We were very fortunate to find Max and Alize to housesit for us when we traveled for a month through Ecuador. Max is from Canada and Alize is from Belgium. They were housesitting in Leon, Nicaragua and posted on a Facebook page for expats in Nicaragua that they were looking for a housesitting gig for a month. They’ve been on the road four years, working online to provide income for their travels.
“Life is a perspective and for me, if a human being has access to school, clean water, food, proper health care, that is the basis of human rights.” — Gelila Bekele
Every human being has a right to clean water. Today, as we celebrate World Water Day, watch this video to see how Nicaragua is addressing the needs for clean water.
“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
― Mark Twain
Imagine a world where books are rare… where children are never read bedtime stories… where there are no libraries…no understanding of reading for pleasure…Oh the Places You Won’t Go without Dr. Seuss…no teacher literacy training…nothing to help advance literacy in children. If you can’t imagine this world, all you have to do is come to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.
Definitely keep reading.Reading is so very important.
This year’s Fuego y Agua races have sadly come to an end. We volunteered for our third year in a row to help the runners. I’m writing a post about the runners, next. Meanwhile, enjoy our travels from one side of Ometepe Island to the other, as we run with scissors (figuratively) following the Survival runners from one obstacle challenge to another.
We followed the Survival Runners on February 5th, hopping buses, taxis, and hiking around the island to find their obstacle challenges. First stop: Tesoro de Pirata.
“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.”
― Mark Twain
Conejo, which means rabbit, was our neighborhood dog. Most of the time our closest neighbors claimed him, but once Conejo realized that the gringos next door (us) had wholesome food and green grass in which to leisurely roll, he chose to live with us.
I asked our neighbors if they minded if we kept Conejo. They shrugged their shoulders and above the barking of their other five dogs roped to trees, they said, “No importa.”
You see, Nicaraguan people don’t understand the concept of pets. They are guards, herders, and working animals. In return for guarding their houses and herding their cattle, they are fed rice and beans, or out of desperation they learn to fend for themselves. Once, I asked our neighbors what they did with their rancid cooking oil, and they said, “Our dogs love it.”
It’s not that the Nicaraguans aren’t compassionate. They are. But, they are very practical and poor people. They understand the importance of a good hunting, herding, and guard dog. However, they don’t understand the importance of giving their dogs nutritional food and tending to their illnesses. Spaying and neutering dogs is not the norm. It’s expensive and in their eyes, unnecessary. It stems from a lack of education and a lack of connection with their animals.
We’re not sure how old Conejo was. Dogs generally don’t live a long life here. One day, I noticed one of our neighbor’s five dogs tied to a tree in their front yard, instead of with the others in the backyard. “Why is your dog isolated from the others?” I asked. “Oh, he is very sick and old,” Jose responded. “He is four years old, and he will die soon.”
Conejo was not familiar with love and affection. He barked at intruders, like a good Nicaraguan dog, but when we tried to pet him or show him some affection, he shied away from us…almost like we were going to hurt him. It took over a year for Conejo to trust us enough to pet him.
But, oh boy, once we started loving on him, there was no end. He followed us everywhere. He’d lie down and let us rub his belly, while he moaned in ecstasy. He was never demanding, always waiting patiently for a few kind words and a bowl of chicken scraps mixed with dog food.
In March, Conejo developed a tumor in his mouth. He looked gross with snot dripping out of his nose, but the rest of his body was healthy…gordo in fact… with no rib bones showing…unlike all the other dogs in the neighborhood. So, I called our local vet. He arrived with a hunting knife and a piece of rebar. After many injections to put him to sleep, so he could operate on him, they laid him gently on top of our septic tank and removed part of the tumor, then cauterised the cut with a hot rebar toasted over a fire.
It was a very primitive operation giving me nightmares for days afterward. Guillermo, the vet, told me he had 35 years of experience, but no professional training. He said, “I was bestowed with a gift from God to help animals.” I truly believe him. His compassion and understanding comforted me. With gentle guidance…and lots of soft homemade chicken soup ( by the way, everyone laughed at me making chicken soup for a dog), we nursed Conejo back to health.
Yet, I knew his time was short. The cancerous tumor was deep in his throat and inoperable. Guillermo hugged me and told me that when we felt Conejo’s quality of life was compromised, he would return with an injection and euthanize him.
Meanwhile, Conejo got stronger and fatter. He learned how to play…amazing for a dog that never had a playmate. He kept the cows and horses from weaseling their way to our property to munch on the ripe mangoes…and Ron’s garden produce! He dug hundreds of holes in the soft volcanic sand and made cool little nests. He barked ferociously at people passing by our front gates. And he made friends with our three new kittens.
Sadly, the tumor grew back. We added milk or water, or sometimes chicken broth to his dog food so he could eat. His breathing became labored and we knew it was time. Yesterday, Guillermo returned. He helped us dig a grave, and we cradled Conejo one last time…reassuring him softly that his suffering was over.
R.I.P my friend. We’ll miss you.
There are several wonderful organizations in Granada that rescue abused and neglected animals. If you are looking for an organization or a way to help through donations, or volunteering contact one of these programs:
Yesterday, I visited the school for the deaf in San José del Sur on Ometepe Island to see if they would be interested in participating in my mobile lending library project. Helping Hands with Hearts for Christ (H3C), was founded by Mike and Joan Vilasi three years ago. While they are in the states, Gael and Rosemary manage the school.
I interviewed the gracious host, Gael, and asked about the history of the school.
I had a difficult time finding the school because it was tucked into a small cove on the beach with a lush walking trail leading to the school from the main road. “The next time you get lost,” Gael said, “just ask for Quincho Baraletta.” “This used to be an orphanage for girls, but when Volcano Concepcion erupted three years ago, the orphanages abandoned the island for the safety of the mainland.” This made sense to me because Nicaraguans either use landmarks that disappeared years ago, or refer to a place by a previous name.
There are 37 deaf people living on Ometepe Island. Twelve children are school aged and attend H3C. A few of the children attend schools for the deaf on the mainland. Before the school opened, most of these children received no services and did not attend public school. Now, thanks to the generosity of The North Point Community Church in Maine, USA, they receive donations to run the school.
“Kindness, a language deaf people can hear and blind see. “- Mark Twain
The school has two full-time teachers and an interpreter. The nicest surprise was that one of the teachers is my neighbor in La Paloma. Who knew?
“Signs are to eyes what words are to ears.” ~ Ken Glickman
The teachers at the H3C school.
Nicaragua has a unique sign language developed by the deaf children themselves. The video below explains how the Nicaraguan Sign Language began. I am returning to the school next week to deliver my lending library books. It’s awesome to be able to share my love of reading with this school.
How can you help? Visit Helping Hands with Hearts for Christ
1. Deaf Children in Nicaragua Teach Scientists About Language
2. The History of Nicaraguan Sign Language
3. Mayflower Medical Outreach in Nicaragua
4. The Deaf People of Nicaragua Electronic survey report
“What a school thinks about its library is a measure of what it feels about education.” ― Harold Howe
I have great memories of our public and school libraries in the states. The smells of ink, musty paper, and glue conjure up nostalgic memories of sticking my nose in a book and virtually traveling to distant places through the miracle of words in print. Yet, I can’t explain the feeling I get when entering a library to any of our local islanders, simply because they have never experienced a library..the smells…the hushed whispers…snuggling in a bean bag chair… curling up with a good book. Those concepts are alien. They have no understanding of reading for pleasure because it is not a cultural pastime.
This morning, Ron and I delivered 100 books to a new-to-me school. Follow us on our trip, because we were pleasantly surprised at what we discovered.
On my walk to the bus stop, I was enthralled with the brilliant display of orange flowers on the malinche tree. The locals comically refer to the malinche tree as the matrimonial tree, because the vibrant flowers appear first, then they quickly fall off and the tree becomes a tangle of vines.
Two trabajadores were filling in a drainage ditch near the airport. “Take our photo,” they shouted.
“When will the new airport open for business?” I asked. “Mañana,” they replied in unison. Alrighty then, I thought, maybe in six more months.
The bus never came, so I flagged down a moto taxi…my favorite form of transportation on the island.
When we entered the school, the director told us to deliver my books to…THE LIBRARY!!! The first school I’ve seen on the island that has the luxury of a library.
Santiago, who attended this school from preschool through high school helped me translate to the LIBRARIAN. Santiago doesn’t speak any English, but he understands my Spanglish well. When the librarian had a question, she would direct the question to Santiago, and he would repeat it a little louder and a little slower to me in Spanish. Then, I would respond to Santiago, and he would fix all my verb errors. We work well together.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the librarian lived in La Paloma and I knew her son. We bonded instantly. She showed me around the library. It was decorated with lots of posters and cut-out hearts for Mother’s Day, which is celebrated on May 30th. Although the library lacks children’s books, which the kids can read for pleasure, it is well stocked with teacher’s materials and classroom textbooks. I have high hopes for this school because the school thinks highly of its library…a measure of what it feels about education.
We toured a first grade classroom. Aren’t they adorable? I offered to return to read to this class and do a fun book activity with them.
Then on to visit their outdoor classrooms. A perfect setting for a hot morning!
Bikes were haphazardly scattered…and what is this??? Looks like the teacher needs to keep an eye on the kid holding a desk over his head.
We left with a sense of community and a warm fuzzy feeling for the school that has the luxury of a library. Now, where did we park the motorcycle among the sea of bikes?
Thanks for the memories, Esquipulas Los Angeles School. There’s nothing like the smell of a library. I think I’ll look for some bean bags for the library. The kids would love them.
Many thanks to all the wonderful readers and network of librarians and teachers who have donated books to my mobile lending library. I can assure you, they are in loving hands. It is because of your love of reading that this is possible. I’m spreading the love one hundred books at a time throughout the elementary schools on the island.
The Survivor Run of the Fuego y Agua Ultra-marathon held on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua on February 16, 2013 was an incredible event. We volunteered in the Survival Run and were fortunate to be able to follow the Global News crew from one obstacle to another, up and down Maderas volcano, through the cloud forest, and across the beach. I still can’t imagine running up and down the volcano, climbing and chopping down trees, carrying a chicken, then carrying 50 pounds of firewood (after being handcuffed by the police), balancing a 20 ft. bamboo pole for miles, digging a hole on the beach, and swimming to an island inhabited only by monkeys in the dark, dark night of the sweet, sweet sea. Twenty hours later, two racers arrived alive. Out of 37 racers, only two finished the race…Pac and my hero, Johnson, the winner. By the way, the other racers survived…barely!
The family that volunteers together, stays together.
The Global News video of the Survival Run is HERE. I hope you enjoy a glimpse of our island of peace and these amazing racers. It is a well-done 25 minute video. Enjoy.
This week, I’m delivering my lending library books to the schools. In addition to the books, I have a box of school supplies for each school. This morning, I found an easy to make mosquito trap. Since Dengue is a huge problem in Nicaragua, I’m going to make a trap for the schools, then teach them how to make them.
Chichigalpa is a small community rarely visited by tourists. Located 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Managua, Nicaragua, it is home to the Ingenio San Antonio, where the sugar cane is industrially processed, and the National Liquor Company, where the famous Ron Flor the Caña is produced.
Although most of the land in this municipality is covered with abundant green reeds and manzanas of sugar cane fields, there lies a dark, sinister side to Chichigalpa. Nicknamed “The Island of the Widows”, 2,500-3,800 sugar cane workers have died within the past ten years. Of the 250 families living in Chichigalpa, more than 100 women have lost their husbands to chronic kidney failure, a disease that paralyses kidney function by preventing the body from eliminating waste and excess liquid from the blood.
This documentary was produced by La Isla Foundation whose goals are to facilitate research to identify the cause of the CKD epidemic, raise public awareness of this epidemic, and organize a public health intervention to support affected workers, as well as to prevent future generations from becoming ill.
Most of the widows have gone through the pain of watching their husbands, sons, and brothers die in a painful agonizingly slow process. If they are unable to find work to support their fatherless children, they take the machete and enter the cane fields bathed in chemicals that might have killed their husbands.
There is no cure for CKD. Presently, the research indicates the cause may be a result of the accumulation of chemicals from the aerial sprays seeping silently into their water supplies. No one knows for sure.
Below are several links to articles with information about the plight of the sugarcane workers in Nicaragua. If you would like to become involved, please visit the last link, La Isla Foundation. Let’s spread the word. With a concerned and informed international community, we can reverse the plight of the Island of the Widows.