From "Creed," by Dom Helder Cámara

I want to believe that the whole world

Is my home, the field I sow,

And that all reap what all have sown.

I will not believe that I can combat oppression out there

If I tolerate injustice here.

I want to believe that what is right

Is the same here and there

And that I will not be free

While even one human being is excluded.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Check my Nicaragua Photos on Flickr!

I didn´t realize you needed a Snapfish account to see photos on Snapfish, so here are my new and improved and very public Nicaragua photos, on my Flickr photostream. Someone let me know if this link works, please. Enjoy, and ask plenty of questions...


Granada, Nicaragua. Colonial city, tourist haven. Site of a two-day camping trip with my commate Tobin. Also the epitome of a Nicaraguan reality, according to Heather Moline: cultural whiplash. These two words have defined my last two weeks, and are going to define my next two years. That reality has been uncomfortably settling in my soul for a while, but I became cemented into my inevitable ride on the cultural whiplash in Granada, when a passing man with a blotchy brow shoved a spa coupon into my hand. The coupon advertised "an American breakfast featuring pancakes, followed by a dip in our pristine pools, and a European massage...all for $6!" I wasn't interested for budgeting reasons (we took an entire vacation for $15), but I let the awkward contradiction set in. $6 could buy a couple meals for the toothless woman I had just passed in the street. Or two full plates of typical Nicaraguan food. And yet there was the of the many ever-present contradictions in this country. Emaciated-horse-drawn carts slowing motorcycles and Japanese SUVs. Shoeless children taking a break from cleaning windshields for cash in the streets by hanging out in front of their cable TVs. Buying a cell phone instead of two months' worth of breakfast. My presence in the country. All contradictions. I am a passenger on a shocking ride through the dichotomies of rich and poor, industrial and agricultural, American and Nicaraguan. This isn't just the expected "culture shock" of adapting to newness. I'm adapting to the whiplash of being who I am, baggage and preferences and all, in a controversial world.I've spent most of the last two weeks with my JV community. We shared life stories on retreat at a gorgeous private lakeside cabin, only to hop on a jam-packed urbano (city bus) headed for chaotic Managua. We spent Christmas cooking, feasting, and exchanging Secret Santa gifts, only to emerge from the locked gates of the Ciudad Sandino volunteers' house into a street full of whistling chavalos (young men), firecrackers and the smell of mondongo (cow intestine soup). Disclaimer: being on the Cultural Whiplash is much cooler than not riding at all. But there's something very disconcerting about the Spanish-style architecture in Granada, where Easter egg colors, Euro cafes, a wide variety of gringos and chinos (a non-PC term for Asians) give way to poverty, trash-lined streets, and the traffic-strewn, sweaty ride to Managua.No, don't stop the coaster. Because I think I'm going to get used to it, to the point that I won't know I'm riding it at all. Perhaps someday I'll feel equally at home riding an urbano as playing Scrabble with English speakers.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


As part of our in-country orientation, the new Nicaraguan JVs spent a week in homestays with families in the barrios (neighborhoods) where we will live for the next two years, and in the campo (the word for rural Nica where farming is a dying part of life).
It´s one thing to stay with a middle-class Managua family down the street from my room. Keep in mind, of course, that midde-class in Nicaragua means you have running water (sometimes) and sometimes a fridge; forget signs of US middle-class life (cable TV, washing machine, windows, rooms etc.). Though I didn´t have a mattress and was a little wary of the cleanliness of fresh veggies I ate with my Managua homestay family, I was still within my comfort zone. I had the luxury of drinking chlorinated drinking water and could leave the house to relax in my room in the JV house if I wanted. I felt extrmely comoda y relajada with them.
The campo was a step beyond. Teh poor farming families are those who suffer most from capitalism, imprisonating--whoops, I mean ¨free¨--trade agreements, global warming, and American foreign policy. I was extremely nervous to live as they do for a few days, despite my cheery commate Sean´s smiley It´ll be like camping! assurances.
Encima de todo, what I was exposed to during my homestay was my own privilege. To be rich and educated enough to participate in JVC and thus to be with that family was a privilege in itself. Here are some more I considered:
  • Water. When their simple well runs dry, they use an ancient bull to lug galloons of lagoon water from kilometers away. It broke my heart to hear Mama Candida talking about how less water means less life. Because I have a weak stomach, I drank my own water from a 2L bottle I had brought from Managua. And drinking it, however nourishing, made me feel gross inside--I can afford to protest a weak stomach. They live with the realities of parasites, bacteria, and drought. I also bathed with a bucket and realized how very superfluous showers are. (Personal challenge to readers!! Take baths instead of showers to fight water shortages and live in solidarity with the poor!!)
  • A toilet, and, shall we say, reliable digestive patterns
  • Refrigerated food and a varied diet. We´re talking rice and beans for at least two meals a day. Someone devour a salad for me and remind me of the taste.
  • A bed, a mattress, and a quiet room at night, free from wandering chickens and bugs.
  • Money. Estadounidenses talk about it all the time. Nicas, who have far less of it, never talk about it. 80% of Nicas live on less than $2 a day. As I dashed for the latrine one morning, I realized I had spent 150 cordobas (around $7) checking for healthy...digestion...a couple of days before. That´s 3X what the average Nica lives on everday. Is my stomach more important than their lives?
These are things I am privileged to have. But there´s the rub. Life isn´t about things. In the campo, I also learned about love. Campesinos share everything. They touch, hug and hold hands with acquaintances. They smile at their 18-hour work days. They love naive, bizarre visitors with impossible names like Heather. And in a way very few of us will ever understand, they live better lives. Makes me wonder...who´s really privileged in the end?

These tidbits don´t fit narratively, but I wanted to include a few verbal snapshots of the campo...
  • Three birds, four dogs, a bull, four chickens and an irresistible orange kitten trek the property
  • Mama Candida was explaining to me that the father of her children is never around and drinks a lot and abuses her, when I heard a pail of precious water getting kicked over behind me. I turned and saw a disheveled man, slobbering somewhat, with bloodshot eyes and a huge satchel over his shoulder. Speak of the devil. He comes to their home for lunch and dinner every day, saying nothing, and leaving quickly after eating. Probably to drink more. It was totally normal for Mama and her children, but I have never wanted to punch someone so hard in my life.
  • The following crops grow a short distance from the front door: coffee, two kinds of oranges, two kinds of plantains, bananas, cilantro, jamaica, espinaca, squash.
  • From their land, I saw the smoking cross-topped crater of the St. James volcano, and the angry blue ripples of the Venice lagoon. Took pictures with a disposable camera; will hopefully be able to pass them on.
  • My favorite food is now and forever will be fried, mature plantain. Until I get tired of it, which might happen quickly, so never mind what I said.
  • We went to bed at 8:30 and woke up at 4:30 to desayunar (eat breakfast) before three kids had to take their daily two-hour trips to work and school.
That´s all for now! Know that I am still happy, healthy, safe, and learning. Trying to figure out pictures in the meantime. Stay tuned. And...send emails and letters. Or just read my blog, that makes me happier than anything.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Departure and Arrival

Part I: The best is yet to come!
The night before I left home, I wrote this. ¨Crying. Deep sadness. The end of an era. THE BEGINNING OF ANOTHER. You know the best is yet to come.¨

Before dawn the next day, as I said goodbye to my old dog and Oregon paradise, and to my parents for at least a year, I was sobbing and questioning my sanity, certainly. But a thought occurred to me as I lost sight of my parents in the security line. The best is yet to come. Those of you who really know me will be wondering whether Michael Buble began to serenade subconscious. This thought went deeper. I suddenly felt my feet on a supportive ground, my breathing calmed, and my soul grinning. Goodbyes are rotten. But the Beatles always have it right. For every goodbye, there is a hello. And if you believe that your happiness is up to you, that hello will be fuller and more powerful than the goodbye, if you let it be. Pun intended.

I took a class from a Greek Orthodox priest, a pleasant, bearded, Robert DeNiro look-alike who thought himself very wise. Sometimes he was. He´d recite his beliefs with merciless certainty, but I liked the fella for his indominable spirit. The following schpiel rolled off his tongue as he dangled a leg off a sagging desk...I´ve jazzed it up a bit. ¨The lovers part wondering if they´ll ever smile again. Neither can any of us predict what sort of human beings we will become. The flower goes to bed at night not knowing whether she´ll awake the next day. Every end leads to a beginning, whether or not it can be seen.¨This makes me feel hopeful about life, and death.
I will allow tears, the cleansers of the soul. But I will rejoice in what I feel now. Here´s to the people I will meet, the love I will share, the experiences that will claim a piece of my heart. The best is yet to come...and babe, won´t it be think you´ve seen the sun, but you ain´t seen it shine...

All endings are also beginnings. We just don´t know it at the time.
-Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Part II: Verbal Snapshots of Managua
There´s no way I can blog adequately about the mountain of change that I am climbing. So instead, I´ve taken a few pictures-in-words and hope you will be able to imagine yourself climbing with me.
  • Beautiful brown eyes, most of them young, miraculously hopeful, and staring intently
  • Much like Tijuana (never actually blogged about my times there, but you can read this), only the sprawl of Managua rises out of a subdued jungle that has bloomed in the rainy season...Now is winter, which implies 80 degrees F everyday. Ha.
  • La Virgen Maria adorned in palm leaves and Christmas lights
  • Huge red and tiny black ants, skinny clingy cats and mangy dogs, cockroaches and scorpions, pet ducks and geckos that laugh
  • Images, statues and tales of el heroe Augusto C Sandino por todas partes, usually accompanied by brightly colored propaganda promoting the saviordictator (depends on who you ask) El Presidente Daniel Ortega
  • My fellow JVs ¨platicar-ing¨with chavalos (kids) on the street, jamming on guitars or making gallo pinto or pancakes for their energetic, annoying newbies (Heather, Meg=Tobin, Tony, Adrienne, Bianca)
  • TVs, computers, and DVD players in houses made with latrines, fading tin, adobe and plastic bags. Ah, the pervasiveness of American culture
  • Ditches, trash, cars, US and Chinese imports and packed multicolored urbanos (Managua buses) sharing the road
  • Sounds of firecrackers, merenge (YES), bachata, Rhianna and Eminem (NO), carols to La Virgen, self-assured, eloquent parrots, water vendors screaming, children whispering, and chavalos whistling. Oh, and lots of Spanish. AYYYIIIII!
That´ll have to do for now, friends. Safe, happy, and healthy, I am currently staying with a Nica family in the barrio where the JVs live, instead of in my room in the JV house. Monday, I´m slightly nervous to be going to the campo (rural Nica) to stay three nights with a family there. How are you and what are you up to? Know that I love receiving mail and email, no matter what you have to say.

My mailing address:
Heather Moline-Jesuit Volunteers

Stay tuned for word from my stays with families, and for PICTURES!