Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving in Malacatoya

On our first week of work with AsoFenix, we went to one of the villages to see some finished projects. Our only work was to observe and get to know the projects and the life in "el campo," out in the country. Malacotoya is a village of about 40 households that received a small hydroelectric plant about 4 years ago from Asofenix. They are also working on some aquaculture of tilapia fish and they have some wells and water treatment systems in the town. The town is mainly agricultural, growing coffee, cacao, passionfruit, along with the standard rice and beans and some cattle. Many of the households have one of these buildings where they process organic, shade-grown coffee:

We stayed with Aniberto and his extended family in their home, where he showed us around his farm. Here he is describing the extraction of the coffee bean from the pulpy fruit. The machine next to him removes the pulp, where it composts in a pile smelling of warm, fermenting fruit.

The coffee harvest was done, but we saw a few ripe fruits on some of the plants:

Here are some baby coffee plants ready to be planted:

We also saw some younger plants in flower and got to smell the delicate coffee flowers, which of course do not smell like coffee but rather like faint jasmine.

Aniberto brought us under the arbors hanging with passionfruit. We got to taste the fresh juice the next morning.

The next day, he showed us the process of washing the pulped coffee beans and sorting into different quality. He has the larger beans in his hand and the smaller, folgers quality beans in my hand. The irregular beans make it into a separate pile where they are used locally for coffee. The good stuff gets exported.

The family was also purchasing and processing corn because the price is currently low. The drying racks outside were filled with corn that they were drying and sorting.

The nephew was "helping out," too.

Here is Aniberto using the wind to blow off some of the chaff from the corn:

Our full day there was Thanksgiving day. We told the family about our tradition of Thanksgiving, and we spent some time in the kitchen with them learning about turning corn into masa flour and watched them make tortillas. The stove here supposedly has some sort of a chimney, but it doesn't really work. Most of the kitchens have more or less an open fire where the special tortilla pan fits, and the kitchen just has loosely fitting boards around it so that the smoke escapes outside. This is Tatiana helping with the tortillas. She is a co-worker and the niece of the family we stayed with.

This is there house where you can see the kitchen on the left-hand side with the wood boards on the wall, and the sacks of corn that they are processing and storing. One large bag of corn is about enough for one person for 1 year in terms of tortillas, and not including beans and other parts of the meal.

Another view of the corn at the front door, waiting to be processed:

They took us on a walk to show us the hydroelectric power plant, which is down the river from the village. The tall green grass and rolling hills were beautiful there.

We met up with our guide, don Orlando, for the tour of the power plant. As we waited, a boy pulled up on a mule to deliver milk. Here is the mule with milk jugs:

The walk to the plant required crossing a stream in a steep valley, where a downed tree was the bridge across:

And the path was extremely muddy since it is not quite yet at the end of the wet season. We wore boots because the mud was so deep:

Here we are, Tatiana, don Orlando, and Kate, looking into the window of the pelton wheel of the generator. This generator serves about 30 houses with electricity. The most amazing thing to me was imagining them carrying all of the equipment, machinery, and materials such as cement and sand for concrete by person and mule down the valley and across the river to build this project. No Caterpillar backhoes and dumptrucks here.

As was common everywhere in the village, dogs wandered in and out as we checked out the project. You can see a couple of them hiding behind the generator.

Aniberto's wife, Claudia, fed us such huge portions of tortillas with cuajada and gallo pinto, that we had to walk it off that afternoon to make room for thanksgiving dinner. We walked around and soaked in some of the beautiful scenery and unbelievable green countryside along the road (which, by the way, is the same road that the bus travels on for about 3 hours at about 10 miles per hour to get us back to the main bus terminal in Boaco--a really bumpy ride)

All of the meals, breakfast, lunch, and dinner were basically the same staples. The tortillas are massively thick corn tortillas that are delicious and slightly smokey flavored. Gallo pinto is a mixture of rice and beans, sometimes greased up a little to make it slide down well. Cuajada is a type of homemade cheese that is a simple curdled milk that is either fresh or smoked and always very salty. It was usually accompanied by fresh orange or passionfruit juice.

So that was our first experience in the villages, getting us prepared for the other villages where our projects will be. It will definitely take time adjusting for us. Some people, like Aniberto and Tatiana, who are used to working with foreigners, are good at speaking slowly and clearly so that we understand. There were other people, however, whom we could hardly understand at all. Sometimes it sounded like a different language, and it can feel frustrating and embarrassing to try to explain that we've been learning spanish for a couple years now but we still can't understand a word they're saying. We are picking up more now, getting used to the habit of dropping the "s" and slowly picking up on some of the vocabulary of the country, which involves different activities than in the city. After experiencing the incredible beauty of this place but also the difficulty of fitting in and understanding makes our remaining 5 months here seem like not enough time. But we will work hard and do our best.

Happy thanksgiving to all, and hope all is well!

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