Thursday, July 31, 2014

Artistas Unidas de Limay

      Instead of doing a workshop with youth I opted to work with a group of five women who are all local artisans while I was in San Juan de Limay. Teodora Quintero, Isabel Lopez, and Dominga Oido, are ceramists from a nearby rural community called Calero; while Norgelis Tercero Alfaro and Isabel Alfaro, work with Marmolina and live in the town of Limay. Together we worked to organize a collective, called Artistas Unidas de Limay.  It has been a lot of work but I feel good about the work we have all collectively done, particularly with the language barrier. I sure tried to communicate; however languages were never my strong suite. Together, we worked on numerous projects such a brochure and a Facebook page. Collectively we produced numerous important documents such as a list of rules/by laws for the collective, the responsibilities of each member, and financial documents showing costs of materials per year and projected sales goals. Things pertaining to money where particularly challenging to figure out, as the women have never calculated the expenses of materials or how much they make in a year. This is further amplified, as there are no banks in Limay so keeping track of money and expenses is something that these women are not use to even in daily life.  Perhaps, one of the biggest discussions that was made was that 10% from every sale will go into a collective fund, this will allow the women to buy supplies in the future, this will allow them to save and have money to plan ahead for large purchases.  
At the Fiesta on 7/27/2014

I said my good byes to the women on Sunday after our fiesta celebrating the completion of the mural and all workshops. It was bitter sweet; I plan to keep in touch with the younger women who are technologically savvy. However, I realized some of the older members I may never see again. I appreciate the time they spent with me and hope they are successful as selling jewelry and decorative items is challenging in a country with a stagnant economy. My hope is that they get their items to places tourists visit so they can sell their wares for a price that will pay them a deserving wage. 
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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Note to Alice

Dear Grammy,

You seem to continue popping up during my time here in Nicaragua and I am happy to feel you in my heart, but also saddened that I can't write you a real post card and send it off knowing that you will receive it with the grin that I will never stop missing. My time here was made possible because of you and the spirit of education and adventure you passed along during your time on earth. I can't help but think of the story one woman told us at your memorial service when I get frustrated with the language barrier I keep facing, "The first night I was scared to go out and Alice said that was why we had to go out, was because we didn't know the language and that was the only way we would learn anything or have any fun". Every time I am tempted to hide I think to myself, it can only get better if I go out there and face it myself, even if I do embarrass myself more often than not.

During my time in Limay I thought of you most. It was a time of many highs and many lows, but also a place where death was a very different entity than in the U.S. I had many firsts there surrounding the idea of death and you were right by my side every time I confronted it, and I thank you for that. The anniversary of the revolution was held on the 19th of July and during that same night of wild celebration in the city of Managua there was a tragic loss for those in Limay. I can remember the moment it happened, I was playing cards with my host-sister (Idalia) and my two trip leaders Aleks and Maria when Idalia's daughter came running in with news of an attack. There was a group of people that decided they were going to take over the buses returning from the celebration and murder a large group of people who had attended the celebration. The bus they chose to attack was one from Limay and two women were murdered by gunfire. Luckily the bus driver, who had also received bullet wounds, continued driving the bus to safety keeping the rest of the bus out of harms way. Sadly, Limay lost two women they loved dearly that night, one of whom was a cousin of the family I was with. The entire town was in shock, but they all remained calm and strong for one another. During this time of sorrow I had the chance to see an entire town come together and support the families in their most difficult hours. A day later there were nighttime vigils at both the women's family homes along with two open caskets. Outside were hundreds of chairs for people to sit and talk, mourning however they chose to do so. The next morning there was a funeral procession around town to the graveyard, right down the road from my house. Once again hundreds of people flooded the street, following three large trucks, two carrying the caskets and family members along with one playing music for the procession. 

Your funeral was the first I have had the chance to attend and this was my second. They were very much opposite experiences for me, but the one similarity I kept finding was the amount of love I saw congregated in one place. I sometimes wonder if you ever realized how many lives you were able to touch during the 84 years you were alive, because once you were gone not only was your service flooded with people, but so was our mailbox, containing letters of condolences and remorse for not having the opportunity to be there.    

Anyway, I am babbling. I love you and miss you and I really hope one day I can create a life half as fulfilling as the one your own.

Your loving granddaughter,


In Limbo

We are halfway through our fourth week here in Nicaragua and it has been two days since we have returned to Esteli from our two week stay in Limay. Although I am accompanied by the family I have formed during these four weeks I can't help but feel sad, missing the family that I just started to develop.

Even though I gained many amenities during my return to Esteli, I feel as though the energy has changed. I can no longer go to the bathroom knowing someone or something will pass through the shower curtain, that is the door, at any minute. I wonder why I have as much privacy as I do and question whether I prefer it to the chaos of an outdoor bathroom with roaming chickens and dogs, along with a host-mother busting her way in with toilet paper she realizes you might need. I have grown so accustomed to sharing such simple means of living it feels almost alien to have a minute alone in silence.

My homes in the United States are full of times where solitude is within reach at any point of any given day, but, as nice as it is to have a moment to focus, I can't imagine what it will be like to have so much space to myself again. Life is simple here and I wonder what the integration process will be like once I do return home where simplicity as a way of life isn't as revered. 

Negatives Into Positives (An update to my independent project??)

(this post was written in my journal around the middle of our stay in Limay)

   It's a little bit silly to personify Nicaragua and say that she is treating me, one of her own (how I'd like to be thought of), so harshly, but that's the only way I can have a laugh about it afterwards. There have been so many things that at first have seemed as if though Nicaragua has rejected me, but I have quickly laughed them off. It's so funny actually, and it reminds me of an episode of Modern Family in which Phil travels to Australia (he believes he has a connection to it) to discover what it meant to his mom, but he falls victim to a series of unfortunate events from food allergies to bad animal encounters. At the end, someone tells him that Australia is ok to tourists, but gives tough love to its own people.
   Of course, we have all dealt with sickness and other troubles on this trip, not just me. But, like Phil, I thought because I am of Nicaraguan descent, Nicaragua would greet me with open arms. As I write this I am chuckling remembering how I've been called "gringa" and "tu no sos una Nica verdadera" ("you're not a real Nica"), I've gotten diarrhea and constipated (as I'm sure most of us have), and I've gotten two allergic reactions to insect/mosquito bites that resulted in swollen eyes! At the time of their happening, I was a little upset. But looking back upon them now, I am looking at them with a smile and a giggle. "Of course this would happen ... alright Nicaragua, what's next?""
   Today, I cried a little during our lunch break/siesta time because I found out that my great-grandma is not doing too well. If it hasn't come across already, I like to think of myself as a pretty positive person, so when my dad and aunt said, "Mama Bertha is sick...she is very bad," (something I've heard about this strong, preservering 101-year-old woman countless times before) I thought to myself, "Oh she'll be fine in no time." However, when the adults start planning goodbye trips to Nicaragua, talking about "staying as much time as she needs," and looking at cemetery plots, then is when it got too difficult to just laugh it off.
    After thinking a bit though, I found I was able to smile. If that time does arrive for her, I'll actually be able to be by her side, seeing as though I happen to be in the country as this is happening. I like to think she's had a great run and she just wants to rest now. She is closing a great book of life and opening a new one in Heaven somewhere. It's hard to accept that this time she really won't get better again; I keep thinking, "in two weeks, she'll be better again and we'll gather up again as a family next June to celebrate her 102 years on this earth."
    This time, Nicaragua has showed me how important it is to smile, to find the happiness in dark hours, and to keep going. I saw it in Estelí when I was homesick at church and they played a song my mom used to sing to us as kids. I've seen it in the joy filled faces of kids in the street that I originally thought I should feel bad for, but, on the contrary, they were having the time of their lives playing around barefoot, racing in blissful innocence. And I saw it in the unity of the people of San Juan de Limay when two of their own were killed on the 19th. I saw it in the solidarity of the town, the care people had for the families, and in the drawings and messages that little kids wrote for the families.
   Whatever happens to my Abuelita Bertha, I know that in the end, I will smile, and maybe even have a little chuckle.
   This said, I feel that my independent project has now come to a significant halt. I am at a point where I need to decide whether to continue with my original idea or make it more relevant to how I am feeling now with my grandma's situation.
my sisters and I last year with our great-grandma

Letter to someone back home #1

Dear Trents,

   I hope you're having fun these first few days in London! We will definitely have very different stories to tell! I keep you in mind constantly, so it's like you're here on the trip with us. I've been seeing Nicaragua through the eyes of different family and friends to notice things you guys would and I wouldn't otherwise. Of course, the landscape is something you would have numerous pictures of by now. You'd probably compare the mountains to the ones in your backyard in California, or reminisce about your trip to Hawaii when we were on the winding dirt road down a mountain on our way to Limay.
   I also think you'd observe some of the manner people do things in and chuckle in disbelief the way you do. You'd definitely chuckle at the way the bus driver sped down the road on our way back to Estelí on Monday or at the horses pooping as they trot down the street. But you'd especially be shocked at the pollution, trash management, and lack of recycling ... maybe even a little disheartened. I haven't noticed as much of this in Estelí as I did in Limay, but I saw trash (wrappers, bottles, plastic bags) lying on the side of some streets, in bushes and grass, and on the side of cliffs. A trash truck passed by maybe once a week and emptied out any bags of trash houses had. However, most trash, it seemed, was burned in backyards or at the corner of the park. It's a smell I've come to associate with Nicaragua, one that I remember clearly from my first trip here as well back in 1999. You can point out a spot where trash was burned by spotting a charred black irregular form on the ground, with white-grayish remnants lying on top, and a few whisps of white smoke dying off. It seems like a quick solution (and I've heard it keeps mosquitoes away?) but I'm sure it's not safe for the environment or personal health.
    After seeing this (and plastic bottles being thrown out with trash, because recycling doesn't exist here) you would have a brainstorm session to try to figure out a better solution and save the environment. And then you and I would have a crazy long conversation, or debate, about the environment, culture, education, and poverty. It reminds me of when you visited me in Miami and I took you to a Fritanga. Ever since, you've told me that I should head a campaign to substitute the use of styrofoam plates and take-out boxes for a more environmentally friendly material. I'm sure we'll have a quite interesting talk about this when we both get back to the states!


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Marmolina: from a Rock to a Fish

I have always liked working with my hands but never really had the chance to work in sculpture. When we arrived in Limay, I was so excited to get started working in marmolina! When Oscar asked me to think of a design, I had some trouble deciding what would be the right thing to make. After a little while of preliminary sketches, I decided that a fish would be both easy and a really good gift for my mom. Oscar found me the perfect rock and helped me figure out where to start. I went to town hacking my rock with a machete. It was therapeutic and a lot of fun. I had no idea that I was falling in love with the technique. It didn't take me long to have majority of the rock carved away and a beautiful fish forming.
I moved on from the machete and began smoothing out my fish with a different tool. This is when I really could see my design forming in front of me. With some more guidance from Oscar, I carved a fin into both sides of the fish's body and some eyes as well. I was almost finished and so was our time at Oscar's for that day. I dipped my fish into a bucket of water to get the dust off and saw what a beautiful color my rock was going to be. I placed my fish on the workshop shelf to dry overnight and left for dinner with my host family.

When I returned the next day, eager to finish, Oscar gave me a wooden base to sit my fish on. He told me that I would have to polish it when I polished my fish. I was more than ready to finish. With the help of another artist at the workshop, I began learning how to polish the marmolina stone and my new wooden base. It was a lot of work, constant scrubbing with sandpaper and lots and lots of water to keep things running smooth. But in about an hour or so, my fish and base were the smoothest thing I'd ever felt! From there I added some shoe polish to make my fish shine. I couldn't believe the transformation that happened before my eyes. I took a rock and turned it into a fish, in less than 6 hours!  Oscar and some of the other artists made comments about how quick of a learner I am and I couldn't help my thank them. It was a once in a lifetime chance to work side by side with some amazing marmolina sculptors and I'm so glad I did it!

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Sandinista presence

I always feel like a traitor to my mom whenever I cross paths with anything Sandinista or to do with Daniel Ortega. I do, however, enjoy seeking out my own opinions and truths instead of having biased opinions set upon me by my family. Nevertheless, I still get uncomfortable whenever I see a Sandinista flag or am among Sandinista supporters.
I really like my host family and haven't had any problems with them at all. But on the 19th, we were watching the celebration at La Plaza de la Revolución on tv, and one of my host sisters asked me what Nicaraguan politics my parents were affiliated with. My parents have always dissuaded me from saying anything about that and especially warned me from speaking out against Sandinistas. But I felt comfortable enough with my host family to be completely honest with them. One of the things I said was how much my mom resented and hated the FSLN and Ortega.
Right after my response they stayed somewhat quiet, so I asked them the same question. Without hesitation, they proudly announced they were "Sandinista, Sandinista!!" Instantly, I felt like a helpless Timon and Pumba in the lion's den.
That feeling didn't dwell too long and we've put politics talks past us, but now I am more cautious about sharing those types of opinions.

I also couldn't help but feel annoyed and a little angered by the constant presence of the FSLN and the media in the funerals of the deceased women. I don't know if they were supporters or not, regardless it bothered me to hear so much Sandinista talk during the announcements at their burials, seeing the FSLN banners on the bouquets on the coffins, and the media interrupting the sanctity of their funeral mass and making it into a spectacle.
This probably stems from a similar annoyance I have always felt at the pictures of my grandfather's funeral procession back in the 70s/80s. True, he was a Sandinista general but, in my opinion, families should be allowed their time to say a final goodbye to their loved ones in peace, without having to hear political propaganda or respond to reporters.

(here my grandfather's casket is in the guarded truck, my dad is on the left hand edge of the picture, with the small afro)

I used the previous two photos of my grandfather's funeral to create the drawing below