Off to Sébaco to settle into our hotel then on to the El Porvenir office in Darío to pick up our means of transportation to the site; an old Toyota Land Cruiser pickup truck rigged with seats on both sides of the bed and a tarp over all in case of non-existent rain, effectively keeping out any bit of breeze. All of our supplies include shovels, picks, extra battery (which became a godsend), gallons of drinking water, go in first and wheelbarrows on the roof. Six of us, including Jimmy, pile in on top of everything.
Our project is in the outlying village of Las Delicias, a community miles from any town on a rocky dirt road billowing dust. The rainy season is very late. Rock strewn dry fields stretch for miles on either side interspersed with the dead leftovers of small trees, all of their smaller branches hacked away for ‘leña’, firewood, for their cook stoves. As we bounce closer to Las Delicias we begin to see outlying gardens, some with irrigation. Planting begins in May at the start of the rainy season. Because of global warming, the dust instead of the rain has descended upon the newly sprouted corn, tomatoes, beans, etc… The men in the fields wave greetings. We pass a few animals, horses, a smattering of small trucks and motorcycles pulled up to the neat dirt-floored houses all with a front porch. Most everyone is outside during the day, the abodes dark and hot with cooking fire. Water’s outside anyway. That single faucet and double concrete sink will do for washing, cooking, bathing, drinking. Somewhere at the back of the lot is the latrine, draped in old plastic and maybe a piece of tin. Here and there a Royal Poinciana tree in full bloom becomes a gorgeous backdrop for this simple life. All the amenities are covered, they’re just a little harder to come by in these distant villages.
The school’s old latrines, in pieces scattering the schoolyard, must be removed and new ones built. The concrete for the 3 faucet washing station and the base for the toilets are already complete. Our major tasks as volunteers working with the pros from El Porvenir and the fathers, mothers and children in the community will be digging drainage ditches and gray water holding areas and excavating the old ones that have sludged over during the last few rainy seasons. Final concrete and brickwork is needed before assembling and installing the latrines. Seems like a snap. Hah! I’ll never look at a large rock again without remembering the massive task of digging trenches and hauling rocks from the river to fill holes.
Though all but one of us volunteers are in our +60’s, we keep up with the crew. The clouds bring threatening thunder each day, but not a drop of rain. The sun sears our white skin crispy, but it’s the killer humidity that weighs us down. The Nicas understand, as the Gringos don’t, to pace themselves, spending necessary time resting on their shovels chewing the fat. But don’t think they’re lazy. They’re avoiding heart attacks, heat exhaustion, dehydration. They start early and when the sun’s at its height it’s time for a short siesta in the shade.
During breaks the children gather round, curious about Gringos, eager to learn about us and our language. Being an ESOL teacher and able to speak Spanish, I ask the teacher’s permission to spend part of each workday, when I’m so exhausted I can’t lift another rock or shovelful of dirt, teaching the children simple English phrases and answering their questions about our lifestyle in the United States. They’re thrilled. At every opportunity they find me on site to practice the words and phrases and to sing the songs they are learning.
Next: Getting to Know the People