A Case of the Wednesdays

2 May

Wednesday afternoon would host the most difficult hour of my life.  Fany, CdA’s program director in Jinotega, wanted me to see the homes of students looking for a scholarship from our program.

This little girl, her name is Maria.  Maria is 5-years-old.  She is on CdA’s waiting list.

She lives with her family, who all clearly suffer from malnutrition.  Her baby brother has light red hair, a visible sign he is not receiving enough nutrients.  Her mother and grandmother are illiterate.  All of the adults are missing most of their teeth.

This is the house Maria and her family live in.  As you can see in the previous photo, their home is lined with plastic, in hopes of keeping the torrential rains out during the rainy season.  This is the tropics.  Half of the year is the ‘rainy season’ and it often rains during the ‘dry season.’  It’s hard to say how many people live in this tiny home, but I’m guessing at least eight.

This is Erika and her mother.  Recently, Erika’s mother started feeling unwell.  Turns out she had a brain tumor, which has been removed, and is now blind.  Erika’s father abandoned her and her two siblings, so now it’s up to her grandmother to support the family.  Erika is 8-years-old and also on our waiting list.

This is the home that Erika lives in with her family.  Just inside the door, behind where Erika is standing, is her mother’s bed.  This bed is the equivalent of three layers of cardboard.  Their home is on top of a steep hill and I cannot imagine how her mother would be able to leave the house.  Keep in mind, this barrio has rocky dirt roads.

This is Mayra.  Mayra is a 12-year-old studying the 6th grade.  She lives just down the way from our community center.

This is Mayra with her mother and two of her sisters.  She has one more sister, a sweet girl with cerebral palsy, who will need care over the course of her entire life.  Mayra’s father works giving transportation using their horse and cart, but the income is not enough to support their family.

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All of these families were happy, welcoming, and kind — giving me blessings for pledging to find sponsors for their girls.  They aren’t the only students on our waiting list, but they are representative of the neighborhood we work in.  There is great need in Jinotega, whether you’re reading this the day I post it or years down the line.  Someone needs help and you (YES, you) can give hope to those living in the poorest of conditions.  If you want to learn more, I suggest visiting CdA’s Sponsorship page.  If you cannot commit to $44+ a month, please think about giving to our general fund.  We use general fund money to repair our community center and fund special programs, like The Ayudate Project.

These girls could use your consideration.

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Carnival

2 May

It’s Wednesday and I’m getting a bit antsy to complete a few tasks before we leave at the end of the week.  I asked our housekeeper what items she’ll need this summer — we have quite a few people staying at our center to volunteer in the community.  I want to make sure we have the right kitchen utensils to make their stay comfortable.  We headed over to a second-hand shop and bought silverware, larger pots and pans, ice-cube trays, coffee cups, floor mats, and a few things for our three full-sized bathrooms.  In the end, we spent approximately US$100 for a plethora of items, including some that were brand new.  Score.

Having sent our packages back to CdA with a trusted taxi driver, the three of us (Nancy, Andrea, and I) do a bit more shopping around town.  Did I mention that it’s a holiday week in Jinotega?  You see, there is a 20-foot cross, perched high on one of the local mountains, overlooking the valley — it is, by far, the most recognizable landmark in the area and is often the subject for local artwork.  In the evening, it’s lit up for all to see.  The people of Jinotega take a day off every year to hike up the hill.  In the heat.  Have I mentioned the humidity?

Needless to say, there is a carnival in town, decked out with rides, food vendors, and handicrafts.  I found a few things that CdA would be able to resell and I stocked up on scarves, decorative bowls, bracelets, as well as a few things for myself.  We left with bags and bags of things, Nancy doing some shopping as well.  Between the coffee, the handbags some of the women in our barrio crochet, as well as the stuff I’m buying, we’re going to be flying home with just as much luggage as we came with!  I managed to take a photo of me with my new friends, but failed to get any of the rest of the carnival.

Rock Paintings

1 May

Tuesday was another heavy “work” day.

We spent the day giggling with kids.

Fany asked a second group of girls to come for photos in the morning and we had about 15 this time.  This group was a bit harder to crack.  Perhaps my slew of funny faces are losing their luster or maybe news that I was truly crazy had gotten around — who knows.  Whatever the case may be, it took a bit longer to find our stride today, but ended up with some great shots.  (See below.)

The real fun came in the afternoon.  One of my projects was to create crafts with the students that CdA could sell at fund-raisers at home.  I decided on bookmarks and painted rocks, which could be used as paperweights or decorations.  We had about 20 kids, mostly 10-years-old or more.  It was so much fun and I was absolutely exhausted by the time we were done.  I am rather surprised at how creative and artistic many of them are.  They did a good job following instructions and I was rather proud of all of them.  Can’t wait to get this stuff to fund-raisers!

You will see below a shot of one of the neighbor boys who joined us.  This little kid seemed so enamored with me and was so, so cute.  Whenever I passed his house, he would say “adios amiga!”  It was adorable.  Anyway, he was hanging around and I invited him to participate.  I got this shot of him while he was playing on the swings.

Musings of a Volunteer

30 Apr

Having worked with CdA in the U.S. for two years now, I cannot express how exciting overwhelming it has been to finally visit our community in Jinotega.

One of the most special aspects of my trip is watching Nancy meet and interact with her student, 8-year-old Geovania, for the first time.  A shy, inquisitive girl, Geovania has an adorable smile.  Attached at the hip to her 4-year-old sister, Judith, and 11-year-old cousin, Karla, Geovania was glad to share her experiences with her family.  Nancy would come to use the phrase “my girls” to describe them and truly understand that her monthly sponsorship funds don’t simply secure the education for just one girl, but that of three.

Nancy received an invitation to visit Geovania’s home, one she gladly accepted.  I towed along for the experience.  A steep, steep muddy hill greeted us.  I cannot image how children run up and down this numerous times a day, let alone when it’s wet.  Keep in mind, we’re in Jinotega during the dry season.  In the tropics, there are times of the year when the rain pours from the skies for days on end.  Last year, it rained for 10 days straight at one point.  People in the surrounding areas died.

Geovania and family were waiting for us.  One of the nicer homes in the barrio, they have cylinder block walls that create a small livingroom and two bedrooms.  They have an attached washroom, which is three things combined: toilet, shower, and laundry room.  Like 99% of neighborhood, clothes are washed against a concrete slab, the same place the drinking water comes from.  The kitchen, such as it is, is a small stove-top rigged outside of the front door, under a corrugated metal awning.

Geovania lives with at least 4 other people in a space smaller than the room I rent in the States.  She does not have a refrigerator.  She does not have a plethora of toys to play with, nor does she have a closet full of clothes.  Her diet is limited to rice and beans, and she may eat meat and veggies a few times a month.  For everything Geovania does not have, I cannot help but be astounded — the girl lives with a smile on her face and she never asked us for anything.

We could all learn something from this little girl.

Monday, Monday

30 Apr

Luis, CdA guard, took us on a trek to find fruit trees this morning.  He’s in charge of the Ayudate Project, a community gardening project geared towards alleviating malnutrition through family horticulture.  It’s an exciting project for us and these trees are to be distributed to the families in our program, in hopes that the fruit will positively impact the diets of our students.

We wound up across town at the nursery pictured below and purchased some combination of avocados, guava, lemons, and oranges.  Afterwards, Luis left to find a horse and cart to carry the trees back to CdA.  In the meanwhile, we met two friendly young girls, who spent their time impressing me with their English counting skills.  We also met Henry, a man who was buying pine trees.  Henry had a Chuck Norris shirt on and I thought it was hysterical.  I told him it was an American ‘broma’ (joke) and asked to take a photo with him.  It was hard to withhold my laughter.

Eventually Luis arrived with the horse and cart he had hired.  Seeing the horse as it approached, my heart sank.  It was all-too-thin and had labored breathing.  We were intended to ride in the cart back to CdA, along with the trees and driver.  I immediately told Nancy the horse may die if we did that and said we would grab a taxi back.  We made it back first.  Thankfully, the driver eventually saw the wisdom in the water I offered when they arrived.  The horse drank the entire bucket.  The plight of horses, not dogs, would be a constant pain in my heart during this trip.

After lunch, we needed to find coffee.  I don’t simply mean a cup of joe — I wanted to purchase approximately 50 lbs of this local harvest for CdA to resale in the States.  First, I should tell you that you have not enjoyed a cup of coffee until you’ve had it at it’s source.  Andrea directed us to Flor de Jinotega.  I knew approximately how much I would pay per pound, but when I discovered they sell to Peet’s, my favorite coffee joint back in the States, I had to buy 10 lbs despite the slightly higher price.  The rest of my purchase came from a stall in the mercado.  The merchant was not, by any means, ready for such a big order, usually selling half a pound at a time to locals.  He called his wife, a block away at their other booth, and they measured out my order right there in front of us.  Talk about fun!  Too much more of this shopping stuff, and Nancy and I might have to give up our day jobs to become international product buyers.

Ceramica Negra

29 Apr

One of the jobs I needed to do when I was in Nicaragua was … *drum roll, please*… shop.  Yes, I’m serious.  Someone has to buy handicrafts to resale at fund-raisers in the States.  It wouldn’t be easy, but I never balk from a challenge.  *wink*

The ever-amusing Ruth as our guide again, we hopped on a bus traveling in the opposite direction of Selva Negra.  We were headed out to the countryside to find the artist’s that produce ceramica negra, a traditional art form of Nicaragua.  The scenery en route was beautiful.  Lush green set against Lake Jinotega.  The periodic home, farm, and herd of cattle reminded me of scenes I’d only watched on The Discovery Channel.  When you look closely, however, the poverty seems to jump out at you — homes patched with rusted corrugated metal, horses’ hip bones protruding sharply, and children with sunken cheeks.  Paradise isn’t supposed to be like this.

We got off the bus and followed a lonely street, lined with homes.  Ruth knew where we were going and we trusted she would get us there eventually.  By this time, Ruth has taken to calling me ‘lazy,’ which is particularly funny given her over-pronuncation of the ‘l.’  Sometimes she throws in “you are lazy and crazy…”  It’s like I have another 19-year-old sister.  Nancy, having fancied herself the grandmother figure in this adventure, finds us a comical distraction from the thick heat.

We reached the home of Carmen, a woman who has let previous groups from CdA into her home to have the full experience of ceramica negra.  We look over her inventory of items and I pick a few out.  She invited us back to her workspace, where both Nancy and I give the pottery wheel a try.  It was fun and my bowl was labeled a keeper.  After taking photos and video, we headed back in for more serious shopping.  We left with some nice pieces then moved onto the home and studio of another woman just down the lane.  After more shopping, it was time to head back to the community center, arms full of goods.

Selva Negra

28 Apr

It wasn’t hard to talk Ruth into guiding Nancy and me to Selva Negra, a coffee finca and ecological reserve just outside of town.  We took a 40 minute bus ride (a cultural event in itself) to the entrance, which was distinctively marked by a tank, a grim reminder of the recent civil war.  The hike in to the facility was beautiful, and we were finally able to  see the lush green rainforest up close.

I had three goals during this trip:

  1. see howler monkeys
  2. squeal at the sight of a sloth
  3. find the cache hidden on their grounds

You see, I’m a geocacher.  If you aren’t familiar with it, I suggest you check out geocaching.com.  In short, it’s modern-day treasurer hunting using a GPS unit or smartphone.  It brings me many hours of happiness and it just so happens that Selva Negra posted a new cache just weeks before my visit.  I had to find it.

Unfortunately, it turns out that sloths and howler monkeys don’t just saunter out of the jungle when visitors arrive.  While we heard the monkeys, we didn’t see them or a sloth.  Le sigh.  I did, however, find the cache with the help of a kind and generous fellow geocaching employee of Selva Negra.  I giggled for days.

Nancy, Ruth, and I also enjoyed a delicious meal, sitting on the outdoor patio of the hotel.  We took a short hike through the canopy, and found the location of my wedding should I ever get married.  Selva Negra is home to an absolutely beautiful church, which would be ideal for such an event.  (I will post photos of the church when I get them from Nancy.  Silly Lizzie forgot extra batteries for her camera that day.)

After going through the gift shop, we headed back to the bus.  We spent most of the day at Selva Negra, but we needed to head to the cultural event we had been invited to at the art school.  The three of us met Sarah and Robbin (Ruth’s boyfriend) there.  We also had the chance to meet another Peace Corp worker, Julianne, before listening to various authors, bands, and poets perform shorts of their work.  A lovely end to a great day.