Eat right, exercise, wear your seat belt, get your shots, sleep eight hours, see the doctor promptly—you know the drill.
One of our preoccupations in Nicaragua is staying healthy while living in a third-world country. The average life expectancy for a male here is 70 years, so at 69, Frank is pushing the limits! Others our age are completely inactive, survivors of war injuries, diseases, accidents, kidney failure, and poor nutrition.
Though we live “in” Nicaragua, we are not really “of” Nicaragua. Our resources and education set us apart from the people who do not have the options we have.
Our first privilege is having a car, so we can drive into Managua when we want to and live outside of the urban center, in a motel with glass windows, screens, and an air conditioner, protecting us from dengue fever and chickungunya, two common mosquito-borne diseases that leave our friends here constantly bedridden or in pain. Many people live in rustic plastic, or wooden enclosures and cook and sit outside. Those rich enough for concrete block houses usually have only iron grates over the window openings and large decorative cut-outs in the walls or foot-high air spaces at the ceiling to allow for some air circulation—and lots of bugs and small animals.
The car does have its own challenges. None of the traffic laws are enforced. People routinely drive through red lights, cars and trucks pass on blind curves over streets without shoulders, and pedestrians all walk in the streets or push carts or ride bicycles without any regard to the cars whizzing around them. Motorcycles zip in and around the cars, and at night, most of them have no reflectors or tail lights. We often sight a shadow on the road ahead and don’t know until we overtake it whether it will be a pedestrian, stray cow, or huge truck. Frank’s job is to drive; mine is to cry out inarticulate warnings.
I am not exaggerating when I say that Nicaraguans usually eat gallo pinto, which means spotted rooster, three meals a day. It is a colorful way of saying beans and rice. Sometimes they add yucca, which tastes like potato, or for a special meal, a little chicken and ketchup, which adds a sweet kick. No one has a refrigerator, and in the tropical heat, everything spoils, gets bugs very quickly, or is eaten by rodents that have free access to open houses. Fresh fruits or vegetables must be washed, soaked in bleach water, and then rinsed in pure water, after which they wilt quickly. Missionaries are warned not to drink tap water or eat prepared street food, which has a high level of contamination. Again, we live a life of privilege. We buy filtered water and bought ourselves a refrigerator. When we drive to Managua, we buy frozen, imported fruit and berries, chicken and bacon, vegetables, pre-packaged snacks, nuts, and even frozen veggie lasagna, which we bring back in a picnic cooler.
In order to get a little bit of exercise, I decided to do “a marathon a month.” In other words, if I walk a mile every night, it adds up over the month. There is nowhere to walk safely in the city, because of rough roads and no sidewalks. Outside of town, the rural paths have lurking robbers, who have been known to hit our friends or other missionaries over the head with a machete or rock. We all know to simply give up our telephone or wallet when invited to do so. But we live in a walled complex, and 14 turns on the sidewalk around our motel is a good mile.
Finally, there is medical care. Before we came down here, we started a series of immunizations, and needed our final shots after we arrived. When we went to the private hospital in Managua to finish our shots, they sent us to the pediatric unit; adults here never bother with preventative medicine. When we asked a branch president to recommend a dentist for a perspective missionary, he explained that he had never been to a dentist. (He is an educated man with a college degree and job, but wages here don’t stretch that far.)
This month, I began to feel some pain when I bit down on hard food with a tooth that had a root canal and crown. I promptly bought some antibiotics and made an appointment in Managua, where a US-trained periodontist at the dental clinic associated with the private hospital took modern digital x-rays and ultimately monitored my vital signs as she removed the tooth, cleaned the infection, and inserted a bone graft.
In addition to having the money to buy the food and care we need, we are confident there are angels watching over us, especially out on the streets. This week we found ourselves with a dead battery late at night after piano lessons in Santo Tomas, a half hour’s drive from home. Frank decided to go walking, looking for someone who might have jumper cables. I locked myself in the car and prayed that he would encounter someone from the church who could help us. Then I realized I had asked the Lord for a miracle. The tiny branch in Santo Tomas has only about six families, some without men, none with cars or likely to be out at night. I prayed again and apologized for asking for a miracle, and asked the Lord to simply help Frank be safe on the streets and, if possible, encounter someone who could help us so we wouldn’t have to spend the night in the car. Then I peacefully read my Kindle book while I waited.
After half an hour, Frank returned with the miracle. Walking on the carretera out of town, he passed under a rare street light as our church friend, Jose Gaitán from Juigalpa, walked in the other direction toward the late bus home from work in Santo Tomas. He borrowed our phone to call a friend, who knew a friend with a pickup and tools. For the princely sum of $8.00, he scraped our contacts and got the car running. We drove Brother Gaitán home to Juigalpa, and the next day we bought a new battery. We have absolute confidence the Lord is watching over us and helping us, which also gives us confidence that the Lord cares about the people and the work we are doing here.