Friday, May 30, 2008

Hurricane Alma

So, we lived through a hurricane last night! We're fine but have a hole in our kitchen ceiling and lost 2 1/2 trees from our yard.
We likely won't have power or water for a week or so as all of the power lines are blown down and all of the municipal water pumps are electric. At least we're going to the US in a few days. Hopefully all will be back to normal when we get back. Because of the electricity issue, we likely won't post for a while.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Strike Ended...

... a couple of days after the last post. The whole thing lasted just under two weeks, I think. Most buses started up again last Saturday (17th) and all started up the following Monday (19th). So things were pretty much back to normal after that.
Also, since the last posting the rainy season has begun! On Tuesday evening it started coming down hard, once again turning our streets into rivers. We got a rain free morning Wednesday then it started once again that afternoon and rained until Thursday afternoon. A little sprinkle followed that evening and since then (it is now Saturday morning) we have just had lots of clouds but no rain. People are talking about another Tropical Depression so maybe we'll have more storms. I sure hope so.
I know that once the rainy season becomes a daily reality, I'll not be as excited about it and will wish for those hot sunny days that we used to have, but right now I want it to never stop raining. I love it! The town decided we had enough rain after two days to turn the water back on full time, so now we can shower and do dishes whenever we want! Now that we don't have to rush around in the morning filling up all of our buckets and watering the plants before the water goes away, we have a lot more free time. I don't know what to do with my mornings anymore. I'm sure I'll find something.
Hasta pronto

Saturday, May 10, 2008

No hay transporte

So, we’re in the middle of a nation wide transportation strike. That’s no good. Things change from day to day, but here’s the gist:

Starting last Monday (the 5th) taxi drivers in Managua and a couple other major cities and some buses stopped running. The following day, almost all taxi drivers in the country, as well as almost all buses (between cities and within cities) and a lot of cargo transporters joined the strike. Since then, it has been more of the same. We, here in Malpaisillo, are in the middle of a major east-west highway in Nicaragua and usually have 20-30 buses pulling into town daily, plus the 3 micro-buses that are constantly going back and forth between here and Leon. Since Monday, not one bus has come through town. This has had a big impact in some ways and not much of an impact in other ways.

Probably the biggest impact is for people who don’t live in the town where they work. It is very rare here to own a car so almost everyone relies on public transportation. Many people in Malpaisillo (and lots of other communities) work in Leon and haven’t been able to go to work. All of the schools where I work are outside of town along the highway and many teachers live in town and are not going to work because they have no way to get there, so no school. Another major impact, since cargo transporters are also striking, is that a lot of the markets are out of food. We have been alright here because somehow people are sneaking in food every few days, but the prices have also gone up because of this. Some of our friends live in towns that have been without basic food supplies almost all week.

Why is this all happening? Apparently Nicaragua has the highest gas prices in all of Central America (around $5/gal) and those who work in transportation want the government to freeze petroleum prices. In effect, they are looking for the government to subsidize gas costs in order to bring them back down. The government says that there is no money to do that, and the only possible way they could try would be to re-institute the nation-wide power outages (for about 8 hours a day) that we used to have. That certainly isn’t a popular option. The transportation workers don’t want to raise their prices because they say that no one will pay and that they have already had to raise them a lot (example, when we first got to Malpaisillo in Nov 06, it cost 35 cordobas to get to Managua. Now it costs 58. That is a 66% increase in about a year and a half). It is hard to say whether people would pay higher prices or not because people just don’t have much money here. The prices have to be kept low, even if it means very slim profits, just so people can afford things.

Peace Corps has instructed us not to leave our towns because in some areas the strikers have set up road blocks and are harassing all cars. Their goal is to paralyze the country. There are also demonstrations in a few cities and lots of folks have been tear-gassed and/or arrested. So far, we haven’t had any reason to need to leave Malpaisillo, but if this goes on another week we definitely will. Although we are not in danger of running out of food yet, we have run out of some of the things we like to eat that we can only buy in grocery stores in Leon (oatmeal, wheat bread, peanut butter, spices…) where we generally go to restock once a week. Also, there are no ATMs here, so we could potentially run out of money, although I don’t see that happening soon, since we spend most of our money at the grocery store in Leon.

That’s what is going on here, but it gets better. Since late January, we only get running water from 6 am until around 1 pm each day. We have become accustomed to this and are used to waking up early to fill up buckets, do dishes and laundry and water the plants. After the water goes away, we just use the stored water to bathe and clean dishes. Well, for some reason, the power started going out again this week from around 8 am until 3 pm. We haven’t had power outages like this for about 6 months, so we were all surprised. Well, when the power goes out, the electric water pump for the town also goes out so the water stops running about a half hour after the lights go out. That means that we have only been getting water from 6 until 830 each day. That is barely enough time to fill all of our buckets that we emptied the previous evening and do laundry. Especially since we usually leave to go to work around 730 or 8 and then fill up water after. So for a good portion of this week we were sitting in the house, sweating of course, with no power, water, transportation and very little food in town. When we talk to locals about that, they add that there is also no employment and in many cases (because of the transportation) no school. What a mess.

We’re fine though. Our spirits (like the temperature) are still high. A bright spot upon all of this is that the Ramirez Brothers Circus is in town!! As soon as we saw them setting up, in a vacant lot in the middle of neighborhood, we knew that no matter how much we didn’t want to go, we definitely had to go. Now, I don’t know if you have ever been to a circus in the US, but aside from the big tent, this is nothing like that. First of all, there is one circular tent that is probably around 800-900 ft2. Inside this tent are bleachers (2 x 4s resting in a rebar frame, no nails or screws, balanced on the dirt ground) and the “ring” where all of the action happens. The bleachers were packed full with probably 300-400 people and there was absolutely no ventilation.

The show started late (of course) with 3 little girls, probably ages 3, 5 and 5, wearing short skirts and high boots doing some sort of sexy dance to a reggaeton song being played way too loud through blown-out speakers. Now, to the casual observer, this may seem strange but we have learned that any gathering here is not official until there is extremely loud music played through blown-out speakers. If the music volume is such that you can talk to someone standing next to you, it must be turned up much higher. In addition, little girls dressed provocatively and dancing in ways they shouldn’t be are expected at most social gatherings, be they school graduations, birthday parties, holy week parades, summer reading club events or government elections.

After the little girls danced, a guy came out to do some tricks on a big trapeze-like swing that came only inches away from the heads of the crowd in the bleachers. After him was a clown act and then a young woman, dressed much like the little girls only the skirt was shorter and the bikini top was more like a small bra, came out to dance. Everyone hooted and hollered the whole time. After her a different girl, dressed similarly, came out to lip-synch a couple of songs and dance. Then there was a break. The second half was even worse. More clown acts, making sexual and racist jokes almost exclusively, and one of the dancing girls came back out wearing even skimpier clothes and not bothering to lip-synch this time. Also, throughout the night, there was a deer chained up in the corner that never took part in any act. So, aside from a guy on a swing, the circus consisted of crude clown acts and almost naked dancing girls. Did I mention that at least a third of the crowd was under the age of 12? When we left the circus, we (Brenna, our friend Greg, and I) were all disgusted by what had taken place that evening. Obviously, we have come to expect many cultural differences and we know that entertainment is different here than at home, but we were still appalled. What made it even worse is that there really isn’t anything here for people to do, so when something like this comes to town, of course everyone is going to go. Since we went, we have actually had some really good conversations with some folks in our town about what they think about all of this. Many people have told us that they also think it is disgusting and would never go to something like that. I’m glad we saw it, but I will never go to a circus in Nicaragua again. What a funny place.

I guess that will be all for now. Thanks for reading and we look forward to seeing some of you in CO in a few weeks. Please think about DONATING to our town trash project. And if you’re going to donate, don’t waste any time. We need to raise the $$ by the end of July. Thanks for considering it.

See you later.

Friday, May 02, 2008

What Have We Been Doing?

Hooray! We finished planning our Trash Treatment project, and you can now read all about it AND donate online at the Peace Corps website. Just follow our handy link here on the right. Now that we have that out of the way, we have more time to concentrate on other aspects of our lives here. Mason and I are both doing the same sort of work in the schools this year. We started the school year off with making compost with the kids. The kids had fun watching it slowly decompose week by week. In the beginning they didn’t believe me when I told them that all of the leaves, grasses and food scraps would turn into dirt! Currently we are working on school nurseries and school gardens. So far only about 40 trees in all 4 of my nurseries have sprouted, mostly because there is a major shortage of water right now, and because the kids are for some reason not willing to water the 6 days of the week that I’m not there! I don’t know why it is so hard to get them to water, but they are just lazy. Even the teachers don’t seem to care sometimes. It’s really frustrating, especially since this is the second time each school has done these projects with me. Often, getting things done here is like pulling teeth.

About the water shortages… here in town we have had water rationing since early February. Our half of the town gets water from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. and the other half of the town has water in the afternoons. It was hard to get used to at first, but now we are just used to waking up at 6 with the water, washing clothes, watering plants and filling up buckets before leaving to go to work. At night we take “bucket baths,” by pouring water over our heads from a bucket of stored water! We used to think we were lucky because the house we live in has a toilet instead of a latrine, but without water most of the day, we have to flush it by forcefully pouring a pitcher of water in the bowl every time! Not to worry, the rainy season is fast approaching, bringing with it an end to all the dust and dryness.

We had a nice visit from Marilee and Nicole in March. We went with them up to the chilly rainforest called Miraflor. It was wonderful for us to be out in nature without sweating profusely as we do every day here. Unfortunately they couldn’t come down to Malpaisillo, because it was Holy Week (semana santa), and few busses were running. Mason and I went to Leon for Good Friday to watch the parades and processions. They have an interesting tradition (they actually copy Antigua, Guatemala) of making “paintings” on the street using colored saw dust. There are probably about 50 or so depicting typical scenes of Jesus, etc. They are all on display in the evening, and at night, the procession carrying Jesus and his friends trample all of the paintings as they walk by on the way to the cathedral. It’s an interesting spectacle.

Two weeks ago we went to our friend’s wedding. She married a Nicaraguan man named Lenin, and they plan on moving back to the States when she completes her Peace Corps service. She is the first of 4 girls in our group who are marrying Nica men! This past weekend we went to the beach town of San Juan Del Sur to spend time with our buddy Elliott and his family. His dad Jack treated us all to an afternoon sailing trip, which was spectacular. We sailed to a beautiful, isolated beach, and on the way home watched the sunset. Thank you, Jack!

The rest of this month we plan on just working a lot and enjoying our tranquil life here. We’ve really grown to love our days here where we typically work only about 4 hours a day and either read in the hammock, work in the yard or hang out with friends. In so many ways, our lives here are much easier then they were in the states. Sure, the standard of living here is lower, but there is practically zero stress, a tight community of friends and a lot of laughter.

In the beginning of June we head home for a week to go to Emily and Jason’s wedding. The dog and cat come home then too. Poster is set to live with my parents and their cat (who is the center of my dad’s universe), and Clavo is going to be with Carol. There’s going to be a big empty space in our lives without them here.

Only 6 months to go! Things here are really starting to wrap up. Thanks for reading!

At Miraflor looking at the amazing variety of orchids.

Mas, Nicole and Marilee hiking among the old Oak trees in Miraflor.

Taking a cold dip at Miraflor.

A true Nicaraguan revolutionary, flanked by Che and Sandino.

Singing revolution songs around the campfire at Miraflor.

Mas and I enjoying the cold!

The best cook in Nicaragua, our host in Miraflor, Doña Corina.