Days 3 & 4: Nicaraguan Journal

Started day 3 at Los Hervides de San Jacinto, bub­bling lava pits near the town of San Jacinto, where a small band of chil­dren acted as our “guides” while we wan­dered between steam jets and small pools of lava. After that we had a 20-minute drive to La Sabaneta, where Maritza, one of our brigadis­tas, lives. We stopped briefly at Martiza’s house so she could see her fam­ily but our des­ti­na­tion was the home and stu­dio of Olga Reyes, which is just down the road. Last year, one of Olga’s horses kicked over her kiln and we were going to help her rebuild.

Here’s how to build a tra­di­tional Nicaraguan kiln:

building kiln 1

1) Build a dome-shaped frame out of twigs.

2) While the mor­tar is being mixed, beat a pile of horse manure with a stick until all the big lumps are bro­ken down.

3) Using a shovel, mix a mor­tar out of dry clay and water. Add the beaten-down horse manure to the mor­tar and mix with your hands.
kiln building 2

4) Use bricks from the old kiln to build a wall out­side the twig  frame. Puts lots of sloppy mor­tar between the bricks and smear more mor­tar over the out­side of the bricks. When the wall is about 3/4 of the way up, decide that you had bet­ter build the sub­floor before the kiln is closed in and the inside is too dark to see.

5) Find a strong, agile per­son who is able to fit inside the kiln and still man­han­dle bricks and mor­tar and build the sub­floor, which is sev­eral bricks off the ground (the sub­floor will form the roof of the fire­box). Thank Alvaro for being that person.

6) Decide that even though it was smart to build the sub­floor before the kiln was closed in, it would have been even smarter to build the sub­floor before the twig frame was put up.

kiln building 3

7) When the sub­floor is com­plete, pull the strong, agile per­son out of the kiln and unbend him as best you can. Then con­tinue brick­ing the wall and after a few more courses, use large sec­tions of bro­ken pots to cover the top of the dome. Decide that next time you build a kiln you’ll do it before the roof is built over it so that you can reach the top of the kiln with­out dis­lo­cat­ing your shoul­der or squish­ing your head.

8) Take a group photo out­side the kiln and accept your host’s assur­ances that she will burn out the twig frame once the mor­tar is dry. Try not to think that per­haps, once we drive off, she and her fam­ily and friends will tear down our ver­sion of a kiln and build a proper one.

When we weren’t build­ing the kiln or hang­ing out at Olga’s place, we man­aged to eat Eskimo ice cream sand­wiches from a nearby pot­pour­ria and lunch at Loma Verde, a comi­dor a short drive away (it took for­ever for our food to be cooked but it was worth wait­ing for) and we spent another night at Charlie’s.

We also walked over to see Maritza’s home/studio and yard. Martiza and her fam­ily were relo­cated to La Sabaneta after her home was destroyed by Hurricane Mitch.

On our way out of town we stopped at a stu­dio to con­sult about a mal­func­tion­ing kiln. This stu­dio and kiln had been built on the edge of town by an NGO but up until now it had not been used because most of the pot­ters in the area need to work at or near home to they can watch over their chil­dren and do other domes­tic work. The kiln was seems to have been mod­eled after a brick kiln rather than a pot­tery kiln so fir­ings were uneven.

From there we drove north to Esteli and after much dri­ving around in the dark and ask­ing passersby for direc­tions, plus one phone call back to Managua, we man­aged to find our hotel — “El Despertar” (“wake up” in English) — which we were soon call­ing “El Desperado”: dorm rooms, thin mat­tresses and, between the rooms, walls that didn’t reach the ceil­ing. Toilets and show­ers across the park­ing lot meant that we could look up a the stars on our way to pee dur­ing the night (okay, I was the only one who thought this was neat).

Allison, the youngest brigadista and a self-professed city girl, got me to take a photo of her in her bunk to prove to her par­ents that she had actu­ally slept in such a rus­tic place. In the light of the next morn­ing we admired the mural on the out­side wall.

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