Summer 2008 SST Unit in Nicaragua

The Summer 2008 unit has returned, but we'll leave this record of their journey here.

Sat, 3 May 2008

Arrival and Orientation

Everyone arrived right on time Wednesday (April 30) and got out of the airport in record time! Getting everyone’s luggage tied to the top of the bus took a little longer. At the Hotel Casa San Juan everyone was delighted to see their rooms had air conditioning to reduce the intense Managua heat. The guys on the soccer team experimented with trying to break cashew shells with their mouths to get at the nuts inside; that didn’t go very well.

Thursday morning (May 1) at breakfast everyone had their first taste of Nicaragua’s staple dish: gallo pinto (meaning “painted rooster,” but really rice and beans) with eggs and great Nicaraguan coffee. It got lots of thumbs up. Then our 3 Spanish teachers arrived and started speaking …… only in español! Everyone could understand at least a little. Dalena, our Nicaraguan assistant, also introduced herself to the group.

At 10 a.m. some went for a 50-minute walk around the neighborhood. Managua is in the hottest part of the country, and April is the hottest month of the year. That explains why it was already 95 degrees. We saw parts of the neighborhood, then the Universidad Centroamericana and the very busy Managua traffic.

Back at the Casa San Juan we took several minutes for everyone to share first impressions, and then we dug into a delicious lunch of chicken with jalapeño sauce. After lunch we had a lecture on Nicaraguan customs and families by Maria (Doug’s Nica wife, not Maria B). Later Doug talked about safety and health issues, and after a quick check-in with everyone we sat down to a supper of beef with green chimichurri sauce. To drink we had a traditional Nica refresco made from fresh pineapple, passion fruit, papaya, and melon. Nicaragua has about 20 different flavors of refrescos. We should be able to live with that for 3 months.

Friday morning we had another breakfast of gallo pinto and then took off down the Masaya highway headed for Jinotepe. Along the way in Managua we saw well-manicured trees, huge billboards with U.S.-style publicity, Nicas going about all sorts of daily routines, and 3-wheeled motorcycles running errands. After turning off the highway and starting to climb up the mountain the scenery changed to pineapple farms and, looking out the back of the bus, the crater of the Masaya volcano off in the distance. Its last two eruptions were 200 and 300 years ago. As the bus chugged up the slope we welcomed the cooler air that we would be living in the next 6 weeks. After driving past coffee farms we entered Jinotepe, where Doug and Maria have the Unit House and where 11 of the students will be staying with families. The rest are in nearby Dolores and Diriamba.

At the Unit House we recharged our stomachs with fresh fruit and refilled our water bottles. Doug gave us maps and an orientation to the layout of Jinotepe. With Doug and Dalena leading two groups we struck out on our Jinotepe scavenger hunt to find money changers, ATM machines, the locations for Spanish classes and lectures, cybercafes, the police station, supermarkets, and more. Along the way we stopped for lunch at cafetines. Later we broke into 3 smaller groups to take buses along the Panamerican Highway through Dolores to Diriamba, only 1.5 miles away, where we got into bici-taxis (3-wheeled bicycles with wide seats for carrying 3 passengers under a roof) that we rode to the central park. Can everyone look at the church and tell which way is north?

Once back at the Unit House everyone took off to use their newly-honed skills to change money, send emails, and maybe buy an ice cream. And then came the moment we’d all been anticipating: …. (drum roll) …. the arrival of our families! It was a little awkward, seeing a family walk in and not knowing who was the adoptee that would walk out the door with them. But once the match was made, we all laughed. Now everyone is on their own with their families until Monday, and Alex, Kyle and Rusty found out they’ve already been recruited for a soccer team that plays Saturday at 1:00. Kyle is going to have to use that español quick to go buy some soccer shoes before the game.

Posted at 10:39 #

Mon, 5 May 2008

First Day of Classes

Everyone spent the two-day weekend with their families. Some played soccer or went to a soccer game, some went to a Hipica (parade with horses), some went to the festival for the patron saint of Dolores, and some just hung out with their families. To most it seemed like a pretty long weekend, but many said that they’ve noticed that their Spanish is starting to improve pretty quickly.

Taxis and buses decided not to work Monday, in protest for rising fuel costs that the transport unions want the government to negotiate with them. Those in Jinotepe walked to Spanish classes at the edge of town like they will every day, and Maria went to pick up those in Dolores and Diriamba. Spanish classes are held at a facility owned by CEPAD (The Council of Protestant Churches in Nicaragua). The Spanish teachers told Doug that they were impressed with the GC students’ level of Spanish compared to students from other U.S. universities that they work with in Nicaragua.

During the breaks everyone felt like they had a lot to tell the others. The 3 soccer players are still dealing with some poison ivy-like symptoms, and some others have different grades of Diriangen’s Revenge (Nicaragua’s equivalent of Montezuma’s Revenge) or sniffles. But mostly everyone had lots of stories to swap about the weekend with their families.

Everyone applied their knowledge of the Jinotepe streets to find a place for lunch before meeting at the Hotel Casa San Mateo for the afternoon lecture. The speaker, Alejandro Cabrera, is a painter who spoke about the history of painting in Nicaragua and the primitivista style from the islands of Solentiname that became very famous in the 1970s and 1980s. He was born into a very poor family but learned how to paint during the country’s literacy crusade in 1981. Since then he has had several expositions both in Nicaragua and abroad.

Posted at 22:54 #

Fri, 9 May 2008

Classes and School Field Trip

Has it really been a week since the plane landed? We’ve had 4 days of Spanish classes and it is beginning to feel like we have a routine now. Even the fact that the taxis and microbuses (they pick up passengers for specific routes) are still on strike feels like a part of the regular routine. We won’t know what to do once the taxis and microbuses are running again.

A regular part of Spanish classes each day is that someone in the class has to have read a newspaper article and prepared a summary that they share with the class. There is also a discussion of current events, as well as feedback about the previous day’s lecture. All in español, of course.

Tuesday afternoon we had Coyuntura (our weekly group meeting) at the unit house. After opportunities for sharing we had a lunch of chicken (in some pretty delicious sauce), Nicaraguan veggies, a cole slaw salad, and, of course, rice and beans. After lunch Libby, Sarah, Lindsey, and Karla S led us in hymns and a short worship service reflecting on our need for control (and how we have less of it here).

Wednesday afternoon the lecture was by Dr. Alvaro Taboada, who had been a colleague of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, a famous journalist whose assassination by the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 set off a series of events that led to the fall of the dictatorship and the start of the Sandinista revolution. During the first 3 years of the new government Dr. Taboada was Nicaragua’s ambassador to Ecuador, until he resigned in protest over a number of government measures that he described to us. His view of the events of the 1980s was quite different from that in our textbook on Nicaraguan history. Nicaraguans still remain very divided on who is to blame for the economic collapse and the war during the 1980s.

Thursday morning the newspapers announced the country would start rationing electricity by having forced blackouts in different parts of the country in different time blocks. The problem is with some generators and a shortage of fuel oil to run them. Our department, Carazo, is scheduled to have daily blackouts from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Some of our homes lost electricity at 7 this morning, but some didn’t.

Thursday afternoon we visited the Juan Jose Rodriguez public secondary school in town. Although this is a good secondary school that is better than most, only about 60% of the students who complete primary school go on to secondary school, and less than half of the students who enter secondary school eventually go on to graduate. The directors said the major reasons students drop out are economic-related. The school director said that the school had a lot of financial needs also, and he was right. The school lacked a lot we take for granted, like educational materials on the walls and textbooks for the students.

Posted at 08:26 #

Mon, 12 May 2008

Nicaraguan literacy crusade

On Friday we had a stirring presentation by Jesuit priest Fr. Fernando Cardenal, who in the early 1980s was the country’s Minister of Education. He planned a famous Literacy Crusade that recruited and trained 100,000 volunteers to spend 5 months teaching reading and writing to illiterate Nicaraguans in the cities and remote rural areas. It reduced the illiteracy rate from more than 51% to only l3%. UNESCO observed the results and gave Nicaragua two prestigious awards for the accomplishment. After the presentation Fr. Cardenal challenged everyone to do something great with their lives, and then he asked to embrace everyone present!

Maria Schirch and our Spanish teacher Rene posed with Fr. Cardenal for pictures because both of them (Maria when she was only 13 years old) had participated in the crusade as volunteers.

During the weekend we had hoped that the transportation strike would end, but no such luck. But the dry season appears to be ending! It rained hard Saturday night and briefly flooded the streets. We hope more rains follow soon; once the rainy season is well underway the temperatures cool down and everything gets greener. The dry season starts each year in November or December and usually ends in May. After 5 months of no rain, everything is pretty dry and parched.

For Monday’s lecture Doug talked about the war in Nicaragua from 1981-1990 and how it was eventually resolved by the Central American peace process and the commitment of Nicaraguans to pursue peace rather than war.

Posted at 22:40 #

Wed, 14 May 2008

Visit to a farming cooperative

On Tuesday after Spanish classes we got out of the city and into the countryside where we visited a farming cooperative composed of 24 campesino families. This is one of the few farming cooperatives left from the 1980s when the government had sponsored an agrarian reform and helped the cooperatives with credit and technical assistance. The campesinos spoke of the difficulties keeping the cooperative going without credit.

Most of their income comes from coffee. Because they can’t afford synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, the coffee is organic, but they don’t have the necessary equipment to sell the coffee to buyers who pay premium prices for organic coffee. They also grow a little corn and beans for their own consumption, but they have to let much of their land remain fallow because they cannot get loans from the bank. On a tour of the farm we saw coffee trees, banana trees, a small pineapple patch and some other fruit trees. Then they invited us to come back in a few weeks and help plant beans!

On Wednesday we had our weekly Coyuntura meeting at the Unit House and celebrated the birthday of Karla S with chocolate cake and a stirring rendition of Feliz Cumpleanos a Ti (Happy Birthday to You). After the worship service we took our weekly quiz and had a group discussion on what it means to be North Americans in the midst of the poverty we see around us. We shared lots of questions and observations; the answers are harder to come by.

Posted at 21:44 #

Fri, 16 May 2008

Managua field trip

Yesterday we started our day-long Managua field trip with a visit to the offices of the Nehemiah Center, a collaboration of nine Christian service agencies working to help Nicaragua rebuild. Begun by Christian Reformed churches, the Center focuses on training Nicaraguan lay leaders. We also visited the Nejapa Nicaraguan Christian Academy, a model school for other private Christian schools in the country.

Next were the offices of Mennonite Central Committee, where we played a brief game to introduce ourselves and learned about MCC work in community development, peacemaking, and disaster relief. We also met SALT (Service and Learning Together) volunteers who explained their work in the country and how the SALT program works. After lunch at the MCC house we visited a local MCC partner, the Batahola community center, where a SALT volunteer interpreted the many murals at the center and explained the different programs the center offers.

The most difficult part of the trip was the visit to La Chureca, the massive garbage dump for the entire city of Managua. About 1600 people make their living picking through the garbage for metals, plastics, glass and paper to recycle, as well as food for consumption. Our guide was Yamilet, who used to make her living in La Chureca, but was able to work her way up to being a successful community organizer for health, education, housing, and human rights projects in local neighborhoods. She shared with us what it had been like to live off of the city’s garbage, the shame that had kept her from telling her daughters where she worked, as well as the desperation that had forced her to clean and cook for her daughters the rotting meat that the dump trucks brought from the supermarkets. At the edge of the dump she took us in a humble home of scrap wood and metal sheeting where a woman runs a program that lets children who live in the dump use a donated computer to create profiles of their lives that are shared on a local radio program. Our bus was rather silent after we left the dump.

The next stop, the country’s National Museum, is housed in a huge palace at the edge of the plaza that is shared by the ruins of the National Cathedral. The clocks on the cathedral are frozen at 12:35, the moment when the 1974 earthquake destroyed the center of Managua and killed 30,000 people. Thirty-four years later, other ruins besides the Cathedral still dot the landscape. The museum included pictures of Managua before the earthquake, but more importantly it included examples of the country’s art, indigenous pottery, flor and fauna, and more.

Before heading back to Carazo we visited the nearby Parque de la Paz (Peace Park), where tens of thousands of weapons from the Contra war and one of Somoza’s tanks are covered with cement, a symbolic burial of the violence from the country’s recent past.

Posted at 23:29 #

Tue, 20 May 2008

Mombacho Trip #1

Over the weekend Maria took half of the SST group (Rusty, Nate, Javier, Josh R., Karla S., Lindsey, Jessica, Alli, Tara, Sarah, Karissa, and Tricia) to the Mombacho Natural Reserve. Next weekend the other half of the group will get their turn to go to this park. [See].

The park sits on an extinct volcano with a tropical cloud forest on top at 3,500 feet above sea level. Visitors can ride from the parking lot at the base of the volcano up to the top, but four hardy hikers in the group made the 3,000-foot climb with Maria. With the rise in elevation the group left the hot dry lowlands behind and began breathing in cool, moist air, not unlike that which they fled from Goshen 3 weeks ago.

After a 90-minute hike around one of the extinct craters at the top, the group settled into the lodge. Fully expecting to have gallo pinto (rice and beans) for supper, everyone was surprised to have chow mein instead. In the evening the park guides took the group out on a night hike to search for the Mombacho salamander, a small brown species that is found nowhere else in the world except here, in this cool, wet ecosystem surrounded by hot lowlands. The group also saw a sloth, which is called a perezoso, or “lazy,” in Spanish.

At night it got downright cold, even with sweaters on. Isn’t it possible to take some of this coldness back to Jinotepe with us?

After a wonderful breakfast of fresh fruit (and, of course, gallo pinto), the group set off to hike the Puma trail, a longer more strenuous hike along the ridge of a collapsed crater. Then it was time to catch a ride back to the bottom of the volcano and take the bus into the nearby city of Granada for lunch. This colonial city was founded by the Spaniards in 1524, making it the oldest such city in Central America.

Posted at 00:30 #

Thu, 22 May 2008

"La Chureca"

Alex shares a journal entry after our May 15 trip to the vast Managua garbage dump. [The pictures from the May 16 blog are posted here again.]

What do you do when a 7-year-old boy, covered in filth, starts climbing in the window of your American-filled bus as it passes through La Chureca, infierno, hell – as you gaze upon the heaps of garbage? What do you do when he sits down next to you and gives you a hug despite the fact that you initially tried to push him away from the bus?

What do you do when his 13-year-old friend joins him? What do you do when they insist on staying on the bus for the rest of the “tour,” the 13-year-old tells you his mom is dead, and he points to his house in the dump where he lives? What do you do when he grabs you, puts his arms around you, kisses you on the cheek and calls you “papa?” When the little one points to heaven and musters a “Dios?” When they say they listen to the words of the Bible and call you “un hermano de Dios” (a brother of God)?

What do you do as they fight over the window, taunt their friends as the bus rolls by, and yell “Soy Gringo!” (I’m a Gringo) while laughing? What do you do when they ask for water, when they say in perfect English, “Give me one dollar, just one?” What do you do when they won’t leave the bus, when they start trying to get back in through the window?

Are these angles sent from heaven to torment us, to tell us we’re the rich man in the castle and they only want the crumbs from our table? What do you do with an American life filled with opportunity, which choices, with clean water? What do you do with a country like Nicaragua?

Posted at 00:09 #

Sat, 24 May 2008

San Juan del Oriente

On Monday (5-19) we took a field trip to San Juan del Oriente, a small town where pretty much every family in town has someone who works digging clay, mixing it, shaping it, glazing it, firing it, or selling the final pottery products. Not only is this the best town in Nicaragua to buy pottery, but the best work from the town is shown in international art exhibitions. Members of the local pottery cooperative explained how their indigenous ancestors made pottery, how the practice was lost for many centuries, and how it was revived in the 1980s. Jose Ortiz, the most famous artist in the town, explained his creative process and demonstrated a quick plate on the potter’s wheel.

Afterwards we crossed to the other side of the highway and visited the Mirador de Catarina, an overlook of Laguna de Apoyo, a spectacular crater now filled with a lake 4 miles across in diameter.

Posted at 01:16 #

Xilotepelt Dance Group

During our weekly Coyuntura meeting on Wednesday (5-21) a local folklore dance group performed several pieces from El Güegüense, a famous Nicaraguan satirical play from the period of Spanish rule in the 1500’s. The main character of the play is the Macho Raton, or the ‘Brave Mouse:’ brave, because he dared to trick the local Spanish rulers, but a ‘mouse’ because he was afraid to tell them what he really thought of them.

Posted at 11:37 #

Tue, 27 May 2008

Mombacho Trip #2

This weekend was the turn for the other half of the SST group (Karla M, Libby, Jill, Kyle, Josh T., Michael, Renee, Alex, Anna, Amanda and Maria B) and Doug to go to the Mombacho Natural Reserve. [See]. Accompanying the group was Tom Meyers, GC’s Director of International Education, who was here visiting the SST unit.

Those who opted to hike to the top were surprised to find the ascent turned out to be just as steep and grueling as last week’s group had related; they weren’t exaggerating! With every switchback in the road the surrounding forest because denser and the branches more loaded with epiphytes: plants without roots in the ground that get their sustenance from the air. The plants trap water from rainfall or the frequent clouds covering the forest, and they get minerals from dust particles, some blown in all the way from the African Sahara.

After leaving our gear at the lodge on top, a park guide took us on a hike around an extinct crater formed by the prehistoric collapse of a lava chamber inside the volcano. Now the crater, like nearly all the volcano, is covered in dense forest. The only part not forested is an open area spotted with occasional fumarolas, vents where steam from underground escapes and brings with it sulfurous odors. The fumarola plain was also a great spot to look below at the Laguna de Apoyo we visited last week, the city of Granada, and the isletas (tiny islands) in Lake Nicaragua.

After a supper of chicken, vegetables, fried plantains and, of course, rice and beans (which the students admit they are getting addicted to), we split into two groups for a night hike with park rangers. Some were doing a population study of the Mombacho salamander (Bolitoglossa mombachoensis), a new species discovered 10 years ago that only exists here. It took a little while to get the knack of it, but together with the rangers we found 76 of the salamanders, and the rangers recorded the location and host plant of each.

The brown salamanders looked plain, however, in comparison with the red-eyed tree frogs we found around some puddles behind our lodge. Being so color-coordinated, the frogs made inviting accessories for making eco-fashion statements.

After three hikes in one day, everyone was ready to hit the sack at 9:45 p.m., and by 10:00 we were pretty much all asleep. But we were up at 6:50 a.m. We like this schedule so much we think we’ll stick with it next semester back on campus. We had our favorite gallo pinto for breakfast, along with eggs, fresh fruit, and coffee with milk before setting off on a four-hour morning hike.

The first stop was a bird banding station where the park rangers brought specimens trapped in special nets set around the forest. In this volcano top naturalists have found 174 species of birds, more than 25% the number of species found in the entire continental U.S.

Then we broke into 2 groups with separate guides to follow the Puma trail along the crest of the main crater that collapsed in 1570 during the volcano’s last activity. We learned more about the wildlife in the park, including 87 species of orchids. It seemed the trail, mostly steep ascents and descents on stairs, had precious few level portions, but it was worth it. The stairs on campus aren’t anywhere near this rewarding.

Our knees were wobbling (with exhilaration, not exhaustion) by the time we got back to the lodge and rode the truck down the mountain. Once in colonial Granada we took in a few sights and had an especially leisurely lunch. Different signs around town reminded us the city had been burned in the 1850’s by William Walker, a U.S. citizen that came to Nicaragua with a hired army and declared himself the president. We’ve noticed that our lecturers, whether they come from the political left or the right, often weave Mr. Walker into their talks. But everywhere we go we’ve been warmly welcomed, be it in the city or in the cloud forests.

Posted at 00:54 #

Mourning a friend

Saturday morning we received the tragic news of the death of one of our own, Deanne Binde, a GC student killed in a car accident on her way home to Minnesota from campus. Deanne was a gifted student who participated in three Theater Department productions over the past year and many other campus and community activities. Some of us in the group were especially close to her, and it seemed surreal to experience her death here so far from the campus we shared together just a month ago. We mourn, and our prayers go out to the Binde family.

Posted at 03:35 #

"My First Three Weeks"

Karissa shares a journal entry.

Tomorrow (May 21) it will be three full weeks since we arrived in Nicaragua. It has been a very busy three weeks. I’m surprised at how much I’ve learned in such a short time while communicating with my family isn’t nearly as easy as it is in the states. We’ve learned to enjoy spending time together and talking. I hope that the learning continues.

One thing I have really enjoyed learning during my time here is about the political history of Nicaragua. I have realized how different the history can look to people who experienced it differently. No one escaped the events we have learned about. Even those who were born later have strong feelings because of the experiences of their families.

As we learned about the history of Nicaragua, which is full of corruption and human rights violations and violence, I am grateful for the United States. I have also learned of the horrible things done by the U.S., so maybe it isn’t fair to be thankful for something that has brought so much pain to so many. However, I must admit the blessing I have received in the fact that I have never had to experience a war. I have never lost a loved one when they were fighting for what they believed in.

In the U.S. there are still many injustices. One difference between the U.S. and Nicaragua is that in the U.S. the people have the capacity to work towards change. We can make our voices heard in a more tangible way than is possible in Nicaragua. Change in the U.S. does not always happen as we wish, but this could also be because many of us do not take advantage of our abilities to make change. I hope when I return to the U.S. I have a greater appreciation for my ability to be heard.

Posted at 22:42 #

Thu, 29 May 2008

Cold and Wet

A couple weeks ago we kept asking, “Will the rainy season please start and relieve us of this sweltering heat?” We should be careful what we ask for. We had good rains and cooler weather last week, but this week it kept raining and it got cooler. Yesterday (May 28, Wednesday) it started raining at 4 p.m. (during a hair-cutting fest that is pictured at right) and kept going non-stop all through the night and until about 2 p.m. today. After an hour recess it picked up again.

We learned this morning that tropical storm Alma had formed in the Pacific Ocean west of us and was moving further away to the north. Later in the morning Alma was declared a Category 1 hurricane, but then later she was downgraded to a tropical storm again. It is windy here in Jinotepe, but not too bad. Mostly it is just raining a lot. Since our 3 towns in the department of Carazo are on the top of a low mountain range, all this excess water is running away from us. In low-lying parts of the country they are having trouble with flooding.

We had Spanish classes this morning, but then our afternoon speaker (he was going to talk about the different cultures on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua) could not make it because of flooding on the roads in Managua. So instead we had a discussion this afternoon about machismo. Tomorrow morning we won’t have Spanish classes, but hopefully our afternoon lecture (on music in Nicaragua) will still go as planned.

On Monday we had visited the local hospital in Jinotepe, which didn’t look quite like the Goshen Community Hospital, but nonetheless is able to offer a fairly wide range of services at no cost to local residents. On Tuesday our speaker described the rise of Liberation Theology in Nicaragua, its decline in popularity since 1990, and where it stands today.

On Wednesday we had our weekly Coyuntura meeting at Casa Goshen. We took time for Deanne Binde’s friends in the group to share their many memories of the times ‘Dee’ made them laugh. Those of us who didn’t know her as well wished we had.

Posted at 21:20 #

Sat, 31 May 2008

Nica music and dance lessons

On Friday (5-30) we had a DJ come and play snippets of the different types of music heard in Nicaragua: national folk music, bachata, ranchera, electronica, vallenato, reggaeton, pop, quebradita, merenque, salsa, cumbia, etc. Of course, the students also needed a few dance lessons to learn how to dance to the different types of music.

In Friday’s papers we saw pictures of some of the destruction caused by Alma when she came ashore about 70 miles northwest of us. Many houses lost their roofs, several hundred families had to be evacuated when their homes flooded, and bridge in Managua washed out. They said it is very unusual for a storm to come from the Pacific side of the country, and especially before the hurricane season has officially begun.

Posted at 19:00 #

Tue, 3 Jun 2008

A Journal Entry from Alli, May 27

Since I am feeling kind of homesick and culture shock is starting to set in, I am going to take one of Kohl’s suggestions [from a required reading] for overcoming culture shock. Number 8 on page 104 makes the suggestion of making a list of the positive things you can identify about the present situation. It’s true that in situations like these the focus is often on the negative aspects of the situation. So I will now identify the positives about my situation I am in now.

1) I have two loving families at this point. One family in the United States who loves me and misses me, and the second family here in Nicaragua who have accepted me as their daughter and care about me the same. I am thankful for my family Nica.

2) I am really happy with the group of students whom I am experiencing SST with. We seem to get along well and we are all fairly laid-back and love to laugh too. We have a lot of fun.

3) I am thankful for the fact that the school section of the SST program is half-way over. I’ve really enjoyed learning Spanish, but it has been stressful as well. I am ready to finish up and move on to service.

4) The power of laughter. I am glad that laughing is universal in all languages. I enjoy laughing with my family. Also, laughing helps me suppress my annoyance with men on the street and their ridiculous cat calls in English.

5) I still am able to keep up with friends and family through the internet. The internet is a good thing to stay connected…. but not too connected. :)

6) Friends and family are praying for me.

7) I am experiencing something that so many people are not able to experience. I am very lucky to be participating in a great living abroad program, and I can learn so much from the experience.

8) I get to return home, after three months living abroad, with new knowledge and understanding of a different culture.

9) I have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, and way too much food for my own good.

10) Even if I think my Spanish is awful sometimes, I am at least able to communicate and understand what is happening around me…. What if I had NO experience with Spanish before I arrived?! Yikes! (to be continued …… everyday)

Posted at 23:37 #

Wed, 4 Jun 2008

World Cup 2008.5

Tuesday night (June 3) Rusty organized a soccer game with some of the kids in his neighborhood that he regularly plays soccer with on the street. Actually, it was the kids who challenged Rusty to a game of Nicaragua vs. the U.S. We rounded up every SST’er we could, rented a small playing field, and braced ourselves for the worst.

In the match between Team Goshen and Equipo Diriamba, the hosts got off to a quick 2-0 start. [Isn’t that always the way it goes for GC soccer?] However, the world-class Maple Leaf team persevered, came back, and in the end won 13-8. Everyone did so well, we congratulated ourselves afterwards by inviting the host team and our adoring fans to join us at the local pizzeria.

Posted at 23:18 #

Fri, 6 Jun 2008

Coyuntura and Party

This week it was Maria B’s turn to celebrate a birthday during our weekly Coyuntura (on June 4). This week we also had lectures on Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast (it has a Caribbean culture that is very different from the Pacific side of Nicaragua were we and most Nicaraguans live), early Nicaraguan history (which was very well illustrated by maps and other visuals), and Nicaraguan literature (now we see why they say every Nicaraguan is a poet until proven otherwise).

Tomorrow we leave on a 3-day field trip to the mountainous north of the country, so we won’t have any more entries until some time next week.

Posted at 01:00 #

Mon, 9 Jun 2008

Field trip to northern Nicaragua

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday (June 6-8) we took a road trip to the northern mountains of Nicaragua, a region known for its natural beauty and coffee, as well as having been the battlegrounds for the contra war in the 80's, the Sandinista guerrilla movement in the 60’s and 70’s, and, long before that, where Sandino had fought against the U.S. Marines in the 20’s and 30’s.

Our first stop was in the Sebaco valley, a prehistoric lake that filled in with rich topsoil, making it a highly fertile zone for growing rice and vegetables today. Caritas, a Catholic organization, receives funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development to run a project there to do watershed management and teach improved agricultural techniques to local campesinos.

Then our bus climbed higher into the mountains until we reached the city of Matagalpa, nestled between steep hills on all sides. MCC workers Steve and Colleen Forry took us to a local nutrition center where malnourished children begin months-long recoveries. Anna and Jill will be doing their service projects at this center.

Afterwards Steve and Colleen shared their experiences as new volunteer workers, which gave us helpful perspectives as the students anticipate starting their service projects in one week. Steve is developing new projects in agriculture, water, and small animals for consumption, while Colleen is starting a program to reduce domestic violence.

Saturday morning (June 7) a drive to the town of San Ramon took us off the paved roads into the rural interior of the Matagalpa mountains. At the Center for the Christian Promotion of Peace and Life we heard how Bible studies that began during the 1980’s led to reflections about the causes of poverty in the zone and programs for preventative health, increased income for families, and cultural activities (like painting and sewing). During the war the U.S.-funded Contra guerrillas looked upon the organization as an enemy, but today it serves many former Contras as well.

Then it was on to Esteli, which involved going back down into the Sebaco Valley and then back up into another mountain range. At the edge of Esteli is a neighborhood called Los Revueltos (The Scrambled), because it was formed by both former Contras and Sandinistas when the war ended in 1990. A neighborhood organization integrates those from both sides to work together to solve neighborhood problems and promote reconciliation. The leaders of that organization are counseled by the Program for Education and Action for Peace in Managua, whose leaders received training from the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at our sister institution, Eastern Mennonite University. Doug’s sister, Lisa Schirch, is a faculty member in the CJP program.

The next morning we headed higher into the mountains to visit the Tisey/Estanzuela Natural Reserve. In the small community of La Guarnacha, foreign volunteers have helped locals build a small cheese industry and develop ecotourism initiatives. Later we took a short hike to the top of Tizey peak, which at 4,500 feet above sea level is the highest point in the zone and offers the best vistas. After lunch we soaked up La Estanzuela, a picture-perfect 100-foot waterfall located in an isolated gorge.

Posted at 22:52 #

Wed, 11 Jun 2008

2 Journal entries, from Nathan and Sarah

Nathan: Food, Nicaraguan Style

I was surprised today when I was served a fish which had simply been fried for awhile (I assume) and the skin had not been removed. It didn’t look all that appetizing, laying there on my plate staring back at me just as wide-eyed as I’m sure I was. The worst part is that I was to dine alone this meal …. meaning I had nobody to copy off of stealthily. I decided to put it off for a minute and enjoy my white rice and vegetables, but the real horror struck me when my mother came and sat at the table with me (to keep me company), but she didn’t have any food. Oh no, she had come solely to watch me enjoy this special treat which they had been playing up ever since I got here.

I decided I would have to tackle it at some point so I gingerly pulled back the fin with my hand and started scraping the fish clean with my fork. I was surprised at how relatively easy this was and eventually was rewarded with some tender white meat with bones. At one point I had worked my way up to the head and was sure I would eventually hit brain, but as I dug deeper and deeper I only found wonderful meat. I finished it and breathed a sigh of relief. Overall it was pretty good.

I had a similar experience with nacatamales, a Nicaraguan specialty. I was served this thing wrapped in leaves, and as I slowly unwrapped it I was horrified to find some sort of green substance which was pretty solid. And when I hit it with my fork, it jiggled. “How in the world can I eat this?” I thought to myself. “It’s huge!” I dug in. “Rice? Didn’t expect that…” Despite the rather menacing look I was surprised how good …. whatever it was I was eating was. As I kept digging I was continually surprised; vegetables of all sorts and sizes. The tomatoes actually looked pretty cool against the green color of the nacatamale. The ultimate surprise occurred when I got to the center: a huge piece of …. roast beef?!?

These are only two of the many food stories I have, but I feel like they both are extremely representative of the whole SST experience. Things seem scary, intimidating, downright gross, until you work up the courage to try them. You might even find you like it despite its looks, like I did in both of these cases.

And who knows what you will find if you just keep digging? Perhaps the hardest part to reach is the best. Perhaps you have to scrape away the outside to get to the meat, and even then you might have to pick the bones out of your mouth, but in the end it was worth all the hard work.

Sarah: My Favorite Thing Thus Far …….

It seems like I have spent a lot of time focused on what bothers me about living in Nicaragua, so this time I want to write about my favorite part.

My favorite part of SST has been my walk to school each morning. When I leave my house, I almost always see the same dog; he’s my favorite, the one with a crooked tail. He sleeps under the bushes next to my house.

Then I pick up Maria B. and always am greeted with smiles at her house. I love the walk through the streets of La Villa. The same children greet us or run up and ask for a word in English.

Our walk continues and we pass the same pulperias and street vendors. There is a tiny kitten that barely looks big enough to survive. There are the funny dogs whose front legs are longer than their back legs.

Then we get to the market, which is always an exciting place. There are people everywhere: selling fruit, vegetables, and all sorts of other things. There are children running around, taxis honking, and everyone sharing the same street.

I love the routine, the familiarity of it all. It makes me feel like this place is home. It makes me so happy when I recognize the people and even dogs that I see every day. And the time I have spent walking to school each day has also given me time to get to know Maria B., someone I really didn’t know before and now someone I depend on and look forward to seeing each day.

I wouldn’t trade that time for anything, it has meant so much to me over the past five weeks. And it is something I will most definitely miss about Jinotepe.

Posted at 22:21 #

Sun, 15 Jun 2008

Last Days in Carazo and Women’s Basketball

Yesterday (Saturday, June 14) the students all arrived safely at their service projects. Before that, we didn’t have time to post several pictures from their last three days in Carazo when a mixture of melancholy and anticipation invaded the group.

One of the highlights was Thursday’s (June 12) basketball game between the #1 ranked women’s basketball team in Carazo, Juan Rodriguez Secondary School, and the Fighting Mango Leaves from Goshen. The final score was 19-12. We won’t say who won and who lost, but at least Goshen has the best cheering section in the department of Carazo.

Posted at 23:26 #

Thu, 19 Jun 2008

Despedida from Carazo

On Friday night (June 14) we had a despedida (good-bye) party with the families and Spanish teachers at the Club Social in Jinotepe. The students, the teachers, and family members prepared different acts for the event, and Michael’s mother prepared the food for the roughly 100 people in attendance. And, of course, there was cheesecake made by some of the students.

Now the students are all at their service projects. The Google Earth map shows the locations of the different students spread throughout the western half of Nicaragua.

Posted at 01:52 #

Mon, 23 Jun 2008

Service Visit 1: Ometepe

On Thursday and Friday (June 19-20) Doug went to Ometepe island, where Sarah, Javier, and Nathan are located. The plan had been for them to do a biology project half-time and teach English half-time, but due to a communication problem the service site thought they had come to teach English full-time. So Doug talked with the project supervisor, met in Managua with a malancologist (a mollusk expert) who researches snails on Ometepe, and then went to Ometepe to deliver some research materials. That meant this service visit was earlier than planned, but also because the site supervisor has a very busy schedule and these two days suited him well for Doug to visit.

Getting to Ometepe is a mini-adventure in itself. Javier’s journal entry following this explains the series of steps.

The first humans in Nicaragua may have settled on Ometepe. The original indigenous inhabitants, the Nahuatl, had a legend that their ancestors were forced out of present-day Mexico by the Aztecs. They headed south following a vision of reaching an island of two volcanoes in a lake, and when they got to the shores of Lake Nicaragua, they saw exactly what they were looking for (see map and picture). Ometepe means “two hills” in Nahuatl.

Twenty years ago the island was a “secret” that very few tourists knew anything about. Because of it’s isolation, none of the wars in the last 500 years were fought on Ometepe, giving it the nickname “an oasis of peace.” Recently there is a campaign to have it named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. [People are encouraged to vote at the following website: .

Farms on the island produce rice, sugar cane, honey, coffee, tobacco, and the famous Ometepe plantains. The unique volcanic soils on the island produce what are regarded as the best plantains in Central America. Daily trucks loaded with the green fruit leave the island bound for Costa Rica, El Salvador, and even as far as Guatemala.

The largest peak is Volcán Concepción, which had been moderately active up until its last eruption of ash in 1957. The other half of the figure-8 island is formed by Volcán Maderas, a long-extinct cone that is now covered with a lush cloud forest, not unlike Volcán Mombacho that the students visited a month ago. The three GC students are working at a lakefront town at the base of Volcán Maderas.

As the island becomes a popular tourist destination, numerous budget hotels are springing up at different places on the island. At the Hacienda Merida there is a year-old program to teach English to local children, so that English-speaking tour guides and staff can come from the local population. This is now the trend at many eco-tourist sites around the world because it helps the local population appreciate natural resources as a source of revenue for their communities, as long as the existing flora and fauna are preserved.

Indeed, the families hosting the three GC students all reported that the economic situation of the community has improved markedly in recent years. Whereas before many parents had to leave their children behind in order to look for employment in Costa Rica (only 20 miles to the south), they said now it is economically feasible for them to remain at home.

The GC students are helping the hotel teach English to energetic local children aged 5 -18, several of whom are now fairly advanced. Next week some additional volunteers should arrive to help with the heavy teaching load, and the GC students will begin population studies on snails found on Volcán Maderas.

Posted at 10:32 #

Tue, 24 Jun 2008

Two Journal Entries from Ometepe

Javier, June 19. “Trip to Service Location.”

My journey began pretty late compared with the others. Nate and I left Diriamba at 9:30 a.m., while others had left at 6:30 a.m. That morning I wasn’t feeling my best and my family noticed. They even went out and bought me two bottles of Gatorade to take with me.

From the principal bus terminal in Jinotepe we left for Rivas. We met Maria Schirch and Sarah and got on a private bus to Rivas. We passed by several farms on that ride and even passed by Mombacho. About an hour or so later we made it to our stop. Immediately after getting off there were taxistas trying to get us to go with them. We picked one to take us to San Jorge, which was only a short ride away.

At the port of San Jorge we could immediately see the two volcanoes of Ometepe in the distance. It made me pretty excited to think that I was really going to be spending six weeks there.

We missed the large ferry, so we had to take a smaller boat to Moyogalpa, a town on the island. It was a really bumpy boat ride, and I’m glad that I am normally not sea sick, because that could have gone bad. Again at Moyogalpa there were taxistas waiting to offer their services. But we took a bus, the school bus kind, to Merida. This ride took a lot longer than I expected because of all the stops we made. It took two hours to finally get to our stop in Merida.

At the Hacienda Merida we were introduced to our boss and our host mothers. Already I could tell Merida was no Diriamba. No constant street noise, only rustic living with the sounds of chickens and pigs – all night.

Nathan, June 19. “Stuck in my Head.”

Since I arrived here at my service assignment I haven’t been able to get one Bible verse out of my head. It’s the one where Jesus says something about it being harder for a rich man to get in to heaven than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24).

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this mostly because the living conditions here are by far the most primitive I have ever experienced. I mean I am sleeping on a tarp that has been stretched over a couple sticks, and the walls to my room are sticks nailed into a frame with palm branches and plastic to fill in the gaps. I guess this big shock for me has just been eye opening to the fact that there are so many people who have so much less than I do.

How can I feel so sure that I am saved when there are so many people who not only have so much less, but are also just as happy if not more so? That really strikes me as the biggest difference between here and the States, the fact that people here are content and happy with what they have, whereas in the States people have so much but always want more.

Dealing with having so little has been quite a challenge so far, but I also feel like there is a huge opportunity to learn a lesson. I feel like I went through this shock when I first arrived in Diriamba as well, and by the end I was completely okay with the living conditions. And now, Diriamba would be like a resort compared with here. Maybe, hopefully, I will get used to these conditions and be able to learn some more about myself. Maybe by getting used to life here I can change my need for tons of things in the U.S.

Posted at 18:54 #

Wed, 2 Jul 2008

Journal entries from earlier field trip

Doug's note: Since there is a time gap until we'll be able to post more entries from service visits, I asked students if I could post some of their previous journal entries. These two entries are from the field trip the group took to Matagalpa and Esteli, shortly before everyone left for their service projects.



“Starving Children”

Starvation. Twenty-seven children live in an orphanage because of malnutrition. Skinny babies sit in seats lined against the wall. Some of their bodies are crooked and others have lost eyesight due to a lack of nutrients.

These children are orphans or are dropped off by their own parents. They are not financially stable enough to feed their babies. There is no welfare here. If only there were enough places like this that could take children in and nurse them back to health. However, this is not the reality that we live in. Millions of children die each year of starvation.

It’s heartbreaking to walk into an orphanage and see a baby hooked up to a respirator or another who is six months old but is the size of a two- or three-month-old baby.

Too often, as Americans, we like to turn a blind eye to the poverty in the world. Yes, we have poverty in America, but how often do we pass a homeless man/woman on the street and not offer money out of our overflowing change purse? I have never seen poverty like this before. There are whole barrios that look as if a slight wind could bring the houses crashing down.

What have these children done to be born into a family that can’t feed them? Most often the parents want them but simply cannot supply what they need. What can we do to help the starving children?



“Stories of War”

During our 3-day field trip to Matagalpa and Esteli we stopped at many places, talked with lots of people and had many new experiences. Of these, one stop in particular sticks out to me, the one at Los Revueltos (The Mixed Together). There was a community organizer (Doña Teresa) who organizes groups to work with survivors of the Contra war – both Sandinistas and Contras.

As we drove into the barrio outside of Esteli the roads became dirt and the houses were packed in close together. Our bus pulled to a stop and the 23 of us piled into the crowded living room of Doña Teresa with about a dozen Nicaraguan men and women. They had waited about 2 hours for us to get there, but were still willing to share.

I found their stories and their willingness to share them with a large group of U.S. students very brave and moving. It was one of the first if not the first time in my life I have heard stories in person about a war in someone’s homeland. The stories we read about on the news or see in war movies were the real life stories of these people. The wounds were still there, both physically and emotionally.

They said it is hard to remember the past. I wondered how some of these people go on, like the woman who lost four of her children when they found a bomb and it exploded in their hands. I can’t imagine having fighting or a war going on in my city.

It makes me think that we as U.S. citizens have become immune to war. The destruction and pain we as a country inflict on so many might be different if the battles were fought on our own soil and it was our civilian casualties making the news. Would we still stand for war?

I was inspired by the smiles of hope and the hugs from the survivors. As they hugged us they thanked us for listening to them. They said it is important for us to know, because we are the future.

Posted at 23:22 #

Thu, 3 Jul 2008

Reflections on the First Six Weeks

Note from Doug: Before leaving for service several students wrote journal entries reflecting on their first 6 weeks in Nicaragua. Two of those are given below.



“Looking Back”

As I look back on the past six weeks of SST I’m amazed at how much I’ve grown and learned. I’ve learned more Spanish, and while it’s not perfect, it’s improved greatly since first stepping off the plane. I’ve also learned so much about Nicaraguan politics, war, art, literature and geography that at times I feel like I know more about this culture than I do about the culture I was born in. I’ve met so many wonderful people and been to so many amazing places that it’s made the six weeks fly by.

I’m amazed at how easily I adjusted into this culture and living with strangers. As I remember my fears of coming on SST, I wonder why I was even worried. Everything worked out wonderfully and I’ve had a wonderful SST experience thus far. Over and over again I’m amazed by the hospitality of the Nicaraguan people. They have accepted all of these gringos into their homes, churches and extended families and treated us as their own.

I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve been able to have and look forward to the ones yet to come on service. I think SST is a great experience that helps put life into perspective. It helps one realize what’s really important in life and what the world and other cultures have to offer. I have already noticed significant changes in how I view the world, and I feel like I’m a better person because of this. I look forward to seeing what obstacles service throws my way.


Joshua T.

“What Have I Learned?”

I’ve almost finished the first half of SST. During this time I have learned about many things regarding Nicaragua’s culture, history, social issues, and many more things as well. However, I have learned other things as well, some because of reflection on the material being taught, and some through experience. I thought at this point, as I prepare to depart for the service portion, I would do an assessment of what I have learned thus far:

-It is very possible to live and survive in a culture different than my own. This achievement requires perseverance through difficult times of failure, loneliness, depression, helplessness, and more. However, working through these can help to create a sense of normalcy, even when living in another culture.

-Really, the only way to learn a cross-cultural skill is through hands-on experience. Take Spanish, for example. No matter how high my grades are, how many times “muy bien” is written on my paper, I can still feel stupid when I don’t know how to tell the bus driver where to stop, or how to understand what my family is trying to explain to me. The only way to learn this is through trying, making mistakes, and asking questions. This cannot be taught in a classroom.

-Despite physically living in another culture, if I try hard enough, I can avoid that culture. This can happen through spending too much time with other gringos, not interacting with my family, and instead staying in my room and reading novels written in English, watch only TV from the U.S., and many other things. My realization of my doing these things helped me to become more culturally engaged.

-It is one thing to read in a U.S.-published book by a U.S. author about how thousands of people were killed or injured in a war; it is quite another to listen to a woman breaking into tears as she describes how her mother was killed in that war.

-Similarly, it is one thing to read about people living in a garbage dump; it is vastly different to see those people, and to see, smell, and understand firsthand their living conditions.

-Politics and media from the U.S. should not be blindly trusted. Take, for example, President Reagan’s portrayal and description of the Contras as “Freedom Fighters,” and contrast that with the stories of Contra activity in the Witness for Peace booklet “What We Have Seen and Heard.” That collection contained stories extremely difficult for me to read, such as the situation in which Contras cut off a man’s ears and tongue, made him chew and swallow them, and then killed him.

-With a minimal strain on my finances, I can buy a snack or two and a drink at a pulperia for more than some people make in a day here.

-Similarly, I am able to withdraw $20 from an ATM, and walking out the door, to then refuse a child’s request of one cordoba without a second thought.

-The U.S. has had a long history of interaction with and influence over Nicaragua, something I had never realized before my time here. It makes me wonder what other countries have similar histories untaught in U.S. schools.

-I am rather repelled by raw meat hanging exposed to the air, and to the possibly disease-carrying flies, in an open-air market, but for some this is the only meat available.

This list is just a small sampling of things I have learned so far. There are many others, including some that I cannot easily explain. I am also aware as I prepare to leave for service that I will continue to learn and be taught, even though I will no longer be technically studying.

Posted at 21:43 #

Sun, 6 Jul 2008

Service Visit #2: Candelaria, Boaco

Rusty, Kyle and Alex are doing their service assignments in the small rural community of Candelaria in the department of Boaco. The organization they are working with, AsoFenix, helps poor, rural communities develop projects for drinking water, food, and sustainable energy.

To get to Candelaria, Maria and Doug took a bus on Monday (June 30) to Tuestepe, the nearest town to Candelaria. On Mondays, Rusty, Kyle and Alex spend an hour running the 6-7 miles (good soccer conditioning) from Candelaria to Tuestepe, where they buy essential supplies (like toilet paper and Doritoes).

This Monday they met the SST leaders in Tuestepe, where we then went to Candelaria on one of two daily buses that crawl along a rocky, muddy dirt road for an hour(the same time it takes the 3 guys to run the same route). Rusty’s journal entry (below) describes the landscape in this part of the country.

Between our bus stop and the first house of Candelaria a small boy came running out to meet us. This was Rusty’s little brother, and the first of a multitude of kids that we discovered follow the 3 guys everywhere they go (see Kyle’s journal entry).

Candelaria (pop. 250) is poorer than most rural communities, and the guys found the first week a big shock compared to life in Carazo. No one in the town owns a pulperia (a small store selling basic consumables), but the locals say they don’t mind going to the next village (an hour walk away) to buy soap, rice, etc. Some recent improvements in town include a solar-powered well for drinking water (see ), and the town got electricity just one month ago.

The students’ weekly schedule is to spend Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays working on AsoFenix projects. On Fridays each of the guys works with their fathers in the fields, where corn, beans, or sorghum are grown. On Saturdays they work at home with their families on tasks around the house. Sundays and Mondays are their days off to do others things, like swim in the river or run into Tuestepe for …… you know.

After visiting each of their homes, Maria and Doug went with the guys to visit a project site where they had spent two days building fences. Because vegetables are difficult to grow in locations where free-ranging goats and pigs are always looking for something to eat, vegetables are difficult to grow and only a small part of the campesino diet. Building fences to protect vegetable gardens will help increase the amount of vitamins the town’s residents can consume. The three guys are also helping AsoFenix build enclosed pens for introducing a new breed of pig that grows faster and larger than the local breed (that runs freely everywhere in town), but requires protected living conditions.

After spending the night at Kyle’s house, Doug and Maria got up early (4:30) the next morning to catch one of only two buses that take passengers to Tuestepe each day. The three guys have discovered that campesino days begin at the crack of dawn at 4-5 a.m., and by 8-9 p.m. everyone is asleep. They’re going to propose that this schedule be adopted in the GC dorms next year.



“The Natural World”

Candelaria is in Boaco and seems to be in the mountain range of Nicaragua. Surrounding the village on most sides are small mountains. Even in the village there are spots where the road takes some steep inclines. There is a lot of vegetation along with many trees. The trees are more scattered, so it’s not quite like a forest, but there are still a lot.

Like I said, the mountains aren’t really big, so there are a lot of paths from here to other places, such as Susanpote, another village about 40 minutes away if walking. The paths also lead to fields where cattle graze and to fields where corn and beans are planted. There are a lot of fields in a bunch of places.

One ecological concern the people here face is that of erosion. Since so many fields are on the sides of mountains, if it rains hard enough and for long enough, they could lose some of those fields. Along with erosion is the problem of run-off. Before it rains a lot, the rivers are pretty low, but after it rains the rivers swell quite a bit, maybe 3 or 4 feet. That means not a lot of the water soaks into the ground, and it just runs to the rivers. This is also a problem because it makes the rivers impassable, which could be dangerous if someone really needed a doctor.

The landscape here is similar to that of Matagalpa and Esteli, except maybe on a smaller scale. Compared to Jinotepe, Dolores and Diriamba, it’s quite a bit different because those places were up on a plateau, and Candelaria is kind of down in the middle of a mountain range.



“Kids in Candelaria”

I think I can honestly say that I have never met a happier bunch of kids than the kids here in Candelaria. That is pretty amazing since this is the closest I have been to poverty in my life.

Between swimming, hanging out, playing with the soccer ball (which is deflated now), and throwing rocks, I have spent the majority of my time around kids, and it has been great. They are always ready to laugh and walk around with a smile on their face. It doesn’t matter that most of them run around barefoot, or that the toys they have are the rocks they find on the ground. So far a deflated soccer ball has been the center of about every game.

Along with loving to have fun, these kids are also very hardworking. The first morning I woke up I walked out to find my three little sisters carrying rocks on their heads from the road to the house in order to build walls around the kitchen. They did not complain once, and they even enjoyed seeing how many rocks they could stack on their head. I can only imagine what my response would have been at that age if I were told to carry rocks for hours at a time, but my guess would be not the same response as my sisters. These first few days I have been very humbled by these kids, and I can only hope to have as big of an impact on them as they have had and will have on me.

Posted at 22:26 #

Mon, 7 Jul 2008

Service Visit #3: San Onofre, Boaco

After leaving Candelaria, Maria and Doug Schirch traveled a couple hours to visit Maria B (to distinguish her from Maria Schirch and the many other Maria’s in the country, her Nica family called her Maria Cristina) and Michael in San Onofre. This is a small, rural community where the students are living in rustic conditions (homes with dirt floors, outhouses, etc.) similar to those in the previous two service visits. Maria B and Michael are working with Provadenic ( ), a Christian organization that trains local residents to improve health in poor, rural communities with projects in preventative health and improved agricultural techniques.

As Doug and Maria Schirch discovered during the 45-minute walk from the highway to San Onofre, it’s a good thing we let Maria Cristina and Michael get the experience of hiking up Mombacho several weeks ago; this hike was just as steep a climb, although only half as long. Like many rural communities, all the houses are strung out along a single street, although in San Onofre this street runs along one side of a short valley. Above and below the street, as well as on the other side of the valley, are small parcels of land where the local residents plant corn, beans, or different kinds of sorghum. At a slightly higher elevation than Candelaria (where we were yesterday), the extra rainfall in this area means the residents of San Onofre have a little better standard of living.

We met Maria Cristina’s parents, Teodoro and Timotea. The latter has been trained by Provadenic to promote health programs in the local community. At Michael’s house we met Juan Pablo (at 26 years old, he’s more of a brother than a father to Michael), who has been trained by Provadenic to promote agricultural and dental programs in the area. Both Maria Cristina and Michael have worked together on the different Provadenic activities, such as helping Juan Pablo measure the height of bean plants in different experimental fields to find optimal growing conditions. But as Michael mentions in his journal entry below, no two days have been the same so far.

In the afternoon we were able to watch Maria Cristina and Michael assist Timotea with a health talk at the local elementary school, teaching basic hygiene to the students. Because the GC students have time to do additional volunteer work in the community, Maria Schirch spoke with the director of the school to see if she could use help from Maria Cristina and Michael in the classes, which she was very glad to accept.

Later in the afternoon Teodoro took us to his bean field on the other side of the valley, where we could get a beautiful vista of the surrounding countryside. It was so beautiful there that we dallied too long as rain clouds approached, so that on the way back we got caught in a downpour before we could make it to Juan Pablo’s house. However, in rural communities it is common to jump into the closest house when it is raining, without asking permission, and then once inside you introduce yourself and chat while you wait for the skies to clear. During a break in the rain we went back to Juan Pablo’s house, but when the rain continued we spent the rest of the afternoon watching a DVD of “A Bug’s Life.” Cell phones, TV’s and DVD/VHS players (old but functional) are found in some of the places you might have least expected them.

The next morning Maria Cristina and Michael observed the town’s combined 1st and 2nd grade class so that they could begin assisting the teacher. Because the school is not large enough to have separate classes for each grade, the teachers have to juggle multiple grades in the same class, which is why they are happy for extra help in checking student work, etc.


Maria Cristina

“Emergency Medical Trips in San Onofre”

The village where I am living now is relatively far away from the highway, and this presents some problems for the people who live here. To reach my village, one has to walk up a rocky jeep trail for almost an hour. Vehicles make the climb rarely; horses more often are used to carry things up and down. There are very few options for anyone who is disabled or sick. But the people here have learned how to get by.

If anyone has a serious illness and needs to be taken to the hospital, the whole town helps. They tie a hammock onto a large pole, and two men at a time take turns carrying it down the mountain. Up to 30 men run along with them, each taking short turns so as not to get tired. They can make the trip down in 15 minutes, half of what it takes me to reach the bottom.

They do the same with women about to give birth. When the contractions start, they carry the woman down the mountain. If the baby comes quickly, the woman sometimes gives birth on the side of the mountain, in the hammock.

Until recently, after reaching the highway, one had to take a bus into the nearest city an hour away, and from there a taxi to the hospital. The trip in total could take over two hours. Babies have been born on the bus and in the taxi. Thankfully, they now have an agreement with the hospital that the hospital will send out an ambulance to wait on the highway, even though normally the ambulance wouldn’t go so far.

For the people who live here, this procedure is normal. They have found ways to be creative and make do with what they have.



“Finding My Place”

So, as I predicted at the beginning, I’m certainly starting to find my place as time passes. The general smallness of the community and isolation from the rest of the world don’t seem nearly as intimidating now as it did at first. In fact, I’m really starting to appreciate the lack of traffic and ambient manufactured noise.

The reason things are going so much better now than they were at the beginning isn’t so much that I’m developing a routine; we’re almost a quarter of the way done with service, and I have yet to do the same thing twice. The reason things are going better is that I’m starting to understand where I fit into this small community. I still don’t really ever know exactly what’s going on, but I’m getting used to being clueless and simply going with the flow.

For example, usually on weekday mornings we go over to Maria’s house at around 8:30, but for some reason yesterday morning my host and boss Juan Pablo was content to sit in the living room and talk with me for three hours about political parties, cell phones, and the fact that I need to be forward with the family when I don’t like certain things. As far as I know, this wasn’t the plan for yesterday morning, but we take things as they come.

Like church, for example. We usually go to church for at least two hours in the evenings, but sometimes we don’t. Other times, like yesterday afternoon, someone will wander by the house and let me know that not only will I be going to church, but Maria and I will be singing special music in Spanish and English. This isn’t anything to stress about though, because we have all afternoon to practice.

Really, nothing is worth stressing about because there’s time for everything, and if there isn’t, we can make it. More than anything else, I’m going to miss a lifestyle in which every part of a schedule is flexible and relationships always take priority.

Posted at 21:10 #

Wed, 9 Jul 2008

Service Visit #4: Leon

On Wednesday (July 2) Maria went to Leon to visit Tricia, Tara and Jessica. The first 2 women work in the city of Leon teaching English at a school run by CEPAD, the Council of Protestant Churches in Nicaragua ( ). Jessica works outside the city in the rural community of Chacraseca, which was right in the path of Tropical Storm Alma when it came ashore in late May. Part of her assignment there is also to help with disaster relief projects. She works with CIEETS, another Nicaraguan protestant organization that does agro-ecological projects and theological education in Nicaragua.

Leon, Nicaragua’s second largest and second oldest city (founded in the early 1600,s), has a number of museums, art galleries, and buildings with colonial architecture. Within view of an impressive range of 6-7 volcanoes, it sits on the country’s flat Pacific coastal plain. That low elevation means that it is #1 in Nicaragua when it comes to heat (see Tricia’s journal entry).

Because school starts each day for Tricia and Tara at 7 a.m., their days start around 5-5:30. They either walk or take a public bus to the school, where they get their teaching assignment for the day. That varies to include different levels and whether or not they team-teach a class. By noon they are finished for the day and return home.

Since Nicaragua’s mid-year two-week school vacation is in July, normally Tricia and Tara would not have classes to teach. However, Maria helped them explore some options, and they decided to organize some additional vacation English classes for two hours each day during the first week. The next week two groups of students will have a dialogue competition in English. Since the mid-year school vacation falls at a time when parents don’t have work vacation, students are usually glad for a study option that is preferable to staying at home the entire two weeks.

Maria also visited with both families. Tara’s family (see her journal entry) lives outside of town, although her father works in the city’s municipal offices. Her mother is a teacher. Tricia lives in the city, where her mother works with a musical group and frequently with different work brigades that come to Nicaragua from abroad.

Thursday morning (July 3) Tricia and Tara took a 45-minute bus ride to the countryside with Maria to visit Jessica in Chacraseca. At Jessica’s house they met her mother, a community leader who works for CIEETS. In the words of Jessica, her mother “cooks, cleans, and sews (for her own family and for others), she pulls water out of the well, she kills and de-feathers chickens to eat, and she never seems to sleep.” Together they enjoyed a lunch of arroz aguada, a thick rice soup usually flavored with onions and tomatoes. Like the homes of students in Boaco and Ometepe, the floors are dirt, but meals are served at lunchtime to whomever happens to be in the house at the time. The house’s electricity had been knocked about by Alma, but was now back (see Jessica’s journal entry).

One of the CIEETS projects is to reforest a former sugar cane field with 2,000 trees. Jessica helps in the tree nursery, clears land for planting seedlings, digs the holes for planting, and waters the seedlings.

True to form in the campo, her day starts at 5:30 a.m., and work with the trees starts at 6:00. Field work ends sometime before noon, and then after lunch the rest of the day is spent helping her mother with housework. One of the jobs is getting the ‘raw material’ for the house’s biogas stove (see photos).


Journal Entry from Tricia, “Leon’s Environment”

When I think of the natural world surrounding me here in Leon, one word inevitably jumps into mind: hot. Really hot. Many native Nicaraguans, as well as my trusty Nicaraguan tour book, told me that Leon is nestled in the hottest part of the country. Given this information, I feel as though I should have been more prepared. I had temporarily forgotten how hot Jinotepe had been, before the rains started, but now I remember.

Other than that, there really isn’t much to complain about. The landscape surrounding the city is gorgeous, like many other parts of the country. Yesterday we went outside of town to the finca [farm], which is owned by someone related to my family. It was pretty and green and crawling with cows and goats and horses. However, in the campo [countryside], more so than the city, I could see devastation caused by that lousy tropical storm. Many trees had been torn up, walls and roofs of houses destroyed, and many previously clean water sources that were destroyed have yet to be renewed.

Currently, I would say that recovering from Alma is a predominate ecological concern for the people of Leon. Much of the damage has yet to be cleaned up or rebuilt, and many people are too concerned with their day to day survival to do much about it.


Journal Entry from Tara, “Becoming a Daughter”

However difficult the transition and adjustments have been for me coming to Leon and maneuvering frequent changes in schedules as well as other confusions, my host family has helped me pull through.

I have been overwhelmed by their generosity. They insist that I use their cell phones to call my U.S. family at least once a week. Yet they allow me to wash my own clothes and dishes.

They give me my own space but include me in things when I don’t appear to be doing anything else. This is actually more complex than it sounds. I always want to participate in anything that goes on, so I try to make myself available as often as possible. But obviously there isn’t something every moment of every day, and when I get bored I have to carefully monitor the time I spend reading so that I don’t close myself off too much.

Obviously our relationship isn’t perfect. I still have trouble communicating (especially when they mumble or use regional slang), but we spend a lot of time together.

I have caught on to the daily routine but I am still often surprised by an activity or guest that I was unaware of.

And, as with my Jinotepe family, I wish I could communicate my full range of emotions and personality. For this I have come to rely more on non-verbals, such as facial expressions and games. Physical activity – especially with my siblings and other children – has been very helpful for me in creating bonds.

One way or another, bonds have been formed thus far. Last night I was introduced, to a new person, as “nuestra otra hija [our other daughter], Tara Mendoza.” This meant a lot to me. The new last name came about partially as the result of a general inability to pronounce my actual last name, but still it’s good to know that, as they say, as long as I’m here, I’m a Mendoza.


Journal Entry from Jessica Fridley, “Life without Electricity”

When I got here the electricity was still out from when [Tropical Storm] Alma came through (which was the day before Mother’s Day in Nicaragua). It was fine with me. I didn’t know life in the campo with electricity anyway, and I liked being able to see the stars in the evening. The only downside was the fridge didn’t work and the only water we could drink had to be brought in from Leon.

The day before Nicaragua’s Fathers Day the water came back on for everyone, and some people in the community got their lights back (but not us). We got our lights back the day after Father’s Day.

It was pretty exciting. All the lights were turned on, the TV worked, and cell phones could be recharged. Since radios are battery-powered, it wasn’t that much louder with the TV, but people talked less and just sat and watched TV more.

When I’m trying to sleep at night, I like it better without electricity, but at any other point in the day I could go either way. That is good because the lights randomly go out at times.

Living here without electricity and with dirt floors I wonder what kind of house/apartment I’ll live in after college. I’ve always been down to earth and not wanting a big place to live in. I do know that I want a working bathroom (tub and shower) and a garden of some kind, even if it is in pots on the window.

Posted at 23:26 #

Thu, 10 Jul 2008

Service Visit #5: Nindiri, Masaya.

On Friday (July 4) Doug went to visit Joshua T, who is teaching English at a rural public school outside the town of Nindiri. When Doug arrived he found both Joshua and his supervisor, Sidney, teaching classes. Sidney lived in Canada for several years before returning to Nicaragua, and his English is very good; the school is fortunate to have an English teacher as fluent as him.

Today the school was having an unusual schedule because it was actually the start of the mid-year two-week vacation. Although the following week was also a “vacation” week, Joshua and Sidney were still going to come in 3 days to give English classes; many of the students said they still preferred to come some days than stay home all week. This day Joshua was using worksheets with the students, helping them choose the appropriate words in English to complete various sentences.

Since the rural school is a few miles outside of the town of Nindiri, where Joshua lives with his Nica family, they loaned him a bicycle that he rides to work and back each day. At noon there is not enough time to go home for lunch, so he goes with Sidney to a family farm nearby, where they eat packed lunches. A packed lunch in Nicaragua is often still rice and beans, and frequently a piece of meat. Joshua’s mom usually includes 3 lemons, a small bag of sugar, and a smaller bag of salt. Why? To make fresh lemonade, of course. At the farm Sidney’s family started their own reforestation project several years ago, and the trees planted in neat rows are now well grown.

Joshua lives with Walter, Sidney’s brother, and his family at the edge of Nindiri. As the family explained, the town is exceptionally safe, the inhabitants extra friendly, and the central park is the best of any similarly-sized town in Nicaragua.

The town sits on the site of a former indigenous village that was the most densely populated center in the country 1,500 years before the Spanish arrived. “Nindiri” in the Chorotega language means “Hill of the Small Pig.” On the main road in to town there is a statue of Tenderi, who was the Chorotega chief when the Spanish were colonizing the area. When local residents dig in the ground, either to farm to build houses, the frequently turn up pottery and other indigenous artifacts. The town has a museum where many of these are on display.


Journal Entry from Joshua, “Architecture and Design in Nindiri.”

One of the things that strikes me about the housing style here, as it did in Carazo, is the proximity of the houses to one another. In many cases, the houses are directly against each other. In these instances these homes are fairly close to the street, and it is very possible to make awkward eye contact with the inhabitants in their living room as one walks by. Furthermore, when someone owns property that is not completely built on (i.e., there is some space available), this property is protected by fences, walls, gates, and/or dogs. This is very different from typical housing styles in the U.S., which are mostly separate, set back from the street, and normally unprotected land. However, that style would probably not work here, as primary considerations are utilization of space and protection from theft.

One aspect of the street design here is that it is almost entirely grid-like. This is not always the case in cities in the U.S. Here, though, as in other Nicaraguan cities or towns, the grid structure helps to give the sense of a system in order to, for example, find an address or a business. Another feature of the roads I find interesting is a lack of stop signs or traffic lights at many intersections. Most of the time I have seen cars stop at intersections, regardless of who might have the right of way. A couple of times, however, I have witnessed near-accidents. This feature has most directly affected me as I walk through the city, and as I see a car approaching the intersection where I am, and my uncertainty whether or not the car will stop, or if I will have to wait.

Posted at 23:08 #

Sat, 12 Jul 2008

Service Visit #6: Matagalpa city

Jill and Anna are working at the nutrition clinic in Matagalpa that the group had visited on the field trip in early June. Maria went to visit them with Lisa Guedea Carreno, director of the GC library, who will be one of the Nica SST leaders next summer.

The nickname for Matagalpa is “Pearl of the North,” and it boasts that the surrounding mountains grow the best coffee in Nicaragua.

The “Nutritional Recovery Center for Children” is run by CIEETS, the same organization that Jessica is working with outside Leon. Anna and Jill work at the Center each morning from 9-12, playing with the children, holding the smaller ones, and helping feed them. The Center has room for 25 children. When there are fewer, Jill and Anna go with other workers in the surrounding area to meet different families and look for other malnourished children (see Jill’s journal entry). The Center said there is never a shortage of needy children in the area.

At noon Anna and Jill return home for lunch, and then return to the Center to work until 2:00. During the last two weeks of service they will also work Monday, Wednesday and Friday with another program in the same building to help prepare and serve food for about 75 street kids. Lunch is offered twice a day, at 11 a.m. for kids who go to school in the afternoon, and again at 1 p.m. for kids who aren’t going to school.


A journal entry from Jill, “Nica Hospitality.”

I have never seen such incredible hospitality as I have here in Nicaragua. Some people have so little but are willing give something to help someone else.

A recent example of this is when Anna and I visited the campo with the Center. It was pouring down rain, and we had a ways to walk yet. A lady saw us and invited us inside. We were complete strangers. She made her kids get up out of the three chairs they owned so that we could sit until the rain slowed.

Anna had fallen in the mud because it was really slippery. We asked a lady for some water to wash the shirt out, and when she came back she also had a little piece of soap. She insisted on helping get the mud out so it wouldn’t stain Anna’s white shirt. This lady had very little but was willing to give what little soap she had to help Anna. She was a complete stranger but was so worried about Anna and her shirt.

These are events that occur often in Nicaragua. It is something that I love about living here. These events would never occur in the United States, and if they did, they would be on very rare occasions and only certain people would even consider doing it.

How does a country that has so little offer so much to help others? It is something that I will never forget and has changed my opinion about how I will view those in need in the future.

Posted at 23:31 #

Sun, 13 Jul 2008

Service Visit #7: Jinotega city

On Tuesday morning (July 8) Lisa Guedea Carreno and Maria left Matagalpa and took an hour-long bus ride north over a high mountain pass with a spectacular view of the Jinotega valley below. At 3,000 feet above sea level, Jinotega is higher, colder, and wetter than any other city in Nicaragua. Often blanketed in clouds, it is nicknamed La Ciudad de las Brumas (The City of Mists).

Not surprisingly, it was rainy when Maria and Lisa arrived at Alli and Lindsey’s home in time for a lunch of cuajada, (a mild Nicaraguan cheese that takes only a couple hours to make from milk), rice and beans, tortillas, and -- made by Alli and Lindsey themselves -- tostones (thick, fried plantain chips). The students are intensely proud that they have also learned to make authentic gallo pinto. Part of the house they live in is a pulperia (small general store), the family’s main source of income.

Lindsey and Alli work for Los Pipitos (The Little Ones), an organization that serves handicapped children and is run by parents. Alli and Lindsey’s family belong to the organization because one of their sons, Jose Ramon, has Down’s syndrome (see Lindsey’s journal entry).

The GC students work mornings as teacher assistants at a special school for handicapped children that is owned by Los Pipitos but staffed by the Nicaraguan government. They say it is hard to “do” much, other than struggle to keep kids inside the room and in their seats. At noon they return home for a 2-hour lunch break, and then work three hours in the afternoons at the local Los Pipitos center. On Mondays the center has dance classes, Tuesdays they do handicrafts, Wednesdays they have Youth Club, Thursdays are for sports, and Fridays they do either painting or computer classes.

Alli and Lindsey have also taken a few trips with Los Pipitos staff, including one to the rural community of Pantasma to set up a new Los Pipitos branch. They were told ahead of time that the trip would take 1.5 hours, but have now learned that in gringo time this really means 3 hours.


Journal Entry from Lindsey, “Things to Remember”

Last night I began compiling a list of things in Jinotega that I don’t want to forget. There are many things, but here are just a few:

1. Old Cowboy. Everyday, rain or shine, a really, really old man slowly walks to our pulperia. This man is hunched way over, with a cane in this hand to aid his journey. On rainy days, he wears a big green poncho, but everyday he’s wearing his cowboy hat and boots. I want to know him and his story.

2. Missing mountaintops. Every morning the first thing we do is open the door to our patio and look out. Every morning the top of the mountains are missing because they are covered by clouds. While looking at the mountains you can see the clouds slowly changing shape and moving by. I love mornings in Nicaragua. They are beautiful and innocent and peaceful. They are untampered with and pure. The problems of the day have no effect on the mornings.

3. Jose Ramon. My brother, who has Downs syndrome, laughs a lot. His laugh is unpredictable, contagious and is generally accompanied by his elbows tucked in at this sides and 2 thumbs up. After spending enough time with him, it becomes quite easy to imitate.

4. Sergio. Occasionally, when Alli and I look out at the mountains in the mornings, Sergio, our little 4-year-old neighbor, peers out his door. As soon as he sees us he squeals loudly and then smiles. Sergio has the cutest smile!

Thus far, these are some of the things I don’t want to forget.


A Journal Entry from Alli, “Reflections on Faith.”

SST has really strengthened my relationship with God. Before coming here I would say my relationship was fairly consistent. Being here has really solidified that relationship in many ways, including:

1. Before leaving for SST, there were a million things going through my mind that I was thinking about. That included all the things that could go wrong, and I was just feeling really nervous. But a few days leading up to our departure from the States I felt an incredible sense of calm that everything would be alright and that I was ready to go.

2. My family in Jinotepe included a grandma who I quickly became attached to. She was so sweet and so energetic about life. She often talked with me about the Bible and God, and she would always pray for us before we left her house. Her faith was a god example for me.

3. Along with, “Where are you from?” and, “How many hermanos do you have?” I often got asked about my religious affiliation, what it stood for, and what it means. Answering those questions in Spanish has at times been difficult, but it really helped me to realize how faith and my religion have played (and play) a role in my life.

4. I have also experienced some low points in Nicaragua, sometimes dealing with culture shock or homesickness. Sometimes when I think things will just never look up, I find myself able to push through those hard times. That’s when I feel God’s presence.

5. Being here in the mountains has definitely shown the beauty of God’s creation. Everyday I wake up and am in awe as to what I see out of my window. The beauty of this place is amazing, and God’s hand is so evident in nature, especially here in the mountains of Jinotega.

Posted at 22:23 #

Mon, 14 Jul 2008

Service Trip #8: Esteli city

On Wednesday (July 9) Maria and Lisa left Jinotega for Esteli to visit Libby, Karla M, and Joshua R. The “short-cut” via back roads took 4.5 hours, which they did standing up on a bus with no empty seats. But they say the back-country mountain scenery made it worth the extra time.

The students also like the mountain countryside around Esteli. “Esteli is much more beautiful compared to Carazo,” writes Joshua. “I can look down my street and see mountains in the background. The city is surrounded by nature reserves and more generally accessible mountains.” Some of that beauty, however, is threatened by deforestation, which is affecting the local climate. “My host dad says he remembers 30 years ago when Esteli was about 10 degrees cooler on average.”

In the indigenous Nahuatl language Esteli means “river of blood.” That has been apt for this part of country for much of the past hundred years, starting with the occupation by the U.S. Marines, followed by Sandino’s guerrilla war against the Marines, then the Sandinista guerrilla movement decades later, the Contra war in the 1980’s, and sporadically in the early 1990’s were attacks led by former Contras or Sandinista army members. It has been quiet the past 15 years, and locals want it to stay that way.

With peace the local economy has been growing. Joshua writes that compared to Carazo, “there are an insane number of stores filled with clothes and other things. Additionally, there are computer stores, cell phone shops, car dealerships, motorcycle dealerships, rent-a-car places, and many more commercial services than could be found in Carazo. Some of the stores are multiple stories and air-conditioned.” Local cigar factories are producing one of Esteli’s fastest growing exports, and Joshua reports that those factory workers “can make more money in a week than teachers can make in a month.”

On Thursday morning Maria and Lisa went to the local office of AMNLAE, the largest women’s organization in Nicaragua, where Libby and Karla work at a variety of tasks. They label and file folders, enter data into AMNLAE’s computer database, and help make information posters for the walls of the center. Sometimes they help give charlas (informative talks) about women’s rights in local schools. They also like observing the many different roles and contributions of different workers at the center.

Joshua works at the local chapter of Los Pipitos, the same organization that Alli and Lindsey work for in Jinotega. The Esteli chapter of Los Pipitos has many older students, as well as students without disabilities, and they do a number of fundraising activities. Joshua works in their carpentry shop with previous students from the center and other paid workers (not people with disabilities) sanding, painting, drilling and putting string on wooden birds, as well as making some furniture. They have an order from Germany for 7,000 wooden doves; so far they’ve made 4,000. Libby and Karla had also worked at Los Pipitos earlier, but later switched to AMNLAE, which has been a better assignment for them.

One of the things Joshua likes seeing (and coveting) around rugged Esteli are dirt bikes. “They would be so convenient and nice to have around in a place like this. They are fast enough to ride on the road, rugged enough to zip you through unpaved paths, and economical enough to use regularly. Many times when I am walking around Esteli or on the dirt path to work, one of those beautiful machines zips by and sprays me with a layer of dust. …the college should just buy dirt bikes for everyone.” Well, maybe next year.


A journal entry from Libby, “Lights Out”

I have been in Nicaragua for over nine weeks now, and there are certain things I think I will miss; for example, the wonderful fresh fruits and refrescos, hearing and smelling the rain come across the mountains, and the familiar rhythm of greetings in the street. Perhaps most of all (besides the people I’ve come to know), I think I will miss the power outages….

Strange, I know, but they are part of the regular life here. People take them in stride, saying, “Oh, there went the lights again.” In the States, if you lose power, it isn’t more than an hour before you complain to the power company and begin to flip breakers in your basement hoping the lights will come on so life as you know it can continue. That’s if you lose power at all, with all the generators and back up generators, thanks to the Y2K scare.

But here in Nicaragua what I like best about the power outages is the chance it gives you to slow down, to stop, and to engage other people. During the first six weeks in Carazo losing power was a weekly event, if not more. The business of my mom and brothers running around, or TV or radio always on, all of that stopped when the lights went out. We would sit and light a candle for a little light, or I would break out the adored flashlights and we would talk and laugh without a care as to when the lights would return.

Here in Esteli today at my service location, AMNLAE, the lights were off all morning. In the building there are few windows, so it was pretty dark and the computers didn’t work. No lights meant little work. The other staff and I ended up sitting in the conference room waiting for the lights. I was grateful for some time to be able to visit with my co-workers. I asked questions I had wondered about the organization, and they were happy to talk about their work. They also asked us questions about our lives and poked fun at my Spanish. It was nice to have a relaxing morning visiting.


A journal entry from Karla M, “Women in Nicaragua” [Karla, an advanced Spanish student, wrote her entry in Spanish. This is an English translation.]

I’m reading the book The Country Beneath My Skin [in Spanish], by Gioconda Belli, and it has inspired me to write my own story about the revolution. Her life is very interesting, and I imagine very difficult in some periods. I want to read more of her books, and I will. It is very fascinating to see the history of the Sandinista revolution from a woman’s point of view. I like to see the changes that she lived through and how they affected her. For example, how she changed from being a docile woman to such an important feminist in Nicaraguan history.

It seems to me that in the revolution many strong women came forward and started working for women’s rights, such as in the organization AMNLAE. Now that I am working here at an AMNLAE office, I am more happy. I like to see how women are working together to improve the lives of other women. Even though we don’t do much, I like to think that we are helping. I hope that next year students will want to work here, because I think that it is a good thing to see, especially for students that want to work with women in the future.

The office organization is not like it is in offices in the U.S., but for me it is important to see that yes, it works. There are many things I’d like to change, such as the way that filing is done, but it works for them. I believe that will help me in the future with working in a business. I believe that for us it can look less organized than a U.S. office, but for them it is the best they can do with the resources they have. It is a good experience for Libby and me.

Posted at 23:56 #

Tue, 15 Jul 2008

Service Visit #9: La Concepción, Masaya

On Thursday (July 10) Doug drove all of 20 minutes to the town of La Concepción (affectionately called La Concha for short), where Renee and Amanda are working at the town’s public health clinic. Although close to Jinotepe, the students report that it feels like they are in an entirely different part of the country, mostly because the countryside is hillier and has different kinds of farms. This area is fruit and vegetable land; it supplies the bulk of produce to markets in Managua, only about 45 minutes away.

Doug arrived at the health center to find Amanda (a nursing major) and Renee (a pre-med student) in medical gowns busy working with clinic staff, attending patients in separate rooms. Outside the doors waited long lines of patients for medical attention. As a public clinic, all the services offered are free of charge, which is essential given that many Nicaraguans earn less than $2 per day.

The GC students take turns rotating through different rooms and offices at the clinic. Today Amanda was working with a nurse interviewing patients, taking blood pressures, weights, and temperatures. Renee was working in Curación, where the doctors clean wounds, give stitches, remove stitches, and give injections, among other things.

Periodically Amanda and Renee accompany the clinic staff as they go to outlying areas and set up temporary clinics with all the same stations as the permanent clinic in town. People are also creatively taught health prevention, such as washing hands and brushing teeth. On another trip they went to a barrio where several people had contracted dengue. The team sprayed for mosquitoes and went door to door telling the local residents to get rid of containers of standing water, where mosquitoes can breed.

Although work at the clinic begins at 8 a.m., Amanda and Renee start their days at 5:30 a.m. as they accompany Renee’s mother on an hour walk. The stroll through different barrios in town, as well as walk into the countryside on narrow paths. After the walk they have breakfasts in their respective homes, and when they get to work at 8:00, the waiting room is already full of patients.


A journal entry from Renee, “Trip to Barrio Panama.”

About the third day of working in the clinic, they asked me if I wanted to accompany them (one doctor and one nurse) to one of the poor barrios that they visit once a month. So I enthusiastically agreed to go to a barrio called Panama.

I expected us to visit different houses to vaccinate children, but instead we announced through a loudspeaker attached to the top of the truck we were driving that we were in the area and would be taking consultations in a room attached to one of the houses in the barrios.

At first, for at least an hour, no one came to the makeshift clinic, which was okay because we had time to setup the table the doctor would use and several chairs outside for the waiting patients. The single room also had a curtain for privacy and an examining table. We had also brought along a scale, an electronic blood pressure measurement device (a donation that turned out not to function at all) and a box full of medicine.

Once people started coming to the clinic around 10 a.m., there was a steady stream of patients until 3 p.m. Most of the patients were women and children, and while I had seen poverty in the clinic in San Juan, these people seemed to be much worse off. Their clothes were very worn and most of them had collections of dirt on them because of the lack of running water in this barrio. However, I was surprised to see that a lot of the women still wore dressy high heels!


A journal entry from Amanda, “Living in Nicaragua”

In the beginning of my SST experience my family talked about how many people who came here, such as the Peace Core people, end up living here for years because they fall in love with the country. I really didn’t understand this when I first arrived, but now, after living here longer, I’m starting to understand.

There is so much culture, history, and pride for the country which I really don’t see in the U.S. The main thing that I love that is lacking in the U.S. is the culture. I love how they have so many parties to celebrate whatever they feel like and the parties always include dancing. All the dancing is beautiful, from folklore dancing to discotheque dancing. :)

Another thing that is so different here is the great hospitality and friendliness of Nicaraguans. They always recognize someone new, greet them, and are normally willing to talk for awhile. This is so different from the U.S. where everyone can be stand-offish and just keep to themselves. Here no one has to be alone if they don’t want to be; anyone can be a possible friend.

The great hospitality that our families have shown us on SST has also been a testament to the Nica way of life. Even though they are getting paid weekly, most of the families go above and beyond what they need to. Many families are determined to teach their students new Spanish and culture. I am very thankful for this experience and now I can see how so many people have fallen in love with this country.

Posted at 23:21 #

Thu, 17 Jul 2008

Service Visit #10, San Antonio Sur, Managua

On Friday and Wednesday (July 11 and 16) Maria made the 45-minute trip to the rural community of San Antonio Sur to visit Karla S and Karissa, who are working at Hogar Belen (Bethlehem Home), an orphanage for handicapped children. The community lies in the municipality of Managua, the capital, but is several miles south of the city outskirts. However, the urban sprawl of Managua is heading south, towards the neighboring city of Masaya, and many new houses are being built in this area.

When Maria arrived at Hogar Belen shortly before 9 a.m., the GC students were also just arriving to begin their work day. Every morning they are assigned to either help the children with physical therapy or, in a separate room, work on developing their senses. Today they were doing sensory work, for which they used music, different lights, and a variety of objects to touch. All their work with the children is one-on-one, which means they take 15-20 minute turns with each child.

Karla wrote in her journal how she has been impressed by the organization. “Every place like Hogar Belen that is built is dedicated to helping handicapped children live like the rest of the world. They not only give them a house to live in, but they also offer therapy, they take them to schools that help them, they have a psychologist that works there, as well as a nurse. It’s marvelous all that they do there, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work a little with them.” The organization that runs Hogar Belen is Mustard Seed Community, . “It doesn’t work only in Nicaragua, but it also has places like Hogar Belen in Jamaica, parts of Africa, and soon a new one will be built in Guatemala also.”

When the time came for the employees to have daily chapel at 10:00, some of the kids looked for adults to hold them on their laps, and one wasn’t too shy to ask Maria. After chapel Karissa and Karla worked again in several one-on-one shifts with the children. At 11:30 was lunch-time, and Maria accompanied Karla home.

Karla noted that this community has a different feel, since it is much smaller than Jinotepe, but that some contrasts are also more apparent. “Everyone knows everyone here. If you tell a moto-taxi that you live at the Estrada home, they know exactly where to take you. There’s something I realized when my brother took me on a walk to see the town. If you walk about 20 minutes in two different directions you’ll find huge, luxurious houses where people with a lot of money live. It’s odd to see houses like that so close to my community, which is so poor. It’s sad that it happens. I know that there are places like that in the U.S. also, but here the differences are more extreme.”

Karissa’s mother wasn’t at home on Friday, so Maria went back on Wednesday afternoon. After lunch each day Karla and Karissa start work again at 2:00, later there is a short chapel service especially for the children, and at 5:00 the work day is done. So Maria met Karissa as she was getting off work and accompanied her home to meet her family, as shown in the pictures.


A journal entry from Karissa, “SST and My Faith”

My personal faith journey has definitely been impacted by SST. I’ve felt the hole left by the lack of a church community that I can engage with on a regular basis. I’ve realized how vital it is to my own personal journey to have a community with whom I can discuss what it means to follow Christ. I have had that to an extent on SST, but at the same time I miss the specific relationships where those conversations took place naturally and regularly.

One question I’ve had to deal with a lot the past eight weeks is what my relationship to money should be. Seeing the need for money around me constantly has made me rethink some of my emphasis on stewardship as it has been taught in my wealthy context. Being immersed in another culture with a completely different history and context than my own has increased my understanding of God, while at the same time showing me the value of different beliefs as they are shaped out of a context I will never fully understand.

This has given me more conviction to hold tightly to my beliefs, but not so tightly that they can’t be changed or adjusted. I’ve come closer to being at peace with the fact that I’ll never fully understand what God is calling me to and how he desires that we live. I’ve also come closer to being at peace with knowing that if I simply do the best I can, God’s grace is sufficient to cover the rest.

Posted at 23:19 #

Sat, 26 Jul 2008

Back from Service

On Thursday (7-24) everyone returned from service and stopped by the unit house for happy reunions with long-lost friends. Friday there was a little more time for sharing over lunch at the favorite hang-outs in Jinotepe, but each student was also assigned to a cooking group for the upcoming retreat, which meant taking some time out for grocery shopping after lunch.

The return of the SST'ers happened to coincide with the start of Jinotepe's fiestas patronadas (patron saint festivities), so it was a little more hectic than usual getting around.

Saturday, Sunday and Monday will be spent on retreat at a Pacific beach, and very, very early Tuesday morning we'll get on the bus for the last time as we travel to the airport. [Pictures from the retreat will be posted sometime after Tuesday.]

Posted at 02:14 #

Tue, 29 Jul 2008

Final Retreat

The students left the Managua airport early this morning, after a relaxing retreat at Playa Coco beach in southern Nicaragua. During work sessions the students took turns sharing about their experiences on service, as well as describing their findings from individual research topics. Doug marveled at their impressive work. They taught him new things about Nicaragua, and just 4 months ago he was explaining the simplest ABC’s of Nicaragua to them.

And when they weren’t sharing knowledge and planning their SST convocation for the fall, well, they enjoyed the beach in front of our lodges. We also made a couple trips to the neighboring beach of La Flor, a wildlife refuge where olive ridley sea turtles occasionally come ashore to nest. Although the turtles roam the Pacific from the coast of Canada all the way down to the coast of Peru, they will only nest at one spot – the same beach where they hatched.

Perhaps that same nesting instinct is what drew our students away from the beach and back to the land of Goshen today. However, we suspect that this summer some of them acquired another instinct that will someday bring them back to Nicaragua.

For Doug and Maria, it has been a special privilege to facilitate the interactions of the past three months between this country and the students. That they enjoyed their sojourn in Nicaragua so much is due mostly to the hospitality, patience, beauty, and laughter they found here. Hearing the students reflect on the meaning of their experiences, and seeing the friendships they made with Nicas, has been tremendously rewarding for us.

In May Doug happened to meet another college professor from the U.S. who was very pleased to be here with five students for 4 weeks of study-abroad. When he heard we were here with a whopping 23 students, all committed to spending three months living with Nica families, he was as impressed as Doug was proud to work at a school where so many students have that spirit of solidarity, sacrifice, and adventure. We’ve been equally proud to see how each of the 23 responded positively to the challenges of cross-cultural living and opened their minds.

Forty years since the first SST unit came to Nicaragua, and 30 years since the last unit left, these students reopened a path we hope many more will follow.

Posted at 17:19 #

Goshen College
International Education Office
Kevin Koch
+1 (574) 535-7346