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.