Thursday, June 6, 2013

Life and Love

     I have been back here in the United States for almost 6 months now. This time has been filled with a wide range of emotional ups and downs - excitement at reunions with loved ones, sadness in missing Nicaraguan friends, coworkers, students, and community mates, anger and confusion about overabundance and discerning where I belong. I recall a difficult conversation I had with my parents about a month after I got home in which I yelled that I don't like that I live in a place that has carpet and that it frustrates me that the majority of the food I eat comes all packaged up and that I have to drive everywhere. I was so upset that I wasn't able to continue to live the simple lifestyle that I had loved in Nicaragua. Yet, I am blessed with a family that is patient with me and my outbursts and critiques of our culture and has supported me through it all. I am blessed to have a warm home and food everyday. I am blessed to have a job, even if it might not be my dream job. I am blessed to be able to speak Spanish each week with the adults in my English as a second language (ESL) classes, which has been a very enriching and rejuvenating space for me.

     A couple months ago, someone asked me if I was adjusted yet, and the question stumped me because I didn't quite know how to answer. There are so many times that I still find myself thinking in Spanish and not a day goes by that I don't think of my time in Nicaragua. Yet, I am quite enjoying eating cheese and going to the library and playing games with my family and calling friends to catch up. Honestly, I think it will be a continual process of reflecting on all that I lived and learned in Nicaragua and trying to integrate some of those aspects into my daily life here. 

     Journaling has always been a good way for me to reflect and center myself and I have been thinking a lot about brokenness, love and community. I am not sure I can adequately express how challenging it was to leave behind so many people I love in Nicaragua. Returning home, thus, I went through the process of grieving. Along with the people, I missed the lifestyle I had grown to love - being outside all the time, living in an intentional community, walking to the market to buy fresh produce, riding the bus, freedom from the distraction of TV and internet in the house, speaking Spanish, embracing hospitality and searching for a way to reciprocate it. As I would sit and feel sad for myself, I began to think about the people I know here and what each one of us is confronted with: poverty, the comfort and loneliness of wealth and material goods, individualism, the struggle to learn English for adults in the ESL classes, pressure of school, broken relationships, a miscarriage, working so hard at therapy everyday, trying to communicate ourselves to others, searching for love and acceptance. We are all broken in some way. Children, people with special needs, the elderly, babies, and everyone in between - we are all searching for love, a love that fills us and strengthens us, that comforts and consoles us, that gives us hope, that makes us whole again.

     Love is expressed in so many little ways, yet its profoundness overwhelms me at times. This past weekend my cousin got married and the love she and her husband have for each other felt almost tangible - between the words they spoke to each other and the smiles that never left their faces, it just seems so right that they are together. I am so happy for them and feel blessed to have been a witness at the beautiful ceremony. I can think of many other examples of these overwhelming expressions of love but I believe love can also be found in the simplest gestures such as a good conversation, a phone call for a birthday,  a hug, words of affirmation.

     As human beings, there is something so innate in us that longs to make a connection with another, to share love, not only in a romantic sense but with friends, coworkers, students, community mates, family members. We are ultimately all a part of a human community and thus we must rely on one another both in our moments of brokenness and in our times of celebration. As one who thrives from relationships, I have slowly been discovering how important it is for me to meet people where they are and that's not always easy. I have found it really hard to relate to some people, especially after returning from such a profound experience in Nicaragua. However, I am continually challenged to accompany those I come in contact with on a daily basis even if what they are  going through seems so far removed from the struggles of my friends in Nicaragua. It still matters; they still matter. Sharing myself with others and creating the space for them to share themselves as well is what life is all about, in my opinion. For through relationships, we can create communities that honor human dignity and promote social justice. (I can dream can't I?)

One Sky
For every difference that makes us unique, we have a common bond that connects us. We each share the need for home and community, for love and respect. Together we are one family, living under one sky.
-Native American poem

May we step out of individualistic tendencies and humbly turn to those around us for support and rejoicing.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Closing Time

            I am leaving Nicaragua in just over a month. That is a scary and hard reality for me to sit with and really ponder. This past weekend on our last retreat, I finally took some time to jot down what Nicaragua has been for me. I feel overwhelmed by trying to sum it all up but it has also led me to appreciate this time even more. I am not the same person that I was when I arrived here almost two years ago. Nicaragua – the people and the culture – have shaped me. They have left a lasting impression on the way I view the world and the importance of human interdependence.

            My time here has not always been easy, as many of you know who have heard me share about my journey. I have struggled through homesickness, culture and language barriers, hard days and sadness. I have been broken by the injustices I have seen and experienced. Yet, I have also celebrated: birthdays with piƱatas, teachers' day at the beach, independence days, Purisima (feast of the Immaculate Conception), Semana Santa (Holy Week), Christmas, and other special days. I have held the hands of students as they walk with me to class or to the bus stop, the hands of friends as they cry, the hands of little babies, of our elderly neighbor who reminds me of my Gram, of community mates as we pray around the dinner table each night. I have seen the sunrise from the top of the mountain and gazed up at the most stars I have ever seen out in the campo. I have been welcomed with a hospitality and generosity above and beyond what I deserved. I have tried mysterious looking foods which I didn't quite enjoy and I have come to discover that there is nothing better than rosquillas fresh from a clay oven and coffee on a rainy afternoon. I have danced at despedidas (going away parties), bars, with students in class, on the stage at school and through the streets of Ciudad Sandino and Managua. I have fallen in love with my students, with people whom I consider to be as close as family, with friends who have walked with me along the way and seen me grow in numerous ways, with intentional community and true listening. I have been challenged to go out of my comfort zone, to try new things, to live more simply – bucket showers, wash clothes by hand, and eat food that comes directly from the earth. I have struggled with my privilege of being a white foreigner from the United States and the fact that I have never had to worry about having enough money to survive. I have cried, grieved the loss of my Gram and Aunite Carol, been held, played the guitar, sat on the front step to my room, looked up at the sky. I have laughed... a lot. I have felt completely helpless and dependent on others, and I have felt intimately connected to others through conversation and real presence. I have felt like giving up and wondered what I am doing here. I have asked big questions about politics, religion, injustices. I have prayed and learned new forms of spiritual expression. I have felt with confidence that I am exactly where I am meant to be. I have seen how much happiness and unbridled love kids share with me daily at school between notes, drawings, conversations and hugs.

            Nevertheless, as I write all this sentences that start with “I,” I have learned that it is not about me but about us, about relationships and sharing our joys and pains and lives with each other. I have been here almost two years and I have realized how much there is that I still do not know. I will never fully understand what it means to be Nicaraguan, yet Nicaragua and its people have become home to me.

            So, on December 19th, I will be getting on a plane and leaving one home to return to another. I will be going back to people who I love and love me and have accompanied me along this journey, as well.

            For everything I have just shared and for all of you, I am grateful. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

My Year of Faith

This is going to be a very brief blog post. Things continue to be really busy and full around here and my countdown to returning to the States in now less than two months. This reality has resulted in a mixture of emotions which I hope to write more about soon.
Recently, I was asked to share about my time here in Nicaragua in a blog that was created by my home diocese to talk about this year of faith. My post will be published tomorrow (October 21st) in recognition of World Missionary Sunday.
Enjoy. Until next time...

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mmm... Soaking it in

            A couple of weeks ago, one of my community mates and I were making lunch. As we added fresh fruits and vegetables to our plates, we commented on how beautiful the food looked. She ran and got her camera to take a picture of her plate. There is just something so captivating yet simple about a corn tortilla, avocado, tomato, and cheese with lime squeezed over it. Perhaps, it has to do with the fact that the corn tortilla was purchased from the tortilla stand a couple blocks away where a handful of women spend all day pounding masa into tortillas and toasting them on a huge skillet heated by a firewood flame. Since I pass by the stand numerous times a week, I often say hello as I pass and they respond with a smile and a hello. Maybe the reason lunch tastes so good is that the cheese we eat comes from a lady in the market from whom we buy our eggs and cheese weekly and who is always very talkative and friendly, often offering us samples of the cheese and maybe even throwing in a little extra than the pound that we purchase. The avocado and tomatoes come from the market as well, and although we do not necessarily have a strong connection to those selling the produce, there is something more real about picking an avocado out of a basket and bargaining down the price than shopping in a supermarket with its posted prices and artificial fluorescent lights. The limes come directly off the tree s in our yard. We have the privilege of having not only a couple of lime trees but coconut, guava, and grapefruit trees that bear fruit. Honestly, I think the real reason that lunch tasted so delicious was the fact that it was from here, Nicaragua, a place that I have grown to love and call home. 

I don't have the picture that my community mate took that day, but this picture is of a similar lunch I ate a week later.

            Sunday morning in the house is often calm and relaxing. This morning, I woke up at 6:30am to the sun coming in through the window. No one else was awake yet and I took advantage of the stillness to sit in the sun right outside my room and to journal. I realized how grateful I am to be in the present moment, to feel the sun, to hear the sounds of women selling nacatamales and neighbors moving about in their houses. In the back of my mind was the long list of things I am hoping to check off my to-do list today, as well as things I am worried or anxious about. However, for that 20 minutes, I tried to let go of it all and simply hold on to the fact that I am here in Nicaragua and that I am grateful for that.

            There is so much more that I hope to write but for now, that´s all.

Take care of one another.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Oh the things kids say... (and do)

As the first semester of classes come to a close here, I am feeling good and a little worn out, looking forward to our week long break coming up next week. For me, my time as a JV is about building community and relationships, about trying to live simply and intentionally, about exploring spirituality, striving for social justice, learning, growing, being present, and so much more. While work, which for me is teaching, is not the sole focus of this experience, it is a place where I have spent a lot of time, a place that continues to help me grow, a place that I have come to love. My coworkers certainly play a significant role in that, but my students are able to bring a smile to my face over and over again. This year, I am teaching English classes to primary (preschool through 6th grade). Although, I continue to enjoy my time with the secondary students, the little ones give the best hugs and just have a way of saying things that brighten my day and make me laugh. Here's a few of the funny (and just downright cute) things I've heard this year:

-During recess with second grade girls
            “Close your eyes, profe.” -girls say with their hands behind their back
            “Wait, not yet!” -as another girl joins them
            “Ok, now.”
                        “Ok, but what are you going to do to me??” -I ask nervously
      Without responding to my worry, they tell me to open my eyes and each of the three girls has a handful of flowers held out to me – so precious! Their teacher who is sitting right next to me starts to shake her feeling at them (smiling the whole time because it really was just so cute and she wasn't actually angry) saying, “You girls need to stop picking all the flowers!”

-In the middle of class in second grade
            “Profe, are you in love?” -second grade boy
                        “What? Why do you ask that?” -me
            “Well, you just taught us the word kiss in English!” -second grade boy

“You know we don't have a car or a TV in our house or cell phones, right?” -me
            “Profe... (astonished) what do you do to distract yourself?! Don't you get bored?” -students

-Conversation with a fourth grade boy during recess
            “Profe, you are skinny (as he pats my stomach). You need to eat more to be like me (and he shows 
                  off his round tummy).”
      Anytime I see this student, he pats my stomach and then says, “Ooo.” I'm not actually sure if it's an approving or disapproving “ooo” but it's entertaining regardless.

-Interaction with a fourth grade girl
            “Profe, give me your eyes.” - student
            (sidenote: I actually hear this request quite often as the majority of Nicaraguans have dark brown 
              eyes and see my eyes as exotic and beautiful.)
                        “If I give you my eyes you won't be able to look at them.” -me
            “Of course I will... in the mirror!” -student

-Numerous students
            “Profe, do you have kids?”
                        “No.” -me
            “How old are you?”
                        “I'm 24.” -me
            “You're 24 and you don't have kids?!”

-Teaching animals
            “What does cat mean?” - me
                        “Gato” -students
            “What does dog mean?” -me
                        “Perro” -students
            “And horse?” -me
                        “Uva?” (Uva means grape) -first student
            “No. Now remember we are talking about animals. Anyone else?” -me
                        “I know, manzana!” (Manzana means apple.)
            I don't think they quite understood me...

I love my students and am so grateful for the joy they bring to my school days.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Alive and Whole

I continue to feel so alive and whole here in Nicaragua, hence the delay in getting a new blog post up. I   have been spending my time in community, at work, and with Nicaraguan friends growing deeper in my relationships. The school where I work, Guadalupe, has been a very positive and affirming environment for me. I am teaching all of primary (elementary) this year which is literally 4 times the number of classes compared to what I taught last year. This year, I have pre-school through 6th grade and at least 2 sections of each grade level. It has provided me with many new challenges and I am trying my best to tap into my creative, childlike side. Many little kids have a strong desire to learn and I am constantly being reminded, “Hoy nos toca con usted” (“Today we have class with you”). I receive numerous hugs and saludos (greetings) everyday from my students. It's pretty different from my interactions with my older students. Time with coworkers is often filled with laughter, jokes, and good conversation. I was recently told that I am not seen as just another volunteer but as a part of the team of teachers... so affirming. When we went on retreat back in the beginning of March, we had an opportunity to take almost half a day for silent reflection. During that time, I wrote the following poem thinking about my students and coworkers.

Running towards me
            with arms outstretched,
            eager to embrace me and disappear into my arms
Big toothy grins smiling up at me
Heads that find rest on my stomach
Wishing I could tell them, all of them,
            how much they mean to me,
                        to the world
            that the littlest things they do
                        brighten my day
The joy amidst all of the things that just aren't fair
            trash everywhere on the streets
            lack of resources
            being told that they have to accept things as they are
And yet, listening to them as they allow themselves
            to dream, to wonder, to imagine

Being surprised how deeply connected I can feel to people who come from
            a completely different culture, background
            who live such a different reality than I will
                        ever understand or even see
But despite all the differences there is a mutuality
            a give and take
            sharing in daily experiences and core beliefs
            laughing at jokes
and when words fail to capture it all,
            there is the hope that my gratefulness is understood through
                        exchanged handshakes, fist pounds and hugs
                        time together

I also had a great birthday, complete with our dog Muneco jumping on me to wake me up accompanied by my community mates, birthday dinner, carrot cake, phone calls, cards, and visitors. Thank you all for all the calls and cards! A couple of my coworkers came over and gave me fruit, which was so generous.

Just a couple weekends ago, I went with coworkers and students to a special mass where one of the nuns who is the vice principal at my school made her perpetual vows. It was a beautiful mass with so many people. Afterwords, we were able to briefly visit the Mirador Katarina which is an impressive lookout over the Laguna de Apoyo, a volcanic crater lake. This is a picture of a few students and I looking out at the incredible natural beauty.

Thank you all for your love and support.
Until next time.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


This morning as I was waiting for the bus, I witnessed an act of compassion that really struck me. I left the house a couple minutes later than usual which, as luck would have it, my bus passed as I was only halfway up the street to the bus stop and I realized I wouldn't be able to catch it even if I had run. The quince (the route to work is the 115) is notorious for being delayed and I knew I would be waiting at least 20 minutes for the next one. I decided to walk to the other bus stop at the market because there is another smaller bus that also passes by there thus increasing my chances of making it to work on time. I was waiting for the bus and somewhat zoning out, glancing around at the now familiar morning scenes: pockets of men drinking coffee and chatting with each other and the coffee vendor, women setting up their canastas (baskets) of brightly colored fruits and vegetables to sell along the side of the road, bicycles and motorcycles carrying up to four people on them, buses roaring off to Managua to drop off their passengers at school, work, the market. So, as I was standing there, two men approached an older gentleman who was sitting on a bench near me and one of them offered him a steaming, styrofoam cup of coffee and a piece of white bread. The other man with him stated that he would pay for it. Both men walked away and the old man began to eat and drink. The man who paid returned shortly thereafter and began to talk to the older man,You feeling better now, viejito? You go ahead and eat that.Patting his shoulder affectionately, it appeared as though they knew each other, but as the conversation continued it became evident that this was not the case. The man continues talking and asked where the old man lived. As it turns out, this older man lives nearby the market and yes, does have family there in the house. The other man indignantly blurts,Some kind of family you must have that left you out here like this.The old man expresses that his family no longer lets him in the house to which the other man shakes his head and mutters his disapproval. He then lets the viejito know that he has to leave him to go off to work. He makes sure the old man will be ok and reassures him that he can just stay right there on that bench and with a pat on the shoulder, starts to walk away.

Such care and concern for a man he didn't even knowfor a stranger.

What does it mean to be a true neighbor? Why is it so hard for me sometimes to be patient with my community mates, people I know and love, or to take the time to sit and listen to a close coworker share about what is going on in her life, yet for this man at the market sharing come so naturally? I have been reflecting on how it can be easy to give away my leftovers, my extra clothes, the things I don't want anymore. It is not just limited to the material things either but also includes the way I spend my time. It's a lot easier to be present to others and what they have to share during my free time, after I've already done the things I had planned to do that day. What if I were to make myself more available to those around me, if I stopped to talk to the neighbors more often instead of rushing to the comfort of home and my own space? What if we create the space for conversations to form organically in our houses and communities, thus growing in confianza and relationship, making space to play games, to laugh together, to challenge each other to go deeper, to just be together even if no words are exchanged?

As we enter into Lent, I hope that this can be a time to go deeper, to be challenged, to alter aspects of my comfortable lifestyle in order to grow closer to my neighbors and to God, who is in each one of us.