Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanksgiving in Nicaragua

Thanksgiving, a time filled with turkey, delicious side dishes, pumpkin pie and of course lots of family. Thanksgiving in Nicaragua, met almost all of those goals minus the pumpkin pie portion. This is our second time spending this wonderfully delicious holiday away from Seattle, the first being our YWAM DTS's in Germany and Switzerland; however, the beauty of this week was that my (MF's) parents were able to come down and join us. Although we didn't actually get to eat turkey on Thanksgiving, it was a wonderful time nonetheless.

Feeding Isaac Bustamante his Thanksgiving dinner.

Prior to Thanksgiving, we officially ended our teaching roles at Colegio Havila. I was incredibly happy that my parents were able to see the school in session, meet all our fellow teachers, and see the amazing children we have worked with every day. My Dad had fun helping administer my English test to the 6th graders, while my mom was deemed the official grader for Josh's computer exam. The end kind of snuck up on us. I found myself unexpectedly in tears on Tuesday as the reality of the end of the year sunk in. These people are such precious jewels and as much as we've kicked and screamed at times this year, it doesn't diminish the reality that we will be forever changed by this year.

Top: Mom and me before Thanksgiving dinner with our church. Introducing Dad to 6th grade as the administrator of the ESL test.

Middle: Construction on our house begins, so we have officially moved out as of a week ago. Mom the fabulous computer test grader.
Bottom: The kids taking the practical portion of the exam. Profesor Josh helping with the computer test.

We are thankful for this opportunity to come and be changed. We are thankful for the Los Cedros community that have become extended family and for the changes we've seen in kid's lives. We are thankful for all the family and friends who came and visited us this year, as that support has been instrumental in our success this year.

Working together to grade tests. The 5th graders threw us a farewell lunch after their computer test.

In the spirit of thankfulness, we got to spend a lovely week with my parents here. We enjoyed taking them to our Gringo church communities Thanksgiving potluck...which I was personally excited for the mounds of turkey to be consumed. We were also blessed to be able to spend three days in our little spot of heaven in San Juan del Sur where we finally managed to get my parents to relax and celebrated their 30th anniversary. We read, talked, and soaked up the incredible beauty that surrounded us in the blue skies, crystal aqua seas, and delightful infinity pools with breathtaking views. It's incredibly hard to leave that portal into heaven.

Top: Our afternoon San Juan del Sur beach walk.
Bottom: Taking advantage of the glorious swimming pools. Josh posing for the camera.

Beyond all the relaxing we also had the wonderful opportunity to accompany my Dad (David Carlson) to an Agros village land signing ceremony, appropriately held on Thanksgiving Day. There were five families who recieved their land title, officially handing their plots of land and houses legally into their own hands. These are incredibly hard working people who have poured themselves into prospering their families, digging into the opportunity to change the cycle of poverty. As we have come to understand, Nicaraguans are generally very unemotional even over some of the most exciting things that have happened in their lives. But watching each of the men grasping the pen to sign their title followed by soft spoken words of gratitude was moving to all invovled.

Finally, the last big event we got to do with my parents was to attend Maria Jose's (daughter of Pastor Manuel and Pastora) quincinera. For those not familiar with latin culture, turning 15 is a big deal. It is the presentation of the young woman to the community, ushering her from status as a girl to a woman. Because of this, the celebration is a sight to behold. The party was held in Pastora's front yard, which was transformed into a lavender and white formal dining room. There were balloon archways, the cement wall surrounding the property was painted lavender, a pig was killed for the dinner, a beautiful ball gown purchased for the birthday girl, and 500 guests invited to celebrate her. It has all the sentiments of a wedding recepetion, yet there is no groom and eventually you sing Happy Birthday to the girl in the beautiful dress. It was quite the party and we marveled at the importance of this monumental occassion not only to the family but to the community at large as well.

So that about sums up November. In some ways we are glad to have our school responsibilities behind us so that we can soak up the moments we have left. We are now in our last week, so as you read this and think about us we'd appreciate your prayers as we begin the hard part of saying good-bye. We are grateful to know that our invovlement in Nicaragua is not over, the physical living part yes, but we will return which softens the blow a bit.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

November...the beginning of the end

Oh November, sweet November. The seasons have changed, the sun has come back, and the sweat has returned. It feels a little backwards to us to be entering into the beginning stages of summer as November is usually a cold and rainy month back in Seattle.

November is also the "beginning of the end" as we are in the initial stages of wrapping this wonderful and crazy year up. It's hard to believe. Classes are ending and we are starting to sort through stacks of school related papers, books and clothes that have somehow accumulated even though we haven't gone shopping in a year! It is a month that will be bittersweet. Sweet- because we are ready for change, ready for classes to be over, and ready to see what new things the Lord has for us back in Seattle. It is bitter for school will be over, the smiling faces and hugs from the children we have come to love will no longer be a part of our daily routine and we will be leaving this Nica community we've grown to love. We are ready and we are not and for that it is bittersweet.

Top: Jasmina raking in style. Carlos and Osmin sharpening the machete...number one tool in Nicaragua.
Bottom: Roberto your supposed to use the shovel not lean on it. Pastora looking like a Gringa ready to clean up the streets in Los Cedros.

Well enough of reflection for now. October ended well with an amazing week spent with women from Northshore Baptist and Cascade Community Church in Settle. This women's team is becoming a highly anticipated and deeply impacting group not only for those from the States but also for the women of Los Cedros.

The main purpose behind the week was a three day women's conference held at the Perkin's Rancho. There were about 140 women who came, give or take a few. Each day was a treat for these women who got to leave behind their children, their housework, and in some ways reality for three days to this little slice of heaven. We socialized, ate lunch together, listened to a speaker and did crafts together. It was amazing to watch the women connect despite the language and cultural differences. It's amusing to see how women just seem to connect even if they can't fully understand one another.

Top: The women entering the rancho on their first day of the retreat. Fatima sorting through the clothing goods.
Bottom: Uh...David...I think the shirt might be too small for you....well apparently it fits?

One of the highlights of the three days was what we like to call the "Blessings Store." The women from the states brought down 14 suitcases packed with clothing, shoes, purses, jewelry, underwear, the works. The Nicaraguan women were then split into groups by table and given a number. When their number was called they excitedly rushed to the ranchito to begin their shopping extravaganza. Each group had 10 minutes to pick out 5 items consisting of shoes, one clothing outfit, and accessories. The excited frenzy and smiles upon their faces was worth the minor frustrations of orchestrating such an event. The reward for us was watching them come the next morning all gussied up in their beautiful new outfits. The satisfaction and boost in self-esteem was almost tangible and was our reward for all the energy and hard work put into the week. It was beautiful and touching to me to watch these Nicaraguan women I have come to love be enveloped and encouraged by love from the Lord and love from fellow sisters.

Top: Tywla playing with a puzzle with Genesis. Craft time! The ladies decorated flip flops
Bottom: The women after a successful shopping trip. Even Josh found something!
Bubbles were a great hit with the little ones.

Other than that, we are trying to soak up these last four weeks of being here and I am trying not to kill a few of my classes who become rowdier with every class as the end is in sight. It will be a full month, and while it still seems like some days go in slow motion, we know the end will come probably faster than we are really ready for.

Top:Halloween Nica Style
Middle 2: Brisa showing us how to properly use styrafoam cups. Saying good-bye to the Lockridges as they head back to Seattle.
Bottom: Participating in the foot drawings at the Lockridges good-bye party.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Winter Washout

One week, it's hard to believe that's all there is left to October. It has been an uneventful month in which we've enjoyed the luxuries of living in a modern house complete with tv and internet while the Perkins family has been in the States. But tomorrow, it is back across the street, back to life with out these modern day luxuries. Sigh.

Since October has been a fairly uneventful month we thought we'd let the pictures do the talking for us...demonstrating a little bit of what Nicaragua in October is like.

But before we get to all of that, one exciting development for us has been watching our dear friend Luisa opening her own pulperia (Nica 7-11). Luisa has been a faithful woman in our church, the cook for all our teams, and owner of the consignment clothing store Northshore sends used clothing down regularly. She is a dear woman. A strong woman of faith who has demonstrated an incredible heart and joy even while her family has been hanging on by threads the last few years. Thanks to a micro-loan given out by the economics team in September she was able to start up a pulperia and we have seen a burdened lifted and an even greater smile upon her face.

Our friends Bryden and Trista Russell, from our B.C./Trinity Western days, stopped by Managua for a week as they backpack their way through Central America. It was awesome to have good friends to chill with each evening, playing cards, making dinner, and experiencing the Wii together. We also got to take Bryden to the hospital since he had some crazy intestinal bug attack him...that was probably in the top three most eventful things that happened to us this to the lightening strike that hit the Perkins property frying their power invertor and swimming inside their house due to all the rain.

Finally, we thought we'd show the destructive and awesome power of Nicaraguan rains. The above pictures are a few examples of what we like to call "winter washout." The top pictures are what used to be the road we take to the beach. Now there is a ginormous hole in the road which will most like take them a year or two to fix. The bottom pictures is the road right before getting to the beach. Apparently the waterfalls above the road have a wee-bit more water than usual as it has spilled over the road. Also, we thought we'd share a video of what the road directly in front of the school becomes during all this rain.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

October Rains

October is fondly known as the month of rain down here. It is a month of mud, of mosquitoes, of torrential down pours, beautiful sunsets and cooler days. To those from Washington, it is a month that has the sentiments of home. I personally have been relishing the changes. I have worn pants more than shorts and skirts. I have actually worn my hair down a few times instead of in the continuous ponytail I've had since we moved here. While these may seem strange things to find joy in I've missed these small changes. In any case, both of us have enjoyed the cooler weather, the ability to move around and not immediately break into a sweat. And we laugh at ourselves when we feel cold cause the weather has dropped into the low 80s high 70s. So far it has been a good month. A refreshing change of season.

We recently experienced two dramatic examples of the soaking power of Nicaraguan rain. The first came on a trek on which we were helping bring food to a feeding program out to Montfresco, a neighboring community to Los Cedros. There are a series of puddles, or rather lakes, that have gradually increased in size over the past three weeks on the dirt road out to Montefresco. We have learned how to navigate with the skill and savvy of a local and with the help of some sweet 4-wheel drive action.

But on this particular drive our "puddle senses" failed us. We decided to navigate one particular "luddle" (lake/puddle) we knew to have a huge dip that, before the recent heavy rain, was almost past the headlights when driven through. So confident in our idea and in our truck, we passed through the puddle only to quickly discover a horrible rut that managed to high center our truck and render our 4-wheel drive useless. Mistake 1 - stick to what you know when it comes to "luddles". Mistake 2- just cause you have 4-wheel drive doesn't mean you can pass through anything untouched. Mistake 3- always have your camera handy!

Fortunately we had many Nica's come to our rescue, complete with a cowboy and his horse. After a few failed attempts, the cowboy galloping off on his horse to grab a chain, and a quick call for help from Lee Lockridge, we managed to get our truck out of the hole. If only we had had a camera for it was a prime photo opportunity.

Top: Josh and Mateo Bustamante getting the grill ready. Mateo Bustamante waiting for dinner to come.
Middle: MF demonstrating how delicious the BBQ was. Pastora and Pastor Manuel posing so nicely for me!
Bottom: Seattle groupy BBQing after the crazy rain that soaked our house. Halle August (minus his awesome wife), a dear friends who hails from Woodinville.

Our second amazing rain experience happened last Saturday. The thing about rain down here is that you can actually feel when it is coming. The wind picks up, the thunder starts rolling, the lightening starts stricking, the sky is blackened with ominious clouds and there is a heaviness that comes to the air. We noticed all of those changes but did not expect the intensity of water that was about to deluge the Perkins (family across the street who we are housesitting for) house. As the clouds moved over us it was like being hit sideways by a wall of water. Water was streaming in through every window in the house regardless of whether they were closed or not. It also started pouring in through the high windows the Perkins have in their vaulted ceiling. All we could do was laugh at the fact that we could go "swimming" inside, marvel at the crazy force of the rain, and grab some mops to start pushing the water back outside. Needless to say, we've had a nature adventurous last couple of weeks.

Top: Lee Lockridge the handy man working on our new fence. Josh demonstrating just how much these watermelon plants have grown in the past two weeks!
Middle: Our new fence at the entrance to the school. A view of the growing garden!
Bottom: We have success! Our first banana crop!

Beyond the entertainment rain has brought things around the school have been fairly quiet. Pastor has put her foot down so that we are not losing so many days of school to all the thousands of holidays this country has. Instead we've only had one celebration so far this month which, amazingly, didn't cause us to lose a day of school. It was the day of Nicaraguan Food. All of the kids and teachers brough traditional food to school to share amongst ourselves. The students in their classes were required to stand up and explain to the class how their typical food was made, what it consists of , and what makes it traditional. For the most part we've come to enjoy these traditional foods and enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate with our friends.

Top: Plate of typical Nica food (pork, cabbage salad, and yucca), Third graders waiting to present their food to the other classes.
Middle: Fernando one of my sweet 2nd graders proudly showing off his food. Helmon, a 4th grader, giving his food presentation to the class.
Bottom: Josh and Jasmina (2nd grade teacher) displaying some traditional Nica food. MF, Fatima and Cela also showing off some traditional Nica food before our potluck.

Other than that we are starting to wind down. We have 4 weeks left of classes and 8 weeks left in total here. With that comes a mixture of feelings and the beginnings of reflection on our year here. I will end with some verses I have been reflecting on. Psalm 111:3- "Everything He does reveals his glory and majesty. His righteousness never fails. He causes us to remember His wonderful works." Every face, every life, every experience we've had, every majestic bolt of lightening that shatters and splinters across the sky, every deep and powerful rumble of thunder, every drenching of rain, every cry we've uttered, every moment we've rejoiced have been opportunities to see and know our Creator in a new and deeper way. We rejoice in that. We rejoice in knowing that "we are God's masterpiece" (Ephesians 2:10) just as the sunset below is yet another display of His greatness and glory.