I can’t believe it’s already Friday. The past few days have flown by and I really hope the rest of the trip won’t go by this fast. So far everyone has had many good experiences such as building the La Hermandad Adobe Nature Center. Coming into this trip it was really tough to tell how much work the group would actually be doing but after Wednesday Thursday and today (Friday) we knew we were making some sort of impact. The best part about all of this building was how easy it was to learn and to really be effective in mixing the cement, placing the bricks, and making the mortar for the bricks. I really enjoyed how much we were accomplishing from day to day. On the first day there was a concrete base with a layer of bricks. By the end of the day we had added 3 more layers to the building. Yesterday we only worked for half the day but we were becoming more of a cohesive unit, and finally today which was by far the most fun work day and in my eyes the most effective. We created a drain for the school and added 3 more layers of brick. On top of all this work we had a mud fight and no one was safe. All week long Matt has been wearing a green bandana which I believe has been surgically attached to his head. I made sure to cover this with mud and in return get a pound of mud on my pants. After we had finished work for the day we took a group photo in front of the school. Although we didn’t finish the whole thing the satisfaction behind what we accomplished as a group has been uplifting and relief to what may be a store for future projects here in Nicaragua.
So far we have done quite a bit. It is fulfilling, difficult, and fun all at the same time. The past few days we have been working up at La Hermandad finca. We have been helping construct an adobe and we also took a tour of the coffee process and the mountains. Que bonita! The work is sometimes hard and we do get dirty but we work together and have a good time always. One thing I really enjoy here is the food. Things are very different here but it is a nice change to the life we lead back home. Working here is more fulfilling and fun than sitting at home online or on the couch. I try to practice my Spanish but I don’t always know how to phrase things because I get nervous a lot. I’m better at understanding than responding. One observation that we all have is how skinny all the animals are. Another thing we all seem to enjoy is interacting with the children. This morning when we got to the finca we split up into groups to do different activities with los ninos. Beth, Tim, and I made puzzles with them; Alexi, Allison, and Gina did crafts so the kids could make cards for upcoming mother’s day (glitter was everywhere even on those of us who didn’t use it); Tito, Sam and Matt played futbol (soccer) with the rest of the kids. Then we taught them to make s’mores. They loved them. It was fun and they were great, I think I could get used to life here. It’s a bit simpler then life in the U.S. and the food is great and healthy. Only thing that really bothers me is the bugs and sometimes the heat. It’s worth the experiences though and the new friends, even getting closer to those in the group. Only a few days in, but going smoothly. I hope it stays that way. Me gusta Nicaragua! =)
-Orenda Wooldridge (Ren)
The first day that we went to La Hermandad Farm to construct a nature center was the start to a wonderful experience. It was about a 20 minute bus ride up a mountain where the coffee farm was. The road was littered with rocks and drainage trails for the water. It was quite a bumpy ride. When we got to the farm we met the children of the school for all the local workers. Our job was to help construct the nature center. Now in America this would be easy; just go by some bricks, wood, tools, anything you needed. Well this is Nicaragua, and this wasn’t a 1-2-3 done task. The bricks had been made and hardened out of mud and hay, each around 30 pounds. The mortar was made with mixing water, dirt, hay, and more hay in a pit. The water was carried up a steep hill from a reservoir, and the dirt had to be dug up with shovels, and the hay collected and shortened with a machete. A cement layer had to be formed as well only using wooden barriers and shovels. We kept at this task for 3 days. By the end we had worked many hours to accomplish something that could have been done so easily in the states. We had constructed something all by hand and learned so much about the resilience of the Nicaraguan people.
Mother’s day is a serious event here in Nicaragua; everyone goes beyond the breakfast-in-bed, flowers-and-a-card routine. In order to celebrate all the mothers do for the society in Nicaragua every mother in town has a huge bouquet of flowers. Each family celebrates mother’s day in their own way of course. My host mom was telling me that families come together on mother’s day to dance, eat, celebrate, and dance some more. I started my first Nicaraguan mother’s day with a breakfast of lemon____ pie. We went out to look for seeds for our jewelry making workshop, but due to the rain we came up dry in the seed department. We found our way to a beautiful waterfall where we all took in some sun and enjoyed the nature for a couple of hours. We went back to our homes to eat and we came back ready to decorate and prepare for Planting Hope’s celebration for all the host moms. All the moms arrived all dressed up as we did all kinds of activities and games like balloon relay; where two teams competed in seeing who could run and pop balloons in odd ways the fastest. We danced, and us Norwich students put on a show of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive” complete with choreography. We had prepared all week for it and everyone cheered us on for an encore. It was incredibly fun. We all had dinner, passed out gifts, and some poems were read about the love of a mother. I went back home and my mom was surprised with gifts and a song from the whole family. She put on a fashion show of the new outfits she got. In seeing hoe mother’s day is treated in Nicaragua, it is clear that with a apparent prevalence of absent fathers, it’s the mothers who truly show the ability to thrive and provide for their family in the face of adversity. While there are “traditional” families here in Nicaragua, there are many many mothers who are left on their own to take care of their children in what, most frequently, are difficult conditions. Their perseverance is notably extraordinary and it’s for that that these mothers go above and beyond. I’m going to give my mom an extra big hug when I get home and thank her for all she’s done for me Hasta Luego!
Ever since we got here I’ve been exhausted. It feels like were incredibly busy all day, then by 9pm I’m ready for bed. Normally I don’t even consider going to bed until 11, so this is early for me. I wonder if the Nicaraguans even want us here. We claim that we are here to help, but are we really? Or are we here to make ourselves feel better? I think about how I’d feel if foreigners to my home town to help…and all I came up with is that id be almost insulted. Like they’d be saying how I do things isn’t good enough. I wouldn’t them in my home. So do they want us in theirs? Which then segways into are we really helping the people here? A bunch of unskilled Americans come in and try to help build a house. I hate to say it, but the locals could probably do a faster and better job than us. So are we helping or only feeling good?
A lot of things about San Ramon seem exponentially different from what I’m used to. (However I will admit I grow up in a bubble) For example, the girls here seem to get pregnant really young (ok, not that young- 16 and older), and the boyfriends/husbands/baby daddies seem to rarely stick around. Also, I saw a 2y.o. girl in an indoor bathroom, squatting with her pants down while another girl used the toilet in front of her. Also at the library party, there were small children dancing their or with their (drunk and far too young) fathers until 11:30pm when they closed it. You’d never see a 3y.o. dancing with her hips until 11:30pm in the states. But then again, maybe I’m far too protected and judgmental.
I’ve had a few really really nice conversations with my host mother. She’s really nice. It’s funny after a week here, I feel closer to her than I did with my Senara (the women I lived with for 3.5 months when I lived in Spain). It’s really nice, just surprising. My host mother (Sonia) gives dance lessons in her house! It’s so cool. Her students are practicing for the mother’s day show on Thursday May 30th. I really really really hope she’ll teach me a little. She mentioned maybe teaching the brigade (NU students)…? I hope so!!!!!!!!
I’m so tired here, all the time. I dunno why, I just am. 9pm is no longer dinner time, time to go out or even time to start a movie. It is now when I get ready for bed. It’s a late night if I’m up past 10:30pm.
These past few days have been pretty eye opening. We’ve been getting a quick taste of Planting Hope and all of the projects here in Nicaragua, yet I’ve still learned so much and I’m amazed at just how much of a difference one small organization can make. I keep wondering why I’ve never heard of PH before since I’m from central Vermont. It’s an incredible connection between these 2 very different cultures. The organization really improves lives- we’ve heard from scholarship students who’ve received scholarships from PH, visited schools that have started with the help of PH, and have heard stories of people who’ve been given the opportunity to just go to high school with the help of PH. Something that we definitely take for granted in the states. This whole trip has opened my eyes more than they were before. This afternoon I had a long talk with another group member and it was great to reflect on our own goals and how they can affect the world. Its trips like these, ones that make you reflect and react to things that you never had before, that make life so precious. That feeling of growth and knowledge is something I really value and strive for. Left and right we see new things, meet new people, hear more stories, and I find more reasons for me to want to come back. It’s amazing what 2 weeks in a new culture can teach you about yourself.
Today we were finishing up the Adobe learning center. After lunch Mercedes, a lady from Madrid, Spain is a local construction worker and I went into the jungle to look for monkeys. We spotted a nest very high in the trees where a baby monkey was laying down. We wanted to have a closer look so we went deeper into the forest. The coffee plantation worker had to walk in front of us to cut through the thick vegetation. From time to time he pointed out different poisonous/dangerous plants and bugs. It felt very strange following people into the jungle without a path and without a way to communicate with them. If I was stranded alone there I might not have found my way back since everything looked the same in all directions. At the same time I felt wonder at all the beautiful flowers and trees. At last we found the tree with the monkey nest. Through the binoculars I could see that the baby’s mama came back and was breast feeding it. It was fascinating to watch. We had to be very quiet and careful not to spook them. It was still raining outside, but deep inside the jungle you could barely feel it. It took us around 15 minutes of careful walking to see the sky again. It was an amazing experience.
Thursday was another work day for us, however we started the day a little differently. We hired a truck to take us to a market about 20 minutes away. At this market was all kinds of foods like beef, pig tails, bull skin, doughnuts, etc. There was also a good selection of other goods like steamed rice buckets, hammocks, hats, and other uniquely Thai things. Thankfully Pai was there to describe some of the different food there and always made sure to buy us some to try. Brittni, I think, earns the prize for purchasing the most things and Josh for getting the most fashionable thing. This fashionable thing being a Thai style ski mask for the “cold” winters of Thailand. The hat/mask definitely fits Josh’s personality. After this wonderful shopping experience we had breakfast back in Pha Chan. For breakfast we were introduced to rice cakes cooked with egg batter; it was good! After breakfast the English group moved on to teach at the school with some prepared games and walking tour. The games we played were Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, and Shark Attack. In order to ensure they had a good time, I played the game with them. Also to make sure they understood the actions in Simon Says I did the wrong things so they relied more on their own knowledge then on just watching our actions. I think the tour was definitely the best part, in which we pointed out different things in the village and their English meaning. It was awesome to see just how interested everyone was, even the teacher was getting really interested! They learned simple thins like house, car, dog, flag, garden, and my favorite being “rock!” Every time we said “rock” we had them do the Rock ‘N Roll symbol with their hands; it was a fun time for all. At night we did a second night in a row of cultural exchange with the village. Pai was nice enough to put together a picture slide show of the group and put it to some American music. We also participated in the traditional dance with some of the village girls. We surprised everyone with the amount of energy we put into it, especially Jon when he made his Thai partner cry from laughter and leave the stage. It was a good day.
Today we worked on our service projects. After we went to breakfast we all dispersed. The architecture group went to the homestay where we’ve set up our makeshift studio. We’re designing a kitchen right in a kitchen! The family who is hosting Suvannee, Pai, and Professor Cox has graciously volunteered their home for our workspace. We’ve been working off of the information that we gathered in our programming session. I’m so happy to see that we’re designing something that the people really want and something that they’ll use almost every day. The head cook was at our programming session and at every suggestion she’d get a huge smile on her face and I think she’s really going to enjoy a nice, new, custom kitchen. It’s great to hear that they’re so excited to have this new kitchen. My worst fear was that we would design something and they would feel apathetic towards it and nothing would get built. This kitchen is not only something they can use every day or so. It’s something which can empower the cooks who work so hard to make sure everyone gets a great meal. It’s something which can unite the community in a new way. They have a town center where everyone can gather, but the kitchen can bring people together at every meal instead of once a week or so like the town center. I’m so excited to see how it all comes together. We have little details throughout the design which represent a different person in the community like the fishing details, the layout of the kitchen, or the gardens outside. The whole design is by the people. We’ve been putting together the pieces that the villagers asked for and I’m really excited to be closing in on the final design. We present our final design on Sunday and well as putting together a long-term agreement as far as what the plan is for the future. I can’t wait!
Today I decided to be motivated before I went fishing. I got up at 0500, it was still dark out. Joel wanted to stay sleeping so I went. I got outside and there were dogs outside. I started out and one by one the dogs barked. There was no one else out in the village. I got to the rice fields and I was ambushed. At least 5 dogs came out and chased me. I ran back to my homestay so fast. I have never been so terrified. I love dogs and they turned on me. There I was, a one man wolf pack running through the streets of Pha Chan searching for rice and fish. But then I ran into a 50 dog pack and they did not like me. For the rest of the day I felt like they were following and stalking me. I met up with Gina and we went fishing with Louie. We caught three fish and learned that fish is “blah,” big fish is “blah yai,” and the type of fish caught was “plaatoon.” It was amazing to go fishing. It was the best way to really experience the culture of the village. Louie was awesome. He led us to his boat across a rickety ladder. After fishing we immediately went to alms with the monks. It was a humbling experience. Monks do not cook for themselves and the villagers give respect to the monks by giving them food. For our group I brought the wishing water to the tree. It is really interesting comparing Buddahism to Christianity. So far being in the Thai culture, I have actually realized what American culture is. It might not seem like much of a culture, but I do like the American culture. The rest of the day we worked on the architecture project. We went through the programming process with the villagers. Even though there was a communication barrier, we were able to tell them what we needed to know to be able to design a builing for them. One thing that I have enjoyed is the food. Everyone said I’d be sick of it by know, but I don’t think I’ll be sick of it anytime soon. My homestay family is interesting. We don’t talk much. You can tell they want to, but it is difficult. Paa Tom (Father Tom) is our Pa. He’s awesome. Everything else is going really well and I look forward to each day.