Wednesday, February 25, 2009

poetry and snow cones

Maddie and I often say that we need a nap and a cocktail after MPI’s biweekly Creative Arts class. Thirty children are a handfull for sure – but when given handbells, drama props, or the deadly combination of glitter and glue, all semblances of order and quiet disappear. So perhaps we were insane to think it would be a good idea to take these students on a field trip, but Granada (a neighboring colonial town) was hosting a poetry festival. Why not expose them to a cultural world outside their neighborhood?

After permission slips were signed and attendance requirements stated, we were left with 14 poetry participants. On Thursday after Feeding Program, Maddie and I loaded the kids in the van and kidnapped Amira and Tressa to help us supervise. The ride to Granada involved many small heads and arms flapping out the windows, some tooting recorders (which they found under the seat, who knew?!), and one stop at a gas station for a poor “I’m going to vomit” niƱo. But we arrived to the festival with children intact. After dividing into groups, we wandered the main city square and meandered among the booths of poetry books. Despite the aura of refinement and literature, I’m convinced that the kids’ favorite part of the trip was eating raspados (gooey Nica snow cones) before we headed for the van to hit the highway.

Although it seems fairly insignificant to take a child to a festival and give her a snow cone, I have been recently realizing just how small is the bubble of a world in which these children live. They go to school and they come home. They play soccer in the dirt streets in their barrio and occasionally board a bus with their mothers to buy rice and beans at the market. And that’s all. No family vacations or school field trips or outings to the movies. No exposure to museums or libraries. But part of MPI’s mission is to empower these children – to encourage them in their abilities and to offer them opportunities beyond their limited world. With this mindset, an afternoon trip to a cultural festival in a new city is not only significant, it’s vital. It can open eyes and expand minds to see that a world of prospects lies beyond what they know as day-to-day life.

With a newfound love for poetry and snow cones,

Thursday, February 12, 2009

maddie reports

In The Manna House-

Two new Program Directors arrived: Kyle and Josh (another Josh! Who would have thought). They're absolutely splendid and have fit into our Manna family perfectly. Both are intelligent, enthusiastic, patient, kind, and most of all…they're boys! Let me tell you, evening out the gender ratio in this house has definitely made everyone happier. Too many girls can get a little catty sometimes.

I kid you not, MILLIONS of fire ants attacked our house twice about a week and a half ago. We think the boys might have disturbed a colony while creating their "man cave" in our unused garage (don't ask, I have no idea), and as a result the ant army retaliated. If anyone is interested, you can kill them with the following: boiling water, water + bleach, or fire. I don't recommend the last option.

As I've mentioned, we have two rottweilers, mother and son. The son may or may not have gotten mumsy pregnant when she last went into heat. Another word of advice: it is pointless to try to keep rottweilers in heat apart, because they will inevitably find a way to be together. We're still waiting to find out if she's pregnant… if not, we're getting her spayed asap.

In Programs-

Microfinance: after reviewing our applications and conducting interviews, Mary Rose and I have decided to hand out five $150 loans and one $100 loan. They'll be making payments twice a month, and each date that a payment is due we will have a meeting with all the participants to discuss how their businesses are doing, offer encouragement, strengthen relationships and friendships, etc. I'm very excited about this program and hope everything will go well!

Creative Arts: Emily and I have decided to make the next 3-4 months "country" themed, and this time we are sticking to our themes! February is Nicaragua month, March is Costa Rica, and April is Ecuador (the location of our sister MPI site). Ecuador might leak into early May, but our summer volunteers are arriving May 12 and will be entrusted with planning from then on out. We're pretty excited about this date. Also, we've realized that the children behave better when doing arts and crafts as opposed to "rehearsing" skits.

Intermediate English: Kyle has come on board with me, which has been a great help. We now tend to divide the class into two groups and thus get more work done/offer more individual attention. My students are getting a little rowdy, and I might have to soon give them the "I do all this for you please respect me or don't come to class" speech… though I'll probably use nicer words. In any case, they're progressing well and have already learned 3 new vocabulary lists.

Child Sponsorship: I've decided to step down from this position, as I wasn't contributing much to the program and wanted more time to plan my other classes/catch up on other work. However, I still manage to make it to La Chureca once a week/every two weeks and maintain my relationships there. We also went to a presentation at Casa Ben Linder today, wherein several Churecan children talked about their new organization (they do radio bites) and passed around photos of their barrio. Needless to say, we MPI people new at least 70% of the people that appeared in the photos. Guess we're doing our job pretty well!

Community survey: Mary Rose and I are about to conduct a community survey on Manna and how community members view us as an organization. This is the first time that Manna has internally conducted a survey like this and we're very excited about conducting it and compiling the results.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009


If you know our cook Elena, you know that she is perhaps the spunkiest of Nicaraguan women. She is sassy enough to keep the dogs in check , patient enough to put up with our 10-people-who-just-got-out-of-college messiness, and just crazy enough for spontaneous fully-clothed swims. Last week, we gave “Mamita” a day off from our home and made a visit to hers.

The ten of us piled into the micro at 9am Friday morning, excited to make the journey up the carretera to kilometer 34.5. The ride was bumpy, to say the least, but we arrived at her humble home soon enough, our stomachs grumbling. (She’d promised us a delicious brunch!) Elena ran out and greeted us warmly, showing us her kitchen and introducing us to her children and nephews and nephews’ children and children’s nephews…

As Elena began to cook eggs over the fire, her daughter Ana taught us how to make corn tortillas from scratch, rolling the white dough in a circle and then slowly flattening it out. We helped stir pancake batter and squeezed oranges for juice, laughing at the fact that we felt like we’d entered Colonial Williamsburg. The kitchen was set apart from the house, a small room with a dirt floor and holey walls. Plates and knives and various unidentified metal tools hung from the cracks in the wooden planks. Yet Elena was in her element, playfully smacking her daughter with a spoon and laughing at our gringo naivete.

So we ate a fresh breakfast and held some fluffy chicks, walked the land and heard about growing up in rural Nicaragua. Again and again, I’m blindsided by the joy of this place and the gracious nature of its people. Elena and her family live hand to mouth. They cook over an open flame. They sleep four to a room and bathe with a bucket and claim plastic lawn chairs as their only furniture. Yet Elena enters our spacious house three days a week, prepared to cook our expensive food and clean our rooms that are cluttered with excessive clothing and superfluous technology. When we stumble into the kitchen at 10am, headed straight for the coffee, she has been up since 4:oo – serving first her own family and then making the trek here to serve our messy family of gringos. With no judgment, no resentment, no bitterness. Elena’s service to us here is a lesson in grace and humility.

Until next week,