This past week has been a whirlwind as our air quality stove project is finally lifting off! Here is how the breakdown of events have played out:
Monday morning I got sick. Nothing new. After spending the weekend in Tola and the Rivas, we got home really late Sunday night and I went straight to bed. I woke up Monday morning ready to hit the ground running with our project, but in reality had to stay home because I couldn’t get my head out of the trashcan….I’ve gotten sick more times in Nicaragua than I have for the entire past year. I tried fighting how crappy my stomach felt by going to work anyways, but around 9:30 AM I couldn’t fight it any longer and decided to catch a taxi home. My family was surprised that I came home so early, but wasn’t surprised to hear that I was sick….because I get sick almost every week here. It’s ridiculous. I spent that morning napping in my room under my fan, until the electricity went out…and at that point I was napping in my room in a puddle of sweat. My host sister woke me up telling me lunch was ready. After a hot, sweaty morning of doing nothing but sleeping and barfing, (yet at the same time, sweating immensely), I was met with a nice steaming bowl of soup for lunch. So just in case I wasn’t sweating enough, I could sweat more on top of the already existing sweat.
My host mom does this new thing during every meal where she sits next to me and explains the nutritional value of everything on my plate (because she is convinced that I don’t eat enough—even though I am stuffed to the brim after every meal). So as I’m trying to down this scorching soup, I’m also trying to not look completely miserable while listening to her explain just how much protein, vitamins, and minerals this bowl of zucchini soup has. Okay, I GOT IT, but that doesn’t erase the fact that I keep getting sick. She means well, and I truly appreciate everything she does for me. Later that afternoon, I met up with Garrison and Onyema and learned that they had bought all 55 bricks (11 for each of the 5 families) and successfully delivered them to the Bombanací community. We spent the rest of that afternoon lounging around central park, snapping photos of our surroundings and also trying to nail down our metallurgico…..except he was no where to be found. No 2 days in Nicaragua are the same. Ever.
The next morning we met with the first 5 families who we will be working with, and distributed the bricks to each of the family’s houses. Towards the end of our day delivering bricks, I took the wheelbarrow filled with bricks, and began wheeling it down a steep and rocky path towards the last house. One of the ladies began to laugh when she saw me wheeling the barrel alone said “somebody help the girl” (talking about me). With a huge smile, I turned around and said “las muchachas pueden hacerlo” (girls are able to do it). Just as I said this, I hit a huge rock on the path, losing control of the wheelbarrow until Onyema came to help me slow down the wheelbarrow. I might’ve looked silly introducing the idea of girl power at such bad timing, but I’d rather it happen sooner than later. After unloading the bricks at the last of the 5 family’s houses, our stay was extended longer than we had expected. The family is a grandmother, her daughter, and the most adorable 14-month old baby in all of Nicaragua. Initially, I thought the baby’s name was Chino (not sure why I thought this—but he was so adorable my heart just melted when I saw him). His name is actually Emanuel Francisco and has the ability to imitate coyotes and dogs on the drop of a dime. Anyways, after unloading the bricks at this family’s house, they had promised us a taste of the cajeta de coco that they sell on the streets of Masaya. We accepted their offer as they pulled out chairs us to sit with them. She gave the 3 of us plates full of this bright pink and brown mushed coconut sweet. I’m not exactly sure how they make these sweets, but they involve using open fire stoves—the very thing our project is working against. I don’t typically enjoy coconut in the States, and that still holds true here in Nicaragua….so I ate as much as I could without dry-heaving and then asked if she could put it in a bag so I could take home to enjoy later on (except not really). The gifts didn’t stop there. She ran back inside and grabbed avocados and coconut lollipops for the 3 of us. People in Nicaragua are so incredibly kind to strangers, for absolutely no reason at all. After only knowing these women for a grand total of maybe 2 hours, they had invited us into their houses, fed us sweets, given us fruit, and wanted to hear about our lives and our studies in the United States—so amazingly caring and sweet. As we said our goodbyes and left the Bombanaci community Tuesday afternoon, I began to get really excited about how the rest of this project was going to pan out.
Thursday morning we got down and dirty in some of the first stages of our project: cutting the bricks to fit the dimensions necessary for the inner chamber of our stoves. Thursday was a big day for our project as it took an entire day to measure and cut the bricks to appropriate sizes, and then construct the inner chamber. Here’s how the first 5 family dynamics worked:
Family 1: Only the women and children worked in this stage of the process, as the men were busy building a hammock. It took a little encouragement to get them completely invested in getting their hands dirty in the cutting process, but after showing them how to maneuver the chisel and hammer, they had no problem getting to work. Upon noticing that one of the bricks wouldn’t fit after getting cut, one of the women went inside the house for a second, and returned with a long, sharp machete and began hacking away to smoothen the surface. I was startled they owned a machete and even more alarmed that she was using it so loosely around the young kids. Tools used: machete, hammer, & chisel.
Family 2: Only the women worked in this stage of the process as well (there were no men at home). This family was the grandmother, her daughter, and my favorite baby, Emanuel Francisco. Again, the 2 women seemed hesitant in starting—but after showing them the necessary steps to take measurements and work with the tools, they took control of the project right away. After working, they bought us refrescos that had mammones (a rare fruit found in Nicaragua), loads of sugar, and even salt in it. I pretended to enjoy it, as it was the saltiest refresco I have had during this trip yet, and thanked them graciously for buying us a cold drink. Tools used: hammer & chisel.
Family 3: This family dynamic was a little more interesting. All men, women, and children were home, but only the men worked in this stage of the process. The younger women were busy washing dishes, clothes, and caring for the children, while the older woman was hurt as she had a huge Band-Aid on her forehead from falling and hitting her head on a chair. The older dad was sick, so his son and grandson assisted in this process. During our time with this family, we did absolutely nothing. And by nothing, I mean the men completely took the bricks into their own hands and got to work as soon as we arrived. They also didn’t see much use in the chisel or hammer, and simply used another brick when they wanted to smooth the edge of a brick to make it fit. Tools used: other bricks, an axe, and a ruler.
Family 4: Man, woman, and children were home in this family, yet the man did the majority of the cutting and constructing. We started off with having his wife do the cutting and constructing, but before long, he jumped into the process and did the entire construction in about 5 minutes using only a metal gardening tool. Given, he is a construction worker and was already really familiar with how to use the tools and materials we had. Tools used: hands and metal gardening tool.
Family 5: Only women were home and only women took part in this stage of the process. She was prepared to get to work when we arrived, and was very careful and meticulous in her work. Afterwards, she too, bought the 3 of us the same salty mammone refresco (that is unfortunately not very pleasant to drink)…and again, we thanked them for the kind gesture, and did our best to drink as much of it as we could without looking like we were in pain.
At the end of the day, we were all very proud of the high level of productivity we had achieved and also pleased to see just how invested the families were in ensuring the success of their stoves. Although Nicaragua still has such a strong machismo culture, it was really rewarding to see a lot of the women take this project into their own hands. While this project revolves around improving public health and the environmental conditions of the Bombanaci community, I also strongly believe that another one of the underlying benefits of this project is, in fact, women’s empowerment. From the cutting of bricks to the placing of cement, to (inshaAllah) the final construction of the stove: we truly hope that the women in each household gain the necessary knowledge in constructing more of these stoves in the future (and perhaps even on her own!). Through empowering women in not only building their own stoves, but also choosing to lead eco-friendly lifestyles while improving the respiratory health of their families—we see the benefits of our project to be ultimately, limitless.