Monday, June 30, 2008

Places and Pictures

Well, my last week of work was spent sitting in the office either in meetings, workshops, or creating a giant spreadsheet that was driving me crazy. However the tides have turned and I am now apparently some what of a travelling fiend!

On Saturday I went to Granada. It is probably the most touristy town in Nicaragua, which is because it's beautiful, and historic. It one of the two origional captials of Nicaragua during the Colonial era (Leon was the other). Here are some pictures:

This is Sheryl - a friend of mine from Wheaton college who is doing the HNGR program in another city in Nicaragua - and I at the top of a Cathedral which overlooks the city.
Granada is full of brightly painted houses and beautiful foliage.

In this picture is Pamela, Sheryl and Pamela. Pamela is my co-worker at the Nehemiah Center. Therefore every time I am introduced to someone new the response is almost invariably, "oh! otra Pamela!"

This is the church which we climbed to the top of. It is a physical display of the war and violence which have shaken this country time and time again since its very conception.

I am also heading off on several more trips in the next week and a half. Here is a map to help you visualize:

I live in Managua - #10
Last weekend I went to Granada - #6
On Wed. I am going on an overnight trip with work to that Island inside the really big Lake. It's called Omitepe.
On Sunday I'm going with work to Leon - #8
From Tuesday - Wed. of next week I'll be in Chinandega - #3
In a little over 2 weeks I'm going on a STM trip with my church to Juembes, which I think is somewhere in #17.

Even if iam mostly just tagging along while other people do actual work - here's to getting to know the country of Nicaragua!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Stories of Santa Maria

As a group, this year's HNGR interns have commited together, among other things, to "listen to the unheard voices and know them by name." (To see the rest of our 2008 HNGR covenant, click on the link to Michael's blog on the left). This past Thursday I had the opportunity to hear the voices that lay behind statistics and buzz words with which we so quickly become numb to. I leave them here for you. It is a long account, taken from my field journal, which I keep as a part of my anthropological study while in Nicaragua.

First, for those who don't have 15 minutes to spend reading, I will include some pictures.

Thursday, June 19

....Our next stop was the community of Santa Maria, about a half hour drive from León. This community started as a refugee camp nine years ago for victims of an extremely large mudslide from the Casita Volcano which completely wiped out three villages and greatly affected three others. Residents of Santa Maria all lost family members, usually several family members, in the mudslide. During the relief efforts in the two or three years following the disaster the government of Luxemburg organized a large scale project to 350 cement brick homes for these residents. Therefore, upon first entering the community you would never know the degree of poverty and difficulty that these people face on a daily basis. Although they have homes, they have lost not only family members, but also their agricultural land, their source of income and their known way of life. They have had to switch from their rural largely subsistence lifestyle, to now living in a “suburban” setting with no work opportunities. Because no income generating opportunities were created during the relief efforts, almost all of the able bodied men in the community have left. Some of these men send money back to their families, others “become irresponsible” and do not send anything. Among the men who have stayed in the community there are high instances of incest and domestic abuse.
Ken told me that the work here has been difficult. The people in this community largely lack initiative to proactively change their situation. Many have grown accustomed to waiting for handouts after the relief efforts. Those who do have drive and initiative leave the community for education and vocational opportunities, and thus there is a great vacuum of leadership from within the community. Obviously there are many factors at play contributing to this: results of short term relief efforts, depression from tragedy, pre-existing conditions of poverty, lack of emotional, physical, and Spiritual resources – the list goes on.
Further contributing to the difficulty of recovery from this tragic event is actually rooted in the Pentecostal tradition this community is part of. This particular community was not Catholic, as most of the country is, but were 90% Protestant-Pentecostal. The Pentecostal church in Nicaragua is known for strict legalism – regulation of women’s dress, strong separation of male/female roles, etc. One particular aspect of this tradition is a strong taboo against grieving. It is believed that sadness is equal to a lack of faith. Thus people were expected to hold celebration ceremonies for the loved ones lost in the tragedy, rather than mourn their loss. Ken has been working these nine years in the community to facilitate a healthy grieving process and to train leaders who can help with counseling needs. There are also large problems within family dynamics which have arisen out of this situation which I will discuss in greater depth during a following case study.

Family 1
The first family I spent time with was the home of Juan-Carlos (pseudo names are sometimes used). Juan-Carlos is a cheerful man of 38 years. His leg was injured in a work-related accident four years ago, and he is now confined to the home with his leg elevated, or walking with crutches. His two room cement block house is home to his wife, three kids, and his wife’s sister and her two children. When I first entered this home he was sitting and watching television. The furnishings of the home were sparse including four plastic patio chairs, one functioning rocking chair, and one broken rocking chair, and a small table which he used to support his leg. The electronic appliances in the house included a television, a DVD player, a cell phone, an iron. Cooking was done over a gas stove in the corner. These devices had the effect of fooling me, upon initial observations, into assuming this was not a greatly impoverished family. However, after Juan-Carlos accident he lost his ability to provide for his family with regular work. The family’s main source of income is from his wife who cleans peanuts at a near-by plantation for a total pay of $2 a day. This family of eight people is supported on $2 a day, as well as occasional side jobs in welding and embroidery that Juan-Carlos can do from home. I have often heard the statistic that over 50% (sometimes I have heard as much as 70 or 80%) of Nicaraguans live on less than $2 a day. These are the faces of that statistic.

Family 2
Irania, Kim and Ken told me, is a strong Christian woman and one of their best resources of leadership in the community. She lives with her four children and her sister (or maybe cousin) and her two children. They lost a brother in the mudslide, as well as their land. Her husband is was described to me as a controlling and “strange” man. He spends most of his time up on the Volcano, I believe with their land. At times he would force the daughters to come and stay with him for multiple days on the volcano. Domestic abuse and incest are a strong possibility in this family.
This particular day was among the more painful of Irania’s life. Her fifteen year old daughter, Maria, had run away from home with a twenty year old boy tweleve days prior. Kim told me that Maria had always been the good daughter of the family – while the older daughter who had sustained damage to her eye and face in the mudslide had been more of the worry. However, this boy, who was described to me as a low brown pot smoker type, and started “working on” Maria when she was just 13 years old. In these parts “marriage” is still practiced in the form of bride stealing – in which the man (usually with previous permission from the parents) steals away the girl in the middle of the night, and from then on they are considered married, although an actual marriage ceremony rarely takes place. This happens when the girls are between 13 and 20 years old. In this particular case the young man had asked the parents for their daughter, and they refused him. The daughter ran away with him anyway, causing extreme pain to her mother.
On this day Maria had returned to the home to ask her mother’s forgiveness, possibly to return to stay. Kim and Ken spent over an hour counseling and listening to Irania, before she saw her daughter. Irania wept as she told them about the situation. She wasn’t sure she was up to facing her daughter face to face after the pain she had caused. Kim and Ken listen and talked and prayed with her, at the home of a neighbor. The neighbor and her older daughter also aided in the reconciliation. Kim told the story of the prodigal son, highlighting the different characters and their roles. I stood by at a distance, a spectator to this woman’s grief.
After over an hour of counseling, she was convinced to return to her house and face her daughter. We walked with her along the road as she cried all the way to her house, Kim singing a Spanish worship song softly and holding her arm. When we arrived at the house, Irania took a seat and Maria walked toward her. For several minutes Irania could not look her in the face, but could only continue to cry into her handkerchief. Maria stood by, looking unsure what her next step should be. The older daughter sat with her mom and spoke into her ear. After about fifteen minutes, Kim moved a chair closer to Irania for Maria to come and sit in. Kim and Ken were both very conscious about not wanting to force this to happen, or else it would not be genuine. They took turns sitting with her and mostly only spoke if it was to affirm something that someone else said – such as one of the daughters. Maria asked her mother’s forgiveness. Irania could still not respond to this for several minutes. Her other daughter urged her mother to forgive Maria. Kim stepped out to let Ken take over the mediation, because this is where he works on a regular basis, and not him. By the time we left they had begun to talk, but when we went to check on Irania again later in the afternoon, the pain still filled her face.

Family 3
Ronald and Darling Gomez are a couple in their late thirties. Kim and Ken told me that they were the most motivated and proactive people in the community. They are strong leaders and dedicated believers Therefore, when they left to find jobs in Costa Rica, it was a major blow to the work Ken has been doing. Today they were back home for a brief visit. We talked with Darling about their life in Costa Rica. She happily reported that they have their own apartment there, and have started a store which sells a variety of goods, with her mother-in-law. Darling tried to convince Kim to come to the hotel she works at as a maid for a visit. Darling told us that she wakes up at 4am every morning to take a bus to get to work. She does not return home until 9pm. Her face glowed as she told us about their improved life and the new opportunities they have in Costa Rica. She hopes that some day, when they have raised enough money, they will be able to return to Santa Maria and continue their business their. Kim hopes that will be the case, though it does not seem very likely.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


This is my house. It is the place I will call home for the next six months.

I live on the outskirts of town. Managua is a very spead out city to begin with, it doesn't have much of an urban feel to it at all - people describe it as more of a sprawling village (though it is home to 1.6 million people). The outskirts are even more like this. The road I live on and all the roads around it are dirt roads. My street has houses of varying size and wealth. There are two which are two story and surrounded by tall iron gates. There are three or four that are small two or three room shacks. There are also a couple of make shift accomodations, put together with various pieces of plastic, wood, cardboard, and metal. Ours is among the nicer, but not nice enough to need a gate. My host parents both come from extremely poor backgrounds. They worked their way through school, and each have jobs (my host dad has 3) besides being full time pastors. Sunday is their "free day" - which means that between Sunday morning Sunday school, and the 6:00 church service (followed by visiting with families in the community) they have a four hour span of time to rest.
My host family is really wonderful. They have a lot to teach me, and I feel priveledged to be learning from them.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Hospital Stay

Hello friends,
I am back home after spending 48 hours in the hospital. It really wasn't as serious as that sounds, but we just haven't been able to get this sickness under control so they wanted to keep an IV with fluids and antibiotics going into me for a couple of days. I am no longer having symptoms, but now I am really weak; 8 days worth of basically no nutrients in my body is really catching up with me. I can only eat a little bit at a time, but I think I will try to start eating something small every hour or two so that I can build my stomach back up to being able to handle food again. I will continue taking antibiotics and Imodium for the next few days. The doctor really things it's just normal traveller's diarrhea, just a more severe case. Hopefully I will regain strength quickly and be able to actually start my internship soon!
Thanks for the prayers and concern, I think it has made a huge difference.
with Love,

Monday, June 09, 2008


Well I've got to be honest, I've been having kind of a rough time. The transition has been harder than I expected. My family is great, but very busy (no they're not American, but the kids do go to the Christian American school). My work is cool, but everyone kind of has their own thing going. It's been difficult to find my place (plus I've only been two days so far).
Because.... du du de duuuuhhh: I got sick. On Friday all the way until today. I'm on the upside of it for sure, but it's been a rough go around. On Saturday I was the worst by far: the only two places I was all day were my bed or the bathroom. Diarreah, fever, body aches, the whole ball of wax.
Yesterday I was feeling quite a bit better than before, but you know when you've been really sick and then you don't feel quite so bad so then you think you're all better? Yeah, so I tried going to church in the evening, and discovered I was still pretty bad off. No more digestional difficulties at this point, but I'm still very weak and have no appetite, and now for some reason I have developed this really severe head ache that just doesn't want to go away.
But, the Lord has been very present with me and has showed his love to me in many ways. I think the good thing is that it really made me feel more at home with the family. And it gave them a chance to really show me that I am welcome, even if they are really busy. They really are a great family.
So I didn't make it to work this morning, and that's kind of a bummer, all I've done so far is orientation stuff and I'm excited to find out what it actually is that they want me to do... but all in good time I guess. All in good time.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Ya estoy en Nicaragua!

Well, it's official. I'm here. I got in on Tuesday night. The last couple days have been filled with lots of learning, lots of rain, and lots of sweating. Overall things, are going well. Here are a few things:
-The organization I'm working for is really cool. It's a little difficult to totally figure out, other people who work there say they haven't quite got it figured out yet even, because there are so many different organizations working together "como un comunidad" (like a community) on many different projects.
-It's far more lush and beautiful than I was expecting. Nicaragua is called "el pais de lagos y volcanos" and it really is the country of lakes and volcanoes. The city itself is very spread out with no real downtown area because it was never rebuilt after the earthquake in 1979. I live on the outskirts and there are so many different trees and flowers. When it rains it drums up all of these wonderful tropical smells from all of the various plants.
-I flew in during a big thunderstorm, which made the plane very jolty and scary. Then last night there was a massive thunderstorm and we lost power. I believe during the rainy season there are at least one or two thunderstorms everyday. They start with distant thunder for about 45 minutes, then slowly big drops begin to fall here and there, and then all at once it starts pouring. Last night was actually kind of scary, but we made it through! We didn't have internet at work today because the internet tower on the premesis was struck by lightning!
-Today to get into work I walked up the main road. People kept honking and I kept thinking it was because it was someone I knew from work... but really it was just because I'm a gringa. I got to the side road - which can barely even be considered a road it's so bumpy and uneven - that takes me to work and waited for a moto-taxi to take me the rest of the way. It took a while to come so when it did come I ended up sharing it with two other men, sitting sandwiched between the two. But everyone was nice. Besides honking and staring, I don't think the machismo will be too big of a problem.
-My host dad is a pastor, a lawyer, and the dean of the Bapstist semanary. This is a common story for many pastors in Latin America. Resources are limited so they wear many hats.
-I have a host sister who speaks perfect English. I get to attend her graduation tomorrow, which I'm excited about. It will be fun to see real a real bonified Nicaraguan party - although she attends the American Christian school, so it will really be more of a cultural blend. Interesting and fun none-the-less. The way I hear it, Nicaraguans really know how to throw a party.
-My family has a maid and wireless internet. But I also take showers with a bucket and sleep on a matress with springs sticking up all over the place... nothing is really predicatble when you're on HNGR!

I could go on and on, but that is probably enough for now. As one final word of assurance to anyone worried about my safety, I have been told by several different people multiple times that Managua is considered the safest city in Central America if not in all of Latin America. So no te preoccupes!
The one thing I feel I could use the most prayer for is confidence. It is a lot of new people to meet and information to take in, and I find myself being pretty timid and unsure of myself at work. I know I will grow more and more comfortable as time passes, but I also have hope that the Lord can help me to be confident so that I can make the adjustment well.
Thanks for being interested in my weird little life! I'll try to post pictures soon.

Monday, June 02, 2008

And off she goes...

I'm heading off to Nicaragua, where I will stay for the next 6 months. I'll do most of my updating on here. I think I've already explained what I'll be doing there on this blog, but if not, post a comment and I'll let you know.
Also, if you're anything of a Michael Kolbas fan, as I know I am, he will be updating about his time in Peru on his new blog He has alreayd arrived in the city where he'll be staying and everything had gone great so far.
love to all!