Tuesday, December 28, 2010


This will be my last post from Puerto Cabezas. Just writing that makes my throat constrict a little, as it has done from time to time, like when I passed the bakery on the way to the airport or left the dance studio for the last time.

There is always a script for my conversations with people here these days. "When are you leaving?" "December 27th." "And you're not coming back?" The number of times I have rehearsed this with people has allowed me to tinker with the script a little. I used to say, "To visit, yes, but not to work." And then a heavy silence sets in with the awareness of impending, permanent change. I have recently discovered a much better response, which is, "Yes, perhaps next December." To which they respond, "Oh, okay." This is followed by a much lighter sense of relief, that relationships may indeed have the chance to continue. One woman ruined this dialogue by persisting: "But you won't be living here?" "No, just visiting. But who knows?" One thing I like about Nicaragua is its permissiveness for the contemplation of possible if improbable futures. But who knows? When I left Nicaragua the last time, about five years ago, I never imagined I would be spending a year and a half here, during which time I visited my former host family in Nandasmo about five times.

You might have noticed that the departure date above has already passed, and yet I remain in Puerto Cabezas. I was slated to fly to Bluefields yesterday, where I would spend a few days with the girls working in Managua. My flight was cancelled due to heavy wind, so I have to wait until the next flight out to Bluefields, which is tomorrow. Unfortunately, we already sold my bed, so I found myself shacking up at the house of the pastor of the Moravian church, who lives just down the street and has an extra room. Now I'm in a weird limbo, having already said good-bye to everyone and prepared to leave, only to be stuck here for two days. I feel like a little like a ghost, trapped between worlds and haunting my former place of residence. So I try to watch TV, which transports me to a virtual world that is happy to have me for a few days.

It is nice to be able to rest. The last few weeks have been crazy and unrelenting. I had just finished up a few volunteer jobs I had taken on and said good-bye to Sol, my dear friend from Norway, when the girls from Managua came to visit. This was followed by Christmas, and then I went around saying good-bye, packing up, and giving away or selling all of our household possessions and personal affects that would not be coming back with me. Having nothing to do is a nice change, but it provides wide space for rumination and depression. I'm about to leave my community in this warm, vibrant place, leaving behind a language spoken almost nowhere else except in Miami, and a culture of music and dance all its own. And returning will cost a little more than popping over to Milwaukee or even Oberlin for a visit. I'm excited about seeing my family, and eating macaroni and cheese, and the recent cold spell, with temperatures in the 60s and 70s, has started to prepare me for Wisconsin winter.

The problem with traveling extensively and experiencing lots of different cultures is that my whole self, in all its facets that have developed in these different places, can never be truly home again, not in any one of them. Where do I belong now? In a way, it doesn't matter, since wherever I belong never seems to be where I end up. Sol, who has spent her time here moving between Puerto Cabezas, where her work is, to Norway, where her family is, and Colombia, where her house is, experiences this reality more acutely than anyone I know. Upon her return to Norway, she suggested that my next blog post be about good-byes. The transitory life, like life in generaly, is a continuing process of good-byes to the people and places that have become home. World traveler and writer James Michener overcame the sense of homelessness this causes by proclaiming that the world was his home. Christian tradition overcomes it by proclaiming that this world is not our home. Our director Marcia said she was trying to find home within herself.

All of these approaches are contemplative devices for seeking a continuous sense of peace, comfort, and belonging in a changing world that promises none of these things. I espouse each one at different times and try to keep all of my homes, in their diversity, alive inside of me.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Last week, my dear friend and intrepid former nun Angela Pasquier invited me to her comunidad to celebrate Purisima, the celebration of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. Now, Angela could invite me to spend Purisima in a cardboard box with her and I'd accept. However, the additional treat of getting to travel to the famous "comunidades," the rural communities surrounding Bilwi, I would have to have grisi siknis not to accept.

For those who are unfamiliar with Catholic tradition, the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin refers not to the conception of Jesus, but of Mary. According to Catholic doctrine, Mary was born without original sin. That doesn't mean she was virgin-born, like Jesus, it just means God removed from her the sinful nature inherent in all people from birth. This quality of Mary is celebrated on December 8, which also happens to be my birthday. Which is why it's fitting that my name is Kathryn, though perhaps my parents did not realize it, since Kathryn means "pure."

Angela's family lives in the auspiciously named town of Kilometro 43, so named because it lies 43 kilometers outside of Bilwi. Or at least it did, when there was a railroad, before the war. Along the current road, it's 47 kilometers away. But the name stuck. The community borders the slightly more well-known Mani Watla, which I heard of a few months back when it was said that two men there had been hacked to pieces with a machete, and then, still alive, set on fire, owing to accusations of witchcraft. I didn't quite make it there to get my National Park passport stamped.

The bus dropped us off in front of their house, and then we crossed a little creek on a log to get to the house. I was a little worried about keeling over under the lopsided weight of my baggage and because I had to stoop to grab the handrail. The kitten I was carrying from Angela's house in Bilwi was even less enthused about the crossing.

Bilwi is not exactly the heart of technological development, but Kilometro 43 is a step even farther back in time. There has been no electricity there since Hurricane Felix back in 2007, and cooking is done over wood and coal in a separate kitchen building. No running water, of course, except horizontally through the creek.

I'm used to not having electricity or even running water in my own house, but it's a little jarring and surreal to be somewhere unfamiliar in the dark. I just sat in the kitchen, the place where everyone gathers, and listened to the family chatting animatedly in Miskito in the dim shadows cast by a couple candles. From what I could understand, they talked about various health problems of people in the community and the failure of the doctors to treat them. A shy little girl of about 5quietly sat down next to me, and as the evening wore on gradually fell asleep against my shoulder, her face illumined by the glow of my candle.

Everything in the night was so quiet. There were no dogs barking, roosters crowing, cars passing by, people shouting. And for the first time in a while, I did not feel unsafe to be alone outside, despite the lack of light.

I went to sleep early that night, worn out by the bus ride, the language, and adjusting to a new environs. Everyone else worked on through the night, preparing nacatamales for the Purisima celebration the following day. They filled up a large steel trash can with nacatamales, which cooked through the night over an open fire.

The next day, December 7, is called the Griteria, or the Day of Shouting. Purisima is preceded by a novena, or 9 days of observance, and the Griteria is the last day. It is the big celebration day of Purisima, like New Year's Eve is the big celebration of the changing of the year. I went with one of Angela's sisters over to the house of another family member (somewhat easy to do, because most of Kilometro 43's residents are related), where we set up the altar to the Virgin where people would later gather for singing and prayers and nacatamales. We adorned the area with palm branches and balloons, the traditional celebration decor in these parts. Two little girls from the neighboring house ran up and started talking to me in a mix of Spanish and Miskito. One girl asked me a question in rapid-fire Miskito, and then the two girls giggled. I asked Angela's sister what she had said, and she replied, "Oh, you didn't catch that? She asked if you could fix the other girl's foot." Only then did I look down and notice that the other girl's foot was twisted, so she essentially walked on the top of her foot and her ankle. "No, I'm not a doctor," I replied, and the girls giggled again, apparently unconcerned about my lack of expertise in the medical and/or miracle department.

Around 2 in the afternoon, folks arrived to commence the Purisima celebration. We sang various hymns extolling the purity, beauty, and compassion of the Virgin, peppered with the traditional call-and-response shouts of "Viva la Virgen!" "Que viva!" and "Quien causa tanta alegria?" "La Concepcion de Maria!" That is, who causes so much happiness? The conception of Maria! As Lee pointed out, it should technically be WHAT causes so much happiness, since the subject is the conception, not Mary herself.

After the singing had ended, the gathered community received their nacatamales and moved on to another house to repeat the process. Tired from the morning activities, I skipped out on this house and the house that followed, choosing to return to Angela's house, where they had already prepared their altar for the fourth and last house visit of the Griteria celebration.

Shortly after sundown, people began to arrive, young and old alike crossing the log-bridge in the dark to fill out the yard in front of the altar and the house. Angela, in her typical lively energy, commenced with a round of shouting, threatening not to give out nacatamales if the crowd was not animated enough in its adoration of the Virgin. We then commenced with the same songs we had sung before. The repitition reminded me of Christmas caroling. There were readings and Scriptures, and Angela asked me to sing Ave Maria in Latin, since she had misplaced her recording. I readily agreed, then realized I had forgotten a chunk of the version I had sung in church back in college. I skipped over that part and hoped no one minded. At the end, Angela's father, a deacon in the local Catholic Church, gave me a special blessing and prayer for my birthday. It was a very special moment.

At eight o'clock, after six hours of visiting houses, the celebration had not yet ended. Everyone got their second round of nacatamales, after receiving threats that the Virgin was watching and looked unfavorably upon those who snuck into the line to get more than one nacatamal. They then headed off to the church for the final celebration. The pews were filled up, sprinkled with children falling asleep in their parents' laps. I was also very tired, but I could swear one of the crucifixes on the wall had a rasta hat on. I made a note to check it later, but the generator that was supplying the power gave out at the end, and I did not get the chance.

Again the singing commenced, followed by a section of testimonials. Various individuals got up and explained why they celebrated Purisima. Angela's mother, back at her house, had spoken of three consecutive visions she'd had of the Virgin at a time in her life when she was very depressed, encouraging her to take heart and keep moving forward. Some spoke of promises they had made in return for blessings, or thanksgiving for children healed. They prayed the rosary, which is for the most part the repitition of the Hail Mary, and then ended with a list of perhaps twenty epithets for the Virgin, from "Mother of God" and "Queen of Heaven" to the more enigmatic "House of Gold." The service over, they handed out coffee, juice, bread, and candy. I stole over to the children's side of the chapel so I could get juice instead of coffee.

And so ended my first marathon experience in Virgin adoration. I came to appreciate the affection Catholic Nicaraguans have for the peasant woman who loves them and intercedes on their behalf. There is reverence and honor for Jesus, but Mary is truly loved. Mary permits a kinder, more compassionate image of the divine which perhaps, in the Nicaraguan imagination, can only be found in feminine form because it defies machismo, while remaining sorely needed by the people. It seems to me that, despite her importance to the society, Mary remains constricted by this same machismo, that extoles her for her beauty, chastity, and obedience to God primarily and her prophetic calling for justice and the turning of society secondarily. Her elevation in the Purisima celebration took her away from the more human image of Mary I like to imagine, the one of a young woman who overcomes her own fears and misgivings to courageously play her role in the salvation story.

Friday, December 10, 2010

"¡Se oye, se siente, las mujeres están presentes!"

While my friends and loved ones were celebrating together and giving thanks for myriad blessings last Thursday, I marked a very different observance that, this year, coincides with Thanksgiving: the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It was nice to have something special to pour my energy into that was not related to Thanksgiving. It helped me not feel sad and adrift while eating my traditional scrambled eggs and gallo pinto.

The Center for Integrated Attention to the Costena Woman, or CAIMCA, home to the Nidia White Women's Movement, where I teach dance classes to victims of domestic and sexual abuse, organizes an annual celebration of this day. It is especially meaningful in the RAAN department, which has the highest numbers of women dying in acts of violence in the country. We commenced with what was the most exciting march I have ever participated in. I was honored to be able to march side by side with the girls that I work with in the shelter. Not too long into the march, it began to pour mercilessly. Our numbers dwindled as the less enthusiastic sought shelter along the route. The core that remained became even more determined, our paper signs disintegrating into wooden sticks for smashing injustice.

As we rounded the corner into the central plaza, we were met with reinforcements for our reduced numbers. Several groups from the communities surrounding Bilwi were waiting for us there with their own signs, banners, and loudspeakers. They began to rally: "Where are the women from Sasa?" And a sector cheered. "Where are the women from Waspam?" And another section cheered. I felt a little sad that I had no hometown to cheer. And then I heard: "Where are the women from Wisconsin?" I was thrilled. They were, of course, referring to the small community of Wisconsin, Nicaragua, but who's to judge?

Normally, I'm not much for marches and mass enthusiasm. I feel shy, uncomfortable, and awkward, even if it is a cause I support. This time, however, I felt proud and determined. Maybe it was the dynamic women who led the march, or the fact that I was marching with the girls I work with, or because I´d been mugged just the weekend before. Maybe it was because of the variety of ways gender-based violence affects my life here, much more than in the US, in both first- and secondhand ways. It's ubiquitous. Some studies say that 4 out of 5 women in Bilwi experience some form of domestic violence, either sexual, physical, or psychological, during their lives. The fear, insecurity, and stress that engenders is palpable in all settings of social interactions. Whatever the reason, I actually was angry, and the rally was both therapeutic and empowering.

When we arrived triumphant back at the CAIMCA, the girls in the shelter insisted I ask the director to allow them to dance in the act. They had worked hard at a choreography I had given them, only to have their slot in the show revoked due to bad behavior. I spoke with Chira, who said, "Okay, they can dance, because they have been behaving well and because their teacher interceded for them." They were thrilled. I think they forgot that they were supposed to do the moves they had been practicing in the order they had practiced them. Still, they got up in front of everyone and had fun and I couldn't have been prouder.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Q: Can I get a Witness? A: Yes. I would be delighted.

In the spirit of my friend Megan Highfill's blog 10 Churches, http://www.10churches.com/, in which Megan writes about different churches that she visits each week, I am devoting this post to a group of religious folks about whom I knew little before coming to Puerto Cabezas: the Jehovah's Witnesses, or Testigos de Jehova (which gives rise to the most offensive moniker "Testiculos de Jehova," employed by some of Bilwi's more vulgar constituents).

Today, I attended part of a two-day conference, one of many being held around the world by various gatherings of Jehovah's Witnesses, which featured various speakers and a "full-costumed drama"(!). Michael invited me to come along, since his family are Jehovah's Witnesses and had asked him to attend. I was ready to shake up my weekly religious regimen, so I accepted.

First of all, I will put forth several terms as I understand them to differ from those used by other Christian sects:

1) The meeting-place is the Kingdom Hall (Salon del Reino in Spanish, Asla Aidrubanka Watla [something like "House of the Mission Done Together"] in Miskito), not the church.
2) The body of believers is referred to as an "organization," rather than a denomination or church.
3) Like the Society of Friends, they call their regular gatherings "meetings," rather than worship or Mass.
4) Like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, their leaders are called elders.

What strikes me the most about Jehovah's Witness meetings is how cerebral they are. It feels more like a religion class than a worship service. There is very little prayer. Rather, if you want to seek the presence of God, if you have any question, you are exhorted to read the Bible. In the part of the conference I attended, a series of speakers came to the microphone, each expounding upon a different quality of God: empathetic, forgiving, generous, impartial, loyal. They drew from various parts of the Bible, citing exactly one verse in each example, in effect constructing scripture by stringing verses together. I tend to be open-minded when it comes to strategies for interpreting sacred text, but I find this sort of sound-bite exegesis jarring and somewhat irritating. It works well, however, for creating the cogent, accessible theological treatises that are the hallmark of the Jehovah's Witnesses. They work very hard to provide understandable and relevant guidance for believers in all aspects of life, an effort I very much admire. In doing so, they provide both the questions and the answers: no muss, no fuss. No existential angst. Every speech was followed by a sort of conversation-testimony in which an elder asked another member of the church how they had overcome some life challenge through their faith. The exchanges were so succinct and rehearsed, with no show of emotion or struggle. I was unsure if these were the actual life stories of the people involved or if they were doing a dramatization.

If I had to sum up the Jehovah's Witnesses in one phrase, it would be "quality control." They pump out a truly impressive array of materials in hundreds of languages on every possible subject. The missionaries they send to Puerto are already conversant in Miskito, which makes me a tad envious. This raises their esteem in the community. Their meetings feature a discussion based on articles in the Watchtower ("Atalaya" in Spanish). The intent of every presentation is overtly didactic, and they take pains to make it as easy to understand as possible, flatly rejecting any ambiguity or complication that might muddy up their message. The "fully costumed drama" was actually a pantomime to an hour-long Spanish-language audiotape furnished by Jehovah's Witnesses central. I laughed at first, but soon came to appreciate how much easier it was to follow the well-annunciated and well-broadcast dialogue than the audio nightmare that is the typical church drama. Leave it to the Jehovah's Witnesses to have the audacity to shun the mediocrity of the traditional church pageant (perhaps there's something to the "testicles of Jehovah" thing).

The message of the drama was that we walk by faith and not by sight, and if we trust God and obey God's commands, good things will come to us, and if we don't, we will be killed by the incoming Roman army. It was quite uplifting, actually, except for the part with the Roman army. It reminded me of coming to Nicaragua and how it's both super uncomfortable and challenging but also makes me feel able to follow Christ in ways I had never experienced before, and that is truly joyful.

Coming from the American Christian scene, without realizing it I had come to believe that I should either agree with theology or be offended by it. My experience with the Jehovah's Witnesses gave me the delightful gift of utter bafflement. For example, they believe that communion, originally only offered to the apostles, is reserved for highest members in the order who are part of the 144,000 believers who will go to heaven to reign with God, while ordinary believers will live in the new earth under God's reign. This is an entirely different way of viewing communion that I certainly don't agree with, but it is so far away from anything I had previously considered that it can't help but provoke thought. Though I was a little irate when the whole message on the importance of generosity was about giving to the worldwide mission of the Jehovah's Witnesses despite the economic crisis.

I'm definitely not okay with all of the practices of the organization, like shunning former members. I think it's unfortunate that Michael's dad will not be escorting him down the aisle at graduation because the ceremony will be held in a church building that does not belong to the Jehovah's Witnesses. However, my experience at the convention taught me that there is a way to disagree with theology without being offended by it. Bewilderment, rather than righteous indignation, can be a wonderfully healthy response. In no way does it impede relationship. The Jehovah's Witnesses will be happy to continue attempting to enlighten me, and I will joyfully choose to remain bewildered, by them, by God, and by my own murky faith that lacks any means of quality control.

It also leads to some wicked games of Who can find the Bible verse faster: Jehovah's Witnesses vs. Baptists.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Not a week goes by without some kind of drama. Some weeks more than others.

Last Sunday, I went to the beach with Michael, where two men with machetes ambushed us. They took my backpack, his shoes, and my camera. I'm so used to being accosted by people asking for stuff and ignoring them that I didn't fully appreciate the situation until it was almost over. Then I was irate that two glue-sniffing drug addicts could take what they wanted because they happened to be armed, which they would then sell for maybe five or ten dollars to get their next fix. I took some comfort in knowing that come the next day, I would go back to living a productive, meaningful life while theirs continued to be shitty and pointless.

After passing a surreal hour walking back to Michael's house to find clothing to wear (since my house keys had been in my backpack), then going to the police station to file a report, I was so exhausted by the shock of it all that I fell asleep. By the time I woke up, Susan and Lee had returned from what should have been a far riskier sojourn to a river outside of town. I caught them up to speed on the situation, then went to the harvest celebration at church, which was the reason I had decided not to go to the river in the first place. Harvest Day is a day for giving thanks for all the bounty we have received. I had spent two hours on Saturday baking bon, or sweet bread, with the young adult group, which we sold after the service, along with the pies, cookies, and "chap siu" (chop suey) brought by others. For the service itself, the sanctuary was adorned with palm branches and the clothes that were going to be sold after the service. A bunch of stuffed animals that were also for selling had been placed on a table before the altar like ritual sacrifices.

I felt a sense of panic rising in me from not having my camera. The reason I had it with me at the beach was because I had begun to take pictures of everything, in recognition that I would soon be leaving. This special moment in the life of Puerto Cabezas was passing me by, and without my camera I was going to lose it forever. This feeling has been one of the hardest to deal with since the robbery. I feel even more intensely that my time here is slipping away from me, never to return.

The other feeling I struggle with is guilt. I knew that part of the beach borders on one of the more dangerous neighborhoods in town. I knew there was a risk. Never mind that these things just happen here. There's always a risk. Go with a local person, go in the middle of the day, don't bring any cash, whatever. Yet somehow my response is not fear but just guilt, like being robbed indicates some kind of failing on my part.

Maybe I strive to emulate superheroes a little too much.

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Ode to Susan Elle

I offer this blog post in humble tribute to my noble comrade in the struggle, Susan Elle. She who brazenly threw to the wind the warnings and admonishments of those citizens who counselled her to stay in at night, for fear of assailants, and set out into the dark streets of Barrio Moravo to befriend all of those who might therein be lurking. Jesus-like, she reached out to all she found there; in her eyes, no one was too young or too dirty or too stoned. Ah, that we all might show such disregard for the dictates that demarcate decency! And so Susan, in her indiscriminate ambling, came to know and be known by all of the barrio, gangsters and housewives alike. To know, if not by name, at least by face. To be known by name, namely "gringa loca": she who cotemns the customary feminine comportment. She who by so doing gained that elusive, coveted freedom to meander aimlessly about the streets, saluting those gangsters who have beaten their swords of "Give me your money" into the (idle) plowshares of "Oy, Susan!"

Oh Susan, she who rules the third-grade B class with an iron fist. Who rigidly enforces her schedule irrespective of the arbitrary ringing of recess and dismissal bells, stubbornly refusing to submit to the subdirector's caprices in determining exactly when her students will commence and terminate their learning. She comes home to lament her lack of control over the devils, yet remains revered by all the teachers for the discipline she imposes in the classroom, her voice at times rising to such a sonority as can be heard by the nuns in the neighboring convent. Would that she had had a class of students from the beginning of the year, so as to mold the young breed to her expectations over a longer course of time. The result, I've no doubt, would have been quite remarkable.

While at times, like the rest of Puerto, I find myself bewildered by her propensity for the culturally inapropos, I cannot but admire her ability to elicit affection from all corners. Following the example of Christ, she who makes and divides the bread in our house has garnered quite a following from the people in the streets. I can only hope that I shall be recalled with such fondness after departing this place.

In other news, I'm reading and very much enjoying Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Autonomy and Identity

October was Autonomy Month on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, culminating in Autonomy Day on the 30th. It celebrates the relative political autonomy that the Coast has while still being under the federal government of Nicaragua. Politically, it means the Coast has its own Assembly, and culturally it means there's a public recognition that the Coast has its own cultures that ought to be recognized and promoted. It's an intentional response to the Sandinista mandates of Spanish-only in schools and a general devaluation of Coast traditions like dance, due perhaps to its sensuality. While it's certainly a good move, it seems to me like a lot of talk that doesn't often turn into action. Still, there have been some joint government-nonprofit efforts to promote bilingual education, as well as tourism.

As part of the effort to promote Coast culture, a reporter from Managua came to film local cultural acts. Our dance group got called up to perform. As we prepared to get taped, the reporter told our director, "Now I don't want any Honduran dances. Just Nicaraguan dance." Which meant he didn't want us to dance the punta garifuna, which is most commonly associated with Honduras. Neco responded, "Actually, there are garifuna communities in Nicaragua." I encountered a similar situation when I asked a music vendor in Masaya, on the Pacific side of the country, if he had any punta music, and he replied, "No, we only sell NATIONAL music."

The garifuna are an ethnic group that have preserved their own language, descended from members several different African ethnicities that escaped slavery due to shipwreck of slave ships. There are garifuna communities along the Atlantic Coast of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Like the Miskito and Creole cultures, it is not bound by national borders. Part of the Pacific-Atlantic Coast tension lies in the fact taht while the Pacific side of the country has developed a strong nationalistic identity, people on the Coast still identify with ethnic groups that have more in common culturally with places like Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, where much of the Creole community has roots, and the Atlantic Coast of Honduras, which also has Miskitos, garifuna and Creoles. This is part of the reason Nicaragua has historically struggled to integrate its coast with the rest of the country. Efforts to create stronger cohesion, by promoting the teaching of Spanish and national symbols, invariably comes across as a repression of local cultures. It is a common tension that comes with the national identity. The new response of the government is to emphasize diversity and talk up the Coast culture as a part of what makes Nicaragua the special country that it is. As a result, those elements of the Coast that make Nicaragua more like other countries cause a bit of uncomfortableness.

After the interchange with Neco, the reporter from Managua looked at me skeptically and said, "And where are YOU from?" Neco replied, "She's, um, a gringa costena." The others said, "Speak to him in Miskito!" I said, "Ao, yang miskitu sna." Which means, "Yeah, I'm totally Miskito." Although my size is somewhat formidable compared to the people here, there are Miskitos, mestizos, and even the occasional Creole who share a similar complexion. Still, he looked unconvinced, but decided, "As long as she dances like a negra, right?" Whatever, dude.

After the performance, he came up to congratulate us. He looked at me and said I was approved. I actually felt irate despite myself. I didn't need his approval. He's not even from the Coast. Who was he to decide who and what it ought to look like? The people here in Bilwi have always expressed the utmost enthusiasm for me sharing in and thereby helping to promote their culture. That's the only approval that matters. If I'm accepted by the group then what is this reporter worried about?

So it seems some of the defensive indignation costeños feel towards people in the Pacific part of the country has stuck to me. Perhaps I'm just overcompensating for always being the outsider by pretending to be more like an insider when someone from the other side of the country shows up. Or maybe the time I have spent here, building relationships and learning the language and the culture, really has made me more of an insider in this city than even a Nicaraguan from somewhere else.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Learning and Teaching Self-Esteem

I was at the Center for Integral Attention for the Caribbean Woman, waiting for my appointment with the psychologist, when the director of the shelter for victims of sexual and domestic abuse looked at me for a moment and said offhandedly, "You could teach dance classes here, right?"

I'm no longer surprised when someone recognizes me for being in the dance group. Between our various presentations around the city, some of which I'm told get played on the local TV channel from time to time, I'm fairly well recognized around town as the gringa who dances. Not that people need television to know my business, or anyone else's for that matter.

While not surprised that she knew I danced, I was a bit jarred by the way the director jumped into the middle of the conversation, bypassing the typical pleasantries like, "How long have you been in Bilwi?", "Do you like it here?", and "What's your name?" In any case, I considered for a moment and said, "Sure, why not?"

And that is how I started teaching dance classes three times a week to girls and women in the shelter. We dance a little bit of everything: Palo de Mayo, punta, cumbia, merengue, reggaeton. I'm hoping to get some Miskito music soon so we can dance that, too. It's a pretty laid-back and fun hour which somewhat inconveniently leaves me unusually sweaty in the middle of the day. I was expecting women in their 20s and 30s who were going to be shy and not necessarily thrilled about the new activity thrown into their schedules. Instead, the four girls who attend regularly are very enthusiastic and very young. I don't think any of them are older than 15. I don't know what their stories are, nor do I ever need to, but I hope the class is a safe space that helps them feel more in control of and have more esteem for their bodies and themselves.

And then there's the issue of my own self-esteem. My psychologist gave me a survey to see how assertive I was. It caused me to reflect on how far my behavior has fallen from the strong, assured self image I had created for myself sometime in college. She looked over my response and reported summarily, "You are an insecure person." We then proceeded to review some basic principles of assertiveness, which I found helpful and will reproduce here.

1. Sometimes, you have the right to be first.
2. You have the right to make mistakes.
3. You have the right to have your own opinions and beliefs.
4. You have the right to change your ideas, opinions, or ways of acting.
5. You have the right to express critique and protest unfair treatment.
6. You have the right to ask for clarification.
7. You have the right to try to change what does not satisfy you.
8. You have the right to ask for help or emotional support.
9. You have the right to feel and express pain.
10. You have the right to ignore advice from others.
11. You have the right to receive recognition for a job well done.
12. You have the right to deny a request, to say no.
13. You have the right to be alone, even when others want your company.
14. You have the right not to justify yourself to others.
15. You have the right to not take responsibility for the problems of others.
16. You have the right to not anticipate the desires and needs of others and not have to intuite them.
17. You have the right to not be dependent upon the goodwill of others, or the absence of illwill in their actions.
18. You have the right to respond or not.
19. You have the right to be treated with dignity.
20. You have the right to have your own ideas, and that they be as important as others'.
21. You have a right to feel and express your own emotions, and to be your only judge.
22. You have the right to stop and think before you act.
23. You have the right to ask for what you want.
24. You have the right to do less than you are capable of doing.
25. You have the right to decide what to do with your body, time, and property.
26. You have the right to deny requests without feeling guilty or selfish.
27. You have the right to talk about a problem with the person involved and clarify it, in case everyone's rights aren't clear.
28. You have the right to do anything, as long as it doesn't violate the rights of others.

It seems obvious and simple as I type it now, but reading over it with the psychologist, it felt like a revelation.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sylvi and Ronaldo: A Story

Ronaldo is eleven years old. He lives in Puerto Cabezas, a city in Nicaragua that's right by the ocean. He lives there with his mother, aunt, and about twenty other family members on a little plot of land that has three houses and one well where they all get their water.

Among all his family, his favorite is his cousin Sylvi. Sylvi helps him eat and bathe and keeps him company during the day. Ronaldo needs extra help because he has cerebral palsy. That means he has trouble moving his body, so he can't walk or talk or move his arms very well.

Ronaldo likes to show people how he feels with his face. He especially likes to smile. Sylvi always seems to know if he's feeling hungry or lonely or if he wants to move his body around, and she knows just what to do to make him smile again.

During the week, Sylvi takes Ronaldo to school at Escuela Maureen, a school for children like Orlando who have special needs. Ronaldo loves going to school to see his friends. He smiles a lot there. When it is very hot, his friends always remember to help Orlando wipe his brow so he doesn't get too sweaty.

Ronaldo likes going to school with Sylvi. He was very sad when one day, Sylvi wasn't at home to take him to school. Sylvi and Ronaldo had another cousin, and he hurt Sylvi very badly when they were little. Now, they are almost grown up, but her cousin told Sylvi that he wanted to hurt her again. She was very scared, but she did not want to tell her mom because she thought her mom would get mad and say, "Your cousin is a good person. He would never hurt you."

Sylvi wanted to leave the house to be safe, but she did not know where to go. One night, she got very scared and sad and tried to die. But she did not die after all, and her family took her to the hospital. She talked with a woman there who told her she could go to a safe house where there were other women who had been threatened by someone in their family.

Sylvi did not want to leave Ronaldo and her family, but she knew she needed to be safe, so she went to the safe house. Now she is sad because she cannot take Ronaldo to school and keep him company anymore. Ronaldo is sad, too. He misses Sylvi and does not understand why she is not in the house. He misses school, too, because now no one can take him. He hopes someday Sylvi will come back so that they can spend time together and go to school again. Sylvi hopes so, too.

THE END. For now...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

I've been working on grad school applications lately, and haven't had mental energy for blogging. Here is the reflection of one of my students, which is one of the more empowering stories I've read lately. We studied the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the assignment was to write a story in which one of these rights was violated.


One day a child told his father that he wanted to know his rights but his father said no, he wasn't going to tell him and the child was sad. The next day he asked his mother and his mother also said no and the child was sad again. One time, the child was still sad and a woman asked him, "Hey, why are you sad?" And the child said, "I'm said because my parents don't want to tell me what my rights are," and the woman said, "Don't worry, because I will tell you your rights."

"All children have the right to education, freedom, to play, and to laugh."

And the child was happy and went to tell his parents and he told them that he wanted to study and that he wanted to be someone in life and he also wanted to work to help his family. His parents were surprised by what he said, and his father said, "If you want to study, I'll send you to school."

The child went to study and now he's helping other students who don't know their rights.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I Feel More Nicaraguan When I

1) Decide not to do anything because it's raining.
2) Open something with my teeth.
3) Add the phrase "God willing" to the end of my sentences.
4) Think 40 minutes late is pretty close to on time.
5) Wear perfume.
6) Paint my nails.
7) Delay on tutoring a student because I'm talking with one of the teachers.
8) Tell a lie to create a more socially acceptable response.
9) Clean my shoes.
10) Bathe two or more times a day.
11) Refrain from bathing because I'm too hot and sweaty.
12) Wear shoes so as not to be adversely affected by the relative coolness of the floor on my bare feet.
13) Share what I'm eating with everyone around me.
14) Agree with someone to make them feel supported even if I'm actually ambivalent.
15) Ask someone a question about their health or relationships that I would otherwise consider too personal, for the sake of showing interest in their lives.
16) Sympathize with the personal woes of a relative stranger.
17) Freely dispense advice or overt displays of compassion.
18) Address someone by a physical characteristic, such as weight or skin color (I still rarely bring myself to do this).
19) Take time to rest without feeling guilty or unproductive.
20) Say "tuani" to mean cool, "dale pues" to mean "okay, then," "pata," or paw, for foot, "oy," "que honda?" for "what's up?" or "fachenta" to mean "show off."

Sunday, September 12, 2010


We just returned from our retreat in Panama yesterday, about 30 hours after leaving the retreat site for the bus station. Not counting the five hours spent at the two borders, I whiled away the hours watching timeless classics such as Air Bud 3: World Pup.

Traveling to Panama was a bit of a culture shock. I always feel a little overwhelmed when I go into the supermarket in Managua and there's all this stuff and air conditioning. Panama was that times ten. I went to see a movie in a theatre for the first time in over a year. Panama City is enormous, with a skyline longer than any I've seen. The Canal was an amazing experience; the bathrooms were super clean and had soap AND toilet paper. And the locks that the ships passed through were pretty cool, too.

In some ways, it was wonderful. In Bilwi they say you can get anything in Managua. I would amend that to "anything except falafel." I had falafel and hoummus in Panama City, and it was positively heavenly. It was also really nice to find hair conditioner and gel. My head felt so light and smelled so good after I used it, I felt brand new again. There are little luxuries that make life much sweeter, which I didn't realize I had missed while in Bilwi.

Still, if I had to characterize my overall experience in the City, the words dizzying, headache-inducing, and overwhelming come to mind. While I did not miss the everpresent poverty, I missed the simplicity that comes with a lack of options for things to buy and things to do. I also realized that hot showers are best used only to help me adjust to the water in preparation for a cold shower, because cold showers really are much more refreshing. There's something a little bit wonderful about coming in from a hot day and taking a cold shower in water that I know comes from the well outside. It's more effortless; no energy had to be put into heating it.

Most of all, I missed the intimate connection with nature provided by buildings that are not sealed off and climate-controlled. Even the intransigent insects that invade the house incessantly provide a constant reminder of life's abundance, with the occasional coral snake or tarantula thrown in to remind of life's impermanence. It's comforting and addicting to be surrounded by so much color and so much life. If I'm sad, I can just go outside and look at the hibiscus plant threatening to annex our front porch, or the small forest of banana plants in the neighbors' yard across the street, from which hidden children shout their greetings. When I return to the United States, I think it is this intimacy with the natural world, which tires me out by 10 at night and wakes me up at 6 in the morning, that I will miss the most.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Unbearable Hotness

Until today, it hadn't rained for almost a week, and temperatures were climbing past 100 degrees. It was grueling. However, that's not the subject upon which I intend to expound at the moment, though it might be related. Ever since arriving in Nicaragua, the three of us volunteers in Puerto Cabezas have been upgraded to movie star gorgeous status.

In Nicaragua, as in all of Latin America, light skin is considered the most attractive, and it's one of the most salient features in determining beauty. Here, a darker-skinned woman who would draw far more attention than me in the US gets beauty demerits for being dark-skinned. Although, given the relentless sexual appetites men are expected to cultivate here, it probably doesn't much affect her ability to secure a partner. With this added boost to my admittedly already near-irresistible sexual appeal, I become the overt object of desire of nearly every man in the city, and probably not a few women. One day, as I was walking with Michael, even the mayor of Puerto Cabezas called out “Oy cuňado, cuidala!” Which means “Hey brother-in-law, take care of her!” In this clever taunt, the mayor posits himself as my boyfriend, thus relegating Michael to the role of my brother. Latin American culture dictates zero discretion in the revealing of sexual interest, so this sort of call follows me and Susan wherever we go in the city. This diminishes somewhat when I'm out with Michael, and stopped completely only when my parents came to visit and I was showing them around.

The effect of all this attention is both maddening and intoxicating. I will freely tout the assertion that the way men address women in the street is disrespectful and reinforces physical forms of disrespect, ranging from grabbing a woman on the street to rape. In this cultural milieu, I am much more sympathetic to men who jealously guard their girlfriends. Though my American independent-woman mindset makes me a bit ashamed to admit it, I actually feel better having someone who at least partially shields me from the unwanted attention that makes me feel physically less safe. I'm not sure how much more capable Michael is of fighting off an assailant than I am, but the fact is men are just seen as more formidable opponents. If I am accompanied by a man, I will be more likely to be left alone.

On the other hand, I would be lying if I said I only detested the attention I am given here. The truth is, it's wonderful to feel beautiful and widely desired. I find myself dressing up more here than I did in the US, even though I can draw attention regardless of what I wear, because people focus so much on keeping themselves stylish and immaculate. I used to think I cared less about what I wore when my self-confidence was higher. Now I'm not so sure. I'm experimenting with what it means to take pride in myself and my appearance. I do not aim to draw additional attention, but to both revel in and live up to the attention that is given. It's blowing my mind daily, because it's so contrary to the culture I had become accustomed to in which standards of beauty for women are considered a form of oppression. Perhaps it is not so much that I am fully embracing sex appeal and makeup, but rather I am learning to playfully manipulate these expectations placed on women to experience a different way of being and interacting.

I often wonder what it will be like when I return to the US. Will I feel safer on the street? Or more neglected? I suspect that I will at least be much more tuned in to men's intentions in my relationships with them, and a little more inclined to keep my distance. I sincerely hope the overall effect will be increased social savvy rather than cynicism.

Modern Day Samuels

The assignment- write your own version of I Samuel 3, 1-10
Responses by students ages 10-12

A child named Jorge didn't know about the Word of God. One day, he was sitting when he heard a strange voice that came from a little sanctuary. He stopped and thought, then ran to his older brother Luis and said "You said something!" But he said no. An hour later he heard the strange voice again. "Jorge!" "You called me, Luis?" And Luis again told him no. A half hour later, "Jorge!" "You called me, Luis?" "No, surely it was your guardian angel, sent by God. If he calls you, answer and pray for the people around you."


One morning, a voice was heard saying, "Come with me and I will protect you." Later one of the girls in my class followed the voice that called her. When she got there, it was God, but no one wanted to believe that it was God that called her. The next day the same voice returned and the girl said, "Enough. Who are you?"
"I am your father."
"I can't see you."
"You can't see me but if you listen to me, I am your father and I will protect you."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Things I have learned about being in relationship with Nicaraguans/people with a great deal of need

I have been reflecting about setting good boundaries in relationships lately, spurred in part by a wonderful Norwegian friend who has a lot of experience being in relationship with the people here in Puerto Cabezas. This is an attempt to start to articulate all that I have learned in the past two years about being in relationship with people in poverty. I write this as a person who is caring, compassionate, loving, and eager to know other people and be there for them. This is the kind of person an organization like Cap Corps attracts, and it stands that such people must be ready to set firm boundaries in their relationships. It amazes me that I felt I was strong and assertive and had good boundaries last year working at a homeless shelter, that this year I would feel like I lost all of that training in maintaining an emotional distance from people who have a great deal of need in their lives. The reason is that at Hope House, I was only in contact with such people in a professional setting, and the additional boundaries I needed for the clientele built off of normal employee-client relationships. Here in Bilwi, the people on the street and the friends that surround me are the ones in need. The same people I draw on for emotional support are the ones who have incredible need both emotionally and financially. When I say Nicaraguans/People with a lot of need, I mean it's impossible to separate the social culture of Nicaragua from a culture of poverty, because the poverty is so widespread. People in poverty in Nicaragua may have different ways of acting than someone in poverty in the US, but I believe there are still fundamental similarities that anyone who is disposed to enter into relationship with someone facing great economic and emotional need ought to know. I'm sure that people who don't live in poverty also adhere to these characteristics, but they express themselves in different ways.

1) Love. Poverty is really stressful. It causes mistrust and anger between spouses who can't provide for themselves or their family, between children who don't get enough, and between parents and young adults who have difficulty becoming independent for economic reasons (see my blog entry In-dependent). This leads to high rates of anger, abuse, and general discontent among families living in poverty. This is a bit different in the US, where I felt like a lot of the people who came to Hope House were estranged from their families and felt alone. Although I have noticed that many young people here feel alone despite being surrounded by their family.

All this is to say that among people who live under the stress of poverty, it is very common (though far from universal) that people will desperately crave love and attention. If you present yourself as friendly and sympathetic, you will attract these people to you. They can take up lots of your time, preoccupation, and emotional energy. First of all, it's good just to listen. People generally just want someone to listen to them. You don't have to understand or offer advice. Secondly, you have to be very self-aware and notice when energy is starting to drain from you because of a relationship. When you are aware, anchor yourself emotionally. Don't get carried away in the emotions of the other person. It doesn't help them and destroys you. I find it's good to set a time limit. How long can I listen to this person before I must go on to something else. You don't have to explicitly say "I'm going to listen to you for 15 minutes," but recognize when that limit is reached, what your "out" is going to be (I have to go to bed now), and enforce it tactfully but forcefully. Then go do something that gives you energy, like listen to music or read a book or talk to someone else. I felt like I had become good at this, but in the ambiguous give-take friendship that gradually become more and more take and less and less give for you, it can become hard to notice when a tipping point has been reached and boundaries must be readjusted. Don't be afraid to readjust boundaries.

2) Lying. Lying is a fundamental part of the culture here. People tend to say whatever they feel they need to say to get what they want, and it's not all that shameful to be caught in a lie. To some extent, the same is true of stealing. Despite how much you love someone, you always have to be skeptical about what they say, especially if they're looking for something, be it your time, your money, your sympathy, whatever.

3) Lending money. There is practically no lending of money here. There is only giving. If you lend someone something, especially money, don't expect it back. Material items can be returned with some agressive pursuit, but money is almost always a loss. I recommend you start by not lending any money at all. Then if you feel comfortable, you can give as you feel led. Generosity is smiled upon here, but it's also exploited like crazy. So know when to say no, and say it a lot.

It's good to not take lying, thieiving, attempts at exploitation too personally. As Michael Crosby says, it's just the hunt. Everyone has need, and they're just trying to get what they can where they see opportunity. People can attempt to be emotionally manipulative if you say no. Stand your ground, and then let it roll off you. Remember that it's just the hunt. If you get too bitter or reserved, you will never have good relationships with anyone.

4) Theft. Anything can be stolen, even if it doesn't seem like it's worth anything to you. And anything unsecured is good as gone within a short period of time. On the bright side, the good people like to keep an eye out for you, so if you forget something often a good person will grab it and hold onto it until you come back.

5) Experiences of suffering bring great wisdom. If I shut down too much emotionally, I might miss the wisdom they have to offer. Also people are in general a lot more comfortable with pain and grieving here, so it's okay to be vulnerable about your feelings. Sharing your thoughts and feelings openly is one of the best ways to endear yourself to the people here, and they are, I find, much more effusive and supportive than Americans. The US has a "polite but aloof" atmosphere that encourages things like suffering to be done in private. In Nicaragua, your pain and joy, just like possessions, are expected to be shared with everyone. If you start to cry, you will immediately have people flock to support you. In the US, they tend to just stand there uncomfortably or retreat to a safe distance.

Setting boundaries is the first lesson, and the last. It's always about boundaries.

Monday, August 16, 2010

One Year, 50 Posts

Today marks the one-year anniversary of our arrival in Nicaragua. An auspicious moment such as this one requires that I make testament to how far God has brought me in my journey. This 50th post on my blog shall, therefore, be a marker post, an ebenezer that bears witness to where I have come by God's help.

My faith has scrambled a lot this year as it tries to define itself in a new cultural context, where the people do not dispute the existence of God and yet feel a constant shame for failing to follow the path they see God dictating. I had trouble finding a church, and spent the first few months adrift and churchless until I decided that I needed to have a church community, even if it wasn't ideal or strongly compelling. Church is the anchor of my week that keeps me from drifting too far from God. When I finally settled down and set my intentions upon regular attendance at the Moravian Creole church down the street, I discovered moments of God's kingdom breaking through in services I had previously found routine and lifeless. Like when the pastor announced, "and now Miss Martha will sing some special music for us," and a tall, slender woman in her 50s gets up and intones with heartfelt sincerity the words of John Lennon's "Let It Be." For the record, the Moravians do not espouse Marian-centric theology. Or, on Children's Day: "Juliet will now recite a poem for us." The little 4-year old girl that lives next door gets up and announces "Happy Mother's Day," to the delight of the audience. Or the congregation that I had only known to sing 100 year old hymns accompanied by an organ playing the pace of a funeral dirge that suddenly springs to their feet and sings a zesty rendition of the Magic Penny song from memory, with corresponding motions.

I have also marked my faith in the observations and responses of my religion students at the two schools. Last week, we were talking about social sins in my 3rd year class, and I was explaining how social sin ultimately came down to hierarchical structures where people at the top abuse their power over the people at the bottom. Climbing upon her soapbox, 17-year-old Yorleni responded with such passion I thought she was disagreeing with me. "Because when judgment comes, you know it's not going to be the people at the bottom with the most to answer for. It's going to be the people at the top, with the power." And her classmate Kent joined in and said, "Then the people at the bottom come up and the hierarchy gets destroyed." Here I raise mine ebenezer.

The symbol of the Moravian church, so ubiquitous in these parts that many children can draw it from memory, constantly reminds me of what I am about here. It features a lamb carrying a flag, as if from battle. The words wrapping around the cross say "Our lamb has conquered. Let us follow him." This image contains two theological tenets I do not normally hold to. The first, symbolized by the lamb, is that Jesus is a sacrifice meant to appease the wrath of God. The second, symbolized by the flag, is that Jesus is a general leading all into violent battle. While these two ideas are not part of my theology, the juxtaposition is something at once ridiculous and beautiful. In the ritual slaughter of the lamb, who would have thought of the lamb being the one who emerges triumphant? What would Braveheart be like if Mel Gibson cast Lambchop in the lead role? It is our vulnerability which conquers. And in a land of unfamiliar cultural constructions, I must look closely and discover that the Spirit of God and my own spirit have always been at home here.

These moments, and a hundred lazy conversations around kitchen tables and park benches, have kept me strong in the faith. I continue to follow Lambchop and her battle cry of freedom.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Playing Teacher

The religion teacher at Colegio del Nino Jesus is taking a 3-week class on the Bible in Bluefields, so she tapped me to teach not only her religion classes, but also the "Convivencia and Civismo" classes she is responsible for. This class covers everything from human rights and gender identity to healthy eating and proper bicycling practices. They copied the biking notes surprisingly enthusiastically, as if they were actually aware that a bike typically has things like lights and reflectors, and it is generally recommended to wear a helmet.

I have found the creative freedom of creating all of my own lesson plans to be a breath of fresh air. I enjoy the challenge of drawing together resources and adapting my knowledge to present a cogent lesson that a teenager can both grasp and run with in search of their own ideas. I hit a crisis when thinking about how to teach smart consumerism. It first occurred to me to teach about the media's influence in consumption and the various ways they seek to manufacture needs and pursuade people to buy. I then started to think about the kinds of media that are present here in Bilwi, and I realized that no one's developing ad campaigns to target the modern Bilwi youth. The only international media that has any widespread influence is via television. I have to wonder how many of the products advertised there are available here. There's also radio, but that's locally run. The economy is operating very close to subsistence levels; in general people don't buy much more than what they need, and sometimes not even that. There are far fewer manufactured needs here. In my education, smart consumerism had everything to do with learning to make the right choice in an endless sea of options. How can I teach young people to be shopping-savvy when there's only one type of peanut butter available? In the end, I focused the lesson on two points: distinguishing between want and need, and the importance of saving money. The latter is scarcely present in the "just survive today, let tomorrow take care of itself" philosophy that pervades the culture here.

Despite all my training at Hope House, I err on the side of being too nice and forgiving. Or at least I think I do. When I told Lee I had taken several tests away from students who were copying, he said, "Wow, I just took points off." I love the dramatic flourish of whisking a test away. It's deeply satisfying.

I find myself challenged with trying to make lessons about proper nutrition and hygiene interesting enough to hold my attention. I don't worry so much about holding their attention. If it's interesting for me, I can convince them to be interested, too. I was looking for an angle from which to present the lists of information about the proper handling of food. I started off saying, "Did you know that a kitchen rag has more bacteria than the toilet?" They responded with a languid stare, nonplussed. I tried another tack.

"Do you know what BOTULISM is?"
"It's a DISEASE that you get from preparing your food wrong. It slowly paralyzes your body until it reaches your heart, and then your heart stops and you DIE!"

They seemed mildly more impressed by this. Capitalizing on what little interest I had managed to pique, every time a student stopped paying attention or started talking, I pointed at them and said, "YOU'RE going to get BOTULISM!" A few students caught onto my logic that the word "botulismo" rolls off the tongue delightfully, both in English and in Spanish. By the end of class, one of the worst offenders was bouncing up and down, pumping his fists and chanting "Botulismo! Botulismo! Botulismo!" A lump of pride began to swell in my throat.

The other strategy I employed in that class was the traditional trivia quiz-style review, where the class is divided into two teams. One member of each is sent up to the front, and they have to answer a question about the material. In my rambunctious first-year classes, engaging activities like this is like trying to steer a horse at a frenetic gallop. If you can keep it going in the right direction, you can get quite far. If you lose control, all hell breaks loose. I was quite pleased with the results of my class, though the teacher in the room next door might not have been.

On the whole, I have enjoyed playing the part of teacher. I think keeping that element of "play" in the job makes the difference between a delightful class and a nightmarish one.

Monday, July 26, 2010

In dependence

Susan's birthday was on Wednesday, and we celebrated by taking a cake and soda over to the house of our friend Julie to celebrate. I was originally contemplating cooking a meal for their family, but after doing the math on the amount of food required to feed the 20-odd family members living on the property, I elected to just bring the sweet stuff. They were remarkably gracious about letting us stuff their children full of sugar and caffeine before bedtime.

Like most families in this area, Julie's family owns a piece of property on which they have built several houses. When one settles down in Nicaragua, one does not buy a house, one buys land and builds a house. The land and whatever houses are on it are passed down through the family. In Julie's case, there are three houses on the property, with family members running around between each one. This system ensures that there are always people around to watch the kids, which is especially important in the case of Julie's severely handicapped cousin Orlando. Julie plays a large part in caring for him and raising the small children, especially her baby brother Victor. “Sometimes he even prefers me to his mom,” she told me.

If the upside of this arrangement is the interdependence between family members, this is simultaneously the downside. If Orlando's mother has an argument with Julie's mother, for example, it would be very difficult for her to go somewhere else, because she would have no one to help her in the enormous responsibilities of caring for her son. This reality similarly prevents abused spouses from moving out. Incest is also a problem, and many children have to grow up coexisting with the cousins that raped them at an early age. Even in cases where there is no abuse, it is simply very difficult for young people to become independent and separate from their parents when they reach adulthood. Anita, my Nicaraguan mother in Nandasmo, feels that this is an important part of growing up that is lacking in Nicaragua. Even Adam and Eve needed to strike out on their own at some point, and their parental figure was God.

The difficulty with becoming independent is both economic and psychological. Selmira, our supervisor, once observed to us that it was amazing that we volunteers at such a young age were able to come so far away from home and be so clear in what we want to accomplish and have the ability to follow through. She made this comment while telling us about her nephews, who had gone to college in Managua, where they dropped out of class and spent the money their mother sent them on alcohol, while lying to her about it for months. Obviously, there are American young adults who squander their resources upon moving out of home and Nicaraguans who go away to college and do just fine. Still, she made a probably valid point that Nicaraguan youth aren't brought up to become independent in the way that American youth are. And with good reason, since many of them probably won't. Whether the cause is economic, cultural, or both, Nicaraguans put enormous value on sharing and mutual care, where the US prizes self-reliance. The result in Nicaragua is very lovely and Christian, wherein even those who are poor will generously share what little they have. But the flip side is the inability to separate from one's family, both economically and geographically.

Despite the negative aspects of large families living in community, it remains quite touching to see a gaggle of ten icing-smeared children spontaneously dancing to Shakira with their brothers, sisters, and cousins in the family living room.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Students Weigh in on Marriage

My dear readers may recall that last month I posted a reflection on the significance of Father's Day in Nicaragua. Last week, it fell to me to teach my third-year Christian Formation class about the sacrament of holy matrimony. After a lively discussion about the elements of a good marriage, I put it to them to write dialogues exploring the pros and cons of getting married. I offer some of their insights here, that the reader may employ to support, question, or otherwise further develop on the ideas I put forth. Common themes include a fear of divorce, mistreatment, economic insecurity. Also a strong connection between matrimony and being a good Christian, though with so many things here it's hard to tell if that makes it desirable, unattainable, or both.

1)It's not always possible to tell from their responses if they are interested in getting married themselves. These are more their observations of the views that surround them.
2) Men are rather unrepresented, because they are a minority in the class and tend to not turn in their homework. But that's another topic entirely.

Erely and Joddy (female):
Person 1: For me, marriage is good. For me, a person from the time they're born thinks about only being with one person to love and to be sure of their love they should marry.
Person 2: I disagree because if someday one of the pair doesn't want to stay married they have to divorce and, even worse, if it's through the church it's until death do them part and I wouldn't like that...
Person 1: That's not love. Love is sharing ideas, things, and problems. I see my companion's point but I still [support marriage.]
Person 2: ...Marriage...at the beginning is lovely but later shameful things come to pass...perhaps someday I'll support marriage.
Osmelda (female):
"Because of marriage the partners are happy and through marriage they follow the church, loving each other in the Lord. They don't think bad thoughts or have eyes for others, only for that man or that woman."
"It's bad to get married because as soon as they're married, whether it's by the state or the church, the first night they're already cheating on their wives, especially the men... if they marry in the church, two days later they don't go to church, they don't love their partner, if they have children they don't show them love and kindness but only mistreatment, a week later they want to get divorced, saying "I'm bored with you, I'm tired, I can't stand you," and they go around sleeping with other women and men."

Hellen (female):
"Marriage for goodness is good because it serves to form a family, take care of each other...it's also good to be [together] in the good times and the bad, and in marriage there's happiness, sadness, and the spouse and children are there to comfort...there are some partners that don't want to have children, and some that do because a child is a blessing in the family..."


Doyly and Gino (male):

Person 2: I understand marriage to be a relation that exists between two people that love each other...I think that marriage is of little importance in life...I'm not getting married because you know I don't have money to buy clothes and celebrate wtih the family.
Person 1: I want to get married to be close to God that is on high and stay free of all evil.


Johana (female)

"Marriage is something beautiful before God and the world and for families...not everyone gets married for love, but for money and material goods...this is very bad before God... For this reason, it's better that they not marry. What's the good of a marriage that lasts one year or two and then they get divorced....and then they take away property, they threaten each other, etc."

[Note: Johana affirmed to me that she does want to get married someday.]


Karina (female)

Here, the majority of couples don't get married because they know that love isn't forever, because everything in this life ends, even love, in part because of infidelity, because both men and women are unfaithful."

Stefany and Ruth (female)

Person 1:"It's good...to get married because the force of love is the union of two people...the married life is very happy when there's love and trust between them."

Person 2: "A married person lives in hell...the husband hits her, insults her, and chides her for everything."

Jahaira (female)

Person 1:When he marries, the person accepts God and his wife...Marriage is important for life and for our future.

Person 2: Marriage is sacred, but if I get married... I don't know if that man is going to mistreat me or leave me or kill me. Because of this I'm not going to get married... I can't marry a disrespectful and irresponsible man...and when I get pregnant he's going to tell me "It's not my daughter or my son," he's going to tell me to get an abortion. That's why I don't accept marriage.


Shanelia (female)

Person 1: What happened with your marriage?
Person 2: I decided not to get married because it can be a risk.
Person 1: But how, if marriage isn't anything risky, it makes you happy.
Person 2: But I think that if I get married I might experience tragedy, my husband might mistreat me.
Person 1: No, marriage is healthy if it's about loving each other mutually, of course you have to choose the right person.
Person 2: I never thought of marriage that way.
Person 1: You should, because marriage is a blessing from God, because from it children are born along with a pure love between the two partners that lasts until death, if you choose the right person.
Person 2: Thanks for your advice, now I'm thinking well.
Person 1: No problem, I hope to see you get married someday.
Person 2: Of course!


Nesly (female)

Marriage is good because that way we can show that we love each other, we need someone to love us. It's also important because this way we can show God that we love him, that we're faithful to him, that he is important in our lives. And that we love each other, and act in a rightful and patient way because marriage means a pact that we make with God.

Some people shouldn't get married because they get married for money and when there's money, there's love...but when the money ends the love gets lost.... If someone gets married for [wordly] interest and then divorce it's because they're not faithful to God.


Sandralee (female)

Many people don't get married, and many girls that get pregnant at an early age. Maybe because the men who get them pregnant don't have the ability to marry and maintain their wife.


Sterry (male)

Person 1: [Marriage] is terrible. I don't want responsiblity, I want to have adventures and lots of women.

Person 2: Marriage is something Christian. It's for loving each other, obeying each other, and respecting each other.

Person 1: I don't want to get married because it's not interesting for my life.

Person 2: But marriage is God's law.

Person 1: Of course...don't... say it [ellipsis original]

Person 2: You're joking, you could marry the woman you love.

Person 1: Don't sermonize!

Person 2: It's advice, not a sermon.

Person 1: Fine, I'll get married.

Noemi and Jolaina (female)

Person 1: I think marriage is a bad idea because...if the man is a drinker and machista, you have to tolerate his yelling and hitting. But if it's a religous marriage there's no divorce, it's until death.

Person 1: Marriage is nothing bad. When someone gets married they should love each other mutually, the man just like the woman. The woman shouldn't permit her husband to yell at her or lay a hand on her.

Person 1: But this can happen in any marriage because when a woman gets married she doesn't know what the man is like. At the beginning, he's all sentimental, but at the end he's bitter.

Solution: Because of this, there's dating so the partners can get to know each other well. When the man starts to talk rudely, better to end the relationship because it doesn't lead to anything. We women should defend our rights.


Helen (female)

"I think people don't get married very much because most of the population is very young and doesn't have marriage prospects. Most people get married when they have a stable economic condition."


Vicky (female)

Person 1: I want to get married.
Person 2: Why? You're really young.
Person 1: But I'm old enough.
Person 2: But why can't you be like me? I have my boyfriend.
Person 1: That's you. I'm me and you don't even want to have kids.
Person 2: Why should I care about kids?
Person 1: Yes, you have no heart.
Person 2: Why don't I have a heart?
Person 1: Because you don't even want to have one child.
Person 2: But a child costs too much.
Person 1: But a child is everything!
Person 2: How is it everything?
Person 1: Of course it's everything. A child is love, kindness.


Onier (male)

Joselin (fictional? woman): Are you going to marry me?
Onier: I can do you the favor, but the truth is I'm not ready.
Joselin: But I want to marry you.
Onier: We're young and I don't want to marry now.
Joselin: But I can't stand this anymore.
Onier: You know I don't work and I have my lackings.
Joselin: Tell me the truth. You don't want me.
Onier: It's not that. It's like I said, I'm not old enough to get married.
Joselin: You have someone else. That's why you don't want to marry me.
Onier: I can't do this anymore. I see that you want something serious with me and I can't see you anymore.


Iris and Meybi (female)

Person 1: I think marriage is good because it's where you unite your lives for your whole life.
Person 2: I disagree because you have to enjoy life and besides often there's infidelity.
Person 1: That's when they don't really love each other.
Person 2: I had a boyfriend and he cheated on me. Since then, I'm completely convinced that two people can't get married.
Person 1: You're wrong. If God's love is present, those people can understand each other.
Person 2: There's no love of God in people, only the devil's love.
Person 1: That's not true, because the devil's love doesn't exist in God nor in people.
Person 2: Ha ha ha, you're a genius. Marriage isn't for people.
Person 1: You don't believe the one that has to convince you. Open your damn eyes, blind girl!
Person 2: Reality is reality. Marriage doesn't exist.
Person 1: Of course it exists, you just don't accept it.
Person 2: It's fine, I'll get married or follow your advice. Thanks for your advice.


Margarita (female) and Kevin (male)

Margarita: I think marriage is sacred, serious, it isn't a game. It's when two people unite and give themselves to God...when you get married you have to be mature and aware of what you're going to do. It's necessary to have time to think and decide what you really want.

Kevin: Marriage is good for those people who want to form a good, dignified family with much love and kindness.

Margarita: I'm not going to get married, because you don't know what your husband is going to be like. At the beginning he treats you well, but later he mistreats you. That's why I don't want to get married, don't even think about getting married.

Kevin: I want to get married to live with my family and have lots of love together and live in harmony with God, my children, and my wife.


Esmelda (female)

For me the sacrament of marriage is important because it's good that someday we can follow a good path. Marriage is a promise that one makes with God to have faith in God and mutually act like a Christian. But for some people, they don't want to receive this gift or this sacrament. It's not important for them because they don't believe in God.

For others, they get married, but they leave each other again because one mistreats the other or the man wants to be with another woman, he doesn't love his wife or his children, abandons them and his children mistreat other people. Sometimes women part with their husbands. They run away when the man is at work, and the woman is happy with another man in the house.

..I don't know if I'm going to get married. I say I want to get married, but it may not be the gift God has given me.


Tayron and Kent (male)

Tayron: I think that marriage is a big responsibility for two partners, in which there must be: trust, kindness, care, and above all love. These things are vital in a marriage!!!! It's okay that a man or a woman gets married, but first they should choose that person well... ok!!!!!!

Kent: I think it's good to get married to have a family because through children you have a lot of help, because when they grow up they help us and also we have company through them, but also parents should be responsible in raising them so that their children grow up well.


Juan (male)

Person 1: A lovely marriage is that they feel a pure love between them and at the same time feel the love of our God and when they feel the pure love of God it's that they love each other and have an eternal marriage.

Person 2: I think it's a bad idea because if in less than ten years they separate they have to divide their material goods. When the love ends they live a war, they'll be unfaithful. Differences in opinion can come from having other children, economic issues.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Luto (or And Speaking of Death..)

Yesterday was a day of mourning in Puerto Cabezas. On Thursday night, a large truck carrying about 40 youth from the Central Miskito Moravian Church down the street took a turn too sharply and rolled over. They were on a mission trip to Waspam. Eight people died, including one of the pastors of the church, and dozens were injured. None of them were my students, although there was one Colegio del Nino Jesus student among the injured. It's the largest number of people who have died at one time in this region since the hurricane.

I accompanied two other teachers to the vigil in the Moravian church that had been going on non-stop since the night before. When people got word, they went to the church and waited all night for the bodies to start to arrive. When we got to the church, three of them were there; two boys in their late teens and one girl of about 8 or 10 years. There were crowds around the caskets, and several women weeping over the glass panels that opened on the faces of the young people. As best I understood him, the pastor was reminding people in Miskito to take their seats when they were done, to let the family and others have a chance to see the deceased, and to avoid crowding too much because it was very hot and people might faint. He also made announcements about when others were expected to arrive and when the wounded being treated in Waspam would be brought back, intermingled with words of reassurance about the power of God to deliver from death. One by one or in small groups, people came up to the microphone to offer a hymn. I was whisked into one of these groups by one of my companions, the music teacher.

I passed by several times later in the day. The number of caskets varied, as did the size of the crowds, but it was basically the same process all day and night. It reminded me of the tedious, even boring nature of grief as it simply lingers on, hour after hour.

The Canadian pastor of the Creole Moravian Church and her husband had described funerals in this city as more "organic," less sterilized than North American funerals. When I arrived I saw what they meant. The bodies of the dead are generally prepared by the families, not by professionals. I once heard Selmira half-joking with her sisters about which one would be painting her nails, and which would do her makeup after she died. While efforts are made to make the body diginified and presentable, they are nowhere near as extensive as in the US. Cotton had been put in the noses and, in one case, the mouth of the bodies to prevent leaking fluids. It just then occurred to me that they must do this in the US, but they take pains to make it not visible to the public. The same with the stitches that held together cheek of the little girl; there was no attempt to render them invisible. I remember, after my grandmother died, my mother reached out to touch her hand, and had to brush off her fingers a fine dusty paint that had been used to give my grandmother´s skin the appearance of life. The skin of these young people retained its pasty, ashen color of death. They were all dressed or shrouded in white, draped to conceal the worst of the head damage, but bloodstains had not all been diligently purged, a la Lady Macbeth.

All the while, I severely questioned my motives for looking upon those who had died. Was I motivated by a desire to accompany the living in their grief and the dead in their passing? Or at least an anthropological curiosity to see the burial preparations of the urban Miskito culture? Certainly these were both present. I couldn't help feeling my motivation also carried an element of a rubbernecker or a gawker, looking for shock and gore. Then I decided to look on this motive with compassion. I have generally only seen death when living people are made up to look dead or when dead people are made up to look living. How many times have I seen death just being death? I think of the times I came upon a dead squirrel in the yard of my house in Milwaukee, or the dead dogs in the streets of Managua. Every one of these moments jars me from my ilusion of life's security. I remember that I am like an infant who lacks object permanence, forgetting about that which is not in my line of sight. There is something compelling about looking upon the absence of life where it once had been. It is certainly a reminder of life's fragility, but I was more struck in the moment by life's power to transmit expression, color, dynamism, and love. It was as if lightning had struck the coffin, leaving a hole in the fabric of the living world, to be gradually be filled with more life. I was left wondering where all that energy had gone. It couldn't have just vanished. Just as I had forgotten death by its absence in my life, so had I been desensitized to soul, by its abundance. The absence of the soul was so conspicous as to leave no doubt in me that it had at once been present, and had since vacated the premises.

In the end, I find myself yet again realizing that I am not, nor will I be completely acclimated to life here, in this place of abundant life and abundant death.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dia de los Muertos

...was back in November. I wrote a poem about it, which I just came across while organizing my files. I submitted it to my writers' group, where it was met with mixed reviews. Since long distance, in this case, has precluded an in-depth editorial conversation, I let the project lie like the dead people we commemorated that day. But since blogs are all about first drafts, mediocrity be damned, I present my poem for your potential edification:

Dia de los Difuntos

Pines, as I know them,
Are the green that remains through the harshest winter
There is another evergreen, all but forgotten in my world:
That of the land which knows no winter.
In this place, palm trees and pines grow together
Up from grass that grows exuberantly
around the graves of so many little ones.

Look, there’s my husband. In the dark blue.
My eyes find their rest upon the immaculate tomb.
“Que lindo es!”
How lovely it is.
How lovely he is.

In a place of so many palms,
Pine is the symbol they claim.
As hearts enduring a hidden barren season,
The abundant death shrouded in abundant life.
Grief thrives like the flora,
But they have not come to grieve.
They have come to accompany.
as I have come to accompany
The living, and today the dead.
See, love, a foreigner has come to visit you

Cleaning, painting, tidying their homes,
Most families simply sit,
Gladly accepting the hospitality of their loved ones’ resting places.
A girl of 10 reclines upon a tomb no larger than her own body.
Two children resting in each other’s presence,
A mirror image in life and death.
Two old women sing
I do not know if the pitches they seek are the same or different
But their voices meet in startling harmony,
Not quite unison and not quite dissonant.

They pray for resurrection and eternal life in heaven,
Yet the spirits never leave them on the journey,
Can never escape their care, even in heaven.
Lord, remember those dead whose names are lost to us,
Lest they have need we cannot know.
In heaven or on earth, walking together as a community unbroken

In this place, the land of the palm and the land of the pine are one.
Under their protective shade, families are whole again.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Bit of Litter-ature

"You know," I said to Kate, a volunteer in Managua, as we stepped over the rotting carcass of a dog on the way to the grocery store, "Puerto Cabezas really is prettier than Managua, though there's more trash in the streets there.

"There's MORE trash in the streets there?"

In Nicaragua, and especially underdeveloped areas like Puerto, the burden of what to do with the byproducts of consumption is borne not by the government and the poor neighborhoods that get stuck with trash disposal sites. It's borne by every individual. I've only ever seen recently dead dogs in Puerto Cabezas, and only maybe twice at that. I don't know if people clear them out, or if the impressive rate of decomposition, in no small part due to Bilwi's army of vultures, takes care of them before I notice. Dead dogs notwithstanding, Bilwi does have a lot more trash in its streets than Managua. It's not because the people are more apt to throw trash here than in Managua. Both places teem with litterbugs. It's because Managua has trash collection services, while Bilwi, for all intents and purposes, does not.

Our first exposure to Bilwi's garbage disposal policies came shortly after we arrived. The guys we were living with at the time started a cheery bonfire just outside Susan's window. We watched in lurid fascination as a plastic chair melted into oblivion.

Burning is the most common means of trash removal here. Larger organizations and wealthier folk pay for private trash removal services by men who take it and do God knows what with it. When we moved into our new house, I thought, "Good gracious, I can't burn my trash. I'm an American, for Christ's sake." So I dutifully sojourned to the municipal services office on the other side of the city. I met with the man in charge of trash collection, and he assured me his people could come and pick it up. After several weeks of faithfully putting our trash outside, to have it ripped apart by the dogs, and then putting it out in rice sacks, to have it sniffed at longingly by the dogs, we finally realized that the mythical trash men weren't coming.

Indignant, I felt a surge of capitalist righteousness rise within me. "If we can't get the public service to pick up our trash, we might as well contract someone that we can refuse to pay for not removing our trash!" And so we did. Unfortunately, private contracting does not guarantee regular pick-up, only squabbling over payment. So much for capitalism. After months of trash struggles, burning became more and more appealing. Susan forbids burning trash in our yard (something about toxic fumes...?) so I waited until she had left on vacation to try my hand at burning trash. It may be toxic and un-American, but turns out it's satisfying and oddly thrilling. Just don't get the fumes in your eyes. It burns.

The official government position is that people should bury their trash. My response is "Where, next to my well?" Burying the trash means I'll be drinking it eventually. Burning it means I'll breathe it. Chuck it in the ocean, and it'll come back in your seafood. In the face of these options, maybe the best one is what so many people opt for; just throw it by the road. It may be unsightly, but at least I'm not consuming it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Out of the Closet with a Stack of Books

One of the joys of my time here in Puerto Cabezas is the amount of reading I've been able to do. Book after blessed book, I curl up in my hammock and read for hours, or until someone comes to the door or window looking for attention. I've long contemplated writing a blog entry about the reading I've accomplished, but I've been balking for several reasons. First of all, I figure, anyone in the US can read a book, even more easily than I can here in Nicaragua. People want to hear about life in Nicaragua, not about the time I spend engaging in reading, that most un-Nicaraguan of activities. This is an oral culture. People spend time talking about Ruben Dario, not poring over his collected works time and time again. This brings me to my second reason, which is guilt. I feel a bit guilty for the time I spend in my room with my books, or the time I read instead of talk while waiting for dance practice to start. I should be using the time to immerse myself in the local culture, part of which involves NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, SHOULD YOU FIND YOURSELF ALONE.

Then, today, I opened up that gem of a blog written by Peace Corps volunteer Jake Grossman. I found that he had written an entire entry not only reflecting upon the importance of books in his life in Paraguay, but reporting detailed statistical data he had carefully compiled on the books he had read, which is double the number I have read. I thought, "Wow, if this most excellent international blog can extoll the joys of reading, why can't I?" And so the story of my reading hobby is declassified from the top-secret files in my heart. (The story of my romantic life, however, has lost the petition for declassification for the time being. Besides, it may end up being the primary plot thread that ties together Puerto Cabezas: The Book)

I haven't spent free time devouring books this voraciously since grade school. Susan attributes it to the lack of other activities in which to engage, but I think it's more than that. First of all, I burned out a bit on reading after college. I'm finally over it. Secondly, I believe the sheer enormity of reading possibilities I had in the US actually limited the amount of reading I did. I would go into the wonderful, magical downtown Milwaukee Public Library and be so overwhelmed by the options that I would end up leaving with no book in hand. On the chance I did find a book, I would think, "Oh, this isn't SO great. There are so many other choices that I should go find another." And so my reading career faltered.

Here in Puerto Cabezas, I read whatever other ex-pats offer me. Susan and Lee, for sure, but also Deborah, the Canadian pastor of the Moravian church down the street, and Solveig, the Norwegian nurse currently working at a local university. Deborah and her husband Don have been my primary dealer of reading material. My parents have also brought me books. The book that I am reading now, James Michener's memoir entitled "The World is My Home," is one my family and I found in a hotel in Granada, where it had been abandoned after being checked out from the Miami-Dade Public Library (judging by the due date, not so very long ago).

As it turns out (and as Jake mentios), the books I read haven't been so terribly far removed from my experiences here. Diana Gabaldon's Outlander tells of a woman who builds a new community about her after being ripped suddenly from her own place and time. I could relate very much to her sense of being caught between worlds, despite the gentle waft of Harlequin rising from its pages, diminishing my normally robust apetite for reading. I do have to question the wisdom of my pastors who gave me The Sparrow before I left Milwaukee. A book about a missionary expedition that ends in massive bloodshed and the brutal deaths of nearly all involved is not exactly what you want to be reading when starting out on a year of service. Still, it was a lovely theological exploration with compelling characters that reminded me of the long and mixed tradition of overseas service workers and seekers in which I find myself. Jan Wong's excellent memoir Red China Blues was a lovely companion, sharing experience both the allure and the struggle of spending an extended period in another country, especially a poor one. Above all, that's what these books have been; companions, new friends to accompany me on my journey and share their wisdoms. Even Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, which I venture is about as unremarkable as one would expect from a book that draws its critical acclaim from Julia Roberts and Elle magazine, proved an amiable companion that provided a word of unwavering self-love and care at a time when I needed just such a message.

As my options close, my mind opens. I try out new books I would not otherwise have picked off the shelf, and I have not only made it through most of them, I have enjoyed them vastly. I've rediscovered that feeling I had once in college, when, curled up in bed with a theology book, I heard someone having sex. I smiled to myself and realized I could not be any happier than right there, where I was, with only my book for company.

The Books I Have Read in Nicaragua Thus Far :

1) The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell
2) Shibumi by Trevanian
3) Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
4) The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud by Julia Navarro
5) Red China Blues: From Mao to Now by Jan Wong
5) The Lost Chord by Ian Thomas
6) The Devil in the White City: Murder, Madness and Magic at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
7) The Eight by Katherine Neville
8) White Stone Day by John M. Gray
9) The Doomsday Key by James Rollins
10)Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
11)Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
12)Life of Pi by Yann Martel
13)The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by AJ Jacobs
14)Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia
15)Games for Actors and Non-Actors 2nd Edition by Augusto Boal
16)The Time-Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
17) Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal
Currently Reading:
Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal by Rachel Naomi Remen
Bible: A Biography by Karen Armstrong
The World is My Home: A Memoir by James Michener

Books that I made a grand effort at and have yet to finish:
Canterbury Papers: A Novel by Judith Healey
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin