From Nicaragua – Random Thoughts, Small World.

March 27, 2007

I am in Nicaragua with my mom.  It is her first time leaving the country. It is wonderful, stressful, overwhelming.  My mom is very extroverted and would love to talk to everyone although she doesn´t speak Spanish. I am introverted and don´t like to draw attention to my U.S. American self so this makes for an interesting mix.  I am translating for her the best I can and trying not to cringe at how much attention it draws to us to say so much to so many people.  Neither way is better, just different.  It wouldn´t be a problem if I didn´t have to do the translation.  But, then again, when she talks there is no pressure on me to be talkative. Not that I am silent – I am just not one to make random conversation. Especially in Spanish which is difficult in the first place. 

Interestingly, no one here – that is, my Nicaraguan friends – seems even remotely interested in my life, so if I want to say something, I have to volunteer it. And to just volunteer random information about my life isn´t so much my style.  No questions like “How is school going?”  Not about school, work, religion, politics, cats, etc.  I wonder if it is a language barrier although I really don´t think so.  But, my host family does love to see pictures of my life and asked about my grandma who was sick when I was here last time.  I guess I don´t mind, but for all the talk of being close friends and family (as in host family) I feel like no one here knows me well.  Or cares to that much.  I have told this to my friend Francisco who speaks English and he seems to have no explanation for lack of interest in my life. He blames it in part on his lack of English, except that he is perfectly fluent, so that doesn´t really explain it.  But whatever. Not a big deal.  Just a tad sad, given how interested I am in the lives of my friends here. It is nice when it is reciprocal.

I love the sun and the weather.  I have a slight sunburn, but I would take that any day over snow.  The weather makes me feel much better – the warmth and the sun life my spirits.  Even mixed with the large amount of dust.

We visited the school where I worked two summers ago. I enjoyed it and the children were kind and welcoming, as were the teachers.

There was a funny, yet at least for me a somewhat painful experience with some of the gifts I brought for my (host) family and friends here. Bringing gifts in the first place is a funny thing because of course they cost me money that I wouldn´t normally spend.  It is a difficult balance between wanting to show my appreciation for the kind and wonderful welcoming spirit that I am shown by people here, and realizing that my resources are not only greater than what most folks have here, but are in a sense built in some part on the backs of Nicaraguans and other “developing” countries who make the cheap things that I buy, and who have suffered greatly under the dreadful hegemony of the United States over the years. Yet, I also don´t want to come across as Elizabeth Santa Claus trotting in from the U.S. bearing gifts.  It is a funny and hard balance for me.  So anyway, I thought it would be nice to buy the two families and the one friend I am closest with here things from Boston or Harvard.  So I got shirts from Hidden Sweets, a store in Harvard Square. But when I gave the shirt to my friend Francisco we discovered that the company that made the shirts (Gildan) is the company he works out here in Nicaragua.  The shirt was made by a different factory but same company in Honduras.  It is an exploitive company that pushes workers hard, underpays them, requires too much overtime, and is generally an unpleasant place to work.  So here I am giving someone who I care about very much a shirt as a gift from this dreadful company that exploits the workers of which he is one.  I feel like I am not doing a good job of communicating why this felt so weird, but it did.  Francisco, bless his heart, thought it was mostly funny.  He has a good spirit and seems relatively at peace with things and his family thought it was funny too.  But I hated it – it represented exactly what I don´t like about being from the U.S. – that difference that I would like so much to minimize.  It isn´t like I run around feeling guilty all the time in Nicaragua.  But I think I would be remiss not to be aware of the differences in life in Nicaragua and life in the United States and the reasons for those differences and the way that I am privileged by those inequalities between our countries.

More later.  I have a lot to say but I think marathon posts are no fun to read.  I´ll share more when I have time.

Sonrisas – Elizabeth

The Simple Living Guide – Book Review

March 19, 2007

So I cover simple living and increased simplicity a lot here, and I wanted to suggest one of my favorite books for getting inspired to live more simply and save money. It is The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs.  I wish so much that there was a newer version of it – it came out in 1997 so it is a little dated in some ways.  Still – I have, for a very long time, wanted to save more money and live a life that is less driven by getting things done and one that is more focused on living life right now and enjoying those things that are important to me. I think a lot of time the right book comes along at the right time in our lives, and for me, this book was it. It provides lots of ideas – some about being just a little more simple and some that are about pretty drastic changes. This is not likely a book that people who want to live very radically simple lives would find valuable. This is for folks who still want electricity, maybe a car, some nice “things,” and so on. I found it very readable with lots of ideas, and also a very exciting philosophy – driving home the idea that we lose sight of the point of life – that for most people, it doesn’t make sense to work a lot, to get lots of money, to get a bigger house and lots of stuff. Rather, we can be more content (and have a lighter environmental impact) by working only as much as we need to in order to meet the needs that are basic and the needs that are most important to us. Thus, if having a nice car is important, save for that and cut down on expensive clothes. It encourages you to thin of life in terms of tradeoffs. If I work 50 hours a week, I can have a big house, but much less time to live in it or be with family. Is this worth it. It also helps to counter conventional wisdom about the kind of money it takes to live a “decent” life. This was big for me.  I loved the idea that it is not unreasonable to consider living on $40,000 with two children (okay, not in Boston) and not feel deprived. I know that lots of people live on much less than that, but the idea here was that you can live on much less than you think you can and not feel poor or deprived. It challenges assumptions and offers new way to think about things. The book did not come across as preachy to me. I think you can take from it what is helpful in your life – it is like a sourcebook or reference book. Take what works for you and leave the rest.

I won’t review here, but I also really liked Simplify Your Life.

Preparing to go to Nicaragua – Nicaragua Packing List

March 18, 2007

I leave for Nicaragua in four days. I’m so looking forward to it. I have been very very sick the last week with the flu and an attack of killer cold sores, but I seem to be recovering fast enough that I should be able to go. Being sick has put me more behind on the thesis than would be ideal, but I’m trying to work diligently and get it done before I leave.

Because I know how helpful it would have been for me to have a good packing list prior to living in Nicaragua in the Summer of 2005, and because I need to pack for this time anyway, I’m posting my packing list here. This is a list for someone who does not plan on camping or going out and doing things in rainforests or such. A little walking – yes. Hiking up a volcano – no.

  • If you can’t pick it up and run 50 meters with it, it is too much.  Err on the side of light.  You can probably buy what you need there if you decide against something and MUST have it.
  • Backpack with a waterproof cover
  • Light poncho or raincoat
  • Umbrella, particularly if it is the rainy season
  • Sunglasses and a sun hat (if sun hats are your thing)
  • Sunscreen
  • All summer clothes except for a pair of tennis shoes, some socks, a sweatshirt, and one pair of heavier jeans. Everything else should be light and summer-y. You will sweat ALL THE TIME. Something to consider in what clothes you pack.
  • If you are staying a short time (1-2 weeks) try to pack enough underwear so you won’t have to wash clothes, which is done by hand (by you or someone you pay). If you are staying longer, still pack lots of underwear since the need for clean underwear often determines when you have to finally do clothes.
  • Towelettes. Most showers are cold in Nicaragua, unless you are in a hotel in which case sometimes showers are heated in creative ways often involving electricity and wires in your shower. I like Ponds towelettes but really any kind can do to get the dust and sweat off of your skin in between showers.
  • Bring a few wash cloths – you will get dusty and if you are wearing sandals, you will have a lot of dirt to wipe off of your feet (if you are into clean feet). Also helpful when you use the wet towelettes to dry off since they get a little soapy sometimes and you want to get that off.
  • I would also suggest bringing especially strong face wash since many skin types are not used to so much sweat, dust, and sun. I broke out while I was there and you can get some things at the grocery store, but if you have a special kind of wash you prefer, bring that. You may not be be able to find just what you are looking for.
  • As needed: Toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving supplies, makeup, hairdryer, shampoo, conditioner, soap, small hand mirror (there were no mirrors in the house of the family I stayed with). Avoid fragranced items, they attract insects. You can buy most of these basic things in Nicaragua in most towns if you forget something.
  • Mosquito repellent with a high % of deet (Edit several years later – Now that I have a small child and I am aware of the risks of deet, I would use Badger Bug Balm and Bug Spray as primary, bringing deet along as backup if bugs get particularly bad.)
  • Antibacterial gel
  • A mosquito net or tent
  • Camera and if you need film, bring as much as you need. You can buy batteries if you are near a good sized town – not out in the middle of no where.
  • Swimming suit/shorts.
  • Towel and wash cloths (unless you are staying in an especially nice hotel).
  • One of those things from a camping store with a compass, thermometer, and watch on it (I found very helpful).
  • Rehydration salts, Immodium AD, antimalarial medicine, antibiotics,Tylenol or Ibuprofen, antiseptic, Band-Aids, hydrocortisone, vitamins, birth control, etc. Leave prescription medication in its container with dosage information.
  • If you wear classes or contacts and need your glasses to see, bring extra pair of glasses. Bring contact cleaning and storage solution.
  • Bring some U.S. dollars to exchange in airport for cordobas. There are ATMs in many bigger towns in Shell gas stations and at some banks, although the fee will probably be about $5. ATMs can be down for days, thus the reason to bring some cash to start with. Try not to care large amounts of cash on you if you can help it. Keep some cash and credit cards separate so if one stash is somehow lost or stolen or lost, you have a backup.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries.
  • Day pack if you need to carry a few things with you but don’t want to take your huge backpack.
  • Spanish books/phrase books to help with language, English reading material if you want to read books or magazines. It isn’t common to find things written in English, although sometimes there are book exchanges at touristy places (San Juan Del Sur, for instance).
  • Earplugs if the roosters crowing at 4am every morning will bother you.
  • Notebook/pens/pencils (you can also buy these in most medium sized towns).
  • I didn’t use a money belt while I was there, and never had any trouble, but it does sound like a good idea now that I think about it.
  • Bring copies of your passport, airline ticket, drivers license, student I.D., hostel card, ISIC card, etc. Give your copies to someone you are traveling with or put them in a separate piece of luggage. Another option is to make “virtual” copies and hold them in your e-mail inbox should you need them.
  • A few ziplock bags in various sizes. This will help with leaks, things getting, and all sort of things you probably can’t think of yet
  • Locks for your Pack – a small, code lock (preferred over key locks which can get too easily lost.) Depending on the sorts of places you will be staying, you may want to bring a metal cord that you can also use to lock your bag to the bed or desk or something.
  • If you are going to be there a long time, you may want to bring an inflatable mattress.  I did not do this and after several months had bruises on my hips from sleeping on “mattresses” that were not quite as soft as I was used to. While I’m sure you can buy an air mattress in Nicaragua, they aren’t on every street corner. But don’t bring this if you are hiking around all over the place.  They are bulky.
  • The Moon Handbooks Guide to Nicaragua.  Far better than the Footprint guide.
  • Checkout which is all about packing light and well.

I’ll add to this if I realize I forgot something…

Sigh. I am SO trying to be such a friendly, non-judgmental vegetarian. And apparently not coming across that way.

March 7, 2007

I’m sorry to continue with posting about the UU World article on ethical eating. Skip if you are getting bored with it. It is just that my eating practices and care for animals are such an important part of how I understand my ministry – to all sentient beings, humans included! As I mentioned in this post, my response to the UU World article on ethical eating was mentioned at Philocrites here. A commenter on Philocrites post writes

It’s a great article… but a shame that the puritanical streak of vegetarianism ran off with it. People need to act and eat and live more responsibly. But being chided and naughtied and disapproved and shamed for where they’re at isn’t helpful.

Darn it, double darn it. I tried so hard to come across as appreciative of the article, yet disappointed with the conclusions. Does that make me puritanical?

My question: Is there ANY way for a vegetarian/vegan to suggest that vegetarianism/veganism is the best option for eating without it coming across as obnoxious proselytizing? I mean, it is one thing to make comments when people are eating or to do a dying chicken impression or something during dinner, but is it still obnoxious when it is a thoughtful response to an article? Or to gently share about your food decisions when people ask?

Here is how I responded to several comments that seemed to think that my response to the UU World article was  puritanical, self-righteous, obnoxious, or proselytizing…

I understand people’s concern with militant, judgmental vegetarianism. I think it is important to remember that everyone does what they can – some of us fly less, some of us drive less, some of us rescue dogs, help our neighbors, grow gardens, and some of us eat vegetarian. We can’t all do it all, and I hope by pointing out in my response to the article that I need to do a lot of things different in my life – drive less, fly less, etc. – that I made this point. We are all doing what we can. That said, what I was doing was simply expressing that I think that encouraging people to push themselves – when it comes to a range of our living practices associated with compassion, sustainability, and the environment – would be best, and would be what I would like to see from our denominational magazine. No chewing out. No finger wagging. Just encouragement about what is possible and doable, as vegetarianism seems to be for a lot of people. Of course it isn’t for everyone. We can’t all do it all. There are lots of friendly, non-judgmental vegetarians out there, and I certainly intend to be one of them and regret if it doesn’t come across like that. All the best, Elizabeth from Elizabeth’s Little Blog

Don’t worry.  This is not becoming a vegetarian blog. It is just a place where I try to work out difficult theological and social issues that I struggle with.  And this is one of them.



Food Food Food – Questions About Where to Buy and How and All Sorts of Complex Difficult Questions

March 6, 2007

Just thought I would point out two cool posts on food – one at Peacebang’s blog Poverty and Sustainability and one at the Boy in the Bands blog The Healthy, Sustainable Diet. I think both posts help highlight the complexity of the pickle we are in with food and issues of sustainablity. I would like to write my own post, but now is not the time. Enough food blogging for me in the past few weeks. Glad folks are thinking about these complex, difficult questions.

The Rescued Cats are Getting Famous!

March 6, 2007

Well, sort of famous. I send their story to a blog called 4 The Love of Animals because she seems to be doing such cool work trying to raise awareness and make connections particularly around issues of animal adoption. She has a store, and a blog, and a database with rescue organizations all over the country. Neat. Readers of this blog already know the story, but in case you want to relive it all over again, it is here.

Layout Adjustment

March 5, 2007

As you can see, I am experimenting with the layout.  I like how this one is wider in the middle – I don’t like how the text on the other one was in such a narrow column.  That said, I don’t want this to get too busy.  Feedback welcome.

p.s. I feel like my little “blog admin” tag should be longer… like “blog admin: aka elizabeth is procrastinating on something or trying to keep her mind off of something.” In this case, it is procrastinating on a response paper and trying to keep her mind off of responses to her ph.d. applications that should come any day now. And might I mention that the responses will likely not be good thanks to the evil GRE which I scored dreadfully on. Which I am mostly okay with but I just want to know so I can get on with things.

Ethical Eating in UU World – A Short Response

March 5, 2007

Philocrites mentions the article in UU World on ethical eating and refers to my response to the article in the following way:

Elizabeth, however, thinks the magazine didn’t wag its righteous finger vigorously enough, and wishes it chewed her out for driving a car, too: “I want to read an article in the UU World telling me how unethical it is for me to drive my car in a city with public transportation. I want a faith that says, ‘Hey. Get tough. Small adjustments are not going to cut it in these times.’

While I am appreciative of being mentioned on one of the best UU Blogs around, of course, I don’t wish my denominational magazine to wag its righteous finger at all, or to chew me out. I only wish, that on a topic where the suffering of so many people and sentient beings involved, and with our environment in such a serious state, we were called to be our best selves. For me, it was like saying, “Gay marriage is good. But getting there is too hard. So here are some half-way measures.” I love how our denomination has taken the difficult, uncomfortable, unpopular stances on things that are of so much importance to humanity, and to our world. I just wanted that on this too.

Unitarian Universalist Stoles * UU Stoles * The Most Beautiful Stoles Ever

March 1, 2007

June 2008 UPDATE: My mom seems to be taking a vacation, whether permanent or temporary is unclear, from her stole pursuits.  Anyway, thanks for looking at the Mom Stole Gallery. She is so sweet – she ended up selling many of her stoles at absurdly low prices just because she didn’t want to turn people down who she thought were doing such very exciting ministry. Very sweet, but I think perhaps not encouraging of a long-term stole business-ministry.

Made by my mom! She didn’t ask me to advertise them, but gosh darn it, they are just so lovely that I had to show them off here. Some of these were specially made for individuals, some are my own that she made for me, and others are still for sale. They are very comfortable and just lovely. Email for more info elizabeth199 (at) gmail (dot) com.