For someone with a bit of a picky eater reputation, I know I shocked some with my positivity going into Nicaragua. Well, I can say I am not starving but I certainly have had an adventure with food so far!! Most of our meals are eaten at little cafes or restaurants in Leon, but we have made PB&Js for lunches a few times (yay) and just recently we made spaghetti at our hostel. Oh, the comforts of American food -- even frozen vegetables taste good because they are familiar! Our hostel makes us breakfast, which can be the "American breakfast" of dense pancakes, watermelon, and a banana, or the "Nica breakfast" of gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, toast, and marmalade. We finally tried the Nica breakfast today and it was delicious! Dinner has been fun to try new things ... to an extent. On one of our first nights our partner Hal took us to a comedor, a very cheap, common restaurant that is pretty much a buffet. I don't have pictures from that night, and it's probably a good thing, because it was VERY sketch. It was a dimly lit room, with plastic lawn furniture and clearly stained tablecloths that were all a little grimy. Containers of food were lined up and you just pointed to what you wanted and they dished up your plate. They were out of tortillas so I pointed to what looked like an empanada, and then saw them take it out and microwave it behind the counter (clearly this food wasn't all that fresh!). However, you can get this kind of dinner for about $2 so it is popular with the locals. It was definitely an experience, but I'm glad we don't eat at comedors all of the time. Our advisor's (thankful) theory is that it is better to spend a few more dollars on food than to have us get sick and need doctor visits!
We've had some pretty good dining out experiences since then. One night we went to Al Carbon, a high end restaurant for Nicaragua, and ordered a big platter for the table. We got rice, beans, plantains, four pounds of filet mignon, and many different kinds of sauces..... it was delicious! The meat was wonderful and still crazily reasonable because it was in this country. The atmosphere was fun too-- outside, with nice dark wood furniture and white tile patio, surrounding a fountain. An open kitchen with a big grill was in the back and we could see chefs with white hats and aprons cooking away. Another night we went to "the rooftop place", which is a fun little dinner place that looks out over Leon. It is a tiny restaurant and has only a cook and two waitresses. This means that it takes about an hour and a half to be served because only one or two plates are finished at a time. I had the best chicken fajitas in my life though, even though the kitchen was the size of my closet at home (which is not that big)! I decided to be adventurous and try "te de Jamaica y limon", which is a really sweet dark purple tea. It came with ice in a glass, and of course I was really careful not to touch my lips to the glass but only drink through the straw. At 3:30 AM the next morning, I realized that there had been ice in the tea, and the ice was made with local water, and that was why I was sick. How fun. It's so hard to remember these things!
Last night I went to brush my teeth in the hostel and as I walked into the bathroom area, some guy was turned around going to the bathroom but with the door open .... I was so flustered that I quick put my toothbrush under the common area faucet and got out of there.. only to realize again that it was Nica water and I shouldn't touch it. I burst back into our room and spit into the trash, then laughed with Annalee over the incident. She gave me some listerine to hopefully get any germs out of my mouth from the water, and I went back with a water bottle to finish brushing in peace.
Unfortunately I have just resigned myself to always having my stomach hurt because it seems to, no matter what I eat. It's not too bad but still not fun to have a stomach that always hurts. Today, Annalee and I realized that when we made frozen peas and carrots last night (craving vegetables, of any kind, and we thought frozen from the grocery would be safe), we had cooked them in tap water... so that explained the stomachaches last night. But even without these mistakes, there is always food that doesn't settle quite right.
I don't have much to say about the culture yet, except that there is definitely a different outlook on time (always running 15 minutes late, usually more) and the greetings have taken some getting used to. It is ok for another woman to greet me with a handshake, but when a man is greeting me, the proper thing is to give me a half hug and an air kiss on the cheek. I keep forgetting and try to give handshakes when they lean in... I'm getting over the awkwardness though ;)
Language-wise, I have HUGE appreciation for people who speak two languages. Hearing and learning another language is hard. I have very very basic Spanish, and can usually get by but I can't remember many tenses. Trying to translate or even recognize words all day long is tiring and it quickly becomes easier to tune out the unfamiliar language . I find that I can ask a lot of questions in Spanish but understanding the answer I receive is the hard part. So I try, but I'm sure I speak like a three-year-old and unfortunately, a blank look is taking up permanent residence on my face.
La Calle Real, village in Nicaragua
It doesn't seem real to say that I have been gone for 4 days already. Mostly, it seems like much longer. I left on Thursday afternoon for the airport, where I met two other of my Enactus teammates for our first flight from San Francisco to Houston, en route to Nicaragua. After clearing security, we had a little excitement when our names were all called over the loudspeaker to see the gate agent -- it turned out that the flight to San Fran was overbooked and they wanted to put us on a direct flight to Houston. We eagerly accepted, and were even more thrilled when we heard about the $150 voucher they were giving us. We landed in Houston at 7 pm, at which point reality set in since our flight to Managua wasn't leaving until 9 am the next morning. Thus began our LONG night in the Houston airport. We found some dinner -- rushed attempts to get some American food before restaurants closed and we would begin 6 weeks of Nicaraguan cuisine -- and then settled ourselves outside the United club entrance where the only free wifi was to be found. Annalee and Dawson watched Netflix while I put some hours in on my OSU research. Around 1 am we went scouting for good places to sleep and ended up finding a deserted gate to uncomfortably pass a few hours in almost sleep (not real sleep, since we were constantly woken up by the night crew's vacuum and the 24 hour news on TV. I gave up around 5 am and went to utilize the wifi again to send some last emails, and soon it was time to board. Three others from OSU, including our assistant faculty advisor, made it to Houston around that time and joined us on our flight to Managua.
I had been a complete wreck with nerves getting slowly worse every day last week, which I thought I hid pretty well, but leaving Houston that morning I felt sick to my stomach. I had no clue what all this summer would entail, and it was a long time away. Again. And I know what 6 weeks feels like now, which makes it harder. God knew I needed a bit of reassurance and so He seated me not only in an exit row (yay for extra legroom!), but also next to a Nicaraguan man who wanted to talk. He asked what I was doing in Nicaragua and then all about our microloan program and Enactus projects before telling me all sorts of foods I needed to try while I was in his country. Somewhere in there I mentioned how I was interested in microcredit systems and how I've thought about a future in Haiti or Jamaica with my church, and then he began asking about that. Without hardly a comment from me, he began telling me about how a few years ago he realized that he needed a Savior and that he began reading the Bible and counseling with a minister and how he has totally turned his life around. We ended up having a wonderful conversation about the importance and miraculousness of God working in our lives. I immediately felt God's closeness -- He is everywhere I go, and always will be, no matter what.
We landed around 11 am and felt the heat wave. Low 90s with 95% humidity means that you are instantly dripping with sweat at all times. It's pretty fun. More about that later. Then began driving the 2 hours to to Leon, the second largest city in Nicaragua with 200,000 people (after the capital, Managua), where we were to immediately meet with Hal, one of our new partners. Hal is a retired businessperson who decided to start a foundation to help this rural community called La Calle Real, and he is currently beginning work to build a commerce/ community center to bring together local artisans to sell crafts and food (and attract tourists). He is also at least 70 years old but has the energy of someone half his age. He brought along one of his board members and we sketched out the work our team has done for the commerce center so far and how we will help in the next few weeks. Though we were visibly exhausted after 36+ hours of traveling at that point, we then drove another hour to see La Calle Real. Hal had some of the local high schoolers act as tour guides to practice their English, and -- shock of shocks -- by the end of the tour, my tour guide had already asked if I had a boyfriend. Clearly it doesn't matter what culture, this is always a question. Her English was actually very spotty, so after saying no and immediately getting the follow-up question, I got to explain IN SPANISH about faith-based marriages. ...I thought I did a pretty good job for not using my Spanish for the past four years!
After La Calle Real, we drove another 2 hours to Esteli, which is up in the mountains and where we would be staying for the weekend. Travelers to Esteli pass by La Calle Real and so our days here were really to evaluate the potential market for Hal's commerce center (plus, as an added bonus, it is MUCH cooler in Esteli than Leon because of it's location. This bonus we only realized on Sunday when we made it back to Leon and realized how unbearably hot it is. Yay). We had some drama with our hostel reservation and a car-and-motorcycle accident that happened literally 20 feet away, but finally we were able to unload our bags and head in search of dinner. Since it was 8:30 at night it was hard to find good places open, so we ended up at a slightly American place where some of us ordered burritos (yes, I did -- be impressed) while others ordered hamburgers. It was here that I was really introduced to the full measure of what traveling to Nicaragua is like.
First, you don't drink the water. This means you always must order water in a bottle and don't slip up and drink the ice they give you. No putting your lips on the glass Coke bottle either. Also, no eating fresh fruits or vegetables that have been washed in the water. Watch out for the meat and the cheese, but you will probably be fine. You can't flush toilet paper because their septic systems aren't built for it. It is somewhat dangerous -- as exhibited by the car/motorcycle accident (no serious injuries, thank goodness) and the fact that driving after dark means you could get stopped by a road barricade (of lawful or unlawful people). And it is a third world country. The poverty in the streets and the condition of the cities, houses, and villages are crazy. Yet many houses still boast satellite dishes atop their tin or cement block structures, and people who live in dirt floor houses still have a cell phone. Billboards and posters for the cell phone carriers plaster the city, and it is even possible to find logos from well-known corporate chains like Burger King and Payless Shoes.
It was pretty overwhelming all on that first day. My stomach stayed in knots and that whole day and night I felt like I had overestimated my capabilities and why did I ever think that I could do this. It is hard to see the difference that we can make when the problems are just so big. And talking to the Nicaraguan man on the plane, who kept saying (about us and the 2 church groups on the flight) that "It is nice that you people are coming to help us", made me wonder how much help we really are doing. His statement awkwardly connotes that his country needs fixing and we must be the ones to provide the assistance, educated locals like himself can't do it themselves. And this is the western superiority attitude that we do NOT want to be promoting! Anyway, all of the newness and heat and dirt made me extremely disheartened about the summer and wondering what I was doing there. On that note, I fell into a (wonderfully clean and private) hostel bed that night and prayed that it would get better.
Well, clearly this is turning into a book. But I'll continue.
The next morning was Saturday and we got to sleep in a little before booking a "trek" out to see one of the nature reserves that is again, typical of the tourists that visit this area. We were hoping to see what there is to see and also talk to the guides about what is the usual market audience for these activities and this area. Annalee tried to book us a hiking trek through the rainforest, but the combination of a phone conversation and less-than-fluent Spanish meant that we actually embarked on a rappelling trip. As in, rappelling down the 110 ft Estanzuela waterfall (the height we did not know until later). Since we had done some business plan work for the non-profit in the past, we trusted that the trek would be great anyway and headed out by car to the Estanzuela nature reserve. Once arriving, we took a short hike to the top of the waterfall where our OSU group exclaimed over how beautiful (and high) it was while the guides began setting up the equipment. By "equipment", I mean two ropes looped around an immense boulder and then thrown over the waterfall. One of them was to be harnessed to us, the other held by one of the guides who would be treading water at the bottom of the waterfall. After witnessing about 20 minutes of set-up and growing increasingly apprehensive, and then hearing how we were to hold the ropes and lower ourselves down, we finally said we needed to pull the plug: we were NOT going to rappel down the waterfall. All of us had rock-climbed before and the equipment needed for this kind of adventure was simply not to be found with a rope and a guy treading water. The guides were gracious and we ended up just hiking to the bottom and swimming under the waterfall ... still a pretty awesome trek. When have I swam under a rainforest waterfall before? While swimming, I was asking one of our local guides some questions about the work he does with environmental education and what the understanding was among Nicaraguans, and the conversation again turned spiritual. He likened the importance of just one person's example of being environmentally respectful to one person's light for Christ -- you can be just one person and can light a whole room. In broken English/ Spanish, we ended up talking for a long time about the importance of faith and being that one person even if you are standing alone (but with Christ). That day, too, made me feel so thankful and blessed for God's reminder of His omnipotence and power the world over.
After Saturday's "fun" day of catch-up sleep and market research, we got down to real work. But it is already midnight tonight so I will have to leave those stories for later. For now, I can say it is getting better and I don't feel so lost and so hopeless, and I can see (through the heat and the danger and the bugs) why I am here.
A couple of months ago I got the random idea to invite a bunch of girls whose dads were either ministers or elders just for a weekend of fun, spiritual talk, and relating about our dads. There are a shocking number of girls in their 20s who fit into this category and I only knew a few but had heard of more through my parents' church travels.
We ended up having a lovely weekend with a ton of adventure at a nearby challenge course and some great talks. Though a bit hectic since it was late in the term, it was a needed weekend of fellowship and making some great new friends!
Sunday evening after taking some to the airport, Tiera, Alisia, Anita, and I enjoyed a beautiful evening hike at the gorge. One of my favorite places in Oregon!
Life around here has been BUSY. Last week was finals and I'll admit I'm not sure I made it to bed before 4 am a single night that week. I've had a lot of back-and-forth from Wilsonville to Corvallis these days as I'm trying to spent lots of time at home and still wrap things up at school, but I think I've finally made one of my last trips down there for a while. In the past week, I've snuck in some rollerblading with Tiera, enjoyed the last of our backyard strawberries, packed up my apartment, successfully finished my junior year of college, got a research grant for work this summer, and (barely) started packing for Nicaragua. I've been so blessed with the way things have fallen into place. When I was asked about summer plans today and if I had ever thought any of this would happen, I couldn't help but think of my plane ride home from South Caicos last December. It hit me hard that moment, on a long evening flight finally by myself after 3 months of not, that it had been an unimaginable semester and I had done so many new things and met so many amazing people, and that never again in my life would I have the opportunity to do something like that.
Well, here we are. Joke on me apparently. It's probably good that I didn't know God's plan then or even a few months ago, because I would have had more time to doubt. And become seriously worried. The way life has been going here, I've had only time to get excited and work on logistics for being there and a tiny bit of time to get nervous.. thank goodness!
For now, I'm hoping to slow time for these last 3 days before I leave and soak up time in my nice bed and eating good food and enjoying non-humid weather!
Summer plans have been the question for a couple weeks now, and let me assure you: I have been thinking about them for a lot longer. A lot of thought and prayer has brought me to this point and is still happening because what I'm about to share was never “my” plan for my life—and I have had a lot of doubts. Thankfully, God has worked with me and given me many opportunities for growth and the realization of HIS more wonderful plan for me. Over the two years I have been reevaluating my priorities and goals with new eyes and a perspective that I can confidently say only came from God. So many sermons, songs, and versus in the past months and years have convicted me to give my life for Him and to spread His love rather than chase the corporate dream I had always imagined. One particular conviction has been the story of Abraham and how he followed God to leave all that he knew—without doubting or questioning. Early my journey the verse Luke 6:46 became a convicting guide for me as well: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”. I know God has called me but I have not done what He has asked..
Yet. I am working on it.
In the back of my mind, my time on South Caicos was a personal test to see how well I could handle being away from my family for so long and staying close to God without the large church support group I am used to. And wow, it was definitely a test. It was so good for me: while the environment was beautiful, I quickly learned that life in the Caribbean is not paradise and not glamorous. I had no air conditioning and only got one freshwater shower a week (the rest were saltwater), I slept in a bunk with mosquito netting, I ate rice and beans for many nights of the week. And there were cockroaches and mosquitoes and I was perpetually sticky with sweat from the heat. At that point it was easy to doubt God’s call because it didn’t seem so “fun” anymore, but many sermons and prayers later made me realize that just because I didn’t like the idea didn’t mean that God was changing His mind. It has been a test of faith to follow in a direction that may not be my choosing.
But God provided so many opportunities for learning in those three months, including some wonderful conversations to witness and be questioned by my peers at the research center. I felt pushed spiritually more than I have ever been in school or college, and by people who were truly searching for answers. It was absolutely amazing and so clear that the words coming out of my mouth weren’t mine, but His. I treasured these experiences and realized that this is what is meaningful and important in life—spreading news of the gospel through all the world.
Halfway through the semester we had a break, and I talked to Brother Loren Dettwyler from my home church, Silverton, about visiting Jamaica during that time. He is on the Jamaican Operations Committee, and told me that the JOC was planning to be in Jamaica the same week. God really orchestrated that weekend so I could see what missionary life was like without being surrounded by work teams and friend groups. A missionary couple who had moved back to the States also presented on the challenges and stress of being a missionary and that was constructive for me to hear. In all, it was a challenging and emotional weekend because I saw how hard life could be but I knew that God was still calling me in that direction.
Then I went back to South Caicos to finish out the semester, and then came home to Oregon in December. The adjustment back to “regular life” has been difficult in its own way, and clarifying too. I’ve played around with ideas of what I could do, how I could be valuable while using the talents and interests God has given me. I’ve stumbled across microfinance, and would love to develop an environmental microfinance program to support families and young entrepreneurs. I think it would be beneficial to mentor businesses throughout the process to teach environmental education and basic business skills so development can be done in a way that will preserve the long-term health of the environment. Ultimately, this will benefit the people by conserving the environmental resources they use to survive. I just want to serve and know God will place me in a position to do that, to fill the needs that are there.
I want to use this summer to prepare myself for whatever role God has for me-- which is a challenge in itself because I don't have many people to look to who have done this before. I can clearly remember an evening just a two months ago where I was walking around campus and talking to my dad about this, playing out different scenarios and what would be a good place for me. That conversation broke me down: I felt like all of my well-built plans had finally collapsed and I had nothing to lean on, no guarantees for the future if I was to fully embrace this. But since that night of brokenness, God has shown Himself as Awesome as always, bringing together plans I never would have dreamed of.
A position opened with Enactus, the entrepreneurship organization I am a part of, to coordinate a microloan program in Nicaragua for 6 weeks this summer. I will now be one of three interns to travel there, disburse loans, run and evaluate a business workshop, and find new non-profit partners for next year. Plans are coming together quickly since we are leaving mid-June... in just a few weeks! I had never thought this was an option, even though I knew we did microlending to entrepreneurs in Nicaragua -- I had thought the summer team was already chosen. The night after my talk with dad, I asked our faculty adviser about it and she said if I wanted a spot, I had one. That moment was so humbling for me and such evidence of God organizing things.
I will get back to Oregon at the end of July and then have a few days before going to a scholarship conference in Tucson. God has blessed me with some awesome opportunities and one of these was a scholarship that also sends students to a leadership conference in Arizona. While I will be missing out on more time at home, I am excited to meet other scholars at the conference and go to Tucson church.
After getting home from Tucson, I will be interning for 5 weeks at the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. The path to this point has been an adventure if there ever was one, but it is actually happening. For those who don't know, in the 1980s, a Bangladeshi professor loaned a few dollars to some women who were barely living at the poverty level. This money allowed them to buy supplies for their craft-making businesses and cut out the middleman so they could make a decent living. This idea of providing "microloans" was so successful that the Grameen Bank was started, now serving millions of borrowers and allowing people to pull themselves out of poverty by loaning them just a little bit to get started. Grameen is now the "Apple" or "Microsoft" of the microfinance industry. I will be interning here to learn the processes of microcredit and how to set up (and fund) these systems.
So I'm packing a bag again. And leaving home. And following God in whatever plans He has for me, which I am still finding out myself.
And I need your prayers!
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.