Thursday– Feb 17

I was up early again to catch the bus with Helena to Managua, about a 15 minute ride. As we waited by the side of the dusty road, a few chickens and a very large rooster walked by. I wondered if it was the same bird that kept crowing at 3 am. Apparently, they don’t only crow at dawn.

The bus arrived, an old school bus converted for public transportation. It cost 3 cordoba, about 1.5 cents to ride and they are usually extremely crowded with people literally hanging out the door. Luckily, this bus was not that full and we were able to get seats. It became crowded afterwards though and we were in very close quarters until we reached Managua. I was very happy to have Helena with me and especially when we had to get off as I would never have found the stop.

We walked a bit to our where we were meeting up with Mariel and Sr. M&M. Once meeting Mariel, we waited for almost an hour for Sr. M&M. She is always late, it must be the Nicaragua time thing. While we waited, Helena told me that we happened to be right next to an orphanage that had a reputation for being very well run. Of course I wanted to see this so we went over and asked if we could meet with the director, who kindly obliged us. The orphanage was very nice, the grounds well kept. No children were about though as it was school time. The younger non-school age children were not around either. The director told us that they had children ages birth to 7 and that at seven, they tried to have them adopted.

She also said that they received funds from the government. This obviously accounted for the condition of the facility. Inside was neat and clean and while not lavish by any standards, they had offices with computers set up for running the facility. The grounds inside the compound were well manicured, with the hard backed dirt swept and raked of the falling leaves that left neat areas for walking and play. We thanked her for her time and went back to our meeting place.

As I am typing this, a car is driving by with a loud speaker blasting someone talking in Spanish. They do this a lot here, either to promote something for sale or the government. I don’t know what they are saying but they definitely want you to hear it as it is very loud and unavoidable.

Sr. M&M and her driver were waiting for us and I was happy to see Sayda, a young girl from El Crucero. Sayda had been having a lot of problems with her eyes and we had asked her sponsor for additional funding for glasses. She was wearing them now and also a beautiful smile. Mariel had told me that Sayda is studying to be a nun. She is very obedient and eager to serve others; the hallmark of the nuns I have met here. Sayda was going to Juan Pablo to help with the younger children. We dropped her off there, and I got a quick hug from Allison. It was also confirmed that we would be able to bring Allison with us to El Crucero for the next few days and I was happy to hear this.

But first we had some shopping to do. We drove to the Oriental market which has a reputation for being dangerous and rough, especially in the inner parts of the market. This is one of the largest markets in Nicaragua and sells everything; from jeans to electronics to guava fruit. The streets were packed with people and cars jostling for parking spaces. We followed Sr. M&M and wound our way through the stalls and booths, stopping at some to check pricing. We ended up at a booth that M&M approved of and spent the next 2 hours buying uniforms. Poor Mariel was beginning to come down with a cold and didn’t feel well. It was difficult for all of us to sit and wait in the heat and close quarters but worse for her as we waited. I felt a little badly that both she and Helena had to sit through this process but this is one of the things that I had come to do and there was no other option but to stick it out. After purchasing the uniforms, we moved on to shoes where we spent another 2 hours. Sr. M&M had the foot outlines drawn on paper for each of the children at El Crucero and Juan Pablo. She would pick a style and match the sizing up to the page. In both instances, I am sure the vendors were happy to have our business as we were buying in such quantity.

In all, we were at the Oriental Market for 5 hours. We bought 30 skirts, 40 shirts, 10 pants, underwear, socks, and 30 pairs of shoes. All of it cost less than $1000. As I took the cordoba out of my wallet, I told M&M that this money had come from the children’s sponsors and friends in the United States. She said she understood and thanked me for being the “bridge” for making this happen. I felt humbled, knowing that this money that came from the generous people back home would make such a big impact on the children.

At this point, it was 2:30 and we hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast. We were all hungry and drained so we left to eat at Tip Top, a fast food chicken place that I had eaten at before. Although Sr. M&M also wanted to buy baby clothes and other supplies at the market, we agreed that I would give her money for this purpose as none of us could face going back to the market. By now it was 4pm (they eat very slowly in Nicagaua, Mariel and I were down way before the others) and we still had a lot to do.

We left to pick up Allison and Rosita, another little girl that would be returning to El Crucero, both of them are 4. Allison was sleeping when we arrived but up and excited to go, they even packed a little bag for her. Our first stop was the food store. I wanted to bring up fruits and vegetables. I also knew that Allison had never been to a supermarket before and wanted her to have the experience. As we rode in the car to the store, I also realized this was the first time that she had ever ridden in a car. The magnitude of this floored me. To be able to give her this opportunity, that for us is a common, every day occurence, made me feel both happy and sad.
At the food store, she and Rosita were very excited to ride in the shopping cars with the little cars on the front end. They whooped and laughed while “driving” the cars for us. It was such a pleasure to see her enjoying this. You would have thought we brought her to an amusement park. Sayda was also with us, and I asked if she would like something. She immediately smiled a huge grin and asked for an apple. I asked her to get one for each of the little girls too as apples are a rare treat in Nicaragua. They are not locally grown and because they are imported, much too expensive to buy. They cost about 5 cents each; very small change for us.

It was now full dark as we drove back to NiCasa, the Mission of Hope compound, to pick up my things and the gifts and other items that I had with me for the children. The beat up old van now held 6 adults, 2 children, all of our shopping, our personal bags and one HUGE suitcase.

Our drive to El Crucero was about 45 minutes up a mountain road. As we left the lights of the city, Allison, who had been excited and bubbly now turned quiet and started to whimper. She said she was afraid and wanted to go back to Casa Cuna (the other name for Juan Pablo). As I held her and tried to sooth her, I realized that she had probably never been out of the city before and that the unremitting darkness was something very alien to her. There were no city lights or noises to steer by and she felt lost and afraid. We did our best to assure her that she was safe. The sky was truly amazing without any lights polluting the night. It was a blue/black color with pin hole bright white stars.

We arrived at El Crucero around 7pm. As we brought in all of our bags, the children surrounded us. The children are always very affectionate, hugging and tugging at me and trying to get close. I was surrounded by many of them and worked hard at remembering many of their names.

After greeting the Sisters, and the children had gone back to their rooms, taking Allison with them, we were served dinner. We hadn’t expected this but it gave us a good opportunity to talk to Madre Griselda, the new mother superior. Meeting and talking with her was a big part of my mission on this trip and I was pleased to do so. I liked her right away. She had a wonderful smile that crinkled her eyes when she spoke and her face was very expressive when she talked or listened. This is not always the case with the Nicaragua people and it sometimes hard to gauge what reaction they are having to what we say and do. But with Madre, I was comfortable from the start that she understood us and our intentions. I was very glad that we had Helena with us to translate though or our conversation would have been drastically different.

Dinner was rice and beans and served to us in the Nun’s dining room. The single bulb in the ceiling didn’t illuminate the corners of the room and it felt other-wordly. They served us on their mis-matched dishes and cups with graciousness.

After dinner, we spoke with Madre Griselda at length. She told us that at night, the Nuns patrol the property to watch for thieves. They wear men’s clothes and hats so the thieves will not know they are Nuns. Their security system consists of a .38, a shotgun and also a very mean dog that can be let out only when the children are not around. They do have a single security guard at the gate, but that is not enough to patrol the entire facility. And when that Security Guard is not on duty, four nuns stay awake at one time to keep watch. As I listened to this, becoming more and more incredulous as she spoke, Madre Griselda started to smile at the look on our faces. She laughed and said that I could take a “turn” patrolling during our stay if I wanted to. This woman had a sense of humor!

Their major concern is the electricity. The transformer is old and blasts power surges through the line that have blown out light bulbs, 3 computers and a refrigerator. The cost needed to replace it is $15,000. Because it is on their property, the utility company will not pay for a new one however, Madre felt that if they could raise half, $7500, the electric company might be persuaded to waive the remaining cost. She then told us some of her plans for El Crucero. She has ideas about making products for sale and has approached large businesses such as Parmelat (a large milk/dairy company in the country) to ask for aid. She said that she wanted help themselves and not live on hand outs. This was the first time I had heard the Nuns speak of their own plans to make positive change in their lives and those of the children. I was very impressed and told her so. I knew then that we would be able to work with this woman to help them improve their quality of life and it wouldn’t only be a one-sided effort. I really liked her.

Mariel had left the conversation early as she really didn’t feel well. Helena, Allison and I now made our way over to the older girls dorm where were staying. There is little to no electric as many of the lights don’t work. Inside the dorm, we made our way around using the small flashlight I was glad to have brought. The older girls seemed excited to have the three of us adults staying with them. There 10 bunk beds all moved to one side of the room to avoid being placed under the broken ceiling where the rock had come through and punched a hole in the roof. Allison was already settled into my bunk and asleep so I attempted a perfunctory wash of my hands and face using a bucket and brushed my teeth over the toilet bowl. To use the toilet, you “flushed” by pouring another bucket of water down to force the toilet to empty.

The bed did not have a mattress, just a blanket over a wooden platform. As I tried to find a comfortable position, and settled in next to Allison, I heard the wind howling around the corners and into the open crevices of the room. The room was cold but they had given us enough blankets to be comfortable under them. I thought it was a good thing that it was dark and I couldn’t see well into the room. I wasn’t sure what the next day would bring but I couldn’t help but feel as if I had fallen down the rabbit hole into Alice’s in Wonderland’s world.

I will post the pictures to go with this story when I return to the US.

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