1. Flushing toilets.
2. Heated showers, with running water. Really, repeatedly pouring buckets of cold water on yourself at 11 at night is actually not that fun.
3. No more animals running around inside eating food off my plate and jumping on the counter.
4. It won't be this hot!! Also, clean clothes.
5. No more chicken bus rides.
6. My bed at home.
7. It being cool enough to sleep with a blanket.
8. People speaking English. Understanding what is going on in society rather than always being confused about what people are telling you.
9. Eating fruits and vegetables and knowing they're safe. Just familiar food in general! No more hunks of raw-meat-looking stuff! (It turned out to be a vegetable. Which I found out only after my mind started going all directions and I almost got nauseous. Called malanga, by the way). Being able to drink the water will be a plus too.
10. And of course, top of the list is going to church with my church family, seeing family, and hanging out with my friends again.
three anecdotes of God's love shining through (unlikely) people
Tio Antonio and his hammock shop
This first story is a catch-up post from Granada. It was a hot afternoon with our whole OSU group, just a few days before half of the team flew back to the states, and we were slowly picking our way back to the hostel since it was probably 98 degrees. We pass by a few open doorways and see people inside at colorful looms, weaving back and forth, making hammocks. Of course we go inside, and we see two big open workshops full of young people at the looms and in the loft. Upon closer look I saw the tiles that encircled the room at shoulder height had sign language signs on them, and then quietness of the workshop hit me. Most of these people were deaf.
That Saturday we met with the creator of the place, an energetic man in his sixties with an untucked button-down shirt and kind eyes. His name was Tio Antonio and he has a heart like no one else. He told us of his journey to show Granada and the world that deaf and blind people can work. After personally entreating many of the hundreds of hotels and restaurants in Granada to hire these capable workers, Tio Antonio decided that he must provide some sort of employment since no one else would. The hammock shop was born, though Tio Antonio readily admits that at first the hammocks they made were terrible. He says how crooked and ugly they were, but that Western tourists would stop in and buy the hammocks anyway because they were made by people with disabilities. At that, Tio Antonio closed down the shop and said they wouldn’t open again until they were making the best hammocks in the world. He wanted to preserve the dignity of these people, and have their work sought after because it was truly good. Now they are open and making incredible hammocks. Last year they had a hammock ordered by Pope Francisco and sent to the Vatican. A blind young man made it.
After these successes, Tio Antonio went back to the council of hotel and restaurant owners to ask about opening their employment to people with disabilities. Yet still, they were not interested. The conversation moved on and the employers began talking about their biggest problem with their workforce: that the maids talked all day long and didn’t get very much work done. Tio Antonio said he would give two fingers off his hand if his workers could talk to each other. That made me want to cry – the unfairness of it all and the load that some people have to bear. Tio Antonio has since opened up a café inside the hammock shop that is staffed only by deaf people, and is ingeniously designed: menus have clear pictures and lists of ingredients so you just point to what you would like or don’t want. Tables also have sign language cards with common signs like please, thank you, the check, salt, pepper, etc. I had some delicious banana pancakes and a glass of mango juice, and the system worked flawlessly. Tio Antonio is doing such amazing work and he is such a big-hearted person that we just want to do anything we can to help him and the people he works with.
A woman named Susan on the coast
The next story is from our time in Limon Dos, on the coast. The place we were staying in had no internet (just lots of cockroaches) and we were desperately needing to connect with our advisor at the university. Plus it is hard to travel for multiple days without internet in general -- not being able to connect with family and friends back home. So I spent Sunday morning laying in my bunk in the steamy hot room, hearing a wonderful Sunday sermon of Zechariah 6 and John 10, reminded that:
· The more I give up, the more I gain. The more I die, the more I live.
· Listen to the right voice, the voice of God.
· There may not be flowers on the road He calls us to, but a crown.
In the afternoon I joined Annalee on the beach and we met a woman named Susan from Florida who has recently moved to Nicaragua and now has condos for rent for the few tourists they get in Limon Dos. I’ll admit I was hesitant and unimpressed when I met her: a wiry woman in her fifties, with dirty blond hair, smoking a cigarette on the porch with a drink in front of her. Still, traveling teaches you to keep an open mind and learn to get to know new people, and so I’ve been working hard not to let preconceived notions color my opinion of people. After twenty minutes of congenial conversation, Susan invited us to come back to her place to use the internet, and even offered us a ride over there. We told ourselves that we’d only stay an hour to Skype our advisor and catch up on email, but the late afternoon turned into evening and we got a lot of work done while talking with Susan about her experiences and making her laugh over the dynamics of our group. She brought out sodas and popcorn and hooked up outdoor lights to light the patio. At 10 PM, she said she would have made us burgers if she would have known we had so much to do, but improvised with PB&Js, Powerade, and mini candy bars. She was the mom we needed right then and super friendly and a ton of fun to get to know. She then gave us jackets and a big camping light to walk back with, and we trekked back home under the stars, which were gorgeous.
Two days later we were trying to get a driver to come out to rural Limon Dos to drive us to Leon, and we knew Susan had contacts so we stopped back over. Her husband was on their front porch drinking coffee and about to start a cigarette, and his arms were covered in tattoos. It is always hard for me to get past first impressions like that, but he then spent the next hour on the phone with various drivers he knew to get us the best price for the four hour trip. He put his morning completely on pause for us and went above and beyond to not just find the contacts, but to personally call them and schedule the trip. Both Susan and her husband were perfect examples that outside appearances mean nothing and that some people really do have hearts of gold.
Last story: adventures from our first trip to Ocotal (this entry is from my journal, 7/9)
Long but good day of traveling up to Ocotal, consisting of two 2-hour chicken bus rides, one to Esteli and then one to Ocotal. The temperatures slowly dropped to a pleasant level and we climbed gray-purple mountains until we were driving in lush green landscapes of scattered farms and fields. As our noisy chicken bus thudded past a small community, I saw an idyllic green field nestled in between the trees and mountains and an eclectic mix of kids in colored tshirts kicking a soccer ball around. It was such a carefree and picturesque scene, one that makes your heart happy.
We made it to Ocotal without incident, and then had a wonderful meeting with Claudia and Wilmer, the two Nicaraguans who are starting this coffee exporting business. Claudia set up accommodations for us, and since there aren’t enough rooms, Annalee and I are at one place and Dawson is two blocks away at another. He came over to talk after dinner, and we told him of our awesome sweetheart of a hotelito owner, a grandmotherly woman who gave us a grand tour of our room (a modest space with paint-peeling walls and threadbare sheets, but presented with gusto). She then ensured that we knew how to work the fan – and then when it didn’t work, she went to bring us another, and then showed us how to work the tiny, 6 inch TV even though we said we didn’t need it – and when that didn’t work either, she brought her husband in to fix it.
Dawson left around 11 pm or so for his room and Annalee and I got ready for bed. About twenty minutes later we hear a knock, which makes my heart start racing since we’re in an unfamiliar place and it’s so late. But since I am the closest one to the door, I answer it even though I am not wearing my glasses. I see a guy and it doesn’t hardly register and then he leans in and yells “Ahhhg!!” and I jump so bad it probably took ten years off my life. But it’s just Dawson, and he’s back to tell us that he is locked out of his place because the guards closed the big wire gates to the property. After a few minutes of awkwardly debating options (Annalee and I are both in our pjs and not wanting to go out), we decide that we will all go over with him and call the guard. Our Spanish is better than his anyway. We hurriedly get dressed a bit more and put our glasses back on, then with phone flashlights and flip flops we try to sneak out of our hotelito as quietly as possible, all while realizing how scary this is – long shadows everywhere, and little light. As we’re just nearing the outer gate, our little grandma host comes in her nightgown to see what is going on. We explain in broken Spanish and a lot of gesturing and pointing what happened and why we are sneaking out with Dawson. She points down the street and says something about walking, then says its peligroso (dangerous). At that, Annalee and I both back up and say we don’t want to go – let’s just let Dawson just go himself – but then the lady coaxes us all back outside and tells us some more, gesturing that she’ll watch us walk the whole distance so we’ll be safe. Somewhat appeased, we set off and she even walks with us. Only ten steps down the street, we pass a night guard and I presume the exchange between him and our protector lady contained an explanation of why three women in pajamas are walking one guy with a backpack down the street at such an hour. We were a strange sight. Not two minutes later, a dog rushes at Dawson, setting off at least three others to start barking and something starts hitting a tin roof nearby that sounds like gunshots. On instinct, Annalee and I spin around and run back to seek safety in the hotelito, so scared and terrified and laughing at the idiocy of it all. I almost wet my pants. Literally the scariest moment I’ve had in a while. Crazy! Somehow the dogs calmed down and the woman, security guard, and her husband (now awake as well) all watched Dawson until he made it safe to his place. Then they chuckled and pantomimed our scared run and the look on our faces when the dogs came running and told us that it was all fine now. Then our grandma lady wished us a peaceful night and told us she had guard cats so we should feel safe. She walked us back to our room and even patted Annalee on the shoulder. I ended the night thinking, This woman is an angel, and God is surely with us. We woke the whole place from the dead of sleep and they all became instant protectors anyway, even though we could hardly communicate with them. Crazy crazy.
This house is quite musical so I finally decided to record a bit on my phone.
There's no video, btw, just sound.
Today was a productive day: Dawson and I headed out to explore town with our cameras and then ended up having meetings with all three farmers in our group to get Rainforest Alliance certified. Of course, an Eskimo stop was included in there (the ice cream place of Nicaragua) and many cups of coffee and fresh avocados off the street that my host mom and I bought on the way home from our 5 AM walk.
I usually help with dishes after each meal, and today I helped the woman who is hired to assist with cooking/cleaning with more dishes in the outside sink. We were trying to talk and she asked me if I like skirts, in relation to the fact that I wear them every day. I then tried to explain -- in Spanish -- about my faith and wanting to dress modestly. It was pretty challenging but I think I got the point across (Yeah pretty proud of that;). Then she said something about remembering me and my skirts and I lost her ;).. The girls have also seen me praying at mealtimes and the younger one asked initially what I was doing, and I heard the older one say "Orar", which is to pray. A few days later she gave me a picture of Jesus "for me to pray with", but I told her thank you but I don't need it. ;) They said they pray at bedtimes, and go to church on Sundays, and they do have quite a few pictures of Jesus around their house.
Also today I walked into the kitchen to find the hired woman, Fatima, and one of the older daughters who is in and out of the house, Laiby, holding a tiny, adorable baby. Laiby said it was her niece and then asked if I wanted to hold her, which of course I did. Then she joked that I was "practicing" and I told her I was only 20 and too young to have kids. I asked her the same, and she laughed and said she was 18 and "completely alone" too, and then we asked Fatima who shockingly said she was sixteen. Sixteen!! And she is working full-time as a cook/maid. I felt very entitled at that point since our lives are so drastically different. I have been given so many opportunities. Soon after, the baby's mom walked in and we asked her how old she was, and her answer was twenty.. and we all looked at each other and laughed. Wow. And this baby is her second kid! Again, such different lives!
I'm also pretty sure I ate mayonnaise today. That was a low point.
It continues to amaze me how our connections can span the world. God's hand is in everything and He is everywhere, so no matter where we go, He will go with us. Just a few examples of His awesomeness:
In our first few weeks working in La Calle Real, our partner, Hal, had an international agriculture intern from UC Davis working with him. We got to know her since she was staying at the same hostel as our group, and one night she was Skyping her friend who is interning in Italy, and told her friend that she had met some OSU kids. The friend then says, "How weird, my roommate here on this internship is from OSU too", and then her OSU roommate walked into the Skype video and it was another member of our Enactus team, Rebekah! From Oregon and California to Nicaragua and Italy -- crazy!
Another time, we were meeting with one of our long-time partners and he brought along a US study abroad student who was staying with him on a homestay. The student's name was David and he was from Indiana, and he mostly just followed our group around all afternoon while we talked to microloan recipients with our partner translating. Then as we're about to leave, David says to me, "Hey, can I ask you a question..." and I turn around and smile, because this is how it always starts. Then he says that he noticed I was wearing a head covering (I was shocked right there that he knew what to call it) and was wondering if it was part of a religious affiliation. After I explained and said he might even know of ACs in his area, he nodded and said yes, and then said he was a branch of conservative Mennonite himself. My jaw completely dropped at that. Midwest ties and we both find ourselves in this tiny barrio of Leon, Nicaragua. God certainly orchestrated that one.
The oddest meeting though was at the Mesaya outdoor market. The Mesaya is a huge, colorful plaza where the best of the best Nicaraguan craftsmen come to sell their goods -- it is definitely a tourist spot. You can get anything from hammocks to sandals to coffee, and all at pretty decent prices after bartering. I was wandering around, wearing an OSU shirt, as always, and this older gentleman passes me and makes some comment like "Oh, you're from OSU", but it was very noncommital and I get that a lot so I agreed but then moved on. About twenty minutes later I run into him again, but this time he takes the conversation another step by saying that he's always wanted to go to Oregon, but he's from Ohio. At that, I said offhand that I know people in Ohio through my church, which of course prompted him to ask what church. His eyes lit up when I said Apostolic Christian, and then he asked me if I knew where the church started. I thought he was just curious since I was from the west but clearly we had churches in the midwest as well, and I answered that it actually started in New York. He nodded and then asked if I knew which was the first church, and I said Croghan. He was all impressed and said he didn't think I'd know AC church history that much;). He then proceeded to tell me that he is in Croghan every few months and knows the church and church people very well. I was very surprised and said that our elder from Croghan actually came to Oregon in the past six months and that my family hosted him. This shocked the guy, who had by then introduced himself as a Lehman, and then he wanted to know what the elder's name was. It completely slipped my mind at that point, but I told him I'd probably remember a few hours later. We talked for a little more before I had to pry myself away since our team was on a time crunch and I was trying to buy gifts for my family. I had only moved on for about fifteen minutes when the guy finds me again, bringing all of the family he was traveling with to meet me. He then tells me that his grandma was a member of the Croghan AC church but then her children left to go to the Mennonite church (I think). He then started listing families in the Croghan area and I remembered the elder's name was Duane Farney. He recognized the last name and then immediately got out a piece of paper to write down my name and said the next time he goes to Croghan he's going to tell Duane he met me, John Wiegand's daughter (I said to say that part because it is more likely Duane will remember me if my dad's name is involved;). Later Annalee told me that he had found her after one of these many encounters and asked where I was because he forgot to tell me that he had a great-aunt that also knew of our church, or something like that. He was clearly thrilled to make the connection;) SMALL WORLD.
Now some unrelated pictures.
Dust storm in Leon. This is the far edge of the bus terminal and that is solid dust -- you can't tell from the picture but it is actually thick in the air everywhere. I had to wear my sunglasses under the tin waiting area roof and if I would have had a bandana I would have covered my mouth. It was that bad. They are in a serious drought right now and so this is the second bad dust storm they've had since we've been there. You really can't do anything because it is hard to see and breathe.
I've been in my homestay for three days now and it's been nerve-wracking, awkward, awesome, funny, fun, challenging, and all in all very good for me. I'm so glad I didn't know this was going to happen because I am the sort of person who would have gotten nervous about living with only Spanish speakers, and it was much better to just be thrown into it.
I was dropped off on Sunday to my new weekday home where I met my host mother and immediately went with her to the family gathering at her dad's. I met my two energetic host sisters, Andrea (9) and Nahomi (7), and some of their cousins, and became the focus of their attention and of a flurry of Spanish words and questions. I'm thinking I understood about 20% of what was said, but I learned a lot and am getting very comfortable with making mistakes. When you can't communicate much, you just string together whatever you can and make it work!
In the days since then, I've heard so much Justin Bieber and One Direction and Disney princesses that it is hard to believe I'm in Nicaragua. The girls totally love all of these American pop stars (they like lots of Spanish singers too) and sing these songs at the top of their lungs even when they don't understand the words they are saying. Today when I was eating lunch, Andrea and Nahomi were lying on the kitchen floor watching Hannah Montana in Spanish and it was very strange to see -- two girls, in their slightly dirty school uniforms, laying on a red tile floor, avidly watching the portable TV screen as it showed teens with endless amounts of clothes, fancy houses, and snazzy cars... all things that these girls may never see. And this family that I am staying with is actually very well off in their community -- they own a clothing store (their house is actually attached to the back of it), and the dad is a reporter at the local TV station (when the mom turned on the morning news I saw the dad wearing the same red-and-white striped shirt he was wearing at breakfast and I was totally shocked), they have a young woman who does some cooking and cleaning every day, and the girls have a tutor in the afternoons.
But don't think it's all THAT nice... we have a tiny bucket of water to hand-splash the dishes with, there is a big barrel of water in the shower and you use a scoop to dump (yes cold) water on yourself, and the toilets don't flush -- they are 'bucket-flush' which means you just pour a bucket of water in on top and the pressure makes it flush. Kind of. So that's been fun .Yep.
People should be proud. I've eaten things I would never eat the states. Plus lots and lots of rice and beans. And I voluntarily got up at 5 AM yesterday morning to go walking with my host mom. Shocking. Also, since we are working with coffee farmers and it is kind of the town culture, I am drinking coffee. And it is DELICIOUS. I'm pretty sure they aren't even putting anything in it to sweeten it (I've poured it straight from the thermos), and it is dark and so good. And I'm not even a coffee drinker! Maybe I'll have to start. The kids drink coffee starting at 6 months here, so it's definitely a thing.
Oh, and they also have lots of pets. One inside dog and two outside dogs, and an inside cat and her three one-month-old kittens. The "gatitos" are adorable to hold, but the cat is less fun when it jumps up on your lap to eat your food or you turn around to see it snitching food off the counter. Just don't think about it. It's pretty gross.
One of the unfortunate negatives about this society is what they show on television. Yesterday I was eating lunch with the girls and the local channel was on (where there dad works), and suddenly a photo of a body with horrible gun-shot wounds appeared. There were all sorts of different angles shown and it was something that never would have been even considered on US TV. The girls started flipping out and Nahomi started shrieking and gagging, and I figured at least some of it was fake since she is that sort of drama queen, but then she went outside and actually threw up. It was kind of sad.
Our Rainforest Alliance project has been temporarily stalled since our partner's grandma is dying, so I've been spending a lot of time at my homestay house catching up on online classes and my research internship. In the evenings, I usually want to get out so I've taken walks to the center square with the girls and then played hide-and-seek or some running game with them in the gardens and fountains there. They don't get much attention from their busy parents so they are usually bored all afternoon and come ask me questions while I work or try to play YouTube music on my phone or feed me namacitos (this little yellow fruit/berry that I really can't stand the taste of but they dearly love). One day they were making maps of the house and hiding things for me to find. It's always an adventure and loud around here;)
And on the positive side, I am understanding probably 50-60% of what is being said now. It takes effort so sometimes I don't feel like listening to conversations or the news because it takes conscious effort to comprehend, but when the girls talk to me I can usually piece together that is being said, with a lot of questions and back-and-forth. Two weeks is clearly too short to get very far, but I can see why this is about the only way to really learn a language. You just have to dive in and start butchering it, and then you realize how much you understand and can say.
Today we just got back from Ocotal, a city up in the mountains of northern Nicaragua. It is a totally different environment up there: pine forests, blue mountains, a pleasant 85 degrees, fewer people, a close knit community, a clean city. (Nicaragua is sadly a very dirty place, and garbage is everywhere. People just throw things out the window and see no reason to use garbage bins.) On Wednesday we made the trek up there, involving a two hour chicken bus to Esteli, then realizing we were dropped off at the south bus terminal and we needed to find the north terminal (who knew Esteli was big enough to have two terminals?), and then another two and a half hour chicken bus to Ocotal. As we journeyed north, the temperature slowly dropped and the houses spread further apart, and we began winding around mountains. We arrived as the sun was about to set and it was beautiful.
The trip to Ocotal was in part, my idea. We (as Enactus) are looking for new partners to work with over the next year(s) and I found a young organization that works to promote rural coffee farmers in a co-op type arrangement. I wondered if we could partner with them to get them Rainforest Alliance certified, which would allow them to sell their coffees at a premium and thus earn higher wages. Rainforest Alliance is a seal for sustainably-grown coffee that must demonstrate biodiversity conservation, community development, workers’ rights, and productive agricultural practices, and is highly desired by coffee buyers in the US and Europe who are trying to show that they will source sustainably. After reaching out to the organization, we met Claudia and Wilmer, two Nicaraguans who are shockingly well-traveled and believe in the quality of this coffee—grown in their native backyards—so much so that they are starting their own business to introduce this coffee to US and European markets. They are both a blast and clearly believe so much in Nicaraguan coffee, committed to living here and supporting these farmers, yet wanting to put their educations to use. Having this seal will give their nascent business a lot of credibility and attract potential buyers.
Anyway, they were wonderful hosts while we were in Ocotal, taking us to the largest farm they work with, run by a man named Jorge, for a tour and crash course in coffee growing. Of course, along our path up and down the jungle ravine—getting bit by ants and a bit sunburned and trying not to skid down the hillslide—Jorge and Wilmer made us try all sorts of fresh fruits. It was a ton of fun to try so many unique things, as fresh as I could ever get them.
After a late lunch we decided to go forward with the project, with Dawson and I leading the Rainforest Alliance certification process. I have a lot more to learn, but I am excited because this project combines all that I am interested in – supporting community development, promoting environmental sustainability, and utilizing my business/finance background. And of course, as our bus finally pulled into Leon today—after an excruciating five hour ride, with over 120 people squished on one chicken bus, it was 100 degrees and humid. I will not mind spending more time in Ocotal rather than here! The current plan is to spend Sundays through Thursdays in Ocotal, at a homestay that Claudia will arrange (eeekk, but I’m excited. Maybe I’ll actually get better at Spanish!), and then spend Fridays and Saturdays in Leon to finish our microloan business workshops and work in La Calle Real. Our last two and a half weeks just got a whole lot busier, but it's exciting too!
The past week has been a whirlwind of travel and no internet.
Last few days with the group of six, so we headed to Granada to look for partners and enjoy the city.
Granada is more touristy – even with a little strip that looks like Bridgeport-slash-Italy with outdoor seating at restaurants and light posts and manicured trees. It’s still Nicaragua, and you can tell by the street children that come to your table trying to sell you wooden whistles or palm branch flowers, but it is a weird combination between third and first world.
We had breakfast at this adorable little garden café, with hammocks and vintage décor and old books.
Had some unsuccessful partner meetings, then randomly walked in on a winner. More about that in another post.
Took a history tour by carriage ride.
Found a mouse in our hostel room. I am so conditioned now that it didn’t even warrant a scream. I just picked up a chair, blocked off its hole, and tried to sleep (and ignore the fact that it was just in my suitcase eating trail mix. Yeah. That was gross).
Dawson, Annalee, and I said goodbye to the rest of the group and drove two hours back to Leon on Friday for our first microloan workshop. It went well, even though it was crazy hot in the elementary school classroom where the workshop was held.
Spent five hours at a nice restaurant on the fourth of July: two hours waiting for our potential partner to show up (during which time we downed some sodas, then decided an hour and a half in that we could probably order an appetizer and have the evidence cleared before our partner showed… so we did), an hour of the requisite “talking” before ordering, and then two hours of eating and more talking. It was exhausting. But she runs a coffee co-op and we are talking about getting them Rainforest Alliance certified.
Saturday we headed back to Granada for a second meeting with a potential partner, and then packed the three of us into the backseat of compact car (our luggage needed the front seat and the trunk) for a four hour drive south to Limon Dos, on the coast.
Arrived at Jicalite, a beach “hotel”, which is really just an absolute dive but it has character. And by that I mean, the type of people who reside there. Annalee and I had a room that was literally a bunk bed with a foot and a half of space all the way around it. And that was it. With some dead cockroaches on the floor. But I can deal with a shocking amount these days. It was very hard to take in at first, but I got over it in a few hours. The outdoors is really the best part, so I might as well enjoy God’s creation rather than the inside anyway.
We swam in the ocean for a while and swung in the old hammocks and then sat on the old wooden patio furniture in our swimsuits, in the still warm evening, and ordered a steaming ham and green pepper pizza and orange Fantas in glass bottles.
That night I sat out on the beach for some much-needed alone time (I really don’t get any time alone here, since Leon is too dangerous for me to be out alone), just watching the stars. I was having a really good reflective moment about my future and God’s plan and I felt the need to read so I opened up and read John 14, which started out so perfectly: Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. I kept reading and had a lot to think about, and then I l heard people behind me and looked up to see floating Chinese lanterns drifting up across the sky. Red-orange lights, being let off from a point way down the deserted beach, were floating gently up across the sky, like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I laid out on the sand and watched the lanterns and the stars and the bright moon and the amazing bioluminescence in the water and heard the pulsing waves, loud then quiet. It was wonderfully peaceful.
That night was our only night with AC, the next two were horribly muggy and our 8 x 6 ft room had no air flow and it was miserably hot. And no internet the whole time. It was hard.
God was watching out for me though, as always, and my Sunday sermon, listened to Sunday morning while laying on my steamy hot bunk, was so applicable and needed.
Some adventures that day as well, that I’ll save for another post.
Annalee had a potential partner meeting with someone in town the next day so we set off with high hopes. You cannot find a place more rural than this, so we walked at least forty-five minutes along a dirt road, in the scorching heat, until we finally found some people we could ask where the lunch place was. It turned out to be a fun little café with pet monkeys in a café next to the tables (this is all outdoor, of course. Like everything here). Chickens were walking around the cafe floor, also like usual. Just don't think about it. The monkeys were adorable and then the little girls at the café gave them little yellow lollipops and it was SO CUTE.
We found a tuk-tuk to take us back to Jicalite so we wouldn’t have to do that crazy walk again.
Tuesday we had a driver pick us up to stop back in Leon for a night (four hours north), before continuing another four hours farther north to Ocotal on Wednesday.
Leycar Flores, an 18-year old from La Calle Real who taught himself how to paint and is now supporting his whole family -- including two parents with cancer -- by selling his paintings wherever he can. Leycar had no money for art supplies but our partner, Hal, has brought him a couple paintbrushes and a few canvases to replace the old bedsheets he had been painting on. He has been leaving for weeks at a time to sell to tourists in Costa Rica.
Backstory: We heard about Leycar on one of our first trips to La Calle Real and had several discussions with him afterwards. Seeing his family's tiny cement house, dirt floors, and hardworking family members and hearing of his earnest efforts to support them, we knew we'd like to help. He told us he'd like to keep painting but has a hard time reaching enough people who will buy paintings, so we told him we'd like to help him expand into international markets.
After relaying his inspirational story to our Enactus advisor, she said to just buy out his entire stock of work -- mostly pictured above -- as a first step. We're planning to use our team's graphic designers and marketing experience to create branding for him and a web presence, something like 31 Bits or Etsy. And this is the story of that day, bringing him the news.
An entry from my journal 7/1:
Crazy day when you think about it. Annalee and I spent the afternoon riding a chicken bus to La Calle Real -- standing up in the aisle of a crowded chicken bus, full of colorfully-clothed people, passing savannah trees and dry grassland, with blue-purple volcanoes in the distance, hot as hot. Sweat beaded up on lips and drenching the back of my tshirt, wind whipping the flyaways tucked into my headband that had pulled out of my high sock bun. Anything to get my hair off my neck. After forty-five minutes of riding in silence with my thoughts, the rolling scenery, and the quiet lull of dozing Nicaraguans and murmuring bright-eyed, uniformed school kids, I started straining my eyes for signs of the Calle Real bus stop. Annalee moved to the seat just behind me and we both started conferring over which stop was ours and if they even knew to stop at Calle Real. After a few nervous half stops, we glimpsed the distant roadside pottery stand that signaled the La Calle Real entrance, and made our way to the front of the bus to hint that we wanted off. The bus rolled to a stop just long enough for us to step to the dusty ground before it picked up speed again, leaving us two white girls, gringos, alone in a dusty and deserted portion of Nica countryside. Thrilled that we had navigated our way to La Calle Real on our own, we picked our way through the now-familiar gap in the wire-and-wood fencing and began walking the dirt path into the community.
Seeing school at recess, we walked into the school yard, aware of the immediate stares an.d comments and some vocal "hellos" to our "holas". After a few non-responses to our search for Mercedes, the school principal, we decided to look for Keidy, one of the students with the best English, to translate for us. Then one of the teachers came out of the classroom we had just inquired in, and with poor Spanish we told him that we had come to see Leycar and were hoping that Mercedes and a translator could come with us. Directing us to follow him, he found Leycar's two brothers and a thirteen-year-old girl with "good" English and told them all to go with us, even though that meant leaving their classes and they had no idea what we wanted. Thus began our walk to Leycar's house.
We tried to explain our plan and talk to our young guides as we plodded down the dirt and gravel road, across a sage brush field, and past two good-sized pigs tussling in the dry fields, but it was dripping hot and the conversation was faltering. We finally arrived at Leycar's, and immediately his family pulled out plastic lawn chairs for us, even whipping one with an old towel to clean the dust off. First through our little translator, and then just with Spanish ourselves, we explained that we wanted to buy all of Leycar's paintings. The lack of emotion on his face when we told him of this gargantuan purchase was a little unexpected, but the shock of it all was subliminally evident in the repeated clarifications of "Todos?" and the wide-eyed look on the younger brother's face. After twenty minutes of Leycar and his father painstakingly taking the worn canvases off their frames, Leycar's mother joined to help roll up each painting and secure with clear duct tape or strips of dark red cloth that she cut from her rag pile. Soon I had a bundle of canvas rolls sticking out of my backpack and we asked "Cuanto cuesta?" and then counted out $280 in fresh twenties to place in Leycar's hands. We explained again our plan to sell them in the states and help him support his new business, and our plan to be in contact with him through international texting and Facebook. We asked if any of them had questions for us, and Leycar immediately said that this was good. After promises to stay in touch, wishes of good luck, and some "hasta luegos", we departed with our little entourage -- and a backpack of oil paintings -- back to school.
Back in the schoolyard we thanked our little translator and tipped her a few cordoba, then waved goodbye to Leycar's brothers as well and headed back out to the highway. We caught a passing bus like pros and began our rolling trek back to Leon, realizing how surreal this trip had been and enthusiastically dreaming for all that we could do for this talented young painter in the middle of a hot, third-world landscape.
Sean getting mauled by the waves. It feels like bathwater but the currents are so strong! We were all standing in 4 feet of water and the waves would pick you up and tumble you around underwater. I got scraped up from being tossed around against the sand so much and I bet I brought home a pound of sand in my swimsuit. Still fun though!
Other updates on work: We had our initial microloan meeting on Monday with all of the loan recipients and will start business workshops tomorrow. We've spent the last two days in Granada looking for and meeting with new non-profit partners to work with -- we think we've found a few good ones. Tomorrow, Annalee, Dawson, and I are meeting with two new possible partners and then heading to Leon to have the first workshop, while the rest of the group gets ready to fly back to the states. Then it's just the three of us for a while longer.
We've had quite a bit more action around here but I have some Enactus work to get done for our meetings tomorrow. I'll update soon!
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.