Muchisimas Gracias Nicaragua!


As I head back to the states after my second 6 month time here in Nicaragua, I can really feel the ways that this place has embraced me and opened my heart. Sure, this place is fraught with political messes and bad infrastructure, but the people are incredibly generous with what they have and they sincerely want visitors to feel welcome. They have a lot of heart, like to joke around and have fun, and I’ve yet to meet a Nica who isn’t passionately in love with their country and the land! And I gotta say, it’s good for me to have my perspectives and assumptions turned upside down in this vastly different culture. I figure that if I can do so with humor that I’m likely evolving to a higher state: with my hands and feet in the mud, dust in my nose and throat and the taste of humble pie in my mouth. The people here have a whole bunch of historical reasons to relate to work, play, each other, and to me in very different ways than I am used to. And my Spanish communication still has a way to go. So gentle people of Nicaragua, for being patient with me and helping me grow so much, muchisimas gracias! Nos vemos pronto.

Pictureyouth center project

Finishing the Youth Center
I returned to Sabana Grande for two weeks of finish work on the youth center building. We christened the building El Tesoro del Sol, Treasure of the Sun, given it’s connection with the Solar Youth group. It was great to work with the same team as last year and earlier this season and to advance the skills already learned. They now had more confidence in working with the materials and knew how to think ahead and ask questions. This is a big step! I’m so excited for them and for the future possibilities.
This building was finished with a clay soil tierra roja, burril (horse) and cow manure, and guacimo plaster. Some of the team practiced and became very creative and proficient at creating relief sculptures.  We then took all these fabulous local clays and made paints. I introduced wheat paste-based clay paints and linseed oiling the benches. We made a yellow clay and cal viva (lime) paint for the interior as well, to lighten up the space. I have discovered that adding salt and guacimo seems to solve the dusting issue that they often have with the lime plaster and paint and it makes it very durable. These are all really important steps and discoveries towards creating something beautiful and enduring. It becomes more challenging to sell the idea of earthen buildings as something desirable when cement seems so clean, marketable, and easy. But there are enough cement renders failing and super hot houses to steer people back towards the comfort and affordability of earthen building. And it’s amazing what some good quality finish work can do to promote this cause!!
In the youth center building the roof is all local pine and a local ceramic tile. It was a really complicated design but it offers lots of extra shade in this barren field, until some trees are tended to maturity. In and around the building, there are lots of places for the youth group and others to play, meet, and offer workshops and educational opportunities. It has a solar panel made next door at the Solar Center and now has four lights. There is even a little cob rock climbing wall with seats on top designed to be a bit like riding a horse. Soon the earthen floor will be finished; tamped material select with a layer of troweled mix and a finish of clay paint. When the floor is dry, it will receive several coats of aceite de linaza or linseed oil. Hopefully , a playground designed by a group in Managua, of recycled materials, will follow. Investing in the youth of this community by restoring tradition while adding elements of contemporary expression is exciting and inspirational to all who participated and those who pass by. If you are ever on Pan Am Highway 1 in northern Nicaragua be sure to stop on by for a good meal, a tour of their renewable innovations, and this celebrated adobe structure.

Pictureinterior space at Las Mujeres Constructoras

Finishing at Las Mujeres Constructoras
At the very end of my time in Nicaragua I returned for one week to Las Mujeres Constructoras new school site and the building we began in the three week workshop in Feb. The structure was now roofed and ready for final plasters, relief sculpting, and clay paints. I was joined for a weeklong workshop by five of the participants from the February workshop and an adobe specialist and architect from Managua, Dulce Maria Gullen. It was great to see everyone again, though slow to get back in the groove, particularly with the abundance of ripe mangoes on the ground that really needed to be eaten! It took a few days to get everyone’s technique for applying thin coats of finish plaster and burnishing with plastic lids in sync. It’s so hot and dry that if the plaster is too thick it cracks and when very thin it dries quickly and needs to be worked. Our team this time was Sonja from the states (who is an excellent translator!), Silvia, Suleydi, Olinka, Felipe, and Darwin. Dulce Gullen worked on different techniques and mixes for the adobe walls, as her focus was to learn what would work well with adobe specifically. We used the local tierra amarilla, which is the rather brown plaster you see in the photos for the exterior and coming over to the interior. This is where it meets the more brilliant tierra amarilla that is mixed with a hint of tierra roja for a lovely orange color. We used a similar mix of manures, guacimo, and the addition of a tierra blanca that is rather silty or limo but actually makes for such a fine aggregate addition that makes the plaster super strong. 
By the end of the week we were ready for paints and went up to Sabana Grande to find the guy who knows the guy whose Mom has these clay soils on the mountain up behind her house. And we got a bunch for about ten cents a pound.  Dug up, sifted, and delivered. Can’t beat that. But then I head to return to the states and hope I had transferred the knowledge in clear and useful ways. As you can see from the photos and how things are finishing up that even with my limited Spanish I’m a good teacher and they are awesome students!! As Dulce Maria is fond of saying, “Es spectacular!” 

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