Introducing the 2012-2013 PDs!

The last of the old PDs left this morning and us new PDs are officially in the swing of things! We learned a lot from the old PDs in the short time we were together; their stories and achievements were encouraging and inspirational. I hope that we can continue to improve and strengthen MPI's programs just as they did. Last week we had the annual despedida/bienvenida party at El Farito to say celebrate both teams and the community. It was the perfect way to say heartfelt goodbyes and meet new friends. Especially since a piñata and a cake were involved.

Click here to meet the new team!

Getting our Sea Legs

A group shot at the women's exercise despedida

Hello! Sorry for the delay in posting—like all programs and responsibilities here at Manna Nicaragua, this blog has changed hands. We’ve recently said goodbye to all of the outgoing PDs, which has been a difficult process on several levels. Over the past month we new PDs have grown close with those on their way out, relying on them for emotional and practical support as we experience the transition that they went through exactly one year ago. While it is sad to bid farewell to the 2010-2011 team, I am incredibly excited to assume leadership of MPI Nicaragua with our new group of nine program directors. Although biographies and photos of our team can be found on our website, let me briefly introduce the new Manna Nicaragua team! Fiona Turett, Christin Stewart, Anna Gajewski, Davis Snead, Jesse Zimmerman, Carrie Torn, Maggie Thomas, and Samantha Wyatt (yours truly!) compose the new leadership of MPI here in Managua. But that’s not all! We are extremely fortunate to be joined by Matt Creeden, who has opted to stay on as a program director for an additional six months. His experience and wisdom will doubtless prove extremely helpful as we move forward in serving the communities of Chiquilistagua and Cedro Galan.

The past two weeks have been full of bittersweet despididas—in addition to the general bienvenida/despidida party that Megan described, individual classes and programs have put on specific events to thank and say goodbye to outgoing PDs. I was able to attend the women’s exercise despidida, in which women in the class prepared speeches, dancing, and food to express their gratitude for Megan, Steph, and Carly’s work over the past year. The snack of whole-wheat sandwiches prepared by the members of the class was nearly as touching as their speeches; a thoughtful reflection of the nutrition tips that Megan has offered throughout the year.

With Amanda's departure this morning, the last outgoing PD has officially headed home, leaving all responsibilities to the new team. While we still have much to learn about effectively running programs and meeting the needs of community members, I can confidently say that we already feel quite at home within the community. The joy of receiving a personal greeting or hug at the close of a class or practice cannot be understated, and even after only several weeks here, hugs and personal support abound. I look forward to detailing the development of both our programs and personal relationships here in Nicaragua as we strive to serve the communities in which we are so fortunate to live and work. Thank you for reading!

A Bittersweet 'Despedida'

          The time has come to say goodbye to the program directors of 2010-2011 and transition into the new group of volunteers for the upcoming year, which always makes for a difficult yet exciting change.  Two nights ago in El Farito we held our annual despedida party, formally presenting the new volunteers to the community and giving the old ones a chance to say goodbye.  This year was unique in that we had the opportunity to introduce the new program director, Katie Messick, to the community as well.  Even though this happens every year, it still was no easy task for the program directors to bid farewell to all of the people they had become so close with this past 10-13 months.
          So the evening began with a trivia game that required the community to investigate into the lives of the new program directors, trying to discover which of the volunteers paired up with the list of trivia facts given.  Then after Amira introduced Katie and the new program directors, a handful of girls from the community performed both folklore and reggaetown dances.  Along with the help of program directors Steph and Carly, the girls were all dressed up for the occasion, wearing traditional Nicaraguan skirts and tops with makeup and hair to along with it; they all looked beautiful and danced wonderfully.  It was then time for each of the program directors of 2010-2011 to say their own special goodbye, which lead into the final and probably most anticipated event, the photo slideshow.  The slideshow was a brief five minute video of pictures that captured just a handful of the many memories and experiences that took place this past year.  The rest of the night was then spent eating cake and hanging out with the community members.  There were tears and there was laughter and of course photos being snapped in every which direction, making the entire evening absolutely awesome but definitely bittersweet as well.
A snapshot of the community members present.
Dayana dressed up in her traditional Nicaraguan folklore outfit.
The new program directors of 2011-12.
Steph and Carly dancing with some of the community members.

learning & leaving

This weekend marks the end of our 13 months with Manna Project. The year has flown by in so many ways. Honestly, anticipation of final goodbyes and getting on that airplane is really scary. This place has become our home, community members our family. Relationships here have grown real and deep, not replacing those in the States but absolutely paralleling them. Nicaraguan women nag us and feed us (hi mom!), little Nica boys wrestle us to the ground like brothers, local university students have become some of our dearest friends. Although it's easy to say that we'll come back, who's to say when we'll see these precious faces again?! People that were once strangers have become a part of who we are.

When our commitment to this place ends on August 9, it will be hard to walk away. But we know we're leaving MPI programs in the capable hands of the newbies, and we're departing with loved ones in our hearts. I think we can all say with confidence that we leave here renewed and with perspectives redefined, with new ideas of how the world should be and what our role is in the face of injustice. We have fresh eyes to see what is reality and how we can serve to make it a better place.

On a lighter note, here are other things we've learned:
-How to drive stick on third world highways (kind of like a video game with pot holes, cows, and running children)
-How to survive extreme awkwardness during home visits
-What to do when your neighbor pulls a gun on you
-Proper handling of two insane rottweilers
-How to entertain yourself during nightly power outages
-How to buy groceries for 20 and oatmeal/vitamins/milk for 50
-What to do when the road turns into a river
-How to ignore (or yell back at) the catcalls of every single Nicaraguan man

The list could go on. The point is, we've learned and grown and laughed and been frustrated and homesick and sweaty and played jokes and taught classes and served and been served and planned and failed and succeeded and been embarassed and lived in shacks and walked in a dump and danced the night away and wrestled with kids and picked fruit and argued about religion and politics and the meaning of life...

That's how the year seems: a total whirlwind of emotions and thoughts. As we poured into this underserved community and got dirty alongside its members, somehow perspectives on life were challenged and redefined. On Saturday, we'll walk away different -- and excited about how to take the things we've learned and use them in the next phase, whatever that may be.


almost adios

hello friends, christina here. I hope you enjoy these brief stories about friends, work, events, and life in general from the past few months. les quiero!

– if you know anything about my year in nica, you probably know that the cutest 6 year old on the planet, armando, has captured my heart. a hilarious story recently emerged about his trip to swim in our pool a few months ago. apparently when I told him we were going to my house to swim, he thought it meant my house in the USA. when he returned from the swimming adventure he told his mom that the USA was a lot closer than he thought, and that all of the houses were big like in the soap operas and have lots of stuff in them! bless his little heart, I’m gonna miss this guy! equally as cute was the day we took our students to see the movie ‘planet earth’. halfway through the movie, my coworker michael took all the little boys to the bathroom (small boys, small bladders). armando was completely lost in a modern day, gleaming white bathroom with stalls. michael placed him in a stall and went to help the others. when he returned a minute later, armando was standing in the same position. he looked up at michael quizzically and asked, “where do I do it?”

– a few of our fabulous summer volunteers put on a (much needed) sexual education talk for about 15 teenage girls from the local community, all of whom are our students and friends. despite the giggling and red cheeks, they listened attentively and thoroughly enjoyed a time talking with older women and each other about all the things you need to know to be a woman but perhaps never heard from your mom! we cleared up many antiquated myths, answered their many questions, shared funny stories, and ate yummy food. it was a rich time of fellowship with one another and, in our minds, was extremely successful to open a healthy dialogue about sexuality and their body. one of the most frustrating issues I’ve encountered in nicaragua has been the issue of women’s rights and expectations pressed upon them by their culture. women are the backbone of society and get no recognition for it. it’s very common for a girl to drop out of school because she’s pregnant at age 16 (or younger!), and most girls don’t go to school when they have their periods — what an unfair disadvantage to miss 1/4 of your schooling! women slave away raising children, cooking, cleaning, working other jobs and keeping steady homes, and all of the while (most) men run around having affairs and running out on their families. the lack of responsibility and leadership amoung the male population is sad, but can you blame them? they’re only following in their father’s footsteps.

– the girls soccer team from la chureca challenged us to a game, but this time gringas vs. nicas! tressa, the girls in our second group of summer vols and I headed to chureca one friday morning ready to play. the tiny, dirt field was sloped on one end and covered in holes and bumps; it seemed more like a game of pinball at times, the ball would jump around in every direction! at one point I ran into two girls from the other team and slightly sprained my ankle, not fun. unfortunately we ended up in a tie 0-0. most exciting was the crowd the game attracted! many of the moms and kids we know meandered over to watch and ended up taunting + cheering the players on the field.

– the dozens upon dozens of volunteers that stayed at our house this year provided the fuel for a wonderful event: a clothing sale in la chureca with the proceeds benefiting the clinic. with so many volunteers bringing donations, our house had turned into a packed thrift store. kathy august, a local missionary, holds a clothing sale every few months in the nearby community of cedro galan so we modeled our sale on her past events. a clothing sale had never been done in chureca (according to the families we know there) so it was wonderful to bless them in this way! we brought in dozens of suitcases, arranged the clothing and let the madness begin. we followed kathy’s rule of 15: 15 people inside the sale at a time, 15 minutes, 15 items of clothing each. the clothing and shoes were in good condition and we priced them dirt cheap. the line was out the door and we sold an insane amount of clothing! funny moment: a pregnant woman went to check out and tried to buy 30 items of clothing. we explained the 15 item rule and she promptly pointed to her swollen belly and explained that her unborn child counted as another person!

– the tears have begun to flow. tuesday night we had a goodbye / welcome party for the community in our little schoolhouse: goodbye for the old group and a welcome to the new group of volunteers who will spend the next year living la vida nica. the room was absolutely packed by the time we started (about 120 people!). we played a slide show of pictures from the year, said our goodbyes, welcomed the new group, and allowed nica friends to come up front and say a few words. tears were shed, some friends recited poems and played us songs, it was a beautiful affair. looking around the room I was overwhelmed by all of the nicaraguan friends we were surrounded by: students, neighbors, our new families. they will be greatly missed but never forgotten!

hasta luego, christina