Hello, everyone –
Three weeks down, two to go. What a three weeks it has been! First, here’s an update on the group’s recreational and cultural activities.
Last Tuesday was the big national holiday, Día de la Revolución. Sam, Brie, and I courageously boarded a government-provided free bus at La Solidaridad with William and other community members. The bus was packed far beyond maximum capacity. Hot and sweaty, it took us about three hours to get to Managua, a drive that normally takes less than an hour. We went alongside many other buses, most similarly crowded.
We were met by a huge crowd and loud music. We had to shove our way through in order to get anywhere but remarkably we were able to weave through the mass of people fairly quickly. Sometimes we lost sight of William and the others from La Solidaridad but he always stopped to wait for us. The celebration commemorates the day that the Sandinistas took Managua from the Samozas, the family that ruled as dictators from 1937 to 1979. The Sandinistas lost the presidency in 1990 but regained it in 2006 and the celebration doubled as a political rally and many of the people carried red and black FSLN (in English, Sandinista National Liberation Front) flags. I was only slightly uneasy; the United States had supported the Samozas and actively opposed the revolution. We were told that we would be fine and that our biggest worry would be losing our valuables to thieves. Also, we were with the locals from La Solidaridad and they were always keeping their eyes on us.
We seemed to miss seeing most of the speakers, which included President Daniel Ortega and officials from other Latin American countries like Cuba. William took us to see some cultural buildings in Plaza de la Revolución including the Catedral de Santiago and the Palacia Nacional de la Cultura.
Our project has been going great. Yesterday we finished with the roofs in La Solidaridad and, by my estimate, we were able to replace or partially replace the roofs of about thirty houses. It was quite an experience. Every day was a little different with the only constants being meeting new people and hauling zinc sheets from the community center to the work sites. The people aspect has been the most interesting for me because my poor (but slowly improving) Spanish has made a lot of my communication non-verbal. Still, I feel that I’ve gotten to know William, who meets us everyday in front of his house and usually sticks around at the work site. He’s a strong, just, and charismatic leader with a sense of humor and friendly personality. Also, we roughhoused with some of the kids one day and now one of them always catches my eye and grins mischievously when we pass each other like he’s planning a surprise attack. I don’t know his name; it’s difficult to learn names here because they are either pronounced differently than or totally foreign to English. Language barriers aside, I always felt welcomed in the community and, as Felicia noted, they were always watching out for us. We should be back soon to fill in a troublesome flooded road.
We lost Felicia and Nicole last tuesday when they returned to the United States. Now we´re down to five. Today we started our next project which involves improving a well in a rural community, but I´ll let the next blogger write about that.
Thanks for reading!
Here are some photos from the first bit of our project! More to come soon…
We have been very busy hosting three health fairs in Manocucho, Ciudad de Dios, and Bello Horizonte over the past two weekends. They focused on topics of nutrition, hygiene, and maternal health. Each of us partnered with a health advisor (dentist, obstetrician, psychologist, social worker, etc.) to answer specific questions that attendees had, or to perform rudimentary tests like taking blood pressure. There was also a wonderful skit performance that helped kids and adults alike learn about the importance of thorough hand-washing and other simple preventative steps to stop the transmission of disease. Despite the general chaos level at each health fair, we believe that everyone was able to get the individual attention they deserve.
The walls of the clinic are up and the Nourish logo is painted on one. It was really an honor and a treat to be able to leave a part of our organization in the small Peruvian village that affected us each so profoundly. Last Wednesday, prominent figures from the community came together to thank us for our efforts and to praise us for our exemplary collaboration during our stay here. After some applause and a great group photo, we shared some soda crackers and Inca Kola, a local soft drink that is bright highlighter-yellow and tastes like bubblegum. It’s moments like these that really exemplify one of the key pillars of Nourish’s mission: community partnership
Yale’s Nourish chapter left a few days ago, which served as a reminder to us that our trip is coming to a close soon. Some will help pour cement and lift bricks to the roof of the clinic, while others will assist with a latrine project started by University of North Carolina’s Engineers Without Borders group. We’ve already begun to wrap up our Peru experience. Discussion for a promotional video of our project is underway, in the likeness of last year’s video (http://www.osu.edu/features/2011/peru , check it out!). We are looking forward to connecting with the community as much as possible before we leave, especially this Thursday (July 28th) which is the Peruvian day of independence! Festivities will be a lot of fun and we’re all really excited. Adios!
It’s been a long six weeks but five of us have finally made it home! After deciding to spend the day in the municipality of Miraflores in Lima, we headed over to the heavily American-influenced Larcomar mall to eat and see Harry Potter at the movie theater. It was all at once an extremely exciting, tiring, and nostalgic day for us. We had few things left to say to one another but how much we would miss being together and sharing such wonderful experiences. We realized there were so many people who had left such an impression on our lives but would probably and unfortunately never see again. From the community members of Bello Horizonte to our Huanchaco friends, to even a number of MOCHE volunteers, an inherent part of being a world traveler or volunteer is meeting many people heading in different directions.
On the last day of work, Tuesday, the Bello community members held a snack break for us at lunch time with Inkacola and soda crackers. A few speeches were given, one of which included a line that many of us will never forget. One woman told us that Bello has not been a very united community and has trouble agreeing all the time or even working as a team, but when they saw the Nourish team standing in an organized line, passing each rock down at a time to the pick-up truck, they were inspired to work as a team in the way we so easily functioned. It was at this moment that many of us realized how much is to be taught in both directions. Experiences like these are not all one-sided.
Overall I think this is one of the best summer experiences most of us have ever had. Although we had our moments when frustration with the country, the people, or our group took the best of us, I know I will always look back and remember how much was accomplished in such a short period of time and how much I learned about my surroundings, my friends, and myself. Peru is a beautiful country with a culture whose depth is beyond belief. The opportunity to return would be a blessing for many of us.
I wish the best to David, Breanna, Carol, and Murat whose journeys across Peru still continue for about another two weeks. I know they’ll have an incredible time and fall in love with yet another region of the country. Hopefully we’ll all hear from them soon!
It’s now been over two weeks since we wrapped our projects in Urubamba, and I was met with a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, I was sad to be leaving, to have to say good-bye to my new godson and the many, many other wonderful people I met here, like JG our project coordinator with Nexos; Sra Lourdes, the director at the Chichubamba School; my fellow Nourish volunteers as well as the other Nexos volunteers…so many warm, gentle spirits – how lucky I was to know them all, even for just a short period of time. I was sad also to have to stop our work there, for we weren’t quite done and there still yet remains so many other things to do – so much potential for helping your fellow man (or your fellow 4 year-old boy hehe). On the other hand, I was excited to be heading back to Lima for some great seafood (though a bad stomach bug had gotten my way a bit haha) and then move onward to Tarapoto, Chazuta, and Chipaota (towns in northern Peru where our group stayed last year). Gosh how I’ve missed the people here! It’s really been fantastic to be back and to reconnect with the people, many of which are becoming more and more like a second family. Anyhow, let me offer a quick update on what we accomplished during our time in Urubamba.
Of course as many of you know, when we first started working in Chichubamba, our first task to tackle was to repair an outer adobe wall for the school. Many back-pains later, we had a completed wall. This outer perimeter wall will serve to help protect the more important/valuable school infrastructure from land-/mudslides (to which it is especially prone during the wet season since it is at the base of mountain) and as well as from intruders. And clearly, protecting the educational infrastructure in this impoverished neighborhood is a necessary component for providing its residents a possible way out of poverty.
Another task of ours was the painting of the murals on the outer perimeter wall and to paint the lunch room facilities. One of the murals depicted children from various cultures and ethnicities, all holding hands in solidarity. The other mural painted depicted the rainbow colors of the Inca flag, with a message written over it Spanish, English, and Quechua, which stated that we are all equal on this earth. These two paintings were selected as a means to help further combat the racism that is quite strong in the region. I realize that in some sense, the paintings seem to be just cosmetics, but more important than that, I feel that they are way to help improve the educational experience of the children, thereby actually helping to increase the chances that such children will continue to come to school because they are taking just a little more pride in their school campus. Just as in the States we would never consider leaving a school without a layer of paint over the gray cinderblocks that make up the walls of many of our schools, likewise the schools here In Peru certainly deserve no less, so I’m certainly glad we were able to do the paintings. Furthermore as I mentioned above, the murals on the outer wall actually take a step further to help combat the racism that prevails in the region. Taking small steps like this are part of that which helps to educate societies and make changes in broken belief systems, such as those that say one race is superior to another.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, we worked on building gardens! The creation of vegetable gardens at both of these schools will help to improve the nutrition levels of the students, especially those at Villa Marcelo since their students do not even receive lunches yet. Proper nourishment is a critical element that impacts the learning ability/capacity of growing children and subsequently malnourishment can actually have quite detrimental impacts on learning abilities and subsequently IQ. Hence, these gardens have the potential to serve as a great buffer or preventative measure to ensure that such does not take place. More than this, the children will be gaining skills and knowledge on how to actually raise a garden in their own home and will gain a better understanding of exactly what kinds of plants they should be eating on a regular basis.
And what can I say for us volunteers? I feel like this project had a big impact on us all, especially in terms of the level of awareness it raised in each of us. Although I cannot speak for any of them in particular, I believe that they would agree that we all have a much greater appreciation for the importance of the educational system here in Peru (as well as in general), realizing that for many kids of the two schools we helped, the school is a refuge away from a hostile environment. For many such children in this region who come from broken and/or abusive homes, the school becomes a safe haven where they can find food, caring school staff, and companions to play with. Before our trip, I don’t think any of us quite understood how important such institutions are nor understood the many roles that they serve.
Well, I must go for now, but please do stay tuned! I shall try to put up one more blog post soon with an update (and pictures hopefully) about last year’s project in Chipaota – things are really coming along quite well and it’s quite exciting! Peace
Hello all…I returned to Albuquerque on Tuesday after having spent 5 weeks in Nicaragua–the first 3 spent taking a class on sustainable development (already excited about planning next year’s project!) and the last two participating in the Nourish project. Looking back on my time in the community of La Solidaridad, I wanted to briefly reflect on my experiences there:
First off, I was extremely impressed with William, the community’s de facto leader, who would guide our daily activities. In his mid-twenties, this young leader, who has held this role since he was a teenager, has a lot on his shoulders. Each day, as we entered La Solidaridad to begin working, William would be approached left and right by community members seeking his help. As far as the roofing aspect of the project is concerned, it was left to him to decide which families within the community were in the greatest need. Though it was surely difficult for him to have to turn down friends and neighbors, he made his decisions based on what would bring about the greatest change for the people of La Solidaridad. Had it been left to us students to make these decisions, the same would not have been the result. During my two weeks alone, I was approached almost daily by community members asking for help with their homes, saying their homes had been overlooked by the project. However, those of these homes that I saw were in much better shape than those that William had selected for us to work on. I began explaining to those asking for assistance that all final decisions would be made by William and not us extranjeros, as he had a far greater grasp of the community’s needs than we ever would. All respected his authority.
The sense of community in La Solidaridad was extremely powerful. For some time, members of the community had been expecting the arrival of “Plan Techo” and were aware of which families would be helped. As each family had to provide workers as a condition of their receiving building materials, many would recruit volunteers from the community, as many families, for example, did not have young men within the household to help with the roofing. Most of the time, individuals stepped up to help their friends and neighbors without question.
La Solidaridad was also very welcoming to us extranjeros. They welcomed us into their homes, shared their stories with us, and took care of us in the Nicaraguan heat. It must have been terribly obvious how unaccustomed us desert-dwellers were with the humidity. Someone was always instructing us to stand in the shade, and, as Sam H. mentioned in the last post, some families bought us drinks. I can recall my grandfather saying, “Those with the least to give always give the most.” That was true of La Solidaridad.
To illustrate just how well they were keeping an eye on us, I offer the following: Working at one particular site was especially muddy following the rain. Having been in the country longer than the 5 new arrivals and having experienced plenty of mud trekking in the jungle, I felt it my place as a leader to show them that getting a little dirty wasn’t going to hurt them. I dipped my Teva-sandal-wearing foot into some pretty disgusting goop. Not sure I would call it mud. I was just fine, ha, I had proven my point! Then, within about 30 seconds, a little boy runs to my rescue with a bowl of clean water to wash off my foot.
It was wonderful to work in such a welcoming community in which we felt safe and at home during our first summer project. During the 2 weeks I had at the project, we helped 14 families. The remaining five Nourish at UNM members will go on to do much more. Thanks to all who helped make this project possible and continue to support us! Muchísimas gracias a todos
Business continues to go swimmingly. We completed the construction of the animal feed cooperative and have since moved onto the second major portion of the project – the family gardens. As students, we’ve excelled at this since a lot of it largely involves us simply tagging along with Pattanarak and learning from the daily operations of a successfully established local grassroots NGO. Each day, we venture out to a different community along with a few members of the Pattanarak staff and a pickup truck bed loaded with seedlings, compost and hoes. In the mornings, we typically go to a primary school or daycare center and split our time teaching and playing with the kids, and planting with them. After lunch, we truck along to a pre-designated village community, and spend some time getting to know various villagers and exchanging questions and nuggets of culture between us. Then, we split up and each accompany a family to work with them in developing their own backyard garden, finding ways to optimize the space they have and helping them to plant a diverse crop. Some of the popular varieties spanning both annuals and perennials are Thai chili peppers, Thai basil, lemongrass, papaya, green eggplant, string beans, sweet potatoes, and probably a few others that I’m forgetting. Our experiences vary from day to day, but it’s been wonderful to work alongside and converse with some of the community members. It’s difficult and oftentimes frustrating to communicate across the language barrier, but we try our best to come up with meaningful questions to ask and to share elements from our own lives with them, and we always find that they are nice beyond all reason in return. One woman at the last village we visited said to Alisa (who was translating for us at the time), “You have kind hearts and you are all very cute.” So kind. Our hearts, I mean.
Craving more of the juicy trip details but too shy to ask? Check out the personal blogs that three members of our group have been keeping (and probably updating more regularly than this one).
Bryanna — bryannacarol.blogspot.com
Celia — tellingtimeinthailand.tumblr.com
Anyways, time for bed! It’s been raining pretty consistently for the past three days and we’re hoping it doesn’t flood. Maybe it’s my overly cautious personality but I for one am not taking any chances; I’m going to bed in my swim trunks.
Hola friends, family, fans, and anybody else who wants to know what’s going on with our project. So far, we have eaten lots of ice cream, experienced a lot of rain, enjoyed the local customs, and……oh yeah, we worked quite a bit too!
This was our first full week of work. In just 7 mornings, we have managed to complete 14 roofs. Some days we work on multiple homes and on other days we only managed to work on one. Sometimes houses have to be completely rebuilt. Others simply have their old roofs replaced by shiny sheets of zinc. The differences between each house and each family is very interesting; creating new experiences every day. Some families even give us food and cold drinks, which we are very grateful for after a long, hot day of work.
(a before shot to come later?)
La Solidaridad is home to about 1400 people, many of whom are children. Each day, while working we have some free time when the family cannot use our help. Although most of this time is usually spent cooling down and re-hydrating, some days we spend this time playing with the children. One memorable day last week we ran around and played soccer with the kids. They soon got bored of playing by the rules and decided that jumping on me would be much more fun. Anyway, we all had a good time, and our connection with the community was greatly strengthened.
Although we work most of the week, we always make sure there is time to experience the local culture and sightseeing attractions. This past weekend we visited Las Isletas de Granada on Saturday and Laguna de Apoyo on Sunday. The Isletas are the result of lava cooling in the lake from past volcanic eruptions. We took a quick boat tour through the islands and ended up in a restaurant where we were able to eat, relax, and swim in the waters of Lake Nicaragua.
Although it rained for most of the morning, we still had fun. Laguna de Apoyo is a beautiful, clear crater lake surrounded by green mountains. Despite walking for several kilometers along a hilly road, we managed to find the Monkey Hut on the edge of the lake. We swam amongst the floating volcanic rocks, kayaked, and just relaxed on the lakeside.
This past Thursday we even managed to temporarily return to our normal lives with a quick trip to Managua to see the final installment of Harry Potter!
Tomorrow is a national holiday celebrating Nicaragua’s independence from Spain. We have the day off, so some of us will go to the capital to see the rallies and maybe even the president.
Until next time.
Last week, the group broke the work routine to take a four day trip to Cajamarca – our first experience of the Peruvian highlands. On Thursday, a seven hour bus ride sped us northeast through the coastal desert and into the mountains, where we rapidly climbed in elevation, up to a height of 2,750 meters! The final descent into Cajamarca was stunning, as the bus afforded a panoramic view of the massive green valley in which the city is nestled. All of the sudden, a large cluster of red roofs came into view at the side of the valley – our first sight of Cajamarca.
After setting foot in the heart of the city, we realized that we were seeing a totally new side of Peru – the Andean highlands are a world away from the coast. We looked up to see an unprecedented, piercing blue sky, and the clouds hung tangibly overhead, making it evident that we were in a different part of the atmosphere. Most noticeable, though, was the lack of oxygen in the air. An uphill walk left most panting for several minutes, and every inhalation felt thin. If I didn’t know better, I would claim that I was several thousand miles from Huanchaco, in a different continent, not several hundred miles away in the same country.
Knowing some of Cajamarca’s history added a startling amount of depth to the trip – one would hardly guess that this peaceful, isolated hamlet was the epicenter of events that would shake South American history. Originally called Caxamarca in Quechua, the town was home to pre-Incan civilizations dating back to at least 1,000 BC. No better way to get a sense of this than to visit Cumbe Mayo (a derivative of Kumpi Mayo, meaning “Fine River” in Quechua) – an ancient irrigation canal about an hour’s drive up from the valley’s basin. The perfectly straight, needle-thin canal, turning at right angles and accompanied by mysterious rock carvings, is located in a forest of peculiar, tall rock formations (known as the Bosque de Piedras, or “Forest of Rocks”). Add to this the vast rolling green and tan fields, the blindingly bright sky, the sound of miles of grass rustling in the wind, and you have a site that must rival the much-better known ruins of Machu Picchu.
I chose to walk back from Kumpe Mayo to Cajamarca; it was fun to explore the land a bit, and to see the highlands from outside a car window. Far from Cajamarca, the only indicators of human existence were small paths in the grass, as well as the occasional grazing cow. Closer to Cajamarca, I began to pass campesinos with their donkeys and horses, every one of them polite, although a bit puzzled by the sight of a lone gringo walking through the countryside. The dogs there are not as kind as the ones in Huanchaco – most of the ones I passed would snarl, and three or four chased me down the road! I guess they are trained to defend their households against intruders. Other than the dogs, there was nothing to worry about on the walk – as long as I continued downhill, I would inevitably make it to Cajamarca.
While the area’s pre-Inca history is prominent, Cajamarca is best known for its role in the Spanish conquest of Peru. In 1532, Pizarro and his men met the supreme Inca Atahualpa, who had just returned victorious from the northern campaigns of a bloody civil war. The supreme Inca, surrounded by 80,000 troops encamped on the hillside, must have been confident in his ability to defeat 100 or so weary Spanish adventurers. However (perhaps because of his overconfidence) he was ambushed and captured in the main square by Pizarro’s men, who frightened the Indians with gunfire, charging horses, full steel armor, and swords. The Spaniards rode out into the fields surrounding Cajamarca, massacring over 7,000 Indians in just two hours.
I was reminded of Cajamarca’s tumultuous history when I visited the Cuarto Del Rescate, or Ransom Room. The last surviving piece of Inca architecture in the city, the room is where Pizarro kept Atahualpa prisoner. It was here that Atahualpa said he would fill the room once with gold and twice with silver in return for his release, and there is a line demarcating the height to which the Inca reached his arm when indicating how much gold would fill the room. The Cuarto, although missing its roof and isolated from any other structure, is clearly part of a great Incan complex, There are fine, angled lines between the stones, reminders that the Incas did not use mortar but rather shaped stones so well that they would fit perfectly together without adhesive. There is also a row of trapezoidal windows, characteristic of Inca design. It is a shame that the rest of the Incan buildings were destroyed and used for scrap material by the Spaniards.
That is not to say that the Spaniards did not contribute to the splendor of Cajamarca. The Plaza de Armas, the most beautiful I have seen so far, is buttressed by two admirably ornate colonial churches. There is also a quaint church on the hill overlooking the entire city, which affords some amazing views and a good perspective of Cajamarca’s size. Also on the hill is the “Inca Chair,” a strange seat-like carving on a large stone – it may have been a royal or sacred spot from which the leader of a pre-Columbian society overlooked his village.
Another link between the old and new in Cajamarca is the hot springs (“Banos del Inca”) – Atahualpa bathed in the steaming, mineral laden water as he made camp in the sixteenth century, and we followed suit. There is a bathing complex that takes full advantage of the baths’ tourist potential, charging a minimal fee for plenty of time in the hot water.
With its colonial architecture, cobbled streets, and mountainous borders, it is easy to think that Cajamarca has no connection with the rest of the world. However, soccer showed us otherwise. On Saturday night, hundreds of Cajamarquinos flocked to the Plaza de Armas, where the Peru-Mexico match (part of the Copa America) was displayed on a big screen. Peru had several extremely close offensive opportunities against Mexico, and every near-goal was followed by a burst of excitement in the crowd. When Peru finally scored for the win, everyone danced in the plaza – it was quite an experience. Murat was the only person rooting for Mexico, and we were both glad Mexico didn’t score, because he probably would have been lynched by the Peruvian mob if he had shouted “Goal!”
Cajamarca was full of brand new experiences – from whiny, begging children (“SenorITA, un proponITO!!!!!”) to kind campesinos and jubilant crowds; from bustling markets to quiet stone forests, it was more than I could have expected or imagined. It was also a fine introduction to Peru’s astonishing ecological diversity, or “verticality” – dozens of ecosystems and ways of life, nearly stacked on top of each other due to the country’s rapid incline from coast to cordillera.
Now that I’m back in the states, I’ve had some time to reflect on Peru and what it felt like to live in a foreign country for 6 weeks. The experience was both surpising/exciting and also soothing at the same time.
I got completely used to living somewhere without the comforts of home, and not missing them much (except showers), and Spanish became a part of my daily life. And I adjusted to the rythms of a new place. Mototaxis, walking through rocky paths, stepping aside to let cows pass, and being chilled by the cold night air–that’s what traveling in Urubamba meant to me.
The times that we spent in Cuzco and Lima were pure bliss–I would highly recommend those cities to anyone who travels. It’s really important to go somewhere where you’re stunned by everything you see and get to have adventures everday & night. The best breaks from our working weeks!
The most important thing should be the work that we did at the schools, because this defined the nature of our trip. When you volunteer on a vacation, like we did for 30 hours a week, you can say that you had a true purpose for being there. Even though we didn’t see either of our projects totally finished, everyday that we worked felt better to me for having done the work.