The Estrada Family

A Nica-Canadian family, living in Nicaragua and starting a family!

How to make rice: Nica Style

Disclaimer: if you are looking for exact, step-by-step directions
 to make the perfect pot of rice every time, look somewhere else.
 When you ask a Nicaraguan how to make rice you will get the most
 vague, un-exact set of directions you've ever heard, and you will
 be left with a million unanswered questions (That everyone will
 answer differently).  This is the country where people use fistfuls
 as a measurement. Everyone makes rice a bit differently. 
Sometimes it tastes amazing, sometimes its just...rice.

Not bragging or anything, but my mother-in-law has the rice thing down. Her rice is always great. I have heard lots of people talk about how “Doña Mer (Mercedes) makes her rice grow” (aka, it expand). If you really know how to cook rice, it grows.

It took almost 4 years of marriage before I finally broke down and asked Mer to teach me to cook rice HER way. David taught me early on…and it was so confusing I just didn’t cook it. Then we got a rice maker, and David happily ate rice for a few years without telling me that rice made in a rice maker just isn’t the same. (One day one of his brothers finally spoke up and I realized I had been serving sub-par rice for years!) Since Mer taught me, I’ve been making rice at least once a week, sometimes more. It’s actually easy to do once you figure it out.

So here we go. The most vague set of cooking instructions known to man.

First, you need the right cookware. You can’t just cook rice in any old pot, you know? If you use a pot with straight sides you will likely get rice stuck in the bottom that will burn and ruin it all. I recommend something like this pot:
POT1
You can buy cast aluminum pots like this anywhere in Nicaragua. They sell them in the markets and on street corners. You can buy ones small enough for a kids play kitchen, and big enough to cook rice for 100+ people. I can cook 1lbs of rice in this pot. I could probably get 2lb in there if I was really careful when stirring.

You will need:

1 cast-aluminum pot with lid (or something similar).
1 big metal spoon. (a wooden spoon doesn’t efficiently scrape the bottom of the pot.)
Rice (Some people are passionate about the quality of their rice. We use El Faisán.)
vegetable oil
onion, chopped
salt
water

[You're probably asking, "how much?". Well, here's the thing: I don't know. When I was taught how to cook rice there were no measuring cups or spoons used. You just have to eye-ball it. When I made this rice I didn't measure the oil, salt or water. I used 1lb of rice, and about 1/3 of a medium-sized onion.]
How to cook rice:

1. Travel to Nicaragua and purchase a cast-aluminum pot. (Just kidding! But hey, if you come down, swing by my house!)

[optional step: wash your rice. I seriously don't understand the washing the rice thing. It would make sense if you are buying rice from the big open sacks in an open air market. But even when Nicaraguans buy the pre-packaged rice they still find it necessary to pre-wash the rice. To wash the rice you need to pour it into a bowl, and cover it with water. Swish the rice around with your hands a bit and then pour out the water. Repeat until you think the rice is sufficiently clean.]

(Full disclosure: I don’t pre-wash my rice. And when I do, I think it tastes exactly the same.)

1. Turn on your burner to high, add some oil to the pot. If you add too much oil your rice will be…oily. So stick with just a bit. If I add to much I either scoop some out with a spoon, or add extra rice!

2. add your chopped onion to the hot oil, mix it up a bit.

Oil onion

3. When your onion is nice and sizzle-y, pour your rice into the pot. use your spoon to coat the rice in the oil.

4. (this part was hard for me to get the hang of.) Don’t hover over your rice! Let it cook a bit in the oil. Do other things, prep the rest of your food. Every once in a while go back and give the rice a stir. Some of the grains of rice should get a nice toasty colour.

5. I add my salt at this point, only because if I don’t I will forget completely. To make true Nicaragua rice you need to add more salt then you would think is necessary. Nicaraguans love their salt. Add your salt and keep toastin’!

mix salt

7. When your rice is nice and toasty (but not burnt) its time to add the water. Careful, because when you add water to hot, oily rice you are going to get some instant boiling and sizzling. When my mother-in-law explained how much water I should add, she showed me with her finger. If you put your finger straight down in the water until it barely touches the rice, the water should come up the top of your nail (the cuticle).

But here’s the thing… the water is BOILING. How are you going to put your finger in there?! And, with all the onion/oil/toasty rice the water is not going to be clear….so its hard to see when the rice is!

So keep this in mind: Too much water will ruin your rice, it will be soggy and over cooked, and you can’t fix it later. But too little can be corrected later by just adding an extra sprinkle. So, just like the oil, less is better.

8. Give your rice a stir every few minutes as the water is boiling down.

9. When the rice is still wet, but there is no visible water ON TOP of the rice, (there are holes in the rice where the water vapor is escaping), give your rice a stir, turn down the heat to low, and put the lid on.

add water

10. Again, don’t hover! Check and stir the rice every once in a while to make sure it’s not burning. When it seems to be getting dry give it a little taste. If it’s a bit hard, sprinkle some water over the rice and leave it a few more minutes.

11. Enjoy your (hopefully) tasty Nicaraguan rice!

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You can serve this rice with everything.

Literally.

(Actually, in Nicaragua many people think that if there is no rice, then it’s not really a meal. Even if there are potatoes, and pasta, and bread, you still need your rice!)

p.s. Sick and tired of plain white rice? (ya, me too sometimes!) Use chicken broth instead of water for a yummy change. Or add carrots (chopped or grated) and other veggies. There are endless ways to make rice less boring, Let me know if you have any secrets!

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dreams

Just a note before I start writing what I actually WANT to write about: 
If you ask me how I'm doing, the answer most likely is "I don't know". 
Literally my day is filled with such a roller coaster of emotions, I 
don't think I can sum it up in a quick response. In Nicaragua, when 
you ask someone, "¿Cómo estás? ("How are you?), you sometimes get the 
response "Aqui". Which literally translates to "here". I guess that is 
a good way to describe how I'm doing. I'm here. In the middle of it all.
Yesterday was probably one of the most physically painful days of my life. 
I didn't fully realize that by opting to let things happen "naturally" it
meant that I would be signing up for a pain that is a slightly scaled down 
version of labour and delivery. Complete with about 5 hours of escalating 
contractions that quickly progress to being right on top of each other, 
and whole bunch of stuff that you don't want to read about on a family blog.
I don't really know if the physical pain was just adding insult to injury 
(i.e. I already lost my child, now I have to feel like I'm delivering 
it too?) Or if helped to have a physical pain to go with what I was feeling 
emotionally. But either way, today is a slightly better day. My physical 
symptoms of the miscarriage are starting to diminish. And, though 
emotionally I still have a ways to go, I fell like the physical healing 
will help me get back to a somewhat "normal" life. Whatever that is.

Alright, now on to what I came here to say…

dreams

I don’t dream very often. Actually, I probably do, but I don’t remember my dreams very often. But sometimes, not very often, I have very vivid, almost real dreams.

I believe that God speaks to people through dreams. There are so many examples in the bible of God speaking to people through dreams that it would take to too long to list them all here. But I don’t believe that its just something from biblical times; I believe God speaks to people through dreams today.

When I was only 8 weeks pregnant with Bethany (and we still hadn’t told anyone yet), a woman from our church told me that she had a dream where she saw me standing in church holding a baby. She believed that God was telling her to tell me that soon we would be parents. It was such a relief to hear her say that. And I am so thankful that God gave her that message for us.

I had two dreams last week that were so vivid that those few minutes while I was waking up I truly thought they were real. And now, in retrospect, I think God gave me those dreams to help me with closure.

The first dream, about 5 days before the bleeding started, was beautiful. I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. She was perfect. I saw her clearly. Her skin was a little bit lighter than Bethany’s was when she was born. And her eyes were a light, honey brown colour. She didn’t have a a head of thick black hair like Bethany did, but wisps of  light brown hair. In the dream we were sitting on our couch, talking to some people over Skype (who had apparently helped with the delivery…via Skype – that was the only bizarre part of the dream!) and I was nursing my new baby daughter. The part that stands out to me the most was the name. We named her Amberly. I don’t know anyone with that name, I don’t think I have even heard that name before. But it was so vivid. Amberly.

When I woke up I was so hopeful! By that point I already knew about the possibility of a blighted ovum, and I was concerned that we didn’t hear a heartbeat the week before.  I felt like this dream was hope that everything would be ok.

But the next dream, two nights later, was the opposite. I was lying in the ultrasound room in the hospital, and my doctor was checking for a heart beat, David was standing behind her. Then she turned the screen towards me and explained that there was no baby, that the sac was empty, that I was having a miscarriage. In the dream I left the room and just screamed and cried uncontrollably. I woke up feeling out of breath, and extremely confused.

The crazy thing is, that second dream was an exact depiction of what actually happened on Wednesday morning. When we got into the car after leaving the hospital I told David. “I dreamed this. Exactly how it happened.”

Except for the crying. I mean, I cried, I cried hard, but at the same time, as Dra. Aragon told me that the sac was empty and that there was no baby, it was like I had already been prepared for the news.

I don’t know exactly why I had that second dream, but I do think it helped with the impact of the news. It reminds me that God is in control of everything, that he has our days planned out before we are born.

And the first dream? I think God was giving me a few precious minutes with my beautiful little girl. The image of her is forever etched in my memory, and I know I will recognize her one day when I get to heaven. She’s lucky. She got to skip this sometimes crappy, sometimes painful earthly existence and go straight to eternity with Jesus. If it can’t be me holding her in my arms (or my womb) at least I know its Him. Its comforting to know that she is having fun in heaven playing with her cousins.

And of course I looked up the name Amberly yesterday. It comes from the name Amber, and means “beautiful jewel” or a warm honey colour. Having never heard the name before, it fits her pretty perfectly.

I am so thankful that God let me see my baby girl at least once. And, although I am still struggling to get through this and come to terms with why this all happened, it is so nice to be reminded that my God loves me and is carrying me through it all.

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empty

Blighted Ovum, definition:

“A blighted ovum occurs when a fertilized egg implants in the uterus but doesn’t develop into an embryo. It is also referred to as an anembryonic pregnancy and is a leading cause of early pregnancy failure or miscarriage.”

I.e., your body is tricked into thinking its carrying a baby, when in reality there is just an empty sac in there. Same syptoms: nausea, hunger, fatigue, etc, but no baby.

This Friday I would have been 10 weeks.

At 6 weeks I went in to see my doctor because I had some abdominal pain and spotting. An ultrasound showed a tiny sac, just the right size, in the right place. Nothing to worry about. “Come back in two weeks and we’ll check for a heart beat to make sure that everything is ok”.

At 8 weeks I was back. Another ultrasound. The sac was bigger, I was feeling all the right symptoms, but she couldn’t get a heartbeat from a regular abdominal ultrasound. “Thats ok. Some times its hard at just 8 weeks. Come back next week and we will double check.”

I decided to wait an extra week. If the baby needed time to grow, I wanted to give it all the time it needed.

We had out ultrasound scheduled for Thursday. But last night (Tuesday) I started bleeding.

My doctor told me to come in today. She didn’t make me pay for an appointment with her, and she didn’t even make me pay for the ultrasound (because two weeks ago was inconclusive, she didn’t report it to the hospital, and said I could come back with the same receipt).

And there was the sac. Not round like it use to look, but more like a deflating balloon. The edges were no longer defined, they were blurred. And the sac was empty.

My doctor suggested a D&C, but I opted to let everything happen naturally. As long as I don’t run a fever, and the bleeding eventually subsides (in the next week or so) I should be fine. I do have to go back in a few weeks for another ultrasound to make sure nothing got left behind that could potentially cause an infection.

And just like that…it’s over.

I don’t know what else to write. I feel like I’m in a daze, like my head is full of fog. I feel like a huge chunk of my heart was ripped out  today, leaving a big, dark, empty pit in the middle of my chest.

I feel empty.

 

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Nica-Facts: Quakin’ and Shakin’

I thought it was time to bring Nica-facts back from the dead, and what better topic then earthquakes! The ground’s been shakin’ around here for the last few days, so I thought a history lesson might be necessary.

41 years and 5 months ago, on December 23rd 1972, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake destroyed Managua, approximately 5000 people were killed, 20,000 were injured, and 250,000 were left homeless. It was probably the most influential natural disaster in Nicaraguan, if not Central American history, sparking a revolution and a civil war…but that’s for another day.

41 years before THAT, on March 31st, 1931, approximately 2,000 people were killed in an earthquake that destroyed Managua.

Are you seeing a pattern here?

It doesn’t stop there! There have been major Managua-destroying earthquakes recorded at 40-45 year intervals for the last 200 years!

So ever since 2012– 40 years after the “big one”– everyone has been on their toes. Every quake or tremor reminds us that the next “big one” is overdue. We were on borrowed time.

Until Thursday April 10th.

Since Thursday, Nicaragua has experience magnitude 6.1, 5.1 and 6.6 earthquakes, plus hundreds of aftershocks and tremors. But non of those actually originated in Managua.

And that was all I was planning to write, but then a friend of mine posted this on their facebook. The shallow fault line that runs through Managua, that is responsible for the devastation of 1972 has become active for the first time in 41 years. The government is asking the citizens of Managua to take “extreme measures of caution” including sleeping outside, or with doors open.

Even as I type this, we are watching the news about a magnitude 4.9 earthquake that just happened about 20 minutes ago in Managua.

Alright guys, if you haven’t started praying for Nicaragua…now’s the time to start!

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Nica-Facts: safety

Alright, this has to a quick one. Every other Nica-Fact post was written days in advance, but it’s 6:30 am on Monday, and we are leaving in 30 min to set up clinic.

Phew, I just made it.

So, did you know that despite the fact that Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, it is also one of the safest? Those two things don’t normally go together.

I wish I could tell you more, but I have to run, so I’ll leave you with this article that a friend of mine shared on Facebook which gives a few theories as to why Nicaragua doesn’t have the same problems with large Latino gangs as countries like Honduras and El Salvador do.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/noticias/2013/05/130531_nicaragua_muro_anti_maras_jcps.shtml

It’s in Spanish, sorry. But google translate is a wonderful resource!

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Nica-Facts: RAAN and RAAS

So, like I said last week, Nicaragua is divided into 15 departments, and 2 Autonomous regions.

The two autonomous regions are commonly know as the RAAS  and RAAN.

They are the two largest regions in the country, and they have the lowest population density. They were actually part of the same Department, Zelaya, up until 1987, when the Charter of Autonomy was established in the new constitution. 

Since I’ve never been there myself, I had to rely on the internet, and what I’ve heard from other people, for all my information. I hope I’ll be able to visit at least the capitals of both regions in the future! 

RAAN

RAAN stands for Región Autónoma del Atlántico Norte (North Atlantic Autonomous Region), according to a 2005 census, the populations is 249 700. It is the biggest region in the country. The capital of the RAAN is Puerto Cabezas. 

The RAAN is divided into 8 municipalities, and some have really funny names: Bonanza, Prinzapolka, Waslala and Mulukuku are a few examples.

A large portion of the RAAN is jungle and rain forest. There are some areas that you cannot get to by car, you have to go by plane or boat. I have heard that there are mosquito as big as birds.

RAAS

RAAS stands for Región Aunónoma del Atlántico Sur (South Atlantic Autonomous Region). According to a 2005 census the population is 382 100. The capital of the RAAS is Bluefields. If you want to travel from Managua to Bluefields you have to fly, or take a bus and then a boat down the Rio Escondido (the hidden River) from El Rama to Bluefields.

The Corn Islands are also part of the RAAS. It has been my dream for years to go on vacation there. We are saving up to celebrate our 5th anniversary there. Beautiful:

Travelling to the RAAS or the RAAN you will encounter many people who don’t speak Spanish or English. Creole-English is common on the coast, and Miskito is spoken in many areas of both regions.

The culture on the East coast is completely different then that of the western part of Nicaragua, even the houses and typical foods are very distinct.

75% of the population of the Caribbean coast live in poverty and extreme poverty (source). The illiteracy rate is  43%, and as high as 55% in rural areas  (compared to Nicaragua’s overall illiteracy rate: 24%).

Come back next Monday for more Nica-Facts!

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Nica-Facts: The basics.

Let start with some basic facts about Nicaragua.

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America.  As a comparison, its total area is slightly smaller then the size of New York State. To the south you’ll find Costa Rica, and Honduras to the North. The pacific ocean is to the west, and the Atlantic to the east.

Nicaragua has 15 departments (think: provinces or states) and 2 autonomous regions (like territories).

The population of Nicaragua is 5.7 million (source).

There are 19 active and/or dormant volcanoes in Nicaragua (source), including Central America’s youngest volcano, Cerro Negro, which was “born” in 1850.

Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America, 2nd poorest in the western hemisphere behind Haiti. 48% of the country live under the poverty line.

[Note: I thought “poverty line was kind of an ambiguous term, since it changes for every country, so after a lot of searching I found this (here):
“[Nicaragua's] official poverty line is US$350 in income per year. Of the nation’s poor, 17 percent live in extreme poverty, earning less than US$185 per year.”
Can you imagine living on $350 A YEAR. Or how about the 17% of the country that lives on just $185 a year. Wow. Just, wow.]

Nicaragua’s oldest city, Granada (founded in 1524), is actually the oldest colonial settlement in mainland America (source).

Managua is the capital of Nicaragua. It’s population is 1.85 million (source). Managua is the centre of all activity in the country. The city has been destroyed twice by major earthquakes in the last 100 years. Once in 1931, and again in 1972.

The average daily temperature depends on what part of the country you are in. Up in the mountain around Jinotega, its usually a comfortable 25°C (77°F). Just 170km south, in Managua, the temperature is around 35°C (95°F) daily. And in Leon and Chinandega, the temperature is almost always above 35°C, and sometimes over 40°C (104°F).

Well, thanks for coming by and learning a bit about Nicaragua. Look for another Nica-facts post next Monday!

Do you have any specific questions
that I can answer in a future Nica-Facts post?
Leave them in the comments and I
will do my best to answer them!
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Nicaragua

Well, since I vowed to blog more this year, I thought I would try to commit to writing a series of posts about Nicaragua. I can’t guarantee long posts every week, I might just tell you a quick fact or two, but every Monday I will try to post a little something about the country that I love!

I will always remember that just a few months before I moved here, a friend of mine was talking about Nicaragua as if it was in Africa.

I guess that can be my first fact: Nicaragua is NOT in Africa. It’s part of Central America, which is technically part of the Continent of  North America.

map nicaragua1

There, see? short and sweet. And maybe someone out there just learned something new!

Join me back here next Monday for more Nica-facts!

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3rd World

Fun fact about me: I hate the expression “3rd World Country”

I cringe when I here someone say it.

Have you ever looked up the definition? The original meaning come from the cold war era, and it’s way outdated. Today, “3rd world” refers to a “poor” country and “1st world” refers to a “rich” country. I bet if you asked someone what classifies a country as 3rd World, they would have a hard time answering.

For me the problem is, that the phrase comes with a feeling of condescension. No one from a so-called “3rd world” country would ever use that term to describe their own country. Who uses it? People from “1st world” countries. Its a ranking system.

1st World =Best world.
2nd World = (No one actually uses this term anymore)
3rd World = less then the best.

Its doesn’t leave any room for movement. The term “3rd World” is stagnant. So when someone from a developed (“1st world”) country uses  “3rd world” to describe a poorer country, its as if they are saying “We are 1st, you are 3rd. We are rich, you are poor. We will give a bit of our excess, maybe some used clothes, send a bit of money, to try to help you live within your 3rd world classification, and you will take it and you be eternally grateful. We are worth more then you.”

It also give the impression that “3rd world” countries need outside help; they can’t improve on their own. They are dependent on the 1st world. There is an implied sense of helplessness.

So, what term do I use to describe countries like Nicaragua?

“Developing”

“3rd world” sounds negative, but “developing” is positive. it gives hope. Its not a stagnant word, it implies movement. Yes, Nicaragua has been plagued by corrupt governments, natural disasters and hunger. But by calling it a “developing” country, you are saying that there is a movement towards something better. Yes, Haiti was basically destroyed by an earthquake 5 years ago, but since then they have been constantly rebuilding, and trying to get back on their feet and better themselves. There is movement. There is progress. Haiti is developing.

As I was looking online for information about the term “developing country” I can across this on wikipedia, which I think is interesting. Apparently “developing country” is also a controversial term. It says:

“There is some criticism of the use of the term ‘developing country’. The term implies inferiority of a ‘developing country’ or ‘undeveloped country’ compared to a developed country, which many countries dislike.”

Doesn’t that seem so backwards? It does to me. The article also says this:

“The term ‘developing’ implies mobility and does not acknowledge that development may be in decline or static in some countries, particularly in southern African states worst affected by HIV/AIDS.”

A wise friend and mentor once told me that she tried to make a point of never calling her children (or foster children) liars. Because if you are constantly telling a child that they are a liar, they are going to grow up believing it, and thus, they will lie more. Instead, say “you are lying” because it gives them a chance to change.

When we classify a country 3rd world, it doesn’t give any opportunity for change. The people have been damned to a life of poverty and corruption, and there is nothing they can do about it. “1st world” people come down and try to band-aid things, but it wont fix the big problems. But a simple change in vocabulary can give so much hope. Saying that a country is developing means its a work in progress (even if progress is so slow it’s hard to see). It puts the power back in the people’s hands.

Living in Nicaragua, I have seen that what appears to be static from the outside might actually be progressing when you take a closer look. I cringe when I hear people label Nicaragua as 3rd world because I see progress here.  Nicaraguans are hopeful, hardworking and tenacious people. They are proud to live in such a beautiful country. I think they would be offended if they knew that people from developed countries labelled Nicaragua as 3rd world because they do not think they are inferior, and I think that’s true for any developing country.  I want to speak hope over Nicaragua, and the rest of the developing world, so I took “3rd world” out of my vocabulary.

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The Bears

Bethany's favourite toys

Bethany’s favourite toys

*Sigh* The bears.

Bethany LOVES these bears. The first two were given to her from teams that have come down. She paid so little attention to them that they wound up in the “give-away” box just before Christmas, but suddenly she spotted them and they became her favourites. Then her Mimi got a hold of two more…and now they are a family of four.

After swimming with her two favourite bears.

After swimming with her two favourite bears.

At least one winds up in the wash every day. She bathes with them. She takes them swimming, she pushes them around in her little stroller.

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She was showing the bear all the birds that were flying around.

She was showing the bear all the birds that were flying around.

She sleeps with them, and eats with them (and shares her food with them!) At church, she sits them all on one chair beside us. She carries them around like babies, and put them to sleep on our bed.

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More than once she has farted and blamed in on the bears…

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Who knows how long the bear phase will last. It sure is cute!

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