Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Place to Eat

I imagine one of the better ways for you to understand my eating situation (which is really important to me because food is very important to me), is to see the kitchen I eat in.

Because I live at the offices, it’s generally only adults that eat here and Eva cooks for us six days a week. I’ve come to love chayote with queso (it’s a vegetable kind of like a seedless zuchinni), tamarind refresco (juice flavored with tamarind) and fried plantains (basically a French fry).

We cook with gas and only have stove tops, so there’s no baking in this kitchen, but there is lots of frying! Generally, more is considered better and so you can never be cooking with enough oil. Fortunately for me, Eva doesn’t always cook like that.

Sometimes when there is a large group, or not enough gas, the beans will go outside to cook over a wood fire. It’s not that common, so sometimes the wood is a little wet and they throw diesel on it to get the fire going.

Pinto Gallo roasting on an open fire

Eva cooks dinner immediately after lunch and then leaves in the afternoon when she’s finished. Because refrigeration isn’t strongly integrated into the culture, the food sits out for several hours (with lids tightly closed) before we have dinner around 7.

This is one of the reasons it’s so important that the food is completely fresh. If the food is even a couple days old, no one will eat it. In the States, it was no big deal to take two day old leftovers out of the fridge, microwave it and have it for a quick dinner. Here, even if you immediately refrigerate the leftovers, that doesn’t mean it didn’t have several hours (or days) previous at ambient temperature to develop bacteria. So instead of keeping foods at safe temperatures before and after cooking (because you never know what the person who had the food before you did), the culture is simply to eat it as soon as you have it.

Generally, they won’t put their utensils on the tabletop, they cover their cups with their tortilla to keep off the flies and they’d rather lift meat to their mouth and take it off the bones with their teeth instead of with their fingers. These new hygiene rules I’ve learned simply by watching, they’re definitely an unconscious part of the culture.

I’ve had a great time trying so many new things, especially fruits and vegetables (but no noni please!). After this week in Bolivia with their foods, I’ve realized I’ve become so accustomed to it over the past few months, even I’m looking forward to having rice and pinto gallo beans when I get back!

The Kitchen

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

My Turn to Wait

Because I'm only in and out for meetings, this is my impression of Managua, traffic

I always hesitate to write about being stressed out for multiple reasons. First, because I believe I’ll eventually look back on this and think ‘I was stressed out about that?!’ Second, because I don’t want to be a big whiner while other people get to deal with much much worse. Lastly, because it’s never fun to visit a site where the person posting bums you out.

But if you want to know what life is like in a developing country, this is an important part of it for me. Nicaragua won’t change and I won’t change, at least not to the degree I would need to to not be stressed out by this part of the culture.

An example. Yesterday, I had a couple of meetings in Managua. Marlon decided to come along because he is feeling out of the loop about what is going on with the project.

All kinds of traffic

This means we share a car and driver. No problem, we’re headed to the same meetings. This also means that Marlon will want to stop by one of the houses we rent for older kids and check on them. I understand having done this routine with him and Raul countless times. And not only does it mean that when a situation arises at the house that he needs to deal with, that I have to wait, but that it is culturally appropriate for him not to bother with telling me what we're doing (or that plans have changed, or give a approximately close estimation to how long it's going to take).

Now, if this were an isolated issue, I would grin and bear it. After all it was only four hours of my life. Or if this were an issue with Marlon, I would find some way around it. But this is a cultural issue, it happens with nearly everyone nearly every day. Granted, I’m not usually trapped two hours away from my office and the work I need to do. But we all depend on each other in professional situations. It’s these relationships that make it work (or slow you down).

I am unflinchingly American (or Developed Countrian) in my love of schedule and adherence to factual information. But I also wasn’t ignorant of how these things tend to slide this way and that before coming here. Sure, sometimes it means my hopes are dashed that we will accomplish things as quickly as I sometimes think we can and maybe it will mean an eventual stomach problems from grinning and bearing a little too much (or swallowing the prickly ball as my sister describes it), but there are good sides to this too. Now I just have to remember what they are….

Lake Managua

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sister Phyllis

Sister Phyllis’ ‘home’ is technically Kennydale Hill, near Renton; she went to WSU and taught school in Ellensburg. When I arrived and said I was from Seattle, inevitably people would respond ‘So you know Sister Phyllis!’ Initially, she was in Italy with a pequeno having surgery, so I didn’t meet her until about a month ago, but I’ve gotten to know her since then.

Sister’s 50th anniversary of taking her vows is on June 23rd. She’s taking a vacation at home and going camping at Mt Rainier with friends she’s been doing this with for many many years (with a bottle of wine).

She used to work at Miacatlan in Mexico. She remembers the days when they would sometimes only have beans to eat for more than a week, the days when they were really struggling.

One day, long ago, Sister Phyllis walked with 95 little boys under the age of 10 to the entrance of Xochicalco. It’s about 5 km from the orphanage and each one carried a small packed lunch. When they got close to the gate, she told them all to stay behind and hide. Then, she approached the gate and in her nicest, sweetest manner told the guard there that she had several children from the local orphanage and could they please enter for free? They didn’t have enough money for the entrance fee. He looked at her and hesistated, but eventually agreed to let them in. So she called out and 95 little boys appeared. They spent the rest of their day exploring their own culture in a way they couldn’t have without her.

She has a story for every situation, and then some. She arrived in Nicaragua for the first time in April of 1982. She felt such hope in the country, there was progress in education and economics among the poor for the first time in a long time. But a few months later the US embargo began. She would sorrowfully tell how a baby died at their convent because they couldn’t get medicine, not even aspirin.

Sister Phyllis has experienced real tragedy through the people she has cared for as most of us will never know. But she also is always the first with a joke, a funny story or to give thanks for the kindness of others. I hope I’m that happy when I’m her age (and still camping!).

Happy Anniversary Sister!

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Taste of Home (or an Approximation Thereof)

My diet here is generally dependent on what others are eating. I’m fortunate to have someone cooking for me six days a week. But that also means that I don’t get what I want when I want it. Which, having been an American with a well paying job, is what I’m used to.

So, although I am grateful I have enough to eat on a daily basis (and that it generally tastes good), I decided to take matters into my own hands for a moment and attempt chocolate chip cookies.

In the kitchen, we already had butter (well, margarine), white sugar, salt, vanilla (sort of, it actually has a little almond extract/cherry taste to it as well) and eggs (lots of eggs, always eggs, completely fresh and (strange to me) never refrigerated eggs).

Then we went to Pali, the local grocery store for the rest of the ingredients. Here, I picked up wheat flour, found that no one in this part of the world knows of brown sugar and looked for chocolate. Apparently solid chocolate does not exist in Rivas either (I since saw a Hershey’s bar an hour away at a gas station in Granada). So under plan B, I found some hard candies, similar to butterscotch, that I could
break into little pieces. Unable to let go of the idea of chocolate, I bought a Snickers bar to add somehow. I toyed with the idea of more, but at almost $1 per bar and three people who had grown up in the orphanage with me, it felt a little extravagant.

The most rare and exotic of ingredients we had yet to find – baking soda. This was one item I didn’t know how to substitute. Fortunately I did have a translation bicarbonata de sodio. After much searching, I bought a little baggie of it for 27 cents from a lady selling vegetables on the street.

That evening a thunderstorm was getting ready to rain on us which meant it was unusually hot and humid. Not prime baking weather, but I was determined. So I mixed the ingredients as my teenaged helpers wandered in and out of the kitchen mostly playing music on my computer (I had the recipe I was more or less (or less) following on my laptop on the counter).

I set the oven in Maricela’s house (about a 2 minute walk away, but the only oven on the property not powered by wood) to about 175 degrees Celsius. When it was hot, the flat sheet of metal used to make tortillas with the golf ball sized drops of batter on it went into the oven.

When they came out, they were no longer they. Beautifully golden, they had all puddled together in one big cookie, it smelled delicious. I think due to the heat of the thunderstorm and my use of margarine, there was no hope. I had chilled the dough for an hour trying to avert this, but it was not to be. My favorite recipe (which would have survived this heat) is from a friend’s mom from college, but if you thought finding chocolate was hard, try Crisco!

Fortunately, that, of course didn’t affect the final taste and texture much and the reviews were all favorable (Rico!). Jayden, the lone American employee, informed everyone that they were, in fact, very genuinely American cookies.

American Cookies San Jorge Style

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup (1/2 pound) butter, softened
1 ¼ cup granulated white sugar
1 Tablespoon fake maple syrup
1 Tablespoon vanilla
2 eggs
½ package crushed Dulce de Leche candies
1 frozen chopped Snickers® bar

Beat butter, granulated sugar, syrup and vanilla in large mixer bowl. Add eggs; gradually beat in flour, baking soda and salt. Crush candy with your favorite finish hammer (I only brought my favorite framing hammer and it tends to rips the bag to shreds with the waffle face); chop Snickers®. Stir both into batter. Spread onto tortilla griddle and put in oven at 175 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes or until cooked to your liking.

One other note, I’m leaving for Bolivia on Sunday for work. I’m not sure of the internet access I’ll have, or what my schedule is like. I’ll be back in touch at the latest at the beginning of July!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

It's all mine! (Until they decide it's not)

New, not very interesting, but (as close as you get to) permanent room.

I have finally moved out of the Visitor’s Room!

I arrived on April 10th and was told they would start preparing a room for me. Then they gave it away to another person and told me they would start preparing a new room for me. But the same thing happened with that one. So after about a month and a half I was asked if I minded staying in the Visitor’s Room permanently.

Now, the Visitor's Room is a nicer room. But given that it was located in the office building and I hadn’t learned how to open the outer door yet, and that it kept me away from all the other people living on the property, I really wanted to move down to where everyone else was.

Some evenings I would wander down and find basketball games, other times people watching TV, sometimes they would just be hanging out, sometimes they had left to do other things, and often, nothing at all. In a country where these things aren’t planned, I wanted to be in the middle of it so I could be there when whatever, or nothing, happened.

On June 5th, everyone but Marlon, his family and Raul moved out. And one week later, I got my room.

Although there is nothing to be in the middle of anymore, it is still nice to feel like I have a place of my own (a very American ideal too ingrained for me to change).

Monday, June 18, 2007

Purgatory or Hell?

I had a meeting with Fetesa last week, the largest hardware and construction material supplier in Nicaragua. It went well, although I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched NPH promotional videos now, and even though I don’t understand it, I just about have the Spanish one memorized.

Many of our meetings at this stage are about the same. We (or really Raul or Wladimir) talk about NPH, what it is, what it does. Then we talk about what we need them to do. They tell us they can’t do it for free, we say we know and then the meeting moves to promises of what will happen next, ending with much general chitchat.

I realized after the meeting, however, that we may have unknowingly entered the most terrible place in the world. Even though it was about lunch time, this is what the clock across from the receptionists’ desk showed:

A place where it's always 3 minutes to 5 o'clock

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father’s Day!

Yes, he is expecting this. It’s not my fault Mother’s Day comes first!

My dad has taught me a lot of stuff. When I was six, he took me skiing for the first time in the mountains of Utah. Now, I know I have mentioned before that I am an intrinsically cautious person, but I don’t think it is until you hear that it took me hours to get down the mountain my first time (bunny hill people, this wasn’t black diamond stuff), with my father skiing backwards in front of me, trying to encourage me (trying not to show his building frustration), that you can realize how deeply engrained it is.

But I also know that just as deeply engrained, is his love for me. He taught me other things as well (fortunately they went much better). When I was little, I learned how to type in his office at the church (for some reason I was completely enamored with his typewriter). Growing up, he instilled in me a love for the outdoors and camping (even after some misadventures; ‘I looked back, and she had disappeared, so I looked over the edge, and there she was!’). He encouraged me in my own interests by helping me with my chemistry set in the basement. And when I chose to major in Construction Management, he taught me how to play golf.

One of the things that makes learning from him easier, is that he himself, loves to learn. He is a chronic student who is always exploring, looking for new ways to challenge himself physically, mentally or ethically.

After 20 years of being a pastor, he was a little over 10 years away from retirement. He was a little older, a little wiser and, after staying up all night with a family in the hospital, a little more tired. He recognized that he couldn’t pull all nighters quite as easily as he could in his 20’s.

But he also still wanted a challenge, something that not only new, but that took his values and ethics to a new level. He changed jobs and became a community organizer for Spokane Alliance (new link to the right). Now he’s working to help the people of Spokane (the city where I grew up and he and mom my still live), by organizing them together to have a stronger voice. They work on issues of living wage jobs, education, the environment and health care, among others. When he was thinking about moving to this new position my mom, sister and I all agreed with him on the change. Not because it was easy, we all wanted him to relax and start taking life a little slower, but because we could see in his eyes the excitement of the new possibilities, the new ways in which he could see his community grow into greater health.

Years ago, this challenge-seeking meant that with the assumed responsibilities of a pastor to their congregation, he was gone a fair amount. But between my mother’s persistence and his recognizance of his own values, he scheduled time to spend with my sister and me, and kept those appointments.

During the years most teenagers only saw their parents when leaving and arriving home, my sister and I each went on short trips with our dad, like fishing in Idaho, backpacking in Montana, being tourists in Seattle, and canoeing in Wyoming.

I know that if something (like his relationship with me) is important to him, he will find a way, find time, find something to do. And I have learned to do the same with my values. I seek to challenge myself in ways I could not have imagined when I faced that scary mountain ski hill with him. I found a way to work with an organization that I believe is doing something extremely valuable. I decided that the time to make a difference is now. And I have something to do that allows me to truly contribute and see my international community grow into greater health.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

And the Real (Temporary) Verdict

Monday arrived, and with it, another meeting with civil engineers in Jinotepe for me. That was fine, though, because once I got back to the property, one by one the boys went to be questioned by Marlon, Raul, Sister and Ana, NPH Nicaragua’s social worker.

It wasn’t a very enjoyable day.

The boys were frustrated with being questioned for something they didn’t do (at least, the ones that didn’t do anything). Marlon and co. were frustrated by the lack of information they were being given. Neither group trusted the other. Both felt they had done all they could do. In the end, Marlon decided that they would continue to stay out on the property, working for the rest of the year.

As he was talking, however, Raul told him that they couldn’t because the water hadn’t been on for four days. Raul had already mentioned it, but Marlon stopped this time and they had an impromptu conference behind the truck while we all sat and waited.

After they were done, plans had changed again. They would go to San Marcos, the farm on the island, the place they had been told they were going at the very beginning of the saga. They would work there until we were able to sufficiently prepare the site for them to live there, approximately a month.

So that was that. Like a roller coaster we had ended up where we had started, but the inbetween was anything but fun.

Friday, June 15, 2007

And Waiting...


On Saturday, Marlon arrived at the property in the afternoon. The boys knew better than I did what to expect next. They all sat at a table on the porch, while Marlon’s wife, Maricela, some visiting boys from Managua and I all kept our distance.

Marlon is a charismatic person, and he truly cares about NPH. As an ex-pequeno himself from Honduras, he knows better than many what the experience is like. And so when he came to the property, on his way home from the airport, he first talked to them about the seriousness of the situation, but by the end, he had them laughing and joking.

So the verdict? It was one well known here in Nicaragua, one I’m sure the boys at least half expected… a delay. Marlon would be back out at the property to talk with them one on one on Monday.
And waiting some more

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Waiting for the Verdict....

Wednesday began with another stop by the property; we dropped off food, water (we weren’t sure of the quality of the city provided water) and then continued on to Managua.

We brought in a concrete latrine to cover the pit toilet. It never quite made it to it's final destination and became lawn furniture for the time being.

After meetings there, we grabbed a quesillo (my favorite!) and I bought a tent. While it wasn’t REI (another dangerous favorite); I did have a choice between five different ones. Since I knew life would be hard for my little tent, I chose the cheapest one.

From there, I was dropped off back at the property for the night. Now, the dimensions on the box swear the tent is 6’ long, but when I set it up, the mattress would only fit underneath it, not inside. Still, it was certainly more comfortable than a leaky thermarest on the snow (another story for another day) and much more bug proof than just the sheets the boys had on their mattresses.

Zinc panels covering the bedroom portion of the house.

The roof had progressed so that the bedroom was finally protected from the weather, but there were too many of us to fit inside. Besides, there are enough holes in the walls that it’s practically the same as sleeping outside anyway, so most of us set up our beds on the porch.

A shot from one of the center rooms into the other, and to the ceiling over the bedroom. The floor is flooded because the roof over this part of the house hasn't been completed.

Other than waiting for Marlon do get there on Saturday to render a verdict on where these guys would live (or not live) and fixing the roof (which only took a few people at any given time), there wasn’t much to do, so we played cards and they entertained themselves with my camera.

They like to think they're tough.

But they're about as sweet as they come.

And I think they've gotten fairly comfortable with me.

Same as brothers, sometimes they play, sometimes they fight.

But they always take turns cooking (only because they have to).

Just like a family

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Move to the Property

If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, click here. Today will make a lot more sense if you do.

If you did read yesterday’s post (and the two before that), you’ll know that the next morning, I was very relieved.

Raul decided to send the guys to the new property despite not being able to get a hold of Marlon. It would be a temporary situation until Marlon got back on Saturday and decided what to do permanently. So we all climbed in the truck with the boys in the back, covering themselves with plastic due to the rain and drove an hour north on the Pan-American highway to the property.

Also with us was a carpenter from the island who would be replacing the leaky tile roof of the old caretaker’s house, where everyone would be living, with a new zinc roof. As soon as we arrived, the guys unpacked the truck and Raul and I left to look for zinc panels and the miscellaneous items that were needed.

We arrive at the property

After looking in four hardware stores (two in Jinotepe to the north of the property, two in Nandaime to the south) most places didn’t have enough panels and none would take credit, only cash. So we bought groceries, took them to the property so they could start lunch, and we drove back to Rivas.

Home Sweet Home with the Roof Tiles Ripped Off

Once back in Rivas (an hour later), we went to the ferreteria (hardware store) where we had credit, bought the zinc, nails, hammers and a few random electrical items. After stopping by the offices again in San Jorge, we drove back up to the property to take them the materials.

Detailing this out isn’t for the sole pleasure of boring you to death. It’s simply to demonstrate that to get anything done takes a long time. Between long drives, businesses that aren’t guaranteed to have what you want, or take the method of payment you have, and the last minute decisions that are made (as a cultural norm), sometimes communicated, sometimes not, what may have been a day I planned to work on one project, suddenly is eaten up by a completely different project.

If you haven’t spent much time in developing countries, you may think that if people would just make decisions differently, plan ahead, research more, communicate better, things would go more efficiently, more smoothly. And you’d be a little bit right. But the fact is that every decision you make relies on information or actions from other people and if those people don’t have the same diligence you do, you’re still caught making last minute, relatively uninformed decisions.

Once we delivered the tools and materials back to the site, it was evening, and I needed a little break, so I stayed with them for dinner and drove back to the offices later that night.

I had wanted to stay the night with them, not only to be there for them, but because this was the beginning of work on 'my reason for being in Nicaragua', the construction of this property as a new home. But Raul was uncomfortable with me staying there with the lack of facilities, so I demurred for one night and was somewhat relieved when I did finally go home to my much more comfortable bed and bathroom.

The kitchen is black concrete from cooking with firewood. Raul bought a camping gas stove, but with most meals being for nearly 10 people, that was reserved for cooking rice and meat. The pot 'o beans was a constant fixture on the fire.

The are four rooms in the house, the kitchen on one side, which is a concrete add-on, the bedroom on the other side and two center rooms for serving meals and storing all the stuff.

First dinner at the new property. No matter what the circumstances, these guys will find a way to laugh.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Last Week

As in, this past week, not the last week ever.

It’s been a little more stressful than usual. Yes, work has been hectic, but somehow, that is never as distressing to me as problems in my family. In this case, not my family in the US (for which they’re probably sighing in relief after having thought ‘What!? Why am I always the last to know!?’). These issues have been with my family here.

I’ve written a bit before about the people that live here at the offices. There’s Marlon, the National Director and his family; Raul, the Assistant Director; and Sister Phyllis, who lived here for the last month after having stayed in Italy with one of the Pequenos during brain surgery. She is now moving to Managua to direct the high school girls’ house. There are also guys around the age of 18 doing their year of service. Many people come and go, but the generally constant group of them was about six in number.

These were the people who came asking for English lessons. These were the guys who invited me to their soccer games. These were the friends (along with Miriam) that eventually became family. These were the suspects when Sister had $500 stolen from her room.

Sister is an incredibly forgiving person. She had been saving the money for the 50th anniversary of taking her vows and becoming a nun, but she also has worked in developing countries and specifically in orphanages for almost 40 years. She certainly believes in wrong and right and that hard work must be done for money. But she is also very aware that she will never completely understand the fear and uncertainty and the way the world shifts under the feet of these kids beginning at incredibly young ages.

Five hundred dollars, however, is a substantial amount of money, not just for Sister, but for Marlon and Raul to ignore. And this was not an isolated incident. So the boys were told on the morning of Monday, the fourth, that they were being sent to the farm on the island to work for the rest of their year of service since none of them had confessed. None were happy about it, they all preferred the offices, and some would be taken out of educational jobs for this manual labor instead. But because no one had spoken up, they all had to leave even though the majority had done nothing wrong.

My first reaction was completely about myself. I didn’t want my family leaving, I was completely crushed. I felt that I had finally gotten my feet under me, I had people to share my time with, and suddenly they would be gone, and I would be alone, again. I certainly had no say in the decision, and as I thought about it, I realized as opinionated as I might be about education, I certainly don’t know how to prepare teenagers for an adult life in Nicaragua.

But I’m also not one to roll over when I’m unhappy. I talked to Raul (Marlon was in Germany at this time and Raul had been keeping in touch with him by phone), and mentioned that we had previously talked about the guys helping with preparing the site for construction. He jumped on the idea right away. He said it would be like San Marcos, the first site for NPH 13 years ago. A farm property, a really old building, occasionally electricity, occasional water and a couple pit toilets. He sounded excited about it, it seemed like a good thing, but he knew the final decision would be Marlon’s eventually, so he couldn’t commit to me one way or another.

I stayed in my office most of that afternoon working, I felt better that at least there was a possibility they would be closer, that I could visit since I needed to be out there fairly frequently anyway. So that night, when I went and talked to the guys to see how they were doing, I was shocked to hear that plans had changed again. They told me that they had to leave the house, that they had to leave NPH, that they had to go to the outside.

Some of them have houses, extended family or pseudo-family, people they visit during holidays. But some of them weren’t sure. They didn’t know if these people necessarily had space in their houses, sometimes they didn’t know where this family actually lived.

And so instead of being concerned that suddenly I would be alone in my room, with my air conditioning, internet, electricity, plumbing, job and coworkers, I was concerned that after this night, they didn’t know where they would sleep.

I talked with one of them about what he thought he might do and he really wasn’t sure. The most defeating moment was when he looked at me sadly with dark eyes, in that simply, sincerely, sorrowful way and said, at barely more than a whisper ‘I’m alone’, because I knew it was true. No matter how much I would try to comfort him, reassure him that I would be there for him, we both knew in our hearts that if NPH chose to make him leave, he would get to face a country with no money, no job, a 50% unemployment/underemployment rate and no other support, at 18.

I don't know how to convey the incredible sense of solitariness that some of them felt. In the US, we have safety nets, we have shelters, we have social services, we have support for people who have no where else to turn. And while they're not perfect, they generally do not exist in the same way here. I knew I had virtually nothing to give, not a place to sleep, or even much money on a volunteers' salary. But that nevered occurred to them anyway, in a country like this where personal survival is paramount, I was far from having formed those types of bonds they would begin to hope something like that after only two months.

Now NPH may have policies that differ with this situation and I’m not sure what Marlon and Raul actually said, but what I know is that those boys went to bed half scared that the morning would bring homelessness, half simply in shock with the incomprehensibility of what that would mean for their lives.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Electric Avenue

As I’m sure many of you are familiar with, standards are a little different here. It’s ok to ask to borrow things from people you hardly know, the same thing (rice and beans) three times a day, seven days a week is comforting, it’s ok to speed when you have a hitch hiking policeman in you vehicle (most don’t make enough money to be able to afford cars).

And electricity is so useful, that to have it, you make do with what you can find, hence, small tree trunks for electrical poles. And barbed wire with wooden spacers in place of insulated wire.

Electrified barbed wire (only the ones in the air) kept separate by wood sticks

At the new property we currently have this arrangement. Where the lines cross the highway, it’s insulated, but at the entrance and for about 100 ft beyond, it’s barbed wire. Then, halfway between a couple of poles, insulated wire is spliced back in.

Entrance to property where the electricity is brought across road and begins being carried by barbed wire

We haven’t had any major problems in the past, but with six teenage boys moving to the property last week, we have a new need for power. Food is brought in almost daily because we don’t have strong enough or stable enough electricity for a refrigerator.

The first couple days this meant that raw chicken was delivered the night before and sat on a table until we cooked it the next day. No one has gotten sick yet, in fact they hardly think a thing of it. I cringe, but by the time lunch rolls around, I’m hungry enough it doesn’t matter to me either. It’s already normal to eat from the same pot of reheated (but not refrigerated) beans for a few days in a row.

We’re hoping to get one of the workers from the island site to come out and fix the problem temporarily in the next week or so. I’m also currently receiving and evaluating bids for the formal process of bringing 220 into the property for construction and eventual permanent use.

In the meantime, when the power went out for several hours today (which it will continue to do even after we get regular power, but eventually we’ll have a generator for those situations) it just continues to remind me what a pampered life I normally live.

Power for a computer? No problem! Recharging a cell phone? Do it whenever you want! Electricity to keep your food sanitary in a hot climate? Of course! Want your pump to run your well so you can have water? Don’t lift a finger!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Tenting It

I'm here! I know it's been awhile since I've posted, but I've been camping! And I'm headed out again today. It's a long story I'll tell eventually, but for now I'm catching a ride back out to the property for more time in the great outdoors.

Monday, June 4, 2007

When the Rain Comes

It’s amazing the difference a little rain makes. Ok, it wasn’t exactly a little rain.

The rainy season started last Tuesday and we had several days in a row with quite a bit of rain. When it rains, it pours, really. And this pouring brings about the following changes to the new property:

I'll let you guess which ones are befores and which ones are afters!

Friday, June 1, 2007

A Well Meeting

The double doors opened and everyone moved from a large office into a conference room. The huge round tabletop was thick wood, dotted with white ceramic ashtrays, the chairs were deep leather. The men that gathered around the table had all seen their fair share of life. Many had survived war, corrupt governments, an impoverished society and they had pulled themselves up through this business. They all drew their chairs toward the table and leaned back, accepting something to drink from the woman in a dark cotton dress with a tray full of coffee cups and glasses.

And there, in the middle trying to politely decline coffee (because I don’t drink it) and coke (because the air conditioner was blasting cold), was me.

Sometimes I feel a little bit out of place, like at the beginning of this meeting with the owner of MacGregor and some of his engineers in Managua. But soon we started talking construction, and the feelings quickly passed.

Raul took the first few moments to introduce what Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos Nicaragua does for the children we are able to take in. Feed and shelter, yes, we do that, but better yet, we also work to create a family and educate children as far as they want to go. Unfortunately, between rising costs and an intermittently active volcano our children have been spread apart. They are all in the best situations possible, some in Managua, some on the island of Omotepe, some in San Jorge, but really we’d like to all be together again. To celebrate occasions together, but more, just to be together in that daily routine family kind of way. And that is why we’re building a new campus. We have the property, next, we need a well.

We’ve already received a bid from MacGregor to drill an 8” well to a depth of 450 feet and install a 15 hp pump to provide approximately 35,000 gallons of water to the orphanage per day. This all corresponds with a water table at around a depth of 250 (corroborated with the water table at our neighbors’ wells) and a drawdown of 40 feet during pumping. Our discussion covered the breadth of the work we need to do in preparation for drilling. Among the general preparations we will be:

· making a more in depth evaluation of our potential future water needs, this includes kids at home and school, staff, visitors, landscaping, agriculture and livestock, etc
· deciding on a place to put the well that takes into consideration it’s relation to all other future buildings, septic tanks, general drainage of the land, placement of power lines, elevated tank and potential cistern
· learning about the fire safety requirements of Nandime, the closest town (in the experience of the engineer at MacGregor, that’s a reserve of about 22,000 gallons at all times)
· applying for permits to dig the well and filling out correctly the extensive accompanying paperwork
· bringing in electrical from the main frontage street to hook up to the well pump

As we left, three hours later, the owner of MacGregor thanked me warmly for coming to Nicaragua to help its people. Given all that this man has done himself already and is offering to do to help NPH, I was speechless (the lack of fluency in Spanish doesn’t help either).

One item (the well) in process, many, many, many more to go!