2017-2018 Fulbright Research: Nicaragua

Limbo (I hope…)

Since my return on Wednesday night of last week, I’ve been writing and writing and writing. Trying to find my way, trying to find the words to describe my heartache. There are of course benefits to being back in the familiarity of the Pacific Northwest but I can’t help but feel I’m not supposed to be here. It doesn’t feel right. I hear the child in my mind yelling, “I just want to go home!” (Home being Nicaragua.)  In the scurry of the evacuation I didn’t register the potential gravity of the situation, nor the fact that I didn’t get to say goodbye. I would love to be able to say with confidence that I’ll be back to Nicaragua soon but I have been wrong so many times in the last 2 weeks I’m having a hard time saying anything with certainty. Nothing feels sure to me anymore.

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Journaling at the spirituality center

Having said that, there is one thing I do know with my whole heart after all this: how much love I have in my life. So many of my friends, mentors and family members have gone out of their way to support me in this process. I took a step back over the past few days in an attempt to allow my mind to catch up to my body. This process has not and will not be easy but I hope it is temporary. I hope this is just a taste of limbo before I get back to Managua.

Every day I feel more normal, more at home in the states, more comfortable in my daily tasks, less distraught which is in and of itself bittersweet because I know the fight continues for my friends and loved ones in Nicaragua. It’s hard to accept what they have been forced to endure over the past two weeks. Since the active, news-catching violence perpetuated by the government has stopped it is easy to think, “well things are looking up” but Nicaragua cannot move forward and heal until the wound has been investigated and cleaned. As observers and witnesses, we cannot become complacent.

Sunday before last, Ortega agreed to repeal the social security reform (that started the protests) and to sit down with the church; then later that very night during a vigil at the Upoli (Polytechnic University) the Policía Nacional (PN; translated: National Police) attacked the students, leaving two dead and ten injured. That shows how Ortega has chosen to operate.  That shows how snake-like he can become at any moment if anyone so much as mourns the life of someone who was critical of the Ortega regime.  This massacre is not something that can or should blow over in a matter of days or weeks.

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Photo from a friend of the pilgrimage coordinated by the Catholic Church

Nicaragua deserves better than that. Nicaragua deserves peace and justice. Many people I spoke with just before leaving Nicaragua mentioned they wanted the protests to stop so that things could get back to normal. What does “normal” look like for the families of the now estimated between 34 and 63 dead (the sheer range is indicative of the lack of reliable, verifiable information) at the hands of a government that can’t handle criticism, even in the form of peaceful protest? Ortega has to take responsibility for his actions and those of the Joventud Sandinista (JS; translated: Sandinista Youth) and the PN.

As I have eased my way back into the US hustle and bustle, I continually ask myself these questions: How can I support the Nicaraguan fight for justice from so far away? How can I be a positive force in Nicaragua getting what it deserves? The best answer to those questions has come from my friends protesting: use your voice and share the information.

I am so grateful to my friends and loved ones in Nicaragua for everything they have done and shared with me, not only over these past two weeks but in my entire experience in the country.  They have always made me feel supported and welcome. They have filled me with gratitude for beautiful memories and hope for a brighter, more just future.

To my friends: I am grateful for your encouragement, I am inspired by your bravery, I am hopeful for your vision and I am committed to your fight (in any way I can). You have told me to use my voice and that is what I will do, and hopefully in doing so, I will be encouraging others to do the same.

A mis amig@as: Estoy agradecida por su aliento, estoy inspirada por su valentía, estoy emocionada por su visión y estoy comprometido con su lucha (de cualquier manera que pueda). Me han dicho que debería usar mi voz y eso es lo que haré, y con un poco de suerte, alentaré a otros a hacer lo mismo.

¡Luchamos por la justicia! (translated: We fight for justice!)

#SOSNicaragua #QueVivaNicaragua

Side note: I will be continuing my thoughts and perceptions on the latest news and current events in Nicaragua in a different section of my blog moving forward. Unfortunately, in light of the protests and the uncertainty in Nicaragua, my Fulbright has been suspended which means I will not be sent back to Nicaragua through the Fulbright program. This is, of course, unfortunate, but I am already planning to return to Nicaragua by other means when it becomes safe to do so. My story in Nicaragua is not over. My heart is still there and there is more work to be done, more progress to be made. 

Posted 04/05/18

When it rains, it pours

On this, my last night in Nicaragua, I write as a way to process.  Yesterday, among other news (stay tuned), it was made official that I am being evacuated from Nicaragua.  I only got to say goodbye to one of my friends in person and the rest, I have just been able to message.  I am certain I will be back, that is just a reality that I am going to make happen, but the when of it all is still unknown.  Pursuant to my grant, I have to follow instructions given to me by the embassy.  So, I have to remain out of the country for at least 30 days and then they will reassess and see if Fulbright grantees can be let back into the country.

The past two-days have given me hope for peace in Nicaragua. Yesterday, during the march and into the night, I was very nervous.  I knew this march would be huge, I knew my friends would be there and I knew what this government is willing and capable of doing to those who resist him.   But, thank God, that nervousness was unnecessary, albeit not unwarranted.  Today went much the same.  There were minor protests but no brutality, and I hope that continues.  Having been the second consecutive day without violence here, I found myself thinking, “maybe this will blow over” but then I am reminded of the lengths this corrupt leader will go to maintain his power.  His impunity has allowed him to get away with a lot over the years and the world turned a blind eye because Nicaragua was “safe,” the safest country in Central America.  But now we know this safety is not genuine, it’s false.  It is conditional on people shutting up and staying down.  Abiding by the dictates of a leader without question or hesitation.  This cannot continue.  My friends will persist until there is change, until there is a recognition of human rights and civil liberties.  These protesters do not intend to stop until Ortega is out of power, and I don’t blame them.  Frankly, I am right there with them.  There is no going back now.  Ortega has lost all credibility and the world now sees him for what he is.  For years, Ortega has been silencing and oppressing his opposition, but now it’s gone too far.  With over 30 dead as a result of PEACEFUL protests, there has to be a change of leadership.  The issue is, Ortega clearly wants to keep his throne.  He is willing to kill peaceful protesters over it, so if he clings to power and my friends keep fighting, what will the result be? When will this end? Or is this really the beginning of another revolution?

Today, I was allowed to go back to me apartment to collect more of my things.  We got there and I was told I had 10 minutes, I went as fast as I could but I probably took close to 30.  Over the last 5 months, I have built a nest for myself and today I had less than an hour to rummage through and prioritize what parts of my nest would return with me to the states.  In moments like these, I realize how much I have and how little I need.  At the end of the day, to get back into the U.S., all I NEED is a passport and access to some money.  That’s it.  So as I pack my things tonight I cannot help feeling like everything else is just extra.  Nevertheless, I am happy to have some of my comforts.  Even though they feel unnecessary now, I think when the shock has past I will be really glad I have them.

Now to the other news that threw me for a loop and then punched me in the gut.  As I started preparing for the end of my day, relieved and inspired by the attendance and success of the peaceful march held yesterday, I was given some very unexpected news. My grandmother, with whom I am very close, had a heart attack.  As I read that message on my screen, my mind started to spin.  How is this happening? Is this really true? Is she okay?  How can I help?  What do I do?  Thank God she is fine, I am told she is in good spirits and the doctors are optimistic.  But even after being told she is stable, I could not seem to slow my heart.  I kept spinning out; after a week of worrying about my immediate surroundings and my nicaraguan friends at risk; a new worry was thrust upon me.  One that I was in no emotional state to properly deal with, so this put me over the edge.  Luckily I had a friend I could call, and she offered me some solace. I think just saying my worries out loud made it so they were no longer clamoring in my head.

I think it will be a while until I can untangle the web of thoughts and emotions that I have accumulated as a result of the events of the past week. I’ve been taking notes on what I’ve seen and heard but when it comes to how I am feeling at any given moment about what has happened, there is far less clarity.  I’ll just have to be patient with myself and keep moving forward the best way I can.  I want justice for Nicaragua, so as I unpack in the states, both literally and emotionally, I will be following the news regarding Nicaragua, staying in close contact with my friends and taking their advice on how to best support the cause.

I am incredibly sad to be leaving.  But I am not letting myself think about that now because I don’t think I am ready, and that’s okay with me.

#sosnicaragua #queserindatumadre

Posted 24/04/18

Peace, Love, Justice and Strength

It is so surreal to think of how peaceful this country was not five days back.  The beginning of last week, this country was at peace.  I took the day off from the UCA to walk around the city and track inaccessibility in the streets, watched a matinee movie and chatted with a friend about my dating woes.  Now I don’t even know what I am witnessing.  What began as peaceful student protests over social security reform has since turned into a slow, persisting massacre of any potential opposition to the government.  Or maybe its not a massacre, maybe its the beginning of a revolution?  It is hard to tell when one side of the fight is unarmed and the other has guns and teargas. However sudden and quickly these events have escalated, there is a part of me that believes this is a long time coming. You can only oppress and beat down a people for so long until they rise up against you.  The Ortega administration has been corrupt and unjust for years, now people are saying ENOUGH.  The heartbreaking peace is that students, kids are being killed in the process.

So, my question becomes: how can there be real systemic change in Nicaragua without more bloodshed?  Many are emboldened by the increased repression and blatant violence and see it as a more firm call to action, while others wish for the protests to stop so the violence will stop.  The latter sentiment has validity, but what happened tonight leads me to believe that this administration won’t stop until all the critics have been silenced or laid to rest. (Democracy and justice cannot come from either of those end results.)

Tonight, at the UPOLI (Universidad Politecnica), students gathered to hold vigil for those who have died over the past 5 days.  It was very peaceful and full of emotion, when suddenly the police arrived, made their way inside and abruptly started attacking the participants.  This resulted in 1 confirmed dead and at least 10 injured.  The theory is that because the UPOLI has been central in these protests, the government decided to make a statement by attacking with full force.

This attack came after President Ortega issued a statement this afternoon explaining how he repealed the social security reform and was open to talks with the Catholic Church.  After this statement, people were not satisfied but it was a step in the right direction.  Protesters started discussing cleaning up the streets and coming together to show unity in rebuilding what had been broken.  But then, the night ended with a vigil under attack.  There are reports that the calm has been restored as the clock hits 11pm, but I wonder how Nicaragua will continue on from here, from such a blatant, counterproductive, tragic show of force.

The repression cannot continue like this.  The injury and death through violence cannot continue like these.  There has to be a way to attain justice and achieve lasting peace in Nicaragua, but the only way this will happen is if the current government apologizes for their culpability in the brutality and death and opens up a dialogue for change.  Until this conversation occurs, I fear the injustice will continue. So I pray for Nicaragua and I hope that you will join me.  I pray for peace, for love, for justice and for strength.

Posted 22/04/18

Mi Cacerolazo

As the sun sets on this fourth day of protests in Nicaragua, I worry the violence of this day has not yet peeked. I worry for the safety of my friends and loved ones spread across the country. Having said that, this worry is not consuming me in the way it was in days past. From an emotional standpoint, I am feeling far more stable and I attribute it to the fact that the noises of yesterday began much later today. The shots, the tear gas, the sirens did not start to take the stage until later in the afternoon by which point I was on the move.

Today, I created for myself some semblance of a schedule which was also an improvement. This gave me structure following consecutive days of limbo and uncertainty. Yesterday, I was prey to the noises surrounding me that I had no control over and no idea what to do with; today I gave myself tasks and knew what my next steps would be. The first was to go to the UCA and have a chat with a wise, young Jesuit. His words made me feel much more secure in my role of accompanist and my decision to change location; that was my next step. Moments after my brief talk and jaunt around the UCA, I had packed up and the embassy took me to a more secure location. Not that I was in any sort of imminent danger before at my apartment but rather to separate me from the violence that surrounded my home and was ever-tenaciously invading my mental and spiritual space. After arriving to my new locale, I got to my final task, to write and post; to spread the word.

And so here I sit, safe and away from the violence and commotion writing about what I am witnessing and learning from the brave men and women on the streets.

It is hard to express in words the tension in Nicaragua at this point, tension not only in the sense of stress but also in the antithetical nature of the coexisting experiences. My friends have mentioned such fear and terror in the face of the Policia Nacional (PN), los antimotines (anti-riot police) and the Joventud Sandinista (JS) but simultaneously they feel hope and solidarity with alongside fellow protesters. There is a sense of panic in the air but also a real sense of kinship. Nicaraguans rushing to their fellow countryman’s side to give them aid or food or water. Such a generosity of spirit, even in this tension and in this fear, persists. People have opened their homes and provided transport to help protesters escape the JS. People have donated and delivered provisions and medical supplies to various check points. There is a togetherness that I truly admire and a real bravery in the solidarity they are showing one another as the protests resist oppression. Yet, even with all of that, there is a tension, the tension of togetherness and division. Such strong loyalty and togetherness on each respective side but between those groups there is little affection. Nicaraguans helping one another and fighting one another.

I am not going to pretend I am unbiased in this fight; I am very much biased and emotional when it comes to what I am writing. I am not a news or truth provider, I have not thoroughly vetted my “sources” or read every article there is on the matter (although I have read many and I’m continually doing so). I am merely sharing my experience of what is happening and I hope in so doing, inspiring you all to read more about the issues in Nicaragua and maybe throw “Protests Nicaragua” into your preferred search engine.

Before I start to wrap up, I would be remiss if I did not mention my profound gratitude for all the support I have received in these past 4 days. I am so grateful to the people I am with now for their hospitality, to the security guards protecting us, to the support of my family and friends from the states and to my friends protesting and continually checking in and updating me as things arise.

Today has been a day of settling in. Settling into my new space, accepting my role in these protests and finding my way to best serve the cause. To that effect I share this post and explain why I named so: “Mi Cacerolazo.” The cacerolazo is a form of protest in which people bang on pots, pans, and other kitchen-items in order to raise attention. Not necessarily very exciting, but what is unique in this type of protesting is people can protest from their own homes. You can imagine why that would peek my interest. In my new spot, I am told they heard the raucous of pots and pans in the neighborhood last night. Having captured my attention, they continued to explain the story of the cacerolazo. I enjoyed the idea of people protesting and showing solidarity from their homes. Now, given that this is not my property, I will not be grabbing a pot and banging it willy-nilly but I like to think of each piece I write and article I share on social media, as a gong against the collective protest pan.

This is my cacerolazo. BANG! BANG! BANG!

#SOSNICARAGUA #queserindatumadre

Posted 21/04/18

What’s my role?

I spent much of my day, grappling with these questions: What is my role in the protests around me? Where do I best serve the cause?

As I sit in the safety of my apartment listening to the sounds of sirens, shots and tear gas, I wonder if I am doing the right thing, if I am doing enough. I want to be out on the street protesting with the students and my friends. I want to support their fight which in the past 3 days of protests has shifted from one around social security benefits to an impassioned cry for liberty. For freedoms from and freedoms to. Freedom from violence, from police brutality. And freedom to organize, to speak out against injustice, to free and fair elections. These are some of the liberties of which Nicaraguan men and women have been deprived under the current Nicaraguan government.

The political situation here has been deteriorating over the past several years particularly since charges against Ortega arose of tampering with the elections in 2016. Repression has steadily grown and been inflicted upon the people by this government. In response to what began as a peaceful protest, the government shut down 5 independent news channels: channel 12, 14, 15, 23, and 51, a clear violation of free press, to diminish news coverage that is critical of the Ortega administration. The fact that the seemingly instinctual reaction by this government to a peaceful protest is riot gear and strict censorship speaks volumes to the political state of Nicaragua. There is a palpable sense of fear and frustration around me and among my friends which demonstrates how little they feel the government cares about them. Today, as I listened from the comfort of my home, my friends were shot at. In no world is that okay with me. In no world should this be happening.

At the start of my day, I did not know what to do. I was practically ripping my hair out hearing all the commotion around me and not knowing how best to proceed. I could not help but think of each shot’s intended target, to think of the tear gas hitting the eyes of students, to imagine the fear and the panic of my friends and the violence they might be experiencing. The noises of this morning, this afternoon, this day, this evening were a stark contrast to the sounds edited by the counter-protest rally the last night. All I could hear I as I went to sleep was dance music interspersed with Sandinista Youth propaganda slogans denouncing the actions of the protestors. The emcee of the event repeatedly said, “Tenemos paz, no tenemos violencia” (We have peace, we don’t have violence). How painfully false those statements were! Well into the night, the Joventud Sandinista, seemingly celebrated in the street playing their music as loud as possible so as to drown out the sound of protesters and tear gas and gunshots not a mile in the other direction. This morning there was no song and dance. There was no illusion of peace, no fabricated celebration, there was only the sounds of sirens and shots.

I made the decision to get some sage advice from one of my favorite people, Serena, to help me figure out what to do. The guilt and sense of uselessness were growing in me with every passing moment. After that conversation I got my ducks in a row, planned out some contingency plans and really started evaluating my role in these protests based on my skills and my privilege. What access do I have as a US citizen and english speaker that I can use to support the cause? What skills do I have to support my friends? In responding to these questions I realized that my role was probably not luchando en la calle (fighting in the streets) with my friends as much as that felt like what I should be doing. After getting a sense of what felt right to me, I reached out to my friends and asked specifically how I could be supportive of their work. They told me to turn to social media, to stay informed and passalong information. This felt like a good next step for me, combining my writing and my ability to connect with a US audience. It was not easy staying inside today, but I knew it was the right decision and that my talents were best used in this capacity writing about the injustice and hoping it reaches a greater audience.

What is happening in Nicaragua is not fair. It is pure injustice and it breaks my heart to see my friends being forced to risk their safety, to risk their lives for what should be a peaceful protest and the beginning of a dialogue for change. These past few days have manifested the cruelty of the government and resulted in some of the largest and most dangerous protests in recent history. They were sparked by an Ortega-approved change to the social security system but have become about so much more. The Nicaraguan government has been alienating its people for years and now these protesters are saying enough! Enough violence, enough sexual assault, enough fraud, enough censorship, enough Ortega! Enough is enough!

As painful as these past few days have been, I am honored to witness the strength and bravery of my friends fighting for their rights and for a better future. What an immense privilege for me to accompany, to listen to the fight of such strong men and women. The injustice breaks my heart and I feel helpless in many ways, but I am inspired by these protesters and their resilience in the face of blatant repression and violence. If these men and women have anything to do with the change to come, I am hopeful for a more just, equitable and peaceful Nicaragua.

I have checked in with my friends and they are all safe but, given my central location and perfect positioning for hearing the protests, it was very difficult for me to merely stay inside today. Please stay informed on what is happening in Nicaragua. A simple Google search will provide you with several links both from sources all around the world. But here is a pretty good article to start: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/21/five-people-die-as-anti-government-protests-spread-across-nicaragua

Posted 20/04/18

Anna’s first visitors

What a perfect weekend I had! The past few weeks have been really hectic and semi-stressful so to have visitors for the weekend and to have the chance to take a break was so perfect. It could not have come at a better time. Chris and Carolyn have been in my life since I was in diapers and we have grown very close over the course of my life. I have traveled with them, lived with them, celebrated with them, cried with them, laughed with them, drank, danced, and relaxed with them. There isn’t much that I haven’t done with them. They are family to me and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to show them my life here in Nicaragua. It was a perfect balance of activities and relaxation. We spent a day in Managua and I showed them my daily(ish) life here, then we went to Volcán Masaya where we got to see the lava bubbling below, then we were off to San Juan del Sur. We spent the next day by the beach, relaxing and doing a little day drinking and at the end of it we watched the most beautiful sunset! There was a little haze in the air so we were able to watch the sun, perfecting centered in the crescent-shaped bay, completely cross the horizon from beginning to end without it hurting our eyes.

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Chris and Carolyn with the Nicaragua cocktail Macuá 🙂

The next day, their last day in Nicaragua, we made our way back toward Managua, spending the day in my favorite relaxation spot: Laguna de Apoyo. As much fun as showing off Nicaragua to my family was, I feel the best part was just being with them. Spending time and sharing space. At the risk of sounding cliché, the best part was their presence. I felt so held and so safe being with them. Even in sleeping, I felt more calm and centered because I knew they were there. There is something really amazing about worlds colliding. On the one hand, I had my family, the people who really know me, good, bad and indifferent, who have known me for my whole life in my highs and lows; and on the other I had people who are just getting to know me, who are probably still seeing if they can even stand me (**read playful sarcasm). The collision of worlds was most obvious Chris and Carolyn’s first night in Nicaragua. I took them to my go-to bachata/salsa club in Managua and I invited a bunch of my friends. To see them all laughing, joking around and getting to know each other warmed my heart. Also, Chris and Carolyn got to see my newly acquired bachata skills and that made me really happy since it has become a really central part of my life here.

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My bachata classmates on Valentine’s day!

The month of March (which is somehow already about halfway gone!) is a big one for me; very busy. Chris and Carolyn visited, my affiliate organizations and I started forming our disability rights awareness campaign strategy, I will be functioning as a peer mentor and translator for my childhood doctor when she comes down to do hand surgeries here, and this month will mark my half-way point for my Fulbright grant period. Big month, big month! Moving into the latter half of my time here has initiated a slow, subtle shift in my focus. Starting to think more concretely about what I am going to do upon my return to the states and starting to figure out how to effectively and efficiently reach my goals before my flight home.

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View of Managua close to where a live (from 4 floors up)

In thinking about returning to the states, I’ve realized I want to embrace this year as an opportunity to pursue some of my more far-fetched dreams, to put faith in myself and try new things, to risk failure and in doing so learn new talents and new lessons. When people would say it’s better to try and fail then to never have tried at all, I used to roll my eyes. I did not like to fail at things because I thought it showed weakness. When I tried new things, I would try it in private first because I could not bear failing in front of people. If I did not succeed in private, I just pretended in public like I never wanted to do the thing in the first place. I think my mentality had a lot to do with the belief I had (and to some extent still have, although I am trying to shake it) that I have to be the most able, the most capable, the smartest, the best, twice as qualified in order for people to take me seriously and see me as more than just the image in their head of a disabled girl. I now see that, that is no way to live. I ought to try new things and take ownership of my dreams. Wanting to be an actress or a writer, or win a Nobel prize, or be internationally known for human rights work; I shouldn’t be embarrassed by these goals, for these dreams of mine. I think I’ve kept some of them to myself because in the back of my mind I think “why would I be chosen, why would people choose me?” But screw that, why do I put energy into thinking less of myself. Everybody has talents and goals, I honor the dreams and talents of others why would I diminish my own. If I believe in myself and invest in my talents, the sky is the limit. Its amazing what we can accomplish once we name our dreams and, furthermore, pursue them.

*Side note: I know this sounds naive and idealistic or just a notion coming from privilege but I genuinely just want us to start getting along. As a society, as a common humanity I want us to remember we’re all people and we all are going to make mistakes. I find myself on social media and consistently berated by dehumanizing posts on both sides of any given issue. I want us to come back to empathy, to our shared lived experience of being human. Yes, I realize people could just write me off, saying I don’t get it, I don’t understand what it’s like. Those people aren’t wrong. I don’t know what it’s like to be or move through the world as anything other than a white, disabled cis-woman. But I think these oppression olympics we play are not helpful, they only further alienate ourselves from one another. Everything is subjective. I don’t think it is fair to say any one person is more or less privileged or marginalized because one’s marginalization and privilege is subjective. Yes there is objective privilege and oppression in our society. And systems of oppression that operate below the surface of daily interactions, but I think we have to lean in and invite others to learn instead of judge and attack. The natural response to an attack is a defense and people are not at their best when they operate from a defensive space. So, how can we create safe places to ask questions and get answers without ostracizing people and making them feel defensive. I think a lot of it has to do with breathing and patience, which is often not easy especially when confronting difficult, divisive topics, even so, returning to breath and practicing patience can make a huge difference. Our world can do with a lot more listening and a lot more humanity. In active listening and empathy I think we can start to mend and to understand where we are coming from as a society. Life isn’t easy for anyone, it is a hard journey; why spend our time and energy making it harder for each other? There are much greater pursuits and better ways to bring about peace, justice and love in our world.*

Posted 14/3/18

How did it get so late so soon?

I cannot believe February is already almost over and I have been in Nicaragua for over 4 months! Now that I have a more robust social life here in Managua, time is racing. Every week seems to get shorter and shorter. One minute it’s Monday and I am setting up interviews and meetings and the next it’s Friday and I am on my way to Fandango to dance bachata and salsa with my friends. I have so much I want to accomplish and what seems to be so little time to do it in. I am trying to be present and live in the moment, but I am starting to realize if I don’t start making a more firm, tangible schedule I am not gonna get everything done. It’s all about balance. Finding the happy medium between work and play, between research and bachata, between productivity and presence. Also, it’s potentially about challenging those dichotomies, in what ways can I add play to my work, incorporate bachata into my research, be present in my process of production. Life is more complex and nuanced than this-or-that dichotomies.

Last week I participated in a 4-day Radical Methodologies workshop that helped me challenge these type of assumptions. The workshop was for researchers and activists across the region of Central America and the Caribbean focused on decolonizing our research processes. I felt so honored to present at the workshop on my research and to learn from everyone, especially from the three facilitators, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Aura Cumes and Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui. These three indigenous women gave so much insight into what is means to decolonize not only our research, but to decolonize our manners of thinking and interacting in the world. If you have the chance, I would highly recommend reading their work especially if you are in the field of research or work in higher education. There was such wisdom and grace in that space. I am so grateful to have been a part of it. I was given some tools to challenge myself to decolonize my mind and my research and dismantle the power structures and systems of oppression that not only exist around me but that I have internalized. This workshop was a great starting point in a much longer process of learning and unlearning the ways I move through the world.

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My presentation of my research methodology at the Encuentro de metodologías radicales

There are so many ways to exist, so many ways to conceptualize time, to participate in life. There is so much more to life than productivity, productivity, productivity. The capitalist, patriarchal culture that pervades the US is so focused on production and rarely pays attention to process except for in direct relation to product. We orient our lives around production, around product, and getting to the actualization of that product as fast as possible. We race from one production to the next with minimal awareness or care of the process by which the product came to be. Process is where we spend the majority of our time. We are beings in process, in progress. If we wait for the day where we will be “done” where we will be fully actualized, I don’t think that day will ever come. The best we can do is give way to the process, to pay attention to the ways we are progressing and operating and if we mess up, learn, grow and do better in the future.

2018 so far has been full of newness and growth for me. I don’t think I have ever been as open to new experiences as I have been in the last two months. It has been so liberating. I am trying to live less and less by the expectations of others and rather explore the ways of living that make me feel fulfilled and happy. I’ve noticed most of my life has been dictated by shoulds. How I should act, what I should do, where I should be, how I should spend my time, how I should dress, the list goes on and on. The worst part of it is that most of those shoulds come from external sources. My shoulds were dictated by a society that wanted me to be a certain way. Well, I’m done living that way. It’s been good for me to get me out of my head, out of my comfort zone and into new adventures. I am only young once so I want to embrace it, and I have so much potential so why stifle it? Why reign in my creativity, my uniqueness, my way of being? I feel like I have played it safe, but now I am ready to switch it up, embrace what life has to offer. Many firsts have taken place this year, one of the best ones was my first time on the back of a motorcycle (sorry Mom and Dad, I promise it was safe). Gosh it was fun! All of the newness that has come to me in 2018 has left me feeling so energized. Comfort is great, it’s safe but it rarely bears fruit to much adventure or innovation. It rarely allows for radical change which, in my opinion, is abundantly necessary given the current state of our world.

There’s a poem I was recently exposed to that really hit me:

Some Never Awaken by Anaïs Nin

You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.

I don’t want to live my life half asleep. Inundated by particular messaging on how I am supposed to live and be; conditioned to live in a way that leaves me dull and oblivious to the excitement of life. Life is such a beautiful journey and I am just getting started. One phrase that I have said seemingly nonstop this year is, “Life is a trip.” I am so grateful for the ride, for what life has offered me and I can’t wait to see what else lies ahead.

Posted 26/2/18

Some highs. Some lows. And the best week of my life.

Many moons have passed since I last posted an update and that is mostly due to the fact that I have been all over the place, emotionally and physically. I won’t deny that the week leading up to Christmas was a complete and utter mess. One day I was signing up for yoga classes with my friend and planning Christmas day in the pueblo in Nicaragua, and the next I was buying a plane ticket back to the states to visit my grandparents in the hospital. Within the course of 2 days I had gone from certainly not returning to the states during my grant period, to sitting on a plane watching yet another safety procedure of this Boeing 73-something aircraft (I’ve seen so many at this point I think I could recite them by heart).

I want to start by sharing how grateful I am to my mom and dad for supporting me in getting back to Washington and for helping me in my travels. My whole family made me feel welcomed home, but my mom and dad definitely made me feel appreciated for my effort in coming back. I was able to couch surf and crash on different people beds, people took me out to dinner and served me lots of eggnog, my favorite yuletide beverage 🙂

That said, my first 4 days in the states were rough, to put it mildly. I spent at least one hour during each of those first days, including Christmas day, crying uncontrollably. Not the cute, one tear rolling down the cheek cry, but the doubled-over, can’t breath, can’t speak cry that left me wondering why the hell I came back in the first place. Of course after taking a moment and getting out of my own damn head I remembered the answer to that question. For my grandparents and for my family who love and miss me and who I wanted to see.

The day after Christmas, I went to see all three of my grandparents again. I got to sit with my grandma (my mom’s mom) in the ER, then be with my grandpa (my mom’s dad) in the rehab facility then finally had a slumber party with Grammy (my dad’s mom). After this, everything started looking up.

In the remaining week or so of my trip, I was able to take the rest I needed, get some of my research done from afar, and to spend quality time with my friends over happy hour and brunch (both of which I have missed dearly since my move to Nicaragua). It was a 10 day trip in total and it was the perfect amount of time. Just enough to leave me feeling refreshed but not so much that I got too used to being back. I always treated the trip like a vacation to the states, because that’s what it was.

New Year’s day I flew home to Nicaragua. I wanted to start the new year where I knew I would be spending it most, in Nicaragua doing my research. The day after I landed, I started packing for my next mini-trip. I decided to spend 3 days on Ometepe with my friend, Fiore. We ended up missing the ferry to the island by 8 minutes so we spent the night near the ferry station, ready to wake up bright and early to catch the first ferry the next day. We decided to put our stuff down in the hostal and then went to grab dinner. It turned out we were right where we needed to be because not an hour into our meal did we see the most beautiful thing. Between the two peeks of the volcanoes that make up the island of Ometepe, we watched the moon rise. Now, I had never seen a moonrise before, so at first I was disoriented but once we realized what it was, Fiore and I started talking about the beauty of nature and the stars and how small we are.

Life is such a gift and sometimes I am in awe at the ways life twists and turns and has gotten me to where I am today. I have been blessed with such beautiful opportunities that sometimes and I just want to fall to my knees in pure gratitude. Other days, I fall to my knees in sadness, helplessness and frustration but the day I saw that moonrise was not one of those days. Life is a series of peeks and valleys; the best I’ve come up with in response to those highs and lows is learning to breathe through it all.

I went to sleep that night so content and at peace. We got on our ferry at 7am and took off for our hostal on Ometepe. We spent some time looking at los petroglifos, and sitting by Ojo de Agua, watched a couple sunsets and on our last day we chose to hike one of the volcanoes, Maderas to be exact. Little did we know it would take 9 hours round trip and that I would contemplate my own death many times as we ascended and subsequently descended. We made it to the top and we made it all the way back down (gracias a Dios). It was definitely an experience and ultimately I am glad we did it but I don’t know if I’d recommend it to a friend. It was a rough ride. To this day I still have bruises on my back, legs and butt from falling and pulling myself back up.

Eventually, we got on the ferry, then on the bus and 4 hours later we were back in Managua! Huzzah! I got into my apartment, legs pulsating, still sore from the 9 hour exertion they had endured the day prior, and flopped directly onto my bed. I spent 2 hours there then I had to get unpacking… and repacking, I did have a flight to catch in less than 12 hours after all.

5am the next morning, I was up and at ‘em heading to the airport to fly off to Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) for our Fulbright Enrichment Seminar. I had very little idea of what to expect, although it could be argued that I should have had a pretty good idea of what to expect. We had been sent several emails but having been traveling so much I had only skimmed those emails, at best. Alas, I am human and I am flawed. Frankly, at the end of the day, I’m glad everything was a surprise because it made it all the more special. We were a small group of researchers, 12 of us total, and each and every one of my fellow researchers inspired me so much and reminded me of how important all our work is. I have not felt so energized by a group of people in a long time. I remember feeling so grateful and honored to be part of this group of people. In the week I spent with them I laughed so hard, relaxed even harder, bachannalled my booty off, and learned so much. It was the best week of my life, and I don’t say that lightly. Not because of any one moment or any one person but because of how I felt. I felt so loved and understood and supported in that time and it was such a humbling and uplifting feeling. I didn’t want my time with them to end, because I also knew when my beautiful, refreshing T&T time was over I would be back to Nicaragua and back to work.

This experience, living and working abroad as a single woman, can be really isolating. My last day home, new year’s eve, I stood in the hall of the rehab center across from my mom and said, “I forgot how easy life could be.” As I said those words, my eyes welled up and before I could stop it a tear fell to the floor. Life in Nicaragua can be really hard. My work here can be really hard. I don’t have co-workers or people with whom to share my victories and my failures; I can share my successes and setbacks with friends but those aren’t shared setbacks and successes, they’re mine. Being home helped me refresh, being on Ometepe with Fiore reminded me of all the good things I have in my life in Nicaragua and being in T&T reminded me that I am not alone, and that there are other people in the same boat.

My research may be mine, but I am part of a team. I have 11 other people in my corner now: my Fulbright family. I know they can send me words of encouragement, advice on my research and hugs from afar if I ever need. The best we can ask for in this life is people to hold us, nurture us, love us and help us grow. I now have 11 more people who can do that for me, and I hope I am able to do that for them if and when they ever need it.

Posted: 22/1/2018

Bittersweetness
I usually try to have some kind of flow (potentially unsuccessfully) with my posts but today I feel like I am all over the place and I’m gonna let my writing be a little disjointed. After all life is often disjointed.

On homesickness: It is an interesting feeling to be homesick. I have been and lived abroad several times but I have never gotten homesick. I have never really yearned for home, I think because I was always so swept up in the experience. Of course I missed my family and friends before but I never had the tug on the heartstrings that comes with the unique experience of true homesickness. Maybe it was my hubris that brought it on. I thought I was above the homesickness, beyond it on a maturity or developmental level but alas no. The days leading up to thanksgiving were particularly hard. I burst out crying in my office at the UCA out of nowhere; I was reading some very dry article about disability statistics, I look up from my screen and BAM the tears started falling. Luckily, this feeling went away pretty quickly it was only a 3 day affair. I danced a delicate tango with homesickness then found a new partner. After spending a really nice thanksgiving dinner with my friends Andy and Fiore, I started feeling immensely better. My homesickness was bound up and entangled in my insecurities so spending time with buena gente (good people) helped assuage that negativity and get me back to feeling more myself. We cooked all the pieces of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner (minus the turkey, which we substituted for a little chicken instead) stuffing, green bean casserole, honey carrots, mashed potatoes and gravy. We cooked and laughed and listened to dumb music. My family also called me that day and I got to hear their voices which was really nice. Yes homesickness sucks, but it has a silver lining. It means you have something at home worth longing for.

On permanence and vocation: There is also a sense of permanence this time in living abroad which I have never felt before either. 10 months somehow feels like an eternity and a blink of an eye depending on the lens I look through and my given emotional status. It just feels though this trip is the true beginning of my career path so in a lot of ways I am recognizing that this very possibly could be my life. Living abroad for extended periods of time. The sense of permanence, that I honestly cannot perfectly describe in words, has to do with more than these 10 months that I have committed to Central America but also to a commitment I believe I am making to a career of international activism and research. I want my career to give me the opportunity to give back on an international scale. I want to make change in the US, because God knows we need it, but I also want to see the world and see what kind of impact I could make.

On the change a year has brought: It feels like it has been practically a lifetime since I was studying abroad in Spain, when really it was merely a year ago. So many amazing things have happened to me in this past year that I am so grateful for. I have learned so much and been given so many door-opening opportunities. I mean, how cool is it that I have the opportunity to live in Nicaragua for 10 months as a paid researcher investigating the relationship disability law and its implementation! It is a unique feeling to know in every moment, happy, sad, hard or tedious, that I am growing a ton and uncovering new parts of myself.

On La Marcha: My friend Fiore invited me to accompany her and her friends to a march on Saturday denouncing violence against women in Nicaragua and police violence perpetrated particularly on the Caribbean Coast of the country. It was such an immense privilege to participate in this kind of march. I found out that 8 in 10 girls are assaulted here in Nicaragua and that president Ortega has had 3 allegations of sexual assault and all of the women, including his stepdaughter, have had to leave the country. Machismo and violence against women is very present here and to see so many people, especially women, march unashamed and unafraid was a sight to behold. One of my favorite chants from the march was this one: “Alerta, Alerta Alerta que camina, la lucha feminista por America Latina” (I was going to try to translate it but it doesn’t have the same ring to it). It basically is saying watch out because the feminist fight for Latin America is coming your way. We chanted that and other phrases as we marched and even as we approached the police blockade. This was a pacifist march to demonstrate solidarity in the face of machismo and gender based violence, and we were confronted with 200-300 police officers armed for battle. They had guns, kevlar vests, shields and helmets. It was ridiculous, I couldn’t believe how many of them there were and how decked out they were with weapons. Behind the blockade the front row of officers was comprised entirely of women which was a very powerful image and made me think about the man (I am making an assumption but that is genuinely, most likely the case) who ordered those women to stand in the from line. They would not let us pass so we ended up doing the cultural healing ritual on the middle of the Carretera Masaya (one of the biggest roadways in Nicaragua).

I did not expect the ritual to affect me, even as it was happening I was judging it and thought it was too cliche. But as it continued it drew me in. All these women and girls were dressed in layers upon layers of gray and as someone read a poem in the background the women started to fall to the ground. The poem was about how these women can’t continue like this, and lo and behold one of the women in grey started screaming. She had, had enough. She started removing the layers of grey until a red shirt was revealed. At that point she stopped screaming and started smiling. She then went to touch the face of another woman dressed in grey who started stripping away her grey items and that is how the cycle started and continued until all the women’s colors were revealed. At this point music started playing and the performers started pulling in people from the crowd including me and Fiore. That is when it started to hit me. That space felt so freeing. When I was seated I was nervous for those women, because a lot of them were by the end only wearing tank tops and that gave me pause given the cultural context I’ve been submersed in. But as I was pulled in and we all started singing along and skipping and dancing I starting feeling really free. I wasn’t worried about my shirt or my shorts or the way my body was moving because I was so in the moment. What made me sad was when I realized how temporary and fleeting that feeling would be. I realized that regardless of the march I would walk home policing my own movements, making sure not to move my hips to much or make too much eye contact or smile or appear anything but utterly miserable and disinterested. That fleeting moment of liberation though was still amazing, because it showed me what could be and how our longing, the longing for gender justice and equality, is international and very much justified.

On new friends: That experience was not only one of huge growth and learning but it also gave me the opportunity to meet new friends. I met a lot of new people and had the chance to laugh and connect and march with them. It felt good to work my social skills muscle with some new folks. Later that day after the march I went to the JVC (Jesuit Volunteer Corps) house and met some more folks. We ate some treats and had a little jam session, which was a welcome change of pace after a full day of marching and engaging in profound conversation and introspection about gender equality.

On terminology: This is something I wrote earlier today on how I feel about the term “differently abled.” This is one disabled woman’s opinion not to be universalized, but I think it is worth sharing because I have been hearing it a lot and I just want to provide my perspective.

I am gonna say it. I am gonna say the thing I probably shouldn’t say because I know that hate is a strong word but nevertheless I am gonna say it because I feel strongly. I hate the term differently abled. I don’t say hate very often but I really do; I hate the use of “differently abled” as a substitute for the term “disabled.” I hate it particularly when it leaves the mouths of non-disabled folks. I am a disabled woman and to call me anything else, for me personally, is to erase the very real history of oppression and marginalization that people with disabilities have faced for 100s of years. This oppression is also compounded when we look through an intersectional lens and incorporate race, class, gender, sexual orientation and other identities into the mix. Every human body is “differently abled.” I am as “differently abled” as Jo Shmo marathon olympian handyman, rocket scientist, do-gooder superman. Every human body has different abilities and qualities so to use that as a label for people with disabilities makes my blood boil. No, the term disabled in not perfect. I am not in love with it’s literal definition based on its latin roots but we can re-associate it and reclaim it and make it our own. People do it all the time.

I recognize that terminology is hard, and not all people with disabilities are on the same page about this topic but I have reached the point where I had to say my piece. My family does not look like me, I am the only one born without hands in my entire family. I love them so much and I am so grateful that they raised me to be the empowered, disabled woman I am today, but there is a part of my identity they can never understand. That is not usually the case with other identities people are born with. Usually if one is born with an identity they have at least one person in their immediate family that shares that identity and can therefor share wisdom and advice on how to navigate the world given that identity. With disability that is not necessarily the case. The disabled community is not usually born into their culture. We have to find it, seek it out, construct it. We do not have a unifying cultural experience across all types of disability but we do have a shared oppression and stigmatization, a unifying history of marginalization and dehumanization. From that unity we can build community. I, personally, do not think that community will be born if we erase our past and erase our realities by using a label that does not acknowledge that history. Every human body on this planet is differently abled, to be disabled is to be a part of a resilient group of people who have fought and continue to fight hard for inclusion and equality in the face of patronization, oppression and ignorance.

I am DISABLED, strong, woman and proud.

Apilación

Things appear to be stacking up really nicely hear now that I am officially one month in. Last weekend I participated in a yoga conference and it was one of the most empowering activities I have ever been a part of. The Acroyoga session in particular made me feel so strong and confident in my body. Acroyoga has a lot to do with balance and trust, not only in oneself but in your partner(s) as well. I felt like such a solid foundation for many of the poses. One of the positions was a stack, la apilación, and I was at the bottom of the pile, therefor I served as the base. My friends Andy and Jordana were above me; one on top of the other, creating straight lines to the ground with our limbs. Once we got in that position, the next step was to extend our arms outward, parallel to the ground, then slowly rise up so that we ended on our knees, chests up, arms extended to our sides and heads facing forward. The only thing keeping us connecting was balance and trust in each other.  My knees on the ground, Andy’s atop my hips and Jordana’s atop his.  Being the bottom made me feel so powerful and grounded. I felt like my partners could rely on me as their foundation and it filled me with such a sense of strength and confidence.

acro group

Acroyoga class photo

After that conference, things have really started to jive. I got a new place that I love and I am hoping to decorate soon. I have a desk all of my own in an office I share with my friend Andy.  I was recently offered two law students to help me with my research, which would make me the principal investigator in charge of a research team.  This was such an amazing offer and it made me feel like a real researcher.  That offer felt like a validation of my work and affirmed me in my new professional status of researcher.    Things are going really well. My social life is somewhat lacking but that is just because I am working with a pretty small bench. The longer I am here and the more myself I am, the more people I will meet and friends I will make. It is just a matter of time. Moving to a new place is always a process but now that I am a month in I am feeling really good about how things are panning out.

Tonight I am going to a baseball game and the new national stadium in Managua with Andy and a couple other folks which will be fun. I haven’t been to a sporting event in a while so I am excited to get sporty, do a little cheering and drink a nice cold Toña (my Nica beer of choice).

Transitions

It has officially been three weeks since I got on an airplane and faced the (disgusting and unnecessarily 24-hour long) journey to Nicaragua.  Somehow it feels like that day was both yesterday and a million years ago.  I think any recent graduate you ask, and I’ve asked my fair share, would say that the months following graduation are ones full of emotions and questions.  One being, what the hell am I doing? (That question I would characterize as a subtle hum always present in the back of my mind.)

I am transitioning in so many ways at this point in my life.  So many labels that I thought defined me have changed.  Sometimes they happen over night; one day I am a student and the next I am a graduate; one day I am a Seattleite, the next I am an ex-patriot living in Nicaragua.  Other transitions are slower, as if I have been building to them my whole life.  The vast majority of my time on this planet I have been a knowledge consumer.  I went to school for the first time when I was a mere 2 years old.  I remember looking at photos of me in my cute red poncho, strapped in tight and secure on the short bus headed to Chandler Tripp.  When you’re that young, practically everything is information consumption, there is so much to take in.  Almost every experience is a new one to learn from.  That day on the bus was over 20 years ago, that was the first day I was called a student, a label dedicated to knowledge consumers, and now I feel myself becoming a knowledge producer, creating knowledge.  One of my mentors, and quite possibly one of favorite humans as a whole, introduced this concept to me, alongside my fellow research assistants, as we prepared for our research trip to Nicaragua (my first time doing field research and my first time in a country that would become a touchstone in my life; it was a big moment).  This idea blew my mind and when she said it, I felt that was who I was becoming.  Three trips to Nicaragua and one graduation later, my occupation no longer reads “student,” but “researcher” (or rather investigadora because most of the forms I fill out these days are in Spanish). I have somehow, with the immense support and love of so many teachers, mentors, family and friends, gone from a research assistant to the lead researcher on a research proposal that I wrote.  This is a huge responsibility but it is also an incredible opportunity that at times I still can’t believe I’ve been given.

Going through all this change isn’t easy, I would venture to say it is really darn-tootin’ hard but most of the best things in life are.  I love Nicaragua but it is not a trouble-free place to live, particularly given the body I have.  Everything about me calls attention or demonstrates that I am unfamiliar in this context.  I am a gringa, American, disabled woman.  Each identity in my description draws the eye, often in unwanted ways. That is just the reality, which adds a layer of complexity to the post-grad transition.  I am so lucky to have a friend down here who has been through what I am experiencing.  He is one year down basically the same road that I am just starting.  Hearing his advice and laughing with him about dumb stuff helps me acclimate and reminds me of who I am. Those who know me, know that I am generally a giggly, smiley person in public.  I try to embody an energy of positive effervescence, but I cannot be that way here.  I have to be more careful and guarded.  To keep myself safe and to avoid unwanted advances, I have had to acquire a harsh exterior.  I do not smile, especially if there are men around, even if those men smile at me.  Smiling in those instances can very easily make me into a coqueta, a label I have been given during previous trips to Nicaragua when I did not employ the RBF defense.  In my short time here, I have noticed that the majority of the women I see on the street look pissed off or sad, and I am now one of them.  It is a necessary adaptation.

Talking it out and venting to my friend here has helped me separate my survival techniques from who I am or how I feel.  Of course, I would be naïve to think that spending the day frowning won’t affect my mood, but now I am aware of it.  And when I am at the UCA (University of Central America) in a more protected and secure environment I can take advantage of that and be smily and silly.  Just because I have to put off a stern energy in public does not mean I have changed into a stern person.

Side note: A little over a week ago I went to Panama City for the first time to work with the Seattle International Foundation on their Central America Donors Forum (CADF).  Although it got off to a rocky start for me personally, I am so glad I went and it ended really positively.  It turned out to be an amazing opportunity to network and meet some truly inspiring people.  I was able to dine at the US Ambassador’s Residence and see the Panama Canal and get some much needed R&R at the hotel spa.  I am so grateful to the people I worked with at the conference and for the presenters who shared their work.  CADF provided me with the perfect venue to learn more about activism and social justice organizations all around the region and to connect with all-kinds of change-makers in varying fields.  It was a quick trip, only four days long, but it was the perfect way to get in touch with people regarding my research on disability law in Nicaragua.

I have had my highs and lows here, which is just the nature of life, but overall I have been enjoying getting reacquainted with this country and seeing new parts of the region.  I am excited for what’s to come and I am so grateful to be here!

First Thoughts

I am back in Nicaragua for the 4th time!! How lucky am I to be able to share my heart with such a loving country.  I landed on Wednesday night and have since unpacked my things and started making my room feel like home.  I love seeing photos of my family and friends on my desk.  It reminds me of my community and of all the love that made it possible for me to get to where I am.  Today I made contact with the University of Central America (UCA) and got to work.  My main goal at this point is to build a deep understanding of the legal system in Nicaragua and to investigate all the laws that revolve around the protection of people with disabilities.  Once I have that down, then I will start creating a more specific research plan and create my interview guide.

I will write more later but for now I am feeling really good and ready to get to work.  I am excited for what the next 10 months have in store for me.  I am feeling very blessed.