March 1, 2015

Friendships from Minneapolis to Managua

*This post was reviewed and published with permission from our friends Shania and Jacqueline.

**Additional note: We are personally hoping to assist Shania and her brother in coming to Nicaragua this summer (before she heads off to college on her full-ride!) so that they can meet their extended family for the first time.  If you would like to help make this dream come true, please send me an e-mail at: cassie.zonnefeld@hotmail.com

Back in November, when we were in the United States on our home leave, I was contacted by a friend who asked me if I would be willing to meet with an adolescent girl, seventeen years old named Shania.  Shania is interested in studying Social Work and while she was born in the United States, her parents are both from Nicaragua.  I immediately said “yes,” even though I had been trying to say “no” to additional commitments on my calendar.  This felt like an important thing for me to do, as I enjoy chatting about the wonderful field of Social Work and I was also excited to meet a Nicaraguan that lives in Minneapolis.

Shania and I met for coffee on Lake Street one chilly afternoon.  We chatted for a couple of hours about her history, current plans and future goals.  It was so refreshing for me to chat with a young woman who is engaged in the world around her and is inspired to make a difference.  Shania is a special person and I am excited to see where life leads her.

Our conversation led to a follow-up date with her mom, Jacqueline at the same coffee shop on Lake Street a couple of weeks later.  Kevin and I sat across the table from Jacqueline and felt so “at home” in our conversation with her.  As we often experience in our relationships here in Nicaragua, Jacqueline had nothing to hide.  Jacqueline shared her story with us, her childhood in Batahola Norte (which is only five minutes from our house), her journey to the United States, her experience of life in rural Minnesota and later urban life in Minneapolis.  She shared the joys and challenges that she has experienced with courage, something that I am still learning how to do.  It was refreshing to spend time with her and made us feel like we were back in Nicaragua, sitting on our green plastic chairs on our dirt road with our neighbor ladies.  Furthermore, she gave us advice on where we could find cuajada cheese, pupusas and the most freshly baked tortillas in Minneapolis.  It is good to have friends like this!

Our friendship with Shania and Jacqueline is very special to us.  We have often thought about our future life and adjustment back to Minnesota and how we will maintain our connection with Nicaragua.  While there are many Latinos in Minnesota, there are not a lot of Nicaraguans, so we feel very fortunate to have started to develop a friendship with these special people.  We look forward to seeing Shania graduate high school, head to college and possibly practice as a Social Worker.  Whatever she does, she will do it well.

We are also hopeful that Shania and her brother will be able to come to Nicaragua this summer before she starts her freshman year of college.  Sadly, due to U.S. immigration practices, Shania and her brother have never met their grandmother, aunts, uncles or cousins who only live five minutes away from us.  We would be overjoyed if they could hug for the first time.  We would also be thrilled to show these two young people the beautiful country that they come from, the diverse groups of people, foods and customs along with the spectacular land.

Just last week, I was able to stop over at the home of Jacqueline’s mother’s, Shania’s grandmother.  Because of where I was born and the papers that I have, I was able to visit her quite easily.  She welcomed me with open arms, along with a hot plate of food and a lovely conversation.  I was able to bring her pictures of her grandchildren, a new pair of shoes, and a souvenir from Shania’s quinceaƱera, along with a few other items that were sent for her and the extended family.  I am hopeful that very soon Shania, her brother and Jacqueline can also greet their loving grandmother and mother on her front porch.
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The story of our friendship will continue…






February 22, 2015

An Adoption Update

Hope is a revolutionary practice.  Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you would just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.  You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.

-Anne Lamott

While we have not written recently about our adoption, it is something that we think and talk about each and every day.  Could today be the day that we receive “the call” and meet our precious children?  Could it be next month or will it be in a few years?  As some say, being “paper pregnant” without a due date can have its ups and downs. 

For the past year and a half we have made all of our plans tentatively.  When we start teaching a class, we wonder if we will finish it.  When we purchase a flight, we wonder if we will board the plane.  When we celebrate a holiday, we wonder if next year we will celebrate with our children.

Their bedroom is decorated and ready.  There are books waiting to be read.  There are plenty of clothes, mostly dresses, hanging in the closet, but we aren’t sure if we will ever use them.  How old will our kids be?  Will this dress fit?  Will we receive a girl or a boy?  Or two girls or one of each gender?  There are so many unknowns. 

The most difficult unknown for us is wondering where our future kiddos are at.  Are they in a safe place?  Do they have a loving adult taking care of them right now?  Were they given a hug today?  Did they get enough for breakfast?  How are they feeling?  Are they happy, lonely, sad or depressed?  We cannot wait to care for them and meet their needs in the best way that we are capable.

Overall the wait has gone well, better than expected.  While we are thrilled to welcome young ones into our home we also acknowledge that it will be a challenging transition.  We very much enjoy our life right now, just the two of us and know that the addition of children will be life changing.  Thus, we have tried to make the most of the time that we have now before kids.  We stay out late, sleep in on the weekends, take last minute trips to the beach, knowing that these things will be more challenging with children, although we are hopeful that they can still happen.

Our wait has been made easier by the fact that we have walked alongside several families in their adoption journey.  Our family and friends have done this before and some are currently in the process.  My work in the adoption and foster care field has also given me the opportunity to accompany and support several families in their journey to their child(ren).  I have had families receive a placement on their first day of waiting and I have had families wait four years before receiving a placement.  There is no rhyme or reason to why some families wait a long time and others wait a short time, but what I do know for certain is that the right kids come at the right time.  I am convinced of this, they always come at the right time.

We have received a few different possible placements calls.  They did not work out for various reasons, although these situations have left us with more questions than answers.  But we continue to be convinced that they were not the children for us, and we have peace.

And so, what are we doing now?  We are doing our best to be in the healthiest place possible for when our children arrive.  We have gone to counseling and plan to continue via Skype when the kids come.  We continue to work on bettering our individual selves as well as our relationship.  We are reading book after book on adoption, attachment and parenting cross culturally.  We sign up for webinars and other educational courses on these themes.  We always believe that there is more to learn, more that we can do to be better prepared.  We continue to write letters to our kids on a regular basis and look forward to giving these to them someday.  We pray for our kids and trust that God is watching over them.

And we continue to hope.  It is a revolutionary practice.  It begins in the dark, and it is stubborn.  We believe that if we continue to show up, continue to believe and do the right thing, the dawn will come, our kids will soon walk through our front door.  We wait for them, we watch for them and we will work for them: we won’t give up.  We are so excited and yet we are content until they come home for good.

February 16, 2015

Heading North

In the beginning of February, I (Cassie) headed north seven hours to the picturesque country of Honduras. Even though Nicaragua and Honduras share borders, we have only ever passed through on a bus. I am so glad that I got to spend ten days in this lovely country and I look forward to future visits.IMG_2190 

Some might wonder how I could describe one of the most dangerous countries in the world as picturesque and lovely, this was hard for me to grasp as well. Honduras is full of contrasts, the security issues, gang problems and violence are completely devastating. And yet, Hondurans love their country, their traditions, their land and have a strong belief and hope for it’s future.

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I attended a course called “Buentrato en la Familia” or “Good Treatment in the Family,” through an organization called CLAVES in Uruguay. It was a full week of training on non-violence in the family, which included themes such as attachment, bonding, parenting, gender violence and abuse prevention. It was excellent material, which provided a lot of new resources for our classes at the seminary and workshops with AMC.

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Before class started each morning, I took a mototaxi to the top of the mountain right outside town. I then proceeded to walk/run down the mountain, first starting in the clouds and then ending up in the valley. The views were stunning, I loved running past pine trees and it was great to feel cold again.IMG_2117IMG_2119

The days were long and full, but we had a bit of free time to spend in the beautiful towns of Valle de Angeles and Santa Lucia, which are right outside of Tegucigalpa.

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I look forward to heading north again.

February 9, 2015

What We Pack

Even with the impact of globalization in our world today and the closeness of the Nicaraguan border to the United States, access to goods, purchasing power varies drastically from place to place.  While living in Nicaragua, our goal has always been to live simply, while allowing ourselves to enjoy what is around us.

Before leaving for Nicaragua three years ago, we strategically planned how we would pack our four suitcases and two carry-ons.  As we have traveled back and forth, we always try to take advantage of the free 54 pound (oh wait, it is only 50 pounds) suitcase that we can take with us.  We have also learned that our carry-ons are not weighed, which means they usually weigh much more than our checked bags.  We have learned a lot of packing strategies, my mom thinks it is manipulative, but if you would like some tips, let us know.

Moving back to the point of this post.  There are some wonderful things that we can find in Nicaragua that we cannot find in the United States and there are some wonderful things that we can find in the United States that we cannot find in Nicaragua.  There are also exported items that are available in Nicaragua, but they are extremely overpriced or there are no warranties or returns.

So, what did we bring back in our 54 pound suitcase?  Here is our list: 

Dark Chocolate and Chocolate Chips – Dark Chocolate bars are pretty difficult to find here.  Thus, dark chocolate was on the top of our Christmas lists.  Because our friends and family are generous, we came back with several bars which now fill up the bottom drawer of our fridge (stored in the fridge because they melt in Managua heat).  While chocolate chips have gone down in price since we arrived, the price still does not beat the 99 cent bags that Kevin’s mom gets at their local grocery store.

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Cans of Pumpkin – We love all things pumpkin – baked goods, pumpkin lattes, and curries.  Our first Thanksgiving in Nicaragua brought us the gift of 1 Cordoba (about 4 cents) cans of pumpkin on super-sale at the grocery store (Nicaraguans generally don’t buy pumpkin, especially when the original price was over $5).  Kevin bought all of the cans of the shelf that time, but we have not found the same deal since.  Kevin’s mom always picks up a few cans when they are one sale and a few made it back in our bag this time.

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Naked Juices – Notice the theme of food?  We love the green machine naked juice.  Our trick for this one is that we purchase it on our last connecting flight at the airport (a bit overpriced) and put them into our handheld bags.  This allows them to avoid the weighing scale (we wouldn’t want 55 pounds!) and it maintains the temperature.

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Toiletries – We buy the majority of our toiletries here in Nicaragua, but there are a few items that we usually bring back with us.  Sunscreen is very expensive here and with a friend’s 40% Mary Kay discount, it is much better for us to buy it in the United States.  I generally buy a tube of mascara from her as well.  I will also add that our birth control (i.e. condoms, sorry if this is too much information) are much cheaper in the U.S. as well as candles (which Kevin has tried to limit).

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Apples – Last food item, I promise.  Apples are one of our favorite fruits, hence why we got married at the Minnetonka Apple Orchard.  They are imported here, overpriced and generally bad quality (think old Red Delicious).  Thus we bring back a bag, this time it was split between our handbags – no weighing issues and no bruising to the apples.

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Books – While we use our Kindle’s for the majority of our reading, there are always a few books that we bring back with us.  They always go in our super heavy carry-on.

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Tennis Shoes – We both regularly enjoy exercising, thus a good pair of tennis shoes is important.  This is an item that we have found to be quite expensive here.  So a quick trip to Kohl’s while we are home usually takes care of this purchase.

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Picture Frames – I am always hanging something new on my wall or giving away a framed quote or picture.  We have purchased frames here, but they are hard to find, usually in a weird color which requires spray painting and again overpriced.  Thus, a run to Ikea is usually on my list of things to do when we are home.

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Fabric – I have found some lovely shops at the Mercado Oriental in Managua that sell fabric.  However, I like to complement what I find here with a few new yards from home.

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Food Dehydrator – On our most recent trip, we decided to bring back a food dehydrator.  We are thoroughly enjoying every fruit that we can get our hands on, pineapple is my current favorite.  This was a debate because of the space that it took up in our Action Packer (highly recommended), but it has been well worth the space.

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So that is my list.  Kevin’s is very different, although the chocolate, pumpkin and apples are always a high priority for him.

While our list may not be that interesting, what we have brought back for others is.  Here are a few items that I can think of off the top of my head - life jackets, dry bags, Forever 21 jewelry to sell, protein powder, cameras, eye glasses, jeans, bras, shoes, underwear, books and computers.