New kid on the (Nicaraguan) block

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I’m in Nicaragua for 6 months. I have a contract setting up service learning programmes for young people from San Francisco. As we speak, these 16 year olds are frantically fundraising for the trip of a lifetime – where they will learn in depth about Nicaragua – how locals live and work, about education, politics, history, culture – and about themselves. They will grow as leaders, as open-minded global citizens, able to understand the challenges of the developing world, the complicated relationship between their country and Latin America, able to think critically and appreciate difference. They will go back to the States with skills to make a difference in their own communities.

So that all sounds great right? And it will be.

The only issue is that instead of the sunny Dominican Republic, where I applied for this job, with great surf, music and LIFE, I have been placed in Jinotega – known as the city of mists – in Nicaragua. Don’t get me wrong – I love Nicaragua – well I thought I did, when I spent a month on the coast in November, in surf spots with open, passionate people.

But, although I have lived for the last 2 years in rural Guatemala – as almost the only foreigner, with its bugs, its heat, its tiny population – and started a life there from scratch – I am finding it really difficult to feel at home here in this provincial city. Instead of feeling part of the community, I am invisible. Nobody says hello (although a few say ‘goodbye’), Instead of having my own home to relax in and invite my friends to, I spent a few miserable nights in crummy damp hotels and now my Nica colleague is sleeping with her niece in order for me to have a bed in their house. Instead of eating garnachas chatting to my village friends, it is a stodgy pizza slice eaten on my own from a cart in the main square. Instead of hanging out with a beer in a hammock with friends, it is quiet nights on Facebook, desperately seeing who is online to talk to.

My colleague and I have already been to some cool places as research for the job– an iguana farm, a ceramic cooperative, a bustling market, a baseball stadium – but I just feel a bit numb and questioning WHY AM I HERE?

Why are some of us programmed to constantly seek out new adventures, to test our limits, to challenge our comfort zone, to clash against the concept of ‘settling down’ whilst others are happy doing the same job living on the same street all their lives? But us seekers have a magnet to seek out fellow seeker souls and this weekend I’ve taken myself to La Biosfera reserve where the owner Suzana’s own colourful life at least makes me feel I am not the only one that, for whatever reason, has been predestined to live life differently. And clambering barefoot up a stream to a bat cave, dog at my side, this morning, I feel content to be in nature again and to be open to whatever will come next.

And although I am not yet happy here, I feel there is a reason why I’m here and I’ll let you know as soon as I find out why!

 

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How to move a roof

My roof leaked all winter last year. The corrugated iron channel system to collect rain between my two buildings, so favoured here in Guatemala, was just not working. So, in preparation for this winter, I got a loan and decided to redo my roof in the dry season – Jan to March. How naively and optimistically I stepped into what became a major construction project which aged me about 50 years. But in the end, I’ve got one hellova great roof!

Step One: Asking for help

Here in Guatemala you can’t be scared to ask for help. Especially me, living as a chica on her own, I often have to lean over my fence and holler to a passing man or kid to help me lift a sink, climb a coconut tree, bury a rat etc. for me (actually I buried the rat I feel quite proud to say) But the first job, lifting the roof off my existing house, was a BIG JOB. I would need to cash in all the brownie points for this one. Thankfully, all the tourists in Paredon Surf Camp were up for the challenge, in exchange for an ice cream. And at a critical moment (when the roof was half on, half off), 15 strong (tho short) army guys showed up (all with Tshirts that said ‘NAVY’) and helped lift the roof into the street and to the back of my garden, where it would be put on posts to make a chillout hammock area (and maybe eventually another house)

Step Two: Knowing when to call in the professionals

I was determined to contract workers from El Paredon. I got a few quotes and went for a builder who was touted as ‘reliable’ and ‘muy bueno’ and a contractor to do the palm roof who was ‘responsable’ and ‘muy bueno’.

The builder took his time. Lots of time. And as he had to take the boat over from his home, it was up to me to find a step ladder, large pieces of wood to fill columns with concrete and the materials budget doubled as he needed more and more extra things that I had to get. I was working full time running around them. Eddie was a sweet enough guy but, troubled by me, as a woman, asking if he could work a bit faster, he decided not to show up one day.

Meanwhile, I gave the palm roof guy his first $100 to pay his men who were chopping wood in the mangroves. After I didnt hear from him for a couple of days, I phoned his mobile, answered by a crying wife he lamented that he had been drinking for the last 2 days and if it wasnt for her elderly mother who fed her tortillas, she would be dead through starvation by now, as her husband didnt provide for her.

This was not a good start. Especially as I had work starting in Nicaragua at the beginning of March and I needed it all building before I left.

Fortunately, Todd, my guardian angel and a professional contractor building a property further down the coast, stepped in to help. I cancelled my contract with my drunk builder and in less than two weeks, Todd’s team from a nearby village created the roof of my dreams – levelling off the two buildings, creating a wood skeleton and eventually the palm on top! Then we got to painting and it’s now a beautiful (and dry) living space! Phew!!

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the finished house!!
the finished house!!

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