December 15, 2014

More Nica Food

Cassie and I have often shared with you the different flavors and tastes we experience as we venture into the culinary experience of Nicaragua. We continue to try new recipes and street foods as we encounter them. A recent favorite was a ripe plantain that had been gutted and stuffed with local cheeses and peppers. Thankfully the people of Nicaragua are passionate about their local delicacies and are more than willing to assist us in learning alongside them.

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Before coming home to visit our family and friends we invited some of our students over for a last supper in order to celebrate the holidays over a home-cooked meal and table fellowship. Our students at the seminary know our favorites. I made a lasagna (We have found that our Nicaraguan friends and family love casseroles and what is termed “comfort food”, but they have a fear of the oven and therefore usually do not bake), Cassie made a scrumptious salad and our students made the rest.

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Solkey made a plateful of buñuelos which is fried patty of cheese and shredded yuca that is then dipped into honey infused with cinnamon and clove. The real treat was that Solkey brought the majority of the buñuelos in unfried form. This meant that Cassie and I received a cooking lesson that very night as to how we too could prepare buñuelos in our home. As we waited for the lasagna to cook and other guests to arrive we grated, pressed and fried a mound full of buñuelos for the upcoming desert, though we did try a few and may have spoiled our appetite!

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Alvaro and Zayda were also invited for dinner that night - they are perpetually late people who we love dearly. Because of their tardiness Solkey had planned another cooking lesson for Cassie and I. We are not ashamed of our love for the quesillo, the cream drenched, cheese filled, onion loaded snack that is enjoyed anytime of the day here in Nicaragua. I have attempted to make quesillo (the food item gets its name from the type of cheese - quesillo - that makes up the majority of the food) before and had failed. However, Solkey showed me a technique that uses boiling water and now I am fully confident that I will be able to make fresh hot quesillo for Cassie and ourselves upon our return to Nicaragua.

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The night was a special one enjoyed by all. Our students stayed late into the night as we dined and then basically ate again, enjoying the traditional deserts that Solkey and Zayda - who makes excellent arroz con leche (recipe to soon be posted) brought into our home. 

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December 7, 2014

Our Home Leave – November Recap

We have been thoroughly enjoying our time back in the United States.  We arrived in the beginning of November and are now a month in.  It has been wonderful to reconnect with family and friends.  This month has been a busy one, however we are doing our best to rest and take time to reflect, heal and think about our last year in Nicaragua.  It has been difficult to image what life might look like back in the United States and to be honest, much of what life looks like here is not too appealing.  We really have come to love the simplicity of our lives in Nicaragua, the pace that we are able to live and the time and care that people have for one another there.  We will continue to process what this means for us, but for now, we wanted to share a few photos from our time here.

I spent my 31st birthday with my lovely nieces and nephew.  They, along with their momma spoiled me throughout the day.  It was a very memorable day together and while it was much different than last years birthday in El Salvador, it was just as special.

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Here are a couple more nephew and niece pictures.  We have spent many wonderful days together, soaking up the time that we have missed.

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We have been to a couple of weddings over this past month.  One was the marriage of our Seminary friend Joe, who was married in Wisconsin to the lovely Jenny.  We were thrilled to be present on this beautiful day and Kevin had the opportunity to be a groomsman.

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My mom, SIL Kate and I hosted a bridal shower for my cousin Sarah.  We enjoyed a lovely pink themed afternoon together celebrating the love of Sarah and Eric.

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We have been spending a lot of time with our niece Ceanna Arita.  She was born in May and we were unable to meet her until this trip.  She is now six months and is such a joy.  We have been fortunate to watch her almost every Tuesday and are enjoying all of the special time that we have with her.

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Esther Zonnefeld, Kevin’s grandmother passed away on November 16th.  While we are saddened by the loss, we are grateful that she is no longer in pain.  We remembered and celebrated her life with family and friends while reflecting on the wonderful lady that she was.  This photo is of Kevin and his sister, Carrie.

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We headed out to Colorado for the week of Thanksgiving visiting my sister Shawna.  We enjoyed time with Nate and Liz, who worked in Nicaragua with us.  We also visited my childhood friend Claire and her darling babies.  The rest of the week was spent in the beautiful mountains.  We enjoyed many outdoor activities, celebrating Thanksgiving with a wonderful meal as well as time with family.

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While I haven’t captured on photo all of our times with special friends and family, the moments and time have been captured in our hearts.  We are so grateful for the relationships that we have here.  I will leave you with a few more photos.

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November 30, 2014

Interviews, War and Peacebuilding [Part 2]

What did it mean for you to turn in your guns, boots and backpacks? The turning in of our guns and uniforms was very difficult, we were trained to live with them. Sometimes we said that our guns were our “wives” or “our family.”

What does the word reconciliation mean to you? Before we utilized this word when couples would get back together, forgetting their past and having joy in the present. Now this word means much more than return and reconcile, because our country has hardly ever had peace, our country signals that we have lived in war, much more than peace, from the period of colonialism and Spanish conquest, to the internal wars, with reconciliation we have learned to recognize our rights.

As I sifted through these assignments this past week, I was once again captivated.  The resilience, strength and bravery of each individual is obvious.  There are some that continue to struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, one man shared that he always needs to sleep with his radio on to avoid silence, and that the fireworks that are set-off around Christmas (and pretty much year-round) always make cause anxiety and remind him of the bullet.  Yet he is a successful business owner, is happily married and loves being a father of two.

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Interview Observations by Salvador Herrera

The difficult moments of a solider are unimaginable for me. From insects crawling on one’s body to the deep fear of death or the worries of helpless family members, each life that has been in an armed conflict is marked by a life of suffering.

The process of reconciliation as a friendly unity, becomes complex in the life of one who has been demobilized, their reconciliation lies not in peace with the enemy, but peace within oneself. The memories of what you did or did not do seem to be an internal battle that directs one’s life and are difficult to leave behind.

Inner health in each ex-combat is necessary to continue a healthy day to day life. Blame and remorse need to be let go, but this process is painful and difficult and this is our challenge as peacemakers. We can bring these individuals an assistance that allows them to live with dignity and reconciliation with themselves, with their neighbor and with God.

Peace as the absence of war is just the beginning of real reconciliation. Today there are still many who suffer because of the consequences of war. There are some who have overcome the pain of the war, privileged to realize their life work and have emotional, social, economic and spiritual stability. But there are others who do not find peace in the absence of war. We are called to restore their value and show them the best example that we have of reconciliation, Jesus Christ, our peace.

The peace that the world gives does not compare to the peace of God. The world does not know the peace that God offers, it cannot be taught in words. We need to embody the peace of God, living it daily, without blemish or hypocrisy.

A peacemaker must be able to transform others, but at the same time, be transformed himself, journeying down the road of peace. Reconciliation can lead us on difficult journeys, but at the end there is joy.

An armed conflict threatens the life of each person who carries a weapon, but when the weapons are no longer preset, traumatic experiences threaten the peace of each carrier. Reconciliation is a journey for both internal and external health. It would be easy if there were not so many social and cultural barriers. Reconciliation is to achieve peace, but to achieve this peace, we must be willing, making an effort with hearts that are filled with love, joy, tenderness and forgiveness.

In this journey, we are needed. We need agents of peace called to bring the good news to those who are in conflict. Our learned tools and skills allow us to work with the gift of God’s spirit and present to the world, the true message of peace in God, through Jesus Christ our reconciler.

November 24, 2014

Interviews, War and Peacebulding [Part 1]

Our students just turned in my absolute favorite assignment of the semester.  It must be the Social Worker in me because I always anticipate this full-week of reading and grading.  In our Conflict Transformation course, we ask our students to interview someone who was involved in the revolution of 1979 and ensuing contra, the disarmament and peace process that followed.  Many of our students participated themselves, as service was required for young men.  Our students are always a bit apprehensive about the assignment, wondering if some of the questions will trigger painful events, but in the end, the majority of them share that it is a helpful assignment that encourages them to learn more about their own selves and culture, and the continued impact of war in their lives and their country.

What does national reconciliation mean? What have been the successes and challenges in Nicaragua from the perspective of those who were involved? How did the armed conflict impact individuals and what did does this impact look like today? How can we improve our understanding of the peace building process here in Nicaragua?

Instead of highlighting or summarizing the papers of our students, we asked them for permission to share their writing with you. And so this week and next, we will share with you their perspectives on armed conflict and the reconciliation process in Nicaragua. Here are their voices.

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Peace is Possible, but it is a Choice by Jessica Azucena Valdivia Montenegro

This oral history interview was very interesting for me because I had never before talked about the theme of reconciliation in Nicaragua with someone who participated in the war and the process that followed. To be face to face with someone and imagine all of the pain, fear and anxiety that one lived through and then later adjust to a life without war was very meaningful for me.

I interviewed Don Mario Rocha Gutierrez, a gentleman with a relaxed appearance, who is 57 years old and lives in the Belen Neighborhood in the city of Estelí. He participated in the armed conflict on the side of the National Sandinista Liberation Front (FSLN) and was responsible for training soldiers for combat (physical training, assemble and disarmament of weapons).

To understand the relationship between the interview and conflict transformation, we need to start from the lived experience of the person. The feelings of guilt and rage that marked his life and his felt helplessness in overcoming these and the point in his life where he realized these memories may last a lifetime. Don Mario described the war and conflict as a place that causes many emotions for him, including anger, as well as vulnerability, fear, intimacy and hope.

Don Mario recounts that when he began his service, a superior warned him that he would need to turn in his weapons if the negotiations with the Contra began to bring successful results. For Don Mario, this was excellent news as he “did not want to know anything more about war.” The first step in the process of conflict transformation is the desire to change violent actions into peaceful behavior. One of the Beatitudes of Reconciliation states, “Blessed are those who are willing to enter the process of healing, because they will become leaders.” Don Mario was willing to enter into this process and when the demobilization process was initiated, he became an advocate in his community for the turning in of weapons, placing an emphasis on the importance of leaving behind the ways of the past and working towards new times of peace, and the importance of building peace together.

Transforming our destructive conflicts into constructive experiences is an important task in the reconciliation process. Don Mario shares, that setting aside negative aspects that had occurred in the conflict and reaffirming certain values such as loyalty, discipline, brotherhood, love and family are integral in this process. Conflict transformation is therefore a process of engagement of relationships, interests, debates, expressing one’s lived experiences and learning how to be more loving.

When I asked Don Mario what the word reconciliation means to him, he said that it involves forgiveness and reconstruction. If we want to better understand the processing of the conflict, we need to understand ones thoughts, emotions, self-esteem and personal perceptions that were impacted by the conflict. Don Mario shares that there was a time when he did not want to talk about what he experienced during the armed conflict, until later when he realized that this was not healthy in his processing of the event and his healing.

While the armed conflict was very destructive in the life of Don Mario and many others, he shares that the spirit of the conflict on the side of the FSLN was to achieve social change for the wider population and bring about common good. This encouraged him in his work towards reconciliation because he believes that while the armed conflict was devastating, what followed provided a collective opportunity for growth and change. He affirms that healthy conflict creates life and thanks to conflict we are able to respond, innovate and change. Conflict can be understood as an engine for social change, which is alive, sincere and sensitive to a community’s needs and aspirations.

Don Mario is also grateful for the contribution of the church in the process of reconciliation, which served as a mediator in many of the negotiations, accompanied the signing of the peace treaty and helped survivors of the conflict.

Don Mario is as a product of the reconciliation process. He is no longer afraid of war. He is grateful for improved economic stability, foreign investment, employment opportunities and continued hope for a better future. Don Mario does not consider a future culture of peace as a possibility for Nicaragua; he says that it is already happening.