Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Last Few Months

In the last few months I’ve taken so much in. The days have been full which has meant earlier bed time. I have not, therefore, taken the time to record what I’ve been up to. One of my most memorable experiences from the last few months has been my walk through the Mombacho volcano cloud forest which is a wonderfully magical place. I felt like I took my first breath; the air was pure and clean and I had finally escaped the contaminated air in my little pueblo; air filled with smoke from burning garbage and fumes from the numerous buses and trucks that rampage their way along the main road.

I have been thrust into the occasional role of being tour guide and translator which has been fun, tiring and challenging. Fun because it is a job where you get to move around and see the sights. It is challenging because it involves an incredible amount of energy and great listening skills to translate a language!

My work environment as I’ve discovered, is quite unstructured which has been difficult for me. Every day is quite unpredictable, so I’ve been working on being organized, but it still has its challenges. I had a really constructive discussion with Paulette the other day and we came up with a plan. I’ve made a web map, as I like to call it, with my name in the center and on one side of my name are all the tasks I currently take on as an intern and on the other are all the projects I would like to take on in the next coming months. She is going to sit down with me in the next coming days and we are going to discuss what the challenges are for each task and what aspects are working. I’m hoping this ‘web map’ will really help me to keep organized!

I am comfortable living in a small town in some ways. I love its charm and how I have become a familiar face. I will miss the friendly smiles and the waves I receive walking to or from work. Furthermore, the great thing about a small town is all of the locally owned businesses and having all the basic necessities so close to where I live. When I need medication from the pharmacy I walk around the corner, when I want to buy cookies or a drink I walk a few more meters and a friendly face is there to greet me. It’s a lovely sense of mutual benefit and “tight-knitness” that I would love to see be expanded in the West.

In other ways, a small town can be tough to live in. Lots of gossip, little night life and everybody knows your business!

I’ve mostly been working on building up our community garden project. For more explanation on how the project got started and where we are at now, check out the hotel’s blog: www.mariposaspanishschool.wordpress.com

Each family was chosen based on need through, what I’m guessing was an interview process and through census data. We now have nine families who have a living fence to protect their plot. In total there are twenty-six families to benefit from the project. Each family has been provided with seeds from the municipality of la Concepcion and a few starter seeds from La Mariposa. They will be growing things like peppers, peas, cucumber, tomatoes and kidney beans, a main staple in Nicaragua. Some of the heirloom seeds (heirloom meaning the seeds have not been crossbred with other types of seeds), have been divided up between the first nine beneficiaries. We will be providing more seeds as is needed.

We cannot afford to provide all twenty-six families with living fencing, seeds and fertilizer right away. We want to see how the project works first and then move on to the next nine families. This system actually works out perfectly for a number of reasons.

The first nine families have been provided with a wooden box to hold their organic fertilizer (cow, goat or chicken dung + worms). Unfortunately these boxes turned out to be very expensive and if I had known before they were made, I would have turned to another more cost-efficient method (that being a hole in the ground filled with the animal dung and worms or a concrete cistern.) Not only are these cost-efficient methods but, unlike the boxes, they collect the urine from the worms which is a very useful fertilizer.

Starting with only nine beneficiaries also makes sense because, as I have come to realize, many of these families have the basics down but lack specific training on composting and sustainable agriculture. They lack knowledge of things like insecticides (and I’ve discovered some non-chemical ones!!) We are sending one of our guys, Franklin, who works with the horses and has lots of knowledge of composting and fertilizer to train the families, workshop style. We’ve already taken four of the most enthusiastic beneficiaries to a workshop at a fertilizer farm but more hands-on work must be done. Once these families have the necessary information and training and have developed their plots, they can then begin to pass on the knowledge to the next nine beneficiaries. This whole process is called “train the trainer.”

I’ve learned so much about composting and organic gardening. It is really not an easy and it requires a lot of patience and dedicating long hours of hard work. It’s been such a huge learning process, (especially learning everything in Spanish…definitely a great way to improve it!) as I’ve been working with one of our go-to guys Ishmael who, in terms of finding resources, has been a wonderful connection to the community.

I’ve really enjoyed being an outsider looking in; I’ve been able to learn how this community works, what resources they have and don’t have and I’ve loved watching them work as a team! I must say that not all have been as enthusiastic as some but those who are have really made the project.

My host sister Paola is about six months pregnant and just found out yesterday she will be having a girl! It’s been a very exciting time watching her grow and playing the guessing game as to the gender of the baby for the last few months.

I just want to write a quick blurb about Paola and her husband and Alex and their beautiful love story. The two met when Alex was cat calling Paola on the streets of La Concha, the capital of La Concepcion....wait for the romance to kick. Paola ignored it but Alex continued to pursue her and started to come to her house on a daily basis to see if she was home. At first, she really had no interest in seeing him. But over time, the two got to know each other and became good friends and lovers. Yamy has told me how Paola took a lot of interest counseling Alex over the years, helping to improve his confidence and in turn improving his self-perception. Many family members were shocked at their age difference of nine years (she is 17 and he, 26) but she persevered, and said "no, we will make this work." Many of Alex's aunts warned him that he had to be very careful with Paola as she was but a child. As I've gotten to know her, she definitely doesn't act like a 17 year old. Although she is youthful at heart, she is definitely a dominant and self-assured young lady.

At this time, Alex's dad was thrilled that Alex was dating Paola because had had known her grandmother and all the women in Paola's family who had reputations for being hard working women with a strong set of core values based on family and religion. He held a great deal of admiration for her family. Alex and Paola had only been dating a few months when Alex's dad sat Alex down and said "I want you to marry Paola. I know her family and I know what kind of girl she is and this is the girl you are to marry." Sadly, in the same year, Alex's dad died suddenly of a heart attack. The two were married in December of last year. I watched the wedding video a couple of months ago and I was blown away at Alex's emotion as he stood at the altar, shedding tear after tear as he lovingly gazed into Paola's eyes. I realize now why he was so emotional. After three years of dating, he had honored his dad's wish and married the girl of his dreams.

Alex and Paola have a great relationship that you don't see often here...or I guess you could say anywhere. Teenage pregnancy occurs quite frequently here and I hear story after story of 13, 14, or 15 year old girls left to raise a baby on their own, luckily with the help of their family, but in the end, the man takes no responsibility. It is so nice, therefore, to see this lovely couple making things work!

I’m starting to feel very at home (I’m officially being called a hija –daughter) and consider myself very lucky to be living with this family. Yamy (pronounced Jami), my host-mom has her opinions that diverge greatly from mine, especially in terms of politics. Despite this, she has been my mother away from home; she takes care of me when I’m sick and always tries to make food that I like.

I’ve definitely gotten used to all of the noise. I usually crash at 8:30pm and wake up around 6:30am…my alarm being the combination of roosters and the booming voice of Yamy’s son-in-law, Alex, who is up and at em’ getting ready for work at 6:15. The occasional morning I’ll awake to a bit of a breezy chill or a rooster crowing but then I fall right back to sleep.

Two days ago a giant tree fell on the property next to Paulette’s and the law in Nicaragua requires anyone who cuts down trees to own a permit. Despite this law, many people go about cutting them down in their own back yard all the time, permit free. Most of the staff was upstairs, including me, starting our day, working away on the computer or on some task or another, when apparently the tree fell, making a massive booming sound. I among two of the other staff members did not hear the tree fall. Paulette was enraged. She screamed something along the lines of, “what is the bloody point of protecting the environment when none of you even notice when a tree falls to the ground?!” She was right. Here I am working away on all kinds of environmental projects, I’ve stopped eating red meat and I’ve been considering coming home and working for an environmental NGO, but yet I don’t even notice the environmental degradation that goes on around me.

I think this goes for a lot of us. We get so caught up in the small stuff, including the oh-so uselessness of consumption (and usually consumption of things we don’t really need), that we forget what really matters. Please read The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard or go to her website www.storyorstuff.com to understand why I think this is so important.

I’ve come to notice for instance that family is a beautiful structure and pretty damn useful. I look at the family I’ve been living with now for a little over three months. When a woman in the family can’t take care of her daughter because she is working all night at the hospital in Managua, her mother, brother or cousin is there immediately to give the little one dinner and watch over her until mom comes home. A) Because most families here live under one roof together so getting to the child is no difficult task. B) Because this just makes sense. Family members should be taking care of each other.

As a side comment; the reason many families live under one roof is for economic reasons, it is the only economically feasible option in a poorer community. In Canada we may not need to do this because we are blessed with jobs that pay us so we can seek out our own independent lives. But the idea of a strong family unit is still something to consider.

It’s just kind of an expectation that this is what families are for. Back home I rarely see my extended family. We see each other at Christmas and Thanksgiving and the occasional Easter celebration. Obviously no family is perfect and I’m not saying that all families in Nicaragua function like this; there is definitely lots of dysfunction just as there is in any other country. But the overall sense of unity among extended family is much stronger compared to our expressive need for individualism in the West.

What has come to matter to me most is family, community, the environment (not just because it’s pretty and green but because it is so interconnected with EVERYTHING. If we destroy our environment, we are destroying our and everyone else’s community, livelihood and prosperity), good friends and good company. Having pretty clothes or jewellery, going to Starbucks, doing something that will bring more pollution into the air and land are just a few things that just don’t seem to matter to me anymore. Not to say that before I gained this awareness that I my intention was to try and pollute the environment.

I must admit however, that I am nervous to come back to North America. I am proud to be from that part of the world due to certain freedoms I have been granted, to the wonderful people and because it is a beautiful part of the world to live in. It is, however, a pretty damn scary place to live considering some of the damage we are doing to not only ourselves but to the rest of the world. And it is very easy for most of us to go on with our lives not really realizing what impact we have or what kinds of information is being fed to us…and THAT is the scariest part.

It’s easy for me to say all these things now, but what happens when I come home? Will I be sucked back in to having unnecessarily long hot showers in July, of all months? Will I use a car or take the subway when I could walk or bike? Will I take on the causes that I want to take on or will I become apathetic and consumed by my job that might make me money but does not bring me happiness? How can Westerners break free from the plague of individualism? This has also become a point of interest for me as well; global awareness and collective consciousness.

Finally, I will never stop loving the Spanish language and its song-like rhythm.

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