Freezer Space


Nicargua Diary, Day 25

I have several purposes in creating this Nicaragua Diary.  I hope to convey some of our daily experience living in Nicaragua.  I’m trying to give a glimpse of life in an impoverished country, especially for people suffering poverty, which, to varying degrees, is the vast majority.  And, of course, I’m aiming to get rich and famous through my writing.  That one’s a longer-term goal.  

I’ve described before how one of our neighbors in her twenties had never seen a microwave before.  We also have a freezer, separate from our refrigerator, which some would call a “chest freezer” and others a “deep freeze.”  We got it from friends who gave it to us because it had stopped working and they didn’t want to pay to repair it.  The repairman charged us 2,000 cordobas (almost $100).  I thought that was a gamble, but Kim believed it worth the risk.  She was right.*

In a place this hot, cold=good.  We freeze a ton of fruit, have bags of ice, and I have an ice-pack for old man injuries that one of my daughters uses almost every night to cool off so she can sleep.  We also stock up on different foods that can be frozen, like fish and…fruit.  A lot of fruit. 

Most of you reading likely think this is “normal.”  Everyone knows you save a lot of money by buying in bulk and life is much more convenient when you have the groceries you need already on hand.  

Most of our neighbors cannot imagine this “normal” of ours.  They buy their food daily, or at best every two or three days.  A family who lives very close by and has 11 people, mostly children, living in about 200 square feet, sends one of the smaller children past our house every day to buy rice, beans, or oil up the street. 

If you don’t have electricity, you don’t have a refrigerator, much less a deep freeze.  If you need the 100 cords (3 dollars) you earn today to help you buy food for today, you aren’t stocking up.  

We live in a barrio that you would call a “residential area,” and it certainly is not what any of us would think of as zoned for business, yet there are probably 12 homes within a 3 or 4 minute walk that sell food and drinks.  Maybe more.  Some of those tiny pulperias stock mostly junk food, but at others you can buy staples: eggs, tomatoes, peppers, flour, and of course rice, beans, and oil.  

These businesses work largely because few of our neighbors have cars.  It’s much easier to walk next door or three doors down to purchase today’s groceries than to walk ten minutes to wait ten minutes to ride a bus twenty minutes to a larger grocery store, especially when you don’t have that much to spend…and will need to make the same trip tomorrow.

 Much of the economy in our barrio is local because 1)most of our neighbors don’t have the means to stock up, 2)some people don’t have any way to preserve left over food, and 3) very few have cars, a few more have a motorcycle, but most have no motor transportation at all.  

When I say we live next to poverty, not in poverty, I mean this.  Our deep freeze is a beat-up, rusting cube that in the States you might get off of Craigslist for $40 in working condition–or from Freecycle for nothing.  But it’s saved us many times over the $100 we paid to have it fixed.  It has made life here more convenient, bearable, and enjoyable.**  It also gives us more opportunities to share food.  

We don’t see ourselves as living in luxury here.  We make many choices to live simply.  When I compare it with a middle-class U.S. standard of living, I can convince myself this is true.

But our freezer space is a luxury I’m remembering not to take for granted.


*Not the first time nor the last.  

**I’m not using hyperbole; for example, freezing one papaya would take up about half of our fridge’s freezer space, and the aforementioned ice pack that helps one of our children to sleep better would take the other half.  I’m also not trying to sell old, rusty deep freezes.  

Baseball in the Rain


Nicaragua Diary, Day 20

Saturday wasn’t the best day.  I did some things wrong, made some mistakes, and some parts simply didn’t work.  It reminded me of a prayer I heard the first year was a Christian. I was counseling at a summer camp, excited to tell about Jesus but completely unequipped to take on middle-schoolers.  We were having our Sunday worship service, during the 28 hours or whatever it was that we didn’t have eight kids each week.  One of the camp leaders prayed that God would give us patience and peace for the inanimate objects that didn’t work as we hoped.  I’ve always remembered that and tried to stay conscious of it.  

But Saturday I failed.  Neither animate nor inanimate worked as I hoped and I lost both my patience and my peace. Of course, so much of life is how we respond to our negative circumstances.  Saturdays are supposed to be a rejuvenative day for me but by the afternoon I had to take a few hours away from my family to restore what the day had depleted.  

My wife had gone away for the weekend and my daughters here had an overnight planned with a friend.  (Note: All plans were made previous to the weekend, meaning they didn’t go just to escape me–though I’m sure they were glad to have those plans.)  That meant once I dropped them off, I had just my 10-year-old son for the next twenty-four hours.  

While we were in the States for the summer, we’d seen a couple baseball games together. Having shown only mild interest previously, my son decided he now loves baseball.  I absolutely loved baseball at his age–and still do.  We “played baseball” a few times back there, meaning hitting practice and playing catch.  We’d committed to playing twice a week here because he enjoys it and wants to improve.  

I’m sure no other parent has ever experienced this, but I’d failed to keep that commitment thus far.  Circumstances, busyness, “I can’t right now,” all the poor reasons that feel, logistically, like they make it impossible at that moment…and then all the moments add up.  I carry some serious regrets for things I planned to do with my kids at certain ages that didn’t happen or barely happened–again, I’m assuming I’m unique in this.  

So Saturday was it–baseball as soon as we dropped off the girls.  

“Yaaaay!’ Corin shouted when I told him.  

But I got delayed coming back from my recovery time, due to a traffic accident.  The police rarely move cars off the road after an accident here, prefering to investigate and question with the scene exactly how it happened–which causes a few problems for other drivers.  A semi had hit a car or vice versa. No one appeared injured, but they were taking up most of the highway and the rest of us were trying to merge and squeak by.  

It was getting later.  Nearer the equator, days are all nearly the same length and it gets dark quickly; night falls, hard.  But I got back with some daylight left, stopped to pick them all up and grab our baseball stuff, and drove quickly to the friend’s house, passing the school.  My son begged me to drop them off at the gate instead of driving in to the house.  I think he might have suggested going straight to school and letting them figure out the last several kilometers on their own.  

Then, just as we got back to our school where there is grass(ish) and space to play, rain started falling.  Hard.  Huge drops coming fast.  

But Corin and I didn’t blink.  Actually, that’s not true; we had to blink the water out of our eyes.  In fact, I had to wipe away the rain pouring into my eyes.  Nonetheless, we ran out and played.  No one was competing with us for the space.  The light was fading, the rain was pouring, lightning was striking: “One, tw–” BOOM!

But we played baseball.  He just hit the whole time.  

My dad, who had health problems and various issues, showed me love by spending hours and hours playing baseball with me.  I’ve tried not to push the sports I love on my kids–and feel like I’ve erred both ways, letting my enthusiasm get the better of me, failing to teach them so that when the time came and they wanted to, they were too far behind.  

It’s a tribute to the effectiveness of my restorative time, to answered prayer, or both that, instead of getting frustrated with more challenging circumstances, I just made the best of what we had.  The last pitch he hit more by reflexes than sight.  The rain stopped in the middle of our session, then started up again and was absolutely pouring by the time we made it back to our car.  The drive home was scary; I could barely see the cars in front of me.  We got to park in our own driveway for the first time since our road construction started–two months ago?  

The rest of our father-son time we had a blast.  We watched a little baseball,* made chocolate-banana-peanut butter smoothies, and played Lego Star Wars for hours.  In the morning we made pancakes together.  

I don’t have that many parenting moments that I’m confident I get right.  Parenting isn’t an easily evaluated vocation.  I think we’ve served our children well by providing the opportunity here for them to learn Spanish.  I believe living here has been good for them, but they pay costs in terms of extended family, especially. Parenting is making the best decision you can and hoping it was right…or at least redeemable.  

But baseball in the rain, that one was good.

 I asked my son, as we were running back to the car, “Did you have a good time?”

“No, I had the best time.”  





*We tried to tune in a game here but it didn’t really work so we ended up watching some highlights from Saturday’s games.  

Hope for the Future


Nicaragua Diary, Day 16


I don’t know what you’re doing to make the world a better place.  You may be doing a lot.  I hope so; the world needs a lot of help right now.

I just had the opportunity to spend time with two of the young adults I’ve mentored.  They’re both in college now.  One of the funny things about my life here is that I live with a foot in two different world.  We live in this barrio where many kids don’t go to school at all and spend their days selling tortillas or tending their family’s ice cream cart (while the father might be off drinking) or worse.  I buy tortillas from a woman who makes 200 tortillas every day, which means if she can sell them all she  earns 400 cordobas, or $13 for about 5 or 6 hours work–but that’s not what she clears, that’s only gross profit.

On the flip side, I’m mentoring young adults going to Duke University, U Penn, and Hult International Business School, all on full-ride scholarships.  Yesterday, I got to hang with two of my favorite people because they haven’t gone back to college yet.  They went to high school here, spent part or all of their childhood here, but their lives are shockingly different than the kids in our neighorhood.  Unless God does a mind-boggling miracle–which God certainly can–none of the two- and three-year-olds in Kim’s preschool are going to end up at any of the schools these young adults attend.

Sometimes the contrast gives me vertigo.  Sometimes when I’m coaching or teaching or just spending time with kids at school, I realize that many of them have less exposure to poverty in Nicaragua than we have.  More than one of our children’s friends have had issues (i.e. their parents have had issues) with driving to where we live.  From what I can see, many of the kids at the international Christian school where we work and our children attend come from wealthier families than any of the ones at my school in our little Midwest U.S. farm town.  It’s weird to go and be surrounded by privilege, where I walk from what feels like one world into another world.

But words that I read from Paul Farmer, well before we moved here, have never left me.

“I learned about the resistance to tyranny and violence offered by many members of the church and thought: same church, same world. Not two or three worlds, but one.”*

There aren’t three worlds.  There aren’t two worlds.  If you leave downtown Manhattan to get on an airplane to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, there is never a moment when you depart a world and enter another world.  Yes, it feels like that, but Farmer, who goes from Harvard to Haiti and back, points out that this view, this terminology, takes us off the hook.  “We have no responsibility for those people; they live in a different world.”  There’s only one world, in which some people are starving while others are feasting.  When Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus collapses those worlds “different worlds” so that the rich man literally steps over Lazarus, who is lying at his gate.

A debate exists between relief and development.  Do you rescue drowning people because their boats are sinking or build better boats so that more people don’t drowned?  Do you rescue girls out of prostitution or feed and educate girls so they don’t ever have to start into prostitution.

The answer, of course, is “yes and yes.”  These should not oppose each other, and anyone who cares about other people wants to see both happen.

But the question becomes more pointed with a little italicization:  “Do you rescue drowning people or build better boats?  Do you rescue girls from prostitution or prevent girls from entering prostitution?”  Where do you spend your money?  On which do you invest your time?

We believe both should happen and we trust that while we engage ourselves with one, God has people committing to the other.  Education is development (though it can also serve as relief).  Mentoring is development.  Mentoring gifted, compassionate high school and college students who feel called to use their gifts to make a difference in the world, that’s my answer.  That may be where I best spend my time.

My two heroes I met with yesterday–and don’t tell them they’re my heroes, it might inflate their heads–are studying public health and…deep breath…Operations, Information, and Decisions / Social Impact and Sustainability / Minor in Cultural Anthropology, respectively.  One described the possibilities of impacting a community’s health conditions in a city or a rural area, and concluded, “Maybe I’ll come back here.”  She started out studying nursing, but realized public health fit her passion better.  Our calling is where our passion intersects the world’s need.  There is plenty of need in this one world.

The other goes to one of the most prestigious business schools in the U.S., and describes being surrounded all day, every day, by peers who express in words and action the primary motivation to amass wealth.  But this summer he spent a month in Guatemala working with United Way.  He got an inside glimpse of how wonderful and painful a non-profit can be, how full of wonderful, compassionate people, how desperately over-worked and poorly organized.  We discussed why not many of his fellow students work with non-profits and how sometimes those inclined to non-profit work may not be the most gifted organizationally (and I did not take this personally at all).  Most delightfully for me, he told me of getting to take real responsibility in a short time–smart people who are short-handed and recognize ability will delegate quickly–and of recommending some changes that are now being considered throughout the region!

I love what I do.  I could not walk into the United Way office in Guatemala, spend a month, and introduce systemic improvements.  I won’t be able to improve community-wide nutrition or prenatal care.  I’m passionately for those things that I can’t do.  So I invest my life in those who can and will.  I listen.  I support.  I cheer and encourage and make myself available at 1 AM when it all falls apart (or feels like it does).  I live in an impoverished barrio but spend a good portion of my days with intelligent, privileged young adults who get the crazy notion that trying the impossible to help others might be the most fulfilling life–that they can change the world, .

And, God-willing, they will.  




*If you haven’t read Paul Farmer, I highly recommend him.  I’d begin, though, with Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, which is a biography of Paul Farmer.

Sharing Soup



Nicaragua Diary, Day 11

Yesterday was a beautiful day.  I was absolutely exhausted, but in the right way. 

We played ultimate in the morning which, if you don’t know, is a passion of mine no matter how old and slow I’m (refusing to admit that I’m) getting.

I wrote yesterdays diary post, Our Road, before the game because it excited me too much to wait.  Not many things come before my Saturday ultimate game, but that did.  We came home afterward to our lovely, smooth new road, and the next section being poured and smoothed.

The work crew, as Kim commented, had a youthfulness to them, both in their playfulness and energy, and in their approach to their work.  

Our neigbhor, Mileydi, had arranged with her church to provide lunch for them.  Several women in the church spent the morning making a huge pot of soup.  We were able to help by covering the cost for the ingredients.  And finding about 20 bowls–or bowl-like containers in our kitchen. After I’d showered and worked on my sermon (for today), I walked across the street to see how they were doing.

They were so happy.  I’m not sure what your experience has been in regard to whether or not there is, in fact, a free lunch.  I’m not sure how often these young men had been fed a free lunch.  But they were laughing and joking and seemed simply delighted.  They gave me huge smiles and thumbs up when I came in, though I had done none of the actual preparation.  I used the opportunity to tell them how much we appreciated their work and how much they have improved our neighborhood.

But as happy as the road crew was, Mileydi was happier.  She kept praising God and we agreed, repeatedly, what a wonderful opportunity this was to serve these guys.  

I think the best part, for me, was the spirit of gratitude all the way around.  No one was seen as above, handing down.  Yesterday was sweltering–35C and probably “feels like” 115F–and the road crews’ “half day” went until 3PM.  I told them that was not half.  They had worked hard all week in the heat.  Later, Kim brought them coffee and water. Again, they didn’t take it for granted or act entitled to what we shared with them.  

Who knows how those small acts of kindness impacted them?  I strongly believe in the seeds God plants.  We may not see them grow, but we know so little of the impact we have on others.  But God is working in their lives.  That small thing may have been exactly what one of them needed to see.  They left knowing that a church had cared about them and served them in return, even though their service is paid (and well paid, relative to Nicaragua).  

The rest of the afternoon, we helped some gringo friends move from their house to a house at the end of their street.  I think that might have been hotter than ultimate in the morning.  Helping out feels good, even when it includes feeling woozy from the heat.  

Finally, last night Kim and I went with our friend Kelly to see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Occasionally, one of the theaters here will show a vintage movie.  Last year, Kim, Kelly and Lydia saw Grease.  By then it had been a full day for me–physical activity, brain and spiritual focus, social interaction with people I barely knew, more physical activity–but somehow Eighties nostalgia revived me.  

To complete the story, I then had my first bout with insomnia since I’ve been back in Nicaragua, not my favorite timing, but God gave me strength and was powerfully present for my sermon this morning.  

I don’t have many days here that go as well as that.  I was on a high for much of the day, alternating with “I might pass out.”  But as I look back on it, the workers smiling faces stand out, grinning at me, gesturing, saying “Gracias.”  

For soup.  

Hard Rain


Photos: Periódico Hoy

Nicaragua Diary, Day 8

It’s raining again tonight.  My wife doesn’t want to go out for date night because she doesn’t want to go out in this rain, and she’s not afraid of rain.  But it’s coming down.  

I don’t know if you’ve thought about it, but one measure of wealth is how much we’re protected from the elements.  When we’re wealthy, only the most severe weather affects us.  Tornadoes and earthquakes might get you, but very little else.  

I have friends who pile sandbags in front of their home and try to prepare for this season.  If you have a dirt floor and live in a place where all the rain water runs downhill toward your house and it rains 150 inches a year, then the weather always affects your life.  If you have a makeshift roof of scrap metal through which the water leaks and pours, then you’re constantly dealing with its impact.

Leaks happen, but the difference between discovering a leak and running to Home Depot the next day versus scouring the debris pile to find a better piece to fit in the hole…  Homeowners insurance, disaster coverage, these make for a much more secure disposition toward a rainstorm, even one that threatens flooding.  

We don’t like to think too carefully about how our lives are different than people living in poverty, even less about the specifics of their living conditions.  It makes us feel guilty.  It’s much easier to decide that the poor are poor because they’re lazy or they make terrible choices or in some other way deserve it.  The people in Jesus’ time believed straight up that God loved the rich and disliked the poor.  Otherwise, how can you explain the contrast? 

And to be clear, when I saw “we” I mean you and I, and I live right here.  

But tonight, as I’m lying in my hammock with a cat on my lap (making it significantly more challenging to type), listening to the rain fall on the roof above my head, I’m thinking about what this rain that’s been falling steadily for the last several hours might be doing to my neighbors.  I’m wondering what will happen if it rains all night.  It sounds like it will, if you know what I mean.  

And this is part of living in Nicaragua, too.  Things may affect me one way, but for others they mean something else entirely.  Things that do impact me often have much stronger repercussions for those who have so much less.  If food prices go up, we’ll have a tighter budget but they’ll go hungry.  If it rains all night, we might have some mildew or leaking but they’ll have a swamp for a floor.  

That’s true for you, too.  What affects you a little might affect someone else much more, maybe disastrously.  Proximity just makes it easier to see–or harder to look away.  

It’s still raining.  

Caught in the Rain


Nicaragua Diary, Day 7

I like walking in the rain here.  It rains hard.  I’ve walked in everything from the lightest mist to a lean-in-at-45-degrees-to-keep-from-getting-blown-over gale. 

Getting caught in the rain used to carry a negative connotation in my mind.  I’ve lived places where sleet and freezing rain can kill you.  But in the first months we were here, our friend Samuel made an acute observation:  walking in the rain is exactly like walking not in the rain, but cooler.  Either way, you quickly become soaking wet.  But when the rain soaks you, it feels nicer and smells better.  Granted, your shoes might sploosh and squish more.  There’s a bit more likelihood of rubbing a blister if you’re walking a longer distance, but other than that, plus the looks you get from Nicaraguans and gringos thinking you’re crazy, walking in the rain beats walking in the sun and heat.

I’ve never seen a game of ultimate cancelled here, nor failed for lack of participation, due to rain.  Let me say that again: in the six-plus years we’ve lived in Managua, where it rains six months a year and forty-five inches in those six months, not once have we called off a game.  Ultimate is highly impacted by rain, considering we play with a light, aerodynamic piece of plastic, and running up and down a field also changes quite a bit when the field is mush.*  But I’ve seen twenty people sitting under cover, watching the downpour, all look at one another and then stroll out into it for a game.  That may prove nothing other than that I’m far from alone in my insanity, but I found it encouraging.

Today I was walking home after an appointment, a fair distance.  When I started I could barely detect the rain.  But it slowly increased, whether because I was walking into the storm or because it started coming down harder.  In the last two kilometers, it seemed to get stronger with every step.  By the time I reached the last, steep uphill before our street, I could barely see and had to keep wiping water from my eyes.  

But I was happy.  I’d had a really encouraging time with someone I mentor who is growing and making great life choices.  That gets me high like nothing else.  Transformation is my drug of choice.  I was praying and using my hands as windshield wipers and, by the time I got to our front step, I was actually–wait for it–chilly.  A little bit.  Our son saw me and, while I unlaced my sopping shoes, ran and got me a towel because I needed to warm up.  

That’s a treat here.  Something worth writing home about.  Kim made soup tonight and it was perfect.  

Tonight it is seventy-seven degrees and though it’s eighty-nine percent humidity, the heat index feels like…seventy-seven degrees.  The late afternoon rain did its job.  

I hope I get caught in the rain tomorrow.  


Post-Script:  No, I don’t carry an umbrella, unless I’m protecting my dress clothes.  Yes, flooding is a different story.  This is just rain.  


*Personally, I far prefer playing on the soft, squooshy, even standing-water field over the baked-like-concrete field we get in the dry season.  My well-traveled legs vastly prefer the wet field.



Nicaragua Diary, Day 5


We have a neighbor about three blocks up the street who has a sign out offering mending and alterations.  

She looks about fifty-five to me, but I’ve been fooled before.  I know people here who appear ten to twenty years older–to me–than they actually are.  Lack of dental care, poor nutrition, too many years of too long hours take a toll on the body.  Living in the barrio can take a toll on the body. 

She has a beautiful smile and, when she smiles, which is frequently, her face brightens.  Her wrinkles are adjusted for smiles.  She is clearly one of those people who has smiled a lot in her years.  

Today, I had to pick up six pairs items, pants and shorts, school uniforms* that she had hemmed for us.  They huge road machinery is still working on our street–paving!–so I had to tiptoe around the work site by the side of the road; a big stretch of the road is now wet cement.  

I got to her house and she greeted and welcomed me, smiled at me, then went through five or six plastic grocery bags, seeking to identify the clothes that belong to us.  She found them and laid each one out for me, showing me what she had done.  I then handed her a shirt that my son had just gotten that had already opened up a hole in the seam at the left shoulder.  She waved her hand and told me that she would fix it but would not take anything for it, that it was nothing.

Then I handed her two hundred cordobas, asking if she had change.  Two hundred cordobas is just over six dollars (30 cords to the dollar right now). She gave me one hundred eighty cordobas in change.  That meant she had done the altering for sixty cents. 

“Are you sure?”


“Shouldn’t it be more than that?”

“No.  And this shirt is nothing.  It will be done this afternoon.”

“Okay.  You’re sure?”

Now even by the standards of our barrio, that is too little.  But she wasn’t changing her mind.  So I thanked her and clasped her hand and blessed her and tiptoed my way back through the road crew and tools and crying concrete.  

About 45 minutes later, our neighbor Mileydi tapped lightly on my door.  

“The costurera is here.”

I went out and greeted her.  She asked me how much I had paid for the mending and I told her twenty cords.  

“Okay,  My daughter asked, ‘Momma, how much did he pay you?  You only got twenty cordobas.'”

“How much was it supposed to be?”

Cien veinte .”  

Fortunately, I still had the 180 cords of change in my pocket.  I took them out and handed her the hundred cord bill.  

She hesitated.  Asked how much the change should be.  I showed her the hundred cords in one hand, the eighty in the other, said, “I gave you cien cords, so veinte more, one hundred minus twenty  is eighty.”  

She kept smiling but didn’t seem convinced.  I walked her through the arithmetic again, then twice more.  Finally Mileydi walked over and, as far as I could hear, repeated the same thing I had said but in better Nica Spanish, without the gringo accent.  

Our costurera smiled at her and closed her hand on the hundred cord bill.  

“Si.  Gracias,” she said.  Then she handed me the shirt, already stitched.  

Nada,” she insisted.  

Now during all of this, I offered all hundred and eighty cords, and then the fifty and then the twenty in addition to the hundred she accepted.  Repeatedly.  She wouldn’t take them.  But she smiled bigger and told me her daughter was right.

“Tell her I kept asking.  Tell her the gringo is not a ladrón!” I said, smiling back.  Mileydi laughed at me.  

And our neighbor walked back home.  

You would imagine, before you entered this culture, that you could just insist on overpaying.  And you could.  And we do, sometimes.  But doing so can risk damaging the relationship.  There are Nicaraguans who see all gringos as rich and seek to overcharge at every opportunity.  And there are also Nicaraguans who refuse to take even twenty cordobas extra, because her price is twenty cords per garment.  She doesn’t do math well.  But she’s rightfully proud of her work and she won’t take more from us than from her other neighbors. 

Because she sees us as neighbors, too.  



Nicaragua Diary, Day 3


We base the humidity comfort level on the dew point, as it determines whether perspiration will evaporate from the skin, thereby cooling the body. Lower dew points feel drier and higher dew points feel more humid. Unlike temperature, which typically varies significantly between night and day, dew point tends to change more slowly, so while the temperature may drop at night, a muggy day is typically followed by a muggy night.

Managua experiences significant seasonal variation in the perceived humidity.

The muggier period of the year lasts for 9.2 months, from March 22 to December 28, during which time the comfort level ismuggy, oppressive, or miserable at least 73% of the time. The muggiest day of the year is September 23, with muggy conditions100% of the time.

The least muggy day of the year is February 1, with muggy conditions 64% of the time.


First, this is not a whining post.  Please don’t hear my tone that way.  To describe living in Managua without discussing heat and humidity would be like describing living in Breckenridge, elevation 9,600, without mentioning thinner air.  It becomes the constant of your life, your normal, but it’s also the underlying factor that impacts almost everything.  There are studies linking climate to a culture’s characteristics, but that is beyond my expertise.  I’m just talking about living with humidity.  

It rained this morning.  That cooled things off and I thought we might have a cooler game of ultimate today.  I was wrong.  The sun came back out by 8AM and the heat spiked.  When I checked the weather report at 1PM, it said 79% humidity, 93 degrees, “feels like 103.”  Not a dry heat.  If you live in a tropical climate, you get used to heat, you suffer, or you leave.  

The Nicaraguans I know are adapted to the heat and the humidity.  I believe every Nicaraguan I have known feels cold when it gets below 80 (which it doesn’t that often).  Adults don’t wear shorts much, except when playing sports.  I consider myself playing sports all the time.  I tried for two years to adapt to wearing pants and failed.  I wear them only when my social situation absolutely requires it.  

My son has also adapted to humidity.  He prefers wearing pants to school over shorts. He dislikes hot showers, even when we’re back in the States and they’re available.  He and my middle daughter (who is simply cold-blooded) use flannel blankets here.  Did I mention it rarely drops below 80 degrees?  

Humidity drains energy.  For me, it erodes patience.  We’ll be home for dinner together, it may have been a perfectly fine day, and I will feel myself growing irritable.  My kids haven’t done anything wrong, certainly nothing unusual or unreasonable, but I’m hot and sticky and when you add that to tired and hungry, it can go south quickly.  I’ve learned to recognize that and do what I can to cool off.  

When people tell me they could never do what we do, sometimes they mean “I could never live someplace that hot and humid.”  I understand.  Humidity holds heat in the air.  Probably the hardest thing about living in Nicaragua for me has been suffering insomnia; I think the hot nights cause it, at least in part.

I talked with friends yesterday who moved back from Matagalpa, a city in the mountains of Nicaragua with a much more temperate climate.  They’d been in the States for a month and he said when they got back “There was an inch of mildew covering everything.”  Humidity.  The first apartment we lived in here had poor ventilation and though we would scrub the floors with fungicide-laced cleaner, by the morning the grout of the tile floor had a strip of mildew again.  Every morning.

Our first year here, the heat shocked me.  I vividly remember sitting in our second house here, a much cooler, better ventilated, nicer home, at dinner time, so about 6PM.  The sun had gone down.  We were eating salad.  In a few minutes, sweat began to roll down my temples.  My arms started to shine.  I wasn’t playing ultimate, I wasn’t walking, I wasn’t even eating hot soup–I was eating cold salad.  The exertion of lifting the fork to my mouth caused me to sweat profusely.  

I’ve adapted since then.  Bodies are amazing.  I remember when we moved to Breckenridge, CO, and I was freezing all the time.  I don’t know if the temperature ever reached 80 degrees in the three years we lived there, but we definitely had 9 months of winter.  After a while, I could climb stairs without panting and would take off layers when the temperature got up to 45 or 50.  Likewise, though this morning I felt out of shape from our U.S. visit and certainly felt my age, I could also feel my body already readjusting to the humidity.  

Now, as I write this, the rain has come back.  We are having a genuine thunderstorm (not one of the wild ones, just steady thunder in the background and hard rain with a light breeze).  This is precisely why I prefer rainy season.  

Nicaragua has rainy season, dry season, and the end of dry season in which the rain doesn’t fall but the heat and humidity creep up and up and up some more.  I’m sure I’ll describe each of them in detail.  The saving grace of rainy season is that sometime every one to three days, the rain falls and knocks some of the heat out of the air.  If we don’t have rain, as in the drought we suffered last year, the heat just keeps climbing to miserable levels.  In August so far, the percent of relative humidity has bounced between low 70s and high 80s. The day I flew back, we had 89% humidity, without rain. 

Right now, of course, we have 91% humidity because there’s water falling through the air.  Even with this, and the temperature plummeting to 81, the  Weather Channel still tells me it “feels like 91.”  But to me, it doesn’t.  Thanks to this breeze, I feel cooled off and can bear this furry cat cuddled up against me.  If it keeps on like this, I might even drink a cup of tea.  I love hot tea but probably drink fewer than 10 cups a year here, because if you can’t eat salad without sweating…


Post-Script:  The water is off again.  I think they broke another pipe.  Feeling cooled off with this rain helps a lot, though.  




If you do check out this link, scroll down to the humidity section and check out the “Humidity Comfort Levels” graph.


No Water, Day 2


Nicaragua Diary, Day 2

The first day without water, everyone groans.  It’s an inconvenience.  Often it happens late in the day, so we might come home from school or sports practice to discover it.  We still have drinking water and, almost always, our back-up tank has plenty, we just have to fill buckets.  Flushing toilets means hauling those buckets back and forth.  Washing dishes becomes more complicated.  

But today we don’t have water again, and this starts to become a challenge.  Buckets get hauled to the showers.  Sinks get water containers for hand washing.  But the real issue is laundry.  We’re in the rainy season.  We don’t have a dryer, so once clothes are washed we need them to dry in the sun.  Plus, having them sit around dirty isn’t always a pleasant prospect, because did I mention it’s humid here?  When we do have water again (tomorrow, Lord hear our prayer), it’s not so easy to do multiple loads because that requires multiple loads to dry–did I mention it’s rainy here?  

A dear friend and mentor of mine, Rowena, who died many years ago now, once described a conversation she had with God about being with people who are suffering.  She told God, “You know I can’t do that, because I love them too much; my heart is too soft and I can’t bear to see them going through that.”  And God told her, “That isn’t love.  See the person you think is cold-hearted?  The one who is actually with them?”

“Oh,” Rowena said.*

We don’t live in poverty, we live near poverty.  We live next to people who live in poverty.  The difference is monumental, perhaps incalculable.  Living in Nicaragua, we face some inconveniences, like going without running water.  We lack some gadgets that make life more comfortable.  Air conditioner, dishwasher, dryer come to mind.  These do not qualify as real suffering and are well worth getting to live where we live and trying to be the neighbors we hope to be.  

I got to buy five tortillas this morning from our neighbor across the street.  She doesn’t have running water, either, but got some from somewhere to make her tortillas.  We compared notes on being without water, pondered if the huge bog in the middle of our under-construction street explains where our water is going, and speculated when they might finish the road work.  

I have, in moments of desperation, washed my hair with drinking water:  I discover too late that we have no water, our back-up tank is empty, I need to be somewhere looking halfway presentable, and there I am.  It feels ludicrously extravagant–like buying nice stationery to use as napkins–and drives home that I live in a developing nation, and in a barrio that is definitely still developing.  It also proves the point that this is not poverty for us.   

For our inconveniences, maybe even more for the sake of our neighbors, I’m praying for water to start running through our pipes again.  



Post-Script:  Long after I wrote this, just before we left for our back-to-school open house, I heard that glorious sound of a faucet left on!  The water is back!



*She was one of my favorite storytellers.  I miss my friend.