May 29, 2016

Heavy and Light (a continuation)

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On the same day that I wrote about life being both heavy and light, my good friend and neighbor, and previous host mother, Gretel, lost her six week old baby.  He was born extremely premature with some very troubling diagnoses, one being hydrocephalus.  Yet he was a fighter, he continued to prove the doctors wrong, as his family and friends held on to the hope that he could survive.  But after six weeks of struggling, he took his last breath here on earth.  The grieving for Adrian Noe is heavy and yet, there is a peace that he is no longer in pain.

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I am so honored to have been invited into the mourning process for this little boy.  As soon as we received the call from the hospital, family, friends and neighbors all divided up the responsibilities.  Some mopped the floors of the home to prepare for the guests, others prepared coffee for the all-night vigil, another friend went to get the coffin.  I went to the funeral home with a friend to rent the items needed for the vigil.  Kevin and Estela went to the grocery store to pick up napkins, cups, ice, pop and butter for the pastry items.

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When Gretel arrived home from the hospital, with her baby boy in her arms, we immediately stopped what we were doing.  She stood in her doorway as we all took turns giving her a hug and sharing our condolences, Adrian was absolutely beautiful.  I had only gotten to see him once before at the hospital, his siblings never saw him alive because he was in an intensive care unit for his entire life.  After she finished greeting everyone, she took her little boy to his bedroom for the very first time.  She laid him on the bed and we took his handprints and footprints, something to remember him by.

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I have come to deeply respect the way that this culture responds and copes with death.  The person that has passed on is cared for by their loved ones, not by strangers.  Family and friends stop everything and gather for the next twenty-four hours to remember each precious life.  The person who has passed is not in some back corner of a funeral home, but rather in the living room of the home where life was lived, where tears were shed, where prayers were said and birthday candles were extinguished.  It is a beautiful, yet profoundly challenging process as one really cannot avoid the grief of death as it is right in front of you.

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We passed the night holding a vigil for baby Adrian.  We laughed and cried, shared stories and reminisced.  In the morning we headed to the cemetery where Gretel would say her final goodbye.  It was both heart wrenching and beautiful to watch.  She sang him songs, tickled him and cried many tears over him.  His grandmother shared the story of his life.  We all stood in the hot sun, some with umbrellas to shield themselves from the heat, with tears rolling down our faces.

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Adrian Noe, we are so grateful for all that you taught us!  You are loved!

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He now has the best view!

May 22, 2016

Heavy and Light

This past weekend I (Cassie) hiked up the side of a mountain with a woman in her early sixties, listening to her recount and share stories of her childhood.  After our conversation I was reminded of the fact that we all have a story, and that my own story is being shaped and developed by the people who have invited me into their lives here in Nicaragua.  Often these stories are remembered and retold because of hardships and the ability to overcome; stories of hardship, of joy, grace and love.  My hope is that one day I can look back on my story as a daughter, sister, mother, wife and friend with joy, grace and love as I journey down this path of life.

This woman's story began in a very rural part of Nicaragua. She was born into a very economically impoverished home.  Her mother felt like she was not able to care for her needs, so at age six she gave her daughter to a woman from the city.  Her mother thought she was giving her a better life, but instead her daughter became a laborer, a slave for this woman and her family only receiving the basic necessities for her survival so that the family could continually benefit from her hard work.  

From age six until she was engaged and married at age seventeen, she lived and worked in the home, making food, cleaning, washing, performing any chore that was needed.  She was given small portions of leftover food and was forced to eat in the corner.  If she misbehaved or was unable to perform a specific task her caretaker would burn her hands in the cooking fire in-order to "teach her a lesson."  For all accounts, her childhood was lost to a world of work and hardship; a world without love or grace.

As I listened and reflected on our steep walk together, I could not imagine how this kind of early life experience would affect ones mental health, feelings of self-worth and capacity for future life.  However, she was determined to give her five children something different.  She raised her children with love and care, never using physical force or punishment and they are now all healthy and successful adults.  She is a loving and devoted mother and grandmother, a blessing to those around her, and a true example of resilience.

Stories like this happen often.  Whether I am sitting in a rocking chair at my neighbor’s home or hiking the side of the mountain, I have been invited to listen to many stories.  Some of these stories are very heavy, others are light.  I am so grateful for the friendship and trust that people have willingly given to me.  And with stories like this, I am often reminded of how at the very same time life can be both heavy and light.

May 17, 2016

At the Pool

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Living in Managua means learning how to survive the heat.  We talk about this often as it is a daily struggle to figure out how to manage the very hot and humid climate.  We often find ourselves staying at the grocery store just a bit longer to enjoy some air-conditioning or teaching Estela how to nap at a coffee shop so that we can get some work done, while enjoying the air as she sleeps.  We have also purchased tickets for a movie that we are not really that interested in seeing, but when it is only $2 and it gives you access to two hours of air, it is worth every penny.

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Another thing that helps is water!  We drink cold water all day long, we spray ourselves off with the hose, we play in our teeny inflatable pool at home and we enjoy our cold showers.  This past year, we decided to buy a yearlong membership to a local hotel pool and we have not regretted this decision.  Estela and I (Cassie) can walk to the pool in five minutes, the only difficulty being crossing the four lanes of traffic (it literally feels like a game of frogger sometimes).  We usually make it to the pool once a week, but I am trying to get us there more often as I know I will not always have such great access to a pool year-round, surrounded by palm trees, hummingbirds and the best fresh squeezed lemonade.

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And if we are allowed to brag a little, Estela has already learned how to swim!  We are pretty certain that she had never swam in a pool before coming to our family.  It took a few weeks to get her comfortable putting her face in the water and seven months later, she can swim back and forth.  She now is calling herself a little fish whenever we are in the pool. 

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We are so proud of our little fishy!

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May 10, 2016

Getting Clean

We all have experienced it before. A time in our lives in which something we have read, something someone said, or a challenge received from a friend or loved one changes the course of ones life. I (Kevin) recently completed “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo, after Cassie recommended it to me.

Kondo's story is one of interest. Already as a young child she spent the majority of her "free time" tidying up her family’s home, often to the annoyance of her siblings. One could say that already at the age of six she was pruning herself to become Japan's leading expert in Feng Shui. Now as a middle aged woman she is invited into hundreds of homes each year and asked to lead seminars and conferences. Her focus is simple: "keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest."

I decided I would start small, following Kondo's instructions as they are spelled out in her short guide to enjoying the spaces that we live and work in. I stayed after work one day to implement the steps laid out in the text. I began by taking all the items out of my desk and storage closet. I laid everything out on the floor and began to pick up each item determine whether or not I felt joy in the possessing of the item I was holding. At the end of an hour I was done. My recycling and trash were almost full with things that I did not need and that were not bringing me any sort of joy.

At the writing of this blog, I have now been clutter free and extremely happy in my workspace. Cassie and I are waiting for the right moment to go through the same process in our home. Everything has its place and items are assessed and kept or disposed of as they enter into my workspace. I would highly recommend the text. My wife tells me that it is a very popular book at the moment, that people are talking about it via the modes of communique that people use these days. I borrowed it electronically from the Hennepin County Public Library and read it on an electronic device that my daughter calls a glowing book.

Good luck in tidying up!

May 2, 2016

Birding in Nicaragua

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Estela is obsessed with nature and for this reason our conversations often center around the natural world. We talk about the moon and the sun, common farm animals to the exotic and water; we are always talking about water. As Cassie and I think about the dreams she may have for herself one day and the occupations she may seek, we think that conservationist or a large animal veterinarian would be fitting. Earlier in the month we took a small trip to a reserve just outside of Managua named Chocoyero-El Brujo. Estela absolutely loved it, I think we spent almost an hour watching the Pacific parakeets (known as Chocoyos here in Nicaragua) as they came to eat and then nest for the night.

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With that in mind we decided to call Patty and Gordon, avid bird watchers here in Nicaragua who we got to know while Cassie was teaching classes through the Dordt College study abroad program. They had mentioned that they often journey out to a small mangrove forest just outside of Leon to view the spectacular wildlife found at The Juan Venado Island reserve. We were thrilled to have this opportunity, and to be accompanied by expert birders for our first real birding trip. As thrilled as we were, nothing could have been more exciting for our daughter who soaked up every moment as we ventured into the reserve; binoculars strung around her neck and the small bird guide clasped tightly in her little hand.

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We are continuing to have conversations with Estela about what we all saw that day. There were a whole host of birds, a total of 43 different species which were neatly jotted down by our guides Patty and Gordon as they identified the various colors, feathers and beaks. Other than birds we happened upon a crocodile, a green Mexican porcupine, a whole host of lizards, two raccoons, frogs and a crocodile. I think that Estela’s favorite might have been the crocodile as she randomly yells “crocodile” and tells the story of seeing it that day in the river. Cassie and I loved it all, another great memory to make and share with our wonderful little girl!

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We hope that you enjoy the photos that can best demonstrate to you the enthusiasm and beauty we experienced that day.

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