Monday, November 17, 2008

Watch Your Step!

As we begin a new week and I reflect on last week, I am convinced that by far the newest and most interesting experience had to do with sending the cows home. You may remember that one of the many projects toward self help and sustainable development has to do with cows, chickens and seeds. Well, after much planning and changing of plans and selecting of new settings for seven cows, all came together on Friday afternoon. We trooped out to a rural spot where the seven recipients and some spouses were waiting along with lengths of rope and one very large truck. We rolled up our pant legs for obvious reasons and went to look at the cows, all of which have been declared pregnant! The folks began to choose their cows and I was walking around in my trusty Keen sandals which have tractor treads on the bottom. Well, tractor treads work well in rain and mud, but with a large cow paddock, they just fill up with manure! These are really terrific shoes and I am most grateful to a dear friend who insisted that I needed a pair and gave them to me as a gift. They are water resistant, supportive and give great traction.

At any rate I was equipped with my dandy digital camera “attempting” to take photos of each cow and new owner. I more or less succeeded. I kept being warned not to get too close because despite the reports of contented cows, that seems to be a myth. Someone had failed to orient the cows as to the reality of the next phase of their life. For the most part they had no intentions of changing residence and made that clear. One in particular was REALLY resistant and presented a great challenge.

Eventually, after much pushing, pulling, prodding, coaxing, threatening, etc. they managed to get her into the truck with two other ‘transfers’. Some cows were being walked to their new homes since they were only five or six kilometers from home base. Needless to say, I was grateful that the water was still on when I returned home. First the shoes were scrubbed and brushed and ‘dug out’. And then the wearer of the shoes was scrubbed! Thanks to the generosity of friends of the sandal wearer, three of the cows were financed in addition to the four which were part of another project.

I’m getting ready to fly north for a month and mentally trying to imagine COLD!! It sounds terrific right now but I have a feeling that it will be a different story when I’m in it. Anyway, I’m making a list of “things to bring back” and you’d laugh at some of the items: can opener, sink strainers, Teddy Grahams, sturdy shower caps, etc.!! I will be gone from Nicaragua between December 8th and January 11th. I will blog if I have a chance. If you don’t hear from me, it might be that my fingers are frozen and can’t type! However, I will welcome the change from HOT!!

Thanks for your interest and support. Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the States. I’m very aware that I’m in another country and that this special day is only for folks who are citizens of the United States.

Pray for this country. We just completed elections for the mayors of each municipality and there was obvious fraud involved. This is causing many problems and who knows how it will be resolved.

Love and gratitude, your sister, Jeanne

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Feast of All Saints “Each of us in process!"

November 1, 2008

Saludos de Managua!

I’ve been reminded by more than one friend that I’ve been remiss about posting a letter in my blog. So, I shall sit me down and chat with you for a while. Thanks for being faithful to checking the blog frequently. I have a “site meter” which allows me to see the frequency of visits – not e-mail addresses, but the servers that have checked in, and I see the same ones over and over. Such fidelity!!

This past week we had wonderful celebrations as we remembered and gave thanks for twenty years of ministry through Cantera, the NGO with which I am ministering, and for the many people who have been part of this venture. It is very impressive to realize the tremendous amount of development that has been effected by this group of dedicated Nicaraguans.

We had an outside Mass – under tents!! One can never trust the weather here! It was so beautifully representative of all the sectors of our ministry. At the Offertory a wide variety of “gifts” were brought forth and their significance explained. One is rightly proud of our people from both rural and urban areas - the children, the youth, the young adults and our wise elders. After the Mass, which was full of whole hearted singing and participation, we had a fine Nicaraguan style meal – Indio Viejo and rice! There were over 200 people present from all areas of our work and from the States, Canada, and other Central American countries.

The following day we had a forum which was sponsored by some of our international supporters. It took place at a hotel and all who are a part of Cantera or who cooperate and/or support us, were invited. And again they came from the hills and the cities and the international organizations and networks. We had a most energizing day with input in terms of development and growth and progress of our people and the celebration of their many accomplishments over these past twenty.

We also looked toward the future and dreamed of possibilities for even further and deeper growth. We enjoyed folkloric dancing and theatrical skits and music. The displays of past events and accomplishments and products was impressive, to say the least. And seeing the pride with which our people demonstrated and displayed their successes was a joy to behold. Of course, food was also part of this day. However, it was more in the style to which you and I are accustomed; that is to say, it was not red beans, rice and bananas! Yum!

Concerning the “farm animal project” to which many of you have contributed, three pregnant cows are ‘coming home’ this week and another in November. I had hoped to include photos of our bovine mamas. I took really nice photos. The cows all smiled and stood still….but they are not on my chip. I don’t know where they went. They just plain disappeared!! One of our team is going to try again today to get some photos. If they arrive I’ll send them on to Ruth and she will graciously add them to the blog! Nothing happens quickly here, but it does eventually occur. You just have to have lots of patience and hope!

Have you read any good books lately? I’ve recently devoured, “Mountains Beyond Mountains” – Dr. Paul Farmer’s fight against TB, AIDS, and poverty in general in the ‘back of beyond’ of Haiti. Another book that you’ve probably read or seen the movie produced from it and which I enjoyed is, “Kite Runner”. The most recently read was, “The Power of One”. I seem to be into international - Haiti, Afghanistan and South Africa! If you have a suggestion of a book or movie/video you’ve enjoyed and learned from, please send a comment letting me know. I have heard that “The Secret Life of Bees” is now a movie and that “Shack”, “Three Cups of Tea” and “A Thousand Pleasant Suns” are also very good.

I don’t have a photo of this, but I want to share with you a beautiful practice our little ones are taught. When they enter the room they toddle over to the visitor with their hands folded upward symbolically asking a blessing. They come to you and place your hands over theirs and say, “Santito” (little holy one). It never ceases to touch me. The other day in front of our “casita”, a little lad was pushing his smaller sister in a stroller. Both of them greeted me with their hands folded.

I will be in the States from December 8th until January 11th. The time will go quickly as I will be spending Christmas Week with my family in St. Louis and the first week of January in retreat in Cleveland. But….in between times I hope to meet up with you and share the “ongoingness” of life! I’ll probably “blog” again before ‘flying north’. I’m mentally preparing myself for the opposite extreme of weather!

Until the next time, let us keep each other in positive energy and light and do whatever we are able to bring peace, reconciliation and unity to our corner of the world. Many thanks for your support which comes in many different forms. You are loved and appreciated, each one of you.

Love, your sister,


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Celebrate Life

Greetings from picturesque Nicaragua! As I write to you today, I’m aware of so much rich life contained within this area of our planet Earth. And all of this richness amidst so much poverty. For example, as I sit in my office here at Cantera I can see gorgeous and abundant plants, trees and flowers. But even more importantly, just outside the office and ‘over the wall’ there are presently, eleven beautiful and gifted youth working away at painting the front wall of Cantera’s offices in honor of our 20th anniversary. I will send photos soon and you’ll see the beauty and creativity of this project.

All sectors of Cantera’s involvement, both urban and rural, came up with the ideas and the artist directing this activity wove them together into this beautiful manifestation of hope and life. All the figures and symbolism intricately woven into this work of art represent the wide variety of Cantera’s works and activities. We are very proud of what has been accomplished and are hopeful for the future of this Center of Communication and Popular Education.

Three Sisters of St. Joseph work here in the midst of many committed Nicaraguans, attempting to influence the future of this beautiful but very, very poor section of Central America. Today, the youth promoters from the rural areas, where I am present in the areas of spirituality and community health, are putting some final touches to this impressive work. They take great delight in working painstakingly on each section. Daniel, Sulma, Maria Elena, Belkys, Alba, Norelis, Nadesda, Jessica, Brenda, Fernando and Dominga are wonderful examples of our hope for the Nica future. They are leaders in their rural areas and share and live the leadership training and enrichment they have received. Needless to say, we’re very proud of each of them.

Yesterday I encountered two other particular examples of beauty and life as we visited families in the comarca, Los Filos. One stop was to greet our promoter, Johana, who had given birth to a beautiful little girl, Sabrina. I was delighted to hold her and gaze on this newly arrived gift of God, a miracle of life, a new dawn, a new expression of hope for the future. Did I care that my khakis were wet from her diapers? Not at all! We then went to visit a widow and her two adult children, Blas and Patricia. Dona Benita is a wonderful example of the valiant woman who tends her large farm built on a hillside at the ‘end of the road’ and does so with joy, gratitude and an energy that is remarkable. I kid you not; hers is the LAST dwelling greatly separated from any other neighbor at the end of a LONG, VERY NARROW set of tire tracks that is pure MUD. We went up hills and down hills and slid and ‘danced’ in the pickup. But our very capable driver and friend, Pedro, did an excellent job of keeping us upright and moving forward! I had visions of spending the night with Benita and family as it began to rain, but we hopped into the truck and off we went, back over the terrain we’d traversed a couple of hours before. The Senora was so delighted to see us and had prepared lots of boiled corn for us to munch and some special tortillas to take home with us. Of course, there was fruit from her trees, as is always the case when we visit our campesinos/campesinas.

All of the above is to say that I celebrate LIFE daily here in Nicaragua with and through our people who are such good role models for me. And at the same time I’m so aware of the injustice that permits such poverty within our family of sisters and brothers for the grand majority here and in so many parts of our global village. I’m grateful for the privilege of sharing life with my Nica family and at the same time give thanks for each of you who are supportive, interested, and share this mission with me.

Love and gratitude,
Your sister, Jeanne

Friday, September 5, 2008


"preparing the shrine"

As I report once again from the land of the Nicas, I am aware that several more folks have been checking this blog periodically. That feels good and it helps me be more aware of our connectedness no matter where we are geographically. It also reminds me of how small our beautiful Earth has become because of our relationships. I’m grateful for each of you as we journey together.

We continue to experience LOTS of rain and because of that, greenery abounds. We have very fertile land here and are more than able to feed ourselves AND many others, but agricultural products are being exported for a higher price in order to produce biofuels in other countries. That does nothing to adequately feed our own people. And for sure, the people who labor to produce the corn and soya don’t gain anything more for their hard work.

Most recently I spent a Sunday with our folks in Los Planes de Cujachillo as they celebrated their religious feast of Our Lady of Nancite. I had experienced quite similar celebrations in Peru but of course, each country has its own history and traditions. I started out very early so as to arrive on time at the bus terminal in order to hop on a bus that ALWAYS leaves at 7:30 a.m. – but it became evident that this is not the case on Sundays! There are always alternatives and so I caught another bus that took me part way and then jumped into a ‘mototaxi’ (motorcycle with space attached for anywhere from 1 to 6 people depending on how crowded the driver considers safe!) These three aspects of the journey cost me a total of 10.5 cordobas (about 60 cents). A couple of taxi drivers offered to take me “the distance” for 100 cordobas! I laughingly told them I wasn’t a tourist and would decline their offer! They were good natured and laughed along with me. Light skin is worth the effort!

"during the procession"

I was early of course, and so I waited and eventually the makings of the motorized shrine came along. Final preparations were made and we started our procession which was probably six kilometers long from the beginning point to the chapel. My friend, Jose, suggested that when we came to the end of the paved road I get into the truck cabin with him. That was especially appreciated because by the time we arrived at that point it was pouring. I had my umbrella which I was trying to share with an older woman who kept getting out the “range” of said umbrella, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get pretty wet! The nice thing is that one dries out rather quickly - and so it was.

For those of you who are wondering about “the hair”, I did manage to keep it dry! We were accompanied by a sousaphone, trumpet and drum and we sang and prayed and shouted and other appropriate things. The people were delightful and were pleased that I made the effort to accompany them. It was not important to them that they were drenched to the skin. Young and old alike were enjoying this special event so dear to them.

As we drew closer to the chapel there were three places where a rope had been tied at some height above the road. There were plastic bags hung along the rope and each contained some food item like a banana, a pineapple, beans, chips, candy etc. and when the truck bearing the picture of La Virgen de Nancite was underneath it, there occurred loud playing of instruments, shouting and joyful ‘noises’ as the rope was loosened and it was a ‘free for all’ with everyone scrambling to get something! Mass, complete with six baptisms - including precious, identical infant twin girls - followed the procession. After Mass we enjoyed a kermes, a variety of many wonderfully prepared typical foods. All in all it was a wonderful time to celebrate with the people.

"traditional accompanying folks"

Thanks for “tuning in”. I appreciate each of you and your interest and support of me and this Nicaraguan venture. Hopefully, you’re learning something about our people and the lives they lead albeit, very different lives than most of us are accustomed to. May we be instrumental in whatever way we’re called to do so, in making life more equitable and just for our sisters and brothers wherever we are. Thanks for whatever you do in this regard.

Love and Gratitude, Your sister, Jeanne

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dear Friends,

I haven’t forgotten you!! By no means!! However, for the past two weeks I’ve had a gift in the visit of my dear friend, Marie Benzing, c.s.j . Needless to say, I didn’t do things like post blog info! The parent’s of one of Marie’s 1st graders gifted her (us) with frequent flyer miles so she could come to Nicaragua during the summer school break! Are we both grateful?? Response: a definite SI!!

Marie has arrived in Managua

While Marie was here we visited areas where I spend my time with the people – the rural hill country. We also had time in a retreat house which is the home of the St. Agnes Sisters of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. We did a bit of sightseeing and riding of buses (an event!!), attended a birthday party - Nicaraguan style, and experienced the Nica culture in many ways and met lots of my new friends and colleagues. Marie confirmed the fact that I am indeed at home here and am happy in the midst of much newness and challenge.

This is me with Evangelina, a wise woman of the pueblo

While here, Marie, with her gifts of artistic creativity and photography, put together a power point presentation, “Discovering Nicaragua”, which you can enjoy if you encounter Marie or when I’m home in December-January. All in all it was a blessed time and we are most grateful to the Fishers who made the trip possible!!

Meet my wonderful friend, Marie

Now life is back to a more ‘normal’ pace and I’m catching up on work in the campo and office matters. Sunday I plan to attend the fiesta of the folks in Los Planes as they celebrate their local patron, Our Lady of Nancite! More about this after the event! I’ll take my camera so you can visualize some of the experience.

This is me, Jeanne, a.k.a. Juanita, with friends of all ages - Los Planes de Cuajachillo

What has touched me over and over and was confirmed by Marie’s experience here, is the warmth, beauty and generous sharing nature of our people. They are simply open, responsive and loving. In the midst of very little of this world’s goods, they find beauty and joy and celebrate that. They work hard, trying to eke out a living and they continue to grow in the awareness of their individual goodness. They are aware of the effect that their collective planning, energy and determination can have in bringing about change, albeit in small matters, in an oppressive system that keeps them in poverty and inequality.

Thanks to the generosity of a number of you we are able to provide four women with the cow they so desire so that they can earn additional money from the milk, cheese and future calves. The people pay back, over a period of time, 30% of the cost and that money goes to their local community for needs and improvements that they collectively decide are priorities.

Well, enough for now. You are in my thoughts and prayers and I ask the same of each of you. Thanks for ‘tuning in’ and keeping up on life here in Nicaragua as experienced by your sister, Jeanne!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

¡Hola amigas y amigos!

Greetings from the sunny (as opposed to rainy!) cool breeze environment of Managua. I’m sitting in my office with all three windows wide open and enjoying the beautiful greenery in front of me! The last time I wrote it was our Fourth of July and yesterday we celebrated the big liberation day of Nicaragua. The 19th of July in 1979 was the triumph of the people over the dictatorship of Somoza. There were LONG speeches and lots of horn blowing and music. Everybody took a break and enjoyed the day so important to them.

Since I last ‘blogged’ I have had a variety of experiences which included a couple of days of vacation during which I actually saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time since I’ve arrived. I also came to know two representatives of our Spanish benefactors. The folks who generously support us with grants for projects usually come to visit to appreciate what’s being accomplished. This group has a Jesuit base and is called ALBOAN. This word is Basque (northern Spain) and means ‘walking at the side of’. Now that certainly fits! They indeed do walk at the side of sisters and brothers who are growing and developing their own future. I was particularly pleased by the way Fernando explained how spirituality fits into our entire program. That’s what I’ve been working with!!

Javier and Nora were delightful to be with, and last Sunday we made our way to a rural community, Las Parcelas, where we met in the one room school and the folks shared the projects they were pursuing. We had a very good “snack” which was more like a meal and then went to visit the seventeen beehives that several of our young people manage. We stayed at quite a distance!! These bees are African bees and get ‘irritated’ pretty readily!! Next month, we have fifteen folks from France coming to visit us. We’re very international!

One of the more ludicrous things that happened occurred when we picked up
some of our folks as we were going to our monthly meeting of our community leaders. You’ll remember that I mentioned the pregnant cow, chicken and seed projects last time I wrote. Well,there’s another aspect to this program and it has to do with pigs.

They’ve worked at improving the breed
of pigs and when mama pig has her litter, they are weaned, shared and/or sold to others in the community. The new owners in turn keep the project going when they have a litter. Well, it seems that the last of the eleven pigs, one named Muneco (Doll), of Mama Pig was being taken to our rural community to be shared with a young, single mom. Of course, Muneco traveled with the folks in the bed of the pick-up truck. He had been scrubbed to within an inch of his pink existence and the owner was not about to have him soiled upon arrival so she diapered him, put him squealing and screeching into a sturdy bag and then hoisted him into the truck. I felt bad for the little critter! Here he was being taken from his mother, tied up, embarrassingly diapered and then ‘sacked’! Well he arrived clean and quiet, and then proceeded to lay down refusing to move for most of our meeting. One never is quite sure what each day will bring!

It’s not at all boring and I’m enjoying the novelty of each day. There is no “usual” day! Well, enough for now. Will check in later. Feel free to comment or ask questions when you read the blog. I’ll be sure to answer!

Thanks for your support and interest.

Your sister,


Friday, July 4, 2008

Feliz Dia

Well, today is the Fourth of July and I can just imagine the celebrations of my ‘blog followers’ who are citizens of the United States of America. Hopefully, wherever you are, the weather is being gracious and you’re enjoying a relaxing long weekend.

Here in Nicaragua my colleagues are aware of the day and have been wishing me a “feliz dia”. The weather has been cooperative today so far. That means that so far it hasn’t rained. I managed to get my clothes washed and dried this morning which is a good thing and not always easy to accomplish during this season here.

This evening we will be celebrating at our conference center which is a short distance outside of Managua. It is a “despedida” (farewell) for a group of art therapists from the States who have been here for three weeks and have been working with our children, youth and teachers in the city and rural areas. They’ve been staying with families in the area where they are contributing their services. These folks – 14 artists and 2 leaders - are from all over the U.S. Everyone is so pleased with what they’ve been able to accomplish during their short time here. The children have produced wonderful paintings and most recently they have painted murals on the outside walls of the schools. I’ll try to send some photos of their work in the near future.

The coordinator of this endeavor, Lynn Kapitan, has been doing this for several years. She teaches art therapy at a college in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She’s a great woman and it has been a joy to have her with us. She did a four day workshop on Spirituality and Leadership. It was super! Another woman has joined her, a former member of this endeavor, and will accompany the four artists who are remaining for one more week, as Lynn is also leaving tomorrow. Creusa is Brazilian who has lived in Montreal, Canada, for ten years. She speaks incredible Spanish, English, Portuguese and French!! She too, is a lovely woman and so easy to be with.

As we celebrate our Independence, Day I’m so aware of how ‘unfree’ some of us still are. In some ways my Nica friends, though they lack a great deal of what we consider important, have a freedom about themselves that I don’t always witness in myself and others who are of ‘the land of the free’. They dream of a better life and go about trying to accomplish this, albeit with the amount of poverty that exists, it’s very difficult. However, their hope won’t quit and their joy in the midst of the struggle is admirable. They encourage us and together we keep on walking toward a better future.

Most recently I received news of the death of an elderly friend who had struggled with many physical limitations all of her life. Lois’ spirit was incredible and she joyfully made her way through life with the help of crutches, leg braces and a white cane to indicate her very limited eyesight.

When she died she had $1,000.00 in her bank account which she wanted to go to ‘the hungry’. This money will be used for purchasing: a pregnant cow - a set of 5 chickens, 1 rooster, fencing and screen – 100 pounds of bean seeds and 100 pounds of corn seeds! Yes, the hungry will be fed and poor farmers and their families will share what they have and also move into the future with a bit more hope, because seeds multiply, pregnant cows give birth to calves, calves grow up and produce more calves and chickens produce eggs, meat and more chickens etc. etc. etc. And so life gets a little bit better!

Adios for now!

Your sister,


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Who'll Stop The Rain?

It’s Sunday morning and it hasn’t rained YET!! It’s cloudy but every once in a while a bit of sun struggles forth! I managed to get my laundry dried yesterday and that’s an accomplishment during the rainy season!

We’ve recouped some from the passing of “Alma”, which was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm! It was ‘demoted’ because the winds didn’t quite make it to the criteria designed for a hurricane. However, that had nothing to do with the amount of water that descended!

I’m getting used to the ‘winter’ here and keep my umbrella, rain poncho and rain hats at the ready. They travel with me wherever I go! Alma left thousands of folks without homes, or at least roofs. The amount of mud (clay) that is generated with these rains is incredible. A whole crew of people starts digging up the mud after each heavy downpour, trying to keep ahead of the dark brown sticky stuff.

Last Friday we went to one of the farm communities in the hills. When we left, the day was fair and lovely. By the time we’d had dinner and were half way through our meeting, it began to POUR. The small house was very soon surrounded by water which was moving at a rapid rate. Well, it came time to see if we could manage to return with our empty food containers and MANY people in the pickup truck. There were six of us inside the truck and at least nine in the bed of the truck getting soaked to the skin. The water was running at such a fast rate that one wasn’t sure what would happen. I will try to include photos of the raging “new rivers”.

Claudio, my fellow team member, is used to this but it’s always a challenge. He safely guided us through ditches, fast flowing water with uncertain depths and over rocks. I prayed; he drove!! I wasn’t scared, but I know the danger of vehicles moving parallel to fast flowing water. We arrived drenched and muddy but safe and sound!

Everything is GREEN and seeds have been planted with hope for a prosperous harvest – rice, beans, corn, vegetables – everything is coming up quickly.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Abject Poverty

Map of the world showing poverty as a % of the population

This time as I communicate with you from Nicaragua, I am listening to rain on our tin roof. It’s been raining now for hours, but at least the tremendous thunder claps are not rocking the world around me. This afternoon I went to the Physical Rehab hospital which is very close to our home, to visit and take Communion to patients. While there it started to rain and I had not thought to bring rain gear! It slowed for a few minutes and I just got inside the house when it all broke loose once again! We are now in winter a.k.a. the rainy season. Our winter has nothing to do with cold!! Here it is totally dry for six months and totally wet for six months. Could someone put in an order for balance?? Everything has turned a rich green and the daily watering of the patio plants is no longer necessary.

Life has been filled with a variety of activities, meetings, new experiences and new Spanish words. Our Nica sisters and brothers have a language peculiarly their own. They even have their own dictionary for those of us who learned ‘regular’ Spanish. My farmland vocabulary has increased as well as my experience of the mystery of how such wonderful fruits and vegetables come from tiny, dry seeds!!

Hopefully, I will finally get my residence card tomorrow! I’ve been ‘illegal’ for over a month now, since my 90 day visa expired on April 22nd. I was supposed to get it last Friday but it seems the camera in the Migration Office was broken!! Tomorrow we’ll check to see if it’s fixed yet! There is no problem with being here without a valid visa. The Nicas are much more tolerant with migrants than we’ve ever been in the States.

Speaking of migrants and migration, which was one of the determining factors for my decision to come to Nicaragua, I recently attended the Conference for Women and Men Religious of Mexico and Central America held here in Managua. It was wonderful meeting folks from the different countries. Our theme and topic for prayer and discussion was: Migration – Those Who Stay. Here in Nicaragua we have many, many families in which the father, mother, sons or daughters have gone to Costa Rica in search of work that will bring them a higher wages. This creates many problems for the rest of the family left to carry on at home. Usually, the folks return home every two months for a weekend since their visas are for 60 days. It’s a different way of looking at and understanding migration. The great majority of migrants don’t want to leave their roots and families and go to another country, but they are forced to do so because of the circumstances of poverty.

Recently, I had a practicum in what it might feel like, at least a little bit, to be a migrant. One evening during the conference we went to a very moving theater presentation, a monologue, concerning the suffering of a Nicaraguan migrant in Costa Rica– it lasted 2 ½ hours without a break! Because it was one person speaking rapidly and using many of the local expressions, nuances, references and satire, I understood only about 5% of the spoken word. It’s hard to sit for that length of time, listen but not understand and hear the folks laugh and not have any idea what has been clever! It was a very good experience for me. I felt caught in, but outside of, the reality. It made me more sensitive in regard to migrants and their struggles. I was reminded of our Arabic and Aramaic speakers we encountered so often at St. John Oakland Hospital. How frightening it must be to be sick and have things done to you and not understand, not be able to express your questions, your fears, your needs!!

We do not have many migrants here because Nicaragua has nothing to offer in regard to better wages. We are fast becoming equal to Haiti. Daily the food prices are soaring. Last Saturday in one of our major popular markets the price of rice, which is a staple food, jumped 40 cents within 20 minutes! There is talk of devaluing the cordoba, our monetary unit. Currently, it takes 19.50 cordobas to equal $1.00. There is talk that it will soon take 29 cordobas to do the same! Our majority of extremely poor will be totally at a loss since wages do not increase. We just experienced a strike of many days which was called by the bus drivers who drive between cities. They were protesting the cost of gasoline which is now up to 25 cordobas a liter. The people have to depend on public transport (our old school buses) to get them to work and connect with family.

Well, I think this will be more than enough for Ruth to post, so I shall bring this to a close. Thanks for following me in my current journey and being supportive of us here, as well as being understanding of our sisters and brothers who are in the U.S.A. as migrants whomever they might be, wherever you might encounter them.

Until the next time, Adios!

Your sister,


Friday, May 2, 2008

Road Trip!

View Larger Map

My most recent learning here in Nicaragua was traveling to the department of Esteli. You can check the map - it's to the north of the country near Honduras and into the mountain area. I went with our rural team and twenty of our women who each have at least one cow. The place we visited for two days is called La Garnacha and is a cooperative of about 125 people of all ages.

They have developed a quality cheese industry and our women are hoping to also produce quality cheese with their cows' milk. These folks also produces wonderful organically grown vegetables and coffee of high quality. They basically use goat milk in the making of the Tilsiter (Swiss) cheese.

It took us about three hours to arrive there, stopping once for a break. Oh yes, we also waited for a protest group to let us pass. They were demanding land and since they have no other way to fight for this, they stop traffic on the Panamerican Highway. On the way back we sat for an hour for the same reason. Noone was upset because we know that it's for a good cause. It's a peaceful demonstration and hopefully they will have achieved some justice.

We had a gathering with the people of La Garnacha and Feliciano, one of the original inhabitants, said, "...we are poor but we are healthy." And I would add, they are contented. They live together with their families and work hard but have what they need for sustenance and housing. They have a small school for the pre-schoolers and those through sixth grade. After that they must go several kilometers to the secondary school.

It gets quite cold during the night and actually, it felt good to be in flannel sheets and under a flannet blanket. So we awoke from the chill to watch them milk the goats at 6:00a.m. I didn't sleep very well, not because of the cold, but because the two women I shared the cabana with both SNORED!! One would start and the other would respond!! And....I listened!!

After breakfast of eggs, rice and beans (rice and red beans are a three times a day item!) we left to hike up a VERY HIGH area to view some scultptures that are rather famous and to enjoy wonderful scenery - somewhat like we have in the northern areas of Michigan with pine trees. It was quite a workout hiking the distance but I MADE IT in good shape!! You have to make it because there's NO WAY IN OR OUT except by foot.

What impressed me was the simplicity of the people as they live and work and share life. They are proud of what they produce and contented with life. They are a good model for simple, peaceful living. The Little Brothers of Jesus, a Catholic congregation founded by Charles de Foucauld, have been in this area for many years working right along with the people. One of these fellows, Chepe, who is from New York now works us in Cantera but was at La Garnacha for over twenty years.

This brings you up to date with my ventures and adventures. Greetings to all and many thanks to the folks who continue to help support our efforts.

Peace, Love and Gratitude, your sister, Jeanne

Monday, April 21, 2008

Water and Thanks

When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.


Here are some photos of my most recent experience in the rural area. It was the inauguaration of the well that has been so long desired and badly needed by the people of the comarcas (communities) of Las Yucas, Las Latas-Lajas. Several groups, of which we are a primary one, have helped this to come to fruition.

Several 'dignitaries' were present, among whom were the Mayor of Mateare - the larger city to which the small rural communities are related - and representatives of the sponsoring groups. The "water commission" folks were congratulated for their work in getting this accomplished and for getting the area men to dig the trenches for the tubing that will extend the water to greater distances and thus serve more areas. (There is a previous photo which shows young men loading white tubing for the aquaduct.)

Now the people can come with their barrels on oxen drawn carts and fill them. Before they had to travel much, much further to have any water. The problem is that the water table is very deep and only with electricity can it be pulled to the surface. There was great rejoicing and celebrating and MANY, MANY words during this very important moment. Afterwards, of course, there was a meal.

Before the celebration began, one of the young fellows mentioned to me that they were slaughtering a calf across the road. I DID NOT want to witness that! Then after a while I realized that the young men were bringing ribs and legs and the rest of the calf to the barbecue pit they had dug previously!!!! Oh my, I like grilled meat but I don't care to know the animal prior to eating it!!

The first photo is of me and an elderly man, Senor Jose. He is 84 years old - his wife is 95 and couldn't walk the 2.5 kilometers in order to attend. Jose is one of the founders of this little community. He is delightful, alert, proud of his people and very eager to share his experiences. We had a great time together.

Oh yes, I had the opportunity to attend the Symphony on Saturday night. What a joy!! When they played the theme from the movie, "The Mission" I was so touched. This "Song of Gabriel" played on the oboe is one of my very favorites. It's beautiful, haunting and makes me cry!! Today's You-Tube music selection is Gabriel's Oboe by Yo-Yo Ma. I hope you enjoy it as much as me.

Your sister,


Friday, April 11, 2008

Food for Thought

Disparity: Noun 1. disparity - inequality or difference in some respect inequality - lack of equality; "the growing inequality between rich and poor" far cry - a disappointing disparity; "it was a far cry from what he had expected"

I'd like to share with you an aspect of life here that touchs me deeply and makes me ask "WHY??" The extreme poverty expresses itself in many ways but what always hits my heart is the way it affects the children. It is typical for children, sometimes as young as 6 or 7, to be on the busy main streets selling just about anything, trying to wash windshields, or just plain begging. They appear on the busses and sing, accompanying themselves by shaking a plastic bottle with pebbles and hoping for a few coins as they squeeze down the crowded aisles packed with people. Many times they are without shoes or sandals and look like they haven't washed or eaten in quite a while. This is not the way God wants childhood to be lived!! Elderly women also stand in the middle of the streets and ask for support.

I've been visiting the Physical Rehab Hospital and one lad in particular has won my heart. His name is Alicio and he's 15 years old. He arrived at the hospital the day I left to come to Nicaragua. He's totally paralyzed as the result of an accident. He comes from the other side of the country, the Atlantic/Carribean Coast which means that he's far from family and friends. His mom is here with him and is so faithful, gentle and caring. She loves her son and it's so evident. He has a smile that would capture each one of you. He could be up in a wheel chair but since he has no control of his neck, he needs a chair with a head rest and other aspects that will support his body. I'm working with a social worker to see what might be possible but the doctor indicated that they don't have access to this type of chair. That's hard to believe. The wealthy Nicaraguans are subject to similar disabilities and needs and I'm sure they have what they need.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Miserable Meeces.....

I haven't written as much because the phone bill came and carumba! It was really high. So I'm trying to pace myself and use the dial-up as little as possible and yet stay in touch.

We're topping 100 degrees today. It gets warmer every day. I continue to get more involved in ministry and am beginning to work on some reflections for groups and ways of deepening spirituality in the various sectors that we work with.

Holy Week is most interesting here. Everything slows WAY DOWN from Wednesday through Easter. It's not that the people are involved in "spiritual, religious matters". It's just that it's their vacation time and many people go to the beaches which are HIGHLY CONTAMINATED. Obviously, we stayed home and did participate in the religious services which were very meaningful and related to the lived reality of present day Nicaragua. We had a peaceful Easter at the home of some Wisconsin/Nicaraguan sisters. Their home is outside of the city so it was quiet and relaxing.

I've had "fun" with mice lately. A caring mama mouse built a comfy nest under my bottom drawer and deposited her offspring within! Needless to say, it was not a good choice on her part! I love animals but that was not what I needed in my tiny bedroom space. They went to mouse heaven! Mother followed soon after!

I continue to learn many things. I can fly around the city on several buses which is an accomplishment. At certain hours (early morning, midday and supper time) they are crowed to the gills and 'there's always room for 4 or 5 more"! You need to have your wits about you, keep balanced, watch your toes and protect your backpack at all the same time. Buses are frequent and cost only about 15 cents per ride, so most of us travel this way. I do not have any new photos. I'll work on that.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

New Photos

Busy, busy....

We've had a full few days here in Nicaragua. On Friday last, we went to the rural setting of Las Yucas/Las Latas-Lajas where all six communities had gathered to celebrate the International Day of the Woman. This is a very important day in Latin America where there's a strong thrust to transform the macho culture.

I have some good photos that I'll figure out how to send soon! They had it all decorated with banners from each area, crepe paper on the poles holding up the tarp to save us from the sun. The music was going full force and when we arrived it was decided that it was time for the "refrigerio" (mid-morning snack) which consisted of the many dozens of sandwiches which we had prepared before leaving Managua and pop. Prizes were awarded for the winners of the painting project, family garden project and outstanding woman of the area. Speeches were made. Folkloric dances were performed and stories told. There were about 100 people present including fellows and children. It was a great time and after delivering pick-up truck loads of people to some of the neighboring communities, we headed home.

We've also been celebrating 25 years of our local center - Centro Cultural Batahola Norte - which was founded by a CSJ and a Dominican priest. The choral group did an outstanding concert with the National Orchestra in Granada on Friday night, there's been a painting exhibition running since the 1st. of the month, last night there was an incredibly wonderful theater presentation which honored the founders and tonight there's a Mass of Thanksgiving which will culminate the celebration. There have been visitors here for several days who are the "Friends of Batahola" and it's been good being with them and speaking English!!

Next week I will participate in a 4 day course on Gender Issues (women/men and equality).

Your sister,


Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Wheels On the Bus

I continue to feel more and more at home here in this environment. I can get where I'm going by bus like the best of the Nicas. These vehicles are mostly old school buses from the US which were no longer safe for the children and have mostly been around for 10-20 years here! So....they work, you get where you're going in more or less decent condition. Yesterday, I almost lost part of my backside because the driver's idea of how long it would take me to get in and up differed from my speed in doing so!

Following directions here is another interesting experience. There are no street names or signs so directions go something like this: from the place where the Bank Procredito used to be, 2 blocks up, 1 1/2 blocks south, 400 steps toward the lake! And remember that I'm directionally challenged to begin with!!

Last Saturday I went with a Detroit Jesuit friend and his group to the Psychiatric Hospital which happens to be across the street from where I live. I won't go into descriptions but needless to say it was an experience. The setting is very different, of course, and has a lot of free space for some folks to walk around while others are confined. We sang with them, passed out bananas, chatted with those with whom we could do so. I was told that one of the women spoke very little Spanish, only English, because she was from the other coast where they speak English due to the fact that they escaped the Spanish invasion, only to be "visited" by the folks from England.

This week I've been attending a course on 'development of peoples' which our group, Cantera, sponsors. It's been good and I thoroughly enjoy the people who represent areas that are very diverse - from the rural places to people who are professionally prepared. I catch a bus early and then wait at an intersection for the truck to pick me up. My sense of time is not yet adjusted to the sense of time here and so the first day I waited for 40 minutes. I learn quickly! I arrived later from then on! Tomorrow is the last day (it's a 3 1/2 day seminar) and I will miss the daily connection with the other 24 folks.

That brings you up to date. Next week we will be preparing for the International Day of the Woman which we'll celebrate in the rural area on Friday, March 8th. I'll have plenty to tell you after that celebration and hopefully will have some pictures.

Please feel free to post your comments and questions for me. I'm sure there are curious minds that would like to know things and I'll answer as best as I can!

Love, Gratitude and Prayers,

Your sister, Jeanne

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Day in the Life

Good morning friends.  I don't have a lot new things to tell you about so I thought I would chat a bit about what comprises a "normal" day for me.  Many have inquired and I thank you for that!

I sleep under a mosquito net because if I don't, they munch on me all night!  Julie and I share the house and the only bedroom.  We have a few other "roommates" who share our home too.  I like to think of them as our mascots.  The ones I enjoy most are the chameleons that like to hang, play, chase and otherwise entertain.

I awaken early while it is still dark to the music of the barrio:  roosters crowing, women calling "pan, pan" (bread), our neighbor unchaining his gate, birds singing and sometimes cats on the roof having a spat.

After some quiet time and breakfast of fruit, bread and coffee, Julie and I go out to "sweep"(pushing the dust and sand around) the area in front of our house which includes half the street.  We then clean out the drainage trough and water the street and plants in front and in the patio area in the back.  I'm working hard to get this process down so I'm not totally muddy and wet by the end of it all!  

Depending on what is happening on a particular day, I go back to clean up (showers aren't hot here but aren't icy cold either) and head on over to the Cantera office.  I meet with other members of our team or go out to one of our rural sites in the hills.

Meals are simple yet sufficient.  Fruits are plentiful as are rice, beans, vegetables, yuca and some meat.  I live with a sister who is heavily into natural medicines so I see a lot of soy products too.

On weekends we do a variety of things, but chores always include washing and hanging clothes to dry.   And sweeping: otherwise known as moving the dust and sand around.  We have a local mass which has great participation at six o'clock in the evening.

So much for my "dailyness" south of the border.  

Take care my friends!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Boiled Bananas and Other Off Road Adventures

Yesterday I went to the remaining rural and more tropical mountainous areas that we visit (someday soon, I promise to figure out that digital camera). I thought the first two trips were an adventure but yesterday's was even more so! We even landed in a quite deep hole and had a struggle getting the 4 wheel drive pick up back on the "path" that they charmingly call a "road" here.

Our group met with the men and women in charge of promoting the forward movement of the people in their particular area. Some of these people walk for hours to participate. My "farm vocabulary" is growing. Included in the coversation which lasted for 5 hours were topics such as pozos (wells), latrines, pregnant pigs and a cow that had to be 'put down' because of a broken leg/foot. We also discussed various development opportunities that will be coming up. In the middle of all this we had a humongous "almuerzo" (dinner) of rice, boiled bananas, spaghetti, a vegetable like summer squash and salad. They're heavy on carbs! Rice and red beans (gallo pinto) is a national food and eaten OFTEN. I'm doing fine because I like all of it, except the boiled bananas that are rather like clay and are most likely an acquired taste-pehaps this 1957 song adaption by the late Peter Sellers will help me acquire that taste:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Out of the Frying Pan

Yesterday I went to the Children's Hospital (La Mascota) and visited with the families and children in the oncology department. OH MY!! The conditions of these children is so very sad. (For an idea of medical conditions in this country, see this article from a student's perspective). The kids try really hard to respond and smile a bit. It's absolutely nothing like you'd imagine. It is pretty clean, I must say. There seemed to be only one "nurse" in each area. Families bring food daily and sheets and pillows and anything else that's needed. It's a whole different approach to hospitalization than what we are used to in the states. We seem to take so much for granted.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Getting Settled

Hello my friends:

After a false start, I arrived at the scheduled time but two days later than planned! Since then there have been many things occurring but at a much slower pace than we're used to in the U.S. I spent two days with the folks of Cantera planning the year and I have become a part of the rural team out of a place called Mateare which is fairly close to Managua where I live.

I've been to the "campo" twice now and it's a REAL TRIP getting to where you're going. It's up into the hillsides and the roads, if you wish to give them that level of honor. They are really no more than dirt and sand. During the rainy season which begins in May, the roads will form deep gullies. This will last the duration of the rainy season (6 months). The fellows that drive our pick up are talented indeed - avoiding the possibilities of flipping over! I did take some pictures yesterday but still need to practice on that piece and figure out how to link them to the blog. Internet is not high speed here and still relies on dial up. You get the picture (or maybe not).

The people here are wonderful - warm, receptive, simple and uncomplicated. The young folks are full of life and hope. We were in a place yesterday - Las Yucas - where a cooperative effort which included Cantera had been able to sink a well and make water more available. The men drive carts with yoked oxen carrying large water barrels to get water for living. Now they don't have to go as far as before. They are voluntarily helping to lay piping so as to make it even more accessible. All of this is done with great physical effort and no machinery.

I've had troubles with the computer getting hooked up, as I mentioned before. The other snag is getting my documents for residency which I have less than 90 days to submit. I came without certain papers that I need for the legal stuff in order to stay here. Someone slipped up and failed to tell me all I needed to get ahead of time from the Nicaragua Consulate in the U.S. Anyway, I'm learning lots as I struggle with this stuff. The language is improving but I'm pretty much the new kid on the block and the "gringa". With time that will get better. The weather is tolerable - between 75-95 with plenty of wind. I'm doing O.K. Just missing folks alot but that's to be expected. If you don't love folks, you don't miss them.

I do think about my many friends at the hospital and in my community family and want to know what's happening in that part of my world. I will be doing some visiting at the women's hospital, psychiatric hospital and children's hospital (tomorrow) as I have time. For sure there's no similarity to what I'm used to, but people are people no matter where they live on this planet. I'll let you know more about these visits after I've had some initial time there. Take care, my good friends. I would love it if you could all leave comments to me here.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Here With News of Jeanne

Hello Everyone!

Once again, I am guest posting for Sister Jeanne. She has not had the ability to post herself and has asked me to post an update. I received an email that she has arrived safely and is trying to acclimate although I don't believe this has much to do with the climate per se. In fact, if I know her, the weather is mighty fine by her standards. As luck would have it, she has missed our deep freezes and blizzards! Here for her pleasure, I have inserted a photo of what she is missing in an effort to help reassure her that her decisions were indeed on target:

I am going to try to get this blog spot address published in the hospital news so that all of her friends can periodically check in to see what is new. Barring that, I'll let word get out the old fashioned way: interoffice SNAIL MAIL! Also new for those who asked, this site has been reformatted to accept comments from anyone, not just bloggers or google account holders.

Feel free to leave comments here or just email her directly!! She will receive an email update each time comments are posted. I know she misses us all and sends a special hello to her friends here at the hospital.

Have a great day!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Traveler's Prayer

Hey all, I am guest blogging for Jeanne as she is probably in mid-air by the time you all read this.

I am posting here a traditional Jewish prayer to say at the onset of a journey. I didn't think Jean would mind.

"May it be Your will, Lord, My God and God of my ancestors, to lead me, to direct my steps, and to support me in peace. Lead me in life, tranquil and serene, until I arrive at where I am going. Deliver me from every enemy, ambush and hurt that I might encounter on the way and from all afflictions that visit and trouble the world. Bless the work of my hands. Let me receive divine grace and those loving acts of kindness and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all those I encounter. Listen to the voice of my appeal, for you are a God who responds to prayerful supplication. Praised are you, Lord, who responds to prayer."

I think this is rather appropriate. Safe journey Sister Jeanne. We look forward to word that all is well, the skies are blue and the weather suitably balmy.