Family Alive

Brian, Kristine, Analise, and Josiah Toone

¡Hasta Luego, Nicaragua!

10th January 2009

Two weeks come and gone in what seems like only a day or two. I am writing from El Camino Real, a nice hotel near the airport in Managua, Nicaragua. Our flight out tomorrow is at 8:25AM, but the lines can be long getting to the ticket counter to check bags and then even longer to make it through security. We don’t want to chance missing the flight so we have come down the night before and said our good-byes to everyone today.

Andrew, Jane, and I had a great, productive conference call with Luke and Stephanie about the Nuevas Esperanzas website – I believe we have a good plan to make the site easier to update and yet still be configurable to the desired look/feel. My role over the next couple weeks will be to migrate the existing site to the new WordPress format and help customize the layout/design to incorporate the header images designed by Stephanie.

Kristine met her friend Xiomara to say goodbye and she gave Kristine a very cool parting gift. I tried to work on a computer for our friends Mike and Marie with Food for the Hungry, but I ran out of time to finish everything. I was able to give them the bike I had bought here, and I believe Mike had mentioned giving it to somebody they knew who needed transportation to/from work. Hopefully that will work out!

We met our taxi driver, Enrique, and I had an awesome opportunity to talk with him about everything from church, to politics, to how everyone in America is too busy (including us) – all of this was in Spanish, too. It was the most meaningful conversation I have had in Spanish ever I believe.

OK – that’s it from Nicaragua – next time we write it will probably be from the Miami airport at some point during our 6 hour layover there if we can find wireless internet.

Here is a glimpse of our day today in pictures.

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A day of processing and “reunións”

10th January 2009

Reunión is the spanish word for “meeting”, but I am using the word in its English context too of “meeting again” to describe today. Two days ago when we were walking back from lunch, somebody called out “Brian” – I looked up and there was Alvaro – one of Kristine’s ESL students from 6 years ago. He was on his way somewhere else but after a short exchange, he told us he would stop by our hotel to catch up today (Friday) morning. I knew Alvaro from playing baseball with him and his friend Manuel who was also in Kristine’s ESL class. This morning I met up with Alvaro after Kristine left to take the kids to preschool where Kristine and Abigail helped organize a really cool craft for the kids that was a big hit.

I then went for what I thought would be a 2 hour bike ride, but in reality turned into a 3 hour epic, to the Casitas Memorial. This was a first for me to visit the memorial – Kristine had been there before so I was in awe of the impact of the mudslide on the land still plainly visible more than 10 years later. Its impact on the people is still evident by a meeting to come later in the day.

When I finally made it back, I headed down to Nuevas Esperanzas and met Kristine and Abigail as they were starting to walk back to the hotel. I escorted everyone except Kristine, back to the hotel for afternoon naptime while Kristine went back to get ready for the Friday afternoon tea where Kristine would be sharing during the reflective part of her observations of the changes at Palmerita given the 6 year time lapse since we were last here. Jorge then led a devotion/oracion (prayer)/reflective time of singing and praying. It was a much needed time for processing for Kristine as well as hopefully an encouragement to the Nuevas Esperanzas staff.

Then we headed back to our hotel, called up Enrique our favorite taxi driver, and headed out to Villa Soberana to try to connect with the girls (now young women) that Kristine was discipling when she was here with Mercy Ships. We went from house to house asking if people knew where the girls were, but it turns out we were on the wrong street. Once we made it to the right street, one of the first people Kristine asked was actually one of the girls in her study! It was a tearful reunion and she led us to two of the other girls (Marjorie and Kenya). Josiah was not content to stay still while we talked so I took him outside and looked to find the interesting tracks in th dirt – horse, pig, dog, chicken, bicycle tires, car tires, shoe prints were all fascinating to him (and me). I’ll let Kristine write more, but I know this was a good time for her to reconnect and see what God has done in these girls.

Finally, after we put the kids to bed leaving Abigail in charge, we walked down to Jane and Andrew’s to meet them to go out on a kid-free double date! We went to a nice place with a great atmosphere and ate and talked for several hours – in the process learning that there is so much more we need to learn about the Nicaraguan culture, as well as tracing the history of Nuevas Esperanzas, the origins of the current work, and a bit of the direction for the future — as well as a relaxing time to enjoy a nice dinner with friends!

Ok, I am fading fast now so I’ll end with the pictures … enjoy!

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Gracias a Dios and La Palmerita

8th January 2009

A main street in Gracias a Dios

A main street in Gracias a Dios

Looking back at the village of La Palmerita

Looking back at the village of La Palmerita

We visited two villages today that Nuevas Esperanzas is working with. The first, Gracias a Dios (“thanks to God”), is a village on the side of the main highway located on the pass between two volcanos. Nuevas Esperanzas worked with members of the community to build a rainwater harvesting tank for nearly every house in the village. Arturo, Enrique, and Andrew drove all of us in the chevy blazer out to the community where we turned off the highway at a spot which you could tell rarely had automobile traffic, but was plenty wide enough for bicycles, horses, wagons, etc… When we stopped, the kids got out of the car and ran over to a trough that was filled with water and I snapped this picture – it was a little out of focus so I dry brushed it, but to me it speaks volumes of the experience the kids are having here – curiosity and delight all wrapped into one moment as they stared into a large basin full of water:

Josiah and Analise stare with curiosity at a large basin of water

Josiah and Analise stare with curiosity at a large basin of water

We walked around the village and stopped at several people’s houses. The first woman we met welcomed us enthusiastically into her yard. Andrew, Kristine, Analise, and Josiah all climbed on top of her rainwater tank to inspect how much water it had. We admired the fruit (papaya and grapefruit) growing in trees in her yard – as well as her chickens and pig. We then went to several other houses to compare the design used to construct the rainwater tank.

After leaving Gracias a Dios, we drove on down into the “Central Valley” of Nicaragua – a large flat area of land behind the line of volcanos near the west coast and west of the mountains dividing the Pacific and Atlantic sides of the country. We turned right at the small town of Malpaisillo and then began our journey on a rough dirt/rock road that used to have large vehicle-sized holes and ruts. The road has been improved a bit and grated mostly smooth. After turning off this main road to take the road to La Palmerita, it began to narrow eventually during into basically a narrow double track road through the fields.

I will let Kristine write up her thoughts on today, but the basic summary is that we met with several of the ladies that participated in a series of community health classes that she taught. We met a child named Anna Cristina born shortly after Kristine and her sister Anna who was here at the time left Nicaragua. Andrew, Arturo, and Enrique completed their survey work and we got to drive the entire boundary as Andrew recorded the information on his GPS device to establish a rough border of the property. They will be doing a traditional survey to establish the exact boundary in the coming weeks.

We left and made the long drive home, stopping at On-The-Run (a gas station) and enjoying the first real cappacinno (for $1) I have had since I have been here while the kids ate ice cream – we had already eaten lunch in the car. Then Andrew dropped Kristine, Josiah, and I off at the hotel so we could get a little bit cleaned up and I could grab the girl’s play dress-up clothes for a short play date. Josiah and I walked the few blocks down to Andrew and Jane’s house with Josiah dragging Analise’s pink backpack full of clothes the entire way!

Finally, we ate dinner at Pizza Roma – the restaurant that Kristine and I used to have our Nicaraguan dates before we were married!

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Pictures, Part 4

8th January 2009

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Quick Wednesday update…

7th January 2009

Ok, just as I sent a mass email to check in here, Brian falls asleep instead of resizing and posting pictures like he’s planned.  In his defense, it was a long, hot day, and I did have a nap with the kids while he worked in the office.  I’ll just post a quick update, and warn you that my “e” key is NOT working, so imagine it if it’s missing!

Today we traveled with our friends Mike & Maria Saeli who work with Food for the Hungry International to a village called El Limonal where they were having a bi-weekly gathering of a children’s health program. El Limonal is said to be in the “death triangle”, between the dump, the water treatment plant and the cemetery. It’s very poor, and the kids are a great risk for malnutrition. If a family is in the program, the children are weighed and the weight is tracked, and they are required to keep a small garden. If they meet the attendance and garden requirements, the mothers are given a packet of food. Mike taught about integrity and honesty in our relationships with others and God before the weigh-in. It was a great glimpse of daily life in the community, as well as seeing a good example of the best way to intervene and grow a community… through teaching, requirements for assistance rather than handouts, and reaching both the physical and spiritual side of families and the community.  Our kiddos were amazing today, and they had lots of fun playing with their new Nicaraguan friends.  Everyone loves my blonde-haird blue-eyed boy!  He definitely stands out in a crowd 🙂

This afternoon, I also had a wonderful time of reconnecting with a dear friend of mine, Xiomara Perez, a beautiful young woman here who is directing a preschool, among many other things. She’s grown so much in grace and confidence since I was last here, and it was just what my heart need to sit and chat and pray together.

Tomorrow, we’re all going with Andrew of Nuevas Esperanzas to La Palmerita, a village of coffee refugees that I spent a lot of time at. I taught a community health class there in 2002, and I’m very excited to see all the developments since I was last there. It’s kind of a long trip, and it will be a hot, dusty day for the whole family. We’d love your prayers for grace and that God would direct our day. I look forward to updating you tomorrow… and I won’t let Brian fall asleep before posting photos 🙂

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Nicaragua Pictures, Part III

6th January 2009

This is our third posting with pictures, but before I get to the pictures – let me give a brief rundown of the day

5:15AM – Josiah wakes up unexpectedly and pretty wide awake, but we manage to convince him to lay back down and sleep a little longer.

5:45AM – Josiah is up for good at about the time Analise comes trotting over to our room.

6:30AM – We wake up after letting the kids watch the Spanish version of Playhouse Disney for 45 minutes while we get a few much needed minutes of sleep.

7:20AM – We make our way to the patio area downstairs where our breakfast of toast, jelly, and a small fruit plate is prepared. Everyone gathers around the small table and enjoy the breakfast.

7:45AM – Kristine and Abigail take the kids to the Nicaraguan preschool where they will be leading a craft today. (The craft was a hit, and the kids had fun today. Josiah played most of the time with a little Nicaraguan boy who was maybe just a little bit older than him).

8:00AM – I leave for a bike ride towards Chinandega to get close-up pictures of Vulcan Casitas and Vulcan San Cristobal.

10:15AM – I arrive back from a longer than expected ride a bit sun-burned in the face but exhilirated at having been able to do a 35 mile ride and getting good pictures (see below).

10:30AM – I arrive at Nuevas Esperanzas to work in the office today on the website. I work on getting a demo site up to show Andrew the capabilities of WordPress and find out if it is something he wants to switch to for the management of the Nuevas Esperanzas website.

12:00PM – Kristine and Abigail arrive with the kids who are happy to show off their craft and eat lunch.

1:15PM – I walk everyone back to the hotel for the kids naptime during the afternoon siesta and then head back to Nuevas Esperanzas via “La Union” – the local supermercardo owned by Walmart Centroamerica and the coffee shop to get a few groceries and a $1 Americano espresso drink.

3:45PM – Kristine arrives back at Nuevas Esperanzas with the kids for an afternoon playdate with Anna and Emily. We get a picture of them playing dress-up with the princess clothes that we brought.

4:45PM – I finish my website work for the day and begin working on a broken laptop which has intermittent display problem where the screen remains entirely blank from boot-up. We pretty much completely disassemble the laptop to remove the part necessary to access the video cable connector between the motherboard and the display. We disconnect and reconnect it in the hope that this fixes the problem. After reassembling everything, we boot up the laptop and it works perfectly – but because the problem is intermittent, this is no guarantee that the problem is actually fixed. Let’s cross our fingers!

6:00PM – I head over to “Pizza Hot” complete with motorcycle delivery vehicles and join Kristine, Abigail, and the kids for dinner (they had left early). The restaurant is very cool in that it has an outdoor playground in the back  part of the restaurant next to covered patio seating. The kids eat a little bit and then play with other kids already there.

7:00PM – Bucket baths for Analise and Josiah – we have a shower but with really low water pressure the kids are better off climbing into the buckets provided and filling up the bucket with water. Analise just has to stand in it, but Josiah can squat down so that only his head is above the water — which is cold water too – the hot water that we have is heated by an electrical mechanism in the shower head (I bet that sounds pretty safe, huh) and it would take too long to fill up the bucket with it so we use cold water from the lower spicket.

8:00PM – I sit down to write this blog – as a gecko just runs by my computer!!!

Ok – that was our day – here are the pictures!

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More pictures and an update from Nicaragua

5th January 2009

excited to have a "nica" bike

excited to have a "nica" bike

Bicycling is a major form of transportation here in Nicaragua. And it is not just one person on a bike – you can see an entire family on a bike with the dad pedaling, the mom, sitting side saddle on the frame holding a toddler and then an older child sitting behind the dad or on the handlebars. Couples go on dates with the man pedaling and the woman sitting side saddle on the frame. I was lucky enough to experience this when I was last here in 2003 on the way back from a baseball game with one of Kristine’s English as a second language students. I straddled the frame while my friend pedaled the bike. He rode me out to the street where I could pick up a taxi the rest of the way home.Cars are expensive here especially with very large import taxes so the majority of Nicaraguans either walk, take public transportation (which is quite extensive with everything from express buses, local “chicken” buses also called “la bomba”, camionettas, in addition to many taxis. Not to be left out, horses, and horse drawn carts are popular too. We saw a guy wearing an Ironman finisher t-shirt driving a horse-drawn cart on our first day in Leon!

On this visit I wanted to pick up a bike to use to help with errands around town to save some time as the long walks can get tedious as well as having a cheap form of transportation to explore the town, make it to meetings without having to pay for a taxi each time. This used bike cost me $40, but the first ride only lasted 1.5 miles with the left pedal arm falling off the bike. I was able to ride back to the “mercado” where I bought the bike pedaling with one leg and they were able to fix it free of charge. Hopefully my next rides will be more successful!

typical morning routine

typical morning routine

Here is our typical morning routine at the hotel. Analise is sleeping in Abigail’s room, but Analise will wake up with the sunrise (about 6AM) and then make her way across the hall to our room by herself! She’ll knock on the door, we let her in, and she crawls into bed with us. In the process of all this, she will of course wake up Josiah so we’ll put in a movie on our DVD player and then Kristine and I can catch a few more minutes of “half-sleep” while the kids either snooze (Analise) or giggle and watch the movie (Josiah). Our kids are not ones to tire very easily of the same movie, so we just keep Wall-E handy or leave it in the DVD player and they have watched it just about every morning since we have been here!

wall painting - literally

wall painting - literally

Here is another picture from our hotel – this is of the “paintings” on the wall which are actually paintings literally painted on the wall and then a frame placed on the spot where the painting has been made on the wall. These are very well done, and this one show Vulcan Concepcion which is a volcano that is well over 5000′ tall forming an island in Lake Nicaragua.

vulcan casitas with mudslide

vulcan casitas with mudslide

Speaking of volcanoes, this picture is of Vulcan Casitas – the volcano that caused so much misery during Huricane Mitch when the caldera filled with water (70+ inches of rain fell in some parts of Nicaragua) and then part of the caldera wall collapsed causing a massive mudslide that completely erased some villages killing over 2000 people. Much of the work of Nuevas Esperanzas centers around villages on Volcanoes like these. I have edited the photo to remove some of the haze so you can see where the landslide is still visible 10 years after the hurricane hit in 1998. This is not a particularly good angle to see the mudslide because it is partially obscured by a bulge in the mountain. There is a better view from just north of Leon and I am hoping to ride out there and get some good pictures on Tuesday.

vulcan san cristobal with smoke

vulcan san cristobal with smoke

The volcano shown here is called Vulcan San Cristobal, and it is the highest volcano in Nicaragua topping out at just under 6000′. It is adjacent to the Casitas volcano and it is quite active. The white “cloud” on top of the volcano is smoke coming from the crater.

josiah, always full of energy, running on the beach

josiah, always full of energy, running on the beach

Leon is only about 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The one and only road to the beach is currently undergoing “improvements” and has been completely removed so that only the dirt/rock underneath is left. Road reconstruction is in progress and within the next year, the road will be excellent and hopefully increase the amount of tourism at the local beach towns of Poneloya and Las Pilatas. Yesterday afternoon we had some down time so we thought it would be the best time to go to the beach since our upcoming week is going to be pretty packed.

wave jumping under close supervision

wave jumping under close supervision

Josiah was so full of energy – running non-stop except to engage in “wave-jumping” with Analise. The undertow here on the Pacific coast is VERY strong and it is very dangerous unless you are a good swimmer. We kept a close eye on the kids but there was one or two times when the undertow grabbed them and the only thing keeping them from sweeping out to sea was my firm grip on Josiah and Abigail’s firm grip on Analise. We didn’t see any other kids go anywhere near the water. There were a few people surfing and a few adults swimming and jumping in the waves – but no kids. The other
thing about the beach here is the large tides. When we arrived, the tide was starting to come in. We put our stuff way back from the edge of the water, but as the tide came in Kristine suddenly realized that our stuff might not be far enough back. I ran over dragging Analise who didn’t want to go and literally as I was standing over our stuff getting ready to bend down to pick it up (it was still dry at this point), a large wave came in and swept everything out from under me. I was furious with Analise because if she had not been fussing and carrying on and stopping and saying she didn’t want to go, then I would have been able to get there and get our stuff. This sorta ruined a perfect afternoon at the beach because now everything was wet and covered in sand. Fortunately though I was able to recover everything and none of it got swept out to sea and our camera amazingly stayed dry.

looking for marine life in the tidepools

looking for marine life in the tidepools

One of the fun things that we did was climb onto a rock outcropping and look for crabs hanging onto the sides of the rocks as well as investigating all the tidepools on top of the rocks.

the culry hair beach twins

the culry hair beach twins

Josiah and I look like twins in this picture with our long, curly hair!

pacific ocean sunset with splash

pacific ocean sunset with splash

Finally, the volcanic ash and smoke in the air makes Nicaraguan sunsets spectacular every day. I managed to catch a picture of the sun setting with a wave splashing into a rock outcropping.

This week is going to start out in the office with Nuevas Esperanzas for me and Kristine. We will participate in a morning team meeting, and then I will spend the afternoon working on a map for the Nuevas Esperanzas website and looking at their network connection. The kids, meanwhile, are going to go with Abigail from 8-11 to the Nicaraguan preschool that Jane and Andrew’s kids attend. Hopefully they will pick up some Spanish, learn how to play with kids from a different culture, and continue to grow their friendship with Anna and Emily.

Our Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday plans are up in the air, and they may depend on what is decided during the team meeting tomorrow. We would like to visit La Palmerita and one of these days might be the day for that.

Wednesday – we may be able to go part of the day with Mike and Maria to see one of their projects with Food for the Hungry.

Saturday – in the afternoon, we will take a taxi or “microbus” back to Managua to be ready for our early morning flight back home on Sunday.

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Pictures from Nicaragua

3rd January 2009

I’ll let the pictures tell the story with just a few short captions — hopefully either I or Kristine can update this with more details tomorrow!

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Bienvenidos a Nicaragua!

1st January 2009

This is just a quick post with a very quick summary of our trip so far. We flew into Managua on Monday, met Jane, Andrew, Anna, and Emily at the airport, rented a car, and drove through Managua making a quick stop at a grocery store and then dinner overlooking Laguna de Masaya – the southern end of a large active volcano. Then we made it down to Laguna de Apoyo where we spent the first two nights hanging out and catching up with Jane and Andrew.

Yesterday, we returned our rental car (quite an adventure) and met our taxi driver, Enrique, that Jane arranged for us to take us from Managua to Leon. We had a great drive and talk with Enrique who was in one of the villages affected by Hurricane Mitch – his whole village was wiped out during the hurricane but amazingly everyone in his family survived. When Kristine was first here in 1998, she worked in medical clinics assisting people from the very same villages – possibly even Enrique or his family!

Arriving in Leon we made it to our hotel – Hotel San Juan (see my previous post), got settled into our place, found out the wireless internet wasn’t working, wandered down to the Big Foot hostel with free wireless, and then got ready for the amazing fiesta that is New Year’s Eve in Nicaragua. Fireworks, food, and dancing done – we made it back to our hotel and a good (albeit short) night’s sleep later marked the end of our first day in Leon.

Tomorrow we head to the village of El Ojochal near San Jacinto high up on Vulcan (Volcano) Telica. We may need to hike about 2km to make it there. I’ll update later with pictures!

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Packing, packing

27th December 2008

It’s not hard to pack for a tropical climate when it’s 75 degrees outside!  This is crazy… it’s not supposed to be this warm in December, even in Alabama.  Either way, we’re making good progress on getting packed for our trip.  My dear friend Kim invited the kids over to play this morning, which gave me 4+ golden ALONE hours to get things done. The piles are all made, and now it’s just a matter of making them fit into the suitcases/duffels.  We’ve got lots of stuff we’re taking down for friends, and we’re trying to pack relatively light for ourselves.  That means 5 total outfits for each of us, and I’m planning on using the hotel laundry service frequently.

The kids have snazzy new rolling backpacks – Princess and Cars – that will be packed well with stuff to do.  I’ve got busy kids, and though we’re packing lightly, I want to have plenty of things to keep them entertained, more in our hotel than anywhere else.  Analise got a new pair of headphones (pink, of course!), which she tested out on my iPod yesterday.  She wore them all afternoon, carrying the iPod, saying “Rock on, dude”.  She was too funny. Her friend Lauren came over for dinner, and I had to tell her that it wasn’t nice to wear headphones when you have a guest!

Tomorrow we’ll be at early church, possibly a trip to Target for some last minute things, the lunch at Brian’s parents.   Hopefully, there will be some good naptime, as we’re leaving bright and early (BEFORE it’s bright and early!) at 3am for our 8am flight out of Atlanta.  Abigail’s parents were happy to take us so they could see her off.  We’re thankful for the ride!

We’re also trying to get our computer set up for Skype.  If anyone has any tips/info for us, drop us an email or leave us a comment.  Hope this will be a cheap easy way for us and Abigail to talk to people at home.

If you don’t hear from us before we go, look forward to an update midweek.  Pray much grace for us as we travel!

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