Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pilar's story... "Life is Hard"

It was just an ordinary Monday afternoon in the only town she knows. Despite the hard winds and coolness of the previous night, the sun was striking, converting the close, tight space in the market to a vapor pot.

She picked one of the three spots she uses to sell at, the one closest to the food court. It was a slow day. More than half of her merchandise — tortillas — was still in her basket. She looked down, but she was not worried about the sales.

Pilar works in Jinotega, Nicaragua, but she was born in the mountains. Her family moved there when running away from the civil war. She was born a dwarf. Her parents abandoned her shortly after her birth. Her grandmother raised and supported Pilar until she passed away.

At age 14, Pilar found herself alone, independent. She did not know how to make money, and she never went to school.

“With my grandma, I used to work at a coffee plantation up in the mountain," Pilar said. "I was responsible for feeding the farmers and (taking) care of the chores in the main house of the plantation. On grain season I would clean coffee, beans and corn for extra money. I never knew any other way of living."

Somehow, she said, she managed through life. Into her 20s she moved to Managua with a boyfriend, seeking new opportunities of growth in retailing. At age 23 she found out she was pregnant, and her boyfriend left her. With a child to take care of, she returned to the town she knew best, Jinotega.

“Life is hard,” Pilar said.

Pilar said she found it tough to make it as a single mother. She has sold tortillas in the market ever since. Although she cannot cook them, she buys them from a neighbor and resells them.

Pilar said she has never given up on the goal of giving her child the best life she possibly could. But as her son was growing up, his interest in school dropped gradually, to the point where he abandoned school.

“I did whatever I could to keep him off the streets. He was almost 21 years old. Maybe it was not him… Maybe he shouldn’t have died," Pilar said.

Three months ago, Pilar's son took his own life.

“The police accused him of belonging to the gangs, and he ended up killing himself out of suffocation from both the gangs and the police; he died of depression. You do not know how hard that is," she said.

Tears overflowing from her eyes, Pilar described her challenges. She makes about $7.50 a day when she sells all of her tortillas. With that money she pays the rent, buys food and purchases more tortillas to sell.

“I can’t sleep at night, because I miss my kid. He used to help me. He would work in whatever job he could find,” she said. “I have been able to forgive my son for what he did. But I find it impossible to forgive myself."

As soon as she gets off work, she walks to the cemetery to visit her son's grave. Pilar said she believes in God, but she does not believe in churches.

“God knows what He’s doing. He doesn’t forget anybody,” she said while drying her eyes at the presence of new custumers. “One should be content with whatever life gives to you.”

In as short as one hour she had sold a third of the tortillas she had left. She smiled in quietness. She was expecting to leave the market before 7 p.m., before dark, so she could visit her son as she does now regularly.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Top 5 photos of Nicaragua... 8 photos actually.

So here are some of my favorite pictures (I did not take) at Jinotega. I do not remember what photographer took which one but I know they come from Ashel Parson, Blake Matthews and Kylie Atkins portfolios.

Pic No. 1

This is a little girl at Matagalpa's Malnutrition Center. What I like the most about it is the attitude of the kid towards the photographer, how comfortable she seems to be, how easy it is for her to love. Her flirtatious smile reflects the beauty of the people.

Pic No. 2

This is a girl who has Down Syndrome at the Special School in Jinotega. I absolutely LOVE her gaze, how it is fixed in the photographer. I feel she's looking through me.

Pic No. 3

A girl who works at the municipal dump, and lives in its surroundings.

Pic No. 4

Phillip Holsinger went crazy when he saw this crane in a random street int he middle of Jinotega. He pushed the breaks, and reversed the car screaming "dude! did you see that?"

Pic No. 5

At the Zip lining place outside Masaya. This kid, I think his name is Jose, told me the story of my life. He is learning English form the tourists who visit the place, in which he has worked around 2 years only. He wants to 'get out of poverty' he said. He was the first story that touched my life on the trip.

Pic No. 6

This is Holy teaching a kid the picture she just took of him. I represents to me one of the multiple ways American guys found to connect with the native Spanish speakers, who were dying to interact with the 'gringos.' Language barrier is overrated.

Pic No. 7

Girls at the municipal dump. I'll let the picture talk by itself.

Pic No. 8

Girl at the malnutrition center at Matagalpa. I do not know her story, but I completely wished I did.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tuesday March 9th... Keyla

She was sitting in a corner of the lobby, contemplating a new born in her arms. Her eyes fixed on her son, and my eyes drawn to the baby sleeping smile by her attention.
19 year old Keyla Gonzalez gave birth to her first child last March 8th. It was just the day after when I met her.
At that time she said she had been staying at Casa Materna for 8 days already, and she planned to stay only a few more, “until I find a place to stay next,” she said.
Keyla heard about Casa Materna through her last boss.
“I work in whatever jobs I can get: sometimes it is helping in someone’s household or sometimes selling stuff in the market. Last time I was a salesperson at a store in the market; it was the best job I have ever had,” Keyla said.
Keyla has coursed until sixth grade elementary school. She left home when she was 14, and has been independent since then. She is one of eight kids, the second one from the same father.
“When my father lived with us, he used to get drunk and beat up anybody who was in his presence, specially my mother. My mother is reminded of those painful years when she sees the fruit of that relationship, me and my brother, and that's why she hates me," Keyla said.
Keyla does not maintain a stable relationship with any of her relatives; she says she is “the reject of the family.”
“Basically I am all alone, nobody supports me, but the very few friends I have made in Jinotega,” Keyla said.
She came from the mountains to Jinotega at age 16. She got a boyfriend and started to live with him for a while, which brought her some stability.
“I was doing just fine with my ex-boyfriend and my mother-in-law. When I realized I could be pregnant, I ignored the fact and behaved like everything was normal, like if I ignored it would go away. I knew a pregnancy would bring me problems with them, but it became more obvious as time passed by. As soon as he found out I was 5 months pregnant, he turned his back on me, and kicked me out of the house,” she said.
Ever since she has roamed from shelter to shelter, and recently had to quit her job to intern in Casa Materna, getting ready to have her baby.
“I want to keep studying, and get to college. Someday I will be an architect. I am sure that I can work and study at the same time if I find a school to go to and a job near by it. And I can take care of my baby,” Keyla said.
When asked about the future of her baby she said “I would never give away my baby. There are so many women out there who do not want their babies and so they give them away, or they abandon them. There are some women in the hospital who ask you to give your baby to them in adoption or to the shelter, so they can have a better life. But I would never give away my baby. Because before him I was alone, but now, I am not alone anymore, and I can take care of him.”
At the time she had no plans of housing, work or any other economical income for the near future.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Alone - A poem about Pilar

Monday March 8th

So there was a lot going on today... but I decided to share about one and one event only about today. It was so hard to put it down into words... I met this lady, Pilar, at the market this afternoon... I heard her story and it rocked my world around. I thought of sharing how. Yes, I write poetry.


This is not her world
she was thrown this direction
by accident, by indiscretion

She is not from this world
she was rejected by those
responsible for her conception

She was forsaken in this world
left behind at her own fate
when the times did not favor justice.

She was forgotten in this world
like if the essence of her nature
was too beautiful, too much to handle.

Yet she grew up in this world
fighting the stare-ats, the pain
oblivious, quiet, falling, like rain.

She learned in this world
of life she does not know the meaning
but she knows it is still worth living

She embraces this world
even when it has drained its empathy
it has no understanding, no gravity.

She is all alone in this world
Her only companion, her sunshine
was stolen at night, by insanity

She rest her heart in this world
because there is very little now,
almost nothing that really matters.

Yet she shines through this world
sadness, depression, yet hope
divine yet homo sapiens.

She sells tortillas to the world
feeding the hungry and the empty
feeding the just and the careless.

She has a spot in this world
as the strange dwarf in the corner
the unexpected, patient lover.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sunday March 7th: to Jinotega.

I woke up in the morning feeling almost exactly the same as I did the day before: sleep-deprived. I barely got any rest due to a malfunction in my common sense/AC. I was sleeping right under the AC which was set at 18 Celsius; a.k.a. I froze almost to dead… f.y.i. Russ can not let go his jealousy towards me; bottom line: read his blog.
So as you can imagine, and surprisingly enough, I woke up so early I was at the buffet restaurant of the hotel exactly 10 minutes before 7 a.m. Gallo pinto awaited for me as well as queso fresco… but my cravings of the day (besides some adrenaline through my veins) were those fried plantains I grew up eating. I asked the waitress if they would prepared them for me if I paid for them, explaining her how long it has been since I’ve had any. She went to kitchen and came back with three sliced, gold-fried plantains with not a ticket for me. A.k.a. she liked me.
Right after breakfast we loaded up the luggage into a truck to be driven directly to Jinotega, while we explored the main touristic places in the area.
The weather was just exceptional. The sun was shining all the way through the pores of my skin. The not-so-gentle, rather wild, wind was blowing, carrying the humid mist of the tropic into my life again. Oh how I’ve missed this!!! Highlight WAS. I’ll explain later.
We drove to the “Canopy” place to our zip-lining experience. Although I have done this a couple times before in cables way longer than the ones we were exposed today, I got to admit: I was really scared. Curiously not at the beginning, but after the first cable I went through… when I realized how out of shape I am and how I really did not trust all this instructors –kids-, maybe due to the fact they were all hitting on me. I just couldn’t trust them. We met a young guy; David I believe is his name. Orphan from very little, he was raised by his grandmother. He graduated from high school already and is struggling to learn English while he works at the Canopy place. He has dreams of working as a translator, traveling with the American tourists all over Nicaragua, learning about their culture while showing off his. He bonded with Mamma Baker, which I thought was too cute. He’s too sweet of a guy, so much of a hard worker. If only we would have gotten him on tape!!!
After the adventure, first experience for many, we went to a very popular chicken restaurant: Tip-Top. It is like the Nicaraguan version of KFC –no promotional intended. Later, we drove to the Handcrafts Market in Massaya: a beautiful castle-like building, full of little booths with different people selling handcrafts and popular souvenirs from/made in Nicaragua. We spent around and hour and a half. While all the crew was managing to get the stuff they wanted in broken Spanish, I dedicated the time to the search of interesting jewelry: my fascination.
The almost 3 hour drive that followed was incredible. We got to admire the mountain chains, volcanoes and valleys, rising from the clearly blessed horizon. And even though the beauty of it all was astonishing, exhaustion won me over for the last hour of the trip.
We got to Jinotega around 6 p.m., just on time for church. At this point the weather change was obvious: it was chilly outside, and cold wind kept blowing throughout.
The service was very interesting, for one, it was almost completely in Spanish, and the majority of the audience was American. I had a hard time trying to find the verses the preacher talked about without really citing them… I’m pretty sure the majority of the crew was completely lost in terms of what was going on. The song leader had the idea of singing a couple songs in both languages, and I guess it worked pretty ok, although it is hard for the Nicaraguan community to keep the beat and the time of the song… it was too cute! At the end of the service, Papa Benny asked me translate the announcements. The man who made the announcements in Spanish did not give me a break to translate, so most of the message was lost in my thought processing… but I hope I translated the very necessary part of them.
After church we came back to the compound to bring the bags in and split into the rooms. After a little break, we ate sandwiches for dinner and later we met to talk about some rules and regulations, and general guidelines for the trip.
Tomorrow the communications team is meeting in a cafĂ© near by to organize our ideas and give some structure to the documentary, the final product we are walking towards. My anxiety is not letting me see further than a couple hours ahead... I can't wait to meet the people, to hear their stories, to share with them! But I've learned that organization, guidelines, and due dates, are completely overrated. So, I'll relax and wait until tomorrow, try not to worry about what to do or not: be spontaneous, let things happen. I'm sure God will shine his light through the right way to approach this project. Today I also learned that not-awkward bulldogs do exist… in Skidmore’s terms – random! After some bonding time with the group, almost everybody went to bed. Breakfast time tomorrow: 7 a.m.
The weather was not in our best interest though. The wind kept growing stronger, louder, wilder, and unpredictable. The whole place was ice cold – at least it felt so to me, the only Latino in the group… not fair! The huge rows of windows kept bending into the room, they resembled plastic in the spring mild breeze; it made me a little nervous even when I know they are not going to break. I’m afraid the blanket we were given was not enough to make up for the invisible – and unexpected – presence. I do not know how I am going to endure… but I am freezing! I’m exhausted! I’m off to sleep… so pray with me I’ll get the rest I so deserve and need! Until tomorrow!

Saturday March 6th: from above...

Everyday you learn something new... Every day is what you make of it.

We left the school probably close to noon... I'm not even sure. I found out our first flight was leaving at 3:15 p.m., so we hung out at the airport for a while, just chilling. I do not know half of the people I'm traveling with, which can be kind of scary... I’d say it's rather interesting. I'd say the whole airport would think we are a rather interesting group of people, especially after some of us did the "Single ladies" and the "cupid shuffle" dances right there in the gate.

The first flight was all good. One of the team member's third flight ever... she was gently scared, maybe panicking would be a better adjective. She did just fine past the nervous laugh of the departure. i got the lone sit to the window, way in the back of the airplane. One of our flight attendants made our trip a bit entertaining.

We got to Houston with barely any time to get to the connection flight. That was a run!

I might have forgotten to mention earlier that I am sick currently... bronchitis to be precise. Carrying two too-heavy carry-on bags and a pre-historic laptop all together was not a good idea. My shoulders are killing me still! But then again it was almost necessary for me to take more than one bag... as I explained yesterday, miracles do happen, but maybe not too often when a girl is packing, we all need our stuff.

So I got to the plane tired like a grandma. All I had in my mind was the picture of some decent, quality sleep. I got a hall seat this time. At first I was sad because of the ever possibility of looking to my country's territory while flying over it.... but as soon as I realized it was more of a night flight, I calmed down and set my mind to rest.

I got to admit that the idea of being so close from home and yet so far is hitting me harder than I thought it would. Listening to my ipod, tuning some Latin rhythms in I couldn’t help but to offer some tears for my beloved, so very missed Salvadorian ones. As I said a prayer for them the smell of home came to my mind... and then I was reminded home is where you make it yourself. Pronouncing the word "soon" in broken Spanish, I slept the idea away.

We got dinner served at the plane. At that moment I learned that the only difference between a hamburger and a "charbroil sandwich with American cheese" is the fancy name of the latter. They taste exactly the same to me.

I slept some more until I was woken up by the talking behind me. And then I saw them, the lights, from the city. We were almost there. My heart, still in the twilight of dreams, pounded a little harder. I could breathe the excitement, although as soon as the pressure lowered, so my headache increased. I was exhausted.

Landing was bumpy and fast, but I guess it was safe... i mean, we made it, did we not?

We went through costumes, we met with Mr. Ben and his wife, and we got to the hotel. It feels more like a beach recreational hostel rather. I can't describe the feeling when I finally rested my back in my bed the tonight.

We met in the restaurant to go through tomorrow's schedule and some other guidelines... and yet, I barely have a clue of what's going on, as always. We are zip-lining! That I know! And I am so excited about it! I have not done anything wild like that in a while. Later some shopping at Massaya and then heading to Jinotega. Anxiety attack alert!

I got to see Philip, finally, after too long. He’s just one of those people that you know you barely know; but somehow you feel like you know them too well. It seems to me that through his photography he opens up his heart to the world; through his blogging he describes the way he gives away his blood for the sake of others: A transparent link to which I cannot escape. Plus, he thinks I am an exceptional writer! So there, I kind of feel understood by him. It was nice to have a chat.

It was also funny to notice that the last people awake were the broadcasters and electronic media people... and listening to some stories I learned so much more about them! Word of the day: fire-thrower. Definition: Ask Russ.

My wireless card is not working for some reason, so I will not post this until it is a little too late... but the point is that the message gets through, right? I hope so.

I'm off to bed. Until tomorrow!

Friday, March 5, 2010

For the sake of beginnings...

Yes, it is past 11 p.m.
I am not done with packing yet, and I am not sure if I'll ever be... Fitting all a lady needs for a week into a carry on is not an easy task, but then again, it is a "must" for this trip.
I frankly cannot wait for it to be tomorrow. Today the sun seemed reluctant to set, the hours still seem hesitant to die; and all I want as it is right now is to meet my new passion, my new story: to get to Jinotega.
Jinotega is not only the poorest town in Nicaragua, it might as well be the poorest town in the whole region. I have heard so much from this town and yet too little for it to satisfy my heart: I need to get there, I need to see it by myself.
I was once presented to a story in particular, of a particular girl in this particular town... and I cannot wait to meet her! Especially because her story could have been mine. If I happen to encounter her, I will share with you about it. Meanwhile, I'll enjoy the anxiety, the thrill of uncertainty.
All I know is I am meeting the team at 11 a.m. Any other details about the flight, accommodations and such I honestly ignore... in a way I do not care much. As soon as I find out... I'll let you know.
If anxiety lets me sleep, and I make it to the place of its cause: I'll write to you tomorrow.