I think of you, Nicaragua

Posted July 29, 2014 by theclanks
Categories: Uncategorized

Today marks 1 year since we left Nicaragua and began to reintegrate ourselves to life in the States. I find that writing poetry from time to time helps me process events in my life. The following is a poem I wrote reflecting on the transition back “home.”

Versión en español aquí.

I think of you, Nicaragua
from my comfortable, overstuffed La-Z-Boy,
I think of your hard plastic chairs.

In my car; A/C and leather seats,
I think of your buses, the 16, the 5, the mini ruta,
the heat, the claustrofobia, the dust billowing in through open windows.

In my two story house; guest room and office,
I think of your houses of wood and sheet metal,
one family per bedroom, an uncle sleeping on the couch.

I think of you, Nicaragua
and you feel so far away.

You feel so far away,
the distance magnified by my comfort and opulence,
your life so hard, so raw.

I think of you, Nicaragua
and you seem like another world.
And I don’t want to forget you,
but sometimes I think that your world and mine
will never meet,
and I don’t know how to live you anymore
in this place
new and old at the same time.

But I sweep my porch and my sidewalk,
and I think of you.

I sit in front of my house,
and I watch the Honduran kids playing in the street,
and I think of you.

Sometimes I leave the car in the drive,
and I walk to the store
the bags cutting my hands as I hurry home,
and I think of you.

Sometimes I buy a mango,
and I think of you,
the sweet juices dripping on my hands,
the mangoes dropping on the roof of our house in Bello Horizonte in March,
so many mangoes that they rotted on the patio.

I invite friends over to the house for a meal,
and I think of you,
and the memories come flooding in:
good friends gathered together,
belly laughs and smiles,
bread broken,
sopa de queso con rosquillas,
pata de chancho,
pizza,
brownies,
my house is your house,
“Open House” by Duo Guardabarranco.

I think of you, Nicaragua
of the friendship and hospitality that you taught me,
and you don’t seem so far away.

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For the love of reading

Posted January 2, 2014 by theclanks
Categories: Uncategorized

January 2nd – a good time to look back on the year that has passed.

2013 was a year full of changes and transitions for us – leaving Nicaragua, adjusting to life in the U.S., new jobs, etc. But the one thing that has remained constant is the companionship of books. The past few years I have been keeping track of the books I read and its fun to look back on the list and remember what was going on while I was reading that particular book.

Some books were read because they were the only ones at the MCC library that looked interesting, some were downloaded onto our Kindle from the Massanutten Regional Library from Nicaragua, and yet others we read out loud to each other.

Here’s my list this year:

Goodreads

1. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
2. The Russian Concubine
3. The Power of Habit
4. Tell the Wolves I’m Home
5. The Magician’s Nephew
6. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
8. Is Everybody Hanging out Without Me?
9. Pride and Prejudice
10. *Irresistible Revolution
11. Playing for Pizza
12. Walking on Water
13. Bread and Wine
14. Bossypants
15. *Belong to Me
16. The Age of Miracles
17. Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang
18. Poor Economics
19. Redeeming Love
20. The Notebook
21. *An Everlasting Meal
22. Prince Caspian
23. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
24. Mujerista Theology
25. *Tattoos on the Heart
26. *The Glass Castle
27. The Devil Wears Prada
28. *The Fault in Our Stars
29. Salt, Sugar, Fat
30. Gone Girl
31. The River
32. The Canopy
33. The Book Thief
34. Carry On, Warrior
35. *The Handmaid’s Tale
36. The Year of Biblical Womanhood
37. The Cat’s Eye
38. The Paris Wife
39. Mountains Beyond Mountains
40. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

(*favorites are starred)

Some of my favorite authors that I discovered this year:
1. Margaret Atwood
2. Anthony deMello
3. Gregory Boyle
4. John Green

2014 will be a year of many books read for grad school and probably not a lot read for pleasure. It will be fun to see how my book list changes for the upcoming year!

We’re back!

Posted September 12, 2013 by theclanks
Categories: Uncategorized

We’ve been really bad about updating this little blog of ours lately. As most of you all know by now, we’re back in the U.S.

No hemos actualizado este blog por mucho tiempo! Como mucho de ustedes ya saben, estamos de nuevo en los Estados Unidos.

Leaving Nicaragua was difficult in many ways. We had built wonderful friendships with co-workers, friends, church people, and our MCC team. We spent much of our last few weeks attending goodbye parties people threw for us and trying to tell everyone how much they mean to us.

Salir de Nicaragua fue muy difícil para nosotros. Habíamos construido buenas amistades con compañeros de trabajo, amigos, personas en la iglesia, y nuestro equipo de CCM. Pasamos mucho tiempo en las últimas semanas yendo a fiestas de despedida para nosotros y tratando de decir a todos lo que significaban para nosotros.

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On July 29th, we boarded the plane to the U.S. We had quite a nice crew seeing us off at the airport

El 29 de julio, abordamos el avión para los Estados Unidos. Llegaron bastante personas para despedirnos en el aeropuerto.

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We were reunited with Adam’s parents at the airport and after a quick 36 hours, we were off again to MCC re-entry retreat. We enjoyed the opportunity to meet the woman who took Adam’s place at his job in Nicaragua; we spoke to a group of Amish volunteers at the Material Resource Center; we were reunited with 6 other MCC Nicaragua alums; and we enjoyed a meaningful time to reflect and process our 3 years in Nicaragua.

Los padres de Adán nos encontraron en el aeropuerto, y después de solo 36 horas, salimos de casa de nuevo para el retiro de CCM para trabajadores recién regresados. Disfrutamos la oportunidad de conocer a la mujer que reemplazó Adán en su trabajo en Nicaragua; dimos una plática a un grupo de voluntarios Amish en el centro de recursos materiales de CCM; nos reunimos con 6 otras personas egresadas de CCM Nicaragua; y disfrutamos de un tiempo hermoso para reflexionar y procesar nuestros 3 años en Nicaragua.

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Following the retreat were a few days full of doctor’s appointments and trying to get Adam’s work wardrobe ready to go. He started work a mere 9 days after returning. We feel really blessed that he has a job he enjoys, but we also need to be careful to take time for continued processing, even when life seems busy. Adam is a parent liaison at 2 elementary schools in Harrisonburg. He enjoys speaking Spanish everyday, being a mentor to kids, and using his cultural knowledge to help bring understanding between school personnel and parents.

Después del retiro tuvimos algunos días llenas de citas con el doctor y tratando de alistar la ropa de trabajo de Adán. Él empezó a trabajar solo 9 días después de regresar de Nicaragua. Sentimos muy bendecidos que Adán tiene trabajo que a él le gusta, pero también tenemos que tomar tiempo para reflexionar sobre nuestras experiencias en Nicaragua aun cuando la vida es demasiado ocupado. Adán trabaja como un enlace entre los padres que hablan español y la escuela. A él le gusta hablar español cada día, ser un mentor para niños y usar su conocimiento cultural para ayudar a traer entendimiento entre el personal de la escuela y los padres.

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I was able to work during the first few weeks of school as a substitute teacher’s assistant in a unique classroom of children recently arrived to the U.S. The classroom had 30 children – half were Arabic speakers and the other half spoke Spanish. Because of the extraordinarily large class size, I helped out until they were able to find another teacher in order to split the class. I really enjoyed working with these 3rd-5th graders as they adjusted to school and life in the U.S. I will be filling out my substitute teaching application in order to get some work here and there as I begin grad school in January.

Yo también tuve la oportunidad de trabajar durante las primeras semanas de escuela como una asistente en una aula especial para niños recién llegados a los Estados Unidos. En la aula habían 30 niños – la mitad que hablan árabe y la otra mitad que hablan español. En la aula habían demasiados niños por solo una maestra, entonces yo ayudé hasta que consiguieran otra maestra para dividir la clase. Disfruté mucho mi tiempo trabajando con estos niños de 3er a 5to grado mientras ajustaron a la escuela y la vida en los EE.UU. Voy a llenar mi solicitud para ser maestra sustituta para tener trabajo de ves en cuando mientras empiezo mi maestría en enero.

Another thing that has kept us busy is that Adam’s brother Bryce and my brother Mattias both got married in the last few weeks. It was a wonderful way to see extended family and celebrate our new sister-in-laws joining our families.

Otra cosa que nos tenía bastante ocupados es que el hermano de Adán – Bryce y mi hermano Mattias ambos se casaron el las últimas semanas. Fue un tiempo muy alegre para ver a la familia y celebrar nuestras nuevas cuñadas.

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Yesterday we moved into the house we will be house-sitting for until the end of January. It feels nice to have our own space, and makes our being here feel more permanent.

Ayer nos mudamos a la casa que vamos a estar cuidando hasta los últimos de enero. Sentimos bien tener más espacio y nos hace sentir que estamos aquí permanente y no solo para visitar.

We are looking forward to our first fall season since 2009! We are excited about the MCC Relief Sale, the Harrisonburg International Festival, and the many delicious fall foods that we missed.

Estamos muy emocionados para pasar nuestro primer otoño desde 2009! Estamos emocionados para la feria de CCM en octubre, la festival internacional en nuestro pueblo, la bella naturaleza y comer mucha comida que hemos extrañado.

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we continue in this transition time.

Por favor, oren por nosotros en este tiempo de transición.

Thank you to all those people here and there who have made us feel so welcome and loved,

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” – Maya Angelou 

Gracias a todos ustedes aquí y allá que nos han hecho sentir bienvenidos y amados:

“Yo he aprendido que la gente olvidará lo que dijiste, la gente olvidará lo que hiciste, pero la gente nunca olvidará como la hiciste sentir.” – Maya Angelou

True Confessions of an MCC Worker

Posted June 20, 2013 by theclanks
Categories: Adam

MCC workers generally pride themselves on being the most enlightened, culturally sensitive international presence on the block. Whether its missionaries, other international NGOs, or embassy employees; we passive-aggressively  joke about how well we walk with the poor in comparison to these other groups (with the exception of Catholic nuns) and we tend to use the most respectful and humble language to talk about what we do in other countries around the world.

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Every MCCer begins his or her term with phrases like “accompaniment”, “mutual transformation”, “walking alongside”, “your liberation is bound up with mine”,  “relationships are what really matters” and other such self-effacing thoughts bouncing around his or her head. Talk about results and measurable change is only whispered behind closed doors. This humble way of looking at what we do is probably the main reason I chose to work with MCC over other organizations. I believe an honest look at history teaches us that international involvement in countries from the Philippines to the Congo to Chile to Nicaragua hasn’t really worked out so well for native peoples. Hence our need to be intentional about what we do and realize that if we’re not careful we can easily cause more harm than good.

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So, in light of those words of praise and recognition for the humility with which we strive to work alongside our brothers and sisters in foreign lands:

Why do I FEEL so FREAKING SUPERIOR all the time??

The truth is it’s pretty dang (excuse all the euphemisms) hard to be humble. I don’t know if its my college education, U.S. cultural influences, or my religious enlightenment; but I often find myself feeling smarter and just plain better than the people that I live and work with —

Taking a shower or eating a pineapple at night makes you sick?
Haha, how quaint.

The devil is making so and so do such and such? The Simpsons are full of diabolic symbols that are corrupting our kids?
I stopped believing in that stuff years ago.

I know I didn’t come here thinking I was going to fix things and you all certainly know your own context infinitely better than I ever will; but just do it my way and I promise you’ll get better results!

How easy it is to become the know-it-all North American that I so loathed during MCC orientation!

The truth is I am very proud to be working with MCC and of the way that Marisa and I have tried to walk humbly with our God and with our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters over the past three years. After three years I can say that I have experienced such ethereal things as “mutual transformation” and still maintain the belief that building good relationships is probably the most important part of our work.

Ugh, but the intense desire to see concrete results, the need to base my self-worth on my accomplishments, and the feeling that my advanced education and more “modern” science-based mind make me superior to others often gets in the way. Certainly I have much to share and give, but I have just as much if not more to receive. Its something that I’m struggling with and hoping that more often than not my way of being matches all those pretty words.

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People to Remember – Margarita

Posted June 11, 2013 by theclanks
Categories: Adam

IMG_0336_2As Marisa and I begin to think about heading back to Virginia at the end of July, we want to take some time to remember and honor the people here in Nicaragua that have made our three years so wonderful.

It’s only right to start with our Nicaraguan host mom, Margarita, as Nicaraguans are fiercely loyal to their moms. From the first day in her home when I accidently walked past her room before she was fully dressed and totally embarrassed myself, I knew we would have a close relationship. It was just one of the funny, awkward (probably the most awkward) experiences that happen when you live in close quarters with a new family in a new culture, but the unknowns lead to vulnerability, which opens the door for true relationship.

Margarita, in many ways, is the archetypical Nicaraguan woman; she has lunch ready for her husband and his employees at noon everyday, she keeps a clean, tidy house, she a devoted member of her local church, and she loves her children dearly. She is happy to have her two adult children living in her house and continues to care for them even now that they’re in their 30’s and she is raising he 12 year old grandson as if he were her own.

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However, as we have come to learn, once you really get to know someone they begin to break the categories and stereotypes that you tend to label them with and become complex, unique individuals. Needless to say, Margarita is much more than a traditional Nicaraguan housewife.

Margarita smiles as she tells the story of her time working in a U.S. owned garment factory during the war soon after she was married. Even though the U.S. government was funding the counter-revolutionary war that had her husband in the northern mountains fighting his own countrymen, she fondly remembers her friendly American boss, proudly proclaims that she never missed a quota on the number of jeans she had to sew, and laughs as she remembers the volleyball games they played during their lunch breaks.

Margarita is also a savvy business woman and when she and the other members of their transportation cooperative found out that the president was embezzling huge amounts of money, she helped lead the way to forming a new cooperative where the profits would be shared equally among members.

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In many ways Margarita adopted us as her own kids during the 8 months that we lived with her family. I will always be extremely grateful for those times when she noticed how tired we were from trying to adapt to new work routines, the heat, and a new culture and went ahead and mopped our side of the house as well as hers or invited us over for dinner so we didn’t have to cook. Perhaps the thing I’ll remember most about Margarita are the mornings we spent talking over the breakfast table during our first weeks in Nicaragua. Even though she probably had a million things to do that day (cook, clean, iron, run errands, pay bills, etc. ) she would sit at the table and talk with us as if there was all the time in the world and never gave any indication of being in a hurry or needing to do anything else. She never made a move to leave until Marisa and I said we had other things to do. This incredible lesson in hospitality and prioritizing people and relationships is one that I will carry for the rest of my life.

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Doing good

Posted May 27, 2013 by theclanks
Categories: Marisa

liberation

I’ve read several articles this past week on “missions” and “development work”. Each one has made me think about how I define what I’m doing in Nicaragua and how others might define my work. (Development worker…Missionary…English teacher…Tourist)

Kate, from the Motley Mama blog, comes to the conclusion that the people that benefit most from short term missions trips are the participants themselves. And many come away with the attitude: “Thank God I don’t live there”.

I think sometimes the greatest accomplishment of these 3 years of living in Nicaragua is just that: LIVING here. On recent trips back to the U.S., we haven’t felt completely at home and yearn to come back to Nicaragua. We have made deep friendships, have learned how to survive 6 months with no rain, and have seen the ways in which our North American heritage makes people expect handouts.

David Evans, an Eastern Mennonite Seminary professor writes that “missions have become vessels of self-righteousness, racial superiority, Western expansion, environmental terror, and global capitalism.” North Americans tend to think of poverty as purely materialistic, and when you define it that way, what better place to come build schools or houses! “We have a tendency to define poverty and wealth by capitalist standards that value material wealth over relational wealth.”

It is difficult seeing extreme economic poverty on a daily basis – people asking for money at stoplights, a man who makes his living as a door to door garlic salesman, or the mother who comes to our house asking for money to buy milk for her baby. But the solution is not to throw money at the problem. The solution comes only after I have realized the areas of poverty in my own life and from there strive for mutual understanding and empowerment.

In this New York Times article, Nora Shenkel describes her experience as a development worker in post-earthquake Haiti. “I understood why people asked me for money, a job, for things. Most Haitians only ever meet Westerners in our capacity as self-appointed helpers. We are never just here because we want to be in Haiti; we claim we are here to better Haitians’ lives. But they have seen us come and go for decades, and they are poorer than ever before.”

Shenkel goes on to say: “Like most development workers in Haiti, I did not live with Haitians. I kept a car window, a gate, a wall between them and me most of the time. I didn’t sit with Haitians in the dark when the power left once again. I didn’t hurry with them after overcrowded tap-taps — the run-down, beautifully painted cars that are the Haitian version of public transport. I didn’t walk home with them for hours over mountain tops, in the pouring rain or under the burning sun.”

In some ways I identify with the authors experience – I live in a middle class neighborhood with a wall around my house, I have an organization that pays for my food and healthcare, and it is too easy to let the “helper” attitude take over sometimes.

BUT, I ride the buses, I turn on my cell phone flashlight and sit in the dark with people when the power goes out, and I walk for many city blocks in the hot midday sun and in the pouring rain. These experiences have brought me closer to my Nicaraguan friends, but also show me that I will never truly understand their realities. The best I can do is remain grateful for the opportunities I have been given and to never stop being frustrated and motivated to action when others are held back. 

All that said, I am extremely grateful for MCC’s philosphy of partnering WITH local people. I have come to understand with deeper meaning that God was at work before me, God is at work with me, and God will be at work after I leave. I realize that I have learned far more than I have taught.

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A trip north

Posted April 30, 2013 by theclanks
Categories: Uncategorized

Adam and I left for a spontaneous trip north this past weekend. Escaping the heat was our main objective, plus seeing some sights we hadn’t seen before. We left our guide book and electronics at home and enjoyed a weekend of relaxing and winging-it.

Enjoy the pictures! (Click on the thumbnails to see bigger pictures)