One-offs

The following is an entry of some of my one-off, random stories. Some are funny, some are nice, some are scary and some are just random and interesting (in my head at least.)

1. The crazy priest.

At San Sebastián church the main priest was a little bit crazy. He looked and sounded just like one of the monsters out of Doctor Who, but I can’t think what they’re called. He just shouted everything, and would randomly walk off in the middle of Mass whilst continuing to say Mass, and no one ever knew where he went. WHen I first met him, he came up to me before Mass started and asked my name. I replied with “Mateo” and literally just said that I was a volunteer in Masaya. That was all. The priest then started Mass, welcomed Mateo and said I’ve been living there for many years and am there to teach the congregation English. Everyone started applauding wildly and people would always come up and shake my hand and thank me whenever I went back to that church after that. Bizarre moment number one of many.

2. Nightmares.

On a couple of occasions, I randomly awoke in the middle of the night screaming. The first time I did it, I dreamt there was a giant creature on me, so I leapt up out of bed, of course forgetting I was surrounded by a mosquito net. Obviously, my mosquito net took a bit of a battering as I scrambled desperately out of bed. It was 3am, and I think I must have scared Harvie as he started looking under my bed and then spraying a variety of strange chemicals and burning lots of incense to ward off the imaginary nightmare creature!

3. Fumigators.

One Saturday we were about to leave on a trip, we were stood in the Alcaldía when out of nowhere, loads of men with leaf-blowers (literally, they were leaf-blowers) came running in, barging everyone out of the way, demading everyone leaves their houses. It turns out they were fumigating for mosquitos, and this is a common thing in Nicaragua. It felt like an army routine.

4. Jueves El Santísimo.

One Thursday I went to Mass with Esmeralda and it was Jueves El Santísimo, Thursday of the Most Holy, which is celebrated every Thursday. They venerated the cross at the end of Mass, gave lanterns to the congregation and turned down the lights, there were lots of joyful hymns, full-scale dancing, clapping, swaying… It was such a cool, happy service.

5. Sign of Peace.

The Sign of Peace got me every time. Everything, everyone, stops. The whole church loses its structure, people lose their seats, dance around the church, shaking every hand they can find, music plays… it was such an integral part of their worship and I loved it.

6. Communion.

Communion time was hell. There is no such thing as a queue in Nicaragua, and people just threw themselves at the ministers from all direcitons. Also, a cool little fact, in English we say “I have communion” or “I take communion.” In Spanish, or at least in Nica, they say “I communicate.”

7. Sunsets.

We experienced so many sunsets. One was when I got stuck at Apoyo lagoon with Jacob and Katie so we just went back down to the beach and watched the sun set over the volcanic crater lagoon. It was stunning, and there is a photo below of it. Anoter was in the lagoon at Charco Verde on la Isla de Ometepe, the sun set over the volcano and huge birds flew across the blood-red sky… another was at Santo Domingo beach on the same island where it was a similar picture, and another memorable one was at San Juan Del Sur on the Pacific coast, not far from Costa Rica. Again, there is a picture of that one further down.

8. Bees.

One day we went to the viewpoint for Apoyo which is called Catarina, and we trekked down to the lagoon from there through the forest, which took a good hour and a half. Halfway down, we came across a bees nest, so we trod carefully but they discovered us, and me and Jacob ended up being swarmed by them in our hair. At the same time, my foot got stuck in the mud and ants ate me alive. I was lucky not to get stung by a bee though!

There are millions of stories, millions, but I think I’ll be here forever, and some stories really are better left untold. So that’s it. All photos are up, everything is over, and life can begin again. But there will always be something different now in my life, I still haven’t fully worked out what sort of an impact it’s going to have on me and how I live, but when I do I think it’ll be pretty clear.

Thank you so much to everyone for reading my blogs and supporting me, it means so much to see that i’ve had nearly 1000 views! I never expected anything near that, and it has blown me away the sort of interest my experience has sparked. Keep an eye out for my Action at Home events, and if you want to get involved with Progressio, ICS, or any kind of voluntary work then please get in touch with me because there’s a lot I want to say about it.

“Every story has its end, but in life, every end is just a new beginning.”- Cycle 8, Progressio ICS Nicaragua, July-September 2014. Mission accomplished.

Qué Linda Nicaragua…

Towards the end, I got together with Jemma, one of the British volunteers who is an amazing singer. She wanted to write a song about the experience, so, when she came to me with lyrics, I messed around on my guitar a bit and we created 3 minutes of magic that ended up being performed 4 times in the last few days and brought so many people to tears. If I find a video of it I’ll post it, but here are the lyrics. The chorus is in Spanish, so I will put the translation in brackets. Many thanks to Jemma Reid for writing the song, all credit goes to her for the incredible lyrics that really do try to speak the volumes this trip deserves.

It started with a base, and a line that wouldnt function.
36 volunteers getting ready for construction.
1 amazing school for us to store the tools,
over 1 thousand bricks were lain, two chopped fingers axe to blame.

Qué linda Nicaragua, te extranaremos cuando nos vayamos,
de los árboles de mangos, de la gente en las calles…
Qué linda Nicaragua, yo quiero estar aqui,
pero el tiempo ha llegado, pero el tiempooooo.. ha llegado… para irnos

(How beautiful you are, Nicaragua, we will miss you when we have gone,
from the mango trees to the people in the streets…
How beautiful you are, Nicaragua, I want to be there,
but the time has come, but the tiiiime has come, to go)

75 days we’ve been here, with the maestro friendly don’t fear..
5 host families made us welcome, time to relax we’ve had seldom

Qué linda Nicaragua, te extranaremos cuando nos vayamos,
de los árboles de mangos, de la gente en las calles…
Qué linda Nicaragua, yo quiero estar aqui,
pero el tiempo ha llegado, pero el tiempooooo.. ha llegado… para irnos

(How beautiful you are, Nicaragua, we will miss you when we have gone,
from the mango trees to the people in the streets…
How beautiful you are, Nicaragua, I want to be there,
but the time has come, but the tiiiime has come, to go)

Oh bonita Nicaragua, we will miss you when we’re gone,
from the mangos on the trees to the people in the streets, oohhh…
Oh bonita Nicaragua, how i’d like to stay a while,
but the time has come, oh the time has come.. to say goodbye.. goodbyeeee…
Adiós, hasta luego, hasta manana, goodbyeee…

Photos at last! Enjoy one last time :)

The running order for the concert!
The running order for the concert!
"Although time goes by, the memories remain because you are young, open-handed with our community "El Pochote", unforgettable, the moments that we spent together, oh, Lord Creator of the Universe, guide and light up the minds of every Progressio volunteer. See you soon, Castro-Brenes family."
“Although time goes by, the memories remain because you are young, open-handed with our community “El Pochote”, unforgettable, the moments that we spent together, oh, Lord Creator of the Universe, guide and light up the minds of every Progressio volunteer. See you soon, Castro-Brenes family.”
Performing the song Jemma Reid wrote and I accompanied on the guitar. Will post the lyrics shortly.
Performing the song Jemma Reid wrote and I accompanied on the guitar. Will post the lyrics shortly.
"no matter how small the country, it can dream big." - Rubén Darío.
“no matter how small the country, it can dream big.” – Rubén Darío.
last day in Pochote
last day in Pochote
the tube on the inside
the tube on the inside
we were given lots of treats by the families where we worked
we were given lots of treats by the families where we worked
family outing to lake Nicaragua, where we found a beach with views of mystical Ometepe, was a great and peaceful rest
family outing to lake Nicaragua, where we found a beach with views of mystical Ometepe, was a great and peaceful rest
The filter
The filter
At one of the latrines with Esperanza and Trinidad
At one of the latrines with Esperanza and Trinidad
complete
complete
Last day in Pochote, a nice moment spent with one of the families, talking about the latrines and the projects and life in general before we left
Last day in Pochote, a nice moment spent with one of the families, talking about the latrines and the projects and life in general before we left

León cathedral

Two of my closest friends doing what we did so much, laying in a hammock!
Two of my closest friends doing what we did so much, laying in a hammock!
With one of the families we built for
With one of the families we built for
The group in the school on the last day there
The group in the school on the last day there
the entire, completed projects, a converted area that will hopefully start ripples
the entire, completed projects, a converted area that will hopefully start ripples
the title says it all
the title says it all
the whole group in Esmeralda's house, where the Spanish lessons took place, after our last lesson
the whole group in Esmeralda’s house, where the Spanish lessons took place, after our last lesson
christening one of the latrines
christening one of the latrines
a certain someone in his new hammock
a certain someone in his new hammock
the environment group halfway through the recycling centre project
the environment group halfway through the recycling centre project
My lovely students of Spanish who I taught everyday and who I took from beginners/intermediate to advanced! Special people.
My lovely students of Spanish who I taught everyday and who I took from beginners/intermediate to advanced! Special people.
the recycling centre
the recycling centre
"Thank you for being our British family, we will remember you forever."
“Thank you for being our British family, we will remember you forever.”
Leaving El Pochote on the last day, I took this photo to show you. This is under the bridge. Rubbish.
Leaving El Pochote on the last day, I took this photo to show you. This is under the bridge. Rubbish.
me and Carlos, a Nica friend from El Pochote who gave us all a gift from Nicaragua
me and Carlos, a Nica friend from El Pochote who gave us all a gift from Nicaragua
Preparing the ground with the children for the recycling centre
Preparing the ground with the children for the recycling centre
me and Jacob with our good friend from Nicaragua Arquímedes
me and Jacob with our good friend from Nicaragua Arquímedes
the organic corner
the organic corner
a complete latrine from the side. The 2 tubes sticking up are to let in oxygen to help the composting process
a complete latrine from the side. The 2 tubes sticking up are to let in oxygen to help the composting process
Me and harvie with our mummy outside our creation
Me and harvie with our mummy outside our creation
Last few moments with the host family
Last few moments with the host family
Me and Nica volunteer Adonis expressing my second nationality in style on the final day in El Pochote
Me and Nica volunteer Adonis expressing my second nationality in style on the final day in El Pochote
somne of the gang taking in the views of the lagoon at Masaya at the malecón
somne of the gang taking in the views of the lagoon at Masaya at the malecón
me and a turtle, pretty self-explanatory
me and a turtle, pretty self-explanatory
A man in a house I worked at harvesting beans
A man in a house I worked at harvesting beans
After accidentally getting stuvck at the lagoon, me, Jacob and Katie got to expereince this before eventually getting home
After accidentally getting stuvck at the lagoon, me, Jacob and Katie got to expereince this before eventually getting home
Iguanas at a house in Monimbó
Iguanas at a house in Monimbó
a traditional dish of ice covered in runny honey and other sweet sauces
a traditional dish of ice covered in runny honey and other sweet sauces
You'll have seen by now that we were lucky and got to travel a little bit, here I am with Jacob and my leader, Lauren, in a little hidden away cove we stumbled upon taking a long-cut we thought was a short-cut at Apoyo
You’ll have seen by now that we were lucky and got to travel a little bit, here I am with Jacob and my leader, Lauren, in a little hidden away cove we stumbled upon taking a long-cut we thought was a short-cut at Apoyo
some of us with the children in the allotment we created together
some of us with the children in the allotment we created together
We still had the chance to unwind a bit, just about. Here I am with Jacob, probably my bestie from the cycle!
We still had the chance to unwind a bit, just about. Here I am with Jacob, probably my bestie from the cycle!
More farewell messages from the families
More farewell messages from the families
some of the farewell messages from the families
some of the farewell messages from the families
with Esperanza, Esmeralda and Trinidad outside Santa Magdalena after my final Mass in Nica, with my present they got me
with Esperanza, Esmeralda and Trinidad outside Santa Magdalena after my final Mass in Nica, with my present they got me
The back of a completed latrine
The back of a completed latrine
me and Harvie with the family
me and Harvie with the family
Simply my favourite view in Nicaragua, Laguna Apoyo, Lago Nicaragua, Volcán Mombacho and lots of forest
Simply my favourite view in Nicaragua, Laguna Apoyo, Lago Nicaragua, Volcán Mombacho and lots of forest
Representing El Pochote at the farewell event in the school
Representing El Pochote at the farewell event in the school
installing the pipe in one of the latrines for the urine
installing the pipe in one of the latrines for the urine
Our half complete project
Our half complete project
The volleyball net volunteer Jessie made, she installed it on the playground at the school in El Pochote on the last day and we played together with the children to cleebrate 10 unforgettable weeks.
The volleyball net volunteer Jessie made, she installed it on the playground at the school in El Pochote on the last day and we played together with the children to cleebrate 10 unforgettable weeks.

Concerts, parties, farewells, tears, more tears and some more tears… and a lack of sleep throughout

Good afternoon cold, cold England. The last few days have been a very sobering reality check for me, mainly from the temperature and weather, but also from just how much my heart is aching for everything that has happened over the last 3 months.

The concert last Sunday was excellent, all performances were fantastic and everybody had a great time and enjoyed one last opportunity to integrate into the community that welcomed us so warmly into their lives. It was the perfect way to round off the cycle, and to showcase all that we have achieved in such a short space of time as well as promote what future cycles are going to do. Part of me is extremely jealous of them right now.

Leaving Masaya on Tuesday was truly dreadful. We’d had a party thrown for us in the Alcaldía on the Monday night, which all the British volunteers and their host families were invited to. It was really good fun, but there were just so many tears. I had no idea just how attached the families had become to us, and it was a bit of a shock seeing just how soul-destroyed and distraught they were at the thought of us leaving. A flattering nightmare.

On Tuesday we had our last meals together, took our last photos, exchanged our last gifts, and then the moment came to say goodbye. It was awful- it really did feel like someone had died, but I couldn’t work out who. But as we waved them off and the bus left Masaya for the last time, I realised that someone really had died- it was a small part of all of us.

We had a really enjoyable last few days break on the Pacific watching turtles move out to sea, and then inland to León, and for me it was on this trip that it hit me just how close I’d become to some of the volunteers. After eventually getting ourselves to Managua, I could barely eat- there was just this growing feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach for what was coming. And I wasn’t the only person going through all of this.

We got all our bags to the hotel, finished off in the Progressio office, and got ready for the last night in Nicaragua. Ninoska, the head of Progressio Nicaragua, invited all of the volunteers, Nicas and Brits, to her house just outside of Managua that night for a dinner party. It was a lovely evening with great food and company, and I even received a special award from Progressio for teaching the Spanish class. All the emotions started pouring out again.

After having bid Ninoska and her family farewell, we headed back to the hotel. It was almost 1am when we got back, and we had to leave at 4am for the aiport, so guess who just didn’t bother going to bed that night! Instead we filled the last few hours with more tears and farewells to some of our more special acquaintances from the experience, exchanging gifts, hugs, memories and promises.

The airport was stressful for various reasons, but thenI guess it wouldn’t be an airport if it was stress-free. We had to say goodbye to the two team leaders there too, as they are staying on to lead the next cycle and aren’t returning until Christmas. As you can imagine, this was difficult for us all. I’m not even sure where the tears were coming from at this point.

I got on the plane to Houston, fell into my seat and collapsed into sleep. Luckily, the sound of the roaring engines at the top of the runway woke me up in time for me to gaze out the window as the volcanoes, lakes and forests sped faster and faster out of sight. We zoomed up towards the clouds, and just as I turned back and saw a line of volcanoes smoking in the early morning sun, surrounded by green, by lakes, by lagoons, by a country that will stay in my heart, it all disappeared below the first layer of cloud. And it was gone. I collapsed again, and woke up as we landed in Houston.

That second flight to Heathrow through the night was the last real opportunity for the volunteers to spend time together before reality snapped us out of our dreams. We made the most of it. As we came in over Ireland, the sun rose, and we had breakfast. It was and still is difficult to put into words what I was feeling. At this point, I was so excited to meet my family waiting for me on the other side, but whilst it felt like I was speeding towards home, it felt just as much as if I was speeding away from it.

We walked out the doors into arrivals together, us all having put on our various Nica t-shirts. There stood Mum and Dad, 3 months on, nothing having changed. After hugging them, it was nice for them to meet some of the other volunteers who they’d also been following through blogs and photos and Facebook throughout the cycle. And then I left them. We got in the car home.

Upon arrival in Nottingham, I was looking forward to a quick lie-down before going to the pub for carvery to keep me awake so jet lag didn’t take over. Instead, as I walked in, I found banners, balloons, welcome home photo collages, and to my biggest surprise, 20-30 people awaiting me behind the curtain in my garden. Even my wonderful girlfriend, who I wasn’t expecting to see until Tuesday, was stood waiting for me. A hard moment, because I felt so much joy in seeing everyone, but I have honestly never felt so tired and I just don’t know how I stayed awake! I hadn’t been to bed since Thursday night, and it was now Sunday, and I’d just travelled 7 hours in time. Physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.

The welcome back gathering was great, and I have had a fantastic couple of days with people I’m so close to, and this has really helped. But now it’s time to get back on with life again, and life just isn’t the same anymore. I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to telling stories- I suppose some of them are probably better left untold.

As I complete this blog, so many thoughts swim through my mind. Thoughts of people: Esperanza, Esmeralda, Trinidad, Pochote people, Ninoska, Progressio, the children in the school, the man that always seemed to follow me around Masaya and shook my hand 5 times a day, the Nica volunteers, Freddie the other Spanish teacher… the list is endless; thoughts of places: El Pochote, the school and houses there, Santa Magdalena church, the square in Masaya, the various volcanoes, lakes and lagoons, the malecón (viewpoint of the lagoon in Masaya), my host house… the list is endless… so many ideas, so many what-ifs, so much confusion about what happened, what is happening and what is going to happen, why the world is like it is, why it takes things like what we did to make a difference that shouldn’t need to be made, how much of a difference we actually made, everything.

But I’m satisfied. I’m satisfied because it’s been a pretty huge 10 weeks in my life all in all. Before coming, I received some negative comments: “Why are you wasting your summer?”; “Can’t the people build the latrines themselves?”; “What possible difference can you make?”; “Charities just throw money away and this is no different.” To all of the above, I hope you had a great summer. I certainly did. I spent 10 weeks working with a brilliant charity called Progressio on a life-changing program called International Citizen Service with a team of amazing people in Nicaragua alongside Nicaraguans, living in a Nicaraguan host family, making a direct difference to some people’s lives and an indirect difference to a much greater movement: the idea of change and development, and making the world a better place for everyone. I got to gain so many new skills and share my skills with others and learn from theirs, I got to learn more about myself and others, make some of the most amazing, life-long friendships, make ripples, push myself to my limits, laugh, cry, love, live and most importantly, have fun. And I got to share that fun with everyone we touched over the 10 weeks. If everyone had the same attitude towards charities and voluntary work that the small minority does, we’d never see any change in this world. But I’ve now found something I know for sure I want to do with my life: make a change, because “change starts with you.”

Progressio ICS: Masaya, Nicaragua- July-September 2014.

Mission accomplished

The last week of work in El Pochote has to have been my favourite. I helped with some of the construction of the environmental project, but my main job was being out in the community. I completed the talks across all 30 receiving families on how to use and treat the eco-latrines properly, went around again with leaflets about the same thing, promoted the farewell event on Friday morning and the talent show and concert we are running later this afternoon. I also did some final latrine checks amongst many other things. A very busy but important and productive week, and the perfect way to show myself where my Spanish is at now. I know the community like the back of my hand now, and to be able to freely pass through and feel no limits with my language is a special feeling that cannot quite be put into words. It´s now my home too.

 

So, on Thursday, the plan was to have all latrines done, all latrine checks done and important information handed out, as well as the environmental project finished. On Wednesday we had taken all the 100s of tools back to the Alcaldía with us on the roof of our cranky bus in the pouring rain down the bumpy dirt track. It´s a wonder no-one got hit by a fling pick-axe! On Thursday, the environment group completed the recycling centre project, which was officially opened after the farewell event on Friday morning which I helped organize and promoted in the community and with the host families. Photos of it to come. Mission accomplished.

 

Everything was pretty much finished on the latrines front, so Thursday really did feel like our last day of work. A few of us had been planning from the start to walk home one day, which would take at least an hour, but would include a stop at a viewpoint of the volcano and lagoon halfway down the road. So on Thursday, me, Jacob and Katie, 2 of my besties, walked out in style. Sitting at the viewpoint, we reminisced about the last couple of months as we watched the rain clouds swoop around us. Then the rain came. And came. And came. 2 hours later we were back home, so wet we were dry. It was one of the best walks of our lives, and one of the fonder memories I´ll take with me from this magical country.  

 

Friday came, and the farewell event came and went. We got to the school to find Adonis, one of the Nica volunteers who could quite easily be president, had written on the floor in the entrance to the school: “Si pequeña la patria, uno grande la sueña.” (The best way I can think to translate this is “as small as the country may be, it can dream big.”) This is a quote from a famous Nica poet called Rubén Dario, and sums up my personal experience in Nicaragua very well. I did a speech in the event and accompanied two singing volunteers with my guitar. It was a happy celebration, ad it was nice to see some familiar faces from the community who had received eco-latrines, as well as Esperanza, Esmeralda and Trinidad representing the host families. I took them to see a latrine so they could see what we´d been up to. After the grand opening of the recycling centre, Jessie, a British volunteer, put up the volleyball net she´d built for the playground, and we all played together with the kids to christen it. However, work still was not over, and I had to go with some others to sort out a few locks on latrine doors that had broken. When I got back to the school, almost all the kids had left: only a few remained- a few that I knew quite well however. Everyone had been feeling quite emotional all day, but something was about to happen that would take me over the edge.  They came running up to me: “Mateo! Mateo!” and hugged me. Looking up at me smiling, they said: ”see you next month.” As you´ll remember from a previous blog, I´d told them I was going to return once a month to make sure they were keeping everywhere clean. I cried.

“We remembered what you said, that we can´t change the world, but if we do a little bit and tell our friends to do the same, we can make it better.” They ran off to the newly opened recycling centre we all built together, their hands full of litter from the playground. Mission accomplished.

 

The bus came for the last time and we all climbed on sadly. Bye-bye Pochote. I thought. I was wrong. There was still one more thing to do. Work! There were some more locks and doors issues at the bottom few latrines, s me and Jacob got off the bus to sort them and the bus left. Last 2 in El Pochote! It took ages, so we treated ourselves to a gaseosa at the viewpoint for the second day in a row, and looked out longingly over the deep forest to the wonders that lay beyond. No rain this time. And we left. As we marched out, we passed familiar faces who bid us farewell. I left feeling proud: proud of what we´d achieved, how we´d achieved it, and most of all, proud of what Is still to come from this amazing project on this incredible program. We marched out in style. Mission accomplished.

 

Now it´s Sunday, and I had my last Mass this morning at Santa Magdalena with Esperanza, Esmeralda and Trinidad. Esmeralda and Trinidad had got me a present, which they gave to the altar boy who gave it me at the end off Mass in front of the congregation of a few hundred. An emotional and special way to bring the Church experience to an end here. It was a Purísima, a plaque with the Most Pure Virgin Mary on the front and a nice message from them on the back. My old blog tells you all about this. Quién causa tanta alegría? La concepción de María! Mission, yet again, accomplished.

 

I have spent every second since then shopping to make the host family Eton Mess tomorrow as well as a photo collage, helping with translating an important presentation to be given this afternoon at the concert i´m going to discuss in a second, practicing my various guitar pieces for it, receiving a goodbye present from the host family, running round like a blue arsed fly, writing this… busy, but wouldn´t have it any other way.

 

So the concert. The cycle is coming to an official close this afternoon with a huge concert and talent show some volunteers have organized. This is for the whole of Masaya including El Pochote, and we´ve organized free shuttle buses to and from Pochote so people can get there and back. There are going to be traditional dance and singing performances from various people in Masaya including us volunteers (i´m performing a meer  5 times, wish me luck) and presentations about the projects we have done. Even the women´s choir the volunteers organized in El Pochote, which has been a huge success, is going to perform! We think it´s going to be big, and a big party. All photos of everything will follow next week when i´m home. The aim is to get Progressio even more known in the wider community for future cycles, and for us to have one last chance to integrate into the community before we leave. I´m off there now!

 

On Monday we have our de-brief, and we leave Masaya on Tuesday. We go to the sea and a nature reserve via Managua to see turtles heading out to sea, and then on Wednesday we´re headed to León where we´ll spend our last 2 days. Then on Friday it´s back to Managua to a dinner party at the boss´house, and then early Saturday morning we take off. Next update on here will be from the UK. Until then, happy September, thanks for reading, and cannot wait to see everyone soon. Just one thing that remains to be said: mission accomplished.  

The city of Masaya

 On Tuesday, Masaya celebrated its 175h anniversary of becoming a city, and after work, the British volunteers processed down the main road into Masaya to the cathedral where there was a celebratory Mass. We Processed with the Alcaldía de Vara de Monimbó, the partner organization with which we are working and also where the host families are based.

 As we were stood waiting to go, Doña Carmen, a host Mum, asked if I would carry the flag of the Catholic Church in the procession. The answer was of course yes, and so off we went, me with the Catholic Church flag and a Nica volunteer with the Nica flag, stood either side of the mayor of the Alcaldía.

 It was an incredible honour, and a really appropriate and satisfying way to end such a fundamental part of my placement. After Mass, there was a bigger, more official procession in which all the volunteers had a chance to carry the flag and play the drum in front of what seemed like all of Masaya. A great afternoon, pictures soon.

Nearing the end…

Out of the 30 latrines we are going to build on this cycle, only two remain to be finished. We’re practically there, and what a monumental effort it’s been over the past few weeks. We’ve had our fair share of issues: issues with getting materials to the houses (the families are expected to transport their own materials from the central point to which they’re delivered in El Pochote to their houses); issues with water (around the halfway mark, there were one or two weeks where most houses didn’t have any water which meant we couldn’t construct as we need water for cement which we need for everything but digging the whole for the filter); and we also had issues with confusion amongst the group as to who was meant to be where (we’re a big group and we run other activities at the same time as construction, people get ill etc.). But, despite all these issues, we’re almost there, and the mood within the group is a much happier and more positive one than that of a few weeks ago, when we just didn’t think we were going to finish.  On Wednesday, my construction group finished our last latrine, so on Thursday I went around the community helping put the doors on the back and filling in the hole for the filter with rock and plastic, which absorbs the urine so as not to contaminate the ground, and then on Friday I went around again with another volunteer from family to family, talking in each one about how to use the latrine properly and with respect, and informing them of anything else they needed to know and answering their questions. This was good as it was plenty more practice for my Spanish, and I got to go out and see the rest of the community and the other latrines other groups built, and the people that are going to benefit from them .

The environment group has been busy too- on Tuesday morning we dug up a plot of land on the school playground with all the children in the school which is going to become the environment corner, and it’s now ready for the children to plant fruit and veg in this week with us before we leave. We got our hands on two giant tyres too, in which we put compost ready for planting in this week.   We’re hoping to get paint for the children to paint the tyres with too. They’re going to be planting tomatoes, watermelons and lots of other Nica fruit and veg. We’re also hoping to finally build the plastic, paper, general and organic bins this week in the corner too with the children. We had some issues with the proposal which is why it’s happening so late, but it does look promising at last. The idea is that the two projects will join, in that the compost created from the organic bin will be used in the future to plant with in the allotment next to them. Two volunteers also created a sign with some children for the allotment that reads: “huerto escolar, escuela El Pochote”. (school allotment, El Pochote school.)They’re both all about looking after your environment, and in turn, after yourself. When digging up the ground however, we were faced with a disturbing reality. The land was thick with rubbish all the way down. It was disgusting, and has to change. Nothing can grow in ground like that. The issues with litter here are enormous, and no one wants them. I’ve spoken to so many Nicas and asked them what they would change about their country if they could change one thing. 95% answered with the litter issue. So what is the problem? People just chuck it everywhere. There’s not much of a recycling culture, nor a real culture of separating waste. It’s just everywhere, and to eventually get rid of it, people usually wither bury or burn it. As I took charge of the children litter picking on Tuesday morning while others dug and prepared the litter-ridden land, I pulled a group over to a mound of recently-dug-up land, and asked them what the problem was.
“It’s full of litter,” a girl responded.

“Why?”

“Because when the rain comes, it’s pushed down under the ground over time.”

“Good. Why else?”

In a more reluctant voice: ”people also bury it.”

“Good. Why is that bad?”

“Because it contaminates the earth, and we can’t grow as much food. It looks bad too.”

This all came from a 6-year old. And they all know it, they’re experts on the environment compared to a lot of the older generation we interviewed for the latrines. It’s a hot topic, but not much is changing. Why? Culture. Tradition. Habit. This is the most challenging thing to change, but the most beneficial, worthwhile and necessary. Enthusing the children to put rubbish in the bins is so important: they know to, but they chuck it on the ground or anywhere out of habit. I drilled it with them on Tuesday morning, making them compete who can find the most. I had buckets of plastic being thrown at me 60 seconds later. 5 minutes later, the place as transformed. It’s as simple as that.

“I’m going to come back once a month from England and make sure you’re keeping the school and your community clean,” I told them as they looked up at me wide-eyed, nodding gullibly.

“Promise me one thing? Promise me that when we’re gone, you’ll always put your rubbish in the bin, especially the ones we’re going to build together, and that you’ll always look after your environment and yourselves?”

“We promise,” they all replied in perfect unison. Although words are only words, it was one of those moments I wish a camera had caught.

I also had a meeting with an environmental organization based in Masaya on Monday night with a few others from the environment group. The organization is called OrgaNica (Organizacion Nicaraguense Ambiental) and we found out more about their work and talked about setting up projects with them for the next cycle. The leader of the environment group, Will, and I are also trying to arrange a meeting between the school in El Pochote, Progressio and OrgaNica, so as to discuss future projects within the school that benefits everyone. I like the work OrgaNica do so much as the environment here to me is so important, that I’m going to try and do some fundraising for them back home too- they receive no funds at all at the moment.

So plenty of experience in environmental projects, something I came here wanting to get as the possibility of leading such projects as part of my year abroad in a school in Colombia is looking like a good possibility at the moment, and as always, everything that’s been going on has been a lot of help and experience with using Spanish: something I’m going to be missing dearly in two weeks time when I’ll be over the Atlantic.    

Pinnacle Weekend

For a while I had had this idea that I wanted to talk to the congregation about what we´re doing here, who we are, why we are doing what we are doing. People in El Pochote very much know who we are and about our work in their community for obvious reasons, but in Monimbó- the community where we live and spend as much time; the people who host us- don´t really know who we are. I knew I really wanted to change that- one of the main aims of the project after all is that we integrate into the community, but how can we do that if the people surrounding us don´t know who we are? 

I´ve been talking to my contacts in the main church (Santa Magdalena) for a while now, but the problem has been that the main priest has been away. I´ve got the feeling that it´s not as simple here in Nicaragua to enter a church and be able to and be allowed to talk as it is in the UK, and all the readers here have like their own scapula and uniform- it has a much more serious feel to it, and so I was really happy when the priest eventually came back and I got the cnace to talk to him and arrange a hot date with the 7am congregation on the Sunday just gone. The community here is based so largely around the Catholic Church, and talking to the congregation there at the busiest of all the weekend services is a great way to channel information out- just like at home in that respect, as I´ve discovered in the last few years and especially during my fundraising to come here.

So after waiting through a typically long, festive service, I eventually got my chance to scuttle up nervously onto the altar at the end. I was worried people wouldn´t really be paying much attention with it being the end of Mass, but I had no need to worry. I´ve talked and read so many times at churches back home, and for me personally I´ve proven to myself that my Spanish is  capable of what seems like anything at all right now, and so it was just a matter of putting the two experiences and abilities together in those 5 minutes and enjoying a moment of sheer pride and satisfaction, talking to a good 300-400 people. I felt very relaxed and the talk went well. Lots of familiar faces from the commuity and specific people I have met in the two churches looked up, smiled and interacted as I went, and all in all it was a very special and unforgettable moment for me. Jacob, Fiona and Alice, 3 of my lovely fellow volunteers got up at the crack of dawn with me to come and support me, and they got to come up onto the altar too. I´m very grateful to them for coming as I know it´s not everyone´s cup of tea and it was very early- love you guys, and thanks for taking the photos and videos: photos to hopefully follow this blog and hopefully videos when i´m back in the UK. Walking back to them, Esmeralda and her husband Trinidad, applauded off the altar, I felt such satisfaction, but eve more so, an unmistakable feeling that told me that experiences like this aren´t over in my life, and that whatever I end up doing with my life, it will entail work of some sort in the Catholic Church. 

At the end we had lots of people come up and want to get involved with the project just by offering knowledge and skills that they have, so I took their contact details for the next cycle, which will be arriving at the end of September. The amount of gratitude and warm wishes we received was so inspiring, comforting and encouraging, and topped off a great morning. This was my little project that I felt strongly about and that I set myself up to do with the skills that I have, and I was really happy with how it went.

So why else was this pinnacle weekend, you ask? We´re nearly done here in Nicaragua unbelievably, and my Spanish level feels pretty much at its peak, and i´m enjoying every moment of it. Everyone started their present shopping on Saturday (I finished mine as i´ve been going all the way through due to severe spending problems on markets), and I got really bolshy with stall owners and did lots of bartering for some of the other volunteers, putting my Spanish to the test yet again. Later that day the group had a meeting with a lady from an idigenous community who works for a local organisation here, protecting and helping to revitalise ancient, indigenous communities and their customs. After a full day of shopping and lots of walking, it was sprung on me that I would be interpreter for the meeting, which went on to last for over 2 hours. We  performed some indigeous rituals which I had to interpret whilst carrying them out with the ret of the group, and then discussed their concepts, traditions and the work the organisation carries out. This was the most challenging experience of interpreting I have had so far, but also the most proud making and most rewarding. And I have had plenty of experience here. Other things that also happened that weekend also required a lot of Spanish and specific, challenging Spanish, and so I really feel that this weekend I reached the pinnacle of my abilities within my role. 

To finish on a nice note, I asked the congregation on Sunday to pray not only for us and Progressio, but also for you back home, especially those who sat in the same service earlier that day. I told them you´ll be praying for them too, so if you can do one thing, please pray for me, the rest of my team as we finish here, Progressio and all the work it carries out, the ICS program and all its efforts to create ripples and create international citizens, and for the people here in Nicaragua who have welcomed us so dearly into their lives and given up so much for us and for all of the above, a community so much less fortunate than our´s back home, but filled with just as much love, good and progression.

 

 

 

More pics, que disfruten, enjoy :)

a side view
a side view
The back of a latrine, just missing its doors
The back of a latrine, just missing its doors
a latrine almost completed, just missing the filter pipe, doors on the back, seat and cover
a latrine almost completed, just missing the filter pipe, doors on the back, seat and cover
our latrine almost as far as we can take it
our latrine almost as far as we can take it
the mangos they harvest in the house we have been working in recently
the mangos they harvest in the house we have been working in recently
my group :)
my group 🙂
me with the children I live with, Rey and Alex
me with the children I live with, Rey and Alex
view from the viewpoint of the lagoon in Masaya
view from the viewpoint of the lagoon in Masaya
an example of the shops and houses that fill the streets of the San Juan district of Masaya, all selling hammocks
an example of the shops and houses that fill the streets of the San Juan district of Masaya, all selling hammocks
sun set on the Pacific, San Juan Del Sur
sun set on the Pacific, San Juan Del Sur
chapel at the top of the statue of Christ in San Juan Del Sur
chapel at the top of the statue of Christ in San Juan Del Sur
the bay at San Juan
the bay at San Juan
me with Emily and Jacob :)
me with Emily and Jacob 🙂
views from the statue of Christ at San Juan
views from the statue of Christ at San Juan
views from the statue of Christ at San Juan
views from the statue of Christ at San Juan

SAM_1792

welcome to the Pacific
welcome to the Pacific
a typical Nica bus
a typical Nica bus
old school number plate
old school number plate
birthdays and leaving celebrations for some volunteers
birthdays and leaving celebrations for some volunteers
cant rotate the picture, but a plantain plant and is amazing flower
cant rotate the picture, but a plantain plant and is amazing flower
another base down
another base down
Church on the night of la Purísima, see my previous blog
Church on the night of la Purísima, see my previous blog
processions on La Purísima
processions on La Purísima
a gritería on La Purísima
a gritería on La Purísima
celebrations on La Purísima
celebrations on La Purísima
my name tag at the birthday meal, El Profesor- the teacher!
my name tag at the birthday meal, El Profesor- the teacher!
me on top of an almost complete latrine with its future users!
me on top of an almost complete latrine with its future users!

La Purísima Concepción de Maria

On Wednesday it was one of the British volunteers´birthday, and that night we went out for a Mexican. On Thursday I woke up with food poisoning. So Thursday was going pretty badly, and I couldn´t even go to work on the day my group were set to finish one of our latrines. But I rested up, and when the other volunteers got back I was dragged out onto the streets of Monimbó. On Thursday it was the feast day of The Most Pure Virgin Mary in Masaya, León and Granada. I wondered straight away why it was only in these cities, and I had it explained to me. On that date 15 years ago, Volcano Cerro Negro in León erupted. The people prayed to this virgin, whose feast day is normally celebrated on the 7th December, and asked that she protect them. Since then, predominantly in León but throughout the Pacific region (hence Masaya) this virgin´s feast day has been celebrated twice a year- once on the 14th August and once on its usual date of the 7th of December. The August feast day has been given the name La Chiquita (the small one). If Thursday´s celebrations were only small ones, then I really wish I was still here in December to witness the proper ones. It doesn´t surprise me though that the celebrations are so big- we are in a hispanic society here after all! 

So we went out into the streets to find people by their hundreds, lots of young people and children, processing through the streets on floats. Lots of houses had created their own little altars of the virgin Mary, and the custom, as we discovered, is to sing songs to the altars dedicated to the Virgin, passing from house to house, and the owner gives you a gift- often food. These are called ´griterías´.  It reminded me of Christmas carolling! We went with some Nicas who taught us the songs, and we got some presents. I´m going to try to upload photos and maybe a video after this of the altars and of us singing. It was really special for me to see so many people practicing their faith, especially young people and children, and it made me think a lot about the Catholic Church in the UK. As the chats of ´quién causa tanta alegría?! La Concepción de María!! (who causes so much joy?! The Virgin Mary!!)´went up, I had absolutely no idea of what was still waiting for me later that evening. 

So after the griterías I taught my Spanish class, which takes place in the house of one of the host families. The host Mum is called Esmeralda, and she is the sister of Esperanza, my host Mum. She invited me to join her that night at a gathering at Santa Magdalena church as we are always discussing religion and she knows of my interest in this. Thank the Virgin Mary I took her up on the offer. It was probabloy the most unforgettable and frankly the best and most special experience I have had since arriving in Nicaragua. 

We got there to find 600-700 minimum people packed into the church, about 100 of which were teenagers and children who were being confirmed that night. Some of them were from the school in El Pochote where we are working, and fought their way through the crowds to give me a hug, and then again at the Sign of Peace. This was a really special moment for me. What was most exciting though is that the Mass and Confirmation was being led by the Cardinal of Nicaragua, who we´d watched arrive in Monimbó earlier that day during the height of the griterías action. Unlike any Catholic leading figure in the UK, he was surrounded by security guards and police- this was an interesting comparison. Esmeralda went to touch his shoulder as he passed by us at the end of Mass, and the security guard pulled her off!

The Mass was just incredible- the atmosphere was electric, with the incense like in the olden days in the UK, music at every possible response, explosives being let off constantly  right behind us (me and Esmeralda were stood in the doorway- as near as we could get)- it was a party atmosphere, and i have never had to fight so hard to receive communion. Whilst receiving communion, something caught my attention that has caught it every time i have received it in Nicaragua, and that is that a lot of people do not receive it, a lot of those people being women. This confused me as it feels like everyone is a devout Catholic here, and frankly, I reckon almost the whole of Nicaragua was in church with me that night. I asked Esmeralda about it afterwards, especially as she is one of these people, but I had to be careful in case it was a touchy subject. This is what she told me. Even if you have been baptised, made your First Holy Communion and been confirmed, if you marry and don´t do it through the Catholic Church, you cannot receive Communion.

Even now, writing this blog, I just cannot get the image of the packed, buzzing and bursting church out of my head from that night. All Catholics in this country are proud to be Catholic, and show it through their actions. I have never seen a church so full, vibrant, colourful, so musical and so electric. I myself was teeming with pride and joy and couldn´t stop smiling all the way back to Esperanza and to sleep that night- not a bad end to a day that started so dreadfully.

As the shouts of ´Viva Nicaragua!´and ´Viva Masaya!´went up at the end of Mass, I thought about my churches back home in Nottingham and Birmingham, and in that moment, despite being 7000 miles away or whatever it is, I felt so close, as if I was there in the building with all the people I know, love and miss from each one. It was nice to know we´re still celebrating the same thing, no matter how far apart we are and what different lives we´re leading. Over and out.  

Giving power to the people in Nicaragua