Lluvia (Ju-via) y lluvia y mas lluvia – Rain and rain and more rain….

We are on our 7th straight day of rain in Managua… or is it 8th or 9th… I’ve lost track…  Nearly 24 hours a day of straight rain for the last week. There’s a hurricane hitting Mexico that we’re getting a lot of rain from.  October is the rainiest month normally, but they tell me it’s usually overnight or for 2 hours here or 2 hours there.  Not for days on end.

If you sweat or get wet, you can pretty much plan on being soaked indefinitely.  Another real concern is mold as the houses are not able to dry out sufficiently.  This is particularly a problem with my clothing, as we have a mold problem in the house and it likes to settle into my clothes.

Combined with not having our washing machine or a dryer, the process of maintaining my clothes has become a real chore.  It is nearly impossible to dry clothing in these conditions and eventually, to remain socially appropriate, you DO need them.

With seven people in the house, laundry becomes a serious part of life and a difficult one to maintain.  We can’t just keep our laundry for the weekend and do a few loads.  Here, laundry is a daily part of life, as I’m sure many of you there with large families have experienced.

I have actually heard it said that washing machines changed the future of women.  Here, as it was in previous years in the U.S., having someone in the house daily for these chores is essential.   I won’t enter into the discussion on roles.   But, I will just say that here, the responsibilities in the home generally, but not always, fall to the women.   It is very uncommon for men to be willing to do these kinds of tasks here, so the women get a kick out of my ability to cook, bake, wash clothes and clean house.

As I have had to participate in these roles here, I can certainly appreciate the amount of work that goes into things we usually take for granted.  In some ways, I will have more responsibilities than most.  Usually, most people here are either married, or living with family.  It is extremely uncommon for someone to live alone.

Generally, a person is cared for by family or by a spouse.  Since I have neither, I more or less have to fend for myself in some of these areas.  While we tend to cook collectively, things like laundry fall on me personally.  By hand, this process generally takes me 1-2 hours a day as I’m not very efficient at it.  The added time, energy and stress of this is wearing on me greatly and keeping me from my studies and work.

For this reason, I have decided to buy and install a clothes dryer for the family to use.  With so many people in the house and constant guests as well, this will be a huge help.  Unfortunately, it’s going to cost about $120 but I feel that it’s a worthwhile investment to protect my time and clothes from mold and mildew.

On the more positive side of things, the rain is cool and relaxing.  It’s been in the mid to upper 70’s, a nice break from the upper 80’s, but still very humid.  I’ve been tracking the humidity through a little unit I brought with me.  Most days it reads 85% humidity and 85 degrees in my room.

This is the lowest I’ve seen it:

Last night, it read 92% and was climbing.  This morning it read “H” meaning, “I quit. The humidity is just ridiculous.”

Well, I think I’ll leave the rest for another post.  Hope you’re all doing well.

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Casa de Quilali

Here are a few photos around the house in Quilalí:

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Que lastima! (What a pity!) – Rosario and Santiago

When I first came to Nicaragua, I was introduced to a couple that was described as one of the worst off in the town of Quilalí.  My friends who had been working here before had a relationship with them for several years and made it a point to visit whenever they could. I was mostly “along for the ride” and was not prepared for the experience I was about to have.

It was a long walk through the town and into one of the poorest neighborhoods.  The roads were washed out from the frequent rains and difficult to navigate even on foot.  There were many looks of surprise as the children don’t see many white people in these neighborhoods.  After climbing over a fence and passing through some “yards” we arrived at the humble home.

We stepped into the simple mud brick structure with no real rooms and just a packed dirt floor.  There was a tarp hanging to the right that set aside a small area for their bed.  There were few other items in the home except for a small rickety wooden table and three plastic chairs, one of which was broken.  There was no kitchen or area to prepare food.  The only other items were a couple of dishes, a hammock and a makeshift wheelchair made of a plastic lawn chair with wheels attached.

Rosario, the wife, sat to the right upon a pillow in an old chair.  She appeared very frail but very animated.  She was full of glee, as she told us through our translator, for she had barely been able to sleep because she was so excited that we were coming to visit her.

See, Rosario was unable to move from that chair without assistance from Santiago, her husband.  He would regularly carry her to the bathroom and sometimes to the church when he could.  She was barely able to eat and so had become very weak and unable to move herself.  She could not have weighed more than 80 pounds.

We asked her how old she was and Santiago replied that she did not know.  Her mother died shortly after the birth of she and her twin sister.  The twins were separated and never knew each other or anyone else in their family.  She grew up as an orphan, eventually making a living  ironing clothes and later working in fields.  Based upon calculations recently made, it is assumed she is close to 78 years old, though she appeared much older.

We strained to understand her as she no longer had teeth and could not talk very clearly.  As a mother can understand a baby, Santiago could interpret for us what she was saying.  She repeated over and over how happy she was for us to visit, how she wished that God would bless us and that we were like family to her.  Her eyes filled with tears when she heard that we had to go.  I admit that mine did also.  It was hard to walk out the door.

We decided to buy them a few things they could use around the house like another plastic chair, a thermos for coffee, some buckets, dishes and food.  We also bought her a cute pair of pink plastic sandals that she had been wishing for.  As an afterthought, I picked up a few rolls of toilet paper also.

When we returned, they were very grateful for the items.  Ironically, Rosario was most thrilled about the toilet paper as they hadn’t had any in years.  For them, it was a luxury as they had no means of purchasing anything but the most basic necessities.  Santiago earned less than 30 cents a day sometimes gathering wood to sell to people in the community.   Many days, they were unable to eat more than a little rice, if that.  We decided to help them financially in the future with food and other needs.

One of those needs was a new bed.  The bed that they were sleeping on was wood with what can barely be called a mattress.  She was in pain and could barely sleep because, being so frail, she had no cushion.  In addition, one end of the bed was broken and sloping significantly.  I decided to do something about it.

Upon returning to the US, I asked my small group to help with the need.  They immediately pulled out all the cash they had in their pockets and placed it on the table in my living room.  I counted it later and it was $60, EXACTLY the amount I was told the bed and mattress would cost.  God is good.  I saved the money and brought it with me in December and we were able to give them a nice Christmas gift that was much appreciated.

The reason this gift was so significant was because, just a few months later, it would be a necessity.  For the last eight months, Rosario has no longer been able to eat solid foods or  to leave that bed, even to use the bathroom.  She can longer see, is no longer strong enough to function and barely sleeps.  She wants Santiago with her constantly and so it is difficult for him to rest as well.

We were able to pray with her and encourage her.  She described the foods she was hoping to eat soon when her time here was through.  She kept calling me “hermanito” over and over, an affectionate term for “little brother” (in the family of God).  It was difficult to leave as I knew how much she enjoyed having company.  I hope it is not the last time I will see her, but I fear it may be.

Here are some photos we took at our most recent visit:

A huge thank you to those who have helped them and I ask that you pray for them as Rosario will be with the Lord, soon.  In the meantime, it is very difficult for Santiago and it will be for him in the future as well as they have been married over 50 years.  It is a true example of some of the most sincere, sacrificial and committed love I have ever seen.

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Coffee farm near Wiwili

Once we arrived at the farm, I was blessed by much cooler temperatures and a nice breeze on the top of the mountainside where the farm is located.

I was given the option of hanging out or exploring the farm with the workers.  They were assessing potential for expanding the existing trees through new plantings in other areas of the farm.

I was certainly not prepared as I do not have proper boots for gripping and sloshing through the steep, rain drenched and muddy terrain.  I also did not bring old pants so I was a little preoccupied with protecting the two pairs of decent jeans I brought with me.  It was a useless endeavor as I quickly found myself sliding down the mountain on my behind.  Unfortunately, I got some sap from a banana tree on a shirt I really liked, which is nearly impossible to remove (I’ve tried several methods).

This leads me to one of my greatest difficulties here.  It is nearly impossible for me to be prepared for situations I encounter here.   I often find out what we are going to be doing at the very last minute.  Due to this, I find myself constantly not ready for situations, which leads to some embarrassment and frustration on my part.  I am trying to adapt to this, but it is certainly one of my greatest challenges here.   Little by little, though, I am learning what I need to have and when and how to be prepared here.  I can always use prayer for this.

Back to the farm… Due to my frustrations with trying to navigate the mountainside without proper boots, I was questioning whether I really wanted to learn more about coffee in that moment.  I became frustrated at the speed with which the others were able to move while I half slid, half tiptoed down the mountain.  Eventually, I figured out that a walking stick would help greatly and I quickly fashioned one and was much happier.

Eventually, we reached the “nursery” of the farm where new plants were being prepared for planting.  I found a nice rock to sit on and relaxed for a bit while the other men assessed the plants.  I try to ask questions whenever I can to learn a lot about the process of cultivation and what is important.

As the men ventured further down the mountain I was encouraged to stay put and relax a little.  It was peaceful to sit in the ravine and enjoy a few quiet moments to myself.  I sat listening to the stream and the parrots above.  On the way out, I was also told that there were four varieties of monkeys in the trees and mountains above although I was unable to see them.   There were also toucans flying about in the trees above us.  The environment felt very much like the scenery in the movie Avatar.

After a difficult hike back up the mountain we found lunch being prepared and a relaxing few moments of conversation and discussion about the farm.  Overall, I was thankful I went down the mountain but I vowed to be more prepared next time.

Here are some photos:

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Trip to Wiwili

September 17

Today I woke up to hear that we were leaving from Quilali (Kee-lah-lee) for another farm that Jose and Jonatan are partners in.  It was a long drive to the farm but I was able to see a few other small communities I was hoping to visit along the way, including WiWili (pronounced Wee-Wee-Lee).

Here’s a link to a map: Wiwili, Nicaragua

The scenery on the journey to the farm was some of the most incredible I’ve ever seen.  The clouds were drifting through the mountains and valleys around us and creating a beautiful contrast of greens, blue skies and white clouds.  Here are some photos from the trip:

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Jonatan’s Farm – Part 2

On the hike up to the farm, Jona explained to me the various types of coffee we were seeing and which were older and newer varietals.  They are in the process of migrating to a new type of tree that has higher yields and is more tolerant of the heat.

It takes about three to four years from planting before a coffee tree becomes productive so the process is a gradual one as trees are replaced individually or in sections each year.   This ensures a reasonable harvest now while the new trees are given time to produce.

The current trees will begin to ripen from the end of October until January.  Harvest generally begins in November.

Each coffee “berry” contains a seed that is wrapped in fruit, then a shell and ultimately the bean.  The bean is then dried in the sun and prepared for export. I’ll post more about the process as harvest time comes.

Here are some photos of the coffee farm and surrounding area:

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Jonathon’s Farm

September 16

I got a phone call late the night before inviting me for a trip to the coffee farm of Jonaton, Jose’s brother.  I had heard from others that the journey was difficult and that it was a bit of a walk from the road.  But, I was thoroughly unprepared for the journey there and the TYPE of walk that it would be.  I’m glad I had thrown on some shoes with decent treads because the walk was a half mile through rainforest and coffee farms up a consistently ascending muddy mountainside.

I was quite relieved to get there and be offered coffee and a hammock to rest for a few minutes.  Soon, we were off examining things on the farm and discussing ideas for future projects.  After I finished my coffee, we headed down the hill to where the new well that Jona is building.  It took over three months to dig and set the concrete for the 1 meter wide hole down to 12 meters deep.   Thankfully I didn’t have to participate in that part!  However, I did give a hand installing the mechanism that brings the water up.  Here are some photos:

More photos of the farm and area in the next post!

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San Bartolo

In the afternoon on Independence Day, we left for Jose’s cattle and fruit farm.  Here, he and his partners produce cattle for sale and fruit for family and friends to consume.  It’s a major source of food for Jose’s family as fruit is fairly expensive here as well.

Here are some photos from the day:

Proof that I have some farm skills:

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Dia de Independencia

September 15

Today Nicaragua celebrates independence from Spain. I felt a little better about this celebration than yesterday’s victory over the gringos celebration.

The poor drummers and dancers are in their wet uniforms from the rain last night. You can clearly tell they are tired. But they are giving it their all!

Jose gave a speech at the university that made it on television. In the process of taping the event I made it on TV in the background several times. So, two weeks in Nicaragua and I’m already (indirectly) on TV. My 15 seconds of Nicaraguan fame.

After the celebration I got my hammock set up and got to relax a little before we left for the afternoon to Jose’s cattle farm. More about that in the next post!

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Fiesta de Batalla de San Jacinto (Celebration of the Battle of San Jacinto)

September 14, 1856  (Sorry these are so far behind!)

History:

A mercenary army from North America, headed by William Walker, invaded the country. After obtaining military control, William Walker decided to take over control of the country and declare himself president with the idea of annexing the region to the United States.

The Nicaraguans resisted with few weapons, and even rocks. At the final battle, the locals released a large enclosure full of horses, confusing the North Americans into fleeing after thinking a cavalry had arrived with reinforcements.  Eventually, the battle came down to two people and a single rock, which was thrown at the northern general’s head, killing him instantly.

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About 1pm, we piled in the truck for the short drive to the university campus in Quilali.  I really knew little about our plans except that there was some kind of celebration. When we arrived, there were about 30 students in special outfits.  Some were drummers and some dancers with traditional Nicaraguan dance routines.

As they finished preparing, the parade began through the streets, about a 1/2 mile to the small stadium just outside of town.

About midway through the parade, Jose told me that the celebration was over victory in the war against the gringos, or North Americans.  I looked around and realized I was the only gringo to be seen and we got a good laugh out of that.  I wasn’t nervous until they started picking up stones and looking at me funny.  Just kidding, everyone was very gracious to me!

On the way back from the stadium, what began as a light rain turned into an absolutely  torrential downpour and we were soon drenched with about a quarter mile to go in the parade.  No one seemed to be phased much by it as it rains nearly daily and nothing ever seems to dry out much!  It seemed to make things more fun for the students, who seemed to be having a great time.

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