Unbelievably, we are hurtling towards the midpoint in our stay in Nicaragua and are now a third of the way through. This is slightly terrifying when we consider how much work is left to do, but having now selected everyone who needs to benefit from the projects, all we are waiting for is the materials to arrive. We might even start building the first eco stoves this week.
Last week there was a mouse in my bed. I was tucked up in my mosquito net, reading a book when I heard a noise nearby. I looked up and there, one foot from my face, scurrying across the edge of my bed and outside the mosquito net was a mouse! I jumped and yelled and the mouse ran away. I went outside and, mouth agape, said to my host mum ” there’s a mouse in my bed”. She barely reacted, nodded and said they are in the house and steal her beans. Then she vaguely said something about fumigating it. Continue reading “Mice, rice and feeling nice”→
Toilets. Ohhh toilets. Bright White porcelain toilets cleaned until they shine with some sterilising bleach. The gentle scent of Ocean Wave or Pine or Fresh Linen. A welcoming wooden seat that’s warm and comfy on a cold bum. Ooooh! Three ply toilet paper…what a treat! Look at that reliable chrome toilet flush that washes away all the bad memories. How convenient that your sink is so nearby. Cold water or hot water!? Oh what the hell, let’s use both until we get the perrrrrfect hand washing temperature. What soap shall I use!? Why not the fancy Imperial Leather soap that is full of glitter and smells like Christmas. Dry your hands on a warm, fluffy towel. Potter around – take your time! It smells like angels in here and if somebody else needs the toilet, you have ANOTHER. ACTUAL. WORKING. TOILET. DOWNSTAIRS! Take a few minutes for some Me Time. Gaze at your spotty face in the mirror. Have a chat with the nautical themed decorations – as after all, your bathroom has walls, may as well decorate them! Why don’t you run yourself a nice warm bath, you deserve it. Or a luxurious long shower with warm water and lots of bubbly shampoo and body wash that smells like strawberries. Why don’t you keep your big towel on the radiator so it’s warm when you get out? Step onto the bath mat so you don’t get water on those pretty turquoise tiles. Hmmm you smell delicious, now take once last sniff because….
ITS TIME TO WAKE UP!
Time to answer the question on everybody’s lips…
WHAT IS A LATRINE!?
Where we are living in Nicaragua, they don’t really have running water – they get all their water from a hose which is attached to the village’s central water source. They fill up buckets from the hose and carry them to wherever they need them. Needless to say, they do not have an indoor bathroom. The latrine is the toilet and it doesn’t need any water. It sits in pride of place in the yard and looks like a medieval tardis: a tin cubicle on a cement block. Our host family are, as far as I can tell, relatively well off for the village, which means our latrine is a fancy one with a chimney coming out the top. Inside is what looks like an upturned concrete flower pot, with a big hole, and this is the toilet. Don’t look into the toilet!! Oh, okay, if you’re feeling curious, like I was, then hold your nose and have a quick peep. Far down below in the murky darkness is a huge pile of human poo, wee etc. I know that you’re thinking – doesn’t that smell!? Well why yes, it does! BREATHE THROUGH YOUR MOUTH. No, seriously. Breathe through your mouth. Don’t put paper down there, you just put your paper in a cardboard box at your feet and every few days the host family burn it on a fire by the pigs and the coffee bean tree. Most of the family spend their day sitting outside the kitchen on the small veranda, and they seem to quite enjoy watching us walk to and from the latrine.
Seeing as there’s no indoor bathroom, you also shower outdoors. Well, actually, the first day we asked where the shower was they giggled a to me and said “there is no shower here….”, but I don’t know what else to call it so I keep saying shower. It’s right by our bedroom. The walls are made of tarpaulin and there’s no roof. The door seems to be an old Pizza Hut advert. Inside the floor is made of rocks and there are two big barrels of water and a red bowl. You pour the water from the barrel over your head, using the bowl, and you nearly die of shock as it’s so cold! Showers are brief! Then you potter back to your mud house and think, am I actually ANY cleaner!? Until one day you try not showering and you realise showering is important. Nicaraguans are generally shorter than British people (though theyregularly remind me that there are some tall Nica men if I fancy finding myself a chico) so the shower walls aren’t that high. When I stand up my head pops out the top. This means everyone can see me but it also means I get an enchanting view of the surrounding country sides, palm and mango trees, distant hilltops and grunting pigs. It’s lovely.
As well as showing us the ins and outs of the bathrooms here, our host family have been making a huge effort to make me and my housemate feel welcome. They’ve made loads of different foods to see what we like, have taught us how to make tortillas from scratch, traditional biscuits, how to hand wash clothes, sweep the floor and wash up (somehow I knew how to do these things in England but everything Is different here.) Then, one lunch time this week, one of our host aunties came to us with two little bags and said, we have some gifts for you! We felt shocked as we really didn’t deserve a gift as we are such liabilities. My housemate opened hers first- a pretty jewelled headband as she likes to wear headbands. Then I opened mine. I had two gifts. The first, on top, was a pair of nice earrings. Tucked underneath was – yes, you guessed it, because what else would you buy your sweet English lodger?!? – a black G-string. Yep. Imagine opening that at the dinner table! My host aunty then informed me it was my dear little old Nicaraguan grandma who had picked it out. So random.
Some people have been asking what we have actually been doing here in terms of work. There are weekly updates on work on the Progressio website blog but I know you muchachos cba to go over there, so here’s an overview. The project consists of making the El Bramadero community more resistant to the impact of Climate Change. This means giving them more varied sources of food by building allotments, providing them with stoves that require less wood to burn, and making a number of water filters. The water here is super contaminated with E-coli and other dangerous chemicals. The water filters are made of sand, pebbles and carbon and eliminate contamination. SO COOL! This week we have been doing surveys to find out where the most vulnerable families are, but as there are four cycles of volunteers here, basically every family will benefit in some way from the projects in the end. We also run community events and educational activities, like English lessons and educating people about climate change. Life here is incredibly hard, so we are feeling motivated to try to do some things that will help. God knows what they think about us trying to help, seeing as from their point of view we don’t even know how to sweep a floor, but being a good worker is 90% enthusiasm…right ? RIGHT!?
WHERE to begin when talking about how our first week in El Bramadero!? I will start with where I am now, sitting in my bedroom. Today the group have gone on this massive 4 hour hike but I can’t go because…well… regular fans will be more than familiar with how my body reacts to unusual new diets. Let’s just say nobody deserves to spend this much time up close and personal with a latrine. But guys you should never let a bad tummy get you down so I’m using this time to record my adventures.
El Bramadero is the community we are living in and it is in the hills of northern Nicaragua. It took about five hours to drive here from the capital, but I don’t think it’s actually that far, it’s just our minibus driver never went faster than about 30mph, which I didn’t complain about because that’s how I drive! Because we are up top in the mountains, the weather here is absolutely glorious. Deep blue skies, sun and a cool breeze. The countryside is also totally lush and green, despite the fact we learnt this week that Nicaragua is now entering its third year of extreme drought. Those in the know refer to El Bramadero as “El Bram”, which is what I’m going to do henceforth as I am basically a local now.
Everyone I’ve asked knows that there are 163 families living in El Bram, but nobody seems to have any idea how many actual people there are, which I find absolutely fascinating. We live in the middle of the village, by the road. Nobody has told me this but I’m pretty convinced that our host family are Big Names in the Community. How can I describe the house….well, with the houses, the first time you see them it kind of takes your breath away because it’s like going back in time. They remind me of a cross between the Black Country Living Museum and a petting zoo. Then after a couple of days you seem to realise everything works pretty well and maybe it’s not actually as basic as it first appears. By Day 6 I’m feeling well accustomed.
Our bedroom is in an outhouse made of mud and wood, looking out onto the yard. The floor is earth packed down neatly. Me and my roommate have single beds adorned with a fetching, fluorescent orange mosquito nets which we quite like as it makes us look like princesses. Then we have a table, chair and a bench to put things on. There is one window that looks out onto some green trees and hills, and there’s no glass in it so when you open the wooden shutter all the bugs fly in. Because we are princesses we have named our room El Torre – The Tower.
On the other side of the yard is the kitchen and the rest of the house. The kitchen has a wood burning stove in the corner that seems to be made of concrete or something. The women spend most of their day in there, making tortillas or soaking beans or grinding coffee. If I had to compare the home to a fictional place I would say Cold Comfort Farm, but I think that could mean we are staying in the Woodshed which is a bit daunting so maybe let’s forget I ever mentioned it…
Now hopefully I have painted quite a beautiful image of the area. It looks so pretty doesn’t it!? One of those places that looks so nice on photos. Or in silent movies. Or basically any medium where there is NO NOISE. Oh my god the noise. People here get up early and crank out the reggaeton and turn on their motorbikes and are quite noisy. At the moment they are doing some basic road works outside with a tractor. But this human noise is truly nothing compared to the sound of the animals. Right now, outside my window the family dog who is too naughty to be let loose is crying. She’s chained to a fence post. I’ve tried to cheer her up but she only likes me when I sneakily feed her chicken bones under the dining table. The dog sets off the rooster. The rooster is our most hated animal. He struts around cockadoodledooing and bothering the hens. And he wakes up BEFORE dawn. I mean he wakes up at like 3 am and then proceeds to wake up all the other roosters in the nearby vicinity and they have a screaming match for about three hours and it’s a wonder nobody shoots them all. If I go outside my room the family´s baby cow stands munching and staring accusingly at me. Him and his mother like to moo but they don’t do it too often. If I wander to the latrine (which I seen to be doing far too regularly right now) one of the three family pigs might come and disturb me with its grunting. There’s also three horses and two bunny rabbits and a parrot that pooed on my head yesterday. After the rooster has made his wake up call, the animals seem to get up at about 5am, and then our host mother starts to work at about 5.30. Then they potter around grunting mooing whining chirping clucking pooing until the sun sets. Our host mum has a charming granddaughter called Marjory who liked to sit with us. She’s about 13 and spends her day helping with housework. We complained to her about the noise and she giggled and said “ah! That’s Nicaragua!” I’ve never lived with so many animals and even though they’re noisy I do still think they are kind of cool.
Theres so much more to say but I will finish now…. tune in next week when I will answer the question on everybody´s lips…. WHAT IS A LATRINE?
Good news to all at home: I am still alive. Most of you already know this because, despite warning my adoring fans that I would be without internet for the next three months, we arrived and it turned out we have constant WiFi in the hotel we are staying in. This week we have been training together before we arrive in our communities. It has involved untold luxuries. I’m talking: flushing toilets. Fruit juices at lunch. Showers. Air con. One day we even got a fruit bun at break time. This ALL ENDS TOMORROW!!!
Tomorrow we head to our communities. This is where we will be living and working for the next three months. There will also be a group of Nicaraguan volunteers from that community who we work with, and they have been training with us this week. Everyone keeps reminding us that these communities are “really rural”. From our probing questions this seems to mean, there’s no supermarket, there’s very little plumbing and the showers are buckets with cups to pour the water over your head. (Disappointing as I thought a bucket shower was a bucket with holes in the bottom like a shower head). Mainly we are concerned with the “latrines” (aka long drop toilets) and the fact that you can feel the flies hitting your bum while you wee…???! Don’t worry I will update you on these issues ASAP.
I’m nervous about the communities not only because of the latrines. When I studied in Cuba we stayed in a home stay, like we will be here, but our home stay family weren’t very friendly and our home stay cook wasn’t very good at cooking …. She also scared the hell out of me. However, it turns out the leader of the Nicaraguan volunteer group is my home stay mum’s granddaughter AND she brought us some cookies that her grandma had made AND they tasted like a cross between a digestive biscuit and a dorito. For some reason, this combination is delicious. Hopefully it is a good omen.
Nobody else in my group speaks Spanish so I am now head translator, which I’m hoping means by March I will be much better at Spanish. Its dinner time now, so I will leave you with this one note… When they told us we would eat rice and beans for every meal, they weren’t joking. Rice for breakfast. Rice for lunch. Rice for tea. I’m not complaining about this yet (too soon to complain now!) But I am genuinely taken aback that people have rice for breakfast!!!!