Monique Leslie is a member of one of Portland State University‘s Senior Capstone Projects. This particular PSU Senior Capstone group went to Bramadero Nicaragua to learn about renewable energy and how it can help overcome the challenges that the citizens in Bramadero face by living in the rural countryside. Below are her reflections on the experience…
Starting our trip in Managua, students and faculty from Portland State University spent nine days in the rural countryside of central western Nicaragua. After only a few minutes drive from the capital, one could see that Nicaragua, for now, is a country blessed with a low population density. The nation has a high potential for renewable energy, but unfortunately, it lacks the government infrastructure and support to engage in a large scale power grid system. Instead, many people living in isolated parts of the country live without electricity and access to potable water. The government, as well as international and local NGOs are striving to change that, and our trip was a part of that movement.
The town where we spent most of our time, Bramadero, was located on a steep stretch of winding road that dipped and climbed through the hills. Littered with potholes, large boulders, blind corners and dried up streams and rivers, the drive up to the town was an adventure in itself. As passengers, we couldn’t help but bust into cheer when our driver, Franklin overcame what seemed like an impassable section of the road. Luckily, the local bus came through only once a day, and most of the traffic (if that’s what you can call it) was by foot or horseback. The landscape reminded me of the dry foothills along the California coast, rolling slopes and gentle canyons covered in fluffy, soft brush. The climate was very dry and hot during December, and dust caked the roadside vegetation, and penetrated through every crack in our van. As we later discovered firsthand, the soil is difficult to work with this time of year, and seems like a logical contribution to the mass exodus of Nicaraguans that head to Costa Rica for seasonal employment.
Because children were on summer vacation during December, we slept in the local elementary school. A long narrow building flanked on both sides with shuttered windows and surrounded by a 10 foot wire fence, this structure became our sanctuary. We slept on foam pads on the floor, and sheltered our beds with mosquito nets, mostly for peace of mind against the few cockroaches and tarantulas that we spotted outside.
Across the street from the school, a family had turned their living room into a local grocery, complete with shoes,
cleaning supplies, and cold drinks chilled with ice in a cooler. When we weren’t helping to prepare meals with the local families, working on projects in the fields, or visiting neighboring villages, we would relax in the courtyard, and watch the sleepy town roll through the motions. Stray dogs would sneak through the holes in the fence to see if a careless gringo had dropped crumbs.
Big families of pigs wandered through the streets in search of dropped produce or leftovers from lunch. Large herds of elegant Brahma cows would strut through town, urged on by a young man on horseback. In the evenings, groups of kids would come by the school to play ball or read books with us. Once dark hit, everyone would gather around the few T.V.’s in the village and watch the favored telenovela (soap opera) before heading to bed. As midnight hit, the crowds of roosters would begin to make their frequent, loud and obnoxious raucous that would continue throughout the night, until sunrise, when families and animals would wake and begin the day.
During the time we spent in Bramadero, we were enlightened with the lifestyle that many humans are faced with, dictated by the seasons, and largely sheltered from troubles and successes that exist outside their immediate surroundings. We made friends with the locals, and by the time we left, we had grown attached to the sleepy community that had welcomed us into their lives and homes. Although we went there with the mission to learn about renewable energy in Nicaragua, we left with lasting memories of life that is too different from our own to be justly described. As with every foreign country that I have visited, I wish I’d stayed longer, and I hope to go back.