Getting to know you, Nicaragua (part III)

Part III in a series on returning to Nicaragua for a water-service project.
Jimmy, our El Porvenir jefe and crew

Jimmy, our El Porvenir jefe and crew

Thanks first to El Porvenir for giving almost 25 years of service to Nicaragua: bringing water, building latrines, planting trees, venting stoves and educating the communities.

In four days we have not only completed our tasks, but have made many friends. Jimmy Membreno is our fearless bilingual El Porvenir leader. We’ve worked with Jimmy before and are thrilled to be with him again. His stories illuminate all corners of Nica life specializing in politics, including reciting poetry of Rubén Darío, and passages from Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He also wields a mean shovel, teaches me how to trowel concrete and can change the battery in the truck with the help of Jose (Che) Solis who doubles as driver and a great chef.

Salvadora's tortilas

Salvadora's tortilas

Salvadora, the daughter of school director/teacher Merlin, has offered Jose the use of her house to prepare our lunches each day. She is a single mom of two toddlers who can use the extra money El Porvenir will pay her. She offers to teach Carol, the only other woman in our volunteer group, and me how to make tortillas on the unvented wood-burning stove. At least there’s an open door nearby to let light in and smoke out. You can tell that Carol has some experience baking. She easily kneads, pats and spins the masa, corn flour, until it’s just the right size and plops it into the heated iron skillet grinning, “I did it!”

I’m next. Though not a bad cook, I’m not a baker, and my wad of dough continues to be just that. I press it too hard into the plastic circle used to gauge size where it sticks tight and has to be scraped off. Instead of starting over I hang my head, demoralized and escape from the furnace of a kitchen.

Rubén, our crew chief, is a trained construction worker from the pueblo and takes his job seriously. Eric, another father in the community, keeps everyone laughing with his antics and love of fun. Concepcion, one of the mothers, comes to help after doing her housewifely chores. She smiles shyly as she puts her weight into the shovel and can out dig many of the men. After classes the children and teachers pitch in. A young adolescent, the only one with spiked blond hair, becomes our main wheelbarrow driver, hauling hefty loads of rocks up and down hilly terrain of the schoolyard. None wear hats and barely have shoes, only worn out flip-flops and holey sneakers.

Las Delicias is a fairly self-sufficient community. Most of the men and teenage boys are out in the fields tending their crops with a few horses and cows. Since there’s little rain they must rely on spotty irrigation systems from dug wells. Strong shouldered women carry whatever is needed back and forth on their heads, leaving their hands and arms free for infants and lighter items. The women with the children to help, feed all the chickens and pigs running around, wash the clothes by hand, and cook the meals consisting mostly of tortillas, rice and beans. No one smokes. It’s too expensive.

Our beautiful washing station in use.

Our beautiful washing station in use.

Very little government money, books or supplies reach the schools in these outlying villages. The closest secondary school is in Darío and only a couple of the primary students go on. Though a bus arrives twice a day it’s too expensive and anyway the older children are needed to work in the fields and at home. Yet on the whole the people are content with their simple hard-working lives, and quick to smile and make friends.

On our final day there’s a huge celebration. The primary school children perform dances and sing songs for us. El Porvenir provides a Piñata for them and the volunteers hand out new school supplies. Cutting the ribbons on the new outdoor facilities make everyone cheer, “Muchissimas gracias, El Porvenir.”

Read Part I in this series here.

Read Part II in this series here.

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