Saturday, February 19, 2011

Coming Home

I've been holding off writing this blog for months now. Even now I don't know what to say. I want to say something but I don't know yet if I can or if when I do it will be enough.

For now I want to share this poem by Wendell Berry:

We travelers, walking to the sun, can't see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November Reflections

This update is long over due. As my months left in Nicaragua have turned into weeks left, it is hard to find time to stop and update my blog. As you might expect the time we are entering as a community is very busy. We are currently in our second week of a visit from the International Programs Office of JVC (formally known as JVI). Last week both the Managua and Ciudad Sandino communities went to La Garnacha for Re-Orientation/Dis-Orientation. This year me tocó the disorienting side of the retreat experience. We spent time reflecting on the past year's challenges and successes. We did some social analysis and reflection on some of the injustices we come in contact with on a daily basis, migration, the education system, machismo, etc. The last day of the retreat focused mostly on the upcoming disorienting experience of returning to the United States and the likely reverse culture shock we are bound to experience. I can only imagine returning in the blustery cold of December amidst the loco Christmas consumer frenzy will be, well, disorienting. I am looking forward to catching up with old friends and slowly unpacking the last two years as I move back home to Cincinnati, at least for a time.

I also wanted to mention and honor today the 21st anniversary of the UCA martyrs of El Salvador. Their witness to justice and peace continues to inspire me and I want to hold them close on this very special day. I also want to thank all those who continue to work for justice and peace so that atrocities like their assasination never happen again. I send blessings to all those make the pilgrimage to Washington D.C. and Ft. Benning to stand for peace and justice. ¡Presente!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Oh, September!

Oh sweet September, where did you go? The days keep slipping through my fingers. I'm sorry it has taken awhile to get this updated. I have to admit that with my waning days in Nicaragua this blog has taken a backseat. It's certainly not for a lack of eventful days, visitors, and great stories. It is harder though to sit still long enough to reflect on my days and put down something on a word processor. Oh, that's the other factor, my laptop has finally succombed to the brutal Nica JV lifestyle. Adios amigo.

So, here's where I'll start...

At the beginning of September a long anticipated visitor arrived, Allison! Her visit was everything I had hoped for and so much more! We spent the first couple days around Manangua, Ciudad Sandino, and even went to Granada for an afternoon. She accompanied me in class and my students took to her right away. A group of second graders especially fell in love with her and just today, a month later, asked me when she was coming back. (Sorry, Chavalos, she's not coming back anytime soon.) After a few days of teaching and meeting coworkers we went on a double date with Yamil and his girlfriend. We ate and drank our fair share of Salvadoran pupusas and Victoria. On Wednesday we headed north to Matagalpa for one night and then over to Estelí. I just had to show her one of my favorite places in the whole wide world: La Garnacha. But, what's travelling in Central America without a couple unexpected turns. When we arrived to La Garnacha we realized there were no rooms at the inn! We ended up staying in the very humble home of the Italian parish priest who wasn't in. Despite the noctural guests that scurried over the rafters we enjoyed ourselves and enjoyed our cabin the following day much more! Here are some photos from our time together:

Allison with her new second grade friends

Me and Yubelkis

Just one example of Nicaragua's Beauty and Allison's photo skills

Don Humberto, a resident Nicaraguan scultor showed us around his property full of rock scultures and inspired us with his words, "Lo Soñé y tenia que hacerlo," or I dreamed it so I had to do it. Right on.

In other news we have all been doing pretty well. We celebrated national holidays on the 14th and 15th of September. Those were som much appreciated days off work. On the 14th we had a big fundraiser at school that involved making a ton of food. The day before I went with some coworkers to Mercado Oriental, the biggest outdoor market in Central America. It was a crazy experience. I have only been there a couple of times and quite honestly it is always an overwhelming experience. It is just so big. At one point I was carrying close to 100 pounds of yucca on my back. I almost got lost because I couldn't see where I was going. Luckily I was able to put it down to get my bearings. Unfortunately I couldn't get it back up on my shoulder. I must have looked pretty desperate because some guy came over and heaved onto my back. I thought I was a gonner.

As my days continue to countdown I hope to have some more reflections coming your way. I also imagine that in the months following my return I will be able to have some space to sit, reflect, and write about my experience.

Also, if you haven't seen this yet, it is pretty disturbing to say the least.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Guides, We Don't Need No Stinkin' Guides!

So, if you are a long time reader of this blog you may remember back last year when Michael, Sean, Joe, and I scaled the volcano Telica. It was a long hike, but pretty straight forward-about four hours up, and two back down again. The trick to the hike is knowing the trail. The last time we went, Michael told me about the numerous failed attempts former JVs had made, including himself. That said, we made it up without a glitch. We just had to make it to the mango tree in a big field and turn right there.
Well, a couple weeks ago Sean, Thomas, Yamil, and I got the great idea to go back and do it again. We knew the trail would be much different now that it was rainy season. We thought we would remember the trail when we came to it. Oh were we wrong. In all honesty there is no real "trail" like we know in the states. There are no white blazes as seen on the Appalachian Trail. You basically have to get off the bus toward the town of Malpaisillo, at the Quimera stop, walk down under a bridge into a riverbed and follow that until you reach an unmarked campesino trail. One farmer riding bareback on a little horse told us we were going the wrong way, that we should go down to the end of the trail, turn left at the corn, walk straight to the "L" then at the stone wall turn right and just keep walking to the top. It sounded easy enough. But we walked all day and never once saw that godforsaken mango tree.
We got lost, turned around, and upside down. We were never in danger because I had a GPS and we knew where to find the highway. The trick was negotiating miles of barb wired farmland that lay between the road and the volcano. According to the GPS, at the end of the day, we had walked about 13 miles and gained a mere 500ft. in elevation. That's nothing. When we finally stopped to turn back to the bus the summit was miles away and shrouded in a low lying rain cloud. It was disappointing, but we still had a great time singing rugby songs translated into Spanish, telling stories about past hiking trips, and chatting it up with local farmers along the way. The farmers were all very sympathetic, admitting to us that it was a hard trail to get up and easy to get lost. They offered to guide us if we wanted to go again sometime. Hopefully there will be a next time! Only four months left until my journey north!

Yamil shaking his head at how damn lost we got.

Thomas and Sean looking tired after deciding to turn back around three o'clock.

Thomas freaked out when he saw this snake on the trail. Luckily it was busy devouring a brightly colored lizard.

We followed these cattle most of the way back to the highway.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Signs, But You Don't Believe in Signs

Wednesday morning was one of those Wednesday mornings I wish I had stayed in bed for. Sometimes they are nice relaxing mornings for reading, talking with students, planning classes, etc. This morning was different. I was asked by my boss to substitute in a second grade class until their teacher returned from a medical appointment. I took a deep breathe and accepted the challenge. For the past year and a half this group has notoriously given me the most trouble, the biggest headaches, and the highest blood pressure. Needless to say, I was not excited about what was to come.
I was given no plans for class so I went to the other second grade teacher to ask her the what to do. She said, "llévelos a educacion física." Great, I thought, take them outside, wear 'em down, and then put them to sleep until their teacher gets back. Well, after an hour of litterally running around chasing a dirty flat soccer ball the kids came back into the classroom covered in sweat and dirt. They actually sat and worked on some Spanish work for about fifteen minutes until a wave of dissent slowly swept over the group of 40 seven-year-olds. I could feel my stress levels slowly rising as I witnessed the ungluing of order in the little classroom. One student, Gary Sheffield (Yes, the same name as the MLB ball player. Yes, I had to look that up.), went Ringo Starr in the corner of the room on a couple of buckets with whiteboard markers. Then one boy roundhoused another in the head and they started to punch each other in the face. I about lost it. Aftering telling Gary to sit down so many times I almost went hoarse, I changed tactics. I said, "Gary, come here, I want to talk with you." We had the following chat (in Spanish originally):

Me: Gary, how are you?
Gary Sheffield: Well.
Me: Did you eat breakfast?
GS: No.
Me: Nothing?
GS: Nothing.
Me: Where do you live?
GS: Over there.
Me: Do you live with your mom?
GS: No, she lives in Costa Rica.
Me: With your dad?
GS: No, he lives in Costa Rica.
Me: Who do you live with?
GS: With my grandma and aunt.
Me: Do you get to play much at home?
GS: No, they don't let me play in the street.
Me: Do you want to bring your desk over so you can work with me?
GS: Yes.

That's where the conversation ended. I thought I had him. I thought I had used my training in popular education to win some trust, to get into his shoes a little bit, to treat him like an adult instead of yelling at him. That's what we preach at Fe y Alegría. But, I lost him. He went back to his corner to kick out some more jams on his makeshift drumset. Damn.
Their teacher finally arrived around 9am. I had only spent 2 hours with them, but I was spent.
I walked to the snack bar to treat myself to a much deserved liquid refreshment. As I turned from the bar, with my cold 7up in hand, I heard the song Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins playing from the boombox behind the bar. I laughed outloud--paradise. If that's not enough, later that same day, I had what some would call an existential coincidence (as seen in the movie I ♥ Huckabees). A senior approached me with her English homework. In surprisingly good English she asked me, "Can you proofread this song for me?" She handed me her notebook where the lyrics to Another Day in Paradise were perfectly written. With wide eyes I proofread the song and walked away shaking my head. I could hear my mom's words in my head, quoting one of her favorite movies, "signs, but you don't believe in signs." Call it a sign or an existential coincidence; it was strange. It got me thinking about Gary and my other students. They deal with stuff I can't even imagine: malnourishment, broken families from abuse, divorce, and migration, lack of infrastructure and resources. In sociology and political science classes we talked and debated about things like malnourishment and infrastructure. It was all too abstract. Here those topics become all too real. Too real to even see on a daily basis. On Wednesday morning all I needed was a sign, a moment of grace, to reveal the poverty and stuggle that is always hidden in plain sight. Sometimes all it takes is a little Phil Collins to put things in perspective.

And now for your viewing and listening pleasure, I present to you, Phil Collins.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mi Prima en Nica

Last week I had the great pleasure of welcoming my cousin to Nicaragua. We were able to travel for a couple days up in northern Nicaragua, near the Honduran border. We went to the Cañon de Somoto and to the city of Esteli. It was a quick trip but such a blast. I loved the canyon. The guide we were with kept saying the water was too high to really get into it, but I just kept thinking to myself, "this water is nothing compared to the New or Gauley." If only I had my kayak, then I could really get in there. Apparently the water goes right up to the slick canyon walls and when the water is up, like it was, there are some gnarly waves. Even in the little bit we floated down there were some strong eddy lines and strange currents that pushed us all around. I loved it.

A view of the countryside

Geting the boat ready

Tori and I getting paddled up river

A view from inside the canyon

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Beginning of the End?

Well, I remember this time last year and how fast the year flew from this point on. Everything seems to accelerate after July vacations. The second semester just began on Monday and I'm already estactic to hear that we have next Monday and Tuesday off because of a national holiday.
My relationship with work is hard. (This might be the story of my life) It is tiring and sometimes really frustrating. However, there are some days when I absolutely love being at school. I love the kids, the smiles, the hugs, even the silly and ridiculous ancedotes they tell me throughout the day. One first grader, Yubelkis, always bursts into a heart crushing smile whenever we make eye contact. Little kids are always stopping me in the halls or at recess to tell me all sorts of interesting things: "My aunt lives in Miami, do you know her?" "my papá has a motorcyle!" or "Look at the ten córdobas (50 cents) I have!" It doesn't matter how mundane the story appears; I feel honored they've shared it with me. On the surface these stories seem simple or sweet but under the surface they are much more. They tell the story of a child who misses her aunt, of a boy proud of his father who drives him to school every morning on his way to work at a maquila, or a girl who is excited to buy a snack at recess because she only ate a tortilla for breakfast. Children's stories are often filled with much more depth, wisdom, and vulnerability than I realize.
I will miss these kids.
When I think about leaving right now that's what I think about most. Sure, there are the superficial things I dream about: what will be the first microbrew I'll drink? or how soon can I get my kayak in the water? or Really how cold is December in Cincinnati? At the end of the day I know I will miss my students. Notice I say students, not the work. You can take the work and shove it, but the kids they stay.

On a different note I hope you like the changes to the blog. I thought it could use a little freshening up.

Check out this photos from out latest retreat at Poneloya beach

This is the photo we sent to the new volunteers. It's tradition that they don't see our faces before arriving at the airport in early December. So, if you're a new volunteer look no further!

We buried Andrea up to her neck and asked some fishermen to take our picture

El Camino Se Hace al Caminar

The Way Is Made By Walking