Creating Beauty and Community in Condega, Nicaragua

Las Mujeres Constructoras, Liz Johndrow, natural building workshopsWe are coming up on the final week of our three week workshop with Las Mujeres Constructoras. The group is a mix of women, mostly mothers and grandmothers,  from outlying rural communities, and a few local young men and women. There are about fifteen of us in total. First of all, I’m just going to say it. As a general statement, with some exceptions to the rule!, men in this culture are born into a role of believing they are of greater value than women. This belief system doesn’t create a high level of motivation and respect towards work or women. There is a phrase “pelotas grandes” which basically means that their balls are really big and heavy, so that phrase than translates to….lazy!! They also don’t take very well to direction from women and the first week, admittedly,  we reached a level of frustration of sometimes having to spoonfeed directions and constantly be on them to complete a task. It’s too bad, because they are very likable young men!  They also believe a smile goes a long way. And sometimes it does until you realize that might be all you are going to get.  Meanwhile the women work hard and at our workshop they will jump in and move earth, push wheelbarrows, mix mud, make coffee, and want to learn as much as they can. So we tolerate these sometimes lazy but likable boys, while barking orders and holding higher expectations of their involvemt, hoping to model something new. Because honestly, we don’t have to care what the machisimo culture thinks or feels quite so much! We have learned to separate them from one another while we are working and put each one under the command of one of the more forceful women, and as the workshop progresses they are more responsive and hold to their tasks pretty well. It seems more valuable to have some of them participate and be able see that there are other, better ways of working and relating to women. 


🙂 Photo Credit: Karen George


But the women; I sense they are the quiet and steady strength of this country. Some of them might know it and believe in themselves, and some might be on the path to that discovery, and some here are shy and not so confident and may just want to have the skills to rebuild their home or help others to learn the skills. They all know what hard work is all about. It’s their life. They never complain (except occasionally about the lazy boys) and they ask questions and articulate thoughts about concepts. They are strong and for example, I wouldn’t mess with Teresa (see photo) Yay, they know how to have some fun along the way.


Karen and Suleydi “practicing” Spanish Photo: Eva Wimmer


I’ve been learning just how it is easy to mispeak when your learning a new language and simply mispronouncing a vowel can teeter one into dangerous territory! I understand this to be the land of the double entendre just to add insult to bad Spanish. But I am glad I can attempt to say something in complete innocence and earnestness, to later find out I said something very racy and even vulgar and made them laugh so hard just on the other side of the bamboo wall we were mudding. And once they realize that the gringas can handle the humility of their errors and have a good laugh, they feel more free to make fun of us more directly in a playful and loving way. And we grow connection and community this way; over language barriers and bumbling attempts to communicate, many cups of rich Nica coffee and salty rosquillas, endless batches of mud mixing, a little guitar playing and lots of hugs and laughter. 

taquezal, wattle and cob, wattle and daub, chorizo, cob

observing the plumbness of the Taquezal wall


For the first two weeks of the workshop we finished the adobe walls, put up posts and topbeams, began five different wall systems out of bamboo, branches, claysoil and straw. We have begun the adobe benches. This week we will add in some bottle art and cob backings for the benches, bas relief sculpting, earthen floor samples, basecoats and finish plasters. The workshop has gone all too fast even in this land of equatorial heat and tranquilo vibes. I am so glad to know I will see many of these women that i am quickly growing fond of, again at the next workshop in just two weeks,  20 kilometers up the road in Sabana Grande. I’ll have a bit of a base of some new accidentally stumbled upon racy and vulgar phrases, a few more Nica songs under my belt to play on the guitar, and new relationships with some of the sweetest women.  

The Wall Systems

The Participants of the workshop

Photos by Liz Johndrow and Eva Wimmer

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