three anecdotes of God's love shining through (unlikely) people
Tio Antonio and his hammock shop
This first story is a catch-up post from Granada. It was a hot afternoon with our whole OSU group, just a few days before half of the team flew back to the states, and we were slowly picking our way back to the hostel since it was probably 98 degrees. We pass by a few open doorways and see people inside at colorful looms, weaving back and forth, making hammocks. Of course we go inside, and we see two big open workshops full of young people at the looms and in the loft. Upon closer look I saw the tiles that encircled the room at shoulder height had sign language signs on them, and then quietness of the workshop hit me. Most of these people were deaf.
That Saturday we met with the creator of the place, an energetic man in his sixties with an untucked button-down shirt and kind eyes. His name was Tio Antonio and he has a heart like no one else. He told us of his journey to show Granada and the world that deaf and blind people can work. After personally entreating many of the hundreds of hotels and restaurants in Granada to hire these capable workers, Tio Antonio decided that he must provide some sort of employment since no one else would. The hammock shop was born, though Tio Antonio readily admits that at first the hammocks they made were terrible. He says how crooked and ugly they were, but that Western tourists would stop in and buy the hammocks anyway because they were made by people with disabilities. At that, Tio Antonio closed down the shop and said they wouldn’t open again until they were making the best hammocks in the world. He wanted to preserve the dignity of these people, and have their work sought after because it was truly good. Now they are open and making incredible hammocks. Last year they had a hammock ordered by Pope Francisco and sent to the Vatican. A blind young man made it.
After these successes, Tio Antonio went back to the council of hotel and restaurant owners to ask about opening their employment to people with disabilities. Yet still, they were not interested. The conversation moved on and the employers began talking about their biggest problem with their workforce: that the maids talked all day long and didn’t get very much work done. Tio Antonio said he would give two fingers off his hand if his workers could talk to each other. That made me want to cry – the unfairness of it all and the load that some people have to bear. Tio Antonio has since opened up a café inside the hammock shop that is staffed only by deaf people, and is ingeniously designed: menus have clear pictures and lists of ingredients so you just point to what you would like or don’t want. Tables also have sign language cards with common signs like please, thank you, the check, salt, pepper, etc. I had some delicious banana pancakes and a glass of mango juice, and the system worked flawlessly. Tio Antonio is doing such amazing work and he is such a big-hearted person that we just want to do anything we can to help him and the people he works with.
A woman named Susan on the coast
The next story is from our time in Limon Dos, on the coast. The place we were staying in had no internet (just lots of cockroaches) and we were desperately needing to connect with our advisor at the university. Plus it is hard to travel for multiple days without internet in general -- not being able to connect with family and friends back home. So I spent Sunday morning laying in my bunk in the steamy hot room, hearing a wonderful Sunday sermon of Zechariah 6 and John 10, reminded that:
· The more I give up, the more I gain. The more I die, the more I live.
· Listen to the right voice, the voice of God.
· There may not be flowers on the road He calls us to, but a crown.
In the afternoon I joined Annalee on the beach and we met a woman named Susan from Florida who has recently moved to Nicaragua and now has condos for rent for the few tourists they get in Limon Dos. I’ll admit I was hesitant and unimpressed when I met her: a wiry woman in her fifties, with dirty blond hair, smoking a cigarette on the porch with a drink in front of her. Still, traveling teaches you to keep an open mind and learn to get to know new people, and so I’ve been working hard not to let preconceived notions color my opinion of people. After twenty minutes of congenial conversation, Susan invited us to come back to her place to use the internet, and even offered us a ride over there. We told ourselves that we’d only stay an hour to Skype our advisor and catch up on email, but the late afternoon turned into evening and we got a lot of work done while talking with Susan about her experiences and making her laugh over the dynamics of our group. She brought out sodas and popcorn and hooked up outdoor lights to light the patio. At 10 PM, she said she would have made us burgers if she would have known we had so much to do, but improvised with PB&Js, Powerade, and mini candy bars. She was the mom we needed right then and super friendly and a ton of fun to get to know. She then gave us jackets and a big camping light to walk back with, and we trekked back home under the stars, which were gorgeous.
Two days later we were trying to get a driver to come out to rural Limon Dos to drive us to Leon, and we knew Susan had contacts so we stopped back over. Her husband was on their front porch drinking coffee and about to start a cigarette, and his arms were covered in tattoos. It is always hard for me to get past first impressions like that, but he then spent the next hour on the phone with various drivers he knew to get us the best price for the four hour trip. He put his morning completely on pause for us and went above and beyond to not just find the contacts, but to personally call them and schedule the trip. Both Susan and her husband were perfect examples that outside appearances mean nothing and that some people really do have hearts of gold.
Last story: adventures from our first trip to Ocotal (this entry is from my journal, 7/9)
Long but good day of traveling up to Ocotal, consisting of two 2-hour chicken bus rides, one to Esteli and then one to Ocotal. The temperatures slowly dropped to a pleasant level and we climbed gray-purple mountains until we were driving in lush green landscapes of scattered farms and fields. As our noisy chicken bus thudded past a small community, I saw an idyllic green field nestled in between the trees and mountains and an eclectic mix of kids in colored tshirts kicking a soccer ball around. It was such a carefree and picturesque scene, one that makes your heart happy.
We made it to Ocotal without incident, and then had a wonderful meeting with Claudia and Wilmer, the two Nicaraguans who are starting this coffee exporting business. Claudia set up accommodations for us, and since there aren’t enough rooms, Annalee and I are at one place and Dawson is two blocks away at another. He came over to talk after dinner, and we told him of our awesome sweetheart of a hotelito owner, a grandmotherly woman who gave us a grand tour of our room (a modest space with paint-peeling walls and threadbare sheets, but presented with gusto). She then ensured that we knew how to work the fan – and then when it didn’t work, she went to bring us another, and then showed us how to work the tiny, 6 inch TV even though we said we didn’t need it – and when that didn’t work either, she brought her husband in to fix it.
Dawson left around 11 pm or so for his room and Annalee and I got ready for bed. About twenty minutes later we hear a knock, which makes my heart start racing since we’re in an unfamiliar place and it’s so late. But since I am the closest one to the door, I answer it even though I am not wearing my glasses. I see a guy and it doesn’t hardly register and then he leans in and yells “Ahhhg!!” and I jump so bad it probably took ten years off my life. But it’s just Dawson, and he’s back to tell us that he is locked out of his place because the guards closed the big wire gates to the property. After a few minutes of awkwardly debating options (Annalee and I are both in our pjs and not wanting to go out), we decide that we will all go over with him and call the guard. Our Spanish is better than his anyway. We hurriedly get dressed a bit more and put our glasses back on, then with phone flashlights and flip flops we try to sneak out of our hotelito as quietly as possible, all while realizing how scary this is – long shadows everywhere, and little light. As we’re just nearing the outer gate, our little grandma host comes in her nightgown to see what is going on. We explain in broken Spanish and a lot of gesturing and pointing what happened and why we are sneaking out with Dawson. She points down the street and says something about walking, then says its peligroso (dangerous). At that, Annalee and I both back up and say we don’t want to go – let’s just let Dawson just go himself – but then the lady coaxes us all back outside and tells us some more, gesturing that she’ll watch us walk the whole distance so we’ll be safe. Somewhat appeased, we set off and she even walks with us. Only ten steps down the street, we pass a night guard and I presume the exchange between him and our protector lady contained an explanation of why three women in pajamas are walking one guy with a backpack down the street at such an hour. We were a strange sight. Not two minutes later, a dog rushes at Dawson, setting off at least three others to start barking and something starts hitting a tin roof nearby that sounds like gunshots. On instinct, Annalee and I spin around and run back to seek safety in the hotelito, so scared and terrified and laughing at the idiocy of it all. I almost wet my pants. Literally the scariest moment I’ve had in a while. Crazy! Somehow the dogs calmed down and the woman, security guard, and her husband (now awake as well) all watched Dawson until he made it safe to his place. Then they chuckled and pantomimed our scared run and the look on our faces when the dogs came running and told us that it was all fine now. Then our grandma lady wished us a peaceful night and told us she had guard cats so we should feel safe. She walked us back to our room and even patted Annalee on the shoulder. I ended the night thinking, This woman is an angel, and God is surely with us. We woke the whole place from the dead of sleep and they all became instant protectors anyway, even though we could hardly communicate with them. Crazy crazy.
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.