5/24/2008 – 6/7/2008
Group/Family photo at the end of the trip. From left to right: Dimitrije (my roommate), Edwin (Zsida's older son), Zsida (host), Cesar (Zsida's younger son), Anna (local teacher), and me.
Special Thanks to the Harvard Project for Sustainable Development
Mom and Dad dropped me off at Harvard Square to meet the rest of the group I'd be traveling to New York with. Nobody was there, and I was worried that I had missed the group. Fortunately, Aubrey showed up, and we waited together. Eventually Danny came, who was apparently the only person planning to go. The three of us took the T to the China Town Bus, then took the bus 4.5 hours down to New York. We ended up arriving on the wrong side of New York, and had to take a (extremely impressive) NY commuter rail to the right side of town where we were picked up by Amol and Dave. We drove to Taco Bell, then drove to Amol's house where a bunch of people were had already arrived. We watched Shawn of the Dead (a parody of Dawn of the Dead) and then went to bed. I got my own private room with a really comfortable mattress. I don't know why nobody else claimed it before me.
We got up at 11:30am. Amol's mom made us an amazing breakfast of pancakes, scrambled eggs, and ridiculously amazing ice tea with raspberry chunks, and orange juice. After breakfast, people started getting their group materials ready. For example, people started installing operating systems on the computers we were bringing down to Nicaragua, and I got some water analysis training in. After I finished practicing the analysis, I played ping pong in the basement. The water analysis was difficult because we were using a technology recently developed at MIT that used baby bottles as a syringe, and it was very hard to get them to create a water tight seal. Some of the computers also had a tough time recognizing their hard drives. Thankfully everything turned out alright before the day was over. At the end of the day, we all went out to play mini golf. I tied (3-way out of 16 people) for first place. I proposed that the winners buy the losers ice cream. Most of the people seemed to like this idea (not surprisingly) so we went through with it. Back at the house, people got ready for bed. I did MCN elections and got about 1 of my 4 hours of sleep I was supposed to get. I made sure I said my goodbyes and sent my final emails. I was the last one to go to sleep, so I ended up sleeping on a tiny slice of carpet next to a group of people who had fallen asleep hours ago. Even so, I didn't fall asleep for about an hour and a half since I was used to going to be around 3am.
I was the first to wake up, even though I hardly slept two hours. I woke up a half hour before my 4am alarm. I sat in bed until about 4, then took my first shower since Saturday morning. When I got out, the whole house was awake. We took our tons of boxes and luggage and piled them into our two big white vans with our 16 people. We then drove to the airport in NY as the sun was rising. When we got to the airport, we found out that each of our computer boxes were about 2 to 6 pounds overweight. We were charged $50 for each box over 50 pounds. We ended up paying an extra $400 or so in shipping. I'm not sure how we covered the cost, but I know we did, because I heard that they were going to withhold our boarding passes until we paid.
We were scheduled for the 8:30am flight to Florida. In the terminal, all but four people (including me) fell asleep. It was really weird to see so many people stretched out on the floor of the terminal. Once we got on the plane, we all fell asleep.
We arrived in FL and I called and sent text messages to friends and family before I left the country. My parents were especially happy to get to hear from me before I headed out. From there, we took the 12:30pm flight to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. This was a much larger plane, even though the flight itself was about an hour shorter than the first leg of the trip. Everyone passed out on the plane ride once again.
On our flight, we flew over Cuba, was really cool for me because I had never seen Cuba. When we were about to land, I could see the outlines of what could only be volcanoes on the horizon, and an enormous lake. The reflections of tin roofs were extremely apparent on the ground.
Just before we landed, I realized that I had never been more excited to land in any country other place in the world. Once we touched down, we got out of the airport only by lying to customs, claiming that we were tourists heading to Estelí and claiming that the computers were actually ours to use. Apparently we weren't supposed to tell them because they didn't like foreigners coming in and messing with their communities, and without groups declaring goods that they'd be leaving in the country... at least I think that's why we were told to lie. The moment we got out of customs, we were bombarded by people trying to help us with our luggage so they'd get a tip, and by very young boys and girls who were obviously incredibly poor, trying to sell us sticks of gum. Just outside the airport stray dogs that looked like skeletons were roaming the streets. Once we got our things packed onto three white trucks, we headed out, some of us in the backs of the trucks. We traveled to the introduction center (I'm not sure what the real name was) where we would be staying our first night and receiving an orientation. While we were driving, we passed by the most incredible scenes of abject poverty I had ever seen. People in rags living in shacks, the smell of burning rubber, men and women walking the streets, shouting to motorists trying to sell small pieces of mango or some sort of trinket. I felt like I was in a different world. The whole scene was extremely difficult to absorb, but I felt like I was where I wanted to be. While we were driving, people kept yelling at us, trying to tell us something. Apparently, someone had stolen the tail gate off of our truck, and the people were trying to tell us.
When we arrived at the orientation center, the group sat in a circle and listened to a few speakers from the center talk about what would happen of the course of the next 24 hours. While sitting, we were served delicious, completely natural, fresh-squeezed mango juice (at least I think it was mango juice!). I had never tasted anything with that taste or texture.
Amazing food. This meal had beats, chicken, rice, beans, plantains, tomatoes, some tasty vegetables I'm not familiar with, and some kind of natural mango/orange/pineapple juice.
We chose our bunks. I was lucky enough to get one of the bunks in the main building rather than the small cabin buildings outside. Next, a guy who spoke only Spanish brought us on a historical tour of Managua. We arrived in the central square of the city, which was deserted. Around the square were a beautiful old stone cathedral that had been destroyed in the earthquake of 72, the former government buildings, memorials to revolutionary heroes, and a newer building that I think was supposed to serve as the new government office building, but I'm not too sure. The man told us the history of the place, but it was extremely difficult to listen because little kids kept trying to sell us specially-folded palm leaves. We were told not to give them anything, but I snuck one about $0.35. One of the few things I do remember about this history is that there was apparently some really famous hostage taking in one of the square's buildings. Unfortunately, the tour had to be cut short because it was starting to rain. On the way back we were only sprinkled on (thankfully, because I didn't have rain gear on).
Our bunks in the center. The guy sitting on the left is sitting on my former bunk (he got there after I had packed up my stuff).
Central square of Managua
Back at the center, we had a fantastic dinner consisting of beans, rice, vegetable salad, potato and spinach soup, and bread. We drank from our water bottles, which at that time were still filled with clean water from the Managua air port drinking fountains. After dinner, some old guys (70+) who were apparently researching the political situation in the region offered to buy us alcohol. Many people pitched in, so many people enjoyed a beer or two on the porch as people talked and I wrote this journal (without alcohol). Going to bed soon. -2 hour time difference between here and East Coast.
PS-slept very well in really comfortable cot.
Last night, Zack sent me a text message that made my phone vibrate off the shelf, hitting me while I slept. It was really lucky that happened, because otherwise I wouldn't have realized the phone was on silent, and wouldn't have been able to set my alarm to wake up at 6am the next morning. This also let me know I could still text message people back in the States. After I got up, I took a really cold shower (no heated water). We had a really tasty breakfast at 7am, then went to a presentation by a woman named Elena. The orientation she gave us ended up being about 3 hours long, but it was really informative since we learned a lot of little tips and tricks for getting along in Nicaragua. For example, she taught us some body language that we'd see in the country (like pointing to things with your lips instead of with your index finger) that we didn't expect. She also taught us about the country's history, especially in relation with the US, which had mostly dominated Nicaraguan politics by propping up dictators until the 1979 revolution, and then afterwards by owning many of the international
corporations which dominated much of the country's economy. After we finished with the orientation, we had some down time, so I took a few pictures of the center. We then headed out to Estili on a three hour drive. I had to go to the bathroom for about 2h and 40m of that drive... not fun. However, while we were driving, I got to have a great conversation with one of our advisors, Monica, an American woman who had been living in Nicaragua for 10 years. We talked about development, philosophies of humanitarianism, and aid strategies, and it really made me question what I was doing on the trip, and my involvement in other programs like the Millennium Student Initiative, an initiative to raise 1.5 million dollars to fund a sustainable village for 5 years in Africa. This was mostly because Monica's philosophy was very anti-project in that she didn't think any project could be successful unless it was developed and cultivated by the indigenous people. I was surprised she was working with our group.
Once we arrived in Estelí, we got to the guy's house who was holding our water filters and water for us. We were afraid he wasn't there because nobody answered the door for about 10 minutes, but thankfully some lady let us in the front door. It was a good thing too, because about 15 people really had to use the bathroom. We had to step over fire ants to get into the house, which was relatively nice for the area. We dropped off our computer there and picked up our jugs of distilled water which we had procured from a local beer company. This would be our drinking water for the next two weeks. We also picked up our water filters so we'd be ready to sell them when the time came.
Outside view of part of the center.
We then took a 10 minute, rocky drive to El Limon, a small town just outside of Estelí where we'd be staying with our host families. We drove to community center next to where last year's group of students had built a community kitchen. We introduced ourselves to some of the community members. I made a complete idiot of myself and ruined people's first impression of me by completely screwing up my Spanish introduction. I know it was bad because after I realized how what I had said meant something like “Hello, this my first weather here in Nicaragua,” I realized that nobody had corrected me, so they probably had no idea what I was even trying to say. Very depressing.
Anyway, I got to go finish helping people get their luggage in their houses (including mine when I talked to my host, Zsida -which is pronounced like apple cider- and her sons Edwin and Cesar). Also, I met a girl who the whole town apparently had a crush on. But besides her wearing semi-sexy clothing, I didn't think she was that attractive... and she was only 17.
Next we went to Don Filipe's house. Don Filipe is a national folk hero and legend in Nicaragua. We were extremely fortunate to be living in his community, and in his house. He was apparently really famous all over Nicaragua, and was respected as a cultural icon.
Once we arrived we were supposed to take a walking tour of the community, but it was getting really dark so we just stat in his house and listened to him play some songs on this guitar. Some people from our group also played a few songs. Bats were flying in and out of the room because it was open to the outside, kind of like a porch.
Afterwards, we went to eat dinner with our host families. We at in the kitchen with only one candle for light. The food was surprisingly tasty: beans, some salty bread, plantains, and something else I couldn't really see or identify by taste. The drink was really good too. It was a very sweet oaty drink. It tasted like fruit juice, but the pulp on the bottom could have easily been mistaken for oatmeal.
We then moved into the other room and met some of the family's friends (a guy, girl, and two kids). The guy went to school for agricultural engineering and the girl for teaching primary school. The two kids were the sons of the girl, who's name was Anna. One of the kids sang for us. He wasn't great, but was surprisingly decent. After talking a while about school, the differences between Nicaragua and the US, I said I was tired because the kids were falling asleep and Anna looked like she wanted to go. Dimitrije set up our room with Zsida's help. Dogs barked and growled for what seemed like hours after we said goodnight, and while I write this by candle light.
The house we're staying in has dirt floors in our room and the kitchen, and stone floors in the living room and other bedroom. All these rooms are very small. I'm pretty sure Zsida sleeps in the same bed as her two sons in the other bedroom. The house itself is made of wood and brick walls, with a tin roof. We have a big plank of wood in our room to lean against the door so no cats or other animals get in while we're sleeping. A dog tried to come in before we closed the door. I wish we could pet the animals, but we were advised not to. Dogs aren't treated the same here. They don't have names, and probably have fleas. They are called by what kind of dog they are. For example, one of the dogs that kept coming around our house was called Pinto. Most of the dogs are extremely skinny, and some look on the brink of starvation.
This is the house where I was staying. On the left is the main part of the house, consisting of a small living room and a single bed room. On the right in the wooden part is the kitchen. Behind the kitchen is another wooden part where I stayed.
It's extremely windy outside now... it wasn't a few minutes ago. I should use the latrine and go to bed before the wind blows out my candle (there are a lot of holes in the walls). *uses the latrine* The latrine isn't bad. It's like an outhouse without a door or toilet seat. It was kind of creepy going out there with all the dogs barking, metal clanking in the wind, and three big white cows munching on the grass right next to the latrine. The stars weren't as bright as I had hoped. Maybe it's just because there's a little cloud cover and my eyes weren't quite used to the darkness.
I hear someone going to the latrine now... I'm glad I went when I did, that could have been awkward… with no door and all… If I fall asleep now (9:00pm) I'll get 9 hours of sleep. No way that'll happen. I'll try to study Spanish. That always puts me to sleep.
The latrine! Notice the lack of a door... At night there would usually e 5-10 cockroaches in there keeping you company.
PS – Freakin' roosters! Apparently they crow every morning from 1:00am to about 7:00am. Really hard to sleep with all that noise.
Well, the Spanish did the trick. Too bad the roosters prevented me from sleeping too soundly. Oh well. Anyway, this excellent day started with a terrible breakfast of fried bananas, beans, avocados, and the really salty bread I mentioned before, which upon closer inspection, is actually fried cheese. Oh, and before we had breakfast, I took my first “shower.” This consisted of filling a bucket with luke-warm water (thank goodness it wasn't frigged, like I thought it would be) then using a scoop to pour the water over myself. The shower was only two and a half walls of tarp, so the cows and chickens were watching whenever someone took a shower. You could also see people walking by on the road, but they couldn't really see the person in the shower. It was alright, because Nicaraguans are really good about not looking where they shouldn't look (according to our advisers) so I wasn't worried about someone looking at me or something. It was actually an extremely relaxing experience. This was about 5:30am. I felt good knowing I was using so little water showering too.
Dimitrije and I went to an early meeting at 6:45am at the community center (casa communal). Toby was there too, but we were all waiting on Eric, who didn't arrive until the whole group got there at 7:30am. Dimitrije and Toby were mad, but just talked fast because they had a lot to plan.
We then took a ten minute drive to the computer guy's house where our computers and some other stuff was being stored. Then we drove to Los Jobos, the little town where the water group had the most work to do.
No... wait... after the computer guy's house, the whole group went to ENACAL, the local water utility. They gave us a 45 minute chat / Q&A session on their analysis facilities and practices. It was interesting how a bunch of their equipment had UNICEF logos on it, and funny that a lot of their manuals for equipment were in English. Apparently a lot of their technicians have to go to the capitol city to learn how to use the equipment since they only speak Spanish.
We paid ENACAL about $100/sample to come to Los Jobos with us to test the water. The water company doesn't supply services to rural communities unless the town leader... something.. I don't remember exactly what they need to do. At Los Jobos, the first thing I did was go with Toby, Dimitrije, Aubrey, and the ENACAL guys to test the community well. Then me, Aubrey, Toby, and Amol tested the water with our kids for coliforms and gave the cultures to the ENACAL guys to incubate. While we were doing all this, the dental team put on a really cute show for all the little kids in the village who had all dressed up to meet us. I was kind of embarrassed when I took a very non-discreet photo of it without asking first. We were instructed to make photos as discreet as possible, and ask all the time, since it's really impolite to take pictures of people because they're poor, or because they're doing something you find very different.
Dental team giving a demonstration to the kids of Los Jobos as some of the kid's parents look on.
After the performance, we packed up the water stuff and all went to the town leader's house (Dona Rosa). I missed out on (apparently really good) cookies and tea, but I didn't really want any anyway. Just then, chicken and tortillas with beans and veggies were served with our choice of apple or mango on the side. During the meal, a SCORPION dropped off the rafters into the middle of the circle we were sitting in. We were really surprised, but Zsida's son took care of it by pinning its body to the ground with his boot, and carrying it outside by the tail. He got a round of applause.
Dona Rosa talked to us for a while about the history of the village and its people, and answered the group's questions. Apparently Los Jobos are trees that used to live in the area, but all but two or three of them have been logged since the town's founding. After the talk, we went out and played soccer with the town's kids. It was 3v3 games, where the losing team would leave the field and be replaced by a new 3v3 team. The kids we were playing with were really good at soccer. I was teamed up with two little Nicaraguan boys who couldn't have been more than 8, but who were both like a hundred times better at soccer than I have ever been. Unfortunately, my team lost its one and only game. I could only do one game because I had to leave to do a ton of water tests with Aubrey. We did the tests for about 2 or 3 hours and talked to people in the room. We discussed things like Amol's fact book and the three things you need to do before you graduate Harvard. Aubrey was tired of the tests when we finally finished around 5:30pm. The villagers were really interested in the tests and kept looking in the windows, watching as we did all our chemistry stuff. I admit, it looked like pretty hard core science.
Aubrey holds the syringe and I hold the baby bottle apparatus up. We're testing for coliforms in this photo, but we also tested for dangerous metals and ions.
After that... HOLY SHIT there's a scorpion ON MY WALL!!! ... I'm waking up Dimitrije.. Man, he won't wake up! I guess I'll have to let the scorpion be. He isn't bothering anyone.. now I'm really paranoid.. I saw that one because it's in plain sight... I wonder how many are in here...
Um... anyway... in Los Jobos... Hey I just spotted machete in my room! That should take care of that scorpion. Hm, I've never seen that there before. Whatever, I don't want to kill it.
So after we finished the water stuff, we all packed up and went back to El Limon (where the host families live). Shortly after returning, Dimitrije and I went and hung out in the kitchen with Zsida, her sons, and some neighbors, some of which I think I met last night. One of the men started playing a bunch of Nicaraguan folk songs on his guitar, and Zsida's son sung to the tune. This was one of the most serene moments in my life. We talked for hours about the meanings of the songs and ate an incredibly amazing meal with a veritable main in ingredient I had never seen before. It was some kind of gourd I think. We also told stories about our past. It started pouring while we talked, and it's only just starting to let up now (like an hour and a half later). I'll use this chance to visit the latrine. I hope I don't meet the monster Zsida's older son (Edwin) mentioned in one of his stories! *goes to the latrine* Holy crap that was scary haha. Now the trick will be to fall asleep knowing there's a scorpion in my room.
Well I did manage to get some sleep last night, though I woke up early again because it was very cold. I took a “shower,” had breakfast, and headed out with Dimitrije for an 8:00am reflection meeting at the community house. We talked about each of the group's work, and Monica gave us some really insightful advice, especially for the dental group.
The shower. To use, stand on the planks of wood so you don't get your feet muddy, then proceed to scoop water from the big bucket onto yourself using the little bucket.
We split up the group into three parts: the girls went to get mother's day activity materials, my group went to ENACAL, and the last group went to another town to see if they'd be interested in a water filter program. At ENACAL, we found out that the community well in Los Jobos was not contaminated with anything dangerous. The reason it was yellowish and tasted bad was because there was a lot of iron in the water, probably because the pipes in the well were made of iron. This made the water off colored, and caused the water to taste bad. There was also a high-ish amount of magnesium in the water, making the water more bitter. But neither of these metals were in dangerous concentrations. We were very happy there was no arsenic. The technician told us the contamination was probably coming either from personal wells and/or from the jugs people used to store and carry their water. General hygiene could also be a problem, since people could be dipping dirty hands and cups into water containers.
After this, our group had about an hour and a half to kill, so we went to an Internet cafe where we all checked and wrote email, then we went to a normal cafe where we had sodas. We then got picked up on Monica's truck and went out to a not-very-good restaurant for lunch. Next we drove back to El Limon where the water group had an emergency meeting. We had to decide what to do with our project. Now that we knew the water in the community well wasn't contaminated, we needed to decide if we should offer refund the people who had already spent a half a week's wage (100 Cordobas, $5) buying a filter from us. We also had to decide how to modify the project to hit the new possible sources of contamination. We decided to continue using the filters, but if there are no hygiene problems (which would be determined by checking to see if there was bacteria in the water jugs) we will offer full refunds, and keep offering the filters to interested people. Our meeting was so intense that we completely forgot that we were supposed to meet at the local Spanish immersion school to meet with the school's founder.
When we arrived 25 minutes late at the school, Monica wasn't very happy with us. The presentation was pretty decent. The woman who started the school was extremely impressive, and obviously incredibly knowledgeable about the area, culture, and people. She gave us some sound advice on our project, and I felt like I was getting some great experience.
After that we went back to the community house and had another general meeting. Then we went back to our host's houses and hung out there for the rest of the night. We ate a delicious dinner of beans, pasta with potato, and a chicken wing along with a tortilla. Just before we ate dinner, a random soaking wet dog came into the kitchen and shook off all over everyone. It was kind of funny. With dinner I had coffee to drink, which was also awesome. According to Zsida, it was grown in a nearby province of Nicaragua.
After dinner we talked with the family. We had to move into the living room because the rain was so loud and it was so windy and noisy in the kitchen. I showed them my family photos I had brought on the trip. They responded by showing me every photo album they could find (about three). It was fun, but I couldn't really understand much of what they said. It was still enjoyable to look at the pictures of the family so young, though. I didn't want to ask what happened to the father. Edwin (who's name I was only now able to remember) asked us for help studying his English for his exam on Tuesday. He was studying contractions. He needed a ton more practice talking. His accent was so thick I couldn't understand most of what he was staying. He tried hard though, and Dimitrije gave him a lesson. While we were studying, Toby, Jillian and their host family's head of household, Aristello came over to visit. While everyone else spoke Spanish, Toby and I exchanged near-death experience stories and talked about education in Nicaragua, although I didn't really understand what he was talking about. The rain was so loud on the roof we could hardly hear each other. Apparently there is a hurricane coming. I guess Mom just figured out how to use text messaging on her phone because I am getting messages from her. She keeps sending me messages twice.
Man, the wind just blew over a bowl of vegetables in the kitchen. I can see them on the ground if I look through the holes in the wall. Everyone is asleep and the doors are locked. I guess they'll have to stay there until morning.
Another good day. Today was the first day I didn’t take a shower. Instead, I used my water bottle to clean my arms, face, and hair. I did this (around 5:30am) because it was still raining like crazy outside. We had breakfast and went to the casa communal. We promptly picked up by Monica, who was apparently picking everyone up 10 minutes early at their houses. We drive to Los Jobos.
Nicaragua celebrates Mother’s day today, which is a big deal. Me and the rest of the group helped set up the school house (which was apparently built by USAID – I am impressed) for the big event. While it was getting set up, Dimitrije, Toby and I headed down the central road (more of a rocky path) toward the creek next to the well. We took samples and then followed the creek to a huge river, raging due to the recent rains (which had only recently stopped). To get to the river we had to travel through really thick forest, jump over a creek a few times, and duck under barbed wire. It was definitely worth the effort. The river was beautiful and extremely powerful, even if it was really dirty. I was very impressed by the buttress roots on the trees next to the river. When we got back I taught Jillian how to do water analysis so she could help test the water.
Dimitrije (in yellow), Toby (blue) and I (behind camera) walked through some thick forest to get to the river.
While we were testing, a bunch of little kids came into the room all dressed up and getting ready for he event. The girls were wearing frilly, colorful dresses and glitter, while the guys were dressed mostly in white and were passing around a huge container of orange hair gel. When I could hear someone speaking into a microphone in the other room, I took the arsenic test with me to the event and packed up the rest. The event was really fun. I couldn’t understand what was said over the boom box amplifier, but the event was quite a spectacle to behold. All the mothers of the community were lined up along the sides and audience was opposite the front table where people took turns speaking. This left the middle of the room with a big open area for dancing and performances. All the aces were dancing except one where a funny guy chased around some girl’s big fake butt. The dancers were between 6ish and 16ish, but almost all of them were doing really sexy dances. It was kind of uncomfortable to watch, but also really hilarious, and everyone got a kick out of it.
Boys and girls do a traditional dance for the community on mother's day. Mothers are on the sides. Nothing dirty here.
Everyone was surprised when two HPSD people go pulled into the dance. Then we were blown away when ALL of us were asked to come up to dance. It turned out to be alright. Later, four dancers picked out four non-dancers to dance. I was one of them. I awed everyone with my not-so-good moves… not really. I wasn’t bad, though. The cool thing is that the same thing happened again 15 minutes later, and the same dancer girl picked me to dance with her in front of everyone again. I think I really danced more than anyone else there (at least more than any of the other non-dancers). After the dance, people were teasing me about how I had a new girlfriend, reminding me of the “no sexo” rule.
After the second dance, I went with the other HPSDers to Dona Rosa’s house. WE got lunch there. She had made us taco things and fruit cups. Then we all went back to the school house to play games with all the local kids. Initially, it was a blast. I played Jenga and Twister, and was having loads of fun, but then a girl asked me something in Spanish and I had no idea what she was saying. It really killed my mood. During this time, Toby, Dimitrije, and Devin went to talk to Dona Rosa about the water situation. They told her that the well wasn’t contaminated, and that the problem probably had something to do with the pichangas (jugs) the water was carried in, or with the personal wells. According to Toby, she was kind of surprised, but said it was totally ok for us to test the jugs and that she’d even come with us as we did our surveys so we’d get more honest results. Shortly after hearing this, we packed up the games and started to head home. I saw a cow plow through a barbed wire fence. I was amazed it didn’t get cut. I also heard some terrible news: 45 of the 50 not so healthy cows in the local ranch died in last night’s storm due to hypothermia. Also, one of the elder community members of Los Jobos died last night. This wasn’t the happiest of Mother’s Days.
After we got back to the house, we started making dinner. This was the first time I actually go tot help out in Zsida’s kitchen. I learned how to make tortillas! For dinner, we had our tortillas with really tasty soup that had eggs, veggies, and even some plantains. After dinner, Dimitrije and Zsida went to visit Rita, Dimitriji’s host from last year. I opted to stay here and write this journal. While I’ve been writing this (like an hour and a half) I had a few encounters with Zsida’s sons who gave me matches and candles. Edwin invited me to go visit Rita, but I again opted to stay here. Later, he invited me to go to Aristallo’s where Toby and Jillian are living, but I didn’t understand him until I thought about it after he left. I felt really anti-social. Oh well, this is relaxing, and I need some down time. Dimitrije returned about a half hour ago. Apparently Edwin did indeed visit Rita’s. I will now ask Dimitrije an extremely important question for the purposes of this Journal. “How do you spell your name?!” Dimitrije (I’ve already corrected the spelling when copying down this journal from the hand-written version to text). Time for bed. PS – it was freezing this night, and someone was playing music really loud until like 3am. Nevertheless, I slept fairly well.
Woke up around 5:30am. Waited for Dimitrije to finish with latrine and shower so I could use them, but he took forever! While I was waiting I shaved, but I realized I had forgotten my shaving cream, so I used body wash. It was kinda uncomfortable, but much better than doing it dry. I had to skip taking a shower because Zsida’s brother came over with some of his friends who played us some songs and wanted to start a music school. One of them was either really drunk or had a disorder. He played the violin. Apparently they asked Dimitrije if he could be their connection to Monica who would help them fund the school. Dimitrije feigned confusion until he could ask Monica about it. The whole experience was extremely awkward, mostly because the group was speaking really slurred Spanish, and tried to speak two or three words of English. Thankfully, Monica arrived and I had to go.
We went to the market with Zsida and bought a bunch of food and reviled the gas tank so she didn’t need to keep fueling her fire with sticks, paper, and plastic cups.
The Market was quite a place. There were flies all over the fruit stands, and I saw a guy washing his hands in the water that was keeping a bucket of vegetables “clean.” The market was fairly large, about three square blocks, with vendors lining the streets under tarps and in vending stands. I was very surprised that there was no haggling. People just asked what the prices were and just paid them. We got about 280 Cordobas worth of stuff. This was paid for by a 600 Cordoba stipend Monica gave out to each group before the trip. Host families kept the difference between what was spent and the 500. After we got our food and gas, we took the trucks back to El Limon. I then got to take a decent shower and relax a bit. Dimitrije and I watched Edwin and his little brother Cesar play a game involving skipping coins off a rock and making them land closer to other coins. After I got bored of watching this, I went to get my journal and sat with the kids and Dimitrije outside and wrote up to the other side of this page (in hand-written journal). We all then started to play checkers with a chess set. The rules for checkers are a bit different because the queens are called carronas (like the Beer, which means “crown”) and the carrona is like a bishop in Chess, in that it can slide around diagonally. I went 2:1. After checkers, Dimitrije, Cesar, Edwin, one other family friend, and I went to wrangle people up to go to the casa communal to play soccer. We found a few people and played a few games, but the Nicaraguans did most of the playing. We only did 3v3, and the American teams played only toward the beginning and end of our time there. Devin hurt his ankle, so we put ice on it. I played several games of Connect 4 while there, and learned that I was very good. At 5:00pm, we went back to the host family’s house for dinner.
Toby supports Devon, who hurt his leg playing soccer.
Oh, almost forgot, after the market, HPSD and a bunch of kids from El Limon went swimming in the nearby river (which was only accessible by an extraordinarily muddy path about a quarter mile long). Other hazards of the path included piles of poop and ants that apparently loved the taste of human flesh, as Jillian, Toby and I all found out.
The river itself was pretty awesome, even if it was infected with fecal coliforms. The current was really strong, and we go to jump off a branch about 15 feet high into the deeper part. I had to climb up a little rock cliff with my bare hands and feet to reach it. It was pretty cool.
Anyway, dinner with the family was especially awesome tonight because it was the first night I really didn’t feel like Spanish was that big of a barrier. We played Chinese checkers which was fun, but I don’t think Zsida really got the concept of jumping pieces to advance your own piece’s positions across the board. At 8:00pm, we had to go to an HPSD meeting where we talked about the water project. There was a huge split in the group between those who were for testing pichangas and those were against it, primarily for cultural reasons. The idea of offering refunds for those who had already bought a filter was apparently unacceptable, as Monica and Ascention (spelling?) were completely against it, and Don Filipe (90 year old Nicaraguan folk hero and legend, no idea how we got to stay with him) got extremely angry when Eric told him about the possibility of refunds, and even told Eric that we’d no longer be welcome in this village if we went through with the refund plan. I honestly don’t get why this would be so horrible. Don’t people deserve the option of a refund if the reason they bought the filter is completely false? I don’t understand. They say they don’t want people to get confused, but that’s ridiculous. I am for refunds, and am for testing pichangas because it’s fair and necessary to show the people that the problem is real respectively.
After the extremely tense meeting, Dimitrije and I headed back to the house where everyone had by that time gone to bed (9:20ish pm). We briefly discussed the meeting (he refused to run surveys if we didn’t offer refunds in case no coliforms were found in pichangas). He went to bed, then I picked up this journal where I left off. That punk is playing really loud music again someone on the other side of the woods. IT’s warm tonight. I bet I’ll fall asleep quickly and not get woken up by cold… but we can see lighting on the horizon, the weather may change for the worse very soon.
Getting used to latrine, bucket shower, etc. in morning routine. Tense meeting at 7:30am discussing waster project and surveys again. We came back to the house and played with tops and Chinese checkers. I only got the top to spin properly one time (but I was really good at getting it to spin upside down!), and the checkers game was a turtle in that everyone was blocked, so someone basically decided to let someone else win. At 12:45pm after lunch, we headed to the casa communal to make a play to present to the community. We were under a ton of pressure to make it decent because we heard that the people of El Limon had an hour presentation for us, and that they’d been practicing all week. I didn’t understand why we only gave ourselves one hour to brainstorm, refine, and rehearse, but we did, and we were panicking. We eventually decided on doing two plays: Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. Nobody knew any complete songs, so we decided to sing a bunch of chunks of songs between the plays in an effort to create a kind of American cultural mix. As 2:00pm (the start time) drew closer, thunder and lightning were all around and extremely loud, giving a sense of impending doom. When the show was bout to start, pretty much the whole community was there (about 40 people).
Dimitrije takes a break after failing to blow down our brick house!
HOLY CRAP!!! I was just writing this and I was like “Uh oh, someone is crawling up my pant leg,” so I shook out my leg violently out of a reflex reaction, but then I lifted up my pant leg to see if anything was there, and there was a huge cockroach on my leg(or at least I think that’s what it was)! It instantly ran off my leg and went somewhere I can’t see. I had to take off my pants to make sure it was gone…
Anyway, my play (Three Little Pigs) was the first act of the evening. My role, being the amazing Spanish speaker that I am, was the house. Adam was also playing the part of the house. Dimitrije did a fantastic job of being the Big Bad Wolf. He incorporated my suggestions of getting little kids to help him blow down houses, and making failing at the brick house really funny by running around and blowing at the house from different angles. Both worked like a charm, and both got great reactions from the crows. All in all, our play went very well. Unfortunately, our songs were horrific.
*at this point, I accidentally fell asleep and woke up again at 5:00am*
Woops… I better finish this before breakfast… Last night it sounded like dogs were fighting in our kitchen. It woke me up around 2 or 3am. There was suddenly barking and yelping, followed by a bunch of growling. Afterwards, I could hear a bunch of rustling in there, implying that whatever it was still in there… I know it’s gone now because Zsida is making breakfast in there, but I wasn’t sure what the morning would bring.
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, the cultural exchange event. So after we sang, the community told us about the history of the town. It was called El Limon because that was the name of one of the farms on the land when the government required all its land to be made into towns and districts. The community wasn’t really organized until 1998 when Hurricane Mitch destroyed most of the area, forcing the community to organize in order to survive.
During the telling of the story, when Eric asked for help translating, a woman with a British accent (and terrible teeth) helped. She and the man with her are the only two white people I’ve seen in Nicaragua besides HPSD and people at the orientation center, including at the airport.
After the history, there was a series of decorative dances, all by dressed up little kids. They were cute, and their colorful clothing was cool. Somewhere between one of these acts, Cathy, our best singer, started singing over in the corner without leaving her seat. What was she thinking? People didn’t even realize she was singing for like 30 seconds, and her second song was one that she wasn’t very good at. Oh well, at least she tried.
In the end, the event broke into open dance which seemed to last for hours. I taught Jillian how to do some swing, and danced with Zsida. It was fun but hot, and I felt like a fish out of water. There was one girl named Ahora, who I thought was cute and sweet, but I didn’t have the guts to ask her to dance because I wouldn’t be able to talk to her anyway.
Dimitrije and I were the first to leave the dance. The whole town was at the dance, so it was a quiet walk back. I took the opportunity to take pictures of the house we had been living in. but only outside because the doors were propped shut, and our room was dark and too small to take a decent picture.
Zsida returned and started making dinner. Dimitrije and I went for a walk while we waited, but didn’t get far. We got about 50 feet when a guy beckoned us to his porch and started talking to us. He was really nice and said he would help us learn Spanish by letting us ride around the town on his horses with him pointing out things and telling us the vocab as we rode. I hope we get to take him up on his offer.
Jeronimo teaches me how to ride a horse.
We headed back and had dinner. This time it was tasty veggie chowder with tortillas, beans, and rice.
After dinner, we moved to the living room where I didn’t sit next to Dimitrije, thereafter endured 3 hours of boredom, not knowing what was going on in the conversation. They were talking about Nicaraguan-specific slang and grammar. I felt like a total party pooper sitting in the corner not talking, just looking around the room. I tried to keep a smile and a neutral face, but I think I was frowning most of the time. To make things worse, the cute girl from the dance came and sat across from me, so I looked like an idiot in front of her too. I looked out the door and saw a shooting star and wished I knew Spanish, but it seemed the wish had the opposite effect. I was thankful when Aristello (our neighbor) came over with his HSPD tenants; Toby and Jillian. I felt good to see that Toby didn’t say anything either, and that Jill (who is fluent in Spanish) also didn’t say much.
At 8 PM, HPSD people had an emergency meeting at the Casa Communal. Apparently Monica and Ascencion (our two primary contacts in the country) hated our group, felt like we were hurting the community, had stopped talking to us, and were refusing to work with us in the future. We were all blown back and taken by surprise. We talked about what to do and why this was happening for the next hour and a half. Apparently our group is completely dependent on them because we are bending over backwards to make it so they are not mad at us anymore. They have successfully coerced us into the group they wanted us to be, and now we are even going to be taking on their philosophy of no more projects or interventions, which I think is completely ridiculous. I learned on the truck ride from Managua to El Limon that Monica’s philosophy is completely against non-Nicaraguans, and thus HPSD, but I never expected it to explode like this. Apparently what set this off was a private conversation between Monica and Dona Rosa after HPSD spoke to Dona Rosa about the negative water results. If you remember, HPSD was extremely happy after that talk because Dona Rosa seemed to be very open with us and even agreed to accompany us while we survey houses. After that, Monica spoke with Dona Rosa, who apparently had a completely different opinion. She apparently did not believe the test results of HPSD or Anacal, the local water company, and felt like our project approach of surveys was very inappropriate. We were completely taken aback that Dona Rosa was hiding so much from us, and that when her true opinions were learned by Monica, Monica didn’t even share them with HPSD even though it would have significantly impacted our actions.
As of now (before breakfast the morning after the meeting), it looks like the entire water project might be dropped in order to keep Monica and Ascencion on our side. I never expected HPSD to drop projects because of contacts and what others think, just to keep them on board. I feel coerced. After the meeting, Toby (who had been leading the water group), personally apologized to the water group for possibly dropping the water project when so much work had been put into it. We knew it wasn’t his fault and that he was even more mad than we were that this was all happening. We all gave each other a water group hug and went home to sleep. Well, I went to try to write in my journal, but it didn’t work as you saw.
Just before one of our tense morning meetings. We're waiting outside the casa communal (the building in the background) while we wait for someone with the key to open the building.
Note #1: Monica is a 40-50 yr old white woman who was hired by HPSD for her help because she has lived in Nicaragua for 10 years, speaks perfect Nicaraguan Spanish, and has loads of contacts in communities where we would be working.
Note #2: This was by far the worst day in Nicaragua yet.
Note #3: To say, “how did you sleep” in Nicaraguan Spanish, you say, “Como amanecio?”, which literally translates to “how did you dawn”.
Monday: *writing this Tuesday morning*
Got up really early around 5:15 because it was really cold, and I had to go to the bathroom. I took pictures of the sunrise. I also used the opportunity to finish the previous day’s journal. I had breakfast, used the latrine, took a bucket shower, then headed out with the group to the local high school (named Infle), where we would be dropping off our computers. They have about 1500 students who go to the school over the course of three shifts throughout the day. Morning shift: 7-12, afternoon shift: 12-5ish, night shift: ?-930. Married and working kids were mostly at night. We first had an introduction by the school’s principal, who told us about the layout of the school and some of their problems and philosophies. They had a lot of discipline problems because many kids come from very poor and/or broken up families. They don’t want to kick them out because they feel it’s their responsibility to help these kids develop the skills and morals they don’t get at home. We then went on a tour of the school. Devon and Toby kept getting cat-called by girls. Toby even got a note, complete with phone number and email address. Aubrey got a rose from some guy who put his cologne on it so it had a scent. During the tour, we saw the 20 classrooms and most of the facilities. Kids were all looking at us, and girls kept checking out our guys. We then met with several teachers, and we asked each other questions. We were asked what kind of relationship we wanted to create with the school, how much US education cost, and how it functioned. We asked them about their job situation with getting assigned to schools with the board of education, their union, how they worked with their students, and some other stuff I don’t remember now. I remember it was mostly the politics teacher who spoke, and he mentioned the political climate a few times. After that, we walked around the school and were free to sit in on classes and talk to people. Jillian and I first went to an artistic expressions class. We didn’t learn much here because it was the teacher’s first day, and almost all the kids in the school were just reviewing for exams today anyway. When they started taking their exams at 11 o’clock, Jill and I moved. We found a room with Toby and Dimitrije, so we went in there with them, even though that biology classroom had kids taking an exam in it. There were posters of different theories of creation and evolution on the wall. Dimitrije and I went to the computer lab because he wanted to use email, but we ended up having a great talk with the computer guy in the lab about how the computers were used in the school. They were used by people from miles around who didn’t have computers. They don’t have a school email system. Teachers get trained on computer usage in workshops and try to use computers to make presentations and handouts, but until HPSD donated its computers, they didn’t have enough computers to bring their classes to the lab because they would be putting 6-8 kids on each computer. With our computers, this is now a reality since each computer can be assigned to only two kids. Our computer team was a bit worried because the lab had a power supply, which could only power only about half the computers, and their air conditioner was broken/too small for the computer room, and there weren’t enough tables and chairs for the computers. The computer team is working with the school to resolve these issues. After this, everyone from HPSD regrouped and went out to lunch at a restaurant in Estili. The tortillas weren’t nearly as good as the ones Dimitrije and I made. We returned to the school where we did more stuff I can’t remember, and ended the day by pairing up Nicaraguan students with two Americans and discovering how the perceptions of the two groups differed by asking questions and seeing how the answers differ. We started with questions like “describe your house and schedule” just to get to know each other better. This was to build a small relationship with the other people in the group, so that the next day we could ask much deeper questions. I did and I didn’t like this exercise. I did like it because it gave me a better idea of what Nicaraguans felt was important along with their expectations of life. I didn’t like it because I felt it was causing us to stereotype each other. In the end, we were surprised to see that we all had a lot different but also a lot in common with each other, but the only thing on the board that we had in common was that we all had problems, which I thought was really lame people said more than that. Nicaraguans tended to value family a lot more and set goals that they pretty easily achieve.
We then started to head back to our houses but stopped in Estelí for a surprise ice-cream treat. I just got the equivalent to a nutty-buddy cone, but some people got whole banana splits. We hung out around there until 5:30pm. We spent most of our time in the park, internet café, and walking down the main street. We then headed back to the families, but only after some guy gave us back some trash we dropped saying it was our passports and that someone had gotten shot while he was retrieving it! He was obviously looking for a tip. We didn’t give him one.
Back in El Limon, the other noteworthy thing that we did was that we went to visit Toby and Jill at Aristello’s house. Ahora (the cute girl) was there sharing photos. Even though I didn’t really say a word all night, I still understood about 80% of what said and sang along to some of the Disney songs. It was a good time, and we stayed pretty late, so I didn’t write in my journal when I got back.
Note #1: Toby looked really tired all day today. I don’t think he slept at all last night.
Note #2: At Infle, when teachers don’t show up to a class, there are no substitutes. The best student in the class tries to teach the course. Either that or the class just walks around the school (even though they are supposed to go to a study hall).
Today I got up at 6:00am. I had just enough time to have a really quick tasty breakfast of fresh oats, banana and milk. Keeping this entry brief because I just want to go to bed. We were at Infle again today. I started by wanting to watch a dental lesson, but ended up standing in front of the class with the rest of the group. I handed out toothpaste. The kids were extremely receptive and excited. It was really great to see them so energetic. Then the group met with the teachers who worked during the afternoon (yesterday we met with the morning teachers). Actually, no, first we had more time to go back into the classrooms, but everyone was taking exams still, so Jillian, Toby, Dimitrije, and I went and watched the gym class and talked about relationships and college stuff. After a while, people gathered and volleyball, cocker, and basketball games broke out. The Americans participated in volleyball and got crushed by their Nicaraguan counterparts (first the boys destroyed them, then the girls destroyed them). Next they played basketball where we did better but still lost. I say “they” because I didn’t participate in any of these games, and it’s a good thing I didn’t because some of the guys who played got heat stroke. Anyway, the Americans did better at basketball, but still lost. Then we had a follow up discussion with our pairs from yesterday. (Handwriting getting really awful) I’ll finish this in morning I’m exhausted. *falls asleep*
(next day) This discussion was much better than the first. Instead of propagating stereotypes and showing Nicaraguans how rich we are by describing our houses, these questions were more like “what is your biggest fear?” ; “What was your most painful experience?” ; “What are your hopes?”. The point of the exercise was to see how we could have so much hope even though we have so much pain. This was great because we really got to see what the Nicaraguan kids were thinking. They feared things like being separated from their family, not getting a family or career. They hoped to get married, and I don’t remember any others. The painful experiences were mostly about losing family members, but the principal of the school was in my group, and she shared an extremely painful experience: during the war, she was injured and she went to a hospital that was bombed when she was in it. She was wiping her tears from her face as Maria translated for me. I made sure to give her a big hug at the end of the experience even though she had extended her hand for a handshake. She really appreciated it.
After this (I’m actually not sure what the order was) we went for a walk around the school’s property. The students of the school are required to do something for the environment before they graduate. For example, each class has to plant 400 trees on the school’s property (which is really large). The land also had a baseball stadium but it was locked. Apparently, they sometimes use it for gym classes.
The land was planted with lots of trees, beans, and other foods. Apparently, they have problems with squatters on the land. It’s a pretty beautiful place though. We walked back to the river, the property line, and back. It didn’t help my sunburn! We also saw the biggest ant hills we’ve ever seen. The hills covered and area of ten feet by ten feet and were almost a foot tall each. There were lines of leaf chunks walking into the mounds. We also saw HUGE black ants: about an inch long each. One got on my back! And we also saw really scary looking red ants that looked like they were straight out of Indiana Jones. We also saw the biggest moth I have ever seen. It was eight inches from wing tip to wing tip. I got a picture of it and the red ants. The school sure had a lot of cool bugs .
This is the biggest moth I've ever seen! It was about eight inches from wing tip to wing tip... too bad you can't really see how big it is from this picture.
So at the end of the day, that is when we met with the teachers from the afternoon shift. They had two English teachers both had accents, and one could hardly speak English. The other was good and had lived in the United States for two years with family.
This group had a lot more questions than the first. They asked a lot of questions about the United States education system, and also asked about possibilities for their students. At the end, they gave us fruit cups, some of which had fruit that was a little past its prime. Oh school cafeteria food…. How I do not miss it…
After this, all the teachers, the principal, the HPSD kids, and Monica and Ascension all had a group picture. I then gave the principal my email and some information on the Wein International Scholars Program at Brandeis, as well as my bosses contact info at the Office of Global Affairs at Brandeis, who would be able to point her in a good direction for international scholarships. She was extremely thankful and gave me another hug.
We drove back to our houses. At about six thirty pm, Geronamo showed up with a horse completely unexpectedly, asking if we wanted to ride. We rode the horse up the rode and back. He taught Dimitrije how to ride normally, but he led the horse the whole time I was on it. It was still really fun. He taught us the words, “saddle” (montura), “reigns” (riendas), “whip” (asote). We got some funny pictures in with cowboy hats. I had mixed feelings about using a whip, but it wasn’t bad. The horse was well trained, so you only needed to tap it for it to get the signal. It was a really awesome ride because there was a huge lightning storm a few miles away, and no rain, and also fireflies. It was very surreal with the little green blinking lights all around and the occasional flash of light with not thunder for some reason.
After I got back, I tried to write this journal, but I fell asleep. I’m writing this a day later in the living room by candlelight with Aristello and Zsida. Dimitrije went to bed awhile ago, so I have been talking to them in awful Spanish. I’m surprised I’ve been able to keep up my end of the conversation. I guess I should start writing about today now.
Note #1: Toby got another note from the same girl today. It said she wanted him to give the previous note to Devin. Hahaha!
Besides me waking up to use the latrine around sunrise as usual, Dimitrije and I both slept up until the six o’clock am alarm. Shower, breakfast, headed out for the trucks. This time we went to the town of La Turnosa to sell water filters and give a dental presentation. Dimitrije and Ascension did and excellent job with the filter presentation. We sold several. Next we took a tour of the community. It was by far the most beautiful place I’ve been in Nicaragua yet. There were great views of mountains, wide open fields, and a really great community center/school. We went to some women’s house who had a gorgeous plot of land with roses, several kinds of fruit trees, and a big round clay oven that was fifty years old. Apparently when the hurricane destroyed their house in 1998, the oven was the only thing left standing, so they rebuilt the house with the oven in front rather than in the back of the house. The community was where Don Philippe grew up. Apparently, he’s an extremely famous folk legend throughout all Nicaragua. I wish I knew that when I met him!
On our way back to Estelí and El Limon, I saw the most beautiful wild bird I’d ever seen. It had a black and white body with wings and tail that were bright velvety sky blue. The tail looked like a ball on a string. It was amazing. Nicaragua had some breathtaking birds. Apparently people liked to buy them because you would often see people on the side of the road with tropical birds they had illegal hunted so that they could sell them to travelers.
We got to Estelí and ate lunch. Apparently, the group’s health is falling apart. Dimitrije has been coughing and sniffing for days, Devin had a heat stroke/was horribly dehydrated, Juliet felt like her head was going to explode and that she was going to throw up all day, Adam was having bad heat-related problems like Devin, and Aubrey got an eye infection. The worst is Cathy. Apparently, she got a respiratory system infection today and had to be brought to the clinic where she had to be rehydrated intravenously and stay the whole night. I hope she’s alright.
I used Gold Bond for the first time today! HPSD recommended all the male members bring some. I don’t like it too much. Instead of making dry and cool, it actually made me experience a burning feeling that made me more sweaty.
We headed back to El Limon. I took a much needed nap instead of catching up on my journal. It was the right decision .
I was woken up by Dimitrije telling me the truck was outside waiting for me. I was surprised we didn’t have a meeting before we left because Toby said he had a really important “chat” with Monica last night where he expressed all the group’s grievances against her without burning any bridges. He said it went extremely well, but that many of the questions were dodged. Despite this, she still refused to work with our group next year because we were “too divided.” I think she’s totally lying. She left our group because our philosophy is not compatible with hers and because she didn’t like how we analyzed things.
Anyway, we headed to Los Jobos, short about four people due to health issues. While there, we first talked to Dona Rosa about the surveys and what was ok and what was not ok. I went with Toby, Dimitrije, and two Nicaraguans to take the surveys. I took well water samples from personal wells that looked really gross. Not only did they have bugs floating in the water, but some of them had cattle no more than ten feet away making fecal contamination extremely likely.
I spent most of the day analyzing these water samples back at the community center with Aubrey. It was only sixty-seven samples, but it still took awhile. Actually, we only tested for bacteria so I guess it didn’t really take that long. Afterwards, Dona Rosa thanked us and gave us some tasty rice pudding. It had some weird little stick things in it. Apparently, you’re not supposed to eat them, but not knowing that, I just chewed them and swallowed.
We returned to El Limon, and I finished this journal entry. The whole time I’ve been talking to the family in Spanish. It’s been fantastic, and I learned some new words. Now I think I’m keeping Cesar up so I’m going to bed.
Note #1: “Well,” in Spanish is “posos.”
Note #2: Remember to get sand for dad’s collection.
Note #3: La Tanosa’s road has a river across it that gets so deep that the people would be stuck there for weeks if it rained too much. To fix this, they recently built a foot bridge.
Note #4: I saw the security guards for the first time today. Nicaraguan villages did not have a police force, so they have to hire armed men to patrol the streets. They look like they are carrying AK-47s.
Two guards patrol the village.
Didn’t sleep well last night. Crazy cat fight in the kitchen around 4:00am and woke up again around 5:00am. Didn’t fall back asleep. At 6:00 I had to get up, used latrine and shower, but shower took longer than expected, so when I started eating breakfast, it was already only three minutes until the truck were supposed to pick us up. Thankfully they were fifteen minutes late. Only two truck today because Monica was with Cathy at the clinic. I’m not sure if he’s any better.
We drove to another community today to do a dental lesson and sell filters. This community was (at this point it started raining so I moved inside.. lost my pencil in the process)…
*now writing in Managua airport*
So anyway, the community was El Pastoreo. I didn’t do much there besides look around the river bank for cool rocks for my house, and sand for my dad’s sand collection. All the rocks were volcanic, so there were lots of good choices. Brenna was kind enough to put the small rocks (four in total) in her backpack. I put the one big rock in the back of the truck (and never saw it again). The dental team gave a lesson, and Dimitrije gave a filter presentation with Ascention. We sold most of the filters and we are going to now have to figure out how to be able to provide enough filters now that we’ve sold our entire stock but still have more people who want/need them.
I looked for cool rocks around this river. You can see a rock used for washing clothes in the foreground, supported by two large volcanic rocks.
Danny took a nasty fall while we were there. He was playing tag with the school kids. He was alright.
Leaving the community wasn’t nearly as fun as traveling there because the road was extremely steep and rocky. I was impressed that the truck could make it. Apparently last year they went to a community that was in such a rural area that they had to get out and push the truck over fifteen times.
After we headed out of El Pastoreo, we went to spend a few free hours in Estelí.
We bought gifts for our host families, ect. I split the cost of a new radio for Zsida with Dimitrije since her whole family could use it. Theirs was broken. It was really tough to find a decent radio to replace their broken one. We spent like forty five minutes asking for directions to about six or seven different stores that might or might not have what we were looking for. After we finally found a radio a dark little store, Dimitrije got a shave. I watched while he got it. Never in my life have I ever seen a professional take so much care in their work. These barbers were the best I’ve ever seen. A shave cost about $2.50 and consisted of twenty minutes of professional care. It was amazing to watch as the barber did absolutely everything to make sure the shave was perfect. Dimitrije’s face was bleeding a bit afterwards, but I’ve never seen such a thorough shave. Apparently even a face message was included in the price! The guy in the chair next to Dimitrije was getting a haircut that had the same level of detail.
After the shave, Dimitrije and I went to get lunch. The place we found was probably the nicest building I’ve been in since Managua airport. Not only was it air conditioned, but it had a nice interior theme with paintings and other art. Unfortunately, we didn’t think this through, because we only had about fifteen minutes to eat. We had to rush out of the restaurant with our entire meals in doggie bags only to find that we had an hour more than we had expected. Thankfully we found Jillian and Danny in the central square, so we sat with them. Some extremely poor kids promptly came up to us and asked us for money and food. We gave them our fried plantains, which made them very happy. After we finished our meals, Danny and I went inside the Estelí Cathedral. It was quite beautiful, and had many well-crafted statues of religious figures. Danny and I talked about religion and discussed how it related to our lives and work.
Inside the cathedral there were several well-crafted statues.
At 3:00pm we headed back to El Limon where we hung out with the family and played Jenga. Oh, before Jenga, I went to search for sand for my dad’s collection again. I had a time find finding a bottle, and had to settle for an empty bottle of Nicaraguan rum. It was also tough to find the sand itself. I headed down the muddy path to the river where we went swimming a while ago. I saw a snake on the way. It looked like a harmless garden snake. The biggest surprise was when a herd of cows and bulls started headed up the path in the other direction! There was barbed wire and extremely thick bush on both sides of the trail, so I had to speed up so I could take advantage of a slightly wider part of the path and let them pass. When I got to the river there was nothing there but mud. I started heading back up the trail but found that the cows and bulls had stopped about half way up the trail. I couldn’t pass them because the bulls started fighting and it would have been a really bad idea to try to pass them on such a narrow trail, so I waited there for about ten minutes for the guy moving the cows to start moving them again using his dog when I got back to the house. I promptly found some sand… right next to the front door of Zsida’s house.
After dinner and Jenga, I took a nap. I couldn’t really sleep so I started packing then half-slept until the goodbye party.
At 7:00pm was starting, but most people still hadn’t left because it was pouring outside, and the party was located way over on the other side of the community in Don Filipe’s house rather than in the much more central location of the casa communal (thanks to Monica’s prodding, which nobody could really understand since she was the only one who wanted it to be there). We packed about twelve people into a single truck and went to the party.
(As I write this, I’m getting on plane from Nicaragua to Miami)
(on plane about to take off)
The party was pretty decent, and the whole community was there, which was about seventy people. Apparently we had rented a generator and DJ board with enormous speakers. The party lasted until about midnight, so we had a lot of time to kill. Monica was handout out shots of a mixed drink that had moonshine as the alcohol. There was a one drink per person limit, but as at all parties, people who wanted more figured out ways to get more. I heard later that Monica actually got reaaally smashed at the party like she did last year. She’s such a hypocrite.
The music was mostly traditional/nationalistic Nicaraguan music which was cool, but there was a good deal of more familiar music mixed in too. There was a strobe light, so dancing was fun, but since it was such a confined space it was extremely crowded and very hot. I spent most of my time in the living room sitting with Americans and some Nicaraguan kid who kept insisting that we take pictures and that I sent them to him later. I didn’t have anything to drink. The cups were dirty, and I didn’t really enjoy my fruit salad because the silverware was pretty grimy. I danced two or three times. I wasn’t very good, and the songs were extremely long, so I didn’t really enjoy it.
Apparently a few people went out and made out with some of the people from town. I won’t mention any names.
Dona Rosa was there handing out snacks. We all made sure to thank her. There were two piñatas brought out, one Spiderman and one clown. I got some cool pictures of all the kids scrambling to grab the candy. It was also Amol’s birthday party, so he got lifted up on shoulders and we sang some songs for him. A few other people and I said goodbye and headed back to our houses around 10:30pm. I went to bed in my jeans and jacket because there was a huge bug that looked like a cross between a cricket and a tarantula next to my bed. The pictures I took of it didn’t do it justice. I went to bed hoping I’d wake up in time the next day (6am) since my phone alarm couldn’t be used due to extremely low batteries.
Amol gets hoisted up onto Adam and Devon's shoulders at the goodbye party.
See, the bug doesn't look the least bit scary here.
Friday (last day in Nicaragua):
(still haven’t taken off in Jet yet, waiting to leave Nicaragua for Miami)
(took off… noooow! 165mph takeoff according to captain)
Wow that was a crazy takeoff. Apparently we flew straight into a huge lightning cloud. Theer was a ton of turbulence, and I saw a flash of lightning outside.
So anyway, I woke up around 5am this morning and just stayed up until it was time to continue packing. Apparently Cathy passed out and started writhing in pain at the party last night after I left, so Eric went to get her from the clinic to which she was rushed last night. This meant we would be getting picked up at 8am rather than 7am, which was nice since it made the morning much less rushed.
We ate breakfast (which was huge and took me forever to finish), gave Zsida her radio, and finished packing. Then we took a family photo in the front yard with a backdrop of forest. The photo contained me, Dimitrije, Cesar, Edwin, Zsida, and Anna (photo on top of this journal). Anna is the preschool teacher who came to visit a few times and apparently sleeps in different houses every night? I’m not sure. Ahora, the cute girl, took the photo. While we waited for the trucks to arrive, we sat in chairs in the yard having sparse semi-awkward conversation. When the trucks arrived, Toby, Aristello, Aristello’s mom, Jillian, Edwin’s friend, and one other woman had also shown up. We said our goodbyes and drove off.
We picked up Cathy in the clinic, then went to a gas station where we realized that we had forgotten one of the water analysis bags at Zsida’s house. We sent a truck back to get it, but while they were gone Zsida and two others drove up in someone’s 1960ish Jeep with the bag. We reunited our trucks. I got put in the back of a truck because Brenna took my seat since she was having trouble breathing. I put on all the anti-sun stuff I could find in preparation for the 3 hour ride in the back of the truck. Once we got going, I had to take off my sunglasses and hat since they would have flown away if I tried to wear them. Thankfully, the 30spf sunscreen was sufficient.
It was a very pleasant ride through the Nicaraguan countryside. The only unpleasant part was the exhaust in the air from poor exhaust systems and a really bad accident that looked like it had just occurred. A convertible was totaled, there was a dead man on the ground (at least, I think he was dead) and there were police and a TV camera crew on the scene. If that guy was dead, I think he was the first dead person I’ve seen outside of a funeral home.
We arrived at the airport and headed inside. Monica and Ascention did not say goodbye. Even if they didn’t like our group, that was still pretty rude.
We got to say goodbye to Eric, Devin, and Dave, who were all staying longer. We went through security and customs after I got some gifts for family and friends. The city and country don’t really have good vendors, so the airport was the best place to find stuff. I got Mom this really nice stone necklace, for Dad I got a bendy wooden crocodile, for my friends I got a hand painted-shot glass, and I got a Nicaragua t-shirt for myself. When we boarded every single person’s bag was checked. I was impressed with the security. When I got on the plane I continued to write this journal. While I’ve been writing it, a really nice guy named Ivan has been talking to me. His family is mostly in Nicaragua, but he has 6 brothers and sisters in the states. He works in Miami with his brothers. The scene at Miami airport was a fiasco. Our flight arrived a half hour late so we had to literally sprint to the gate of our connecting flight. Thankfully we almost all made it. Brenna and Juliette were staying back to check luggage. They’ll catch a future flight (I found out later that they were not very happy about this, understandably).
(Now I’m riding the Greyhound bus to Boston)
Amol’s house in NY: most people slept on the floor of the living room. I don’t understand why they refuse to use the beds. It’s great to see a dog that isn’t on the brink of starvation, and that you can actually pet. The dogs act differently too – they know they won’t be shoed away or have water thrown at them.
We kept our bags outside for the night in order to avoid any little creatures that might have stolen a ride with us getting into the house.
We went to bed around 3:15am with alarms set for 6am. I got the individual room with memory foam mattress again since everyone else took up all the space in the living room.
I woke up at 5am feeling like I was going to throw up. We had gotten pizza and tacos when we got back, so maybe it was my stomach readjusting to unnatural fatty food. That food, by the way, was absolutely amazing. I’ve never been happier with a tiny cheese pizza and breadsticks. Anyway, thankfully I didn’t throw up. I felt better after being awake for about five minutes, and went back to sleep.
(Crossing George Washington Bridge really slow in bus)
We got up at 6am, threw on our shoes, said goodbye to Aubrey (who was staying at Amol’s house a bit longer to catch a later flight) and headed out. Amol drove us to the NY commuter rail where we said goodbye to Amol. The train came about three minutes after we got there, so we were glad we really rushed to leave. Jill got off the train at a different stop than the rest of us, so we said goodbye to her on the train. The rest of us got off at Penn Station, and then took the subway to the Port Authority. Maria took a different subway, so we said goodbye to her. Danny, Toby, and I were the only ones left at this point. We got on the bus and rode the 4.5 hours to Boston.