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31 August, 2010

You are what you eat!

Eric and I have been doing a lot of research on the types of food we eat, where it's grown, how it's grown, and how to prepare it.  We've also found value in purchasing local and organic from farmers markets rather than at the grocery stores.  For instance, we can buy a week worth of veggies for about $8-12 at the farmer's market that will last us the week, where as one small organic zucchini at the grocery store is easily $2.50 even in season!  We do splurge a little on things like cage free organic fed chicken eggs, hand crafted cheeses, and free range meats, but it's nice to meet the people who raise and make these items, and to know exactly what we are eating.

The more we read, the more we are turned off by processed food.  The more we shopt at the farmer's market, the more frustrating it is to shop at the grocery store.  It's amazing the sugars, fats, and salts added to packaged food.  Eric and I have both noticed a difference in our skin, energy, digestion, headaches, and food intake all for the better.

It took several weeks for us to detox from processed food.  We found ourselves hungry (due to lack of fillers) and craving treats (lack of sweeteners), but now we are more than satisfied with lots of fruits, veggies, lean meats, and homemade carbs.

Yes, this way of life has come with a cost:  we have to plan our meals AFTER we go shopping, which can mean a second trip to the grocery for addition items; we have to be sure to keep our schedule free during farmer's market hours; be realistic with how much we can and will eat no matter how good or cheap it is; be willing to try some new foods

In the end we find it a good trade off.  While many argue that eating this way is more expensive, we've found it to be fairly on par with what we were spending on a mix of fresh and prepared foods, as long as we eat seasonally and at the farmer's market.  No individually wrapped three dollar zucchinis in THIS house!  For $3, I'd rather drink a beer!

22 August, 2010

Managua, Nicaragua what a wonderful place!

Before I start cutting down Eric's beautiful thank you letter about our week long trip to Mustard Seed Communities, I wanted to share the long version with you....

Family and Friends,

            Elizabeth and I are back from Nicaragua.  We thank you for making our trip possible through your donations, thoughts and prayers.  There is no way we can properly thank you for what you have done for us and for the children at Mustard Seed Communities (MSC), but we wanted to try by giving you a glimpse of the journey.

            The first day was just a flight and arriving at the mission house.  Our first real day we loaded onto the old school bus and made the hour and a half drive from Diriamba to Managua to meet and pick up some of the MSC children for Sunday Mass.  After Mass our group headed back to Hogar Belen, the MSC orphanage.  Time at the orphanage is what we had all anxiously been awaiting since first signing up for the trip.

            As you may recall from our previous letter, many of the children have physical or mental disabilities, making it difficult for us at first. No ground rules were given as to how to handle their conditions or even what their conditions were.  In a matter of moments it did not matter as we watched the caregivers treat them just like any other kids! We all started by just sitting with the kids and smiling and holding their hands.  The atmosphere quickly changed as we got more comfortable. We began picking up the kids and crawling on the floor with others.  Music got turned on and a dance party ensued.  I became partial to Elvira, a 5-7 yr old who couldn’t walk.  She never made a sound over the hours that we played, but she had a smile that would soften the heart of even the angriest person.  She loved being lifted high above the others and being dipped backwards, as did many of the other children in the chaotic dance party.  Elizabeth latched on to a toddler named Kevin, nicknamed "Special K". He too never made a peep, but with his loving eyes, it was obvious he enjoyed snuggling and dancing with E. After several hours it was time to head back to Diriamba for dinner, prayer and bedtime.

            The next three days consisted of physical work to build and maintain the property at Hogar Belen in Diriamba, where the older orphans live.  Our group of 22 was split into 3 projects; painting roof panels and steel beams for the administrative building being constructed; shoveling, moving, and pounding dirt to level out the floor of the same building; and tying up nearly an acre of tomato plants.  Most everyone did a little of everything over the 3 days, but eventually found their niche.  E was a master painter and kept her crew entertained by played word games, making up stories, and discussing literature. I chose to paint the first day but quickly settled into breaking up the dirt with a pickaxe.  When I got too exhausted to continue, I helped with the tomatoes.  One lucky day, I was instructed that (as the only willing and thrill seeking male adult!) I would have to retrieve more stakes to use in tying up the tomatoes … from a tree … with a machete.  At points I was higher than our two story mission house swinging a machete at 4inch branches all while trying to maintain balance in a swaying tree.  They told me we would be working, but this was just plain fun!

            In the end the group dug up, moved, and pounded down enough dirt to covered almost all of the floor and the patio a foot deep; painted 20+ each of roof panels, 2”x4” beams and 2”x6” beams; and tied up the entire acre of tomato plants.  That’s not too bad considering at least 12 of our members were sick with a fever and nausea for at least one of the three days.

The daily rainstorms would begin anywhere between 2 and 5 PM, so some of the work projects ended a little earlier than others.  The teens would cycle through showers, and then begin to play with the children there.  The children at Hogar Belen Diriamba are older, mostly ages 7 - 22.  Because most of them were able-bodies, we were able to games outside with them.  We spent hours on the swing set, playing soccer, making silly faces, and duck-duck-goose.  The kids who could speak loved to be in charge, and even asked if they could use our cameras to take pictures!  One afternoon we had a bilingual prayer service which including the daily Mass readings, a short reflection, and then we taught them a song in English and then the kids taught us one in Spanish (complete with maracas and tambourines!).  We loved sharing time in prayer and in song.

            Luckily by day 4 all of the group, except E and one other, was in good enough health to go to the sewing center in Managua. This sewing center is made entirely possible by donations raised from the Saint Brigid Missionaries.  The women were eager to meet us and thank us for the opportunities provided to them by our generous donors. Here we met the women from the city dump who, by teaching them a skill and allowing them to make money by selling beautiful handmade products, like bracelets, purses and dresses, are now able to live in homes and suppor their families.  After we spoke with the women and made some purchases, we headed to the city dump to see where they had come from. 

            Just a few blocks from the sewing center is the city dump. At least a block before could be seen, the smell made the dump's presents known.  We drove into the shantytown that bordered the heaps of trash, where the houses looked as dreadfully unstable as you imagine them and see in some movies.  After giving some candy to several children and watching their faces light up as they politely thanked you, we headed back toward the trash.  We had to get permission from the security guards to walk into the dump area.  This made us all, especially the responsible adults, nervous for our safety, making us think that these poorest of the poor might take anything and everything from us.  When we were finally allowed to proceed, we gathered into small groups and made our way into the hoards of people eagerly awaiting the freshest trash to scavenge anything they could eat, wear, use, or sell.  We handed out candy, rosaries, and bandannas and every single person waited patiently and with big smiles for us to hand them our goodies.  Almost everyone expressed thanks verbally or through head nods. No one was rude or aggressive, as we had anticipated.

            From there, we headed to a picnic lunch atop a mountain for a view of the city and then back to Hogar Belen, Managua.  We were all dying to play with the children, but were hesitant because of the virus that had run through our group over the previous days.  In the end, our desire to play with the children won out and with the approval of the staff, we were right back to picking up the children and whirling them around.  After seeing the dump and imagining where these orphaned, handicapped children would be without MSC and your support, we played with a new vigor and refused to put the children down even when our sore, overworked muscles felt like they couldn’t handle anymore.  When they finally told us it was time to go and we knew we would not be seeing the children again, we all said our goodbyes and gave our final hugs.  Elvira didn’t let me down as I gave her a final dip and put her back in her bed with a huge smile on her face.  The ride back to Hogar Belen Diriamba became rather adventurous when the bus broke down!  We split up into a half dozen mototaxis, glorified three wheel motorcycles with a cart and roof, for the final couple of miles, including the washed out dirt road.

    Our final day was quite a treat.  We became a heard of tourists as we enjoyed the finest sites Nicaragua has to offer.  First we swam in an old volcano crater lagoon.  The crystal blue mineral water refreshed even the sores of muscles. After lunch at the little lagoon side resort, we spent an hour shopping at the tourist market for souvenirs and ice cream treats. Next we went on a short boat ride in a lake at the base of another volcano.  We stopped at one of the islands to feed the monkeys.  Who knew they liked Cheetos?  And finally, we enjoyed a late night dinner at a local restaurant. I took the challenge and ordered cow tongue and Elizabeth found that the "side of cheese" she ordered for her beef was not in fact the cheese dip she was hoping for, but rather a 4"x4" block of fried cheese.  Heaven on earth.  After we consumed all the plantains, rice and Coke Light we could to hold us over to our next trip to Nicaragua, we boarded the bus for our last trip home to the mission house.  We spent several hours packing and cleaning, and some were lucky to sleep an hour or two before we woke up (in a downpour) at 3 am to load the bus for the airport.

Our departure was bitter sweet. While we were all excited to head home to drinkable tap water, no flies, paved roads, and our own beds, it was difficult to say goodbye to all the children, our work projects, and Julia (our Nicaraguan "mom" for the week).  

Being home has been a challenge.  We think of the children, especially Elvira and Special K, often. It's hard to be away from them because we want to give them so much, but at the same time it's comforting to know they are so loved and cared for by their caregivers and other missionaries.  We've also learned to appreciate the luxuries we have in America like running water, paved roads outside of the cities, full sized cars, global access to food sources, and spacious housing.  But at the same time, we have certainly found joy in simplifying our lives to live in solidarity with those in Nicaragua.  Even though we could consider life in Nicaragua to be "without", it is arguably one of the joyful, proud, and humble places either of us have ever visited.

Again, we thank you so much for giving us this opportunity.  Our time in Nicaragua is not to be forgotten, but rather lived on! Your prayers and donations will continue to serve those at Hogar Belen Managua, Hogar Belen Diriamba, and at the Sewing Center (and soon to come, the Baking Center!).

God Bless,

Eric and Elizabeth

PS:  Elizabeth created a video of the trip for our group to share with friends and family.  You can journey with us by watching: 

Saint Brigid Life Teen Mission Trip To Mustard Seed Communities, Nicaragua July 2010 from Elizabeth Buergler on Vimeo.