So as many of you know I haven’t blogged in awhile, well the problem was the computer in my community was broken. However it is fixed now, so hopefully Ill get back to writing. This one is going to be quite long. The plan is first an update on what has happened in the last six weeks and then I’m going to write up a packing list.
Why a packing list? Well since I have now been down here almost 10 and a half months that means the next group of Ag volunteers should be heading down in a little over a month. This first year has flown by so quickly it’s incredible. Peace Corps does provide us with a packing list, however it is not sector or country specific, in other words it’s about worthless. So anyway in my planning last year it would have been extremely helpful. Also I think this ill give everyone else a little peak into what it takes to get by down here.
So up first the monthly update…
First off, the horse is still awesome. The only problem is I think I will put back on some weight because of him because it has definitely cut my walking in half. But that’s a good thing. I have been surprised though by two things though: First, I thought traveling would be a lot quicker. However, that is not the case. Let’s just say my horse is missing the gas peddle, the break peddle works great though. On the normal hour trek he cuts off about 10 minutes. I guess that’s good, however not quite my like my old Mustang. Second, riding a horse is still a workout, its not quite like sitting in a car. I’m past the point of finding new muscles, which is good. Now I would equate it to riding a bike, your first sore from trying a new activity and then it’s the pain from actually exercising. See you still get an abs workout from balancing in the saddle and a leg workout both when the horse runs; it is more stable standing, and also climbing or going down a mountain.
Second set of news, my host sister got robbar´ed. What is robbar´ed? Well, I would compare it to running off to Las Vegas and getting married back in the US, however, minus the marriage part. See here in Nicaragua there is a strict set of rules that the daughters live with their family their entire life, or until a guy sweeps them off their feet. This includes two options, the traditional way where the guy asks the father of the bride for permission to marry his daughter, or in this case robarr´ed. When the boyfriend robbar´s the girl he essential asks the girl to run away with him, the problem is the guy doesn’t have enough money or desire to get married. Being robbar´ed is slightly scandalous and disrespectful to the girl’s parents.
In this case the guy lives in my community and is the leader of my youth group, which made it quite the sticky situation. See the couple has been dating for several months and everyone knew they were going to get married. But, I guess they just couldn’t wait until September to get married. Why September? Well September is the town’s patron saint day and thus the day for all baptismal, marriage or other religious ceremonies. She claims they will get married in September; however, the interesting part is now the church has restrictions on the marriage. For example, unlike the traditional wedding the veil can not go over the face also I believe their will be restrictions on the wedding dress.
Let me take a second and explain the running away part. Well the girl is a teacher in a town that is about an hour away from me. They were supposed to have a teacher appreciation day and thus no school. However, instead of returning home she ran off to Estelí, the closest major city, with him and had his family relay the message to her family. (Easy to see the disrespectful part!) An interesting little side note is that his family member that told her family was the preacher of our church, essential the preacher helped him get away with this. Doesn’t seem too religious now does it, which comes first God or family? Being that she is a teacher she does not spend the weekdays in the community, however, when she does come home for the weekend it is to a new home. See they must live with his family now until he is finished building his house. So I guess the next two months in their life will be quite active, finishing his house and planning a wedding. I am excited though as wedding equals…big party!!!
Well on to the work update. Being as we came into the rainy season the beans have been planted and we are actually about only two weeks from cultivating them. It seems like its going so fast, but they need to get the second planting in so it sounds like it will be an extremely busy month coming up.
As for the bean cooperative, I believe we got extremely lucky. For most of the past six months we were seriously losing money, about 20 to 30%. However, the market took a strong turn in the past month and we ended up making about 15 to 20% profit. The problem was that the president overpaid for the beans we bought. I tried to explain to him that if we would have wait a week we would have doubled our profit, however being the new guy in town he was not wanting to listen to me. Part of me is happy that they made profit; however, the other part of me wishes they would have broken even as it appears they will stick to their current buying strategy.
See the market is quite easy to understand it is a pure supply and demand market. As they cultivate their beans and take them to the market the price goes down. As we get towards planting season and people eat all the beans, the supply goes down and thus the cost goes up. The president of the cooperative purchased the beans early in the buying season and thus paid a premium for the beans. This was good for public relations, everyone loves that they got paid a good price for their beans. However, it takes away from the profits for the cooperative.
How do we fix this? Well we can still purchase the beans early in the season; however these should be sold immediately. You don’t win with high price merchandise in your stock room. Then purchase the beans a month later from the markets when the price goes down, store them for five months and sell them as we go back into planting season. Thus, you have the farmers happy for getting paid top dollar for their beans and the cooperative happy for maximizing profits. Now we will have to see if they will put my ideas into work.
Good news on the pig project!
As you might remember one of my first projects was a pig project for the entire community. This project was extremely delayed as the person from the organization that was in charge of the funding was either fired or quit. Thus the project was put on the back burner. Well good news, a new person was hired and just this week they came out to the community and gave the first of three presentations on maintenance of the pig. The plan is one more presentation on how to build the pig pens and then we will start the construction phase. Once we receive the pigs then we will receive the last presentation on health concerns for pigs. (I can’t say this is a presentation I thought I would receive during my life but I must say I am excited to get to working). Thus it looks like the project will be coming together and I will be getting extremely busy with that.
The biogas project has been a little slower. Right now we are researching the prices for construction materials. I am making them do this part so I can see how interested they are in the project before I front the money to go visit a site with the technology already in place. I figure if they are delayed in getting the prices they aren’t as interested as they say. The ball is in their court now…
Soccer field has crawled to a stop…
Well after two meetings to gather support to build the soccer field there was little interest in building the field. Thus I am still working on it however it is not project number one right now. Also, with the rains comes extreme weed growth. Right now, the land looks like the median of a highway that has been forgotten about for the last three years. I might just wait until dry season to get back to work.
Here’s some tips for the future volunteer…
This a combination of a list things I either brought down with me, have had friends bring down, or things I wish I had.
Clothes- As this will be what takes up most of your suitcase this is what I will talk about first. Bring clothes that are lightweight and quick drying. It is hot and during the rainy season it is extremely wet. Make sure all clothing is extremely durable, what an oxymoron that is but the truth is there are no washing machines down here. Thus, all clothes will be hand washed and thus beat up. After three months most of your clothes will have small holes. Plan for it and bring down durable clothing and extra clothing of things that wear easily, think socks.
Shirts- Bring lightweight shirts, I brought down two under armour shirts and I wear them all the time. Most Ag volunteers have at least a 20 minute walk to their site, or in my case an hour. Thus, the traditional cotton shirt is just way too hot. Also, bring a long sleeve shirt you can use while planting, whether your in coffee country or bean country it always good to get out in the fields some and to do this you need a long sleeve shirt.
Pants- The pants of choice for locals are jeans. I do wear shorts however I stick out like a sore thumb. One interesting note, many of the men wear dark colored pants, often times black. At first I just thought it was horrible fashion sense, not saying I have much fashion my self but come on…black colored jeans? Well since I got my horse I have found out why, see saddles are often tinted black and not to mention quite dirty. Well after an hour of riding, you pants are quite dirty and well black jeans do a great job of hiding that. So if you’re interested in getting a horse, a pair of dark pants isn’t a bad idea, I just don’t know if I would go as far as the black jeans.
Shoes- oh how crucial a couple pairs of good shoes and sandals are. You can buy shoes down here but besides from boots made in Estelí, which run for $50-100, the shoes down here are of poor quality or used. I brought down a pair of sandals for around the house, shower sandals, a pair of cross trainers, hiking boots and a pair of dress pants. Where I live it is extremely rocky, the land eats up shoes for dinner, the cross trainers lasted about six months.
Dress clothes- the manual calls for two or three pairs of dress pants, three dress shirts and a couple of ties. What a waste of suitcase room. While you do need to dress up for such events as swearing in, weddings or other special events these are few and far between. I recommend one pair of pants and two shirts, and screw the ties. This is more then sufficient. During training your family will do your laundry and you can easily find someone to do your wash in your community. I currently pay $7 per month for all my wash, bed sheets and all.
Rain Jacket- this is quite important. During the rainy season it rains EVERYDAY. Personally I think an umbrella is useless down here because the rain comes down in all direction and with extreme force. Thus an umbrella just won’t hold up down here; however some ladies do use them to block the sun.
Sweatshirts- I know most are thinking this is just unheard of down here in Nicaragua, its Central America. Well I can tell you the last thing I put in my suitcase was my favorite hooded sweatshirt, and that is one of the best decisions of my life. See I figured if nothing else it is comforting and I can use it for a pillow in dire situations. Well during the rainy season it gets COLD. I would definitely recommend one if not two sweatshirts. Many nights I sit in my hammock with my sweatshirt on and big smile on my face.
As for more of the comfort type items, as they say in the Peace Corps guide this is more important. You can buy clothes down here, they may be lesser quality or used, however you cannot find the latest copy of you favorite CD at the local Wal-Mart.
Water bottles- I would think for most of you its pretty obvious to bring a water bottle or two, I would recommend two. However, one thing to think about, I brought down two water bottles. The first is a traditional Nalgene, which you just can’t go wrong with. The second is a new fancy Camelbak, which I got for the fancy no drip mouthpiece. Well, it seems like the little kids like it as well as they are always trying to find out how the water comes out and thus trying to play with the mouthpiece, not the cleanest thing I have witnessed.
Computer, Playstation Portable, DVD player or other entertainment tools- I put my old computer in my suitcase knowing that during my two years down here it was probably going to die or I would just give it away if it was able to make it. However, on my first day down here I turned it on and it immediately died. What a waste of space and weight. For the first time in my life though I was lucky and the volunteer before me had a computer and left it in the community, thus I use that. Down here there is a really strong, shall we call it movie copying industry, and thus you can purchase most movies for only a dollar. Not a bad buy to get your mind off the fact that you’re in the middle of nowhere Nicaragua. I know other people have Playstation Portables or Gameboys and I can say I am extremely jealous, you can only read so many books before you get bored of reading. More then likely you won’t use these during training however they are life savers in the community.
Rechargeable batteries- I highly recommend these. Batteries are quite expensive down here and rechargeable batteries are just so easy. They are also great presents to give out to members of your community as well; they will love you and you also helping out the environment. Just keep the charger and they can bring you the batteries when they need charged.
Flashlight- flashlights are crucial as well. Those late night latrine runs are not fun when you forget your flashlight. I would recommend one classic handheld flashlight and one headlamp. Also make sure they take AAA or AA batteries so you can use rechargeable batteries.
Pocket knife/ multi-tool – I recommend bringing one of each. I use my pocket knife all the time, especially in the kitchen and a multi-tool can be used in an infinite number of situations.
Cell phone- many old cell phones work down here once you get them unblocked and put in a chip of a local provider. In most cities you can find places that unblock cell phones for as little as $10. Thus if you have an old cell phone sitting around it’s well worth bringing it down here to see if it will work.
Books- Bring as many as you can, yes Peace Corps has libraries for volunteers in Managua and Estelí. However, unless you like Danielle Steele and James Patterson these libraries are quite short on quality books. I brought five books and went through all five in my first week in my community, this is quite common too. Magazines are great as well especially during training. You do not need to bring a Spanish dictionary as Peace Corps provides you with one; we received a behemoth of a dictionary.
Money/ Credit Cards- First, credit cards are about worthless down here. I would recommend a debit card that has a low international fee. You can use them down here to take out money; which you will need if you plan on exploring the country at all. Peace Corps fund just barely cover the everyday costs.
Medical Supplies- Peace Corps gives us a great med kit and thus there is no need to waste space in your suitcase with medicine.
Dailies- while you can buy most stuff down here it can be of lesser quality or expensive. I went to Sam’s Club and stocked up on such things as deodorant, tooth brushes and tooth paste.