Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lend me your brains

We have pretty much exactly two months left for working here in Nicaragua, which is starting to feel like a ridiculously short amount of time. Not only is there too much work to get done in that time, there's also way too much of my heart in El Jocote to leave behind just yet.

However, we have gotten the official news that we will be heading back to Stehekin and North Cascades National Park for the summer, which is very exciting. Dreaming about Stehekin made me realize the other night how many things in El Jocote remind me of life in Stehekin: People spend time with each other, not just their TVs and video games. Kids play outside. Everyone knows their neighbors really, really well, and wants to know their new neighbors really, really well. You can make real connections because time spent with people is time well spent.

The Stehekin School: NPS photo

These thoughts, and the desire to keep El Jocote with me forever, made me think of instigating a cultural exchange between the kids of Stehekin and the kids of El Jocote. I figured we could walk around El Jocote with our camera, taking pictures and video of what the kids do and how they live, asking them questions about their life and translating their answers, and show the results to the students of Stehekin School (all less-than-20 of them). I emailed with the teacher of the Stehekin School, and he's going to send pictures and perhaps video for showing kids down here what life up there is like.

This thought process led to considering making a video for you all, our super-fantastic blog readers. We can make a video of what we see and what we want to save, of course, but we'd love for you all to get answers to burning questions as well. Is there anything that you want to know about life in rural Nicaragua? We can do interviews with local folks, or just video ourselves wandering around, whatever is needed to answer your questions.

The list is already started, thanks to my mom, who can always be counted on for coming up with great questions:
Does daily life vary much from month to month because of the weather?
When kids aren't in school, what do they do all day?
What kinds of jobs do people get?
How many stay in the village when they grow up and, if they leave, where do they go?
Do the residents travel much (e.g., to Managua)?
How much time do women spend on cooking, cleaning, and generally running a household?

What do *you* want to know about?

Monday, February 27, 2012

projects developing

Tropical vacations behind us, we got back to work at the office preparing for our latest trip back to El Jocote. The main reason for our latest visit was to continue with our environmental training sessions with the community. Richard, our fellow intern, and I came in a day early, while Kate stayed back because she still has to depend on the truck to bring her in. Jaime, our boss, only came with the truck for the friday afternoon workshop.

Richard and I checked out a couple of our older projects to see how they are doing. We came across the field of tomatoes in Juan Jose's and Juan Valerio's farm, watered by the solar irrigation system installed by the Presidio group in mid-January. The tomato plants were knee-high and filled with small green tomatoes already.

Next, we checked out one of the patio gardens installed by the Havurah Shalom group around the new year. Dona Inez's garden was also filled with green shrubs of tomatoes, chiltomas (sweet peppers), plantains, corn, and avacado and mango trees.

On the way through town, we asked a lady about these logs that she had hanging from her eaves. "Honeybees," she said. We stepped back a little when we saw the little bees flying in and out of a hole in the log. "oh, don't worry, they're really tame. They don't sting!" She put her finger up to their exit hole and caressed a couple bees as they flew out.

Kate and the group came the next day greeted by a flock of kids and the standard excitement around town that always accompanies a truck. Carlos was passing by and he and Kate admired each others walking canes. Carlos was nearly killed when a car ran him over in Costa Rica a few years ago. With metal plates in his head and screws in bones throughout his body, he's lucky to be walking at all, let alone with a cane. He also may be lucky it happend in Costa Rica and not Niraragua, due to the more advanced medical care south of our border.

So we put on our second training session, really just a summary of the first one plus some activities. I talked a little about healthy rivers and problems of contamination around the world.

Kate talked about erosion and trash, and had the community take part in a activity to learn about biodegradability times for different trash articles.

When Kate went to turn off the computer after the presentation, a hoard of kids circled around her and asked her to show them stuff. The kids here are so inquisitive.

After Kate and the crew left back for Managua, Richard and I stayed back for another couple nights to install his first improved cookstove project here. We started by removing the old stove, which is nothing more than a horseshoe-shaped pile of bricks in the middle of the kitchen. Stick a pot on the top, burning wood in the open end, and you have a functioning kitchen stove, albeit smokey and inefficient.
The new stove has a frame of blocks with the "rocket elbow" in the center of it that functions as a combustion chamber. When properly insulated, the rocket elbow burns small amounts of wood very efficiently, with little smoke.

The elbow is insulated with ashes, which are kind of a mess to work with, but are very effective. Richard and the host brother Freddy are dumping in ashes.
Little Angelito wanted to help, and showed us that he can lift big blocks, too.

Angela put the finishing touches on her stove as we finished for the day. You can see the soot on the wall behind the new chimney. That's what the old stove left in the house after one year of operation. Imagine what that smoke does to the lungs of the countless women of Nicaragua who spend a large part of their lives in the kitchen.

When we finished, Angela asked us if we noticed the chicks hatching under the kitchen counter. She pulled out a pot full of chicken from the kitchen, and then lifted up the chicken to show a handful of fluffy chicks and some half-broken eggs below.

Richard held one of the fuzzy peeps and introduced it to its new, smokeless home.

Adventures of Jeff and Kate... AND FAWN!

The itinerary of Fawn's trip included a couple nights in Esteli (see the previous post), a stop back through Managua, a couple nights in El Jocote to do one of our work projects, another stop through Managua, and a trip to Ometepe Island for five nights with a stop by Masaya for shopping in the tourist market, then back to Managua to let Fawn fly away. There was supposed to be an adventure trip down Canon de Somoto in there, but silly me went and fractured my ankle and canceled that part. But being in the walking boot helped me get around the rest, so game on!

The trip to El Jocote was one that Fawn was especially interested in, since she's a village girl herself but has been stuck in Orange County for the last several years. She wanted rural, we gave her rural. First, we loaded up the work truck, and in Nicaraguan fashion, made her ride in the back.
Note the tied-up tailgate - it doesn't close right. Peter? Mitzi? Don't worry - she survived.

We went on all the types of roads possible in Nicaragua - nice highways (although Nicaraguan traffic will slow you down no matter the road):
Fairly nice highways:
Pretty good dirt roads:
Not great dirt roads:
Dirt roads that disappear into watering holes:
Really awful dirt roads:
And really awful and really steep dirt roads:
But when we arrived in El Jocote, we were greeted by the weekly baseball game:
and got a few hitchhikers we knew to keep Fawn company in the back of the truck for the last little bit of the trip:

There was work to do, of course. The work was mostly an excuse for getting up to El Jocote - since my accident, I haven't been able to go by bus, since the last 3 km are a fairly rough walk. The only way I can get there is by 4wd truck, and that means taking the work truck - which means working. So.

The project was another patio garden for a really sweet lady named Nubia. She has shown a lot of interest in AsoFenix projects, and has been asking us quite a lot of questions about when her patio garden would be put in, what kind of plants would work, what will and won't be affected by the soap in the greywater, etc. Her yard is very rocky and sandy, but she has successfully made smaller garden areas work. The first step was to look at her yard and discuss where the fence should go and where water sources would be.

Then, they rolled out the fencing to measure it:
for which they got help, of course:

Once the space had been decided upon, the hard part started: digging the hole for the greywater collection area, which would include a large area to filter the water a bit, and a collection spot in which a bucket could be used to collect the water for irrigating with. This had to be a big hole, and as previously mentioned, the ground is rocky. They had to use a spud bar to break the rocks up, which is the definition of hard labor.
Due to the difficulty of the project, it became a tag-team effort. Pretty much everyone took a turn.
Except for me, of course. I placed my chair where I could watch them, and sat on my tookus. I had my Spanish grammar books with me, and a few things for entertaining kids, since they're the best part of being in the village.
I had company a lot of the time, including Nubia's two-year-old grandson, Norbin, who was a serious camera-ham:
And I had a chicken on a string:
And, best yet, the ugliest bird in the world:
This little one used to be cute, when it was small and fluffy. And it will be cute again, when it's feathers come in. But for now, it's in the super-awkward stage. Teenagers.

We didn't get any super pictures of the finished product, but here's the idea:

Basically, the fence keeps the pigs and chickens out who would otherwise eat all the fruits and veggies before they could grow, and the greywater collection system is inside for easy access. The shower, the kitchen sink, and the laundry water all drain into the filter/collection pit and gather in the bottom of it, where there's a hole you can stick a bucket into. You gather water from there, and walk around your garden and water stuff. Pretty easy!

After patting ourselves on the back for a job well done, we went back to Managua to clean up and prepare for the last half of the trip. Then off we went to Ometepe Island, a double-volcano island in the largest lake in Nicaragua, Lake Colcibolca (also called Lake Nicaragua). We bussed down to Rivas, took a bicycle taxi to a lunch spot (those were the first really aggressive taxi drivers we've encountered in Nicaragua - they were grabbing Jeff's arm and pulling him toward their bikes, which was pretty obnoxious):
...then took a regular taxi to the boat dock, then a ferry to Ometepe. We're just missing trains and airplanes, and this day would have been complete... There are actually two options to get across the lake, a ferry or a lancha, which is a small boat. The surf was up due to the windy season, so ferry it was. We ended up arriving in time to take the ferry Che Guevara:
...on which one of the crew looked an awful lot like an overweight, older version of Che. Hmm.

The benches on the Che led to a great bonding experience:

The island made our jaws drop as we approached. Tropical, palm trees everywhere, crazy clouds (at least we hope they were clouds) over the active Volcan Conception - wow:
We had booked two nights with Finca Mystica, but when we got there, we decided to go for three. Behold, the reason for the plan change:
Our cabin, made by the owners of Finca Mystica of cob:
Our hang-out spot:
Yup yup.

Fawn and Jeff got to go on an adventure to a waterfall, which was beautiful by all accounts:
...but of course, with my bum leg, I couldn't do the hike. Poor me, having to hang out in the hammock while they went hiking. Aw.

The next day, we did do an adventure that I could do, kayaking! It was a trick getting me into the boat:
but I had lots of help. We went paddling up Rio Istiam, which is on the isthmus between the two volcanoes. To get to it, we had to paddle along the shores of the lake for quite a while, since our put-in spot was quite a ways away from the river. Once we got there, we saw that the river is less of a river and more of a swampy area:
Jeff and I were in one boat, Fawn was in the boat with the guide. It was her first time kayaking, so we figured she could be better served going with the guide, who knew the lake and the river, and could hopefully instruct her on the ways of the paddle. Turns out, he didn't say much, but she got the hang of it anyway. As we were paddling back, though, we had the winds at our back, which was great for not having to fight our way across the lake. However, Fawn and the guide got pushed some distance out into the lake:
(yes, they are in fact in that photo - see the two dots in the middle?). Peter, Mitzi, don't worry - they made it back to shore.

I, on the other hand, had a strong, handsome man steering me around, and we stayed safely near shore:
When we all got back in, we enjoyed a well-deserved rest in the hammocks again :-)

Finally, though, we had to leave Finca Mystica. On our way back to the ferry dock, we stopped by Ojo de Agua, a spring-fed pool that pretty much every tourist that goes to Ometepe ends up swimming in. It was lovely:
The water was clear and cool, which was nice, because Ometepe is hot. I got to practice walking with my boot off on the pool bottom, which I overdid a little, but was good exercise. Jeff hauled out the camera, and Fawn and I hid:
Hint: we are like alligators. We are camouflaged under the water. All you can see are our eyes.

Or something like that.

On the way back from Ometepe, we had one more scheduled stop, in the town of Masaya. This town is famed for its tourist market, but is a nice town to hang out in as well. And, as it turns out, even the regular town market has a tourist section - you can buy all kinds of stuff!
We visited the markets and picked up a few things, then rested ourselves at a cafe that had been recommended. The person who recommended it to us didn't know the name of it, but said to look in the central park for brightly painted, really tall chairs. Didn't take us long to find it:
I, of course, couldn't make it up there, but happily, there were short versions of the chairs, too:
We had stopped for a smoothie, but ended up hanging out through dinner and having their ceviche, then went back the next day and had smoothies and shrimp. If you ever end up in Masaya, this place is highly recommended - but we still don't know the name.

Masaya is famous most for its hammocks, and after having spent a lot of time in the hammocks at Finca Mystica, we had convinced Fawn that she needed a hammock (so did we). We had looked at the hammocks at the markets and priced them, but we had heard that it was a good idea to check out the "hammock factories," which are really just people's living rooms. The people there weave hammocks for their living, selling some to the people who sell them in the market, but they're willing to sell them to people who come by their houses as well. There were tons of places to look! Everyone was happy to tell us about their hammocks, and we met a lot of the people who did the weaving. We first went to all the shops and checked out all their wares, then discussed, then went back to get the ones we had liked the best. Between the three of us, we ended up buying five hammocks from two shops. The first shop we went back to had been the first one we had visited, and the lady who had been very reserved when we first visited was very happy to see us when we came back:
We bought two hammocks from her, and three from these folks:
Since these guys had their loom set up, they gave us a demonstration of their work. Jeff caught it on video, which you can see here:

Alas, the time had come to return to Managua and pack up for Fawn's early flight out the next day. Our bus-ride from Masaya to Managua was lightened by a mirror ham:
Ah, Nicaraguan kids. Cute enough to make you asplode.

And then, Fawn left us. Just like that. But, I suppose, that makes it my turn...

It was then time to get back to work, and work there was... That is the subject of the next post, which is soon to follow.