Friday, February 27, 2009

The Dimming of the Day

Dark Sunrise

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

House Beginnings!


Christmas at Casa Asis!



And More Construction!

A New Place



A Change

A New Future

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thanks to Roberto E. Delgadillo G.

photo assistant

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.

How to get your horse to go
Horseback riding on Don and Babe's farm in Costa Rica

It was his ability to listen and laugh with me that made a second year here emotionally possible.

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 at Don and Babe's
Petroglyphs also at Don and Babe's farm.

When I grew weary of the promises of 'tomorrow' that pave the streets of Nicaragua, I always knew I could trust him to do what he said.

amelia toss
Tossing Amelia into the water (she's scared to get in, but loves it once she's there)!

While I grew cynical from years of working with the poor in the US and internationally, he took time to listen to the pitches of the wandering hammock salesman and panhandling neighborhood drug addicts.

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.

Graduation Day
Roberto graduating with his professional license in Banking and Finance (a year long program after a bachelor's degree).

I come from a highly privileged background of stability, love and education. He realized that if he didn't take care of himself, no one else would.

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.

Motorcycle of Doom
Roberto going for a little jog to keep him warm at a 5 AM sunrise photo shoot.

While I did my job which I took just because I wanted to, he worked five or six days a week and did all that was asked of him.

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).

Hummingbird Hunting
Getting a hummingbird out of the house.

While I sweated and always tried to find the spot with the most breeze in the house, he took care of me, and my laundry, and my dirty dishes (tropical countries are not meant for me, trying to not get too gross, I have to be careful about heat and water on my skin or it cracks, bleeds and falls off too soon all while itching like crazy).

Triky Traka
Lighting fireworks on Christmas Eve.

While I experienced his country for the first time, through new eyes, he helped me interpret what I was seeing. He helped me make sense of so much craziness.

panorama roberto
View from the steps in front of the house on the beach.

Roberto and I met while he was working in the accounting department at NPH Nicaragua.

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...

Different Road

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Starting the Next Group of Houses

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 -

Model provided by NPHI to visiting donors during the International Meeting

I'm not sure if that's the final version or not. I had been given this in plan, but then received subsequent versions. None of the revisions were translated into this new model which was brought last week by NPHI.

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.

Nicaragua House Design
Nicaragua design modification from houses at Casa Padre Wasson. While directed to make the design with architects and engineers (and already paid for), this design will not be used.

The main differences are that in the new model: there is no storage room, the caregivers' room gets lot's of natural light (even though they're supposed to be taking care of the kids, not in their room during the day), but the kids' study area doesn't and the windows area is so small that electricity will be used more for both light and fans for ventilation.

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.

Standardized design from Honduras and the latest version I received. My guess is that this will be the next phase of home to be built. You can click on the picture to see a larger version.

For example, when we received the 'standardized' plan from NPHI, we consulted with a local engineer to get his read on it. He thought it was fine in general, but the foundation needed to be changed as the one drawn was illegal according to Nicaraguan building codes (they do have a few). None of those contracted by NPHI to built this next group of homes knew that.

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

Becoming an Aunt!

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.

My Next Leap - The New Audacious Adventure

Cloud Peak
Cloud Peak, at 13,167 ft, it is the highest point of the Bighorn Mountains. Johnson County, Wyoming. August 1902

Many of you have been wondering, ceaselessly, day and night, what challenge will she tackle next?!

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

My Next Step

He's grown quite a bit since this picture was taken, but it is the most recent available.

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

The New Way

Dirt Level Entry Road

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!

Scraping the Entry

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!

Almost Finished

It means that this road will last a long, long time. And that getting in and out of the property will not be and question. (And the International Meeting with everyone went well too from what I hear!)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Banana Banano

Banana Trunk
Plantain tree trunk with a leaf pulling off.

So if you haven't heard yet, the plantain or banana tree is not a tree. It's an herb, a very large herb.

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.

Banana Bunch

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.

Banana Shoots
New plantain trees sprouting from the base of existing trees.

After the tree has flowered (after 1 to 3 years of growth depending on climate, soil and species) and producing one stalk of fruit, it will dry up and fall over leaving other banana trees sprouting from it's roots.

Dead Banana Leaves

Banana leaves are often cut when they are young and used as disposable plates, food packaging and wrappers for steamed and boiled tamales.

If the leaves aren't not taken when they first unfurl, they generally shred in the wind.

Banana Structure

Unripe plantains are most comparable to potatoes (in the US). They provide starch and just as there are a thousand variations of potato recipes, there are for plantains as well. The most common are fried (like hashbrowns, french fries, chips or tater tots) or boiled (like a boiled or baked potato).

Banana Swirl

The banana most imported into the US is the Cavendish. Nicaragua is not a major producer of this type of banana, although it was part of the banana wars of the last century with the US which were partly about bananas, but mostly about economic control of a region.

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).

Two Peas in a Pod

The bananas above are not Cavendish, but ripe plantains and will be fried to make maduro, a sweet, soft dish commonly eaten with salty fried cheese.

Siamese twin bananas like the one picture below are pretty frequent on non-industrial trees (these are from a tree in the backyard).

Siamese Twins

Tostones are a common way to eat unripe plantains. After being chopped into short lengths, they are fried for a short time, removed, squashed, and fried again. Sprinkle with salt and eat with ketchup!


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Can't Take the Baseball Out of Nicaragua!

Ugarte Stadium, Rivas, Nicaragua

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.

Nuts and Gum

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)!

Bao for Sale

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).

Watermelon for Sale

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!

Mangoes for Sale

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!

Baseball by Hand

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.

Old School Scoreboard

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.

Creative Materials

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.

Baseball Mascot?

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

Working on Friday Night

Security Wall

Lot's of the security walls utilize broken glass along with barbed wire to deter others from making their own entrance. So, if you feel like a beer? Hey, you're just gathering materials to secure your home!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Water Tower Re-Do

Bad Engineering

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.

Lifting Off the Tank

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).

Tipping a Tank

So this story has a happy ending (for NPH). All was taken care of, and now we have a really strong tank platform!

New Platform

Friday, February 13, 2009

Her Family

Best Look

This is Chiquita, she belongs to a neighbor, but likes to visit. She doesn't have to knock because she fits through the bars.

Food Opportunist

And this is why she likes to visit. Amelia isn't very possessive of her food bowl, nor the food in it.

Spying on the Neighbor\

Chitrin likes to spy on the neighbors and imagine his life outside when he's not on his leash.

They're Playing

Otherwise he and Amelia play and play.

No, Really They're Playing

And play.

Lap Dog

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.

Roberto's Coming!

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.

Doughnut Dog
Amelia impersonating a doughnut after a long day of playing.