Transportation Tuesday!

So last week I went on an adventure to a cafe!  I had company while going (Christina) but not on the way back. Christina lives in Ciudad Sandino and it can be rough getting there due to construction so we had a baptism by fire moment and I was being put to the test. Don’t get me wrong, I was ready for the moment…..but mentally not really prepared.   Due to a little panic, I completely forgot all of the buses that I could take to get home except for the 114….when in doubt the 114 will most likely get you where you need to go…I think. So I took the 114 and paid close attention to where it was going.  As Hannah  Hart said on an episode of MyDrunkKitchen, “Just be confident…at everything and people will think your good at things.” With that in mind, I kept my head high and looked for things that looked familiar.  I was scoping out the ”Hay tortillas” sign or the strange yellow building that we had passed on the way to the cafe. It was all there! I took the right bus! Then we came to my stop so I went to the back of the bus to get off, THIS WAS MY MOMENT. I was going to get back to Batahola Norte in one piece….until the bus driver didn’t stop and blew right through the parada…..so then I just waited for the next bus stop….he didn’t stop for that one either…..  He finally stopped about 2 or 3 stops away from the one that I needed to take….so I basically had no idea where I was.

I began walking back where the bus had come from to find a street or a restaurant that looked familiar. After about 20 ish minutes I finally found myself back at the center…. What did we learn? If you ride the bus in Managau, you need to yell puerta or parada to get off OR you should go to the front to get that way the bus driver sees that you have arrived at you stop and would like to get the heck off.

If you’re looking more for information about transportation and not a story about it the look no further!! Your wishes are coming true!

When traveling around Managua, there are a couple of options you can either take a bus, a taxi, your car if you have one, or you can chance the heat and take a long walk.  Want to take the bus? OK! You can take a number of Rutas almost anywhere. I don’t really know that many places yet…..so I can’t really give directions….anywhere. Anyway, there are two types of buses; ones that were donated by the Russian government and the ones donated by the US government.  The Russian ones use a card system (most of them do) and it costs about 2.50 Cordobas each ride you take…this would equal about 8 cents in US currency.

The US buses don’t really need to follow the rule and therefore don’t have the amazing little card. To ride these types of city buses, its costs 6 Cordobas or 20 cents in US currency. So imagine a big yellow school bus and on the inside it’s been gutted out and the original seats are made shorter in length and the leg room space is smaller to fit more seats but the aisle space is bigger to fit more people. The ceiling has three bars going long ways; this way you can fit people facing the left side holding the bar, facing the left or squished in the middle holding the middle bar.

ALSO, there are ‘Mexican buses’…whether these are donated or not….I’m not really sure! These ones also do not take the TUC card.  But what these all have in common is that they sometimes can be very crowded, and they can get you from A to B!

 

I have yet to experience the bus during rush hour but I think I’ll wait for that amazing experience!

 

 

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It’s Official!

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Hello to all that read the volunteer blog!  My name is Kelsey Overley and I will be your new host/guide/however you see fit to call me.  So sit back and enjoy!  I wanted to write a personal intro as I was officially handed over the username and password to the blog.  There wasn’t a huge ceremony or anything BUT I can assure you all that it was a big moment.

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About six years ago a woman by the name of Sue Keefe led the IHM group and gave me one of the best experiences I can remember. Along with her were the wonderful people that were on the trip with me (Go Team Epsilon), the kindhearted people of the center, and anyone else that I came in contact with.

Fast Forward to about 2013 when I returned to the center the second time. I experienced something that changed everything for me.  I witnessed one of the volunteers interpreting for two people (one girl from Managua and one from Cincinnati).  In that moment I knew I wanted to change almost everything that I was doing.  I wanted to change my major to Spanish (along with health) and I wanted to do what I had to do to become a volunteer! There’s a bit more to the story after but I won’t bore you to tears with all of that.  The important message here is that six years later, Kelsey became a volunteer!

I’m not sure if this post was an interesting one or not BUT I hope you all enjoyed it as the first of many to come! I promise the other blogs won’t be TOOOOOO boring or only about your new Blog host.

Love,

Kels

 

Bienvenida a Nicaragua, Kelsey!

We’re very excited to welcome the 6th generation of Batahola Volunteers, Kelsey Overley! Kelsey first traveled to the Center as a student on an immersion trip with McNicholas High School in 2011, and has dreamed of returning as a volunteer since then. Here’s a little more info about Kelsey:

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Kelsey was born in Seattle, Washington but raised in Cincinnati, Ohio.  She graduated from Archbishop McNicholas High School and went to Muskingum University and graduated with a bachelor’s in Spanish and Health Administration. After graduating, she worked in Spain as an English teacher for nine months and returned home this past June!  Some random facts about her would be that she played soccer for about eighteen years, her favorite food is mashed potatoes with mixed with corn, and she comes from a family of four. In her free time, she enjoys playing soccer and reading. Her favorite Nicaraguan foods are gallo pinto and guacamole. She’s looking forward to learning more about Batahola and integrating herself into the community.

 

Welcome home, Doña Martha and Carla

This week, the Center welcomed back two familiar faces, Doña Martha Juarez Centeno and her daughter Carla Juarez Centeno, who also happen to be my next door neighbors. I often stop by Doña Martha’s on my way home from work to listen to her stories of old days at the Center and enjoy some of her delicious home-made baked goods. Doña Martha first came to the Center in 1983, when she joined Sister Margie’s women’s group. During her time here, she participated in the Friday morning women’s reflection group, the soy program for neighborhood children, and took sewing, beauty and cooking classes. Her favorite memories of her time here are the strong relationships she created with other women. Her daughter, Carla, first came to the Center when she was ten years old and participated in dance, painting, and crafts classes.  In 1994, they left the Center to take jobs at another non-profit in Ciudad Sandino focused on working with street children and single mothers, where Doña Martha gave cooking classes and Carla taught crafts. Both women are very excited to be back at the Center. Carla says: “It feels like coming home.”

Meet Lechita, our new office kitten!

A couple of weeks ago, we found 3 orphaned young kittens in the Center. With a little help from a Facebook announcement and animal activist/Center music teacher Nineth, we were able to find homes for all 3 kitties! Ivania, the Center’s psychologist, adopted one herself. Lechita has been accompanying her to the office because he’s still too young to eat by himself. As his honorary tias (aunts), Christina and I have been babysitting him in the afternoons and watching him grow more mischievous by the day. He’s been a much-needed distraction from all the political turmoil going on in the world right now.

Speaking Nica

Around midday, those of us that don’t go home for lunch gather at a small concrete table at the edge of the Center to chat, eat and laugh. We talk about everything from religion to politics. For me, lunches at the Center have also served as an intensive class in Nicaraguan slang. Over the past year, I’ve picked up a good number of Nicaraguan dichos (sayings) from my co-workers. Here are a few of my favorites:

Hervir nacatamales

Literal translation: Boil nacatamales (a Nicaraguan tamale)

Meaning: Snore

Echarse un pelón

Literal translation: Throw a bald man

Meaning: Take a nap

Matar el tigre

Literal translation: Kill the tiger

Meaning: Eat

Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente

Literal translation: Eyes that don’t see, heart that doesn’t feel

Meaning: What you don’t see, won’t hurt you

Se lo digo a Juan para que lo entienda Pedro

Literal translation: I tell it to Juan so that Pedro will understand

Meaning: When you tell someone something to transmit the message passive aggressively to another person present

Hijo del tigre sale rallado

Literal translation: Son of the tiger comes out striped

Meaning: Like father, like son

El que anda con lobos aullar aprende

Literal translation: He who runs with wolves learns to howl

Meaning: You pick up the habits of the people you spend time with

Wishes

Wish poems

Last week in English, we learned how to express wishes through “I wish” poems. Here is a selection of my students’ work:

Maria

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Maria with her mother, Odilia 

I wish my mom did not have to work in the house

I wish she could study English

I wish she had four million dollars

I wish she could swim in the Montelimar Beach

I wish she could be happy all her life

I wish I could be with my mom forever

Zoraida

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I wish I could eat chocolate

I wish I could speak English fluently

I wish I could buy many dolls

I wish I could travel around the world

I wish I could listen to the angels

I wish I could learn to cook

I wish I could travel to Israel

I wish I could have my own business

Raquel

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I wish I were a bird

I wish I could fly high

I wish I could listen to the sky

I wish I were a dolphin

I wish I could dance on the sea

I wish I could have many colors on my body

I wish I were a princess

But I remember

I am a princess!

Sarahi

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I wish I could study French

I wish I could travel around the world

I wish I could meet new people

I wish I could help poor people

I wish I had a lot of money

I wish I could live alone

I wish I could go back in time

I wish my mom were here

Josue and Yaoska

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We wish we could learn English very well

We wish we could make nacatamal [Nicaraguan tamale]

We wish we had a great job

We wish we could have a good accent

We wish we could speak fluently

Yaoska wishes she had cash

Josue wishes he could have a birthday party

We wish we had a good caponera [motorcycle taxi]

We wish we had our own business

Gema

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I wish I could visit my cousin Jessica

I wish I could buy a car

I wish I had my own home

I wish I had a big room

I wish I could live at the beach

I wish I had more free time

I wish I had a squirrel

Guillermo and Vanessa

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We wish we could learn English very well

We wish we could travel to France

We wish we could go to the gym every day

We wish we had one child

We wish we were rich

We wish we could learn to cook very well

We wish we had a new T.V.

We wish we could sleep very good

We wish we could have our own business

Making tortillas

Tortillas have been a staple of the Nicaraguan diet for centuries. Within a 5 block radius of my house in Batahola, there are at least 4 tortilla stands where you can buy delicious fresh off-the grill tortillas. And they’re not the kind you buy at the grocery store in the States, either. For starters, they are made of corn, and are much thicker and more flavorful. Having fresh tortillas with my breakfast every morning is definitely one of the things I’ll miss most when I leave Nicaragua

When Doña Amanda, who has been the host mother to several generations of Batahola volunteers, offered to teach me how to make tortillas, I was thrilled. Last Saturday, I walked over her house with a bag of maseca (corn flower). Doña Amanda learned from a neighbor when she was a girl, but no one else in her family can make them. Below are Doña Amanda’s instructions for making tortillas.

You will need:

Maseca (NOTE: traditionally, tortillas are made through a more complicated process involving boiling corn kernels, but today many people use maseca)

Water

Comal (a round griddle used for making tortillas)

Oil

A rag

A plastic bag, cut into 2 squares

Cloth for wrapping tortillas

Instructions:

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Place the comal over the stove and use the rag to dab a small amount of oil on it. While the comal is heating up, pour the maseca into a bowl, and gradually add water while mixing with your hands until it has a soft, moist texture.

Then, form the dough in to balls about the size of a tennis ball. Place the ball on top of the plastic squares and begin pressing it down with your hand. Then, place one hand on the side to form the edge and your other hand to continue patting down the tortilla until it’s about 1-2 cm thick.

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When it is ready, place the tortilla on the comal. After about 2 minutes, flip the tortilla over.

 

Once it has cooked for a minute or two, use a wet rag to press down on the tortilla. When it begins to bubble up, you’ll know it is ready. Wrap the tortilla in a cloth to keep it warm. Enjoy with a plate of gallo pinto and cuajada (Nicaraguan cheese).

A Heavy Load

IMG_3244Pete Jensen

I hate alarm clocks. I really do, and I’m one of many ‘not a morning person’ types that puts more work into hitting the snooze button than just getting up. Testament to this are the hundreds of fancy alarm clocks and alarm clock apps on the market that are sleek, slim, follow your REM patterns, plug into your ‘iLife,’ and wake you up ‘naturally.’ Mine, however, was $3.99 at a thrift shop without a power cord and isn’t travel friendly. As I prepared for my trip to Batahola Cultural Center in Nicaragua, I knew I’d need one since I would be teaching morning English classes. However, upon arrival, I discovered that in Nicaragua, an alarm clock is not something I need on my travel list…

Alarm clocks are everywhere here – just not ones we’re used to.

They walk, talk, and don’t have the same sleek and slim look. They also don’t have any beep noises or radio, and they are painfully reliable. Every morning at 5:30 AM, these alarm clocks are walking through the streets yelling the names of fruits, vegetables, and daily food staples. Many sweet dreams have been broken by, “AGUACAAAAAATEE!!!” (avocado) “HAY PIÑA, PIÑA, PIÑA!!!” (we got pineapple) By the way, they don’t take weekends off and no, there is no snooze button.

Even though they halt your sheep count early, these vendors are more impressive than any alarm clock can ever be. First of all, they don’t need batteries or a cord and they don’t turn off. Many make trips selling, restocking, back out selling, etc… until late afternoon when houses have what they need for dinner that night. Second, they seem indestructible. They can carry loads of 50-70 kg of food, sometimes 70% of their body weight. To give perspective, this is the equivalent of the sherpas of Nepal. If that doesn’t help, I myself weigh about 200 pounds so that means carrying roughly 140 lbs of weight all day. Third and most impressive, they carry all this weight on top of their head. No straps, wheels, or fancy systems. Just plopped right there on the noggin.

For a Norwegian male from Minnesota, I can count the number of times I’ve seen people carrying loads on their head in the Midwest without hands. We straddle our weight on shoulders and hips in expensive backpacks or suitcases with wheels. I would look like someone getting punched repeatedly in the ribs if I were trekking around the street with 140 lbs for eight hours while vendors here have the posture of figure skaters. This is curious, so after a little research, I found that people who carry heavy loads on their head do it for good reason – more than just tradition or economy. Studies done on women in Africa, for example, conclude that they can bear loads on their head of approximately 20% their body weight with no increase in energy consumption. This would be the equivalent of a high school backpack. In fact, “[A person] can carry a load equal to 70% of her body weight at 3.5 km/hr for 50% less energy that an American army recruit with the same load in a backpack.” Even more striking is the fact that carrying weight directly on top of the head mitigates the posture, back, and shoulder pressures related to modern backpacks.

Still not impressed? It’s also an art that is anything but easy. To see why, grab a book, put it on your head, and try to walk down the hallway. Did you make it? Now imagine walking through narrow and crowded market streets with something 20 times the width and 35 times the weight. Regardless, the street vendors here make it seem easy. I can even have a conversation with one of them while they’re working.

And…what do the vendors earn for such amazing biodynamic feats? Mostly, a few dollars a day. Their cargo isn’t monetarily worth that much compared to its mass. For example, mangos are pretty dense fruits but they sell at three for 10 Córdobas (about $0.35 USD). Squash is also heavy but again only sells at one for 10 Córdobas. Avocados are dense and are slightly more expensive, $1 USD per unit. And tortillas…a mere two Córdobas (three cents) each. Because the vendors usually buy the food directly from the producer, they get it cheaper and are able to charge slightly more when selling in the neighborhoods. But if someone only makes one penny for every tortilla they sell or maybe 1.5 cents for every mango…think about how much they have to sell to make a dollar per day! A good day brings a profit of around 100-150 Córdobas – just enough for daily food, electricity, and water costs for the family. They use the remainder for transportation to buy tomorrow morning’s supply and start again.

In Minnesota, I can buy an avocado for (strangely) the same price they sell here. The difference is that the cost to daily income ratio is literally hundreds of percent larger for me than for a vendor in Nicaragua. Buying an avocado may require 20% or more of their daily income! That’s not even the case for my hourly income and my small teacher salary qualifies for subsidized housing. Imagine the discrepancy between an average middle-class income, upper-class, and then the one percenters! The inequality is not only staggering, it’s incomprehensible. Vendors here can’t have their cake or eat it.

It seems that Nicaraguan merchants are bearing more than the weight of their baskets – they’re bearing the weight of an economically segregated global market that puts me at the top of this food chain (literally). That avocado on the shelf in MN carries the external costs of growing, picking, cleaning, shipping across seas, taxes, stocking, and selling. That total is more than what the average middle-class person pays at fractions of a percent of their daily income. We can’t get something for nothing – someone has to pay for that avocado… so who is it?

The vendor does. Ironically, she is paying for the very avocado she sells.

For the Nicaraguan, it doesn’t make any economic sense, but hundreds of years of exploitation in Central America have brought it to this point. On a general scale, two major historical influences were A) colonization which enslaved indigenous peoples to build and produce for foreign bodies and then B) the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 where the U.S. claimed this area as its own backyard to ward off trade deals with other countries. For Nicaragua specifically, the last 100 years has entailed various periods of economic and political instability heavily influenced by foreign interests. I invite the reader to examine these on their own time as it soon becomes clear why poverty prevails. A large part of the citizens’ livelihood is either exported at low prices or affected by politics that the commoner doesn’t have a voice in. The saying, “el pobre más pobre, el rico más rico” *the poor get poorer and the rich get richer* continually manifests itself (in the US too!). This causes forced migration for Nicaraguans looking to provide for their families. In fact, 1.5 million of the 6 million total population has left for Costa Rica, Cuba, the US, Spain, and other countries to find work and send money back to their families. Some believe that that is one of the few stilts supporting the 99.9%.

This cycle reminds us that it’s not really my dollar paying for an avocado or a pound of coffee from countries in situations like that of Nicarauga. It’s actually the oppressed majority. They have faces and names, but are intentionally kept invisible by US markets and media that connect our personal value to consuming. They have voices, but we can’t hear them amidst the race for the golden calf brought about by big banks that subtly destroy our relationships and desires. They have beautiful lands, but we can’t dream of them amidst our systemic policies that wrap us in racial and economic chains before we can even vote.

Among many things, being in Nicaragua is a wake-up call. To be honest though, I’d rather not hear the alarm, rather not open my eyes to the harsh sun that illuminates the hidden interconnectedness of our brothers and sisters a continent away. But regardless of whether I open my eyes or not, the vendors are still there every morning carrying weights that I can’t even imagine. It might be 60 kg of tortillas for some and 50 kg of pineapples for others, but every one of them is carrying the weight of economic segregation – and unless I do wake up, I just keep loading their basket. Indeed, these vendors may be the most important alarm clock I’ve ever opened my eyes to.

Pete Jensen is a teacher and graduate student of theology in Minnesota. In the summer of 2016, he volunteered for five weeks at Batahola Cultural Center which supports the local community with social services and a prolific education program for students from pre-k all the way through college. Offering these services with a mostly female staff and in solidarity with the needs of the Batahola neighborhood, the center combats social inequality in Managua, Nicaragua. To learn more about the center or volunteering, visit http://www.FriendsOfBatahola.org

Sources:
“Timeline: Nicaragua.” Stanford University. Online: http://web.stanford.edu/group/arts/nicaragua/discovery_eng/timeline/ Personal Interviews. Managua, Nicaragua. July 2016.
IMG_3244.JPGIMG_3244 “Physiology of Load Carrying.” Catholic University of Louvain: Laboratory of Physiology and Biomechanics of Locomotion.

There’s a spirit that’s present everywhere!

Thank you Natalie Woodke, IHM Parishioner and SUA Graduate, for sharing your reflection on the 2015 trip to Nicaragua!

“When I was asked to write this reflection, I honestly didn’t know where to start. There are no words to fully describe how absolutely eye-opening and powerful this trip was. I knew this trip would be incredible, but I had no idea how overwhelming it would become. I didn’t realize what I was feeling until someone else said it, but I have experienced TRUE joy in this country. There’s a spirit that’s present everywhere we’ve gone, and I’m amazed every single day. The people living here have almost Nothing but each other…and that’s enough. Every person I’ve met has been so kind, open-hearted, patient and simply just full of life and passion. It’s so breathtakingly inspiring. I hope to take away the simplicity of this country with me. And the idea of finding God and beauty in everyone and everything around me.

I hope to carry with me the amazing qualities I’ve seen in so many people here, and to become that Christ-like figure in someone else’s life. I hope to continue taking time to step back, and focusing on what’s truly important in life. I’ve learned how powerful it is to surround yourself with good people and that the little things truly do make a difference in the lives of others. 90% of the time, I couldn’t communicate verbally very well with the Nicaraguans, especially the kids. However, some of the most powerful moments I experienced were with these kids. We laughed and played games and make funny faces at each other, and words weren’t even necessary. I saw the face of Christ in every single child I encountered and these experiences and connections will stick with me forever. As our journey comes to a close, I know, I will take a whole new sense of appreciation with me back home. Seeing how hard the Nicaraguans work, and how eager the kids are to learn has completely humbled me. Everything in my life seems so trivial now, and I think stepping back for a week is exactly what my life needed. I hope to continue in service work, and pursue my love for helping others, especially kids. I hope to always follow my passions, and never put money or material goods over what truly makes me happy.

On a spiritual level, this trip has given me so much reassurance in my faith. I’ve encountered Christ more times this week than I ever have in my life, and the fact that this happened in a 3rd world country is so inspiring to me. This proved to me that God will always be present where He is needed, because these people need Him more than anything. However, despite their situations, the faith of the Nicaraguans was always present, and absolutely contagious, which is something I truly admired. I can’t say enough how blessed I am to have been exposed to this country and its people. I know I will be able to go back to my journal and re-read it when I’m having a bad day, because just the thought of it makes me so happy. The combination of the Nicaraguans, the culture, the beauty of the country and the wonderful people that came down with me has forever changed my life, and made me a better person.”

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