Friday, February 27, 2009
Today is my last day of work with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos International. And so my natural instinct is to reflect on these past two years.
When I left the US, I had no real idea what I was in for, and I knew that. Now, I'm pretty sure I know what happened (although I'll know even better with some distance), and I wouldn't change that choice for anything.
I have learned, experienced and seen things I never imagined and it will shape the rest of my life.
Here's some highlights - (there are a few errors and typos which I'm not changing in the interest of an honest representation of what was said originally)
The Opening Act
Arrival in Nicaragua
Learning about the Culture
The Ball Starts Rolling (Because We're Pushing)
The Plot Thickens
Interruption of Service
Christmas at Casa Asis!
And More Construction!
A New Place
A New Future
Thursday, February 26, 2009
I've mentioned Roberto in many postings, but never really spoke much about him.
I'm not sure if you can read it in what my posts say, or maybe what they don't say, but I'm an extremely private person and generally share emotional things only face to face, and one person at a time.
But, if I stay true to my word, that this blog exists to share my adventure here in Nicaragua with you, it wouldn't be complete without one more heartfelt thank you to Roberto.
Horseback riding on Don and Babe's farm in Costa Rica
At times when the frustration mounted and I thought I was developing an ulcer from the wringing worry, he would rescue me with understanding and wit.
Petroglyphs also at Don and Babe's farm.
He still will buy a hammock now and then knowing he can use it for something someday and support someone's work in the meantime.
Roberto graduating with his professional license in Banking and Finance (a year long program after a bachelor's degree).
So he pushed himself through high school and went to university on a running scholarship. He studied banking and finance, not because he loved it, but because it was one of the few options he had that he thought he could find work in.
Roberto going for a little jog to keep him warm at a 5 AM sunrise photo shoot.
He did everything in or out of his job description which changed almost monthly, from whatever desk he had just been moved to and with all the energy he had because he, like most others here, have so few other options (he was one of seven (out of 37) in his graduating university class who found a job in his field of study).
He has since moved on to bigger and better things and we now have two diverging roads to walk. I hope I have been able to give him a fraction of what he has given me.
For all he has been through with me, it breaks my heart that I won't be here to see how life continues as he takes each unknown day in this uncertain country.
I am forever grateful for all he gave to me. Thank you Roberto...
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
So I guess it's a good thing I'm leaving.
As I've indicated in past posts, the direction that NPH Nicaragua seems to be going is both forward and back at the same time (I use the word 'seems' because as construction coordinator hired by NPHI to manage the construction, I'm not actually informed of construction decisions, meetings or directions by NPHI).
Since I began, I have always fielded the question 'Why doesn't NPH have a standard home that it builds in all countries?' And it's a good question. It's a question I asked too. And it's a question NPHI seems to be starting to address.
First the reasons why a standard home hasn't existed until now -
When I first began, NPHI couldn't provide me with plans of homes for 16 children it had already built in other countries. This was because either a particular country didn't have a home like that, it had lost the drawings, the drawings never existed in an official form or the leaders in that country never responded.
Also, there is desire to recognize that each country has a distinct culture, climate and history. When I began to work with the design that had been used in Bolivia to make it work well for Nicaragua, I was told we needed to find our own architect and design by NPH leadership even though with proper planning, all local factors can be taken into account with a standard building with modifications.
So, even though it isn't NPH's tradition, many of us believe the idea of standardization is still good, so why not start now?
And that's what NPHI is working on. Yay! Good forward thinking step for NPHI! (We won't mention that thousands of people already thought of it right off).
Next step? What will this standard design consist of? Well, here's model of the current idea -
I'm not sure if things went backwards, or there were just more communication problems.
This design is not bad. It's actually extremely close to the modified design we had done last October from the original houses built.
And there are probably other good ideas as well, one coworker at the office stopped by this morning and made other observances that would make him (as someone who had grown up in the home) possibly be okay with the design.
While these items can be changed to better the design, it doesn't make sense to me that we're throwing out the design we already have with these changes in order to use a design that still needs them.
I must admit, I am glad to be leaving the grid paper final drawing world of NPHI. It's fine to start with, but for a place that will house children, I really believe local licensed engineers are necessary as we had with the first four homes.
Not that the detail doesn't function in general or would cause certain mayhem here (apparently it's been used in NPH homes in other countries that don't have as many earthquakes), but it's an unnecessary risk.
It may all be a moot point, however, because the last great reason for me to leave now (that happened after I gave notice), is that the word on the street (which is what I have since Marlon hasn't met with me or informed me of anything relating to construction in over a month) is that we are halting progress on the new property.
The gossip is that we will not be starting major new construction projects at Casa Padre Wasson until an understanding is reached with the national government with regards to 'Programa Amor'.
I hear that they are trying to hammer it out this week, but who knows when it will be completed, and then, even more unknown is when the next phase of construction would actually start (and if it should be started this year since we are just a few months away from the start of the rainy season).
I truly and sincerely wish the best to all the donors and the caring, hard-working people within NPHI.
It's clear that I have had my fill of frustrations in this particular locale, but the NPH mission is important.
And I believe that with enough loud and reasonable voices (many of which I have had the fortune to meet), NPHI can start to take baby steps forward without any major steps back.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
It's done! Thank goodness!
Corrie's water broke Sunday night and today at 11:58 ET, Charlie was born!
I so look forward to being with the family next week! I'm trying to keep that in my mind and not think about what that means in terms of leaving here.
Cloud Peak, at 13,167 ft, it is the highest point of the Bighorn Mountains. Johnson County, Wyoming. August 1902
Or maybe not.
But still, I am here to put your worries to rest, to soothe your anxious speculations.
I am going to be poor. Not really poor, after all I'll have enough food and a safe place to live. But more like food-stamp qualifying poor.
Well, yes, you say, of course after two years at a central American orphanage and the US economy the way it is, you're not going to be rich, tell us something we don't know.
I am going to be a VISTA volunteer with Habitat for Humanity (HfH) in Sheridan, Wyoming which means once again, I have figured out a way to make less than the federal minimum wage! While working full time!
The position is specifically improving the business operations and volunteer management of the HfH construction materials store - the ReStore. In speaking with the director, however, it seems she would also like me to fill in as construction coordinator as I have time and it is needed.
We spoke as well about the possibility of work with the new sustainability committee and supporting the start of a HfH chapter at the local community college.
I'm really excited about getting to combine so many interests: construction, sustainability, education, business and finance, social service... and I am admittedly elated that I can go backpacking in the stunning nearby Bighorn Mountains when the whimsy strikes.
Another year of audacious adventure!
Monday, February 23, 2009
Let me introduce you to someone very important to me.
He is half Kenyan and half American.
He has community organizing in his background, family background.
He was in Washington D.C. on January 20th, and is there just about every day really.
His name is Charlie and he's my first nephew!
And this is my next mini-interim-gap-audaciousness project.
How can that be audacious? Millions of babies are born all the time! Well, as my sister kindly put it to my mother, 'it will be like the blind leading the blind!'
There's a reason I worked in the construction part of the orphanage!
Although he doesn't know it, he will be the focus of most of my posts the month of March as I stay with his mother (my sister) and his father (my brother-in-law).
He is due March 11th, but he will probably create his own timing if parental predisposition is already flowing through him.
As part of a small family which has sprawled according to opportunity, I'm excited for the chance to be a part of this event!
Note: 10:29 AM - So even though I've had this post written and scheduled for today for about two weeks, Charlie chose this as an important day too! Corrie is currently in labor and if all goes well, I'll have a nephew by the end of the day!
Friday, February 20, 2009
We have a new road! With the pressure from having 200 NPH staff and supporters from North, Central, South America and Europe coming to visit, we finally got approval to put in a durable, travel-able (even in bad weather!) road!
We used heavy equipment including a rolling vibration compactor! Which is not necessarily something to take for granted. Marlon had previously wanted the teenage boys to do the work by hand.
One area of the road crosses a large runoff area, so long concrete tubes have been installed so that the water can drain underneath. How professional!
Thursday, February 19, 2009
It sure looks like a tree, a bunch of leaves on top of a large trunk (the one above is about 12 feet tall), but the trunk isn't wood, so it's not a tree.
The tree flowers and produces 'hands' of bananas or plantains.
Bananas and plantains belong to the same genus, Musa, so they're closely related. Some insist that plantains can't be called bananas, while others call all the fruit of this genus 'banana' but some are 'desert bananas' others 'bananitos' (small bananas), etc.
If the leaves aren't not taken when they first unfurl, they generally shred in the wind.
Nicaraguans eat a small sweet banana that is very similar to the Cavendish. The main difference? The name. They're called banano in Spanish (yeah, they're not really different at all).
Siamese twin bananas like the one picture below are pretty frequent on non-industrial trees (these are from a tree in the backyard).
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Nicaraguans love their baseball!
Each state has a team in a national league. Up until yesterday, Rivas had been on an 8 win, 1 loss streak which has fired up people in town even more.
As an example of their dedication, the one loss they suffered (to Chontales) was 11 innings one day, suspended because of darkness and continued the next day for another 3 innings.
We got to the stadium an hour and a half early, 8:30 AM on Sunday morning. On Sundays, each team plays a double header of two seven inning games against the same team. It saves on travel expenses.
Robert, David and I managed to get a three seats together high enough to be in the shade all day, but they were filling up fast! And with good reason, even though I was 50 feet from being in the sun, after 5 hours, the reflection from the field was still enough to get a sunburn (for me, the very white non-Nicaraguan)!
There aren't assigned seats, you just bought a ticket for about a dollar and sat or stood wherever you wanted, including the roof (you're not really supposed to sit there, but it's not very popular either, I saw a cop disperse a group there only once the whole time).
Nicaragua is sometimes a little behind the curve on technology, but this time they had not only one PA system, but two! Sometimes they took turns, sometimes they didn't, but what does it matter? People who really wanted an announcer all had little radios with a third person announcing anyway!
And for music there was the additional horn and drum neighborhood group playing in the corner.
Three announcers and three sources of music? Nothing is too good for Nicaraguan baseball!
If you can't tell from all the photos, I enjoyed the game, although that wasn't exactly my main focus.
Game food has a real presence, the vendors are always walking up and down the aisles (and right in front of you since all the stairs are filled with sitting people).
There's quesillos, tejada, ice cream, hot dogs, bao, watermelon, sliced mangoes with chili, nuts, gum, cigarettes, tostones with chili, bags of juice and water and more!
The scoreboard is old-school with someone posting the numbers by hand, it shows just how directly sports language (and not just in baseball) comes to Nicaragua from the US. Even if you don't speak Spanish, I have no doubt you can understand the board below.
While there has been a lot of investment by Rivas in their stadium, they still try to save where they can, for example the plastic around the strike, ball and out lights to make them more visible are actually plastic measuring pitchers with the handles cut off.
A new mayor was elected last November and has promised to provide lights for the stadium so that it can be used at night starting in 2010. No one is holding their breath.
This bottle of pills isn't the team mascot, it's the team sponsor. Take one and they will relax your brain, or at least that's the pitch. Whoever was inside the bottle must have taken one before they got in the costume because they slowly wandered around slightly bopping to the music alone in outfield between the two seven inning games.
So while I used to call baseball the great American pastime, take a look for yourself and try to remember the last time you were at a regular season game with such passionate fans!
The video is of the second game, third inning. Boer (the visiting team) is ahead 7 to 1. In this inning Rivas makes six runs. Unfortunately Boer gets another couple runs later to end the game making it two loses for Rivas on this day.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Monday, February 16, 2009
Here in Nicaragua, liability doesn't exist in the same way it does elsewhere. I've mentioned before that due to the legal system (or lack thereof) and a lack of clear communication about businesses (such as a Better Business Bureau), some people can screw you royally with very little consequence.
One example would be our topographer. He delivered drawings and plans that were incorrect, but the NPH lawyer (who wrote the contract) said we had no recourse. We couldn't get that kind of money from him personally and he didn't have a company backing him up to go after either. So we lost $3,000 for pretty much nothing.
Another potential mess happened more recently. But this situation has resolved in a vastly different way, however, because we used a company that we knew and they want to keep us as clients.
The water recycling system is fairly straightforward and includes a (relatively) small elevated tank to gravity feed water to the toilets.
We happened to be on the jobsite when the platform of the tank began to fold and broke the pipes containing the water. The structure didn't completely collapse because the legs were stronger than the platform and because the breaking of the pipes released water which reduced the weight.
Sumerinsa, the company responsible, just happened to be there as well and immediately began calling for new materials to replace the original. While I assume they're taking the funds out of the project profit, I know that they had been hoping to use that profit to shore up other jobs they still haven't been paid for (getting worked over can go either direction).
So this story has a happy ending (for NPH). All was taken care of, and now we have a really strong tank platform!
Friday, February 13, 2009
And Chiquita watches (and they all take turns getting my pants dirty).
But when they hear Roberto's motorcycle coming down the road (it's very loud), everything stops.
And that is why, when I leave Nicaragua in a couple weeks, I will be saying good-buy to Amelia as well, because her family is here.
She was my first dog and I have been surprised how much she taught me! I am glad she has this loving home with playmates.