Let It Rise.

A few weeks back, this gluten-free girl got her hands covered in the dreaded glutinous mixture. And it was awesome.

I had been visiting a small community where we built improved ovens, doing follow-up with the families. A sweet family invited me for a bowl of soup (hello, deliciousness) and then pulled out about thirty pounds of dough from their kitchen, ready to roll and bake. I kindly invited myself to stay and help. Yep, that happened.

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Breadmaking is quite the process here. Besides going into town (half hour away) to buy ingredients, you then have to mix together (by hand) thirty pounds of dough. The dough is then run through a mill of sorts, that this family constructed (pictured above).

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Then, you cover your hands in oil, roll the dough into small balls and set to rise for about 10 minutes.

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Then, each ball is made into a specific type of bread. We made three different types that day: relleno, simple and pico.

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Doña Lillian showing me how to make pico.

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Pictured below is the sweet bread that is filled with a sugar/flour/coloring mixture.

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While the family is waiting to make some adjustments to their improved oven, they continue using their traditional oven, pictured below. This beast gets preheated for about an hour before all the wood is taken out and the dough put in.

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And what would a blog post be without some pictures of the cuties I got to hang out with while baking?!

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Sharing an ice-cream treat.

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Squishy faces.

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This little lady wasn’t too sure about the little chick.

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Such a doll.

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What I loved most about bread day, was the community. The whole family helped, neighbors came by to lend a hand, and a little glutinous community formed around the kitchen table. Pretty incredible.

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River Gems.

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When you get approached by this group of girls at a rural river and they ask you in whispers to take their picture, you absolutely do not say ‘no’. Once they saw the group picture I snapped, they requested individuals, which is how this happened:

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Oh sweet girls, thank you. Your sweet and sassy spirits and beautiful faces did my heart a world of good.

Don Félix.

About 3km off a small highway to the beach is a turnoff to a small pueblo tucked into some beautiful hills. Walk half a kilometer down this road. When you reach the main corner of the small community, take a right and follow the road another kilometer even farther out into the middle of nowhere until the road ends.  The small wood house on your left is where you can find this amazing guy:

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Meet Don Felix, who I had the privilege of getting to know on Christmas Eve. This incredible man is 105 years old, still collects firewood for his family and can often be found wandering his corn fields. I had gone to the house to teach some folks how to make sugar cookies and banana bread, and he was sitting in a chair in a corner of the smoke-filled kitchen. Greeting me with a gummy, toothless smile and I was smitten. His family asked me if I could take a few pictures of him to print, and well, duh, I agreed.

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He didn’t understand what was going on when I snapped this first one, but after showing him on the camera what the picture looked like, this was his face. The largest smile I have ever seen and a loud, triumphant “BAH!”. It is a little blurry, but the following photo is his reaction to seeing his picture on the camera:

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Quite probably the most special and precious moment I’ve had yet in-country. We took some more and he quickly got to work posing, then wanting to see his picture. I’m predicting an even longer life that includes a stand-up modeling career for this guy.

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Thanks Don Felix and fam for allowing me this privilege. Just such a joy!

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I’m going to attempt to post a bunch of Christmas photos and stories in the coming days, as well as a recap of my Dad’s time here the week before. These past weeks was full of amazing memories and I can’t wait to share some of them!

La Purisima.

¿Quién causa tanta alegría?

¡La Concepción de María!

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The Christmas season is celebrated in a unique way here in Nicaragua. Lots of bombas (fireworks that don’t actually look like anything, just make a lot of noise), roasting pigs, small strands of Christmas lights, and La Purisima, which we celebrated on Saturday night.

The holiday is a Catholic celebration of the immaculate conception of Jesus, and is a cross between the ever amazing Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating and Christmas Eve carols. I didn’t quite know what I was in for, as last year during La Purisima, I was relaxing on the beach with some surf buddies in the midst of medical craziness. My host family knocked on my door Saturday evening and invited me to go ‘gritar’ (shouting) with them. I was told to bring a ‘saco’ (traditional Nica bags made of woven plastic) and off we went.

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All over town, selected houses had spent the day decorating altars on the front porches or in side alleys. Each altar holds lots of plants, flowers, Christmas lights, a statue of Mary, and sometimes pictures of loved ones who have passed away. At one of my student’s houses, they had even taken woven reindeer and a wood cart to make a large Santa meets Mary display. Awesome.

We started about 6pm and managed to go to a couple houses before the crowds formed. But as you can see from the picture below, the crowds later came! At some of the houses we had to wait up to half an hour for a turn to go to the altar area and sing.

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When it is your turn, you and your group of friends and family sing carols about Mary from a book that is available to buy around town. My family selected a variety of about 4 different ones and at each house we visited, we sang two of them. My host mom was nice enough to help me find the right page every time so I could attempt to sing with them!

After you have sung for a few minutes, you step away from the altar/display and approach the door of the family’s house, where you are handed, without fail, a present. It was ridiculous and incredible. I then understood what the saco was for. We visited about 10 different houses and I walked away with sugar cane, oranges, cookies, lollipops, fresco (fruit drinks in a bag), plastic cups and bowls, tupperware and my favorite, this awesome mug:

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So here’s to the start of the Christmas season. My little strand of Christmas lights have been hung, I’m starting to buy a few gifts to send back home, Dad comes to visit soon. It will definitely be a different holiday season with not returning to the States, but a beautiful one nonetheless.

 

Thankful.

I sit here in my hammock, already sweating at 8am, enjoying a cup of stovetop-brewed coffee that still has some of the grains in it because they can’t ever be completely strained out. The street outside my house is loud, kids heading to classes, people to work, the occasional cowboy riding by on his horse. Dogs bark, fireworks go off, and life goes on. Today is not a holiday in here.

Amidst the heat, noise, and unstrained coffee, I find myself thankful.

Really, really thankful.

Thankful that this morning I could wake up and ‘aprovechar’ the wifi of my neighbors to post this.

Thankful that I now live in a house where my things no longer mold just from being inside the building.

Thankful that I have a house.

Thankful that after struggling for years with gray/cloudy skies, I am living out a two-year respite of sunshine and blue skies.

Thankful that when I went to clean out my mini-fridge yesterday, I came to realize that over half of what was inside was deliciousness I had been given by six different families. Love.

Thankful that I have a mini-fridge to clean out.

Thankful for the hospitality, love and patience of my Nicaraguan community.

Thankful I have not gotten Dengue.

Thankful that my self-care afternoon this week included spending three hours at a rural beach swimming and splashing around a natural, crystal-clear swimming pool that forms when the tide is out with local kids.

Thankful that later this afternoon I will get to be swimming in a pool and enjoying turkey, gluten-free stuffing, and no-bake cookies with some dear friends and PC staff.

Thankful that I have met some pretty incredible people over the last few weeks who have changed my views about the future, careers, and loving the job you have.

Thankful that I get to see my dad in t-minus three weeks.

Thankful that regardless of parasites, thefts, and the hard days, I get to live out this dream of spending a couple years abroad.

Thankful for my incredible friends and family back in the States who I know are rooting for me and love me.

Lastly, thankful that I have no shame in posting this early-morning, puffy-face selfie for you all to enjoy. See Mom? I’m alive and happy 🙂

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Love you all dearly. Happy turkey day!

Cemetery Celebrations.

 “Hay más tiempo que vida.”

(Translation: “There is more time than life”)

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Dia de Los Muertos was celebrated in my community yesterday. It was incredibly beautiful to be a part of, but also brought up (again) something I have been struggling with lately: the contradicting actions of living in poverty vs. spending large quantities of money.

This is a touchy topic to me. It feels incredibly personal and intimate, and yet strangely detaching. So I speak of this cautiously.

I often talk with families that claim over and over to be incredibly poor, but yet have TVs for every person in their house, or a brand new refrigerator. Where is the money to buy these new things coming from if a family is ‘poor’? Most of my ‘wrestling’ with this idea is really just me trying to learn how to not judge in the face of these conversations. I know that my understanding of these things, especially each situation, is limited, and it is not my place to label the decisions of my community. But it is hard. Especially on days such as these, when it is so blatantly evident, especially noting how much money goes into preparing the grave sites, purchasing flowers, and the elaborate displays that are erected at each headstone. Family’s really invest in this each year. Some more spendy, others more humble. But regardless of much money is spent, it is obvious how important this time is to community members.

And for that, I am learning to observe and appreciate, not judge.

 I walked with my host family to the town’s cemetery to lay flowers on their deceased family members’ graves, and was amazed at gathering of people. The cemetery had turned into a festival of sorts. Food vendors, a Catholic mass being held at the front entrance, thousands of bouquets of flowers, family cleaning headstones, kids running around, and a general feel of quiet celebration. It was calm. And beautiful.

I do believe that whatever financial decisions we make, we can all choose to pause and appreciate those who have gone before us. Something that my Nicaraguan friends and family do very well.So I will step down off of my soapbox for the moment and share with you all some images of the beauty that was in the air yesterday.

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