We finally got our water purification buckets shipped, and we did it for a fraction of the initial $22,000 quote we received. (I think we might have laughed at the poor man giving us that number but he had to know that was ridiculous!) We had to load them up and take them to Phoenix (where they sat in Allen’s gracious parents’ front yard for a week while the shipper tried to fix a paperwork error!) but they were finally picked up a few days ago.
The buckets leave the States on the 12th, traveling by boat (we are literally SHIPPING them) and will arrive on Christmas Day. Allen will be distributing them to areas with no access to clean water and areas that are particularly affected by jaundice caused by water contamination.
We have not shipped to this country before so please pray with us that there will be no Customs issues (as we are distributing these freely, not selling or making money in any way) and that BOTH pallets will arrive safely and on time!
Our GraceWorks team is halfway through their 2 week Philippine trip and things are going well…
We have an outstanding team…
And the food isn’t bad either…
There are many opportunities to meet people and share the hope of Christ…
And that message is just what people need!
Wifi isn’t always available, so details are slow in coming, but we appreciate your prayers and are excited about the ministry happening! There is still a week to go, so please keep praying!
Oh, was it early! 3 hours of sleep was SO not enough. But we were going home today. Home, where I knew the language and bathrooms didn’t hate me. Home to my kids, whom I missed more than anything. I was very much looking forward to being understood again. But I didn’t count on how much I was going to miss these people, their culture, and even the language.
We were up, dressed and waiting for the airport shuttle by 4:45. Because of the conference we had attended, the shuttle was very full. I was worried we would have to wait for the next one and be late to the airport, but I forgot! This is Nicaragua! We can all fit! The driver ushered Allen and me into the front bucket seat, where, 20 years ago I could have easily fit with my husband beside me but now, not so much. Thankfully, I love my husband, we are totally into conserving space, and it was only a 5 minute ride.
At the airport I smiled, nodded, handed over my passport and pretended I was mute. Nobody bought me. I was wearing no buttons whatsoever, and no little German ladies searched me. It was going to be a good day.
Our flight was uneventful, and my adorable husband fell asleep before we even left the gate. He woke up mid-flight and wondered if we had taken off yet. And while I plagued him by taking pictures every time he fell asleep, I have to explain. Yes, every time we he sat down for even a few minutes, he fell asleep…
…but there is a good reason for this.
If you’ve known Allen for any length of time, you know he is a hard worker. It’s one of the (many) things I love about him. This trip was a whirlwind. He slept very little. He went to bed very late and got up very early. When he wasn’t in meetings, trying to #freethebuckets, driving, or preaching, he was working on the receipts and accounting books, making sure the music and teachers were ready for church back home, praying with people, praying for people, and building relationships. He missed several meals completely and ate others at odd times because he was too busy to stop. If you are a supporter of GraceWorks Global, let me assure you, this man works hard to make sure your money is used to honor Christ, and he works with his whole heart. So, when he is forced to sit, he sleeps. He wasn’t fond of these photos, but I love them because to me, they are a resounding testimony of his hard work and integrity. (Plus he’s just plain cute in them!)
Ok, so while he was sleeping, I had a lot of time to think. I mean, I couldn’t talk without getting myself in trouble, so thinking was the thing! This trip was, in every way, not what I expected. Nothing went as planned. Literally. Not. One. Thing. Not our plans at least. And even this day, the things I was looking forward to most (aside from seeing my kids again) didn’t go according to my expectations. I had spent a week being frustrated with a language barrier I could not control. I expected to be relieved and grateful when I entered the States and could once again be understood, but instead, I stood in line in Houston security, listening to everyone around me (and understanding them!) and missing the beautiful sounds of the Spanish language, wishing to hear it again.
And can I just tell you about the Nicaraguan people??? These are generous, gracious, loving people who accept even the flakiest of Americans as one of their own. The men: I couldn’t pick up a suitcase, a box of buckets, or really anything at all without a gentleman running to carry it for me. They helped me out of cars and waited patiently when I wasn’t exactly on time in the morning. Once I found one of them carrying my purse for me when I forgot it in the lobby. The women: They give without expecting anything in return. Their hospitality is unmatched. They are gentle and sweet and always thinking of how they can serve others. And across the board, they have smiles that can light up any room.
These are not people of privilege. They are people with a story, many times a diificult story of overcoming and forgiveness, hard work and determination. They are adult daughters taking in their once abusive father to nurse him back to health after major surgery. They are former gang members, running an honest business and trying hard to stay clean. They are teens caring for Grandparents; women selling fruit in the middle of a dangerous street, trying desperately to earn enough money to feed their families. They are families of 15 in a house the size of my kitchen who gladly invite you in and share what they have. They are even high government officials disregarding the mountain of work on their desks to get 10 buckets to their people because they care that even 10 families are drinking unsafe water. These are people I respect and came to love in a very short time.
But it was time to leave. So we flew home. We arrived safely. We accomplished most of what we had gone to do (and quite a few things we didn’t)!
We did, however, leave some items in Nicaragua: 10 water filtration buckets, quite a few water filtration bottles, Allen’s watch, access to amazing fruit, new friends, and… part of my heart. But the rest of my heart holds these memories and new friends dear. The people of Nicaragua are part of the fabric of my life now; threads that cannot be unraveled.
To all of you who have gone on the virtual journey with me, thank you. It is my hope that you have enjoyed your “visit”, but more importantly that you have grown to love them as I do. And it is my hope that when you turn on your faucet and safe water comes out, you might take a moment to pray for this dear country with people so sweet, not just for them to receive safe water, but most importantly that we might continue to be able to tell them of the “Living Water” – Jesus Christ, and the free gift of salvation He offers.
May the gap between our countries be small, and the love be great!
Sheree tries to be polite…
It was the final day of our government meetings and the fullest schedule we’d had yet. I had been in Nicaragua almost a week, had been hearing Spanish non-stop, was tired of just smiling and nodding, and was ready to try my best to fit into the beautiful culture.
We were once again up with the sun and picking up the mayor at 6:15 am, followed by the now familiar drive back to Managua in the crazy traffic.
The topics of the day at the conference were a little more applicable to us. They talked about the state of families and the help they need as well as disaster and crisis management, both of which interested us. We were also able to sit at break with a man from Rochester, NY, who is the government representative who has been working with Nicaragua for 37 years. He asked us what we do, and after a brief explanation of our ministry, he said, “So, have you ever had any trouble with the Customs Office here?” I probably shouldn’t have, but I laughed right out loud! We told him the story of our 2 days trying to #freethebuckets and how the mayor couldn’t even get them without a fight. He informed us he was giving the final speech of the day and he would be bringing this problem up!
The day was going well. I had ditched my “torture shoes” for my trusty flip-flops. My hair wasn’t too big – yet. I had no problems in the bathroom this day. It was like a miracle! It gave me confidence and hope – maybe too much so. I decided to try out my Spanish that afternoon. No more sitting in the back row panicking over words and missing good stuff! I used every word I knew. I could do this.
Our second break was spent at a table with three women who turned out to be the Mayors of neighboring communities. Their areas are plagued with not only bacteria in their water, but arsenic as well. It is slowly poisoning their people! We had 3 (filtered) water bottles on hand and we were able to arrange to get them 3 buckets. They even invited us to come to their communities in the future, where we will be able to speak to many of their people! It’s almost like God kept us from giving out all the buckets earlier in the week (like we had planned) in order that we might have these to give… :.) God is so awesome. I love it when we can see His hand in this way.
Late in the afternoon, the Rochester representative gave his speech. There was a general murmur of consent and frustration as he described the time kids had held a bake sale, raised money, and sent a box of medications – only for those medications to sit in the Customs office for 6 months and go bad. The people agreed. The government heard. We were glad. I don’t know if or when changes will be made, but this was the first step!
The meetings ended with a special awards ceremony. We had not come for an award, nor were we expecting one, but these sweet people gave us one anyway. Mayor Fernando awarded us a beautiful plaque, certificate, and a doll that represents the history of the Nicaraguan people. We were told this doll is the highest honor one can receive. We were humbled. These lovely people are so grateful and we have really done so little. We are just the messengers. It is truly the supporters of GraceWorks Global who should be receiving these awards!
Allen had been invited to preach in a new church this night, in Diriamba, and the awards ceremony was longer than we anticipated. We rushed out and started back down that well worn road. I was worried we would be late. (No one else was. They are all accustomed to “Nica Time”.) We had no time to stop for dinner. I had the schedule in my head – Leave Managua at 5. Be in Diriamba a little before 7. Music for 15 minutes. Allen preaches for 45. Done by 8. Grab some food. Get our luggage. Drive back to Managua. Hotel by the airport by 10:30. So doable! So American! Except that’s not how it went.
We did skip dinner and arrived at the church just a few minutes late. We were still “on schedule” in my mind. There was hardly anybody there, but it was a new church so I didn’t know how many would attend.
The church is meeting in a mechanic shop. Their stage is an elevated concrete bay for working on cars and it is a long and narrow area. I was seated in the very front row, directly in front of the large, loud, speakers. Their praise team was still warming up. Then they stopped. Just as I was wondering if that had been the actual music and Allen was supposed to be doing something, they started again. But, just another practice. More stopping. More practicing. Close to 8 pm, the music started for real, and I have to say – they like their music loud! The band was very good and the vocalists very talented. The sound system was maxed out so the entire neighborhood could hear! This is a good evangelism plan for everyone except the person right in front of the speakers. They sang for a long time. The few songs I knew, I sang in English. I think I sang, anyway. My mouth was moving and I felt like I was making words, but I couldn’t hear whether any sound was actually being uttered. I looked at Allen. He appeared to be singing too, but who knows? There was an absolutely adorable girl “helping” by playing the tambourine though!
Allen finally started preaching about 8:45. He did an amazing job, as he always does. Michael was a great translator and the people responded well. They heard that Jesus loves them and paid for their sin as well as receiving an encouragement to be thankful in all things.
When Allen wrapped up and I turned around, I was stunned at the amount of people. Apparently people had been trickling in during that first hour because the place was packed with maybe 100-150 people. The chairs were full, people were standing in the back – there were even some outside on the street! I was suddenly thankful for those loud speakers. That’s a good evangelism tool – even for the one sitting right in front of them!
We were exhausted and famished, but encouraged. My schedule was off by several hours now, but God’s was right on time. Unfortunately, local restaurants don’t work on God’s time and they had all closed. We would have to wait to get back to Managua before we could get some food.
We went back to our hotel and grabbed our luggage. Mario picked up his family and we all headed back to Managua one last time. Michael and Miriam were no longer with us, so it was back to trying to communicate with just Allen’s Spanish. But, like I said, I had been trying out my Spanish the whole day! I was ready to join in the conversation whenever I could. Miriam had taught me (or tried anyway) several new words. I had wanted to know how to say “I’m Sorry” and “Excuse Me” because I seemed to need to use those phrases a lot. “I’m Sorry” I got down just fine. But “Excuse me”, for the life of me, I just couldn’t remember correctly. I think Miriam told me that one a dozen times! But this particular night, I was sure I had finally gotten it. After all, I had used many of my words that day at the government meeting! So as we made that final trek back to Managua, I did a little bragging!
“I finally remembered how to say ‘Excuse me!'” I told Allen. Then I said it. He broke into immediate, hysterical laughter, followed quickly by a look of absolute horror as he said, “You didn’t actually SAY that to anyone, did you????”
I stared at him, wide-eyed, panic slowly setting in. At that moment, I couldn’t remember if I had or not.
“Why??? Was it wrong?”
As he struggled to stop laughing long enough to talk, he said to me, “Honey – you just asked me to buy you.”
As it turns out, I really need to see things written out before I try to say them. I totally misunderstood the way Miriam had pronounced “Con permisso” (which makes perfect sense now that I see it – “with permission”. Duh!). But when you think she is saying “Compra Meeso” and your blonde brain just forgets about the “so” on the end, it turns out “Compra Me”. Buy me. Can I just never speak again please?
Allen, Mario, Mario’s sweet wife and his fun kids – they all had what was probably the best laugh they’ve had in a long time. I just sat there contemplating dying my hair red and changing my name to Lucy.
They were still laughing at me when we made it to Managua and stopped at a gas station for some crackers and chips to eat. I entered the store, but spoke only English and did not use the restroom.
We finally settled into our hotel room about 1 am. We had to be at the airport by 5, so it was to be another short night. In the Bible, we read of the time God shut the mouths of the lions when Daniel was thrown in their den. As I thought of the consequences of asking an airport official to buy me, I went to sleep hopeful that God could work the same miracle on me the next day.
Walking a mile in Sheree’s Shoes…
This was the day. This was the reason we were here. We had wanted to spend time sharing the gospel and ministering, of course, but the reason we had come to Nicaragua at this particular time was because we had been invited to “government meetings”. This was really all we knew. We had no idea what to expect, and while Allen was calm, cool, and collected, I was Lucy Ricardo in Cuba.
We were up exceedingly early. If you know much about me at all, you likely know I am not a morning person. You probably also know that’s the understatement of the year. But I was up, dressed, and as ready as I was going to get at 5:45 am (which is 4:45 am Arizona time – the time my brain was still on!) I walked out of the hotel room in my newly purchased Nicaraguan Mall shoes, and I immediately realized they were going to be a problem. In the store they had been comfortable, but somehow in the interim between buying and wearing, the shoes had morphed into silent dispensers of torture. I knew by day’s end both heels and one spot on the top of each foot would likely be bleeding if I had to do much walking. I briefly thought about covering the areas with bandaids to prevent this, but the ones I keep in my purse are often the leftovers from years gone by when the kids wanted neon, or Dora, or Veggietales. As I pictured myself walking into meetings with high government officials wearing neon orange and silver bandaids I quickly determined to walk carefully and deal with the pain.
After picking up the mayor of Diriamba, we bumped along down the road to Managua once again. We arrived early and found a seat at the very back of the room, against a wall. This was the perfect place for me! Mario (our liaison in-country), Michael (our translator), Mayor Fernando, Roberto (owner of water filtration company), Allen (best husband ever), and I were all there in the back until one by one everyone but me was called away. I sat with everyone’s “stuff”. I smiled as people walked by and greeted me. I panicked over whether it was “BuenOS Dias” or “BuenAS Dias” so I just mouthed the words and hoped for the best.
Eventually, Allen came back and said he had done a television interview!! Rats! I missed seeing that! Note to self: You miss some good things when you’re sitting in the back row panicking over words!
Just then, a sweet lady and translator came and told us that, since Allen is the President of GraceWorks Global, they would like us to sit elsewhere. Elsewhere – that’s code for RIGHT IN THE CENTER OF THE ROOM! I felt a little silly for panicking over words when I could have just waited a little bit to really have a reason to panic.
The meeting began shortly after we were moved. It was all in Spanish, of course, but they had little translators in a box for us. Literally. They gave us ear buds and receivers and 2 men in little phone booth like things were across from us and they translated as the speaker spoke. It was fascinating. I honestly could have watched them all day. I think it takes serious skill to listen in Spanish and translate to English at the exact same time. The translators kept right up with what was being said and they did it well.
As the speaking began, I looked around the room and was quite humbled. This was the First International Congress of Sister Cities – an historic event. All (but one) of the mayors of Nicaragua were there. (In Nicaragua, the mayors are under the President. They are a little like our state governors.) There were also government officials from around the world! The Italian Consulate was there. Government representatives from France, Spain, Catalonia, Germany, Australia, Canada, and so many more were there. The son of President Daniel Ortega was also there to speak to us. And sitting, quite literally, in the center of all of them, was a chubby, middle-aged pastor’s wife from Payson, AZ. And under the table she wasn’t even wearing her shoes!
No one else seemed concerned by this, so the meetings went on. Allen and I learned much about their history, their current concerns and their plans for the future. We heard about the proposed ocean to ocean canal (like Panama, but North!). They talked about how they plan to help families and increase jobs. They spoke of many things, but we had yet to hear about the one matter that concerned us most – getting buckets out of customs.
We took a break for lunch and, as one might expect, the ladies lined up for the bathroom which only had 2 stalls for the 100 (or so) of us. We waited in line but as I got closer I saw the bathrooms were labeled (with no pictures) in Spanish. I was pretty sure I was a Damas, but then I saw women coming out of the Caballeros and I seriously think I have a bathroom phobia now. It turns out I am a Damas and the women just got sick of waiting so they took over the men’s bathroom too! (I waited for my own bathroom!) I did finally make it to the front of the line, but a woman (I found out later it was the mayor of one of the provinces) said something to me in Spanish and handed me a paper towel. I just stared at her and must have looked pathetic because she took pity on me and tried her hardest to say an English word I would understand but eventually went with hand motions. I finally got that there was no more toilet paper. Just another day in the life of Sheree, playing charades about toilet paper in the bathroom with high government officials. At least I had my shoes on.
The day continued with more information about tourism and the National Police. It was very interesting, but I think the stress and lack of sleep (and possibly bathroom-o-phobia) had combined and I developed quite the migraine. I wanted nothing more than to take off those silly shoes and lie down somewhere dark and quiet, but that wasn’t going to happen any time soon, so I just looked down at the table and hoped no one would think I was sleeping.
About 5 pm, the meetings ended for the day and there was a tour of Granada for anyone interested, but we had to head back to Casa Materna to make sure the filtration system had been installed and to settle the bill. Mayor Fernando stayed to go to Granada but the rest of us piled in the van and I tried to lay down for the long trip back. However, the roads in Nicaragua don’t really lull a person to sleep so much as they launch you off the seat, so I ended up just sitting and rubbing my head until my hair was so big I strongly resembled a Q-tip.
Back at Casa Materna, the guys and scary hair girl inspected the work done. The worker had finished on time and had done an excellent job.
We tested all the water sources in the facility and I very much wish I had my camera rolling when Allen tested the shower because the knob came off in his hand and water sprayed straight out of the wall at him! But I did get this video of testing how the water tasted before that happened… (We have had the water tested in a lab as well, and it comes back bacteria free. The whole house unit even filters arsenic, which is a huge problem in the northern portion of Nicaragua.)
Satisfied that the women who deliver babies in this facility will be able to drink and wash with safe water, we headed to a special dinner. We ask a lot of our Nicaraguan team. There were many days this week when meals were skipped and every day was at least a 12 hour day for them. So, because they work so hard for us, and because they see very little of their families when GraceWorks comes to town, we had invited Michael, Mario, and Miriam’s families to join us for dinner that night. Miriam was sweet enough to translate for me, even though she was supposed to be enjoying dinner with her hubby! But her translation allowed me to get to know the each of the women there, which was a great blessing. We talked, laughed, and I ate pizza! I also got to try the grenadine drink thing which is made simply of the grenadine fruit, sugar and water, but tastes like a lemon/lime drink with cream and cinnamon. It was delicious!
It was late when we arrived back at our hotel, but another American with several ministries around the world (and who just happened to be staying at our same hotel) had asked to meet with us, so we spent another couple hours on the porch getting to know him and his son. By this time I was pretty sure my head was going to explode so I excused myself and headed to bed.
I had made it through day 1 of the meetings. Aside from the charades incident, I hadn’t embarrassed myself too badly. And I hadn’t said any Spanish words wrong! But there was always tomorrow, and tomorrow would turn out to be THE day for language faux pas.
Sheree has a whole lotta time by herself…
So… the bucket saga… Day 3 dawned hopeful. The mayor of Diriamba was coming to our rescue and, taking time from his very busy schedule, personally going to Managua to #freethebuckets! But because I am not allowed in the Customs office and because a person can only stand so much time at a mall, it was decided I should stay at the hotel by myself. As in, alone. You know – in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language and the only people I know were going to be in Managua, an hour and a half away. But no problem! It SURELY wouldn’t be all day again.
Allen got up and left before 6 am, but we had both been awake quite a bit in the night, so I went back to sleep. The locals must have somehow known I didn’t set an alarm, however, because promptly at 7:30 they started exploding firecrackers directly behind my room, to help me wake up. This is a highly effective method that was previously unknown to me. My mom could’ve used that knowledge in my high school years…
I got up and tried to arrange my frizz in a way that wasn’t too scary. (I call it hair in the states but that’s not an accurate description in tropical humidity.) I went to breakfast alone, but met a lovely couple from Ohio who were there to help at a children’s home. I was again served a most delicious meal – French toast with syrup that put Aunt Jemima to shame, and an omelet with I don’t know what yummy stuff inside. Freshly juiced grapefruit was the beverage of choice. I seriously miss someone else cooking me gourmet breakfasts every morning!
After breakfast, with nothing else to occupy my time, I cleaned my hotel room and packed (as we were moving to another hotel that night). I redid my frizz. I sat on the one spot on the porch where I have a wifi connection if I rocked the chair just right. I looked around. I watched a black and red lizard out the window. I made friends with Ernie and Bert, both technically flies, but you know – you take whatever friends will have you when you don’t speak the language.
I visited the birds on the premises. One is a large parrot and he speaks, but he only speaks Spanish. Cool birds, but things are bad when you don’t even understand the birds in a country.
And… then I looked at the clock. 11 am. Only 11 am. I must have rocked the chair just right because the wifi suddenly let a message from Allen come through stating that more problems had occurred and it would indeed be an all day deal again. No problem! I’ll just walk down the street to Terry’s (making sure to use the restroom BEFOREHAND) and get some lunch! Except my wise husband didn’t think a girl who couldn’t even understand the birds in a country should be walking TO a restaurant she saw only in the dark and AWAY from a hotel where she didn’t even know the address and couldn’t say the Spanish hotel name if she got lost. Rats. How was I going to get lunch?
He suggested I ask the hotel owner to order me pizza, but alas, my pathetic-ness always kicks in when I have to ask someone for something and I decided today would be a good day to diet. I also decided it was a good day to blog, so I sat at the counter in front of the one window where I sometimes randomly got wifi. My friends Ernie and Bert were loyal (though captive) company. And my view was bonita! Gorgeous!
About 1:30 pm, just as my stomach was starting to hate me and I was rethinking my diet plans, I saw the owner of the hotel coming to my room, plate and drink in hand. All on her own she realized I would not have a way to get lunch and she fixed me the most delicious lunch ever! I almost cried over her chicken salad and kindness. God is so good to provide for me, even when things go awry.
Renewed by good food, I had some extra energy, and I may have gotten a little bored…
Allen finally arrived about 4:30 pm, WITH the buckets!!! He had made 2 short stops on the way back, visiting for a bit with a man who trusted Christ on a previous trip, and also to pray with the grandmother of a girl who attended our Nicaraguan Sports Camp in 2015. We then headed to Mi Bohio – a hotel closer to where we needed to be (but that was unavailable for the first two nights.) I was sad to leave the sweet hotel where the owner was so kind and the rooms were so fun and the food was so amazing! But the new hotel was nice too.
Needing to redeem the time we lost getting the buckets, we quickly dropped off our luggage and headed out to the “Casa Materna” – Maternity House.
The Maternity House is a government funded hospital-alternative (with an impressive little food garden) for impoverished pregnant women. Mothers and newborns are at high risk of infection in these facilities because of the (lack of) quality of water. The original plan had been to get the buckets Wednesday morning, spend Wednesday afternoon distributing buckets and sharing Christ, and then Allen was planning to personally install a water purification (whole-house) filter at the Casa Materna on Thursday. During this time I was supposed to get to know the women, pray for them, show them the love of Christ and share the gospel… Obviously, our plans had changed, so we had to hire someone to do the installation for us. And when we got there with the materials, we found there were currently no women there. None. Not even one. :.( My son, Nathan, had sent toys for the kids who might be there, and I admit I was REALLY looking forward to holding a baby or two. But, if life with my husband and 4 kids has taught me anything, it’s how to wing it! Life happens. Things change. And sometimes that means you don’t get to hold the baby. Instead, Miriam gave me a tour of the gardens and we fought over what kind of herb “Hierva Buena” (which simply means “Good Herb”) might actually be. (My guess was WAY off) It turned out to be spearmint, which I had never actually tasted before. Just FYI – It is nothing like the gum.
It was quite dark when we left the Maternity House, having made all the arrangements for the filtration system installation the next day, and on the drive home I found out it was Miriam’s birthday! Here I had had an entire day to bake her a cake and I hadn’t done it! Not that I actually had any ingredients. Or pans. Or could have figured out what temperature to cook something in Celsius, though that story might have actually topped the bathroom incidents… #missionaryburnsdowncutehotel #BertandErnieescapealive #nomorefrizzyhairworries
So, we did the next best thing – we stopped and got her ice cream, which in Nicaragua is called “Eskimo”, (pronounced es-KEEM-oh). Incredibly, it wasn’t hard to talk Allen into buying Eskimo. In fact, he has earned a Nicaraguan nickname… Pastor Eskimo. He tries hard to live up to the challenge.
After Eskimo, we dropped everyone off and returned to our new hotel room where we were serenaded by the music of Nicaraguan geckos that sound like birds, a beautiful fountain in the courtyard, and millions of horns honking through the night. I tried hard to sleep but the government meetings started the next day and I had no idea what to expect. I knew my husband would be amazing, no matter what the day turned out to be, but as for me… I just kept remembering the I Love Lucy episode where she flew to Cuba to meet Ricky’s family and because of her misuse of a Spanish word, ended up calling the Patriarch of the family a big, fat, pig. I resolved to smile silently the entire day, but resolve fades quickly in stressful situations and my likeness to Lucy would become apparent only 2 days later…
Sheree goes back to Managua…
Day 2 of our trip, which was really Day 1 in Nicaragua, started in the cutest of hotel rooms. Our bed had a fun tree painted over it. The kitchen was vibrant and colorful. And the bathroom door had the loudest hinges of any I’ve ever heard. (In case you woke up today wondering how a person could quiet squeaky hinges with only the bare essentials of travel, I’m here to tell you Baby Powder Scented Spray-On Deodorant works like magic!)
And once the door could easily close, it was time to wash the soda and memories of yesterday away in our large, luxurious shower. Knowing that many hotels in Nicaragua do not have hot water to the showers, I was pleasantly surprised when the water turned a perfect temperature and I hopped in. Just as my hair was sufficiently lathered, however, the water sputtered and slowly turned to ice. Seriously. Little ice cubes were being hurled at my warm head! Jumping out of the line of fire, (I may have screamed a little), I started laughing hysterically and I’m fairly certain Allen thought I had succumbed to the insanity that always threatens to overcome me. Just as I told him my story and tried to summon the courage to finish my shower in ice cubes, the water sputtered again and started to warm. “Oh!”, I told Allen, “It was just a fluke. It’s getting hot ag….. OWWWWW” Suddenly, fire from the hottest volcano (they have one there!) came from the showerhead, melting all the ice cubes — and my skin. I finally understood the reason the shower was so spacious. It’s so we can play a little game of “Hop In the Water For the 5 Seconds It’s the Right Temperature Every 3 Minutes and Then Hop Out Again Before You Die.” It’s a fun little game. Allen and I got quite good at it. And to be honest, I’ve never laughed so much in a shower in my whole life! Kinda fun !
Anyway, I did eventually end up clean and we went to breakfast at the hotel. Mario met us there, this time with Michael and Miriam (translators for the two of us). This hotel has only been open 3 months, so there are a few little “bugs” in the system, but I have to say, this was the funnest, prettiest, most hospitable hotel! And the food was AMAZING! The owner herself cooks breakfast every morning. This particular morning it was eggs, beans and rice, toast, and ham. These items were all delicious in and of themselves, but then she brought out fruit and juice. Can I just tell you Nicaragua is THE place for fruit and juice? As everyone else talked, I scooped a bowl of fruit from the container and tasted the best mango and pineapple I’ve ever had. They kept talking, so I kept scooping. Unfortunately for those talk-y people, the fruit was pretty well gone by the time they stopped the chatting. But you snooze, you lose, you know? Mario finally said “Vamonos!”, which Google translates as “Let’s Go!” but in this instance meant “Save Sheree from herself and leave some fruit for others on the planet!”
The plan was to go back to Managua to get the water filtration buckets (that had arrived the week before but our Nicaraguan friends had so far been unable to spring from “customs jail”). No problem! We’ll just drive the 50 million kilometers (they made me do math to convert to miles and I’m sure 50 million was right, no matter how hard they laughed at me!) and pick those buckets up!
Our first stop was a hardware store, to pick up the items we would need once we had the filters. I’m not sure what Miriam and I were thinking, but we let 3 men go in there… by themselves. While we waited the very long time we should have anticipated waiting, we got to know one another and watched horses pull carts of dirt from a nearby business to I don’t know where. Presumably a dirty place.
We did eventually leave the hardware store and after a long conversation about why the number 2 was painted on posts along the road and a funny story about meeting the President’s wife, we finally made it back to Managua, though we did have an extra guest in our car…
Did I mention the traffic there? My husband is allowed to drive in Nicaragua and loves the challenge. I, on the other hand, couldn’t be paid enough money to do the same. I think there must be some sort of code everyone there follows but is a secret to rule-followers such as myself. The donkey/horse carts are right there on the road with the cars. Motorcycles drive wherever they want. Buses come up behind you at startling speeds and then either swerve at the last minute or stop, miraculously, inches from your petrified back seat occupants. This is scary enough, but there’s an added dimension… Pedestrians. Countless numbers of people are outside, walking on the street, crossing the street – like a giant reality version of Frogger or Crossy-Road! Horns honk constantly (and this is where I’m certain there is a code). Sometimes the honk means, “I’m over here.” Sometimes it’s “Get out of the way”. Other times “Hey look! I have a horn!”. There must be a horn guide somewhere on the internet I can get my hands on, because Nicaraguans all know what the honks mean, but I am completely in the dark! All I know is if I had a horn, it would have meant “No Muerte Today Please!”
My skilled driver of a husband got us to Managua “safely” – that’s in quotes because it means we didn’t die. The guys had to go to the customs office to pick up the buckets and filter systems, but we girls were not going to be allowed in (because our names weren’t on the paperwork). It was decided that Miriam and I should be dropped off at the local mall for the couple hours it would take. I needed some shoes for the government meetings (since all I have are flip-flops and boots) so this seemed like a good plan. Unfortunately, neither Miriam nor I actually enjoy shopping. We found some shoes, walked around all 4 floors of the mall several times and were completely done within the first hour. That’s ok. Maybe the guys would be done early! Or…. maybe their task would be a huge disaster and they would spend the ENTIRE day trying fervently to rescue the poor buckets from their captivity. Yeah. It was the second scenario.
The poor men got no lunch, sat in the heat, ran all over town trying to get the paperwork straightened out, made phone call after phone call, begged, pleaded… Meanwhile, Miriam and I talked about life and laughed a lot. I taught her how to count floors in a Mall (she insisted there were three because she didn’t count the floor she was on!). She laughed at me when I thought I was crazy because 2 of the floors have a Cinema as you step off the escalator, but if you don’t know this, you wonder how you are going up the escalator to the same floor you were just on when you don’t remember ever going down! We finally decided to see Finding Dory – in Spanish, of course. I only caught about 5 words but I’m pretty sure it ended happily because the music was upbeat and the fish were smiling. Miriam seemed to enjoy it, so when I needed to use the restroom, I told her to stay and watch because certainly I could find my way to a bathroom. Bano – right? Easy! I found the nearest person, asked for the bano, went in the direction they pointed, and voila! A bathroom. As I proudly entered the empty room, I noticed the broken stall lock – the lever was stripped. Easy fix though – I just manually pushed the metal bracket into the lock, not stopping to realize that pulling the bracket back out with nothing with which to grip it, might be a problem. I had just listened to Dory call for help, so I knew “Ayuadame!”, but the bathroom was empty even if someone could have unlocked the door from the other side. I began to assess my options. There was about a foot of space under the door, but the floor was pretty dirty and I didn’t relish the thought of doing the army crawl on it. But the stalls were pretty tall, and I didn’t want to break myself going over the top either. Option 3 – working desperately at the moving the lock – seemed best, so I pinched and pulled a bit at a time until I finally got it! Crisis averted, but not my last bathroom issue of the day.
The guys finally returned, but they returned without the buckets, tired, hungry, and discouraged – an entire day intended for ministry to the Nicaraguan people had been wasted. We drove back to Diriamba, still making phone calls on the way, trying to line up help for a repeat trip the next day.
We ate dinner at place called “Terri’s” which serves American food and was just down the street from our hotel. It was also the location of my second bathroom incident of the day. When I entered the bathroom, I could see the toilet hadn’t been flushed. In trying to flush it, I realized why – the handle was broken. Normally I would have just waited and used another bathroom later, but in Nicaragua, Americans get easily dehydrated and I had been working hard to avoid that. There was no way I was going to be able to wait until we got to another bathroom. Thankfully, my dad had taught me the basic workings of the toilet and Handymann Sheree could surely get it to flush. So I used it, then instantly regretted my decision. The inner workings were also broken. Try as I might to pull the chain, or the flapper, or the float, nothing filled or drained. The only thing filling with water was my hand. Luckily, there was an industrial-sized mustard container there which I could fill with water in order to flush the toilet manually. But turning on the sink revealed yet another issue – water barely trickled out. So I waited, and waited, and waited for it to fill. Just as I went to grab it, a group of men pounded suddenly and loudly at the door, yelling something in Spanish! I couldn’t tell if it was “The restaurant is on fire!” or “Hey lady! You got a problem in there?” For all I know they could have been quoting Shakespeare to me, but it was slightly scary and I made a bit of a mess with the water. Oh dear. No towels with which to clean that mess either. And just FYI – toilet paper doesn’t mop up water well. I finally left the bathroom in a state worse than I found it, with disgusting hands (there was no soap), and a general reticence for EVER having to use the restroom again. I was, however, thankful I had used the restroom because I quickly found out that this week in Nicaragua is a celebration to commemorate their revolution. They do this by randomly exploding firecrackers until wimpy blonde Americans have heart attacks while they try to eat a hamburger with toilet hands.
Thankfully, our cute, clean little hotel room with the fun game was not far away and we were able to wash away the day’s problems and spend some time problem solving.
We went to sleep wondering if our nice, little innocent buckets would ever be ours to distribute.
Sheree flies to Managua…
For the next few days, I, Sheree, am going to give you Nicaragua through the eyes of someone who has never been there before. I am also very likely going to condemn myself to a reputation of absolute pathetic-ness (starting with that word right there!).
The trip started the night before our flight when we had to leave our 4 children at 3 different places. (Divide and survive, right?) We left 2 with grandparents, took one to the home of one of our favorite couples at church, then drove to Phoenix to drop off the youngest with another favorite couple. Some of the kids cried. I cried. I’ve never left them so long. Not ever.
My extremely sweet sister in law took us to our hotel so our car wouldn’t be at the airport for a week. We told the hotel we needed a ride to the airport at 4:30 am and we tried hard to sleep. After a blissful 3 hours, we got up and ready for our 4:30 departure, only to find the text saying our flight had been delayed for 4 hours. If only I hadn’t already done my hair!!!!! Not about to have to do my hair all over again, we opted for an early breakfast and to head to the airport, hoping to get on an earlier flight.
Allen has Global Entry, which means the feds, or the president, or some guy name George or something has checked him out and he can just kind of “bypass” all the security at the airport. But when your passport looks like mine, all shiny and new with no stamps in it, they like you to wait in the other line – the one that means you have to get scanned by a robot named Priscilla. (Okay. I made up the name but I had some time to think.) Sadly, Priscilla didn’t like the buttons on my shirt and demanded that a tiny little German lady put on her blue gloves and make absolutely sure I wasn’t smuggling something in places I’d rather not discuss. Priscilla and I are no longer on speaking terms.
After the pat-down, I was pretty sure I was home-free. I mean – what else could possibly go wrong at an airport, right?
I’ll spare you the details about how we spent a good amount of time trying to track down our luggage for an earlier flight, or how our seat-mate on the first flight spilled ginger-ale on my hands, skirt, foot, shoes, and purse. But a very grumpy lady did begrudgingly bump us up to first class for the second leg of the trip! They gave us unlimited cups of coca-cola, tiny little earbuds for watching Andy Griffith, and a very yummy dinner!
I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to do with the hot towel they gave me, but I did have some fleeting thoughts about taking out Priscilla’s main computer panel with the moisture…
Through it all, there was one maine theme to my flights. It was this…
He was tired, poor guy. He works so hard! I may or may not have tried to wake him up multiple times because I was lonely.
We did finally arrive in Nicaragua, and as everyone walked away with their luggage except us, I did start to imagine how I would be received at the government meetings wearing the clothes I was wearing at that moment, and hoping they didn’t have any button hating robots anywhere in the country. But our luggage finally arrived and we walked out into the beautiful city of Managua.
Our friend, Mario, was there waiting for us, along with his beautiful wife, Kelly, and a driver named Luis. Our work is in Diriamba, which is a solid hour to hour and a half from Managua, so we hopped in the van so graciously loaned to us by a Pastor friend there named Irving, and we bumped along up the mountain, through the greenery and crazy traffic.
We had no translator for this trip, so I felt badly that I couldn’t really communicate with anyone, especially Mario’s wife. I wanted to get to know her. I asked as many questions as I could with the words “where”, “how many” and “how long” because we could do those! Then she very sweetly took the large, beautiful ring off her finger and told me she wanted me to have it as a “regalo”(gift). These people are precious. But here is where I get even more pathetic.
After a very gringo “Gracias”, I put the ring on my finger. Maybe I should mention that this sweet lady is young, and thin and beautiful. She is a model in Nicaragua. I, on the other hand, am pretty much the antithesis of these things, and I have one big problem now… her fingers are long and slender. Mine are short and fat. Somehow that ring went on just fine, but there was absolutely no way it was coming back off – not without a fight.
Not wanting to embarrass myself, I struggled silently with it in the back seat, my finger swelling with each passing moment. Goodness. Who else has days like this?
Finally arriving at our hotel (which was beyond cute, by the way!), we said “Adios” to our friends, took our luggage inside and began the process of removing the ring from my finger. I say process, but it really just involved Allen pulling really hard and me yelling loudly, but whatever. It got the job done. (Flash forward for a moment to say that back home, in the States, without the humidity, the ring fits better. :.)
Day 1 finally wound down and though I really needed a shower (the ginger ale was the gift that kept on giving), I was too tired. I went to bed wondering what in the world Day 2 would hold….
Some people live and learn. Some people just live. No matter how many times I hear that quote, it is always a personal challenge to me to be in the first group. I never want to get so comfortable in life that I forget to keep learning – not only the teachings of God, but also the WAY He wants me to live those out – even down to the “small” things.
This month, Allen and I have had to learn a few ways NOT to do some things. I used to read a book to my kids when they were little called “Moosey Saves Money”. We loved that book and would laugh all the way through at how silly Moosey was to work so hard to save money when he always cost himself more in the end. Well, this month was “Welcome to Moosey’s World!” in the Mann house.
In an effort to save money on shipping the water filtration buckets to Nicaragua, we ended up spending more. Not only did they not arrive during the time they were promised to arrive (when the team was there!), they accrued customs and holding fees they were not supposed to accrue. It was a costly mistake that will not be repeated. But, it does have a silver lining…
Allen has been given the opportunity by the staff of Ponderosa to make an impromptu trip to Nicaragua to resolve the situation. He will now be able to hand out the water buckets, personally sharing the gospel with each recipient. We will also be doing water purity tests to make sure the buckets are able to filter even the worst water. (One area has a well that is too close in proximity to a bathroom and the well has been unusable. We are excited to see if these buckets can make it a safe water source for these dear people once again!)
This will be a six day trip. He leaves VERY early in the morning and will return home next Tuesday night. Please be in prayer for the people who will hear the gospel and for wisdom for us as we make connections that will enable us to deal more effectively in the future.
In the meantime, we are taking Moosey’s final advice to heart…