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Month: November 2016

ABOUT THIS BLOG

ABOUT THIS BLOG

After spending more than a little bit of time daunted by the thought of actually starting this blog, I’ve decided to structure it a little differently than I have in the past.  It’s been over 3 weeks since I’ve had any access to internet, and 5 weeks now that I’ve been in Nicaragua.  Too much has happened to recount it all chronologically, so I’ve decided to separate my posts into topics.  This way you’re free to read about whatever might interest you (and ignore my musings on vegetarianism in Nicaragua or the details of how to make corn tortillas from scratch – food post spoiler alert) if you so wish.  The official Raleigh blog will be updated much more frequently than will this one, so if you want to read more or catch a glimpse of me in action visit https://raleighinternational.org/blog/costa-rica-nicaragua/.  If you’d like to send me a message (highly encouraged), you can also use the form at the bottom of this page https://raleighinternational.org/contact-a-volunteer-costa-rica-nicaragua-expedition/ or email raleighcostarica@raleighinternational.org.  Sorry I won’t have the chance to post many photos until next changeover (11/25-11/28).  You’ll mostly have to take my word for it that it’s absolutely beautiful here!

 

Love,

Molly

(Sunrise near training center in Catarina)

 

(View on our overnight hike during training)

 

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(Catarina training camp)

 

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(Swimming in a volcanic crater lake after training hike)

 

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(Fellow Project Managers!)

Food

Food

I´ve just finished eating lunch, so it seemed like an appropriate time to write about food.  A lot of people asked me before I left whether it would be difficult to stay a vegetarian here.  I knew rice and beans were a major staple, but I really wasn´t sure what else to expect.  I´ve been pleasantly surprised that not only is it easy to be a vegetarian, it´s partially… required.  Even the carnivores aren´t being fed much meat here.  Not only is meat expensive for the families that we´re living with to afford, Raleigh as an organization only provides one meal per week when we´re at field base that includes meat because of the environmental, anti-humane, and other negative impacts of animal farming.  Did you know that roughly 2,400 liters of water goes into the production of just one hamburger (150grams of meat, one bun, one slice of cheese)?  Considering how precious water has become lately, given that our community has a limited and inconsistent supply (hence our project), it´s surprising to me that raising cattle is one of the main industries, alongside farming mainly corn (maíz) and beans (frijoles).  Cattle farming is also one of the biggest detriments to the rainforest.  Over 80% of rainforest destruction in the Amazon is a direct result of land being cleared to raise cows (http://www.fao.org/docrep/ARTICLE/WFC/XII/0568-B1.HTM).  As trees are a major necessity to water systems like the one we are implementing here, deforestation also means less access to drinkable and consistent water.

Most of the venturers here are used to eating meat at least once per day, if not with every meal.  While some of them are occasionally fed meat here in the community, they do all seem to be enduring the tough physical labor on the food they´re given without mention of being hungry.  Rice + beans, when eaten together, create a complete protein that is cheap, filling and tasty.  In addition to being better for the environment and animals, it makes sense that rice and beans central to the diet here in Nicaragua (and much of the rest of Central America).

Gallo pinto

This brings me to gallo pinto (pronounced “guy-yo pin-toe” for those of you who missed my last post)!  Gallo pinto is essentially rice and beans fried together in a pan.  It sounds simple, but something magical happens when the two are combined with a bit of oil.  I´m generally most hungry at lunch, since I usually eat a smaller amount at breakfast and then do physical work all morning.  (This is relatively speaking of course, as I feel like I actually eat quite a lot here compared to at home, although I snack less).  It´s silly, but I´m typically just the slightest bit disappointed at lunch, because it tends to be the only meal where Maria Elsa serves us our rice and beans separately, instead of gallo pinto, which I find so much tastier!

Plantains

After gallo pinto, the next biggest part of our diet is plantains.  I get particularly excited about plantains – I absolutely love them in all their forms.  Plantains were the first thing that I begged Maria Elsa to teach me to make.  They´re incredibly simple, once you have the plantains – it turns out that the hardest part is picking the right ones to cook!  By this I mean if you want to make plantain chips (salty like potato chips and thinly sliced), you have to use green ones that are still very firm.  If you want to make sweet ones, then they need to be soft and nearly black on the outside before you prepare them.  Once you´ve selected them, it´s only a matter of slicing and frying them, to which there is a little technique, but I won´t bore you with the details.  I´m fairly convinced I can do it on my own now, and I am extremely excited to try this one at home.

Tortillas

One thing I don´t think I´ll be making on my own any time soon are corn tortillas from scratch.  Also a staple here, as one of the major crops, making tortillas takes patience, perseverance, and love.  I still don´t quite understand all of the steps in the process, but once the corn is cleaned, cooked, and left to soak so that it is soft (potentially in that order, although not necessarily), it is ground into a paste using a hand cranked machine.  This is a workout.  Maria Elsa has to be a strong woman given the number of tortillas she makes.  Water is added to the corn paste, and then a small chunk is smoothed around the edges, smooshed flat onto a table, and alternately patted and rotated on a piece of wax paper until thin and circular.  Each tortilla is then individually fried in a slightly curved pan over the wood-oven fire.  You know it´s ready to flip when the back of your fingers sticks to the dough enough to lift the cooked side away from the pan.  After both sides slightly brown, only then is the process complete.  I´ve only helped crank, pat and flip so far, but I´m hoping to get some more practice in before I leave here.

Treats & Sweets

Every once in a while, Victoria, Maria Elsa, some other locals or the panaderia (bakery) in Salales (the closest town, roughly 30 min walking) will surprise us with some new and delicious food item.  In addition to tortillas every which way (plain, folded over and fried with cheese inside called “repocheta,” torn into pieces and fried with chile sauce and lime, etc.), it is amazing how much they do with corn here.  For example, there are a number of desserts involving corn.  We´ve gotten to try a cakey, sweet version of cornbread and authentic tamales.  The tamales are soft corn mixture on the outside with a sugary, cheesy corn mixture on the inside and baked in banana leaves.  They make for a really interesting combination of sweet and savory flavours.

My favourite of the dessert-like items so far has been a sweetbread call pico, which is triangular in shape, flat on the bottom and puffy on top, filled with a cinnamon, sugary, slightly cheesy and buttery spread in the middle, topped with more sugar and then baked.  So phenomenally good.  Pico is followed by “arroz con leche” (essentially rice pudding) as a close second in my book.  Victoria made it the other day, and it was all I could do not to have 3 helpings.

Victoria also makes different flavors of “ice cream,” which I put in quotes as it´s not exactly Ben and Jerry´s (or what you would normally think of when I say ice cream).  It´s a flavoured, milky mixture that is poured into small plastic bags, which are tied shut and frozen.  You eat them by biting a small hole in one of the corners of the bag and melting the area around it to suck the ice cream out.  Sometimes there are crushed up cookies inside.  My favourite so far has been plantain, of course, although I´ve found them all quite nice – even the chocolate.  It´s no surprise I do have quite the sweet tooth, and no wonder the “treats & sweets” section is the only one to be 3 paragraphs long!

Coffee

I think I mentioned before that coffee is served with every meal in Nicaragua, and pretty much available, if not expressly offered, at all other times during the day.  It is customary to be offered some kind of refreshment upon entering even a stranger´s home here, and most often that refreshment will be coffee.  I wasn´t initially excited about the prospect of having to drink much coffee here (if not because I wanted it, at least some out of politeness), but it has actually become my preferred drink next to water.  That could be because coffee here is served excessively sweet – even for my tastes.  One of our first days I tried to ask for just a little bit of sugar.  Maria Elsa asked me how many spoonfuls, to which I responded just one, thinking it was the least I really could ask for.  I didn´t realize that one still meant the tablespoon-sized mound that I got! It´s become like a little dessert at meals and each sweet sip nicely compliments and breaks up a very salty or savory meal. I always save some for after my last bites.  There´s also nothing I enjoy more than coming back from a morning of work, washing up after lunch, and sitting all clean with a cup of coffee, a cookie and my book in my hammock… which now that it´s nearly stopped raining, I think I´m going to go do… right… now.

A Typical Day in Los Bordos

A Typical Day in Los Bordos

Los Borditos Martínez is the name of the community where I will be spending all 3 phases of my Raleigh Expedition experience (around 9 weeks in total).  We are implementing a water, sanitation, and health (WASH) project here, which I´ll write about in more detail later on.  Right now, I want to attempt to give you a taste of what it´s like to live here with a typical family in Los Bordos.

(My favorite view in the community)

I´m sitting on our concrete porch, at the only table my family owns, in one of the ubiquitous plastic chairs that every family has so they can easily rearrange and provide more or less chairs depending on the number and configuration of guests who may happen to drop by at any given moment. Although the sturdy concrete and brick houses often have spacious central rooms, a table or so and these plastic chairs are generally the only furniture (other than the beds) that one is likely to find inside.  (*Disclaimer: We started this project with a survey of each of the 42 houses who will be receiving clean water from this project.  While I will make some generalizations, they are meant to apply to this community, and occasionally Masaya, both places I have spent significant time exploring at this point.)

I woke up this morning, under my mosquito net, half in my sleeping bag (sometimes it gets chilly at night here – chilly meaning maybe 70 degrees…maybe) in my bed (recently upgraded to one with an actual frame and thin mattress) in the room I share with Atata, my co-Project Manager and “brother“ here in Maria Elsa´s house, to the sounds of roosters crowing, cows mooing, and pigs… they don´t really oink – more of a snort I would call it.  First things first, I generally grab the toilet paper roll (or “loo roll“ as the Brits call it – I´m the only American on my expedition), and head to the latrine around the back side of the house.  The latrine is essentially a long drop, with a seat over it, a bin for TP next to it, and 3 walls plus a door surrounding.  It is smelly, and there are usually flies, but it´s not close to the worst toilet I´ve ever had to use.  Mostly I´m grateful that it has a roof overhead, since it´s been raining quite a lot here recently.  Next we have to call the office for a message check every morning at 6:55am (and every evening at 5:30pm).  Atata or I will grab the cell phone and walk over to our neighbour Victoria´s house (Maria Elsa´s daughter), where we can get usually one bar of signal to make our call if you stand just behind the well in the corner of the property on the edge of the rock wall next to the stony path that is the main thoroughfare through the community.  These twice-a-day message checks are really the only opportunities we have each day to get any news from the outside world… and they usually last anywhere from 1-3 minutes long.

After the morning call, Maria Elsa usually has breakfast ready for myself, Atata, and Itzel (Maria Elsa´s 10-year-old granddaughter who also lives with us while her parents are away working in Costa Rica).  Breakfast usually consists of some form of rice and beans (often in a form mixed together called gallo pinto “guy-yo pin-toe“) with either friend plantains (YUM) or repocheta (fried tortilla with cheese in the middle) and sweet coffee.  Most meals actually consist of combinations of these ingredients, and are always served with sweet coffee, but I´ll get into the specifics of food in a later post.  Chickens are usually running around our feet about now, the cat often comes to beg for some food, and there are always a couple of dogs (never sure if they´re stray or domestic) hanging about in the yard.

After breakfast, I´ll brush my teeth outside using purified water from my bottle (no sinks and no running water here), change into work clothes and boots for the day, and wait for the volunteers to gather at our house, before heading up to the construction site.  Things rarely happen exactly on time here, so any breaks in the day are consumed by either playing cards or buying snacks (since we happen to live at the only pulperia – like a little convenience store, one shelf of goods – in Los Bordos).  Occasionally I´ll also use any free moments to wash and hang a few pieces of clothing by hand, using the open, large concrete tank (also at Victoria´s house) that holds the family´s water.

Our work site is a 15-20 minute hike to the top of the community.  I say hike, because the path that leads up through the community (that main “thoroughfare“ I mentioned before) is really a rocky, fairly steep, somewhat muddy path covered in tree roots and large stones.  It crosses back and forth across the river that also runs the length of the community.  If there is a lot of rain, like there was our first week here, the river will overflow to the point that you have to walk in about knee deep to cross it.  This path is also the only route of transportation the community has to the nearest town, called Salale, which is only walkable either by horse or 20-30 min on foot.  Salale is the closest health center, bus stop, church, and place to buy or fix anything that can´t be bought or fixed in the community.

Now that we´ve finished the “captacion“ (or water capture – I still don´t know the English translation, but essentially the place where the water is captured and filtered from natural underground streams), we´ve moved on to digging trenches from the captacion to the tank that will hold all of the community´s water before sending it down to each of the individual homes via more trenches and tubes. The physical work is hard.  In the last week, we have spent each day from 7/8ish am to sometime between 12-3ish pm carrying wood and tubes uphill, collecting stones from cornfields and rivers, washing rocks (yes, washing.rocks.), passing buckets of concrete and sand, and using pickaxes to dig ½ meter deep trenches in rocky countryside.  Thankfully, my back has been fine, and the physical work actually makes me feel great mentally too.  There´s something about shoveling dirt with a gorgeous view of the mountainside under the sun that just makes you forget about everything else in the world for a little while.  The view up there rivals the view on my desktop from Rio.  On days that we work through lunch, families will come up around noon to bring us hot food.  Locals and volunteers working hard and taking breaks and joking all together throughout these days make them some of my favourite.

(I told you the view was gorgeous)

 

After we´re done with physical work, everyone heads down to shower and take a break for 2 hours or so.  Our shower is a wooden platform surrounded by 4 posts and some black plastic with two buckets inside.  You use a bowl to fill up one or both buckets with water from the tank nearby, and then strip down inside and pour water over your head as many times as you need to to soap up and rinse off.  The water is chilly, but usually feels refreshing after the first two icy bowls or so.  Washing thick long hair was a bit tricky at first, but I´ve gotten the hang of it now and sometimes make a game out of seeing how little water I can use for a full shower.  These couple of free, quiet hours in the afternoon are blissful.  Occasionally I´ll snooze or read in my hammock, but mostly I´ll sit and listen or chat with whomever happens to be around.

The volunteers will wander back up in the early evening to plan other activities we need to get done during the week, like blog posts for Raleigh´s website, active citizenship sessions where they discuss things like the Global Goals, or Actions Days we have to raise awareness within the community about our project and topics related, and to do a daily review of our progress and how we´ve been working together.  This usually devolves into card games and chatter after a few hours, and everyone heads home for dinner with their families between 6-7ish after dark (which falls now around 5:30).  Sometimes we´ll meet up after dinner to watch a movie at one of the houses with a tv, or to have a small bonfire and play games, but mostly we´ll sit and chat or play cards with Maria Elsa, Itzel, and Jimmy (Victoria´s son nextdoor), before brushing teeth and heading off to bed well before 9:30pm.  I think I´ve gotten the most consistent sleep I´ve ever had here in my life.  There´s still really no chance I´ll ever actually catch up to all I´ve lost, but it feels good to have this kind of routine and not constantly be exhausted.

Today as I´m writing this (although I´ll be posting it later, when I have internet) isn´t a typical work day, as Sundays are designated to church and rest.  I haven´t been to a service here yet, but I might go out of curiosity at some point.  Today we´re also celebrating one of the venturer´s birthdays, so Atata and I are going to town now to pick up a cake that we ordered.  We only have 5 more days until the end of Phase 1, when we´ll head back to Masaya and return to Los Bordos with a whole different group of volunteers.  I´m glad that I´ll be staying here the whole time to finish out the project and get to see the final product, even though I´m a little sad I won´t be doing one of the 19-day treks.  I´m excited to get back to field base and hear how everyone´s first phase went. It´s going to be absolute craziness at changeover, but hopefully I´ll have the chance at least to catch up with the other PMs who I became really close to during training.  Maybe I´ll even be able to squeeze in a couple of Facetime/whatsapp calls home!