Sara in the Land of Dengue

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Final Hours

The countdown has begun. I have 22 hours left in Nicaragua. I am excited of course to come home but it actually seems like I will be leaving a home too. I have grown so accustomed to my life here and it seems like I can really belong. Yesterday when I woke up it really stuck me that in a couple days I will not be waking up to the scorching heat, whistles, exhaust, wonderful music, laughter, friendly faces and jokes that I still dont always get. It made me really sad-especially because I dont know exactly when I will be able to come back. On the bright side I am already May after I graduate it will be off to Bluefields to watch the Palo de Mayo and participate if I learn how to do it by then. It is one of those dances I am not sure if white people will ever be able to do...or at least people that did not grow twisting and turning their hips and torsos is all sorts of directions at the same time.
The last couple weeks have been crazy - hopefully I will get those down at some time. this week I have been saying good-byes. On Tues. with Nana, my Japanese surf buddy. Last night with Uri and then to a bar to say good-bye to more of the Japanese group. Tonight the people from work have invited me...but after I have gotten to go to one more of Agostos dance classes.
Ok off to pack the bags!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Oh yeah...ovitrampas

Not that I have forgotten about them – I just feel like I have been getting swept away by trying to understand the culture and lifestyle and mentality of Nicaragua.
All 10 barrios now have ovitraps installed and are making changes and adapting it to better fit their needs. Some barrios are really enjoying the project while others, I think, will stop once I leave.
We have finally come to a conclusion on the type of data sheet to use to keep a record of all the details…only 2 months in the making. It is still up for debate, the proper location, style and materials. But I believe these will change where ever you are.
I have been working on a paper to describe the development of this project. It is a very different style of writing because it is not just scientific but also from the aspect of the development of the ovitrap and the process of how decisions were made and conclusions reached. It is easy to get side-tracked in the technical aspects of it and lose sight of the main purpose, which is to describe how the communities approached and responded to the project. That incorporated with the fact that I am writing this in Spanish and that my style and choice of words is not quite the same as a native speaker makes the task doubly difficult.
Starting on Monday, CIET is going to be going through an evaluation. The whole organization and all the communities are going to be taking part in this and have been preparing and working over time for the last couple of weeks. It is exciting to see the communities getting so excited about someone coming to visit and preparing and planning to the point of arguing about which barrios will get to be visited. Additionally, the last day will be a cultural event in which they are able to perform for the evaluator. That should be really exciting and I am really looking forward to it.

Feria de Santo Domingo

August 1 marked the first of a 10 day celebration in honor of the patron saint, Santo Domingo. It was a holiday, but my work partner had requested we meet and go over the paper we are writing. I worked for the morning from home and then left the house in the afternoon to meet with him. We met at our usual meeting spot, the mall (MetroCentro) and there he surprised. “We are not working today – we are going to go see Santo Domingo!”
He whisked me off down the street. This was at 2pm and the sun was hotter than at 4pm, for reference. We got to the rontunda de Santo Domingo which is normally a huge busy intersection. It had been closed to traffic and a stage set up, there were groups of young people doing traditional dancing and a man trying to do an impersonation of Cantinflas (the accent was painful).
The crowd was immense, but nothing compared to what was to come as the Saint showed up. Amongst the crowd were men covered in what looked like a black oil or paint. They were supposed to represent some sort of evil but also a blessing because people would reach out and wipe of the paint to put on themselves. These people were mainly poor, in tattered cloths without shoes. They would occasionally reach out hoping for some generous person to drop some change into their hands.
The remains of the Saint are kept in a town outside of Managua and on the morning of the 1st they are taken from the church and brought down to Managua. The trip takes all day. At 3pm there was an immense roar as the first people caught site of the saint. Then the crowd grew to an uncountable number and people started pushing, dancing and shoving to get close. We walked, stumbled and danced with the Saint for an house until it reached the ‘boat’ a truck that takes him to the church of Santo Domingo where he will stay until Aug. 10th when he is returned to the town outside of Managua.

Puerto Cabezas

It was like I had left Nicaragua arriving in Puerto Cabezas, almost. I actually was expecting the population to be almost completely Creol but there are a lot of Miskito (the indigenous people) who live in Puerto Cabezas now too. The languages most heard are Creol and Miskito, many speak Spanish but it is not the main form of communication.
As I was traveling alone I wanted to find a hotel that felt safe and thus ended up staying at a somewhat pricey place ($20 a night). It turned out to be a great place with a very nice woman running it and a wonderful night watchman named Mr. Soloman. There was a toucan and a maqua (big red parrot) in the patio.
I ended up meeting an anthropologist while at the hotel. He has been coming to the Atlantic Coast since the 70s studying the Miskitos people. He initially came down to study grisis siknis. A sort of psychosis or paranoia that is contagious. It mainly affects young women. These young women who are affected will have spells in which they take of running through the woods, sometimes clothed and sometimes without. A lot of times their families will tie them up to keep them from running. This man, told me of one account in which he went to a house to find a young women tied to the rafters in the ceiling to keep from her from running!
I explored the town. The houses are completely different than Managua. Many are 2 stories high, concrete and painted wonderful colors. Others are made of wood and raised up on stilts. Most of the roads were bordered by canals with running water – not sure how clean that water was.
I walked past a barber shop that was a tiny little thing with a group of men hanging out, playing a guitar and singing. They looked like they were having so much fun, I stopped to take a picture – which turned into a dance with the barber. Which lead to the conversation about why I was there in Puerto Cabezas. It turned out that one of the men was related to Irene, Phil’s mother and knew her and Howard very well and has been to many a party at the Hoos household in Ventura. I love how small the world is!
On Saturday I ventured to the beach alone, but was the only person there. I had thought I saw a beach that had a lot of people but it turned out to be a few children playing and then a group of young men. Not feeling reassured I left, which ended up being a good idea as a torrential downpour started as I walked back to the hotel. The next day, I went to the beach with a med. student from UCSF who is interested in medical anthropology and grisis siknis. It was Sunday, and the beach was packed with people, with men only. Apparently, women get to stay indoors and cook and clean on Sundays. The machismo in Puerto Cabezas might be the strongest I have felt yet. Maybe it was because of the absence of women on the streets, visibility but I did not feel as confident or safe as I feel in Managua – which is really saying a lot!
Despite this, I really enjoyed my time there and am looking to returning with the Hooses as they offer a guided tour of there old haunts.

On route to Puerto Cabezas

I left the mountains, mud and rain of Mulukuku at 5:30am to take the bus over the green wet hills and plains of Nicaragua to Siuna, a mountainous town boasting an airport. The airport boasted 2 employees. One sold the tickets, her technology consisted of a calculator with a pop up screen hanging on for dear life by one dangling cord. I cannot say the calculator was well treated, after every entry she would give the thing a good hard wack – somehow thinking that would make it work better. She confided in me that sometimes at the end of the day her hand hurt from hitting the calculator so much. I wondered (to myself) how the calculator felt at the end of the day…
I went out to a stand to await the plane and saw the runway, a long stretch of gravel that seemed to be a thorough faire for the town. There were cars, dogs, bikes, horses and people. As it came time for the plane to come the place seemed to get more crowded, the arrival of planes seemed to be a point of attraction for the town.
At this time I saw the other employee, a man probably no less than 70, hobbled out to the runway carrying an orange cone and plopped it down – apparently he was the airtraffic controller. Then he hobbled back and brought out my backpack – also the baggage person. If this airport had had security that would have been his job as well.
The plane arrived, the pilots hopped out, went over to the stand to have a cup of coffee and a tortilla. Then we were off. The people in Mulukuku had described the plane as being smaller than a butterfly. While it was small, it still could fit 15 people…and the butterflies in Mulukuku had a wingspan that was as big as my forearm so it was not all that small of a plane.
I soon learned that the Siuna airport was actually pretty developed. We touched down in 2 towns along the way to drop something off. The last ‘airport’ consisted of a dirt runway with 2 men armed with machine guns in fatigues and a taxi. The only building was a little cement shack with a roof – other than that it was all bushes for as far as the eye could see. I wondered what those armed men did all day long to amuse themselves.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Casa Maternas

As part of a national plan to decrease the number of women who die as a result of pregnancy related causes and complications during delivery (maternal mortalities) Nicaragua has created a network of Casa Maternas. A Casa Materna is a place where women living in rural communities and who are at risk of having a complication during the delivery are able to go and stay for 2 weeks before the due date. The Casa Maternas are located close to hospitals so that when a woman goes into labor she will be able to deliver in the hospital. This makes a great difference in the likelihood of a fatality as a result of a complication with the delivery. If it were not for the Casa Maternas, these women would begin the labor at their house, realize the complication and then start a sometimes 2 day journey to reach a place to receive care. Needless to say, this is generally a dangerous and perhaps fatal trip for the women.
The benefit of the Casa Maternas extends even beyond the life-saving services because it brings together a group of women and provides some of them, for the first time ever a chance to relax, not take care of husbands, other children etc. and form bonds with the other women around them. This is an excellent opportunity to provide women with education as well. Because there are not chores that take up the entire day the women have time to do other things. It is an ideal time to provide education about child health and development, nutrition, basic health care, family planning, domestic violence…basically anything and everything. However, these educational curriculums need to be developed, supplies attained and there needs to be a staff person to lead these sessions. This is where the difference becomes apparent. The Casa Materna in Mulukuku is still under construction but is bursting at the seems with supplies and donations from the church group in Texas. They donated not only new baby kits (which include cloths, diapers…) but a storage unit (like those used to transport cargo on boats) that will be used as the delivery room. It is very impressive.
The comparison of the Casa Materna in Mulukuku to the one in Puerto Cabezas was vast. In Puerto Cabezas, the women have a small patio out from in which there are a couple rubber made chairs, inside there is a main room in which the only decoration is the small TV. The paint is chipping from the walls both inside and out. The area in the back has been filled with some trash in corner, long since cared for. This Casa Materna probably serves 2 to 3 times more than the one in Mulukuku will once opened. It treats women all the way from Rio Coco up to the north of Puerto Cabezas, 2 municipalities. While the women are able to stay free of charge, they are not supplied with anything. They are required to provide their own supplies from diapers to soap to rubbing alcohol to disinfect. Most are so poor that these things are all but impossible to obtain, it is probably hard enough to have bar of soap in their house let alone an extra for their stay at the Casa Materna. None the less, they are very appreciative and have a sense of ease and relief in their eyes when I asked them how they felt about the Casa Materna. This was accompanied by a look of desperation and abandon, how are they going to care for and feed this child was how I interpreted it.
The visit was bittersweet and I wish I had the power of a large church behind me so that I could organize and send down supplies and materials to help out with the services and mission of the Casa Materna. If anyone who reads this is moved the way I was to help please let me know. I am planning on gathering some supplies to send down to these women in Puerto Cabezas.

Cooperativa Maria Luisa Ortiz (Mulukuku)

Mulukuku and the Cooperativa were founded around the same time. During the revolution the area became a training came for the Sandinistas and also home to a lot of the rebel groups during the Contras.
There is a long history of violence in the area, which continues today augmented by alcoholism which leads to an alarming about of domestic violence as well. These serious problems have caused the Cooperative (clinic) to focus mainly on women’s health. Granted they do not turn away men who seek their services but the focus and outreach is directed toward the women in the municipality.
The services offered are surprisingly complete and all encompassing given the rural location. This is the result of a great deal of involvement by Dorothea Granada, a north America nurse who came to Mulukuku in the late 70s. She came for 3 years to assist the Cooperative start a health clinic and is still there today. Dorothea has used her resources to raise funds and gather supplies to serve the people in this area. Additionally, which all of her connections, the health clinic has become famous throughout the network of global health and there are continuously north American doctors and nurses coming through to volunteer some time.
While I was there, there were 2 doctors, a general physician who immediately was embraced and embraced the community and an OB/GYN.

The general physician started weekly health program that was broadcast over the radio that dealt with a variety of health topics, from rabies (of which there was currently an outbreak) to dental health – a large problem especially among children. Many many children there had a mouth full of cavities.

While I was there, I followed the OB/GYN around for a day, got to see and take ultrasounds and see patients with him. It was great and affirmed my suspicion that a nursing career would be a good choice for me.


This was an impressive event. I need to learn more about the customs and significance and when and where the tradition started.
We arrived at the house of Maciella at 4:00pm. The sun was still high in the sky and beating down with force.

People were starting to gather there. There were dozens of what looked to me like bridesmaids and groomsmen…dressed in pastel color formal dresses and the guys in suits. They were all young, but of varying ages – starting at 4 yrs. up to what would seem to be 17 years. The color of the dresses seemed to change as age changes with the youngest in pale green to pale purple to pale blue. Each girl had a very elegant hairstyle decorated with lots of curls and fake flowers. Additionally, it seemed very fashionable and elegant to have drawn on eyebrows that were thick and dark! Additionally, some of the girls chose to wear black gloves with their dresses. This gave the outfit a somewhat costume like look. But nothing compared to the girl who lead the parade
Finally, I got to see Maciella – wow – those are some eyebrows. She looked beautiful in an elaborate pink dress. I started snapping pictures for which she refused to smile in a single one.

At 4:30pm we started to walk to the church which was about 10 blocks away! It was a long hot and slow walk but beautiful too. It was lead by a girl in a white dress with a red cape and wand…I kept on looking for the devil horns but couldn’t find any in her hair…I guess it just goes to show how strong learned habits and thoughts can be to break. Following this girls were the youngest children leading up to Maciella, who was escorted by her father. We walked to the Catholic church and attended mass. There was a special part that was held for Maciella.

It was the first time I have been in a Catholic church to actually attend mass. It was a very different experience. The priest was dressed in heavy robes and there were young boys who would hold the bible for him to read from, wipe the sweat from his forehead and it seemed to assist his every action.
The road to and from the church was a busy street and on the way back there was a stray dog sniffing through the trash. I remember thinking how hungry he looked as he wandered into the street continuing his search. A couple minutes later there was the screech of tires, breaking glass and a yelp. We all looked back to see the dog rolling out from under the car. The same hungry pup came out of his roll and fled away down an alley. While it did not seem to really phase that many people, it definitely put a damper on my mood.

Monday, July 31, 2006

19 de Julio

During an attempt to burn lots of music from a guy that works at a radio station, never turn down free music, I lost my fotos of the celebration in the Plaza for the 19th of July.
The pictures consisted basically of masses of people and thousands of red and black flags that represent the Sandinista party. The red represents freedom and the black represents death. The red is always on top. These flags are present throughout Nicaragua. It is not uncommon to see the Sandinista flag rising up out of a mass of green trees or above a little wooden shack.
The 19 of July is the celebration of the Sandista Revolution that happened in 1979 putting an end to the dictatorship of Somoza which had reigned since the 30s. Unfortunately, the fighting did not stop after the revolution and the continuing fighting made it difficult and basically impossible for the Sandinista govt. to make good on all that they had promised the people.
The United States, Reagen Administration, was not in accord with the Socialist form of govt. the Sandinistas were aiming for and in the name of fighting communism began illegally selling arms to Iran in order to fund the Contras,rebel groups that fought against the Sandinista govt. (Remember the whole Iran-Contra scandel...these were the Contras...rebel fighters from Honduras and Costa Rica)
The US did even more to destabilize the Sandinista govt. than start a war, they implemented an economic blocqueade on Nicaragua which paralyzed the countries development and created a state of emergency, people were forced to stand in food lines etc. As a result of this, many people have negative views of the Sandinista govt.
The Contras lasted began in 1981 and last until 1990 when the Sandinista party lost the elections.
Despite losing the election, they still seem to be the party of the 'people' and in smaller towns the Sandinista flags fly high.
The same man, Daniel Ortega, is still the party head and is running for office in the upcoming Pres. election in November.

Friday, July 21, 2006


In the Lago de Nicaragua is the island of Ometepe, which boasts 2 active volcanos and impressive nature as well as impressive rainfall. We arrived in the middle of a torrential downpour that continued all day long.

I was very lucky to have been invited to attend a Health Promotor Training that was being given by Dr. Saul Contreras. Dr. Contreras is a member of Doctors for Global Health and has started a network here in Nicaragua called Atencion Primera Salud that is working in both rural and urban location in increase access to and quality of basic health services for Nicaraguans.

The training carried a strong message that went beyond sharing and teaching basic medical skills. It carried a message of compassion and social conscious. He emphasized the need to treat every patient with respect and love, and that this type of treatment would be carried on throughout the community. It was apparent that he was talking and promoting the way that he lives his life which made the message 100 times stronger! There was definitely a religious compenent to the presentation but religious in a way that was repectful and accepting of all religions. I thought this was a particularly good manner in which to communicate with the Health Promotors because many people here in Nicaragua are deeply religious will really hold on to this message.

As luck would have it, Dr. Contreras also works very closely with the Maria Luisa Ortiz Clinica in Mulukuku and with Dorothea Granada and will be traveling there this coming Monday to give another training. I am so excited because one of my goals for while I am here was to go and visit this clinic. I am hoping that I will be able to go along help out with the training.

James and I spent the night at Finca Magdelena. The place is a cooperative run by locals, they have an organic coffee production and lead hikes up the volcano. (It pains me to say this but while the coffe was good it did not compare to Presto-the Nescafe of Nicaragua) The finca is a tourist destination that was filled with a huge group of Canadians as well as some other travelers. Among which was a recent graduate of Evergreen University in Washington State who is friends with Peggy. I cannot remember his name at the moment, I think Mark maybe-tall thin white guy with brown hair. Just goes to show what a small world this is...more to come about that in a bit.

I stayed for a night and then returned to San Juan del Sur for another day of surfing in warm salty water. In San Juan there are also many tourists and surfers...lots of Californians and many from the Bay Area. It just so happened that one of these works at UC Berkeley printing posters for presentations...and he remembered the poster that my group made for our Biostastics course last semester!

Addition to the house

I almost forgot the most important essential in Nicaragua...for those of you who know-this was the fatal clue that gave away the secret I have been trying to hide. I am not really Nicaraguan, only a chela trying to pass as one.

Flor de Cana is a specialty of Nicaragua. A very tasty rum that is the drink of choice for many many people. People drink it with coke or with soda water and lime. I am a big fan of the soda water and lime. I am planning on stocking up before I head home-dont worry Hooses there will be plenty to share!

The advertising is everywhere, from billboards, to coasters to napkins...I would say even more than the political advertising, which is ubiquitous as the elections draw near.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

4 de Julio

The fourth of July happened recently...actually almost 2 weeks ago. My how time flies. I had a little gathering at my house. I turned out to be quite eclectic! I inivited a japanese girl I met at the beach, Nana. She is working for the Japanese embassy here in Managua. She is very nice. She invited some of her friends and they ended up comprising the majority of the guests at the party. They consisted of a couple other Japanese folks, a Korean man, a girl who is half Columbian and half Japanese and a couple Americans. My guests were the Stanford med student and some people from Nicaragua, the computer tech man from work and his side kick and my neighbors.

It is funny how stereotypes play themselves out sometimes. That is exactly how it happened at the party. The man from Korea was hilarious. He is pretty new at learning spanish and would just say the funniest things. He is recently married and kept referring to his wife as 'Senorita Oh' but would really draw out the 'Oh' giving it a very suggestive sound. I am not sure if I was the only one who heard it in this manner but I think not because most people would give a little giggle when he would talk about her.
Additionally, the americans were somewhat obnoxious. Talking in loud voices, in English when it was clear that Spanish was the common language and it would have been polite to those present who did not speak English to speak in Spanish. Especially because they were talking about Chiquitin, the neighbors dog. The neighbors were also present and I could tell they were a little concerned and feeling defensive about their dog.
The Nicaraguan's that were present were telling jokes the whole time...although many were complicated enough that it was a challenge for some of us to understand....there was one really great joke that I will try to remember to tell later on. But for is Chiqui

Hard times

Here again in Jorge Dimitrov-it has become my favorite barrio to work in. The community members here are so welcoming. Furthermore, they are so adaptable and are able to work through just about any difficultly or change in plans without skipping a beat. I think that the situation of their barrio, both in terms of the financial difficulties and everything that comes with that has created a group of very strong youth. They are always joking around with each other and giving each other a hard time but you can tell that it is all in good nature. At the same time you definitely know and can see that they have grown up fighting for what little they have.
One day when I was there, Maciella had a couple 1 cordoba coins in here pocket (which would equal about 50 cents) and Theresa tried to take them out saying she was going to buy candy. Maciella sung around so quickly and vicously crying out 'no' with a voice that told how much those cents meant to her and that money had been taken wrongly from her in the past and that she was determined no to let it happen again. Theresa backed off and Maciella was able to give her money to her 'chancho'--piggy bank.

The picture above is Carlos. We where sitting in the back yard with the chickens one afternoon and he picked this one up and held it with such a relaxed pose. Both he and the chicken seemed completely at ease with one another-he started petting it and playing with it.
The picture below is of Maciella's house-a bedroom and living room together.

There are 2 beds in here basically just metal frames with springs and a thin mattress. I am not sure how many people sleep in here but I know it is more than 2.
I have been to this house a couple times but it was really the last time that I realized how intense the situation was. There are normally 4 children under 10 in this room, half dressed and dirty with mud and food and who knows what else. I am not sure who the children belong to because the only adult I have seen in the house is the grandmother of Maciella. Darling, Maciella's older sister (22) seems to take care of most of the children, bathing, feeding, washing and dressing. She performs these duties with the same ease that Carlos held the chicken. As if she herself has been a mother for many years already. Although for as much as I can tell she does not have any children. I have been trying the situation in order to determine ways in which I can subtly donate and help out everyone here in one way or another that is not a conspicuous act of charity. I would like to buy Theresa a new pair of sandals because she has to stop and fix hers every 10 feet because one side is broken. But for the time being I have just taken to bringing elegant pastries everytime we have a meeting. It has been going over quite well so far and after a couple times of bringing an assortment, with everyone fighting over who would get the Torta de Leche I have learned and only bring Tortas de Leche.
Maciella is having her quinciera this weekend. I am looking forward to with a sense that it will be a great experience and a very different one too. I have always pictured quincieras to be elaborate and overdone events but given their situation I cannot imagen this will be in that nature but we will see.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Tour of House Hosted by Piggy

This is my house. Look for the pig in each picture. It is a sort of very challenging Where's Waldo because all the pictures are so small. Enjoy.

This is the entry way. The stairs lead up to the terrace where we dry our laundry and enjoy the breeze. I am getting a Hammock made in Masaya and will put that up to relax in the afternoons.

The the cats have gone and Chiki friend the little black dog.

My kitchen-small and uncomplicated.

The Nicaraguan essentials: oil, coke, Presto, salt, beer, limes, mangos (actually there are quite a few essentials)

And then entering the humble abode...

Moving on to the bedroom. The pajamas are what I had to buy when I got stranded in Miami on my way down here. I am decorating the walls with what I can find (letters ect.)

Well that is it. It doesn't take long to go on a tour of the house-but I dont need much as I am only one. I will leave you with a little insight to how I spend my time when I am at home.