Christmas 2020

The Christmas season here in Nicaragua feels in many ways the same as it does in North America. Yet, like different regions of the U.S., there are a few cultural adaptations you may find interesting.

Families, friends, and food are, like our tradition, paramount and take center stage in the Granadino celebrations. We get together, we eat too much, and our conversations are filled with laughter. Mostly it is just like sitting around a table in any home in any state reminiscing about the joys of Christmases past and the hope for those yet to come.

One of the big differences is the sound. The crowded murmur of folks shopping is just like home. But we have not been inundated with Mel Torme and Mariah Carey ad nauseam since October. And even in non-pandemic years the crowds are smaller than you might expect in St. Louis or Cincinnati or Indianapolis. But the crucial difference is fireworks and bands.

Every night from the beginning of December until New Year’s Day you can expect a serenade of “bombas” and snare drums every evening until 10 PM and then awakened to the same around 5 AM. Imagine your local high school marching band walking through the set of Apocalypse Now every day. That’s how we celebrate the season; Sitting in our sala, front door wide open, watching the kids shoot off their fireworks. It is a sight to see and an experience unlike many I have witnessed.

I admit that my dog and I have differing views on the cacophony. I look at it as cultural baptism, she is sure the Marines are invading. Sleepless nights and rude awakenings are common during this time of year.

Otherwise we sweat more, bundle less, yet have the same sparkling lights, decorations and crèches.

The community of Expats have their traditions as well. Solicitations of gift baskets and food giveaways are more prevalent. A group I have grown very close to here, who have been practicing social distancing, get together for a luscious meal. Even this year there is no end to the number of welcoming invitations I have received to join in the festivities.

Most of my time, however, is spent planning for the next year.

We have made tremendous strides in 2020 in spite of, and maybe because of, the greatest challenges we have faced since coming here.

We, like everyone else, cannot wait to see the ball drop January 1st. Hopefully, 2021 will wash away the stink of 2020.

I have not been back to the states since August of 2019 and I will admit I miss people. I miss family. I miss friends. But the work here is better than ever.

New classes are forming, more people are being reached, and more food is being distributed than at any time in our 5 year history.

We will be working with new people and having a greater scope than we could have ever conceived when my friend Dave and I had our first conversation about Nicaragua back in 2015. In fact our impact could conceivably double or even triple as we look to the first 6 months of 2021.

My health is good. It has been a long time since I have felt this strong. I thank God every day for that strength.

Your support and encouragement have been essential as we got through these past 9 months and we will see the harvest of that labor very soon.

I can’t tell you how much you all mean to me. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am to have your undergirding. Every day someone writes a note, or shares a post, or calls to let me know they care. You don’t know what that means and how that helps.

Thank you for everything. Thank you for working together to share love here in Granada. I don’t think I could do it without you. I am so glad I don’t have to find out.

May you and yours be blessed beyond on all recognition not only in this Holiday Season, but throughout the coming year.

Feliz Navidad.

Find a Penny

Since I first came here to Nicaragua, one of the many dreams I had was to be able to teach students English and then set up classes for them in turn to teach.

The idea of multiplication is a simple enough concept. The idea is illustrated by the old story of a grandfather who asked his precocious grandchild whether the younger would prefer 1 million dollars today or 1 cent doubled every day for a month. When I was younger my grandfather asked me the same question. I correctly solved the riddle and asked for the penny. I am still waiting for my $21,474,836.48. It was of course a way to understand the principle of replication.

Mathematically, 2 is a powerful number. We often think in pairs. We have multiple pairs of organs in our body. Some of those pairs offer acuity and others offer us redundancy. The Chinese regulated against having multiple children to ease what they believed was an overpopulation issue. The number one was not arbitrary. They knew the power of replication.

You may say that when Genesis talks about the animals on the ark, the “two by two” part was just a matter of biology. While that is partially true, it can be said that replication is a part of our DNA.

If we spent some time and looked at a graph or chart describing a news story, a rumor, a viral YouTube video, we would see that is much more time consuming and difficult to reach 100 people than it is to reach 1000. In turn, the next million is much faster. If you don’t believe me, look at some of your favorite videos or Instagram photos. See that it took longer to get from 1 “like” to 100 than it did from 100 to 200. Subsequently, going from 500,000 to a million is relatively quick. One person tells two friends, those two tell two each, and from there you can go anywhere.

That is our goal at UnoMas Ministries,

I am happy to tell you that we are seeing that dream fulfilled. It has taken almost 5 years, but beginning next month, there will be 2 additional English classes taught in Granada. Now you might not think that is significant. And simply that fact would not be significant. The amazing part of this story is that they will be taught by 2 of my students.

It is that kind of replication that is exciting to anyone who works in education.

Teaching students who teach other students who, by the grace of God, will then teach yet even more. And so it goes. Generation after generation. Doubling as it goes.

I have some friends who are named Smith. At one time that word meant something. They were craftsmen. Often we knew them by their specialty, a blacksmith or a coppersmith. But one day one man decided that he would not be put into a box. He thought, “I can work with iron, silver, gold, or any number of metals. I will call myself simply, Smith”. Now it is one of the most popular names in the world.

There may be more myth than truth in that story, however, the concept of replication is certainly true.

I am overwhelmed by the thought that someday there might be hundreds or thousands of students in Nicaragua learning a new language that will help them lift themselves up out of poverty and hopelessness. All because these first two students decided that they want to teach.

I know Christmas season is here. I will talk more about the special projects in our next installment. I just wanted to share the wonderful news that through our shared efforts, the love of God is not only being lavished on people here in Granada, but that love is being replicated to a whole new group of eager hearts.

Replication, by the way, is how all good things in life work. When you share the love of God, when you show hope in the face of hopelessness, when you show faith where there is none, you can start a chain that will be replicated for generations.

Find someone today to whom you will do just that. Then find another. Let math take it from there.

Dios los bendiga

A National Day of Thanks

Two hundred and thirty one years ago George Washington wrote a proclamation. It was his hope that subsequent presidents would follow suit. Many people have the false idea that the pilgrims, of Plymouth Rock fame, started the tradition. Others believe that Abraham Lincoln reinstated the tradition after the Civil War in the United States. Both of those are partially true. But it was George Washington who issued and instituted the initial “Day of Thanks” in the newly minted Democratic-Republic we know as the U.S.A.

Our neighbors to the north, Canada, share a similar tradition without all of the retail implications of the Friday following our Thanksgiving. Theirs is celebrated in October.

The national holiday was not in statutory place until 1941. So as legal holidays go, it’s is a pretty recent newcomer.

In Nicaragua, they call this day, “el Día de Acción de Gracias” or “the day for the action of thanks”. The giving part of Thanksgiving is an action verb. We have lost that meaning in English. Now that a lot of my time is spent teaching English grammar, let me tell you that it has the same, if not lost, significance. We give thanks. The verb “to give” requires an object either directly or implied. In common usage we don’t always finish the sentence but on this day I think it behoves us to find an object in our administration of thanks.

Find someone to whom you will then give your thanks. We don’t call this “thanks contemplation day”, or “thanks meditation day”, we call it ThanksGiving. In Nicaragua, like you, we have faced many challenges during the past year. Hurricanes (multiple), Covid-19, and a lackluster economy have left our little nation desperate for something for which we can be thankful. We found it. It’s each other.

There was a fundraiser for the work on the physically challenged that burnt down last New Years. A local veterinarian lead a caravan of volunteers to the storm ravaged east coast. New classes are starting every week in our own ministry. We have a lot to be thankful for.

I believe … if you think about it … you do too.

There are two takeaways from these musings that I hope you get.

First, make the Thanksgiving season one of active thanks. Thank our God, thank your family, thank your friends, verbally, intentionally and enthusiastically.

Secondly, and more for the English teacher in me, I want you to actually read, word by word, George Washington’s first proclamation. We don’t write this way anymore. The elegance, simplicity, and passion is felt as he did not waste one word or sentence. It is a beautiful piece. Look closely about his use of the words “rational and reasonable”, as well as an almost prophetic line about diffusing information. It is a salient today as it was in 1789.

Also, I included a 7 second video of one of the many English classes wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.

“By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

Dios los bendiga

Jeff

Send in the clowns … part 2


Usually I take this time with you to write about what is going on at UnoMas. I am still going to do that. I will today, however, do that a little differently.

I told you that I am teaching classes several days a week at a different location. I wanted to share with you some pictures of the students we are working with. These young people all have tremendous talent. From the painting of the building to the art they perform and teach, each student exhibits creativity and skill.

But what I want to share with you something that is unable to be captured sufficiently with a camera. That is their enthusiasm. Especially when a couple of the young men are trying to look cool for the camera, you can only barely see the exuberant hearts that beat inside.

Every one of these students could choose differently. Their barrio is ripe with drugs and gangs. They have few viable, healthy options and no easy ones. They have decided to better themselves. They have decided to learn a foreign language. Foreign at least to them, yet essential as a part of a plan to escape their present condition.

I write about hope a lot. These are the faces of hope.

I pray everyone is safe and healthy. Thank you for your continued prayers for Guillermo and his wife and family. Thank you for the prayers and encouragement you have given me. We live in what seems like a very broken world but together we can mend a little bit at a time. There is hope. Never lose that.

Dios los bendiga

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Send in the Clowns

There is a poor barrio in Granada that doesn’t get much press. Many of you have heard me speak of Pantanal, one the poorest in Central America. You might remember I used to live in the adjacent barrio of Adelita. You might even remember La Saboneta or Boca Negra, because of the feeding programs we have sponsored there. But one I have never mentioned is called El Escudo. The Spanish word means shield. It also could mean a “Coat of Arms.” I am not sure where the name came from at this point. Sometime, I am sure; some historian of Granada will let me in on the story.

There is a big, old building there that used to be a storage facility for LP Gas bottles. Hence, like so many places in Nicaragua, the name is simple and descriptive: “House of the Bottles” or “Casa de las botellas”.

The remnants of its old function are long gone. What have replaced the bottles are brightly painted walls, a kitchen, a library, and two large seemingly empty rooms. At first glance, one might not be able to discern its present function. But upon review, you will see the rolled up mats, metal bowling pins, and balls of all sizes lining those walls. You see, now this is a training ground for future circus performers.

Your reaction might be similar to mine. When I first heard of this place, I was incredulous. Why would anyone ever try to teach juggling or acrobatics to anyone? I wondered if Granada had some rich tradition in performing arts. I thought maybe it was like Peru, Indiana, a city I lived near for almost 20 years before I knew it was home to a clown college. But the answers to these historic questions are still unanswered.

Its present use is, however, quite evident.

This organization takes children from the barrio, and like many of the projects I worked on in the U.S., tries to divert and exploit the natural energy and curiosity of youth into something fun. Every week, volunteers, many of whom are former students, teach classes in tumbling, juggling, clowning, and even sleight of hand.

Why do I bring this up? There are two reasons. First, I could list several different organizations that are trying in their own way to help the people of Granada. Missionaries, non-government organizations, and volunteers are hard at work. I never want to give the impression that I am the only person in Granada trying to do his part to help our city.

The second reason is more personal. I visited the house and began to speak to the head teacher. I mentioned off hand that it would be a perfect place to hold English classes. Without even blinking, he looked at me and said, “OK!”

I said he didn’t blink, but his eyes did twinkle. He basically gave me one condition. That was that I would hold classes for the staff and offer them to any children of the neighborhood. I, of course, agreed.
So now, after months of uncertainty about the future of classes in the makeshift locations and school buildings we have used before, we now will have some spaces to invite new students and children to be a part of our shared ministry.

After school programs have been shown to be very effective when thoughtfully run. This is already a place where kids can come and get a break from their otherwise mundane life. Instead of heading down the wrong paths in life, they might get a sense of belonging and acceptance that they have not had before. And I will be lucky enough to do a comparatively small part in helping them achieve their goals.

No other classes or students or programs will suffer from this addition. It will just be another way that we can share love to another group of young people. I am looking forward to the opportunity.

There was a boy written about in the 1880s named Toby Tyler. In the story he ran away from home and joined the circus. It was fictional, but we have retained the idiom even today. I am not joining the circus. But I am going to help children who someday might.

Look forward to pictures and stories in the weeks ahead as we begin another adventure together.

Continue to pray for our friend Pastor G.  He is still suffering from pain in his back and his wife is still recovering from her heart problems.

People are being lifted up and families are being bolstered because of our collaborative efforts. Thank you all for your continued encouragement. I couldn’t do it without you.

Dios los bendiga.

Unassailable Love

I write a lot about the holy trinity of human attributes: faith, hope, and love. I am not ashamed about that and I obviously believe that they are three things that are essential to living a satisfied life. When one loses any of the three it can be devastating for them and all who are around them. But as Paul announced in the first letter to the Corinthians, “the greatest of these is love.”

Love is a funny word in the English language. On one hand it can describe the deepest emotional bond one can attain with another human being. On the other, it also expresses ones fondness for MacDonald’s french fries.

Spanish is a little clearer. We use one word for enjoy ( me encanto), another word for that deep, soul uniting, passionate love( te amo), and even a third for that in-between feeling. When you say “te quiero”, it is akin to saying. “love ya” or something similar when you don’t want anything to be misunderstood as romantic.

Poems have been written and songs have been sung about unrequited love. Volumes of books have been written about unconditional love. I want to talk about unassailable love.

I met an interesting character in my journey this week. Actually I met two people. Both of them were over 90 years old. They live in a home for the elderly near Managua. He was born in Russia. She is Nicaraguan. He is a scientist. He doesn’t work anymore, but I use the present tense intentionally because I don’t believe that true scientists ever lose their passion for inquiry. She is a writer. No longer writing the headlines of the day for thousands to see, still a journalist, she takes time every day to express her thoughts on a page.

Both were children of diplomats and met each other the first time as children. Their nomadic lifestyles did not them allow them to have more than a pre-teenage flirtation before World War II. Their lives continued forward for many years, separately.

He had not had the best of luck with religions. His family was Jewish and forced to renounce their faith in order to hold a government job in the then Soviet Union. He was able to travel to Great Britain for an advanced degree. There he found Christianity, which was none too welcome news to his superiors.

He worked at the same research facility as before. He had a friend who helped him continue his experiments even though he was demoted to janitor. At that time of the demise of the Soviet Union he was restored to his former position.

Huge changes in both of their homelands found them once again face to face, only now in 1990. This time they were at conference in Havana. He was a presenter. She was covering the event. They were older and wiser. They had both known love. One lost by divorce, the other by death.

They, of course, did not recognize each other. But they were drawn together. They began to talk and couldn’t believe what was happening. Now in their early 60s in spite of the years apart, there was still a spark.

The conversation, according to her, went something like:

M: “Hello Dr. P, I’m Maria from La Prensa”
I: “Nice to meet you, Maria.”
M: “It’s funny, I knew a boy with the last name P. when I was a little girl. I had such a crush on him.”
I: “Oh, really, what was his name?”
M: “Ivan”
I: “I’m Ivan”

They shared how they were both near retirement age but wanted to travel. They decided quickly that they wanted to do that together. They were married within two weeks.

Now they are retired, not only from their jobs, but from traveling as well. They spend their days talking and drinking tea and playing chess. She wins most of the time.

What struck me was the way he looked at her. At that moment there was no age in his eyes. There were no lines on his face. There was only the glow of love beaming outward.

It took them 50 years. But their love was certainly unassailable. It was unconquerable. It was undying.

That’s the type of love we need to share with the world today. Love that will triumph over anything. Christian philosophers have said that because we were created by a God of pure love, we are made in the image of that love, and therefore to share love is the greatest expression of our devotion to God.

I can’t argue with that. There is a lot of hate and turmoil in our world. But we, no matter what, can love. It is at the end unassailable.

God continues to bless here in Nicaragua. We have new opportunities every day for outreach. We are praying for you and I hope you are doing the same for us. We are still feeding families, teaching children, and loving people. Thank you for all of your love towards us.

Dios los bendiga.

Not in the headlines

Chadwick Boseman was an American actor famous for playing among other memorable roles the Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. John Thompson was elected to the basketball hall of fame for his contributions as the long time head of Georgetown University’s storied program. Lou Brock was one of the most graceful athletes to ever wear a St. Louis Cardinals. He epitomized small ball style of the game, using steals and base-running as offensive weapons. Diana Rigg, was one of my first celebrity crushes, as I was smitten after watching a rerun of television show “The Avengers”.

All of these people passed away in the past two weeks. All of them praised for their skills and mourned in the headlines of national periodicals.

Let me tell you about Maria. She, too, left this earthly realm since my last blog. She was a school teacher. She was a mother. She was a wife, daughter, aunt, cousin, and to me, a friend.

Maria did not live in Granada. She lived in a tiny hamlet about 10 or 15 kilometers away. She taught at a school near her home. Her two small children adored her and her husband will be ever grateful remembering her strength as she stood beside him as he recovered from addiction.

I met her by chance. It was nearly 3 years ago. I was teaching a class in the barrio west of town and she happened to be visiting another teacher friend of hers. We had instant rapport. I subsequently met her husband and family. We would often swap stories about the idiosyncratic nature of children and her husband was amazed by the fact that I had actually been to a Major League Baseball game. When he found out that it was a regular occurrence you could see the awe in his eyes.

About a year ago I received a phone call. It was her husband. He was crying. They had been to the doctor and heard that one word that translates in any language as a devilishly cruel diagnosis: cancer.

She had an operation. She went through the therapy. She worried about her weakened immune system as the reports of COVID-19 increased. She worried about the future of her children as the end drew near. She worried about whether or not her husband would revert back to old habits because of grief. She, like any of us sane human beings, was saddened by the prospect of missed birthdays, celebrations uncelebrated, and the future of all the lives she touched her on earth.

All of that, while courageous and selfless, is not the most remarkable part of her story.

The thing is that she, through it all, never lost her joy.

How, with all she faced, could she still flash her amazing smile every time I saw her? How could she laugh and joke when every day of her life was anything but humorous? How could she bear the thought of her fate and still have an attitude that would outshine most in their best moments?

It was her faith.

She would often quote to me the familiar scripture John 16:33.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

These are Jesus’ words to his disciples spoken near the end of his life. She took them to heart. She lived them. She knew the one who spoke them.

I saw here not too long before her death. Green scrubs, mask, gloves, and visor protecting her from the danger that might have hastened her demise should I have somehow caught the virus and transferred it to her. I looked like a doctor coming out of surgery or as one of her kids said, “a alien”.

Even then, all of us knowing what was inevitably nigh, she smiled and laughed. She even mocked my Spanish accent. One of the last things she told me was that I sounded more like a German on holiday in Mexico. I thought I had gotten down the Nicaraguan way of speaking pretty well. I was obviously wrong.

But we talked about other things. She made me promise that I would make sure her children continued with their English classes. I said that as long as I was in Nicaragua her children would have a place in my classroom.

There was a peace about her. Hope emanated from her. Even then in that what we both knew would likely be our last visit she remained content.

Today, as you read the headlines. As we see the rich and the famous eulogized. Take a moment and remember the ones who didn’t make the Internet. The many people who are gone too soon. Learn a lesson from those who crossed that great veil with dignity and peace and hope. Take heart yourselves as I do when I think of Maria and I remember.

This is not a sad blog. The only tears are the tears of laughter and joy as I see in my mind’s eye her playing with her children, teaching a class, or verbally jousting with her husband. Not because I do not miss my friend, but because I know her journey was travelled well and she is at rest. I also know I will see her again.

That is the power of hope. That’s the power of knowing that He has overcome the world.

Dios los bendiga

Now is the Winter of a our Discontent

It’s the rainy season here in Nicaragua. Like most tropical climes aggressive sunlight and heat can be followed instantly by a what seems like a deluge worthy of contemplating dusting off the old plans for the ark.

You need to know a couple of things about our country.

One, we don’t experience the dramatic changes in hot and cold here. Our seasons are different. Someone told me that the weather here does have four seasons. They are perfect, hot, very hot and rainy.

Two, while I have come to appreciate the lack of a need for winter coats and snow shovels, I also miss the crispness of autumn and the quiet beauty of a farm field freshly shrouded in a winter’s cloak of snow.

But we do have a spring. At least what looks like a spring. Instead of blues and yellows and reds awakening from a frosty hibernation, we have those lush greens of a tropical rainforest. So many shades of green that the guy in charge of the Crayola family pack would go crazy contemplating all the variations and hues. They could likely do an entire “Nicaraguan Green” 64 crayon pack. It is a sight to see.

One thing we share is that Spring, in both North and Central America, allows us to look at the new growth and view it as a harbinger of hope. The idea of Spring, the concept of Spring, the new life Spring is a annual reminder that hope and renewal are a part of our collectively shared DNA. It’s the farmer planting his crop in the eventual hope of a harvest. It’s the birds returning to their perennial nests to see new chicks born and giving us reassurance that no matter what happens, what hardships they faced on their migratory journey they will prevail. It’s the buds of trees and plants and bushes blossoming reminding us that life still flourishes.

These are our shared vision. That is our shared hope.

The first lines of the Shakespeare play Richard III is the oft quoted soliloquy, “Now is the winter of our discontent.” We can certainly relate. The year 2020 is been an hellish trip around the sun. Covid-19, unrest, division will certainly brand this year in all of our memories. It is no different here in Nicaragua.

People are sick and dying. Jobs are being lost. Dividing lines are being drawn. Upon reflection “discontent” may be the nicest word we can use to describe the problems we have faced.

What I find interesting is lines 3 and 4 of the play. We often forget about them.

“And all the clouds that loured upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”

These are words of celebration. The character is saying that the Winter is over and Spring has come.

It will happen for us as well. We have that hope. We share that hope. We are reminded of that hope every time we see a new flower or young sparrow. That is what we must focus on in order to wade through the muck of this year.

We wait for that Spring here in Granada just as you do wherever you are reading these words.

The signs are there. Another restaurant re-opening here or a new offer of jobs there. Slowly, painfully slowly, we still move forward with the work at hand. Feeding the hungry, teaching skills that will benefit whole families for a lifetime, and visibly showing the folks around us God’s love for them.

We have had a rough Winter … but Spring is coming.

Please pray for the wife of my friend. He is one of the pastors we work with here. She is integral to his ministry. We have talked about this family before. It was little more than a year ago we lost their son, Oscar, to cancer. Doña Danelia had an heart attack. She is recovering and receiving treatment, however, still needs our prayer. She will need a procedure in the near future to correct the problem and covets your prayers.

I am physically fine. God is still doing amazing deeds here with UnoMas Ministries. Your encouragement and support enable us to continue this vital work as we all hope for Spring.

Dios los bendiga

The Fruit Lady

I know it may not seem like much, but something extraordinary happened the other day. Something uncommon. A kindness was given to me.

Let me start by saying that every day there is a lady who walks by my house with a cart. When I say a cart, I should say barely a cart. It is homemade, wooden, with two wheels that look like they come from different sources. Long handles jut rearward to add leverage. The cart is filled with fruit.

I don’t have to tell you that in Nicaragua we do not have much. However, if you want fresh fruit, this is the place. Bananas, pineapples, papaya, watermelon, mangos and avocados when in season can readily and cheaply purchased.

My fruit lady comes by every day. So, about three times a week I end up buying from her. Not a lot but enough to always have fresh fruit around the house.

Last week was no different. I can’t remember exactly what I bought. Always bananas but some other things as well. I think I spent less than $1.50. We both had masks on so I didn’t ask prices I simply gave her 50 Cordobas and she gave me a few coins back. Nothing strange or new transpired.

The fruit was delicious so I didn’t really think about it.

The next day I decided to head out to the store to by some items that aren’t easily available with our cart vendors. So as I was walking out I noticed that all I had was a 5 single Cordobas and a 500 Cord note (about $15 US).

A taxi ride is 15 Cords. I don’t like breaking big bills in cabs. So I had determined that I would walk the mile or so to the store. No big deal. But I had left my puppy in the house and I did not want to be away that long. I also knew that it was not smart to flash big bills around. So hiking it was.

As I was locking my house, I heard behind me, “Don Jefe”. That means “sir boss”. Don is a common expression. I use it all the time. Jefe is an inside joke for many Spanish speakers who know my name. It is a play on “Jeff”. So I am used to that.

When I turned around, I saw my fruit lady. She was motioning me over. I was in a hurry, so I waved back and told her, “Gracias, no”. She was insistent. I was rushing, so I said it again. I told her that I needed to go. She was persistent. So I walked over and as I was walking she pulled out 10 Cordobas. I looked at her with what I am sure was a very puzzled face.

She then explained that she had charged me too much the day before. She was sorry but had calculated that number in her head and was incorrect. I thanked her and shook my head. I resisted the urge to say, “don’t worry it’s just 10 C.” Because I knew that 10 cords was a lot to her. It’s 1 cord off a pound of rice. It’s the price of a 3 tomatoes or 5 small potatoes. It could make a difference in her family’s supper. But I took the 10 Córdoba and thanked her. The smile on her face was priceless. And she simply said, “I know you love the neighborhood. People talk about you as a good Gringo. I work hard. God blesses me. I don’t need to steal.”

Wow.

It was not lost on me that I could now use the extra ten added to my 5 in my pocket and get a cab. It was also not lost on me what she had done and the next day I doubled my fruit intake.

The reason I am telling you this story is because many people get the wrong idea on how to help people who are less fortunate than we. There might even be those who will criticize me for taking the money. Compared to her on any level I certainly did not need it. One of the many wisdoms I found out in my work in Granada. You can give food. You can give clothes. You can give classes. But you cannot give anyone dignity. You can treat them with dignity. But you cannot give it to them. That comes from within.

I will continue to buy fruit from her for the rest of our lives. I will never forget that small act of self-pride she exhibited. I will more than make up for the ten cords she gave me back that day. But I will never lose the respect I have for her from that simple act.

I try every day to share my love for the people here. I try every day to give. But I will also try to not forget the fact that sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is allowing them to feel good about themselves.

My health is good. I am taking all necessary precautions serving in this Covid-19 age. There are reports of sickness and death every day, just as you are experiencing up north. Please pray for Nicaragua as we continue to pray for you.

Dios los bendiga

Verbalized Hope

I have several new students. This might sound strange in the perilous times we face. However, with the technology available we can still offer classes even when the gathering of groups of students would be at the very least unwise.

One those new students contacted me through a North American friend. He had been working at a restaurant that is unable to continue to operate during the Covid crisis. His English is not bad however he needs to work on his grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation like all of my students. He doesn’t talk much about his family but I am sure that it is a hardship for him to be out of a job.

He comes to class with a youthful joy and boundless enthusiasm that refreshes me every time we work on a lesson. I asked him one time what he hoped to accomplish with our classes. He simply said that he wanted to be ready when the restaurant opened again. He wanted to be better at his job.

I said that his enthusiasm refreshes me. I confess that isn’t always true. It certainly wasn’t true that day.

You have to know that I wasn’t feeling particularly well that day. I had a sinus s headache that has since cleared up, but I wasn’t at my best. I might have smirked at his answer. Not my best moment, but I might have. When you are not feeling as chipper as you would like, throbbing head to boot, hearing a twenty-something wield his glee around like a Fourth of July sparkler is not your first choice in entertainment. I then did something I am not proud of. I tried to steal that joy. I asked, warily, how he even knew if it would ever open again. He said, “Oh, I just know.”

I pondered about that statement.

What is optimism if not verbalized hope.

I know people who always look for the good in any situation. “Always look on the bright side of life”, some would say. But in times past I have known folks who are annoyed by such a cheery outlook. “He is not grounded in reality”, they might retort. “He is so naive”, others might opine.

I think he simply has hope. He simply can see that the new day could bring new challenges, but it could just as easily bring new victories.

We must all remember that fact. History has proven it.

The doom of dark ages were followed by beauty of the Renaissance. The great Spanish flu was followed by the roaring twenties. The depression and WWII was, at least in North America, followed by the baby boom of the 50s and 60s. There are better days ahead. I, as my friend would say, just know it.

We are still feeding people and teaching classes here in Granada. New student requests are coming in faster than I can process them. Which in itself is a cause for optimism.

Please continue to pray for all those who are suffering right now. Thank you for your encouragement throughout this crazy period in history.

We will talk again soon. Dios los bendiga.