This past Saturday I spent part of the late afternoon sitting at an outdoor cafe reading my book (for those of you who might be interested, I recommend "The Country Under My Skin" by Gioconda Belli, a former Sandanista Guerilla. I don't love her writing style, but it has been a fascinating read about the Sandanista revolution). Granada is an old colonial town about an hour from Managua. Known for its beautiful architecture and its lake filled with over 1000 small isletas, Granada is a bit of a haven for tourists and locals alike who are escaping for the day, weekend, or rest of their lives. Next door, there was a large group of tourists eating dinner. My best guess was that they were from Taiwan, based mainly on the fact that a large number of manufacturing plants here are Taiwanese owned, and they were the first Asians I had seen since arriving a month ago. Two couples got up and began taking pictures of the surrounding buildings, and at one point, one of the women began to approach me. I thought she was going to ask me to take their picture, but instead she sat down next to me, took my hand, and smiled while the man she was with took our picture. Then she got up and walked away - without saying anything. A few minutes later, her friend came and sat down next to me. At this point, I had my book in my hand, and she looked a bit perplexed when she saw my hand was full and she couldn't hold it - but she still turned and smiled for the camera - and then walked away. Now I understand when you're travelling in a foreign country and want to take pictures of the local people and cultures. And to some degree, I understand when you see foreigners in your own country, and its rare enough that you want to take their picture (which happened often when I was travelling in India). But I can't quite figure why, when visiting Central America, from Asia, you'd want to take a picture of a gringa tourist?? I'd like to think it was because I looked so great they couldn't pass up the opportunity - but to be perfectly honest, the water had been out that day in our house, and I hadn't even taken a shower. Strange.
Before heading to Granada for the weekend, I spent a day in Esteli. We went to visit a potential investment opportunity, Harinas de Maiz. There is a very traditional cookie in Nicaragua, called the rosquilla, which is made of cornmeal and is a specialty of the northern region of the company. Typically rosquilla makers spend the majority of their day grinding the corn and preparing the cornmeal for the following day's cookies. Its a very time and labor intensive process, which greatly slows down the production. Harinas de Maiz has figured out a way to produce the cornmeal (which has to be made in a very specific way so that the cookies turn out well) in bulk, and distribute it daily to the women who make the cookies. It was a very interesting meeting - though I'll have to say, the best part was afterwards when we went into town. I had read in my guidebook that Esteli was known for producing high quality custom made cowboy boots - so after lunch, we set out to find a store. The first store we struck out - the bootmaker wasn't there, and the woman who was wasn't all that excited to show us the boots they had in the store. But our second stop was a gold mine. We didn't have time to have a custom pair made, but after much searching the owner was able to find a pair that I liked in a size that was big enough for my gringa feet. I am very happy (even if it is too hot to wear them here!).
Today I spent the afternoon visiting the programs of the Fabretto Children's Foundation. I first visited Fabretto when I came to Nicaragua five years ago, and have since helped them out with a little bit of fundraising. Fabretto is working to break the cycle of poverty in Nicaragua by providing educational programs for approxmiately 5000 children. In the Nicaraguan public system, kids only receive a half a day of formal schooling. Fabretto works to fill this vacuum by providing programs for the rest of the day - with a main focus on teaching vocational education to help ensure that the children can eventually find work, and won't end up on the streets. The amount of work they are able to do with limited resources is amazing, and I was impressed to see how they've grown in the five years since I was last here. They have developed a series of programs and small businesses which provide training opportunities for students, as well as income to support their programs. One of the most succesful is a school garden program where the kids learn to raise fruits and vegetables that are then used in the lunchroom, and also sold. We were joined on our tour today by a North American/Nicaraguan couple who own several high end coffee shops in Managua, and are hoping to work with Fabretto to produce some of the ingredients they need in order to expand their menu. If you're interested in learning more about Fabretto, you can visit: http://www.fabretto.org/ourwork.htm
It is hard to believe that our time here is almost halfway over, and I'm starting to wonder how I'm going to get all of my projects finished before it is time to leave. But, nevertheless, it continues to be a great learning experience.