Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Friends, I went on one of the best adventures of my life this weekend, not only great because it was on a volcanic island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, but great because it was planned about 4 hours to us actually leaving and going. Those of you who know fine adventure know that the best ones are spontaneous and not well thought through. At 11:30 pm the night before, 4 of my roommates and I decided to go to Corn Island, which demands a plane ride. It never occurred to any of us that the 12 seater plane might already be booked by all the European hippies that wander around Nicaragua living off of their parents credit card and the money they make from selling crappy woven bracelets (among other things) on the street corner. After a two hour wait at the local airport to see if we could charter another plane (because for some reason, we couldn’t just call the pilot and ask) and the poor guy behind the counter having to use the calculator to see if there was any room left on the plane (I am not exaggerating. This happened), we were told that the plane was full and our dreams of laying on the Carribean, drinking out of a coconut, and finally seeing black people again were dashed. And thus, we ended up on Ometepe Island 8 hours later, sitting on a beach situated in between to majestic and terrifying volcanoes, toes curled up in the sand as the monkeys howled greetings from the trees. However, this was after 8 hours of public transportation, which meant a bus ride of standing up down a bumpy road, constantly falling into the waiting arms of the teenage boy in front of me or using the shiny bald head of the man sitting down next to me as leverage. I made both a boyfriend and an enemy on that trip. I rented a horse and galloped full speed down the beach, crashing through the surf with my ponytail flying behind me. I dove deep into a natural spring, and found myself thinking, “I have been here before. About twenty years ago, in my imagination. This is the kind of place you pretend you are as a kid swimming in the neighborhood pool.” In short, it was a feast for my senses. However, that adventure compares little to daily life. Strapping up a hammock on the front porch a house held together by tarps and sticks and waking up to little brown faces peering at you, grinning, beats the heck out of a soft bed and the whir of an air conditioner. Bathing out of a bucket with nothing but chacos on and looking up seeing the sparking stars strewn across a purple sky makes showering under a shower head seem contrite. Having my feet washed by the women in the village because they didn’t want me to return to America with dirty toes is far better than any pedicure a spa can offer. The conversations that have wound on and on sitting in a plastic chair on a dirt porch have formed the person that I am, and that I will be. I know that I won’t ever play Phase Ten again without being brought back to Lucia’s house, sitting on broken chairs, throwing cards on a table made from cinderblocks and pieced up plywood, drinking cold beer from plastic cups. A part of me will always answer to the name “Osita”, which means “little bear” and is what 272 familes in El Chonco have labeled me with since day 1, 5 years ago. I am overwhelmed by the blessings I have experienced throughout my time here. There are far too many hearts here that hold mine together to count, and I am grateful for the people that have made me who I am. They have changed me forever. And I will carry their hearts with me as I return home in July, this time not just for a few weeks visit. After a ton of prayer and equal amount tears, I realize that God is calling me home. I have spent three wonderful years- and the two summers prior to that- invested in an incredible place. I have learned more than I know how to ever adequately explain, and I love more fiercely than I would have before. I come back to Atlanta with those blessings. I am super grateful to all of you who have supported me over this journey and this decision. From front porch conversations to prayers on the run to encouraging emails and phone calls and monetary support, I couldn’t have done it without the incredible community of all of you. I am beyond excited to get to return to that everyday. What a gift. My love and thanks. I will see you all in July.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Go Tigres.

If I were to list out my top ten favorite things to do, that list would include: watching georgia football games in any capacity (ok, maybe any college football games), kayaking down the hooch in springtime and early fall, being on top of tall (but stable) things, sitting on the back porch, anything involving being on the boat, beach bonfires, summertime cookouts, outdoor concerts, non nicaraguan hikes, and Braves Baseball games.

If I were to modify that last one to make it even more perfect, I'd say Braves Baseball Games in Fulton County Stadium during the early 90s, but as an adult. An impossible task, I know. I can't capture the dilapidated charm of FCS coupled with the excitement of a world series title at age 28... or can I?

The Chinandega Tigres proved to me that my dreams can not, in fact, be squelched as last night we sat front row at Tijarino Stadium, game 4 of the World Series. "Dilapidated charm" doesn't even begin to describe the stadium. The only word I can think of that describes it as aptly as I want is "shitty", and I mean that in the most wonderful, shittiest way possible.

We paid $10 for seats that usually go for about $4, and those are the rich people seats. Luckily, the beer is still under a dollar and if you wink at the guy to your right, he'll pour a little Gran Reserva in your cup if you let your elbows touch on the armrest. The vendors have no rhyme or reason to what or where they sell, nor do they care if they are imposing on your personal space in any way, shape, or form. The best sellers in our section were (1)the women pawning off something that came in a pizza box, but looked like it was fisher price pizza reheated (2) The tip top guy, who was selling 2 pieces of chicken and a roll for 60 cords and making the best profit of his life. (3) (This one is my personal favorite just because it is so outrageous) the endangered turtle eggs + salsa vendor. I would make a joke here, but it stands absurd enough on its own. Endangered sea turtle eggs. Topped with salsa. All sold for 50 cords. Don't tell PETA.

As Nicaragua usually goes, the game was crowded because they sold more tickets than they have seats, so we spend most of the game sitting on the stairs, narrowly avoiding collisions with sea turtle man or the kid selling the bags of mangos that look sketchier every time. We were surrounded by raging Tigre fans, who brought a giant stuffed tiger that they would launch into the air to crowd surf anytime something good happened. Our boys were taking good advantage of both the tiger and the $1 beers, which proved to be a success round about the 3rd inning.

During innings the loud speakers was alternating between "Don't stop believin'" and "Enter Sandman", but things switched up halfway through the game and from somewhere back in 1997, the Macarena starting blaring. Josh, Joey, David, and Jackson were on their feet in an instant, on their chairs/stairs, turned towards the crowd, doing the Macarena. For about 3 full minutes. That's right. They held off the game to finish the song and allow every nicaraguan with a camera to have a successful youtube video career after posting the 4 of them dancing in perfect sync. When the song was over, Josh took off his hat and receivied a standing ovation. And it was on national television.

There's a gringo on the team, Shawn Bowman, from Canada. I am still not sure he's attractive, but its on my bucket list to date a professional baseball player* (*we'll forget that he's a canadian chinandegan baseball player- but at least he made it to the world series. and all these years of lusting after tom glavine have gotten me nowhere). So I took matters into my own hands, and I wrote #29 an encouraging note, on a pizza box, which was delivered by the ball boy after the 4th inning. I had to make it witty, because he's canadian and they are usually self depricating and hilarious (to make up for being from canada). However, in retrospect, I am pretty sure he thinks I am going to have sex with him. I invited him to join us for Hochi Dochi (the new corn dog place) and I don't think I made it clear enough that that wasn't a euphemism. I'll keep you updated if he calls. He did score 2 back to back homeruns after the note, so something good has to come of it, I say.

Chinandega won the game, and the gringos won the stadium. Post game, the boys rushed the field. I looked up to see David running around the bases, full speed, with a crowd of triumphant nicaraguans behind him. Joey was throwing a pitch to josh from the pitcher's mound, and Jackson was holding up the tiger to bleachers full of drunk, singing fans.

So if I can't have Fulton County Stadium and 1995 back, I will embrace 2012 and the tigres.

Monday, March 1, 2010

If I were to create some sort of montage of the beautiful places I have seen in my life, it would probably be quite the youtube video. I'd put some sort of U2 song in the background, with Bono singing his poetry over each photo. You'd see the sunset's myriad of colors over the rocks at Poneloya, you'd marvel at the blues of the ocean in France- noting how each shade is richer than the next yet just as pleasing to the eyes, you'd want to reach out and touch the rock formations at Joshua tree, you'd feel the silky white Seaside sand under your toes, you'd see history played out in front of you in Rome, you'd smell the sweet honeysuckle branch from the North Georgia mountains, and you'd hear Atlanta's song as the stars twinkled over the cityline. However, this weekend, I hit the summit of Telica volcano and all those other sights faded away. saw something my eyes had never met before. Smoke poured out of the crater, the sound of lava gurgling like the ocean below. Next to the crater laid a field filled with grass and sprinkled around the edge with palm trees. if you scrambled over the rocks and looked to your left and right, you'd watch the line of volcanos puffing little white clouds here and there. The green farmlands slept after a long day's work in the sun, and the twinkling lights of the city danced as houses came alive with people returning home from their jobs. To my right, the sun began to rest his heavy head, while, to my left, the fat full moon smiled on us, lighting our path back to our campsite. As the group began to drop to sleep, I quietly excused myself and wandered out to the field. I couldn't help but remove my shoes, silently singing to myself about standing on holy ground. My bare feet soaked up each step in the soft grass, rejoicing in the cool night air. The moon was full and fat, proclaiming harvest, but tragically hidden by thick clouds that I can only attest to the crater that I so (foolishly) willingly sat only 50 yards beneath. The dark edge of the volcano was only made more ominous by the moonless night, and I couldn't take my eyes off of it, watching the white smoke linger against its black outline.
Before I knew it, I was praying. I broke the silence of the night and my words tumbled into the air. Being alone in a field, in a volcano, in Nicaragua, I took full advantage of talking as much as I wanted to, and I didn't stop. I talked to the Lord about my inequities and my fears, fussed at Him for not comforting my heart, then begged forgiveness for the fussing. I questioned, I praised, I cried. As I was demanding to know my purpose in this country, I realized something. The words that had been coming out of my mouth had not been English, but Spanish. And the comforting whispers of the Lord had been in that same tongue. I paused, and noticed that my field had been alluminated. Directly above me, the clouds split, and the moon grinned, shedding light on the leaves of the trees and the blades of grass. The wind wraipped it's furious arms around me, and God quieted me with His love.
And yet again, I heard my call to this place.

"These mountains, which have seen untold sunrises, long to thunder praise, but stand reverent, silent so that man's weak praise should be given God's attention."- Donald Miller
(thanks to ML for introducing me to a few great literary works)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Casa, sweet Casa

Well, good folks, I am home. Or, more appropriately, my second home. It's been a week of cold showers (which I have evaded by boiling water in a pot and pouring it over me with a cup), falling asleep to the lull of a fan, and Patricia's cooking. I haven't been here in nearly six weeks, and my heart has missed this place dearly. However, I can tell you with full affirmation that I have not at all missed the sheer honesty of Nicaraguans.

Apparently, I gained weight over the holiday season. My size six jeans are still fitting comfortably, but, according to the Nicaraguans, it's "showing in my face".

Allow me to give you a few examples. If I were a less confident girl, I might be in shambles right now.

My friend Hazel came over for a slumber party last week, and we dressed up, fixed hair, makeup, all the girly essentials that one must go through in order to have a proper sleepover. She sat on my bed, picking up my shirts and carefully critiquing each one. She was gingerly handling my strapless pink shirt with a grimace on her face, "I don't like this one. It's ugly. It's too sexy." My quick response, per usual, was, "You told me I needed a new boyfriend. If I am going to accomplish that goal, I need a sexy shirt." Without missing a beat, Hazel replied, "If you want a boyfriend, you're going to need to lose some weight."

Benito, our truck driver, who is no jewel of body image himself, was standing behind me the other day, whispering with his counterpart, Hector, our bus driver. They were both giggling hysterically. I whipped around, demanding to know the course of their laughter. Grabbing my stomach, Benito managed to get the message out through his chuckles, "We've been needing an extra tire for the ford."

I took Tobias and Pablo, two of my dear hearts from the Villa, to the town pool. (That is a post all in itself, wait with bated breath for that one to come). I was stretched out on a towel, begging for the sun to kiss my body, as my friend Carolina pointed out to me, "You are whiter than a sheet of paper." So here I am, already a little... well, less than positive about my body image (to say the least), and Pablo came over to me, patting his protruding belly. "You're getting fat like me. Do you still run everyday?" he asked, as if this were just a normal conversation starter.

Though it is more than wonderful to be back, to feel the Nicaraguan soil beneath my toes, to have hands constantly reaching to hold mine, to have Spanish flow out of my mouth as if it were my own, to be reunited with friends who act as if six weeks apart has been an eternity... but it is not always nice to be back to honesty.

Someone get me a slim fast.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

After being in Nicaragua for 4 summers and the past several months, I've been trying to put my finger on what exactly draws me here, and what keeps me here. I could go the easy route and claim that its the people who have the hold on my heart, but I know it's something much deeper than that. My dear friend Iris was describing it recently, and I think she found the perfect answer to my quandry. "We feel more here," she explained. In every sense of the phrase, Iris is correct. At home, when it gets a little too warm, you adjust the temperature of the room, you roll down your window, you jump in the pool. At home, when your shower isn't hot enough, you turn the dial. Things change for you, you don't change for them. In Nicaragua, however, it's the opposite. You are forced to feel the heat of the sun, and to learn to enjoy how it kisses your face. You make yourself love cold showers, you get used to the shivers that take over your entire body when you turn on the water. At home, you sit two seats away from people in the movie theater. Here, there's three people, not to mention someone's pet chicken,perched on your lap on the bus ride home. At home, everyone stays in their respective lanes on the road and a drive anywhere is usually uneventful. Here, your heart takes permanent residence in your throat whenever getting into a vehicle, because each ride is filled with the exhilaration of high speeds as you veer into other lanes to narrowly avoid knocking over horses, cows, peleways, and people that often crowd the road. At home, you compliment a cute baby, and they politely thank you and walk away. Here, you compliment a cute baby, and the next thing you know, the kid is in your arms and the mother is patting your shoulder. Even God's very nectar, Coca Cola, is sweeter down here due to the sugar cane. Iris is right... you just feel more.

Now, ordinarily, I would say that this is a good thing, feeling more. However, recently, I experienced a feeling of MORE that isn't comfortable, and I don't know how to acclimate myself to like it.

What is it, you ask, that I am feeling MORE of down in Nicaragua?


I don't mean this in any sort of poetic or profound sense, by any means. I haven't discovered something new about my self or my heart that is causing me to fear.

Oh, no. This "something" I discovered comes with several beady eyes, hair, eight legs, and very sharp teeth prepared to chomp me into tiny bits at will. That's right, folks. There's been a security breach here in the Casa Blanca, and something told the tarantulas they were welcome to join in the party with the mice. Let me be the first to say that this is not ok. Just as the mice had to be evicted, we are going to have to take drastic measures with these 8 legged monstros that are parading around my house. I can deal with beetles. I can deal with moths. I can even deal with the occasional roach. However, last Monday I awoke with a tarantula situated comfortable on my neck, probably planning how many ways he was going to eat me.

Needless to say, I've had a little bit of trouble sleeping comfortably these days.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

After 4 years in Athens, 3 years in an elementary school classroom, and all my combined time in Nicaragua, I have seen my share of amazing.  I could sit with you all day and marvel over the extraordinary, and find ways to make the ordinary spectacular.  The cynical would call me easily amused, but I prefer to think of myself as one who remains in awe.  I think we were created for wonder, after all.  The sky has really been doing in for me the past few evenings.  I don't think the sight of a puffy white cloud resting on a pink and blue western sky will ever get old to me. I certainly hope not.

The story I am about to tell you, however, can not be filed under any sort of small wonder.  This is my share of amazing that ought to bring a tear to your eye, that ought to give you hope, that ought to find you looking for the greater metaphor and the highest of hopes.

Her name is Sasha.  We did not come into friendship with each other until just this past summer, though we had both heard the other's names in the Nicaragua circle, always formidably.  She'd come to Nicaragua many times before, but always in the weeks after I had returned to my classroom, so I never had the pleasure of her company.  And what a pleasure indeed.  For the two weeks I spent with her, we spent most of our time laughing and sharing our hearts, trying to figure out exactly what the Lord was doing with us. Our hearts were drawn to the other, both finding so much joy in the other's company.  Simply put, it was lovely.  

For Sasha, however, her time in Nicaragua has it's moments of bittersweet.  Her years before had found her scaling the volcano at top speed, shoveling selecto until the sun took its rest behind the mountains, and showing off on the field like only a NYU soccer player can do.  

This year, plans were different. Last November, Sasha's heel got caught in the grate of her fire escape and she tumbled off,  leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.  With that one night, Sasha's life changed drastically.  What I admire so much about this young woman is what she did with that change.  I can not imagine that state I would have allowed myself to rest in, the words I would have shouted at the Lord or anyone else who tried to offer me any sort of comfort or help.  Sasha refused to let her anger override her will or her purpose, nor would she let her injury define her.  So, in August, she boarded a plane to Chinandega as she always had in the past, refusing to forsake what she loved.

There was no shortage of help for Sasha to provide.  She shoveled, she carried, she played, she cleaned, she loved, she hoped.  It was almost the same as it had been before, minus the obvious differences.  She could participate in nearly everything as she always had.

It's that "nearly" word that drove her crazy.  "Nearly" everything.   

One clear Sunday, we took the group to Cerro Negro, per usual.  Cerro Negro translates into English, roughly meaning, "My own personal hell."  This volcano, though I conquer it every single week, still continues to mock me.  I might win the weekly battles, but she is absolutely still winning the war. There are two ways to climb it, the "easy way" and the "hard way".  I prefer to call them the "Scenic Way" and the "I'd rather drag my teeth down the highway going 80 than go this way" way.  The former is straight up, most of the climbing on your hands and knees on the ash.  For every two steps you take, you fall back three in the loose rock.  The very first year we climbed it, it was April and sweltering hot.  The sun refused to back down and I found myself next to John Bland, my boss.  John looked at me, held up his empty water bottle and returned his gaze to the neverending climb that ascended before us.  "Kelly, don't be offended," he began, "But i've been praying for the last ten minutes that this thing would errupt so we could just go ahead and die and not have to climb the rest." 

On the Sunday that we went with Sasha, she sat at the foot of the monster, sketching it with charcoal and taking in the day.  Though outwardly she seemed pleased with her afternoon plans, she had a hint of unease.  When I asked her about it, she simply said, "It occured to me that I won't see that view again.  I wish I would have taken it in better the last time I climbed it."  She shook her head, and brought herself into a better mood, showing everyone her artwork.  The next week when we returned to the volcano, Sasha did not come with us, understandably.  

Her time here grew shorter, and each day presented a new adventure, as it always does.  And though everything was wonderful and new and fantastic experiences surfaced daily, Cerro Negro still loomed.  One morning, John had had enough.  Gathering up a few of the staff, we made our way to that awful thing with determined hearts.  The scenic way, though typically easier, was much rockier and would have been too much of a challenge.  This left us with only one choice.  With smiles on faces, providing our own pump up music (El ojo de tigre), we began to ascend Cerro Negro, Sasha situated on the backs of the men in the group.  For an hour, we climbed, the boys trading off as carrier so often.  And there we sat, at the top, looking out at the greens and the blacks and the blues of the landscape as if it were the first time and as if it were the last time.  It was the most beautiful I have ever realized it to be, each color serving its different purpose to make a masterpiece. We sat in awe, drinking it in, (and each smoking a cigar, without doubt the greatest cigar of my life) Sasha called her dad (each of us, at this point, turning away as to not show anyone else the fact that we started weeping as soon as she said, "Hey, Dad- guess where I am!") and then, each of our hands finding anothers, we prayed.  Earnestly and emphatically and gratefully, we prayed.
I don't have words to describe the feeling that washed over each of us that afternoon; there was a peace and an exhilarition all at the same time. Nothing is comparable, but that's ok.  I don't want anything to be.
We made a video of sorts of the entire adventure, from struggling up to the tumble down (we took out the cigar scene and replaced it with us singing a cheesy Christian camp song with hand movements, because we figured it would sell better to the baptists that way).  Check my facebook for said video, as I don't know if I can post it here.
There are all sorts of metaphors and stories I can pull from this, but for now, I will let you take it in on your own.  
God is good. That's about all I know.  He's tricky, but, in the end, He's good.