Julio, our guide, arrived at 8:00 sharp for our walking tour of Leon. After a few short blocks, he conscientiously sat us in the shade in front of a large mural that related the history of Nicaragua from its indigenous roots to the current president, Daniel Ortega. Interspersed with our history lesson, Julio encouraged members of our group to read aloud pieces of literature in English, merging sentiment and imagery with fact. Lezli and I took turns reading A Roosevelt by Rubén Darío, which speaks directly and frankly to the bullying of Latin America by the U.S. government.
The U.S. is potent and great / When you shake there is a great temblor / that passes through the enormous vertebrae of the AndeReuben Dario
With eloquent grace, Julio described the U.S. support of Somoza, the evolution of the Sandinista revolution, and the new hope and unavoidable challenges ahead for his country. Julio later shared that he had been picked up on suspicion by Somoza’s army at the age of 14 and was incarcerated, for no reason, for several months. He took us to the Martyrs and Heroes Museum where he showed us pictures of those who had died for the sake of their country including his step brother and many friends. The photos were of children and helped us understand the depth of Julio’s participation and his pride in the true story of his country. “Nicaraguans now have freedom,” he said ” but they need to think, and care about each other to really change the country and make it better.” He was very careful to communicate that his issues with American policy were not a reflection of his feelings for the American people, and again thanked us, emphatically, for listening to his story and giving of our time and our hearts to help his country.
Our next stop was the rooftop of the cathedral. I love how rooftop tours give you a completely different perspective on a place. Julio pointed out the ring of volcanoes that surrounds León, one of which was belching gray smoke. Numerous times I had heard how “we’re due for another major eruption”, and my midwestern heart skipped a beat. The land I come from offers me stability and support, but the earth here puffs and groans, spews fire, rumbles, shakes, and breaks. The Masaya volcano was so active this week that the park was closed to the public. It is always enlightening to look down on the markets, the plazas, and streets. After a few quick photos of the bell towers and a pair of lovebirds, we were ready for a cool drink at the best hotel in town, El Convento.
Both the the art center of the Ortiz Gurdián Foundation and the El Convento hotel are funded by BanPro which charges a minimal entry fee, much of which is donated to Mujeres con Cancer, a charity that helps low income women get treatment for breast cancer. The art collection was superb with pieces by Picasso, Chagall, Miró, and a predominance of amazing Latin American art from Rivera to Tamayo and numerous very talented Nicaraguan artists that were new to me. It is a private collection displayed in a lovely Creole-Civil style home with a rose garden at its center. Nicaragua is a country of poets, artists, and artisans – on our way back to the hotel, we passed an elderly gentlemen that greeted Julio warmly. He is a local poet that had been honored the night before where he received a stipend from the government to continue his work. He was impeccably dressed in a dark suit and cane, despite the sweltering heat. I found it interesting that in a country this poor, there is still support for the arts and their ability to bring beauty into our hearts with simple words, brush strokes, and notes.
After the tour, we stopped for lunch at the beach and then headed for Managua. On the outskirts of the city we visited another artisan cooperative, Esperanza en Acción, which is run by the niece of a friend of Patricia. The organization works with 25 groups of artisans (275 individuals) of which 95% are women and come from rural and economically disadvantaged areas. Through fair trade initiatives, they offer artisans a fair wage ($1.25/hour as compared to the usual $1.00/day) and a worldwide market which they are working hard to expand in the future. Esperanza en Acción consistently encourages artisans to improve the quality of their work and offers them low interest loans to help improve their standard of living. Each individual sets the rate for pay back, according to their individual needs and living situation. I’m honestly not much of a market person – always wondering what percentage of the price actually goes to the vendors and artisans. These cooperatives are a win-win for everyone, and so much less chaotic. I also loved having the artists signature on the piece and the peace of mind that came from knowing I was truly making a difference with my purchase.
After a quick stop at the hotel for a much needed shower, we were off for dinner at El Tercer Ojo – Managua’s only fusion restaurant which was conveniently walking distance from our hotel. Ann from PINCC warmly accepted the invitation to join the group for our final dinner.
In true Patricia fashion, she encouraged each of us to share an insight from the trip. Gratitude and Generosity were the common themes expressed around the sangria filled table. We discussed how misunderstood HPV is in our country, how each donation counts, and how rewarding it has been to travel with the intention of service as opposed to pleasure. We all agreed that the unique combination of the DFW itinerary has been perfect. It was important to get to know each other beforehand to gel as a group and create an atmosphere of comfort and trust with each other before the intensity of the service work, and equally important to have this down time at the end.
“I’m sending PINCC some real post it notes and binder clips”, said Marcy. She was on the data entry team and corrected (with a smile) my previous blog entry that the office staff had access to REAL post-it notes. They had paper clipped numbered pieces of paper to each file to identify cases that kept falling off causing confusion and slowing down the process. “A little adhesive would have made a big difference!” She’s going to send Carol some office supplies from Atlanta for the next PINCC mission.
“I’ll never look at my Ob-Gyn visit in quite the same way, “ said Dani. The trust these women put in the medical and support staff was sobering. There was no privacy, no room for modesty. A piece of paper toweling placed on the exam table was the only “sterile” surface between patients. The same hospital gown was used all day. But these women showed up because they wanted to take care of themselves so they could be around to take care of their children and grandchildren.
Catherine also spoke to these women’s courage. Many of them thought they had cancer and cried with relief when they heard negativo. The Nicaraguan staff spent a lot of time repeating instructions and educating patients about the severity of recurring infections and STDs and the importance of treating their partners and using condoms to prevent recontamination. None of these are easy concepts to understand the first few times you hear them. The patience of the staff, the volunteers, and the patients was truly impressive.
Arlene spoke to the need to equalize resources at the local level, and pointed out that although the conditions at the hospital in León were shocking to us, it is a FREE hospital where EVERYONE can see a doctor and get a prescription filled.
Leslie’s eyes filled with tears as she once more remembered the warm welcome she had experience when a young mother invited her into their modest dwelling right next to the pottery shop in San Juan de Oriente. The family picture with Leslie at the center says it all. Write about it, Leslie.
An amazing memory.
Amidst hugs and tears and promises to keep in touch, we finally said our good-byes. We had challenged Proust’s wisdom and succeeded in seeking new landscapes AND looking with new eyes. Somehow we all knew we were returning to our “real life” changed on some level, yet to be determined. Keep in touch gals! I want to see posting on Facebook and will start looking for the photos in the very near future!
On behalf of our group, I would like to thank DFW and PINCC for making this mission possible. I would also like to formally recognize that amazing job that Patricia Anderson did as leader of the DFW group. With patience and grace and tenacity, she kept us on schedule and always had time to listen to our stories. I especially appreciate her sense of adventure and willingness to jump into a horse drawn carriage for a tour in the rain, and her many connections that brought us to cooperatives and clinics where we could experience the results of non-profit and fair trade organizations, first hand.
Hasta pronto y que todo les vaya bien.