NICA2012, Day 3: Up a Winding Mountain Road

As I sit outside on the deck of our beach house rental, I’m realizing how hard it’s going to be to tell this whole tale…

Day 3 (Home visits) – We started the day off with another group run. I was beginning to feel fatigue from 4 runs in 3 days, was lagging a little behind for most of the run.  About halfway through, my foot caught on a pipe sticking out of the ground, and down I went.  (Tripping in the Houston airport was clearly just the beginning!) One knee, hip, and both palms scraped, and a bruised shoulder, but I was more embarrassed than hurt. If I was going to get hurt with any group, this was it.  When I got back to the hotel, Pavel was sitting in the lobby. He asked what was up, and I showed him my knee.  He quickly got Marta! After a little iodine and neosporin, I was good to go. (Evan told me later that he thought I had collapsed – glad that wasn’t the case!)

I know, you were wondering where the photo of this incident was. HERE IT IS! Post-iodine cleaning. You’re welcome.

After that exciting start to the morning, we had breakfast and loaded up to go to El Crucero. It was about a 35 minute drive, up a mountain just outside of Managua.  We were about 1000m above sea level, but my ears wouldn’t pop. The further we went up, the farther away everyone sounded! I seemed to be the only one having that issue, but I do normally live below sea level. Something you wouldn’t see in the US: if a car is moving slow up (or down) the mountain, drivers don’t hesitate to pass.  The fact that the centerline is double yellow and the road is twisting and turning seems to be irrelevant!

Our destination was El Crucero, to the Divino Rostro orphanage. We were going to base home visits out of there, and then hold clinics there for three days. Before heading out, we toured the orphanage, which also serves as the prek-6 school for the area. (The orphan babies have a separate place, in Managua). The orphanage is run by nuns, who wear traditional dress and are the cutest thing ever. The Mother Superior gave us a tour of the orphanage. The 1st grade class had two songs to sing to us, and then we sang “Twinkle, Twinkle” since it was the only song we all knew! The 3rd grade class was persuaded to dance for us, so 8 of them lined up and performed a traditional Nica dance.

The girls danced circles around the boys! No, really.

The school teaches English, so the 2nd grade class was sure to tell us “Hello” and “Goodbye” and “Thank You!” Mother Superior explained to us that it can take up to 5 years to adopt a child from Nica, due to the many rules and regulations that the Family Ministry puts into place.  One of our translators later told us that the many rules and regulations stem from the high rates of human trafficking. Also, many of the children aren’t actually orphans – their parents drop them off and never return, and usually have serious drug or alcohol problems.  That fact was the most heartbreaking.

After our tour, we started home visits.  I was with Natalie and Karen, and we also had a translator, Geraldine, and a local guide.  Geraldine is my age, and has only been studying English for 7 months – talk about impressive! We had a long way to walk to get to the first house, so we moved quickly. Home visits served dual purpose – to conduct a community census and to let them know about clinics. If someone was ill, we would give them a ticket with an appointment time at our clinic. Either Geraldine or our guide would go up to the gate of the house, yell “Buenas!” Geraldine would explain who we were and what we wanted, and 9 times out of 10, we would be gladly welcomed into the home and offered a place to sit. We would take basic information (birthday, chronic illnesses, lifestyle habits) of each person living in the home. We also had to survey water storage, bathroom facilities, and structure of each home. A different one of us would ask questions at each home.

We saw some awesome scenery during home visits!

I started us off (they had great faith in my Spanish), at the home of an older woman and her husband. She was rather hesitant of us. They had dogs, chickens, and goats living inside and outside the home. There were building supplies stacked up inside, and it was filthy.  I was able to ask most of the questions in Spanish, and needed Geraldine to translate answers.  At second home, we had to go down steep, muddy stairs to a couple of shacks set up on the side of a hill.  The woman was very kind, and had a cute little boy, who we manage to lure out with stickers before he darted back inside. Natalie asked questions at this house.  Turns out, she was a lot better at Spanish than she gave herself credit for, and picked up new phrases quickly. Our last home before lunch was a relatively nicer, and a young pregnant woman answered our questions.  It was her 2nd pregnancy, and she was on top of things, with vitamins and regular appointments. Karen was the one asking the questions here, and her paramedic background led her to the important questions to ask, ones I certainly never would have thought of!

We trekked back to the orphanage and loaded the bus to go eat lunch.  We went to a restaurant in El Crucero, where they were prepared for us to come.  We ate chicken, rice, beans, onions in vinegar (we had this at every meal in Nica), and plantain chips.  The Americans weren’t allowed to have any ice, so we drank cool Pepsi with our meal.  (We ate here every day in El Crucero, and after that first day, the restaurant started chilling our drinks so they would be cold!)

A cute little church in the Juan Jose community!

After lunch, we broke off into our same groups for a few more hours of home visits. This time, my group was just a street over from the orphanage, in a community called Juan Jose. There were about 15 homes on a street that was probably less than 1/4 mile long.  The homes had anywhere from 2 to 11 people living in each one.  Karen and I met a cute set of 5 year-old twin girls, and talked to them about favorite colors and school while Natalie asked their grandmother questions (Sorry, Nat!).  I couldn’t understand all of what they said, but I did catch the word “Princess” over and over! Ha. We gave them stickers and pencils. Another home, the nicest one we visited that day, was a middle-age couple and their 7 children.  As we sat on their couch, the husband answered all my questions.  He brought his wife in so she could tell her birthday, etc, and then she went back into the kitchen. We went down the list of their children, oldest to youngest.  The funny part was that he couldn’t remember any of their birthdays! He would lean into the kitchen, and yell, “Marvin (or whichever child we were on) – fecha de nacimiento?” and then let us know what his wife responded.  We did this for all 7 children! I guess his wife was busy and it was easier to holler.

We visited another home that had 11 people living in it, plus several dogs and some birds.  An older woman answered the questions; she lived there with her husband, daughters, and grandchildren.  Her daughters came out and thanked us all for coming to help the people of Nicaragua. They were the first to do that, and it really meant a lot.

We covered that entire row of homes, then went back to the orphanage to board the bus. We had a little down time after we got back to the hotel, so all the girls took our books and journals and sat out on the benches and rocking chairs to read and write and decompress from the day.  Dinner was at the hotel that night, then we had a pharmacology lesson from Dr. Cerrato. It was a lot to take in at once, but we picked up what the different drugs did, and what their side effects were, as we spent days in clinics.  To finish off the day, Nat and I went to join Jenna, Lindsey, Danielle, Seth, and Evan for a few rounds of the always exciting, sometimes violent game of spoons (affectionately called “schpoons”)

Since this post is now well over 1300 words, I’ll just write about one day in this post! More to come later.


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