May 19, 2006

LEWISBURG, Pa. - The Bucknell Brigade is back from Nicaragua as part of a spring service-learning trip for University alumni, employees, and community members. The 19-member group left the U.S. on May 13 and returned Saturday, May 20. Check back here to read the group's latest email dispatches.

May 19

Greetings from Nicaragua. We are all doing well.

On Wednesday, the group took a three-hour trek to the remote village of El Porvenir, a community of 47 families perched on a mountain. Our sturdy yellow school bus can make it only so far up the steep unpaved dusty road and so most of us were hauled to the top while standing in the back of a trailer pulled by a tractor.

This community, consisting of former contras, National Guard, and Sandinistas makes its living growing and selling organic rustic shade grown coffee, which we sell at Bucknell and elsewhere. We had lunch and worked spreading organic fertilizer on some coffee plants, hiked to the ridge to see some beautiful vistas of nearby Honduras and Las Casitas volcano. We also saw the new school building and got a quick tour of the coffee processing operation.

That morning beverage so many of us rely on has a very interesting beginning in developing nations such as Nicaragua, so it was intriguing to consider how it is grown, harvested, processed, transported, traded, marked up, marketed, and sold to consumers in the first world. It took more than two hours to get down the mountain as dusk fell because the car in front of us was kicking up a lot of dust, making it impossible to see the people, oxen, goats, and bicycles traveling the narrow winding road.


Thursday was a great day. Our designated "play day" began with a "canopy tour" where 18 of us did the "zip" line. We were harnessed to steel cables strung from the trees above the Mombacho rain forest and glided from one platform to the next down a stretch of the mountain. Although some of us had less than graceful landings, we all had a lot of fun. Next we had a picnic lunch at the Laguna de Apoyo, a natural lake formed in an extinct volcano. We got to swim, kayak, siesta, and relax before doing some souvenir-hunting in the Masaya artisans' market. The city is known for its beautiful pottery, hammocks, and furniture.

This morning, we expect to hear from some members of the women's sewing cooperative and return to the clinic to finish painting while another crew works on a cement project next door. This evening, our last in Nicaragua, we are going to the Mirador Tiscapa, a dance club overlooking a little lagoon in Managua. Tomorrow, we head home and will be glad to have contributed what we could while gaining an understanding of Nicaragua's struggles and triumphs. Hasta luego.

May 17

Wednesday morning. We are up bright and early for a trip to El Porvenir, the worker-owned coffee co-op perched in the northern mountains of Nicaragua. It's a tough trip, but it will give us a glimpse of life in the camps (country) where 40 percent of the population lives and ekes out a living.

Yesterday, a crew finished painting the roof of the women's sewing co-op and it now shines brilliantly silver reflecting the hot sun. Another group continued painting in the health clinic exam rooms. A third group worked on painting the mural - with the help of many children who gleefully mixed paints for us although brown was not always the color we were aiming for.

Last night, we had fun. A musical group of four Nicaraguan "Guitara de Madeira
Azul" - Blue Wood Guitar - entertained us at the volunteer dorm. They played typical songs of the country and social protest music and had us dancing to "Shake It Up Baby."

Folks are a little tired. Some of us bitten by bugs. Some of us a little tanned. But all are in a cheerful disposition. Tomorrow, we visit the city of Masaya and take a canopy tour high in the trees of a cloud forest.

That's all for now. We're doing fine.

May 16

Hello gringos. We are all doing well. Feeling hot in the 90-plus-degree heat, but this morning we actually started work and it feels good to be productive. Seven of us started to put reflective paint on the roof of the women's sewing co-op to try to keep the heat down in the building. Three worked on unpacking and shelving the donated medicines we brought. Three of us prepped the wall where we will be painting a mural. Others worked on painting an exam room at the health clinic.

Yesterday, we had a marathon tour and got to see the active Masaya volcano on a clear day. We also saw El Coyotepe, a fortress high on a hill near Masaya that had been used as a prison by the Somoza dictatorship and the Sandinistas.

We lunched in Managua, visited some historic sites, went to a mall and a traditional market place, saw some historic parks, and went to a Catholic mass at an outdoor church that was very welcoming. We came home after 11 hours to a great dinner.

Everyone is doing okay. Folks are in good spirits and taking in all the contradictions of life in Nicaragua. Tomorrow is another work day and we'll let you know what progress we've made. Adios por hoy.

May 15

Just a quick note to let everyone know we arrived safely and on time in Managua. It's been hot and we are all a little travel weary, but we are settled into the new dorm. Mike, on the Jubilee House staff, provided a history of the organization and we got in a brief visit this afternoon to the women's sewing co-op which we will hear more about later in the week. Folks had a nice meal. Some went swimming. We're all ready to hit the hay.

Tomorrow, we visit Masaya volcano and tour some historic sites in Managua before our first work day at the health clinic Monday. Adios a todos and Happy Mother's Day to all the madres.

ReadRead more about the Bucknell Brigade.

Posted May 19, 2006

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