Saturday, October 30, 2010

Quinn Settles In

Many people have asked how Quinn is doing, so we thought it was time for an update for her many fans.

She did have some trouble our first couple weeks, mainly because a) she was frustrated that everyone spoke Spanish (she would yell at us when we spoke Spanish to other people) and b) she didn't have many kids to hang out with. But it did not take long before she accepted that all of our new friends speak Spanish. At first she asked every time we met someone, "Does this friend speak Spanish?" but just yesterday she was talking about her cousin Grace and said "She's my friend. But she doesn't speak Spanish."

Watching her start to learn Spanish has been really quite amazing. I still expect that sometime in this first year, she will be rattling it off while I am still struggling to form sentences and learn verb forms. The first thing she mastered was "¿Como se llama?" that is "What's your name?" and she would proudly ask each taxi driver, sometimes even remembering to respond correctly "Me llamo Quinn." A few weeks after we got here, she was explaining to me that "¡Que linda!" (how pretty) meant something like "Nice to meet you." -- because almost everyone who met her for the first time had the same response. Just a couple weeks ago, she told me "Enrique" means girl and "Pa" means "boy," only to decide that she had it backwards. Luis Enrique and Paula Elena are friends in her class, so I think that is the origin of those Quinn-spanish terms. Perhaps the most interesting thing is how we don't really know how much Spanish she knows, because she always speaks English with us but at school her interaction with her classmates is in Spanish.

Which brings us to... school! Perhaps the biggest development since our arrival in Nicaragua is that Quinn has started school. She's in preschool at a colegio that goes all the way through high school, and all the kids wear uniforms (this was the case in all the preschools we visited, whether or not they were part of a larger school). Every Friday, though, the preschool and kindergarten kids get to wear whatever they want, which Quinn really enjoys. Yesterday she chose a purple shirt and red shorts -- both of which she put on by herself, with great pride -- backwards. Here are the obligatory first day of school shots:

Yesterday was also the day she got her first report card! The "grades" were "Achieved," "In Development," and "Not Achieved." We were surprised to see some of the things she can do -- like name shapes in Spanish. We were not at all suprised that she sometimes has trouble following directions (not that she doesn't understand, but that she's sometimes willful). The teacher said "We know she's still a baby, she has lots of time to reach these goals." Her teachers, Teacher Tanya and Teacher Rosita (which usually comes out "Teacher'Sita" when Quinn says it), are warm and loving, and look out for Quinn a little extra since she's still adjusting to the language and is the youngest student in the class. They can do this because she is one of only seven kids in her class.

In her free time, now that her parents got some wheels, Quinn has been venturing outside Managua to see some of the sights. A couple weeks ago, we went to Volcan Masaya, about a 20 minute drive south of Managua. You can drive up to the lip of the crater and climb stairs to a high point and look down into the smoking crater. Quinn was very excited about "the tall mountain." Dora the Explorer, one of her current cartoon idols, has lots of adventures, and they frequently involve tall mountains (or, you know, going to the highest hill). So, Quinn was very excited about having an adventure that involved climbing a tall mountain. She took issue, however, with our description of a volcano as a tall mountain with a hole in the top. Because we were able to climb up high and look down at the crater, she kept talking about how "the tall mountain doesn't have a hole at the top."

Climbing the mountain

Yay volcano!

For those of you who might have concerns about her hygiene or comfort, she is the only member of our household who regularly gets a hot bath.

Yes, this does involve boiling water. :)

And, to wrap up this Quinn update, here are some of her latest dance moves:

We think she's feeling at home here.


If you read any guidebook on Nicaragua they paint a pretty fearsome picture of Managua, the capital city and our new home.  They toss around phrases like "difficult," "little-loved" and "disturbing," and suggest that you leave immediately from the airport for more tourist-friendly places like Granada.  Do not pass go, do not spend a night in Managua.

(Although, I recently picked up a copy of the Rough Guide to California and found that my hometown of Fresno was described as "almost classic in its ugliness."  So... thanks a lot, jerks!  I think we can conclude that guidebook authors are generally snobs and shills for the tourism industry.)

I will say that I did find Managua a little intimidating for the first week or so that we were here.  It is strange to remember that time because so much that struck me as strange now seems normal.  Such is culture shock, I guess.

It is true that Managua is a difficult city to visit.  It sprawls like L.A. so you can't really rely on walking to get around.  Unlike most tourist meccas, it utterly lacks a quaint city center, since old downtown Managua was leveled by a catastrophic earthquake in 1972 and never really rebuilt.  In the difficult years following the earthquake, the city spilled outward in a flood of barrios, streets and rotundas, bound only by the lake to the north.  There have been several attempts to manufacture shiny new city centers with hotels and shopping malls, now strung like pearls along the road to Masaya.  Useful places, but they don't exactly give the city much flavor.

To add to the initial visitor's confusion, the city is almost completely lacking in street names, street signs and house numbers.  This has given rise to a Cartesian system for giving directions that actually works quite smoothly once you're oriented.  Addresses for houses and business will be relative to some well-known landmark (or, in some cases, former landmark), then e.g. two blocks abajo (meaning west toward the setting sun), one block al lago (meaning north to the lake).

Virtually all of the houses here present a closed face to street -- windows with bars and walls topped with barbed wire.  Partly this is a response to crime (although in terms of violent crime, Nicaragua is currently the safest country in C.A.) and partly architectural style.  This can seem closed-off and unwelcoming, until you realize that virtually everyone is out on the street anyway.

All of which is to say, we're not here because Managua is a tropical vacation paradise.  Managua is a beautiful city because of the amazing people we've met.  And really, the greatness of a city like New York (for example) goes far beyond the handful of tourist attractions in Manhattan.  Managua is a little like that -- its bulk and energy and history are what makes it impressive.

And there are definitely specific aspects of the city that are growing on me.  For example, I love how mixed-use the neighborhoods are.  Two doors down from our house we have a pulperia (a small grocery store run out of a family's home) and we're a short walk from a natural medicine center, dentists, cyber-cafes, schools, restaurants, pharmacies.  To say nothing of the vendors who come down our street daily with fresh fruit and tortillas.

Anyway, that's our brief tour and initial impressions of our new city.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

(What's that got to do with) The Price of Beans

For a lot of people living in Nicaragua, the past few months have been a little rough.  This rainy season has been unusually wet and the level of Lake Managua has risen to its highest level in many decades -- higher even than levels after the infamous Hurricane Mitch.  This has spelled disaster for hundreds of families living along the lakeshore who have been flooded out of the homes and are currently living in government-provided housing. 

Sadly, nearly 70 people have died as a result of the rains and the flooding, including 5 Red Cross workers who were caught in a flash flood crossing a river.

The rains have also helped to destroy a good portion of the local harvest of red beans -- a staple food for virtually every Nicaraguan (and us!).  The bad harvest, combined with a controversial sale of red beans to El Salvador, has caused the market price to double in the past few weeks and has put beans out of reach for some poorer families.  President Ortega even got himself in hot water when he suggested that people substitute green peas in traditional Nica dishes (blasphemy!).

For me, its been another reminder that many, many people in this world live perched on the brink and for them disaster doesn't always come in the form of a (telegenic, dramatic) earthquake or tsunami, but rather from a small flexing of market forces that wealthier people probably don't even notice.  Anyway, the past few weeks have been hot and dry and reportedly the lake level is going back down again; hopefully those families will be able to return home soon and cook some dinner.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I've been trying to learn some Nica music for guitar, and this is where people tell me to start. This song is called "Nicaragua, Nicaraguita," which someone described to me as Nicaragua's Second National Anthem.

He estado tratando de aprender algo musica Nica para guitarra, y aqui es donde la gente me dice para comenzar. Esta canción se llama "Nicaragua, Nicaraguita" que alguien me describió como el segundo Himno Nacional de Nicaragua.

The singer/songwriter is Carlos Mejía Godoy, who is similarly one of the most famous and beloved of Nicaragua's musicians. His music is often associated with the 1979 revolution and the Sandinista government of the 1980s, and indeed this 1983 performance is from the middle of the Contra war.

El cantante y compositor es Carlos Mejía Godoy, que es igualmente uno de los más famosos y queridos de los músicos de Nicaragua. A menudo, su música es asociada con la revolución de 1979 y el gobierno de las sandinistas de los 80s, y de hecho este rendimiento de 1983 es de la mitad de la guerra de las Contras.

Ay Nicaragua, Nicaraguita,
la flor mas linda de mi querer,
abonada con la bendita,
Nicaraguita, sangre de Diriangén.

Ay Nicaragua sos mas dulcita,
que la mielita de Tamagas,
pero ahora que ya sos libre,
Nicaraguita, yo te quiero mucho mas.
pero ahora que ya sos libre,
Nicaraguita, yo te quiero mucho mas.


Ay Nicaragua, Nicaraguita
the most beautiful flower of my love
fertilized with the blessed blood of Diriangén.

Ay Nicaragua, you are sweeter than the honey of Tamagas,
but now that you are free, Nicaraguita, I love you even more,
but now that you are free, Nicaraguita, I love you even more.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Día de la Biblia

Two weeks ago, we celebrated la Día de la Biblia, which is a national day to commemorate the 441st anniversary of the publication of la Reina-Valera. La Reina-Valera was the first important translation of the Bible into Spanish, and still the most commonly used in the churches we have visited here so far (although it has been updated a few times). (You can think of it as analogous to the King James Bible in English.) La Misión Cristiana celebrated the day with a parade and a worship service that brought together folks from most of the local Managuan churches.

Hace dos semanas, celebramos la Día de la Biblia, que es un día nacional para conmemorar el 441o anniversario de la publicación de la Reina-Valera. La Reina-Valera era el primero traducción importante de la Biblia al Español, y todavía es lo más común version usado en las iglesias que hemos visitado. (Podés pensar de esto cómo un análogo de la Biblía King James en ingles.) La Misión Cristiana celebró el día con un desfile y un culto que reunió la gente de las iglesias locales de Managua.

They dressed up a truck with balloons and palm branches and a giant cardboard Bible to serve as a float for the parade.

Una camioneta se vistió con globos y palmas y un gigante Biblia de cartón para servir cómo un floatador para el desfile.

The day was rainy and wet, and we all stood around in the drizzle waiting for people to gather.

El día estaba lluvioso, y todos estaban en pie en la llovizna y estaban esperando para que la gente se reuna.

Nick Green -- who is serving as a Global Ministries intern in El Salvador -- was also in town and we got to meet and hang out with him a little bit. Nick has visited La Misión Cristiana in Nicaragua several times with the South Idaho region of the Disciples, so we heard lots of good stories from him.

Nick Green -- quien desempeña como un intern de Ministerios Globales en El Salvador -- también estaba en Managua y le conocíamos y pasamos un poco de tiempo con él. Nick ha visitado La Misión Cristiana muchas veces con la región del sur de Idaho de los Discipulos, y por eso escuchamos muchos buenas historias de él.

The other local churches showed up in big buses, and they each had color-coded t-shirts.

Las otras iglesias llegaron en buses y cada llevó camisas de su proprio color.

Eventually, the parade got under way. We walked about 20 blocks from the 7th church to the 3rd church. The kids led the march with lots of songs and chants, and people came out of their houses to watch us pass by.

Finalmente, el desfile se puso en marcha. Caminamos 20 cuadras de la septima iglesia a la tercera iglesia. Los jovenes encabezó la marcha con canciónes y cantos, y la gente salió de sus cases para ver.

Eventually, we ended up at the 3rd church for a long, rousing worship service. They had set up a tent that didn't quite hold everyone, but by that point the rains had nearly stopped, and by the end the sun was out.

Finalmente, terminamos a la tercera para un culto largo y entusiasto. Había una tienda en cual la gente casi cupo, pero por eso momento las lluvias habían acabado y el sol había aparecido.

Note from Laura Jean: In some of my preparatory reading, I came across the idea that the rapid growth of Pentecostalism in recent decades can be thought of as the Protestant Reformation finally reaching Latin America. This huge parade and celebration of the Reina-Valera translation certainly gave the feeling that the Reformation is alive and well.

Nota de Laura Jean: me encontré con la idea que la creciencia rápido de pentecostalismo en las últimas decadas se puede considerar como la reforma protestante llegando finalmente a America Latina. Por cierto, este desfile grande y la celebracion de la Reina-Valera nos dieron la impresión de la reformación esta vivo.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

More Church

I wanted to add to Laura Jean's last post on the amazing welcome we've received here, by talking a little about the churches we've visited and the people we've met.

For me, the music has been the key to every church we've been to (which shouldn't surprise anyone who knows me). Each service is a little like a rock concert ... and I mean that in the best possible way. Everyone knows the songs and sings, claps, stomps, sways along with hands in the air. The music is loud and energetic -- usually drums, guitar and/or keyboards, all fully amped -- and (unlike most U.S. churches that I've seen) there are usually 10-12 songs in the course of a worship service. In almost every service the music has given me that surge of excitement that comes from a powerful shared experience -- even when I only partially understood the words being sung.

The churches of La Misión Cristiana are small, usually 30-150 people, and rooted in their respective neighborhood communities. The denomination is Pentecostal -- a brand of faith that has grown rapidly in (previously, largely Catholic) Latin America over the past few decades, and which places a special emphasis on the personal, emotional experience of God via the Holy Spirit. Each church has a minister, but it is the church members who seem to handle much of the song leading and preaching -- indeed one pastor told us that 70% of his members preach from time to time. This makes sense because the pastors only stay in one church for 3 (sometimes 6) years before being shuffled around. In other words, the "leadership" may come and go, but the church remains the same.

La Misión Cristiana also has a strong focus on social justice. One church we've visited a couple of times has classes and events for the neighborhood kids virtually every night of the week, in addition to providing some basic services to a very poor community. They are currently thinking about how they might expand their physical classroom space, since that what is currently limiting the number of kids they can work with. The space they have now is simple (think concrete block rooms stuffed with plastic chairs), but they do amazing things with it.

Anyway, those are some of my first impressions. So far, we haven't visited any churches more than an hour from Managua, and as everyone likes to tell us, the churches outside the capital are somewhat different (we shall see!). I know both of us are excited to get beyond introductions and start the work we will do here with the awesome people we've met.

Our next post will have some pictures from last weekend's Día de la Biblia celebration to mark the 441st anniversary of the first Spanish translation of the Bible.

[[ Apologies for the slow posting of late, but we've run into a few technical difficulties. The internet service we currently have is very fast, but is basically unusable during the evenings (i.e. when we most want to use it). It operates over the cell network and when that network is saturated we get zilch. This week we're trying out the competing company and it seems to be much more reliable. Also: Quinn dropped our digital camera and broke it, and it took us quite while to find a place that could fix it. It works now, except for the flash, so... no night-time pictures for the time being. ]]


Quiero añadir al ultimo post de Laura Jean sobre el bienvenido tremendo que hemos recibido aquí, para hablar un poco de las iglesias que hemos visitado y la gente que hemos conocido.

Para mí, la musica es la llave de cada iglesia que hemos visitado (que no debe sorpresar nadie que me conoce). Cada culto es un poco como un concierto de rock ... y quiero decir que en la mejor manera posible. Todas las personas saben las canciones y cantan, aplauden, pisan, con manos al cielo. La musica es fuerte y energetico -- tipico tambores, guitarra y/o piano electrico, todo con mucho amplificación -- y (a differencia a la mayoria de iglesias de los EE.UU) por lo general hay 10 a 12 canciones en un culto. En casi cada culto la musica me ha dado una ola de emoción que resulta de una experiencia poderosa y compartido -- incluso cuando yo sólo entendí un parte de las palabras que se cantan.

Las iglesias de la Misión Cristiana son pequeño, por lo general 30-150 personas, y tienen raíces en sus comunidades respectivas. La denominación es pentecostal -- una marca de fe que ha crecido rapidamente en America Latina (anteriormente, en gran parte Catholica) en las decadas anteriores, y la cual pone un especial enfasís en un experiencia de Dios personal y emocional, a traves del Espíritu Santo. Cada iglesia tiene un ministro, pero los miembros están encargados de la predicacion y la direcion de los canciones -- de hecho, un pastor nos dijo que 70% of los miembros de sus iglesia predican de vez en cuando. Esto tiene sentido porque los pastores sólo se quedan en una iglesia por 3 (a veces 6) años antes de mover. En otras palabras, el "liderazgo" puede aparecer y desaparecer, pero la iglesia sigue siendo la misma.

La Misión Cristiana también tiene un enfoque fuerte en la justicia social. Una iglesia que hemos visitado tiene clases y eventos para los niños del barrio prácticamente todas las noches de la semana, además de proveer servicios basicos a una comunidad muy pobre. Actualmente, están pensando en cómo poder ampliar el espacio disponible para las aulas, ya que está limitando el numero de niños que pueden trabajar. El actual espacio es sencillo (aulas de concreto rellenos de sillas de plastico), pero ellos hacen cosas increibles con el.

De todos modos, esas son algunas de mis primeras impresiónes. Hasta ahora, no hemos visitados ningunas iglesias más de un hora de Managua, y todas las personas nos dijeron que las iglesia fuera de la capital son differentes (lo veremos!). Sé que los dos estamos muy contentos de ir más allá de la introducción y empezar el trabajo que va a hacer aquí con la gente increíble que he conocido.

Nuestro próximo post hay algunas fotos del último fin de semana de Día de la Biblia celebración para conmemorar el 441o aniversario de la primera traducción española de la Biblia.

[[Disculpas por el lento escribiendo de la tarde, pero nos hemos encontrado algunas dificultades técnicas. El servicio de Internet que tenemos actualmente es muy rápido, pero es básicamente inservible durante la noche (es decir, cuando más queremos usarlo). Opera sobre la red celular y cuando esa red se satura tenemos nada de nada. Esta semana estamos tratando la otra empresa de internet y parece ser mucho más fiable. También: Quinn cayó nuestra cámara y lo partió, y nos llevó bastante tiempo encontrar un lugar que podía arreglarlo. Actúa ahora, excepto para el flash, así que ... no hay fotos de la noche - por el momento. ]]