Thursday, August 30, 2007


I was in the front seat of a taxi coming home from a night of dancing last weekend with 5 friends (it was a tight fit). As we pulled off the main street within a few blocks of the office, we had to stop and then drive slowly around the man lying down handcuffed in the middle of the dirt road.

The driver of the police truck coming the opposite way started slowly, and then slammed on his breaks as a different man was pushed by a policeman into the road as well. A small crowd on the sidewalk watched as the man on the ground tried to get up, but was promptly beaten back down with the nightstick of one of the police officers.

Crime is more rampant here than in the neighborhoods I lived in during my middle class American upbringing. There is a dangerous mixture of a huge income gap between the rich and the poor, along with large numbers of people who literally have nothing to do and nothing to lose.

Money, jewelry, a cell phone, plates, spoons, knives and all our forks are among the things that have been recently stolen from the office.

One of the difficulties of dealing with crime of any type is the complete lack of trust between the community and police. Whether it’s an incredibly slow response time (if they come at all) or corruption, people here feel they have to protect themselves, there’s no authority that will.

I have yet to personally experience anything worse than what feels like a few minutes of stalking by a guy on a bike, which is actually somewhat culturally acceptable (I also had three guy friends with me, so while I was creeped out, I still felt safe). But I’ve been told many times that it’s not safe to be out after dark (that’s about 6:30 PM).

I, and family members before me (it’s genetic, great grandma and grandpa moved to Papua New Guinea in their 70’s to name one example), have never let fear of what could possibly hypothetically happen control our lives. But it’s a balancing act with trying not to be stupid and getting yourself killed (or even seriously maimed).

How do you let fear, of whatever scares you most, form your decisions about how you live your life?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


My life currently fronts on a quiet dirt road, away from the main street running through town. There’s occasional cars, more frequent motorcycles and almost always someone bicycling.

We have a huge gate for security and always a guard to open it (although sometimes they’re far away, so you have to knock on the big metal panels really loud). If you ask any taxi in the larger nearby town of Rivas to take you to the NPH offices in San Jorge, almost all of them know exactly where it is (and it will cost about $1 to take you there).

The gate has become a place for frequent gatherings for the guys here when they’re not working and the neighborhood kids. In the evening whenever I walk anywhere there are lots of people lounging in their doorways or out in front of their house trying to take advantage of whatever breeze there may be.

I instinctually say ‘hola’ when I pass people I know, but slowly I’m getting used to what they all say to each other even though it feels counterintuitive - ‘adios’.

I always question whether or not to greet people I don't know. It feels rude to me not to, especially in a smaller town like San Jorge. But I know (especially if I'm alone) it will bring me more attention than I want from guys and sometimes the women look really uncomfortable saying anything back. Don't worry, I'll continue over-analyzing this for a long time.


Monday, August 27, 2007

For Those Rainy Days

We are well into the rainy season, it’s still plenty hot most of the time, especially when the clouds gather in the afternoon at the hottest part of the day and hold all the air still and tepid all through the night.

We went for a swim in the lake yesterday even though we could see rain in the distance and hear the thunder, it's still warm enough to be totally comfortable.

Other days a cool wind breezes in, hurries the clouds together and the storm bursts rapidly with an explosion of fat drops of rain that subsides to a lighter pitter patter after several minutes. While it’s not what I would call cold, it’s is a big enough drop in temperature to chill you.

And the perfect thing for those “chill” times? Arroz con leche.

Warmly soothing creamy milk with soft smooth rice, splashes of vanilla, sprinkles of cinnamon, the permeating fragrance of cloves… inherently local with its use of few ingredients, but many adjectives.

Eva helped me make arroz con leche one rainy afternoon. I’ve learned from some cookie/purple rock disasters that since recipes I get from those around me generally come without measurements, it’s best to have someone who actually knows what they’re doing present the first time.

We started out with a 1 ½ lbs of rice, Eva made sure to point this out so I would remember when I made it alone, but I’m not quite sure why since rest of the process had no measurements.

Fortunately, it is utterly simple. Boil rice, add milk, the rest of the ingredients, boil some more and serve hot.

This is part of this month's SHF #34, Going Local hosted by the passionate cook, which is not hard to do here! You can find my post, along with everyone else's (from around the world!) here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

What Can I Offer You?

What can I offer you for your weekend? How about cool breezes, treetop views, Lake Nicaragua beyond Lake Catarina and the cloud hidden pinnacle of Volcano Mombacho.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Purpose of Eating

Corn Bread steamed on the stove from a South African recipe

The emphasis here is on food that will fill you up and the company you share while eating. Both of these are fine goals, but it leaves me a little wanting.

I do have a new affinity for Gallo Pinto (rice and beans), a traditional Nicaraguan dish that we have everyday, usually for dinner around 7 at night. It's my opinion that everyone eats that late because being historically impoverished population, when they go to bed only a few hours later, they are assured they won't go to bed hungry.

Still, as good as it is, I’m glad only once or twice a week do we have it for all three meals of the day.

During these times I go to the links under the new 'Other Food Blogs' section and dream of fresh cherry cobblers, juicy peach crisps and chocolate cupcakes stuffed with ginger caramel, frosted with mango ganache, and topped with a mango-Ginger won.

You know, simple comfort food.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Public Service Announcement – Ahora does not mean Now

Birgit, a German volunteer, waiting for 'ahora' at the NPH university guy's house in Managua

By the way, I would like everyone to know that in all those Spanish classes where they teach you the word ‘ahora’ means ‘now’ – it’s not true. At least not if the word ‘now’ is not a synonym for ‘sometime today, possibly one, three or 12 hours from this moment’. I have gathered enough personal anecdotal evidence that it now counts as empirical. Please change all Spanish/English dictionaries you have and any Spanish textbooks left over from high school.

Thank you for your attention.

Monday, August 20, 2007

San Juan del Sur

Went to the beach at San Juan del Sur yesterday... got burned of course. Fortunately it was still a lot of fun! The Pacific here was cool, but not numbing cold like it is closer to home!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Turtle Eggs (Not in an Environmentally Friendly Way)

I went to eat lunch in the kitchen the other day and was mystified by the little saggy ping pong balls people were carrying around on their plates. G√ľnther said something about turtle eggs and I just laughed… and then stopped.

We were eating turtle eggs!

They had been boiled, the only way anyone there knew how to fix them (I asked around), but the whites were still liquid. So you make a little tear in the soft papery shell, suck the liquid out, and then peel it back farther to take out the soft, but congealed yoke (just like a soft boiled egg).

I didn’t make it that far. I usually can try just about anything, but a tiny bit of the liquid was enough for me. It tasted sort of like the spun egg soup I’ve had in Asian restaurants.

The eggs were from the coast of Nicaragua and had been confiscated by the police, since they are completely illegal to eat. They apparently then made their way to our kitchen because lot’s of things are donated to NPH when they can’t be sold or made use of in any other way.

I don’t think this is what the eat local food movement meant.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Steamed Brownies

I was desperate. But for once it wasn’t just because I needed chocolate. It’s because Kathy needed it too, or at least that’s what I told myself.

Her fifteenth birthday was in a few days and while she was out of the house for the day I wanted to make her ‘birthday cake’. Without exception all the cakes I have eaten here which are bought for all special occasions (baby showers, father’s day, mother’s day, birthdays, baptisms) have been of the Safeway variety - dry and spongy covered with chemically tasting sugar frosting.

Kathy was in luck, however, because I had in my possession a box mix of Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix. Box mixes are not my favorite, there is a step back in the intimacy of making, sharing and eating something with someone you care about when shortcuts, especially ones laden with preservatives are taken. But given the local shortage of chocolate and so many other necessary ingredients, I was perfectly willing to overlook it for the sake of actually eating something that tasted like chocolate.

So I mixed up the batter with the powder and chocolate chips in the box, eggs from Casa Asis chickens, oil from the 5 gallon bucket and purified water (when you can’t drink from the faucet I don’t like cooking with it) and took it over to the house of the national director since they have the oven.

But the oven wouldn’t work! I don’t know if it is the near constant blackouts we have, the high humidity or operator error (although I got it to work before!), but nothing I did could get the oven to heat up.

Knowing I had to do something, I decided to take a chance, a BIG chance. I once traveled to South Africa and helped build a house for a family in the township of Khyalitsha. They also only had a stovetop for cooking but would make the most incredibly soft bread to have with a sweet chai like tea mid-morning by steaming it.

So I stole the concept. Eggs (the only ingredient I was worried about safety wise) are cooked at 160° Fahrenheit; water boils at 212°, so it should work, right? Fortunately we have some really big pots, so I put one on the stove, placed the tortilla pan in the bottom so that the heat transfer wouldn’t be direct from the fire, placed the brownie pan on that (with a lid to keep out condensing moisture), filled it with as much water as possible, put a lid over everything and lit the fire.

Then I waited for three hours (and kept adding water).

When all was said and done, I was happy and Kathy was happy. There was definitely more moisture in those brownies than a standard version (even though I had removed all lids for the final 20 minutes of steaming). But we were happy in a fudgy, flourless cake, decadent brownie, haven’t eaten anything this good in months sort of way.

By the way, Eva, our incredible cook has never uttered a word of English to me. But the other day we were chatting and out came her first… brownies.

One last acknowledgement is Myriam at Once Upon a Tart who regularly provides inspiration for all things brownie!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

How Could I Have not Seen Him?

He curled up like this when I poked him with my finger. Can I just say again how glad I am I didn’t step on him in the dark!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Is Truth a Luxury too Expensive? Or Are Lies a Luxury too Expensive?

Here, when it rains, it pours.

A teenage girl, tall for her age with an athletic build walked up in a soccer uniform and pink Converse. She approached the teenage boy, tall for his age and skinny sitting in the bleachers. “Why weren’t you at the park last night?” she asked. “Because I was being punished and couldn’t leave” he replied. She simply said “Oh, ok” and walked back down to the field.

Then the nosy American sitting next to him butted in to what could have been a normal teenaged exchange. “What were you being punished for?” she asked.
“I wasn’t supposed to leave the house and I did”
“Who punished you?”
“Ronald” but then he continued seeing the look of incredulity on her face “no, just kidding, I didn’t get punished last night.”


“So you just lied to her?”
“I don’t like lies” She continued (yes, this was the most profound statement she could muster in Spanish).

“No, it’s a joke, a joke, I did get punished last night, didn’t I Juan (another teenager sitting with them)?”
“Yeah” Juan replied in his attempt to not sell out his friend, but not get too involved either.
“How…?” the American started again.

“Ok, it’s a joke, I didn’t get punished last night” he reversed for the second time quickly.
“So you lied to her, you lied to me and Juan lied to me” as she attempted to sum things up.
“Yes, I just didn’t want to go to the park” he replied quietly.

She was incensed. Not only because the boys around her who she had come to depend on as friends had lied so easily, without thought and about something with trivial consequences, but also because it was the beginning stages of a pattern she had seen between men and women of all ages in the country.

Not sure who or what she could really trust, she sat in silence for the first half of the game and walked home alone at halftime.

When the boys returned from the game, one of them sought her out to ask if she was mad. She replied that she was, but she knew despite his show of intuition, he wouldn’t truly understand why.

That night she found herself sitting on the edge of a low garden wall with yet another teenage boy Estevan, who by his good fortune had just gotten back from Managua and so was not a suspect in the stealing of jewelry and money from one of the staff houses. All the boys she had gone to the soccer game with were now immediately suspects and had been called to sit outside while their rooms were searched.

They were used to being the first ones suspected. The staff person was used to suspecting them. Their things were pulled out of their dressers, their bedding taken off their mattresses.

They all waited, they all listened. They all knew what happened last time. They all knew that while tempting, past performance was not a guarantee of future results.

Estevan whispered to the American that stealing was wrong as though some might disagree. The American whispered back that lying was bad, knowing that many did disagree.

“There are bad lies and there are good lies” he replied.
“Explain to me what good lies are.”
“I don’t know how to explain, but I know when I see them.”

And she knew it was true. For him, lying was a method of survival. It became something acceptable. Who wouldn’t lie if it was in the interest of your future?

But eventually it had also becomes doublethink, because if lying was sometimes okay, then lying when it doesn’t hurt anyone must be okay too, although lying in general is still wrong. What space is left for ‘wrong’ lying is not considered.

So it’s understandable, sure, why lies are told in desperate situations. And there are plenty of people who feel that there are other lies that are not wrong because they are of such little importance.

Do you agree?

And if everyone in your country believed this too, but clearly gets to decide for themselves where the line of ‘desperate’ and ‘little importance’ are, how does your country run?

Monday, August 13, 2007

A New Definition of NPH on Visitors Day

Three times a year, the families of the kids have a day set aside for them to visit. Families? Of orphans?

Well, this deserves a little explanation. Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos is an orphanage, it takes in kids who have no family. But under certain conditions also takes in kids that have families that can't take care of them.

Sometimes they are simply so destitute they can’t provide a home. Other times the kids have lived with an aunt or uncle, but eventually there are simply too many children to care for. And yet other times, NPH acts as the country’s foster care system and takes in children that have been abused.

So what is NPH? Well, the easiest way to see that is to think about what their lives would have in common without NPH. They would be on their own in the most basic sense, many of them would be living on the streets, many would be scrounging for food, many of them would be sick on a constant basis and education would be a distant dream for all of them.

Instead, they are generally healthy, generally loved, generally educated and generally looking forward to the next Visitors Day.

Friday, August 10, 2007

150 feet and Counting

As of yesterday the drill was down to 150' for the well! We should hit water around the 250' mark (I really hope that doesn't jinx us!). Then we have another 200' to go down to a final depth of 450'.

We want a deep water column to draw from for two reasons, first, we will be taking a lot of water to support around 800 people and eventually agriculture. So we're expecting the water level to be drawn down at least 50'. The other is this area has been experiencing a drought for the last year and water levels are at record lows, we want to be ready for future droughts too.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

For More Information, Please Contact...

Star fruit we picked from a tree on the new property this morning

Recently I was chatting with a friend of mine who is going to graduate school in Sweden. We haven’t talked in a long time and so we covered a lot of ground very quickly about what has gone on in our lives since we met in Africa four years ago.

On the surface, there are not many places more different than Nicaragua and Sweden, but I was reminded during our conversation how many similarities there are for everyone going through the ex-patriatian process.

The intensity of culture shock varies from person to person, but I figured if you came to visit me here to listen to my experience, you may want to hear about others as well.

So I’ve compiled a list of blogs that somehow relate to this experience so you can explore the edges of our world in the most comfortable way, from your chair!

I owe a debt of gratitude to Our Man in Granada and Nicaragua y su blog since they did much of the compiling for the ‘Other Nica Blogs’ section already. There is a small section of ‘Other NPH Volunteers’ that I hope will be growing and I’ve also added more links to the Friends and Family section which is both blogs and websites.

Happy Linking!

Flower on the new property this morning

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

No Home Depot

I am in the incredibly spoiled position of having air conditioning in my room. I sleep with it going every night. The quality of installation, however, wasn’t the greatest, so there was a gap between the window and the air conditioner of up to ¼” in some places.

One of these gaps was with the windowsill below it, so when the air pressure changed there was always grit and dust blowing into my room from the sill. Finally one night I watched from across the room as nearly a dozen mayflies fell from the sill onto my pillow, I knew I couldn’t wait any longer.

But I had no expanding foam to spray in the crack, no little foam rod to push in there and fill up the space. So I did the next best thing and twisted plastic shopping bags into little ropes and stuffed them in there instead.

I know this information is not revolutionary, but for someone who grew up with Home Depots and Targets for every possible need, it is taking some getting used to. And I have been surprisingly please with the results. Unfortunately it is starting to make me question what other things I think I need that I really don't and who knows where that will lead!

After 17 Years, He Can Finally Relax Video

My video editor is on the fritz, so no video of Yader yet, but I wanted to save this space for it when (if) I can get it working again.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

After 17 Years, He Can Finally Relax

He likes to act tough, but more often, he finally is just his caring self

For someone living at an orphanage, Yader has had a lot of families. First he lived with his mom and nine brothers and sisters in the poor part of Managua (that narrows it down to almost all of Managua). At 12, he and a brother joined a family of other teenage guys living on the street (yeah, that would be a gang).

When he was almost killed by a blow to the back of the head with a baseball bat by another gang, he was taken to the hospital by two friends and from there became part of a family at an orphanage in Managua. And last but not least, at 15 that orphanage asked if NPH could take him in and now he’s a part of our family.

I first met Yader early one morning when he mistook my room for the one Sister Phyllis was staying in and knocked looking for her. He looked a little stunned to see me open the door instead of her. They had just gotten back from Italy where he had had a final surgery to repair the damage that had been done to his skull almost four years earlier.

Accustomed to independence and the toughness required to live on the streets of Central America, he had trouble adjusting to life at NPH with different rules and expectations, where if you didn’t get along with someone, you couldn’t just intimidate them or leave.

By the time I got to know him, however, he had received enough love that he could give it back readily. His face shows his thoughts and emotions clearly (one look I have become very familiar with is the confused ‘what in the world is the gringa with bad Spanish trying to say now?’ face).

He has a lot of catching up to do educationally since he is now 17, but has only been going to school for three years. Fortunately, he’s finally with the secure family that is committed to preparing him the best they can.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Managua as a Tourist

Clockwise from top left: Trash littered shore of Lake Managua, Tree trunk, food stand at a fair, the 50' statue of Sandino watching over Managua, the bus that takes you to Managua and home again, the backside of Concha Acustica.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

I am the 1,402,256,785 Richest Person in the World!

This site is a fun toy.

Talk about putting things in perspective. Granted, it is a rough approximation by not taking every possible factor into consideration. But most people I know would be shocked to realize their place in the world. It’s one of those things you can hear over and over on the news, but it’s not until it’s made a little more personal that you realize when they’re talking about the richest 10% in the world - yep! They’re talking about you!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

So is this the Beginning?

You are witnessing the final placement of the drill before they begin work on our new well! And yep, I told them to put it there, so we’re all hoping there is actually water. Granted it wasn’t exactly a random guess, we have reason to believe there will be plenty of water to support our little orphanage of nearly 800 people including staff. But it’s still a little scary.

As the truck backed the drill into place it creaked and groaned as old metal does. From the tent the workers sleep in at night drifted the sounds of ‘I Will Survive’ in Spanish. After everything we’ve been through in the last three weeks trying to get MacGregor to start work since we’d signed the contract and given our deposit, it’s nice to finally have them there.

We’ll see when they start drilling.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A Different Delivery System

Oxen delivered a couple loads of bricks today for the wall around the property.

When beasts of burden become involved in your construction project, there's really not that much more to say. You know you're not in the US. But I'll go ahead and say a little more anyway!

I was a little surprised when I walked out of my room this morning to see their wet noses so up close and personal. These are some of the fattest best looking oxen I've seen in the whole country. Coming from the more PC US, however, it's still always strange for me to see the guy who drives them whacking them really hard with a long stick to get them to maneuver around. At least he wasn't drawing blood like I've seen with others.