Friday, May 30, 2008

Tropical Storm Alma

A plethora a mangoes brought down by storm winds

Two nights ago I woke up to wind whistling forcefully through the windows and doors which had all been shut tightly against the rain. 'It looks like a hurricane out there!' I thought to myself as I rolled over and went back to sleep. But it wasn't, it was just a massive tropical storm that hit us on our side of the coast, the first to do so since I've been here.

Puddles in the patio reflect the now calm palms

Yes, we got the first of the season! Tropical Storm Alma!

These mushrooms sprung up in the yard literally overnight, they're each at least 5 inches across

In the morning the house was flooded (um, by the way, I've moved to a house and been hired as an employee of NPH International) and time was spent ringing out the towels that had been placed at the bottoms of the doors and windows the night before in order to sop up the massive amounts of water that had still been driven in by the wind.

The peaceful sunrise after the storm has gone

It continued to rain hard most of the day, but by afternoon, the storm moved on to wreak havoc on the rest of Nicaragua and parts of Honduras.

The absolutely still windmill the morning after

Watching the news that night I could see the destruction of the storm easily. Homes here aren't built out of floodplains, they're built wherever people can find a place cheap enough. Homes aren't built to withstand winds of 65 mph, they're built to shelter just as much as they can afford from the drizzle with cardboard and zinc.

People waiting at the ferry dock to return to the island the morning after the storm, the day before, in the middle of the storm, the boats were still running, but sometime during the day, we all figured out what it was and the ferries were shut down.

Once again, Nicaraguans suffer, not because they have so much worse luck (although in a country of volcanoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes for a sum total of only 6 million people, sometimes you wonder), but the fact that they don't have insurance to rebuild, any type of unemployment as a stopgap, no building standards to start with and no security blanket for what if.

Flowers above the passageway from the house to the beach

They'll sop up, they'll figure a way through, they'll go through it all again. Just when you wonder why people struggle so much, why there is so much poverty here, remember we're not all in the same boat.

Sorry, couldn't leave without a shot of Amelia playing in the lake after the storm!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I'm Ahead of You for Once (on Something that Doesn't Really Matter!)

So I saw 'Indiana Jones y el Reino de la Calavera de Cristal' last Friday, and actually, I watched it from the comfort of my own couch!

Here in San Jorge, we don't have any movie theaters, but that doesn't stop us from seeing the latest movies! And actually, even the movie theaters in Managua, which are an overnight trip to visit (by the time the movie ends, there's no transportation back to San Jorge), don't have the latest movies.

So who does have the latest movies? Of course, it's your local corner shop with pirated movies and music! The best movies for me are the most recent releases so they haven't been dubbed into Spanish yet, it's still English with Spanish subtitles.

While I grew up in a family that debated the ethics of photocopying sheet music so that my mom could have a copy on the piano at home to practice and a copy at church to play during the service, I was still certain that this instance of pirating was necessary, um, at least until I saw it.

Let me just say I enjoyed it, and I'm glad I paid $1.03 for it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Here Comes the Neighborhood!

The first home, nearly complete. It is missing only it's doors and after that, toilets and faucets (things that can be stolen if installed before the doors). Porch and living room on the left, kitchen in the middle and bathrooms on the right.

It's a beautiful sight! The first four homes are nearing completion! It's only the fine details left, which are slowly, but surely being taken care of. And thanks to some wonderful recent contributions, we're starting to negotiate for the next group.

A view of the first home from the entrance road (with a fair amount of zoom).

There are some changes we are making to the houses in an effort to maintain or decrease costs as prices continue to rise around the world with the cost of oil. Decreasing the amount of rebar used, simplifying the roof structure and decreasing the size of some of the rooms are all good candidates in the conversation right now. One of our highest priorities, however, is still to maintain a good quality home.

An area that recieves a lot of rain runoff gets a layer of gravel.

In the meantime, we are also working on the elevated water tank, potable water distribution system, roads (hopefully before the rain gets really bad!!!), septic system and bringing electricity from the highway into the housing area.

An unzoomed look at the first two of the homes. The other two that have been built are a bit downhill behind these.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rising Gas Prices

Around the world, gas prices are rising. BIG SURPRISE!!! I know. Here's another one. The poor are more affected than anyone by this surge in costs.

Here in Nicaragua we're a week and a half into a transport work stoppage by taxis and buses. Yes, in a country where the majority of the people are too poor to have a car, their main mode of transport, getting their products to market and generally accomplishing anything has been taken away.

Some of the thousands of buses in Nicaragua parked alongside the road in Granada in the middle of the day.

Basically it breaks down like this. Gas prices have increased incredibly in a very short amount of time. While this is happening in the US, they raise their prices. But the users of the transport system here can't pay anymore (the whole living below the edge of poverty make that tough).

Transport wants subsidies, but the everyone knows that there isn't really anywhere to take the money for the subsidy from. President Ortega decided last week was a good week to go to France, and while he is returning, there is still no solution in sight.

A Nicaraguan 'taxi' that is allowed by the strike. A billboard in the distance shows President Ortega, fist in the air and says 'Power to the Citizen'.

The border with Costa Rica has been effectively shut down in an effort by those involved in the strike to make the government take their efforts seriously. This affects the economy in so many ways, the transport of goods has stopped, but so has the movement of Nicaraguans to their jobs in Costa Rica, a huge source of income here.

The self appointed transport police checking to make sure no one is transporting for profit. The police are present to maintain order and/or stand around and chat with everyone.

While there has been some deaths due to violence and car burnings in the northern part of the country, things here have been peaceful, though tense. I continue to be incredibly fortunate in my work with NPH that they have cars and trucks we can use to get to and from the work site.

We are also at a low point in terms of workers on the jobsite, and the contractor we have is so excellent that he has not once used the transport strike as an excuse not to accomplish his contractual duties (although we have some people on smaller projects who are not doing the same).

My explanation of the situation may not make much sense. But that is representative of the situation we are in. When prices for a necessity go up in this world, who pays? The nonsensical, but true answer is the poor.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

An American (Dog) in Rivas

She didn't seem to sure about it at first, the whole leaving mom thing, coming to a place with strange (not dirt or concrete) floors, the undignified bathing, getting shots and taking medicine. The eating part was good from the start, except for the hard food, but she got really good at picking around that for the real meat, rice and beans.

Clockwise from upper left: that's milk, not foam from rabies on her chin; most of my photos end up like this, a really close close-up of an excited and curious Amelia; Amelia with worry wrinkles on her forehead; Amelia sleeping peacefully with her head under the bed.

But, once the fleas and worms were taken care of, the other dogs in the neighborhood stopped picking on her and she got used to sleeping under my desk at work, things got pretty good. She got a new name, Amelia, gained a few pounds, grew a few inches and learned how to sit on command, not too bad for having arrived just two weeks ago!

A trip to the beach!

Even though I try not to, I definitely treat her like an American dog, like a pet. I play with her and hold her in my lap (she's small enough for a little while longer). Originally I was thinking I would train her to sound a little bell to indicate she needed to go to the bathroom outside, but I can just imagine her fretting the day I leave and she's left without a bell and she won't know how to go to the bathroom! Ok, that's a little extreme, but while I'd like to teach her not to bite or bark, I'm not even sure I'll do that because I'm worried that will make her unprepared for normal Nicaraguan life when I leave.

In the meantime, she's happy, healthy and has no idea how good she's got it!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Thanks for Everything Everyone!

So we've made it back safely, amazingly without problems from immigration either direction! I just wanted to send one last thank you to everyone who made our trip not only possible, but absolutely wonderful!

We had an incredible experience that all the kids and I will always remember. One last moment exemplifying our time in the States, here are the kids singing on the bus one night after a performance.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

And We Received

The view from Nadia's apartment!

We were all welcomed with open arms and donated winter coats by families we stayed with.

Ana and I had the fortune of staying with Nadia (and frequently being accompanied by her fiance Greg) at her apartment in Minneapolis. Dentists by profession (we were sweetly greeted with toothbrushes and floss!), Nadia is originally from Honduras and Greg from the Minnesota area.

They were so fun to visit, especially with the delicious breakfasts every morning, I admit it, they spoiled me well! As we all gathered on the bus in the mornings, a competitive game of "My family...." would always begin with lists of who we stayed with, their accomplishments, the comforts of their homes and their generous natures.

Marlon looks out the bus window at downtown Chicago; the kids stand in front of The Gap; a cake frosted with the national flag of Nicaragua; Ana, Greg, Nadia, Jayden and I at Father Ron's dinner; Ana eating with chopsticks!

The cities of Minneapolis and Chicago were awe striking to the kids who had never seen skyscrapers, let alone this quantity of highrises together! There were many firsts on the trip as well, Ana ate with chopsticks for the first time, many of the kids went to amusement parks for the first time and I got to see my country through new eyes for the first time.

We were also welcomed by the churches and schools we visited. Sometimes they would have a song or a little gift, or we would share a game of soccer or a visit to the animals in the science lab.

The Baha'i House of Worship in Chicago (sightseeing trip, we didn't perform there)

"The Bean" in downtown Chicago

The kids walking through Millennium Park in Chicago

As much as we came to give and as much as the kids worked for the benefit of all the homes, it was a wonderful trip we all gained much friendship and better understanding from.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

We Gave Our All

We came, we danced, we played the marimbas. Of course, I mean 'we' as in the kids did all that and gave it their all. They danced hour long presentations and sang at masses, often two times a day.

It was how they paid their way, and they did a great job. The audiences varied, but they always loved the kids!

The skill of Edison and Calef who play the marimbas always amazes me!

The group would dance a practice set, then a full performance almost twenty times in our two weeks there!

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Waiting

Hurry up and wait. Often the M.O. in Nicaragua, but it was a huge part of our trip to the States too. Because we had such a large group (19 kids, 3 adults) and traffic could be such an unknown factor (especially in Chicago), lots of space was given for the potential to be late and preparation time so there was always a fair amount of waiting.

Sometimes entertainment was provided, sometimes it was self-constructed. One church had a playstation video game player which transfixed the kids. One of the men from the church seemed surprised when I explained that the kids didn't have video games at the orphanage, but he seemed even more stupefied when I told him that it was a good thing.

Jayden, one of the chaperons who lives on the island with the kids was always good for distraction and if nothing else, the kids would always find something to hold their attention (sometimes good, sometimes bad!).

El Espejo (the mirror) kind of like Simon Says, but without the thinking.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Bringing Home the Dough (For a VERY Good Cause)


That is the reason we went to the US. Every year a group of dancers and musicians travels from an orphanage in order to raise money for all the homes.

This year went phenomenally! At the church pictured above, the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, we received the collection for the day from all five services. And the second service raised a record breaking high for the church at $21,000!

Another night there was a dinner gala with live and silent auction at which approximately $480,000 was raised! And close to my heart, the 'donation auction' was specifically designated for construction at the new site and raised $240,000! Enough for two dormitories, an elevated water tank and part of the potable water distribution piping!

Except for designated funds, all the money goes to a general fund to help support the 3,500 children in our care. As you can imagine, the money goes pretty quickly when you've got a family of that size.

It certainly wouldn't begin to be possible, however, without the generous people we met, the hard working, incredibly professional staff in the fundraising offices and of course, the inspiriational children we all work for.