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