Monthly Archives: July 2012

Wangki Mairin: Come here often?

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“Hola, bonita!” I hear as I zoom past on my bike.

“ ‘Hola bonita’ yourself,” I retort into the wind.

In India, we called it “Eve teasing”, and while I don’t think there’s a specific name for it here, one thing I’ve learned from both my recent overseas experiences is sometimes guys are gonna say stuff, and you just gotta let whistles and unwelcome comments roll off your back. I could try to defend myself, but there really isn’t any point; it’s not going to change their perspective, and I’d only be inserting myself into a less-than-ideal situation. Much easier to simply let it go and move on.

This is usually pretty easy, and it’s one of the only areas where I actually appreciate not knowing the language. While I can usually tell he’s talking about me, I’m not offended by whatever he says, since I can’t understand him!

And even if I do understand, I choose to laugh it off. I’m living in a tropical country, so I’m usually red-in-the-face from heat, and my curly hair has successfully discovered how to defy gravity (humidity is not my best friend). I know I’m not always looking my best, and so I find it funny to hear propositions as I pass by. Call it a funky survival method. I’m also pretty careful about keeping interactions with men (especially those around my age) to the minimum and always in groups; I don’t want to give off any wrong impressions.

This afternoon, I was invited across the language barrier, and I got a little peek into the world around me. I had just finished lunch with the Keoghs. Our 5-days without electricity  caused us to eat up any perishable food in the house, so we chose to eat out and then stop by the market to re-stock. So as we’re leaving the little restaurant, a Miskito man, maybe in his late 20’s, calls out something to Tom. They go back and forth for quite some time, and I, not understanding anything they’re saying, try to stay in the background and not draw any unwanted attention to myself. However, I soon notice they keep repeating the same words. I finally ask Tom, “What is he saying?” and he gives me the condensed version of the conversation, which went something like this:

Man: “Hey! Give me your daughter; I’m going to marry her.”

Tom: “I can’t.”

Man: “Why not? I want to marry her.”

Tom: “She’s not my daughter, and I don’t own her. She’s not mine to give.”

Needless to say, I was a little embarrassed. But what could I do? Nothing. So I got on my bike, and rode home.

This isn’t an everyday occurrence; more often than not, I will simply receive a lighthearted, “Aisabe” in response to my greeting as a pass by a young man. But, there are days like this. A bit embarrassing, a little awkward, but also pretty funny. Oh, Waspam….

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Wangki Mairin: Safeway la lose

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Thursday evening. It’s the first English class I’ve held in 2 ½ weeks and I’m aching to see my students/friends. I never know how many will come each evening, so I plan for the most, and embrace whoever comes; today I have seven adults and a few children (the younger siblings and children of another student).

After trying many different teaching methods and mediums, I have discovered one which is both interesting and informative: stories. I (or a student) tell a brief story in English, writing out each of the sentences on the portable whiteboard, and then I help them translate the words they don’t understand into Spanish/Miskito. Vocabulary learned in a memorable format. I supplied today’s lesson:

On Sunday there was a big rainstorm.
We lost electricity in our house.
Today, some men came and fixed the poles.
Now we have electricity again!

The limited vocabulary of my tri-lingual students, combined with the inhibiting size of the whiteboard, requires all stories to be completely simplified. Only essential information. But for your sake, fellow English speaker, and for the sake of a good story, I will elaborate.

Yes, last Sunday we had “a big rainstorm”; water pounding against the tin roof in heavy sheets, wind blasting the rain against our screen windows, filling the house with misty breezes, thunder so loud that conversation is futile. We tried to watch a movie that night, but even with the computer and speakers on full blast, you couldn’t hear anything over the thunder and rain.
And then the power went out.

No big deal. This is Waspam, a small town in a tropical, developing country. If power-outages had an airline, we’d definitely have frequent flyer miles. With an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude, I resigned myself to an early bedtime, optimistically looking forward to the electricity returning sometime in the night. At very latest it would be back by the next morning.

Monday morning came and went. The storm raged on and the electricity still hid. That afternoon, when the rain finally let up, Tom hopped on his bike, ready for a sleuthing adventure, and soon returned with news that electricity was out throughout the whole town. They men at Enel (the local electricity plant) were slowly returning electricity to each neighborhood, one at a time, to identify where the problem was. We were confident that our little spot at the end of the airstrip would soon have its turn. Hours passed, and still no lights, no fans. As the sun started to sink below the horizon, we pulled out the candles once again, and prepared for another dark night. Evidently, our neighborhood was the one with the problem. We could see lights in the houses of those around us, but none in our area.

The next morning showed us that, sure enough, a wooden pole suspending the electric wires had broken in the storm, cutting off all current to those further down the line (aka, us). Ok, problem identified. The solution, however, was a bit more difficult. We already had poles ready to replace the broken one, but the Enel men required to sink the pole and fix the lines were down river, working on another project. No one knew when they’d be back in Waspam.

And so we, the Wangki missionaries, started to adjust to an electricity-free life. It was easy in the mornings, when the breezes coursed through the open house and the sunlight illuminated our work. But the evenings and nights were difficult, stuffy and dark; we were going through candles like nobody’s business. Tuesday passed, Wednesday passed, and by Thursday, we started rationing water (the water we use in the house comes from a tank refilled by an electric pump which draws water from underground). If the tank went dry, we knew we’d simply have to carry water into the house in buckets. No big deal, we’re living Wangki style.

Another small piece in this dilemma was that were how isolated from the outside world. No electricity means no internet, a taxing problem when all communication and preparation with coming groups is done online. (New development: we now know that the local internet provider, a little one-room shop on the edge of town, was actually struck by lightning during the Sunday storm, frying all his computers and equipment. Internet was gone, indefinitely.)

Thursday afternoon I borrowed the Keogh’s Nicaraguan cell phone to call my sister; we try to keep in touch via email, facebook and Skype (all of which were eluding me), and I wanted to relieve any worries she might be having because of my week-long silence. At fifty cents a minute, I had to keep the call brief, but it was good to hear her voice. I hung up and started preparing for my English class, copying song lyrics (I also teach English through songs translated into both languages) by hand, a job usually simplified by an electricity-powered computer printer.
And then I heard this funny noise. Wwhhhhsssshhhh…. I looked outside. Nothing. “What’s going on?” I thought. And then I realized: The fans are on…. The fans are on! WE HAVE ELECTRICITY!!!!!!

Those of you who know me well can easily imagine the next scene: rejoicing, Jessi style. I was dancing, singing, yelling, and laughing as I went through the house, turning off all the fans (somehow fearing that if all of them were running, the power would leave again. Electricity was now a precious commodity). For the rest of the night, I was positively giddy, tickled pink by the smallest convenience. “Wow, cold water from the fridge!” “Look, I can turn the light on in my room, and it actually comes on!” “I’m gonna go charge my iPod!”

A miraculous event summarized into four simple sentences for an English class, but what simple beauty those sentences held for me!

Thank you, Jesus, for helping me appreciate the simple things.

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Turns out we did get internet back that Thursday, July 26, but internet took a lot longer. The same rainstorm that knocked our electricity poles over actually fried our internet provider; lightening struck his business, killing all his computers and eliminating any chance of getting online. We were completely internet-less until yesterday, August 8. Learned that I can easily live without the internet, but how good it is to be back!!!
ps: If you’re still wondering about this post’s title…. Whenever the lights go out, a Spanish speaker will say “Se fue la luz” (The lights went away of their own volition). I can’t help but think of my small-town Alaska grocery store every time I hear it. Makes me smile…)

Wangki Mairin: God Whispers in Costa Rica

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Not the sunset I refer to in this post, but one from the night before…

Yesterday was a classic, roller-coaster day. I say “roller-coaster”, because in the course of 5 hours, my life managed to turn inside out, upside down and then return back to “right” again, and I say “classic”, because this sort of thing has happened too often than I’d care to remember. Once again, I was blind-sided by a turn of events from someone very close to me, only this time, all my information was gleaned from the internet. I was thousands of miles away from home, and my life was changing faster than I could hope to catch up. Then, all of the sudden, everything was “fine”; it was like nothing ever happened. Again, classic.

As you can imagine, my emotions were a wreck. Like so many times previously, I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. It was all just so confusing. So complicated.

As the day comes to an end, Tom and Nutie ask me if I’d like to join them; they want to go to a new beach to celebrate our last night in Costa Rica (we had to leave Nicaragua for 3 days to renew our VISA’s). Anxious for a diversion, I agree and we all pile into the car, off to Playa Coco (Coco Beach). Tom heads for the basketball courts as soon as we arrive and Nutie, eyes on the horizon, says she wants to take a walk along the shore. I find myself a nice spot in the sand and sit down to read. I try a few different books (Kindles are amazing things), but I can’t sink into the storyline. My mind is miles away, stalled in neutral, unable to move past the major road block from that afternoon. “WHAT. JUST. HAPPENED???” Over and over, echoing in my mind. “Father, where do I even start?” Heartbreak so raw, so fresh I’m scared to even touch it. So I just sit. Time passes unnoticed.

I start to stir when I notice the sun is starting to set. “I’m at the beach, after all. Maybe it’s time to get into the water.” And as I step into the waves, God gives me an incredible gift: the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.

Earlier that morning it had rained and it stayed cloudy for the rest of the day. Usually the skies clear up after a thunderstorm, but I didn’t think much of it; I had more than enough on my mind that afternoon. But as I walked into the water yesterday evening, I remembered that cloudy afternoons can make for the best sunsets. The show to come confirmed that fact. As I gazed at the awe-inspiring oranges, pink, purples, yellows and blues, my stalled heart was moved, and I couldn’t help but worship. “You are beautiful beyond description. Too marvelous for words… Holy God, to whom all praise is due, I stand in awe of You.” “I see your face in every sunrise… Oh, You’re beautiful.” “In the quiet, in the stillness I know that You are God. In the secret of Your presence, I know there I am restored. So when You call I won’t delay, this my song through all my days: There is no one else for me. None but Jesus. In the chaos, in confusion I know You’re sovereign still…” “Bless the Lord, oh my soul. Oh my soul, worship His holy name. Sing like never before, oh my soul. Worship His holy name”.

And as I continued to sing 10,000 Reasons, I remembered…

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning. It’s time to sing Your song again. Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me; let me be singing when the evening comes”.

I remembered that before my day began, I prayed a prayer that has almost become habit recently:

Father, I have no idea what the plan is for today, but You do. You hold today. Help me to walk with You in it, taking advantage of every opportunity, not giving in to cowardice or fear. Help me to recognize Your lead. Help me to abide in You.”

Whoa. Little did I know how incredibly fitting that prayer was! Mere hours before, I had no idea what lay ahead of me, but here I stood “singing when the evening came”.

All afternoon, as the hurricane rage around me, I prayed for God’s voice, for His clear direction. But He stayed silent. It wasn’t till I was standing in the ocean that I realized: I passed the test. I had surrendered the day into God’s hands, and I clung to Him in the midst of confusion and chaos. In that moment in the water, I felt His pride and pleasure over me. I did well!

Then the intense beauty of the sunset captured me. Such contrast. Whispers of cloud, hot pink from the setting sun, floating in a indigo sky; blue-black waves, kissed with pink in reflection. As the sun sank deeper, the contrast increased; it didn’t even look real. Could anything be this beautiful? And then, softer and more subtle than the ocean breeze, the Holy Spirit whispered this thought into my mind.

This is your life! As your circumstances become more and more difficult, as your surroundings grow increasingly dark, your life will shine all the more brightly for me, catching every ray and aspect of My light. I am a God of redemption. I use the pain and evil of this world, of your life, for my incredible good. This is your life. Watch, and worship. Be encouraged and be at peace.”

My heart was overflowing with love, admiration and speechless praise. Here stood hope. Here was joy painted across the skies in the very moment of my need.

Only in a tropical country can you watch the sun sink below the horizon (it sets so fast!). I scanned the skies, anticipating the incredible show to become muted and dissipate. But, to my great surprise, the contrasting colors grew even more vivid! And through them, I again heard the voice of my God speaking to me…

Take heart, Jessi. Just like I make the sky more beautiful after the sun has set, so I can do with you. Your life, lived in complete surrender and communion with me, can send forth sparkling rays to generations, even after your death. One life lived according to my plan can color the lives of countless in your family. I am a God who makes a heritage. Your life will leave a legacy.”

Nothing I could say, nothing I could think, nothing I could pray or sing could be the proper response to what I had just witnessed and heard. There in the Pacific, thousands of miles away from home, standing alone in the water, God met me in an unmistakable, unforgettable way.

Wangki Mairin: Stalemate = Delayed victory

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I originally recorded this scene for one my closest friends who was asking for “real life” stories from the jungle, but I thought you might like to share her little glimpse. You’ve heard my first impressions of life in Waspam, you’ve heard about some of my budding relationships. And now for a bit of comic relief…

My turn for a funny story (all true): We have been having a little war in this house. Three against one; all of  us against one little mouse. And, as of right now, the score stands Mouse 5, Us 0. Every night as we sleep he comes down and finds little things to nibble, so each morning we figure out something else that needs to be put away before bed. Not all of the cupboards close completely, so we have to put stools and stuff in front of them to keep the doors closed.

So two nights ago I’m in the shower, and I hear Nutie yell, “He’s in here!! He’s in here! The mouse! TOOOOMMM! He’s in here. Oh quick, we’ve got him.” (“Here” is the left set of cabinets above the sink, adjacent to a wall that reaches the roof). And then she starts getting into a frenzy (Reminding me of a mouse-moment at the very beginning of Bible school. Picture Kirsten with us in the pantry, only this time she doesn’t have to worry about waking anyone up). “We’ve got to come up with a plan. We need a plan. We need a plan. He’s gonna get away. What are we going to do!!!???”

 By this time, I’m out of the shower, and trying my very best notto laugh at her. She is, after all, my hostess; it’s not very polite to laugh at the distress of the person who’s letting you sleep in her house. We formulate a plan and distribute our weapons: Tom has the broom (to sweep the mouse out of the cupboard, and, ideally, onto the floor), and I have a shoe. Nutie, visibly shaken at the thought of having to attack a mouse with anything, is hesitant at deciding her weapon of choice, and eventually takes her place standing on the counter….

We open the cupboard. There he is, just looking at us, the little devil! Tom tries to sweep him out, but he runs to the right, hiding behind the right cupboard door. After a few turns of running him from the right cupboard to the left cupboard and back, he decides to take matters into his own “hands”. A flying leap, and he’s on the counter (that thing jumped 4 feet). Nutie is freaking out, “There he is! There he is! GET HIM!!!!!”, which is easier said than done. You see, we took everything that was breakable out of the cupboards when we found him in there, and put them on the counter. So now he’s scurrying around all these bottles and such, let’s just say whacking him is a bit difficult.

But he’s running straight for me, so I raise my shoe arm and brace my mind for mouse-impact. I land what I think are a few good blows with the heel of my tennis shoe, but only catch the tip of his tail. And now he’s on the floor, running straight for my room. I get ahead of him, slam the door, my mind racing as to where to direct the little beast. He bolts for the bathroom, but instead chooses to hide in a little crevice under the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. And that ended the night’s battle. He won. I saw him surface one more time that night, just outside his little hiding place in the bookshelf, but my approach scared him back inside.

As of right now, he has the upper hand, but let me tell you,this mouse’s days are numbered!We’ve set countless traps. We’ve tried poison (which he has eaten, to no avail), and now we’re trying to figure out how to make some sort of glue. I think this quite the jungle adventure, and would find it completely hilarous if it didn’t cause Nutie so much frustration/anxiety or result in so much food wasted. Every morning we either have to cut some eaten bits out of a plantain or throw away limes/potatoes, etc…

I have a little list of things I pray for every day (people God has laid on my heart, people I love dearly, and such), and every morning when I pray for Nutie, I also pray for the visible death of this mouse. We want to KNOW he’s dead, and to be able to find him. The only thing worse than a mouse running around in the middle of the night is a dead mouse smelling the whole place up!! And the whole world will know when that glorious day of victory finally comes and we finally win this war. Victory is coming… I can almost taste it!