A First (For Me)

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 33

I preached yesterday.  It went well, thank God.

Before I preached, I had a first.  

I’ve been preaching for a long time now.  I’ve had a flat tire when I needed for church.  I’ve been pulled over on the way to church.  I’ve left my zipper down and had my wife point it out right before I went up for the sermon.  I’ve had a printer fail to produce my sermon manuscript and gone without.*  I’ve misnumbered my manuscript pages, spilled water on them, had the wind blow them all off my lectern.   

I’ve jettisoned the sermon I’d written and preached on something else entirely, on the spot, I believe at God’s prompting.  

And fairly recently, I all but face planted while walking up to preach.  

So I start to imagine that I’m running out of new experiences for what can go wrong or make those last, already-nauseating moments right beforehand even more exciting.  

At International Christian Fellowship, we have headset mics.  They work pretty well.  I always struggle to put them on right.  It’s just one of those things. One of my worst preaching experiences–not at ICF–I put the headset on wrong and spent the entire sermon tugging it back down while the mic tried to climb up my temple.  So I’m always a little nervous to get them on correctly.  Even though I’ve put them on a bunch of times, I always get them on wrong at first and then I’m wrestling with them and trying to adjust them. 

Consequently, I’ve stopped using the men’s restroom in the auditorium where we meet to make these adjustments/have this wrestling match because I’ve learned that a)it always happens, b)having other guys walking in and out, watching me, maybe saying, “Good luck up there, you’ll need it,” does not, in fact, calm my nerves.

Instead, I grab my wife’s keys–ICF meets at our school–and head to the administration building where I can let myself in, have a restroom all to myself, take as long as necessary to put my mic on wrong then relearn how to put it on correctly, and triple check my zipper.  I usually go during the offering song so  that I can hear the progress, plus we’ll have another song before the sermon, the one we sing while the kids are racing off to their Sunday school classes.  

One final detail:  Kim’s keys are on a long, red loop string, basically a shoelace with six keys on it and no ends.  An eternal circle.  

I had the keys and the headset in my hand, I was hurrying to unlock the admin door, and just then I noticed that the key string had somehow closed in a perfect knot on the headset cord.  I mean beautiful, the kind of knot I could have instructions to tie and would still fail.  

Now understand, if you’ve never preached before, that the last 5-20 minutes before preaching I forget why I enjoy my calling and work very hard to keep down my breakfast.  Sometimes I feel exactly the same as when I’m on a boat on choppy water–and I’m badly prone to seasickness.  

So when I noticed this lovely knot, my reaction was not, “Hm, that’s not good, I should carefully examine this and untangle it in the exact same pattern but in reverse, because that would be a good, rational strategy.”  No, I thought, “Oh, Dang!’ and pulled on it.  The headset cord is attached to the little box you clip to your belt.  The ends of the headset cord are these flimsy little wire-and-plastic hooks that go your ears to position the mic correctly.  There is no proper end anywhere that you can just work carefully through the gnarl.  I did learn, though, that the hooks can somehow make the knot worse, since the cord runs off in two directions to meet up with them, lots of slack but nothing small enough to thread through.  

If you’ve ever fought with Christmas ornament hooks or old wire hangers, you probably know the sensation I experienced next, which is “This isn’t possible.  There isn’t enough available material to make such a huge tangle.”  Somehow the sum total of shoe lace and mic cord had tripled and most of it was now in a ball that tightened no matter which direction I pulled or pushed.

I suppose now is a good time to mention that, while God bestowed upon me the gift of gross motor skills which enable me to catch a disc and a baseball and shoot a basketball, I did not receive fine motor skills in equal abundance.  Or any abundance.  My handwriting is atrocious, I despise playing Pictionary, and art was the class I came closest to failing in grade school.  Threading a needle, for me, is the equivalent of hitting a bullseye on a dartboard from fifty yards away.**

Did I mention that I could hear the song being played back in church?  It was now half over.  I’m still standing outside the admin building, wondering with that stupid part of my brain how this will look if someone walks by.  I finally fumble for the keys so I can unlock the door and go inside to face my Gordian knot. 

Oh, yeah, one more thing.  Yesterday was the first Sunday of the month, which meant there was no Sunday school nor Sunday school dismissal song…which meant when the current song was over, I was up.  

Have you seen the movie Dunkirk?  It’s excellent, truly a work of cinematic art, in my opinion, though very violent and disturbing.  No spoilers, except this one:  the soundtrack is a masterpiece.  A ticking begins when the conflict starts and it exacerbates the tension.  I heard that ticking in the bathroom.  

Song is now nearly over, I’m seriously considering leaving Kim’s keys and this ball of disaster and just getting one of the handheld microphones, which would appear bizarre to the sound crew but perhaps slightly less bizarre than having a red shoelace keychain jingling between my chin and chest while preaching.  

Tick, tick, tick…

At this moment, with less than sixty seconds before I need to be walking up to preach, it occurs to me:  I can unplug the cord from the little box. Yes, I’ve been praying–fervently–this whole time, and yes, that thought just hit home.***

…tick, tick, tick…

The next forty-five seconds are a blur of clumsy fingers and wires and string and keys.

…tick, tick, tick..

And then somehow, the keys disentangle and fall to the floor.

…tick, tick, tick…

I’ve got maybe 15 seconds and my mic isn’t on yet.  Slam it behind my ears and hope it’s right the first time, this once.

…tick, tick, tick…

 Snake that blessed cord down through my shirt so I don’t catch it when I’m gesticulating and have it rip the headset off, like that one time.

…tick, tick, tick…

Back through the doors, last note fading, musicians just starting  to exit the stage, and I’m scooping up my Bible, manuscript, and water bottle as I stride by my seat and my kids to (don’t puke) stand up in front and, 

“Good morning.”  

 

And the sermon went really well.  God’s funny like that.  

 

 

 

*Of course, once that happened, I never left printing to the last minute ever again.  Yep.  And once I realized it was embarrassing to be late, I was never late again.  

**Okay, that’s hyperbole.  Forty.

*** In fairness to me, some of the headsets unplug and others I’ve tried but those cords would not come out for me.  They probably all unplug, but some come out so hard it feels like I’m about to rip the wires out instead of the plug, so I don’t try.  

Horse Cart

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(Typical horses and carts here, not the horse we saw.)

 

Nicaragua Diary, Day 26

 

Today we saw a man beating his horse.  It was a nightmare, the kind of thing you hope never to see, much less have your children see.  

We were on our way home from church.  We’d turned onto “the narrow road,” which is exactly what you’d guess–people frequently drive with two wheels on the sidewalk to be able to pass oncoming cars.  As we turned the corner, we saw that vehicles were backed up.  That’s not unusual; sometimes large trucks take the narrow road and the going becomes very dicey. 

Today, though, we saw a horse cart ahead of us.  Horse carts are very common here.  When walking to school, I might see one or I might see five.  Kim describes the cart horses here as “bullet proof.”  Nothing seems to startle or spook them, in spite of how “lively” and unpredictable traffic can be.  

This horse was different.  It was balking and pulling one way and then the other.  It kept turning sideways in the road.  The driver of the cart had a homemade switch with which he kept striking the horse.  The horse was not responding well.  Now cars were backed up ten deep in both directions.  

The man jumped off his cart and started whipping his horse with the switch, very hard.  Another man, I’m going to guess drunk, walked up and tried to push the horse in the right direction with his shoulder.  

Then we saw the horse rear.  It stood on it’s back legs for three or four seconds.  Kim said, “I’ve never seen a horse rear here.  Ever.”  

While this was happening, people on both sides of the street were watching, appalled.  But no one seemed to know what to do, how to help, or whether to intervene.  A few cars had honked at first–honking is very popular here–but the scene grew too ugly for petty impatience.  

Then the man took a board from his cart, maybe a 12″x6, which he grabbed with two hands and swung at his horse.  

Kim, in the driver’s seat, simply said, “That’s it” and jumped out of the car.  

Now freeze the frame for a moment.  My wife is hurrying toward the man who is violently attacking his horse.  We’re the only gringos on the street.  The street now feels full.  Is the man drunk?  She didn’t discuss with me what she should do, and now she’s twenty yards up the road, twenty yards from the man.  I’m sitting in the passenger seat which doesn’t open from the inside.*

I shout, “I need to get out of the car!”  I’m seeing bad scenes in my head of what happens next.  One of my kids jumps out and opens my door.  I go running after Kim.

She approaches the man and tells him, calmly, that the load on his cart is too heavy in the back and it’s causing the strap under the horse’s belly to pull up–it’s cutting him across the belly.  

The man doesn’t seem drunk, at least not obviously so.  The horse is small, young, and bleeding from multiple points I can see–two different places on her nose have been rubbed raw to open wounds.  Oh, and I figured out the horse is female.  

Kim is right and the man, to my surprise, responds to her instructions.  She helps calm the horse,  The man redistributes the load in his cart–it’s full of some plant I don’t recognize.  They get the cart pulled over to the side so some cars are able to pass (after going around our car, abandoned forty yards back).  

Kim talks to the horse.  She helps calm it down.  The man finishes getting the load balanced and climbs back into the seat.  He’s blamed the horse, not himself, but he hasn’t been belligerent or even defensive.  He thanks us, more or less.

And now this scene is ending, Nicaraguans on both sides of the road still staring, Kim’s hands and church clothes dirty, my adrenaline still blowing like a geyser.  Kim says, “I had to protect the horse,” to which I respond, in my best we’re-married-a-long-time-and-respect-each-other-voice, “I had to protect you.  A man who would hit his horse with a board might hit you.”  

Our children all said, “Great job, Mom! Way to go,” when she got back in the car.  We drove home, quietly debriefing what we just saw.  That included this statement:  “We should buy that horse.”  

When we got home, it quickly became apparent we weren’t done.  Kim told me she wanted to go find the owner.  The narrow road is a little over a kilometer from our house.  We know a few people there by sight, but our only friend is the woman who owns the fruit stand we frequent.  

So Kim and I change out of our church clothes and start walking.  Anytime we’re alone for even a matter of seconds, one of us will say, “It’s like a date,” because raising four children has trained us to seize any moment we’re not surrounded by kids.  We have a little walking date.  

We discuss what happened, and Kim says, “You don’t want your kids to see that, and you really don’t want your kids to see that and you not do anything.”  

We talked about why the man responded relatively well to us.  This is a machismo culture, and a woman coming up to tell a man what to do in a difficult and stressful situation often would not be well received.  

We asked a few people, including a guard we know at the church on the corner, if they’d seen this cart.  Then we reached the fruit stand our friend runs and, not surprisingly, she knew everything.  She told us yes, he’d come by, and now he’s back home, drinking, of course.  Kim explained what happened and what we were thinking and our friend told us that the man probably feared we would call the police, because “If a gringo called the police, on your word they’d probably come and arrest him.”  

She then started shouting at a man down the street.  The man turned around and walked toward us. He was either the horse cart driver’s partner or brother–we’re still not sure which.  Our friend told him we are interested in buying the horse.  Kim explained that it needs to rest.  The man then told us the horse is young and named a price three times higher than reasonable.

Our friend looked away and gave this priceless expression, a combination of “That’s ridiculous” and “We’re not having this conversation anymore.”  It’s a non-confrontational culture, so she didn’t say, “That’s ridiculous!  Don’t be stupid!”  But she communicated just fine.  The man shrugged and left.  

Freeze frame again:  No, we don’t need a horse.  No, we don’t have extra money to buy a horse; in fact, our budget is very tight and I’m hoping there’s money for me to get paid this month.  With all the suffering around us, on one level thinking about buying an abused horse seems crazy.  We would simply try to find a rescue or a farm where it would be cared for and, God-willing, nursed back to health.  On the flip side, these things don’t always have to make sense and God can provide the money to rescue a horse.  We see a lot of suffering we can’t change.  We try to help where we can.  This might be one we can change.  

Kim thought “the horse is young” justified the outlandish price, while I thought it explained away Kim’s suggestion that the horse needs to rest.  We all agreed that he had offered el precio gringo, the gringo price, i.e. “how much can I overcharge these rich and ignorant foreigners?”**  She told us she would talk with the owner later, by herself, and let us know in the morning if he would consider a price we might pay. 

So we’re praying about saving a horse.  

There are three more things I need to tell you:  

Being around suffering is dangerous because it can make you numb.  Kim said, as we walked home, that she used to feel sick every time she saw a horse with all its ribs sticking out or a starving street dog, but she’s gotten used to it.  On one level, you have to; on another level, we don’t want our hearts calloused to the misery we see.  

Poverty inflicts suffering, grinds people down, and allows people no margin against disaster, but in itself it neither makes people evil nor saints.  This man was abusing his horse, not because he is poor nor because he is Nicaraguan, but because his heart is hardened and sick.  Judging by our friend’s description, it may relate to his alcoholism.  Abusing animals is evil.  Many Nicaraguans take great care of their horses, even though they have little money to spare.  When I tell ugly stories in this diary, that means I’ve seen ugliness in individuals.  Nicaraguans are beautiful people.  They are people.  

Finally, we know this man will probably buy another horse.  Buying this injured, abused animal from him won’t mend his ways.  But sometimes you just have to show mercy.  Kim has always loved horses–she bought and trained one on her own when she was twelve, which still boggles my mind–and she really feels we should try to save this one.  Maybe that’s how God speaks. 

So we’re going to try.  

 

 

*Our car has a LOT of personality since my accident.  We’re hoping it hangs in there a little longer.

**Getting the better of a rich and foolish foreigner is a sport in itself here that will need its own post.  

“Who are you, yourself, alone and nameless?”

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Whether the morning and evening of one day or of many days had passed Frodo could not tell. He did not feel either hungry or tired, only filled with wonder. The stars shone through the window and the silence of the heavens seemed to be round him. He spoke at last out of his wonder and a sudden fear of that silence:

‘Who are you, Master?’ he asked.

‘Eh, what?’ said Tom sitting up, and his eyes glinting in the gloom. ‘Don’t you know my name yet? That’s the only answer. Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?

The Lord of the Rings are my favorite novels of all time and Tom Bombadil is my  favorite Tolkien character.  It is therefore slightly appalling* that coming on two years of writing this blog, I have never written about him.  I might have to write a post or two to make up for that folly.  

“Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?”

We are learning who we are.  That’s the purpose of life, to learn, and then to become fully, who we are.  It sounds simple, but of course it is not.  

If you remove all the false parts of your identity, if you strip away all the noise, all the stuff, all the diplomas on your wall and the medals on your chest, all the things you’ve done that aren’t you but that you’ve tried to make become you, what is left?  Who is left?  Who are you, alone, yourself and nameless? 

If you take away even your name, how we’ve tried to lodge identity in these abstracts, if even that is stripped from you, do you have an answer?  

In Tom Bombadil’s case, he is eldest.  He is the one being in Middle Earth on whom the ring has no effect, holds no sway.  I don’t want to ruin it, in case you’ve never had a chance to read the books (they’re pretty new and a bit obscure and hard to find), but Tom Bombadil knows who he is.  He asks the challenging question that has always stuck with me, that continues to ring in my ears, and for himself he can answer.  

We don’t know who we are.  We have to start there.  We’ll only begin to discover when we’ve admitted this to ourselves.  By this I mean we think we have some objective view of ourselves.  We don’t.  None of us do.  

Who are you, truly?  What matters most in who you are?  Or better, what alone matters in who you are?

I think standing before God is this.  

 

 

 

*Can something be “slightly appalling?”  I mean, clearly yes, because this is.  

Baseball in the Rain

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Costurera

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 5

Seamstress.  

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?”

“Yes.”

“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.  

Humidity

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 3

Humidity

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.

https://weatherspark.com/y/14372/Average-Weather-in-Managua-Nicaragua

 

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.  

 

managuahumidity

Average-Weather-in-August-in-Managua-Nicaragua

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