Friday, January 30, 2009

Last 2 days in Nicaragua--tough ones! (Jan. 12-13)

Monday, Jan. 12

Our last morning in Leon was a tough one. We had to say goodbye to our host families, who have treated us like one of their own. Many of us made strong connections in just a few days. While most of us will try to keep in touch, all of us will recall the memories and experiences that we shared with them and cherish each one. We loaded the microbus for one final time and waved farewell to our Nicaragua family (la familia). Tears ran down the cheeks of people on both sides of the bus windows as we drove away.

We traveled back towards Managua to stop at an organization that works for fair trade. Esperanza en Acción (Hope through Action) is a fair trade organization that works with Nicaraguan artisans to ensure fair trade of their art. The non-profit organization (NGO) sells the art for fair prices and then gives that money to the artists. It has made a real difference in many
of lives of the artisans that they work with. We heard from one artisan, Guadalupe, who explained to us how selling her work and receiving fair prices for her art (el arte) has vastly improved the life of her family. We all had an opportunity to buy art from Esperanza en Accion after our discussion. The difficult part was deciding from all of the beautiful pieces of art - pottery, paintings, baskets, jewelry, woven bags, and more.

Finally, for our last night, we traveled to a lake to spend the remainder of the day and night laying in hammocks, swimming, relaxing, and enjoying the dwindling hours in Nicaragua. We stayed in dormitory-style rooms with bunk beds and a few showers. We ate an amazing vegetable stir-fry dinner under the stars and hung out by the lake. It was a nice ending to our amazing experience.

Tuesday, Jan. 13

We woke up early for one final time in Nicaragua. With an afternoon flight back to the U.S. approaching, we had time for one last stop. We loaded the microbus and made our way to the Masaya Market, an outdoor market filled with food, crafts, and goods, to buy souvenirs and gifts. The market (mercado) was a neat experience and gave everyone one last time to work on their Spanish!

Once we depleted our wallets of remaining Córdobas, we traveled to the Managua International Airport. It was time to leave. We checked in for our flight and stopped at the food court to have lunch before boarding the plane. Our delegation hosts, Ofelia and Ulises, dined with us for one last time. After long goodbyes and exchanges of email addresses, we waved farewell to our fabulous hosts and walked through security to our gate.

We had safe flights first to Miami and then Washington, D.C. We exited baggage claim just after midnight to find Gettysburg College vans greeting us outside. Shocked by the cold weather, we quickly loaded our things (plus, we were pretty good at this by now!) and traveled back to Gettysburg College.

Arriving back on campus around 2 a.m., some of us woke-up roommates and others arrived home to people waiting up to hear all about the trip. Either way, we knew that in the coming days we would have much sharing to do with everyone at home. And where to start or how to explain what we learned and experienced felt overwhelming. How could we possibly explain something that truly had to be experienced by oneself?

But for now, we were tired and freezing. The shock between the Nicaraguan warm weather and Gettysburg's frigid night made us want to warm up. Frankly we needed to go to bed after the long day of travel.

Post-Trip Reflections: Kristi Saeger

Day 7 or 8 of my time in Nicaragua was by far the hardest. By then, I had been in the Central American country for approximately one week; I had become accustomed to washing out of a sink sans soap and spraying insecticide under my bed nightly for scorpions and other nightly critters that may be lingering, waiting to pounce on my vulnerable, non-immune and sleeping body. I was days away from my flight out of Miami to Managua, and just days from my return, however both felt like a lifetime from where I stood on Day 8.

One of the reiterated themes from ex-patriots and other foreigners to Nicaragua was the fact that one could spend weeks, months, or years amidst the culture and people of Latin America, but would never truly and completely feel part of their society. As many times as I could possibly eat gallo pinto in one single day, (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack?), or watch the Gigantorro and Pepe perform in the streets, neither would ever fully integrate into my instinctual livelihood. Gallo pinto would never provide the same nostalgia as my mother's homemade ravioli or my dad's french toast, and falling asleep knowing there was a fairly high chance that the drums of the Gigantón performance would startle me in my sleep did not compare to the same effect from the loud music of the Macy's Day Parade, whatsoever. It would take years to become more than an appreciative observer to the Nicaraguan society, and by the eighth day, I couldn't decide my personal stance.

With time, the transition from the bright white walls, floors, countertops, paper towels and toilet paper of the United States was slowly fading, and the routine of waking up to the melodramatic chaos of 15 or more people constantly flowing in and out of the house/on and off of the premises, became preferable to waking up during winter break from school to emptiness and no one's company other than my own while my parents work or run errands or go shopping. Even at school, it is not often that I start my day with my roommates and best friends; our schedules are so jam-packed and busy that we do not have the time to see each other until late in the evening, and often by then we are all exhausted. Was the Nicaraguan way of life better or worse than what I was used to? After one week of immersion, I could no longer be so sure.

The economic and social conditions of the developing world are difficult to witness without feeling the sudden urge to get out there and help in any way you can; however, I have come to discover that these people possess so many qualities that we seem to have lost as citizens of the American society; most importantly of all, the ability to become close to one another, open-minded and accepting of differences, and completely dependent on the presence of friends and family. It is all of these things that create life, create memories, and a reason to push on, despite the hardship and suffering that may exist. This is what we lack as privileged civilians. This is what I have learned from Nicaragua and I will take it with me where ever I may go beyond Gettysburg College.

~ ~ ~ ~
My name is Kristi Saeger and I am in my final year of studies at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, USA. I have studied Economics and International Affairs while at Gettysburg, and hope to work for an embassy after graduation. I love to travel; I have visited Europe and the Caribbean, and lived in Australia for a 5 months during my college years. I love to read and enjoy solving all kinds of puzzles. I prefer warm weather over the freezing temperatures of the Northeast USA any day. I appreciate all medias of art but enjoy pop art the most. I have one sister, one niece, a dog and cat at home - I love them all very much! (Especially my niece- she is only 8 months old!).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Post-Trip Reflections: Sara Cawley

Nicaragua seemed to have more of a community emphasis and stronger relationships than any place I have lived in the United States. As I would walk with my host mother or sister through Leon, they never failed to say hello to passerby or people sitting on their porches, whether they knew them well or not. Family members and friends would frequently drop in, and it was obvious to me that my host family was quite close. Relationships between young men and women were very different what I am accustomed to, however. My host sister Fatima, who is 20, has a boyfriend named Daniel, and while they were frequently together, they were never in a situation (that I saw) where other people were not present. When they spent time “alone” it seemed to be sitting on the front porch or taking a walk together. Although they had been dating for three years, they still acted at times and were treated by my host family like a high school couple that has recently begun dating. The entire vibe of the neighborhood was more active and loud than in the U.S., people walk instead of driving everywhere, and there was a center square where people could come together. The cities of Leon and Managua themselves were not what I was expecting, growing up with cities in the United States. Rather than narrow streets crowded with skyscrapers, the buildings were not over a few stories, the roads and the cities were more spread out. It was nice to be able to see the sky so much! Nicaraguan culture was also far more laid-back than the U.S. – people were just content to be, and it was a little sad to come back to my hectic schedule.

I think that immersion projects are excellent tool s to help people from the States better understand life in Nicaragua – reading from a textbook or hearing a lecture absolutely cannot compare to what I learned in even one day there. Being out of my comfort zone made me more likely to really open my mind, try new things, and view Nicaraguan culture, history, and way of life with as little prejudice as possible. It is difficult to try to explain to friends and family exactly what I experienced there, and how much of an impression it has made upon me – there is only so much pictures can show - but I know my passion for what I experienced is obvious. Although I feel like people here are too often content to simply listen and nod, I think I have convinced a few people to consider going on the next Nicaragua Immersion Project. I think that learning more about Nicaragua would help people become more interested in the country’s future – it is surprising to me, with the United States’ long history of involvement in Nicaragua’s affairs, that U.S. students learn so little about the country.

Trying to decide the best course of action for U.S. and Nicaraguan policy is difficult, any aid monies or outreach programs coming from the government will be tempered with a political agenda. I am sad to say that United States intervention in Nicaragua so far, has not been for the best…the Contra War stands as a great example of negative U.S. influence. The United States needs to begin asking Nicaragua and other countries what they need, rather than always forcing its own agenda. Nicaraguans are not stupid- they know what they need, and I feel as though some U.S. citizens mistakenly associate developing countries with naiveté and unintelligence.

I am still shocked by what I saw in the Leon hospital – the lack of privacy and the conditions were horrifying to my U.S. sensibilities. I do have to stress my respect and astonishment at the dedication the doctors and nurses displayed in that hospital, and what they accomplished despite a severe lack of supplies and equipment.

I was struck by how happy many Nicaraguans were, even though many of them should have been miserable by U.S. standards – I might even say they were happier than many people I know here. I find myself viewing my daily routine and my friends daily routine’s very differently after not having a shower every day – really, every shower I took in Nicaragua was inadequate by U.S. standards, and yet I managed completely fine. My shower after coming back from El Porvenir was probably the best shower of my life so far. I find myself thinking that we really don’t need to flush the toilet that much, and constantly turning off lights that my housemates have left on. When I go to Bullet for lunch, I find myself missing Gallo Pinto, amazingly enough. I am determined to learn Spanish, which I think is a beautiful language. The trip has also had an effect on my future plans; now I am certain that I would like to do some form of volunteer work at some point, and end up working for an NGO, interest group, or the government. Talking with the expatriates we met made me realize that I do not necessarily have to take a traditional path in life; regardless of my future path, I feel that being able to view the U.S. compulsion to always be on the go through new eyes will benefit me and my mental sanity.

Sara Cawley is a sophomore and majors in Political Science with double minors in English and Environmental Studies. She lives in a Domestic Arts theme house with 7 of her friends and says, "My housemates love to cook, I love to eat what they cook." Her parents are divorced, and I lived with my mom, step-father, and younger brother until college started; now she lives with my father in Waverly, Pennsylvania. She loves to read, go running, do outdoor activities, take naps, and spend time with her friends. On campus, I mentor a child each week through Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and am a member of College Democrats. She played on the Women’s Rugby Team until she injured her shoulder last year.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Hey folks, we´ll be back soon. We´re traveling and enjoying the last of our days in Nicaragua.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Reflections on Day 4

C.W. Day 4
It feels like we have been here for weeks, not just a few days. There is so much
to experience. Just after one night with our host family, I feel like they have
adopted us for life. The more I learn, the passionate I become. Nicaragua used to
be just a developing country to me, but now I understand why others have fallen in
love with the community.

Jess Day 4
So many of U.S. citizens are unecessarily preoccupied with keeping everything
perfectly clean. I propose that we bulk up our immune systems and spend more
time not thinking about cleanliness.

Isha Day 4
The experience in Nicaragua so far has been really great. So far I have learned
a lot about the culture, food, hospital nature of the people, and also the
various problems faced by the nation of Nicaragua--from what I have seen
and heard so far. I can tell that Nicaragua is a country with great potential,
however, it is plagued crisis just like all the other developing countries of the
world. Also, shocked reaction from my friends make me realize how the people of
developing nations are oblivious to such methods of existence. I can see how
trips like these can be an ideal way to create awareness.

Toni Day 4
This trip has been very eye opening. I have learned so much about the Nicaraguan
history and culture. Already its made me aware of all the problems they are
having. There is no simple solution to any of these problems because most of
them are related to each other in the same way. I think what PGL has is terrific
because they are working on sustainable project projects aren´t looking for
quick fixes. PGL really wants to change the mindset of people--Nicaraguans and
others--in how to help in a sustainable way.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Leaning about Coffee, trip to Porvenir, Jan. 8

We were up early again on Thursday, Jan. 8, to make our way to El Porvenir--a coffee cooperative and one of PGL´s latest projects. Traveling there took several hours. We left from Leon via our microbus and drove on a paved road for about 30 minutes and then a dirt road for 90 minutes. When the microbus could go no further, we got off the bus with our backpacks and boarded a tractor with a wagon in tow. With 18 of us and a few Nicaraguans also riding along, we stood in the wagon for almost an hour as we made our way up the mountainside. Most of the time, it was difficult to hold on and the tractor was going straight up man-made ramps with little switchbacks. It was a nervous-fun as we made our way to the mountain-top community of El Porvenir.

Upon arriving at the top, it was clear to everyone that the time spent traveling was worth it. El Porvenir is a peaceful and beautiful community of about 300 people who work on hundreds of acres producing organic coffee, cocoa, cotton, and a few other crops for their community. Their primary crop is coffee. Everyone in the community is responsible for different aspects of growing, harvesting, sorting, preparing, bagging, and distributing the coffee. PGL is currently working to bring water to the community via a water-pump system as they have no running water or electricity. Currently, they collect water during the rainy season in three 10,000 to 20,000-gallon metal open tanks that will sustain them for a few months. When they run out, they have to transport water from the base of mountain. The community has a school and we were able to take some time in the afternoon to play games with the kids: Luz Rojo, Luz Verde (Red Light, Green Light), Simon Dice (Simon Says), and drawing and coloring for the younger ones. We had a blast! We spent time with Rene, a leader of the cooperative, who talked to us about the coffee business, opportunities and challenges, fair trade, and the future of this co-op. It was stunning to learn what the farmers are paid for the coffee vs. what companies are able to sell the finished product. We took a hike to the top of one of the mountains for a view of El Salvador and Honduras. It was amazing! We stayed overnight at El Porvenir -- sleeping on hammocks and cots with a view of the valley below and in perfect position for a gorgeous sunrise.

Friday morning we got back on the tractor wagon and made our way to some coffee plants with beans that needed to be picked. Working two to a basket, we picked coffee for about an hour. A basket of coffee beans is worth about 17$ Cordobas (less than $1 U.S.) and most can fill about 7 baskets a day. Each group of two filled about half the basket, and as a group, we picked about 50 pounds of coffee. This co-op sells its coffee directly to two U.S. roasters who pay them $2 U.S. per pound -- a very good price. This coffee is then sold through a grassroots network and has made its way to Gettysburg throughout the year for purchase. We returned, gathered our things, said goodbye to the community, and made our way down the mountain. We returned to our host families a little dusty and tired, but what we learned while spending time in El Porvenir will stay with many of us for a lifetime.

Tomorrow, a day of rest at la playa (the beach)! Till then, Chau!

Reflections on Health Care Exposure

Where to begin with health care in Nica? I was taken aback by the lack of
equipment and the basics (sheets, wheelchairs, etc.) at the urban León hospital.
I was comforted by the warmth and purpose of the rural Santa Rosa casa materna...I have seen very few places like these in the U.S. The infrastructure in Nicaragua is not available.

The quality of healthcare is absolutely frightening, but I feel like it follows the standard of living that most people have. The only thing I know to compare Nica´s healthcare to is the U.S., and I don´t really feel it is appropriate to refer to the U.S. as the standard model. At this point I feel too shocked and not fully equipped to have solid arguments.
The visit to the hospital was informative but also a shocking experience. It was indeed sad to see the main hospital in León operation without necessary equipment and moreover without the basic necessities like bedsheets, stethescopes, etc. It was hard to believe that even donated erquipment didn´t always arrive in working condition. It was shocking to me especially because the government hospitals in my nation depend a lot on foreign donations, and it was difficult for me to image the impact of these problems on the health of the people.
I was very shocked to learn that even the hospital doesn´t have enough equipment
(gloves, sheets, etc.). It was also shocking to learn that people thought they
were helping by sending equipment that didn´t even work! I want to do so much to
help these people, but there are many problems associated with health care: It´s
a problem with infrastructure.