Tuesday, August 22, 2006

every day is a winding road

5 Departamentos, 10 Days, 500 miles of winding Nicaraguan roads

Boaco: Two days after the long day in El Ojoche I wrote about last week, Andrea and I headed to Boaco, “ciudad de dos pisos” for another glimpse of NicaMade in action. Volcanoes and mountains are an ever present part of the landscape as the temperature drops and the altitude rises. The road is paved and smooth all the way into town—which is a smaller colonial city than Leon or Granada, but with many of the same features: narrow stone roads, Spanish architecture, houses built into the hillside. The big difference? Steep, steep hills. The FHI Jeep almost did not make it through the city and up into the mountains where we eventually wound up, at the home of Don Chico, where the NicaMade meeting that morning was being held.

With the help of a talented young couple from Managua, the people in this small pueblo are learning the intricacies of metal art and producing beautiful magnets with Nicaraguan designs. From Don Chico we learned the ins and outs of coffee cooperatives, and saw a true sustainable family farm, where they not only grow coffee, but vegetables, fruit, fish, and even a variety of trees. The land in the area used to be used for grazing, but 10 years ago, a bunch of people planted trees in the area which now provide shade for the coffee and have enriched the soil with the help of natural fertilizers. Now it is lush and provides a living for an entire community. This community doesn't have much, but it has land, and thus the food and animals that provide the basic essentials of living that are not available to their counterparts in the city who are without work, and thus lack land, money, and food.

Matagalpa and Jinotega: Last weekend, our incredible neighbors (the infamous Gutierrez family) invited us to spend the weekend with them in Matagalpa, where the majority of their family lives. We left Managua Saturday morning in an ambulance-like vehicle owned by Francisco's NGO, Accion Medica Cristiana. It was a tight fit with the 10 of us and all of our stuff, but between Francisco's jokes and the abuelita's homemade ice cream which we ate out of cups along the way, the 2 hours were bien divertido. Our first stop once inside the province was the coffee beneficio owned by Francisco's family—we got a grand tour of the place, from the bean selection to the roasting process, and of course purchased some freshly ground Magsa coffee (which thus far, is the best coffee I've tasted in this country).

After lunch, Francisco, Alicia, and David (the middle child, who is college age) took us up, up, up to the northern edge of Matagalpa province where there was an unbelievable view of the valley below, where we took pictures from every conceivable angle. Then, as if that wasn't enough, they brought us to the most famous destination in Matagalpa, La Selva Negra (Black Forest)—which is both a coffee farm and a hiker's paradise, a romantic getaway and a historic German landmark. After exploring for a bit, we sat on the patio of the restaurant and sipped coffee and watched the mist fall over the pond as the rain poured down on the water. Put simply, it was incredible.

Sunday was another day of adventure, as we ventured even further north into Jinotega (where the temperature is like New England in October—I actually wore my windbreaker for a couple hours!) and to the Vida Joven Campamento, where we spent the day hiking and enjoying God's creation with the Gutierrez kids and a few of their many cousins. What a refreshing experience to spend a weekend with a family who seems to genuinely enjoy each other's company, that freely loves and pours out kindness to others. Francisco with his quirky sense of humor and fatherly manner of sharing knowledge and experience...Alicia with her motherly grace but fiery personality...David with his love of music and endless questions about the English language, Karin with her sensitive heart and big smile, and all the others with their endless sense of adventure. These people are quite possibly the best neighbors in all the world and I was sad to see the weekend come to an end.

Ometepe: For those unfamiliar with Nicaraguan geography, the island of Ometepe is located in the southern part of Lago Nicaragua, about an hour's ferry ride from Rivas, which is a small town 2 ½ hours south of Managua. Believe it or not, I was going to this island for work! A training was being held on the island for Nicaraguan community leaders interested in beginning a Community Health Evangelism program (CHE), and I accompanied the team of trainers in order to learn more about the program and meet the Nicas who would eventually be developing local committees to promote wholistic community development and women's health using the CHE model. The CHE model was developed by Medical Ambassadors years ago and is now used all over the world as a sustainable community development model. We stayed at a small vocational training center on humble bunkbeds and ate rice and beans for three days straight...but the important thing was getting to really learn more about the implementation of CHE in a community—how communities are chosen, how leaders are developed, what kinds of trainings community leaders and women's support groups receive, effective training methods, etc. And of course this was all in Spanish, so it was kind of like a mini-immersion experience. (The only person there besides me who spoke substantial English was Anne, one of my FHI coworkers). And meeting the people, who I hope one day I will be writing stories about, sharing the transformation occurring in their communities as a result of this development approach.

Of course, I couldn't just leave the island without exploring a bit, so I stayed one extra night with Anne at a nearby hotel, and in 24 hours, we hiked, saw some incredible views, kayaked & swam in Lago Nicaragua, and ate some delicious fish. Ometepe is a hard place to leave, but by Saturday I was missing my roommate (and my own bed) so it was time to go. Getting home was an adventure all its own, though, as I missed the 1:30 ferry and was stranded until 4pm, which meant I would not get back to Managua until after dark (not a good idea for a single woman traveler). Gracias a Dios, the trip was totally uneventful and I even had a pleasant and talkative taxi driver from the terminal back across town to my house.

What a whirlwind these past 10 days have been! I'm definitely ready for a more “ordinary” week here in Managua. Though, of course, as I have come to appreciate here in Nicaragua, there is no such thing.

(To those of you who are wondering when and how you can see all the fabulous photos I took on these adventures, a link will be forthcoming soon.)

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