September 24, 2012

It is Good

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was “thank you,” that would suffice.” -Meister Eckhart

I have been meaning to follow up on my initial New Year's post for a long time. If you have been wondering, I am still sticking to my three thanks a day. Some days I forget and have to go back, but at the end of the year, I will have written 1095 things that I am grateful for. It has been an excellent practice for me.  I feel like it has provided for me a different lens in which to see things and for this I am grateful. Throughout the day, I often find myself intentionally looking for the good things, those little gifts that are all around me. 

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If you haven’t picked up Ten Thousand Gifts yet, I would encourage you.  It will change how you look at the world.

So, without further adieu, here are a few things that I have been grateful for in the past month:

soccer with the neighbor boys, Changua soup, increased Spanish comprehension, new fabric, a breezy window, completion of our third class, adoption blogs, puzzle building with Natalia, the theater, safety in the earthquake, less anxiety, kayaking, my dad, words of hope and encouragement, garbage service, coconut oil, sleeping in, access to water, great cousins, reconciliation, gumballs, wine that actually tastes good, yoga mat exercise with a five year old, previous jobs and the personal and professional growth that I had, a hospitable fishing village, the love of God, a new morning, plans that don't go as planned, safe taxi rides, love letters and hearty laughter

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And from Shauna Nyquist in her book Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life (buy this book right now!):

One look at a baby’s fingers and you just know that those little bundles of flesh and tiny bones are more sacred, more spiritual, than any thought or idea or theology could ever be.  There are glimpses and whispers of the divine all through the daily, if we let ourselves look again, if we let ourselves believe that the world all around us is threaded through with divinity.

I live according to my faith when I love a meal that has been prepared carefully, when I notice texture and color and taste, when I let the flavor and scent of something fresh from the ground surprise me and bring me back to life.  I demonstrate my theology when I dance all night with the people I love, because this life is worth the best celebration we can offer up to it.

For me, what God said when he made the world is a prayer: It is good.

September 19, 2012

Some of the Things…

Klean Kanteens - The first item on the list without a doubt. We use these all day, every day! With the intense heat it is important to keep hydrated, rejuvenating our bodies with this handy bottle beside us wherever we go.

Spanish Learning Aids – Our dictionaries, our flash cards, our Rosetta Stone, our 501 Spanish Verb book, all of these have been our best friends over the past nine months. We use them daily!

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Reese's Peanut Butter Cups – I can’t find them here, anywhere! We have tried to make them at home, but there is nothing like this delicious treat in it’s beautifully wrapped orange package.

Crocs – Cassie knows that these are out of style, but she says that they are perfect for walking in the mud, rain and heat. I think that they are extremely flattering on her and am constantly reminding here that function also trumps fashion.

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Cast iron skillet – We didn’t bring this down with us and immediately realized how much we missed Grandma Wyllean’s Almond Tart. We were so excited when one arrived with my Dad on his visit down. Since then I have made six tarts for various activities and they have become a Nicaraguan delicacy.

Chacos- Always in style no matter the era or occasion I am thrilled to be able to wear my chacos year around, enjoying these functional, sophisticated and fashion forward sandals.

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Sunflower Seeds - I have enjoyed listening to some baseball and throwing in some dill pickle sunflower seeds. I offered them to some friends here who immediately determined that they should only be fed to birds, I digress. Thanks friends for sending these in packages!

Sour Patch Kids – One of Cassie’s favorite treats.

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Headlamp and Swiss army knife - When the electricity goes off or when you find yourself in a tough situation without the conventional norms, these two items have already gotten us a long ways. Thankfully, duct tape is readily available.

Our Kindle – Although we have had some issues since arriving (one being dropped, one being stolen, one being washed over by waves) we do love having a library at our finger tips! Thank-you Ramsey and Hennepin County libraries, we rarely pay for a book.

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Sunglasses – A must for the bright shiny sun, also the title of one of my favorite books. We each brought down a pair of sunglasses and haven’t had to replace them yet. Although when we do need to, it shouldn’t be too tough as they are sold on every corner.

Photos of Family and Friends who we miss dearly – Nothing more needs to be said, you cover our house!

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Cassie - The love of my life who I could not dream about being without. Whenever things get hard, or even when they are not, it is great to be sharing this adventure, through the twists and turns with her.

September 8, 2012

Nicaragua’s Trash

I visited “La Chureca,” the dump on the outskirts of Managua a couple of months back.  I have been trying to put together a blog post about my experience since that time, but it has been difficult to put into words.  Then I came across this, and felt that Andrea put into words exactly what I was trying to say.  Reblogged from Cultural Center Batahola Norte.

Basura…trash…was one of the first impressions I had of Nicaragua, an ironic juxtaposition to the rich beauty of this land.

Dumps like this are found in most Nicaraguan cities, with the largest one in Managua. This is a photo of the dump in Jinotepe. Back behind the trees there is a small community of people who live in shack-houses, and sort through the garbage looking for recyclable materials that can be sold. Around 1,500 people live and work in “La Chureca”, the dump in Managua. Unemployment is extremely high, along with drug use and prostitution. There are elementary and middle-schools, but youth have to travel outside La Chureca to attend high school, if they are lucky. Discrimination of people who live in the dump is a huge barrier.

I have visited La Chureca twice, both times accompanied by long-term volunteers who work in NGOs located within the premises (the Manna Project and Juntos Contigo). The volunteers I’ve encountered are hesitant to give tours to visitors–both for security reasons and the impression it sends to the residents. However, because of my longer-term status here in Managua, they made exceptions. I have heard that sometimes groups of North American tourists make rounds in a tour bus, with their cameras, moved I’m sure by what they see, but not necessarily giving the type of help/attention that is needed or desired. Least to say, I did not bring my camera on my visits to La Chureca.

In many ways it felt like entering a disaster zone. Smoke ascends from piles of burning waste, while vultures circle overhead. Children are found working alongside adults in sorting glass, plastics, paper, and metals, all layered in piles of waste. A rotting stench of shoe glue fills the air, and many children run around barefoot. Health hazards here are obviously high. Many families search also for food discarded from restaurants amidst the trash.

Learning of the health statistics, rates of violence and abuse is a hard thing to comprehend. However, there are signs of hope. A small organization called Podcasts for Peace works with kids and youth from the neighborhood, helping them tell their stories through digital media. They offer this clear summary of the area on their website:

“More than 70 percent of the population work in the informal sector, about 30 percent as trash foragers, and 70 percent live in extreme poverty.  In Acahualinca, as in  many places where people live in a volatile environment, there are kids addicted to glue, a high illiteracy rate, gangs, prostitution, malnutrition, machismo, and domestic violence.

That said, the people of Acahualinca live in communities as vibrant and complex as any, and while they do face harsher environmental and economic conditions, this does not define who they are. As in any community, they develop innovative solutions to problems, celebrate birthdays and holidays with friends and family, complain about the weather and resent corrupt politicians. They wake up at 5:30-6:00 AM to clean the street in front of their houses and start the day’s tasks. Family members live close by, often in the same house, and they nurture close friendships with their neighbors. Vendors pass through the neighborhoods throughout the day selling everything from matches and broom sticks to plantains and ice cream, and in the evening the kids play soccer in the street.”

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Young girls participating in the Podcasts for Peace project (credits to that organization)

There have been dramatic changes in the past years since the Vice President of Spain, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega visited in 2007 and was moved to help. She promised 30 million Euro to close the dump, create a recycling plant and build houses to the families. A large pile of trash is now covered with dirt, and some 40 houses have already been built. However, some people who live there are fearful of what the changes will bring. They aren’t sure what the job opportunities will entail, or how it will change their lives.

Visiting both La Chureca, as well as seeing other garbage dumps around Nicaragua overwhelms me. I wonder what the Nicaragua government is doing in response to these living conditions, and I see it as a huge social injustice that is generally overlooked by those in power. As an American, I have learned the ways that the U.S. has been a political and economic oppressor over the course of history here in Nicaragua. What would happen if those powers turned their attention to the needs of the poorest? How do I as a volunteer, and yet incredibly privileged person, confront this extreme poverty?

As I continue to learn about Nicaragua, in all its beautiful and ugly parts, I become aware of my remaining ignorance and wealth. I pray I never get accustomed to suffering and can continue to offer my support as I’m able to.

Links, sources, and organizations:

Manna project Nicaragua

- Short article by a nurse practitioner who visited the dump

- Podcasts for Peace, powerful testimonies and stories made by youth from “La Chureca” and surrounding neighborhood.

Trash on a Typical City Street of Nicaragua

September 5, 2012

Our Nicaraguan Finds - Part 3

Before going into our actual blog post, I wanted to let you all know that we are okay after the earthquake.  Several of you have sent e-mails to check in, thanks for that!  The earthquake hit Costa Rica, but we did feel the tremors here.  It was a first for both of us.  We are glad that the damage is minimal and that people are safe!

In continuing my short series titled “Home Sweet Home”, I am going to share some of my favorite finds here in Nicaragua.  I have really enjoyed incorporating Nicaragua into our home.  I feel like it is easy to go overboard and yes, there are some horrendous things that you can come across, but I have found some great items at local markets and love how they have helped to piece together our home.

It is also rewarding to have our Nicaraguan friends come and visit.  They often remark of the various things that they see and share a sense of pride that we have chosen to use them in our home.

And if that isn’t rewarding enough, it is important to Kevin and I to support our local economy.  It is too easy to go to the mall and buy cheap things that are made in China.  We want to support the artists who work so hard here for so little, while making beautiful products.

I first saw these hanging baskets at a hostel and told Kevin that I needed to find them for our home.  After a few markets, we were successful and got them for $4 a pop.  I love the extra little element and flair that they add to the room.

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Continuing on the basket theme.  I found and purchased a few of these baskets at the local market.  They are great for organizing and only cost between $1 to $2, depending on the size.  Pictured are my “kid basket” and “game basket.”  The neighbor kids have come to love these!

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Nicaragua is filled with incredible artists.  Kevin and I knew that we wanted a painting for our living room and looked for several months until we came along this one.  Right away, we both knew that this was “it.”  We were in the tourist market, but we still got a fair price.

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We were at a fancy retreat center for a meeting (unfortunately not to stay overnight) and they had these rug weavings as wall d├ęcor.  I love the simplicity and color that this brings into our living room.

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A couple months back we were at a market with our friends and came across these hand woven rugs.  We were just moving and needed some rugs for our front and back doors.  These have held up great and I love the effortless, simple look.

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I found this basket/box in Esteli and originally intended to use it as a side table in our bedroom.  The colors didn’t quite match, so it is being used as a table in our living room.  And the best part, it stores all of my crafting materials!

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This stoolish/table piece was stashed deep in a stall at a market.  I am not sure if it was originally for sale, but I loved it and offered them a few bucks for it.  They were happy to accept our offer and it is now our living room coffee table.

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These chairs were our “special purchase.”  They definitely weren’t a need, but they have been lovely to have.  They are made well and even have adjustable settings.  I have to figure out a way to bring them back to the States when our term is up!

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And lastly, you can’t go wrong with a hammock.  They are “hecho in Nicaragua.”  We love setting them up for reading, relaxing and our new tradition - Sunday night movies under the stars.

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As always, thank-you for reading.