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.