Monday, June 16, 2008


Correr: the 52 km
Kilometer 52 outside of Santa Teresa makes itself known quietly, a simple wooden stake standing ajar amidst the weeds, flaking red paint proclaiming its name. This marker serves as a bus stop, a resting place for birds, the occasional stray marking post, tired campesino’s elbow rest, and housing for any number of insects. But for me, it calls my mind back from the clouds to the pavement under my feet. At km 52, I reign my wandering thoughts back in from whatever mix of Spanish and English they were rolling around in and begin my jog back into town. Here I push the English aside, and intentionally line up my Spanish, massaging those parts that are tired and weary, stretching myself internally just as my external self is doing. This process is a long one, a sometimes draining effort. But as I make my jogs through the beautiful landscape of my new home, I at least feel like I am actively participating in the rite of passage I have entered. As I partner with my circumstances and realities of this path, I find myself breathing rhythmically, trusting that though this might pain me now, I know that it will be stronger in the future, when I need it to be.

Whistle While You Work
Here in Nicaragua, there is an amazing array of whistles. As someone who cannot whistle very loud, if at all, I am constantly fascinated by these sounds wailing through the air. There is the hello friend, usually passed between males walking on the street or the money collectors/drivers of the buses as they fly by each other on the highways. There is the annoyed whistle, hissing across the lips of the person irritated, usually by bad driving or behavior. Another common one serves to catch a person’s attention in order to direct their attention elsewhere. This one sounds a lot like the hello friend whistle but has a distinct purpose. And of course, there is the “hey sexy lady, check you out” – the wolf whistle. This is also very common unfortunately, but I haven’t been too bothered by it yet. And it’s done universally to chelas and morenas alike, but tends to be directed towards foreigners a lot, since we stick out. I’m sure there are a lot more types with different purposes, but these are the ones I have observed so far.

Diet Changes
What a white bread, white rice, beans, 3 vegetables/fruits, 1 meat, and coke daily diet will get you: pants that have to be taken in by your awesome Nica mama and a regular date with Metamucil’s Nica cousin, Mugasen. Como es la vida.

San Antonio
How do Nicas celebrate the patron saint of marriage? By sloughing off the branches, leaves and bark of a really tall tree, tying some bags with hygiene products, money and liquor at the very top, greasing it up with mud/oil and having 6-10 wiry Nica men climb up each other while the town looks in. Add in some loud fireworks, torritos that shoot sparks all over as a kid runs it down the street chasing people, and some cumbia music that the drunks dance-fight to, and you’ve got the San Antonio Festival. It was so fun to see such a different approach to a holiday, and though I don’t know how any of our activities really honored this saint, whom I had never heard of, it was a perfect way to spend my Friday evening. Just sitting and chatting with my two sisters, my nephew and my cousin, I felt like I was where I was supposed to be. I am so looking forward to digging into my community at whatever site I end up at.

Monday, June 2, 2008

dos lados

28 de Mayo Lo extrano

It is amusing to me the various things I miss. The obvious ones like family and friends and basic US comforts are not surprising. What is surprising is how much I miss certain words in English. For example, the Spanish language does not have a word for “hanging out”. The closest thing is pasar tiempo, literally pass time, but it is always made more specific, like pass time by talking or going shopping. The funny thing to me is that this is a people who hang out a lot. As in, this is something you do everyday, multiple times a day, and the borrachos do it all day on the corner. They need a word like hang out. Another word I miss is awkward. There a few words you could say here, like incomodo (uncomfortable) or raro (strange) but nothing like the word awkward – I miss it terribly! However, there are words here that we don’t have in English, like pena, which is a conglomeration of self-conciousness/shame/embarrassment. It’s rather unique and says a lot about a situation or a person. They also have a tense called vos (you), a very personal, informal way of speaking, including how you conjugate your verbs…when my dad here speaks to me over lunch about nica life in the vos form, I feel an amazing sense of security and welcoming. They also have funny English cognates, like estretch pantalones to describe leggings, and chorts for shorts. Basically it is the English word with Spanish pronunciation. These past couple days I feel like I have finally begun to play with the language instead of being stiff and bottled up. I was able to write a poetic line the other day in Spanish and it made me feel so much better. Exploring language is truly a fascinating venture.

I also miss: quiet, firework absent atmospheres [I have awakened the past 7 days at 430 to loud explosions and the band in celebration of corpus cristi], dark chocolate, pasta, numerous fruits and vegetables at my disposal, whole grain bread, cinnamon lattes from the roasterie, parks with grass, clean feet, depth of conversation, and quality music other than from my laptop. Such is life .

[It really is hard to explain just how much I miss certain foods. Almost a physical pain. Rather odd.]

Esperanza: 1 de Junio
Today’s La Prensa, the national newspaper, had a story about the 14,000 people who will be out of a job when Hanes leaves Nicaragua. They are pulling out because of the current president’s stance on the textile factories. [I do not fully understand all the details of how this works, so I won’t pretend to explain why this is happening.] What is apparent to me is the heaviness of poverty. There are already too many people without jobs. Gas prices continue to climb and the strike will recommence tomorrow. That means that many more people will not be able to travel to their jobs and the families of the transportistas will go without. For me, it is simply an inconvenience, something that makes my time a bit more uncomfortable, since I can’t leave my site and our resources become slightly strained. But for many others, they will listen to their rumbling stomachs and peer out at a seemingly impossible situation. There are people here who live to day to day eating nothing but tortillas made from a grain given to animals, no water, no electricity, no way to get out of their situation. This inhumanity demands my attention. This is part of why I am here. Jesus said that the poor will always be with you, and as Shane Claiborne explains in his book Irresistible Revolution, this is not because poverty cannot end but because the poor will find rest and a place within the church. But how many poor folks are in your church today? I know for my church back home, not many, if any at all. Now, what I am NOT suggesting you do is go round up some homeless people to appease your conscience. The fact is that the Church is not a building or a program, but us - people who have been restored and invited along by Jesus. For this reason, I am asking us to consider what we, as the body, the Church, are doing. Are there parts of us that are gangrenous from hunger and disease? Leprous with despair? What are we going to do? It is no longer enough to feel sorry for these people, or even to sport a t-shirt that gave part of the proceeds to a random charity [Has that ever really been enough…]. What is necessary, I am coming to believe, is exactly as Claiborne and others have said…to join them. To take our place next to our brothers and sisters, believing Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said what you do to the least of these, you do to Him. We, as the Church, are to go to them, to mourn with those who are mourning and rejoice with those who rejoice. This is not just stereotypically poor people either – there are very rich people who I believe are completely impoverished of spirit. There are middle-class families impoverished of love. Poverty has many faces. As I look into my two years here, I am overwhelmed by the implications of this kind of living. I don’t really know how to do it. But rather than give up my esperanza (hope), I will do my best to get to know my brothers and sisters here. Who is the woman who makes my pan dulce? What is the reason the man on the corner goes barefoot? What makes my younger sister here get excited? It is not about creating massive relief programs, but rather getting to know my neighbor. That way, when I love them, it’s because I know their name and who they are…a genuine care and concern in the lives of those around me, not a generic “Christian” love that leaves people faceless. And you don’t need to live in a third world country to do that.

PS: I realize, in retrospect, that some of the things I throw out there are rather raw. They might make you uncomfortable. Please understand that none of this is in judgment or manipulation…these are just things that I am facing here for myself and I want to invite anyone who is interested to come along.

PPS: And in all of this, the only possibility of doing any of it is His grace. Trust me. There is not a single thing I could do here with kingdom impact without His help. I am not out to be some righteous do-gooder. But I do want to follow Him better, and that involves asking some tough questions.

And thank you to all who have been so encouraging and supportive of my writing…it really is humbling to have people tell you that what you write connects with them. I cherish being able to share this with you all and have you receive it.