Archive for February 2011

A Glimpse of Campo Life

February 22, 2011

As my alarm went off at 4:30 am this past Saturday morning I hit the snooze once to try to mentally prepare myself for the journey ahead.  However, I knew that my first trip into the Nicaraguan countryside would be one full of new experiences that I couldn’t prepare myself for.  So, I gave Marisa a kiss and rolled out of bed ready to just go with the flow.

My partner organization, the Peace and Justice Commission, had planned a workshop on HIV/AIDS with a rural Mennonite church located approximately 300 kilometers from Managua going towards the Atlantic coast.  To get to the church we would need to go on horseback for about an hour from the pastor’s house, but my boss had arranged with the pastor to hold the workshop in his house to make things more convenient for us.  I had been planning the workshop all week and left with my backpack stuffed with clothes and materials for the workshop.

The journey started out with a taxi ride to the bus station where I met my boss Martha and co-worker Meriluz.  We boarded the 6am bus for the town of El Rama, the closest town to El Castillo, the area where the pastor lived.

The bus ride was long and made many, many stops but I was entertained by the many people that came and went along the way.  Women and children boarded the bus selling fried chicken, fruits, and quesillo (a tortilla with a special mozarella-like cheese, sour cream, and onions and vinegar inside).  A farmer complete with a cowboy hats, Wrangler jeans, and boots boarded with a burlap bag full of what I believe were live chickens.  The bag had holes cut in it and soft clucking sounds were emanating from the bag as he walked by to find his seat.

Finally, after 7 hours on the bus we arrived at El Rama.  Little did I know my journey was just beginning.  The pastor’s wife met us in El Rama and encouraged us to head directly for the camion (large truck)  that would take us most of the way to the pastor’s house.  To get to the camion we had to cross the river.  For a mere 12 cents each we hopped in a boat which ferried us across the river and there we found the truck with people already packed in waiting to leave for the countryside.

River we crossed in the small boat at the bottom of the picture.

My boss Martha and Co-worker Meriluz.


Inside the truck waiting to leave

In the camion waiting to leave.

I should have started getting worried when I noticed that all the locals were wearing big rubber boots, but it was the dry season and I thought my dress shoes would hold up alright.  The back of the truck was already crowded and there was no where for me to sit, but I noticed that many people were sitting on top of the truck on the boards that went across the bed, so I climbed up to take in the scenery as we headed farther out into the campo.

Unfortunately, on this side of the country it was not the dry season and during our hour and a half long ride in the truck it started to rain.  I got down with everyone else and squeezed into the back of the truck under the tarp that kept us semi-dry.  After an hour and a half we arrived at our stop, jumped out of the truck and took refuge from the rain under the awning of a tiny road-side store. Where the pastor’s daughter was waiting for us with a mule to load up our stuff and lead us to her house on foot.

The rain was not letting up, so there was nothing for us to do but set out on the “10 minute” walk to the house under a steady rain.  About 20 minutes into the journey with my dress shoes soaking wet and muddy I asked if we were almost there and the pastor’s daughter said it was actually more like a 30 minute walk but she said it was only 10 so we wouldn’t be too discouraged.  At that moment I did feel a bit discouraged.  Eventually we had to cross a small muddy stream and then go up a steep embankment.  We could only laugh at the hilarity of us city folk, soaking went in t-shirts dress shoes and flip flops trying to cross this muddy stream with a shred of dignity.  My boss lost her shoe in the mud and had to dig it out.  I took off my shoes so they wouldn’t get sucked off my foot in the muddy crossing and walked barefoot scampering my way up the muddy slope on the other side.  I pray that I didn’t pick up hook worm or any other parasites from walking barefoot through that muddy field.

Finally, after what seemed like more than half an hour we arrived at the pastor’s house where we were able to dry off, warm up, and change clothes.  Unfortunately I had not brought any extra pants so I hung out that night in my shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops.  My boss was forced to wear her pjs all night long.


Mule waiting for us when we got out of the truck.

We finally arrived at the pastor's house.

Pastor's grandson who kept us entertained all night long.

Pastor, Pastor's daughter-in-law, Pastor's daughter and grandson.

The evening was filled with tasty food (I had my first taste of cow stomach-fat soup) and good conversation with the pastor and his neighbor.  We also got to watch his grandkids rambunctiously playing on the dirt floor of his home.  The kids got dirty and were cleaned off over and over again and had a great time jumping the puddles outside the house and swinging on the hammock inside the house.  That night we also learned that the congregation preferred to do the workshop in the church so the next morning we would have to each saddle up on our own mule and make the 1-2 hour journey to the church!  My boss Martha only has one kidney so she declined the bumpy mule ride but my co-worker Meriluz and I were prepared to make the trip.


Inside Pastor's house. Solar panel on roof provides some electricity.

They set up a makeshift "Bathroom" for us in their main living area so we wouldn't have to bathe in the river.

The next morning we mounted our mules and took off for the church.  The pastor led the way and my mule was a nice tame little beast and followed without too much trouble.  I only had to steer him away from trees every once in awhile when he got too close and almost crashed me in to the branches.  The pastor’s neighbor went behind us encouraging the mules to pick up the pace.  He had trained each one and they listened well to him.

My mule was named "el conejito" the bunny rabbit and was also the smallest of all the mules.

Atop my trusty steed.

Ready to ride out.

So after a taxi, a bus, a boat, a truck, walking, and then on horse-back we arrived at the church.  Over forty people from the congregation came for our talk about HIV/AIDS, some from as far as 2 hours away.

The workshop may not have lived up to all the hype, but the group was engaged and participative and hopefully went away with a better knowledge of the disease and new ways of thinking about how to respond and treat those they may come across that are sick with HIV/AIDS or other illnesses.  One thing is for sure, the people I met left a big impression on me with their generosity, humility, and service that they offered us on every step of the journey and I will never forget how hard they work for the little that they have.  I want to say that I wouldn’t survive a week in the campo, but with the help of people that I met in El Castillo I think it may just be possible.  Hopefully I’ll never have to find out:)

During the workshop.

People kept trickling in.

Neighbor who, without his help, we never would have made it.

Riding off into the sunset.


Mobile Library Movie

February 11, 2011

My wonderful Aunt who is a reading specialist at an elementary school proposed the idea that this year the kids donate money to buy books for the Mobile Library in Nicaragua! She asked me to make a video to show the kids about Nicaragua. Here is my video making debut…(thank you iMovie!)