El Verano has arrived in Nicaragua

PictureThe two week natural building course in Sabana Grande was a great success. If you want to see lots of photos and let pictures paint words, then head on over to my  Recent Work  page and check out the slideshow. The main goals were to provide a space for the Solar Mountain AgroPromoters group to hold meetings, have an official office space and have a place to hold classes and workshops. They are hungry to learn more and want to increase their opportunities. I wanted to show them that these materials that they already know (better than I do),  could be used in different creative and artistic ways to create an aesthetic that they might enjoy, with a functional aspect in their daily lives. Also to build the confidence to use what they have learned, which is important to foster in the women here. A lot don’t even have secondary school education (beyond 6th grade) and sometimes they need encouragement to try new things, though you there are lots of things they would dance circles around most people doing. I will never handle a machete as well as any of these women and do such a diverse number of tasks with one simple tool. And their mastery of making a tortilla is a beautiful thing that easily translates to other creations with their hands and rhythm. So it was an exciting two weeks because I pretty quickly saw these goals being reached. 

They were a playful and affectionate group though some are shy and lack confidence and need more coaxing. But they all know how to work, so if they were given a task that they were comfortable with and it loosened them up, they often they stepped up to something else they hadn’t tried before. 

Originally they shared their vision as a group and Nancy and I took their ideas and designed a space that could fit the needs of the group, accomplishing most of it in a 2 week workshop and working with a small budget from some appreciated monetary donations. The original design incorporated bamboo as the framing component,  but that was washed away in a Christmas Eve flash flood and the supplier didn’t get another cutting to us in time. So we went ahead and used local wood, though we tried to use a minimal amount since it is pretty scarce.
I think that as a gringa with the cultural influences prominent to my life experience,  wanting to enthusiastically encourage newfound creativity and intuitive sensibilities with the raw materials,  that sometimes there was some cultural barrier. One thing I learned was that the women here are more used to be told exactly what to do and having it explained in detail so they ‘get it right’. But I think that over the days they became more comfortable with the pace I was demanding, and the general atmosphere of playing with mud and thinking about how it might work for the different techniques was more easeful. And I worked to breathe deep and not hold to such a tight schedule. That said, we still accomplished a lot in 8 days and I am grateful that they are very forgiving people! I still got lots of wonderful hugs and there was good teasing followed by lots of laughter!
Ten of the participants were from Las Mujeres Solares and La Montana Solar in Sabana Grande (within a kilometer of the site), five from Condega and the Las Mujeres Constructoras (a 40 minute bus ride and 20 minute walk in), and five of us from the U.S. Most people spoke Spanish and no English and others spoke English and a bit of Spanish. We were lucky to have 3 people on site who were good at translating in both directions.
Again, you can check out a bunch more photos on my Recent Work page.


Two Nicaraguan traditions – baseball and tortillas


In the land of plenty….of baseball, dogs, tortillas, love and laughter

Dozens of  dogs roam the roads here,  making puppies all along the way. Every few weeks there is a frenzy of about 6 males and one female in heat. They go at it day and night for a few days. I’ve nicknamed my neighborhood ‘the red light district’ because it is a particularly active area, with lots of males sniffing around in the shadows while a few females strut their stuff and the frenzy often crescendos in the middle of the night. All along the road, alongside the packs of dogs, are also chickens and roosters expressing their own show of hierarchy, authority and search for food.  What really fascinates me, because it is so unlike my experience in the States, is I’ve never once seen a dog go after a chicken, and these dogs live for the chicken bones and bits of dropped meat by a child, to supplement their soaked corn tortilla diet! So they know the taste of chicken. Many people have told me that once they get a taste for it they will become a chicken killer. Well, it ain’t the case here. There seems to be a sense of harmony between the domestic animals and the dogs and chickens freely roam the community. And the volunteer living the next room over leaves his door open when he goes out to use the bathroom or talk to someone in the kitchen and often finds a hen and a fresh egg waiting for him on his bed.
There is also very little sense of one’s own space here. I happen to live with 10 other people.  I have my own room as does the other gringo staying here. I am lucky to have a wall between my and the family of three living in the room a bit larger than mine next door. My room is 8×10 and I share it with a mouse family. The walls don’t go all the way up so it’s a lot like living in a dorm. I know who snores and about most everything else that goes on in bedrooms. (Blush) I have a bed with a piece of old foam on top of some cardboard ands a mosquito netting. At first I would close my door and try to create private space for myself but then the kids would just bang on the door.  So I just leave the door open and people visit as they pass by.  I would really wish the music would stop at a certain time in the evening. And then the roosters start crowing at 1 am and 2 am and hourly from then on until the rhythmic slapping of hands to make tortillas begins, along with horses trotting by around 5 am,  with a more robust commitment from the roosters. At first I thought I would never sleep. It took me back to living in Key West one winter in the 80’s ,down on the edge of a rough neighborhood. We would walk the fence line in the morning and pick up any bottles or other paraphernalia that was tossed over to our side. The bar across the way had a jukebox with three songs on it. I remember two very well. One was Marvin Gaye ‘Sexual Healing’ and the other had some refrain like “jump to It’ but I don’t remember the artist. It started around 6 am and went until 2 am everyday. Those first days were rough and I thought I would probably die of sleep deprivation. But then I just started sleeping through it. The same thing has happened here.  I don’t seem to have that need for such personal space much anymore and I can sleep through anything. When I return to the states I will have to readjust to the quiet! I am thankful that we can choose to be such adaptable creatures and am happy to continue to discover just how much we condition ourselves to perceive we actually need. But doesn’t mean I won’t be excited for a real mattress and a hot shower someday in my future. I am confident I will be able to adapt to that as well!
Sundays here at my house the women make lots of tortillas and cook chicken over the open flame and serve Nacatamales.  And then they dress up just a bit and go visiting around the neighborhood and with other family members. No doubt, in a small rural community such as this, most people are somewhat related. Atleast through marriages. And the guys love to talk baseball, play baseball and then rehash the game over many beers and at least one bottle of rum.  I’m sure they still speak coherently but they start talking so fast and so many of them speaking at once that I can’t begin to understand what is being said. At my house, they all pull their chairs up around Marco, the patriarch of the family and they listen intently when he is speaking. They are  so animated about the game of baseball.


schoolchildren greet us with a song



I am staying at Las Casa Xalteva, a Spanish school in Granada that has the friendliest people working here and they are doing great things with the kids in the community. There is all day care for little ones and after school tutoring for the 11 year olds and up. I am helping out some and it’s an incredibly rewarding experience. There is endless laughter and everyone is always joking around and having a good time.

The past week has been the Festival Poesia International de Nicaragua and it has been non stop free poetry readings by poets from all over the world and national music, arts , dance including the Ballet and crafts throughout the park. The city has been spilling over but it is also great to see such a celebration of the arts and particularly poetry! I am used to going to bed around 8 pm in the north so I missed some of the great music up close because it was past my bedtime! But I could hear it traveling from the park and into my bedroom every night I missed being there.

Everyday I have Spanish class for 4 hours and then do some tutoring with the kids. I get to help them with math, basic Spanish stuff and there are a few older students learning English in school and so we work on pronunciation. Kids are so smart and so quick. I taught a student the word game ‘hangman’ and she thought that was great fun. Stumped me every time.

Last night 5 of us packed school supplies for over 500 children to receive in little rural schools outside of Granada. We packed up a little truck and headed out through one of the barrios, where rubber and plastic burned with a thick, black smoke in little piles on the sides of houses made of plastic, tin, cardboard. The road was slow and deeply rutted and I saw little green mangoes occasionally laying strewn below a mango tree. Here they happily eat it verde (hard and green) with salt.
We arrived at the first school as a strong wind whipped across a vacant and dusty ‘playground’, creating a small dust storm as we bent our heads down to protect our eyes and carried several boxes into a classroom of extremely excited children who greeted us with a song as we handed out pencils and notebooks. 
Recess there was a fast and skilled game of futbol with the older boys. Several were barefoot, a few in sandals and one boy with some nice looking sneakers.  The other kids ran about girls chasing boys and boys chasing girls and much shrieks and laughter at being caught. Some kids sat to the side and watched. We discovered that there were quite a few deaf kids and they didn’t play in recess. From what I could see,  the school barely had paper and pencils , let alone any resources for deaf kids. And there is a deaf school in Granada but supposedly these kids preferred to be here, perhaps to be with siblings or cousins. One boy I met didn’t know sign language but he was very expressive and kept pulling on my arm and happily making the effort to communicate with me. When I took his photo and showed it to him he lit up and we high fived. Really, I wish I had two cameras because the expressions that they make when so instantaneously seeing themselves on a digital camera is quite wonderful!
The people are so welcoming and they are not surprised to hear a gringa say how much she loves it here. They all love their country! Even with the ongoing corruption and lack of internal resources, they still love it because it is a beautiful land and they have their families and they are simply a happy people. I hear so much laughter here. Thanks for stopping by and I will post more in a few weeks, after I return from my visits to the Pacific and the Caribbean and head back to the northern region to finish the aula with the folks of La Montana Solar and the community of Sabana Grande. 

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