Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Visiting Mariela, my sponsored child

One of the significant aspects of this trip was my plan to travel to the village of my sponsored child´s family on the east side of Lac Nicaragua, near the city of Juigalpa. Mariela, her sister Martha and their mother Josepha live in the small community of San Pedro, a very poor community of 5,000 people, supported by Plan International (used to be called Foster Parents Plan) who I have worked with before in Pakistan. The plan was to spend half a day with Mariela and her family and then do some photography of nearby Plan projects the next day as part of my ongoing volunteer work with Plan.

The trip to Juigalpa took over 3 hours through very dry cattle country. It is summer here (the dry season). Winter (the wet season) is the other season and it starts in May. The trip to San Pedro took another hour travelling on a gravel road. Along the way we had to dodge car sized potholes, roaming cattle, numerous cowboys on horses and many smoke belching buses. We arrived in San Pedro and pulled up in front of Mariella´s house where the family was waiting along with some of the community volunteers. Both Mariela, who is 10 years old, and her sister, Martha, who is 11 years old, are beautiful children who did not speak a word out of shyness. Josepha, their mother is only 26 years old and single, as it is very common to have children at a very young age in Nicaragua and very common for the menfolk to walk away once the children are born. They live in a shack with a dirt floor which is swept clean daily. The front wall is cinder block and both sides of the shack are planks with gaps in them. There are 2 separate partitions for the bedrooms and a kitchen in the back has a 3 burner propane hot plate. An open area out back is home to a cinder block shower stall and a wash tank for laundry. The tiny property behind the house is occupied by a couple of plants and a latrine in the back corner. Josepha has bricks and cinder blocks to do some improvements once the father of the children has time, or the inclination, to do the work

On my arrival I was served a drink of corn, cinnamon and cacoa which was quite delicious but somewhat granular. I also had some hard bisquits also made of corn. A little later we were served pasteles (cake) and coke. On the wall in the front room were cut out letters saying Beinvenidos Paul and a cut out drawing of what they thought I looked like. I had a hat on and was round. I was very touched by this act. I handed out gifts including some hand made bracelets from the Duncan Downtown market, some totem pins, and an English/Spanish dictionary to help Mariela when she was writing letters to me. They were gratefully received but still the girls did not talk. My spanish is getting quite good and I was able to have a conversation with Josepha while only needing help from the interpreter a few times. I was especially pleased that I could do this.

After the goodies we went for a tour of the town. First the baseball stadium, then the bullring where the men ride the bulls, and then off to Mariela and Martha´s school for a presentation. Arriving at the school we were met by a group of grade 4´s who officially welcomed me and led the way into Mariella´s classroom where she was supposed to introduce me. She was still tongue tied so we went ahead with a question and answer period with me answering most questions in spanish with a little help from Ellen, the Plan interpretor. Mariella has 45 classmates, a typical size class in Nicaraguan terms the principal explained to me. The school is in desperate need of most supplies, especially pencils and exercise books, since the government does not give much money to the school system. The school did not even have a single computer. After the presentations we all filed outside for a group photo and then repeated the process with Martha´s class.

Next stop the San Pedro church, built in 1952 and a very important part of the family´s life. The church is being renovated because, after 56 years, like myself, things are falling apart and need work. Old churches in Central America, like this one, are very fascinating with all their collected icons and memorabilia and the community is very proud of it. I was then shown the basketball court and told out that the youth had no basketballs to play with. Crossing the street we went to meet the Mayor as I was apparently a very important visitor, but he was busy so I met the assistant Mayor instead and he told me about all the great work Plan is doing in the community.

Last stop was the Rio Mico where I watched people wash their cars, do laundry on the rocks and swim. Ellen acknowledged the issue of pollution from these activities but said that the local municipal government was not concerned and did not see this as a problem. I didn´t say much because I am not there to judge but to witness. With all the other issues and challenges the community faces I can understand why the river pollution is pretty low on the radar.

It was time to say goodbye. This was really tough and emotional since I had been corresponding for over 2 years with Mariela and a couple of hours of visiting seemed so short especially since the children had hardly spoken. They did, however ask me when I was coming back. I told them as soon as I am able. Hugs all around and we parted ways, none of us looking back. One of the hardest goodbyes I have ever had to experience.