August 09, 2008
On this presentation we want to share with you the story of one family. It represents the story of a large majority of Nicaraguan families, who strive to better their lives, often against great odds.
Dona Mercedes and her family have lived in the houses of rich and wealthy of Managua most of their lives. They have worked as maids, gardeners, night watchmen, and servants most of their lives as live in servants. They were forced to emigrate to Managua to find work when they lost their land in the Northern areas of Nicaragua many years ago.
On a meager salary, and with the help of others, they have been able to educate some of their younger girls. Their life is one of daily survival, one day at a time. Her life represents the majority of the poor of Nicaragua.
Back in April, Dona Mercedes decided to leave her life "as a live in maid", because the chauffeur of that family tried to rape her 15 year old daughter. The daughter escaped by a miracle. Trusting in God, she decided to quit her job, find new work and seek a decent place to live.
August 07, 2008
Peace and greetings to all!
I hope this picture reaches you all well.
One of the incredible things about Nicaragua is the capacity of the people to smile against all the odds. Just take a look at the faces of these people. All of them have allot of reasons not to smile, but most of them smile easily. We have so much to learn from the poor.
If you could only know some of the stories behind the smiles you too would be impressed. Stories that the poor the world over experience: inter-family violence, abuse, kids abandoned by the parents, youth with no hope, drug and alcohol addiction, unemployment, etc.
The Nazareth where we live is in a barrio called Espinoza Martinez and is a mixture of smiles and poverty. This neighborhood is located on the outskirts of Managua and consists of two dead end streets, made up of mostly poor - working class families (mostly unemployed). It is in this neighborhood where we try to share the Gospel, not by running any great projects in the area, buy by simply trying practice the spirituality of brother Charles de Foucauld, which consists of being with the poor, sharing their daily lives, labors and worries. Above all, by seeking to be a real presence (the presence of Jesus) and a friend and by staying there.
We have just completed one year in our new Nazareth. We have been tested, questioned and now accepted by most of the families in the area. They are happy to have us with them. But is not easy, we see things that are not very good, difficulties that we can do nothing about. In our Nazareth there are undernourished kids, abused kids, there are scores neighborhood "drunks" who hang out on the street corners (they are "members of the community", who always greet me warmly and offer to share a drink). Actually, they prevent other gangs from coming in the neighborhood.
We see the elderly with no possibility of decent health care and youth with little perspective of a future different that the poverty in which they live. We see the frustrated unemployed men and women, desperate for any sort of job (At least once a week people come to me asking for work or a contact of any sort). Often the turn in their frustrations to the bottle for some relief and the kids end up paying the price.
As each month goes by, we also see and feel the weight the basic food basket rising, along with energy, gas, transportation and water services (in the places where they exist). How the vast majority of the poor of this country survive is nothing short of a miracle, yet is caused by "the Sin of the world". There is nothing good about romanticizing poverty, poverty is a sin! It is a disgrace to the dignity of Gods people and an offense against God.
For me, I am learning, often from my wife, how to do the little things with more love and attention. How to share a meal with the kids who show up at dinner time, right at the time when I get home from a long day of frustrating waiting and working very hard to make the smallest bit of "progress". My wife, and the poor, teach me how to open the door of my house and the door of my heart to those around us; how to share a word of encouragement to the kids and how to smile and look with hope at the teenagers who approach us.
In order to survive, in a survival reality like the one of Nicaragua, I am learning to stay focused on my small part in making this world a better and more human place to live.
Once again, I want to thank you for being a part of that "small part". I would not be here without your help.
Love, Pat, Damarys and Chris!
August 05, 2008
Tears and the price of rice and beans
Two nights later, Damarys and I went to do our bi-weekly grocery shopping in one of the poorer neighborhoods on the North side of
The little boy (around 9 or 10 yrs.) looked us in the eye, and in tears began to tell us of how he had been robbed by some older street kid of all the money he earned from selling his little bags of fruit on the street that day. He told us, in a sobbing voice, that if he went home without the money his Mom and Dad were going to beat him badly, please help.
Damarys went over and sat down next to the boy and put her arm around him. I remained standing, analyzing the situation. Over my years of work on the streets, I have learned how to respond to these situations and the first thing I try to do is see what’s the real story. Some times they are invented schemes, which is part of a street kids survival repertoire. But this one felt different.
So, after Damarys comforted him a bit, I sat down on the other side of his sister, looked him in the eyes and asked him: “So, tell me how many years have you worked on the streets? He looked back at me and said, “About 5 years”. So, I said to him, “hey my little buddy, if you have been working on the streets for that long then you should know by now that you need to get your little butt home before it gets dark! What’s the deal, why are you not at home at this time of night?
He then went on to tell us, that they “were on their way home, but the robbery happened on the way to the grocery store where they were going to buy some rice and beans with the money they earned for their family.”
After assessing the story and looking at the boy, who appeared from his style and dress to be telling us, at least some version of the truth, I said to Damarys, “hey, why don’t we help them by buying them some rice and beans to take home?” She looked at me and agreed. I told them to wait for us.
When we got back to the car they were still , waiting for us. We gave them their “rice and beans”. We offered them a ride home, but they did not want a ride. So we negotiated an agreement that if we gave them the rice and beans they had to go straight home. They agreed, gratefully took the rice and beans walked off in the night, stopping occasionally, and looking back at us… with frightened eyes.
Rice and beans, the food of the poor, which continues to be more costly as the months go by. At least for those who are not making millions of dollars in profits from the “world food crisis”.
4 bullet holes and 12 steps
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
I arrived to “the corner house” in the Monsignor barrio to pick up “John” (his anonymous name) for my weekly meeting with the Our Little Brothers and Sister Orphanage Youth Group. He was scheduled to give his testimony – talk to the group. We are in the midst of a debate about “social drinking” vs. the "evil" of alcohol.
John’s house is located on one of the main “drug corners” of this neighborhood. It is located a block and a half away from where I lived for about two years.
When I got out of my car I was immediately greeted by his wife, who was standing on the side walk in front of the house. I asked if “John was around” and she said, “yes, let me call him”. As she walked towards the door she casually pointed to the front wall of their block house and said, “hey take a look at the 4 bullet holes on the wall from last nights gun shots”. Then she walked in the door and called for John.
During my year and a half, living around the corner, I heard gun fire shots in the night,probably, about a dozen times. For those who live there, it just becomes part of the scene. Like most of the inner cities I have known in
When we arrived to the group, I introduced “John” to the teenagers and he began to share his story, which was one of a very long journey to recovery. As he talked, the group sat there mesmerized with his stories. They listened to him with wide open eyes. A good number of the kids had that “I can identify with that story" expression on their faces. Made me remember some of my own stories too.
At one point, John shared how he was expelled from the Seminary for his “social drinking” when they discovered in an chimney exhaust pipe about a years worth of Rum bottles. He confessed how badly that episode devastated his life and his dream. But that it was not enough to STOP his “social drinking” adventures.
He carried on with his finely knitted narrative of how he lost almost everything that was really worth anything in his life due to his “social drinking”. All of us followed the roller coaster story of his near death and disaster stories with amazement. He left us all impressed at the fact that he was still alive.
I think the story which impressed us the most was the time he was caught drinking with a “great looking young chick in a miniskirt”. This woman’s husband arrived on the scene, saw them together, and sat down a few tables away from them. Then the infuriated and jealous husband called out to them, as they were both hugging each other and the same bottle of booze. He then shouted out to John: “Hey you, son of a …… I have something for you!” At which point the enraged man pulled out a hand gun, pointed right toward his face and fired a shot. John said that “I felt the bullet pass right by past my cheek and hit the wall behind me. It was a miracle that it did not hit me right in the face.”
He then went on to tell us, while incredible as it was, that episode was not enough to STOP his “social drinking”. However, it did make him stop for a few months. With the help of his “best friends” he was able to forgot about the episode, as they convinced him that what he really needed to do was to “celebrate his life" with a few drinks. He said, the argument was so logical that he could not but agree; after all he was still alive! "Let's go party!" Then he carried with a series of other incredible stories.
The biggest laugh he caused, was the time he stopped dead face, and said, “No, it is not all that bad. One of the things I got as a result of my drinking is... then he flashed his glimmering smile…and said: “is my smile!”
He then went on to tell us that because of his drinking he had most of his front teeth knocked out in fist fights, and as a result he got these new fake teeth, which he showed with a smile. They were a gift from his Mom, who bought them for him with her sparse life savings.
We all ended listening to his story laughing, as he had found the way to recovery and sanity. To finish he answered our questions and then thanked us for listening to him. He offered to be available to any one in the group who needed or some one to talk to. All they needed to do was call him, and off he went home to be with his wife and kids, who were the pride and meaning of his new life.
Through his entire testimony, he kept us laughing, thinking, reflecting and questioning our own struggles to live a “clean” life.