Saturday, September 29, 2012


Just last night we got back home from one of our weeklong teaching trips to rural Nicaragua -- this time to the small community of Los Mangos, on the other side of Waslala in the Northern region. Traveling in the campo is always an adventure of bad roads and unexpected happenings, and that goes triple for the rainy season. This trip we saw one large transport truck that had fallen into a river after a dirt embankment, weakened by the rains, collapsed under its weight. We returned muddy, but thankfully without any incidents.

For some reason we also found ourselves in the middle of not one, but two (!) independence parades, first in Sébaco and later in the tiny village of La Mora (photo above). Nicaraguans celebrate their independence on the 14th and 15th of September (the 14th remembers the Battle of San Jacinto and the 15th, Central American Independence from Spain), but much of the month of September can be taken up by patriotic celebrations. In the case of La Mora, the parade marched the length of the town, with a baton twirler, numerous drummers and lots of flags and signs. No one was remotely bothered by the light rain. We watched until the marchers passed and then headed on our way.

Friday, September 14, 2012

This Far From Home

One useful thing about traveling in Nicaragua are the kilometer markers. No matter which road you're on you always know how far away you are from the center of Managua. We see #200--weather beaten and jutting from the greenery--whenever we visit La Misión Cristiana church #8 "La Colonia" in the small town of Rancho Grande.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Another First Birthday

This beauty turns one today! It's hard to believe that much time has passed since we brought her home from the hospital. And yet, here she is, toddling around the house, charming all she encounters. For me at least, the first year of Maya's life has felt much easier than the first year with the first baby.

Many things about our life in Nicaragua make caring for small children a little easier -- it's more acceptable to bring the kids to many of our work activities, childcare is more affordable (even relative to our income), and we both have a lot of flexibility with our work schedules. Also, I think we may have actually learned some things from the hazing that first time around

And yet, it's certainly not all the same. She's very much her own person. She started walking even younger than Quinn, and has yet to utter a recognizable word. (Tim reminded me a few weeks ago that Quinn actually said her first word before she took her first step.) This is completely unsurprising, given that she's taking in two languages. She seems to understand quite a few things in both English and Spanish.

She has a sweet smile, complete with one little dimple in her right cheek, and an impressive screech of protest (it's hard being the little sister). She adores Quinn and will sometimes walk up to her and spontaneously hug her. She's a social kid, and is fascinated by babies and children. She also will play happily by herself. She loves climbing, playing with strings or ribbons, putting her fingers in small holes, and twirling mango leaves between her fingers.

We love you, Maya! Happy Birthday!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Plate Tectonics on the Brain

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the earthquake that destroyed Managua in 1972, and the media loves to remind us that Managua has suffered a big earthquake, oh, roughly every 40 to 45 years give or take. 1885, 1931, 1972, 20??, dot dot dot. Cue ominous background music.

The local geosphere is also getting in on the fun and doing its best to freak everybody out. First we had increased activity at Volcán Masaya so much that they had to close the park to visitors. Then biggish earthquakes in neighboring El Salvador (7.3) and Costa Rica (7.6), plus a series of mini-tremors underneath Lake Managua. And now a big eruption at Volcán San Cristobal near Chinandega.

Anyway, seismic activity has been on everyone's mind and lips this week. We prayed for the evacuees last night at church. Hopefully, these events are just the fault lines letting off some steam! And if you're interested, Global Voices has posted some videos of the volcano eruption taken by local citizens.
Image by Ricci Rich Silva via Twitpic. Via Global Voices.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sunrise with Church

The sun coming up over the Christian Mission Church in San Pedro. The congregation has decided to expand the size of the building, so the red brick wall will eventually be the new front wall of the church. The old facade is visible through the archway. This church has a name in addition to a number -- "Camino Aemaus" or "The Road to Emmaus."

Friday, September 7, 2012

Book Recommendations

When people ask us for book recommendations about Nicaragua, we usually point to Blood of Brothers, by Stephen Kinzer and The Country Under My Skin, by Gioconda Belli. (Click the links to read my review on goodreads.) Let me add a third, a book of photography and testimonies called Nicaragua: Surviving the Legacy of U.S. Policy, by Paul Dix and Pamela Fitzpatrick. The photography in the book is stunning, but it makes for a much more intense reading experience that might not be for everyone. Here's my brief review:
Lots of books are described as labors of love, but Paul Dix and Pamela Fitzpatrick's somber, moving photo essay certainly qualifies. During the Contra War of the 1980s, Dix was a Witness for Peace photographer documenting the consequences of war for rural Nicaraguans living in the war zones. Decades later the authors returned to Nicaragua with a stack of 100 photos and criss-crossed the country in buses trying to track down the (usually unnamed) faces found there. Some people were found in the very same village, others had migrated across the country. The result is a beautiful but harrowing portrait of a nation in recovery.

To be honest, the book is fairly grim in places. The contras targeted civilians, especially those with ties to the Sandinistas - literacy volunteers, farm-coop members and the like. And so we meet orphaned children, widows and widowers, grieving parents and an overwhelming number of people who lost limbs to landmines or ambushes. Almost to a person the interviewees say they cannot forget or erase the moment in which violence changed their lives, and even those whose bodies remain whole carry scars. But miraculously, there is a lot of forgiveness found here too. Turning a shoulder to the past is a necessity, in part because contras and Sandinistas come from the same families, still live together in the same villages, and still congregate at the same churches.

By and large, the economic situation for the people had not changed much in the follow-up interviews and the neo-liberal governments that followed the 1990 elections had rolled back many of the Sandinista reforms regarding access to education and health care. The subtext of the book (as well as the subtitle) is the consequences of U.S. policy, and the authors often pose the question, "What would you say to the people of the United States?" More than one person connects U.S. involvement in Nicaragua in the '80s to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today. (Many of the follow-up interviews were conducted in 2002 during the run-up to the Iraq war.)

The U.S. is seemingly constantly at war, but we always arrange to conduct those wars in somebody else's backyard. This book is a reminder of the terrible costs that war exacts on the locals. These sorts of books are typically published years after the war in question is finished, but they still carry important truths that we should keep in mind for the next one.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sandino Vive

The Sandinista revolution of 1979 brought with it a flood of murals and street art celebrating the revolution. In Managua, many of these were painted over when the neo-liberals returned to power in 1990. However in the city of León (which is a little like the Berkeley of Nicaragua) many of the murals have been preserved and maintained. This colorful silhouette of Augusto César Sandino (with his boot on Uncle Sam's head) is one of the more famous ones and is located just a block from León's central square.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Mural Muro

Here are a few faces peering out from the walls in our neighborhood.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Evangelical Musical Sampler, Vol. 3

It's been awhile since I've posted about the music we hear in church. So here are a few more pentecostal tunes to start your week.

Our first song is one of the biggest crowd-pleasers in the repertoire -- "Alaba a Dios" ("Praise God") by Danny Berrios. It's got a great build to a dramatic chorus and it does that ascending key change thing at the end. The church often busts it out when they want to bring their "A" game. Church services typically open with an hour of music and this is often the capstone just before the preacher starts.

There are really only a handful of songs that were familiar to us from the U.S. When we have groups visiting, "We Are Walking in the Light of God" is popular since the Spanish version, "Caminando en la Luz de Dios" is well-known. (I keep pushing to get people to sing the Siyahamba verses too.) Occasionally we hear songs that meld church-y lyrics to popular tunes like "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" or this one (listen and let me know if you recognize the melody).

But one popular song that does earn that shock of recognition for us is "Abre Mis Ojos, o Cristo", a translation of "Open the Eyes of My Heart." Thankfully, the Spanish avoids the mixed metaphor of the English version. I could never help picturing a Valentine heart with animated eyeballs when singing this song.

The next song -- "Este corito es" ("This Choir is...") by Doris Machin -- is super-pentecostal in its theme (lots of Holy Spirit) and is one of Laura Jean's favorites because it has fun participatory dance moves. Now everyone spin around!

One more for a closer: here's "Te doy gloria" ("I give you glory") by Luz y Salvación. Mosh pit!