17 July 2007

post-Nicaragua: Portland

17 julio Portland
So Matt drove me home (thank you, Matt Rae!). I waited for a couple of hours for a roommate to come back, but no one did. Set out my sleeping blanket and read until it was too dark to read. My phone had died before leaving for Nicaragua, so I begged to use Albina Green’s phone to call my parents, who graciously agreed to let me stay at their house. Got into work this morning still wearing the same clothes and toting my luggage. Saw my roommate’s extracycle, though, and he came by so I could make a copy of the key. Hip hip hooray for bike parking! Can’t wait to be with Sparky again. Checked out of work a little early to do that which I’d been dreaming of for a week – snuck a scoop of B&J’s ice cream into the new Harry Potter movie and vegged for two hours. It was just as great as I thought it was going to be! Very decadent. I did, however, remember the Bluefields mayor’s words about US decadence as I did this.

16 July 2007

Nicaragua: Managua, Houston, Portland

16 julio Managua, Houston, Portland

Grogged ourselves to curbside at 4:30am with 2 solar pumps in our luggage. Offloaded my insect repellant onto Jorge, the night watchman, before leaving. Got through the airport system without a hitch until we heard “Anna Garwood” announced over the loudspeaker. They had found our “bombas”. a cute little fact: the word for "bomb" and the word for "pump" are one and the same in Spanish, which makes for an interesting customs excursion when transporting solar pumping equipment. Downstairs and out the door we went accompanied by a security guard to inspect the goods. Got the “all clear” before they FLUNG our bags onto the belt. Will they make it? Who knows?
And now we sit in the airport. Anna’s working on her expense report as I write these lines.

15 July 2007

Nicaragua: Boaco, Masaya, Managua

15 julio Boaco, Masaya, Managua
Woke up to rain, rain, and, oh yeah, more rain. Upon learning that the Hipicos was not until 2:30pm, we decided to leave Boaco in favor of volcanoes in Masaya, which was amazing! Then back to Hotel Los Felipes with its massive mosquitoes and lunch with VEGETABLES (I had had a dream about broccoli the night before). Spent a little time talking about next steps for projects.
Anna went to Jaime’s place for the 2nd solar water pump. I spent longer than necessary trying to acquire a Mana CD and Reggaeton, the latter of which the cyber proprietor was more than happy to “quality check” for the whole café. Anna and I tracked H & B down at Dona Pilar for our last talk together.

14 July 2007

Nicaragua: Boaco, Managua

14 julio Boaco, Managua (Solidarity Conference), Boaco

4am came quickly. I had some difficulty getting out the door because it closes and locks from the inner receptionist area. The bus to Managua at 4:30 takes mostly students. I’m amazed at the hours and expense that studying 2 hours away from home must entail. Got to Managua and got a taxi ride from a 72 year old man who told me all about his diabetes on the way, including specific figures of his pharmaceutical bills and inability to pay for injections. While walking into the conference, met with the New York film-making crew that was documenting the conference.
I assumed I wouldn’t know anyone at the conference, but almost immediately I met up with the group from the Baltimore/Esteli Sister City Association who had stayed at the Quaker House with us. We had an interesting discussion about micro credit, as it turns out someone from the group was going to present a lecture on the subject. Then I saw Lizzie Fussell! She’s working in Chinandega to bring health services to women on banana plantations. Apparently there is comparatively more promiscuity in the plantation communities which leads to higher incidence of STDs. Since the medical services are provided by plantation owners who only have a view to increasing productivity, STDs tend to go unchecked and proliferate as does ovarian cancer caused by the highly toxic pesticides. Fascinating and horrifying to learn about chemical treatments that not only contaminate wells and lend to skin burns but also chemicals that dry out harvested areas and, as a minor side effect, the drinking wells.
Lizzie, Narcissa and Frasier let us cop some territory at their booth, and my 50+ annual reports went like wildfire. Talked to a number of folks, including ones who were interested in becoming involved in projects in Boaco, someone interested in University partnerships, and possible event partner.
The keynote speaker for the conference was a former mayor of Bluefields. His basic premise was that we need to raise our own consciousness about the living disparity between Nicaragua and the United States. One of his representative statements went a little something like this: “Think about what your breakfast cost when you were in the States last week, and then, when you leave today, look at a child on the street and ask when the last time was that he had breakfast.” A woman sitting next to me got up quickly and said that she just wanted to thank everyone for being here to foster solidarity. When she came back from the microphone, she expressed that she didn’t agree with his statements, that the people who came to this conference were not the ones whose consciousness needed changing. Everyone seemed to have a different opinion of his speech (my $.02: I think his speech did more to separate the participants into two separate groups than to invite solidarity and collaboration, though the truth of his words was undeniable). Afterwards came a panel of speakers; the one that seemed to get the whole group humming was a fellow from Bend, OR who talked for just a few eloquent minutes about the difference between charity and solidarity. I decided to accost him at lunch.
Met Hannah and Keith who already know about GE and were thinking about moving to Portland (thought my theif-proof methods of securing money on my person was pretty hilarious). They helped make the conference happen and would like to meet with us for volunteering, etc. when they get into town. We mentioned our shared, abiding love for the Distinguished Gentleman from Bend and attacked him together.
Tim has a weekly radio show and is involved with the Bend-Condega Sister City Association with his very funny wife named Daisy. Gave him our Annual Report and we talked about a possible event in Ben focusing on community development.
Caught up with Lizzie and kibitzed about funding thoughts for her project as well as a possible volunteering venture with AsoFenix for website and brochure creation and re-entry into Portland.
Bus back to Boaco. Either the drive train or the acceleration cable snapped out of kilter, rendering us stationary for about ½ hour. Luck was with us, however, and we made it back safe and sound. After trying to find the gang (who ate at a loud mariachi place), I had dinner with a fellow named Daniel who lives in a colonial house in town with his sister and father. A small parade with puppets on stilts went by as part of the ongoing festival. Daniel said that the town was expected to double in the next 10 years due to a highway project. Met up with the others thereafter and learned of their exploits which Anna will assuredly recount.

13 July 2007

Nicaragua: Boaco, P, N, & M

13 julio Boaco, P_____, N____, M____ (town names supressed because projects still in proposal stage - sorry!)

We got to P____ first thing in the morning and met up with a woman named Christina. She has a beautiful and clean yellow and blue house with a patio garden on the side.
Jaime started the conversation by introducing the project as a possible project. When asked about health, she said that people got diarrhea and began vomiting when they drink the water from another well; it is contaminated (the N____ well). There are other wells that are privately owned. There are three wells in all, but all are manual.
there is a Water Committee that regulates the water in 7 houses by monitoring how much people take from the well and resolve problems regarding the well. They also have a tariff system, though it is sometimes difficult to get people to pay this.
In regard to sharing the water with the other two communities of M____ and N____, Christina said that they are happy to share the water. The three communities are related by families and have a long history together. The 30m. well was dug by E about 3 years ago and pumps 80 gallons per minute, which Christina described as an “ocean of water”. When we told her about Bramadero’s well that pumps 8 gallons per minute, she said that they and San Jeronimo are suffering, those “pobrecitos”.
Who uses P____’s water? 7 families (5,3,5,6,7,4,4) with 34 people total plus 6 people from the outskirts of the community, totaling 40.
Asked about health conditions. Everyone has a latrine. There is more infirmity during the winter due to mosquitoes. Children in P____ have less sickness than in the other two communities because they have easier access to clean water.
Victor then joined us to show us the proposed site for the tank that will serve the other two communities through gravity-fed system. The tank would be 2km from N____ and 3km to M____. The topographical studies still needs to be done before we can be sure that the gravity-fed system will work.
History of the community: all three communities were formed at about the same time with the first house originally on the same plot of land as the tank will be situated on.
As we viewed the area, Victor said that the previous crop was lost due to lack of water because the rain was not as great this past year. There is currently no irrigation system in the communities.

We went on to M____ to check on the next closest community that would be the beneficiary of the water. They have gone to other wells in the past, but health officials have told them not to drink the water in the closest well. The harvests have small crops which continues the cycle of poverty in the community. Their Committee of Water numbers 12, and the community has 19 houses.
When asked about water conditions, members of the community said that there is no money for latrines; the mayor only helps some. Infirmities include gripe, diarrhea, stomach pains, and laceo (?). their health affects their ability to work.
We went to the first well, which is a manually-operated pump which required 24 revolutions for water to come. The others we spoke with said that they only use the water for bathing and washing (there are two stalls for bucket showers and a wsashboard next to the well), but the women who lived next door to the well said that she drinks the water without issue. It is difficult to understand anything quantifiable or universally accepted.
No one drinks from the second well which is described as salty. It is only for animals and for washing. E pumped the well a long time ago. Irrigation is not possible because the water would dry up the crops. Maria Therese was our model for pumping and washing at this pump.
The 3rd pump (manual pump with exposed rope) apparently does not always have water but is clean water and the only one used for drinking. It is dry April to September, during which time they have to go to P____. When this well needs maintenance, there is a soda can top used to stop the rope from slipping down. Some lucky person is lowered down the well with some chlorine and manually scrubs the sides of the well before getting to the bottom when they scrape the sludge out of the bottom of the well.

We went to M____ next where Marisol and her husband spoke with us. There are 6 houses in the community woth 26 people (5,6,5,6,2,2). Major crops include maize, sorghum, wheat and beans. Every house has a little cattle and small farm parcels (though they work the abuelo’s farm). There are 7 people on the Water Committee which was originally convened when E dug a well a number of years ago.
The well closest to their family is salty and undrinkable. The west well has arsenic in even more concentrated doses than before. There is also an issue with the pump. What happens when they drink the water? It is very dangerous to drink, they said. People get fevers, vomit immediately after drinking, and the animals won’t touch it. It is warmer water. They drink from [barrilon] in the summer. Marisol goes to this well three times per day, requiring 20-30 minutes per trip. The well has water November to January. Sometimes they drink from the stream water, but there are microbes and pesticides that contaminate the water. They sometimes chlorinate this. In March, there is no water to this well but comes back in May and June. There is no arsenic in the stream well and 4 varas of water. The stream well was created in the 90s.
There is one private well and water catchment systems for the 6 houses. They had another well before, but it was destroyed during Hurricane Mitch. Starting in May, “dryness is death for everything.” The descent to the well is steep and has some rubble, making it difficult to balance water on their heads.
When asked about illnesses, they said that there is definitely more infirmity in the winter with more plagues. Illnesses mentioned: dengue, gripe, fevers, diarrhea, [calenture]. They don’t have a clinic in the community and have to pay for medical assistance, traveling to other communities when they need medical help. There is a medic in Teustepe, Rosetta in San ________ and more assistance in faraway Boaco.
There is one large farm owned by Marisol’s 97-year old abuelo, and everyone in the three communities works on this. No other ONGs are working in this area currently.
When describing how they find water, they said that a computer was incredibly expensive and beyond the means of the community. Instead, they use divination with a rope.

We headed back up the rubbly hill to Marisol’s house, where her daughter, Esparanza, offered R a very beautiful chicken! It was so sad we had to decline her generosity, offering the reason that chickens would not be allowed on the plane. She offered to kill it for us, but we couldn’t bear that thought, either. Note to self: send her a picture of her with chicken.

We went back to N____ for a community meeting with anyone who could attend. Most of the attendees were women and a few men. The meeting was in the former school which now acts as a church. 22 children go to primary school in the community, and those who can afford to go on to secondary school do so in Teustepe.
Before the meeting, a woman spoke with us and told us that there was more water availability before, but now the streams are dry, and they must rely on spotty wells. They have been cutting the wood for firewood, for more cattle pastures, and for selling (apparently the wood – [ochete] - that grows in this region fetches a high price).

Community Meeting in N____ 12pm
First was to create a map with the houses and wells (functioning, nonfunctioning, 1 public, 2 private, 1 stream). The stream well is 6m. and only has water in the wintertime. Some houses farther up have difficulty getting water. For drinking, they come to the well near the school.
One of the wells doesn’t have sufficient water for 8 months of the year, and the other well is dry for 3-4 months. When these wells dry up, members of the community must go to P____, a 30 minute walk on average.
When asked how many baldes they use daily, they answered 6-7 each on average for 19 houses. Uses for the water include animals, cooking and drinking. They go to the stream with cattle and horses, though chickens and pigs get their water from the well.
Most houses don’t have gardens for tomatoes, etc. because it would take too much water.
Chlorine – they don’t often use this because they don’t like it, but occasionally it is used (weren’t sure exactly how much). They buy the chlorine in Boaco.
Pump maintenance in the community – monthly tariffs aren’t used for most of the well, but it costs $30 on average to fix the pumps when they break, and everyone chips in for the repair cost.
They have not taken water from P____ this year, though last year was pretty dire.
Payment and support for proposed system – people seemed a lot happier about the idea of a metered system, which would be more equitable for the people with only 2 family members. There would have to be a contract with each individual in the community promising to pay monthly tariffs. There was at the end of the meeting a general vote to support the project. Jaime mentioned reforestation as necessary for the water system, which has a direct impact on water tables. The community recognizes this.

After the N____ reunion, the travel-weary crew dragged itself into Teustepe for lunch. R asked what people at the meeting had laughed about when they mentioned her name. at the end of the meeting, Anna had thanked the group for taking the time to meet with us and to answer questions which might seem strange for them but are unknown to us who have a different lifestyle. She mentioned that R had never seen a rooster until a few days before, which caused people to giggle. We got back to Boaco that evening just in time to see the evening procession of San Domingo’s statue. We decided that copious rum was needed to properly celebrate San Domingo. Anna and I set out on a mission for a bottle of Flor de Cana and our ongoing quest for reggaeton. We thought we had lucked out with a barberia, but alas the barbershop only peddled DVDs. Took our liquor and some papas fritas to our hotel balcony (which overlooked the plaza and the church) where we people-watched and listened to music. A marimba band serenaded our table for a few songs. It turns out that the band is comprised of a father and two of his sons with one additional youth to round out the quartet. After strategizing a little about the following day, I turned in early, knowing that I had to get up at 4am for the conference.

12 July 2007

Nicaragua: San Jose, Bramadero, Potreritos, Bramadero, Boaco

12 julio San Jose, Bramadero, Potreritos, Bramadero, Boaco
Woke up to our final breakfast with Nonnie, our hostess. R divulged that she had been rained on the previous two nights and hadn’t peeped a word. She also had never seen a rooster before this trip. What a great sport! Piled in the car, and off we went to Bramadero. Jaime said that CCM, another organization, has had volunteers in this area previously. One married a Nicaraguan recently. AsoFenix is working with CCM to possibly have volunteers for the next few years, for water, agriculture, etc. this is part of an ongoing exchange program.
There are two private wells in Bramadero that are apparently just for the farms there. Nine houses are closer to the well designate for the solar pump system, and a number more are farther above. They are using nim trees as natural pesticides (thought we saw more traditional “insecticide packs” in use nearby). When originally asked by H why they use the rubber boots they do, and they replied that the boots are resilient to the insecticides, last up to 4 months and are cheaper than others.
Along the road, we passed by a manual pump created by ENACAL and UNICEF that is dry part of the year. A house boasted a water catchment system behind it, a system that was replicated in a handful of other homes, used primarily for bathing and cleaning. A 32 m. well was covered over, a manual pump that went dry several years before. This is not an uncommon sight in this community. Next to the dry well was a washing stone. A dry 16m. well about 20 m. away from the first. We also passed a number of solar cookers. Main crops in the area: maize and beans.
We spoke to a 26-year old woman named Mercedes holding her daughter, Jaquita. When asked about whether she heard about the pump, she said she had heard that a new pump had been drilled. She said that it was unfair that some people had more water than others. she agreed that there was a difference in the frequency of illness between those with the private wells and those without. With the rain, however, there is less incidence of diarrhea and less need to go to the well for washing water. Mercedes’ mother came by and also mentioned how wonderful it was to have rain. “Gracias a Dios ahora hay mas lluvia” and “Agua es vivo” were two quotes from her.
Meeting with the Bramadero Committee
Francisco, the older gentleman with the hat, sat next to me. There were 4 men and 10 women in the schoolroom in addition to a number of children. Jaime introduced this as a great possibility for better health in the community, economic development, and possibility of reforestation

Map of the Community
Norma, a 4th year student from Teustepe, drew the map according to input from the community. When asked about non-functioning wells, there were 9-11 nonfunctioning wells as opposed to 3 functional wells. There is a mayor in Bramadero. 50 families. Are there more houses every year? There are 2-3 families in some houses, but there are not many new families.

Annual Calendar
Winter is May through November, summer is December through April. Plantings occur in May and September; harvests are in August and November. There is lesster in the wells during the summer, but there is a little year round. Illnesses include gripe, fevers, and diarrhea. There is more rain in September and October, but they have to go to the neighboring community of Aguacate all through May. Animals die in the summer due to hunger and lack of water.
Celebrations – March is Semana Santa; 30 Sept. is Misa de San Jeronimo.
In Dec. and Feb, men go to other countries (like Costa Rica) to work. This option is only available to people with passports, which costs a great deal of money.

Daily Schedule
There are 5 private wells, 2 private wells in the neighboring community of Jocote. 4 families have guaranteed water year-round. Every house has an average of 5 gal. during the summer (10 gallons if one goes to Jocote). In winter, most houses have 15 gallons. Ten houses carry water from Jocote, Aguacate, or San Rafael in winter.
What is the water used for? Water from wells is for cooking and cleaning; must get to Jocote to bathe and shower and wash clothes.
How much time is needed to carry water? Often have the help of horses for carrying. Women do most of the carrying with some help from children. Majority of the houses have horses. Every day requires between 2 ½-3 hours in summer and 1 ½ hours in winter (6 baldes in summer)
Also don’t have latrines due to lack of funds (though I did luckily encounter one behind the pulperia,)
Harvest – crops include maize, tomatoes, café, beans, and wheat.
Spend 5 cordobas per month on animals
PAEN is an organization that provides food for children. There were some papers that had edibles and meals with community members’ names assigned next to them.

We went up the road a piece to the community of Potreritos, where we installed a solar water pump the year before.
Two people are on the Water Committee from Potreritos as part of the tri-community 7-person Committee (4 women, 3 men). There hasn’t been a problem with payment, as everyone has paid without trouble. In terms of differences in health, she said that fewer children have diarrhea because they wash their hands and are born under healthier conditions. They wash their hands more as well, in schools for instance.
Five houses have planted porch gardens and more in the additional two areas. The animals go to a well.

We left Potreritos and got to Teustepe only to realize that the one hospidaje in town was full, so we headed to Boaco. What a great town! As we had dinner at Maria Christina’s gazebo diner, a parade streamed into the street from the church toting a statuette. Christina told us that we had fortuitously happened upon the festivities celebrating Boaco’s patron saint, San Domingo (I think?). B & H explored and found a bar complete with mariachi band, but the rest of us were “rendido”.

11 July 2007

Nicaragua: San Jose, Malacatoya, San Jose

11 julio San Jose, Malacatoya, San Jose

Jorge, the Mayor’s agenda advisor, met with us again, this time at the Municipal offices. He discussed the selection of the communities, who are chosen based on their social and environmental capacity. This includes gauging passion for development and desire for energy access and improved health services. The Committee considers three factors when exploring a community project: environmental, economic, and social consciousness. Every potential community should have an economic plan, diagnostic and map, potable water and/or energy uses/needs, school energy and production uses. The community must decide the energy needs and uses, because they know better than the municipality. Most important is the sense of group and a map of each inhabitant and what specific needs that house/business would have. A larger view can be extracted from this.
We had met with the community the other day. They have a waterfall approx. 3km away and a project that can work there. Jorge said that there was a system in L___ before but was destroyed during landslides during Hurricane Mitch.
dispositions of other communities were discussed with regard to the suitability of RE projects.
The upper regions have more forested lands and more availability of water, whereas the middle and lower regions are dryer. In the lower area of Boaco, there is one well that could have the capacity to serve the entire area if it is distributed well. They are currently working on the diagnostics for the lower regions. Reforestation can be helpful when done in tandem with pumping projects.

Jorge then invited us to the Mayoral Committee’s meeting after which we went to Malacatoya. we learned that George had assembled the turbine and the generator the previous day, after all, and that tests were ready to go ahead on three houses before the system started up 100%. it rained mightily! we heard the conga monkey again on our wet walk back which culminated at Paulo's house. they served us some delicious coffee, and we asked where it was from. he pointed to the coffee plants behind his house, and they explained that they roast the beans for their own consumption in the firewood kitchen stove. coffee doesn't get fresher than that!

back at Nonnie’s hospidaje, R had what she termed the “best shower” she’s ever had. with a water hose. i got to wash my clothes with a washboard again, just like the good old days in China. hard to find better traveling companions than this, must say.

10 July 2007

Nicaragua: Managua, San Jose

10 julio Managua, San Jose
The morning passed without much fuss. I had felt a little malaise had set in because we had stayed in one place for more than one day. Strange feeling! Anna read the paper and found a story about the declassification of CIA documents pertaining to the Castro assassination attempt.
Throughout our time in Nicaragua, there has been the abiding subplot of Union Fenosa. According to many, it has been a simmering issue for quite some time, but recently the problems have exploded with sporadic and unpredictable blackouts that have caused rioting in the streets. When we first came, there was a TV story about a riot in a barrio in Managua, cutting off both light and water (pumped by electricity) for indefinite periods. Just in the past few days, damning front line stories about the damaging effects of blackouts on hospitals and barrios have pervaded daily papers. Much of the graffiti we’ve encountered has been in protest of Union Fenosa. Everyone whom we ask about Union Fenosa have had pointed views about the Spanish utility company.
Went past the panaderia we love so much. What a cool lady! I want to adopt her. Then came the search for an ATM for Anna and i. I’ve determined that Managua was conceived by a centaur as a labyrinth. When we returned to the hotel, H, B & R were in deep conversation with two fellows named Steve and Juan who are doing a documentary on insecticide use and its health effects in Chinandega. They explained that the tent city set up along the roundabout is populated by the families of people effected by insecticide use. Steve and Juan promised to email us the hydrological studies and maps of Chinandega so that we can forward it on to Amigos for Christ.
Jaime came by, and we all packed into the van driven by Luiz for the 2-hour drive to San Jose, where we stayed before. The weather was bad enough to put off the assembly until the next day, so we settled in for an introduction of the project and AsoFenix.
AsoFenix’ orientation
AsoFenix’s main role is to identify communities that have both need and capacity for renewable energy systems. The organization began when a group of engineering students at the University of Managua took a separate course on renewable energy, teaching how to assemble solar dryers, cookers, pumps, etc. The group of 5 students founded AsoFenix. Jaime met Michael Royce and started a dialog about how to get sustainable technologies to rural areas. Alexis and Ain work with battery recharging stations, solar pumps and biogas. In Somoto, some communities have up to 20 biodigestors because they are far from firewood supply. B & H had seen biodigestors in Costa Rica. In Candelaria, the biodigestors might use pig dung. Now, mostly women and children have to walk 1-2km to find firewood. In areas with biodigestors, men are more likely to cook because it’s easy to light and novel to use.
After dinner (served by Nonnie the proprietess), we went for a group walk. Jaime showed us the houses that had either been bought or seriously remodeled by people who had gone to America to work and had sent money back (or come back themselves to retire), which has inflated house prices in the area. San Jose, like many communities, has one Catholic church but numerous Evangelical churches, the difference between restrictions imposed by the Archdiocese and the promulgation of Evangelical churches by charismatic individuals.
H asked a number of edifying (for me!) questions about voltage and transmission. Nicaragua uses 120 volts for normal use and 240 for industrial uses. Malacatoya started as an 8kW system but got expanded to 13kW.

Other interesting tidbits:
While we were at the dinner table (documented by Jaime for his tourism files), the television had a story about Union Fenosa and blackouts.
Cellular phones are very expensive, costing US$15 for 40 minutes usually for monthly signal, this is why people often use a cyber for phone calls, including Jaime.
Most electrical lines now use aluminium rather than copper lines because copper lines are expensive and apt to be stolen. The downside is that aluminium lines have to be thicker.

09 July 2007

Nicaragua: Managua

9 julio Managua
Woke up thinking about a plan Jaime had about bringing tourism to Malacatoya. How might increased tourism affect a small community like Malacatoya, or even a slightly larger one like San Jose de Ramates?
Anna brought pinol for breakfast, though I admit I had to decline in favor of my favorite deity, Coffee. H, B & R joined us for breakfast, and then we headed to the panaderia where everyone partook of bread pudding. I asked if we could see the equipment in the back, and they graciously agreed. Wood fire starts the huge stove!
H, B & R spent the day at Laguna de Apoyo while Jaime, Anna and I went to the National Assembly who ended up being on vacation for 46 days. WOW! Went back to the cyber, but the server was down. Went back to the hotel, but no electricity on the patio. No one wanted us to work, apparently. An hour later, went to the Ministry of Energy for what would hopefully be met with better luck than our previous non-meeting.

Ministry of Energy
The Ministry works in El Cua with ATDER-BL; there are 900 more people who live in this area than just a short time before, so the 1mW plant will serve the area well.
Micro hydro is the current focus of the Ministry; they even had a map on the wall of the micro hydro systems in place and those still planned. The Ministry is currently involved in a pilot project creating 20 hydro plants to show the technology’s potential and effectiveness. We were told that most people on farms use energy for processing coffee. They have despulpadors and picadoras. Other business uses for electricity include pulperias and furniture manufacturing shops. Addition domestic uses are also quite common. There are three levels of production: the farm, electricity for related business, and cooperatives.
The Ministry has few funds of its own and receives donations from groups for programs including micro credit. Micro-credit is something which the Ministry is quite familiar with, starting to use it themselves in 2005. Protesa, PrestaNic are microlenders as well, but he knew of nothing that served Boaco at present.

Got back to the “ranch” in time for a meeting with another organization.

08 July 2007

Nicaragua: San Jose, L____, Managua

8 julio San Jose, L____, Managua

Juan Manuel is the Committee chair in L____; the Committee numbers five. we got to Vicente’s house, who is the mayor and the only one at this time with electricity, which comes from solar panels on the roof. he has a TV radio, 1 light, a refrigerator, and two outlets. their house doubles as a pulperia. the school also has solar electricity. 33 families live in this community with 6 more families outside the community. the Committee is looking to get micro hydro power from the nearby stream. Anna, Jaime and i went to the falls after Jaime had begged some coffee and tortillas for us. the falls were many but the altura small, so Juan Manuel took us a bit farther upstream where the caudal was larger. they informed us there was a larger falls farther up, and Jaime asked them to get the height and flow of the falls in the next few days. we headed back to Vicente’s house.
Anna asked what other ONGs worked in the area.
members of the Committee asked why solar could not be used instead of micro hydro. if i were to hazard a guess as to why, i would say that they have seen that solar power can be installed on individual houses without the community infrastructure needed to design, implement and maintain a micro-hydro system. Anna and Jaime answered that micro hydro generates electricity 24/7 as opposed to solar which only generates power during sun hours.
Anna and i asked Vicente’s wife about her children’s graduate pictures. Her daughter graduated from secondary school in Teustepe and is currently a secretary in Managua. She comes back frequently, in part to help around the house and assuredly to see her 3-year old son who stays in Lagunas with the rest of the family. Vicente and his wife have three daughters and one son. The son is currently attending school in Teustepe. Even during planting and harvesting seasons, he goes to school on Sundays, which is a sacrifice for the family. We asked her about women’s roles in the community and then whether there was a women’s Committee, as well. the Committee, which deals primarily with matters of health and education, is comprised of 5 women. they are hoping to create a clinic by December 2007 with a health promoter (there is not a nurse or practitioner in the area at this time). It seemed that the clinic would benefit from electricity, and they seem excited by this. The Committee meets always in the afternoons. when asked about health problems in the area, she mentioned calenture, diarrhea, and brijules.
back with the Energy Committee, Juan Manuel came with a clipboard of all the houses, names and numbers of their residents.
We went back to Managua after this to Hotel Los Felipes. Rather expensive for the hotel (though I always think everything is expensive). Plenty of smaller hospidajes for future reference. We met up with H,B, and R in short order.
For dinner, H, B & R had found a swell eatery during their walk. The best fritanga ever! Dona Pilar, look no further. Overarching topics of conversation: availability of water generally, Georgia v. Oregon in terms of conscientiousness, etc.

07 July 2007

Nicaragua: Managua, San Jose, Malacatoya, San Jose

7 de julio Managua, San Jose, Malacatoya, San Jose

Jaime picked us up in his white truck about 8am, and we headed out for San Jose and points beyond. San Jose is about a 1 ½ hour trek from Managua with roads that faded from traffic to rubble and dust and culminated with San Jose’s “Samoza” blocks that run about 4-5 blocks in any direction from the center of town. stopped at a house with a swanky, small wooden spiral staircase that turned out to belong to a fellow named Jorge, the one who directs the Mayor’s agenda. the discussion went a little something like this:

there is a Committee in the north and one in the south. the one in the north seems to have less motivation or vision for development than the other.
regarding Malacatoya, the installation will take place either on tuesday afternoon or wednesday morning.
the demand is the same in most of the communities, but the applications and uses are different: some communities need energy and water, others primarily water; some can benefit from micro-hydro, others will require solar. regarding hydro-electric, they discussed how water delivery and electricity can be offered in tandem. the water confluence is pretty large, but its source is not one large waterfall but many sources that flow into the same flow. the majority of communities do not have adequate water delivery service. most have wells of some sort, but they are by and large manually-pumped and not suitable for the quantity of people they serve. the manual wells have the additional issue of claves breaking, rendering the wells unusable. Communities already identified as needing water projects were identified by name. 25 of the communities in the area have already been identified as not having sufficient water. Union Fenosa apparently has a scheduled increase of 2% annually for its utility services, which makes the system even less tenable to rural communities. Currently, water is for consumption in most communities but not for anything else like irrigation. if there was more water available to those areas, it could completely change the economic capabilities and lifestyles of the zone. just a little irrigation will allow a lot of crop cultivation. corn is a difficult crop to grow because it is expensive to buy the seeds for the first plant. it’s also difficult to ensure the quality of the seeds, and farmers have to buy the seeds every year. the priority is to provide energy where there is none, but Jorge also mentioned that some communities that have energy could benefit from a backup system because the national grid is less than reliable. there will be more rationing in future (Managua alone requires 500 mW). on Malacatoya: it is near the grid, but there is no electricity available to speak of. the only alternative is an independent system. the assembly of the turbine and generator should take place on tuesday afternoon.
we got to Malacatoya by way of San Jose (a “settled” town). along the way, we encountered a number of folks that knew Jaime by sight. he is obviously well known and liked by the community (we started calling him "Antonion Banderas"). the jeep took us as far as it could which was to the base of an incline where mud (“lodo”) prevented further driving. up and down and some slips later, we got to the site of the micro-hydro plant. the building has been constructed, the penstock about to be fitted, and the turbine and generator are sitting on the plant floor. four guys are currently working on seating the penstock, which needed an additional four metres. George is coming on tuesday to install the turbine and generator. Jaime explained that the injector controls the flow into the turbine the canal around the plant keeps water from washing against the wall and potentially weakening (?).
Anna said that she and Suzanne Adatto had been out a few years earlier when there was no building. everyone seems VERY excited at this stage. one fellow named Orlando accompanied us back to his house where we talked about the project at greater length. there was a good deal of discussion about tariffs: whether it would be by household or by appliance (a suggestion Anna made). Jaime explained that tariffs would help keep consumption down to what and when people need it. who will enforce and set up payment? the Committee. will there be a paid operator and technician, or will everyone be volunteers? Orlando explained that a technician would not be paid and that tariffs would go to maintenance. the Committee will check the plant from time to time. Anna asked about pulpadoras; Orlando has one in his backyard which we went out to see after the discussion. throughout the conversation, the women kept on the outskirts of the room. Orlando’s wife came out at one point, and the younger women came in and snuggled behind her, peeping out at the others. another worker at the plant (Tony?) came in the doorway, and his wife stood behind him and rested her head on his back. after we had gone back to the truck, we mused how amazing it was that so much change in a project could happen in such a short time.
got back to San Jose and looked for a room of which Jaime knew. needed prep, so we went down the street to a comedor. Anna turned and asked, “isn’t it funny how, in Nicaragua, the first thing you ask when you go into a restaurant is, ‘is there any food’?” it’s pretty hilarious. at Snack Brisas near the Quaker House two days before, they didn’t have rice and beans, though later they confessed to having gallopinto (which is rice and beans mixed together). we got some Really Delicious eggs and rice and beans. then to the room, then Anna and Jaime worked on a proposal while i went to a cyber and typed up notes. good reggaeton, so i stayed for an extra hour. fireworks outside sounded like gunfire. the paved streets (with “Samoza” blocks, according to Anna) and clip-clop of the horse hooves which made for good transportation made it sounds for all the world like a traditional western show. San Jose’s streets are paved well, but in some ways it feels like a town on stilts because all the roads leading to/from it seem to lead down and quickly become rubble and dirt/mud roads. the pulperias sell horseshoes right next to the refrigerators holding juice and coca-cola (“gaseosa”).
when i got back from the cyber, Anna and Jaime were just finishing up their session on the proposal, beer was requisite at this point. lot of young children out at night we found. over Tona, we mused as to whether women have any organizations or Committees or gathering places in Malacatoya. also brainstormed other ways to get statistics regarding health in communities. plan to stop by clinics or hospitals in the area of San Jose to get information including diseases, ailments, reasons for doctor trips or any issues that could relate to water or nutrition as it might relate to distance of water carrying.

06 July 2007

Nicaragua: Managua

6 de julio Managua

there were a number of folks staying at the Quaker House that hadn’t been before. we had missed the PSU Community Development group by a hair’s breath (this and Union Fenosa seems to be the main subplots of our Nicaraguan adventure this time around). Sarah was still there. Caroline was there but about to leave to WOOF in Belize for a week. Molly was in town amidst doing her grad studies in Scotland. she and Sara were teaming up to investigate NSL classifiers. a group of four were from a Baltimore/Esteli sister city association and were preparing to take the bus up to do some work there. Kristen (i believe?) was working for a health clinic. she had created a questionnaire to see how doctors were performing their duties. it was interesting to learn that women in her experience were quite forthcoming in discussing women’s health issues with her, even when other men and women were obviously within earshot. she had been most surprised that women answered how many partners they had had without pause (the range was 1-4 with most in her experience being 2).
no one knew where the heck the Embassy was, so we took a taxi. walked by Habitat for Humanity and had a discussion about why they were doing only houses when communities needed water and electricity.

Embassy Meeting
interesting questions asked of us:
• GE is in 6 countries?
• whose responsibility is the maintenance of the technology?
• which better: to have volunteers or salaried employees?
• what do you do about stealing utilities? how do you assign tariffs and ensure payment? (gave magnificent hypothetical that could only be conceived by a dastardly mind!)
• how do you get the panels here?
• what are the main uses of electricity?
• how much does n entire solar pumping project cost, including training and feasibility studies?
in answer, Jaime and Anna explained that maintenance could either be volunteers or salaried technicians, depending on the communities’ preference, and the tariff system and fund allocation are likewise decided by a Committee within the community. creating an equitable distribution framework is one of the big challenges. it can be ameliorated with the use of meters, but meters are expensive and their installment costly. panels are often shipped in the form of cells to be assembled into solar units in Nicaragua. this has been the most cost-effective but of course has the downside of lacking certification should anything go awry.

other things explored, of course, but in the interest of space. . .
met with another international NGO after meeting with the Embassy, and then Jaime took us to lunch to a vegetarian cart near the university. gorgeous! afterwards, we went to the Ministry of Energy only to learn that, due to the energy shortage (i’m not lying, folks), the government had declared that offices would only be open 7a-1p. they declared this less than 24 hours before our meeting. with the Ministry of Energy. so let’s just recap – the Ministry of Energy, which is located within the purview of the national grid maintained by Union Fenosa, is closed due to energy rationing. humor, bad luck in timing, and a reinforcement of our mission statement all in one closed door.
other notes of interest this day:
• in the ciber while Jaime was making a call, we saw two boys surfing for women – one was youtubing all evening gown portions of Miss America pageants from the last 5 years, and the other was searching for pictures of celebrity women and saving the ones with 30%+ of screenspace devoted to cleavage
• while waiting in line to extract money from my account, two fabulous nurses who asked where i was from, what i was doing in Nicaragua, and then if there was a job for them with our ONG. they didn’t care what kind of job. they didn’t even care what kind of ONG. we were all laughing for a good while after that.
• a woman in a makeup shop started cracking up when i asked if she had change for C$500 (about US$25) when i said i wanted to buy a few hairtyes for C$10.
• a guy was very adamant about palm reading and i believe spirituality while we were waiting for the receipt at the vegetarian place.

05 July 2007

Nicaragua: Chinandega, Managua

5 de julio 2007 Chinandega Managua
they got up. Justin was as fresh as a daisy. we couldn’t believe it.
while waiting for the truck, we had a fascinating conversation with a few of the students’ chaperones, one of whom left Nicaragua in 1983. Martin had never thought of leaving Nicaragua to go to the States like many of his family wanted. he didn’t even get a passport until he saw his father being carted away by the Sandanista government for having “too much money in his pocket.” they held his father for a week, and Martin decided he didn’t want to stay in a country that would do that. it was a very different accounting of that time than others we had heard.
we piled into the ambulance with Marieling, Luiz, Dania, Patty (how is it that she was even standing?) H (forgot her name, darnit!) and Justin. best conversations of the trip:
• Luiz and others getting into a very interested discussion about the possible applications of pumping systems
• Justin talking about his own motivations for doing work with A4C, which became an interesting comparison of doing Christ’s work v. evangelism. he talked at length, and very movingly i might add, that his relationship with God was his motivation for doing this work, but he didn’t expect everyone else to feel the same. it is not something one can coerce another to feel. Anna and i were both impressed with both his eloquence and his unwavering, unconditional faith.
• Dania and i talking.
Anna and i talked later about this missionary fervor. it’s interesting that non-religious NGOs focus on the “what”, while religious NGOs focus on the “why”. A4C, for example, has a long, unwavering vision that is deeply rooted in a faith that its donors and participants share. John was very forthcoming in describing the mistakes or incorrect assumptions they’ve made, but these mistakes have not stifles him. they have guided their focus and direction, rather than requiring, in some situations, an evaluation of the mission itself as would often happen in a secular nonprofit. both seem right. which is more effective?
got to the Quaker House, foraged for food at Snack Las Brisas which didn’t have rice and beans but did have gallop into, then went back to crash for an hour before meeting with Jaime. WHO ROCKS! talked about the solar umps, micro hydro systems, and the communities (won’t elaborate on this, as i assume Anna can better than i). he was even gracious enough to take the “Sondeo . . .” book home with him to look at it. after talks and some phone calls, came up with a game plan to meet with the Canadian Embassy, CARE Intl, and the Ministry of Energy. Caroline came in and mentioned the Solidarity Conference that NicaNet was putting on the next weekend, and we considered doing this, as well. ponder ponder ponder.
Anna and i were HUNGRY. we shoelace the street near the supermarket area until we found a GREAT fritanga. it was so clean that the lady actually put a condom on the tongs when not using it. i will miss that place when we leave. have come to learn that when one finds a good fritanga, one must grasp it with both hands.

04 July 2007

Nicaragua: Leon, Chinandega

it turns out that Leon opens at 8am. the water (still) wasn’t on yet, so we put clothes over our dusty, grimy bodies and set out to get a few last pictures before heading to the bus. the Ben Linder painting, the “Bush” graffiti, and a mysterious “6% Union Fenosa” graffiti. the bus ride to Chinandega: uneventful. upon arrival, Anna had the BRILLIANT idea of using a bicitaxi. David who couldn’t have been more than 16, took our bags and the address of our destination. he has had the taxi for 2 years, with his certification as the taxi’s only adornment. guilt and what was a further trek than we’d thought coupled with impish indulgence overtook us, and both Anna and i took at chance at driving the bicitaxi. the look on people’s faces? classic. one missed turn accidentally to the doors of a military enclave later, and we found ourselves at Amigos for Christ’s door and in David’s debt for his faith in us.

John came out immediately to greet us on the porch of Casa Blanca. he sported a southern drawl we learned hailed from Georgia. his wife, Sabrina, and their three sons were also staying at the house. John introduced us to Tomas, the A4C engineer.

the organization was formed three years ago formally, but John and Sabrina have been working on projects for something like 18 years. they originally started in the Peace Corps in Paraguay on i believe a sanitation project which quickly taught them the necessity of water. three years ago, A4C, whose volunteers had been working in conjunction with another entity, became its own nonprofit and go enough start-up donations to buy Casa Blanca and pay for a small office as well as John’s salary. it’s a small outfit out of Georgia that does missionary trips in the sumemr and spends most of the rest of the year fundraising, designing, and keeping in touch with Nicaraguan year-round staff. John ran down a few of the projects and renewable energy possibilities associated with them:

Villa Catalina – a community home- and farm-building project to relocate people who had previously been living at the dumps. John said that there were a number of challenges involved with the project: one was cost-effective water pumping for irrigation as well as for a community housing project next door created by the Rotarians who ran out of money.

the Finca – their farm, recently purchased, keeps a number of chickens, pigs, and cows to be distributed a la Heifer International. they have a need for potable water for caretakers and animals as well as irrigation to their maize crop.

before we went to a tour of the projects, Tomas talked about his interest and experience with solar. he recently went to Potreritos to check out the solar water pump with Jaime. he said that their pumps sometimes had problems with wear on part of the pump, specifically a plastic component that impacts with a metal component that wears the plastic down to nothing. Tomas was intrigued by the solar pump and thought that it would be a good match for them. when Anna asked about funding, John said that donors individually helped cobble their budget together, but Food for the Poor provided funding for a lot of their water projects and are willing to cover it.

we got in the “ambulance” as it is called and headed out with Luiz, MarieLing, the jefa of computadoras, and Tomas and John. first stop was the dump and its nearby slums. A4C has been involved with the dump’s human microcosm relating to immediate health needs. they have been working with leaders of the community to build Villa and help transport families. there were a dozen or so people on the dump grounds, and John said there would normally be more than 100 but for the burning. John showed us the river right underneath a path leading straight up to it where waste was “encouraged” to go. there is a hospital upstream that dumps their medical waste straight into the same river.

about 4 dozen flies hitched a ride with us to Villa Catalina. over 100 houses were built in a spot that had been cleared away by Mitch. John said that he and Luiz and members of the dump’s community had driven around for days to find the right spot. they were in the process of building a health clinic when we arrived. reinforced concrete. a covey of families helped build the houses, and a lottery was held to place them. John, Tomas, Luiz and MarieLing showed us the diesel-powered pump and tank, the grid “generously” and unwittingly provided by Union Fenosa, the library, pig stable, massive chicken coop, and crop parcels. there is a basketball court. a sports stadium and locker room area are being funded by spots eagues from the States. the courts are going to have a league of 5 on 5 games with uniforms provided. we visited two sisters who have laid tile in the house and ainted their walls pink and blue. Manuel, an older fellow with calloused hands, met with us and said how great the place was. he is paid a small monthly stipend for doing work on the grounds which he did assiduously. John talked a bt about the micro-lending process they have started doing which has worked really well in establishing pulperias, bike repair, etc. an ice cream cart went around he neighborhood twice while we were there. a number of patios were teeming with vegetation, much of it for consumption or productive use. the pigs were sold at about 1 ½ years, i believe. there was one HUGE pig weighing over 1000 lbs. called Tomasito. i have NO idea how many chickens they had, perhaps 150?, but they used rice hulls which ony had to be changed out every 6 months or so. a biodigester fed into what will be the cafeteria, and the main struggle thwy were finding was that people had to be convinced that the gas emitted from the cow dung was not unhealthy. it certainly is rather counterintuitive. worm composting near the animal pens.

we nex looked at a spot where John was considering for a tank and water pump. it was on a slight incline overlooking the Rotarians’ funded housing community (advertised at $2000 per house). who ran out of money before little details like water delivery could be installed. John mentioned that some of the rock was volcanic ans very dense, and occasionally they drilled and found water only to have the well collapse due to subterranean irregularities associated with volcanic activities. their land abuts private land, so there appeared no way that water could be pumped to another nearby community. Anna asked whether they couldn’t just hook up the pump to the electrical line overhead; Tomas and Luiz said that the line actually belonged to Enitel. to hook up to the grid, they would have to hook it way down at the road.

while we were kibitzing, members of the community came up to discuss issues with latrines and to ask about water. before we knew it, most of the community (of 37 families) joined us. Anna talked with a few members of the community; i talked with a young lady of 12 years of age who gos to school in the schoolhouse. her family moved to the development 7 months ago. they planted corn the previous october, which was the first crop their family had ever planted. my spanish needs work, so i took pictures when i couldn’t string together words.

we said goodbye to the community and headed back to the house to shower before heading to their finca for the 4th of july celebration and pig roast. best shower ever!

on the way to the finca, we stopped to get fireworks from a self-made pyrotechnic. there was a “no fumar” sign nailed to the tree. this day was getting crazier and crazier.

the finca is currently comprised of a pigsty, chicken coop, cow pasture, and corn field. there is a water tank in the back that hasn’t been hooked to an energy system yet. next steps for the finca include a house/office for John and Sabrina, housing for a caretaker’s family, and more crops. according to Anna, this seems the best option for a first-run solar pump project. stats:

320 litres

200 feet well
70 ft. static water
the well-digging syste they have used in the past is Deep Rock 100 with a rig that can dig up to 450 ft. A4C have drilled 360 ft max to date.

what the missionary students were doing through all of this:
*catching chickens
*water balloon tossing
* preparing for a tug of war in the pigsty. you heard me, IN the pigsty

we met Sabrina, a nurse by trade. she has been insrumental in heading up health clinics for a number of their programs. she introduced us to the bus driver and Bacchus, their agronomist. Bacchus talked about the projects they have with giving away livestock to families in need in much the same way as Heifer International does. our converation (okay okay, their conversation and my shameless eavesdropping) continued after he joined the tug of war and helped grerase the pig for the pig-catching contest (KY Jelly, hich is apparently better than Vasoline for a pig’s well-being). in case you’re wondering (and who wouldn’t be?), the contest was very short; everyone was disappointed about how skittish the pig . . . wasn’t.

Bacchus’ story. he came from Chichigalpa from a very poor family who are now living in one of thw A4C’s new houses. he asked and asked A4C many times when he was of school age to be given the chance to study agronomy, and finally they acquiesced. he subsequently became a trained agronomist and has been working with them for a long time.

Anna and Bacchus continued to talk, even when fireworks were going off. one went onto a neighboring house, but no one seemed fazed by this. we packed up and headed back to Casa Blanca, where John asked whetehr we’d like to go out with a few others for a drink. went with John, Sabrina, Justin, Jeremy, Roberto, Luiz, Marieling, Hannah, Kristen, and Patty.

i thought it was going to be one drrink. it turned into an all-out drinkfest. more Tona and Flor de Cana flowed than i can talk about. it definitely could have spun a turbine once or twice. specifics suppressed to protect the innocent, but it is telling of a good group of people when everyone is as funny and good-natured sober as they are . . . not so sober.

03 July 2007

Nicaragua: Condega, Esteli, Leon

3 de julio Condega, Esteli, Leon

okay, so i have to mention that both Anna and i had weird dreams that night. Anna dreamt about Mill Walker and Irene Tinker and Amaya togetehr in a highrise, and i dreamt about secret doors, Steven crossdressing, and a university president faking his abdication and subsequnt demise in order to gain secrets of the Freemasons. all of my joints hurt, which has come from sittingfor longer than i have in years. i spent 45 minutes just stretching and popping and cracking throughout the night. still praying for corporeal gods to forgive me. end random personal account.

walked to Helen and Amanda´s house about 8am by way of vegetable market boasting coffee and tortillas with avocado. yum! Helen and Amanda had filled about half the truck bed with seedling plants: primarily coffee, papaya, cedar, and mahogany. we looked up and headed to the farm. on the way, there were a number of houses that looked the same as their neighbors with vibrant colors that were constructed closely together. Amanda explained that this was a municipal project for homeless people of Condega. i asked how many were homeless, and she replied that Condega is like many other places in that poor families exist with many generations living practically on top of one another in the same house. she was not very optimistic of the project, which was unsustainably close together with no abutting land to grow anything and too small a house to accommodate more than a very small nuclear family.

their farm was bought about 5 years ago when it was an arid, desert-like parcel. the whole area was destroyed during Hurricane Mitch. in the past five years, they have replanted cedar and mahogany as well as shade-grown coffee underneath and papayas. the irrigation is done by drip irrigation piping bought in Israel and fed from what is currently a diesel pump-fed tank further up the hill. they want to install solar pumps as a more environmental and economical alternative. drip irrigation requires filters of which there are two on the grounds. next, Helen showed the house, created by adobe (same as cob in this case) with a lime/plaster finish. the idea is to mount solar on the house, have an office and guest rooms for visiting groups, and an area for demonstrations ranging from adobe to solar installation. there will be a bicycle pump that abuts the house where a well has already been dug. they also hope to have biodigesters in the future but are talking to AsoFenix, who know of a new cheaper, more portable design than the classic brick and mortar version. in fact, Alexis from AsoFenix had just been there the day before. we had missed him by the merest breath. the composting area is ner the animal stalls with worm composting to speed up the process. two composting latrines are also on the farm. the composting feeds back to the crops for fertilizer. a bull pen is just beyond the compost area with a horse pasture populated by two horses. they will use a covered trough for the summer months. since Helen and Amanda are preoccupied most of the time with the school, a family lives in a separate house and tends the animals and crops. there is a solar panel on the roof of the tenders’ house. the adobe house has already been used as a space for an adobe workshop whose techniques have been employed in subsequent projects, such as adobe houses in town. as we left the farm, we passed the fledgling maize crop. Amanda was known by most of the men we passed an a number of women in town.

the school. we passed by the office first where Helen showed some brochures and pictures. there was a classroom across the way. the main area opened into the carpentry lab with additional tools on the side. carpentry was the original use of the school. the area has a “green wood” and regular lathe, planers, table saw, and a number of other specialized machines along the periphery. Helen next showed us the welding area and electrical classroom/lab that comprises the most recent addition to the curriculum. up a winding wooden staircase was the computer room and welding classroom. Helen described the history of the school itself, created by the hands of 3 years’ students. one of the signs was a female symbol incorporating a hammer. she described the importance of involving the women’s families into the culture. downstairs a “Bienvenidos a Padres” sign could be found.

students had recently taken a trip to a timber farm so that they could see the carpentry process from start to finish. the students working while we were there (on their week off, i might add) seemed very keen and intent. Anna and Helen discussed the possible partnerships and funding thoughts we had the night before.

we departed for Esteli and then on to Leon, but not before visiting Condega’s Museo Anthopologicke. our favorite was the “personajes de Condega” section: a woman who could balance a whole lot of fruit on her head who is an example for future generations.

in Leon, we got on a covered truck (almost exactly like a Thai songthaew but with fewer colors) to the cty and asked around until we found a cheap hospidaje called “Casa Vieja” for 100C a night. no water, though. as it turns out, the water was out in Leon at that time, though there was light. we were confused.

we went for walk and found:
*the UNAN/Leon Universidad
*a monument to Leon’s heroism during the Contra/Sandinista conflict
*the beautiful plaza with iglesia next door. Gorgeous! Anna said that Leon was not effected by the earthquake that decimated Managua in the 70s which explains the beautiful old buildings and houses.

the best find of all probably had to be the red and purple edifice we found with a stylized clown on a giraffe unicycle and “Benjamin Linder” painted on the doorway arch.
we have to go back for the story. we found a restaurant that boasted salads and played Silvia Rodriguez, much to Anna’s delight. i ordered the Ensalada Cactus after we assured that it was vegetarian. it was, if you didn’t count the lumps of ham and a vast infestation of mayo-slathered chicken. Anna was kind enough to share her spaghetti.

Anna had wanted to wash her hands, but there was again no water. according to the waiter, half Leon has light but no water in the evening and water but no light in the morning. the converse is true for the other side of town. of course, according to the waiter, the Ensalata Cactus is vegetarian. we’ll see.

on the way home, i got terribly lost as is my wont. no one seemed to know where the Casa Vieja was, but it was good Spanish practice. one guy i asked:

Me: ¿conoce Ud. a Casa Vieja? es un hospidaje cerca de aqui, pero no recuerdo la direccion.

Seguridad: no conozco. tal vez es nueva.

Me: no! es Casa VIEJA.

i love language learning. stupid puns are actually funny. found someone who knew, and i’m back at the room.

there is a cockroach on the wall. at first i thought there were two and that they were mating, but i guess it’s just one really indecisive one. thought about hitting it with my shoe, but the smell of dead cockroaches tends to attract other cockroaches (ahh, important tidbits one learns in Thailand). it also reminds me of Archy the Cockroach.


02 July 2007

Nicaragua: Matagalpa, Esteli, Condega

2 de julio, 2007 Matagalpa, Esteli, Condega

the next morning we had coffee (gracias a Dios) and set out to solve the Mystery of the Phone Chip. the phone kept asking for a phone provider when tryng to add time to the chip. after waiting in the Enitel office for 45 minutes, the shop (air conditioned and complete with security officials) told us to go to the shack across the way which is the place where things apparently ACTUALLY get done. went to a cybercafe where a woman wrote a sweet note to me with her phone number and address. call me crazy, but i´m a sucker for a written note. she had the cutest son ever! on the way, another ¨Toro Mecanico¨sign, this time next to another banner that called for gay rights. Wow! went to ATDER-BL office, and Aleyda gave us copies to all of the current deeds and receipts. what a gal what a gal. she said again that she believed the land could be bught without difficulty by the end ofjuly. she and i kibitzed on how much time was needed at the office to keep things going. i heart her.

we had the Grand Taxi Tour on the way to the bus stop, and from there the bus to Esteli, and from the bus stop a walk to another bus stop to the last bust to Condega in order to meet with AMCC. arrived in Condega at about 5:30 and shopped around the place for a cheap hotel. note: if you{re looking for a deal on a room in Condega, look no farther than Hospidaje Framada. two downsides: when we got there, no light, and no light also meant no water. it sure seemed telling that light flowed freely in the northern concession but FAR less frequently or dependably on the national grid.

Anna and i were confronted by a new and strange animal ' free time. we bravely combatted this by calling Helen at AMCC and then, when no one answered either phone, resolved to find their school door and seek them out physically. we got as far as their street (after a monsoon-like downpour lasting 5 minutes) when Helen caleld and gave directions to her house. it was a greem-blue facade with a beautiful garden and open kitchen/dining area looking out. Amanda and Helen introduced themselves, and we learned a little of AMCC. Helen came to Nicaragua from Britain 18 or so years ago and has stayed pretty much constantly since. Amanda is originally from Condega and very politically outspoken. when asked about Daniel Ortega, Amanda was direct and fervent that the new ¨Left¨looks rather like the ¨Right¨in many ways, and that the new political paradigm is to ally itself as closely as possible with financial interests. this was about the time in the conversation when the electricity went off (from the national grid). Amanda and Helen immediately got candles like old pros. apparently this happens often. it is interesting to compare this circumstance to that in the concession of the north, where electricity was completely constant. back to Daniel. according to Amanda´s views, dissent is encouraged among the barrios and disadvantaged populations, and the vote is split so that Ortega won with just 38% of the vote. women, who had reached some modicum of emancipation along with the social services with the 1st wave of the Sandinists are now either entirely forgotten or paid mere lipservice. in terms of women´s roles in Nicaragua, Amanda and Helen both stated that there were any disadvantages in the machismo culture, but the force of women is strong, and women´s rights needs only encouragement and time to change current situations. about Helen´s history: she was originally a carpnter in Britain and came during the 80s to teach women computer skills and other ocational skills. she became involved with AMCC with Amanda and has slowly developed the venture into a school. while we were talking, Helen cooked up some eggs, rice & beans with sweet peppers, and SALAD with raisins (pasas). it was heaven! we went back to the hotel and cospired on rocking chairs. thoughts included the following:

how much income comes from manufacturing contracts?
who would the sustinable farm demonstrations be for? consumers, municipalities, their students, other NGOs . . .?
might they be looking for other alternatives for welding (ie. hydraulic ram pump)?
how sophisticated is thir electrical training?

other brainstoming followed, but i´m not authorized to divulge this info. at this time or the chip in my gbrain will explode.

sleep quickly followed.

01 July 2007

Nicaragua: Bocay, El Bote, Matagalpa

1 de julio 2007: Bocay, El Bote, Matagalpa

woke up and had breakfast the same spot as the night before. tortillas and queso seco. Aleyda explained divorce in Nicaragua, which happens more frequently now than before (i don{t think this has anything to do with renewable energy, by the way). people who marry the 2nd time can have a civil marriage, but church weddings are not really ¨done¨. she mentioned marriage encounters (encuento conjugales), which seems a predominant way for catholics to work out communication difficulties in their relationships. my parents went on a marriage encounter once that saved their marriage, so we swapped stories.

we said godbye to Bocay with its Benjamin Linder banner and headed to El Bote!!

our first stop before the hydroplant was ATDER{s telephone station. we met with ATDER{s agronomist, Buonoera, who talked about the harvesting and planting methods for coffee, plantains, bananas, beans, and rice. th major question was ne of incentivesÑ farmers need reason to change farming habits that are more immediate than promises of llong'term sustainability and social quality. farmers are paid to plant the initial harvest and maintain sustainable techniques.

he had pictures of all the farms to be bought with corresponding maps of their plots. very impressive!

in the midst of this, i met Eric and his friend Lester as well as Lester{s sister (who was too shy to introduce herself). Eric started working for ATDER'BL a week ago since school is out. he helps Rebecca as a manager, though i was unclear in precisely what capacity. i walked across the street after being beckoned by the owner of the pulperia. he asked where we were from and how we were involved in the project. Anna came over, and he sat us down in his house and asked rather pointed questions about the funding. apparently he was worried about a new government being bought by foreign interests. as auxiliary mayor, Alcade came with us as we looked at the fence marking the watershed and coffee plants growing under the shade of banana trees. they plant posts which end up sprouting leaves and roots. it{s called a ¨cerca vivo¨. satisfied with the reasons for our visit, he was dropped off back at the pulperia before we headed up to the hydroplant. it´s HUGE!
1 mW, 2 turbines with 2 injectors eachand 2 generators, with one control panel to rule them all. the transformers can be easily found just above the plant and fed into the grid. behind the plant was a small house with the falls beyond. El Mexicano said that the falls have 3 tiers, 2 of which were high enough that we couldn{t even see them. we thought that roaring falls would prevent sleep, but the noise was much diminished inside the thickly'walled house. hopefully, the walls will also filter some of the noise from the generator which will be rather intense when it{s operational. Doris and daughter Maria have lived there for the past 4 months. Maria will start school in the next session, a 20'30 minute walk upsteps of the falls. we walked back into the plant where Buonoera, _________, and the El Bote plant operator were looking over designs. a lightning bolt had hit the plant the night before and knocked out one of the parts of the control panel. Rebecca had apparently alreadycome by and taken the part to be replaced.

we left the plant and headed back to ATDER{s telephone headquarters (Eric was there to greet us) and said goodbye to everyone there as well as Alcade across the street. we followed the lines back to El Cua (beuatiful pillars and endless lines). we saw the lechedora on the way back. i had hoped that we would pass by the Iglesia Luz Eternal which we passed in El Bote just before the telephone station, but no such luck. a quick goodbye to El Mexicano, and then the bus back to Matagalpa. there were plenty of stops and starts along the way: sacks of beans loaded, a boisterous group of guys kicked off the bus for being ¨too drunk¨and kicking up a fuss in the street, a woman with a LOT of lipstick shuffling her children to the back of the bus, beans unloaded, etc etc. being the last bus, it was nightfall before we were halfway to Matagalpa. the fireflies lit up parts of the field. pulperias were open into the night. music could be heard from the road all along the countryside under El Bote{s electrical lines. a few houses could be seen across the hillside. it was magical. i{ve never noticed how much a little electricity ca change an entire region. Alcade, when asked how electrcity had changed his pulperia, said that there was ¨more protection and safety, more goods to be sold, more customers¨. he has had the pulperia for 18 years, since well before the electricity cam. he remembered Ben Linder.

Aleyda{s husband and nephew, Ditmar, came to pick us up when we hit Matagalpa at 8:30m or so. they were kindenough t take us to a hotel. Anna and i went foraging for dinner and passed up a pizza joint for platinos and friojles molidas (and cerveza!). at the end of the meal, the proprietress asked where we were from and divulged that 3 children of hers lived in LA. everyone seems to have some connection to the States. Anna and i walked back to the hotel by way of the church which had a banner hanging next to it advertising, ¨Cowboy Festival, Toro Mecanico¨. for the previous night. bummer.