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Published: February 3rd 2008
The Dance Group
A surprise performance by NPH's very own singing and dance group!
After the long week with the kids, it was time for a needed break, some group bonding time and for reflection. Yet before we go, we are offered a few surprises back on the range. Some former volunteers, actually from MN, Matt and his wife Rachel, come to visit for a week. The kids still remember them! Having met early in school, they went to college together, during which they took a break to serve with NPH for a year. They returned to the states to get married and finish their schooling. After that, they served another year with NPH. They live in MN and continually visit the kids in Nicaragua, whose lives they touched over the years.
Natenael and Hans, two volunteers with NPH Managua, also came to visit. They came at such the right moment too, as the kids were preparing for their hike up Volcano Maderas. The group went for a night walk Monday. On Tuesday morning, a run. On Wednesday, a hike up the massive volcano. A two-day prep for a huge volcano. Hope they can make it on such short preparation! We were all sad we couldn't go on the hike up the volcano with the
Laguna de Apoyo
What may look like MN at first (hills, green trees, and blue water) is actually a volcanic crater with a sulfric crater lake!
kids. However, we were happy to be having a little vacation with the volunteers.
Our day started with the 6am ferry to the mainland. Just as the sun was peaking, we left on transport to the port. As the wind was whipping through my hair, I looked up from the back of the truck: stars slowly fading away and the sun slowly rising. I don't think I will miss the view and the truck rides. Too bad I can't ride in backs of trucks in MN...
Sleeping on the ferry brought us to San Jorge. We were happy to be fed by the NPH office. Since they knew of our arrival, we were given pancakes for breakfast! These were the best things I have eaten all week! As I let the buttery goodness slide down my throat, I was pleased it wasn't beans and rice again.
The kids also performed their folk dance for us! They were getting ready for their tour to the states in April and were happy to show us what they had learned. We had front row seats. Seeing them dance and smile was beautiful. They looked so charming in their dresses, hats, makeup,
The deepest, cleanest, water
Lonely Planet calls Apoyo's water the "deepest, cleanest, water in Nicaragua."
and flowers. It was their time to shine. From there on out, we were on our way to paradise in Laguna de Apoyo.
Our drives are never complete without some form of errand. Because often, when there are trips to the city, we have to get as much done in that period of time as possible. We stopped in Rivas to open bank accounts. However, because the banks were all shut down the day before, we encountered long lines. To exchange money, it took me 40 minutes in line! The director, Raul, was also with us. Feeling bad for the wait, he bought us snacks and cold water. And, because Raul is very nice, instead of taking public transport to Laguna de Apoyo, our driver brought us the whole way. Along the way, we stopped in Jinotepe, the future of NPH home Casa Santiago. Once funds are complete, a multimillion-dollar project, the kids will be much closer to Managua, home to other NPH kids. It is also close to San Jorge, home to the little children. It is strengthening NPH's mission to bring the whole family closer. Picking this land in Jinotepe was definitely a smart move. Roaming this green
The large ceremony down the dirt streets of Las Salinas led us to the church.
hilly land was nothing like the land NPH owns currently: brown and flat. The future home is bigger, greener, and prettier. It offers great views of Volcano Mombacho, not as active as Concepcion. It is also about equal distance from Managua and San Jorge, where NPH has kids. I automatically felt at home in this new land, knowing it will serve and kids and future volunteers very well. And, it is beautiful. I would want my retirement home to be built on that land.
Raul was proudly showing us around, content that he had chosen just the right spot.
Around an hour later, we find ourselves along dirt roads, asking for directions. Here in Nicaragua, people say what you are looking for is only 200 meters away, even if that means a two-minute or two-hour walk! If they are not sure, they will make up something up. That's how difficult finding your way around is. Along the way, we see a large string strung across the road. Two kids are holding it up, at either end. They demand a payment before we can pass. Wow. Apparently, this is quite common. How else will they get their money I wonder?
Beth's Nican Family
Living with Orlando's family for the weekend in Las Salinas was like stepping back in time. It was wonderful.
We give them water bottles and they let us pass.
We then arrive to a spot where it is a straight up or down shot...gravel and rock piles zig zagging the road. We ask the construction worker where the Laguna is. He says up. Up we go, thanking ourselves that our driver is driving with 4-wheel drive! A skinny dirt road lines our path for a while with tall tress on either side of us. I feel like a mouse in a maze...we cannot see above the walls and just follow what we know to be in front of us. We don't really know where we are going. We see few people and ask for directions, all of which are as lousy as those before. It is during this whole process that I find out that the laguna is not Laguna de Pollo (chicken). It is Laguna de Apoyo...okay...much less funny sounding. After finding a main road and finding some tourist signs, we finally find this place. We are at the top of the volcano and in a circle like at the parking garage where you circle down to the paying counter from the 16th floor, we circle down
Kids in Las Salinas
These kids became my friends for the weekend.
this crater, to find ourselves at the bottom with a big volcanic lake staring at us. We are so happy to have found it! Welcome to Nicaraguan national park/paradise!
We are so excited, we run into the hostel we have picked out. Since all rooms are booked, the only thing open is the cabana, which happens to be the honeymoon suite! We are in paradise and all quickly change in the luxurious cabana to get into our bikinis. We hop into this volcanic lake, which receives a constant supply of sulfur from its deep vents below. It is the deepest and cleanest crater in Nicaragua. And, we are swimming in it! The hostel offers a walking dock, kayaks, tubes, and a great view...the water is warm and inviting. The constant waves of the water rock our bodies and tubes to its soothing yet fun rhythm. The short walk to the pulperia stand consists of a wooden shack. From this we have to buy our meal for the evening. No grocery stores in this crater! One meal choice was offered: noodles and vegetables. At night, we fall asleep on hammocks on the deck in the hostel, enjoying the full moon
Girls Just Want to Dress Up
Probably the only time they get out their nice clothes, us girls were excited to wear our party dresses for the big wedding! (Las Salinas)
over the crater lake, dreaming about the waves as they rock us to sleep. It felt like being at the lake in MN, only this one was quite special and unique. Since my camera is broken, I cannot take any pictures. Good thing my friends have taken some I will share with you later.
After only one night in this paradise, I use my free morning to kayak to the other side of this crater...quite the distance! However, I am not disappointed in what I find: lush forests and clear water. I can hear monkeys in the forests and birds chirping.
The group checks out and it is time for half of us to go on our first break. Before we do, we stop in Granada for lunch. Being in Granada was very comforting, as I was here about a year ago on vacation with the Sampers, a family I know in Nicaragua. Seeing the bright, bold yellow church was great, the same as it was a year ago, exactly as I remember it. Being in the hustle and bustle of this city by day offered a different view than last year, as I was here by night and a short one at that. We saw many large tourist groups and older people wearing golf hats. We ate at a very touristy restaurant. Because I was craving meat, I ordered a hamburger and fries. American food at last! No more gallo pinto...However, when my meal came out, I was easily disappointed. A shabby slice of meat on a skinny bun...it was even worse than the hamburger on the dollar menu at McDonalds. Word of advice: Don't order hamburger in Nica. This is now the second time I have done it, and you won't be happy...Go with the local fruit...more food for your price. After eating my less than satisfying hamburger, we walk to the bus area and are a little bit behind schedule. We literally ran to catch the last bus to Rivas, the transport center of the region. We were running towards the back of the bus, throwing our bags to the men and getting on. Quite a classy way to get on...and I believe the bus was still moving part of the time...
Since most seats were full, I had to sit on a seat sliding around. It wasn't grounded into the floor, meaning it slid left and right, up and down...It was the most uncomfortable ride in Nica so far. About an hour and a half to Rivas in this bus...and along the way, as with all public buses in Nica, we get live infomercials coming on board, selling their food or gadgets whenever we stop. The smells of the food make me sick, and I am constantly being bumped in the head from them moving back and forth on the skinny aisle.
Rivas, good to see you. We get off and this is where the group splits.
I have opted to go with another American volunteer to a tiny town called Las Salinas. She knows a family there. However, because we missed the last bus, we spend a night in the office in San Jorge. We catch a taxi with some of our friends to the office. The taxi driver has no idea where he is going. However, I am glad to have been in the taxi with our coordinator, who knows how to negotiate a fair price. In Nicaragua, you are not charged by distance...like three people can split the bill. Each driver has his or her own system. Usually, each person pays something. More people means more money, even if this means shoving 6 people into the 3-person back seat. This is why in Leon, a man was shoved on my lap in the taxi to the bus terminal. Well, we had a full taxi...and we arrived at the office. That night, Beth and I would be spending the night there, leaving on the early bus to Las Salinas in the morning. From the office, the other volunteers took the ferry back to the island, leaving Beth and I locked outside of our bed that night, as Raul was not back yet. Our entire important luggage sat outside. All we could do at this point was play with the kids. The kids at the office in San Jorge are special, as during break, they don't have family to go back to. Other kids go to aunties and grandparents. The kids at the office are there over break because they have nowhere else to go.
In general at NPH, I am very honored that the kids trust us so quickly, so quick to give us hugs. They crave personal touch, and that means if they see someone, they will hug you. They just want to be loved. One particular boy was so quick to open up to me. Almost not knowing how to deal with it, I offered to teach him salsa dancing. He was so grateful to learn the leader's part as I danced the woman counterpart. He was so proud of himself for having learned a useful skill that not all his friends know about!
We ate dinner with the kids, in the dark, since outside, they have no electricity. I had no idea what I was eating actually. Raul finally came back, but with a surprise. He quickly showed us our sleeping quarters for the night, Father Wasson's guest room. What an honor. Padre Wasson was the founder for NPH, having past away now. We were in his guest chambers, stocked with a full bathroom with hot water, mini kitchen, mini living room with lazy boys, and a large comfortable bed. Raul also offered to let us use his Internet in his personal office. What a wonderful director. When we were finally settled in, Raul showed us his surprise. The reason he was late coming back was because he was in Managua at a prison. He showed us three refugees from Africa. They were in political exile in Africa and somehow they end up in a prison in Nicaragua. I guess the government didn't know where else to place them. Being the man he is, Raul somehow found them in Managua and signed the papers so that NPH could have them. There are more coming he says, but three for now. Like adoption, but not as long, the paper process can take some time. However, think about the irony: three Africans who can hardly speak English or Spanish, now with NPH Nicaragua, serving as tios, or uncles, to the pequenos in the houses in Managua! God often brings circumstances and people together to allow something great to happen. I guess this is how we got to introduce three Africans into NPH Nicaragua!
Early the next morning at breakfast, Beth and I run into a few Americas. One of them was Jayden, a Minnesotan who is the sub director for the NPH house on the island. Like visiting the touristy beaches, it was nice seeing another American who could speak English. The other visitor was Sister Phyllis, who took me to get my luggage in Managua a few weeks earlier! She was on route to Costa Rica to renew her visa. She offered to drop us off in Rivas. However, we had to wait before we were allowed to leave with the driver. Here in Nicaragua, you wait forever for things, but when they arrive, you leave hastily. Wait wait wait and then, quick and leave...it is a very weird system. So, Beth and I quick quick quick left the office. Once in Rivas, I had to tell the cashier at the grocery store that no, I did not want a bag for my stuff, charging me more. He charged three bags on my bill and still did not give me all my change back. Apparently, giving small change back is not important here. They demand full payment, but do not give full payment back from larger bills you pay with...and those small cents add up over time, even after a year.
The ride to Las Salinas was just as uncomfortable as the last bus ride...although my seat was fastened firmly on the ground. Of course, there were live infomercials or sellers on our bus at every stop...the sweaty people and smell of food made me sick...I feel like they are being inconsiderate, for trying to sell me stuff I obviously do not need. However, they are just doing their jobs, giving food to people who want it. There were actually quite a few who bought stuff.
The ride to Las Salinas follows a rough and bumpy path that curves and twists a lot. It does not follow a straight highway by any means. This made for a hot and uncomfortable bus ride. However, I think I am used to them now. Since all the people on this bus live in the area, the only reason you would take a bus there, other than for surfing, was to go home. You have to know where to get off. The town is all dirt and residential, farmers. Beth knows where exactly to get off, just past the school and 200 meters from the church. We haul off our stuff and watch the dusty bus speed past us. Across the dirt street, there lies a house, and Beth's family. Las Salinas is like stepping back in time. There are no paved roads, most of the people farm, live in modest shacks, sometimes without running water or electricity. Pigs and roosters chase you. The family greets us as if they have welcomed back the prodigal son. As a stranger, I am welcomed and loved for right away. Showing us our sleeping quarters, I tell them I need to sleep. However, not before I eat. Paula makes us my favorite gallo pinto and some plantain chips for dipping. To go down with it, fresh fruit juice from the farm. This is accompanied by lots of talking. I politely excuse myself and say I need to sleep after such a long time in the bus...and I think it is the heat. I feel like I live in slow motion. Paula and Orlando do not live on the coast, so things are warmer and dryer.
Sleeping was great, although the noise of animals just outside my room keep me up. I wake up and we go to church, on a Thursday. Orlando, the father of the family, is a pastor of a church that Beth’s mission group made. We walk along dirt paths and in the middle of a field of grass lies the church. A cement structure. We set up stage, getting the chairs ready and setting up the electrical equipment. As church starts, we sing familiar songs I know from my days in church. Since this is not a Catholic church, it automatically feels more comfortable for me. People are raising their hands, slaying in the Spirit, and displaying heart felt connection with God. It was quite the experience. The building is not pretty by any means, just a cement structure, but I felt at home there and more importantly, God was present. In this tiny pueblo, or village, in this tiny church in the middle of nowhere in this field, God was present. After church, I talked with Orlando, and his journey to become a pastor, an unpaid position here in Nicaragua. We talked with their neighbors, one also a pastor. It was nice being in the presence of heart felt Christians hungry for God. Not after too long, I got too tired and went to bed. Orlando and Arial, the eldest son of the family, went to their farm to guard the wheat pile. They do this every night. They grabbed their machetes and were off.
The next day, I decided I would cook for the family, as a way of saying thank you for having me. I walked 45 minutes to the nearest larger pulperia, to get my ingredients. I would make tortilla espanola, my favorite Spanish dish from my time in Barcelona. I told Pabla not to worry about anything, as I would even clean up. She was so nice, letting me use her kitchen. When the meal was ready, all enjoyed it. They were so thankful as well. Orlando gave a speech that how in the Bible, the humble servants give of their time...and he went on and on. What a man of God...but they sure talk a lot. Earlier that day, the girls went to the beach. Since they have no car, we walked, for an hour. By car, it is a 15-minute drive and there is a bridge you go over, as a shortcut. On foot, you have to take the long way and there is no bridge. It was under water. After passing the salt flats, we come across the river. Some sticks thrown in and tied together serve as our bridge. One by one, we cross. However, that is only half our struggles. We have to wade through chest deep water and then we get to the beach...and the water is cold. Taking off my towel and dress, I wade in with my swimsuit...with my stuff over my head. Good thing we didn’t bring the camera. Bad idea...So, we cross, Nica style. The beach was paradise. Definitely the spot for surfers. The beach is very big, and lined with expensive hotels. I run in, as well as Beth, Aminta, and Maria. They wear their clothing. This is what the children at NPH do when they have no swimsuit...just go in with clothes. After battling hermit crabs, we make it to the water...and the waves are so much fun...I think I could jump waves all day and not get tired of them. Water is so healing as well...and this beach was so pretty...almost up there with Playa Maderas, where I was last year when I was in Nicaragua. Because I had to get back to cook that dinner, we leave. We wade through the chest deep water, holding our stuff over our heads as usual. Then, we get to the part where we have to cross the sticks. The tide went up and the sticks are now under water...so, very carefully, we cross...and I slip and cut my leg...I am okay though. The walk back seems shorter, although still 45 minutes to an hour.
After being woken up by the roosters at 4am, I get up. Today is the day of the wedding. I do some laundry before, using the old fashioned washboard. Quite the system I may say...and it works. The wedding starts at 3pm with a large procession through the main drag of town. The whole town accompanies the procession to the church where the bride is waiting. At the front of the line, a flag girl. Then, a girl with a Bible open. Then, 22 pairs of groomsmen and bridesmaids...22...and at last the groom. The 20-minute walk to the church feels like a parade that I am apart of. The wedding was beautiful, much like an evangelical church service, with praise and worship songs and a long sermon. Only at the very end did the couple say their wedding vows. The party was really fun, with gallo pinto for dinner...what a surprise. Apparently, even for weddings, they still serve the same ordinary food. No dancing though...I was quite disappointed. I was expecting some good regatton or salsa dancing from the Nicaraguans...
That night, I got terribly sick. I had a bad case of diarrhea and vomiting all night. I did not sleep. When we rode the bus back to Rivas the next day, I felt worse, especially since I did not have use of a bathroom when I wanted for two hours. I purposefully say next to the window. When the sellers came on with their food, it was enough to make me feel queasier...and at one point along the bumpy dirt road, I lost it again. Good thing I had bags with me. Finally on mainland, I get some water and crackers...and breath. It annoys me that while I am in this pain, there are men bugging me asking me where I am going, as we were at the bus terminal...All I wanted to go was lie down...but was here in this heat instead. We take a taxi to the ferry and wait for a few hours for the next available ferry. That was more fun, battling huge waves. It is windy this time around, which means fierce waves on this big lake. All the people on the ferry have their heads down in their arms, hanging onto the seat in front of them, not being able to take the high waves. Water splashes in. Man, this is not going to be fun. On top of this, a gory vampire movie is playing. While feeling sick and queasy, I hear blood and guts and terrible things in my ears. I look up and see all the little boys enjoying it...After a couple of trips to the bathroom, we get off the ferry and away from the stormy seas. We find out that the next bus leaves in three hours. Frustrated, we leave with a tour company who agrees to take us for more than 70 cents, the price of the bus. He will take us for a dollar. We go. After being dropped off at the gate, it is a 25-minute walk to the volunteer house, all the way to the back...Now you may understand why getting around is hard on the island and especially with NPH. Things are so spread out here and there are few vehicles.
Tired and exhausted, and mad for letting myself drag my laptop with me on this vacation everywhere, we reunite with the others. It is nice to talk about our journeys. We find out that our coordinator hit his head diving into shallow water, head first, and was in terrible pain. He couldn’t move his upper body. Another volunteer got the flu. Yet another fractured her foot while surfing...and I got the diarrhea and vomiting. At night, I hear our coordinator across the hall screaming in pain at times...So, all handicapped, this has been an interesting week for us all. Our coordinator goes to the hospital in Managua to get things checked out. Via a late night delivery message from NPH driver, we find out he needs to go back to Germany, where he is from, to get surgery. We were all shocked and sad, for now we have lost our coordinator and couldn’t say goodbye to him. Life here is never predictable.
I have been trying to get my mind off the chaos and prepare for my year. Upon meeting with the director of the school, I find out that she thought there were two volunteer English teachers. After telling her I am the only one, she is surprised. After some hesitation, I tell her to give me all the students, for I want as many as possible to learn English. Now, I have a full schedule. This is not on top of the clubs I want to start, as well as my obligation as a tia or auntie to the kids after school and the English classes we are offering at night.
I clean my classroom and think of ideas for lessons. Since I have no files or archives to look through of past years, and since I am the only teacher this year, my job is very difficult. NPH in Guatemala has a team of 3 English teachers and a full archive of past years in the English class, as well as files on each child. My job is harder, and now with double the amount of students I originally was assigned. I have no idea who my students are, except that there are about 15 of them from each grade, 2nd through 7th grade that I will be teaching this year.
Amidst the stress of planning a year that looks murky and has no direction at the moment, Volcan Concepcion was cloudless one day this week. It is never like that...There are always fierce clouds over its mouth of ash and gasses...but today it was clear on top. I was able to see its mouth, foaming...What a beautiful site. And, since I didn’t have a working camera with me, I couldn’t take a picture. Volcanoes are beautiful forms of art that have so much depth. I do not think I will get tired of looking at them, ever. And, here in Nicaragua, I have 16 to enjoy, two in my backyard.
On anther note, a gecko slipped into the director’s computer hard drive. It killed the hard drive and gave it fire and flames. Once the directors got in, they found a trashed and smoky hard drive, along with a burned gecko. Talk about crazy...Hey, we are in Nicaragua...anything can happen.
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Michelle, Oh my you can surely tell a story. After reading your entry it was like I was there. Love as always, DAD
Couldn't help to comment
Hey, I see you're keeping yourself busy and enjoying your time in Nicaragua. That's great! However, what's wrong with having gallo pinto (rice and beans) everyday??!?!?!?!??!!?!?!? isn't it the best food ever? :P Jorge
I know what gallo pinto is silly... Adios (goodbye) :) Michelle