Monday, April 30, 2007

saying goodbye

I experienced the last month here in fast forward. Two of my closest friends, Sarah and Anique, visited for a week and we had a fabulous and crazy adventure...we traversed volcanoes (well, almost), laughed at all the silly and ridiculous things that happen while traveling in Nicaragua, slept in cots made from plastic sacks, spent time with our friends in San Ramon, acted as tourists for my English class to test their speaking and practiced our hip-hop moves. They were with me when I received news of my acceptance into the Women's and Gender Studies Ph.D. program at Rutgers. Since we were together in the Master's program at Rutgers, they were exactly who I needed to be with to think through some major decisions. Sarah and Anique also helped to initiate a project that Damaris and I have been talking about for the last few months.

Isn't it always the case the you really feel at home somewhere just when you are about to leave? Within the last two weeks, Damaris and I began developing the much discussed project focusing on gender inequality, reproductive health and the youth in San Ramon. We have been working non-stop on designing the program and writing a proposal. I also signed on to help find funding for a larger program that would increase people's access to conventional health care and natural medicine in San Ramon and the surrounding rural communities. Writing grant proposals is challenging. Writing proposal in Spanish and translating them into English, even harder! But, I have been happy working and being involved in a creative process. The days have been full (I also started running again, which meant setting the alarm for 5:00am every day).

There have been moments over the last 8 months (many, in fact, mostly when I was sick) when I felt like I would never be leaving Nicaragua; that we would be here forever. But, this last week I felt my departure looming in the someone throwing a snowball at you and watching it beam at your face in slow motion. Today, it hit me. I started my last day with an early morning run, watching the sun rise over the mountains. On the dirt road, the chickens, pigs, and dogs were just beginning their daily routine of finding food. Moms were sweeping their porches. Just another day. I finished up last minute packing and last minute meetings about the proposals and projects. Over the weekend, I had two surprise "despedidas" or farewell parties, so saying goodbye has been a long process. But this morning was hard. So many people have welcomed us into their homes and lives, shared their dreams and suffering. We have gotten to know a diverse group of people, from the crazy young guys in my English class, the staff at the Casa de Ninos, our neighbors, to the entire Izaguirre family. The richness of my experience has come from knowing all these people. When I left this morning, I felt like I was walking out of a warm embrace.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Water looks different running out of the faucet when you know that it has an end. In fact, the whole idea of a faucet begins to seem ridiculous. You cannot see how much water you have used or how much is left; it almost implies the existence of an endless source.

Water has been one of the greatest challenges of living in San Ramon. Endless, clean, temperature controlled water does not exist. Having access to water is not a given, and clean, drinkable or hot water is a luxury. In the rainy season, the city water is turned off during heavy rains to prevent contamination (in November we lost water for 4 days). In the summer, the water is randomly turned off during the day to conserve. We luckily have a huge cistern that automatically fills up when the water is turned back on, leaving us a reserve during the day. The issue of access to water is most difficult for those with less resources.

Cleanliness is another concern. The tap water is not potable. All the things I was used to doing mindlessly at home in the U.S. (flipping on the tap to brush my teeth, washing vegetables, grabbing a glass of water) suddenly become more complicated (my sensitive stomach requires me to be even more cautious). Water that is consumed has to be purified water (we buy big jugs every week) or it has to be boiled. For me, dishes have to be completely dry before being used. Washing fruit and vegetable is tricky (a lot of people use bleach).

Needless to say, people are very conscious of their water consumption here. I have been catching myself more and more in the midst of wasteful North American habits. The other day I was talking to a friend as I washed the dishes. I let the water run in between soaping up. I realized my mistake when I saw her anxiously looking at the running water while trying to carry on the conversation. I feel guilty for taking water for granted and even more guilty when I feel excited about going home so I dont constantly have to worry about it.

Brad and I recently watched a documentary about global warming. One of the issues it addressed, simply put, was how access to clean water will become increasingly hard (for everyone) as global temperatures rise (for example, by causing water reserves in snow to melt). Another effect will be the rise in tropical diseases because winters are getting warmer and warmer. These kinds of documentaries have always alarmed me, but living here (in the context of these problems...tropical diseases, access to water) has put a fresh face on these environmental concerns and pushed me to think about how comfort makes us complacent.