Remember

We are a forgetting people. I am a forgetting person.

Very much so.

I journal because I don’t want to forget. But that doesn’t help, I forget. I forget who I am. I pride myself in remembering little details about things others forget. But I can’t always do it.

To remember where you came from, and who you are.

I don’t.

To bring all of the pieces of me – scattered in all the places I’ve lived, people I’ve interacted with and seasons I’ve lived through – into one.

I think it’s a problem the Israelites struggled with plenty, and people still do it a plenty today. We forget, easily. God continually reminded the people…I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…the God who brought you up out of Egypt. By calling back those names He was giving them reference points – remember the covenant with Abraham? The promise to Isaac? The sons of Jacob? remember those times, because I am still that God, who was with them, as is with you. 

Pictures help. They remind me of the 10-year-old me who built makeshift tree houses, the 16-year-old me who went to Africa, the 22-year-old me who finished a bachelor’s. And that all those hopes and dreams have now led me here. Here to this, this life in front of me.

But have I forgotten what I’m heading towards?

Contrary to my 10-year-old self, life is not smooth and clearly spelled-out post age 18. And that’s good, since it’s a continual, daily, reassessment of what it is that has been placed in front of us, and what then is required of us.

But to remember what I’m headed towards I have to remember where I came from. What ideals, dreams, thoughts and guiding has brought me to here. To this.

To remember what God has done, who he is, what he has made me to be, what he would have me do and who I am.

I forget. I think my life has been a random gathering of places, people, dreams, stories and events. I forget that when I gave my life to him, I decided he was the director. Thus not only do I rely on him now, but I also remember how he has been faithful in the past. And know the 16-year-old who went to Africa is still part of my story, here and now, wrapped in to my hopes and dreams, and being built up in to His story.

So I remember. All the phases of life, that have been built up into who I am now. I remember to know where I am heading I must recall and remember. To remember He is still the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…and when I was 10, 16 and 22. And he is weaving this story, this seemingly directionless story at times, into one.

IMG-20170618-WA0016 (1)

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In Nursing School

img_20771

So, what do you actually do for school?

It was an honest question, and made me reflect. What is it that keeps me so busy? And means I do nothing else but eat/sleep/dream/breathe school?

I thought. And figured.

I attend class. Sometimes up to 12 hours a day. We learn how to calculate IV rates, the pathophysiology of obesity, how to assess someone’s abdomen and the importance of patient safety.

I practice my new-learned skills on my classmates in lab, so we know what it feels like to be a patient, they told us. And so we can help each other find that apical pulse, distinguish between wheezing and rhonchi and know the difference between a nevi and macule.

I study. And draw complicated arrow diagrams or drawings that slightly resemble human anatomy…but represent the complexity of human pathophysiology to my mind. Or memorize the exact steps of how one would feed a patient using a bolus method.

I write. About how my patient was alert and oriented (times 3), how we need to use ethics in all of our work, how to explain gastric bypass to an 8th grader, how rowhomes became a social determinate affecting the status of community health in Baltimore.

I go to clinical. I’m assigned a patient, who, for 8 hours, is mine to practice and apply all those things we learned about in theory. Know what? Application is always messier than theory.

I find ways to entertain myself. Such as watching those required online lectures on 2x. Or finding a scientific article to back up anything I say…everything. Or applying everything I learn about to myself, in a true hypochondriac fashion.

And the weeks fly by.

And know what? I get tired, since getting up at 5:30am never gives me happy thoughts; I get sick of my computer, since I really don’t think it should be (wo)man’s best friend; and I get happy…since I’d say the human body is pretty neat, and learning all about it and how to care for it is even better.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The city

 

Resultado de imagen para city photographs

I’ve never lived in this much city before.

Never lived in this high of populated area, with people from all over.

My neighbors don’t look like me, nor do they live like me.

I’ve seen many of them through visiting churches, since we hide in our homes, work or class other than that.

The polish Catholics.

The modern African American mega-church.

Latinos who move in family groups.

Southern baptists who wear full-piece suits and spout off “amen!”.

First generation old Greek men in the street.

The young, white, urban professionals who moved back into the city.

Korean missionaries to Cambodia.

Bleach-blonde Russian orthodox women in head coverings and long skirts.

 

It makes me cry.

Because heaven is going to be beautiful. And diverse. Beautifully diverse.

There are so many people in this world. As I meet more I keep wondering how it is we’ve been on this planet together, living out our stories, but never met.

Last week the Korean missionary to Cambodia led us in song. A christian I’ve never met before, and may never meet here again. But, we have something in common.

“This is my story, this is my song…praising my savior…all the day long.”

We’ve part of the same story. Living the same narrative.

ALL the day long.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Being in Baltimore

The internet is currently down, and half of our house is without electricity. That means I write this by battery power on my laptop and the light of a candle. Although I am no, no longer in Nicaragua, a opening sentence like that might lead you to believe I was. But no, I have moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where apparently, like Nicaragua, we are not free from energy problems either.

Those energy problems do allow for some connection between Nicaragua and Baltimore and my lives in them, which is all welcomed by me. Maybe (just maybe) the last 3 months of my life are (in some way) then more connected too. Not only have I been in many different places in the last three months – including the countries of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador and the US – I have also been in many different mental (and emotional) states as I transition yet again.

First, I traveled. Which was an excellent, and a good post-Peace Corps choice to allow for a transition between one place and another (and see cool things); but it was also exhausting, since living out of a small backpack and sleeping in a different bed every night for that long is.

IMG_0774IMG_0642IMG_0954IMG_0960IMG_0974IMG_1056IMG_1393IMG_2273IMG_2208IMG_1551IMG_1590IMG_2038

At that point I was ready to go back to the US, which brought me to the second stage of my last three months. Thanks to my mother the first thing I did back on US soil was eat an apple. A good apple. Then, after the rounds of visits and hugs, I unpacked. Fitting my things from Nicaragua back into the room I left over 2 years ago wasn’t easy. It wasn’t a space issue; it was more placing my (gifted-to-me) sparkley Nicaraguan flats next to my winter slippers, and slidding my papelografo-drawn community maps of my site town next to the academic poster of my senior thesis from college. It’s weird to think all of those lives, represented by those things, have been mine.

It’s also overwhelming. That’s when the culture shock began to set in. There wasn’t one cultural “thing” that sent me off. I felt (and feel, since it continues with me) more like on a dizzying loop. The loop swirls around with thoughts of “wow, life is so much easier here” to “things are too clean” to “I am completely overwhelmed by the number of choices at the grocery store” to “they’re speaking English, not Spanish” to “‘did they just pass me on the street and completely ignore my presence?”. The effect of being on that loop, and being mostly overwhelmed by it, doesn’t make me want to talk about it. I’m okay not attempting to make you understand just how different life is in Nicaraguan. I’m okay with answering “how was the Peace Corps!?” in under 20 words (for now…bewarned of potential forthcoming monologues).

And in that process, and mental loop, and while being home in Wisconsin, I considered how that – Wisconsin, rural, farm, midwestern-living – is where I am actually from, and actually “fit” (there I am no longer the tall, white, blonde one). That is home. But, as represented by my cross from Scotland, dictionaries from Malawi, diploma from Gordon and chacos that still have Nicaraguan dirt on them, that’s not all home, nor does it have to be. All of the pieces make up a home, my home, and play a part in my story, and the path God has set, and led me on.

20160719_195901

 

I unpacked in that month at home, and then repacked to move to Baltimore. Now my walls here have a smattering of things from all of my homes, as I try to make a new home here. But it is still much…much to take in.

I have been enjoying the fridge, bath, washer and dryer (in the house!), sufficient lighting next to a mirror for eyebrow plucking (the little things, folks) and food choices (while also being overwhelmed by them at the same time). So there is much good in my adjustment, but there is also hard. I’m starting over, again. I just began an MSN program here which affords a new set of demands on my time and a whole new system (and people) to learn.

But it will happen, and I will get there, gradually. For now I am here, being in Baltimore, and floating in this loop of thoughts, and in-between homes.

20160820_185729

(My hammock from Nicaraguan is one of those necessary “home pieces” that came with me)

20160821_151900

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Farewell

Tomorrow I finish. I will get all of the last signatures, hand over my Peace Corps family plan cellphone chip and walk out the door an RPCV (returned Peace Corps Volunteer).

That means I need to say good-bye.

That’s not easy.

I’ve cried more in the last month than in the last year. I wouldn’t have guess that in June of 2014, when I first moved to site and cried that first whole week about my new situation, that in two years I would cry because I had to leave.

Things change, huh?

But now it is good-bye…and a fare-thee-well to this life that I have lived.

Farewell to those mornings in site- to that fog-horned bus that woke me up at 6:00am everyday when it came into town (but then I adjusted and started preemptively waking up at 5:45am); to my host brother, and his morning singing routine in the shower; to that first face-washing from the pila under the mango tree that insured I was awake; to waking up as a town together, going to the mill to grind corn for tortillas and asking each other how exactly did they dawn this morning?

Farewell to my morning commute to work – to the walk out my door, past a couple adioses to the guys in front of the alcaldia, a quick morning stop to say hi to Eva in the library, to steps around the new caca left in the road, past the records office and into the health center.

IMG_1348[1]

Farewell to a life unplugged and unoccupied- where I could go days without sitting behind my computer, and occupy myself with markers and papelografos instead; to a life that is not lived behind a screen and is coordinated by the sun, breeze and heat; to a life where 9pm meant bedtime, if I wanted it to; a slower life.

Farewell to the smiles and the adioses – to the countless children in the street, or sitting in the dirt in front of their homes, who call my name from blocks away; to the familiar faces on every bus I ride in and out of site; to passing neighbors in the street, and doing life together…so much doing life together that we know too much about another…but so much doing life together that there is a strong community together.

IMG_1362[1]

Farewell to cold showers – at times longed for cold showers that cleaned off the dried sweat; but also the dreaded cold showers for which I saw my breath before I began.

Farewell to leaving the front door open – to letting children, dogs, neighbors and vendors come in and out; to living in a culture where being home means leaving the door open, and not being home means that your neighbors know where you went.

IMG_1399[1]

Farewell to the beauty of this country – the perpetual summer, the beauty of a hard rain on a metal roof, the dust, the fruit trees, the dark sky before a good rain, the bird songs on the other side of the wall of my room.

Farewell to the good conversations and a culture of visiting – to the many doors that were left open for me, and the cups of coffee shared; to the many questions about life here, and life there; to the many stories from the war; to the many complaints of the daily in and out going of life…of the price of beans, the lack of rain, the death of so-and-so, their health, the annoying kids, the new class they are taking, the new lotion they are selling.

IMG_0916[1]

Farewell to afternoons in my hammock – with a good book in hand, a stomach full of rice and beans and a coconut tree above.

Farewell to all those pregnant women I interacted with – the women who knew what it was to have 5 children, and walk in their flip-flops everywhere, but hadn’t been to a town larger than 2,000 people; the women who lose their teeth with pregnancy, but listened to my charlas on spinach.

IMG_1393[1]

Farewell to neighbor watching – to sitting in front of the house in the end of the day, with the closing in of the sun, and the passing of neighbors; to talks with my host family (while we sat there and people watched) and closed out the day together, and discussed the bad small town drama. (Farewell to that as well!)

Farewell to the jovenes – those youth who I never thought I could get to cooperate, but who formed a youth group with me for 2 years…and together we aged, learned and tried to keep the peace with new dinamicas.

IMG_1426[1]

Farewell to baseball nights – when I studied Spanish, my host nephew played by my side on the tablet, my host brother yelled at the television and the fleas bit my ankles (special add in).

Farewell to exasperated phone call conversations with fellow volunteers – in which we tried to make sense of this life we were living, and commiserated together over the directora who didn’t even acknowledge our presence, and the most recent host-family drama.

IMG_1430[1]

Farewell to life in a small town – where not much goes in, nor goes out (which does create economic problems)…but where I came in, and was welcomed in; where I feel as though I belong…the tall, blonde, gringa who really, actually, is from here.

Farewell to those annoying texts from Claro, the phone company – those texts they send you cada rato which inform you of the new promocion solo por hoy!; Claro, I say, is my mejor amigo, due to how much they text me…but, sorry Claro…the relationship is ending.

IMG_1437[1]

Farewell to friends, who honestly feel more like family sometimes – to the fellow volunteers who have lived this through with me, to the health center staff that has entertained me, to my Nicaraguan counterparts who have brought me under their wing, to the women who have welcomed me into the plastic chairs in their living rooms, just to talk.

IMG_1440[1]

My life is about to drastically change. The lives of those around me – those that I think I fit into their pueblo – are not about to change. They have reminded me of that when I have gone to say good-bye to them in the last few days. They will still be here, but I will be gone. And I will forget them (they say).

My life will change. I change my environment, my country and my language. But, if I’m honest with myself, it has already drastically changed. I am not the 22-year-old that came to Nicaragua. I have learned, and lived and experienced in Nicaragua.

And I’m all the wiser and better for it.

IMG_1444[1]

And now, me toca lo dificil, I must do that difficult thing of putting that one backpack back on my back, where it was when I first came marching into town two years ago, and walk out of town.

And I’ll probably go crying again (oh wonderful emotions). And wondering when I’ll ever be back. And if when I come back, they will remember me. And maybe they won’t and maybe they will.

But I will remember. I can guarantee that. I will remember these two years I spent in Nicaragua…with all the joy, tears, flea bites, beans, rice, dust, hugs and coffee…and I will be glad.

Fare-thee-well Nicaragua.

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Library Project – FINISHED!

Now that I am down to only one week left as a volunteer (yes, I did ring the bell, but no, I´m technically not done), I have (finally) finished my last project as a volunteer…the grand library project.

Most of you probably remember hearing about it, through either this blog post or seeing it posted all over facebook in pleas for support. Well, I happily report that the paint is dry, the books are shelved and the new computer and printer are in operation. We have done it!

It all started way back when I first arrived in site. The librarian worked in a dark, crowded library with outdated books and a broken computer. She said the computer had been donated by the Peace Corps through the previous volunteer who lived here 8 years ago, and even though it didn’t work she was afraid to get rid of it, since Peace Corps might show up and ask her where it was, so she kept it on her desk.

The librarian asked me if I could do a grant for the library, to get updated resources for the patrons. I worked throughout these two years on education projects with the librarian, and always promised we would get around to doing that library grant, at some point. But it took until the last 6 months of my service we decided to apply.

Since that initial application it has been a whirlwind. We traveled 3 hours away in November to gather an initial budget from the bookstore before we could apply to the grant in December. We wanted for Peace Corps approval throughout January, until our grant went live online in February so we could start gathering donations. We fundraised throughout February and March, and then had to edit the budget a bit in April before we could receive the funds. Once we received the funds we purchased the paint, and structural material in early May. We recruited youth from around town to learn how to paint and do cement work to help fix up the library. They gladly came every night to work one week in exchange for soda pop and plantain chips. The bookstore arrived in mid-May with all of the material in the back of their truck. We had another community day to organize the library, this time with lots of shelving to move and books to place. Later that week I taught the librarian how to use the new technology – the printer, computer and projector.

With all of the material in place we could move on to accomplishing the goals we set out in the beginning. First we hosted an open house to show off the new material in the library, then he librarian held her first informational session on natural medicine using the projector, then the librarian set up shop to make copies for students with homework help and the new printer and finally the librarian hosted the first reading hour for young children using the new books and reading rug and cushions.

Phew!

Things are just beginning with the new material. I am so glad to have been able to (finally) assist the librarian in carrying out this project. In many ways it is a shame I cannot stay longer to see the difference this new material makes in the library and in the lives of people in town. But, if the first week of operation of the library is any reflection on what it will be like in the future I am sure it will become a place for the community to come read, learn, investigate, research and share together…for a long-lasting positive impact.

And with that, thank you for what you did to support this project – either through financial donation, spreading the word or just being a cheerleader back in the states. It really wouldn´t have happened without you!


Photo series: Library transformation

(Before)

IMG_1257[1]

IMG_1259[1]

(Painting)

IMG_1270[1]

IMG_1261[1]

IMG_1264[1]

IMG_1275[1]

IMG_1272[1]

(Drawing)

IMG_1282[1]

IMG_1296[1]

IMG_1314[1]

IMG_1289[1]

IMG_1293[1]

(Cement work)

IMG_1307[1]

(New arrivals from the bookstore)

IMG_1357[1]

(FINISHED!)

IMG_1384[1]

IMG_1385[1]

IMG_1386[1]

IMG_1387[1]

IMG_1389[1]

Thank YOU for making this a success!

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leaving

There is too much to do.

There are too many goodbyes to be said. There are too many last projects to be done. There is too much laundry to be washed. There are too many last trips to be made. There are too many things to be organized. There is too much stuff to get rid of. There are too many last times.

And all of that “too much” is coming at me rather fast.

And I don’t want it to end.

I love my life here. I’ve reached the culmination of living here for two years. I have friends I hate to leave, who I am going to miss visiting just for the sake of visiting. I am really going to miss having a schedule that was filled up with just visiting (remember that part of the job description as a Peace Corps volunteer that is to go out and tell people they have value?). I’m going to miss that.

I am known here, by those friends, but also by the people of my town. Living as the only gringa in my town means I’m a local celebrity and often hear “Adios Ana!” in the street from people I don’t know. It’s comforting to be accepted like that, to know that this little old town –  where not much goes in, nor out – has welcomed me in.

I love finishing the projects I’m still doing right now. I’ve learned how to be good at them, and how to coordinate well. I’ve learned how to do small town networking (even if it means chasing people around town, while also calling them). I now know the importance of connecting key people, and the beauty when it works.

But now that is all ending.

IMG_1318[1]

IMG_1337[1]

IMG_1370[1]

IMG_1354[1]

IMG_1340[1]

IMG_1366[1]

The grand adventure of two years is coming to a close.

I’ve stepped out of myself a couple times in the last week to think of that. To think of that leaving, and what I’m leaving, and who I’m leaving.

Like today, when we made an impromptu trip to the river since it was just too hot to do anything. The kids floated in the sun-warmed water, and stared up past the rocks, vines, mango trees and Spanish moss covered trees to the bright sun above in the blue sky. Their brown bodies contrasted with the green life around them and blue sky above. I squeezed my eyes shut to bury it in my mind.

Or like yesterday. I rode another crammed bus back from a shopping trip in town. It was Saturday, so the bus was extra full due to the Saturday university students. I was watching the people around me, again contemplating if I blend in (don’t I?) but reminding myself that my eyes only see out, so I don’t see how much I stick out amongst them. But that’s because I really actually don’t belong here. My life isn’t here, nor am I Nicaragua. That’s why I’m leaving. But they are all staying. That girl in the pink skirt, sitting in the sun by the window, with her legs tucked up on the wheel hump? She will probably ride like that again, crammed in up against the window, and in the sun.  Riding school buses for transportation isn’t just a “see if you can survive it for two years” thing for her. That’s life. Or the man next to her, whose cowboy hat had left a strong dent in his grey hair. He’ll keep traveling with that hat, and have it leave dents in his hair, soaked with sweat, for a long time. Life will keep going here.

The fact that ants come out at night to navigate my room, and I have new bites on my legs that came from I don’t know where – are both ending for me. But for them, that continues. There are tortillas to be made tomorrow, and tomorrow. That floor will be swept more than 100 more times. They will keep going to mass, and watch the years go by, waiting for semana santa, Christmas, school parades in September and vacation in January, just like they have these two years I’ve been here, and the two years before I was here.

I’m leaving, but they’re not. This is normal for them, it’s not a grand adventure for two years.

It is both strange to think of them staying, and sad, since I want to stay with them. Except, I’m not going to, nor can I. This isn’t my normal. I do stick out. I do get sick of them sweeping floors. I do not want to ride buses in the hot sun anymore. I am leaving.

I am finishing the grand adventure of two years. I’m running circles in my head, with thoughts that keep me up. I’m leaving, but I’m torn about it.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Beginning May

It is now the month of May. That means I have only about 3 weeks (or 23 days as my volunteer friend pointed out to me) until I am no longer a volunteer. This is it folks. After living in Nicaragua for 2 years it’s time to repack my bags and say good-bye.

But…I still have three weeks. And I still have grants to close, projects to finish and going-away parties to be had. So lest you think this is a post about saying good-bye…it’s not. It’s about how I am aprovecharing (or taking advantage of) my last few weeks here.

I have a “bell list” of things to do before I leave the country. (In others’ vocabulary it is known as a bucket list, but since I will be ringing a bell, in Peace Corps Nicaragua’s tradition, when I leave, and not a bucket, I prefer to call it a bell list.) I actually started that list last August, and have been working on it since then. About two weeks ago I crossed off my long-planned visit to a volunteer friend, Kelsey. She and I are part of the same volunteer group, and, from the commentaries of others and our own comparisons, have concluded out of everyone in our group we have the most similar sites. (My visit further confirmed that we do also.)

Being volunteers of small sites we’ve both adjusted to small town gossip, lack of activity, a strong sense of community, a slower pace of life and long bus rides (and rather dusty if speaking in terms of her site). Visiting Kelsey I realized we all have formed small worlds around ourselves in the two years we’ve lived here. Small, tucked away worlds that revolve around visiting neighbors, asking about the town news (if there is any to be had), front-porch and hammock sitting and finding joy in the little things (like figuring out how to make tostones together). A visit means I get to join into her world for a few days, and see another perspective on Nicaragua and volunteer life. And, in return, Kelsey then came up to visit me in the north after my visit to her. It’s both fun and refreshing to share the lives we’ve built up around ourselves here.

IMG_1179

IMG_1184

Last week I was invited to translate for a medical brigade. This was the second brigade I have translated for during my time as a volunteer (remember back in January of this year?). This time we were out in the mountains of central Nicaragua in a small site surrounded by cloud-forest. The medical group we translated for came from a church in the states and brought over 20 medical professionals to serve the town for 3 days through dental visits, general check-ups and eye exams. As translators our job was to pair up with a medical professional and translate away. That means anything I heard in Spanish I said in English and vice versa. (This habit also continued after we were done translating for the day, albeit in my head.)

Although we were asked to come as translators, I felt like myself, and the other translators, quickly became cultural bridges as well. There are plenty of things that must be understood from life habits here before jumping in shock at the stories the patients would tell. For example, most everyone who came would complain of a headache, which, before dishing out more pills, can easily be traced to a lack of hydration. They don’t drink enough water here. And no one should really be shocked that kids have parasites here. That’s normal life. But probably the biggest thing to understand is that people here are poor, and will go to whatever extreme to get a free hand-out. They will lie and tell you that the health center won’t give them pills, and that they don’t have any at home and that they’ve suffered from this ailment for 15 years because they know you have the means to hand them free ones, and free ones from the states. It both bothers me that they do such a thing, and attempt to use this group from the states, but also makes sense, since poverty affects you like that.

IMG_1203

IMG_1204

IMG_1206

After the medical brigade I made my way back north. I was going to spend the weekend out of site and visit a friend, but I was soon made aware that I really should go back to site, though the way in which that message was communicated was a bit confusing. I got a call from a member of my youth group in site who asked me to come help them with a charla they were going to give, with the church, no, er, the alcaldia, no, the health center. About what? Um, well, actually it wasn’t a charla they wanted help with, but an activity. What kind of activity? No, it wasn’t an activity either, actually they wanted to have a going away party for me, as a surprise, so would I please come?

I did. When I got back to site my counterpart asked me to meet her behind the church (not a typical gathering place) for dinner. She tried dreaming up a story why I should come as well, before I reassured her I was now in on the loop. And even though the surprise aspect was rather lost, I was still impressed. I’m told they started planning this a month ago (which is a feat when things are rarely planned that far in advance here). They convinced the church to donate the space for the event, the alcaldia to provide funds for the food, they hired a DJ, had a campfire (which was a burning tire actually…sorry, I am a health education volunteer, not an environment one…though maybe I should have mixed in some environment charlas in there for good measure) and planned games. Around 30 youth showed up. We laughed, avoided the smoke from the tire and danced until 9pm, when the church had said we needed to close up shop.

And in all, it was great fun. I did not expect going-away parties to be planned for me, but fully expected to have to plan them for myself (a strange, but necessary thing here, where skipping them isn’t an option either we’ve been told). The fact that these youth took it upon themselves to plan the event, recruit help and attempt to surprise me was awesome. Maybe they do care, and maybe they will remember some of those charlas I gave them (even if they still need one on not burning tires).

IMG_1218

IMG_1224

IMG_1234

IMG_1237

IMG_1246

IMG_1255

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Impact

I’m in the process of COS-ing, which is Peace Corps coded-language for leaving the country (Close of Service, for the curious). They give us 3 months to complete this process. It began back in the end of February when we all – those of us who came to this country together 26 months ago – gathered for a week-long conference on how to go about this COS-ing process. Since then we’ve been in the process of carrying it out.

Taking 3 months to leave a country is a long time. It mirrors the 3 months of training, and the first 3 months of service in which our primary goal was integration. In all of those 3 month episodes I have felt that 3 months was a long time. Particularly this time. Saying good-bye for 3 months starts to do things to your head, and emotions.

Three months provides for plenty of reflection time. I’ve been pretty good at that all throughout my service, having generally plenty of time to do it in. But these last three months put a new spin on the questions, and a chance for another firm look at my life here. Which has brought up the question again, what exactly have I done here, in the now 26 months that I have lived in Nicaragua?

IMG_0628

IMG_0632

IMG_0656


Part of the COS process requires exit interviews with our supervisors at Peace Corps headquarters in Nicaragua. In one of those interviews I brought up this question that has plagued me particularly in the last 3 months – what exactly have I done here? Or, better phrased, what exactly is Peace Corps doing here? What is Peace Corps approach to development in Nicaragua?

I’ve asked that question many times before, and wrote about it on this blog as well. I have consistently been torn between being here to bring health education (technical work side) or to just live as an American to build relationships with host-country nationals (relationship side).

Peace Corps functions with both of those goals in mind, but I’ve wondered at the balance often. If we’re here to bring health education, we could definitely be doing it more effectively than how the current program is set up. If we’re here to build relationships…why do I even bother attempting the work side? And isn’t the work side so much more important than relationships?

The official answer I got to this question told me both were right. (Knew it, right?) We are here to do work as human resources (health education for me) but we are also here to build relationship, and neither is more important than the other. Historically, I was told, Peace Corps did not focus heavily on the work, or professional side, but more on the “living amongst”. Recently, particularly in the Peace Corps Nicaragua World, there has been a push for more professionalism and work. However, both remain equally important.

And, actually, both play together. We work in the host countries to build relationships. Just sending someone out into a country and telling them to build relationships wouldn’t be so easy if they didn’t have a project to carry along with them. Plus, it’s not as though the projects we do are useless. They do need to hear about health education here – how to eat more vegetables and avoid teenage pregnancy – and I’m an impetus to talk about that stuff more. But I’m also here to form relationships and build a bridge of peace between two countries.  I’m told, there have been cases when Peace Corps volunteers clearly became that bridge, even with larger issues at stake.

Another way to think about it, as I was told, is that Peace Corps sends volunteers out into some of the remotest areas to go tell people they have worth. (Now how cool is it to work for an organization like that!?) And, if I think about it, I’ve heard stories about Peace Corps having that kind of impact in my town already.

Take the story of my counterpart, who is a nurse. She was a member of another Peace Corps health volunteer’s youth group about 9 years ago. She doesn’t trace her decision to become a nurse entirely to that group, but she says it did impact her. It showed her there was a cool side to health. And, she can remember to this day, one of the activities they did about sexually transmitted infections. She still uses that activity when she thinks about teaching STIs.

Or, the story Franklin tells about a volunteer who urged him to go back to school. He decided to drop out of school when still in elementary school, since he saw no point in it, or how it could help him escape the poverty he lived in. This volunteer told him she would give him a gift if he went back to school. So he did. He then went on to finish top of his class in elementary school, again in his high school graduating class and from college. And is now a working professional. None of that would have happened if the volunteer hadn’t helped urge him to go back to school. I sometimes wonder if the volunteer even remembers that she played a part in his story; that just that small gift – which was actually just a picture of himself – helped change his story.


That’s the kind of lasting impact a volunteer can have. I think too often in development work we work to create a measureable, bow-tie-able, success, houses-built, teenage pregnancies-prevented, gardens-started, maps-painted grand project. Or, simply put,  build a tower a put our stamp on it. But that’s not a volunteer’s job.

A volunteer’s job is to come along side people, in the work they are doing, and do it with them. And in doing that project with them we show them they have worth. We show them a face of the American people that is more than a western-ideology. In living here we plant seeds – in the form of pictures or STI activities – which can change lives, even if we don’t get to see the impact they have.

And you know what? After all of these 3 month episodes of transition, or all of these 26 months of reflecting, I’ve reached a conclusion. The Peace Corps approach to development does have an impact. The method we’ve been taught here does work. Both relationships and the work we do are important. And, even though I may never see it, my time here has had an impact.

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Catholicism

Most people in my town think that I’m catholic. They base that conclusion off of the fact that I go to mass every Sunday when I am in site. When they find out that I am a protestant (or evangelica as it is referred to here) they look at me in shock.

Nicaragua is said to be about 80% catholic and about 15% evangelical. My town is probably about 95% catholic. There is one protestant church, which is Pentecostal actually. About 5 people attend their services. When I asked about that church when I first arrived in town I was told the people who went there “aren’t from here”. They were the outsiders who had moved in to this solely catholic town.

Evangelicals are mostly charismatic here, with many Pentecostal denominations. They are known amongst Catholics as being the people who yell and scream out at God. They also tend to be the people who were leading “rough” lives before they turned 180o and became evangelicals. They are known as the people who don’t believe in Maria.

Back to the subject at hand – how did I, a non-screaming evangelical with a fairly smooth background, end up going to a church where they do believe in Maria? And why do I keep going there?

IMG_0247

Excellent question my friend. Allow me to explain.

I am accustom to building my community around the church I attend. The best Scottish friends I made in Scotland were found through the church groups I attended. In college, although a Christian college, I still placed importance in finding a church body to form a part of. My parents raised us this way as well, by consistently forming close friendships with the pastors of the churches we attended and finding community there. One could say it was even in our genetics to place such importance on church, since the first time my parents met was at a church.

So, when I moved into my site town in Nicaragua, I considered integration into a church as a way to find community and seek out fellow Christians. I toyed with the idea at the beginning of my service of joining a church community in another community that was evangelical, but the prospect of traveling every Sunday and attempting to integrate myself into a community outside of the one I live in seemed unwise and tiring. I resolved to stay within the boundaries of my site town, which left me with two options – the Pentecostal or Catholic.

I come from a church background that is protestant, but more high-church than it is low. And, further in that vein, I chose to attend a college that is more highly influenced by an Anglican background than any other. As a child I loathed the traditions and hymn singing at my church, but in college I soon found myself longing for the deeper theology hymns bring and abhorring the repetitive praise and worship songs. I found there to be richness in the liturgy that wasn’t found in a low-church setting.

While in my junior year of high school I studied a year-long course on Church History. Although I come from a family that places high importance on theological knowledge, I still had plenty to learn from this course in regards to inter-denominational relations. As anyone can attest to, there is a whole gamut of Christian denominations out there. One could argue that we are all in competition with each other (“sheep stealing” as they call it) and consider the others completely off the mark. However, through my studies that year I concluded we aren’t all against each other(even if many Christians still act like they are). We are, in fact, striving towards the same goal, but choosing to emphasize different aspects of the Christian life and have concluded different doctrinal stands. (Within Christian denominations this is.) That gives each denomination strength in some things, and weaknesses in others.

So, to bring it back to Nicaragua, I decided to attend the Catholic Church in my town. I determined the tradition was closer to that which I am accustom to, and determined I would be among a body of believers in either church choice. And I am. And I have grown accustom to the liturgy (in Spanish) and find I can worship along with my neighbors. I now find it refreshing to go to mass.

I still disagree with some Catholic theology, however, and am not planning to become Catholic, even though my host family chuckles that I will soon be such. But, I am pleased that here, in a country so overwhelmingly Catholic, I can find community with other Christians.

The fact I, as an evangelical, have found community with fellow Christians in Nicaraguan Catholic Churches brings out another point for the current spiritual scene in Nicaragua. The divide between Catholic and Evangelical churches here is strong, with both sides often bashing and pointing fingers at the other. This is neither helpful nor healthy. If we’re in the same business, shouldn’t we be working together?

That whole thought has made me reconsider missions recently. The influx and spread of evangelical churches here has happened within the last 50 years mostly. But Nicaraguans are from a Catholic culture, albeit misled on good doctrine at times. They consider themselves Catholic quite often just for the fact of being born Nicaraguan. But, even amongst all of that misleading belief and sometimes practice, there is still truth here. As Vincent Donovan says in his book, Christianity Rediscovered, Christians are called to go into places of darkness and pour oil on that faintly burning light of truth. To be most effective we aren’t to introduce a whole new method into the places we go. We are to bring oil for their flame, and leave. That’s the kind of truth sharing I want to be part of.

And that, my friends, is the short story on how I ended up in a Catholic Church in Nicaragua, but am not catholic.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.