September 28, 2014

What Crazy Weather We Are Having


The price of beans are on the rise in Nicaragua.  For the last few weeks the rains have started and the humidity is crazy, I feel like I am in a steam bath. When I lay down in bed the sheets feel wet.  When I leave the house in the morning after a cold shower I begin to sweat from the humidity and heat.  Unfortunately, the rains were late.  Farmers were not able to plant their crops and now they are finding it hard to get their crops into their fields.  Add to this, one of the worst drought in many years.

Hence the price of beans.  Already the prices for beans and corn have doubled as the shortage to come is eminent.  Of course for Cassie and I that is not a huge problem, we can easily pay $1.00 for a pound of beans, but for the average Nicaraguan, who is accustomed to being able to buy a pound of beans for $0.40, is already facing an economic and nourishment problem.  And unfortunately this problem is not one that is being experienced by Nicaraguans alone; it is being experienced by the population of the entire tropic region of our globe.

I keep receiving emails from friends and family back home telling me about how crazy the weather has been.  About the droughts, the torrential rain, about all the weird weather and abnormalities.  According to our friends and neighbors we are experiencing the same here in Nicaragua.  All this crazy weather is creating one big problem in which the poorest will be the ones who will suffer first.

I spoke with a Nicaraguan farmer yesterday who talked to me about the changes he has experienced in his fifty years of farming.  He asked me a question, "why would we not think that if we took all the gold, all the oil, and all the trees away from our earth and polluted it with our waste that our climate would not change?"

So when you think to yourself, wow what crazy weather we are having, I encourage you to ask yourself, “I wonder if there is anything that I do in my life that might stop all this crazy weather?”  Or better yet, ask yourself, “what might I able to do in order to stop the prices of substantive food rising to prices that people cannot afford?” 

Our earth is crying out in pain and there are men, women, and children crying out in hunger.  We are called to care for our brother, our mother, our sister, our neighbors, to care for the world, for ourselves, for our kids, for the least of these. Do not just think, wow, what strange, crazy, weather we are having, I promise you that it is only going to get stranger and crazier.

September 21, 2014

Saying Good-Bye to Juan Guisto


We were fortunate to know Juan for three years, since we first arrived in Nicaragua.  His sister-in-law was our first host mother, his son was our tutor and his family continues to been gracious friends to us.  Juan, his wife and their six children have been nothing but generous to us since our arrival.  They have been patient with our Spanish, they introduced us to some of our favorite Nicaraguan foods and they were willing to show us around Managua.  Juan and his family invited us over for a beautiful Christmas dinner the second month that we were here, each person gave us a thoughtful Christmas gift, including hot sauce for Kevin and a handcrafted hammock for me that we continue to use daily.  After we moved into our own home, we have tried to return the favor to them by inviting them over for meals, their favorite being Nica Pizza.  We have enjoyed many meals together around the table. 

Throughout our friendship, Juan was always kind with us, while keeping his distance.  I recall a conversation early on about politics, his commitment to the Sandinista government and his uncertainty (in kind words) for the United States government.  Our Spanish level was not at a place where we could have a very intelligent conversation, but I knew that this was a conversation I would like to return to in the future.  Our friendship continued, but I always felt like there was some brokenness and hurt between Juan and I, some things that I wanted to talk about with him.

And then this last December, as we were sitting in the rocking chairs in the living room of his home, he asked us, “why are you really here?”  I knew that this was the conversation that we needed to have and I began to beg God for the words in Spanish to express what I wanted to say; mostly though I started to cry.  I told him that I am here to fall in love with Nicaragua and its people, that I am here to learn about its history and the role that my home country has played here, that I am here to show that there are other kinds of North Americans, that there are Gringos who believe that every human life has worth and importance, that peace is a difficult, but worthy road and that God´s love extends to all.  I apologized for our atrocious behavior and asked for forgiveness.  Through the tears, I know that I did not share these ideas as eloquently as I would have liked, but something changed in my relationship with Juan that evening.

I believe that I was finally able to show him that I understood what he and his Nicaraguan brothers and sisters went through during the war and revolution, all because the United States was funding an illegal war in Nicaragua, all because we wanted to maintain in control due to our fear of communism. 

Friends, we have caused a lot of pain here and most of us are not even aware of it.  I was not before I came here.  Juan gave his life to struggle for his beloved Nicaragua.  He was willing to give his life so that his four sons and two daughters could grow up in a country where they could succeed and live out their dreams – today they are doctors, informational technology workers and lawyers.  Juan and the people of Nicaragua struggled and gave their lives for this, and he and his people won.

Since our conversation eight months ago, Juan has continued to charm us with his soft heart and kind friendship.  The distance between us had faded as we continued to openly dialogue over many shared meals together.  It felt so special to finally have a mutual understanding.


Then in May, we received some very sad news about Juan.  He had terminal cancer.  This was a surprise and shock to all of his family and friends.  We prayed for healing, sought out the best possible medical treatment and spent a lot of time together.  One Friday night back in June, Kevin and I brought a couple of pizzas over for dinner.  Juan was on a strict diet, but he continued to comment on how delicious the pizza smelled.  Finally he decided to eat the crust, and while we found out later that he paid for it, he smiled the whole time.  We have continued our Friday night pizza over the past couple of months, each month noting that Juan seemed a bit more weak and frail.  He however continued to amaze us with his positive attitude, smile, conversation and love for pizza!

Every time I left his home, my heart was a little fuller.  This man was kind to me, always smiled and had encouraging words for us, despite the harm that we had caused him and his country.  He was a sweet soul.

On a Tuesday evening, a couple of weeks ago, as the torrential rains poured down over Managua, Juan took his last breath.  Just before, Kevin was waiting for a bus when he ran into Juan´s son, Rodolfo.  They made plans to have lecheagria together the next day, not knowing that his father was about to leave this world.  A half hour later, Rodolfo called to say that his father had passed away.

What grief we have for the loss of Juan, for his family and friends.  He was a dedicated and caring man, he was incredibly loyal and he was willing to give second chances.  We are so grateful that he gave us a second chance.

Rest in Peace Juan Giusto.

September 15, 2014

Best Week Ever

In mid-August, our wonderful friends Mandy and Juan arrived in Managua.  The long-awaited week was an absolute blast, we soaked up all of our time together, laughed a lot and traveled around beautiful Nicaragua.  These two were married a year ago and decided to spend their first anniversary here with us.  One highlight of this trip is that we did a lot of new things.  After being in Nicaragua for a few years, the “tourist” activities can become somewhat repetitive, so we were excited to explore this amazing country just a bit more.  We hope that you enjoy seeing some of the highlights of our time together.


After their arrival and missing luggage, we headed to the downtown Plaza and Malecon.  We hung out by the shore and passed a rainstorm eating and drinking some of our favorite Nicaraguan specialties.


John and Mandy loved the volcanoes of Nicaragua, the fact that you can look down in an active crater, hike and swim was a definite highlight.  Here John is trying to reach for a special rock, he was wayyyy too close to the edge.


John requested that we do a canopy tour.  While Kevin thought it would be boring and I was not the biggest fan due to my fear of everything heights as well as the negative environmental impact, we did it and it was super fun.


We visited the Coyotepe Fortress in Masaya, which has a long history in Nicaragua in times of conflict.  It has been something on my list for many years and I was glad to finally visit.  Do I need to go back?  Not really.


We spent some time in the beautiful colonial city of Granada.  I love this photo from the La Merced Bell Tower.


We got our beach on at a couple of our favorite beaches, north of San Juan Del Sur.  In July, while I was in California on a work trip, we spent a day at the beach together.  Sorry Cali, but you have nothing on us!


We checked out a new beach called Guacalito de la Isla.  It was quite pristine.


I love these three!


After spending time at the beaches, we headed up to the coffee country of Matagalpa. 


We went to the Castillo del Cacao and stocked up on chocolate.  Some of you may be receiving this for Christmas.


We hung out with our neighbors in Tierra Prometida.  They met Mandy on skype awhile back and were thrilled to actually meet her in person.  Even without speaking Spanish, she can still make people laugh!


We got super into games during the week.  John loved playing Nicaraguan BINGO and we all got obsessed with Euchre.  The Zonnefeld’s may have received a lot of free meals due to the LaBreskey’s losing several games.


Thanks to Mandy and John we did A LOT of juicing as they brought us down a new juicer.  We have used it everyday since.  This morning for breakfast I had a celery, cucumber, carrot and orange juice.  Yum!


On their last day here, we went to Laguna de Tiscapa.  We saw the famous Sandino statue up-close and looked down into the volcano lake.


There were many contrasts between the time that we spent together in Minnesota a year ago and the week we spent here in Nicaragua, but that is the charm in life, the differences and beauty found in each place.

THANK-YOU Mandy and John for taking the time to come and visit us.  We are grateful for the sacrifice you made to come and hang out with us for a week.  You are dear friends and we cannot wait for the day when we are all in Minnesota together living side by side.

September 8, 2014

That Age Old Fear – Part 2

Read Part 1 of my story here.

As I shared with you last week, I have struggled with the fear of flying for approximately fifteen years.  My anxiety was quite high last week, when I needed to go to Rosita on a small twelve-passenger plane.  I thought I would show you a bit of what I learned on my flight to Rosita.


This was our twelve-seater plane.  Looking at this photo makes me cringe.


As I mentioned in my previous post, the inside of the plane feels like a mini-van.  But then all of a sudden your safe mini-van is going really fast, lifts from the ground and is up in the air.  Talk about feeling vulnerable!


Before flying on La Costeña, I do not recall watching a pilot throughout a flight.  I had always assumed that my pilots were working very hard to keep me and their other passengers safe.  But after being on a few of these flights, I have realized that auto-pilot does the majority of the work and that the pilot is there for take-off, landing and any potential problems.  Thus, the reason why pilots can read comics and sleep while they are in flight.  Before, this would have totally freaked me out.  Now it helps me to realize that this is not such a complicated process.


Pilots need visibility?  Think again.  This was another tough one for me to swallow.  The sun was quite bright on one of our flights, and so black sun reflectors were put up in the windows, meaning there was no seeing out of the front window.  I have also seen newspapers put up in the windows.  I guess visibility isn’t so important when flying.

DSCN0876DSCN0877 IMG_1205

The land below is beautiful when one is able to calm themselves and is brave enough to look out.

IMG_1222IMG_1209 IMG_1233

I thoroughly enjoy geography and was able to look out the window and determine with my seatmate what city, town, volcano, lake or mountain range we were currently flying over.  Wait, am I enjoying this?


While the clouds caused some bumpiness, they were also quite gorgeous.  I tried to focus on the latter.


Here is a selfie of me mid-flight, sort of freaked out, but trying to survive the flight.  Notice my eyes, which show that I did not sleep well the night before due to anxiety and negative thinking.


Cellphone reception was working in the air.  It was a nice way to distract me for a minute or two.  And Kevin thought it was super cool that he got a text from the sky.


This is the security guard at the airport.  From what I have been told, his main job is to keep cattle off the runway as there have been incidents with planes and cattle in the past.  Just google Rosita, Nicaragua and the first google image that will come up is a plane that crashed into two cows.

IMG_1245 IMG_1310

This is the pista or runway.  It is a sort of dirt, sort of grassy field.  It is owned by a local farmer which recently caused flights to stop when he wanted a higher usage payment.  La Costeña and this farmer have since sorted things out and it is back in use.


Yep friends, that is the airport.  Unfortunately refreshments are not available and the bathrooms are outhouses off to the right.  Passengers must check-in at the town office two hours in advance in order to weigh themselves and their bags.  However, there was no security check.


On my return flight to Managua, after some bumpy skies, I almost wanted to go up and hug the pilots that got me to the ground safely.  While I chose not to do this, an older pilot must have noticed me.  He sent one of the baggage handlers to give me his phone number with hopes of getting mine.  I thought it would a good learning experience to write down Kevin’s number.  I gave Kevin a heads up about this and was surprised three days later when I got a phone call from the pilot on my phone.  I confused Kevin’s phone number for mine and the trick backfired on me.


So while this flying thing continues to be a struggle for me, I keep marching forward.  It is something that I want to understand better and feel more comfortable with.  While it is quite anxiety provoking at times, I continue booking those tickets and boarding those planes.  Someday I believe that I will actually be able to enjoy it.

I will leave you with a few more beautiful aerial pictures of Nicaragua.  Seriously, this country is so diverse and gorgeous.  The last photo is actually of video of my landing in Rosita.  Enjoy! DSCN0875IMG_1237IMG_1235 IMG_1320IMG_1239

La Costeña Landing in Rosita

September 1, 2014

That Age Old Fear – Part 1

It all started when I was seventeen years old and heading to Rio de Janeiro.  In the middle of the night, all passengers onboard were woken up and told that one of our engines was failing and that we would be making an emergency landing in Caracas.  Later I learned that our plane had two engines and that really we were just fine, but for the following hour until we landed, the lady next to me screamed and cried about the tragedy of her infant daughter losing her life at such a young age.  A couple of years later, when I was traveling between Toronto and Vancouver, we had a fire on the plane.  Each of these stories along with other not so fun flying moments has created a real fear for me.

I have lived with this fear now for almost fifteen years, and for a person who loves to travel, visit friends and lives abroad, this has been quite a struggle.  Some flights have gone okay and others are quite anxiety provoking and problematic.  At times I am actually able to look out the window and enjoy what I am seeing below and other times I am so anxious that people around me start to get worried.  On one flight in particular to Seattle, a fellow passenger asked me if I knew something that she did not know about the plane.

Furthermore, I am unsure as to whether or not my obsession of plane crash stories in the media assists or hinders my flying anxiety?  Whenever a plane goes down, I spend hours researching who was on the plane and finding more about their personal stories, what happened to the plane and how it went down.

I have utilized a variety of methods to help work through this fear.  I have read books and have statistics memorized as to how safe planes actually are compared to other modes of transportation.  I have gone to counseling, use essential oils (so much so that other passengers have gotten sick from them), take anti-anxiety medications and try to have activities planned that will keep me busy and occupied.  I ask everyone I know to pray and send positive thoughts my way. 

But despite all of this, it really has been and continues to be a struggle.  It is a struggle that I wish I could overcome.  Every time I buy a plane ticket, I wonder if I clicked on the wrong button.  And before each flight, I start to worry about a week in advance, the day before is especially hard.

While I often wonder why I struggle with this and feel so helpless in it, this struggle has given me insight into individuals – both friends, family and clients who struggle with anxiety.  It may seem silly to me that someone has anxiety going out in public or that a client absolutely cannot break from their compulsive and obsessive behaviors, but after struggling with my fear of flying, it makes sense.  It is debilitating and often leaves one so fearful that they don’t feel like they can make a different choice.  I am grateful that my anxiety only occurs when I fly and is not something that I struggle with day in and day out.

The difficulty of flying has only compounded here in Nicaragua.  Part of my job requires me to travel around the country.  For my first trips, I decided to be economical and take the bus, but I was also avoiding the flying part.  I did a round-trip bus ride in seventy-two hours that others fly in two.  While I am grateful for the experience of seeing Nicaragua through a bus window and the money that was saved, I was told by my bosses that this would not be recommended in the future.  It is too risky for a white woman to cross the country via bus alone.


So you can imagine my stress a couple of weeks ago when I booked another flight on La Costeña to head from Managua to Rosita.  I would be taking a twelve-seater plane, a plane where you feel every cloud and a plane that's normal flight pattern involves some free falls.  But I got on the plane, or as I call it, the flying minivan.

Come back next week for Part 2 of my story.