Monday, December 30, 2013

Skipping town

Back in Canada on Christmas day most people are indoors due to the extreme cold. Stores close and you don't see many people around. I had never been in Nicaragua to see what the customs here are, but as we got closer to December 25th I started to see some differences. 

For one kids suddenly seem to have an unlimited arsenal of fireworks, which they set off continuously all week. Secondly everyone is drunk and roaming the streets. Although on the plus side the weather is absolutely gorgeous. When it rains its only for a few minutes, otherwise its sunny all day with a nice breeze coming off the lagoon to keep things from getting too hot.

Apparently the congregation here has made it their custom to skip town on Christmas day in order to avoid the chaos. On Christmas eve it seemed like every house was blasting reggae versions of every Christmas song at maximum volume all day. It even carried on all night, until 4:30 in the morning when I got up to go and catch the bus. 

We were taking the bus that goes to Rama, however we were getting off part way. Our destination was Rocky point, at a bible student's farm in the middle of the jungle. Away from all the drunks and fireworks. Since we weren't going the whole way the charge was only 10 Cordobas (40 cents). A short hike away from the road took us through a field of coconut trees, and then to the students farm house.
Coconut trees
Edward's Farm house
We spent the day doing not much of anything. A few of us did hike through the bush to the cow pen to see them being milked the old fashioned way, and also pasteurized the Nicaraguan way (not at all). Also we saw a monkey. We also got to see the family making coconut oil from scratch. One gallon requires about 40 coconuts, which need to be chopped open and grated by hand.

On the way to the cows


Monkey

 After lunch, at around 2:30 or 3 we felt it was time to leave. Mainly due to the reason that there was no bus to take us back and we needed to be in town before dark. So we decided to walk back to pearl lagoon. This was perhaps the longest distance I have ever walked, and this with a backpack full of fresh oranges. The walk took us through Haulover where most of the group lived, so seeing as we had plenty of daylight left by the time we arrived there, we went for a swim just outside of Haulover. It wasn't a lake, it wasn't a pond and it wasn't a river, I don't know what to call it, but it was a small body of clear inviting water and we were all hot and sweaty from walking for 3 hours in the mid afternoon sun. I made it home around 7:00 pm, and it looked like things were quieting down. I did get hit by some stray fireworks, but luckily my clothes were wet from the swimming so I didn't catch fire.

Stranded in Bluefields

Its been a busy month. I finally gave in and decided to buy a bicycle. Our territory is very big and there are very few taxis around here. If there is more than one they don't run on the same day. Our meeting for field service is at the baseball stadium in Haulover every Tuesday, which is a 45 minute walk. Then on Wednesday its 30 minutes to Raitipura. And by now of course I have studies scattered in both directions.

There are no bike stores in Pearl lagoon, so if you want to buy one here it will be second hand. Seeing as the bicycles here are very low quality to begin with I thought a used one would be a bad idea. So I decided to make a trip to Bluefields and buy one new. The alternative would be to go to Rama to find one. Equally viable but its 5 hours by bus as opposed to one hour by panga to Bluefields.

I was also using this trip as an opportunity to visit immigration and renew my visa which would be due the next week. I left early Sunday morning. That was my first mistake. In hindsight I have made this mistake in the past, resulting in my being stuck in Kukra hill all afternoon on my way to pearl lagoon the first time. So, I arrive in Bluefields just before the heavens open up and it starts to pour. I am then informed that there will not be a second panga returning to Pearl Lagoon today. The one I came in on was going back, but in one hour, it was unlikely that I would make it in time seeing as how I had a lot to do.

I went to the ATM and did my banking, and then remembered that Immigration is closed on Sunday, so I was DEFINITELY stuck until Monday. So I went and bought everything I needed, and dragged my shiny new bicycle through the canals (formerly known as streets, before the rain started) to the nearest sheltered bus stop to wait out the rain. I called the family I stayed with when I was serving in Bluefields a couple years ago, and they very kindly offered me a place to stay for the night. Despite being soaking wet by the time I got to the house (the rain never did stop) it felt really good to be back in my old neighborhood and see old friends.

Getting my visa renewed the next morning went smoothly. It was still raining of course, but I was able to get the 3 month extension with hardly any questions being asked. All they needed was an un-folded copy of my passport and a vague idea of where I was living. And here is a picture of the bike.


It has fenders to deal with the excessive amounts of mud and water we ride through and a rack to carry things like water jugs, gas tanks, and literature. Once I got it to pearl lagoon I took it to the bike repair shop in town to fix all the design flaws. (such as the chain being too short, and pieces being in the wrong position). In all the bike cost about 3,260 Cordobas, or $128 US, or $137 Canadian. There are no return policies here, and you won't find a bike in any store that is properly built, so you just have to make due with what you find. So far the bike has been working great and has been extremely useful.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Kakabila

December is here... over the past few weeks we have had notably less rain. The waters are getting less murky and the temperatures are rising. This is a beautiful time of year on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, though one must adapt to the heat. That being said I remember Bluefields was much hotter around May and June.

Last week before heading out to Haulover we decided to stop for a quick coffee at the bakery, and it turned out to be our most productive call of the day. We weren't exactly preaching in the bakery but we did meet a couple from a village across the lagoon, which is actually very close if you have access to a boat. The name of the community is Kakabila, which is a Miskito word but I really have no idea what it means. After talking to the man for a while we found that he owned a small boat and could take our group to Kakabila for a very small fee. We arranged to go on Wednesday (Today)

So this morning we all met at the wharf instead of the Kingdom hall for service, there were 8 of us in total.
We were all wondering what kind of boat to expect... Marvin (the boat's owner) had told us he has a "skiff". Now, being that I grew up at least 1,000 km from the nearest ocean nautical terms are a mystery to me in the first place. Confounding this mystery is the fact that in Creole many terms have a completely different meaning. In the dictionary a "skiff" is a boat for one person, but he told us his holds 10...

As it turns out his boat was just the right size for our group, and the ride was very smooth. Although it wasn't a fast one, his 15hp engine got us to Kakabila in about an hours time.




As soon as we got close to Kakabila we could hear the reggae music blasting from a house near the wharf. Some locals approached us as we were getting off the boat, a few even formally welcoming us to Kakabila. As usual around here people were happy to take some time to learn about the bible. One woman saw us coming and answered the door with her bible in hand, and then invited us to come in and sit down. The only exception being a few local ministers that did not appear quite so pleased that Jehovah's Witnesses had found their village. In any case Miskito seems to be the local language but out of everyone we talked to we only encountered one person that did not speak English fluently. Next time we will definitely bring more literature in Miskito.






We worked a strip of houses along the shore, there are of course no streets and hardly even sidewalks. The houses are scattered randomly across a clearing in the otherwise dense jungle, so taking addresses would be an exercise in futility. At the edge of town opposite the wharf, we found a gorgeous beach. Soft sand, palm trees and blue sky, appearing like a perfectly planned rest stop at the end of the day. In fact there was even a building that we were told is some kind of hotel or accommodation. We haven't figured out who owns it but I imagine we will quite likely be staying there in the future to work territory and return visits over a few days.




Honorio (a pioneer brother who was assigned here from Mexico) was aware of this beach, as he had brought a change of clothes and swimming trunks. The rest of us had not brought swimming clothes, but that didn't stop us. Myself and others decided that since we were finished for the day there was no harm in going into the water fully clothed. We dried off fast enough on the boat on the way home. We plan to go back next Wednesday


Friday, November 15, 2013

Kingdom News #38... and the pacific ocean

Northernmost point of Pearl Lagoon
It is now the middle of November, and being from Canada I find that hard to wrap my head around. I’m not accustomed to seeing 30+ temperatures and heavy rain this time of year. In any case we have begun the campaign to distribute Kingdom news #38 here in Pearl Lagoon. The first day we started with the northernmost point of Pearl Lagoon and worked our way south. We received very good reception, although people were curious why we were keeping our visits so short. It is not the custom here to simply stop by and leave a tract without visiting for a little while.




After working about one block however it started to rain. Not that that is unusual here, but since we were close to a bakery we decided to stop for coffee and wait for the rain to pass. Its a small wooden house across from the wharf which has a few tables inside. They prepare all sorts of baked goods as well as the best coffee in town. If you’re one of those people doesn't approve of coffee breaks I hope this stumbles you.



Our territory is almost exclusively English speaking, however I still had the opportunity to practice my Spanish this month. I spent the past week visiting some friends in Carazo (Thats the department south of Managua, in the mountains on the pacific side of the country).

Getting there was interesting to say the least. I left Pearl Lagoon at around 5:30AM on Monday, and arrived in Rama 5 hours later. About half way there a large truck was stuck in the middle of the road, thankfully a bulldozer came by and pushed it out of the way... 









Each time I go to Rama I like it a little bit more. This time I came across some nice little restaurants that were also very affordable. After spending the night I left at 3:00AM the next morning on the express bus to Managua. To my delight there was a small stand set up by the bus selling coffee and bread. Once In Managua I took a taxi from the “Gran Mayoreo” terminal to “La Uca” which is the terminal for the buses going to Jinotepe. It took one hour to get from Managua to Jinotepe, and then one more short taxi ride to Dolores where I was staying. By the time I was at my final destination it was 10:30AM Tuesday.

El Rama, RAAS
I made sure to get out in service while there, and the simplicity of the tract made it easy to string together a presentation in Spanish. Our brothers on the Pacific have plenty of territory to work as well, so I got to see some of their more distant territories out in the country.
Cruz Verde, near Sta. Teresa, Carazo

Mountains near Sta. Teresa, Carazo

And of course, there’s always time for recreation. Not far from Jinotepe is a well known beach called La Boquita. The bus ride only costs 19 cordobas(less than $1) per person. The water was warm, with plenty of big waves, Too bad I don’t surf. I still can’t believe that this is November. Here I am sitting on a hot sunny beach enjoying the ocean breeze... when back home its -20. I had to make a lot of sacrifices to come here, but there are plenty of blessings that more than make up for it.
La Boquita


Quesillo - on the bus to Rama
The trip back took 3 buses, 1 taxi, and 2 trucks. It turns out the bus from Rama to Pearl Lagoon only goes in the evening, and since I was going in the morning, I went in the back of a truck from Rama to Kukra Hill, and then another truck to Pearl Lagoon. Don’t worry, I wasn’t hitchhiking. These are actually official public transportation vehicles.
Passenger Trucks in Kukra Hill

Monday, October 28, 2013

Time off

Although I'm definitely not here on vacation... there are times when it almost seems like one. Just off the coast from Pearl Lagoon is a group of small islands known as the Pearl Cays (pronounced Pearl Keys). No one really lives on these Islands, as they are public property no one is allowed to own or build on them. And as the government has not seen fit to promote much tourism in the area the islands are nearly untouched. With the exception of one of them allegedly being the location where one season of Survivor was filmed.

Some local restaurants and guides offer tours of the island, so a group of us from the congregation decided this was something we needed to experience while living in Pearl Lagoon.

Early Monday morning we met at the wharf in Pearl lagoon, and loaded our things into the boat. The price of the tour included a meal as well as drinks. We were slightly delayed by the rain, which didn't take long before it let up.

Before long we were skipping across the waves on our way to the first Island. This one was so small you could stand on the beach, and see the water on the other side, through the trees.



After swimming for a while we were taken to a second island, where the guides cooked some fish they had caught during the morning. This island was bigger, it took maybe 15 minutes to walk from one side to the other. There were some abandoned houses on this island. The story was that someone had purchased the island, not knowing that the person selling it to him did not own the island, nor was it legal to own the island at all. The "owner" had big plans, as they had built a restaurant as well as a nice vacation home with modern conveniences. It was kind of sad to see, but I guess thats what happens when you put your trust in material things. Interestingly if you look on line there are websites still trying to sell the islands.




Alleged filming location of Survivor. Wikipedia disagrees with our tour guide... not sure which one to believe.

The Savannah

Its been a busy month, and I must say I am loving it here in Pearl Lagoon. I wrote another post about my first day in service here but unfortunately due to technical glitches I am unable to access or finish posting it. I will try to remember the details.

It was a Wednesday, and every Wednesday the congregation works territory in a neighboring village called Raitipura. The inhabitants are mostly of Miskito descent, but nearly all of them speak English as well. The Creole English spoken there and here in Pearl Lagoon is not as distinct as others, for example Belize creole. Apparently the locals find conventional English easier to read than Belize creole, and they way they speak, although different, is readily understandable to most native English speakers.

In order to reach Raitipura one must cross what is known as "The Savannah". A flat grassy area with few trees that resembles parts of Africa.

 The difference however is that this Savannah is sopping wet. The reason there are no trees is because it is one gigantic marsh, though that fact is not visible from the path.


There is one concrete path leading across the plane, which at about the halfway point is completely submerged in water all of the time. I don't know how they built the pathway there in the first place, but whatever the case anyone going to Raitipura needs to wade through it. I sloshed through in my normal shoes and threw them on the tin roof in the afternoon to dry them in the afternoon sun. It did the trick but I still had soaked feet the whole morning. Since then I either take my shoes off and go barefoot, or wear rain boots.

The territory was amazingly receptive. I've only been there a couple of times and already have 3 potential bible studies. Frequently when working the territory people approach us and ask us to study with them and their families. One man even offered to build us a kingdom hall on his land.
Awas - Neighboring Raitipura


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ey' Mon

As you can probably tell from the title, I am now living in the caribbean. I regret not posting more in the past few months but I have been very busy with planning and making the move to Nicaragua, also being that we just finished the service year I had some catching up to do.

Just before I left however, there was a big announcement in the congregation in Mérida. The two english congregations, and the west english group are being condensed into one congregation, and any brothers who do not speak english as their first language have been asked to return to their former congregeations.
The direction is that we should be preaching to people in their mother tongue. Formerly most of the calls in the database were mexicans who were learning english. The change makes sense as the territory is worked frequently by the Spanish congregations.

Anyways, time went by quickly and before I knew it I was packing my bags. My flight was at 1:00pm, but the airport in cancun is still4 hours away by bus, so I had to leave early. I left at 4 in the morning so that I would have plenty of time to get to the bus terminal by 6 when it left for Cancun. My plan was to take a taxi, so i had a phone number to call. Unfortunately there was no answer when I called, so I asked a guy working in the 7 eleven accross the street if he knew a number for a taxi. He did not. Then i saw one go by, but he wouldnt stop when i waved at him. Finally i got two more phone numbers from the 24/7 farmacy nearby. I called both numbers 4 times, but no answer. By now it was 5:45 and the bus was leaving at 6:15, so i went and woke up the brother i was staying with to get a ride to the bus depot. (I felt bad because he was quite ill with a sore throat.)

Fast forward 13 hours, a bus and two planes and im in Managua! I missed Nicaragua so much, I don't know why i loved it here so much, but its good to be back. My old friend Dai jun who i travelled with the first time met me at the airport a long with some local friends from Jinotepe. They drove us to Dolores (a small town near Jinotepe) where i spent the week with Dai Jun. There I had the opportunity to go in service in spanish and help with the district convention invitation. It was nice to see old friends from the spanish congregation, and this time be able to communicate easily with them. It was a fun week, we had 3 parties and i got to work away my mexican accent in spanish a little bit.

Monday morning, i had to get up at 4:00am once again. Why is it always 4:00 am when I travel? Why!? Anyways some brothers in Dolores were going to Leon and dropped me off along the way in Managua. There i caught the 7:30 bus to El Rama. Beautiful countryside, green mountains and lots of potholes, for 6-7 hours. There was a brief stop in Juigalpa for bathrooms and street food. I ate a quesillo which are generally safe to eat as they are homemade, and the people selling them use gloves to handle them.

Once in El Rama i got on the new laguna de perlas bus which left at 4:30 in the afternoon. Its an old school bus painted black with roof racks added for luggage. The back half of the bud was loaded up with supplies being shipped into laguna from Rama, since its the only land route into the community. The bus ride was slow and bumpy through the jungle. We arrived at laguna de perlas around 9:45 at night and i was exhausted. A local brother named Byron blake met me at the bus stop and introduced me to the land lord and my new apartment, as well as a nearby restaurant where i can get internet and eat until i get some appliances.

It is very beautiful here, very tropical, palm trees and vibrant flowers everywhere year round. I rested today and walked around town to find some of the shops. It took me all of 3 minutes to find the kingdom hall. Pretty hard to get lost in a small place. Looking forward to service tomorrow and meeting the congregation.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Meanwhile in Mérida

Plans continue to come together for my trip to Laguna de Perlas. As it turns out the Airplane from Managua to Bluefields only leaves twice a day, once in the morning and once in the early afternoon. Since my flight from Cancun arrives in the evening, I would have to spend the night in the airport. However, the bus to El rama leaves later in the evening and travels through then night. So i get to choose between a night in the airport and a night on the bus. Taking the bus it may be possible to make it to Laguna de Perlas in one day. But this is all still months away.

Meanwhile, I am keeping busy here in Mérida. The English pioneer school is under way in Playa del Carmen, and as a result most of the pioneers in the congregation are gone. And since this congregation has so many pioneers weve taken a big hit in attendance, so the few who are left are very busy picking up the slack. I have 3 talks to do this month, as well as many smaller jobs at the meetings.

Those in the school right now are missing out on something else, we have started our metropolitan witnessing program. Now, this is not the special metorpolitan witnessing, where the branch assigns special and regular pioneers to high traffic areas. Rather this is just within our congregations territory. Since we are the Ingles centro congregation, our territory includes the main square of the city which is often crawling with english speaking tourists.

We set up a table with literature in english, primarily bible teach books as well as magazines in other foreign languages that are common here, such as french, german, italian, chinese, japanese, and russian. The first day was a great success, we were set up from 8 am until 12 noon. At least two people came and sat on the bench next to our table and had a bible study out of the teach book right then and there. We noticed that people rarely would simply walk by and take a set of magazines, they usually stopped to talk to us for a while. Evidently that is part of the culture here in the Yucatan.

Passersby also commented that they thought the table was a good idea. Many local people were interested as well, but we did not have any literature in Spanish. Next week we hope to work alongside the Spanish congregation whose territory the central park is in, that way we will have plenty of information for the locals. Our pictures will probably show up elsewhere as well, because many local brothers and sisters stopped to take pictures of us and our table. Some from Spanish, and even some sisters from a Mayan congregation paid a visit. Ironically the table seemed to draw just as much attention from fellow witnesses as from the public, as this had never been done in Mérida before to my knowledge.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Unforseen occurance

Usually when we talk about "Time and unforseen occurance" it has a negative connotation. Just recently something totally unforseen happened to me, but this time its not at all negative. I've been in Mérida just over three months now, and I now know my way around the city pretty well. I've also adjusted well to the climate. In fact this morning i was in Starbucks but I had to leave because the air conditioning was too much for me, I was starting to shiver and get a runny nose. I was really prepared to stay here in Mérida for a full year.

Now to the point, as mentioned in a previous post I wrote a letter to the Mexico branch office of Jehovah's Witnesses, asking for direction as to where I should go to help. Because the letter was sent by regular mail, and the postal system in Latin America is notoriously unreliable, After six months had passed I assumed my letter was lost in the mail. Thus I decided to come here to Mérida on my own.

Just a few weeks ago, I recieved a response from the Mexico branch. Of course, I could just ignore it and stay here... but I would much rather be in a place where the branch had assigned me. The funny thing is that just before the response came I had been seriously considering moving to progreso to assist the new english group forming there. I prayed for help to make the right decision, and then shortly afterward I got a letter addressed to me by name suggesting I move to Central America. Seems like a clear answer to me.

But it gets better. They listed 4 congregations for me to choose from: Copan ruinas (Honduras), San Pedro Sula - ingles (Honduras), Laguna de Perlas (Nicaragua), and Léon - ingles (Nicaragua). Does one of those sound familiar? Thats because one of the posts on this blog is about a trip i made to Laguna de perlas last year where we travelled by boat to reach isolated villages. It was one of the most enriching experiences of my life, and now im being asked to go back. My immediate inclination was to run outside and get a taxi to the airport right then and there. But after giving it some thought i've decided to wait until after the district convention in september.

I like it here in Mérida a lot, but I do miss the simpler lifestyle and slower pace of living on the caribbean side of Nicaragua. I also miss the friends i made while i was there, who became as close as family to me. I look forward to seeing all of them again soon. I've already bought a plane ticket to get from Cancun to Managua, I will take the bus from here to get to the Cancun Airport. The reason i am flying from Cancun instead of directly from Mérida is that for some reason it is much cheaper. I save over $100 flying to Managua, and when coming from Canada I saved around $200 by not going directly to Mérida, and that includes the price of the bus from the airport to Mérida. So if you plan on going anywhere in the Yucatan i recommend flying to Cancun and then taking the bus. When i get to Managua I hope to meet up with some of my old friends there, but if that isn't possible I will go directly to Bluefields, and then Laguna de Perlas.

I'm not sure if I will fly from Managua to Bluefields this time, or take the bus/panga route. The flight is less than an hour, as opposed to 7 hours by land and rivers, but another factor is that the people sometimes view you differently based on how you arrived. For example, if you come into Bluefields on a fancy airplane (its a prop plane, but to them its fancy), they will not think of you in the same way as someone who came on the boat a long with everyone else... what im saying is, if you come on a plane, you're a big shot gringo who can throw money away for the sake of convenience, but if you come in on a panga like all the commoners, you might just be one of them. I've heard many times in conversation when i was in bluefields "so-and-so came to bluefields last week, he came on the plane because he has lots of money". I'd like to avoid that stereotype as much as possible.

I haven't found a place to stay yet, but I know that Jehovah will provide. After all, its his organization that is sending me there.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Progreso

There is a town less than half an hour to the north of Mérida, which is on the norhtern coast of the Yucatan peninsula named Progreso. Just by looking at the map it seems like an appealing place to visit, and as it turns out the english territory there falls partially under Mérida centro ingles congregation. Naturally then i had to go and see it. It didn't take much persuasion to get a group together. The plan was to spend the morning in service and then go for lunch and spend the afternoon at the beach. We found out later however that a couple from Australia and a small group from one of the spanish congregations had been dilligently trying to start a new group.

We made plans to meet up with them near the beach, and then we worked the strip of businesses that were facing the ocean. Progreso is a beautiful town, and the temperature is much milder than that of Mérida thanks to the ocean breeze.

Last week the group had their first public talk and watchtower study, which i had the priviledge of attending, and yesterday i travelled with two brothers from Mérida to work in service in progresso for the day and this morning, as well as go to their meeting where they consider the jeremiah book.

Some local brothers in progresso own a very nice apartment which is currently vacant that they are letting us stay in when we visit progresso. I plan on going again next wednesday along with some others in centro. Its very exciting to see the beginnings of a new group, especially when there has never been one before in that town.

October 2, 2018

We spent a whole three months in Pearl Lagoon, our plan was to stay there much longer. At least a year was our idea. We kept ourselves busy ...