November 30, 2011
Many of you have asked us what we are missing most. It sounds cliché, but you are what we have been missing. I am missing my daily phone calls with “my girls” and family. I am missing seeing each of you face to face, going out for coffee/boba tea or having you over for dinner. It has only been one month and I anticipate that this will only get more difficult in many ways.
In regards to “material things,” I don’t feel like I am wishing that I would have brought a lot of different things. I guess that is a shout out to the effectiveness of my post-it notes (although many of you get annoyed by them) and planning ahead. I foresee that once we move into our final home, there will be a lot of things we wish that we had (for the kitchen, decoration items, etc.). But I guess that will be a good test of “simple living.”
A few of you have asked for our mailing address for sending packages. I don’t want to suggest that this is necessary, although because of the mailing system here I thought it would be important to let you know how it works. Fortunately it seems like the postal system is pretty reliable for delivering from the U.S. and Canada (we love our Canadian friends) to Nicaragua. However, there seems to be some unreliability within the post office here in Managua. Yes, there is only one post office for a population of over 2 million people.
Other MCCers have had packages sent and they have sat in the back of the post office until they were each requested specifically. Thus, if you plan on sending a package, please let us know in advance. I know it ruins the fun of giving a gift or sending a surprise, but we most likely won’t get it unless we ask for it. And again, don’t feel like you need to send anything! We just thought we would let people know so that your lovely packages aren’t sitting unopened.
And if you insist on sending “material things” that we cannot purchase here, we put together a little list: Sour Patch Kids, Boba Tea Bubbles (Asian grocery store for $1), Dove Dark Chocolate, Dark Chocolate and Ginger Combination and Reese's Pieces (but they may melt in the mail), Sunflower Seeds (request from Kevin for the local baseball games), Haribo Gummy Berries and good flavored Kettle Chips. The cost to mail items is a little pricey, so beware!
Oh, and one more thing with Christmas on it's way. You all know my love for real Christmas cards through the postal service. I am hoping to receive them here and will for sure put them up on our fridge (as soon as we get one).
November 24, 2011
Up and down our windows go as rusty buses, ramshackle pickups, and other old weather-beaten cars approach and pass, mile after mile. We finally come to a little town. We stop, turn off the engine, step out, stretch, and, as the red dust settles and the noise of the road fades, we hear a new sound off to the right, down through some scraggly trees, pass a few bony, wide-horned brown cows standing in the shadows chewing their cud.
Beyond the cows and just outside a few strands of barbed wire, there’s a stream and a little swimming hole sparking in the full sunlight. In its brown waters a dozen children are splashing and wrestling. Their laughter rises like music, a cloud of joy as real as the cloud of red dust stirred by another car passing on the road behind us. I think, “I’ve seldom heard this much pure happiness in my life.” We watch for a few minutes, smiles irrepressibly arising on our faces, and then decide to take a break and explore the town before continuing our journey.
As I turn off to be on my own for a few minutes, I see the homes these children come from. They’re small in size and modest in construction, but often painted the most dazzling colors, this one coral pink, the next aquamarine, the next tangerine orange, the one over there a light purple, peeling off in places, showing a royal blue underneath.
There are some dads sitting in the shadows of a few trees, cigarettes dangling under the bills of well-worn baseball caps, sharing stories, playing cards, nodding and smiling as we walk by. There are some moms squatting on front porches, peeling potatoes, washing dishes in plastic basins, nursing babies, shooing flies. I smell coffee roasting, mixed with the scent of a farm not far away. I hear a muted accordion and a flatulent trumpet from a broken radio speaker. I hear the sound of someone sawing a plank, a rooster crowing in the afternoon heat, a dog bark twice off in the distance, and everywhere the buzz of insects mixed with jingling music of children’s laughter in the background.
Maybe someday there will be televisions in every house, I imagine. Maybe someday there will be video games and DVD players. Maybe the hum of air conditioners and the roar of many cars. But I don’t think there will ever be more happiness in the air than there is today.
What is this extraordinary happiness? Where does it come from?
Walking through that town in Guatemala, I remind myself of something we all know but don’t take seriously enough. It’s not how much you have that brings happiness; it’s how much you appreciate however much or little you have. Again, it’s not the amount of stuff you have that counts; it’s the amount of appreciation you have that matters, and appreciation means “gratefully holding” rather than simply “having without gratitude.”
We are encouraged by our Creator to slow down and appreciate the gift of life, to employ our liberty in service for others, and to gratefully cherish the happiness we already have. Gratitude may be the greatest secret to happiness there is.
Excerpt taken from Naked Spirituality by Brian D. McLaren
**On this day of thanks, we give praise to God who is the giver of all and remember those with less; both materially and immaterially seeking discernment in the ways God is calling us and you to share the gifts we have been given.
**And just an FYI, Kevin and I (and a couple of friends) ran our traditional Thanksgiving Day 5K this morning. We missed running it in the brisk and chilly downtown of Minneapolis with friends and family, but we did it! Now onto the eating…
November 21, 2011
Over the weekend, Cassie and I moved to a new home in Managua. During these past three weeks, we have thoroughly taken pleasure in spending time and getting to know our “Managuan Mom” and her extended family. We enjoyed our weekend with these individuals – going to our first $3 movie at the theater (Money Ball was great!), eating $1 enchiladas, visiting the historical city of Leon (accidentally taking the wrong bus there and turning a 1 hour drive into 4 hours), seeing the oldest Cathedral in Central America and enjoying a scrumptious Nicaraguan home cooked dinner all the while working on Spanish. The family, knowing that I love hot sauces and salsa, went out of their way to prepare several “rico” sauces. They even bought me a Costco sized bottle of Tabasco as a going away gift. We were overwhelmed with their generosity and hospitality and look forward to many more scrumptious meals together.
As a way of offering our thanks, we baked a carrot cake and made peanut butter cookies for dessert. They were a hit! In case you are looking for a healthy and tasty treat:
Gather three bowls and begin!
*Begin with the smallest bowl (S), combine: 2 cups flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. baking soda, 2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. salt
*In a medium sized bowl (M), combine: 3 cups shredded carrots, 1/2 cup crushed pineapple (make sure it is drained), 1/2 cup chopped nuts (I find that walnuts are best and are also traditional), 1 cup coconut
*In your largest bowl (L), combine: 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup oil, 1/2 cup applesauce, add 4 eggs, 1 at a time while mixing. We usually cut down on the sugar and oil, but thought we would give the “correct” recipe.
*Add dry ingredients (S) gradually to your largest bowl (L). Afterwards, stir in the ingredients from the medium sized bowl (M). Blend thoroughly and pour into a greased and floured 9x13 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Allow time for cooling.
*Frosting (optional – the cake is great by itself): 8 oz. cream cheese, 1/4 cup of butter, 4 cups powdered sugar
November 17, 2011
Cassie and I have discovered that when you learn a new language you are introduced into a whole different way of looking at the world. There are many common phrases that we have heard in English for the majority of our lives; do as your told, do everything in moderation, do not worry, etc.
But when you hear things in a new language and then translate that new way of understanding into your first language you are provided with a new and fresh perspective on an old adage. Last evening we found ourselves concerned, or better I should say worried about what we had gotten ourselves into in our coming to Nicaragua. We were worried about our future, about where it is that we will live, what our jobs will look like exactly and first and foremost the struggles we are encountering with the Spanish language.
The word worried dominates the culture we have come from. People are worried about so many things that seem irrelevant; especially when one considers what is truly important in life. However, what does it mean? What is a person to do when he or she is told “not to worry?”
The Spanish translation for this word is preocupado and communicates the idea that one should not be preoccupied with something that he or she has no control over.
We like that, do not worry, or better yet—do not be preoccupied with things that you have no control over. Instead live each day to its fullest, using your God given gifts and talents!
November 14, 2011
So what are you doing with your time there? That is a question asked by many of you. After two weeks, we feel like we can give you a rundown of what a typical weekday might look like. Keep in mind that our primary goal right now is to gain Spanish skills. After we have gained the skills that we need (hopeful phrase), our day to day lives will look quite different.
**Disclaimer – we don’t want to discourage any friends or family from visiting us. The shower situation will change once we have our own place and the other “inconveniences” will add to the beauty of your stay.
2:00am- Finally fall asleep after the dogs stop barking and fighting.
2:30am – Wake up to the rooster who is crowing, try to fall back asleep.
4:30am – Wake up to the loud truck that is honking out on the street. The truck is here to pick up people who work at the local market.
6:00am – Wake up because we are sweating so badly.
7:30am – Actual wake up. Generally Kevin is already up reading, doing devotionals or studying Spanish, but Cassie is a good sleeper. We head out on a run around our neighborhood - - this is an interesting experience, maybe more in another post?
8:15am – First bucket shower of the day. Get ready.
8:30am – Breakfast with host mother. This generally involves gallo pinto, although we have also had corn flakes and leche___ (spoiled cow’s milk…not our favorite).
9:00am – Head to Spanish school on Bus 119 (busses in Nicaragua also warrant a future blog posting). Walk a large part of the way due to traffic issues.
10:00am-12:00pm – Spanish School. We are both learning a lot!
12:00pm – Walk and get back on the bus. We are always hopeful to find a seat, however we usually end up standing for the majority of the ride. When we are able to sit, we try to start working on our Spanish homework.
1:00pm – Lunch at the MCC Office. Yolanda cooks some great food! We enjoy conversations in both Spanish and English.
2:00pm – Catch up on e-mails and begin our Spanish homework at the office.
3:00-5:00pm – Spanish tutors. This generally involves reviewing our homework, practicing with flash cards or going out into the community and using our growing Spanish skills.
5:00pm – Head on home, this may involve a stop at the supermarket. We always debate on stopping at the ice-cream shop for a fifty cent cone. We have had one so far! Get back on the bus. Note – at the end of the day there are a lot of sweaty people sharing a small space.
6:00pm – Chat with our house mom and her family. This is great for utilizing our Spanish.
7:00pm – Dinner with our house mom and any family members who are visiting.
8:00-10:00pm – Spanish homework and studying. Hanging out with our house mom and extended family members.
10:00pm – Second bucket shower of the day. As many of you know, we aren’t the biggest “showerers,” but the heat makes it necessary. Reading together, devotionals or watching a pirated movie on the old computer.
11:00pm – Sleeping soundly…or not?!?
November 11, 2011
Esteban Felix/Associated Press
Every day since the presidential elections, traffic in the city of Managua has been an issue. It just happens that the Supreme Court of Nicaragua is located on a calle principal (a primary street in the city) which connects to the primary rotonda (traffic circle) on the south side of the city. It appears as though the current and re-elected government of Daniel Ortega (FSLN) fears that those who oppose him may attempt to bomb or disrupt the supreme court of Nicaragua in order to stop the final step in these democratic elections which will conclude when the Supreme Court officially votes in accordance with the people of Nicaragua.
Cassie and I left Managua election weekend to visit our friend who lives in a nearby town. Because of the rural location we were actually able to go to the election site in La Concha with our friend and his family as they voted. Overall the elections went off without a hitch. However, the following day in La Concha the only road to Managua was blockaded (trees, rocks and people) by supporters of a presidential candidate (Fabio Mantilla) who lost the election. Because of the blockade we spent an extra restful day in La Concha working on our Spanish and spending time with friends.
On our last evening there, rumors of a fight between the two political parties were rampant in the streets. The fight was supposed to occur about twenty feet from where we were staying. We sat outside wondering and discussing what our role (if any) might be in bringing peace to the situation—this whole Mennonite thing is new to us. We tried to use humor with the people passing by in hopes to deescalate the situation. In the end the police came and put a stop to the brawl. The whole situation left us wondering and contemplating how we can assist in being peacemakers through our future interactions with the people of Nicaragua.
For further reading on the election and from a variety of viewpoints:
Star Tribune (hometown paper) - http://www.startribune.com/world/133410548.html
November 8, 2011
Today marks our one week anniversary in Nicaragua. Kevin and I were chatting this morning and both thought that it seems like we have been here much longer than that. I am not sure if that is good or bad? Here are a few pictures from our last few days. We hope that you enjoy!
We had our first “street food” this past weekend. Sorry Mom, you told us not to eat street food or drink the water, but it seems unavoidable. The tap water here is pretty good, no sicknesses yet!
There are beautiful flowers all throughout Nicaragua. It is important to find “beauty” in the small things.
We officially began “Spanish School” today. However, our language learning started beforehand. Here I am practicing my Spanish with our friend’s niece, while she practiced her English. It seemed to work well for both of us.
A beautiful coconut tree! We love the fresh fruit…
Taking a siesta on Sunday afternoon. Hammocks work great for this!
Playing sports with the kids seems like a good way to build relationships. I even had a few hits that the boys “wowed” over.
More fresh fruit. This is an orange that you don’t actually eat, but instead drink the juice out of. It’s delicious!
Over the weekend Kevin made pizza with our friend’s mom. She had been saving yeast in the fridge for some time in hopes of learning how to make pizza. At age seventy, she officially made her first! We had a cheese pizza and a beet pizza. The cheese was a bit too salty, but the beet pizza was a hit. You should try it at home!
Coffee plant. We will be helping with the harvest in a month!
A field of both corn and beans. For you farmers out there, they mix the crops together in the same field to make the most of the space. More on Nicaraguan agricultural practices in a later blog. We will also give you an update on the election process in the near future!
Much love from Nicaragua!
November 4, 2011
Here is a peace point (bullet points are not an appropriate term for peace workers) summary of our first three days in Managua:
- We did not go to bed the night before our flight. This led to us sleeping for the majority of our time in the air.
- In Atlanta, we met Dr. Zylstra (Dordt College President) who was also heading to Managua. It was nice to know that a familiar face was accompanying us to Nicaragua.
- We were greeted at the airport by David (friend from orientation) and Angela (our MCC boss).
- Managua is hot! And this is supposed to be the cooler part of the year?
- Kevin is having some anxiety about the spiders, bats and lizards. He actually had nightmares last night because of them!
- We moved in with our host mother Damarius. She is a wonderful host and an excellent cook. She does not speak a lot of English, which is great for improving our skills (see photo of Damarius and her nephew below; also pictured is her beautiful home).
- We went to one of the largest Managuan Cemetaries on El Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) and learned a lot about Nicaraguan culture.
- We have eaten gallo pinto (painted rooster) five times. It is a famous Nicaraguan food that is eaten at almost every breakfast and dinner. So far, so good!
- We celebrated Cassie’s birthday along with another MCCer Lloyd at our combined Welcome and Birthday party on Thursday (see photo).
- Our new MCC colleagues and friends have been very welcoming and helpful! Each of them is doing amazing work here in Nicaragua.
- We enjoyed a dinner out with Dordt Alumni on Thursday evening (see photo).
- We are disappointed with our Spanish skills and are trying to spend every spare minute learning more.
- Presidential Elections will be held on Sunday. Please pray for a peaceful election process.