Saturday, December 17, 2016

The school's Christmas show at Parque Xalteva

Christmas productions, put on by children, no matter where they are performed, are adorable. Our school decided to make their annual production a community event, open to the public, at Parque Xalteva. And a good choice it was! Every passerby was treated to nice music and festive garments. It's always a joy to see how the truest of smiles occur so naturally and effortlessly, when given a chance. Just throwing this out there, maybe the whole purpose of why we are alive is to put smiles on people's faces. Who knows, but what is the worst thing that could happen if we try, people smile too much?
   The holidays are a time for sharing and giving but for the rest of the year, the popular term is called "Paying it forward." As we approach the holidays, my family and I,  would like to take this opportunity to thank those travelers before us, whom unknowingly helped make our journey easier. Most travelers tread lightly and help when they can. Sure there are those bad seeds, that harm, but the majority of travelers will go forever unknown, spreading community, in each place they visit. We are thankful to those before us who helped blaze a path, albeit a less worn path, but a path just the same. We are indebted to people we have not met and probably will never know. To them, we say thank you for paying it forward and we will continue the tradition.
   Some of the best things in life, like family and love, aren't perfect. We find ways to enjoy the company of others regardless of the irritations and baggage we all bring. Learning to "Work-it-out" elevates our thoughts and in our solutions we can sometimes find a true gem. For example, my favorite Christmas song "Silent Night" was created because a church organ wasn't working. Rather than call off the annual Christmas show they worked through their problem and created a beautiful song which didn't require an organ. Today, many millions of children around the world sing this peaceful melody for others to enjoy. Who would have thought that a failed organ combined with the unfailing determination of a few men to "Work-it-out" could have given the world such a beautiful song? Their can do attitude is Christmas spirit in it's purest form.
   Though I might be too old, my Christmas wish this year is for people to forgive themselves and those around them, who fall short. May we rejoice in our failings as long as we learn from them. Finally, and most importantly, give children the greatest gift of all, believe in them.

Noche de Paz (Silent Night)

Thankfully the arts are critical pieces of education at our school.

Noche de Paz (Silent Night) 

Zoe and Anais in front of our Christmas art at home.

Sierra was happy to showcase her Dirndl.

The kids politely sat down waiting for each class to perform.

The parents eagerly waited for the show to commence.

The kindergarteners were adorable.

The flute was a nice touch.

Zoe and her best friend were angels for the performance.

Each grade had their own performance.

Beautiful setting for the concert.

The teachers even gave their all for a Christmas song.

Sierra liked playing with the girl's hair in front of her.

No Christmas celebration would be complete without a Christmas goose :) 

The kids horsing around during a song. 

Sierra and two of her closest friends.

The young ladies wore their finest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

La Purisima, loud and beautiful

La Purisima, is the loud and beautiful 9 day celebration for the Virgin Mary. In Nicaragua, no celebration is complete without copious amounts of fireworks and penetratingly loud music. What distinguishes la Purisima from other celebrations is that it starts at 4 in the morning, each of the nine days. Allow me to give you an example of how we were woken up each day during the festivities. At 4 in the morning, a burst of between 6 and 10 large skyrockets were shot in the air. The stillness of the city was officially broken, all while her residents were in their deepest slumbers. A half hour later, at 430 A.M. sharp (the only punctual thing in Granada) the parade started with a marching band, followed by large buses and trucks blaring their fog horns. Holding up the rear was a small beat up pickup truck packed with gigantic speakers that were larger than the truck itself, playing religious music at concert level loudness. The windows in our home and the fillings in my teeth vibrated from the sounds from two streets away and they were headed straight for us. The parade passed us by and my wife, children and I  were staring at each other, at 440 in the morning, shell shocked, all awake and nothing to do.
    If it happened just once, no problems, I wouldn't have even mentioned it in the blog. However, after 9 days of the BOOM BOOM sleep deprivation caused by the skyrockets and music, it started to feel more like torture than a celebration. After just a few days, our mental cognition dropped to that of sea slugs. I find it difficult to describe the affects of loud skyrockets and firecrackers exploding for 21 hours a day, all around you, for 9 long days. For us, there was no chance of escape because we live in an open air house, our bodies felt the explosions of each skyrocket. Thus, ear plugs would have been no use for us. We tried to squeeze in power naps when we could but the restful, restorative sleep was unattainable for a week and a half.
    The Granadines really love their festivals and cultural heritage which was plainly evident in their smiles. For me, each time I tried to smile it felt more like I was suffering a mini stroke not allowing my cheeks to tighten. Exhaustion is something nursing mothers, firefighters, or infantry men in a foxhole are familiar with and they could relate to our sleep deprivation. However, for the average reader it would be hard to comprehend how lifting a coffee cup to your mouth was such a heavy burden. Days blended into nights and the BOOMS went on and on and on. At one point I counted large skyrockets exploding every 6 seconds, which went on and on, seemingly, in perpetuity. Though the noise was insane for us Gringos, those same exact sounds were music for the Granadine's ears, whom openly celebrated their faith and love for the Virgin Mary. The last day of Purisima was held about 100 meters from our house. When I walked to the store, the morning after, I passed the corner where all the action was. I ended up walking ankle to shin deep through the papers of the exploded firecrackers. I hear Christmas and New Years will be even bigger and more encompassing, if that is even possible. We, however, are happy to be visiting relatives in the U.S. during that time frame.
    The history of la Purisima is slightly different depending on the city you hear the fable. Since we are in Granada, I will share their version. In December 1721, the British and Spanish fought a battle near El Castillo on the San Juan river. The Brits ended up throwing the statue of the Virgin Mary into the San Juan river during the assault. Miraculously the statue of Mary, still in her glass case, floated up stream and into Lago Colcibolca  (Lake Nicaragua). On December 7th, 1721 some peasant women were washing their clothing along the lake shore and discovered the statue floating in the water. The statue eventually made it to Granada, where it still resides to this day. During each la Purisima, the same historic statue is moved around the city, once per day, so the Virgin Mary can be part of each neighborhood. The devout are absolutely elated with the Virgin Mary and she helps the community in ways not seen and in more profound ways than one can explain. As for the fireworks, well we have learned, they are the exclamation points of Granadine love.    

Moving the statue during the day

Truly amazing levels of noise at 430 in the morning.

Early hours of the street festival.

Right outside our front door.

Men carried the statue of Virgin Mary between her celebration spots. It is a tremendous honor to be able to carry the statue.

People gathering to pay their respects to the Virgin Mary.

Dr. Matt walking with Sierra and Elena, Zoe and Amara are further ahead.

A family friendly place.

The early hours of the celebration down our street.

This is the original statue of the Virgin Mary found floating in the lake in 1721.

The girls and I made a wall mounted Christmas tree this year.

Mini statues are brought door to door for the elderly to be able to pray and pay homage.

The San Francisco convent, in central Granada, is popular during la Purisima.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

School play, Three Little Pigs

Last week our school put on the annual winter play which, this year, was The Three Little Pigs. The kids poured their hearts into this acting affair. The audience, primarily comprised of kids, were mesmerized by the acting abilities of their friends. Just for the record, the production was about as low-budget as a play could get which went completely unnoticed by the children. The children enjoyed putting on the performance while the others loved watching the performance. Though lines were forgotten here and there not a soul cared. Kids need activities like this to bring out their inner expressionistas.

The very cute "Big bad wolf"

We happen to have identical triplets in our school which played the three little pigs. Sierra, in the foreground, was one of the play's narrators.

The audience intently listening.

Much harder to blow a brick house down.

Zoe was entranced with the play.

All the play's participants taking a bow after the play.

Great little play for the imaginative kids.

Oktoberfest in Granada

Charlie's Restaurant is, a German eatery, just outside old town in a residential area of Granada. The girls and I went there for our Oktoberfest dinner. They wore their dirndls and later danced in the aisles to the um-papa music. It was very cute, and in the end, they even won a prize for their participation.

Bratwurst and pretzels for the kids.

The dancers won the prize.

The kids met some other playmates at the restaurant.

Christmas is coming to Granada

Christmas decorations going up, music in the air, it's a wonderful time of year. Here are some nice sunset pics from central park, Granada, in mid December.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Portraits from Latin America

Memories are, oddly enough, like a fruit salad. Though the fruits commingle, each remains an individual part of the salad. Take a single item out and it's no longer a salad but a piece of fruit. This occurs with travel memories as well, and although the names and places tend to blend together over time, the images remain distinct. Just as with your own family portraits, images jolt memory, memory jolts emotions and emotions jolt a reaction. Each picture really does contain a thousand words and probably a hundred emotions punctuated by a powerful memory. Sadly, for the vast majority of us, we usually don't realize how special most moments are until they become memories.
   When my father was a 7 year old boy, back in 1939, his aunt while on her death bed said, "Life is like looking out a window, you open it to enjoy the world and before you realize, it closes on you." The opportunity to explore, participate, and live is limited, just like a window shutting without your permission. Though, ultimately, there are very few things in life we have the ability to control, thankfully, happiness is one of them. Regardless of circumstance, we each have an inner spirit filled with wants, hopes, and ideals and as best as we can suggest, nourish these parts and happiness follows. The following expression best illustrates what I am trying to say, "If you can't change the direction of the wind, change the direction of your sails."
   Below are images from our drive through Latin American - Mexico to Argentina. We tried to highlight the people primarily, along with a few places and things that make Latin America so special, energetic and authentic. Though each picture has it's own story, we purposely left the descriptions out, so that you could interpret these portraits through your own lens.