Clearly pleased with myself about something!
Day 3 in Ocotal
May 30, 2012
I have arrived, and a journey that started over two years ago with the death of my Mother, has brought me to Ocotal, a Nicaraguan, picturesque town 20 kms from the border or Honduras in an area known as Las Segovias - a department within the Northern Region of the country.
And this is to be my home for the next six months or so, with occasional visits out of the country to teach workshops for The Ariel Group.
I am fortunate to have family friends who have alway lived in the town, so I have a base (in the home of Ivania) from which to study Spanish (bless them for their patience!); to learn and come to appreciate another country, culture, and people; and hopefully to be able to learn and volunteer in a small Leadership Institue that has big ideas: El Instituto de Liderazgo de las Segovias. I will find out shortly how much I have to learn and what I am going to be able to do.
For the moment, I sit here anxiously waiting for the Director and Founder - Haydeé Isabel Castillo Flores - to pick me up to take me to the institute. I am reminded of my first day at a new school and it feels strange and a little silly to be so old and nervous.
Already I have had a rich and fascinating introduction to Ocotal. A day speaking nothing but Spanish with a young aid worker, Osman, visiting his sites and favorite countryside. The patience of saint with my limited Spanish.
First to a visit to a maternity home for farmer's wives (and sadly unmarried and too often under-age mothers-to-be) in the heart of Ocotal - a sanctuary also for abused women and girls. The challenges of providing pre-natal and post-natal care to nomads and villagers who live more 12 hours (8 on foot) from this, the closest maternity center is enormous. Layer this with important and cultural beliefs on preferred birthing positions, women who have never let their husbands see them naked, let alone a male stranger in a white coat, and an inherent fear of hospitals, and you have an enormous cultural bridge to cross.
Then to a computer school that survives on donated computer and charges $2 per month for unlimited classes, followed by a conversation with two women who provide sex education to the youth of Ocotal and its surroundings, since this subject is seldom tackled in schools and almost never by parents in the poorer communities. Couple this with inherited experiences of sexual and physical abuse, all in in a country with some of the strictest and most advanced women's rights laws that don't always seem to trickle down to those that need it most.
From desperate situations that are being tackled with compassion, a resilience and a lack of resources that would send any CFO in the US back to a liberal arts college, I was taken by bus to Dipilto, both a new and an old town in the forests close to Ocotal. A place for coffee! There are a few "snapshots" of the area in the photos. Who would have thought that roofs could become a focus for the study of a region.
And the day ended with a meeting of the town committee (self-appointed) to discuss their next community event - a parade of the donkeys from the farms around Ocotal. My brain was fried by the end of the day - actually more like a mush of indescribable root vegetables that might have been at one time the healthiest item on our dinner plates at boarding school - neither English nor Spanish words would drop into my addled brain - but from the review provided by the ever-patient aid worker, Osman, I learned that the farmers bring their donkeys to town to enter them in a competition for the best cared-for donkey. Since this animal is a crucial component of their ability to farm and provide food for their families, the parade and celebration not only connects the community to the town, but provides a relevant way to train the farmers in the proper care of their animals and to provide them with a gift of basic food essentials - a "prize" for simply entering the donkeys in the competition. Such grass roots problem solving is humbling to witness and reminds me even more that at the beginning of this experience, I have little to offer and so I begin by listening and learning.
I sold house, car and most of my furniture to move to the small town of Ocotal in Las Segovias on the Honduras/ Nicaragua border.