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.

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