Tuesday, December 23, 2008

the last two weeks

After the Christmas concert in the Teatro Nacional on December 16th with some of the choir members from my church

Me and my gorgeous roommates the night of the concert

Guatemala--Andrea and I took a quick trip to Lago Atitlan and Antigua the week before Christmas--the full album is here

Me and my friend Felix from church, who invited me to spend Christmas eve with his sweet family....we had a really nice time--the food was delicious and the company was even better. And the fireworks at midnight were beautiful!

Feliz Navidad!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

despedidas del año

The Dordt students left Saturday morning after completing their semester in Nicaragua. On their last night we took them out to dinner to celebrate. Above, me and the senior girls from the program...ah, and my "pregnant lady" shirt. (No, I'm not pregnant, it's just de moda here.)

My dear friends Freddy and Leonor and their two adorable children Sarai and recien nacido Josue Javier. I went to visit them last week when Josue was just 10 days old!! This photo was taken at our office right before the end-of-year lunch Friday, which they all came to.

The large and growing Nehemiah Center staff...taken in the NC courtyard.
Can I just say that it's so fun to have grass!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

shameless announcement

I just wanted to let you all know--because I am SUPER excited--that my dear friend and long-time mission trip buddy Meara (from FPC-San Antonio) is coming to visit me the week after Christmas...and so if you are interested in sending anything down this way and you want her contact info, leave me a message here or send me an email and I will help you out.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Okay, so this actually happened almost three weeks ago, but I'm just now getting around to venting about it.

So a few Fridays ago, right when the post-election drama began to calm down (at least enough for us to be able to leave the house), Andrea and I decided to go meet some friends at the mall for dinner. Galerias Mall, to be exact, on the trendy southside of town, which just happens to be the ritziest mall in all of Managua. It was a nice night and we decided that we'd sit outside and enjoy the fresh air instead of freezing in the air conditioning.

I put my purse down by my feet--something I actually hardly ever do, because I'm hardly ever in a place where putting anything on the ground is a wise idea--and we proceeded to order beverages. Soon afterwards, a random guy came by our table asking if we knew "tal Senora" and for about 2 minutes, all 4 of us had our attention totally on this guy.

He left, we continued talking, and all of a sudden I looked down, and my purse was gone. Someone had reached in through the patio fence separating us from the public walkway and grabbed it. I couldn't believe it. How many times have I been in some random taxi in the middle of the night, or on the bus with my laptop smooshed against strangers, and THIS is where it happens???? In the middle of a nice restaurant in the wealthiest sector of town??? I just kept shaking my head in disbelief.

Of course after I got through the shock stage, I immediately canceled my bank card and that weekend got new keys copied and eventually a new phone to replace what had been stolen. I was at least grateful for the fact that neither my new driver's license, my passport, nor my camera were in my purse. I probably would have lost it.

Nevertheless, thanks to the many challenges of getting mail from the USA to here, I have now been living without a new bank card for 3 weeks, borrowing from roommates, sending money through PayPal to people, and basically trying to maximize every cent of my "efectivo" to avoid having to get more money somehow.

I have to say that this has been quite a stressful situation for me, as even though I live on a fairly tight budget, I normally still feel fairly independent when it comes to making purchases. But knowing I have to make money last a week instead of 2-3 days has made me think twice about taking a taxi when a bus will do, has made me eat oatmeal for dinner instead of going to the fritanga, and has made me decline social outings "por pena" of not wanting to borrow money (even knowing that eventually I could totally pay it back.)

Perhaps I've inadvertantly gotten a better glimpse of what life is like for my Nica friends who know the price per media libra of everything in the market, who count the change in their purse and rarely have more than C$200 ($10) on their person, and who would never take a taxi, even at night because they just can't afford it.

I guess I just need to get over it. I mean, after all, for me, this is just a temporary inconvenience. But for others--it's life as usual.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

of chocolate and (lack of) compassion

What should I have done, I asked myself in retrospect. I still don’t know.

You see, one night last week, my friend K. and I had gone on a little chocolate buying adventure in the middle of semi-upscale Managua. This is no ordinary Mars chocolate, mind you. This is gourmet made-in-Nicaragua chocolate mixed with delectable fruit flavors, nuts, and even liquor. So as the holidays are upon us, and neither of us splurge very often on anything, this seemed like a fine idea.

We took a cab across town in the middle of rush hour, which gave us plenty of time to catch up on her adventures the previous week in Guatemala (and I am going there in 10 days—whee!! But that is another story) helping with a cool arts camp for street kids.

When we got there, our senses were bombarded with the sights and smells of a wider variety of chocolate than I have ever seen. We each tried 5 or 6 small pieces before deciding on our purchases (K. went with the chocolate chai, and I got a variety pack—I am so indecisive!!). We then wandered down the street in search of beverages.

Content with my ginger ale in hand and K with her fruit smoothie, we went in search of a good spot to catch a cab. We reached the main “highway” (it’s a 4 lane road, which here qualifies as a highway), and proceeded to head downhill toward a gas station which seemed like a good waiting spot. Meantime, however, we had been spotted by some young Nica girls who were hanging out at an intersection with small water bottles used for washing windshields. They immediately ran toward us, and as they got closer, pleaded with us… "Dame un peso” (give me a coin). When we refused and kept walking, they followed us, reaching for our drinks and our small white bags that held our chocolate, saying over and over “regalame, regalame” (give it to me).

Now, there have been numerous occasions here in Nicaragua when I have willingly parted with a drink or food at the request of a child. I know it’s not going to solve the problem, but in the moment that usually doesn’t matter to me. What matters is compassion. But that night, I don’t know if I was low on compassion or just wanted to finish my drink myself because I was thirsty or what, but I refused, held onto my drink and chocolate and continued walking.

And that’s when the unexpected happened. As we walked away, the girls threw the water from their bottles right at us, getting K’s skirt and my pants wet.

At first I was shocked. No child (or even adult) that I have refused to give to has ever done anything like that to me. Then I was angry. Not about my clothes, which would be easily cleaned, but angry that kids who are 7-8 years old are out on the street in the first place at 7pm trying to earn money for their families. What kind of childhood is that? I see it all the time, but sometimes it gets to me anew, like I am seeing it for the first time, again.

And then I was sad, and a little guilty. Should I have just given the girl my ginger ale? She certainly wouldn’t have thrown her water at me if I had. But, maybe that’s not the point. Even giving her the drink and moving on would have been an incomplete response. A way of avoiding the pain of the situation—hers and mine. A way of avoiding relationship. Looking back, I realize I didn’t even make eye contact with these girls. I can’t remember anything about what they looked like. Sure, it was dark, but that’s no excuse. Maybe I should have stopped and talked to them. Shown a little interest in them as individuals.

I’ve often thought there’s nothing worse than being anonymous, someone whose name no one knows, someone whose presence no one acknowledges….I myself have lived my share of moments were I felt that sensation. And yet I perpetuated that cycle myself. It makes me wonder if I am really changing at all.

Sigh. What should I have done? What can I do now? Will I do anything differently next time?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

mi arbol del refugio

The quote I chose to accompany my senior year of college yearbook photo was from Samuel T. Coleridge.

"Friendship is a sheltering tree." In Spanish it is translated (mas o menos), "La amistad es un arbol del refugio."

It is the best and only phrase I can come up with to describe what is has been like these last few months to finally, after two years of feeling like I was in a desert of sorts, to have found a community of people (mis queridos muchachos de la sociedad de jovenes!!) within my church who I genuinely enjoy spending time with, who have embraced and included me in their lives, who make me not miss home quite so much...and actually make me desperately want to avoid thinking about leaving next May.

A small group of these muchachos came over to my house Tuesday night for a last minute sort of surprise visit (in Nicaragua, this sort of ultima hora get together is really the only kind there is), and "la pasamos muy bien"...laughing, sharing photos and chistes, drinking iced tea and eating (my homemade) banana bread, singing lots of Nica songs--and even some Silvio Rodriguez (with Abner's awesome guitar playing), and lots of fregando...

I never wanted them to leave.

Muchachos, le doy gracias a Dios porque su amistad se ha convertido en algo muy especial en mi vida, y solamente les puedo decir que les quiero mucho y espero que juntos pasemos muchos mas momentos bellos en los proximos meses.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

a thanksgiving for the soul

It’s a little strange to think I haven’t been in the USA for a major holiday since 2006. Yet every one that I have spent here in Nicaragua has been memorable in its own way…and this past Thanksgiving was no different.

It all started with the simple idea that maybe the North American college students I work with here would enjoy having a little taste of home even as they finish out their semester program with us. I’ve never “hosted” Thanksgiving dinner before (the most I’ve ever contributed is a green bean casserole or sweet potato dish or assistance to the turkey preparation), but I felt like it would be fun, and I was up for a cooking challenge.

Thanks to the wonders of globalization, I was able to buy all the traditional fixin’s, minus the sweet potatoes and turnip. All of the girls came into Managua Thursday afternoon, and with a little teamwork (and an extra dose of baking genius from co-chef Leah) we baked two pumpkin pies, an apple pie, stuffing, and prepared the potatoes that night.

I hit the pillow pretty exhausted that evening, but was up before the crack of dawn Friday, thanks to some early morning fireworks in my neighborhood plus a blaring stereo playing music in homenage to Mary (the annual celebration of the Purisima is this week). While the girls slept, I concocted a rub for the turkey…a little salt, pepper, sage, thyme, lemongrass and butter smothered liberally over the outside of the defrosted bird, followed by a little apple juice, which I also put (diluted) in the bottom of the pan.

The bird safely in my tiny gas oven (the door barely shut), I threw on my running clothes and headed out to take advantage of the cool morning air. There was no sign of the noisy neighbors or any street procession like I expected. Instead, just like always, I passed women sweeping their patios, children waiting at bus stops with older siblings, and a few other walkers.

Refreshed and much more awake, I returned to the house where most everyone was still asleep except for Leah, who had gotten up early to make caramel dip (which turned out awesome, btw). After some coffee and cornflakes, I busied myself with the mashed potatoes, broccoli and corn, while Leah took care of the gravy.

It was a really fun morning, and as I stood alone in the kitchen making the final preparations, I heard the laughter wafting in from the living room, and my heart smiled as I remembered the joy of having a full house on this special day. (The last time I can remember a *really* full house on Thanksgiving was before my family moved to Texas, when we spent the holiday with my mom’s family in Boston.)

In addition to the Dordt college students, we also wound up having two other special guests—another student (another Pamela, believe it or not) from Wheaton who had been doing an internship at the Nehemiah Center this semester—and Sidney, a Nicaraguan friend from church who teaches English at a local Christian academy.

Having never prepared an entire Thanksgiving meal mostly myself (and mostly without established recipes—just my own creativity and intuition), I was unsure how everything was going to turn out (especially those crazy pie crusts…). But after we said grace and all sat down to eat on my porch, I looked around and saw a circle of contented faces around me enjoying this special meal…and I felt pure joy….the joy that only comes from giving.

And as I think back on that moment, my soul declares with the psalmist, “Truly, my cup runneth over.”

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving, everyone.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

felicidades, licenciadas

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending my good friend Wendy's graduation from the UNAN (the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua). I met Wendy (BA in Philology and Communication) last fall at a CECNIC (Christian Nicaraguan College Students) event, and we have shared some fun times together over the last year as well as great conversations about theology, politics, and life. Pictured with us (middle) is fellow graduate and mutual acquaintance Oneyda.

I've attended various kinds of special occasions here in Nicaragua--weddings, wakes, baby showers, etc--and each one is unique, though often not so very different than in the United States. In this case, the one major difference is that it is customary for the graduates to process into the auditorium with a relative or friend of their choice, who then also accompany them up onto the stage when they receive their diplomas. I think that's a really neat way to honor and acknowledge publicly the support and sacrifice of others who contributed to this landmark in one's life.

Another interesting thing is that officially getting one's Bachelor's degree here is a really big deal. Unlike in the States, where one normally would only note one's degree after one's name after getting a Masters or PhD, here in Nicaragua, college graduates are immediately called "licenciado/a" (literally, titled) and include that distinction in correspondence, etc. as a form of respect.

Felicidades, licenciadas!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

There is a moment from my senior year of high school that encapsulates my secondary school experience and haunts me into my adult years…

I am sitting cross legged on the heater in the small hallway outside the drama department classroom which doubled as the set for the one-act play I had been cast in. Around me are 20 something fellow students, most of whom I have known for four years or more. The chatter and laughter bubbles up around me, and I watch in silence.

Later, at home, I write these words, a poem and a song:
I’m not a part of your world
I’m not a part of your world
There’s a circle all around me
But all I am is background…

And it goes on. It’s quite the depressing tune. But it represents a feeling I have often had, in many groups throughout the years, that even in a crowd, I am still alone. Even among friends, I am alone. Even within the community of faith, I am alone. For as much as I have sought to be fully known and loved, for as often as I have gone madly confessional in this space and in more intimate conversations with friends in the hopes of being understood, there remains a part of me that will never, can never be known this side of heaven. And I suppose that is part of what has fed the perpetual doubts in my mind and heart about the love and acceptance others have for me, despite every evidence to the contrary.

In some ways, I suppose a healthy skepticism of other’s proclaimed affection can be a useful defense against pain and hurt. It can also lead to looking for manifestations of love in the wrong places, places that appear “safer” but actually are much more destructive. Or it might mean rejecting even healthy forms of intimacy in relationships for fear of an impending rejection, or because of the inevitable realization that no person can fill my need for love completely.

I’ve been in all of these places, both before I came to Nicaragua and since. But now I am trying to move into a new place, a space beyond fear and dependence, a space where transparency and vulnerability are sacred gifts to be given with much forethought and care, a space where I can better accept and appreciate the imperfect yet sincere love of those around me in its manifold expressions.

I like to think of this space as a garden…a garden I have only just begun to cultivate. But one that I hope will bear much fruit in season.

Friday, November 21, 2008

huir y ser hallada

Echando un vistazo atrás
corriendo como el viento
tratando de escapar memorias
que se han convertido en pesadillas

Escuchando el grito ahogado
huyendo del pasado
borrando el pecado
que no quiere ser olvidado

Llenando mis ojos
tosiendo por el polvo
buscando un refugio
donde hay un pedazo de aliento

Lagrimas y duda
Día y noche mi comida
mi corazón en esclavitud
alejado de la luz y virtud

Saliendo de la sombra
una voz me llamaba
En un susurro, con ternura
Decía, dejes de huir, hija Mía
Mi amor y mi perdón son para ti
¿No me creía?

O Señor, tantas veces que te he huido….y siempre me hallas. Y cuando vuelvo en sí, como el hijo prodigo, digo como tus discípulos de todas las épocas….

A quien iré, O Cristo…tú, y solo tú tienes palabras de Vida.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Te pido la paz para mi ciudad

On Sunday, November 9th, Nicaraguans across the country went to the polls to elect new mayors in all 16 departments and hundreds of municipalities.

Unfortunately, what should have been a "gran fiesta civica" has turned into an increasingly unstable situation, particularly in Managua and Leon, as the results of the capital's election have been under dispute since the Supreme Electoral Council began announcing its vote counts in the late evening hours that night.

The PLC (Liberal) Party is claiming a fraudulent process led to the victory of the Sandinista candidate Alexis Arguello over opposition candidate Eduardo Montealegre. Liberal party leaders have called protests in both Managua and Leon to demand a recount. Sandinistas have taken to the streets to prevent these protests from occurring, and troubling incidents of violence have been reported almost daily for the last week.

Yesterday and today half the city was rendered paralyzed when major intersections and rotundas were blocked after a major march was announced.

Thus far there appears to be no political solution being negotiated to bring an end to the instability caused by these disputed results.

I ask all of you to please lift up this country in your prayers--for peace, wisdom, restraint, good judgment, justice, and mercy to be exercised by all parties involved--the politicians, electoral process officials, police, and citizens. And that a solution be reached without delay.

O Dios, Te pido la paz para esta ciudad, para esta nacion, que tanta la necesita en estos momentos. Ten misericordia y rescatenos de toda maldad. Que haya justicia en esta tierra, que haya temor de Ti en los corazones de sus lideres.


some CR trip photos

Sunday, November 16, 2008

to costa rica and back again

Tonight I am a mixture of emotions as I sit at my kitchen table and reflect on the last 4 days. Thursday morning in the early morning hours I left Managua for San Jose (Costa Rica) with the Dordt students. Our trip’s purposes were twofold—to give them a feel for the culture and history of another Central American country, and to study the immigration issue up close and personal.

More than 500,000 Nicaraguans live in Costa Rica, where they work seasonal jobs like cutting coffee, construction, or as domestic employees. Many of them live in a poor barrio called el Carpio just north of the capital, where we went yesterday afternoon to visit with representatives of an organization that works there and hear from the Nicas themselves about their experience living in Costa Rica.

All of the people we spoke with have been living in Costa Rica for at least 5 years (one woman has been there 15 years), and have been back to Nicaragua very few times if at all during that time. They all said they came to Costa Rica because of the promise of economic opportunity, but most still appear to be struggling to get by. One said she did not want to go back. Others said it was their most cherished dream to go back to the country where they were born, the land they love. Their eyes lit up when our group shared all the things we appreciated about their culture, their food, their communities.

Later that night in our debriefing, someone commented on how it struck them that we (North Americans) have such facility of movement—that we just come and go as we please between these two countries—and yet these families have been living divided by a gran frontera, some for decades.

Crossing back into Nicaragua this afternoon, I marveled at how these two countries, which are so similar in indigenous roots, in language, in diet, in musical instruments, which are separated geographically by nothing more than a narrow river, are also separated by a grand canyon in terms of infrastructural and economic development. Walking the streets of downtown San Jose, one almost forgets that this is still Central America, so smothering is the presence of global corporations and businesses—in 10 blocks on the Avenida Central, only one restaurant offered comida tipica del pais. The rest were American chains.

And the people of these two countries—who ought to be in strong solidarity with one another as neighbors—are instead caught up in the tangled web that is woven when wealthy and poor countries share a border. The questions are familiar but still demand considerable reflection: What rights should immigrants have in another country? What responsibilities does the host government bear? If citizens of a country refuse to take certain jobs, is it okay for immigrants to take them? What is the appropriate Christian response to these issues? To raise these questions was a large part of the trip’s academic purpose.

But for me, the trip provoked a personal response as well. This morning, as we rose higher and higher out of the San Jose valley into the rolling green hills and gentle mountain ranges that dominate the northern CR landscape, I found myself longing for the more familiar sites that awaited me on the other side of Penas Blancas. And so when we crossed over and began the second leg of our journey through the narrow grassy plains that separate Lake Nicaragua from the Pacific Ocean, when I saw the familiar twin volcanoes of Ometepe island, when I glimpsed the silhouette of the well-traversed Volcan Mombacho on the horizon, when I noticed the women of Rivas and Granada and Masaya with their cast iron pots and make-shift grills on the streets selling pollo asado and tajada and frescos, my heart skipped a beat even as it smiled with relief.

And then it hit me like a bittersweet, unresolved jazz note….this is my home…a home that I will be leaving in 5 months. And I want to cry.

Monday, November 10, 2008


In what could be my last trip to the island paradise of Ometepe where I just spent the last 4 days getting a little much needed R&R...

-I walked more than 15 kilometers in 2 days

-I climbed at least halfway up a volcano to see a gorgeous waterfall (and then got drenched in it)

-I spent many hours laughing with my roomie Andrea and her friend Shannon visiting from PA

-I ate the best brocheta de pollo (shish-ka-bob) of my life (made with curry, pineapple, banana, green pepper, tomato and onion)

-I saw some cool pre-columbian petroglyphs...

-I sweated buckets

-I enjoyed the beauty of dozens of colorful flowers (Dawn, this one remind me of you!)

-I swam in a "fountain of youth", the pristine mineral waters of the "ojo del agua"

-I biked on muddy, rocky roads, took a nasty fall, and escaped with one knee scraped up and several bad bruises

-I became obsessed with a bluejay like bird called the uracca, which turns out to behave remarkably like a pigeon

-I witnessed several breathtaking sunrises and sunsets

-I finished Henri Nouwen's book "Camino a Casa" por fin!

See a lot more photos here: http://tiny.cc/6JAxf

Friday, October 31, 2008

for mom and dad

When I was growing up, my parents had a rule: No television until homework was done. Sometimes they relented and gave me 30 minutes of PBS (Reading Rainbow, anyone?), but most of the time when I came home from school, I had a quick snack, perhaps a little playtime, and then it was up to my room to work.

My parents very rarely checked my homework, but I remember there came a point in high school when I started asking for help—especially with math and science, my weak subjects. Both my parents went to college and are extremely well-read, well-educated people—so even when I was frustrated at not understanding something, I always knew I could turn to them for help (even if my stubbornly independent self didn’t actually want to).

These memories came back to me in a flood yesterday because of a conversation with Aurora, who comes to our house once a week to do laundry and such. She is a sweet spirit yet also tough as nails, and though her family’s daily life is very challenging, her emotions are normally kept well out of sight.

Until yesterday. As Aurora was preparing to leave, she asked to talk to me for a few minutes. ..and she proceeded to tell me about a lot of the struggles her family is facing right now with the rising prices of everything… “Mis hijos siempre me piden cosas, y tengo que decirles que no podemos…”

It was when she told me about her teenage daughter, though, that her eyes started to water up. “She was so upset last night because she didn’t understand her homework, and she asked me and her dad for help, and we couldn’t help her….we never studied these things.”

We talked a bit more about how it’s important to be able to give children not just the physical things they need, but even more so, love, emotional support, a sense of security and protection in the midst of a dangerous world. “I am sure you give those things to your children,” I tried to reassure her.

But later after she left, I felt a whirlwind of emotions. Sadness. Guilt. Helplessness.

What would it be like to see your daughter struggling in school and not be able to help?

As I reflected on our conversation, I suddenly realized yet again another dimension of how much I vastly underestimate the inherently privileged position I come from….how the simple fact that I had parents who could support my education (maybe not financially, but with their knowledge, experience, and example of appreciation for learning) is nothing to take for granted.

Through the years many of my closest friends know that I often have been hard on my parents for not being or doing certain things…but after yesterday, I am resolved to spend much less time complaining about the past and more time being grateful for the many intangible gifts my parents have given me….like Aurora, they did the best they could with what they had.

And there is grace to cover the rest.

I love you, Mom and Dad.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

of pollos and theology

"We were just talking and all of a sudden we heard the sound of chickens," Leah explained. "So we looked around and sure enough, there they were on the floor in the front of our microbus."

That of course was too good a photo opp to pass up. I've seen a lot of animals in unexpected places in Nicaragua, but this one was right up there. The most interesting thing is how calm the 4-5 of them were, just quietly enjoying the ride across town as we took the students to the Baptist Seminary for a class on liberation theology. It sounds kinda strange, I admit--what in the world do the Baptists have to do with leftist ideas like that?

But, actually, the Baptist Seminary here is and was the hub of higher theological education in Nicaragua. Today, it's still the only one that isn't only for denominational church preparation. And during the 60s and 70s its entire teaching methodology took on the form developed by Latin American lib theologians, for which they got a lot of flack from some of the more conservative wings of their own denomination as well as other Christians.

A lot has changed since the 1970s, of course. Liberation theology has basically slipped into the history books, other than a few small communities and practitioners. But what our guest speaker, a pastor and faculty member at the seminary shared with us, is that the heart of liberation theology for him was always about a certain way of looking at the world around us, listening to the reality that surrounds us, and reading the Bible with a profound interest in what light it would shed on how to respond to those realities, especially to the suffering of others.

"I could preach a sermon this week about how the dead in Christ will rise first," Pastor G reflected, "and make the people feel better about being hungry and dying sooner to be with Christ sooner...but that's not what it's about. It's about what we do about hunger. It's about justice."

He went on to describe how he saw threads of commonality running through Jesus' message to the religous of his time, the message of the Reformers in the 1500s, and the cries of liberation theology advocates in the 1960s-70s. "In one way or another, they were also speaking truth to power," Pastor G shared. Reminding people of God's truth, our true access to Him, His compassion, His outrage over the plight of the poor.

He admitted that he felt many liberation theologians lost their way by separating Christian ethics from political/social action, but defended others like Archbishop Romero in El Salvador who was killed for "simply daring to call upon the governing authorities to stop the violence against the people."

We still need voices like that today. We still need to look at the Scriptures and look at our reality and speak truth to power. Even it means losing our lives. I wonder if we truly believe that nowadays. I wonder if we truly believe what Jesus himself said.

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Monday, October 27, 2008


I love flowers. I have probably taken a hundred photos just of Nicaraguan flowers in the last two years.

There is always beauty to be found if you look for it. I find I appreciate it so much more here because without it, it is so easy to be overwhelmed with despair.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

dame Tus ojos...

“Que se atienda al que llora y al que sufre,
Y se busque al hermano en desamparo.
Que busquemos tu rostro cada día.
Y seamos instrumentos en tus manos.
Que tu palabra en mis labios siempre abunde,
y abra caminos de paz en mis hermanos,
Para aprender la humildad y mansedumbre
De Jesús el pastor de los humanos.”
-Citado del Canto de Los Líderes
La primera vez que escuché este canto fue en noviembre del año pasado en un evento de estudiantes universitarios aquí en Managua. Inmediatamente el canto me tocó de manera profunda porque siempre he sentido un llamado a los que sufren, a los olvidados del mundo…siempre he querido ser este tipo de instrumento en las manos de Dios, que muestra la paz, el amor, y la compasión de Jesús a los demás. Siempre he creído que una de las maneras más poderosas de mostrar el evangelio—las buenas nuevas—es a través del servicio hecho en humildad, o aun en secreto.

Lo canté otra vez el julio pasado en México, acompañada por 100+ estudiantes y líderes del movimiento cristiano universitario a nivel regional, y otra vez la canción me impactó, pero por otra razón. Esta otra razón es que había estado en una lucha personal que realmente no me dejaba, que me distraía, que me llevaba muy lejos de pensar en hacer mucho por otras personas, porque vivía una realidad diaria que me consumía tanto que ni tenía espacio en la mente por otras cosas o personas.

Cantándola me hizo pensar mucho. Quería volver a ser esta persona más preocupada por otras que a mí misma. Quería dejar de ser tan egoísta. Pero a la vez me di cuenta que esto no iba a ser posible sin una sanación profunda de las heridas mías sufridas en los últimos meses, sin una reconciliación nueva con mi Dios, sin una conexión más real con El de lo que había tenido hace un buen rato.

Doy gracias a mi Señor que hace un mes, El puso alguien (de hecho, algunas personas) en mi camino que me han ayudado salir de la oscuridad y vergüenza donde vivía. Sin embargo, todavía sigo siendo una persona herida, una cisterna con rajaduras. Pero algo pequeño sucedió hoy que sirvió para recordarme que aun así, Dios quiere usarme.

Por la tarde, iba saliendo de la iglesia, buscando un taxi, cuando vi una anciana hablando con un taxista. Pronto el taxi salió y la dona quedó. Caminé rápido para tratar de alcanzarlo, pero se me fue. La doña, con ropa humilde y un mimbre para ayudarla estar de pie, me preguntó dónde iba. Le dije, y ella dijo que iba en el mismo camino; me pidió que le ayudara a encontrar un taxi. Se acercó otro taxi, y pedí el precio para nosotras dos. Pregunté a la doña si pudo pagar, y ella me dijo que no, que si le podría ayudar.

Sentí un nudo en mi garganta y le dije que sí. Ella me dijo, “Dios le bendiga”. Montamos en el taxi y fuimos a su casa, que estaba en medio de un sector muy pobre de la ciudad. Pero su cara feliz, la sonrisa con la cual salió la doña del taxi cuando llegamos era más que suficiente recompensa.

Quizás no fuera un gesto tan generoso, ni tan profundo en medio de todo el sufrimiento del mundo, pero por 20 minutos, mi mente dejó de pensar en mi pequeñas dificultades y se enfocó en lo que debe ser la vida de esta señora que ni podía regresar a su casa después de ir al hospital.

Ahora me pregunto, ¿cuánto más amor podría mostrar, cuantas más palabras de vida podría compartir, cuanto más podría ser un instrumento de Su paz, si dejara mis propias luchas más a menudo, si tuviera mis ojos más abiertos?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

48 hours later

[In which I translate live on Baptist radio, ride in the back of an open pick up truck, traipse through creeks, help share Bible stories, learn a new Spanish song, get chocolate frosting on me, and finally decide to buy new shoes.]

And that's just the highlights. Wednesday morning I took off for Somotillo/El Ojoche with the New Song team from southern California who were going to be spending the week up there building relationships, sharing God's love and preventative health lessons, assisting in the construction of two water retention tanks (one of which is almost all done thanks to a high level of commitment from the community itself), and learning about the families' daily lives through visits to see their patio gardens and getting pottery making lessons (I keep missing that last part--next time!).

Somotillo is about 4 hours northwest of Managua, on a fairly decent highway that turns pothole-y about 3/4 of the way there. It is the last real "town" before the border with Honduras, and it's where the team's (our) hospedaje (digs) are. After settling in a bit, we took off for El Ojoche, with the esperanza that even though it had been raining for a week straight, we would be able to somehow get through on the dirt-turned-to-mud road. Unfortunately, it was not to be. About 1/2 way there we ran into an enormous muddy mess that had even derailed some buses--and we realized we were not getting through--and we were still too far to walk (even for the teens in the group). So we turned around and headed for the Baptist church, which also has a radio station--and we attempted to send a message via radio up to the community (hoping someone was listening--of course, we found out later that the power had gone off up there, so no one heard it--but it was my first time to translate live on Nicaraguan radio!)

Thursday we tried again--and although we had a Plan B (take another FH co-worker's vehicle across and shuttle people up), it actually wound up being "Plan G" (for God) because even the 4-wheel drive Land Cruiser wasn't getting through. Instead, there were two pick up trucks there which we contracted to take us and all our supplies the 6 or so kilometers up to El Ojoche. It was certainly bumpier--but a lot more scenic--and the carsickness-prone folks in the group held up a lot better.

After a round of introductions and a big community meeting, the team and a group of Ojoche residents set off on a community clean-up, which involved these neat home-made brooms, walking around (or in some cases, through) a creek that divides the community), and up a giant hill to the endpoint (the school).
My 3-year old sneakers were in pretty bad shape already (the soles are separating from the shoe), so I was extra careful to not step in water--just mud and stones--with the help of several ladies who laughed with me as I jutted from one "safe spot" to another.

At the top of the hill, we all paused to rest, and I saw this cow standing all by itself on the hill and decided to get a closer look. Meanwhile, the ladies in the community all shouted at me to be careful because she was "brava". But I survived the encounter unscathed. :-)

While we were up at the school, I also spent some time talking to my new friend Licha, one of the founding members of the Community Health Evangelism committee in the community.It’s amazing to me that even though I have only been up here like 5 times in the last 2 years, so many people remembered who I was and greeted me with great warmth and enthusiasm. One of the other ladies, Concha, who I have written about before, saw me, and said, “I thought you were not going to come greet me.” I told her I hadn’t seen her at first, but that I was so glad she was there. (The last time I was in the community, she had invited me to her house to watch her make pottery.)
After a delicious lunch, some weather issues changed the original plan for the afternoon and the team wound up hanging out with the kids (balloons are good for hours of fun, they discovered)…and I spent my time translating the conversations between them, and answering various questions about Nicaragua and the community.

Friday started similarly, with a bumpy pick up ride, followed by a morning chock-full of excitement. First the team split up into 3 rotations to teach brief lessons on hand-washing, dental hygiene, and do a craft. I was with the hand-washing group, which used chocolate frosting to illustrate the way germs can be passed if we aren’t careful. The kids thought this was extremely funny and giggled the whole time as we all proceeded to pretend to get sick from the chocolate.

The second set of rotations was sharing bible stories, and I was with the “Fall” group, and helped Sue, one of the team members, translate. The team had brought down these felt blankets and cardboard cut outs to visually represent the story, which the kids also really liked. And I got to put on my drama hat, which was really fun. I also learned a cool new Spanish song called ‘Rey de la Jungla’ which I may share with you one day.

In the afternoon, the teens and some of the adults went to play soccer while I stayed back with some of the others who weren’t up for that and we hung out with some of the younger girls who were fascinated by braiding hair and singing “Eres todopoderoso”.

Each night I also participated in the team’s devotionals, which was really special. They are an awesome group of people, and I am glad I got to be part of their experience in Nicaragua, even just for a couple of days.

This morning I left them in Somotillo (they’ll be there ‘til Tuesday)—I left at 7:30am from the border, and got back into Managua around 11, where the first order of business was to upload pictures — and the second, to buy new sneakers. And third, to share all of this with you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

baking night in las brisas

"OMG, that's mold growing on those bananas," exclaimed Leah when she walked into my kitchen last night and saw the frozen bananas on the counter. I chuckled.

"No, no," I reassured her. "It's just frost." And to prove it, I quickly ran my hands over the skin, immediately uncovering the very black skin that lay beneath. Bananas go bad quickly anywhere, but they have an even shorter "shelf life" here with the constant heat and humidity (and no air conditioning), so I frequently wind up throwing one or two in the freezer--and tonight was the night we were finally going to do something with them!

I had invited the Dordt College senior girls (who are in Managua this week for their teaching practicum) to come over for dinner and baking (Leah is the baker-- I think Sonya and Sarah just came for a change of scenery and internet access :-))

After some delicious pasta, Leah and I tag-teamed the preparation of a banana bread mix (her recipe) while sharing funny cooking stories. I joked to the girls after we took the "before" picture posted above that the mixture looked a little like upchuck. But an hour later, the end result was delicious.

Between the 4 of us, we downed almost the entire first loaf (lucky me, I got to the keep the second one). [In the middle of all of this merriment I also killed a very large cockroach in our living room.]

Afterwards, Sonya and Leah decided to read aloud from a cute Nica children's book I just bought called "Un guegue me conto" which is like a folkstyle retelling of the origins of Nicaragua and its people. One day maybe I'll share some of it with you.

All in all, it was a really fun evening and I am looking forward to the next one (cookies!!)

Monday, October 20, 2008

my latest cultural outing

Nicaraguan and Cuban history are very much intertwined (especially since the 1960s)--and their intermingling of revolutionary fervor and cultural appreciation was very much on display this past week in Nicaragua's National Theater.

Last Wednesday night a variety of Nicaraguan dancers and musicians payed tribute to Cuban Culture Day by offering us (me and my friend Renee, and 500+ of our fellow aficionados of good Latin music) a full repertoire of some of the most popular songs to come out of Cuba in the last couple centuries. From afro-caribbean dance to classical big band 40s style to tropical flavor to the acoustic wonders of Silvio Rodriguez, it was a spectacular show. At the end, the dancers even came out among the audience and danced in the aisles. (Wish I had pictures of that, but it all happened so fast...)

I have to say, I have become a huge fan of all kinds of Latin music since I have moved here--Mana, Juanes, Alex Campos, Juan Luis Guerra, Julieta Venegas, Los Toros Band, and many, many more. But my latest musical addiction is without a doubt Silvio Rodriguez. I can't even put it into words, but this man's lyrics (and chord progressions)--even when I don't understand all of them--move me deeply. Just have a listen...

Me siento muchas veces que soy como este corazon que Silvio describe, un corazon con muros (aunque quizas no tan fuertes porque todavia entra mucho dolor), que se esconde, en fuga, herido de dudas de amor...

broken things

"You can have my heart, but it isn't new.
it's been used and broken and only comes in blue.
it's been down a long road and it got dirty on the way,
If I give it to you, will you make it clean
and wash the pain away?

You can have my heart if you don't mind broken things
you can have my heart if you don't mind these tears
'Cause I heard that you make all things new
so I give these pieces all to you
If you want it you can have my heart."

From Lucy Kaplansky's heartbreaking beautiful song Broken Things..a good theme song for me lately

all this beauty

For Dawn, who posted a photo on her blog that reminded me of this one that I took on my very first trip to Selva Negra in the central mountains of Nicaragua back in August '06.

Why do I have a feeling this is only one of many nostalgic posts to come over the next several months?...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

para un amigo lejano

O amigo mio, ¿donde fuistes?

En un momento de vulnerabilidad
te di una parte de mí
de mi pasado, de mi vergüenza, de mi alma
nuestras conversaciones eran como regalos inesperados
pero las tomé como un señal que Dios no me había dejado
Y que todavía me buscaba

Dentro de poco
me dio perdón y esperanza
un nuevo corazón y una nueva canción
una candela encendida con que enfrentar la oscuridad
la libertad de mirar hacia el futuro

Pero ahora me ha llegado una nueva lucha,
que en verdad es la manifestación de una vieja
el no sentir abandonada o deprimida
en mis momentos más solitarios
después de compartir mis emociones intimas con alguien

O alma mía, ¿por que soy tan débil?

Te permití llegar a ser muy querido
pero ya sé que no puedo depender de ti
aunque quisiera

Como pajarita, tengo que salir del nido
y confiar en Aquel que devolvió el sentido,
que me dará la fuerza para volar

O amigo mio, ¿donde fuistes?

wisdom from 1841

"Money ... has often been a cause of the delusion of multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper. To trace the history of the most prominent of these delusions is the object of the present pages. Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.” -Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

"We need to get back to thinking about how, not just how much."


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: Shalom and Poverty

"It is always the poor who pay the price for the unbridled greed and irresponsibility of the powerful." -Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockman of Nicaragua, the newly elected president of the UN General Assembly

In solidarity with the thousands of bloggers participating in Blog Action Day 2008 to discuss poverty, I want to share with you, dear readers, some reflections on a conversation I had (a propos) this morning with a group of my fellow (north american) cross-cultural workers representing diverse ministries and NGOs in Nicaragua. We were gathered to reflect on how we--as people who live in the daily tension between a "home" culture and a "host" culture--can be prophetic voices to our culture of origin as we are challenged to see new things about the beliefs and values we have brought with us through the eyes of Nicaraguans, living daily among them.

One of the (perhaps self-evident) observations we made about our own culture is the exalting of individual liberty and rights and even entitlement over a more relational or communal understanding of "success". What is required of me is to work hard, to pursue MY goals, to provide for my family, and whatever is "extra" perhaps consider how to help others or give back. (Let us put aside for the moment the critique of how we determine what really is extra versus necessary to live a healthy life).

What does this kind of thinking lead to in practice? Many things--and while it is dangerous to make generalizations, it occurred to me that one thing decidedly lacking from our current US culture is the idea of and commitment to shared sacrifice. (For evidence of this, one need look no further than a 2006 comment by the President himself--"Go shopping"--when asked how Americans could help with the economy and the war on terror). I'm not qualified to get into a deep economic analysis of liquidity of markets, but it's clear something is dramatically wrong with this picture. Somehow I am helping my neighbor and our soldiers and the world by spending more on myself? No, I don't think so.

We're in the mess we're in now financially worldwide because money and wealth is all people seem to be interested in. Accumulation of goods--things--experiences--anything that makes us feel better about ourselves and forget our mortality, our limitations, our sin.

Meanwhile, what's suddenly been rediscovered this week after it became clear that the Wall Street crisis was going global is that we really are all connected (though we like to forget it). The disaster that's being wrought has consequences not only for the people who lost money in the stock market, but for the economies of countries much poorer than ours. And when I say "economies" what that actually represents are people. People who are far away from me physically perhaps, but that I can no more deny as my sisters and brothers than my own flesh and blood.

This point was brought out by another young woman in the group this morning who talked about our interconnectedness. "I am not going to have perfect shalom--peace, and justice, and wholeness--in my life until every one else on earth does too," she said. Maybe that sounds like idealism and pie-in-the-sky thinking, but I don't think so. That's the shalom that Christ came to earth to bring--to every person, to every community. A shalom that includes and begins with my own good relationship with God, but also must lead to the restoration of relationships with neighbor and creation and myself. Relaciones justas, as we say in Spanish.

And while we live in the tension between the "already but not yet" and justice seems far off, let us resolve not to forget that we ARE connected, and the situation of people in India, the Sudan, Bolivia, and Nicaragua matters. Not just in the abstract "God loves everyone and hates poverty" way but in the "God has called me to be an instrument of His love and grace, and to act, to do His will on earth to bring the fullness of His kingdom, the fullness of Kingdom Culture, the fullness of shalom, one day closer to reality." THAT, to me, is what it means when Jesus told us to pray, "Let your Kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is heaven." While we are on the earth, we are not just waiting for Christ. We, the body of Christ, are the ones we have been waiting for, to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God in pursuit of a world free of hunger, disease, violence, and poverty....

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

reality check

This Thursday is Dia Mundial de Alimentacion (UN World Food Day).

Today I read in El Nuevo Diario that 1.5 MILLION Nicaraguans (out of a total of 5 Million) no tiene aceso seguro a su alimentacion diaria (do not have secure daily access to food).

We need more than "consciencia" (a popular word here meaning awareness) around this issue. We need action.

Why is there so much fertile land going underutilized? Why is there land that food could be grown on being used to grow "bio fuels"?

Why is it that the quantity of food in the world could feed its total population several times over but its distribution is so unjust?

Monday, October 13, 2008

luz y tinieblas

He vivido en aquellas tinieblas
Las conozco muy bien,
desde lo más profundo de mi ser

La distancia
La oscuridad
El miedo
La duda
La soledad

Amiga ninguna, pero la única compañía del alma

en las afueras de la Ciudad de gozo

He escuchado de aquella Luz

La conocía hace un tiempo
Esa Luz que brilla en medio del valle
Esa Luz que guía a los perdidos
Esa Luz que da vista a los ciegos
Esa Luz que revela Verdad y Amor

En medio de las tinieblas que me persiguen

En medio de mi fragilidad y debilidad
En medio de las noches oscuras de mi alma
Que esta Luz dé vida y aun resplandezca

“En él estaba la vida, y la vida era la luz de la humanidad. Esta luz resplandece en las tinieblas, y las tinieblas no han podido extinguirla.” –Evangelio de Juan 1: 4-5

tourism and poverty

“Cuando el turismo crece, la pobreza retrocede.”

[When tourism grows, poverty recedes.]

That was the slogan I saw on a banner on my way home from the office today. It sounds good, right? But I wondered to myself as the bus rumbled down the hill toward Las Brisas (my neighborhood), is it true?

Certainly tourism creates certain kinds of jobs—and gives a great boost to restaurants, hotels, eco-adventure, tour guides, certain kinds of artisans and transportation (microbuses) industry folks. And the value added in terms of tax revenue certainly would seem to indicate that the government would be able to do more for its people as a result.

Yet in my (albeit limited) experience here, I find the benefits of tourism truly mixed. When not done carefully, the essential character of a place can be completely changed by tourism. I wrote tangentially about that after my very first visit to Granada, the hub of Nica tourism. North Americans and Europeans everywhere in the central hip area, with the bulk of the real population almost out of sight. Sure, the economy might be benefiting some limited sub-set of folks within the local economy (trickle down anyone?), but what about the effects on indigenous culture? What I see are some very real trade-offs in this area as businesses spring up catering to visitors and not necessarily reflecting the character of the country itself. Of course that’s part of successful hotels—give the customer what they want, right?

Then of course there are the environmental issues. For example, Nicaragua has a beautiful fresh water crater lake called Laguna de Apoyo, which is a huge attraction here. On one side, a whole bunch of little lodges and some fancy resort-like places have been built to take advantage of the location. Some are very environmentally conscious, and others steal water from the lake (even though all the business have supposedly agreed not to) to “subsidize” their water bill. At least no motor boats are allowed.

But I am growing more and more convinced that the kind of tourism that really benefits a country like Nicaragua in the long run is the kind that is home-grown, run by the locals (not big outside investment—though I recognize that it’s not always bad to have businesses investing in much-needed infrastructure that makes beautiful places in the country easier to get to), enables the development of marketable skills and talents, and is truly environmentally sustainable.

One such place that I have been to twice is a small eco-lodge in the mountains of Esteli (Tissey). It is a family-run establishment, the little cabins are humble but comfortable, the food is grown locally, and a short distance away are gorgeous hiking trails and artisans to visit. Best of all, the place fits its environment. It would be a travesty to see a big hotel built into the gorgeous hills surrounding this place. Even worse, for outside companies to buy up all the land that Nicas have enjoyed for free (like prime beach real estate, which is currently happening) is to me a completely unjust situation.

Sure, a complex economy needs many different scales of tourism to appeal to the variety of people who come to visit, but I feel that the tangible financial impact is not the only thing that should be measured. Impact on the land, the water, and the people themselves must be always part of the equation.

Otherwise, who is the tourism really benefiting?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"flirty 30s"

As much as I have tried to adopt to the culture here, there is one thing I just have not been able to do--namely, become like the great majority of women here who put great effort into their appearance. Even on the bus, fancy blouses, high heels, perfectly touched make-up, and color coordinated jewelry on the ladies are common sights. But for as long as I can remember, I have been the get up-shower-get dressed-out the door kind of gal (I think I honed the 15 minute routine my freshman year when I had an 8:30am class).

So here in Nicaragua, my low maintenance self is even more pronounced because of how quickly and easily I get sweaty and dirty. For me, there seems to be little point to the whole charade of hairdos and makeup and nice clothes. (I mean, as long as I'm clean and not wrinkled...)

But, every once in a while, there's a reason to go through the effort of dressing up--this weekend, it was one of the Dordt students (Sonya) who was staying at our house. Upon learning that my roommate and I were going out to dinner and a concert with some girlfriends, she proceeded to insist that I should paint my toenails, wear my cutest clothes, put on all kinds of make-up (even eyeliner, which I NEVER wear), and let her do my hair. "You're in your sexy, flirty thirties, Pamela," she said. (Meanwhile, I am laughing my head off.)

Sonya was really into it, though, so I played along, and I have to admit it was fun to be girly for a couple of hours and wear some clothes that under normal circumstances, I would never EVER wear in a culture where women attract attention just by breathing close to men.

So, 45 minutes later, this (above) was me and Andrea ("we're kinda like the odd couple" I joked as we walked out, given our very different clothing choices that night), ready to hit the town. (She loves to make funny faces in photos.) :-) We had a great time with our girlfriends--we ate at this hip new Peruvian restaurant and then attended an awesome Carlos Mejia Godoy concert--he and his band are just amazingly talented.

(But no, no flirting for me.)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

renovacion interna

"El tiempo otorgado a la renovación interna nunca se malgasta.
Dios no tiene prisa.”
–H. Nouwen

[Time spent on internal renewal is never wasted. God is not in a hurry.]

It's a good thing He's not, because I'm slow. For every step forward, it seems there is always a step back...but this week I was encouraged because I got to attend some cool seminars at my new church by a Bible scholar guy on the Gospel of John, which is the first book of the Bible I ever read, and the Word that God used to make Jesus real and alive to me at the very beginning of my faith journey as a Christian. We did the study (in Spanish, of course) in manuscript format, which reminded me of IVCF days...and I loved it.

In a way, I feel like I am coming full circle. I felt earlier this month like I needed to be "born again" in a sense to recover some precious parts of my faith that I feel I have lost over the last couple of years, and as I was sitting listening to exposition of some of the most familiar words of Scripture, they spoke to me in a new way...it made me want to dig back into familiar passages again and see what new things might be in store for me there. I've neglected that quite a bit here, as my predisposition to action and service has taken over much of my reflective side (which seems to only get attention when things reach crisis mode, or when I can't sleep.)

All of that said, it was really cool to spend time these last two evenings talking about my favorite Gospel with a bunch of older Nicaraguan women with lots of insight and humor. Which sort of brings me to another subject that merits another post down the road...my whole spiritual community life has kind of been like a random assortment of patches over the last two and a half years...but maybe, just maybe, unbeknownst to me, a beautiful warm quilt is forming.

long distance democracy

Just a quick post because I am super excited that my absentee ballot came in the mail today (along with some books from a friend--thank you Twists!)...and that I will be able to vote in the most historic presidential election of my life thus far.

26 days and counting! :-)

P.S. Nicaragua also has an election this November (Sunday, November 9th)--every city will be electing a new mayor (term limit laws prohibit incumbents from running)--and the campaign season is in full swing (though I avoid most of it by not watching Nica tv). In Managua, the contest is between neo-liberal former presidential candidate Eduardo Montealegre (perhaps not so affectionately known as "El Ratoncito" around town) and former boxer Alexis Arguello of the FSLN (Sandinistas). About a month ago the Supreme Electoral Council decided that two other parties had violated some election related laws and would not be able to participate in the elections. Whether or not the decision was justified, it certainly is limiting people's options this time around because of the well-known "pacto" between Daniel Ortega and his rival and former president Aleman that enables the two of them to control the majority of government related decisions. Wish I could say more, but I can't.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

morning (wet) commute

This is one morning I wish I had pictures of...but I don't, so the description will have to suffice.

So we're in the middle of heavy rainy season here in Nicaragua, which means that frequently it rains all night, or all afternoon, or all morning. Anytime, really--you get the picture.

So yesterday was one of those days that it was raining at 7am when my roommates and I had to leave to go to the office. It wasn't totally pouring (just a steady drizzle), so we decided to go for it. We donned our rain jackets and headed out into the gray chilly capital, bravely crossing the high-traffic street in front of our neighborhood to wait for the bus. We stood under a tree, which helped a little but already I was starting to feel the rain through my jacket before we even got on the bus. (My hood actually functioned remarkably well, though ironically my hair was the only part of me that was actually already wet since I don't use a hair dryer here.)

Finally the bus came, we boarded, and the rain continued as we journeyed up past the U.S. Embassy (I see it every morning), and to our transfer point (the infamous 7 Sur), where we got off and walked across the busiest intersection in the city to wait for a microbus to take us up the hill.

Now, at this point, I have to say, I was ready to take a cab. My purse was already soaked and the front of my pants were quite damp. But, since my roommates seemed fine, I decided to be a good sport and go with the flow. Thankfully, we were able to quickly board a microbus up the hill to the cemetery entrance where we got off--right as the rain picked up.

And really, folks, this was just the beginning...because we spent the next 20 minutes walking through medium-hard rain from the cemetery to the office. On a non-rainy day, it is a very pleasant walk (though we do frequently arrive sweating profusely due to the humidity). I kept hoping someone with a vehicle would pass us (as often happens), but of course on this comedy-of-a-morning, we would have no such good fortune. We would walk the whole way (although it wasn't til half way through that I decided to actually roll my pants up to try to limit the mud stains on them).

Ever the cup-is-half-full types, Andrea and Alicia proceeded to list all of the ways the morning could have been worse.

We could be homeless. We could have not eaten breakfast this morning. We could be that kid with no shoes walking through the puddles (okay, actually I would have rather been him). By the end, I was soaked and miserable, but I was laughing at the absurdity of it all. For 80 cordoba (about $4), we could have avoided all of this. But since we decided to go the hard core cross-cultural workers route (cultural bonding, anyone?) like the crazy north americans we are, we got drenched. (And really, no Nica would have done what we did. They would have taken a moto-taxi or done anything else possible to avoid walking in the rain.)

It was quite the experience. The perfect way to start the day that I taught my first Nicaraguan history class.

I love this country.

Monday, October 06, 2008


“A menudo, los dolores más profundos están escondidos en los rincones mas pequeños.”

–Henri Nouwen

[Often, the most profound pain is hidden in the smallest places.]

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

hijas del sol

It's seven months away, but the reality of leaving Nicaragua came a little bit closer today when I submitted my first grad school application. For anyone who's wondering, I'm applying to UT Austin's Latin American Studies Program, with the hope of focusing on women and development issues. I worked a fair amount this summer on what I hope is a compelling statement of purpose, which I chose to begin with a few verses of a well-known poem by Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario called Ode to Roosevelt.
“Mas la América nuestra, que tenía poetas desde los viejos tiempos… que desde los remotos momentos de su vida vive de luz, de fuego, de perfume, de amor, la América del gran Moctezuma, del Inca, la América fragante de Cristóbal Colón, la América católica, la América española…esa América que tiembla de huracanes y que vive de Amor, hombres de ojos sajones y alma bárbara, vive. Y sueña. Y ama, y vibra; y es la hija del Sol.”
It says (more or less), "But Our America, that had poets since ancient times, that since the remotest moments of its life has lived from light, from fire, from perfume, from love, the America of the great Moctezuma, the Inca, the fragrant America of Christopher Columbus, the Catholic america, the Spanish America--this America that shakes from hurricanes and lives on love, men of saxon eyes and barbaric soul, lives. And dreams. And loves. And is vibrant. And is the daughter of the sun."

The poem celebrates the heart and soul of Latin America while warning the United States that its imperial claws will never be enough to destroy the spirit of this people. Oh, how close they have come...but no, even still, the hearts of my Nica friends still beat free...and they could not be chained any more than the sun. And neither will I.

Which is why I concluded my statement of purpose this way:
More than anything else, I think about women like Darling as I apply for this Master’s Program. Women who bear the hopes and struggles of a thousand sons and daughters like heavy buckets of water atop their heads. Women who rise at 4am to make tortillas and gallo pinto for their families, but who always are the last to eat. These women—“hijas del Sol”--are my sisters. And their future is my future.
Here's hoping for some grace to continue reaching for the sun (and an acceptance letter down the road).

Monday, September 29, 2008

on seeing

I saw something on my way to church yesterday that jarred me emotionally, and which I promptly forgot about until 24 hours later…now.

It was a young man standing alone on the road sniffing glue. Shortly after I saw him, I saw another man bent over with his head in his hands.

Both looked truly sad—and yet there was nothing I could do for them.

I’m so used to feeling powerless now, used to seeing poverty, hunger, disease, despair…so what was it about this time?

Living in those thirty seconds again right now, I find myself asking: What does it really mean to have empathy? What does it mean to live in solidarity with other people’s suffering when you know you will NEVER face anything like what the people around you face daily?

No matter how many times I’ve asked them before, these questions come storming back to me, clamoring for attention, demanding something more than a simplistic response. Especially since I spent the last week in the awkward tension of being completely self-absorbed, sick and tired in my bed, while reading about Henri Nouwen’s journey of discovery that leads him to abandon his position of prestige at Harvard in order to be part of the Daybreak Community (a group of folks with special physical and emotional needs) in Canada. Here is someone who not only figured out the secret of what he calls “downward mobility” in his spiritual search to see God more clearly, but actually did it. Actually left things, and people, and a position, and dreams…for what?

For the joy of nothing more than belonging, for experiencing his common humanity alongside people who shared none of his scholarly talents but understood better than anyone the depth of his heart's need for love. For the joy of knowing and being known—of seeing and being seen.

Perhaps that’s it…the message of those 30 seconds is a reminder to see…

To see that God is there in that person’s situation, the one which seems on its face the least like mine, the furthest out of the realm of potential futures of my existence…which maybe is taking a step toward something really simple yet profoundly important.

To see that God’s desire is to show love to them, that person that I have the hardest time accepting or believing that even needs my attention…which maybe is moving me toward understanding a mustard seed of God’s truth about our need for Him.

To see that God’s forgiveness extends to them, that person who wronged me so terribly that I say the universe itself cries out for justice on my behalf…which, maybe, just maybe, helps me to say that yes, I can truly love my fellow man.

O Señor, abre mis ojos. Veme y déjame ver.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

musical interlude

One of the small but real things that I miss from home--yes, even 2+ years later--is the morning commute--and the radio that accompanied it. I was never faithful to any one station--I was just as likely to hum along to the pop country songs as the 80s favorites that I seriously think I still know all the words to. And during basketball playoff season, well, it was a sure bet that I would tune into the Sports talk radio shows for just long enough to get my Silver and Black fix.

Here in Nicaragua, I don't have a radio in my house--and I don't have a car, so I am totally at the mercy of the musical selections of whatever bus my roommates and I board in the morning. If I'm lucky, there's a little bit of Toad the Wet Sprocket or Genesis or Bryan Adams (I know, I know) to ease the transition...and if I'm not so lucky, it's pure Daddy Yankee and reggaeton the whole 45 minutes.

All of this to say that not having a radio has made me much more of a itunes and youtube music listener than I ever was prior to living here. And boy have my tastes evolved. I can count on one hand the artists I still listen to from my old library (Jennifer Knapp, Jars of Clay, and Caedmon's Call). But I have discovered a wealth of beautiful new music living here--Nicaraguan artists like Duo Guardabarranco, which I have mentioned before in this space--and a ton of other folk/indie, Latin, and Spanish Christian music--that I might have never known about otherwise.

Just as a small muestra (sample), I offer my current top 10 most played songs on itunes...

1. Your Love is Strong (Jon Foreman)
2. Lovers without Love (Joshua James)
3. Mercy of the Fallen (Dar Williams)
4. Tu poeta (Alex Campos) -- seriously, I hope if I ever get married, we play this song at our wedding
5. Falling Awake (Gary Jules)
6. Levantete y Resplandece (Marcos Barrientos)
7. My Song (Brandi Carlile)
8. Mis heridas (Katia Cardenal)
9. You Never Let Go (Matt Redman)
10. God of this City (Chris Tomlin)

And as a bonus, one of my favorite songs that I've only been able to find on youtube...Axel Fernando's Amo. (Yes, it's official. I am a sucker for poetic love songs. But even if you don't speak a word of Spanish, you will love this one--the piano is just stellar.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


In Spanish, "the flu." Apparently it's been going around for months, but it hit me like a ton o'bricks Monday morning for the first time this year, so bad that by 11am my alternating fever/chills were uncontrollable and my roommate graciously drove me home from the office.

Since then, I've done nothing much but sleep for 18 hours a day...but one positive thing about being completely bed-ridden is a chance to read books that had just been sitting neglected on the shelf--like a book I bought ages ago called Camino a Casa (The Way Home) by Henri Nouwen. It's an amazing read thus far, and I must say that reading English books translated to Spanish is a lot easier than books written in Spanish first!!

I'm starting to feel a little better, so today I ventured out to the store to buy some fruit and Gatorade--everything was going just fine until I hit the checkout line. Suddenly, as I was staring outside into the light (there's a song waiting to be written here), my vision grew blurry and I felt like I was going to throw up and pass out (in that order). I hastily grabbed onto the nearest vending machine and tried to maintain control while coughing. Thankfully, after about 2 scary minutes (which felt like 15), the sensation passed, and I was able to check out, bag my groceries, hail a cab (I wasn't taking any chances even though it's only a 10 minute walk to my house), and get home without further incident. (BTW, this is the second time this has happened to me here--the other time was in a local farmacy. So weird.)
Meanwhile, as the increased levels of rain slowly bring the temperature down to a less insane level, the political climate is heating up with the official start of the municipal election season here in Nicaragua tomorrow (election day is Nov. 5th). On Saturday our Dordt students got a first hand taste of it as they almost couldn't leave Leon for our trip to Granada because of some anti-protest protestors (it's complicated) blocking the roads in and out of the city. The situation actually got much worse before it got better, but thankfully by then the students had made it out and were safe with us until the crisis was resolved--and they got back into Leon just fine later that night.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

la mesa de gracia

Esta semana en medio de una inundación de dudas y miedos, una y otra vez una sola imagen de gracia me está llegando como fuente de consuelo y esperanza que tanto necesito en estos días.

Es la imagen de la mesa a la cual Jesús invitó sus discípulos, donde compartió el pan y la copa. Es una mesa de gracia a la que Jesús me invita también…y no porque soy digna de estar allí, sino precisamente porque no la soy. Porque no hay otro Pan Eterno sino por El, el pan vivo, la fuente de agua viva, vida eterna—que sacia, que consuela, que sana y restaura. Las palabras de Apocalipsis vuelven a mi mente—“Mira que estoy a la puerta y llamo. Si alguno oye mi voz y abre la puerta, entraré, y cenaré con él, y él conmigo.”

Oigo este versículo en voz primera, un llamado personal del Salvador—abre la puerta de tu corazón, hija, al Amor que es más grande de tu pecado. Imagino una mesa pequeña dentro de mí, sencilla, con un plato de pan y un vaso humilde. Jesús y yo estamos sentados en el piso, y me está mirando al fondo de mis ojos, más allá de mi vergüenza. Observo en mi alrededor el espacio humilde donde estamos, en mi corazón traidor, infiel, dividido. Polvo y telaraña en todos lados, cubriendo la estantería donde las historias de Su fidelidad en mi vida están escritas. De repente estoy incomoda, consciente que El ve mucho mas allá de mis mecanismos de autoprotección.

Pero te abro la puerta, Jesús. Te invité a entrar, hacer de mi corazón Tu hogar, un rincón donde Tu Espíritu puede habitar. Te invité a entrar, no porque tengo ni la cosa más pequeña darte de comer, sino porque Te necesito desesperadamente llenar mis espacios vacios. Porque necesito desesperadamente que las imágenes de pecado y muerte que me persiguen y me condenan sean purificadas por Tu fuego santo.

Como candelas que eliminan todos los otros olores en un cuarto, que Tu Espíritu transforme mis huesos muertos en flores bellas, una ofrenda fragrante y aceptable en Tus ojos, O Señor.