Jimmy stays with us at the only hotel in town, El Blanco, run by a Katherine Zeta Jones look-alike, with an added Latin American plumpness. Elvis lives in El Sauce and is finally able to go home. I decide to enter the data from the previous afternoon and give thanks that Jimmy is staying in the next room and comes to my call with help on the myriad extra steps one must take on the PC I’ve borrowed from his office.
We start the morning at the El Porvenir staff’s favorite restaurant, Mercedes’ Kitchen, and that’s all it really is. She opens her home and we enter the kitchen and look in all the pots to decide what we want. Of course there’s gallo pinto (a mix of yesterday’s red beans and rice) that is the mandatory filler for a hard day’s work, then eggs, fruit, tortillas, and meat. Coffee is drunk short, sweet and dark, not like in my adopted country of Costa Rica where it’s big and creamy with milk.
Elvis handles the truck like a professional semi driver and takes us immediately off the paved road into billows of dust and heat. We split up on gender lines: the men and Bob survey most of the water sources, both springs and wells, the women and myself do most of the household surveys. In each small community the houses are clustered 6 – 12 together in the drought-ridden countryside for both family and economic support. They tend domestic animals, small gardens, children, hornos (outdoor bread baking ovens). We are always invited in to sit on the plastic chairs they stack in the corner and use only if a visitor arrives. A hammock is slung across the bare but cleanly swept dirt floor, and the prized, nod-to-technology TV winks from the corner. All washing and most of the cooking is done outside. And in every yard, usually decorated and always clean, is the recently installed vented latrine surrounded by grazing animals and a healthy garden.
How can I ask these humble strangers from a simpler time the most difficult questions on the survey? “May I see your latrine? Do all of you use it? When do you wash your hands? They may be simple but they’re not stupid. Find out next posting along with the other hard questions I must ask in this volatile Sandanista powered country – their politics.