From Nicaragua: Thoughts on Travel and Changes of Plans

Travel in Nicaragua is hectic and often unpredictable. So unpredictable, in fact, that you may find yourself sitting at the bus terminal, watching the colorfully painted ex-school buses come and go, listening to blasting reggaeton for two hours, only to be told that ¨Nobody knows if your bus is going.¨ Or, at least, that´s what happened to me upon arrival two days ago. Nonetheless, there is something humbling about not having my plans go as planned; I am reminded, after all, that Nicaragua doesn´t exist to conform to my needs. And, despite the slight detour I had to take, I am incredibly content to be here.

After spending my first night in the city of Matagalpa, visiting with friends from my time studying abroad and interning at a feminist NGO last year, I travelled on to Matiguás, the rural city that I will be in for the next two weeks. It is here that I worked with a group of women to establish a feminist women´s association (La Asociación de Mujeres Para la Reivindicación de Nuestros Derechos–quite the mouthful) last summer and here that, with the support of Macalester,  I will continue collaborating with them.

The original plan for my project was to open a small convenience store,  known as a pulpería, in order to generate funds for the women´s group to hold workshops about issues like gender violence. When I arrived, however, the woman I´m staying with (and with whom I worked last summer to start the group) told me that the women´s association had a proposal for me. Rather than opening a convenience store, where only one person can work, the new idea is to start a used clothing collective. By buying used clothing in bulk and selling it individually, the women will all be able to work toward a common end: raising money for the group, with the ultimate goal of generating sufficient funds to construct a Casa de la Mujer, a safe space for women who seek to leave a situation of violence, or are simply looking for the support of the women´s group.

Like  my travel plans changed, so have the details of my project. However, just as my detour to Matagalpa yielded the unexpected opportunity to catch up with old friends, I am confident that this shift away from the idea of the pulpería towards the more collaborative and sustainable used clothing collective will ultimately be a fruitful one. Now, off to meet with the Asociación de Mujeres and make a concrete plan!

Visiting with the Juniors and Seniors

Yesterday was my first day up at the school talking to the Juniors and Seniors. The guidance counselor and the teachers seemed very excited. They constantly referred to me as “the real life college student!” My public speaking skills are a little rusty since moot court ended, but I warmed up as I went along and saw a couple friendly faces in the crowd. I spoke to three groups answering as many questions as I could, and I made it very clear that the students could ask me anything. The first group had eleven seniors who were very concerned about alcohol, drugs, and dorm life. They seemed pretty undecided about going to college. The second group had mostly juniors who were very focused on the academic aspects of the experience, but to the point that they ignored anything having to do with the rest of college life. They did devour the packet of materials that I had prepared, so hopefully they’ll come to see that there are more aspects to college than just academics. The third group was composed of juniors who were interested in what kind of soft skills you could gain from college and what life was like for a first generation college student. I was happy to share advice about making friends and living far from home. Of course, this group wanted to know what was my most embarrassing moment at college (fyi Sexy Training) and how I handled it. After the room died laughing, I explained that although college can be crazy and a lot of fun, you have to make sacrifices — time, money, family — because ultimately it is all about your future and what you want to do. I overheard the students talking about me in the halls, pointing out to others which room I was in, saying: “You could go there if you want to talk about college.” I hope they’re just as enthusiastic about attending the rest of the workshops. I’ve arranged a few topics to start with: Campus Visits (to discuss social life and financial aid), Time Management (to give ideas about new ways to manage academic and other responsibilities), Interviews and Resumes (to help with scholarship searches, work-study jobs, and networking), and Choosing Classes (to explain the very different procedures in college and help them choose an advisor and a major). I was exhausted when I arrived home yesterday after spending seven hours up at the school. With a lot of effort and some luck, maybe this will all work out.

The Baking Has Begun!

Leah Blog 2
By Leah Plummer 
After our first commercial loaves, the group wanted to make some samples of American bread. Part of what makes Nyame Tsease unique in the Cape Coast bread scene is that it is an international bakery. Nyame Tsease teaches drum and dance lessons to foreigners to Ghana from all over the world. They want their bakery to reflect their diverse student base. When Natalie and I were preparing for our trip to Ghana, the group asked us if we could bring some American bread recipes. We asked our friends and family to send us their favorite bread recipes and brought those with us. While American bread recipes call for some ingredients that are not available in Ghana (cloves, walnuts, etc), most of these ingredients have appropriate Ghanaian substitutes (we intend to use cinnamon and nutmeg instead of cloves, and peanuts instead of walnuts). On Saturday, the group chose three American recipes to try baking. Banana bread, Carrot cake (which turned into carrot bread because we only have loaf pans to cook in), and Challah.
Natalie and I spent the morning converting the American measurements to Ghanaian measurements. They don’t use the cups and teaspoons we are used to here, it’s more about the ratios than the exact measurements. Our conversions must have worked out, because the bread turned out to be delicious! In fact, people liked it so much that there were requests by customers for it to be made again. So this morning (around 1am), we made the usual Ghanaian bread for sale and half batches of Challah and Carrot Cake/bread. Once again, it has all sold out! We even had to turn some customers down because they came too late.
We are hoping to get to bake with the group two more times before we have to leave on Saturday. I can’t believe how quickly the end of trip is approaching.

weather gods prevail !

happy new year from the tropics ! ! it has been an interesting couple of days in colombo. on the 2nd of january we had a meeting with the Indian Ocean Marine Affairs Cooperation (IOMAC), an organization we had been in contact with about our project. the meeting was a success. IOMAC is very interested in our work + agreed to work in collaboration with us. a panel of senior board members and researchers were present at the meeting, and the field director is now working with us on the ground. all our diving equipment has been acquired from the dive shop sri lanka, our bags are packed, our routes figured out and we are ready to get in the water. despite preliminary success, the weather gods have other plans for the project as the weather in our project region has been terrible. freak weather conditions have also plagued the country overall for the last couple of weeks, with floods and landslides occurring regularly. these weather conditions are uncharacteristic for this time of the year and this troubles us. with that being said, the community aspect of our project however starts tomorrow – so things are happening on the ground, but a little differently as planned.