Sunday, October 3, 2010

Me Hace Sonreír Cuando...

Since coming to Nicaragua I have gotten into the habit of journaling every night before I go to bed. Spending a few minutes reflecting on my day has been both therapeutic and rewarding for me. It provides me with a chance to note highs and lows; moments of grace and moments of solitude; place in my life in need of growth and places where I have grown. I was flipping back through my journal the other day and stumbled upon some reflections that I did in August. After doing my normal daily reflections, I wrote out at least four things that brought a smile to my face that day. As I re-read my daily ‘smiles,’ I remembered the feeling of joy that accompanied each high and thought I would share a week of highs in the life of Andrea in hopes that it may bring a smile to your face as well.

Sunday August 8

1. Getting caught in a rainstorm with three residents from Pajarito Azul and laughing as we got soaked to the core

2. Sitting in the back of a bus and flying out of my seat every time we went over a speed bump

3. Music selection in Nicaragua… Getting a taste of Lady Gaga and The Eagles in the same five minutes

4. Buying food from the market and filling our fridge with fresh fruits and veggies

5. Waking up without an alarm and thinking that sleeping until 8:00 is sleeping in

6. Climbing on Patrick’s shoulders to get grapefruits off of the tree in our yard

7. Walking to Mass from my house

Monday August 9

1. Seeing someone I know on the bus after feeling a slow start to my Monday

2. Receiving hugs and ‘Te quiero’s’ (I love you’s) as soon as I walk into work

3. Learning how to perfect the art of making refried beans from a Nicaraguan friend

4. Accidentally falling into the compost pit because I made the mistake of emptying the compost in the dark without a flashlight

Tuesday August 10

1. Enjoying a day off work to celebrate Santo Domingo

2. Putting on my favorite music and recalling all of the reasons why I love a certain song

3. Passing an afternoon with good friends and good conversation

4. Being given a bag of chocolates and in the same breath being told that I can eat them all (chocolate is not easy to come by in Nica)

Wednesday August 11

1. Making maracas at work

2. The patient smile from a co-worker when I stumble over a new word in Spanish

3. The feeling of relaxation I get from cooking

4. Being able to share how I’m doing in community and listening as others do the same

Thursday August 12

1. Cracking jokes, laughing, and being silly with residents at work

2. Enjoying breakfast with a community mate (which doesn’t happen every morning since we all have to be at work at different times)

3. Hopping my favorite bus to work in the morning (there is one bus in particular that I love taking to and from work because it’s extra bouncy and this day was my lucky day because it came by right as I was walking to the bus stop)

4. The refreshing smell and sensation of an afternoon downpour

5. Finishing a book and starting a new one

Friday August 13

1. Visiting a friend’s house and being deeply touched by her family’s humility and happiness as they offered me a chair and soda

2. Reading Where the Wild Things Are in Spanish

3. Buying a tortilla and cheese for two cordobas (the equivalent of about 10 cents) from a neighbor

4. Baking a delicious dessert and calling it a good Friday night in Nica

Saturday August 14

1. Going for a run in the rain (if you can’t tell yet, I really love the rain here)

2. Trying to do a pull up and laughing at how far I am from success

3. Seeing my room and the house transform after a good cleaning

4. Listening to Irish music and pretending I’m good at Irish dancing

So there it is- the things that not only made me smile but make me fall in love with Nicaragua. Hope you enjoyed!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Vida de Videos

I know, I know, it’s been far too long since I last updated. I would insert a few excuses here but they would all be sorta lame and I’m too excited about sharing some sweet videos! So grab a bowl of popcorn and some Milk Duds and get ready to catch a visual and musical glimpse of life in Nica.

Back in February or March, a mutual friend of Patrick and Thomas (two fellow Jesuit Volunteers in Nicaragua) sent the two of them a video project that she did with her students. In the video, the students asked Patrick and Thomas questions about Nicaragua and, being JV’s with creative and playful imaginations, Patrick and Thomas filmed and created the following video in response. I wanted to share it because it shows some of the daily sights and sounds and excitement of my life. Plus, I make a debut appearance!

Below is the video that Patrick and Thomas responded to in case you are interested in viewing it as well. 

The next three videos are music videos of songs that I currently enjoy. I chose these particular three because there’s a little bit of English in all of them and they’re all quite popular right now, which means that I hear them all at least twice a day (so it’s a good thing I like ‘em!). Welcome to my daily musical soundtrack… I hope you enjoy!

Although I’m a little embarrassed to post an Enrique Iglesias song on here, I have to admit that I haven’t loved an Enrique song as much as this one since I was in seventh grade… 

As the World Cup theme song, this song makes me feel so united to the rest of the world, especially with the language mix. I loved experiencing the World Cup from another country because I witnessed how empowered and excited Nicaraguans were to cheer on a team and follow the games up to the final one. I just imagined that this enthusiastic energy was emanating from all over the world and that made me feel empowered and excited. Now every time I hear this song, I relive those feelings. 

I would venture to guess that most of you have heard the song “Stand by Me” before but I especially love this version because the words and music are set to a bachata rhythm. Bachata is a popular style of dance in Nicaragua that’s super fun and, even better, gringos usually aren’t half bad at it! 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Finding the Power to Do What I Cannot

Going to the post office to pick up the mail for our house is always an exciting task; after all, who doesn’t love getting mail? About four weeks ago, I stopped by the post office after work and was pleased to see a letter in our box with my name on the outside. I came home and read the first paragraph of the letter and then saw the following words: “I’ve been reading your blog. I’m glad to hear that you’re doing well.” I laughed a little to myself at the irony because the truth was that throughout most of March and April, I was not doing well. I felt that I have not been totally open in my blog posts if I am giving the impression that all has been well over the last six months. Since reading this letter, I have wanted to share some of my struggles but have been hesitant to admit that life has not been the peaches. At the same time, I set up this blog to share my experience with friends and family back home and if I only share the good, then how can you all be a part of my whole experience? So even though I am hesitant, I have finally worked up the nerve to share the low points that have been integral to my last three months in Nicaragua.
Ever since my arrival back in December, I have struggled with language and homesickness and ever since beginning work in January, I have questioned if I am a good fit for Pajarito Azul. I was trying to take it all in stride, as I have expressed in previous posts, but by the middle of March, I was crumbling beneath the weight of these burdens. I could not understand what was being said to me in Spanish, much less express my own thoughts; my heart ached and deeply longed for the comforts and familiarities of home, family, and friends; and every day at work I felt that my capabilities were not sufficient enough to serve the residents at Pajarito. I was carrying all of this around, not fully knowing how to deal with it and on Easter Sunday, I hit a breaking point.

I spent most of the day in tears trying to work through all of my thoughts and emotions. When I called home, I told my family that I was not sure if I could stay in Nicaragua. I was totally depleted at that point. All I wanted was a hug from someone who knew me, but I could not even have that until at least December. Everything that I desired in that moment was so far away. I talked with my family, released more healing tears, and listened to what they had to say. When I hung up the phone I did not know how long I would be in Nicaragua but I did know that I needed more time. As much as I wanted to return home, I felt that if I did so I would be running from the very challenges that had the potential to transform me. I decided that I would give myself the chance to face these challenges head-on and if I still felt disconsolate, I would go home knowing that I gave it my all.

Thankfully, March and April were full of fun distractions (trips to the beach, visitors from Belize, etc.) to help me along. However, every time I slowed down, I could not shake the feeling that maybe being in Nicaragua was too much, maybe I bit off more than I could chew, maybe I was not meant to be here. I kept going though, remembering the pact I made with myself on Easter.

One morning in April, I woke up feeling especially sad, lonesome, and homesick. I made my normal forty-five minute morning routine last about an hour and a half. I did not think I had it in me to make it one more day in Nicaragua, much less go to a job where I did not yet feel comfortable and then try to communicate in another language. I sat down in a rocking chair feeling defeated before the day even started. Staring back at me from our coffee table was a prayer book. I reached over, picked it up, and began flipping through the pages when I came across the following quote from St. Augustine: “Do what you can and then pray that God will give you the power to do what you cannot.” I thought to myself, “Okay, Andrea, you might not feel like you can go to work today but you can get out of this chair and walk down the street to the bus stop.” So I got up out of the chair and I walked to the bus stop. When the bus came around the corner, I heeded St. Augustine’s words and I prayed that God would give me the power to at least get to work, as I was unsure if I had the strength to do so. I climbed on board the bus. Once I sat down, I said to myself, “After you get off of the bus, you can walk into work and say hi to your co-workers and the residents.” I then prayed that God would give me the power to have conversations with my co-workers and to have fun with the residents. I walked into work and did what I could, praying that God would help me along. I took the entire day step-by-step like this and somehow, someway, by the end of the day, I had made it through.

After this particular day, I used this method to help when I felt homesick or inadequate at work or with Spanish. I did what I knew I could do and prayed that God would help me go one step further. By May, I was feeling better. I continued to take life day-by-day, moment-by-moment and sometimes it was (and still is) two steps forward and one step back. Nevertheless, there was (and is) forward motion. About halfway through May, I noticed that I was feeling more comfortable so I began to set a challenge for myself at the beginning of each day. Some days it was small, like saying hi to someone I don’t normally talk to, and other days it was bigger, like working with a completely different group of residents. I quickly began to see how pushing myself to go further at work was drastically improving how I felt there. Additionally, the better I felt at work, the better I felt in Nicaragua and the better I felt in Nicaragua, the less daunted I felt by the next year and a half.

Now I write to you on the first of June and tomorrow marks the six-month anniversary of my arrival in Nicaragua. I’m proud to have made it this far, especially in light of the hurdles I recently faced. I feel that the small steps I have taken throughout the last six months, and especially the last three, are beginning to add up to something worthwhile. I still have hard days at work, I’m still working my way through Spanish, and I still miss home but I can say now that I’m doing well and that I want to stay in Nicaragua. I’ve been given the opportunity to grow so much since December 2nd and I’m excited to see where the next year and a half will take me but if tomorrow or the next day or someday a year from now I wake up unsure of myself, I’ll remember to do what I can and pray that God give me the strength to do what I cannot.
As I was reflecting on what I wanted to say in this blog post, I messed around on Paint on my computer and began doing a mini-mural of what has impacted me in Nicaragua thus far. Since it helped inspire this post, I’m including it for you to interpret it how you wish!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Photo Update!

As the weather is getting hotter (which I didn’t think was possible), life in Managua seems to be getting busier! This past month was packed full of trips, visitors, and quality community time. And I have pictures to share of all of life’s recent happenings!

El Salvador 

March 24th marked the 30th Anniversary of Oscar Romero’s death. Romero was a bishop in El Salvador in the late 70’s who spoke out for the rights of the poor was killed by the military in the middle of offering a Mass. Even 30 years after his death, Romero symbolizes empowerment of the poor and fidelity to the Church in Latin America. As Jesuit Volunteers in Nicaragua, Romero’s life is an inspiration to us and a reminder of our call of accompaniment of the people in Latin America so all seven of us decided to travel to El Salvador for the annual march commemorating Romero’s death. 

This is a statue of Romero where the march began. We marched from this statue to the Cathedral downtown where we all celebrated Mass together. 

There was plenty of time to hang out before the march and all seven of us took advantage of that!    

Before we started walking to the Cathedral, there were a number of speakers. Patrick and I, along with our friend Bridget, are intently listening to one of them. 

Beach Trip!

Two times every years, Pajarito Azul packs up two school buses with food, sunscreen, towels and takes a trip to a beach called Pochomil. I always love going to the beach and going with Pajarito was extra special and extra fun! Here’s a few candid shots of some of the residents and workers as they take a dip. (You might notice that there is a lack of bathing suits… Well, Nicaraguans don’t wear them. They simply swim in underwear or shorts and shirts.) 

Semana Santa (Holy Week)

For Holy Week this year, three JV’s from Belize City came to visit. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with some people I had met this past summer at Orientation. 

Easter just isn’t complete without a good Easter egg hunt on Sunday morning. In order to properly prepare for the egg hunt, we dedicated a few hours to decorating eggs.  

On Holy Saturday, we attended Mass at this community called Batahola Norte. They have incredible services there and, as you can see in this picture, there is a beautiful mural at the front of the Church. This is all of the Nica JV’s plus the visiting JV’s. 


The final highlight of this past month was retreat last weekend. We traveled to a small community called La Garnacha about four hours outside of Managua. La Garnacha is up in the mountains so the weather was cool and the scenery breathtaking. The retreat provided us with a much-needed chance to spend time together, reflect on our work and lives, and share our highs and lows. 

The view of the sunsets from La Garnacha is absolutely breathtaking... I couldn`t get enough!

After one of the morning sessions, Amber and I were doing some re-energizing for the following session. 

Since the nights were cooler (I actually wore a sweatshirt!) we would gather around the warmth of a fire. Here are the boys and Lauren trying to get the fire started. 

Well, that hits all of the major highlights from the last month of life in Nicaragua. I hope you enjoyed the visual update! Thanks for stopping by the blog. :)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Walking with Jesus

I love Lent. I love singing “We Rise Again from Ashes” on Ash Wednesday. I love Stations of the Cross. I love the idea of being united to all other Catholics in sacrifice and prayer as we try to make our lives more like Christ’s. I love fish fries. I love having an excuse to incessantly listen to Jesus Christ Superstar. I think you get the picture. While I have always been invigorated by the Lenten season, being in Nicaragua and experiencing a different type of Lent has deepened my love for the Lenten traditions that I have known for the past 21 years of my life. Sure, Nicaragua is a very “Catholic” country but it seems that the Lenten traditions from the States are simply not as present here. As a result, my desire to be surrounded by what I thought were typical Lenten devotionals and sentiments (Stations of the Cross, “giving up” something, somber Church decorations, etc.) has not exactly been satiated. However, this past Friday one of my favorite Lenten traditions shook hands with my new life here in Nicaragua.

One of my community mates, Christine, works at a grade school run by a group of nuns. One of the nuns, Fabbiola, heard that there is a nearby community known as Motastepe in need of ministry. Within this community, there is not a Church, much less a priest who is willing to say Mass. Fabiola tried talking with a priest from her neighborhood to see if he would be willing to say Masses in Motastepe once a month. Unfortunately, he would not agree to do so. Fabiola took matters into her own hands and declared that she might not be able to say Mass for the people of Motastepe but what she could do was bring the Stations of the Cross to them. This week I was lucky enough to be able to go with her.

I was excited to partake in a Lenten tradition that has been absent from my time in Nicaragua but I was not really sure what to expect. On Thursday night Christine told me to wear tennis shoes and bring a water bottle. I showed up at her work on Friday afternoon as prescribed and off we went with a small crucifix, a candle, a guitar, and a Stations of the Cross book. Fabiola had arranged for different families in Motastepe to set up little altars with flowers outside their house and we brought our Stations supplies, did one station at a particular family’s house, and then invited the family to continue walking the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) with us. Our crowd grew slowly. We sang together and prayed together at each house and in between, we walked together. I felt so empowered by the people of the pueblo (village) and was honored to walk with them. The prized moments of the Via Crucis passed slowly and as we strolled by houses where women were washing clothes, kids were playing in their cloth diapers, and dogs were meandering in the yard, I was sure that Jesus was walking the stations with us. I captured those moments and that feeling in my heart and knew that any expectations that I may have had were met and then some. It was unlike any Way of the Cross that I had walked in the States.

As some of you may know, on Friday my Grandma underwent an open-heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. Receiving the news of her surgery last weekend left me feeling lonesome, worried, and doubtful of my presence in Nicaragua. I spent the whole week thinking of my Grandma and my family and praying for the best. Thankfully, my mom called Friday evening to inform me that my Grandma was waking up from a successful surgery. I released a huge sigh of relief. She then passed to phone off to my Grandpa. I spent a few minutes chatting with him but we had to cut the conversation short due to a bad connection. As we said goodbye my Grandpa said, “Keep walking with Jesus, Andrea.” To his wish I replied, “I will.” At the moment it had been an instinctive reply but as I hung up the phone, I recalled the events of the day and knew that was exactly what I wanted to say. So, yes Grandpa, I will. I will keep walking with Jesus.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


This past week for Spirituality Night, one of my community mates asked that we all reflect on what our spirituality means to us. After spending some time in quite meditation, we then expressed our spirituality in some creative form. I chose to write a poem. Since this is my debut on the poetry scene, I thought I would share it on my blog before I go and try to get it published. (Just kidding.)

Here’s what I came up with. I’ll just say that I think it would partner quite nicely with an interpretive dance….

I inhale. 
I sit quietly
I feel the wind all around me
I feel the Spirit all around me
O Great Spirit, breathe your life-giving element into me
Awaken me
Awaken my senses
Enliven my own spirit with

I exhale.
I stand
I am aware of my shortcomings
I feel them gather in my lungs
I breathe out that poisonous air
I release
I release myself.

I inhale.
I lift my feet
The Great Spirit’s breath carries me away
May I be free like the leaf
Free to dance 
Free to fall
Free to live
Free to be.

I inhale and I exhale, breathing the Breath of Life.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Call of Duty

I am officially a working woman! Last Wednesday brought about my very first day of work at Pajarito Azul and I have spent this past week getting settled into the routine of an eight-to-four job (a stark contrast to the leisurely lifestyle I was leading for the previous two weeks.) Throughout the upcoming months I will be working with a different group of residents for one week and after I have spent time in each area, I will decide what my role will be for the remainder of my time in Nicaragua.

I began my excursion of Pajarito Azul in a room called Hogar Ositos. The residents of this room are a mix of toddlers and low-functioning and immobile adolescents. My first week was overflowing with diapers, bottles, and baths as well as smiles, laughs, and games. I instantly fell in love with the kids in this room and the work that came along with caring for them. When there was not a diaper that needed changing, I took to holding one of the Ositos. I passed much of my time this past week in a rocking chair talking to a little one in my arms. That is until yesterday.

I arrived at work yesterday knowing that it was my last day with the Ositos for the next few weeks and, having grown quite fond of them, I was prepared to spend the day with a child on my lap. However, after being at work for about an hour, Maria, one of my co-workers, told me that holding the kids was not a good idea. I didn’t understand. As far as I could tell, it was a great idea. Not only did I love that part of my new job, but the children in Ositos rarely have someone to give them a hug, much less spend a significant amount of time holding them. It seemed to me that they were craving that personal attention and love. As I stood there looking perplexed Maria explained to me that when I hold the kids they grow accustomed to frequent and close personal contact. Thus, throughout the past week when I left work at the end of the day I left the kids crying and longing to be held. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough workers at Pajarito to continue holding the kids the way that I had been.

I was immediately hit by a wave of emotions. I was embarrassed that I had not realized my oversight sooner; I was disappointed that I could not spend my last day with the Ositos as I had originally intended; but most of all, I was disheartened because I simply did not know how I was supposed to spend time with the kids if I couldn´t hold. Maria continued to counsel me and explained that there are other ways to engage the children, such as taking them for a walk in their wheelchair or playing a game with them. I could certainly spend time with the children but I just had to do so in a manner that does not leave anyone in tears when I leave. Although I was still embarrassed, disappointed, and disheartened, I now understood what my co-worker was trying to tell me: I have to be sure that my interactions with all of the residents can be sustained by the staff after I go home at four o’clock and even more importantly, when I return to the U.S. in two years.

Establishing a sustainable role in my job is one of the challenges at the heart of my work as a temporary volunteer. Since I am only here for a short while, I cannot make the residents of Pajarito so dependent on me that when I leave they are not able to continue as normal. I do not anticipate that I will be irreplaceable at the end of my time at Pajarito but Maria’s honesty reminded me of the balance that I will constantly have to keep in the back of my mind as I continue my work. I fully intend to give of myself the best way I know how but I must do so without disturbing the normal order of my workplace. At times this might mean that I have to sacrifice what I think they need (like I did yesterday) and at other times this might mean that I have to give more than I thought I could. However, these are the very challenges that will remind me of my call of duty: to be with the residents and accompany them in their daily lives. And that is something I can do.