Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I've moved

After not doing so well on blogger, I've made a new blog on wordpress.com. Check it out and follow me during my new adventures in Los Angeles, CA!


Peace and blessings.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

the festive days of December and back to work in Janurary...

The month of December in Nicaragua is one that is infamous for not getting much done. When I returned from Waspam, in November even before Thanksgiving, I was shocked to see the streets and shopping centers already decorated for Christmas! Just like in the U.S., the commercial side of Christmas seems to come way t0o early. In December everything was red, green, and illuminated. And the end of Nov. and beginning of Dec. are also filled with images of the Virgin Mary as Nicaraguans get ready to celebrate a tradition that is PURELY nicaraguan: the Purisima and the Griteria. The Purisima is the celebration of the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit and the Griteria (which in English means "shouting") is sort of the culminating event of the celebration of the Purisima. For a whole week, approx. Dec. 1st - Dec. 8th, many of those who profess the Catholic faith in some way construct altars in their homes or in their businesses to the Virgin. They then hold what I assume are sort of vigils where those who construct altars invite family, friends, and neighbors to sing songs about the Virgin, pray, and eat good food. I didn't participate in a Purisima but I DID participate in the Griteria! The Griteria is Dec. 7th and is sort of a combination of Halloween and Christmas caroling. On the evening of the Griteria, you will see the streets of Managua filled with mothers, fathers, and children all walking with empty sacks and backpacks at to their destinations and returning home around 10pm or midnight, arms and bags filled with goodies. I participated in the Griteria with the family I stayed with in my first few in the country. We "shouted" in the neighborhood where the husband of the family grew up and where his parents still live. A little after 6pm, we started our route with song books in hand and at each house sung our hearts out the the Virgin and were rewarded with sweets, tupperware, fruit, and other grab bag gifts. After the first two houses, I had already partially memorized a couple of the songs. After singing a few songs at the altar of a house, we would always end by saying (in call and response format): "Quien causa tanta alegria? La concepcion de Maria!" (meaning: Who causes so much happiness? The conception of the Virgin Mary!) Between the 6 or 7 people in our griteria group, our bags filled up quickly and so we dropped off our collection of goodies at the grandparent's house and went back out for more about 4 times! You can see a couple of photos of some of the Virgin Mary altars (one even on the back of the bus!) at my Picasa Photos page. ( After eating a late dinner of fresh, hot nacatamales (traditional nicaraguan food) I was beat and we returned home with all of our griteria loot.

Work at the office in December was focused on what I am doing now which is helping Belinda coordinate the volunteer program at AMC. We're working with another organization here in Managua called CEPAD to organize all the details for the first volunteer team of the year which will arrive at the end of February. Belinda has been teaching me a lot about all the details and the time it takes to prepare to receive volunteers here. The goal is to be prepared and prepared well so that the volunteers have are able to focus on their objectives of their time here in Nicaragua and we continue to build relationships through volunteer visits.

We also were preparing to send off to 2 Nicaraguan volunteers to Norway! They will be participating in an exchange program called Communication for Change through Norwegian Church Aid. It is an amazing program that uses cultural exchange and cross-cultural interaction as a means for improving understanding between cultures in the global North and South. The Nicaraguans will be staying in Norway for 3 months in a folk school (a pseudo-university experience kind of like a gap year for Norwegians) and participating in an extensive program with other Norwegians and representatives of the program from Kenya and Madagascar.

This year was the first time I have celebrated Christmas away from my family and outside of Ohio, but I must say despite missing home, all of our special family Christmas traditions, and especially missing my family, I had a wonderful time. December 24th is the more important day here, as opposed to the 25th and is usually celebrated with family and plenty of fireworks and good food and drink. At midnight is when most of the fireworks go off, many families wait to eat together until midnight, and it is usually when people exchange gifts. I spent part of the 24th and 25th here with Belinda and her family in both Diriamba (a small town about 45 minutes outside of Managua) and with my house mates and our friends. On Christmas day, I went to a church service at a Catholic Church near my house. The services in Catholic churches are sometimes hard for me because I haven't memorized all the things that people say, but the message of the priest that was preaching that day was wonderful. It moved me and reminded me of my reason for being here: I see the face of God in all those around me. After church, I went to Belinda's house for an incredibly tasty Christmas lunch. Homemade food and good company filled my Christmas in Nicaragua with love, joy, and peace.

The very end of December took me to the beach twice! First I went to a beach with my boyfriend, Abel, and his sister's family called Quisala about 2 hours outside of Managua. I got a little burnt from the scorching Nicaraguan sun, but thoroughly enjoyed the ocean and its waves. After a night of celebrations for New Year's Eve similar in some ways to what I experienced on Christmas Eve, my house mates and some friends spent a day at the Laguna de Apoyo. It is a lake or lagoon inside a volcanic crater. The scenery is gorgeous and it was nice to be able to swim in fresh water as opposed to salt water.

The long vacation I had over the holidays ended at the beginning of January and I hit the ground running again at AMC with work. Besides my duties in the office in terms of the volunteer program, I may be helping now to start a donor's database to help AMC organize their fundraising efforts. It will be a long and tedious process to construct it but will be a very important tool for AMC's future. Also, I am working on writing an article and creating a video of pictures to document my time in Waspam. I want to share my experience there with others in a variety of ways so that maybe what I have learned does not just stop with me. Until next time...

Monday, December 17, 2007

a time of sharing that was long overdue

this little sponge is over-saturated (i.e. i've taken in so much and haven't shared it) and she's sorry....

I am horrible at blogging. I am horrible at keeping a journal consistently. There is my oh-so-obvious confession of the day. But I am good at getting settled in to life here in Nicaragua and all that I have experienced here has been incredible.

So my sincerest of apologies for not keeping my blog updated. I know this means that anyone who had motivation before to read it probably won't for my lack of dedication to it, but it will be here none the less for all of those who care to take a glance once again.

I am currently back in Managua (getting ready for Christmas already!) in my permanent home now in a neighborhood called the Centroamerica. It's a really nice neighborhood with lots of little "fritangas" or food stands that sell lots of tasty, greasy Nicaraguan food. The neighborhood is calm and is in a great location with a grocery store within walking distance and is only about a 10 minute taxi drive from my office. I have two great house mates, a woman from California and her boyfriend who is Nicaraguan. I am very blessed to have settled in so quickly to my living situation and to truly feel at home.

So where did I disappear to for a month and a half? (Or more like two and a half months...) If you didn't know I finally got the go ahead to head out to one of AMC's field projects in a very remote area of Nicaragua (basically without internet access) for 6 weeks on the Caribbean or Atlantic coast of Nicaragua in a "city" called Waspam. I was in Waspam from the very beginning of October to the middle of November. Waspam has a population of about 6,000 people that is located in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) of Niaragua on the Coco River, which forms the border between Honduras and Nicaragua. Accion Medica Cristiana has an office in Waspam and works in more than 30 communities that live along the Rio Coco. Development work in this region is extremely challenging. To reach the communities along the Rio Coco, you must travel by boat (either a small motor boat which is called a panga or is a dug-out wooden boat called a batho) and the cost of gasoline for the motors is very high and thus restrictive. For just one trip along the River Coco from Waspam and back costs hundreds of dollars (U.S.). Also, AMC is privileged to have an amazing staff who are almost all originally from the region and speak Miskito as well as Spanish. Most of the people in this region are Miskito, an indigenous people that have populated this region for centuries. Besides the overwhelming financial costs of working in the RAAN, the cultural and language differences have kept many development agencies from working in this region as well.

In my first two days in Waspam I was sent on a trip on the lower part of the Coco River to a town not many get to visit called Cabo Viejo, which is at the mouth of the river that flows out to the Caribbean Sea, right near Cabo Gracias a Dios where Christopher Columbus landed in 1502 on the Caribbean coast. The trip was about 6 hours in a boat and then at least a half an hour out into the Caribbean Sea and then into the lagoon Cabo Viejo is on. I traveled there with 4 employees of AMC (all men so asking to go to the bathroom was interesting and showering was out of the question) to distribute mosquito nets, soap, and buckets to the people living there. We also gave a talk about the use of clorine to purify the water they are drinking to prevent waterborne illnesses, especially in children. After Hurricane Felix, the Coco River was contaminated and the area around Cabo Viejo flooded. Many animals were drowned and many fish died, both things that are a staple part of the diet for people here. When we visited Cabo Viejo, there was still standing water in places, causing problems with mosquitoes and making it impossible for people to plant their crops. All this is a reality of the people of this region that is so susceptible to flooding and natural disasters. (There have been 14 natural disasters in the region in the last 17 years.)

When I returned to Waspam, COVERED in miserable bug bites from a little insect called "la coloradilla", I was put to work in the administrative part of the AMC office with Beda and Olga. They are in charge of managing the finance reports and generally running the office. I ended up becoming friends with both of them and had a lot of fun working with them despite the sometimes boring and tedious nature of their work. Many of the financial reports AMC had to complete after the hurricane from some of the "normal projects" they were working on before the emergency were put on hold as everyone had been focusing on the distribution of aid more than record keeping. Some of my limited computer skills have really come in handy here but I've also learned a lot from Beda and Olga about the kind of accounting that is essential to keep this office and organization running.

I actually did spend the most amount of time in Waspam in the office of AMC. That wasn't what I had originally wanted to do, but life in Nicaragua requires flexibility. The extremely tedious, frustrating and yet I suppose necessary at times, nature of paperwork related to the world of bureaucracies of NGO's was revealed to me first-hand. And I won't bore you with all the details of what the paperwork was about but I will say that the challenge of it all definitely brought me closer to the entire AMC team of Waspam. It was an amazing feeling as a volunteer to feel like a real member of the team in such a short period of time. But it happened because I worked side by side with them, day and night, weekdays and weeknights....crunching numbers in Excel and cursing decimal points until I couldn't express all my frustration in either Spanish or English!

My favorite moments occurred in my other two visits to communities on the Rio Coco, however. My second trip on the river took me on the upper part to a town called San Jeronimo to do a food distribution. Our batho was loaded with rice, beans, flour, sugar, salt, oatmeal, buckets for carrying water, among other things. With a population of over 1000, it took us two and a half days to distribute all of the products. It is a very tiring process as each product must be measured out according to how many people are in each community and someone from each family has to be physically present to sign for the products they receive (this is part of that frustrating bureaucratic paperwork). But not everyone from the family can read or write and not everyone from the family comes to the place where the products are being distributed. The most frustrating thing about the process was seeing the desperation that poverty causes: in every community where AMC was distributing food, there were always a handful of families who had lied on the census the leaders had given AMC to use saying they had more people in their family than they did so that they could receive more food. It was painful to see this but it is also a reminder of the awful poverty these families live in. If your family is so often at the point of starving, why not stretch the truth so that they can eat better for a few days? My favorite part in San Jeronimo though was playing with and taking pictures of the children there. The kids were fascinated by my camera and I loved hearing their giggles as they got instant gratification from seeing themselves on the camera screen!

Finally, I visited another community in the lower part of the Coco River called Andris. We completed a distribution of cooking oil and then began a process called the IAP (or a rough translation in English would be the Participatory Investigative Action process), which is basically community organizing at its best! It is exactly what I wanted to be doing so I was thrilled to be able to just start it with some of the Waspam AMC team. The goal of the process is to accompany communities in a process of learning about their own problems, prioritize them, and then empower the community to look for solutions to those problems with resources they already have. Since my visit to Andris was at the very end of my time in Waspam, leaving part of the AMC team there to continue the work without me was hard. I really didn't want to leave in the end.

There are many more things I could tell you about this portion of my journey ( i.e. more than two weeks of extremely sporadic electricity when the AMC team is straining to meet deadlines, what I observed/experienced in the communities on the river, my wonderful birthday party and goodbye celebration!), but I will resist for now. Hopefully when I get my act together, I'll be writing some article or story to become a little testimony for AMC and that I may send off the mission's office for the UMC. More updates to come...sooner than later I promise!

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season full of peace and joy.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

finding my way...

So an overdue update. It has almost been a month since I arrived in Nicaragua and I feel like I´ve been here for 3 months. I feel really comfortable here and my Spanish has already improved. Language is soooooo important in terms of feeling you belong to a place. Without it, you lose your connection to other human beings and I already learned in Thailand that I cannot go without that...

What have I been up to, entonces? Starting on September 2nd, I left Managua for Estelí, a small city in the northern part of Nicaragua about 2 hours from Managua by bus. In Estelí I attended a language school called Escuela Horizonte for two weeks. The first week I stayed with a family which consisted of the mother, father, a grandmother, a three year old adorable boy, and a 15-day old baby girl. Living with them was nice and laidback but I felt kinda of lonely in their house. They talked with me and warmed up more after the first 5 days, but in general I was hoping they might involve more in the activities of the family or engage me more in conversation. I guess when you have just had a baby 15 days ago, that would probably be the principal thing on your mind.

Oh and after only a day and a half in Estelí, the category 5 Hurrican Felix crashed with incredible force into Nicaragua´s caribbean coast at Puerto Cabezas, the main port in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (R.A.A.N.) of Nicaragua. The RAAN is one of the regions that Acción Médica Cristiana (AMC) has worked in most for the past 18 years and I knew being in Esteli that everyone in the central office in Managua where I will be working for the next 15 months would immediately be swept into action planning relief efforts. I felt a little useless and disconnected from this historic (in a diasterous sense) event. But during my language classes my professor made sure to bring a copy of the newspaper everyday and we read updates about the conditions on the coast.

(I will attempt in the next few days to construct a summary of the effects of the hurricane here on my blog.)

In the second week however, I decided to move to a different family. During the first week, the only other student in the school, Cam who is from England, introduced me to Olga, his host mom. I knew from the moment I met her that she was the type of person I wanted to spend another week with in Estelí. So I moved in on Saturday, Sept. 8th and my moved immediately changed. I walked into Donaldo José´s 22nd birthday party! The family is made up of Olga and Donaldo (her husband), Donaldo José (son), and Laura (daughter, 13). Donaldo II as we´ll call him came with his girlfriend, Ciclalli (which means star in nahuatl). Ciclalli´s mom, Alicia, and a family friend Don William. They all live in Managua and pretty close to where I will also be living. They entire night was a blast. More friends arrived, the whole lot of them characters just like the family and especially Don William, we had a cake, wonderful food, and opened presents. Then I went out afterwards with Donaldo II, Ciclalli, some of their friends, AND Alicia and Don William who are older than my parents! And we didn´t get home until 4:30am. Don William was the first awake the next day....

After that weekend I started classes again Monday, but with a cold. I was miserable for a few days with a sore throat and awful congestion but it´s finally going away after I made sure to rest and took some medicine. The overall experience in the school was wonderful. My professor, Elvia, was such a pleasure to talk to and was a great teacher. I visited social organizations working in Estelí in the afternoons with someone from the language school. And I met a few new friends from the U.S. and Canada that I was able to relax with. On my last day of language class I also experienced a celebration in Estelí of September 14th-15th, called generally las Fiestas Patrias (something like National Holidays). There was a parade of all the schools in Esteli with bands and dancing girls with batons and short skirts which lined up between 6:30 and 8am and didn´t actually start parading until after noon and was slightly unorganized. If the Nicaraguans hadn´t made this comment themselves I wouldn´t say it, but it was executed in typical Nicaraguan fashion. But it was fun to watch. I also saw after the parade with my host sister, Laura, a dance show in which on a raised stage, young girls and a few boys at times had dance "competitions" to reggaeton music, which if you don´t know what that is, just search "Daddy Yankee" on Google and you´ll find out. Basically, girls about age 10 who shook their butts and hips in a way which will get them in trouble now or later in life with men.

I returned on Sunday, Sept. 16th to Managua by bus. When I got to the bus station in Esteli to buy my ticket about 25 minutes before it left, there weren´t any regular seats left. But here in Nicaragua, instead of saying the bus is full, I was asked if I would like to purchase a "banquito" seat. Well I had to get to Managua by 3:30, this was my bus so I said yes. I realized what I was doing but a "banquito" meant I would be riding for two hours on a bus sitting on a plastic stool in the middle isle with people in the same situation lined up tightly from front to back. It was lovely, let me tell you.

As soon as I got back to Managua, I was put to work at AMC. Even though the damages and conditions on the coast after the hurricane have already stopped being front-page news in Nicaragua, sending the caribbean coast back to the status of being almost forgotten or dismissed by the rest of Nicaragua, the need in the affected territories is DIRE. People that were already living in EXTREME poverty, now have literally NOTHING. I put these words in caps because it is hard to express the pictures I´ve seen. To give you a brief fact, the harvest of the crops these people planted for their own consumption would have a occurred only DAYS after Hurricane Felix hit. This means people there have no food for another year until they can grow more crops. At AMC, they have field teams working on the ground in the RAAN and have been putting out news releases to update the situation on the ground. (Go to http://www.amc.org.ni and click on "Huracan Felix" for updates in English or Spanish) I was able to watch, listen, and then transcribe an interview done in Spanish (45 minutes worth of video) with the woman who is the AMC Coordinator for relief efforts in a municipality called Sahsa, which was almost completely destroyed by the hurricane. It wasn´t easy but I was able to do it pretty quickly because of all my practice transcribing my interviews from my Independent Study in college!

Lastly, although for the past few days I have felt really useful, my situation with AMC is now really up in the air. I was supposed to have gone to work in the field projects with AMC in the RAAN in the municipalities of Waspam and Sahsa. Because of the hurricane however, conditions are extremely difficult for any new volunteer to walk into. It´s still possible that I will go and I want to be able to make a contribution to the relief efforts if I can, but we have to make sure that my presence would actually be beneficial and would not be a burden. I'll let you know when I know...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

the beginning continued...

So my first Friday took me on a "tour" of Managua. It wasn't really a full tour of the city but rather focused on "Old Managua" or the part which used to almost be a downtown and has buildings that survived the devastating earthquake that hit the city in 1972. The earthquake destroyed the majority of buildings in the city, killed tens of thousands of people, and Managua was never really rebuilt in the way it should have been. The earthquake hit a couple of days before Christmas that year and aid came in from many countries to help the people of Nicaragua but to no avail....the aid was stolen by the dictator Somoza and for the most part never reached the people who needed it most. But anyway I learned a lot about Nicaraguan history on the tour and ate a wonderful Nicaraguan lunch (a dish called Indio Viejo) in the middle of it.

The rest of my orientation at AMC was a little hectic as I arrived during a week of some turmoil in the organization. AMC´s communuty clinic in Managua which has a long history of providing affordable medical and dental care for people in Managua just closed and the situation has been tense for many. Please keep AMC in your prayers as they decide what to do with the space. But otherwise, I learned a lot in orientation as I watched videos and spoke with employees at AMC about the history of the organization and the current work they are doing in the projects. They are doing some amazing things and I am so excited to be a part of their work.

I also got the chance in the first couple of days at AMC to experience the type of community they have. It is a dynamic and profound community in which people work hard but also know how to celebrate and have fun! There were about 3 birthdays that were all celebrated on my second day there complete with a cake, presents, and singing many different happy birthday songs. Then I was able to attend the monthly event of an "almuerzo comunitario" or community lunch in which all the birthdays in a month are remembered and I was actually put on the spot to sing happy birthday in English on my own! Thankfully I had Belinda to help me out.

Last Tuesday, I left Nery´s house and moved into a house with a young American woman who is the Presbyterian coordinator for Central America (or something like that). She lives with her Nicaraguan boyfriend and another young woman who is on a Fulbright in Nicaragua for another couple of months. It´s a really nice place and it may be a possibility for a permanent living space for me. We´ll see!

I also got the chance to visit a Christian youth group at a university in the city in Leon. The group is called Hosanna, and it is the same group out of which AMC formed in 1984. I was amazed at how organized and dedicated they were! I know my meetings with groups in college were never that organized. The ride to and from Leon was also fun because of the people I was with. Don Salvador was our driver (who is my favorite driver right now with the most fun laugh. He is a true character.) and there were also three other young people who work for AMC: Elizabeth, Judith, and Efrain. We laughed and joked as on the way we stopped for a traditional Nicaraguan snack called quesillo and a drink called cacao. Delicious but so difficult to eat!

Right now I am in Esteli taking language classes for two weeks. It is gray and rainy today but I am glad that it is a lot cooler than Managua! It is also a little lonely here now because there really aren´t that many other students taking classes here. But my teacher Elvia is really cool and has really taken my requests for what I would like to learn to heart. I am slowly learning the daily vocabulary and phrases that Nicaraguans use. After classes in the morning, I am also getting to visit a few historical/cultural sites in Esteli and visiting a few community organizations working for social change in Esteli. It is wonderul to be able to learn more than just Spanish by taking classes here.

Two things about Nicaragua right now to keep in your thoughts and prayers: One is the people affected by Hurricane Felix (a category 5 hurricane) that just hit the caribbean coast of Nicaragua 2 nights ago. I haven´t heard about all the damage it´s done but the caribbean coast (where I´ll be traveling soon!) is very vulnerable. Two is that I have learned a lot recently about a law that was past last October in Nicaragua banning therapeutic abortions, i.e. the type of abortions given when there is a high risk pregnancy to save a mother´s life. Now even young girls who are raped cannot get an abortion. I understand that the subject of abortions in general is a sensitive one, but I believe that there are serious women´s rights issues involved when her life is in danger and there is no other way to save her than to have an abortion. Please keep all those women and other´s in Nicaragua affected by this and/or fighting to overturn the law in your prayers.

I love and miss all of my friends and family very much. More updates soon!