and cart ride, 1st house without air conditioning, 1st time to wear bug spray to work, 1st visit to an island that isn’t a country (Ometepe), 1st quesillo, 1st time seeing a live chicken on a bus, 1st time sleeping in an adobe house, 1st time making corn tortillas, 1st time washing my vegetables with bleach, 1st encounter with monkeys and wild boars, 1st experience with constant power outages, 1st time to hang a hammock, 1st time to own rocking chairs, 1st time to de-poop shrimp, 1st time to ride a bike on a volcanic island, 1st time to see an active volcanic crater, 1st time riding in the back of a pickup truck (legally), 1st time riding a horse in a rural area, 1st time to witness an election and government transition of another country in person, 1st time to hitchhike and ride in the back of a truck on a highway...

May the coming year be full of many more unforgettable "firsts"...