Archive for the ‘Marisa’ category

Doing good

May 27, 2013


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.



Lessons from the kitchen, part 2

April 20, 2013

I have been reflecting on lifestyle commitments for myself as I think towards transitioning back to the U.S. One area that has always been important to me is food/hospitality. As I record these lessons from my kitchen in Nicaragua, I want them to serve as a reminder to myself to keep it simple.


Shank family at our dining room table! Back when we still had 6 bowls and 6 spoons...

Shank family at our dining room table! Back when we still had 6 bowls and 6 spoons…

  • Don’t be so uptight when having people over
  • Nobody cares that you don’t have matching plates, silverware, cups
  • Fighting the dust/dirt battle is useless. You will lose
  • Go ahead, spill things on my floor! I can just mop it up
  • Make people welcome when they come in – offer them cold water. If you’re having 20 people over at a time, this could mean that all you do is fill water cups, wash said cups, fill up water jugs and rotate them in your fridge.
  • Ice = gold. Don’t depend on your neighbor having ice to sell you on a hot Sunday afternoon. Start making ice at least the day before. As soon as your 2 ice trays are hard, dump into another container and repeat.


Cooking mango chicken curry with mom

Cooking mango chicken curry with mom

  • Eat fresh (not canned) food
  • Recipe calls for 1 14oz. can of tomatoes? Chop them yourself! How about a bag of shredded cabbage? Shred it yourself! 
  • Think about packaging. Don’t buy it if the package is bigger than the product itself
  • Reuse the packaging that you do buy. Broccoli comes in plastic wrap? Use it to wrap up your leftovers. Empty glass pickle jar? Use it to store your chia seeds. Empty jelly jar? Hello new drinking glass.
  • Think hard before throwing away food. People literally dig through your trash.
  • Eat seasonally. Even in Nicaragua where it is hot year-round, it is definitely in the “scorching hot” season right now, which means cold foods and drinks top the list.


Recipes we are enjoying right now:

Cold-brewed iced coffee

200 grams (a bit under 1/2 a pound) of ground coffee
4 liters (quarts) of water

Dump the coffee into a large container with a lid. Pour the water in, making sure all the coffee gets wet. Stir. Cover and let sit on your counter overnight. In the morning, strain your coffee through a filter or cheesecloth. Store in a pitcher in your fridge. To drink: Pour into your cup, add a splash of milk and a few ice cubes.

Adam’s Gazpacho

5 med. tomato
1/2 cucumber, peeled
1 green pepper
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
onion and garlic (optional)

Wash and roughly chop all the vegetables. Put them all in the blender. Blend and add oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Best served chilled. Other serving options: dice a little bit of each vegetable to serve on top; serve with grilled cheese croutons (make a grilled cheese sandwich and cut into squares).

Taco Pasta 

(this recipe kind of goes against what I was saying about not using packaged foods, but it is an easy and delicious occasional variation to rice and beans.)

small bag of pasta
2 c. cooked beans
small can of corn
small can of salsa
cumin, oregano, chili powder, salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 c. sour cream
1/4c. cream cheese
1/2c. shredded cheese

Boil the pasta according to directions. Drain. Set aside. Drain and rinse the canned corn. In the same pot where you boiled the pasta, add the beans and corn to heat. Add the salsa, spices, sour cream, cream cheese, and shredded cheese. Stir until combined. Add the pasta and stir.
The beauty of this recipe is that it can be served HOT OR COLD!

Heat, revisited

April 12, 2013

It is that time of year yet again.

Managua Weather Forecast and Conditions

It is hot.

It is lose-your-mind-and-your-motivation hot.

It is sit-in-McDonalds-for-3-hours-with-your-iced-latte hot.

It is sleep-without-sheets-and-two-fans hot.

It is hose-yourself-off-while-watering-the-plants hot.

It is slimy-oily-wet-skin hot.

It is see-a-terrible-movie-just-for-the-air-conditioning hot.

It is peel-your-wet-jeans-off hot

It is don’t-you-dare-touch-me hot.

It is let’s-eat-bowls-of-cereal-for-every-meal hot.

It is let-the-water-run-for-five-minutes-until-it-gets-cold-enough-to-shower hot.

It is so hot all the cockroaches crawl out of their hiding spots and die.


BUT, an amazing miracle occurs at the end of every dry season.  The trees seem to give it their all – even though they haven’t had a drink since November. The trees are exploding with vibrant colored flowers:



yellow tree

These trees offer me a constant reminder that yes, this too shall pass, and that the rains WILL come!

That weekend when we did ALL the fun stuff

March 18, 2013

This weekend was full of new adventures.

On Saturday night, we attended our first big-name concert in Nicaragua. We saw the Mexican band Maná play their last show in their Drama y Luz tour. The venue was the national soccer stadium, which holds upwards of 30,000 people. We hopped out of our taxi and walked along the blocked off road, unaware of the adventures that lied ahead…


We got to the stadium and we had absolutely no idea where to go. We saw a short line and hopped in it thinking, wow how awesome. We got here just in time to avoid a long line! Adam decided to call his dad since he forgot his birthday last week. While he was on the phone, I realized that we were in the wrong line and we had to climb 100+ weirdly irregular steps in order to get to the top. Rounding the bend our faces fell as we realized THIS is where the line was. And it was a huge, huge line that criss-crossed the dusty parking lot. We finally found our way to the back of the line and realized we were in for the long haul.

Oh, and did I mention the dust? It was like standing in a dust storm. Every time a car passed (which was often considering we were standing in the middle of the parking lot), the dust enveloped us. There was a visible layer of dust all over our clothes. My hair was so dusty I couldn’t run my fingers through it. I got an eye infection having so much dust in my eye. You get the picture.

Anyway, after almost 3 hours of waiting in line, we finally arrived at the entrance. We bought the nosebleed seats, which were so high up we had a beautiful view of the Managua city lights.


The opening band was almost done by the time we entered. Maná came on stage around 10:15pm and played a full 2 hour set of their greatest hits. The crowd was INSANE. People knew every single word to every song. They were shouting along so loud that it literally drowned out the actual band.

It all proved to be worth it in the end!


Sunday we went to a baseball game! The Managua team played the Army team. Baseball is Nicaragua’s beloved pastime and it was great to finally experience it for ourselves. The stadium was pretty empty, we were sitting in the shade, it was great! We had great Nica-syle stadium food of vigaron (yucca with vinegary coleslaw on top) which we washed down with ice cold cokes.


Our MCC co-worker Kevin said he thinks the Nicaraguan baseball experience is probably what it was like to go to a game in the 1940’s in the U.S. (but since none of us were alive then, we don’t really know what he meant).

An introvert in an extroverted culture

March 5, 2013




a shy person.

Psychology . a person characterized by concern primarily with his or her own thoughts and feelings.
I just finished reading the book “Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” by Susan Cain. Cain strives to redefine introversion from the obviously negative definition seen above to a more broad and positive one.
From the Amazon review: “In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture.”
There is an interesting section in the book about how culture relates with and affects personality. Cain specifically talks about Asian cultures being uniquely introverted, placing value on studious, quiet individuals who think carefully before speaking.
Cain did not touch on Latin American culture, but from my own informal observations the overlying culture is extremely extroverted.  As an introverted person living in this context, I have often found myself “acting” in social situations.
Here are some instances where I’ve been forced to do something that goes against my nature:
1) Striking up small talk with taxi drivers. (We have been told that by talking to the taxi drivers we show them that we aren’t tourists, but that we actually live here).
I would much rather spend the ride home processing what happened that day.
2) Friends coming over in the evening so I don’t feel lonely when Adam works late.
A night to myself every once in a while is AWESOME, but instead I’m forced to think of things to talk about.
3) The expectation of going to all church meetings (4 times a week) and how people are genuinely concerned when you’re not there
Adam and I have had to make a conscious decision to step back our church attendance to a level where we feel comfortable – 2 to 3 times a week. Also, we’ve realized the importance of letting people know if we’re going to be out of town.
Examples of the extroverted Latino culture:
1) When we lived with a host family, our host dad would see me laying on the couch reading and ask me if I was sick.
2) People sitting out on their sidewalks in 2s or 3s, but rarely alone. Even if they aren’t talking to each other, they feel less “alone” by sitting with someone.
3) In any kind of group sharing session everyone in the group speaks, often at great lengths, rambling sometimes incoherently in order to be heard.
4) Strangers easily strike up conversation with each other, quickly moving from mere acquaintances to calling each other “cousin” or “uncle”.
5) The frequency with which people are expected to give flowery, off the cuff speeches in front of groups. People seem perfectly comfortable going into these situations without preparing beforehand.
In conclusion: I have learned a lot of things from Latino culture and have appreciated the friendliness and how we are welcomed with open arms. BUT, it can be exhausting. I have to make sure to take care of myself and realize that it is ok to define my own boundaries.

Learning Tour from Alberta

February 18, 2013

micah 6.8

Adam and I have been busy this week helping with a learning tour from Alberta. The group works with Restorative Justice programs in Canada and wanted to come learn from the Nicaraguan experience.

We’ve been having a great time interacting with them! Here’s their blog where they have been posting daily recaps.

A tale of two shoes

February 3, 2013

I’ll admit, I have an addiction to shoes. Cute shoes call my name from the aisles of Target and they often end up in my cart as an impulse buy. Usually these cute shoes end up being uncomfortable and banished to the back of my closet.

Moving to Nicaragua and being limited in what I could bring definitely redefined my attitude towards shoes. I had to reduce my shoes to only the most necessary, practical, versatile, and comfortable pairs. In a tropical climate, I wear sandals 99.7% of the time*. So, I’ve spent most of  my days over the past 2 1/2 years wearing 2 pairs of sandals.

These sandals are top notch, have been with me throughout the years and continue to serve me well. However as these troopers begin to wear out it is interesting to reflect back at all the places they have been. Here’s how my 2 main pairs break down:

Me and my Old Navy flip flops during our honeymoon in Mexico

Me and my Old Navy flip flops during our honeymoon in Mexico

Old Navy flip flops
Date purchased: June 2007
Color: Black
Original purpose: All around slippers, beach flops, etc.
Oh the places you’ll go: Honeymoon to Mexico, Outer Banks family beach trips, countless beaches in Nicaragua, and the shower once or twice daily.
Current condition: The right one just broke – the thong part separated from the sole

Proof that Chacos really are versatile! Hiking through mud and then out to dinner later

Proof that Chacos really are versatile! Hiking through mud and then out to dinner later

Date purchased: May 2004
Color: Black
Original purpose: Versatile shoes to go on Cross Cultural
Oh the places you’ll go: Guatemala for EMU cross cultural, Honduras free travel, Chicago MVS, Spain to visit Adam, College at EMU, Hiking on our Honeymoon in Mexico, Switzerland, countless miles logged in the streets of Managua, and all over Nicaragua.
Current condition: I got these re-strapped and resoled before coming to Nicaragua, so they are living their 2nd life. They have since been glued back together twice, once by a shoe repairman that sits in front of the grocery store  and once by Adam and a bottle of super glue.

It’s been kind of nice to rely on 2 pairs of shoes day in and day out. I see my Chacos as kind of my fashion trademark. I know most Nicaraguan women would never dream of wearing shoes so “unfeminine.” They love their heels! As I transition back to the States, I realize I will need a major shoe overhaul. I just hope I can remember to look for quality ones, to be surprised at how long I can wear them, and not be tempted by those cute, cheap, uncomfortable ones.

* To be completely transparent, here is a list of all the other shoes/sandals currently in my closet:
– Chaco leather flip flops (to go with brown outfits)
– Dansko Mary Jane heels (Sunday shoes)
– Tennis shoes (to get my workout on)
– Gold strapped wedge sandals with heels (to go on a hot date)