Boxers or Briefs?
Day 77 in Ocotal/Mozonte
12 August 2012
Today is day 77 of my time in Nicaragua and yesterday was my birthday, also a double digit, and I spent the day helping to sort between 700 and 900 pairs of cotton bikini briefs into 200 plastic bags - one of a number of basic items that had been donated by vendors in the town of Ocotal to supplement other basic food items (such as beans, rice, un-roasted coffee, cooking fat and corn) used in creating care packages for entrants into the town's annual donkey parade.
The parade is happening today and I will miss it, sadly, since I am traveling south to teach The Ariel Group's work in Buenos Aires. I wrote about the goals of the parade in an earlier blog (May 30, 2012) and I will publish pictures when I get back. In the meantime, I am imagining the smiles and saucy comments in some 200 remote and simple homes around Ocotal when the farmers share their care package with wives, daughters and the rest of the family. At least that is what I imagine will happen based on the reactions of the five army boys who had been seconded into helping us sort the "ever-so-European" briefs. I got the impression that these would not pass muster in the barracks back on base!
Still this little anecdote speaks volumes to the range of experiences and activities to which I am exposed - as m' Mam used to say: "never a dull moment". It continues to feel like I am on the right path, even if it is sometimes a little unclear and obscure. For those that work with angels (and I haven´t), the number 7 " apparently symbolizes humanity's deep inner need to find depth, purpose, meaning and spiritual connection." The number 77 is even more significant, as you can read at this link. And this was the week to have some of this confirmed.
Showing relative locations of Ocotal, Dipilto and Mozonte
I have been trying for weeks to meet formally with the Executive Director, but with her outrageoulsy busy schedule and my few commitments just missing the few open slots in her calendar, we have had no luck...until Thursday of this week, when we sat down for what was an important heart-to-heart, at least for me. And at just the right time. I had lost my cool the day before with one of the teaching staff. Not nearly as bad as my outbursts back in the corporate world when "princess" would be a better description of my behavior. But certainly sufficient to communicate my underlying frustration and disappointment...as usual, mostly with my own lack of impact and the slowness of of any change in those or the situations I was trying to influence. Clearly all "my issues".
We used a "slow" day to catch up - a day when we were going to celebrate my birthday, the birthday of one of the teaching staff and the arrival of a group of donors from Hartford, CT in the USA - driving up to a coffee farm north of Dipilto (approximatly the marker on the map), closer to the Honduras border (the white line running horizontally along the map to the right.)
I came away from the meeting with a clear list of priority areas to focus on and some real deliverables, but I still felt low, introspective and doubtful, in spite of the enormous efforts everyone had gone to to create a special party on the coffee farm. The day was marred only by a lack of electricity, which meant we had to forgo the usual cultural dancing. Not that the lack of music or light stopped the bugs from biting wth a vengeance to match the worst of the worst bug-biting experiences.
A coffee farm in Las Segovias
My mood changed the following day when I had a phenomenal design meeting with one of the teaching staff and a new facilitator, where we all got clearer and clearly excited with some changes to the design of a leadership program we are developing for young leaders as they exercise their rights to ask for information relating to municipal budgets and projects.
And then I got to co-translate for the visiting donors from Hartford, CT - a shared responsibility with one of the visitors who was fluent in Spanish - something I had never done before. It felt like a significant step along the long and sometimes tortuous path towards becoming bi-lingual. We met with representative students who were the recipients of their sponsorship - ranging in age from 11 to 20-something. Powerful and humbling testaments to the power of even small donations and the impact they can have on an individual's life.
We visited the homes of two of the boys, miles along unpaved, windy, hilly and almost impassable roads - in fact the last 1/4 mile was completely unpassable in the truck we were riding in. These two students were recipients of modest grants that helped them in transportation to and from their remote homes to the closest secondary school, a 4-hour journey on foot. With the money they receive, they are able to purchase and maintain bikes that not only get them to and from school, but that support the family in a myriad of ways. For example, one of the family members makes daily trips to the market (every day except Sunday) to sell her tamales to support the family.
Making the tamales is a family affair. The men grow the corn, the women shuck, sort, grind and cook the corn into tamales, and one of them sell the tamales...and the boy carries the basket of tamales to the main road every day for his mother. She will walk the 1.5+ miles to the road but the bike, serving double duty, will carry her tamales for the market as far as the road where she can catch a taxi (50 cents to the town). Another boy will carry up to 50 oranges for his mother from their farm, also to sell in the market. We heard how the boys will change out of their mostly-pristine uniforms when they get home to do their other chores (e.g. collecting wood for cooking) while it is still light, before settling down to do their homework by kerosene lights in the home. The uniforms will last three days before they are washed in the little water that there is that will be carried by hand from the communal pump at the bottom of their farmland.
Apart from a powerful day rich in experiences, sharing and generous gestures of open-hearted hospitality, what was especially exciting for me was the beginning of discussions about the possibility of visiting Hartford to make presentations about the institute and its work as a way to engage more people in the work they do in the local community in Las Segovias, all towards the goal of raising more money for youth education sponsorships. This feels like a valuable use of my latent skills and one where outcome may be directly related to my input. A link about the institute's work in English can be found here, and on selected other pages of the website by clicking on the language option.
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.