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.

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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.

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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!


Blogger Luke John Paul Barrett said...

high-five from madagascar essa. hope things are well! hope to catch up later when i have more time to write. visit my site if you like. bye for now, friend.

10:25 PM  

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