Sunday, February 19, 2006

Development debacles

WHO: Essa (aka Vanessa)
WHAT: Peace Corps, Environmental Education
WHERE: Nicaragua

WHEN: Sept '05 - Nov '07

WHY: To see the second smallest orchid in the world!

As my friend, and current East Timor PCV, Jessie, said, “This is not your father’s Peace Corps.” One element of American life that PCVs thought they’d most likely get away from when they signed up is technology. But here in Nicaragua (and East Timor too, I gues) cell phones are fairly common, internet cafés are present in major cities and some bigger towns, and I’ve even seen a few kids clutching iPods as I go bumping down the dirt road on the bus.

This has led to a number of interesting conversations with other PCVers about what happens to a population when development steps are “skipped.” (It's the best way I can think to phrase it...though who knows what if there really is a right order.) A few examples:

1. On a walk to a nearby hot spring, I stopped to visit this family pictured below. They live in a very humble adobe home with a dirt floor. I didn’t get too far into conversing with them before the mom asked if I could give them some clothes for the youngest girl (it’s very common to ask for handouts around here). I told her I couldn’t, and repressed the urge to ask how the dad can pay for a cell phone if there’s not enough money to clothe the children.

2. Though this may be more of a case of mismanagement of funds, it still serves to exemplify skipping steps. The local library has a photocopy machine that a Northern European NGO donated a few years ago. They were supposed to charge for photocopies and use the money to buy new toner cartridges. But they say the money got shuffled somewhere else in Town Hall, and now the copy machine stands useless.

3. I spoke with a few people at MAGFOR (equivalent of the US Forest Service), about the “No burn” law, which I talked a little bit about a few weeks ago. They have a very sophisticated method of tracking down farmers that burn their fields - a branch of the office has GIS capabilities and can retrieve satellite images of the region that can be used to pinpoint the origin of the fires. Sounds very cutting edge, except for the fact that the whole plan breaks down because there is never enough gas to transport a ranger to the guilty-farmer’s fields for investigation.

_________________________ . . . __________________________

In other news, Gigglia is back from Managua. Although she’s qualified to teach primary school, she’s spent the last month working in a Korean factory sewing clothes. Not sure what the weekly pay rate was, but I do know she worked 12 hour days, 6 days a week, having Sunday an optional day of rest. On the weekend, she was paid 60 cents an hour (which would buy about a half dozen eggs or 2 cups of milk). After I did that calculation, I felt justifiably mad at foreign sweatshops. Then, I calculated what another friend of mine made doing a 12-hour shift at a local bakery – he made 15 cents an hour.

Nothing is black and white.

_________________________ . . . _________________________

While confusion reigns out there in the real world, Julito and I made papier-mache lampshades while Willie practiced the drum:

Some images I caught on that hike to the hot springs:

Gold is not what's at the end of the rainbow...

My cell phone has been sadly quiet these past few weeks - and a few people have emailed that they're having problems getting though...not sure what the deal is, but, the cell phone company can't find anything wrong. So, I guess I can just suggest keep trying!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Bullriding Nica style

WHO: Essa (aka Vanessa)
WHAT: Peace Corps, Environmental Education
WHERE: Nicaragua
WHEN: Sept '05 - Nov '07
WHY: La vida es un carnaval

Kinda longwinded last week, so I'll try keep this entry short and sweet. I've been helping in the natural science library - we're writing a couple of grants to support a white paper recycling project in city as well a book-mobile to serve the rural schools around the department. I can tell the librarians are pretty frustrated with the local government support...I get an earfull each time I go visit them. The reliance on NGOs and the gov't is heavy. I've introduced the idea of a bake sale to the librarians...they seemed open to the idea...we'll see...

I've also been working with the local equivalent of the Bureau of Land Management who is in charge of developing watershed management plans for the area, and have been asked to do a presentation for the Environmental Commission (if there still is one...our monthly meeting has been postponed twice this month).

I thought I'd post some pics from the rodeo Celine and I went to last weekend in her town - photos thanks to Celine.

Usually the bull rider gets his oportunity to ride the bull until he gets thrown off...then he gets lassoed to remove the cinches...

then the "toreros" do their thing with their red capes or hats.

Half the spectators (usually doublefisting men) are IN the bullring, and when the bull comes close, they climb the fence to escape a gorging. Because of all the people, it's sometimes hard to see the bull.

Even the icecream salesman hangs out in the ring. People throw their trash and empty bottles into the ring - serves as amunition to launch at the bull.

A well-equiped bullrider - chaps and a hockey helmet. Perhaps a little liquor, too - to make him "braver" the locals say.

Thanks for all the packages! I feel like Christmas finally came - one ever increasing necessity for those inclined to send care packages...nag champa insense. One of my friends thinks there must be a dead dog around, because every so often the breeze brings a whif of something rank into my house. So, until he decays...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

El Nancital and Horses on parade

WHO: Essa (aka Vanessa)
WHAT: Peace Corps, Environmental Education

WHERE: Nicaragua

WHEN: Sept '05 - Nov '07

WHY: La vida es un carnaval

The day after I dropped off Gregg at the airport, the city’s environmental commission began a week long clean –up. There is once-a-week garbage pick up in the community, but during the event, a garbage truck cruised different neighborhoods picking up accumulated trash in homes and yards. A popular way to announce or advertise around these parts is to mount a set of speakers on a vehicle and drive slowly through the streets repeating the message...typically accompanied by lively music. It’s used for everything from selling vegetables, to announcing registration at the college, to inviting people to so-so’s funeral. Though I hate these vehicles, I did get talked into jumping on to one to encourage neighborhood participation at ear-splitting decibels. I have to admit it’s more fun to be on the deliverer’s end than the receiver’s. Here are a few members of the environmental youth group and environmental commission setting things up:

Below are some scenes from the outskirts of the city. In light of what I wrote a few entries ago about trash and people's ability to throw it away, I guess I should clarify a bit by saying usually apathy strikes those in transit. For that reason, the city center is dirtier because people are walking around. For the most part, homes are farily clean to spotless, with of course some nasty exceptions (think night after frat party with cucarachas) - just like in the rest of the world (except for maybe Germany).

Must've been a big party...

This banner above is posted on the environmental youth group building. It says, ‘Our neighborhood working in the clean-up campaign. The water crisis is due to agricultural and cattle field burning and trash we throw in the streets. For our children’s future, let’s avoid these activities’. The water crisis is soon to come. As of now, water is delivered on a rotational basis – each neighborhood gets water for a few hours or day every 3 or 4 days. But further into the summer (April, May), I’ve heard that period stretches to 8 to 10 days.

The water crisis relates to field burning in that the age-old traditional practice increases soil erosion (among other evils), which in turn reduces the ground’s capacity to absorb water. So, instead of rainwater slowly infiltrating into the soil and being released into rivers over time (say months or years), the water rushes straight to water ways and evacuates the watershed much quicker than it would naturally. Burning fields also can get out of control and burn down neighboring forests, which act to retain water and soil. Since this practice has been passed down from generation to generation, and more and more land is converted from forest into fields, the ecosystem is changing rapidly. I haven’t really figured out the direct link between throwing trash in the street and the water crisis, but in any case it’s bad. That was kind of lecture-like, but I thought it might need some explaining since it wasn’t obvious to me at first. (How can you help without joining the Peace Corps? Buy shade-grown, organic coffee, for one – no pesticides to pollute and shade means trees are growing over the coffee plants).

My association with the environmental youth group also got me invited to participate in a Finish NGO workshop on a cluster of fifteen or so islands in Lake Nicaragua called Nancital. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was stunned when I saw 130 members of the community, all ages, both men and women, pack into the one-room school and, under the leadership of a Dutch anthropologist named Jan, and a handful of local agronomy university students, break up into groups and complete Rural Participatory Appraisal. I’ve learned a lot about them, both at MTU and in Peace Corps training, and knew it was expected of us to do them with our communities. Seeing so many participants astounded me. (I think Jan has a good relationship with the local priest, and since everyone goes to mass...).

The tools help community members identify their needs – essentially the different groups (all men, all women, mixed, youth) are asked a bunch of questions related to natural resource availability and how it’s changed over time, types of sicknesses and when they are most common throughout the course of a year, what a typical day schedule is, what kinds of material goods and human resources are available in the town, etc. Some subjects are discussed by multiple groups (for example, both the men and women groups were asked to draw a map of the community) to see how the different groups percieve the subject. Later, a member of the group must present the information to everyone at the meeting. After all this, the NGO can help direct the community’s efforts into reaching some of their goals.

One of the island homes:

The community:

The women's group drawing a map of the islands:

The men's group talking about state of the islands natural resources (fish, water, trees, etc):

Youth group talking about type of work people do on the islands (the result: fishing, tiny shops (which are really just rooms in someone's house) where people sell odds and ends, and day laborer... nothing else):

Result of women's group talking about sicknesses and frequencies of each kind:

Our "ride" with Volcan Concepcion in the background:

In this case, Nancital’s economy is pretty much only supported by the fisherman, who sell their fish to markets in nearby cities. The problems are that the fish population is declining, and the road the dock that serves Nancital is horrendous. So now less fish is sold, and fewer buyers travel that road to reach Nancital. Another problem is that the government built a health center, but there are no doctors or nurses – and no medicine. And there is a school, but only a pre-school teacher. On the other hand, there’s hope to bring in some money by making it a popular tourist stop…from the islands, one can see four volcanoes emerging from the lake, and with the sunset behind them, the view is breathtaking:

These were just some of the outcomes of the workshop. I hope to go back to see how the process progresses. And to eat more guapote:

When I got back from Nancital, I attended a big ho-down in a low-income neighborhood of the city, sponsored by the municipal government. It was to celebrate the city’s 128 anniversary and to inagurate three new garbage trucks donated by Japan, and 100 houses donated by the national housing commission. Of course there was music and traditional dancing.

The girls dancing are from the city’s orphanage.

One of the houses donated to the needy:

On the weekend, I went to visit Celine, where her community was in full swing celebrating the town’s patron saint. The party lasted a week, and was kicked off by a hipico – or horse-parade, I guess. People come from all over – including lots of rich Nicaraguans who’ve moved to the States – to show off their fine horses. Celine and I concluded it was much like the middle-age man showing off his shiny cherry-red Ferari. The horses are taught to dance, but it’s a far cry from what the famous European Lippizaners can do. The horses are taught in such a cruel way that it looks more like they take frantic steps to avoid getting a crack of the whip, or probably worse. Nearly all the horses' eyes were rolling, and there was lots of bit champing, agitated tail switching, and sweating. So, being an ex-horse owner, it made me kind of sad.

We also went to a rodeo and watched the bull-riders. Again, another field day for PETA. It was humorous, though, to see all the drunks staggering around the ring (as anyone’s allowed to go in). Celine even got great footage of one of them, posing with a red cape, get tossed high up into the air by one of the bulls. Too bad I can’t post video…

Unfortunatley they didn't show up too well in this photo - but this cowgirl wears stilletos.

Parting shots: