Monday, January 19, 2009

hasta pronto

Goodbye Nicaragua, goodbye biblioteca, goodbye Jane. We're going home to the crowds brought in for the inauguration of a new president—and to some very, very disagreeable weather!

Thank you so much for this opportunity, for all that you've shown us, for your enduring spirit and creativity. The world needs more of you and we were honored to visit you.

We won't say adios, but hasta pronto.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mombacho, Managua

This entry will be rather image heavy, because today was occupied almost entirely by one activity, and it was an incredibly beautiful one. We all took about a million pictures.

We left San Juan del Sur too sleepy to really think about the fact that we were saying goodbye, and drove to the Mombacho Preserve, a coffee finca and hiking/walking trail with amazing views.

We did a light hike (with many stairs) of about an hour around the smaller volcanic crater. The volcano is currently inactive and is covered in beautiful flora and fauna. Part of the trail led us throw this "tunnel," the walls of which were covered in beautiful, crystalline lichens and mosses (or maybe just one or the other, your author is not an expert), dripping with dew formed in the cool, humid environment.

From several look-out points we could see views of Lake Nicaragua, Lake Managua, and Granada City.

We saw many species of gorgeous orchids.

We stopped at several places where smoke coming up from the center of the volcano could be seen and felt. So when we say Mombacho is inactive... that just means it's not exploding today. The heat was palpable and the air was full of a sulfur smell.

After the volcano tour, we had lunch and then went to a little town full of beautiful pottery and did some last minute gift shopping. We met the potters and saw a dozen lovely shops and a hundred lovely things, and then it was about to get dark, and was too late to go to Los Quinchos, and so for perhaps the first time in these 10 days, the weary travelers opted to skip one of the activities they'd been been looking forward to, and we drove straight to our hotel in Managua. We snacked and used our free drink coupons for dinner by the pool, and wrapped up all our warm and cool feelings about the trip, giving Dr. Weeks our input for how the course might be improved next year. We said goodnight to Jane and went off to bed....

Saturday, January 17, 2009

hoy: ¡gran festival de libros!

We woke up early this morning, relatively well-rested, to begin our big day out: today was the book festival. We'd planned it to start at 11, but the truck that announced it all over town said 9 am, so we weren't quite sure when it would start. Kids started to trickle in early, but most came around 11 when we were all ready for them. We had butterfly-making, face-painting, maraca-building, bubbles, the portable bookshelf of Libros para Niños, and a dance class taught by Lyndsey (with translation assistance from Caitlin) on the stage shown above in front of the Catholic church. Only the little girls (and Heidi) wanted to dance, but the little boys sure liked to watch!
Our bubble solution was less than successful in our eyes, but it didn't prevent the kids from having heaps of fun playing in the soapy water.

The masks, DeAnna's brilliant idea, were a wonderful hit.

Eduardo, who spoke to us late last night with much enthusiasm, and in very good English, about the incredibly inspiring work he does distributing books to children so that they will get hooked on reading (something he feels is not encouraged in the classroom by most Nicaraguan teachers), holding the mic for his friend and colleague Mario Montenegro, children's songwriter and author of several books published by Libros para Niños, Eduardo's organization. Mario was great, and we have it all on video.

Later, Christina, dressed in character, read El Gato Sombrerado to the children. She read beautifully to an enthralled crowd.

Some of our face-painters' handiwork

The festival ended sooner than we expected to due to the departure of a crowd of kids that had been tricked in from another community, and the start of some harsh winds threatening to blow our tent over. We cleaned up quickly and sat down to a much needed lunch at El Gato Negro, the very veg-friendly cafe and English language bookstore. We did a quick debrief of how the festival had gone (as well as could have been hoped for, given how little we knew about what might happen), and then split up to go work on our journals and essays, pack, and, in some cases, have another margarita at the Pelican Eyes resort. Today was our last real day in San Juan del Sur... we leave tomorrow morning for some volcano climbing, a clothing delivery to Los Quinchos children's home and school, some pottery shopping, and Managua. Sniff.

The day ended with a big goodbye dinner with all the library staff, to whom Lily and Pat distributed presents brought from Maryland, and ice cream at Eskimo. Mmm, limón y piña...

Friday, January 16, 2009

a little swim

Today was spent relaxing and getting in some much needed sun and water. Half the group went on a water taxi to a nearby surfing beach. They swam in the ocean and then huddled under a covering when it rained.

The others packed up the clothing bought for the orphans and street children cared for at Los Quinchos, where we are headed on Sunday after leaving San Juan del Sur. Then we ate a fabulous lunch at Pelican Eyes, the fancy resort hotel just up the street, and swam in two of their three infinity pools. Oh, and there were margaritas.
The view from Pelican Eyes (rewarded after climbing many many stairs, the result of which is a desire to fling oneself into the pool) was incredible!

We dined with the wonderful folks from Libros para Niños, whom you will hear all about tomorrow. Eduardo gave us a great, dynamic presentation introducing their work, and are thrilled by his enthusiasm and his ideas. They are applicable in more countries than this one.

The book festival is tomorrow, and we're as ready as we'll ever be!

las tortugas

The second group went out with the biblioteca móvil today. The truck went to a different community, and a much smaller group of children greeted the volunteers.
This group was more reticent but also more attentive, and the play and storytime were a great success. The kids made crafts with us again, and were especially enthralled by Christina's excellent outloud reading.

Though it was difficult not to go out again, some of us stayed behind to learn more about how the stationary biblioteca works.
Jane showed us how the library stays organized and shared many simple tricks she uses and passed out a few sample materials. Some of her supplies are ordered from library supply catalogs such as Brodart, while some she designed herself and had printed in Managua. All of this was vital information for anyone wanting to start a small library in a developing country, where resources like the Internet are not always available. She's a ready expert on how to start a sustainable library on a preliminary budget of about 300 dollars.

We also went on a tour of San Juan del Sur, the leisure time excused by the fact that we were hanging posters for our book festival on Saturday.
We hung them up all over town, especially in places frequented by the local (non expat) population. A group of eye doctors was giving out prescriptions and eye glasses, and we passed out many posters there. When we were down to our last two, we started talking to people on the street, asking if they had children and telling them to come participate in our free activities and poetry contest.

Vive Sandino - This mural overlooks the park where our festival will be held.

We went into the other building Jane owns, a condo project with San Juan's only elevator.
On weeknights, Carol can be seen in the lobby teaching English to nicas. Much of the population here speaks at least a little bit of English, especially those involved in the tourism industry. Many Nicaraguans want to work in tourism—and learning English seems to be the best way to get there.

Lunch in El Gato Negro, and English language book store with great drinks and vegetarian food. One of us, yet again, could not resist buying another book, this time a book of essays in Spanish about the Nicaraguan dialect, including a long list of proverbs and sayings. If you know her you can probably guess who that was.

All but three of us then went on a zip line canopy tour, which some reported to of the best experiences of their lives. Instead of putting pictures of everyone sipping across the sky, here are a couple of the mothers in our group. We're sure their kids would want to see this!

Caitlin and Jane put in an elaborate order for dinner at El Timon, curated by at least four waiters with different notebooks (and different results), and they saw another beautiful sunset from Jane's house before we all went to dinner.
The food was excellent. We ate camarones, ceviche, fish, and lobster, and drank Toña to our hearts content before having to dash out at 7 for what may have been the most surprising and spectacular bit of tourism we've engaged in yet: a late night tour of La Flor protected turtle preserve. Hundreds of thousands of turtles lay eggs and are born on this beach every year. It is protected by armed guards who count and care for the turtles.

Turtle count for the past several years

Bright white lights blind and confuse the turtles, so we were given small red flashlights to use sparingly on the beach. We drove in a truck for about an hour, in the same direction we took the book mobile yesterday, and stayed at the beach until nearly 2 in the morning. We saw a couple tiny baby turtles, about 2 inches long, before being told that we were in for a great treat: a huge leather back turtle was coming ashore to dig a nest and lay eggs. We waited silently in the dark for what seemed like an hour as she made her way over the sand until she had reached the dry part of the beach before the tide line. There she turned around and began to dig with her flippers. We waited until she was done and had begun to lay her eggs, which is when the turtles go into something like a trance, enabling scientist and tourists to get up close. Then we were able to go right up to her, touch her back and look into her face (with our little red lights). Her back was smooth and hard. Each egg was a little bigger than a golf ball.

Only about 5 leatherbacks are seen nesting on this beach every year, so what we witnessed was quite special. She was 1 meter 30 centimeters long and 1 meter across. Our guide had never seen one before! The guards came to collect the eggs of this very endangered species so that they could hatch them in a protected area back at the guardhouse.

We watched her lay the last of her eggs and cover the hole , flapping her flippers in the sand like a child making a snow angel. Then she made her way back to the water, leaving an S pattern in the sand and entering the waves in the exact spot she had left them.

While we were walking back across the beach, we stopped to see if we could see any more babies, and had the intense pleasure of watching 25 tiny little turtles come crawling one after another, one on top of another, awkward and squirming out of the sand. They were adorable, and we all got to hold them in our hands. We shone the lights ahead for them to follow, and led them slowly toward the ocean.

We didn't get home until very, very late—but it was very, very worth it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

¿usted no sabe los animales?

The harbor at San Juan del Sur

We arrived last night in San Juan del Sur. Compared to the rest of Nicaragua, at least what we have seen, this coastal surfing town is thriving, clean, beautiful. A large community of expatriates participate in a variety of projects to improve services to everyone in this area, and Jane Mirandette's biblioteca, with a mobile project serving 31 rural schools, is no exception. We are all thrilled to be here learning about the work done to improve literacy in Nicaragua.

Last night a group of us had late night snacks at Colibri, a Mediterranean restaurant that makes excellent food and sangria. Then it was off to bed in Jane's lovely Hotel Villa Isabella. This is truly a place worth staying. Several other groups of volunteers are here at the moment, including eye doctors holding a free clinic and a family distributing clothing to families in the surrounding area. We feel right at home.

Marlo en la Biblioteca

8 of us went out with the mobile project today. Although school is not in session, the book truck makes a few limited stops, and the children gather with their brothers and sisters to return books, take out new reading material, and participate in the manualidades—crafts—that the library staff brings.

As part of the course we are receiving graduate credit for, we designed quite a few craft activities to bring to the kids on the mobile project as well as the book festival we have been planning. Today we performed a puppet play written by Gail and translated into Spanish. After watching the play, the children made their own puppets, and we will be making several puppet theaters to leave here at the biblioteca.

We also had a handmade bookmark project, which was a huge hit. These children had never seen markers before, but once they got the hang of taking the caps off, they turned into busy little artists... and very few pen caps were lost!

We were all charmed by the dozens of kids, and given dozens of regalitos, mostly bookmarks with their animal drawings and their names printed over and over.

We all read books to the children. It was wonderful and inspiring for everyone, and great practice for the upcoming book festival.

The books ride out in the back of the truck in these large plastic boxes, and the kids line up with their library cards at the school. Not all schools have other books, and only a few hundred (out of over 9000) schools have libraries of their own. These children might never read a book if it were not for this project.

The main festival planners stayed in San Juan to double-check with the priest about using the plaza outside the iglesia, speak with the mayor's office and the chief of police, and create a schedule of events. Each of us will man (or woman?) a booth of crafts or activities, from hip hop dance classes to face painting, and Sara, Pat and Caitlin will act as wandering translators and stand-ins when others get tired. We are getting so much practice with our Spanish that when nicas want to practice their English with us, it's hard to switch back!

On the way home (we rode in the bed of a pick-up truck for about an hour each way, an hour of bumpy dirt roads and even a few little rivers which we crossed by revving the engine and holding on tight), we stopped for juice and cookies at this sweet, pristine beach.

We ran out into the cool water and danced on the sand until it was time to go home, where we had tostones on the beach before going to Jane's house for a presentation of pictures from the various library projects she has begun, including the main location in San Juan del Sur, the mobile project, and what she calls "library in a box," a program to set up small libraries where there are none with supplies that can be brought in one large blue box. She fed us and answered all our questions about fundraising and administration of the library, and the girls from Simmons invited us the join the Nica Sisterhood, to keep in touch and coordinate future volunteer projects in San Juan del Sur.

Tomorrow the rest of us will go out with the mobile project while the others of us learn more about the town and the day-to-day functions of the library. Then we'll go on a canopy tour and see baby turtles hatching at night. Friday we're going to the beach, Saturday is the book festival, Sunday back to Managua, and Monday... well, hopefully Monday will never come.
Hola todos,

Today we left Managua! After 2 days in this city of great contrasts, we packed our things to travel to San Juan del Sur, where our true work begins. The morning was dedicated to workshops with members of ANIBIPA. Ann Weeks presented a talk about the International Children's Digital Library with the excellent help in translating of Carolina from the U.S. Embassy. Julie Brophy taught all the librarians present how to make a book out of recyclable materials. Her talk was translated with the help of Sara. Caitlin Rolston presented a brief outline, in Spanish, of uses for blogs, demonstrating their ease and versatility.

The workshops took place at UCC, la Universidad de Ciencias Comerciales.

Victoria, aqui estan nuestros fotos.

Jane's employees Ruth and Heidi presented a workshop on book repair, and the Biblioteca Móvil presented gifts and raffles to the librarians present.

After leaving UCC, we drove to Granada, a colonial town on Lake Nicaragua.
We ate a late lunch, most of indulging in an amazing dish of sea bass and grilled vegetables.

Then we walked around, some of us down to the lake or to buy organic chocolates.

We grew tired quickly, however, and soon were on our way to San Juan del Sur. We arrived here after nightfall, and will have pictures to share tomorrow. We have free calls to the U.S. now, so you will all probably hear from us soon.