Below are the daily email updates sent to friends and family.
Saturday March 8, 2008
We received word from Dr. Don Stechschulte that the volunteers traveling with the Bucknell Brigade to Nicaragua arrived safely this afternoon in Managua after departing campus around 1:30 am this morning. The group of 25 were getting ready to eat a hearty meal of rice and beans and fresh fruits this evening at the Jubilee House Community compound, our host agency for the past nine years. Staying in the volunteer dorm, the group has bunk beds, a screened-in porch, flush toilets and showers. There are beautiful palm trees and an old cement swimming pool as well. Everyone is healthy, but tired after a long day of travel. It's expected to be partly cloudy with a high of 92 degrees tomorrow. We will forward more news about the brigade as word arrives.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Our first day in Nicaragua was filled with a lot of fun activities! We woke up bright and early to a delicious breakfast of rice and beans, pineapples, watermelon, avocado and freshly made bread. We soon took off in our lovely yellow school bus to explore Managua. Our first stop was the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) monument. We then stopped to see President Daniel Ortega's house, and visited a small museum with a number of large and colorful murals honoring Ben Linder, a young electrical engineer who came to Nicaragua from the U.S. to help the people with his expertise. Ben Linder was killed during the Contra war against the Sandinista government. The museum was built in his honor because he was such a popular figure.
Our next stop was the old National Palace, which has now been converted into a museum. We then took a break to eat lunch at a nice El Salvadorian restaurant. There, we ate pupusas (an el Salvadorian dish made of thick corn tortillas and stuffed with your choice of beans, cheese, or chicken), and cooled off with some hibiscus tea. After lunch we were bussed to the national cathedral, a HUGE, yet very unusual looking concrete building. The cathedral was built by the owner of Domino's Pizza to replace the old national cathedral that was badly damaged in the massive earthquake of 1972.
For our last stop of the day, we visited the Batahola church, a very welcoming community-based open air church with large colorful murals. This church was an interesting contrast to the large cathedral we had just visited. Many of the ideas they support and preach at this church have their roots in Liberation Theology, a school of theology which focuses on and seeks to empower the poor.
Right now, we are back at the JHC compound. A few of us have chosen to take a dip in the pool to cool off, while others are sitting in the common area playing a card game. Soon we are all going to eat dinner, and go to bed to rest up for another exciting day in Nueva Vida!
Anastasia Sofianou , on behalf of the Bucknell Brigade
Monday, March 10, 2008
Dear Family & Friends,
First of all, I just want to let you know that we are all having a fantastic time and that all the luggage that didn't accompany us on Saturday has finally arrived. The day was jam packed with lots of activities. We had the opportunity to ask Mark Lester from the Center for Global Education at Augsburg College and the “knower of all Nicaraguan history,” any question we wanted. He first put things into context for us so that we would have a better understanding of what is currently going on in Nicaragua. Most of our questions revolved around politics, education, economics, healthcare and culture. Then we were off in our bus to do a tour of Ciudad Sandino (Sandino City). This is the municipality where Nueva Vida and the clinic are located. Just as we drove out of the sewing cooperative’s fair-trade zone we entered a free-trade zone that houses the largest maquiladora (garment factory) in Central America. It will eventually employ 3,000 people and is operated by the largest denim producer in the world.
After lunch we started our first work day. By the way, they have been feeding us very well and we have been drinking plenty of water. We even have "water monitors" that check on people to make sure that we are getting all the fluids we need. We have also been lucky that it has not been brutally hot (well, at least not to me), there is a nice wind throughout the day. Back to the work day...we were divided into groups with specific tasks. One thing that is very important when traveling is being flexible to changes that can happen to the schedule. We had a clinic crew and an outdoor crew that was supposed to stay on the JHC compound; however, they ended up working at the clinic. The official clinic crew consists of Dr. Don (Stechschulte), Director of Bucknell's Student Health Center, with a translator, two people in the pharmacy and three people helping to unload the medicine suitcases and organize the bodega (storeroom). The outdoor crew worked on painting, repello (also known as cement throwing - flinging wet cement on a wall to eventually create a smooth finish), cabinet work and carpentry. By the end of all this hard work we were sweaty and dusty (not a good combination) and ready to jump in the pool at JHC.
In the evening instead of having sharing time we had a concert by Guitarra de la Madera Azul (Blue Wood Guitar). They are a local group that sings cover songs and originals that talk about the pride they have in their country and things that just make you happy. They say that laughter is what helps keep you sane. The cutest part of the concert was when April (6 years old) sang for us two Spanish songs and an English song by the Cranberries. For the finale we danced together.
Well, that's all the days news that I have. Be sure to ask your loved one to fill in the details because so much more happened. We continue to learn and have great fellowship with one another.
Hasta manana (until tomorrow),
Nayo M. '08 on behalf of my fellow Brigadistas
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
We are all exhausted from another full day. After waking up at 7am, and having a full breakfast, we went off into the city to visit the municipal dump near Lake Managua. On tops of mountains of trash, there are hundreds of people who scavenge to get by. These people collect anything they can to use or resell - plastic, glass, tin - and many dig through the garbage for food. It is obviously very dirty, with blowing dust and burning trash, and dangerous but these folks are desperate and must live on what others throw away. The scene there was overwhelming for some, but certainly the type of experience we expected to have during our stay here.
Afterwards, we visited both the Sewing and Spinning Cooperatives where we had question and answer sessions with some of the workers. These operations are worker-owned, unlike the large foreign-owned sweatshops and maquilladoras, so whatever profits are made are returned to the employees. The Sewing Cooperative has been manufacturing t-shirts, camisoles, onesies for babies, and a few other garments for export. The spinning plant has not yet been built, but the women there will be turning organic cotton into thread for fabric. These operations are located next to the JHC compound where we are staying and have gotten assistance from U.S. groups and other development agencies in the form of grants and loans.
After a delicious lunch, we went off to work at the health clinic to finish up some of the odd jobs we had started yesterday. After dinner, we will probably get to bed early because we have a long trip tomorrow to El Porvenir, the coffee cooperative located in the mountains to the north.
All in all, we are all healthy, happy, well fed and hydrated, and having a wonderful time here in Nicaragua. We miss you all dearly and hope everything is going well at home.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Hola family, friends and loved ones!
Everything is great down here in Nicaragua! We are finishing up a delicious dinner after a long day. I must say, and I am sure I speak on behalf of everyone here, the food gets more amazing every time. I am just blown away! Before I came, everyone told me that we would just be eating rice and beans. But, alas, it is far from that!
Anyways, I know I can go on about the food, but I'm sure you would love to know about our exciting adventures.
Today was an unbelievable day. I cannot believe it is already Wednesday! We spent the day visiting El Porvenir (the coffee plantation that Jubilee House supports), about 3-4 hours away. We all heard about the community of El Porvenir before and many of us have been drinking the coffee for months now, so we were eager to visit the coffee plantation. This is a worker-owned cooperative and the families here depend on selling coffee for their meager incomes while growing subsistence crops for food. The residents are former National Guard members, former Contra guards, and Sandinistas who once would have been political enemies, but they put their differences aside for the sake of their communal welfare.
Although it was a long, dusty, and bumpy ride, it was definitely a memorable one full of bonding and fun in our bus with our trusty drivers. We played lots of fun games and sang songs, and I realized how much I have come to adore and love every single Brigadista! About an hour and a half into it, we turned off the highway onto a dirt road and started the very bumpy journey up to the top of the mountain--it was quite the adventure! But definitely worth it. We ate a yummy lunch provided by the residents and then went on a great tour of the small community of about 52 families. This place is very rural and situated high in the mountains where they do not have running water or electricity lines. During the dry season, the people are rationed to two gallons of water per person per day for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing. Hopefully, this will change when a new pipeline is built to bring water from a well at the base of the mountain to the families at the top. A group of Bucknell engineering students designed a pump house and last summer with the help of a grant from the Davis Foundation were able to purchase and install a pump and generator after constructing the pump house. We learned all about the lifestyles of people here and got to see the schoolhouse. This building has solar panels so that adults can hold classes and meetings there in the evening and the community is very proud of it. We also saw many other small one room houses, and then went on a breath-taking hike through the forest. The views were unlike anything I've seen . . . I kept having to remind myself it was real! Beautiful landscape with mountains, volcanos, and flowing plains in the distance. We even saw Honduras and El Salvador! We spent some more time in the El Porvenir after our hike, seeing some of the coffee processing plant and learning how coffee is grown under a canopy of old growth trees.
After a long day, we arrived back to our 'casa' all dirty from our adventures but still smiling. We feel even closer to understanding the amazing culture and people of Nicaragua now, having seen what rural living is like outside the capital city, and cannot wait to see what the next few days bring us!
Hope all is well back at home.
Paz y Amor (peace and love),
Friday, March 14, 2008
All is well here at JHC in Nicaragua---we've been working and playing and learning hard. Yesterday and today we listened to some interesting speakers, including Dora Tellez, a leading figure in the Sandinista revolution, and Carlos Pacheco, a Nicaraguan economist. We've been splitting our forces between work at the health clinic and work next door at the spinning-coop. We're helping to build columns tying together pieces of iron rebar with wire to support the building that the workers will be using! Last night we went out to dinner at an amazing outdoor patio restaurant with a great view, buffet-style traditional Nicaraguan cuisine (like rice, beans, beef kabobs, fresh fruit, etc.), and tonight we're heading out to the disco to learn some salsa dancing! Tomorrow we're spending our last full day visiting an artisan's market, an active volcano, and a laguna, which we're sure will be fun. Anyway, we hope all is well in the states, and we love you and miss you!
On behalf of the BU Brigade,
Christina and Anne
Saturday, March 16, 2008
There is never a dull moment here in Nicaragua. On the agenda today was a trip to the Masaya Volcano, a visit with Pedro the potter, a swim at the laguna, and a shopping spree at the artisans' market in Masaya.
The Masaya Volcano was phenomenal, but we ran into some mechanical issues as we began out journey toward Pedro’s. Our “magic school bus” broke down shortly before our arrival, making the rest of the day’s travel a bit difficult. We walked the remaining distance to Pedro’s, where we were thoroughly impressed by his pottery skills. Following this visit and lunch, we were forced to decide whether we should visit the laguna or the market due to time constraints. With some reluctance, we made the decision to proceed directly to the market for gift shopping.
The large amounts of travel involved in today’s activities provided a great opportunity for further bonding. This has been a fantastic experience shared with a fantastic group of people. Now begins the long and painful process of saying goodbye and packing for the long journey tomorrow.
With the exception of a few digestive issues, everyone is in good health. We will all be arriving safely in Los Estados Unidos (The United States) within a day. Although we leave Sunday late afternoon from Managua, it will actually be very early Monday morning before we fly into JFK airport and then onto Bucknell to return to classes.