Day 13: Nicaraguan Journal

We headed back to Managua today and on the way we stopped at the Filtron Filter Factory which is owned and oper­ated by a Belgian man named Frank Schuringa who came to Nicaragua twenty-five years ago, mar­ried a Nicaraguan woman, had a cou­ple of kids, and  estab­lished a cof­fee busi­ness, a compost-making oper­a­tion and the fil­ter fac­tory. Last year when I vis­ited the fac­tory the fil­ters were formed by man­u­ally pump­ing a car jack to press the two pieces of the mould together, and each brigadista took a turn to make one fil­ter (it was hard work!) but the fac­tory now has an hydraulic ver­sion of the press (just push a but­ton and away it goes). Not as much fun for the brigadis­tas but a lot eas­ier on the workers.

Alvarro, our young guide-in-training, used to work at the fac­tory so he showed us around and explained how they run the clay through a ham­mer­mill to crush stones, then mix the dry clay with saw­dust and water to an exact pro­por­tion by weight, then press the fil­ters, dry them slowly, fire them in wood-burning kilns, test each fil­ter for the proper flowage rate (if the flow is too fast, the fil­ter can be refired; if the flow is too slow, the fil­ter is dis­carded), then paint the fil­ter with col­loidal sil­ver and lastly, box it.

We had a long chat with Frank, dur­ing which we sipped his excel­lent cof­fee and he told us how things had changed in Nicaragua since he first came here when peo­ple were more open and will­ing to help each other, then we took a look at the cof­fee roaster and the com­post oper­a­tion and some brigadis­tas bought some cof­fee and one bought a fil­ter and then we went into the town of Jinotepe for lunch at Comida Vegetariana, a lit­tle café that is run by a Malaysian fam­ily and that serves veg­e­tar­ian Chinese food (no chicken stew!). Lunch was delicious.

In the after­noon we stopped in at the home of our trans­la­tor Beatrice and her hus­band Fred — a beau­ti­ful two-bedroom home with all the mod­ern con­ve­niences and a lus­cious gar­den. When Beatrice told me that she had the house on the mar­ket for only $120,000US, an amount of money that wouldn’t even buy a stu­dio apart­ment in my city, I pic­tured myself liv­ing there — maybe after I mas­ter Spanish Level 2 and can find my way around with­out a guide, a dri­ver and a bunch of other gringos.

Fred has another pet project, besides Potters for Peace, and that’s a group called Stove Team International who work on the design, man­u­fac­ture and dis­tri­b­u­tion of fuel-efficient cook­stoves that will reduce the amount of smoke inhaled by peo­ple in the devel­op­ing world (most cook­stoves are inside the house and have no chim­neys), reduce the amount of wood being con­sumed by cook­stoves, and reduce the num­ber of burns on fam­ily mem­bers (the out­side of these new stoves don’t get hot). Since we had just inhaled a fair amount of smoke from cook­stoves, we could see the beauty of these stoves, although they are so dif­fer­ent from the long nar­row, counter-height adobe cook­stoves that also pro­vide a large area for rest­ing pots and keep­ing food warm, it will take some work to per­suade many Nicaraguan cooks to use them.

After that it was back to Kairos (where we began our jour­ney) where we ate din­ner (yes, chicken stew) and spent the evening try­ing to stuff all the pots we’d bought into our suit­cases. This year I brought a big­ger suit­case but I still had to leave behind my sheet and towel (which the hos­tel at Kairos can cer­tainly use) in order to get every­thing in. Then I sought out the brigadis­tas who were not leav­ing with me at dawn the next morn­ing and we exchanged hugs and promises to email. It was espe­cially sad to say good­bye to Maritza, our Nicaraguan brigadista, since my Spanish is so lim­ited that I was unable to tell her how much I had learned from her. So we just sat on the bed hug­ging each other and cry­ing a bit. Even though I hadn’t been a tourist in the usual sense, with­out flu­ency in their lan­guage I would never be able to get to know these peo­ple. (Yes, I have enrolled in more Spanish lessons!)

This was first posted at geist.com.

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