Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Christmas 1959 (my mom and her brothers)

I'm off to spend Christmas on the island at Casa Santiago with the kids and my friends Carrie and Eric who arrived yesterday! While I haven't posted enough recently for you to notice my absence now, I'll only be gone for a few days!

When I get back, I'll start posting photos of why I've been MIA lately, action on the construction front!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Nativity Story at the Babies' House

Here are a couple of scenes from the nativity story through the mouths of some of our youngest at NPH Nicaragua. I especially love the silent comment on women and economics in the first clip.

The angel on the right popped up without her halo, so like many times at Casa Asis, there are some helpful hands that come to her assistance.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Oliver Ridley's Arrival and Departure (that would be the turtle)

Managing expectations. A lot of my job is that. A lot of people’s jobs are that. So it doesn’t feel like my free time should be that. But it is. And it’s hard to manage the expectations of myself!

On Sunday night I went to San Juan del Sur with some of the volunteers for NPH that live at the house on the island. Sure, we went to the beach, had a great dinner watching the sun sink over the pacific. But really I was just there for the turtles.

Beginning around September until January, Oliver Ridley turtles lay there eggs in the sand of the (now) protected La Flor Reserve beach. It is one of 7 beaches in the world that experiences massive arrivals of turtles. Picture thousands of 3 foot long turtles filling the beach, pushing past each other with their awkward flippers for prime nest real estate above high tide, but not too far into the forest.

Because it is remote (only 22km away from town, but over an hour drive due to the rough road), we head out with a tour given by a local hostel at about 9 PM. The turtles arrive and leave in the dark and are pretty sensitive to light (they use it to orient themselves since naturally the light would be toward the direction of the ocean and away from the forest, they haven’t caught onto the fact that in most places the forest has been replaced by the bright motel parking lot).

No one knows when the arribadas (the massive arrivals) will happen, but some conjecture the best time is during the new moon, with less light they are less fearful to leave the water. So on our chosen night, a new moon night, we walked through the forest and turned off our flashlights when we reached the beach.

Red light was used as we walked to make sure we weren't stepping on baby turtles. We were allowed two photos each, one of the nest with the camera situated so the flash wasn't visible to the turtle while it was laying, and one of it's butt as is got close to the water to leave. So I never got a good look at the head end. To see the turtle better click here.

Our guide led the way from turtle to turtle explaining what was happening at each step and over the following two hours we saw a grand total of…. four turtles.

Really, they are impressive creatures. Around since before the dinosaurs, they have experienced a crisis of population in the last 20 years like none before. As they delicately curl the edge of their back flippers to spoon sand out of a hole that is as deep as they can reach (about 2 ½ ft.) before laying their eggs and as they thump their massive (around 80 pound) body on the sand afterwards to compact the fill closing it, it is natural to simply be awed by them.

Now hopefully next time I’ll just get to be awed by a lot more of them!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Another Look

A few more depictions of the house.

In our meeting with NPH Family Services in Honduras last week, they requested that we decrease the number of rooms to two with eight children in each for ease of supervision during the night.

So our architect has completely redesigned the bedroom portion of the house (which with sixteen kids is no small task) and given us two options to choose from. That said, she hasn’t made more cadd renderings like these yet for the new design (which we received last night and so should be choosing today). So the house will be close to what you see here, same style, same materials, but (as always until it’s finished) there will be some changes as well.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Concepcion Continues Eruptions

Look familiar? Yes, those are the same two volcanos you've seen in the header every time you've come to this blog. Something different? Yes, that would be the huge ash cloud erupting from Concepcion on the left.

Since I wrote last week about an eruption, Concepcion has released ash a majority of days. INETER, Nicaragua's geological research department, says that everything is fine, no need to worry unless we start to have earthquakes. Of course, after INETER told us they would help with a geological survey for our project and nothing advanced beyond the first office visit, we learned to take what they say with a grain of salt.

The sign across the road says "Welcome to San Jorge", with the ash cloud billowing behind and to the left.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Community Remembering

Two days ago Harrington was running at the stadium, training for an upcoming meet when he had a heart attack and died on the track as 15 year old boys are not supposed to do.

In the night, 20 minutes after we first heard the news by cell phone, we sat on rented plastic chairs outside his family’s tiny concrete block home in the dark with a hundred other people who had also just heard the news.

A couple cars, motorcycles, but mostly bicycles came and a few went. Slowly, the gathered crowd clogged the rutted dirt road completely.

The breeze was cool, the constant chatter understandably subdued, even as friends laughed and relayed their stories. Having only met Harrington once, I just listened and thought about the family inside. We could hear the mother as she wailed for her only son, the line at the door shifting people into and out of the home, comforting in its multitude.

A few hours later, I returned home, but the friend I went with and others kept their presence with the family until after midnight.

The next day, they gathered again and cheered Harrington on as his body was carried in its coffin one last lap of thousands around the track. One last time they all could be heard chanting his name, driving him on.

At the end, they followed on foot, first to the church, then to the cemetery.

I could analyze the gatherings, so prompt, so intimate as is standard in cultures without reliable mass communication and body preservation technology (the body needs to be seen, the funeral experienced in order to waylay possible suspicions).

But for now, we’ll recognize the more important priority, a community has gathered to mourn that Nicaragua has one less, full of promise.

The friend who trained with Harrington has long insisted to me that the most important element to win a race is heart, Harrington simply had too much.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Welcome Home! (if you’re tiny)

The decision has been made by the director that the first phase will contain five homes of a rectangular plan that we have from the architect. Construction will begin this month (with the definition of construction including everything we need to do to the land to prepare for the houses).

It happens less and less as computer design software become more sophisticated, but for this project, we had models made for the home designs aside from AutoCAD renderings. So here is an idea of the house that will be a home!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Cranberry Rum Cupcakes with Ginger Buttercream

Yes, I know, another food posting, but it IS the season!

It was a happy, warm evening when I received the floppy manilla envelope with dried cranberries from my mom in the mail (along with some other foods that now seem exotic!).

Gathering the ingredients for this project encompassed a day of running errands back and forth to Rivas on a motorcycle. I never mind now, with the wind and sun on my face as I balance packages of food on either side and my friend driving balances another shopping bag in front on the gas tank. On top of that, I was in luck. I am now the proud owner of seven pounds of powdered sugar, I believe it is the only bag in the entire country.

I think forward to that evening, when I know the cranberries will simmer on the stove with aromas of cinnamon and cloves, becoming beautiful rubies plumped with juice. A dash of an indiginous rum (Nicragua is fields of sugarcane, all being harvested now), adds touch of warmth so I can pretend I need it for snowy weather outside.

The cupcakes were shared all around, although I held off on the cranberry rum syrup for the kids. Honestly, though, I do have a small bag of cranberries still stashed away for when I crave something from home!

Cranberry Rum Syrup

½ cup water
4 tbsp granulated sugar
4 tbsp dark rum
1 cup dried cranberries
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp cloves

Simmer together for half an hour, or use your favorite cranberry sauce recipe. Either way, strain the sauce to remove cranberries.

Cranberry Cupcakes

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups sugar
1 cups soft butter
4 large eggs
½ cup milk
Cranberries strained out from syrup

Beat butter and sugar until creamy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Mix in all dry ingredients at the same time. Mix in milk and cranberries. Fill cupcake pan slightly more than halfway. Cook for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. While hot, pour syrup over each cupcake. Frost with ginger buttercream.

Ginger Buttercream (from one of the queens of creative cupcakes)

Note: It’s best if the cupcakes are slightly lower so that the syrup is held in by the paper lining while soaking into the cake.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Carrot Custard (and an Erupting Volcano)

It’s fall, it’s Thanksgiving… Oh! Here comes Christmas!

Normally this time of year I’m thinking very domestic thoughts. Preserving apples, butternut soup, what knitting project will entertain me best through the rainy weekends.

And even though the dry season has begun and I see the sun more than clouds now, I’m still thinking those thoughts. I suppose it’s something basic, something instinctual.

And so while I steered away from imported miniature pumpkins in Managua and the fake Christmas trees at the local market, I wanted to indulge in something autumn-y feeling, without looking too far afield.

So here is my version of fall this year, carrot custard crisp (with lime-cilantro syrup).

While it turned out incredibly delicious for such an experiment, it wasn’t exactly a straightforward process. If you do decide to make it, give it some thought because I’m sure there are plenty of shortcuts you could make with a trip to a US grocery store.

By the way, there’s a short note about the volcano eruption yesterday after the recipe. And last, but certainly not least! This is for SHF #37 Beta-Carotine (both carrots AND cilantro!), hosted by definately not martha!

Carrot Custard

2 quarts of grated carrots (seriously, if you can, just buy carrot juice with nothing added)
4 cups milk
1 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
4 oz cream cheese

Put the carrots and milk in a pot and stir over low heat until boiling. Set to simmer and stir until the milk is reduced by half. Take off heat, strain out carrots, stir in sugar, cinnamon and cream cheese. Chill.


1 stick butter
6 graham crackers

Crush graham crackers, mix with melted butter in a hot pan until slightly browned. Cool and sprinkle over custard.

Lime-Cilantro Syrup

¾ cup lime juice
1 cup chopped cilantro (the cilantro here looks more like basil, I’m not sure what the difference is, but you may need to adjust this amount with the standard US type of cilantro)
1 ½ cup cold water
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch

Mix, boil, strain and cool, then drizzle onto the custard. It’s pretty strong, so use sparingly.

P.S. The volcano on the island of Ometepe erupted beginning yesterday and occasionally through last night. It’s the first time I’ve seen it happen from the mainland and it was incredible to watch how the huge ash cloud silently (from my perspective) raced hundreds of feet into the air in just a few minutes. I hurried to the beach to watch with others from the office, the sub-director on the phone the whole time with the orphanage on the island.

Everyone there is fine, the ash clouds even drifted in a direction away from the house, so they didn’t have to deal with a blanket of ash this time, but it certainly reminds all of us that we have work to do to provide a safe home for the kids away from the eruptions! We are currently scheduled to begin construction on the first house on December 10th. Given my previous experience with contractors here, the chances of us actually starting in earnest will take a little longer, but we are excited to be starting soon.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Lancha

The rules are a little different here, or I suppose just the lack thereof. If it seems like it might work, that’s what you try.

One of the passenger ferries we took to the island for the Quinceñera celebration last Friday was a little more rustic than I’m used to.

Guardrails? Who needs those?

I mostly felt sorry for the people sitting behind the smokestack for the hour long trip.

They did hand out life jackets to everyone before we got underway, but I was conflicted whether I should feel comforted or worried.

But it got us there, no problem! (Well, except for the poor little boy who was throwing up next to me the whole time!)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Thirteen Quinceñeras!

Thirteen girls swishing elegantly (mostly) side to side in their long pink dresses, happy that this day had finally come!

Turning fifteen is a momentous occasion in many Latin American cultures and Nicaragua is no exception. Since Casa Santiago isn’t your standard family (not even the biggest families in Nicaragua have nearly 300 kids), all the girls who turn 15 celebrate their Quinceñera together.

During the evening, the girls received the last gift of a toy from someone special to them to signify the end of childhood. One girl was presented a stuffed animal from her sister who told her through tears how special it was to be her best friend.

It was not lost on the audience that these girls couldn’t take growing up together for granted. Those children who happily celebrated this night only got to Casa Santiago by losing nearly everything (fortunately NPH has a policy to take in all siblings possible, and extends age limits in these situations, in order to keep them together).

And then on to more joyous moments, dinner, dancing and cake!

"ya queremos pastel" means "we want cake already!"

Seventy five pounds of sugar, seventy five pounds of flour, over six dozen eggs (all from the NPH farm!) and you’ve got more than enough cake for almost 300 kids and nearly 100 adults! By the end, they were handing out what were more like little logs of cake instead of pieces!

Since cake isn’t super common here, it can often go really wrong. But while this cake was dense and somewhat heavy, it was still moist and had a great flavor of vanilla with a pineapple filling. I’ll just have to remember to save more room next time; one piece was enough for me this night!

Even the sunset got the color palette right for the night, just outside the church during mass

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Feliz Cumpleanos a Mi!

The volunteer was weary from culture shock, a language change and the hot, hot weather. But, at least her birthday was coming up; she had that to look forward to at least. So she planned a small get together, nothing fancy. A little food and (she hoped) a lot of laughter with a few people she had grown close to. She had even found a box of cake mix in a local store and decided to try it out.

When the day finally rolled around, she anticipated everyone’s arrival and while the cake hadn’t turned out perfectly, her hopes hadn’t deflated with it. Soon everyone had arrived; there were greetings and chatter as everyone ate. But wait, the stream of people didn’t stop, people kept coming and coming, most of whom weren’t even invited!

While she normally worked hard to understand the culture she had been dropped into, why did they have to take advantage of her this day! So she decided to pamper herself this day, her birthday, so she had her local boyfriend do a very non-local thing and announce that everyone who wasn’t invited that they had to leave.

Slowly those who had invited themselves left and she was relieved, but frustrated and hot in this unending summer. She’d soon get over it, though, as much as she felt it was important that she was there, that she was working to better the community, weekly frustrations presented themselves in an unending variety of ways. She could always look forward to the next one!

That birthday of my sister in Cameroon, Africa has been good for a laugh (at least to us, her immediate family) ever since it happened about 8 years ago. I couldn’t relate before I came to Nicaragua, and I thank God I still can’t completely.

My birthday was a wonderful day from being woken up at 5:30 AM so the kids could sing happy birthday, to the greasy, cheesy, house front pupusas I ate for dinner that night to cut the sugar high.

I ate brownie cupcakes with peanut butter frosting AND tres leche cake (super sweet, super gooey, super good). And loved all the songs I got from friends and family who called me on Skype. Thank you! I won’t forget my Nicaraguan birthday with all of you!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Origin of Ometepe

Concepcion seen from Maderas with banana tree leaves in the foreground.

The island of Ometepe is about an hour ferry ride from where I live. It’s still incredible to me that I can stay on a tropical island for an overnight trip to celebrate my birthday.

The island is made of up two volcanoes, Concepcion (active) and Maderas (extinct or retired or something like that). I stayed at a hostel on the Maderas side this last weekend. I often forget about Maderas in my thrill of Concepcion. It isn’t as tall, or exciting, but the lush forests lap up its sides and the clouds catch at its peak.

Clockwise starting from top left: Sign on the main (dirt) road leading from the town of Belgue up to Finca Magdalena, local Nicaraguan women walking from the finca to town (yes, I do believe that's a log on her head), flower in the finca garden, looking up at Maderas from the finca.

There are many legends to the origin of Ometepe Island. And the artifacts and petroglyphs which are continually being found and studied (although funds for this research is sorely lacking) speak to the generations of ancient people that used the island’s resources.

One legend describes a king and queen of an ancient Nicaraguan city who have twins, a boy and girl. The twins transform themselves to become two volcanoes to protect the town of their parents. But their mother doesn’t know where they have gone and is desperate for her missing son and daughter. She turns herself into a bird so that she can fly long distances looking for her children, but doesn’t find them. Her tears are so abundant that they form a lake around the volcanoes, Lake Nicaragua.

Maderas from Concepcion

Geologically speaking, the volcanoes are part of a long chain that extends up through the northern portion of Nicaragua and into other central American countries. Both volcanoes were formed during the Holocene Epoch and Concepcion is considered the most perfect cone volcano in Central America. The volcanic ash (and lack of recent activity) makes Maderas an ideal place to farm and it is covered with coffee and banana plantations.

View of Concepcion as we leave on the ferry.

Friends recently (as in half an hour ago) told me that there was an article in the Seattle Times about Ometepe last weekend. If you don't have a copy, here's the link.

Friday, November 2, 2007


If there is one thing that transcends all cultures, it’s laughter. And if there is a better way to end the week, I don’t know what it is!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Globalization as War

Coke or Pepsi?

The war in Iraq gets the majority of war coverage in the media, and the people certainly aren’t in danger of being overeducated in what is going on over there. But there are other wars going on, much more quietly for the hearts, minds and money of people around the world.

Globalization is one word that can be used to describe this struggle between cultures and generations. It is a huge subject, much too daunting for one blog post, but while I am hesitant to tackle a responsible analysis of it, I can see its affects everywhere around me.

“We must ensure that the global market is embedded in broadly shared values and practices that reflect global social needs, and that all the world's people share the benefits of globalization.”
Kofi Annan

Here in Nicaragua, the signs of globalization are plenty. Aside from the standard fast food chains Burger King, Pizza Hut and MacDonald’s, we have Purina and Unilever industrial plants, Harley Motorcycle billboards and Pampers at the grocery store (in fact, all disposable diapers are called Pampers, kind of like Kleenex). Coca cola definitely has the larger presence, but Pepsi is in fighting form doing its best to attract a loyal following of younger drinkers.

For three pepsi bottle labels, we went to a concert in Managua where the Nicaraguan bands ranged from Nirvana-esque to Jewel-ish.

American movies are sold on several different street corners, and while the studios are making nothing from these pirated DVDs, due in part to the exposure of the lifestyle exemplified in movies, the expectation of consuming at the same level as Americans is becoming commonplace.

Nicaraguans learn how to buy in bulk at PriceSmart (and yes, you can get a hot dog or a slice of pizza there too).

This, of course, is impossible. And it’s not only because Nicaragua is one of the most impoverished nations in the world. But also because Americans consume one quarter of the world’s energy, while having only one twentieth of the world’s population. It is a physical impossibility for the world to come any where close to living as Americans traditionally do.

So what happens when the culture and values of one place are being replaced by another, without the hope of actual fulfillment? How do the importers make responsible decisions in these areas when they have next to no education? How do the exporters govern themselves responsibly when they don’t understand ramifications?

Yes, I really am going to just leave you with those questions. Because as part of the world, they are yours to answer. As for me, I'm still searching for my response.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

But it's Just a Baby!

So the next time I see a spider in the shower and I say it’s a big one, just believe me.

I’ve never lived a long time in an area with tarantulas before and so I guess it never occurred to me that they would show up trapped in your bathtub like their smaller cousins.

My general philosophy with bugs is just to leave them alone and they’ll generally either leave or die. But when I mentioned the spider in my bathroom to a friend, he went after it with a broom without hesitation. It was probably a good thing that he did, I think everyone appreciates a showered co-worker more.

I have been assured not to worry, however, the 4 inch one in my bathroom? Just a baby. Great.

Happy Halloween!

And one more note, having been inspired by my brother in law, Kamo ( and friend Leah (, I started up a Flickr account. Most of them are photos you've already seen on this blog, but some of them are new (or should I say old?). You can check them out at

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

This is what they do.

This is what we do.

And that is how a well is dug.

The well has been dug. The water is down there. Now we just have to finish up so we can get the water to where it will be useful. You know, not 320 feet deep in a hole.

A ‘caseta’ or small house (the literal translation from Spanish is hut) is being built to house the electrical panel for the connection to the pump. And Union Fenosa, the government entity that controls all things electrical in Nicaragua (or the lack thereof) is said to be close to giving us our permit for this work.

We have the first review of the houses completed and the architect is working on the revisions. Given that we started over with a new architect only three months ago who would actually work with us and the terrain that exists on the property, the progress has been astonishingly fast.

Clockwise starting with upper left corner: Lorena Zamora (our architect) and Gunther discuss sightlines, flowers on the finca, potential location for two personnel houses, my new rubber boots with skulls and crossbones and a whole lotta mud.

We’ve reroofed the existing building, added toilets and a shower, made extensive repairs and changes to the city water we receive (which is still too contaminated to drink) and generally gotten the site ready for the workers when they arrive to start construction.

But I am easily reminded as I glance around my office at paperwork for later stages of the project how much there is yet to do.

When we finish with this project we will have roads, walkways, a school, therapy offices, sport courts, a church, administrative offices, workshops, parks, an industrial kitchen, a dining hall, nearly 30 houses for 20 people each, a clinic, housing for visitors, housing for staff, housing for volunteers, store rooms, farmland, farm animals, drinking water, sewage treatment, electrical, phone and internet networks, all in the middle of a developing country. Phew!

When you think about all the resources needed to raise a child, the buildings, the materials, the caregivers (and all that the caregivers need as well) that is what we’re trying to plan for, only in our case, it’s 500 of them at the same time.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Carts and Their Horses

I noticed upon my arrival to Nicaragua (as in, right away, first thing on the drive from the airport) the pervasive use of horse drawn carts. It was a sweaty April day (on average, April is the hottest month of the year) and the end of the dry season. Virtually every horse looked like it could keel over at any moment and I could easily count their ribs, from the car, at 60 mph.

Once the rainy season was in full swing, most of them fattened up, but with their drivers still cracking the whip, the last thing in the world I would ever want to be is a Nicaraguan horse.

Horse drawn carts in the tourist town of Granada are beautiful and have carriage wheels. Once you leave there, however, the real Nicaragua kicks in where everything has to be practical for survival. The carts are simple wooden boxes with rubber tires and a wooden board across the middle to sit on.

Pretty much everything is somewhat makeshift. Reflectors on the back of the cart made from the play side of a CD, blinders on either side of the horses head fashioned from cardboard and a pile of old cloths underneath the boards on their back to lessen the rubbing from the weight of the cart.

The driver in the video (who you don’t ever get to see because I was sitting thisclose and I didn’t want to get that kind of close-up with him) is the cousin of a friend. He's 15 years old and drives the cart around delivering milk and sour cream in the countryside where he lives. The horse is directed by the popping sounds you hear in the video that the driver makes with his mouth.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Contrast to Atlanta and San Diego

It's been raining pretty hard over the last few weeks and I promise, I'm not the only one who thinks so (here's someone, and someone else, and another person).

We at NPH continue to be incredibly fortunate in our circumstances and haven't had any damage due to the flooding. Apart from having 25 new little neighbors in the three rooms next to mine last week after another orphanage in our community flooded, it has hardly been noticeable to me.

Many people, however, are not nearly so fortunate as I am. Aside from the major damage on the Atlantic (Caribbean) side caused by Hurricane Felix, a major tropical depression dumped enough rain for the Nicaraguan Rio Grande to overflow it's banks. Nine people died in this flood, 124 rural villages are still unable to be contacted because of road damage, large areas of crops were damaged so that the price of beans has risen significantly and disease has increased among already impoverished vulnerable populations.

It's strange to have this happening in this country while in the US, another country I clearly have a fair amount invested in, fires are raging close to my family in San Diego County after a record dry year.

Why the incredibly disparate weather that is so out of whack? Why has there not been a more concerted effort to find the root causes and change them? Is it because until recently, these disasters have more often hit already impoverished areas?

As I'm sure you already know, I only wish I had the answers to those questions. But our own personal involvement in climate change, however small, in these devastating events show us the power of our decisions as a group. And it begs us to ask, do I want to continue to be a part of that?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Man’s Best Friend, Ellen Degeneres’ Scandal, or Security Alarm

Americans have an ever evolving relationship with the animals around them. While a deep attachment has been part of the human experience with working animals for hundreds of years, I know plenty of people for whom this has become something more akin to a human family member.

I met this very patient chihuahua on my flight from Seattle to Houston, and yes, not only are her nails painted, she's wearing a skirt.

In Nicaragua, however, life requires a bit more practicality. Sometimes dogs are pets, but they are nearly without exception the security force as well, and sometimes that’s all they are to their owner. Whether large enough to actually do harm, or simply an alarm to events in the night, dogs are in most every home I’ve been in here.

They also are a ubiquitous presence in the roads and alongside highways. Strays are everywhere because neutering and spaying seems to be a foreign concept. It was only here that I realized that dogs get saggy after breastfeeding their children like every other animal.

Sometimes they’re lucky and have a good home, sometimes they're not. But it’s all really pretty simple, just like the people, they have to fend for themselves.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Of Rain and Floods

So it’s the rainy season. I’ve been experiencing it for a few months now, but coming from the Northwest, it’s not really been that big of a deal.

October, however, is a different story. It rains a lot, every day. Suddenly, like in Seattle, I’m making plans according to when it may or may not rain. But it’s still hot too!

The first twelve hours of yesterday were heavy rain and when people finally started arriving for work, all they were talking about was the incredible flooding.

A new orphanage that was built over the summer flooded (we’re currently housing 25 of the kids in the three rooms next to mine). The streets flooded. And Günter’s house (the engineer with whom I’m working on the new construction) flooded. He never made it into work because they were taking care of water a meter high in their house.

Here at the offices we’re apparently high (although not really dry), so fortunately we haven’t had any problems.

In Seattle, temporary construction provisions are built to withstand the worst storm recorded in an average 25 year period. Permanent construction is to be built to withstand the worst storm in 100 years.

So I asked, how often does it rain this hard since it’s obviously so damaging to the community? Oh, just about every year, they replied.

Of course, you don't just get the water, you get whatever was in the water too, and in Nicaragua, it's pollution, trash and sewage.

Between the local deforestation, the increase of people living in undesirable locations because of an increase in poverty and global climate changes, it doesn't just happen every year, it actually gets worse every year. And Nicaragua, at least, has yet to see a way out.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Developing a House as a Home

It’s a process familiar to any developer. How much is too much and what is too little?

When the people you are building for come from nothing, anything solid is better. But does that mean that you build for little as possible? Especially when the more cheaply you build, the more people you can house with the same amount of money? That, of course, is not the goal.

To raise children in a quality environment is the goal, and that can’t be done with just a floor and a roof. But how much quality is too much?

How many kids should we squeeze into a house? Should each room (with four kids in it) have its own bathroom so they can have some privacy?

Should they have a kitchen to learn to cook, or just cupboards and a sink since meals will always be available from the General Kitchen?

How much more upfront cost is ok if we’re providing natural daylight and ventilation?

How big of a common/living room space is appropriate for 16 kids to play and study? Or should their study areas be in their room, more quiet, but more difficult for the Tios and Tias (caregivers) to supervise?

How do you place bars over windows inexpensively without it appearing prisonlike?

These questions and more are the ones we are currently encountering and trying to answer. The group involved is big, it includes Günther and I, the architect, directors, tios, tias, NPH International, NPH Family Services and others. And we all have our own opinions about how raising children, architecture and the culture of NPH should interact.

But things are moving forward! We’ll get through it as thoroughly and efficiently as we can with Nicaraguan schedules, power outages and floods in the meantime.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Real Reason to be in Nicaragua

Sometimes I forget why I’m here.

I forget why I’m working far from home, friends and family. I forget why I live in a little room with a bathroom instead of an apartment with storage space. I forget why I volunteer to fight with subcontractors instead of getting paid to fight with subcontractors.

And then I am reminded.

Last night I was in my office later than usual and everyone else was gone. Marlin (one of the social workers) walked into the building with two kids to give one of them a pair of plastic flip flops because he didn’t have any shoes.

I said hello to the first girl, who was about 12, and she hung back in the dark office where Marlin hadn’t bothered to turn on the light, so the only illumination was from the hallway. She didn’t say a work, didn’t smile, she just looked at me.

I said hello to the second boy, who was about 8, as he bounded towards me and wrapped his arms around my waist.

These were our new arrivals. I have no idea what their lives were like 24 hours before. I don’t know if they have parents or other siblings. I don’t know what level of poverty they lived in, they pretty much all just come with the clothes on their back.

I can’t imagine what fears or hopes they have as they enter a place so foreign as NPH. I can’t imagine leaving my family in a culture where family is absolutely everything. But I can’t imagine how much I would desire the promise to be regularly fed, clothed, sheltered and educated if I had spent my life without enough of any of those things. So they’re brave, even if they don’t realize it yet.

And for some reason, I get to be a part of it. I get to help make a home for them. I not only get to help them change the trajectory of their lives and therefore their communities, I get to see it happen.

Some may think that it was a sacrifice for me to give up all that I have to be here, but really, I am simply so blessed.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Mind That Won't Be Squandered

He is four years old, his older sister is 6 and his younger brother is 2. Their mother is so intensely sick that she has been put in the hospital. He visits her once, and remembers the trip, but not her face, nothing else about her, and after one month, she has passed away. She hasn’t even reached her 30th birthday.

His father doesn’t know what to do, he doesn’t have work and he is desperate… so he leaves.

The kids crowd into a small home with their aunt, and her children, and other cousins, but there isn’t much money to feed everyone. That’s where NPH comes in. Maudiel, his big sister, little brother and two cousins apply to NPH and become five of the original NPH Nicaragua children. It is 1992.

Here in 2007, Maudiel will turn 19 next month and he is working at the offices for his year of service. He has grown up with family, brother, sister and cousins, who are all still at NPH attending school. Maudiel plays league soccer each weekend with a group of guys from the neighborhood and is dedicated to the work he does every day in the office.

But there is even more to Maudiel than just how he currently fills his hours. He is incredibly intelligent and because he didn’t grow up working on a farm or selling gum on a streetcorner to help support an overflowing home like so many children in Nicaragua, he has an education that will allow him to go to a university when he finishes secondary in two years..

Because of NPH, his natural talent and hard work, he not only made it to the present, he is among priveledged few in Nicaragua that actually has a future.

One side note, in some of my earlier posts, I called Maudiel by his middle name - Alejandro. He had originally introduced himself by that name because he knew it was easier to remember for us gringos.