Monday, February 26, 2007

two phone calls and a rant

On Thursday night, I talked to Rachael on the phone, then Emily immediately afterwards. Then it was time to write the rough draft essay for a fellowship that I'm applying for; as you can imagine, it came off mostly as a rant. I rewrote it less rantily, but I've preserved the original below. Because what else are blogs for, eh? Anyway, the assignment was to reflect on what God is calling the church to do and be, and how my gifts fit into that.

Rant follows:

I just got off the phone. Two phone calls in a row; that’s unusual for me. The first was Rachael, my lover, from Nicaragua, where there isn’t enough water to go around and the kids she’s teaching don’t have shoes, and the shoes they have are too tight so they can’t run around.

And then Emily, my best friend called. And her friend is in deep despair over broken relationship, and her day job is working with women who are being pushed around by their employers, because they’re not rich, or white, or male. And we talked about my other friend, who left last week for Iraq, where she will be a medic, and try to put her life back together as she tries to puts bodies back together, in the midst of a zone of chaos and violence caused largely by my own government.

What is God calling the church to do and be?

Well, maybe there’s another way. Maybe those kids in Nicaragua don’t need to be pushed around my corporations. Maybe those women in Conneticut don’t need to work long hours for very little money, just to keep their familes at (at!) the poverty line.

If this is true, if there’s another way, a way that breaks out of poverty and shatters the forces of empire- if this is true, it’s pretty much going to take the church.

This is the church to which I am called. Yes, the church as it exists in America: complicit in all of the worst violences of the world, at least allowing if not encouraging racism and oppresion and sexism all over. Yes, the church in its local particularity and foolishness- arguments about budgets and out-of-key choirs and grumpy coffee hour participants included.

There’s something about this church of God’s. It’s lumpy and risky, but the church is a place of transformation. I’ve seen people change, from knowing God, from knowing community, both in the walls of so-called churches, and in the spaces created by other churches, the kind of churches that most people call “classes” and “non-profit’s” and “friends.”

As to what I bring: I bring skills and stories. I bring a fervent cleverness, a willingness to try new ideas, to stick with what works and to change what doesn’t, and to learn from all kinds of folks. I bring two dozen mentors, each of whom with a wealth of experience and a heart full of compassion.

I bring stories of success and failure from many denominations and many faiths. I bring the story about how Desmond Tutu became Anglican, and how Hanuman carried the mountain. I bring the story about the Baptists in Ohio said to us when they threw out my church for accepting GLBT folks, and the story about the Baptists in New York who welcomed us in afterwards. I bring an abiding faith: a faith that gives me strength to listen to someone tell about how their life fell apart.

More than that, I bring this: I can look at the church, as it is- a little hollow, a lot tired, and certainly unsure of itself. I can look at the forces of Empire- huge and powerful, feeling free to oppress the weak, ruling the nations through greed and ignorance. And, looking at both of these, I have hope enough to believe that the Church can destroy the Empire. I believe that in the coming decades, the church will once again face the bare forces of facism. It might stand idly by, as it has so many times before. Or, it might take the side of Jesus, as it also has so many times before. It’s a mystery. But you can’t stop the Spirit. I’m so in.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lenten Discipline

As many of you know, Lent started on Wednesday. On Monday, I went to the hardware store and bought a sledgehammer. I've been thinking a lot lately about all the forces of colonialism, racism, sexism, etc, that seem to rule our world. It seems to me that most of them are due for a smashing. I'm not sure whether this smashing is best done with poetry or ideology, with sermons or with direct action- but clearly smashing is what's called for. I bought a hammer small enough to put in my backpack, so that I wouldn't scare folks on the bus. But it's also heavy enough to make me remember it's there, and to remember just why I'm going to seminary.

It feels like it's a naive kind of thing to do; carrying around a sledgehammer in the hopes that this will help me remember to smash systems of oppression. It's also a more violent metaphor than I've been using lately. But I've been reading folks like Albert Memmi and Frantz Fanon, who argue somewhat convincingly for the use of revolutionary violence. So, as I think about that, it's good to have something heavy to carry around.

Come Easter, we'll see.

ps- In Chapel on Wednesday, I set fire to NAFTA for ashes to smear on our foreheads. It's important to remember how I carry my privilege.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Guatemala #6: Windows into life in Guatemala

Subtitle: 3 months of conversations and experiences rolled into one blog entry!

Looking over my last few updates, and then this new one, I realized that the last couple have been very chipper. The chipperness does reflect a reality, but so that you aren't surprised by this entry, the tone of the following isn't exactly chipper! All of this stuff is what I've been learning and experiencing for all of the 3 1/2 months that I've been here. Only now have I been able to sort some of it out in my mind in a form that I think communicates what I'd like it to communicate!

The temptation, when in a new setting (especially a new country), is to analyze things like life, politics, people's attitudes, the economy, etc., etc. I think it tends to be easier to do that type of analyzing when you're in a different country than your own, even though I know less about Guatemala than I do about the US. I want to emphasize that I've been here for 3 months, so please don't take what I'm writing here as a definitive treatise on Guatemala. I also want to emphasize that all of this stuff is normal, meaning, try to read it as if it was the normal way things were in the country you lived in. (I can now construct hypothetical sentences like the last one in Spanish, yay!)

Some interesting conversations I've had...and some thoughts and observations:

Missions…volunteer work, etc.
-What would it be like if foreigners (of a skin color and/or nationality that means power, the ability to travel and wealth) often came into your lives, your communities or your churches? What if they came to serve, or to help you, or to teach you? (Remember, you have no control over when, how often, or why they come, and most often, no control over what they do either)

-Some people in one of the Mennonite churches have told me that before, there were very few evangelical churches in their neighborhood, but after the earthquake in 1976, bunches of missionaries and churches began to sprout up in the neighborhood. Now there's a different little church around more or less every corner!

-What might your view of your Mom be like, if you were a three year old kid and you hadn't seen her in 7 months because she was in the US? The most vivid memory you have of her is that when you saw her she took you out to eat pizza.

-What would it mean for your country if people were constantly leaving to try to find work in another country? They are constantly leaving, but also constantly returning through deportations. Think about lack of stability-affecting every part of life here.

-What might it be like to attend your church on a Sunday in Chichicastenango (a town in the department Quiché) and hear that the majority of the congregation's prayer requests are asking for prayers for family members that are in or on their way to the US?

-What might it be like if there were also usually foreigners in your church, because they want to see how you worship, and then buy things at the huge artesan market that is in your town? What might it feel like if it was normal to have to be dependent on money from your relatives who are immigrants in the US, and the money from tourists who come to buy things?

-What would it feel like to be a 12 year old boy whose father has been in the US for 3 years? Adding on to that, you are the only boy left (of your friends who participated in an MCC supported health education program) who hasn't gone to the US. After talking with this young boy and his sisters and friends in a small village in the mountains, we were saying goodbye. We had talked about my work and my friend Toby's work in Guatemala City and El Salvador , respectively. As we were saying goodbye, each of the youth said to us, "I hope you can come back and teach us the things that you know."

Education/Lack of opportunities and resources
-This is something that I feel like I don't have a good grasp on yet...the unequal access to opportunities. These youth that we talked to (from the above story) were so eager to learn, anything. There just aren't opportunities, sometimes for even basic education, much less for things like arts, literature, specialized interests or skills. This creates an attitude that, if there is an opportunity (to learn, to earn some money, or to get some money, or whatever else) you have to take advantage of it. From my judgment, this can be a good type of attitude, as well as a damaging one, because it also plants distrust in terms of people taking advantage of each other. To have opportunities to learn is a that we take way for granted in much of the US.

-In 2006 Guatemala was the country with the 2nd highest rate of adoptions by US citizens, number one being China. (4,135 Guatemalan children were adopted in 2006, and in 2005 there were 3,783 children adopted) Can you imagine? The population of Guatemala is around 12 million....what does that do to your population? (this has got to be one of the more complex issues, and I know very little about it so I won't give any more commentary yet, but the numbers do blow my mind.)

-What would it be like if around 60% of the population of your country was comprised of indigenous people?

-How would you feel if, in the past 4-6 months two major banks went bankrupt, and the entire country ran out of cash? (meaning that, even if your bank wasn't one of the ones that went bankrupt, you still couldn't take money out of the bank, because there was hardly any cash....)

-Thankfully now there is cash, but what happened was that they got rid of a bunch of old cash that was falling apart, and there was no new cash printed....

-What might it be like to read in the paper that George Bush was going to come visit Guatemala in March..........for 3 hours? Also, to read that the last US president that came to visit your country was, I think, Johnson, who came for 50 minutes and only stayed in the airport? (Actually Bill Clinton made a visit to Guatemala in 1999 for two days...sorry for the mistake!)

-The civil war in Guatemala lasted for 36 years, and the peace accords were signed in 1996. However, in the past ten years since they were signed, there have been incredible amounts of social violence, theft, etc. Although the war was mainly fought in the mountains (the altiplano, or highlands) the violence since the war ended has permeated much of the country, and is a daily reality in the capital city as well. And when people tell me stories of things that have happened, there's hardly any shock value...meaning that there is frustration, and sadness, but not amazement or incredulity, because it's something normal that happens.

These are some of the realities, some of the stories I've heard, things I've been thinking about as I've been learning Spanish, getting to know some really amazing people, slowly getting to know some of the churches here, as well as planning and trying to organize a music program. It's definitely been overwhelming, but continues to be a rich, in-depth and incredibly valuable learning experience, for which I am very grateful!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Nicaragua 14: on cold showers

At first I thought cold showers weren´t so bad. It´s always above 70 degrees here, even at night. That was when I had just come from much colder weather. Now I´m used to being warm all the time and it´s kind of a shock to pour that cool water all over my warm self. It´s worse for people when it´s early in the morning, late at night, or if they´re sick or elderly. Imagine leaning over to scoop cool water out of a bucket if you have arthritis. On the other hand, as I remember from my first week here, it´s possible to take cool showers here in a way it wouldn´t be in Idaho or Ohio or even California. That water could get seriously cold. I bet in my run-down (now seemingly luxurious) student rented house in Ohio I could have become ill from taking unheated showers. But here the water doesn´t get that cold because the air doesn´t.

I should mention that the norm here is unheated water. Some hotels and restaurants have warmed water, and in Tipitapa they have thermal water underground so it´s warmed naturally. But a large portion of the country doesn´t even have running water.

Anyway, sometimes the water is running in our house and sometimes not. It always runs outside, though, out of two faucets, so we fill a barrel from a hose and carry the water into the bathroom in buckets. Then I take a shower pouring water from the bucket out of a little tupperware over my body. I´m considering cutting my hair as it is currently somewhat inconvenient to wash. People wash every day here, sometimes twice a day when it´s really sweaty. Also, when I take a bucket shower, I leave the shower shower turned on in case the water comes back while I´m in there.

Biking to and from Chacocente, and playing with kids outside, gets me really dirty. THe dust here is really fine. It gets through my socks and shoes onto my toes. Here is a picture of my feet after taking off said socks and shoes. See how tan I am? THat´s dust. See my feet? That´s the actual color of my skin.

I stayed at Chacocente overnight last Wednesday. I took a candlelit shower out of a bucket in the latrine. The water was still warm from yesterday´s sun, but the air was chilly. Then I took a picture of the sunrise. It was actually a pretty romantic shower, with candlelight and warmish water and the sound of it pouring onto the floor from the hose when the bucket was overfull. I woke up around 515 a.m. as usual. The sun rises at 6. Then I walked to the bus stop with the father of one of my preschoolers, to visit the dump with him as our guide.

Insidentally, the bucket is covering the other latrine hole, and this is the staff bathroom for the school.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Guatemala #5- Wow, two months goes by fast!

So, it's now been officially almost two months since I last wrote...that's very hard to believe! It's still difficult to summarize, and I have a whole list of things to write about. We´ll see if I can actually do it!

I finished my three months of language study on Feb. 16th, which has several implications. One, that I don't get constant help and reinforcement with my Spanish anymore. However, I'm feeling pretty confident, as well as finally getting some fluency in my speaking ability. I find Spanish words coming to me more and more often when I'm trying to speak English, which is a really good sign. Two, it means I'll have a whole lot more time, but a whole lot more responsibility and actual work to do. Three, it means that I'm moving closer and closer to being really settled here; I know how to get around, how to speak the language, and it's feeling like I'm here long term. (which is good because I will be here relatively long term) We'll be looking at apartments soon for me to live in...which is exciting as well! Four, it means that I've been here for about 3 1/2 months which is very hard to believe. If I was here for a study abroad program...I would pretty much be done! You get such a different perspective, or it’s such a different feeling, when the time period is years and not months. I still feel like I’m beginning, and to think that these three months could have been my whole time here is very strange.

I moved in with a new host family at the beginning of February. I was living in Zone 6 of the city, now I’m in Zone 7 Mixco, which is actually not part of the actual capital city. Mixco is another municipality right together by the city. The neighborhood is called La Brigada, and there is also a Mennonite church there. I moved to the new family to get to know this neighborhood, after having spent 2 ½ months in Zone 6.

Many of you have been asking how music and teaching has been going. Really, I haven't done any teaching yet! We've been planning, and trying to imagine what will work best. I'm working with a young woman who is a member of one of the local Mennonite churches here. Her name is Isabel, and she's a music teacher, just starting out teaching. (as am I!) So that's been fun to get to know her. What we're working on is a plan for how to use the resources we have in the best way to be able to open opportunities to study music (theory, instruments and singing) to people from the 9 different Mennonite churches BUT in a way that's sustainable, open to participation from each of the 9 churches, organized and of good quality. I'm feeling fairly young and inexperienced, but there's nothing I can do about that but get some experience by doing this! We've been doing lots of planning and we're hoping it will bring some good fruit. There are a lot of excited people, very interested in learning music, which is one of the biggest positive things, and one of the biggest challenges (to live up to expectations).

I’m hoping I can get some pictures up in the next week…pictures really add a lot to blogs, I’m noticing. Another entry is coming relatively soon, which has some (hopefully interesting) observations about life in Guatemala.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Find My Voice!

It's interesting that I dream a musical and then proceed to completely lose my voice...again...for the second time in three months. I went through my whole life having never lost my voice, until, of course, my profession depended on it...then it was out the window, or under the bed, or something.

Teaching class with a lost voice is not as "fun" and as much of a "learning experience" or a "challenge" as one might think. Teaching a well-behaved class with a lost voice might be the latter of the three, but far from fun. Teaching a poorly-behaved class with a lost voice is none of the above...or at least I don't see how a learning experience can come from wanting to throw yourself out a window.

And doing lunch duty by myself for the first 15 minutes with 130 screaming 2nd, 3rd, and 5th graders was not as much of a challenge as it was an inconvenience. Kids think the whole lost voice thing is hilarious. They laughed at me and asked me how it happened and why it happened and when will it end, completely ignoring the fact that I CAN'T ANSWER QUESTIONS WITH A LOST VOICE!

So I did what many teachers would do after realizing the impossibility of teaching in whispers, especially when whispering is so bad on your voice, I borrowed a TV/VCR and showed what I thought was a very educational movie about African-American influence in music. Fourth graders don't find that so interesting, especially when at the last minute both fourth grade teachers are called to a meeting, resulting in their classes combining and leaving me with 40 children instead of 20.

I am lucky it was the fourth grade, though, combined or not. The fourth grade is normally a mature enough to behave like middle schoolers but immature enough to still do whatever I tell them to do. And they tried so hard. All the girls wanted to help me take roll and keep track of points. All of the boys desperately tried to ignore each other and not talk. But that can only last so long and by the time their teacher came to get them, 10 minutes late, of course, they were in hysterics. Apparently everyone needed to go to the bathroom, everyone needed a drink, and no one's stomach felt very well.

I tell you this not to vent (though it helps) or to complain. Actually, it's a funny story. It's funny to imagine me trying to whisper loudly or utilize what little sign language I know. And it's funny that the kids, upon hearing my plight, wanted to understand more about it. They thought it was funny, and now so do I.

A quick story to close:

Tyler is an obnoxious third grader who is always getting into trouble and then looking innocent when fingers start pointing. Today he came up to me and asked if he could tell me something. I nodded. This is what he said:
"Once I had three Mexican girls who loved me. The first one broke my heart. Then the second one broke my heart. Then the third one just told me I'm ugly. Now I have no Mexican girls who love me."
I was unsure of what to whisper in a reply so I just patted him on the back and said, "Good job using those math skills."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Nicaragua 13: the dump

I just got back from La Chureca, the Managua city dump. It´s too recent and powerful an experience for me to be coherent about, but here´s what I´ll say. I would not like anyone I love to ever live there. And, Jesus calls me to love my neighbor as myself.

My impulse is to run back to my preschoolers who exhaust me and make me want to pull my hair out, and smother them with hugs and kisses and promise to never let them go back there. And cry. And give them candy and vegetables and clean water and love. And care way more about loving them than getting them to make a straight line by the door, and way more about keeping them in the dusty air that now seems so clean and the dusty ground that now seems so safe than about making them all sit down while we play duck duck goose.

Jesus, bring us liberation.
Christ, shower us with peace.
Spirit, send us justice.
God, save us.

There´s one more thing I can say. When we got off the top of the dump, it was such a relief to be in the lovely depressingly-poor Not Burning Smoky dump neighborhood down below. And I compare that to the poor folks in my neighborhood, and I compare that to my relatively wealthy host family in Nicaragua, and I compare that to my rundown house in Oberlin, and I compare that to any house I grew up in, and these are in order of least to most wealthy-- and I don´t understand.

Holy Spirit, hope to the hopeless.
Holy One, love to the unloved.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Until My Musical

I dreamt a musical last night. This is not the first time this has happened. I'm always bothered by this when I wake up because I can never remember any of the dream; only that it was a musical. Logically, if I can dream a musical I should be able to write one. You see my predicament.

Hi. I'm Megan Highfill. And you're reading my blog entry.

After an extensive application and interview process, I have been welcomed into the blog of my best friends from college. My own blog, Dress Like a Teacher, has deteriorated in the midst of my most recent teaching experience. I suddenly did not have the time to update said blog and am glad to have another, more communal outlet for my written teaching experiences.

This entry is really just an introduction. Many of you know me but some readers may not. I am a graduate of Oberlin, like many other writers in this arena. I have a degree in Music Education and just started my first teaching job. Now, arguably, there are some bad school districts in this country. But when the United States Department of Education rates yours at the worst, you know you're in for a treat. Kansas City Missouri Public School District is large and troubled. We are not accredited and based on my experience, no one cares to change that fact. My dealings with students are heartbreaking and wonderful and my dealings with the administration are frustrating. No, I am not in a foreign country and I am definitely not saving the world. I am writing for myself as much as others. But I do hope that in this blog I might share some of my students with you and perhaps stories that normally would not be heard will finally be open for reading.

This is, at least, until I write my musical.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

i like seminary. suburbs?

So, realizing that I haven't done so for awhile, I thought I would post what I've been up to.

First off: I like seminary. The plan for this semester is to have me read all the coolest books ever, and then talk about them with interesting people. It will be a struggle, but I will try to find strength to endure.

This semester I'm taking the second half of the Hebrew Bible class (That's 'old testament class' to any virulent anti-semites out there), Theories of Change (reading bell hooks, Walter Wink, Paulo Friere, and Martin Luther King), Systematic Theology (reading a whole lot of Calvin), and Psychology of the Oppressed and Liberation Theology (reading theology from the following perspectives: african-american, asian american womanist, mujerista, and white liberationist.)

So, this is pretty awesome, and leads me to something interesting:
I've been thinking about where it would be best for me to do ministry. For a while, my friend Nate and I were kicking around the idea of military chaplaincy. I figured that if I want to be serious about all this anti-imperial/pro-kindom of God stuff, I should try to do ministry in the heart of the empire. It seemed like trying to transform the military would be a pretty good thing to do if I wanted to work for peace and stuff. I still agree with that, but after talking to some folks who know more about the military than I do, I've largely backed away from that possibility. Basically, I think it would be really hard to do authentic, anti-imperial ministry while being employed/controlled by the military. Nate's still thinking about it.

Which leads me to this class. This week we read and wrote about "The Colonizer and the Colonized" by Albert Memmi. Memmi argues that in the colonial structure, one is pretty much doomed to live out one's role, either as the oppressed colonized or the oppressive colonizer. The only way out for the colonized is revolution, which (I guess) means that the only way out for the colonizer is to get out of the colony.

So, this got me thinking again about where to do parish ministry, in a place that would best affect the heart of the empire, and also not impose myself on a culture in which I am not welcome. My first impulse is to go do ministry among the marginalized some place; among the poor, or in a largely glbt church, or the like. Indeed, I think a lot of my classmates are thinking that way.

But maybe it would be a more authentic answer of my anti-imperial, pro-kindom of God call to go where the power of the empire is generated, to confront the assumptions and funding that helps the war machine grind merrily along.

So what do you think? Should I go do parish ministry in the suburbs?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

feb 10

My preschoolers behaved better this week. I learned that they need to run around every 40 minutes or so in order to pay attention during writing/art/story time. I used my vocabulary for run! listen! behave! wait! make a circle! grab his/her hand! a lot. It is helpful. They have learned how to clean up with no yelling necessary, and they even sing the cleanup song along with me. They all say their names in circle now, they participate in songs, and on Friday not one single kid cried in the morning when their parent left.

On the other hand, Nohelia cried, screamed, and kicked for 2 hours on Tuesday or Wednesday. The other kids just got used to it, and if I came close it was worse, and we didn´t want to reward that behavior by letting her go back to her mom, so we just continued on with the activities. For the third hour she played happily. Her outward behavior, I realize, is not totally unlike my inward experience some days. I think on Wednesday or Thursday I just asked myself why I go to all the trouble. Where is the familiar food? The running water in sinks? The absence of dust? The familiar cultural references? Anyone who´s known me for more than 4 weeks? By midday I was having a ball with my second group of kids, and in the afternoon I was encouraged by stories about prayers being answered in our midst.

It´s hard work, but here I am, and I´m learning and growing and understanding more Spanish and speaking better. I´m enduring homesickness and I know how to handwash my own clothes. I can take the bus alone and I have friends. I get discouraged and I worship, I complain and I pray, I feel lonely and I love my host family. I´m alive!

Two last thoughts:
I completed one month on Tuesday night! It feels like a victory. The hardest part is over and I´m still here, getting more and more comfortable.

I will attempt tonight to make chocolate chip cookies in our little used oven, without brown sugar. Vamos a ver!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

here´s xavier

and the other folks in a finished room.

choir and preschool (first week of school)

It is very very hard for me to teach preschool in a foreign language, in a foreign culture, having had so little time to prepare. My motto is that it will only get better. My Spanish will improve, the kids will get more used to being separated from their parents, and I will get better at teaching. I HOPE that they will also become better behaved, and that I will understand the culture better. This school is not run the way I am used to schools being run. Some of the preschoolers walk home alone, and people are always dropping by my classroom and ¨disrupting¨ the activities. Apparently this is normal for them, since another volunteer from the U.S. says that the other teachers don´t seem to mind. So I need to get settled in. When they complete the school we might move the preschool over there, but who knows when?

On Thursday Homar, a Nicaraguan translator, came to my class and taught for half an hour. I just asked him to teach them how to play tag, so that I could learn the vocabulary. In that half hour I learned SO MUCH! I learned phrases not often used around my host family´s house or in church or on the bus: sit down! stand up! quiet! listen! tag, you´re it! run away from her! make a circle! grab his hand! turn it (gluestick)!

Wow. I slept 11 hours on Friday night after that week of teaching.

In other news, my host dad is the pastor of the church we live next to, and his dream has been for the church to have a choir. Well, what do you know, I took a conducting class during my 4 years of studying music in college. This past Thursday was our second rehearsal and I got them to sing in ¨3¨ part harmony! There were a few other notes thrown into the mix, but no matter. I really enjoy directing the choir, which is about 20 or so youth. I feel like I´m in Sister Act, and when I mentioned that my host dad said he loves that movie, so we´re going to watch it on Monday night.

I really look forward to the day when I´m fluent. Fortunately, I believe it will come before the end of the school year! So, in conclusion, things here are Hard and Good. My being says a big Yes to the big challenges of living and working here.

jan 22


The preschool teacher for Chacocente didn´t finish his schooling. He has to go back for one more year, so they need me to step in! As of this morning, instead of just helping out in different areas, I am The Teacher for 15 students, ages 2 to 7! They will be divided into two groups and I´ll have one in the morning, one in the afternoon, starting Monday. So it will be 3 hours with one group, lunch, three hours with the other.

I´m a little nervous because I don´t know Teacher Language in Spanish. That is, I can´t communicate the finer subleties of verbal classroom management in Spanish as I could in English.... yet. I will have help, and it won´t hurt them to learn some English! Things are very laid back here, the other teachers and I just sat around laughing and laughing today! So they won´t be expecting me to be perfect, and I´ll be of use, which is what I wanted!

Plus, I love teaching!

More little notes

Last night it was chilly. That is to say that with their open air architecture (there is always a pathway for air to travel from outside to bedroom, always!), I didn´t want a fan to blow, and I did want to pull up the single sheet that is all anyone uses for bedclothes.

On my bicycle ride today, I passed a horse drawn cart, a herd of cattle, and some chickens. There was also a chicken on the bus today.

Peace to all of you and thank you for supporting me from afar. It is very encouraging to read all your messages to me.


jan 20

another email, written on jan 20:

Hello Friends!

I haven´t had time to sort out my list of recipients so if any of you do not want to recieve weekly emails, or if you are a church that would rather have monthly updates, please let me know. Also, does anyone have Marjorie Ramp´s email address?

I have been busy every day this week with my 2 hour commute via bus and bike from my house to my work. we thought about getting an apartment nearby, but part of my reason for being here is to see how the lifestyle is, and that means living with a family. For example, today I learned how to hand wash my laundry. I used a cement scrubbing board tub thing and hung everything on the line. In the apartment we would have paid for someone else to wash our clothes.

Classes start on Jan 29. I have a meeting on Monday at 9 or 10 with Chacocente´s director and Chacocente´s school´s principal to I assume talk about what my role will be this year. Right now I think they want to use me to give one on one attention to students who need help, and to help with music and art. These kids have a lot of issues, some have been abused, some have survived malnutrition, most of them have lived in the dump. They are nevertheless not complainers, many are making leaps and bounds in their educations, they love to play, and they warm quickly to strangers like me! I taught some of the girls cat´s cradle. they had never played before.

I´m doing better with Spanish, every day i learn more. I can basically communicate whatever, and I´m getting used to the accent here where they drop s at the end of words. My host sister says I speak very well. I feel like I´ve known my friends here for much longer than a week and a half!!! My host family is wonderful and worth the commute. They took me to buy a guitar today for 50 dollars and peanut butter, not in the same store. i also went with them to get traditional food, including a cold chocolate drink.

In conclusion, I would like to say that on my bus commute I can stop and get an entire fresh pineapple for 30 cents.

Also, I keep being surprised I´m here. I´m totally living the adventure I would want for myself but might be too afraid to go through with. But when I have that thought, I then realize, whoa, I already did the scariest part. I´m here!

Thank you for your continued prayers.


jan 13

Here´s most of an email I sent on Jan 13

It is Saturday, and Tuesday was my first night in Nicaragua. Ten minutes after I got to my host family´s house, the power went out for about half an hour, so I got a very confusing introduction to my new home. The sun had set hours ago (around 5 or 6 in the afternoon) so I didn´t see much on my way over. The house I live in belongs to a pastor´s family and is about 20 feet from their church, which is La Iglesia de Cristo, pentecostal. I have a host brother, Isaac, who is 19 I think, and his sister Jessica is 12. It turns out that Isaac and his dad both speak quite a bit of English, but I still feel immersed in Spanish.

My first day was spent with a visiting delegation of Methodist youth from the eastern U.S., chaperoned by my friends Ted and Mary Andersen who I know from my Oberlin years. It was great to see them. We visited Granada, which is one of the oldest cities, and then went up the nearby Volcano. My first sunset in Nicaragua was over the lake, seen from the top of the volcano. Gorgeous. The next day I went with them to the beach. Some of the families from Chacocente, the community where I´ll be working, came to the beach too, so I met a few of them.

There is another U.S. expat living in the same house with me and this family. He has been working as a teacher at Chacocente for the last four months, and was living with the same family that Charito (who started Chacocente) lives with. He moved in with my family four days before I did. He is from Vermont, a recent high school grad named Topher (short for Christopher). So yesterday he took me on the 2 hour bus commute from our host family´s home in Managua to the community of Chacocente. Because I don´t have a bike yet, we walked the dirt trail from the bus stop to the community and that took almost an hour to walk. I met some more of the families and several of the children. We made it back home before dark and met the Mission of Peace group at Pablo´s church for a worship service in two languages, to send the M.O.P. group off and say goodbye. It was a very powerful experience. The sermon was all about God empowering us to love one another and serve the poor. Pablo preached about asking God to send us. Here I am, Lord. Send me. It was very relevant to me, who has come here because I felt God sending me. It´s been difficult and scary to prepare and move here, and things are very intimidatingly different sometimes, but I have come because of the power of God´s love in my life, and that same love will be all the bravery and faith and peace I need. I felt overwhelmed by love and peace and support and joy!

I think I overprepared myself for the poverty I would encounter. I found myself not blinking an eye at the Chacocente families´lack of enough beds. Even the dogs and cats around here are heartbreakingly skinny. The kids run and play and laugh and chatter, but they don´t have shoes and only half of their school rooms have paved floors and roofs. I also overprepared myself for their hospitality, so that instead of rejoicing in it I expect it. So, I have a few attitude shifts to make. But thisis only my fourth day! I have lots of time.

I rely on your prayers for me. It means so much to me that many of you let me know I´m in your prayers. I am not comfortable here yet, I don´t know how to use the buses, or the money, and I have trouble understanding Spanish that I overhear or that is spoken from one local to another. I do very well when someone talks to me directly, though.

here are those pictures


here are those pictures


Chacocente Christian School

I am teaching in a Christian school after all. There are about 50 students and it is a primary school, preschool to 6th grade. First grade has almost 20 students and by 6th grade it has tapered off to 2 or 3, so that fifth and sixth grades are combined for a total of 6 students. Half the school has been built and they are currently finishing the other half, although classes have been offered for around 3 years by now. Construction happens during school time, so the other day a table was moved out of the cafeteria so that welding sparks wouldn´t fall on students while they ate. Right now they are finishing the walls, smoothing concretish stuff over the cinder blocks. My preschool class meets in a little makeshift room in what used to be the house of the family who farmed the land that is now Chacocente.

Here are pictures of: the pits that are Chacocente´s mini dump (rather than trucking out their trash), Melvin and someone else working on the walls, a fifth grader named David standing in the hallway between the finished half and unfinished half of the school, another room whose walls have been finished, my preschooler Eva watching Nelson work on a bike tire (might be mine actually!), another of my students, named Adrianna, with her foot on a wheelbarrow of cement, her father JuanCarlos, a group of students and teachers in a totally finished room (the man is Xavier, the school´s director), the cafeteria (see the pile of wood on the ground with a grate on top? that´s the stove), Tatiana (preschool) with Adison (1st grade), and a view of the whole school with my friend Nancy (another volunteer, from Texas) in the foreground.

Nicaragua 3: Volcan Mombotombo

On my very first day in Nicaragua, Wednesday January 10th, I hitchhiked with my Mission of Peace friends to Granada and Mombotombo. Here are some lovely pictures of the view over one of the extinct craters. The islands you see were formed by the lava flowing down and spattering. Now it´s all jungly.