Monday, May 21, 2007

Six Things for Six Days til Pentecost

1. I have finished my first year of seminary. They didn't kick me out.

2. I heard Barbara Kingsolver talk Friday night, about her new book "Animal, Vegeatable, Miracle." Local food is a necessary ecological corollary to the coming anarcho-baptist revolution.

3. This week in Chicago, Pentecost is coming with cicadas. Folks at Grace Baptist Church celebrated Pentecost a week early. I was shocked and appalled by this gross violation of the liturgical year, but I am happy to have two chances to celebrate my favorite day of the year. Chicago's 17 Year Cicadas will emerge from the ground, we think, sometime this week. There's something deeply Pentecostal about this, and there is probably a poem in there somewhere: quietly waiting below ground for seventeen years, sucking on tree roots for nourishment, and then all coming out together, and covering everything, and making the loudest insect noise on earth. Like, really loud. There may also be a revolutionary strategy there.

4. According to NPR, no one knows how cicadas know to all come up from underground together, after seventeen years. I believe that cicadas are impelled from their nests through the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Pentecology.

5. Tomorrow morning I leave for two weeks in Nicaragua. I'll be back June 6th, and on June 11th I start my hospital chaplaincy internship. I expect both of these experiences to be deeply challenging and wonderful.

6. I bought a broad-brimmed hat for my trip. It had a tag on it that proudly trumpeted its ability to float. It also featured a warning label "not to be used as a flotation device."

Friday, May 18, 2007

Nicaragua: my preschool room

I have attempted to photograph my entire room. Visible are the numbers, triangles, circles, a poster with the I Think I Can train, the Lord´s Prayer in Spanish, the Itsy Bitsy Spider posters, the alphabet, my morning kids at the table, the gate made of hammock sticks and just normal sticks from trees, plus scratch lumber, and the shelf of books at kid-height so they can access them. Also the old door that is badly nailed over the door-shaped hole in the wall.

The non-room photos are taken from the door. They are the view of the soccer field with the start of the church building (the skeleton), and the view of the latrine. I watch my kids walk to it from the door.

The kids are playing a game all by themselves, I´m so proud. They facilitated it and I just photographed it! And they are blowing bubbles.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Nicaragua: mangos and chickens

Here are some RECENT pictures!!! These were taken within the last two weeks. On my knee is the recent scrape I got while chasing the mate of the pictured chicken. The woman I stay with on Wednesdays bought these chickens, a rooster and a hen, for her mother to start a little flock. I was running to help chase the rooster and my foot went into a hole, and I skinned my knee. Boy was it fun!!! The whole family was helping, the uncle, parents, 4 daughters and I.

The others are of me enjoying, and I mean enjoying, mangos. One plus of teaching in a rural agricultural area is that my kids periodically bring me fruits: jocote, tamarinda, mango, papaya.

And here are pictures of a full, full bus. This is normal. The woman I´m eating with is Topher´s stepmom who visited him, and we´re in my kitchen in Sabana Grande. The volunteer holding the chicken is Courtney, from the same town as Topher, and here for 2 months. The other folks with her are the previous and current owners of the chicken.

Oh, and I should mention the following. After catching the rooster and hen, we put them in a bag. We balanced the bag on my friend´s bike, with one chicken on either side of the center bar. We tied the handles of the bag to the handlebars. And we biked out of the Project. Then we got to the bus stop. And carried the chickens right onto the bus with us! I have confirmed with relevant parties that the pair are now happily living in Tipitapa, where they recently caused one of their owner´s family members to run out into the street wearing only a towel so that they could catch an escaped chicken.

Nicaragua: the north

One Saturday in late February, about 25 adult members of Iglesia de Cristo churches in Managua piled into my church´s minibus around 11 a.m., and headed north. Gradually the country changed from summer-dry flatlands to summer-dry mountains. The terrain became more mountainous and forested. I´ve been told that there are problems with deforestation in Nicaragua, which might contribute to the dryness. But because the rainy season is ¨winter¨, May to October, it is normal for it to be arid in February.

We passed tobacco, plantain and rice fields, the latter pictured here. The pinnacle of the landscape for me was seeing pine trees for the first time in Nicaragua- and then seeing pine trees and banana trees growing in the same place, actually visible at the same time when I looked out the bus window. At 6 p.m. we arrived at a very rural mountain church with one uncovered lightbulb illuminating the one room. People from all over Nicaragua piled in until there was standing room only. The local church had invited its entire denomination to a joint worship service. There were people there who had walked 7 or 9 hours to attend. The service started at 7 or so. I sang ¨God´s Eye is on the Sparrow¨ as special music. Homemade string instruments were brought in and other special music was offered in the traditional ranchero style. Still others sang with electric guitar. There were pastors from all over who participated in various ways along with lay people. It was a little disorienting for me, arriving at dusk and sitting there with the one light harshly shining on the gathered congregation, in a church called Mount Sinai and situated not only in the mountains of the north (where I had never been before), but on the top of a little hill in the mountains of the north! Outside, the stars were beautiful.

I ended up falling asleep in the bus during the break and was wakened at 3 a.m. when the rest of the folks were ready to head out. In the mountains it actually gets below 70 degrees at night, so I had come prepared with long sleeves, and Belen´s uncle lent me his sweater to put over my legs. We drove back all night and I´m including pictures of sunrise. We made it back around 10 or so in the morning. And that is my one experience of visiting the north.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Nicaragua: accomplishments thus far

I thought I would take this opportunity to summarize some of what your prayers, your donations, my presence here, and above all the grace of God have done in the four months I´ve been living in Nicaragua.

1. Chacocente Christian School does not have to pay their preschool teacher this 2007 (Jan-Nov) school year. 18 children aged 3-7 are learning to share, to say please and thank you, to clap and sing and play games, to make block towers, write their name, count, categorize, name colors, read, etc.

1.a I am attempting to learn how to be patient and understanding when preschoolers, being preschoolers, jab each other in the eye, spill things, and desperately want something but are too shy or inarticulate to tell me what it is. Also when they play the what-happens-if-I-blatantly-disobey game. Or the equally popular game, when it´s time to put a toy away so that we can move on with an activity, my-toy-mysteriously-disappeared. I remember how fun these were when I was their age.

2. Three dentists from Seattle had my (and others´) help translating when they spent one Wednesday at a women´s prison in Nicaragua, where the dentists cleaned teeth, did fillings, and pulled teeth, at no charge to the prison. That day I accidentally wore a shirt the same navy blue as the prisoners´ uniforms and the teasing never ended, even to the guard at the gate teasing that he wouldn´t let me out at the end of the day. Not only did I translate between dentists and prisoners, I actually wore gloves, a hospital mask over my face and nose, and used the little tool that sucks saliva out of the mouth while the dentist is cleaning or polishing.

2.a I now floss with much more regularity, haunted by images of the teeth I saw that day. And I have learned that even criminals are nervous when they go to the dentist.

3. Twenty church members aged 13-30 have been singing as a choir for the last 3 months or so. They have performed in our church twice, at an outdoor multi-church service, at a church we visited, and at the Easter Campamento. They are learning how to sing healthfully, sing in harmony, listen to each other, and evaluate their performances. They know four songs well enough to perform and right now we´re working on one for Mother´s Day. Si Dios quiere, tomorrow I will meet with a woman I met because she was also ministering at the jail that day, who is Nicaraguan and an experienced choir director. I need help!

3.a I get a much-desired outlet for all the music inside me, and I get to teach persons older than 7. This a wonderful opportunity to use my music education college courses and get experience teaching!

4. I do quite a bit of English teaching and translation work for folks around Sabana Grande: for Pablo (my host dad) when he writes to U.S. Methodists who support his church denomination here, and for the youth of the church who study English as part of their school work.

4.a Actually I minored in English and really like editting written work in general, so once again my strengths are being utilized. It helps with my Spanish too, because I have to understand the Spanish in order to accurately translate.

5. My Spanish improves and improves. I can now overhear conversations in Spanish without meaning to, which is to say that sometimes I understand without trying. I have now actually talked to myself in English and answered myself in Spanish! Sometimes when I´m translating for folks I translate for Spanish to Spanish (if I understood perfectly, why not the English speaker at my side?), and sometimes when I´m translating I don´t realize which language my bilingual friend just spoke in. The other day I was leading choir in Spanish, and a U.S. visitor came in. I welcomed her in Spanish, then remembered to switch languages and therefore asked a choir member in English to close the door. Neither person understood me! But this means I am getting much farther towards fluency!

Let us thank God for all the other benefits of this adventure of which we are unaware. Through the difficulties of being here, I never doubt that this is where God is calling me to be. Thank you for your support via love, donations, and prayers. I need them all, and profoundly appreciate them. Peace!

Nicaragua: walking around Chacocente

After the assembly that day in February, school was dismissed and we ate slices of watermelon and I followed the delegation around in their tour of Chacocente. At the first house lives my little preschooler Nohelia, who just turned 3 and recently watched over a kitten eating beans and rice out of a dish by kicking and saying, no, don´t eat, at the chickens who tried to steal out of the dish. Very endearing since she still has trouble pronouncing the words, no, don´t eat, and also has a little trouble kicking. Yet she was fearless in the face of all those beaks, defending the little skinny cat. Here is a type of goat called a pelibuey which is possibly a sheep/goat combo but I´m fuzzy on the details. In front of the third house down the path from the school, the wife of the president of the Chacocente committee, aged 24, and her four daughters. Next down the path, omitting the machine digging the well which wasn´t there yet, is the grove of plantain trees, chawite. I´ve spent a couple afternoons seeking solitude there after a loud day of kids yelling teacher! teacher!

By the end of the tour, I had one kid on my shoulders and about 4 trailing from hands and shorts pockets. Unfortunately the picture didn´t come out. I´m including it anyway.

Nicaragua: school assembly in February

There was a goodbye school assembly to honor a delegation that came to visit Chacocente from the U.S. We had such a delegation about twice a month for my first few months, churches or college groups coming down by the sixes and the twenty-fives. Lately it´s been various twenty-something year olds.

Anyhow, the delegation brought lunch in for everyone, everyone being the school kids, the Chacocente families (not all the school kids live in Chacocente, about half of the 50 or so students live in the surrounding farmland), and the small delegation from Hurlbut UMC in NY that happened to be there at the time as well.

Here is little Jason drinking a Bolí while sitting on a pile of gravel. Jason is in my morning session of preschool, Bolís are flavored water in a plastic tube that you bite the corner of off in order to drink, and the pile of gravel was for the school construction. Currently the pile of gravel is part of the new parts of the school building, gracias a Dios!

Also here is the first grade teacher saying something to the assembled kids; the translator, the school director, the president of the Chacocente committee, and Charito (from left to right); a mix of Chacocente family members and teachers; and three students performing a traditional dance.

I really like school assemblies because of the sense of gatheredness, of working together on something bigger than our individual jobs. It´s easy to feel unconnected when I am so new to a community, and assemblies help me feel more plugged in. Now, in early May, I´ve had a few experiences at a gathering, notably birthday parties, where I look around at the faces and see people I´ve really gotten to know. It´s a good feeling and reminds me of how it was to live in Oberlin, where I had a healthy network of people that I met at church, visited in their homes, saw in the bank, passed on the street, sat next to at events, and chanced upon while sledding in winter. And it makes me look forward to the next time I will live somewhere for more than a matter of months. In the meantime, yay birthday parties and school assemblies!