Friday, July 24, 2015

Machetes and Mamones

I am back to the office in Managua after another rewarding week in the beautiful village of El Balsamo. There is love in people's hearts, food in their bellies, and smiles on their faces. People are growing accustomed to my face and it is gratifying to hike up the hilly dirt road and hear my nickname called from little boys riding horses in flip flops. I am no longer completely new, but it will still take a good amount of time (probably my  whole lifetime!) before I truly become a member of the community. Hovering between my life at Stanford and life here is liberating because it gives me a chance to observe and learn in a completely different context. However, it is a little alienating at times being so far away from my friends and family, and being an outsider in a very close-knit community.

I arrived to the community in a truck with the material to build cookstoves. I was sandwiched between the rotund and jovial driver and Xobeyda, a student that was returning back home after finishing her last exam for the semester. We lumbered along at 30 kph, the stick shift digging into my leg as the driver changed the gears of the groaning pickup. I was grateful for a small body that can fit in a surprising amount of places, and for the nice company for the ride.

This week, I helped construct 4 Joco Justa cookstoves. Each stove takes about 5 hours to complete, and I had fun learning, working hard, and getting dirty. It was satisfying hacking at cement bricks with a machete while imagining that each blow was breaking off a little bit more of the poor health and poor education in the world. It was hard work laying bricks, filtering rock, mixing and laying cement with a local artisan, Darvin. I was followed by an entourage of children. I gave them my camera to take pictures of what they wanted to, and I got some pretty interesting pictures of the community. It was interesting seeing their narratives through the pictures they decided to take, and they took some candid shots of me working in unflattering angles which made me laugh. While I was helping with one of the cookstoves, I was followed by a 3 year-old-boy who was completely enamored by me. He kept insisting that I play in the piles of rock and cement with him, using a bent piece of metal to etch designs into the dirt floor. Whenever I would stand to lift a brick or help with the stove, he would yell my name until I sat down with him again and drew another line in the dirt. At another home, I was watched by two very tiny kittens who burrowed in the dirt.

I taught another lesson in the school this time about how solar panels function. I think they liked it ok, but I felt that it went over their heads a little bit. They were interested in learning more English words. I am learning, but it is a little bit of a struggle engaging all of the students, especially some of the rowdy boys. I am trying to balance the constraints of limited materials, teaching in a language that I am not completely fluent in, and a different style of learning. This summer has definitely got me out of my comfort zone speaking to all sorts of audiences from young children to professors. I am learning not to take everything personally if every student doesn't understand 100% of what I say or is not riveted by what I am saying. I am adapting to the reality of a culture in which education consists of copying what the teacher says for a couple of hours without any application or real expectation that the students really understand or enjoy what they are learning. These challenges make me all the more grateful for my wonderful education and the love of learning that I inherited from my family.

This week, I took my iPhone to the community. It was an interesting experience showing them pictures of my trips to Europe and Canada sitting in the dim light of their stone homes. They loved looking at the pictures, but it made me a little uncomfortable seeing how different the opportunities I have are than the kids that I was talking to. They discovered a video that I took a long time back of Mrs. Woods playing piano, and it brought back so many memories for me, amplifying the feeling of floating between the life I am learning about the life I have lived so far.

I am starting to feel the physical wear and tear of 3 weeks of physically active and rigorous days. My muscles are very sore, and my head hurts from chronic dehydration. However, the small pleasures of life in the village far over weigh my tiredness. Eating mamones, a green lychee like fruit straight from the tree, and planning lessons with a baby puppy napping on my foot fill my heart with joy. It rained on Thursday, and it was beautiful getting wet in the rain that would nourish the crops.

Jaime, the founder of Asofenix, came to give a talk about environmental issues in El Balsamo yesterday. I attended and observed how people responded to the lecture, and I feel grateful to be working with an organization that has so much trust and support from the people. Alba was telling me how people love to attend any events put on by Asofenix whereas they are vary of other organizations that come take pictures, promise grand projects, and deliver nothing. It makes me sad that this type of exploitation happens, and I am learning how projects based on trust and confidence are made at Asofenix.

Yesterday, I returned with Don Jaime which was very comfortable. At 80 kph (more than twice as fast as the buses), the cool breeze after the rain whipped across my face from the open windows. The ride was breathtakingly beautiful with a double rainbow, and sunset colors over the verdant rolling hills. It was such a luxury having my own seat and just taking in the ride without any of the stress of traveling in a bus.  I feel grateful to have a clean, safe, and friendly place to return to in the Asofenix office. The other interns came back as well today, and I am looking forward to hearing about their experiences over the past few weeks as well. I am looking forward to a relaxing weekend to let my muscles and mind relax a little bit and catch up with friends and family.

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