November 15, 2015

Four Years

We have just finished up our fourth year of living in the lovely country of Nicaragua.  Currently we find ourselves in a considerably different place than when we reflected at this time last year when we were enjoying a respite in the U.S. with friends, family and a cold climate.  This year, we are working for different employers and are learning what it means to be parents!  In the same format that we used for our first, second and third years we want to share with you how this last year has gone.  We hope that you enjoy reading.

Things we love:

  • Our daughter - Estela! In case you have not heard, on September 29th, our sweet little girl became a part of our family.  Our lives have changed to say the least.  Beyond that we are thrilled, working out what this new phase of life looks like, and seeking to love our little one dearly.
  • The land - We have spent a lot of time traveling and enjoying the beautiful Nicaragua that surrounds us.  We have spent time on the beach, in the mountains, hiking volcanoes and traveled out to the Caribbean coast on a couple of occasions, one for a quinceañera and another for work.
  • Nicaraguan beaches - We are making a point of visiting the ocean each month this year.  Our thought process tells us that Minnesota is far from warm tropical beaches, thus we are making the most of it!  It also helps us, more specifically myself (Kevin), deal with the heat.  Estela joined us for her first ever beach visits in October and November and loved playing in the sand and water.
  • Our Nicaraguan friends and family – Life continues here and our friendships are why we have continued to stay.  This year brought joy and sadness as we remember those lost and the challenges that life brings, while celebrating the accomplishments and milestones with those dear to us here in Nicaragua.
  • Nicaraguan food – One should not be surprised to know that food has made it onto the list every year.  This year we have really enjoyed learning about how to prepare our Nicaraguan favorites.  We still frequent the local eateries, but you are now more likely to find a Nicaraguan dish being prepared in our very own kitchen.  We are also continuing to eat all the various fruits and vegetables that we can get our hands on as they are astoundingly delicious.
  • Nicaraguan sports – Having the opportunity to go to a Nicaraguan a world cup qualifying game was spectacular.  Not only did we witness a really exciting game, but we also got to join in the celebration of Nicaragua.  The pride that we saw exhibited on this night was incredible.  To sing Nicaraguan traditional songs, the national anthem, wave a large Nicaraguan flag and root for the national team made this night one that we will never forget.  Beyond that, we always enjoy a Sunday afternoon baseball game at the national stadium.

Things we find difficult:

  • Cultural difference – At some level Cassie and I are strangers in this land.  We are continually learning about where we come from and where we are now.
  • Not like mom used to do – We are constantly open to new things and really do seek to learn from our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters. However, there are some things that we find a bit more challenging.  A minor example is a Nicaraguan neighbor telling me that I was cutting a tomato wrong and that by doing so I would burn my mouth because of the acid.  A larger example would be parenting ideas and styles.
  • Being white, Spanish acquisition, violence against women and children and knowing how to respond to those around us, especially those in abject poverty, all remain difficult.  Who knew there would be no easy answers to any of these challenges?  That being said, we continually strive to bring hope and joy each day to those that we encounter and are thankful for the hope and joy we receive from others.

Things we have learned:

  • Parenting – We are so very thankful that Estela has transitioned well into our family.  She seems to enjoy her relationship with us.  She cares and shows empathy to those around her.  We are so overjoyed for her and her resilient little self.  That being said, we have also started walking down the road of parenting, finding out what that exactly means and doing our best to love and care for our daughter.  We are on a learning curve as each day provides us with a new lesson.
  • Work – Working in the Nicaraguan context is a difficult task.  Beyond the challenges of underemployment and unemployment, there are different management styles in the workplace.  We worked with MCC, a North American based NGO for over three years.  Though we were partnered with different local organizations we were also involved in a different work environment that provided us with various parts of our home work culture that seemed to make our professional lives a bit easier.  That is no longer the case.  Now checking in or out a minute late or early is a serious matter, dress code is extremely rigid and government educational regulations are needed to be followed strictly.
  • Car ownership – Having a car has its benefits and its drawbacks, here in Nicaragua, as there are positive and negative aspects related to almost all areas of said ownership:
    • Repairs are cheap – ($37 for a distributor cap, plugs and wires), but parts are never originals and may or may not work (there are no return options).
    • Labor is cheap – ($15 for most services), but the mechanic may or may not fix it the first time.
    • Insurance is astronomically inexpensive – ($51 for the year), but we are unsure of the actual coverage.
    • Getting around – (especially with Estela) is so much easier, but we are somewhat removed from the majority of those who we do life with.  For this reason, Cassie and I (with Estela’s approval – she loves the bus) are making a point of using the public busses whenever it makes logical or financial sense.
  • Conflict transformation – I think that after four years we find ourselves really understanding what we need to do in-order to work out conflict transformation in our own lives, with our community and within our classes at the Baptist seminary.  Conflict transformation is a difficult, arduous, yet worthwhile process, especially when there is a cultural difference that needs to be accounted for as well.  We are very thankful for the patience and the flexibility that our students have afforded us as we have undoubtedly grown in various areas as well throughout this journey.

Things we do automatically:

  • Put dirty diapers into a vinegar and essential oil mixture – We have decided to use cloth diapers for Estela.  In-order to aid us in this process, we are placing her used diapers into a mixture of vinegar and essential oils to help clean them.  It does add an extra load of laundry each week, but our budget and the environment seem appreciative.
  • Write down all of our expenditures – Some of you may not know this, but while we were working with MCC we were required to track all of our expenses.  We needed to record each and every single Córdoba spent.  Well, Cassie loves quicken and she also likes to be organized with our money, therefore this practice has continued.
  • Get things in writing – We have learned the importance that a piece of paper with a hand-written or typed explanation and a signature has.  A co-worker explained to me that the Spanish culture of formalities is truly imbibed in Nicaraguan culture.  For this reason, a signed explanation, whether bill of sale, some sort of work contract or any other little minor detail is recorded and noted.
  • Make brownies – Brownies are a staple in the Zonnefeld household.  It is always useful to have this treat on hand.  Whether guests pop-in unexpected or we need to bring a snack to a friend, brownies seem to be a pretty sure answer.  For this reason, you will almost always find a container filled with brownies in our refrigerator.
  • Diaper bag – You just cannot leave home without it!

Things we are looking forward to:

  • The Zonnefeld’s are coming in December for a twelve day visit to meet their little granddaughter and get to know the place that Cassie and I have called home for the past 4 years.
  • A year of teaching completed for Kevin.
  • Shawna and Tommy’s’ wedding on December 6th.  Unfortunately only Cassie will be able to attend due to our adoption process.
  • Baseball season beginning again in Nicaragua this December.
  • Celebrating Christmas and New Years in Nicaragua.  This time of year is “muy alegre.”
  • Visiting friends who live outside of the Managuan heat.
  • Other friends and family who also have trips planned!
  • Hanging out with the kids and adults in our barrio.
  • Continued work in Peacebuilding at the Baptist Seminary

How do you measure a year in the life:

  • In gallo pinto: 350 (the fried rice and bean mixture is still good, and we find ourselves eating even more of it as Estela absolutely loves it!)
  • In tortillas: 400 (Kevin eats one everyday on his way to work and Estela is eating her fair share these days as well)
  • In diapers changed and washed: we lost count along time ago (it is hard to remember life without them)
  • In bus rides around Managua: 1,790 (on average we take three busses a day, each bus ride costs us 12 cents)
  • In bars of chocolate received from home: at least 35 (each and every one was greatly enjoyed, this number has increased due to Cassie’s reinvigorated love for this delicious treat)
  • In pounds of coffee: 28 (it is delicious and always freshly roasted, during this past year we have gotten into the habit of making a coffee concentrate that we pour over ice and have with a little almond milk)
  • In animals killed: no longer measurable (Brisa continues to kill anything that moves - this seems to be her favorite activity, whether it is a gecko, rat, mouse, bird, bat, cricket or butterfly she is on top of it in no time, Estela was quick to notice Brisa’s hunting tendencies and was very upset the first time she saw a butterfly killed)
  • In floors cleaned: more than 365 (at least once a day we sweep our floors, both inside and out - yes we sweep our “lawn” - and we are sure to mop at least three times a week, which unfortunately is much less than our neighbors)
  • In Cokes drank: 52 (every week, Kevin takes pleasure in a Coca-Cola, an exquisite treat here in Latin American simply because it is still made with sugar instead of corn syrup)
  • In papers graded: 1934 (our time spent grading papers has increased significantly due to our work at the Baptist Seminary, Dordt College and Notre Dame)
  • In foreign visitors we’ve had: 11 (we always enjoy your visits!)
  • In countries visited: 6 (Cassie went on a work trip to Honduras, we took a vacation to Mexico this year over Holy Week, but spent most of our time visiting various sites in Nicaragua)
  • In books: 44 (for Cassie) and 11 (for Kevin)

Thanks for your support throughout this year. We hope that you have enjoyed our blog updates and that they give you a glimpse of life here, the work that we are doing and more importantly what God is doing.

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