Tuesday, December 9, 2008

all in the family

Whether in the States or south of the border, December brings invitations of all kinds. Over the past week, Manna PDs have been invited to numerous end-of-the-year festivities taking place in the community, from parties to school ceremonies to hilarious singing holidays! Participation in these events usually means a) we are the only gringos and b) we have no idea what we are getting ourselves into…

First was Enrique’s promoción ceremony from sixth grade to primero año at Niño Jesús de Praga, the local Catholic school. Next was Norma and Lester’s First Communion on Sunday morning. In both occasions we sat in our seats amongst a sea of Nicaraguans, a very close knit community that welcomes us warmly but stares with such curiosity, thinking, “Who the heck are these gringos and why are they here?”Yet among the stares and long ceremonies and “gringa, gringa!” yells, we find it such a privilege to be invited to these events. In rural Nicaragua, they are the milestones of life that mark a sweet coming of age and will be remembered with a special fondness. Graduations, communions, holidays- these are events to be celebrated with family, and although we’ve been in Managua for only five months, I have grown to love these people as just that. Yesterday as we thanked Yamileth, the joyful mother of Enrique, Norma, and Lester, for inviting us to participate so richly in her family’s life, she simply said, “You all are also my family.”

As relationships here strengthen and we are invited more and more to be part of significant life moments, differences that once seemed so evident fade. Meandering through the Catholic church with a Nica child holding each hand, I forget that I am very tall, very blue-eyed, and very much not hispanic. Situations that once seemed awkward or foreign are now just life. We’ve been embraced by a community here in deep friendship, and I am so often caught off guard by how natural it is to call these people family. Before heading home next Tuesday, there remain a Purisima celebration, a birthday party, and a graduation to attend… What a blessing that in leaving one family behind in the States, we find another in Nicaragua!


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

conquering the bug

This week crackers and ginger ale have been in high demand. Sickness hit the Manna house with full force! With Nikki away in the States for med school interviews, there were only seven of us here to hold down the fort. And the stomach bug dominated us seven for seven. Lovely vomiting passed from Mose to Emily to Christina to Michael to Josh to Maddie… and the cycle was complete when Tressa threw up two days ago. Sick people taking care of sick people leads to general lack of hygiene and some pretty foul smells. But thanks to lots of Gatorade and Immodium, we’ve conquered the bug and are now back on our feet! (Although I’m not sure Tressa has left her bed or eaten anything today.)

On a happier – and healthier! – note, Josh (our go-to construction man and veteran PD) has been working hard on a series of wooden structures to be used at Tesoros de Dios (Treasures of God), a local school for children with disabilities. He was contracted by Jackie, a professor at Worchester State who has served at the school, to build equipment to aid the school’s physical therapy program. He has dreamed up, designed, and constructed a large round rocking “pig” that encourages kids to maintain their balance… and a sturdy square walker to assist children in learning to stand on their own... and there are more inventions to come!

Josh’s creativity in construction shines through in these projects, demonstrating the way that Manna allows each PD to pursue his or her passions. Additionally, the construction serves to foster a cool bridge between MPI and this unique young school, with both organizations combining their resources and strengths to love on Nicaragua. Just an example of how MPI overcomes the throw-ups!

Now let’s hope that our current visitors from Vanderbilt don’t get sick – I mean, how do you disinfect an entire house!?


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

life in the barrio

You’ll have to excuse last week’s lack of a blog entry… I was just too busy cooking rice and beans, taking bucket showers, and killing scorpions. Manna Project had moved to the barrio! Over the past two weeks, the current eight PDs have been doing homestays in Cedro Galan and Chiquilistagua, two communities in which we work. And to say it was “an experience” would be quite an understatement. Maddie had to cook Nica food for the whole family (for the first time, by herself!). Mose and I got a little (a lot!) sick and spent a few days vomiting. Nikki kind of didn’t shower. Christina woke up each morning with children on top of her. Michael learned sign language. Tressa was constantly running away from a crazed grandma (wearing feathers?!). And Josh celebrated his 22nd birthday watching Spanish movies with a 10-year-old. But despite such hilarious adventures, the opportunity to live alongside the families we daily serve was invaluable. Sleeping in a 3-room concrete house, showering with a bucket, hand-washing my clothes… all of these simplicities form a way of life here, a dear existence stripped of the luxurious security of the “first world” that so often forms a bubble of stale and lazy ambivalence. My heart was indeed humbled by the generous spirit of my “madre” Raquel and the way she served me with such strength and grace. It was a modest home – but one brimming with hard work and a deep joyful determination. When life is hard, a purposeful perseverance is fostered. It was a privilege to witness this.

And so we’re all back in the Manna house now (which almost feels like the U.S. sometimes!). We have peanut butter and cereal, flushing toilets, and tile floors – but I’ve learned that everything I really need fits nicely in a backpack.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

day of beauty

On Thursday morning two huge vans pulled up to the clinic in La Chureca, ready and waiting to be filled with gleeful children and excited mommas. It was Milk Day time again… but this morning would prove to be far more exciting than the normal organized chaos of distributing milk, oatmeal, and vitamins to our child sponsorship families. We were taking the mothers and children from the city dump on a field trip! Christina had planned a Day of Beauty…

And so the crowded vans drove from the heart of Managua’s dump to “the land,” a wide open space in rural Chiquilistagua where we run many of our sports and exercise programs. We’d hired two beauticians to treat the mothers to hair-dos, manicures, and pedicures. (Many a Chureca toenail was washed and painted in the mixing bowls from our kitchen, yum). And it was a rare chance for the children to swing, slide, and play soccer in clean, green space.

Little Estéban rolled down the grassy hill over and over. Leonardo loved playing soccer with Michael. Arlen and Arelys just lay in the clover and frolicked around the volleyball court. Arlen was very careful to not “botar” her trash on the ground. “This is not La Chureca. We cannot put our trash on the ground here,” she told Arelys in her bossy little girl voice. (That’s my rough translation of little kid Spanish).

All in all, it was a fun day of rare treats – personal time for moms to be pampered, green play space for the kiddies, and an opportunity for the Manna team to witness the sweet enthusiasm of these children as they experienced a new and clean place to explore.

Highlight: We gave each child a new pair of precious little bitty shoes…


Sunday, October 19, 2008

pizza fiesta

Last week the Manna house turned into party central – a pizza party, that is, with our Advanced English students! The MPI Advanced English class consists of about 15 “adult” students, a group of enthusiastic and sassy Nica kids who have grown to be our good friends. Because the majority of the class is our age, it has been so natural for in-class relationships to grow into solid friendships. We visit their homes and meet their families. Maddie and Christina spend hours each week learning guitar from Gabriel. Mose has a fierce chess rivalry with Fabricio. As months go on, friendships deepen. It’s incredible to see the ways that differences in culture and language fade into the background…

So, for said crazy pizza mixer, we ordered tons of Valenti’s (Nicaragua’s very-Latino version of Pizza Hut) and piled the red boxes high on the dining room table. Drinking too-sweet/too-red Nica soda and eating hundreds of Tressa’s cookies, the crowd played guitar and chatted in a hilariously creative English-Spanish lingo. I found myself astonished by the normalcy and joy in these Nica-gringo connections. The sing-a-longs, jokes, deeper one-on-one conversations… all parts of the night meshed into a beautiful picture of what Manna Project is all about: communities serving communities. Mutual learning, mutual sharing.

And of course a night so dear could only end with a little “let’s throw everyone in the pool completely clothed” fun. Basically, Nica boys are mischievous and have no concern for nice gringa jeans :)

Full of pizza and still trying to dry my chlorine-y clothes,


*Definition. Gringo: white, English-speaking, obviously foreign individual

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

the land of mold and movies

Rainy season has hit Manna Project with full force. We seem to live in a constant state of moistness… our line-“dried” clothes don’t dry so well, a funny smell pervades the storage area, and a layer of lovely green mold is taking over the house (seriously! I pulled a pair of sandals out of my closet last week – completely green and fuzzy.) The bumpy dirt road we drive about five times a day to get to a program facility has recently been less of a road and more of a… rushing river. Suffice it to say, classes have been canceled various times. Not to mention that we got stuck inside our neighborhood last Wednesday night due to a small “flood” at the entrance. Our Nica world just got a little more interesting (and adventurous!) with the coming of the October rain. Yet life continues…

On Wednesday, we took a jaunt to the local movie theater with a group of children from Cedro Galan, a rural community in which we teach. The field trip was one of our monthly “parties” to reward kids for good attendance in Manna’s after-school literacy and math classes. The location of the party was a surprise, although Michael proceeded to tell them we were headed to Costa Rica (they weren’t convinced!). We arrived to the theater in our mighty white microvan… the niños were SO thrilled… and Michael, Christina, and I shortly learned what it would be like to parent a large and rowdy family of thirteen. We herded the children to their seats, arms loaded with popcorn kiddy packs and jackets to fight the air conditioning chill to which we’re now so unaccustomed. “La Isla de Nim” held their eyes for its full length… and taught us gringos some new Spanish lingo. All in all, success!

Weekly lessons learned: a) mold won’t kill you. b) movie theaters are wonderfully chilly...


By the way... our child sponsorship program is looking for more sponsors! Want to help feed a child? Email maryrose@mannaproject.org.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

i love milk days

Today and yesterday saw the voyage of tired yet excited gringos bearing gifts for the children of Chureca (the Managua city dump) in the form of milk, oatmeal, vitamins, and many strong hugs. We just completed our monthly Child Sponsorship 'Milk Day' in Chureca which I'm in charge of coordinating. Needless the say, the week leading up to the milk day is quite hectic. I order the milk on the phone (which in Spanish is sometimes quite tricky!) and it is then delivered to our house by my new friend Lino. I order the vitamins from a local pharmacy which we pick up when we go grocery shopping, and we buy about 50 one pound bags of oatmeal from our wholesale grocery store. We get rather strange looks pushing around a huge grocery cart overflowing with oatmeal, maybe I just like my grains okay?

Our troops arrive to the Chureca clinic at 9am sharp; our tank-like vehicle, the Patrol, is driven through the front entrance (which we hardly ever frequent) laden with the milk day goodies. The rest of the group walks in through the back entrance like normal and we unload everything into the clinic. Arlen, a little girl in the program, insisted on helping me carry in the bags of oatmeal. Her little frame could barely hold one bag while we carry 5 or 6, but seeing her willingness to help was so heart warming! The moms were in their weekly health talk put on by the ministry of health, and as we waited in the front of the clinic, we laughed and played with a few of the precious children running around with their dirt smeared bodies and ragged clothes. Heysell loved drawing on our legs and hands with a pen, while Arelys enjoyed taking pictures with my camera. I divvied up the duties for the day: a photo taker, someone who hands out the milk, a height/weight measurer, one person who records these measurements, and one 'messenger' who takes the mother and child to one of two consult rooms where Nikki, Mose and myself review the child's health and growth with the mother based on their weight and height progression over the past few months. Most kids are plagued by chronic sickness and a weight gain of even half a pound is a celebrated victory! We make sure the children are eating their milk, vitamins and oatmeal, and that if they've been sick or had diarrhea the past month, that they've seen a doctor at the clinic. Today a few children I saw currently aren't enrolled in school, which is a big no-no! I tried to encourage the moms to enroll their kids as soon as possible... we'll see if they start going or not.

Walking through the clinic, tracking mud from my boots across the white tiled floor, I was so encouraged as I glanced around and realized I knew all of the women and children filing through. We've been working so hard to learn their names, where they live, and their stories, and it seems to be paying off little by little. The women confide in us and trust us a little more each time we love and care for their beautiful children.

I love milk days,


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

welcome to our world

Hola! And bienvenidos to the MPI-Nicaragua blog, a weekly glimpse into the ponderings and adventures that life in Managua inevitably brings. Though already two months into la vida Nica (sans AC and hot water!) we are still learning, still exploring, still figuring out what our role is to be within the communities that we serve. Amidst the constant sweat and frustratingly inefficient pace of life, we are often caught off-guard by the sweet spirit of these people – by their shouts and hugs, their joyful resilience, their hilariously crazy driving…

Meet Natan, a seven-year-old boy in our child sponsorship program. He lives just outside La Chureca, the city dump, and suffers from a severe vision problem. For years he has only been able to see with his peripheral vision, always walking around with a cocked head and rolled eyes. A few weeks ago, we were able to get him the glasses he needed. What a gift to watch this joyful little boy see the world head-on and
with the clarity to play normally! He loved on Tressa with such gratitude that morning.

Or visit our women’s exercise class... Welcome to the funniest, most entertaining hour of your life! Blasting the American rap, Nikki and Mose teach cardio and yoga to thirty giggling and hollering Nica women on the floor of a local ranchon (think large open-air straw hut). Not only are we completely uncertified to teach kickboxing, these women have zero experience in the exercise department! Sprawling bodies and unsuccessful push-ups make each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon a hilarious time of sweat, laughter, and precious friendship.

And it is with weekly thoughts and stories such as these that we hope to provide you snapshots of the people and programs of MPI-Nica. May you glimpse the delight we take in living and working in the land of lakes and volcanoes!

Until next week…