miércoles, 30 de mayo de 2007

Blessed beyond words

As my time in Nicaragua comes to a close, I keep thinking of where I was at the beginning of this year and where I wanted to be, and where I am now, and I honestly couldn't imagine a better place. I'm asked constantly when I'm going to return, which makes me sad because I would love to return as soon as possible but also know that I probably won't live here again. At the same time, I'm looking forward to being back in my country and reconnecting with the people who I've been away from for so long.

I have been trying to think of how to thank Geralyn Sheehan, the Opportunity International director, the rest of the Opportunity team, and the community that started Biblioteca "Quiero Aprender Contigo" because they have all taught me more than I could have ever imagined. I have been challenged, frustrated, exhilarated, and incredibly blessed to have gotten involved in this project. Well, they beat me to it. Imagine my surprise on Wednesday when I went to one of the last Board of Directors meetings and found that community members, the Board of Directors, the entire Opportunity International staff, and school students were waiting in their classroom with a goodbye ceremony. Eva Maria, the President of the Board of Directors and the other members organized the entire ceremony, which was more than I could have ever asked for. Students danced folkloric dance, sang a song, read poems, and then presented me with beautiful gifts. Since the library organized a crafts class and a painting class, students from the painting class presented me with a painting that was done from the view of the school with the volcano Mombacho in the background and students from the crafts class presented me with a beautiful hand-crocheted bag. I was blown away by their generosity and their sincerity and only wish I could do something in kind.

I find myself sometimes reluctant to use the word blessing, because I come from pretty secular backgrounds, but I really do consider this year a blessing in my life.

lunes, 28 de mayo de 2007

Destruction and sadness in a small town

Granada, Nicaragua feels like a safe town. Everyone knows everyone's business, the streets are walkable, the houses are brightly colored, and you don't hear of much crime other than petty theft. That's not to say that you throw all caution to the wind, but I've felt safe living here. Until this past weekend. Last Thursday, a single American 49-year-old woman, Lemon, who owns a bar in Granada and has been robbed twice in the past few months, was raped multiple times and hit over the head with a vase that essentially crushed her skull by a group of young male neighbors in their 20s. Other neighbors heard her shouting and somehow managed to call the police, who took her to the hospital, where she lay in a coma until she died yesterday.

I had only gone to her bar twice, a cozy bar with bright paintings on the walls and funky lights and rum infusions, and tried to go a few other times with no success (due to the robberies). Apparently she had had some troubled with neighborhood boys in the past sitting on her stoop and being rude in general, and even had some proof that they were the ones who robbed her house the second time since she lined a back entrance with nails that had the heads cut off and the next day their arms were covered with scratches, but the police never did anything.

Last night I went to a candlelightvigil where more than 50 Nicaraguans and foreigners came to offer condolences and pray together and share the grief. I lift up a prayer for Lemon, but also for all women around the world who have to suffer such horrific deaths.

I feel fortunate to be living with a Nicaraguan family on a quiet street where I know almost all the neighbors. Honestly, I do not feel that much less safe after this incident and do not want you all to be worrying about me. It's a reminder to me that this kind of thing can happen anywhere. The really unfortunate thing is that the police seem to be ineffective in this town because they often arrive late to crime scenes or just never arrive at all and don't follow-up on investigations. Hopefully in the future that will change.

(Some pictures, limited that I have, of the bar, Casa de Limon.)

miércoles, 16 de mayo de 2007

Feliz Dia de la Madre...with a surprise!

About two months ago, I found out that the youth program at my church back home in New Jersey, Central Presbyterian Church, raised $1600 for the Network of Libraries that I'm working to establish here in Nicaragua. I couldn't have been more thrilled that youth so many miles away (and the incredibly hard-working adults that made this happen of course) were able to raise the money to support community-owned lending libraries here in Nicaragua. Through my mom's Spanish-teaching resources, the money was used to buy books in Spanish, and each kid who participated got to choose a book and put a dedication sticker with their name inside. The real question became how to actually get all these books down to Nicaragua. While I've found the postal service to be mostly reliable here, it would have been a great loss for the books not to arrived.

Claire and Kim, the two amazing women who organized the entire project, threw out the idea of me flying home for Mother's Day weekend and bringing the books back, because the children were doing a special service that day and could present the books to me (with the added bonus that I could surprise my mother!). My dad stepped in with the purchase of the ticket and last Thursday, I got on a plane at 7am, and my brother and sister picked me up from Newark airport that night. My mom was having a meeting at a local restaurant and my whole family entered the restaurant, me last. My mom was a little confused and then completely shocked to see me. The brilliant part is that my dad caught it all on his little video camera.

Being back in NJ felt remarkably normal, which sort of surprised me. I hadn't actually been in the United States in 8 months, and I think in some ways I expected the place to change as much as I feel changed by my experience here. Relaxing, stress-free, lots of great eating (Indian, Thai, Japanese...mmm I love different types of Asian food and it's hard to find here!). Plus, the weather was absolutely gorgeous. I could actually wear jeans without sweating during the day and slept with blankets at night. Riquisimo. I don't think I'm a tropical-year-round-type-of-gal, although who knows what I'll be saying come next winter in Seattle with gray skies and constant rain (or so I've heard).

Speaking of which, I will be in Seattle starting in July and already have an apartment! Check out pictures here. It's in downtown Seattle and the apartment building has a Whole Foods, Bank of America, Starbucks, and an 18-seat movie theater that can be reserved. Next step: finding a job.