Thursday, July 24, 2014

Noche en la fritanga

My host family runs a fried taco stand (una fritanga) beside their home to supplement their family's income. Every night from 6 pm until midnight the stand is teeming with customers! They serve fried tacos, enchiladas, potatoes rellenos and fresh juice. Most nights I sit out front watching the people who pass and talking with my host family and the friends who come and sit with us. It's been a wonderful way to meet people and learn about San Juan de Limay!

Monday, July 21, 2014

I milked a cow!

5:30 am wake up call to be ready by 6, rare occasion for me! But when I was invited to go milk a cow, I couldn't pass up on the offer. Rachel, Beth and I joined two of the local Limay boys for an early morning hike to the outskirts of town.
After about a half hour and a dried up river, we could finally see the field and a few cows drinking water. We were completely surrounded by mountains, and the view was unreal! After some antics, the boys finally roped up a few cows so we could test our milking skills. I can easily say that they make it look so easy. Trying to squeeze milk from a giant cow's utter is unbelievably hard! After a few tries and some animated gestures from my helper, because words weren't an option, I finally got milk to squirt into the empty bucket! Once in a lifetime opportunity checked off my list!
It didn't take long for me to get tired from the hard labor, so I stepped aside and let the professional fill the bucket up to the top. While the boys finished getting all of the milk they needed, we watched in awe at the beauty of the whole setting. It wasn't even 7 am yet and I was blown away. Before we took the trip back to get the actual day started, we found out that some of the calfs that we're roaming around we're only a few days old and that one more cow was expecting to give birth within the week. The experience was as breath taking as the view.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Encima del autobus

Yesterday we took the bus from Esteli to San Juan de Limay, and the bus traveled through beautiful misty mountains carrying furniture, chickens, sacks of produce, all our luggage and purified water and mural supplies for the next week, not to mention all the people! As you can imagine, the bus was full to bursting, (like the day Beth blogged about, when we had to sit on a pile of logs.) 
Rather than stand in the aisle, I had the amazing opportunity to ride on top of the bus! Leaning on a sack of onions and ducking for cover from low hanging branches whipping past, I got to fly right through the mist and wave to kids playing in the yards of houses we passed. I have never had an adventure like that, I hope it's the first of many on this trip!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Es que la vida es más tranquila en Nicaragua

     The first time I visited Nicaragua, in 1999 when I was 7, I was in awe seeing the freedom kids had. They were running around in the streets, walking on their own, and going places without their parents! Of course, as a sheltered 7 year old I thought that was the best way a kid could grow up, and I begged my mom to let us live like that. But it takes more, I found out, than just having parents that are less strict. In the towns like Diriamba and Estelí (the ones I've spent most time in so far), most people know one another, everything is within walking distance, and there isn't too much danger (apart from younger folks stirring up small trouble maybe). Another thing is that folks take it easy. Bianca, the Spanish teacher I had, would argue that a lot of Nicaraguans are conformist and will settle for what they have instead of seeking out or demanding bigger and better things. But I think it's a wonderful thing that there is such tranquility around. The classic contrast is New Yorkers crowding the sidewalks rushing to and from work, or families that worry (or care) so much about money that they put more emphasis on  working than spending time with family or just relaxing. 
      My dad, for example, works all day and we hardly see him, but he has the goal of retiring in Nicaragua. "La vida es más tranquila en Nicaragua," (life is more calm in Nicaragua) Bianca and him agree. I like the calmer pace of life here, and I wonder if that's what is fueling my interest in recording Nicaraguan childhood stories while I'm here. I'm sure there are places or there were times just like the ones here back in the US, and I'd be interested in hearing those stories as well. But what's different in Nicaragua, I feel, is that the people don't get caught up in living a life ruled by money, and in the US, for some people, it is too easy to fall into that trap in which you work and work to afford or achieve something new but then there is always something else that comes up that you need to continue to work for, and it never ends. 

Seeing Old Friends

    I was very happy when I found out that I could use AOS as credit in my current graduate program at University of Baltimore. I am still in shock and awe that I was able to pull it off. On the first day of the trip I was able to meet the cooperative I facilitated the start up of 8 years ago with a fellow MICA Alum and a NGO called Bridges to Community. It was amazing to see the women, talk about their progress and what has been going on in our lives. Our conversation started out slow, but was fruitful in the end when Ivett, a co-op member gave me some great advice.

(AMA Co-op and AOS Group)
She thanked me for returning and let me know that it is important to continue and retain your relationships when you collaborate with communities.  I appreciated her insight and honestly. It is now significantly easier that social networks such as Facebook are readily available almost everywhere in the world. Seeing the women reminded me of how I got started on my current career path of Non-Profit Management, I will forever be indebted to the cooperative as they helped me realize the kind of life I want to lead and the type of work I want to pursue. This time around, staying in contact with people I work with will be significantly easier with increased access to technology in Nicaragua, I am grateful for that. I can’t wait for what the rest of the trip has in store for me and the rest of the group.

(Myself and Ivett Maria Mendoza with her grandson)

Corn in Nicaragua

Corn in Nicaragua 

Corn is found in abundance in the Nicaraguan diet. It is a staple food, consumed on a daily basis. Corn is used as both an ingredient that is mixed into recipes as well as eaten on its own. A main use for corn is in the making of the highly popular tortilla. From my own experience so far in Nicaragua, just about everyday for breakfast, tortillas have been served. A meal such as the one in the photograph below are often accompanied by a hot basket of fresh corn tortillas. 

A few days ago, the group visited the Cultural Center and we went to an artist’s studio located on the second floor of the Cultural Center. In the studio there were four artists at work. It was here that I learned about a new art form involving the use of cornhusks. In the studio there was a large table in the center of the room. Around the table were pink sacks filled with corn husks, wooden crates filled with corn husks dyed all sorts of different colors, and the artists themselves seated around the large table working on an art form that involved small pieces of the colorful corn husks being glued to a board to create illustrations of various subjects. The process of making these works of art seemed to involve an initial drawing in pen or pencil. This initial drawing served as a guide for the artist to know where to apply and glue down the small pieces of corn husks to the board. As the artist continues to glue down more and more pieces of corn husk, an image emerges that is enlivened by the expressive, vibrant colors used to dye the husks. Once the surface was entirely covered and the image was complete, an acrylic primer was applied over the entirety of the surface to seal down the corn husks and preserve the final image. 

The feeling I got when entering the studio at first was one of curiosity. Although immediately recognized the materials that the artists were using--the corn husks--the mosaic-like appearance of the final image was something very new to me and intriguing. I found it most interesting to see the use of a very accessible material (corn husks) being transformed into a colorful, flat, 2-dimensional image. 

(pink sacks full of corn husks)

 (crates filled with corn husks dyed various colors)

 (corn husks being glued to a board; initial phase in corn husk artwork)

 (artist at work in studio, adding more colorful corn husks to the board as an image of yellow flowers begins to develop and become recognizable)

El autobús lleno de madera

It has officially been a week since our group arrived here in the beautiful country of Nicaragua! We have made our way through various cities, including Managua, Ticuantepe, Masaya, Granada, and Esteli, seeing vast landscapes and introducing our bodies and minds to a culture very opposite of our own and it has been beautiful to experience! Yesterday we were able to give ourselves a nice break from the city of Esteli and traveled South to the Zultue de Estanzuela, which is a small waterfall located in the Tisey Estanzuela Natural Reserve. We caught the 1:30 bus after our Spanish lessons had ended and the bus rides each way were by far the most unique experiences I have ever had. 

On the way there all of the seats were full, along with a bit of room in the back and throughout the aisle. Being the first of our group to get on, I made my way to the back, pushing through vendors selling vitamins and fruits to where I found myself a seat on a motor-bike wheel across from a lovely old woman with whom I swapped smiles. Rachel joined me on a bus tire next to mine and we were off! Then we made a stop and more people packed themselves into the bus. Finally after making it to the reserve we hopped out the back door, avoiding the awful experience that would have been maneuvering through the crowd.   

After a wonderfully relaxing time at the falls swimming, we caught the 4:30 bus back to Esteli and were greeted by another surprise on board; Wood. There were wooden planks stretching down the aisle, ready to be built into something and logs sprawled across the back seats, which a few of us decided to sit on. They were a lot more comfortable than expected and I would do it again in a heartbeat! There was also a woman carrying a chicken in a plastic bag, with only its head sticking out. What a sight! Being a person who has spent a lot of time on buses, I was pleasantly surprised and quite enthralled by the experience. I wish the bus rides in the United States were filled with this much character and life rather than the limiting restrictions of personal headphones and cell phones. We leave tomorrow for San Juan Limay and will get to meet our host families who we will be living with for the next two weeks while we work on painting a mural and teaching the children an array of artistic techniques. I have been so happy with my experience thus-far and am even more ecstatic and slightly nervous for what is to come.