Solidarity in Action

What did we see?

‘Wealth in family and relationships.’

‘Cows, chickens, pigs, puppies, roosters, goats.’

‘Beauty in simplicity.’

‘Pigs being born.’

‘Nature’s lightshow: a million fireflies in a field at night.’

‘My host mom’s smile.’

‘Hope overpowering struggles.’

‘Hard work.’

 

What did we hear?

‘Roosters at 4 in the morning.’

‘Raindrops on a tin roof.’

‘My host dad’s motorcycle.’

‘Every farm animal and/or bug sound ever.’

‘Familiar voices.’

‘The rhythmic pounding of my host mom’s hands flattening tortillas.’

‘The poor get poorer, the rich get richer, and we hope that he (Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s president) will raise us up.’

‘Laughter, singing, and hope from my host family.’

 

How can I possibly attempt to summarize our home-stays? I can write sentences upon sentences of awkwardly stumbling over Spanish phrases with encouraging smiles from my host family, a puppy/kitten/chick cuddlefest (probably the cutest thing ever), and a winding dirt road that knitted together one of the closest communities I have been lucky enough to have been in. Our experiences were varied, our host families different, and our perception of this time impressionable beyond words.

San Ramon took us beyond what we are used to and we lived in solidarity with a family sharing meals, stories, and laughter. Each of us worked on relationships with host moms, dads, sisters, and brothers. It was more than just hearing about certain issues from experts but being thrown with families who have lived through them. Everything we learned was amplified by being welcomed into a family who told us their story so that we may educate others. Their stories have become our stories.

More than any other post I find it difficult to try to summarize this experience because mine was just one of 20 completely different perceptions. Now we have the challenge of taking these personal relationships and seeing where, exactly, they fit in with what we’re learning about economic, political, and social relations between the United States and Nicaragua.

In compensation for the words that I can’t quite find, I will post some pictures that will hopefully give a glimpse of what our lives have been like in the Campo.

-Sarah

 

 

 

Mother’s Day Prologue

We thought you'd like to know that the momma pig and 10 serditos are doing well in Ramon Garcia.

And we’re off!

Here’s a quick blog post before we leave! Where are we going? Matagalpa, specifically the city of San Ramon where we’ll be staying for three nights in home stays. This is one of the most exciting parts of the trip: being able to live in solidarity in a rural community. We will be getting up early, helping run the household (this can include milking cows, making tortillas, and various types of physical labor), discussing how rural life is (we are being paired up based on Spanish speaking ability, I’m a little nervous!), and seeing how life is for Nicaraguans outside the city of Managua. Where we have had pretty good comfort here with showers, beds, and pillows here in the city, our host families probably will not have these. We’ll really be roughing it!! Everyone is excited, nervous, and above all ready to have an awesome adventure. We’re nearly ready to get on our bus for a 4 hour drive, so adios!

-Sarah

PS: Toni and Lynn Fydalle if you are reading, Fr. Joe from Notre Dame who stayed at your house a few times sends a big hello ( yes he is on this trip with us!)

Day 5: We missed our moms on Mother’s Day

Today started off in good spirits after a night of dancing and enjoying each other’s company. Despite the fact that some of us are battling minor discomforts, such as upset stomachs and bug bites, we pushed through to have another great day. We headed to La Curva, a community outside of Manugua where we were welcomed by chickens, pigs, ducks, and very annoyed dogs. We met Dona Marie and Paola there and they shared their stories about working in free trade zone factories. Although it was saddening to hear about their poor work conditions, low wages, and dislike of their places of employment, their sense of determination to provide for their families at all costs was very inspiring. After hearing these amazing women talk, the children of the community gave us a private concert on the flutes that they have been learning to play. A community leader,Jairo, saw the need for an after school program for the children and he began teaching music and art classes. Jairo took us back to his home where he showed us the amazing artwork the children had created.

Upon leaving his home, we took a walk down the road to see the new free trade zone that was being built. Several families were asked to leave their homes and were paid to move in order to clear enough space for the huge buildings that were to be built. Although this will offer employment for many, as Dona Maria and Paola mentioned, it will not be “good” work. These factories do not pay the workers a living wage, forcing them to work overtime to provide for their families.

Following a wonderful lunch, we visited a fair trade store, Esperanza en Accion. Here we met our friend Yani and her co- worker Emily. We learned about the importance of giving artisans not only a fair wage, but a place to properly display and sell their work. We may have bought out the store. It left us all questioning why people have to suffer from a poor working environment when amazing places, such as Esperanza en Accion exist.

We finished off the night going to mass at The Cultural Center. Despite the fact that this was a community mass, foreigners took over the crowd, with other student groups from Canada and USC. Many of the words may have gotten lost in translation, due the fact that the mass was in Spanish, but we shared a wonderful experience in community.

Now that we are getting ready to bed, yes, at 9:45 pm. We really miss all those back home and wanted to take the time to show some love to our moms! So here it goes, Happy Mother’s Day to:

Brigid Lee, Marie Hendrix, Barb Rosenberger, Jeri Rockett, Lori Cannon, Louise Biela, Elibita Biela, Trish Hart, Katie Buckwalter, Debbie Ryan, Cathy Lew, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Jeanne Figura, Cyndi LaBrec, Carla Matosich, Celia Fitz Gerald, Bridget Webster, Nelly Chavez, Mary Ann Meek, Rhonda Hoffarth, Mary Moyer and to all those who have impacted our lives!! We love you!!

Yane also wants to wish her little brother Jaziel a very happy birthday and to be prepared for his surprise when she gets home.. Love you baby! (Yane)

 

- Hannah

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flying Spiders, Puppies, Children: Oh my!

I am doubled over, hair flipped in my face with four young Nicaraguan boys picking through my hair reassuring me in a spattering of Spanish words that I am no longer covered in ‘flying spiders.’ It as this moment I can’t help but wonder: What, exactly, have I gotten myself into?

Today was dedicated entirely to the Los Quinchos organization. We started by meeting with Carlos Vidal, its founder. He spoke of a need for an organization to serve the street children of Nicaragua who suffer first and foremost with the implications of abuse, neglect, and poverty. It was impressive seeing the hard work this man has done to create a safe haven for children who lack stability. The organization provided beds, meals, classes, and additional resources that allowed the children to flourish. Carlos was once a street child himself and explained the affect of large economic policies and wars on society’s most vulnerable: impoverished children. was adamant about the fact that money should not be invested in war, but for the future, in children. He spoke of an epidemic that is hitting Nicaragua: children sniffing a dangerous mix of highly toxic glue (used to construct shoes) and a gasoline derivative. In the past week alone, 6 children have died due to complications from this dangerous behavior. What would compel any child to do this? Not so much for the high, but children feel forced to do this out of hunger. Instead of going to sleep hungry, they sniff glue so that they may pass out and not have another sleepless night from hunger. In some cases though, it does serve as an escape from the hard life on the streets. Carlos was sure to clarify that children fall into two categories: children in the street and children of the street. Those in the street may have a roof over their head whereas those of the street do not. In either instance, many children who end up at Los Quinchos have suffered abuse in some form. With all this despair, Los Quinchos is a beacon of hope for children to come and find a home.

With shared activities and events the boys and girls spend much time together, but there is a separation of locations where the children sleep and eat. We started off by visiting the girls who greeted us at the gate with hugs and kisses, an excellent welcome! Each of us received a personalized tour from a new friend. The girls excitedly showed us their rooms, friends, work, and ,as an unexpected surprise, their tiny puppies. Although we did not all speak the same language, dance was the universal way to build a friendship fast. We laughed, moved, and sang loudly enjoying ourselves. The girls showed us their dances and we came prepared with a song to show. It was hard to exactly connect these smiling bubbly girls with the harsh lives that they once led. All too soon we left our new friends to see their brothers, cousins, and buddies at the boys’ farm.

While the girls’ location served as primarily rooms, a common huge open space, and a large kitchen, the boys’ farm was huge with cows, pigs, chickens, rabbits, and a vegetable garden. There was a friendly challenging of a soccer game, but first the boys wanted to show us their space. Their idea of a tour included a trip into some acreage of wood, We followed through wire fences, some over barbed wire and if these weren’t signs that we were getting into some wild land, I don’t know what else would be. The boys took us by the hand, stopping to pick treats for us (what the English translation is, pretty much beyond me; will my stomach hurt tomorrow? I am not sure if Montezuma will enact his revenge on us or not). We were walking, stopping, talking, enjoying the sun and our company. Before I knew it I heard shouts of ‘RUN. GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE.’ My feet carried despite not knowing the perceived threat with tons of boys and Pilots alike running, screaming, and scrambling to escape. It was not until we stopped I saw them on Ellen, Triska, Jordan, Kyle, Becca, and Laura’s back (probably more, it was difficult to tell in all the haste). They were black ‘flying spiders’ that would jump, attach to any and all clothing to bite. Painful bites, let me tell you. The boys helped, using practiced moves to hit the bugs off of us. Some of us girls were ‘lucky’ enough to have several of these bugs all in our hair. I could not be more grateful for the tiny hands examining my clothes and hair to make sure my companions and I were safe. It was an experience to say the least.

Our final visit was to the house of an “ex-Qunicho”, or a man who once lived in the boy’s farm himself. He is now an art teacher for the children in order to give back to the community that raised him. We were lucky enough to see some of his beautiful art and even purchase a few paintings to bring back home. Our evening ended at an Italian restaurant (who would have guessed we’d be eating lasagna in Nicaragua?!) that benefits the street children’s projects. In fact, the chicken we ate had come from the same coop we saw this afternoon at the boy’s farm. As we waited several hours for our meal to be served, our evening started with some wonderful dancing to the music of a live Nicaraguan band. Our group really knows how to get moving alongside some of the locals. All are now exhausted and we look forward to a good night’s sleep and an event-filled day tomorrow in the rural community of La Curva. Buenas noches!

-Sarah with lots of Kevin’s help

Day 3: We still be learnin

Emotions were running hot and body fluids were running hotter.  Today was a day filled with some very interesting information and experiences. We started the day bright and early with breakfast at 7:30am prepared by Yahyda. As a group we were all feeling under the weather today. I was lucky enough to wake up with pink eye and a little hint of dysentery and I was not alone. A lot of the group had some night time visits with the porcelain throne. We made sure to drink a lot of water and we kept in a great mood. We had a great talk about free trade versus fair trade in the morning and after we went and visited examples of both in the community.

Our fair trade example was a cooperative called “Nueva Vida”, where people displaced by hurricane Mitch make shirts out of organic, local cotton and sell them abroad. It was such an awesome place, with a vibe of hope that our vibe watcher Kyler took astute notice of. After leaving this wonderful place, we went to one of the nicer “sweat shop” in Nicaragua. This location was owned by Muebletex, a textile company that specializes in making furniture covers. The juxtaposition of this location to ” Nueva Vida” was powerful. They had 672 workers that were working in a room that was around 80 degrees and was overfilled. Then, we had a local environmental economist come speak more about fair trade. He painted a specific picture of how Nicaragua directly plays in with the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). It was fascinating hearing about the environmental aspect of this dynamic.

The resounding feeling is that we have been here for at least a month. Yesterday was a packed 12 hour day and today was just as busy. It has been amazing meeting people and seeing the hope that individuals bring within their community. Tomorrow we’re spending a whole day with children and we’re really pumped!!

-Mostly Jordan and a little bit of Sarah

PS: We would lovingly accept any form of support through the means of comments! (Claire wants to let her mom know it’s fine haha)

PSS: Becca wishes her mom the Happiest Birthday!!!

And to momma bear LaBrec…….Love ya and miss you a lot:)

Day 1 Complete!

After a jam-packed day we are finally at our headquarters for Witness for Peace. Today we started off with an AWESOME breakfast (the food here is pretty amazing) and received an introduction to our Witness for Peace leaders. After, we went to Tiscapa Park. Its significance lays in the fact that it was the location of where the Somoza family mansion once stood. The Somoza family is important in understanding of Nicaraguan history because for a long time their dictatorship lead to one of the hardest, impoverished times. It was daunting knowing that the grounds we stood on were once a site of torture. The location served as memory of the start of revolution lead by Sandino. Initially, this seems rather dense attempting to figure out the implications for a country not all of us are familiar with. After performing skits to better understand this history, it was easier to grasp. It will be exciting to see how much this effects present day Nicaragua.

The most exciting part of this day was going to a local open air market. We broke up into groups and were challenged to buy enough food for a day on the wages of a determined worker who had a family of six. This market was not your typical Safeway. With live iguanas, meat being butchered in front of us, and trying our best to barter with locals in a foreign language (hopefully not overpaying too much, especially not being familiar with the going rate for Yucca roots) we definitely had a better perspective on how difficult it is to live on a day to day salary. We directly followed by visiting the nicest mall in Nicaragua, full of American designer stores. We really evaluated what the American dream is and if this is applicable to other countries as well. The conclusions differed greatly and our perspectives really allowed a thoughtful dialogue.

Finally, we ended up at the Revolutionary Plaza, a park in the heart of Managua. It was culturally rich, with lots of construction commemorating individuals who served major parts in Nicaragua’s revolution. We stood before a massive cathedral in ruins, a relic of the bustling, old Nicaragua before the 1972 earthquake which rendered it uninhabitable. The square juxtaposed modern heroes while still remembering the past. Simply put, it was beautiful. Along the way, we made friends with two young boys and may or may not have engaged in a rather intense water fight with them.

We are sitting hot and sweaty competitively playing Catch Phrase looking forward to what tomorrow brings. More than anything, the resounding laughter of so many friends chorused by the buzzing cicadas makes us want to end it here and now to enjoy the fun!!

 

- Hannah and Sarah

 

PS: If Danny and/or Kyle’s mom are reading this, they love you and miss you very much and told us specifically to include this on our post!

 

Save Arrival

Hello friends and loved ones! We arrived safely at CEPAD in Managua late last night. Most are still sleeping off the travel wearies, but we have a big day ahead including visits to national historic sites, a local marketplace and a local mall, and a reflection about privilege. Witness for Peace was kind enough to give us a “late” start (8am).

Right now it is incredibly humid and hanging in the eighties (temperature, not decade). There’s a parrot, a small white dog and tiger cat wandering around to keep us company. CEPAD used to be a bus terminal before it was a hostel for learners and volunteers like us. I’m sitting under a huge corrugated metal roof with ten or so columns (easy to see where the buses pulled in). There are several concrete plant boxes filled with palm trees and interesting greens. We can hear the crow of roosters, many singing birds, horns from city traffic, and the buzz of talk radio from the kitchen where breakfast is being prepared.

All are in good health, good spirits and grateful for this adventure.

The Final Chapter

Well, the last full day as a group is here and we have spent it hanging out at Monkey Hut. This morning we did some ‘action planning’ and now people are swimming, reading, writing letters, and just enjoying our final moments together. This afternoon we head back to Managua to stay a night at CEPAD where we will finish our reflections and have some closing ceremonies. The group that is returning to Portland should be landing at about 8:00 pm (PST) tomorrow, May 31st. The rest of the group, those that are going to Costa Rica, head to Samara tomorrow morning and will return to Portland on June 5th.

This trip has been quite thorough, involved, and extensive, and we again want to thank you all for taking the time to read our blog (think it’s Pulitzer material?) and taking time to listen to what we have to say. One final request is; the next time you see that loved one of yours who was on the trip, give them time to respond to the question of, “How was it?” because the answer you will receive, while probably lengthy, is one that we are trying to share. This act of sharing is part of our ‘action plan’ and we now feel that we collectively hold responsibility for the stories that we have heard and the people’s lives that we encroached on during our stay. While we will work to hold each other accountable, we also feel the need to expand the consciousness of those among us, and demonstrate what we witnessed. Each of us saw the trip through a different lens; the lens of a particular major, religion, family background, class, etc. and the diversity of these lenses is hugely significant and can provide a much more substantial shared experience and collective story than if just one of us had come.

Please continue to wish us safe travels and peace among the group as we make our final journeys home.

Thanks again for all of your emotional, fiscal, and physical support during these last 7 months – we greatly appreciate it.

Si la patria es pequena, uno grande la suena.

If the country is small, one dreams it big.

- Ruben Dario

Relaxation!

Hello everyone, this is Geoff. As our time dwindles down here on this amazing experience we have decided to take some R&R on the shores of Laguna de Apoyo (about 30 km south of Managua). Interestingly, the lake and surrounding hillside are the remnants of a volcano. After three weeks of service learning activities it is really nice to enjoy some of the natural beauty that Nicaragua has to offer.

It is not all fun and games here, we are also taking time out of our day to work with WFP on our “Action Plan” for when we arrive back to the States.

One element of living in Nicaragua that I have had a special interest in has been the education system (since I am an education major). It has been interesting to learn about how Nicaraguans view school. For many of the children in the community where we built a school with Seeds of Learning, school is something to look forward to but only after duties at home (chores and farming with the family) are finished. I am amazed what the teachers are given and how they make due. At the site of our school, two teachers were in charge of a class that fluctuated in size depending on the season (at the most around 70), teach multiple grade levels at the same time, and to do this  all in a donated barn-like structure with no lights. For any teacher this is a daunting task. Seeing the current condition of the school makes me feel very good that they soon will be in an actual schoolhouse (a stable learning environment that they can take pride in).

Well thats all I got to say right now, I think I will go relax in the volcano now!