April 23, 2015

Chiapas, Mexico

I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me. -Walt Whitman

Kevin and I made a last minute decision to head to Chiapas, Mexico for Holy Week.  We decided to take a couple of days off from work and check out the beautiful, colonial city in southern Mexico.  The trip was an adventure!  We decided that we should go by bus for economic reasons, but this meant four days of traveling through Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala to finally arrive in Mexico.  In the end, I still think it was a good decision, but Kevin has a different opinion due to his longer legs and the knee pain that incurred.  We had some issues in Honduras on the way in and the way out.  On the way in, we didn’t have record of our yellow fever immunizations (we were the only two people asked out of sixty) and were asked to each pay a $160 fee, we paid a bribe instead.  And on the way out, we ate some chicken which gave us salmonella poisoning.  After three weeks of symptoms and an iv for Kevin due to extreme dehydration, we think that we are officially better.

And yet, it was all worth it to visit this amazing place.  Our friend Miriam, who works for MCC in the area of sustainable agriculture has lived in Chiapas for the past four years.  She has visited us several times in Managua and so we thought we owed her a visit.  We hope that you enjoy this post filled with beautiful scenery, Mexican food, Mayan culture, more Mexican food, textiles and lastly Mexican food.


Who lives, sees much, who travels, sees more. -Arabian Proverb

The colonial town of San Cristóbal de las Casas is picturesque – cobblestone streets, colonial buildings, pedestrian walking streets and old churches provide a quaint feeling as you walk and explore the city.  We loved that it was a pedestrian centered city and that it was relatively safe to walk late at night.  We may have gotten a little jealous of Miriam’s life in Chiapas as we reflected on our life in Managua, but we were quickly reminded at how wonderful our life is in Nicaragua, albeit very different.


We visited this family owned Mexican restaurant for tacos on our first night and our last night in Chiapas.  Imagine fresh pork with pineapple on tiny flour tortillas, along with veggies and unlimited amounts of salsas.  It was incredible.


Unlike our markets in Nicaragua, the San Cristóbal de las Casas food market was a lovely place to take a stroll.  We enjoyed seeing the various foods that were sold and came home with a lot of coffee, cocoa and peppers.


Look at these lovely beans.  The color is delightful!

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Each morning, we would pass through the market and buy a fresh-squeezed orange juice (without added sugar) and fresh fruit for breakfast.  We especially enjoyed the berries which are grown in the mountains of Chiapas.


Kevin was very excited about all of the peppers that he had access to in Chiapas.  He made hot sauces and salsas a couple of times while we were there and bought several varieties to bring home.  He even made and froze a tomatillo sauce that successfully made it back with us to Nicaragua via bus.


I loved these pots of flowers on the side of someone’s home.

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page. -St. Augustine


We visited the Mayan ruins at Tonina.  It was our first experience to see something like this and we had an incredible day of exploring and hiking to the top.


We visited several Mayan Catholic churches.  The members of this church in San Juan de Chamula were celebrating Holy Week and it was interesting to witness their worship practices.

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Here I am eating the best mango of my life – a mango on a stick with chili, cut in such a way so that your face can stay clean while you consume the deliciousness.  This needs to be introduced at the MN State Fair!

I wandered everywhere, through cities and countries wide. And everywhere I went, the world was on my side. -Roman Payne

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This picture was taken in the market one day.  I loved the row of pops that were available.


I personally spent a lot of time learning about the various Mayan textiles.  Each indigenous community is known for a different type of embroidery work and they wear the lovely textiles on a regular basis.  I spent several hours at this textile market obsessing over the beautiful art that these women had created.  I was also able to visit the Mayan Textile Museum and could have spent all day there.  Friends and family, you may be receiving beautiful embroidery work for Christmas this year!

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Traditional Mayan indigenous religion centers on the fact that God meets you at the high places.  Thus, we hiked to several churches which were built at the highest points of the city due to the fact that the conquistadors sought to take over the places considered sacred by the Mayan, in-order to convert them to Christianity and destroy any chance of religious syncretism.  The highlight of our time in Chiapas, was a Catholic and Mayan Easter worship service that we were invited to which combined traditional Mayan worship with the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection.  We are very much indebted to Miriam and the relationships and community that she has nurtured during her time living in Chiapas, as we would have never been invited as tourists to this very sacred and special event.  We left at 5pm one afternoon and drove to an isolated location a couple hours outside of San Cristóbal de las Casas.  We began our hike up the mountain in the dark and arrived at the summit by 9pm.  We spent the evening on top of the mountain, witnessing a beautiful Mayan expression of faith.  We lit candles together, ate a meal around midnight and discussed how Mayan faith and Christianity could be reconciled as we all seek to live out our love for the Creator.  It was a cold night, but a beautiful one; a night filled with laughter, celebration and tears within the community that we were welcomed into.  When the sun rose, we headed back down the mountain, cold but refreshed from this moving experience.

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Thanks Miriam for hosting us!

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You can clearly see that we had a great time!

I do not bring back from a journey quite the same self that I took. -W. Somerset Maugham

April 16, 2015

Weekend with the Sundermans

We were greatly blessed to have some dear friends come and visit us for a weekend in March. The time was spent sharing our life here and catching up with one another. We soaked up some rays, ate some typical food, walked to buy tortillas and meet the neighbors, checked out some tourist sights, bought some souvenirs and created some wonderful memories in our short hours together that are sure to stay with us for the lifetime.


We took them to our favorite Fritanga called Doña Lesbia’s for a delicious meal of chicken, plantains and gallo pinto.


We knew that it would be important to see a volcano in their short visit to the “Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.”  Here Jodi and Cassie are pictured at the top of Volcan Masaya.


We spent a couple of hours at the market in Masaya, checking out the items available for purchase and also enjoying fresh juices.


As we drank our fresh juices, we enjoyed the music played by this lovely family.  They played several pieces on their marimba, guitar and maracas.


TJ fulfilled his life goal of riding in a moto-taxi.  It only lasted for a minute, but was the highlight of his trip.


As we headed down to the beach, we followed behind this truck carrying sugarcane.


We spent our final night together in the colonial town of Granada.  Notice the patios which are in the center of most homes.


Granada Skyline at Sunset


Central Park of Granada


Market stalls in Granada


The four (five!!) of us.

We are very thankful for the many of you who have ventured down and shared a little piece of our life here in Nicaragua. We look forward to continuing the journey and the conversation as we grow, challenge and laugh with one-another during this adventure we find ourselves on.

Photo Credits to: Jodi Sunderman

April 10, 2015

Medical Visits and Women’s Health


It was a full and exhausting week, but a rewarding one.  In mid-March, I (Cassie) headed up to La Dalia and El Tuma in association with my work with Accion Medica Cristiana, with the objective to assist with the coordination for a group of medical personnel from Texas. 


For five days, we were able to attend to the medical needs of the surrounding communities.  We would leave bright and early in the morning, head out on some of the worst roads you have ever seen and after an hour or two, arrive at our "clinic" for the day.  Each day, when we arrived, there were lines of people waiting to be seen. 


With help, we quickly set-up the registration while others set up the clinic, vital station, ob/gyn room and pharmacy.  My job for the week was to welcome the patients, register them for their appointment and record their medical history.  While the medical field is completely foreign to me, I really enjoyed the work and learned a lot from the team of doctors and physician assistants.  I found that I was able to utilize my Social Work skills, building rapport with the patients, learning about their social and health histories and providing them with basic health information.


Women's health is a big issue here in Nicaragua, and while we still have a long way to go, I was impressed with the changes that have been made in the recent years. 


Here are a few things that I noted during my time:

  • Part of the intake involved me asking women about the number of pregnancies, live births, miscarriages, abortions and living children they have.  For women, 45 years and older, I noticed that many of them had ten or more pregnancies and live births.  However, many children passed away in early childhood due to sickness and lack of medical care.
  • For women younger than 45 years, the number of pregnancies and living children decreased dramatically along with the number of deaths among young children.  Women seemed to average four or five children.
  • Many of the women that I saw were and still are having their first child in their teenage years, thirteen and fourteen years of age was not rare to see.  There were very few women who were twenty years old and without a child.
  • Almost all of the women (I would guess 90%), even though they live in very rural communities, have access to birth control.  The Ministry of Health arrives in their community every three months to provide women with their deposhot.
  • Many women were hesitant to have a pap-smear completed.  For many, it felt like an invasive procedure and there was a lack of education as to why this was important for them.
  • The majority of women are now delivering their children in a maternity home, which depending on where they live can be a several hour bus ride from their home.  This has greatly decreased the number of maternal deaths.  This situation is extremely different on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, where in my experience, many women continue to deliver their children in their home.
  • It was interesting to note that the majority of the women had never experienced any infertility issues or miscarriages.  Whereas my experience with women in the United States is that miscarriage and infertility is very common.  It would be interesting to learn more about why this is.  One doctor suggested that it could be that the women are unaware that they are pregnant when they miscarry.  I would also find it interesting to look at diet differences, impact of birth control, having children at a younger age, etc. and it's impact on women's fertility.


Overall, the week was very rewarding and I was able to learn a lot.  The doctor's were able to provide consultations to over 700 patients. 

Thank-you Temple, Texas medical team for your time and service.


**The above statements are based on my interactions with the clients and have no statistical data to back them up.  I should also note that this is not comprehensive for all of Nicaragua.  The maternal health conditions in the Northern and Southern Caribbean Coasts are much less hopeful.

April 3, 2015

The Lovely Beaches

As we begun 2015, we made it a goal to get to the beach once a month.  While public transportation, poor roads and working on the weekends make it difficult, we both knew that it was important to us to make time to be by the seashore.  We will most likely never live this close (only 35 miles) to the ocean again.  In the months of January, February and March, we have made it to the beach four times.  Enjoy the following photos!
Playa Masachapa – with our MCC co-workers
Playa Jiquilillo at Sunset - notice the moon
Playa Mathilda – camping in the shore for $5, yes please!
Playa Mathilda – Kevin’s favorite swim beach
Playa Gigante
Playa La Redonda
Playa La Redonda
Playa Colorado
Playa Colorado – with our friend Sharon
Playa Popoyo
Playa Majagual – photo taken by Jodi Sunderman
Playa Majagual – photo taken by Jodi Sunderman
We hope to show you more pictures of beautiful beaches throughout the rest of the year…