April 30, 2012

God gives but doesn’t share

Last week I was re-reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.  This was one of the first books that I read on development back when I was in my teens.  It was so worthwhile to re-read!  There were many eye-opening, underlining moments as I read, but this one stood out to me the most:

How could a just God permit great misery? 

The Haitian peasants answered with a proverb, "Bondyekonn bay, men li pa konn separe," in the literal translation "God gives but doesn't share." 

This meant, as (Doctor) Farmer would later explain it, "God gives us humans everything we need to flourish, but he's not the one who's supposed to divvy up the loot.  That charge was laid upon us.”

April 25, 2012


Do you ever wonder how in the wide world your favorite chocolate bar gets into your little sticky fingers and what is all involved in the process of making such a scrumptious treat? I (Kevin) finally tried my hand at making another batch of chocolate after a first failed, and oh so disappointing attempt.

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I began with roasting the dried cacao beans, a process similar to that of roasting coffee or toasting your favorite nut. Afterwards, the real time intensive process of shelling each individual bean (think about peeling a pound of garlic, only with a somewhat more enjoyable aroma) ensued. After an hour one pound was shelled and ready to be milled and made into fresh cocoa powder. I visited the local miller who was more than happy to provide me with his services.

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Then the stove, a strong sturdy pot, a bit of milk, coffee (of course), some sugar, and frequent stirring. The result, exactly one pound of dark chocolate to be served over warm and equally scrumptious brownies, I think you would have enjoyed them!

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A final note, I still have not figured out a method to get the chocolate as smooth as I would like. I have seen various homemade machines, both here and in Ecuador, that are used to pulverize the chocolate sauce in order to create the smooth consistency that is chocolate, this may have to wait as I hear my Spanish books calling my name.

April 20, 2012

An Old Pair of Jeans

I just happened to be wearing an old pair of Gap jeans when I sat down with my Spanish teacher the other day. I love these jeans and remember how excited I was when I found them on sale some years back. However, that excitement dwindled after we began talking about my jeans, and the price she paid for my once perceived bargain.

Much of Spanish learning comes via conversation.  We talk about the little things, the everyday subjects like the our weekends, the heat and the mango harvest.  Throughout our time here we have built relationships with our teachers.  A few days ago my teacher and I were chatting about our previous work experiences.  My teacher shared that she worked in the Zona Franca for two years, spending her days reviewing the quality of items before exportation.  She had to make sure that the items did not have any tears, snags or coloring issues.  I then proceeded to ask her what kind of items her factory made and she responded jeans.  She then asked me if I had heard of the Gap?

She continued to share about the work environment that she endured for a couple of years before she was able to return to school in hopes for a better job.  She left her house (and her kids) everyday at 5:00am and returned at 9:00pm.  She received a half an hour break for lunch and her managers took record of how many times their employees used the bathroom.  I sat there in horror as she described the company’s “poor conditions” wondering if the jeans I was wearing were previously reviewed by her?

Her whopping paycheck came to 600 cords a month.  That is $24.00 per month, $6.00 per week and a measly $0.86 cents a day (they work six days a week).  And don’t forget her long hours away from her family.

All of this reminded me of this blog post that we wrote awhile back.  I had twenty-five slaves working for me at that time and now I am able to put a face on a somewhat seemingly incomprehensible problem.  You see, my teacher is incredibly talented and yet she ended up in this place for two years of her life.  Many others end up there for all of their lives.

*Photos courtesy of www.gap.com

April 14, 2012

A Visit from Our Parent’s

They arrived on Friday, a mid-afternoon flight from Miami headed for Managua filled with tourists, volunteers and Nicaraguans excited to reconnect with their families for the celebration of Holy Week. Cassie and I waited in anticipation for our first glimpses of Suzy, Tim and Gordon, happy for their arrival, but also a little sad that Connie would not be joining us as well. They arrived safely, and were immediately welcomed by the Managua heat which was mellowed by the delicious harvest of mangoes which were enjoyed throughout their time here. They showered us with a suitcase of gifts (some previously requested), which we very much appreciated.

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Cassie and I played tour guides for the week. We brought them to our favorite restaurants and road-side eateries for some of the finest and cheapest eats Nicaragua has to offer. Suzy warned us in the beginning that she would not be eating “street food,” but in the end we had her convinced that this is where the gems are found.

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We took them to beautiful scenes of nature throughout the country, enlightening our senses as we breathed in sulfur at the live volcano and fish in the local market.  We also felt the Pacific crash against our bodies at Pochomil and enjoyed a morning swimming in the waves.

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We listened to the birds and monkeys while we explored the national park of Tisey near EstelĂ­. We accidentally took the wrong way on our walk and ended up walking for 22 kilometers, about a half a marathon. There were a few tired moments, but overall we enjoyed the mistake!

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They loved the pretty flowers! Suzy even helped us pick out some plants for our future garden. She couldn’t believe the prices here. What she pays $20 for in the States, costs $1 here.

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The history of Nicaragua was discovered throughout our time as we passed by statues of Sandino, viewed the ruins left behind by the earthquake of '72, explored museums and viewed the propaganda of the President as we drove along the streets.

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We enjoyed conversations and laughter at the waterfalls and in the hammocks.

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We were very happy that our parents had the opportunity to meet many of our friends and co-workers. Melvin (our co-worker at UPOLI) and his wife rushed to the airport in order to welcome our parents in the hospitable fashion of Nicaragua. We were all invited to the house of David Mercado for a traditional Nicaraguan meal. They we were greeted with great food and also wonderful company.

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In EstelĂ­, the hospitality continued as the Castillo family offered us food and fellowship and in many ways peace of mind for our parents, letting them know that Cassie and I had been “adopted” for the time being. We also had the opportunity of going to a Nicaraguan buffet with two of our good friends Gaby and Rodolfo.  We made sure that they knew MN was the best state! The opportunity was also presented to meet many MCC staff which included a memorable meal with Lloyd and Goldie Kuhns because it rained in Managua in April (quite rare)! We were forced to translate in many of these encounters, which in turn helped to increase our Spanish skills.

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The time was way too short and saying our “goodbyes” in the place where we had only said “hello” a week ago brought tears to everyone's eyes.

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April 4, 2012

Season Opener

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You may remember the frigid temperatures that hung over the St. Louis sky last October as the redbirds earned a world series title over the Rangers. Fortunately for you all, baseball has returned and today you will have the chance to root for your home team while munching on a box of cracker jacks or enjoying a freshly grilled sausage, or perhaps a steak and cheese, or just cheese for that matter if you find yourself rooting for the brew crew this weekend.

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Cassie and I left for Nicaragua just after the baseball season ended, but we soon found ourselves immersed in the rivalries and traditions that is Nicaraguan baseball. The league here started in the 1950's and continues today, offering baseball fans an opportunity to watch their beloved sport almost year around. We found ourselves at a game recently, sitting in seats that would have cost us hundreds in the states, and enjoying the various food items at budget costs, the hot dogs were amazing and they were only 50 cents, and do not even get me started about the plantain chips. In the spirit of opening day Cassie and I would like to offer you a ticket to the game and seat of your choice, here in Nicaragua of course!