About C. Carol Brown

I make learning fun...and sticky!

Education Issues on the Caribbean Coast

I was fortunate enough to visit some of the local communities along with a couple of project delegates who were wrapping up a three-year education program aimed at the preschool and first and second grade students to improve their English language skills. The program is called My Best and is funded by Pueblito Canada.

For three years, the project delegates held workshops with educators and parents and provided learning resources and materials for the children. But due to a lack of funds, the program is ending permanently. The workshops centred around improving relationships between parents and teachers, dealing with special needs children in the classroom and training to improve parenting skills.

The aim of this visit was to hand out computers to the students and complete evaluations of the program. At each location we met with the director of the school, the head of the communal board and a parent representative.

There were a number of things that struck me. I was pleased at the gratitude and humility of the people in the communities. I was saddened at the lack of resources in the classroom. I was grateful for the teachers who had to teach Grades 1 – 6 in one classroom and who did it with a smile.

School in Kahhabila, Nicaragua

School in Kahkabila, Nicaragua

The communities—Kahkabila, La Fe, Marshall Point and Orinoco—are only accessible by boat. The region’s ministry of education centre is Pearl Lagoon. As devoid of resources as they are, they are still better equipped than communities such as Set Net, Pueblo Nueva and others in the far north who are more remote and rarely get a visit from the ministry of education’s representatives but not because of a lack of interest.

The problem is cost. The ministry has no budget other than what is allocated for teacher salaries. Anything outside of that, from flip chart paper to chalk to gas, is a cost borne out of the teachers, directors and delegates’ own pockets. So they do the best they can with what they have and they do it with pride and love for their communities because, what else have they got?

Pro-Sandinista Voting Process at Work in Nicaragua

vote

Municipal elections happened here on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua on Sunday, March 2, 2014. The results were as everyone expected—the Sandinistas maintained power–but only because the other political parties really had no chance at winning a fixed election so many of those voters didn’t bother to cast their ballots.

The election was fixed for the Sandinistas to win because that is President J. Daniel Ortega’s party. All Sandinistas, whether real supporters or those who pretend to be supporters in order to maintain their jobs and really try to bring about change, are forced to vote. If they suspect that someone isn’t a real supporter, their ballot is marked and how they voted is checked and changed as necessary to bring out the desired results. So there really is no fair voting process at working in Nicaragua.

What most voters and non-voters didn’t realize is that the most important issue on the table during this election process was the building of the Interoceanic Canal. The proposed canal will compete with the Panama Canal as a gate between the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea but comes at an enormous price to Nicaragua especially environmentally. The 45 newly-elected members of the municipal government will decide whether or not the canal gets built on the Caribbean Coast.

It would have been nice to see how the process worked without all the backroom political machinations happening. I don’t pretend to know anything about politics here in Nicaragua but I know what I see and that is that the Sandinista party has an iron grip on jobs and any money coming into the community. If you are not a supporter forget about getting a government job (these are the only jobs in these communities), a government contract or any money that may come through the myriad of organizations that donate money and other resources to this area.

With this election now recorded as a part of history, the future is going to change drastically for the people on the Caribbean coast. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a lot that a non-Sandinista can do about it but hold their breaths, cross their fingers and hope that they reap some of the benefits.

History Skates Past

Sochi Logo

I didn’t get to watch even one moment of the 2014 Winter Olympics for a host of reasons. The two main reasons are because of poor internet access and because I’m living in Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua where they just don’t seem to care about those things.

As often as I could, I would get online to check how my Canadian Olympic team was doing. I was pleased to see the medal count increasing almost daily but I didn’t have the time to find out how individual athletes were doing. Did Alexander Bilodeau get another medal? How did our skiers do? Speed skaters? Bobsledder?  So many as yet unanswered questions.

I was thrilled when my son posted to his Facebook page that the Canadian team had won gold in men’s hockey but I wondered how the women’s hockey team did.

I used to be a diehard sports fan but since relocating to Central America, I’ve missed World Series Baseball, Summer Olympics, NHL playoffs, Grey Cup and Super Bowl games and just about anything else sports related except for the NBA finals last year.

Here on the Caribbean coast, baseball and our team Costa Caribe is where sports fan show their colours. I can’t say that I’ve gotten used to this dearth of sports in my live but I guess I can count my blessings that Costa Caribe is a darn good baseball team and have returned as defending champions. So far this season the team plays as if they intent to repeat last years’ championship feat. They aren’t my Toronto Blue Jays and this isn’t Major League Baseball but I guess Costa Caribe is better than nothing.

The Late Great Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela passed away on December 5, 2013 and I cried. It seems that ever since this gentle goliath entered the world’s stage, I have been watching and crying at his struggles and victories and cheering him on from in front of my television.

I never met the man but I have followed his life since his 28-year imprisonment first became news to the world. I, along with my then husband and children watched the newscasts as he was released from prison. I cried tears of joy at the thought that with his release the world suddenly became a better, more equitable place.

I cried again when he was elected to the post of South Africa’s Prime Minister despite or should I say in spite of his skin colour and the caste under which he was born.

I read his biography with a new box of tissue close at hand knowing that again my tears would flow for all that he had faced and had overcome.

His divorce from his second wife Winnie Mandela was a sad occasion though one I could understand given his rising political and worldwide fame and the scandals in which she seemed embroiled. His third marriage to Graca Machel made me shed tears of joy that he had again found love and a suitable companion.

And then I watched and waited for the inevitable as I received reports of his declining health in his advancing age. I wanted him to live forever. I wanted him to remain a symbol of hope for not just the citizens of South Africa but for all of mankind. But as great as he was, even he had to bid the world good-bye and enter that final eternal sleep. And I wept for him and for us.

Fortunately there are people that will continue the work that Madiba started. His legacy of peace, unity and equality will not die with him. It seems that there may still be hope that we humans will stop fighting against each other over skin colour, religion and other things that we can’t change about ourselves. Maybe one day there really will be peace on earth if we follow in the footsteps of this great man. And maybe now I can stop crying over our great loss. One day maybe.

Silent Killer Runs Amok

salt-spilled-shaker-15914343

I always thought that living in the Caribbean means a healthier lifestyle due to fresher, unprocessed food, more hours outdoor in sunshine, and more activity. I was wrong. The silent killer that is high blood pressure is running amok in Nicaragua.

In my husband Jose’s family, his mother has it. His oldest sister has it. So do many others. Here is why.

Food is fresher and often goes from tree to mouth or pot. Fish and other seafood go straight from the water to the pot too. But the problem is that they cook with a lot of salt. When they do cook with processed products, they are loaded with salt. Products like Magi consommé are used to prepare almost every meal to add flavor but it has salt as one of the first ingredients. They even sprinkle salt on fruits like green mangoes and pineapples to make them tastier to eat.

To make matters worse, they don’t exercise, unless it is a requirement of school or if they play organized sports like basketball or softball. In fact, most of the women, once the housework is done, sit and talk until it is time to start working again. The hours outdoors are only as are necessary for washing clothes and completing other yard work, and then it is indoors to watch novellas (Spanish Soap Operas) or on the verandah for respite from the sun’s heat.

The men seem less prone to having high blood pressure but that may be because they are more active especially those that work in fishing or in the bush where they cut trees and brush and plant a variety of food items such as coconut, cassava, breadfruit, etc.

I always thought high blood pressure was a North American problem but it is definitely a problem here in coastal Nicaragua.

Rising Electricity Costs Force Coastal Residents to Protest

October 7, 2013

What started off as a meeting to discuss the high electricity rates on the Coast of Nicaragua ended in a call for manifestation.

The Communal Board of Pearl Lagoon invited ENEL big boss Martin Duarte from Managua, its citizens and those of the other Coastal communities of Raitipura, Owas, Kahkahbilah, Brown Bank, Lafay and Haulover, to come speak about solutions for the exorbitant rates being charged. Mr. Duarte had agreed to come but called today to say he was unable to attend leaving the local ENEL officer to respond to questions that were clearly outside of his purview.

The rep, Stennet Hansack, was peppered with case after case of increasing electric bills, service disconnections, displays of favoritism, service interruptions and unhelpful responses. True to form, Mr. Hansack was unable to provide any useful information or answer any questions to satisfy the crowd.

He touted the company lines of “reduce consumption”, “monitor usage by reading your meters in the morning and in the evening”, and “reclaim any bill” but “you still have to pay it”.

Mr. Hansack attempted to explain that comparisons to what the residents in Bluefields pay for electricity is pointless because Bluefields’ tariff is lower. When asked why Bluefields, a big city, has a lower tariff, he lacked the capacity to give a suitable response. He did the same with every question that was posed instead deploying the spin doctor technique of speaking but saying nothing.

One participant explained that she owned a business that depended on electricity but that with the frequency and duration of service interruptions, her business was losing money. “If I can’t run my business because I don’t have power, how am I expected to earn money to pay my light bill,” she queried.

Another voice echoed that sentiment and added that local businesses are increasing their prices to make up for damaged inventory. “This is putting a pressure on the people when they go to buy food and other necessities,” she said. “It is getting bad when people have to choose between eating and paying their light bill.”

One man told of leaving his house with all the power off for four days and when he checked his bill, it was higher.

Many told stories of ENEL employees standing as far as the street when they read the meter which is attached to the house. “I can hardly read the numbers when I’m standing right under the meter so unless he has super vision, I’m sure he can’t read it from the road,” one woman said.

As the stories continued, the residents became more and more agitated. It was finally clear that Mr. Hansack could do nothing for them and it was suggested that no one pay their bills and hold a manifestation—a protest—to shut down the local ENEL office until the Managua bosses come to the coast to hear the complaints and offer solutions for lower bills.

A few registered concerns about having their power cut off or police violence in retaliation but they were assured that the manifestation would be held according to law which includes notifying police and media at least 24 hours in advance.

The manifestation will begin at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday October 10th in front of the Perlas Lagunas Institute.

Family Feud: The Nicaraguan Edition

No, this isn’t a blog post about the popular game show currently being hosted by comedian Steve Harvey. Rather, it is about the realities of living in a community where owning land equals power.

In a recent incident, a woman we’ll call Marie, had been living on a certain prime piece of real estate in a small coastal community in Nicaragua for more than 15-years when a group of her family members decided that they wanted the property for a relative who, after living in the United States for 20 years, had chosen to return home. The group of approximately eight relatives arrived at Marie’s house on a Saturday morning with a lawyer in tow.

Like the game show where you invite family member to help you, Marie, being made aware by a cousin who disagreed with the family’s plan, had asked her siblings and mother to come to the house in support. Unlike the game show where the family comes well-dressed and armed with their sparkling personalities and thinking caps, Marie’s family attended but each member, except the mother, came armed with machete, stout tree branches, an axe and a gun, just in case there was a need to escalate things from talking to action.

Akin to the game show, both sides get the opportunity to answer questions and earn points in the hopes of being the big winner at the end of the day. After hearing from both sides that the property had been left to the Marie’s mother, and being shown the land title, the lawyer measured out the land and allocated a piece, behind the existing structure, for the returning expatriate. The lawyer was shocked to hear that they were family after having been told that the woman was a stranger who “just put up a house on their property.” He explained that Marie had as much right to the land as they did, and because she had been there already, they couldn’t move her.

Unlike the losers on the game show who still smile and applaud, the cousins were not happy with the results and continued to argue. The lawyer told them that he would be glad to take their money and go to court but that they would lose. These losers went away grumbling.

In Nicaragua this type of situation is happening more frequently as expatriates are returning home to claim what they believe is rightfully theirs. It doesn’t seem to matter what the relationship is either, if someone else owns the land under your house. Sadly, if you don’t have the land title that clearly states that the property belongs to you, (my father’s mother’s uncle’s daughter said…doesn’t get you far in these matters) you could find yourself unceremoniously ousted. And, you had better hope that someone in your family takes pity on you and gives you a new place to call home.

In an earlier attempt to remove Marie from her house, one of the cousins had set fire to the house after throwing out all her belongings while she was at church one Sunday. Marie’s only brother dared them to try it again.

Coastal Language 101

I promised I would do a blog post about some of the words and language commonly used in and around Pearl Lagoon. Here it is. The language here on the coast is a combination of English, Spanish and Miskito which is collectively referred to as Creole.

If they use the Spanish words for a thing then they always use the Spanish word and may not even know how to say the word in English.

Forgive the spelling. I’m doing it phonetically the way the words sound to me!

Quale or   quail Almost   dry; usually used in reference to laundry
Suppostamente   (Spanish) Supposedly
Tranquillo   (Spanish) Tranquil, calm, relaxed, easy
Tortiya   (Spanish) Jamaican-style fried dumpling but in a triangular shape
Bad feeling Upset stomach; feel to vomit
Catch a cold Used to explain just about all illnesses
Bunka/rump Butt, ass, behind, tush, etc.
Shittings Diarrhea
Poro   (Spanish) Penis
Para ya   (Spanish) A long time ago; or from time-to-time
Sickening Disgusting
Salva Vida   (Spanish) Life Jacket/vest
Novella   (Spanish) Spanish soap opera
Poonk Fart
That’s why I’m still not sure how this is used!
In my mind To myself
Beyho   (Spanish) Old man
Heaty Hot
Chinnella   (Spanish) Slippers or sandals
Fishining Fishing
Dorry Boat smaller than a panga and needs oars
Panga Boat that uses an engine
Clamp Stapler
Tio   (Spanish) Uncle
How? How are you?
Hard man A common greeting between men
Right here Used in response to How?
Plasticard Laminate