Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Estudio de Topografia

The surveyors started work last week (they are creating a contour map of all construction areas to at the 1 meter detail level). It’s so nice to finally have someone out there actually accomplishing something! Not just us working here in the office laying the groundwork.

Another company was supposed to start digging the well yesterday, but they put us off again. I haven’t had to be too pushy yet, but I embarked on it today in an email (Ok, I’ve been a little pushy all the way along, but this was the first obvious time).

I’m really unsure what results I’ll get, however. I know exactly what would happen in the US, but here there’s a possibility it will completely backfire. There’s a reason why so many people here are good at talking all the way around a subject and then back again in very pretty language, because often that is how you get people to do stuff for you. I’m definitely not that good at it.

I think some of it comes from so much of the population trying to get things done from a place outside of power. In the US, generally we use the power that we have over someone (a contract, fear of being fired, etc) if nothing else will work. Here, because contracts are hard to enforce (the legal system is incredibly slow and unpredictable if you aren't one of the 'in' crowd) and people have their jobs in the first place because they're family, that just doesn't happen. Those are broad generalizations, but they have truth to them.

Monday, July 30, 2007


The name says it all. Frequently the ‘Re’ is dropped and it’s just called ‘fresco’, which appropriately changes the translation in English to ‘fresh’.

Living in a tropical climate has taken some adjustment, not the least of which is my idea of what kind of sweet things I want. I’ve tried baking (Ugh! Hot!) and frying (Ugh! Really hot!) to satisfy my sweet tooth, but by the time it’s complete, I’m so tired and sweaty I don’t even want it anymore! And that’s not like me!

Cookies, cakes, pies, pastries, you name it, I wanted to bake it. But now I can’t think of anything I’d like more than a cool drink. As I found out, though, this comes with some heat too.

Sister Phyllis and I headed off to the market on Saturday afternoon to see what we could find. She’s lived here for years, but willingly obliged my desire to try to experiment with some of the unknown produce I’d never seen before.

There is a fair amount of produce that is totally familiar since we’re very good at shipping things to ourselves in the US from Central America. Mangoes, Papayas, bananas and pineapple all grow in abundance here. When I would point and ask someone what I could do with an item I was unfamiliar with in their stock, many of the times I would get the answer ‘refresco’.

So I picked out some collitos to bring home and the recommended spices (cinnamon sticks and anise) in little plastic baggies. Sister and I plunked them into a pot of water and set it on the stove to boil. About an hour later (after much checking) we strained the juice and mashed the last bits of flavor out of the berries (which have a huge pit inside so we decided mashing them had actually been just about worthless).

After dropping the ice in to cool it down, we sampled our experiment. And we liked it, we liked it quite a bit because it was almost exactly the same as….. cranberry juice! Really refreshing, time consuming cranberry juice!

To complete the effect, I put some in a plastic baggie. If there is one thing that says tropical Central American country to me, it is drinking juice out of a baggie. Because soda still comes in glass bottles here, if you want something to drink to go, it comes in a plastic baggie. Just bite off the corner and drink responsibly!

And I almost forgot! This is my submission for SHF #33, hosted by http://alpineberry.blogspot.com/!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

La Cocina En La Isla

As I've lived here longer I think in Spanish more and more frequently so when I see this picture I don't think 'the kitchen on the island at the main home for the kids', I just think 'la concina en la isla!' It's definitely a relief to get to this point in my language development.

What's not a relief, however, would be working in this kitchen! While I love this photo, I wouldn't love working here. The Nicaraguan women amaze me with their long hours of work in incredible heat and humidity (when you're outside you think it can't get any hotter, but you're wrong!), all in flip flops or low heels!

Friday, July 27, 2007


Here's the view from the San Jorge ferry dock to start your weekend.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Some Things Are Just Silly

Sometimes it is surprising what is different here compared to in the States.

For example, I don’t have a phone in my office. I bugged the IT staff here for about two months and eventually got a phone line. But no phone. Finally when Gunther arrived, it really became a necessity for us to have a phone (because I have a cell from NPH, I’d just been using that).

So on their last trip to Managua, a two hour drive one way, one of the staff looked for a digital phone that would network with the rest of the phones the office already has. But apparently there isn't a digital phone in the country anymore. At least not one they could find for sale, so we’ll have to special order one.

So yeah, you think, Nicaragua isn’t a rich country, they probably just don’t have a lot of easily available technology, and that’s true, but there’s more.

I went looking for a table for my room made out of wood. Call me a snob, I really didn't want a white circular plastic tables for a desk. So we went to the market, but apparently there are no wood tables for sale in Rivas. And Rivas isn’t a tiny village, it’s a town. There are plenty of wood tables around in people’s houses and businesses, just, apparently, none are for sale.

My wood table (from a town an hour away) in my living room (little mattresses on the floor with pillows)

So yeah, you think, Nicaragua doesn’t have quite the consumption level that other countries do, so they don’t have lots of different choices, and that’s true, but there’s more.

Rivas (the big town next to the little suburb I live in) isn't exactly the busiest commercial center

Gunther went to go and open a bank account. He’s an official resident (his wife is Nicaraguan) and he wanted to deposit money. But they won’t let him open a bank account unless he has two letters of reference from other people. Not anyone special, just whoever you want.

The idea comes from the US War on Drugs so that if your account is being used to launder drug money, they can track it to people other than just you. But all the letter needs to be is your neighbor saying, yeah, he’s a nice guy. And if they catch you laundering money for drugs all your neighbor will say is, yeah, I sure thought he was a nice guy. You could deposit $20 and this would be a requirement.

So there are some things here that seem kind of silly. Not that Nicaragua is alone in that category, but it is definitely fits right in.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

This Little Piggy Went to Market, Eventually

A little Nicaraguan Neighborhood Atmosphere - They’re everywhere. These pictures are within two blocks of home while I was walking down the road. And there’s a whole lot more where they came from.

This not so little pig (which I did not get a good shot of) is being raised at Casa Asis, the Babies House and will eventually feed the kids there and us at the office.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Everybody Loves Reymundo Video

Yes, Everybody Loves Reymundo

Taking care of fields of beans and corn and always plenty of time for posing! Maudiel patiently waits, knowing this could take awhile.

And Reymundo LOVES the camera. He will stand posing for a picture for absolutely as long as it he needs to get you to take it. Hand it over to him and you’ll end up with a hundred photos, plenty of them self portraits!

Total cliché, I know, but it’s true! Everybody loves Reymundo! He’s the charismatic one in the group, often the center of attention, happy to do what’s needed to make everyone laugh. But he’s also always one of the first ones to come for a hug when I see them, always asks how I’m doing and really listens when I answer (which isn’t always easy given my level of Spanish).

He arrived at NPH when he was eight years old, having lived with an aunt whose children were grown. When I asked about his mother and father, he just says that he doesn’t have a mother or father. I’m not sure if that means one or both died, or just left, but the result for him is the same either way.

I asked if he liked NPH when he first arrived, but the only phrase he comes up with is ‘It was normal’. Which I’m guessing means, it’s not bad, but not always paradise either.

Reymundo has a lot of energy and always wants to be a part of what is going on, so when you’re on a sleepy island you make your own action. It landed him at NPH’s farm, San Marcos for four years, working and going to school.

During 2007, he is doing his year of service before finishing secundaria. I met him when I first arrived and he was living here at the offices with me. Right now, he is currently back at San Marcos working in the bean fields. At the end of this year, he’ll move to Managua to finish secundaria at a school that has given him a soccer scholarship.

Eventually he wants to study medicine in University and play soccer. But really, he mostly just wants to play soccer. And at 17, who can blame him!

They'll make do with whatever is around, even the burro

Monday, July 23, 2007

Big Bugs

I woke up this morning, and walked over to the light switch on the other side of the room in stocking feet. I was really lucky.

A little further to the right and I’d have stepped directly on an upside-down cockroach more than two inches long with his legs flailing in the air. Instead, I opened my door to the outside world and swept him out with my broom. I then followed suit with this little guy who was closer to my bathroom door and also futilely doing the backstroke.

The night before, I went to grab a bag of sugar from the outside storage room. After unlocking the padlock on the creaky metal door, I swung it open and switched on the light. I didn’t see this guy (or girl, I really can’t tell) trying to squeeze himself unseen into the corner until I was on my way back out and switching the light off.

Yep, they’re big. At least that seem that way to me when they’re right in front of me!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Banana and Pineapple, Use 'em While They're Local!

After my last experience making dessert, I decided that the heat of an oven just wasn’t worth it in a Nicaraguan summer. Why fight it when you have the traditional alternative of frying?

So I gathered up my ingredients (easier now that I had a little pantry going in my freezer, the only place I was sure there would be no bugs). Flour? Check. Pineapple and bananas from this guy in the local Mercado? Check.

Five gallon bucket of oil? Check. Loosely followed recipe from Epicurious (forgot the ginger, used a lot more flour)? Check. Chopped overly juicy pineapple, sugar measured with coffee cup, all mixed with a soup spoon, dropped into hot oil? Check.

Removed and tossed in sugar? Check. Used to scoop cool, creamy, melty ice cream into your mouth? Mmmmm….check. Edwin is 12 and joined us from the Atlantic Coast several months ago, he helps in the kitchen and is just about always in a good mood as he puts everything in order there. He reminds me of the nephew in Ugly Betty whenever he sashays from the counter to the stove.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Some days are easier than others.

In the interest of this being an accurate blog, I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s lonely here. Ok, that’s really not much of a secret. Just about any one who has transplanted themselves from one place to another knows this. But sometimes it’s tougher than others.

Last Sunday morning Marlon sent one of the 12 year old boys to wake me up and tell me they everyone was leaving for Managua for the day in 20 minutes, would I like come?

Well, I’ve gotten better at not planning too far ahead, but this one was still a little late notice for me. Granted, I was grateful to get 20 minutes notice, generally I get less and other times I’ve simply been left behind altogether.

It’s been a difficult transition. One the one hand, it’s hard for me to feel like part of the family when in US culture giving someone just a few minutes notice (especially when you live right next to them) is almost the same as not inviting them. On the other hand, I’m very aware from their point of view, apart from his wife, Marlon doesn’t give the other people living here (the boys) any notice ahead of time either.

The boys here do what he tells them the minute he wants them to because that is how Latin American families are run. So if I really wanted to be part of the ‘family’ I would simply have to be even more flexible. The problem for me is that this starts to infringe on me doing my job. But remembering Nicaraguan priorities, the job is further down the list than being with the family. I’m pretty sure that I am internally unable to fully make this adjustment and sacrifice the very reason I’m here (getting the new orphanage built any time soon).

This is unfortunately the only family I have the option of being in. All other volunteer positions work with the kids and therefore are on the island, so I don’t come into contact with any of the volunteers, huge majority of the kids or other island staff on a regular basis.

The people working at the office itself are very nice, but I have yet to actually be invited by any of them to do anything (they always seem a little hesitant because they’re never quite sure if I’ll be able to understand them and so am I!). So my best friends continue to be the teenage boys who are here the most frequently. I suppose somehow I’m hoping to still find a way to compromise. But after more than three months of continually expecting it to get better, I’m just less hopeful than I used to be.

View out from my room to the rest of the property. Marlon's house is more or less straight ahead, the offices are the white and blue building on the right, the entrance gate and supply house is to the left of the picture.

Note ** I totally want to recognize that I have really great support from family and friends. I’m really lucky to have access to technology that allows us to stay in touch so easily. I can cheaply call people in the States and it’s free for most people to call me. So as compared to years past, or more remotely located international volunteers today, I do have it easy in that regard.

I don’t really like writing about this part of life, but it is undeniably part of the experience for virtually everyone I’ve talked to that has done something similar.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tapia Construction

We’re currently building a security wall around the offices here in San Jorge. We previously had chain link fence. We’re in a neighborhood (on a dirt road) and our neighbors have everything from glass shard topped concrete walls to wooden rail fences.

I’m not sure what led us to need this change. Although it will keep the neighbors' chickens out, I’m pretty sure this was not the tipping point for the decision.

In most Central American towns and cities the view from the road is not pretty. They're usually quite dirty and lined with these security walls. But when you walk by in the evening and the doors are open, often you can see through a room where everyone has congregated after work and school to socialize, back to a courtyard where nature is still a part of their everyday lives.

We're lucky to have enough clay in the soil, we don't need formwork for the footings.

Mixing concrete by hand

Carrying concrete by hand (Miguel wanted me to take this picture, I'm not sure why they ask me, but then so frequently they look like it's the last place in the world they want to be when it's taken).

Building scaffolding

Esteban is our most experienced lead

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Culture Lesson II

For the introduction to this conversation (so that it makes sense) click here.

Continued from yesterday...

So instead of waiting until the conversation, pause, conversation was over, I asked Yader if he could buy the sodas now (and then we’d get one for Maudiel when he was finished), but Yader looked at me horrified. ‘I can’t go alone!’ Thinking this was a teenage group mentality issue, I asked why not. Yader said there are just things you don’t do alone.

So I asked for examples. He replied – eat. You don’t eat alone. I flashed back to times here in Nicaragua where I’d be so hungry after work (and have other things to do after eating so I wouldn’t feel like sitting outside for hours waiting around for other people to show up) that I’d go ahead and eat alone.

A couple times a kid would wander through and ask me if I liked eating alone. It always seemed like a strange question to me since I would prefer eating with others, but it wasn’t until this conversation that I realized eating alone was so strange to them that the only reason they could think of that I would do it was because I preferred it, not because work would ever be more important.

So I asked Yader what he would do if someday he had a family and his wife was gone working and his kids were at school for the day, how would he eat. And he said that he would call a friend.

And I realized how incredibly right he was. They don’t eat without each other. That’s one of the reasons it is so important to live in the same town as your family and friends, because otherwise you aren’t able to fulfill the basic functions of life.

I eat because I’m hungry. I eat around the schedule of other things I have to do (like work). But neither one of those are the priorities here. There is a lot of waiting (which I knew before, but I don’t think I realized that it was because they wanted to, not just because they had no other choice) because you can never be quite sure when things will come together. But waiting for your friends and family to eat is what you do. It is as ingrained in them as waiting for your dinner guests to arrive before starting to eat is for you.

It looks like there is about to be more waiting in my future!

Leaving through the main gate at the offices for our walk

Monday, July 16, 2007

Culture Lesson I

A couple nights ago I went on a walk with three teenage guys: Yader, Maudiel and Donald from NPH. We walked to the town center which is a very small square block of trees, bushes, dirt, concrete benches and two little tiendas with chairs outside selling BBQ chicken and soda.

Donald, Yader and I sat down on a little wall when Maudiel paused to chat with a friend he ran into. I offered 20 Cordobas (a little over a dollar) in the pursuit of soda for everyone. We knew what we all wanted except Maudiel who was still talking with his friend.

After a little bit there was a pause in the conversation where both of them were looking different directions and not saying anything. I called out to Maudiel who was about 10 feet away from me. He looked, but by this time, Yader, who had already told me we had to wait for them to be finished, and I were arguing about whether or not they were still in a conversation.

Yader and me in the kitchen later on.

Yader informed me that they were still talking ‘in their heads’. After a few seconds of us arguing, Maudiel and his friend resumed their chatting. Now Yader has interesting perspectives on lots of stuff and will say things that are blatently not true with a straight face daring you to catch him in his bluff. But this one appeared to be fairly true.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


For work I’ve been reviewing contracts, but they’re in Spanish and take me a long time to make sense of. The thing is, I know if they were written in English, it still would take a long time! No matter how much I complain about Spanish being difficult to learn, the language of Legalese is harder!

Friday, July 13, 2007


I was sweeping my room out last night and instead of using a dustpan, I just swept the dirt out the door, across the open hallway and into the grass on the other side of the brick arches.

I turned around, took three steps to get back to my room and shut the door behind me. It wasn’t until a little while later that I noticed this:

And no, I haven’t taken up taxidermy here. After a few moments, this one wandered out from underneath the bed too. I just hope they’re not spreading!

Note to all of those who are concerned that I don't succumb to their cuteness. Yes, they are cute, but occasionally, they pee, and they don't really care where. So I generally keep them out of my room.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Getting Sick

So it’s summer, in Nicaragua, generally highs of 90 degrees, lows of 80, humid. And I was bundled up in my fleece, still cold. That’s when I was sure something was wrong.

Up until 9 o’clock my fever got worse until I decided I needed to take something to bring my temperature down so I could sleep. And then there was the diarrhea. I hate talking about it, but this would be far from an actual account of life in Central America if I didn’t mention it.

I was lucky, the next morning, I felt much better. But it did make me more sensitive to the statistic that approximately 4,000 children had died on Monday (and every day) because of diarrhea.

Getting sick here is part of what reminds me that I will always kind of be an outsider. Between the healthcare I had growing up that has made me healthy to resist disease today, and my knowledge that if anything really bad happened, I have health insurance and access to doctors through NPH, I will never live like a true Nicaraguan.

I also have an arsenal of medicinal technology available to me. I have had vaccines for the hepatitises, typhoid, yellow fever and rabies as well as the regulars for the US. I have malaria pills (while some will debate whether they’re worse for you than actually getting malaria), ibuprofen, a general antibiotic for short term use and other over the counter medications that can be prohibitively expensive for those without enough for food.

I have a dry home, a clean bed and the ability to stay there if I need to rest.

And most importantly, I have information. I self diagnosed myself on the internet with gastroenteritis (not always the best way, but it worked fine in this situation).

One of the boys that grew up in NPH recommended I take a shower to help bring my fever down because when he gets a fever, he takes a shower. But he takes a shower because, well, that’s just what you do. I understood the concept behind the idea, but I also knew that ibuprofen would bring it down for more hours helping me to sleep longer.

Whether it’s a family being taught how to minimize standing water to decrease their chances of malaria or a village learning how to stop the spread of AIDS, education is the key to improving health. And in a nation that spends $33 billion per year on weight loss products alone, obviously we hold health as an important value, maybe we should do something about it in a way that will help all of us.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Master Plan for NPH Nicaragua

This is the master plan for the new home in Nicaragua. Its purpose is to designate areas for different activities. There will be changes undoubtedly, but it is important for us to plan so that there will be a space that makes sense for each activity.

For example, the school is near the entrance because NPH not only provides an education for its own children, but also for children from the community that are too poor to pay for a regular school.

Eventually there will be housing, classrooms and facilities for around 575 kids and more caregivers, staff, visitors and volunteers. There will also be a church, a clinic, administrative offices, sports courts, fields for beans and bananas and shelters for chickens and pigs.

It will be a little town once complete in approximately six years. It will also be a step out of abusive homes for some, a step off the streets for others and a step into the first loving home many of them have ever known.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Revolution

One last thing before we return to our regularly scheduled Nicaragua…

Bolivia has been in turmoil for a really, really long time. Being the poorest country in the western hemisphere after Haiti will do that to you. Only in the last couple of years has it become politically evident as the nation elected the first indigenous president in the Americas.

Originally, I started to write about the economic development of Santa Cruz in relation to the rest of the country, but it turned into a history lecture.

What I really want to impart is the feeling of change in the air. I went to the post office with a couple of the volunteers of NPH Bolivia and there was a large demonstration outside in the central town square. We asked the short lady behind the tall counter what was going on between the sounds of explosions. She said, joking and serious at the same time “it’s the revolution”.

The cathedral is to one side of the Town Center, I decided not to announce my tourist presence by taking photos during the demonstration

She could have just as well captured the moment by saying what so many Bolivians are feeling with their new government. ‘Something is happening, and it’s not that same that has always happened with all those other promises we’ve always been given’. There is also a distinctly Latin American feel to it. ‘Something is happening, but it’s not entirely within our control’.

Whatever happens to Bolivia will be theirs to bear. But it will be a reflection not only them and their culture, but of the world and the pressures of strong external governments and corporations. It is a reflection of all of us.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Padrinos Around the World

Maribel searches for the perfect sandals

One way that NPH raises money to support its kids is through a program called Padrinos. Translated to English, padrino means godparent. Each child has a few godparents, some more than others depending on how recently they arrived to the house.

Each month, the godparent sends $25 to help pay for all the needs of the child, food, clothing, etc. Some of the money is also given to the child on their birthday as a special present. Letters are sent back and forth and (if needed) translated by the offices in the country. It establishes a relationship that the kids treasure, especially if the godparent is able to visit them even once. It’s also one of the most important sources of income NPH uses in raising the kids.

While I was in Bolivia, we went to the market with six of the kids so they could buy what they wanted with the money they had received on their birthdays. First we stopped for breakfast and had saltenas, a traditional sour/sweet empanada (like a small calzone) with chicken. It was good, but one of the strangest breakfasts I’ve had (but pizza, that’s completely normal for breakfast!).
Tia Judith and Tia Scarlet at breakfast

Once we got to the market, we took turns looking for each person. One girl was excited to buy sandals, another wanted a CD. One boy bought a pair of jeans and another got a couple DVDs. They were so thrilled!

Controlled chaos with a giddy shopper in the middle

It was incredible to me that they waited so patiently during each others searches. Granted, there was a lot of stuff for them to look at while they waited, but I remember throwing a fit while waiting for my mom to help just my sister (and I think she remembers too, I promise, it was a long time ago!).

On our way back to the house, everyone wore (or ate) what they had bought. Tia Scarlett reminded them as we drove that everyone needed to write thank you notes to their godparents.

Tia Scarlet helps them sort things out during this very rare experience

The whole morning hardly seems interesting enough to write about, but utter normalcy is special and infrequent for these kids. I know it sounds like an infomercial, but it really is amazing what $25 a month can do.

The new belt wraps around twice! He'll grow into it.