Friday, April 27, 2012

If leaving is this hard, why do we keep doing it?

I cried a fair amount yesterday, but I mostly blame that on the women of El Jocote.  They kept tearing up when we went to their houses to say goodbye - so I did too.  This morning, I started crying when I gave Martha a hug goodbye, and kept crying until we were a good ways out of town.  I cried again when we saw Angela at the bus stop.  I cried a couple times on the bus, thinking about hugging Nubia goodbye, and waving goodbye to Estel, who was too shy or sad to even say goodbye for real.  I'll need to process a bit before I can write something about our experience for real, but for now, here are some views of our last visit to El Jocote:

The tiny shadow?  That means the sun is straight up.  That means it's hot.

Chocollito kisses for Gerald.

Visiting on the porch at Juan Valerio's house.

Too darn cute!

Doña Ines's mom shows off the garden one last time.

Showing the oldest students photos from the Stehekin school.

Preschoolers see the Stehekin presentation.

Our family.
Me with Felipe, Aracely, and their granddaughter.

Me and Jeff with Juan Valerio and Isabel.

We missed out on visiting one of our abuelitas, Santos - no one was home.

Leonarda building a house.

Estel and me.

Jeff and one of the Juanas with her new stove.

Us with Angela Fuentes, including her son Darwin, her daughter-in-law Brenda, her daughter Denia, and her grandkids Carlito and Angelito.

Jeff and Freddy, our new stove builder.

Yes, three pictures of Estel in a tree.  I'm going to miss her, and Julissa, too.

Me and Maricela with her new stove.

Maricela's entries for the ugly chicken contest.

Maricela and her new little girl.

Finally got a picture of Juana (the lady 10 days younger than me) - she's in the middle, and her four kids, Karen, Katherine, Jairo, and Norlan, are next to her.  Her sister is on the end, and another El Jocotian who works at her house a lot, Cruz, is on the other end.

Us and Cruz.

Us and the family we stayed with the most, from left: Ivania, Marta, and Tonio (and Tarzan the dog).

Leaving town.  At 5:30 am, everyone was up and going about their business, waving goodbye and watching me blubber.

Just you wait - soon enough, I'll be really excited about seeing my family, meeting my nephew, and getting back to the most beautiful home I could ever have in WA.  But for now, I'm still teary.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Random thoughts on being nearly finished

The main news since the last post:

Jeff did a bit of damage to himself. He hit his head on a towel rack in our office in Managua, and ended up with ten stitches and (a few days later) two black eyes. The colors are still progressing, but mostly gone, and he got the stitches out today, so his injury isn't quite as destructive to the trip as mine was. However, he will get an awesome scar story out of it...

Last week's trip to El Jocote involved a lot of work on projects, like building three improved cookstoves and two patio gardens, and doing our last educational workshop. But it wasn't as interesting for a write-up, and we really didn't take many photos (a few will be included randomly throughout this post, just to make it pretty). But as we're winding down our work and preparing to leave Nicaragua, I've been reflecting on our experience in the way I typically do: by making lists. (Ask my mom sometime - I'm a list maker, and always have been.)

List #1: Things I will miss.
- The kids of El Jocote.
- Sitting on Tonio's porch overlooking town.
- Hearing Angela Fuente repeat our jokes.
- Tortillas.
- Having a truck coming through town be an event.
- Not having a regular schedule.
- Walking toward a house and seeing two plastic chairs being set out for us.
- The fact that "stress" is not part of their vocabulary.
- Unscheduled social time.
- Seeing kids running around freely.
- Patience with my slow, stuttering Spanish.
- Not having to carry a jacket.
- Angela Velasquez's pinolillo (chocolate-corn drink).
- Angela Velasquez's pure happiness.
- Chicks, piglets, and calves.
- Fake brand name stuff (Holistar!)
- Hearing kids yell our names excitedly when we come to town.
- Community.
- Lack of needing expensive stuff.
- Having lots of moms making me chicken soup for my cold.
- Recognizing the yell of one of the girls, Julissa - she has a very distinct voice.
- Hearing the constant shooing of animals: "Sssshhht! Vapafuera!" for the dogs, and "Hoosha!" for the pigs.
- Angelito yelling "Jeffley!"
- Our ugly chicken contest.
- Kids' toys, like scrap paper that can be five hours of fun.
- Watching the rain come in on a hot day.
(Note that some of these things can be found in Stehekin, such as community, but not in many places in the US. Here, they are the norm.)

List #2: Things I will not miss.
- Nicaraguans on buses (bus rides tend to bring the worst out in a normally very patient and polite people).
- Pigs.
- Dirt.
- Rice and beans.
- Not having private time.
- Being nervous about getting sick from food and drink.
- Not being able to cook for ourselves.
- The music, especially the synthesizers and the volume.
- Being richer than everyone else.
- Sweating.
- Fleas.
- Living out of a suitcase (well, backpack).
- Latrines, and their flies.
- Not understanding the language all of the time.
- Managua.
- Being a girl, and therefore being weaker and being assumed to not understand "men's work."
- Being "better" because we're white.

List #3: Cute short memories:

- We were fortunate enough one morning to find that our bus ride leaving El Jocote would have a kid we knew on it. This happens surprisingly rarely, since most El Jocote-ians don't leave El Jocote much. Jarito is eight years old and very friendly. We asked him if he had ever been to Managua, and he surprised us by saying he had. We asked him what he thought of Managua, and his eyes got big - it was beautiful. We said, really? We think it's too big and kind of stinky. He said no, there are these beautiful glass doors there that open and close without anyone touching them, just by machine, whenever you get close to them. And there are big machines that turn and turn, and people's bags move around and around. It turns out that three years ago, he went with his family to pick up his uncle at the airport, who was being deported from the US. To him, and to several people we've met, Managua is just the airport - they haven't seen the rest. Lucky them.

- Everyone agrees on cures to everything here. A tea made with seven (not six, not eight) eucalyptus leaves, plus cinnamon and lemongrass if you have it, cures a cough. Honey from the nice kinds of bees (not the mean ones!) can be put on a bruise to reduce swelling and discoloration. Anyone that notices that you have a cough or a bruise will tell you the same cure, and will be absolutely sure that it will work. Apparently, it doesn't work as well for gringos, but we're appreciative of the sentiment when they give us tea and honey.

- We were visiting at the house of Jose Inez, another eight year old boy who is one of the cutest kids in the world. His mom proudly showed us a picture of his novia (girlfriend), an American girl that had worked with AsoFenix in El Jocote last year. Jose Inez's blush was one of the cutest things I've ever seen.

- Early in our work in El Jocote, we were working with a service learning group from the US to build a patio garden. During lunch, I was sitting at the table with the rest of the group, chatting away in English. A little girl ran up from behind me, stuck her head under my arm so she could see my face, smiled, and ran back to her mom. "Yep, that one is our gringa." She knew there were a lot of gringos around, but she was pretty sure I was the one that she had seen a few times before.

- Everyone here is surprised that Jeff and I have been married for six years, are in our thirties, and don't have kids. The funniest of these incidents was just a few days ago. I was talking to Juana, who lives in the house highest up the hill. Her husband is in the US working as a kitchen helper in Miami, and sends back a fair amount of money, but she's raising four kids (ages 14, 11, 8, and 4) by herself until he gets back. He's been gone for four years, and expects to come back in December. Juana and I realized that I am exactly ten days older than her. She was surprised, and said I look very young, but that the reason is probably that I don't have kids. She then said I really should have kids, at least one. We had to laugh at that - is she trying to make sure I catch up to her in age?

(Another surprising thing - I don't have a picture of Juana! I will have to fix that on our next trip.)

- Another funny six-years-no-kids moment was at Angela Velasquez's house. She's an 80-something firecracker who walks every day to stay in shape. She's had seven kids of her own, lived through revolutions and counter-revolutions, outlived her husband, and never had much money, but she's the happiest person I've ever met. Her laugh is one of a kind, frequent and full of joy. When she realized that we don't have kids yet, we prepared for the same discussion of why we should have some and why we don't have any. Instead, she said, "It's really better to not have them if you don't want to." We were actually so startled that we laughed. She is absolutely the only person we've heard that sentiment from here.

- Last night, we were watching a telenovela (soap opera) with Angela Fuente's family. This one featured a Romeo and Juliet story set in Italian cow country. The mother of Juliet discovered that her daughter had escaped. She ran to her sons, who were relaxing in the barn, and told them to chase after the girl. They jumped on their horses and galloped off, and Angela's whole family laughed. Who would have their horses sitting around fully saddled up and ready to go? These folks live the life of using horses for real work - they know a lie when they see it.

So there are my most recent lists. I'm hoping that by writing this down here, I won't lose it, and I will always be able to get a little bit of the feeling of El Jocote back when I reread it. I'll miss that place. One more trip!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Semana Santa

"here's some chocolate, Jeff, it's good for you and it'll make your tummy feel better."

I'm not in the infirmary of a Harry Potter book, but I am lying on a cot in the Nicaraguan campo, sick to my stomach. Martha, my host mom, brings me a cup of hot pinolillo, a traditional cacao and corn drink. I ate way too much fatty pork at a celebration the day before, plus a host of other random stuff I nibbled on around town with dirty hands, which all took revenge on my stomach and intestines the next day.

I couldn't have picked a nicer place to be sick, and it was Easter week (Semana Santa) with nothing much to do but hang out. The break was a blessing though in that we had some nice bird watching on the back porch. I finally got a good look at a guardabarranco, the Nicaraguan national bird, and one of the most beautiful birds I have seen. Two were nesting in the back yard and we took a bunch of photos from my cot:
Things have dried out here a lot. The dryness crept up slowly, but most of the trees are leafless, and all the grasses are dry:
Remember what it looked like in November?
Everyone bakes for Semana Santa. They get their earthen ovens really hot with a fire inside:
And then they fill them up with corn and millet-based breads and sweets and eat them all week. I recovered from my sickness in a day and proceeded to eat lots of baked goods. It's not the Stehekin bakery, but it is fun to be around.

Then there are the jocotes, ripe and everywhere. The yellow ones are soft and sweet like a mango or a plum, the green ones are tart like an apple or a green grape:
The ugliest chick in the world contest has begun:
We did some origami with a couple kids who were visiting. Thanks for sending the paper, Mom!
We don't have a lot more interesting photos to share yet. We're working on a couple videos, but that may still be a while. For the rest of our last week, Kate also got sick, but with a cold. Not as icky as my sick, but it's lasting a lot longer, as colds do. The Saturday evening church service was fun but long. It started out with a camp fire, complete with cheesy campy songs like "head shoulders knees and toes" or the Spanish version of that. We continued into the catholic chapel with candles for the vigil. After a round of Easter-like songs, they get to "glory glory halleluiah" when they turn on the lights and turn around all the Jesus portraits on the walls, which had been turned facing the wall. Then they returned to vigil with a couple hours more of campy songs in the chapel, and we got tired of standing but had a good time.

They announced during the service that the Easter Sunday service would be at 11:00 sharp, and we'd sing more songs. It turns out that as we were walking out, the priest-in-training (they can't afford full-fledged priests in the campo), announced that he had to leave earlier and that the service would be at 8:00am instead. But it was too late, we had already left. So half of the folks in our house heard the message, and the other half didn't. Kate and I slept in, and hostfather Toño headed out to do farm work super early (or very dark, as they say here) in the morning. They couldn't get the message to him, and I guess nobody had the courage to wake up the gringos, because by the time we woke up, song was pouring out of the chapel and Toño had just arrived back, exclaiming with disappointment that the service was just ending. So that was our Easter experience here.

We spent Easter afternoon visiting with people around town, stuffing ourselves with more baked goods and even more fried pork---a few days old by then. This morning, we took the bus ride back to Managua, which apparently everybody else in Nicaragua did as well, as the bus was overpacked with part of the crowd opting to sit on top of the only bus out of the villages. The exchange to the Managua buses was terrible and squished, but we made it all in one piece. Or two pieces, the two of us. Now we have a couple more days to prepare for our last few projects and community training sessions, and then we have two more weeks of visits planned to El Jocote, and then that's the end of our work here. So things are wrapping up quickly--but not done yet, so stay tuned, as we'll hopefully post a couple last updates and stuff.

Hasta luego!

Here's a random video showing how chickens climb into the trees here

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Portraits of a week in the village

Just another typical week in the village, so I thought I'd share the week in sepia for a change.

On the way to El Jocote, we pass many highway towns, some with roadside fruit stands, one that only sells firewood, and our favorite that sells honey in recycled rum bottles. Richard grabbed a bottle for his upcoming return to the US:
After building two last improved cookstoves with Richard, we assisted with another set of solar irrigation projects with a group from the Oregon Institute of Technology:

We also tied their irrigation tank into the houses to bring their well water to their kitchen tap. The women carried their last buckets of water to the house in good humor (photo credits to Julie):
After getting the group started, Kate and I continued with some rounds of talking with families about projects. As the schoolteachers left town for a meeting, the kids ended up accompanying us instead of going to school:
Jocotes are ripening. The namesake of the town, this strange tree, leafless this time of year, sprouts green-turning-yellow fruit that the kids spend their days knocking down with sticks:
Faces sticky, pockets bulging with fruit, everywhere they are eating these little fruits and offering them to us as we walk through town.
Many families ask us to take pictures of their kids, since most of them don't have cameras available. They pose for us, but sometimes the unplanned moments are irresistible.
This family portrait included a portrait of the baby sister who passed away. We talked with a lot of people who have been through a lot of difficulties, but they all have such a peaceful happiness that makes us love to be there.
Our young guides, meanwhile, found a miniature chair to cuddle up in:
And later spent the afternoon singing and swinging on a hammock:
In true Easter fashion, there were baby animals everywhere, from chicks to puppies to piglets. Kati showed us the new delivery at her house that day:
And last but not least, I got to try my hand at riding a mule:
We came back to the city for some shopping and a volcano tour with the group, and we are heading back to the village tomorrow to spend the holy week and Easter with our people. See you back in this backwards modern world in a week or so!