Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fig Baklava Turnovers

Yes, I've been been busy during my brief trip home. Time for work, friends and family are all lined out in my excel spreadsheet schedule for the two and half weeks I'm here in the States (I decided to completely indulge myself in time-compulsiveness while I'm in this culture).

And oven time. Not only do I have it scheduled in, I specifically have it scheduled in with some dear friends.

First up, Fig Baklava in turnover form. Using this recipe to start from (I've gotten used to cooking without measuring cups since we don't have any in Nicaragua, so it's all approximate), we tossed in chopped dried figs and rolled them into triangular phyllo envelopes.

While dripping honey, they are easier to eat than traditional baklava and the honey and figs balance each other out. The figs also lend a moistness to the turnovers that the plain walnut turnovers didn't have (not everyone in my home loves figs).

I'm trying to enjoy all the foods I don't get in semi-tropical Nicaragua in the time I'm here and figs certainly qualify. This recipe was inspired by SHF #35.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Granada Exposed

I'm in St. Paul, Minnesota working with our NPH Office here for the week. Not much to post about right now, but I did happen upon this article in the New York Times which profiles a great town I visited just a couple weeks ago (and I'm planning on going back within a couple weeks of arriving back in Nicaragua).

Nicaragua’s Ciudad of Dreams

Just another perspective of life in Nicaragua!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

And on That Farm They Had Some Cheese…

The caretakers on the farm I visited in Costa Rica make cheese from the milk of their cows (I know, revolutionary concept!).

First they put the morning’s milk into a large Tupperware container, about the size of the truck box that rides in the back of pickups. Then they add a tablet of culture and let it ferment for about a day.

When it has solidified enough, salt is added and the curds are packed into little boxes that have weights put on their lids. Depending on the stage, they may have just a couple rocks, or a board from above with huge weights pushing the whey out of the little weep holes in the boxes.

After another day, the cheese is removed and can either be eaten fresh, or can be smoked for the next week.

The fresh stuff is springy, mild and a little spongy when cut because of all the air holes. Once it’s older it will be a little stronger and more crumbly.

Just a little side note, I'm leaving for a trip to the States tomorrow morning. I don't know how frequently I'll be able to post, but if you'd like to visit while I'm in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Spokane or Seattle, drop me a line and we'll see what we can work out!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hard Times in Costa Rica

Man! I've got a hard life!

If only you had told me how difficult the life of an international volunteer was! I would have... probably left much sooner!

I spent the weekend in Costa Rica visiting the farm and beach house of a generous couple who are supporters of NPH. Aside from being almost 3 hours late meeting them in Liberia on Friday (I was sitting on a bus at the border the entire time waiting to leave), it was wonderfully relaxing!

Hammocks, books, watching the world be.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

How to Handle Company Playing Hooky

The worker's quarters, you know, if they were here

So I know exactly what I would do if I lived in the US. But here? It’s not quite so straightforward.

Digging a 450’ well, it’s tough to do on your own. So you contract a company, and after a few weeks of ignoring you, they work for a couple weeks, then they stop, and there’s not really anything you can do about it.

There are two main reasons this doesn’t happen (with the same regularity) in the States. First because if a company does this, other people won’t want to use them and they’ll eventually go out of business. The other is that a contract is enforceable; theoretically at least they have to pay you for damages.

Here, between a lack of reliable communication and a lack of qualified companies, good business practices don’t always mean success and bad ones don’t always mean failure. And the judicial system moves so slowly and with such irregularity that to go to court is submitting yourself to an agonizing process that will guarantee you even higher costs (although this certainly can be true in the States as well).

This leads to the generally accepted way of getting things done; pleading, wheedling and prostrating yourself are all effective. Although I haven’t gotten to the point where I could do it myself, I’ve seen it done with great results (ok, not the prostrating part). The idea that this is necessary when you are already being paid to do the work doesn’t seem counterintuitive to companies or workers.

So the steps to a successful project, that would be research, plan, decide and plead. Repeat as needed to achieve desired results.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Burger

Ok, it’s been 5 ½ years since I’ve eaten a hamburger made of meat. A little unusual to count, yes, but I was a vegetarian for 5 of those years, so it’s a little simpler when you don’t eat meat at all to know how long it’s been.

I decided when I knew that I was moving to Nicaragua, that I couldn’t continue being 100% vegetarian. Rice and beans are my diet most days, so I still don’t eat much meat, but I broke the embargo with organic chicken curry back in the States right before I left.

Still I wondered if what I remembered a burger tasted like was what they actually taste like. And when I went to the tourist town of Granada which has a number of little restaurants with American food, I had my opportunity. Cafe D'Arte, one block east of the Central Park.

It was good…. and it does taste like I remember!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Road Trippin’

Volcano Mombacho, still active although not very much for the last decade

The smells are the biggest difference. Driving along in an air conditioned truck at 60 miles per hour, you rarely smell what you’re going by.

But on a motorcycle, you can’t help it.

I went to Granada this weekend to be a tourist. It’s a beautiful old Spanish colonial city a little less than 50 miles from where I live on the shores of Lake Nicaragua (both Granada and where I live).

Roberto pulling out of a parking space in Granada

To get there and back, my running partner, Roberto, and I took his motorcycle which topped out with both of us at around 40 mph. We were on the Pan American Highway for much of the trip, and I quickly got used to the gush of wind from being passed by semi’s.

But if the first 30ish miles were slower than if we were in a car, the next 20 went faster. This portion of the Pan American is FULL of huge potholes; in a car, you have to slow down because with four wheels, you simply can’t avoid them. With two, however, often you can. There was the occasional jolt that made me wonder if I had internal organ damage, but they were few.

Yes, my back hurt, yes my butt hurt. I was very happy to arrive each time. But I also felt like I was experiencing this part of Nicaragua as I had never before even though I have passed through it dozens of time.

I saw the expressions on people’s faces as we passed; the cows seemed so much more imposing with their lumbering gait. I could feel the sun that kisses those under dappled shade and beats down on those walking alongside the road.

As a very goal oriented person, I always want to get where I’m going as quickly as possible. But on that motorcycle, on that road, when there was no rain, I really loved the journey.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Symbols of Your Status

A longtime volunteer visited about a month ago and we spent some of her time here walking around the neighborhood, visiting old friends and generally amusing ourselves.

One of the lessons she imparted to me was that when a family becomes somewhat financially stable, one of the first things they will buy is a large mirror with a highly decorative (or gaudy, depending on your perspective) gold frame. It will be in the first room of the house, often opposite the front door.

The mirror is obviously a status symbol to many in this community. In communities around the world they may be a nice house, more cows than your neighbor, clothing by certain designers or from certain stores, the slickest cell phone or ipod, or the latest “environmentally friendly” gadget that screams “I care about the world”.

In Seattle, not having to dress up for work (or wear any type of uniform) was a status symbol for a long time (“I’m so skilled that I don’t have to worry about how I look”) and having the latest and greatest outdoor equipment from REI too.

Status symbols can be incredibly subtle as well. They may be things that we consider absolutely necessary, an education, a safe and clean home, dental health, simply owning a car regardless of what model it is, anything that separates us from those with less.

Status symbols aren’t inherently evil. It is simply that the less utility they have outside the role of status symbol, the more they exist solely to define us in relation to those around us by our accumulation of material things (or the abstract items they represent, money, intelligence, power).

So how do you present yourself to the world, with what material items do you define yourself? Or, what can you not do without? What would you be embarrassed for others to think you didn’t have? It could be a thing, an attitude, an accomplishment, or many others.

I feel like I can’t expect any answers from you without answering the question myself, but in my current community, there are so many things, it’s almost impossible to list them all. The fact that I have regular work, my camera, my ipod, my ability to speak English are all things that separate me from many of the people here.

Only once I have an idea of what is separating me from people in my community can I begin to figure out how to connect with them.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Hurricane Felix in Nicaragua

Hurricane Felix made landfall in Nicaragua yesterday on the Atlantic coast. It is an area with low elevation for many miles and the main mode of transportation for many of the local Indians (there is a much larger Indian population there than in the rest of Nicaragua) is by canoe in the extensive network of rivers.

We are very grateful that the hurricane did not come anywhere close to us here in southwest Nicaragua (it is currently sunny with a few clouds outside), although there has been some local flooding. Still, we keep those who have been affected in our prayers and Raul is hoping to drive to RAAN (the state most affected) this weekend to take needed supplies.

I’m also waiting for word from some friends in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, which is expecting much more rain than usual as Felix has turned into a tropical storm.

I am including a couple of the most recently published articles, one from the New York Times in English, and the other from La Prensa of Nicaragua, one of the main newspapers in Spanish. Below the link is my translation of the article from La Prensa into English.

As the New York Times article discusses, this storm was greatly feared in large part because of the large loss of life and continued ramifications from Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

New York Times
La Prensa of Nicaragua

At least nine are dead in the Autonomous Region of the North Atlantic (RAAN) since Hurricane FĂ©lix made landfall, confirmed in the press by lieutenant colonel, Rogelio Flores, second chief of the Civil Defense. Flores explained that in Port Heads four deaths have been registered, one in Waspam and four in Sasha.

He added that more than 7,895 houses they were damaged in Port Heads, Waspam, Rose, Siuna, Peacefulness and Jinotega. Also, there are some 36,000 people affected in these areas, besides the 15,000 that are living in the hurricane shelters.

According to the military chief, they are already trying to repair damaged structures, the water main for drinking water, bridges and highways. Those affected by the hurricane urgently need blankets, water, medications and food.

All the Fruit that's Fit to Eat

Bananas and pineapple, papaya and mangoes, watermelon, but that’s not all.

Mamon is one of my new favorites.

It looks kind of like a huge green grape, but the outside is actually a rind. You bite into it which splits the rind and pop the middle into your mouth. The work doesn’t actually stop there, though.

There is a large pit, and you work your way around it trying to get all the flesh and juice from what feels like a large marble in your mouth. Generally I just end up squeezing all the juice out and end up with what looks like a hairy peach colored almond.

It’s sweet and tart (when it’s a good one) and perfect for hot days (that would be just about all of them).

Elvis at the the University Students house in Managua where we all shared bunches and bunches of mamon.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Eva and Alonso had a baby last Thursday!

Her name is Milagro (Miracle) Alejandra Morales Something. Ok, officially it doesn’t end with Something, but I’m not sure what Eva’s last name is and traditionally you have two names, then the father’s last name (which is also then the last name commonly used) and then the mother’s last name.

She has to sleep inside mosquito netting for protection

I visited them with a couple of friends on Sunday evening, a day after they’d gotten back from the hospital. Eva sat in a rocking chair as Alonso used my camera to take pictures of a sleeping Milagro until the flash woke her up!

I brought my camera because I wanted pictures of the baby, but once there I realized it would allow me to capture her at three days old for her parents too! I know I take for granted having copious baby pictures of myself (although less than my sister since she was first!). People live so simply because they have to, memories captured by camera are rare and special.

Eva explained to me as I held the baby to wipe sweat from my face on her to help her cool down. I didn’t catch all of the explanation why, but I know it’s because she can’t sweat sufficiently to cool herself down on her own while crying.

Eva is our cook (when not taking maternity leave) and Alonso works in accounting for NPH. When I reached their house, I was surprised by how basic it was, but quickly chided myself for expecting anything different. One living room, two bedrooms and zinc roofing. With no such thing as mortgage lenders and low wages for just about everyone, Eva and Alonso have worked really hard and accomplished a lot, which today, includes a new little miracle.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Ideal Body Type

Gordita, ‘My little fat girl.’

And I mean that in the most endearing way possible, really.

We were sitting around on the floor cushions in my room (I have air conditioning and therefore a coveted space) playing cards and a couple of the guys asked me to show them some of my pictures from my former life as a normal American.

When I got to pictures of my sister’s wedding from almost exactly a year ago, they gasped. But it wasn’t because of the photos (it was a beautiful wedding!), it was because I weighed more and to them, was so much prettier that way.

And, to be honest, I was shocked at their insistence.

I don’t think of myself as being obsessed about my weight, you all know I LOVE food. And while I enjoy doing active things, I’ve never been an athlete or loved exercise for the sake of exercise. At the same time, I’ve definitely been a child of my culture and rarely felt thin enough either.

“Prettier then, or prettier now?” I asked a couple other friends later on. But I wasn’t asking them for their opinion so much as I was rechecking my internal response when I heard their answer. I mostly felt… confused.

I’ve been exposed to one ideal for so long that I will never reach, that when I’m told that not just my mother, not just my boyfriend, but that pretty much the whole society doesn’t think I should get any thinner, or worry about the definition of my muscles, I’m not quite sure what to do with myself.

This is not to say that women here are always just loved for who they are. They have plenty of complexes about how they look, and they are judged at least the same, if not more according to appearance. But being really thin is not part of the equation.

And I’ve noticed it’s starting to rub off on me.

So the debate inside is not a fat/thin debate, it’s about how much I and so many other women are influenced by the images around us. And what happens to generations of girls when those images, more curvaceous or less, are different than what they have or can attain healthily.

How do we help girls (and an increasing number of boys) accept a healthy version of themselves if they never see it? How do they accept their bodies in a healthy way when they see Mom and Dad constantly unhappy with their bodies?

One of the girls living here asked me a few months ago if I thought she was fat. She was 14 and proportionately plumper than I am. There was no way in the world I was going to tell her yes, in part because there’s no way that would ever help anyone, but more importantly because at her age, she’s just fine, she’s still growing into her body.

Regardless of my answer, I’m aware I affect her more when I don’t accept my body for what it is.

I’m not sure what the answer is. In part because there are as many attitudes and degrees of impressibility as there are body types. One reaction has been the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty .

What do you think of your body? How much has that perception been shaped by the media (for good health or bad)? And since, especially in the US, this tends to be a very sensitive topic, remember that you can leave a comment anonymously if you’d like to.