Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Quem ama abraça (S/he who loves, Embraces)

Here's a music video that's been making the rounds at the university. It was shown as part of our "Women and Climate Change" event from December (which I mentioned here, and still hope to post more about). It's a Brazilian video in support of a campaign against violence against women (kind of a "We Are The World"-style collaboration). The title is "Quem Ama Abraça", which (I think) is Portuguese for "S/he who loves, Embraces." Plus, it's pretty catchy.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Good Movies about Latin America

I was asked recently about which movies I would recommend about Latin America. I'm certainly not an expert on the topic, but I did want to highlight two, especially since they are not that well known: Men With Guns and Burn!

John Sayles is an independent American writer and director who has made some fantastic films in his time (Eight Men Out, Lone Star, and especially Matewan) but Men With Guns is one of his best. The story concerns a well-to-do doctor who lives in the capital city of some unnamed Latin American country. Initially unaware of the dirty war being waged by his government in the rural areas, he sets off into the campo in search of two of his students who disappeared while working at a rural medical clinic. He enters into a world where the poor, indigenous people are preyed upon by hombres armados on all sides. Trekking deeper and deeper into the jungle and the conflict, he leaves behind his comfortable world until he hears a rumor that his last student has taken refuge -- high up in the mountains -- in a village that has never known violence.

Sayles' style is very simple, almost primitive. The doctor's quest is not explicitly religious, but contains powerful currents of a spiritual quest as well as a search for personal redemption. Sayles doesn't much go in for the sort of magical realist imagery that the Latin American setting might suggest, but he reaches for universal truths and manages to grasp them. A sad movie, but thoughtful and moving.

The Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo is most famous for The Battle of Algiers, his dissection of colonialism and terrorism in the Algerian civil war. In Burn! he once again tackles the topic of colonialism, focusing on the way the colonial powers managed to maintain economic control even as their colonies were achieving independence. The film stars Marlon Brando as a British agent sent to a Portuguese colony (loosely based on Guadeloupe) to foment an independence movement that would open up the region to British trade. After a successful revolution, he returns ten years later to put down another revolt led by his former compañeros.

Brando gives a typically great performance as the charismatic, amoral British agent, as does Evaristo Márquez as the rebel leader. The film's analysis of colonialism is sharp and cynical, but makes for an exciting and fascinating story.

There are several other good films that are pretty topical. Although I haven't watched it in years, The Mission was beautiful and sad, telling the story of Jesuit missionaries in South America who stand with a Guarani tribe against the onslaught of the conquistadores. The story of El Salvador's Archbishop Óscar Romero is so inherently compelling that the film version (starring Raul Julia) is worth watching despite being kind of mediocre. And because not everything is about war and death, I'm a big fan of Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También, which is heartfelt and charming (but, you know, very sexually explicit and NSFW).

Nicaragua itself doesn't produce very many films, although that is starting to change. One recent local film that I've been really wanting to see is La Yuma, a drama about a female boxer that was a big hit down here a few years ago and became only the 6th Central American film to be submitted to the Oscars for competition in the Best Foreign Film category.

If anyone knows any other good films about Latin America (especially comedies!), please leave them in the comments!

Sunday, April 21, 2013


We wrote a short reflection for the Global Ministries website, summarizing what we and our partners have been up to lately and looking forward to what will be our last year here in Nicaragua. If you've been reading the blog it shouldn't be too surprising, but you can read it here.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sixteen Steps (Learning from Partners) / 16 pasos (aprendiendo de La Misión Cristiana)

By now, most of you have probably heard me say that mission in the 21st century is a two-way street. It has been my experience that we have as much or more to learn from our partners in mission than we have to teach or offer them.  In this spirit, I offer a powerful framework for resolving conflicts.  These principles can be applied to any conflict, in a family, at work, in a church or other organization.

Creo que ya me han escuchado decir que la misión en el siglo XXI es un camino de doble via.  En mi experiencia, podemos aprender de los que acompañamos en la misión más de lo que podemos enseñar o ofrecer a ell@s.  En este espírito, les ofrezco unos pasos muy poderosos para resolver conflictos.  Estos principios se pueden aplicar a cualquier conflicto, que sea dentro de la familia, en el trabajo, en la iglesia u otro organismo.

These 16 steps come from a course on "Human Relations and Conflict Transformation," which was prepared by our friend Carlos Sediles Real, a Nicaraguan theologian and member of La Misión Cristiana.  It is one of the topics in our curriculum for Ministerial Formation (popular education in theology and skills for ministry for church lay and pastoral leaders). 

Los 16 pasos se encuentran en un módulo sobre "Relaciones Humans y La Transformación de Conflictos," preparado por nuestro amigo Carlos Sediles Real, teólogo nicaraguense y miembro de La Misión.  Estudiamos este módulo en el programa de Formación Ministerial (lo cual es educación popular en la teología y herramientas de los ministerios para lideres de la iglesia).

1. Define the issues you are trying to resolve.
2. Divide the problem into distinct components and try to resolve them individually.
3. Don't speak for another person or for the group.
4. Don't jump from one issue to another.
5. Separate the problem from the person.
6. Clarify the interests of each person.
7.  Identify the interests you have in common.
8. Define in concrete terms the basic needs of each person that should be included in the agreement.
9. Determine the minimum that is necessary for you to be satisfied.
10. Try to find the possible solutions that could work for both parties.
11. Don't evaluate the solutions immediately.
12. Make a list of solutions.
13. Consider solutions that others have found in similar situations.
14. Test the solutions in a tentative and positive way.
15. Make agreements about a fundamental principle to use as a basis for evaluating possible solutions.
16. Agree on a procedure to resolve the problem.

1. Delimitar los asuntos a tratar.
2. Fraccionar el problema en distintos componentes y tratar de resolverlos individualmente.
3. No hablar por la otra persona o por el grupo.
4. No se debe ir saltando de un asunto a otro.
5. Separar el problema de la persona.
6. Aclarar los intereses.
7. Identificar los que tienen en común.
8. Concretar las necesidades básicas de cada uno/a que deben formar parte del acuerdo.
9. Determinar lo mínimamente necesario para estar satisfecho/a.
10. Esforzarse por encontrar las posibles soluciones que pueden servir a ambos.
11. No Evaluar las soluciones inmediatas.
12. Generar una lista de soluciones.
13. Considerar soluciones que hayan manejado otros en situaciones parecidas.
14. Probar las soluciones en forma positiva y tentativa.
15. Establecer acuerdos sobre algún principio fundamental en cual va a basarse para evaluarlas.
16. Establecer acuerdos criterios del procedimiento a seguir para resolver el problema.

May all your conflicts be opportunities for growth and learning!
¡Qué todos sus conflictos sean oportunidades para crecer y aprender!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

City of Trees

Our first week in Managua, we were taken around on a tour of the city by one of La Misión's pastors who drives a taxi. One stop was the lookout point at the Laguna de Tiscapa, which gives a panoramic view of the city. I remember saying to our friend, ¡Qué verde! (How green it is!). He replied that yes, Managua was a very green city, especially in the rainy season (although it gets pretty amarillo in the summer).
Downtown Managua
When viewed from on high, Managua doesn't much look like a city of almost 2 million people. It looks like a small residential town or a federation of small neighborhoods. Here and there a few tall, modern buildings poke through the canopy of greenery and low tin roofs, but they are the exception. This state of affairs has a lot to do with Managua's unusual history and its distinct lack of central planning. Many Managua neighborhoods began as informal encampments in the years following the earthquake and the revolution and the lean war years. As Stephen Kinzer noted during the 1980s:
"...since the 1972 earthquake Managua had ceased to be a real urban area. Exotic animals like iguanas and bats and hummingbirds were common there, and farm animals roamed freely. Most Managuans were only a generation or two removed from the farm, if that, and when food became expensive and scarce, they thought nothing of keeping livestock in the vacant lots that surrounded their homes. The animals were not penned or tethered, and could often be seen moseying along main streets and standing in public plazas, as if they were waiting for the remaining humans to leave so they could have Managua for themselves." (Blood of Brothers, p. 169).
Managua hasn't yet returned to the state of nature, but it does turn out that people love trees -- they give shade and fruit -- and prefer to keep them around given the opportunity. Although people love trees, developers don't. Trees complicate electrical cables and water lines and cut into the profit margin, which is why housing developments in the U.S. always seem to scrape the land bare before they start building. When we visited San Salvador, that city also seemed to be a concrete jungle, clearly more developed and wealthier than Managua, but much less green.

That first week, we were also amused to find out that the street we live on was divided in two by an enormous mango tree, planted right smack dab in the middle of the road, preventing any through traffic.  (The other entrance to our street is blocked by a memorial to a local kid who died fighting in the revolution.) Cars and motorcycles do come down the street, but it isn't easy. Here too, history is important. Our neighborhood was built back in the '60s, and originally the narrow streets were designed as pedestrian alleys or walking spaces. Many residents used the common space for trees or gardens or public sitting areas. As cars have become more common, many of these andenes have been paved over, little by little with a patchwork of varieties of hand-mixed concrete. All so people can park their car right next to their house. A friend who lived here years before us told me a story about the civil disobedience carried out by some of the neighborhood abuelitas when the decision was made to pave over their gardens.

We also have two mango trees in our backyard, which provide us with shade, hammock space and a seasonal deluge of thumps on the roof. There are two varieties of mango (Mangifera indica) here and ours is the type that doesn't usually get sold in the markets. But it is still pretty delicious, and once they ripen, every chavalo in the neighborhood seems to be climbing trees (or throwing rocks) to bring down the harvest. The peak comes in March, and usually comes too fast for us to consume all the bounty. In fact, there are weeks where we are mostly concerned with carting sacks of rotting mangos out to the trash pickup. I never would have thought I could get sick of eating mangos, but the smell of rotting fruit can do that to you.

A few months after our arrival, our neighbor had their mango tree trimmed. And when I say trimmed I mean violently hacked down to a mere stump about the height of a person. At first I was shocked and a little heartbroken. It was a lovely tree and shaded part of our porch. Why cut it down? I was reassured that it would grow back, but I had my doubts. In California where I grew up, you can't cut a tree down to a stump like that and expect it to survive. There was a sad incident where an oak tree in my grandmother's backyard was cut down to a stump due to a miscommunication with the tree trimmers. And it never grew back.

Of course, California is a desert; things work differently in the tropics, where water is abundant and bursting fecundity is the rule. And sure enough the neighbor's palo grew back in no time. This past week the grand-daddy mango in the center of the street came due for a haircut. The trimmers came and cut it back to a stump the shape of a gnarled fist (at right). We also gave our two mangos a bit of a trim, although not as drastic. Right now there is hardly any shade on our house and we can feel the difference. So once again we're hoping that the rains come soon and the trees re-sprout, putting forth shady, leafy green once more.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Correr

I ran my first race in Nicaragua this past weekend -- a 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) run hosted by Managua Runners, the local running club. Between a new country and a new baby, running had fallen off the front burner for our first few years here, but since the new year we've been making an effort to get out and get training. As you might imagine, the biggest obstacle to running here in Nicaragua is the heat. Running during the day is pretty much a no-no and many Nicas will run at 5 a.m. to take advantage of the early morning cool. (Note: we are not that ambitious...)

The starting line (photo: Managua Runners)
Anyway, the race was a lot of fun. I had missed the excitement of the starting line, of being in a big group of runners, jittery with adrenaline, music blasting. I had been nursing a mild head cold for a few days (just my luck) and was worried I might have to skip the race, which would have been a bummer. Sunday morning I was feeling only about 80%, energy-wise, but decided to go ahead and run anyway. The race started at 7 a.m. and the heat wasn't too bad, at least at the start, although an hour later, as we were finishing, was another story.

For those who know Managua, here's the route (click for map). It started off from Centro Pellas with a long uphill stretch up the Carretera Masaya, then followed by a long downhill. There was a long stretch without shade towards the end (near the Universidad Centro America) where the heat suddenly hit you, but thankfully the bomberos (firefighters) were there to spray us with the firehose. And then back to the start to collect your complementary banana and unlimited bottles of water. In the end, I finished in 58:08 for a 9:22 mile pace and placed 145th out of 413 runners. Originally, I was hoping to get under a 9:00 pace, but in the end I was happy just to be out there.