Sara in the Land of Dengue

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.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


I have really started to get to know the city and I think I have surprised some people by knowing streets and routes that they themselves do not know. I take taxis when necessary and have gotten quite good at bargaining and getting taxis to lower their prices. Sometimes the taxi rides can be very fun and engaging. I have started to refer to Phil as ‘husband’ for simplicity and safety. It has been a point of connection and similarity when I mention that my ‘husband’ is Nicaraguan. I feel like people open up a lot more and don’t see me as such an outsider, which I really like. Everyone is so open and there is a great sense of community. I see it a lot more in the poorer neighborhoods that I visit. Often times I do no know which child belongs to whom…let alone which house because people seem to be completely at home in many different environments. I mentioned this to Pedro, the man who I am working with yesterday and he agreed, telling me that when he was 9 years old his families house burned down one morning and by sundown that night they had a new house. All the members of the town had come together to donate supplies and time to build a new house. He told the story with such sincerity and love for his people that it brought tears to my eyes.
This closeness might have to do somewhat with the stationary aspect of life here, yesterday we were in one neighborhood and walked about 4 blocks from where we started and one of the women remarked that she had lived in the neighborhood for 15 years but never been down that street. I am living in a more affluent part of town and that same sort of sentiment just doesn’t exist. I rarely see people hanging out in the streets or playing soccer. However, there is a very relaxed aspect of the house and I feel very safe living here and will walk around at night and feel safe which would not be the case in some of these other barrios.

La Casita

I am really enjoying my little apartment. Actually, by most standards it is quite large. There is a great patio and a terrace up top that has a nice view and gets a wonderful breeze-a blessing in Managua. The kitchen is outside the house but covered by the terrace so it is protected from the rain. I do my laundry in the lavandera and let it line dry. I have to say I am missing the dryer, which shrinks cloths back to their original size. Everytime I put on my jeans I have a moment of glee because they are loose and I think I have miraculously lost 10 pounds and then remind myself that it is probably the opposite but thankfully they still fit because there is no dryer.
Which brings me to food.....aaaaahhhhh food-and aaaahhhh fried food! I am really enjoying the food down here, very simple but stuff that I can eat every day and I am getting used to having heavy foods like rice and beans and yuca and fried plantains and meat to a point where salads are starting to seem like less than a meal. Everytime I go to a meeting we get little treats...sometimes big treats and always gaseosa (soda) I have never drank so much coke and pepsi in my life. I may not have a whole lot of teeth when I get back.
For a change, today I went to a 'natural/organic' restaraunt where I ate hummus on whole wheat pita and a South Beach Salad and tofu! It was a good break to remind my body about other types of food. I realized how much I miss ginger! I am not sure if I will return a whole lot though, like all other natural restaruants it was expensive and had a shi shi air to it and it was hard to justify spending almost $8 for lunch when there are tons of great places to eat for $2. Vamos a ver...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Jose Benito

Jose Benito Escobar has one of the most involved and authoritative brigadistas. She is definitively a take charge kinda gal which is great...but has also lead to some clashes with other people and organizations.
We went to her barrio second after Jorge Dimitrov and worked with them to actually place some ovitraps. It was a difficult start and the concepts seemed hard to grasp at times but they are now feeling very secure and more confident in the project and taking initiative to do their own experiments.

Jorge Dimitrov

Little did I know but my first barrio visit just so happened to be one of the most dangerous (I should say formerly most dangerous) barrios and definitely still the most notorious barrios in Managua. See picture above-maybe not these guys the past there have been huge problems with drugs and gangs. So much so that one would have to call the police if someone who did not live in the barrio was going 'in' so that the police would drive through occasionally-if not the police usually left the residents to fend for themselves.
But with the help of a church and the SEPA (my project) the gangs have reached a truce and there have not been any problems in the barrio for almost 4 months. It is really a great thing that the SEPA project has been brought to this neighborhood and unusual in this barrio because all the brigadistas are young but have taken the iniative to engage the community to be responsible about maintaining their houses clean and not allowing mosquitos to grow there.
The poverty I have seen in this barrio is unlike anything I have seen before. I have only seen one house so far that has a cement floor. The rest are just dirt. The walls on many houses consist of a patchwork made from old pieces of corrogated metal. During many of my meetings there have been more people (5) than there are rubber maid chairs so someone will end up sitting on a bucket. Imagine not being able to afford to buy a rubbermaid chair! One day when I was walking with the some of the brigadistas we passed a furniture store (we were not in their barrio at the time-there is not even a real food store in the barrio) and I mentioned how I really needed a couch and how I was struggling to get by with just chairs. After saying this, I thought how ignorant and spoiled that must sound to people who can only dream of something as luxious as having a couch in their house.

Getting Started

My time in Nicaragua has been flying by! I started work immediately upon arrival. The Nicaraguans work like crazy. It is not unusual to find people hard at work on Sat. morning. This however, does not mean that they do not have a social life for it is also not unusual to find bars and discos packed on a Wednesday or Thursday night-kareoke is very popular here! But back to work...
The project I am working on can only be described as community-based and participatory in every sense of the word. The organizations is taking a fresh approach to designing and implementing a program. Instead of the usual top down approach (which has never been very popular in Nicaragua) they are working directly with the communities to design and implement programs to combat the population of the mosquitos that transmit dengue. There are teams/brigadas that consist of volunteers who have been going from house to house in selected barrios/neighborhoods to educate the households about the danger of dengue and how they can prevent the mosquitos from breeding in their houses and break the cycle of life of the mosquito. The brigadas have been working for 2 years now and have developed a sense of responsibility a and pride in their neighborhoods which you can really see when they talk abou their barrios.
My specific project is to work with the communities to develop something called an "ovitrampa" which will serve as a tool to measure changes in population of mosquitos. It is a small jar with some sort of substrate (a tongue depressor for now) in which the mosquitos will come and lay their eggs. Every 4 days the 'ovitrampa' will be examined and the tongue depressors will be compared to one another to determine if the number of eggs has decreased, stayed the same or increased and action will be taken from there.
Like I said I started work as soon as I got here. I first went to each of the 10 interventions barrios. There are 30 barrios involved in the study, 10 are intervention and 20 are control. Until last week I was convinced there were only 30 barrios in Managua because each of the 10 seemed so large and spread out-I just learned there are 130 barrios in Managua. It blows my mind how big and spread out this city is.