Tuesday, January 29, 2008

popusas, anyone?

This weekend my roommates and I had the pleasure of "hosting" our friends and coworkers Leonor and Freddy (and their adorable daughter Sarai) for dinner. I put hosting in quotes because while we opened our home, Leonor was the one who taught us how to make the delicious, traditional Salvadorian dish, the popusa. Let's just say it was quite the learning process and Leonor showed much patience with us! The corn flour, cheese, and bean concoctions were complemented by a delicious tomato and onion salsa, and cabbage/onion/carrot/jalapeno salad. Yummy!

Monday, January 21, 2008

the great need of this hour

In honor of Dr. King, I want to share with you all a portion of a speech made by Barack Obama yesterday in Atlanta marking the occasion.

"Before Memphis and the mountaintop; before the bridge in Selma and the march on Washington; before Birmingham and the beatings; the fire hoses and the loss of those four little girls; before there was King the icon and his magnificent dream, there was King the young preacher and a people who found themselves suffering under the yoke of oppression.

And on the eve of the bus boycotts in Montgomery, at a time when many were still doubtful about the possibilities of change, a time when those in the black community mistrusted themselves, and at times mistrusted each other, King inspired with words not of anger, but of an urgency that still speaks to us today: "Unity is the great need of the hour" is what King said. Unity is how we shall overcome.

What Dr. King understood is that if just one person chose to walk instead of ride the bus, those walls of oppression would not be moved. But maybe if a few more walked, the foundation might start to shake. If a few more women were willing to do what Rosa Parks had done, maybe the cracks would start to show. If teenagers took freedom rides from North to South, maybe a few bricks would come loose. Maybe if white folks marched because they had come to understand that their freedom too was at stake in the impending battle, the wall would begin to sway. And if enough Americans were awakened to the injustice; if they joined together, North and South, rich and poor, Christian and Jew, then perhaps that wall would come tumbling down, and justice would flow like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Unity is the great need of the hour -- the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it's the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country. I'm not talking about a budget deficit. I'm not talking about a trade deficit. I'm not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans. I'm talking about a moral deficit. I'm talking about an empathy deficit. I'm taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother's keeper; we are our sister's keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.

We have an empathy deficit when we're still sending our children down corridors of shame -- schools in the forgotten corners of America where the color of your skin still affects the content of your education. We have a deficit when CEOs are making more in ten minutes than some workers make in ten months; when families lose their homes so that lenders make a profit; when mothers can't afford a doctor when their children get sick. We have a deficit in this country when there is Scooter Libby justice for some and Jena justice for others; when our children see nooses hanging from a schoolyard tree today, in the present, in the twenty-first century. We have a deficit when homeless veterans sleep on the streets of our cities; when innocents are slaughtered in the deserts of Darfur; when young Americans serve tour after tour of duty in a war that should've never been authorized and never been waged.

And we have a deficit when it takes a breach in our levees to reveal a breach in our compassion; when it takes a terrible storm to reveal the hungry that God calls on us to feed; the sick He calls on us to care for; the least of these He commands that we treat as our own.

So we have a deficit to close. We have walls -- barriers to justice and equality -- that must come down. And to do this, we know that unity is the great need of this hour.

So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scape-goating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others -- all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face -- war and poverty; injustice and inequality. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.

Because if Dr. King could love his jailor; if he could call on the faithful who once sat where you do to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time, and bind up our wounds, and erase the empathy deficit that exists in our hearts."


Friday, January 18, 2008

debunking misconceptions...

I feel like I should have written a post like this shortly after my arrival, but better late than never, right? The truth is, I knew very little about Central America as a whole before I came here, never mind Nicaragua in particular. Unfortunately, even in Texas my knowledge of what was going on "south of the border" was pretty much limited to Mexico. So I can understand that people have a lot of ideas (some outdated, and some just wrong) about Nicaragua...which I want to hopefully correct through identifying the following misconceptions (these all come from real experience talking to North Americans!) and providing some up-to-date information.

Misconception #1:Nicaragua is still an unsafe place to visit.
No, actually, Nicaragua is the safest country to visit in Central America. Since the end of the Contra war in 1990, the country has witnessed 3 fairly held democratic elections and peaceful transfers of power. The incidence of gangs and violent crime is also much lower here than Guatemala or Honduras...and other than the hurricanes and earthquakes that are a risk on any geological faultline or tropical zone, the potential harm to visitors is practically non-existent.

Misconception #2: Modern conveniences are unavailable.
In fact, the majority of the population owns a cell phone (though whether someone has minutes depends on how close to payday it is), internet cafes are sprouting up on every corner (50 cents an hour), cable companies offer access to US channels, and even very poor families have radios and often televisions. Local grocery stores sell a variety of US brands of everything from juice to tuna fish to personal hygiene products. There are air conditioned movie theaters and ritzy malls. About the only thing you'll have trouble with is directions, as there are very few street names, and many dirt roads, and everyone gets around on the basis of landmarks.

Misconception #3: There is no good medical care if I get sick.
There are lots of doctors who offer consults for $2 out of their homes for general care, and at least 3 extremely reputable hospitals in Managua that can handle anything from your garden variety parasites to childbirth and complex surgeries. In addition, while medicine sales are not regulated, local pharmacies carry a wide variety of commonly used drugs (I buy Alegra-D regularly over the counter here). There are also lots of good dentists (including my neighbor).

Misconception #4: If I get a mosquito bite, I am going to get dengue or malaria.
The risk of contracting these diseases here is certainly real, but it is very uncommon in urban areas, and during the dry season (Jan-May), I don't even wear bugspray.

Misconception #5: All people ever eat is rice and beans.
I hope I've sufficiently put this to rest elsewhere in this blog. Most people do still use open flame (wood burning "stoves") or gas for cooking, not electricity, because of how expensive it is, and how unreliable it has been.

Misconception #6: There is no clean water.
Managua water is not the best, so we buy bottled water to drink, but it is still perfectly safe for me to brush my teeth and use tap water for cooking. In some parts of the country, like Leon and Carazo, the water can be consumed straight out of the tap. The country is blessed with a number of clean water sources--but infrastructural issues prevent it from being delivered as effectively as it could be.

Even though Nicaragua continues to struggle with poverty, disease and corruption, there is no denying that the 21st century and all of the trappings of globalization have arrived. But that's a whole other post.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

when words are not enough

It's the last thing you expect to hear from a writer, but after more than 18 months in Nicaragua, I am beginning to feel that my words--carefully (and sometimes carelessly) constructed characterizations of my life in this country--are just not enough. Nor are the thousands of photos I have taken, as brilliant, colorful, or interesting they might be.

Sure, I could write more about the regular crazy bus adventures I have which involve elbowing strangers, holding on for dear life when the driver makes an unexpected stop, smelling toxic fumes, and listening to the melodious (and sometimes cacaphonous) voices which clamor for my attention...or the amazing Nicaraguans I work with who are passionate about the transformation of their country (and also about having fun--lunchtime at the office is always a delightful combination of jokes I don't understand, ping pong, and intercultural sharing)...or the daily political drama that goes on between the Sandinistas, the Liberals, and the press--the different arguments over power, how to resolve the problems of poverty, corruption, and disease...or the shifting climate and environmental issues faced by this beautiful and richly blessed land of diverse fruits, plentiful forests, and rivers, due to global warming and pollution.

But the truth is, I don't want to just use words and one-dimensional photos anymore. I want you, dear reader, fall in love with this country for yourself. Walk its dusty streets, climb its green, green hills, kayak its lakes and rivers, look into the eyes of its persevering people, enjoy their music of marimbo and guitarra, listen to their poetic rhythms of speech, examine their art in murals and pottery.

Discover the natural beauty, historical tragedy, and redemptive qualities of this land of Nicarao, baho, and cacao.

Aay, Nicaragua, Nicaraguita. Tan linda, pero tan desconocida. Maybe one day you will understand. If you come. If you see for yourself.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

un poema

My long-time cherished friend Dawn challenged me to create a poem using the title of my previous post. I admit, it was difficult, as poetry and jokes are probably the two hardest things to master in a second language. But, here is my first valiant attempt. Favor perdonarme si no sea tan bello.

He aquí donde se encuentra alimentos [behold, here one finds food]
que agradan la nariz, la boca y los ojos [that please the nose, mouth, and eyes]

Un simple fuego de leña hace [a simple wood burning fire makes]
de un pollo, la poesía asada [from chicken, grilled poetry]
del café y azúcar, la fuerza nueva [from coffee and sugar, new strength]
de la masa, aceite y agua, la pan divina [from corn, oil, and water, divine bread]

Un cuchillo en la mano hace [a knife in the hand makes]
de las pinas, cálalas, y naranjas [from pineapple, calala, and oranges]
una cascada de brisas exquisitas [a waterfall of esquisite showers]
de la yucca, zanahoria, y hierba [from yucca, carrots, and herbs]
una sabrosa sopa alentadora [a delicious, encouraging soup]

En este pueblo los ingredientes más sencillos [in this place the simplest ingredients]
con un poco de amor [with a little love]

generan milagros culinarios, [generate culinary miracles]
y la imaginacion de la gente [and the imagination of the people]

crea sabores y olores [creates unforgettable flavors and aromas]
inolvidables que refrescan el alma y serenan la mente [which refresh the soul and calm the mind]

Written with much love for the people, food, and cultura of Nicaragua!

Monday, January 07, 2008

sabores y olores

Since I'm unable to comment on the political madness occurring daily in this country in this forum, I'd like to tell you something about the daily flavors (sabores) and smells (olores) that make my mouth water and/or my nose wrinkle. I'll leave you to decide which is which.

I like lists, so here we go (in no particular odor).

1. Chicken roasting on outdoor grills being sold by neighborhood fritangas in the evening.

2. Fumes from bus exhaust pipes.

3. Greasy gallo pinto (the quintessential Nica dish consisting of rice and beans and varying quantities of oil).

4. The cold milky-chocolate beverage known as cacao.

5. Horse doo-doo on the road to work.

6. The delicate fragrance of bright orange and purple flowers hanging over cement walls.

7. The distinct onion-based scent of women who sell quesillos (cheese, cream, and grilled onions inside a warm tortilla).

8. Sweet, freshly baked tortas.

9. Crunchy fried banana strips with cabbage/tomato/lime juice salad.

10. Slightly decaying dog flesh. (Okay, so that's not daily, but we HAVE crossed paths with 2 dead dogs on the way to work in the last few months. And, well, the odor is something else.)

Friday, January 04, 2008

this year's Love

here's my belated online confession (intimate friends, i know this is old news): i fell in love this year (well, 2007). in the span of about 6 weeks this summer, i became very serious with a guy that i thought i might one day marry. (i know, i know. i am a naive romantic.)

then he left the country to continue his advanced studies in medicine--a place so far away and so expensive to call that all that remained was the occasional 5 minute phone conversation or 3 line email. needless to say, this placed a huge strain on what had been an intense emotional relationship. and thanks to the limitations of my second language, i may have inadvertantly completely ended it 2 weeks ago expressing my frustrations with his lack of communication.

i don't actually know how all of this will turn out, but it connects with the new year in this way: in an evening porch conversation with some nica sisters on january 1st, one of them asked about my goals for 2008. and the first thing that came to my mind was a verse in the book of revelation where it says, "you have forgotten your first love". and so i shared openly with them that indeed, this past year marked a sharp decline in the intimacy i sought/felt/desired for the Living God--and that i looked to many different substitutes--perhaps even this man i fell head over heels for--to fill the resulting void.

so, in 2008 i want to rediscover that love, that passion i once felt to know Christ before all things. the trouble is, i fear i have fallen so far that i scarcely know where to begin...but i know i need my Savior in these coming days, in this coming year as much or more than ever.

and i can only pray for the strength to WANT to want to seek His face again.