Introducing IncidentsOfTravel.org!

Thanks to the success of my Kickstarter campaign I am the proud new owner of a www.IncidentsOfTravel.org, the new site for my same old blog. As of today all new content will be posted there.

If you were a subscriber by e-mail or through WordPress to my blog, rest assured, your subscription was migrated over to the new blog. And if by any chance you realize you are not receiving updates anymore, you can either let me know or just head over to the new site and go ahead and subscribe just like last time.

Two sites, same blog!

Two sites, same blog!

Over the next week I hope to post a lot of new content, so check back to the new site regularly. I am going to stagger it a bit so that it all does not get dumped out at the same time.

Thanks again for the contributions everyone. See you over at IncidentsofTravel.org.

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Kickstarter Update

We Made It! I can’t believe that it took about 18 hours to fund the whole project. Thank you Duke, Mom, Cousin Jeff, Jacob, Aaron, Uncle Stu, and Matt T for contributing. I am retaking the GMAT on Friday so I am going to focus on studying (I studied twice today, in fact) until then. However, I hope to have the new and improved Incidents of Travel up and running next week. I will be sure to notify everyone.

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The Kickstarter will stay live until August 8. I encourage people to continue contributing. I will use the extra money for the high school entrepreneurship competitions I will be hosting in October. For the competitions I have to rent tables and chairs plus buy refreshments, so every dollar really helps.

Here’s the Kickstarter link:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1634483800/incidents-of-travel

IMG_4831Here’s a sneak peak of what you can expect to see when the blog is back up and running (with the ability to add photos):

  • Cultural events in León
  • Another addition of “Reasons Why Classes Were Cancelled”
  • My trip to Yúcul
  • Something I am going to call “The Gringo Awards”

Thanks again everyone!

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Incidents of Travel is Shut Down … Temporarily (Hopefully)

No, the United States government did not censor me. And no, the Sandinistas did not bust down my door and bash-in my laptop. WordPress, the website that I use for my blog, has a limit on how many gigabytes of photos I can post. Can you believe that in under two years and under 200 posts I’ve uploaded 3GB worth of photos?!

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As of right now, I can’t post any more articles (I can post articles without new pictures, but those are too dry for my tastes). I’ve literally got great posts ready to go with awesome pictures of cultural events and landscapes from all around Nicaragua, but I can’t get them up without your help.

Getting a WordPress upgrade is expensive, especially for this humble Peace Corps Volunteer. I’ve estimated that an upgrade costs me one month’s rent plus a week’s worth of food down here. Luckily, you can help! I’ve set up a Kickstarter campaign, and you can donate as much as you’d like. If I reach my goal I can buy this blog the upgrade it deserves and keep serving Peace Corp’s Third Goal.

Here’s the link:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1634483800/incidents-of-travel

To sweeten the deal, I’ve set up four tiers of rewards for my donors. And they are cumulative. Each tier receives the preceding rewards also.

Reward #1: $5
Digital Interview

After I get my upgrade I will post a digital interview, where I have answered questions sent to me directly from my donors. Have you always had a question about the Peace Corps, Nicaragua, what exactly it is I do down here, or something else about my life. This is your chance. Your name and/or contact information can be included along with your question if you would like them to be.

Reward #2: $10
Themed Picture

Give me a theme, any theme, and I will search it out, photograph it, and post the evidence here on this blog (assuming that you help me reach my goal and I can in fact upgrade my blog and post new pictures). Bugs, flowers, poor, children, horses, food, ocean, sky, school, politics, history, flags, markets, busses, feet, dust, trees, poetry, music, ANYTHING. You name the theme, I’ll click away.

Reward #3: $15
Personalized Video

This blog isn’t just a blog, it is also a vlog (video weblog). I frequently post video updates, sometimes not even accompanied by any text or photos. For $15 donors you will receive a personalized vlog post right here on this blog.

Reward #4: $20
Printed Photograph

Make it rain with a Jackson and I will have one of my photographs printed up and sent right to your home (international restrictions may or may not apply). You can choose the photo or I can choose it for you. I may also throw in a personalized not on the flip-side. And don’t forget, tier four also includes all of the aforementioned rewards as well.

So please consider heading over to Kickstarter and donating a few pesos.

Here’s a quick slideshow of some the photos I’ve posted that I am fond of. I’m sure that there will be more to come (I’ve still got nine months of service left), but I need your help:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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San Juan de Oriente

Not the best of videos, so I’ll embellish a bit. After the GMAT on Friday, I headed back to my training town for the weekend. It was rainy and cool, which for a Leones like me right now is like dropping me in a bucket of ice water. Plus, everyone in San Juan seems to be coming down with Chikungunya.

My visit was nice. I got to see all of my friends in San Juan and the surrounding towns, plus I bought some souvenirs, something I had yet to do during my time in Nicaragua. San Juan is renowned for its pottery tradition. It seems as if every family in the town is involved in ceramics, from selling clay, to forming pieces, to selling firewood for the kilns, to painting, and to selling the pieces. Pottery is in the DNA of the town. The sidewalks have pieces of broken ceramics and tiles impressed into them. There is a pre-Columbian replica statue at every corner. There is a large terraced mural right in front of the Catholic church, and at the center of the park there is a fountain topped with a pre-Columbian figurine.

The tradition is pre-Columbian, and many artisans still make pre-Columbian replicas. But there are an abundance of styles that can be found in San Juan de Oriente, all with their merits. Here is a collage of a small portion of the artwork that I have photographed in the town:

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La Asunción de María

It’s been a whole year already. Today was the Gritería Chiquita again. Legend has it that 67 years ago (or maybe 68, but who’s counting anyway?) Cerro Negro volcano had been erupting for 15 straight days, the roofs couldn’t support the sand anymore, and the crops were all but dead. Then, on August 14, the day of The Virgin Mary’s Assumption to Heaven, she quieted the volcano and saved the city.

So to celebrate, they play horrible music on repeat, all day long, set up altars to the Virgin Mary, and basically go trick or treating. I’ll save my views on rich families giving hand outs to poor families bused in from the countryside for another post, but it is fun. My host family is the family on Halloween that gives out pretzels, or baby carrots. They “tirar” pencils, pencil sharpeners, soup mix, matches, and ketchup. They say it is so that the families can provide for themselves during the year. Most houses just give out candy, but you can get all sorts of stuff during the Gritería. I’ve seen tupperware, salt, bananas, pineapples, and even nacatamales.

Here’s a video of the evening, as seen from the front gate to my house. It’s big on noise:

Sometimes it is very cool living in the oldest European-founded city in the Western Hemisphere. La Gritería is definitely one of those unique traditions from around the world, in the likes of the running of the bulls and the Songkran water gun fight in Thailand (both of which I would like to see in my life).

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Entrepreneurship Competition Followed by a Surprise at My House

This morning (and well into the afternoon, as it turned out) was the Entrepreneurship Competition at the UCC, a local business university. Every year they have a university division and a high school division. Everyone always asks me if I have teams competing, but since I know nearly all of the high school entrepreneurship teachers in the city, the answer is that nearly all of the teams are mine.

This year about 10 of 15 competing high school teams were “mine.” Among the creations:

  • Milk with carao
  • Tortilla maker
  • Eucalyptus tea
  • Milk cookies
  • portable cell phone charger
  • Muffins
  • Peanut and cashew chews

Milk with carao is one of my favorite products and teams of the year. The product is excellent and I think is very culturally appropriate and actually has potential in the Nicaraguan market. They’ve got the proportions down pretty well, so they have a milk beverage with purportedly high levels of iron, which is just sweet enough and pretty much just tastes and looks like chocolate milk.

And the team is fairly persevering. They had a lot of prior ideas that I shot down. Beer (and then non-alcoholic beer) comes to mind. They insisted that they could find hops in the local market. I assure you, there are no hops grown in Nicaragua. Most teams would have shut down after a few failed attempts, but not these guys.

For the Spanish speakers, here is a video of part of their presentation on Thursday. See if you can figure out what they’re saying. Unfortunately, the audio is not great:

And of course, they won first place (well, tied for first technically). They’ve still got a ways to go if they want to continue to be successful. This was just the first of a series of entrepreneurship competitions. They’ll need to nail down their logo and marketing, as well as finish writing their business plan and gain a strong understanding of the finances. But compared to some groups, they are already way ahead.

After the competition ended I went to two of my schools to stop in and take care of a few quick things, then I headed home around 5:00-ish. I was exceptionally sweaty and smelly and had my big bulky dirty bicycle with me. And there were some people in the front room, which didn’t surprise me because my host sister, Gabriela, is visiting with her two kids. But then I saw this:

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Tables were set up for a dinner, people were dressed up. Clearly, there was going to be a wedding. “Who is getting married?” I asked. Just Juan Pablo and Raquel, your host brother and the mother of his daughter who has lived in the house the entire 15 months that you have been here, Eric! Apparently Raquel had been meaning to let me know that they were going to officially tie the knot today, but it just kept slipping her mind.

I quickly showered and changed into clean clothes and was ready for the ceremony. It was a small civil ceremony in the house, mainly attended by family. Raquel has a small family which was mainly represented by her father. Juan Pablo’s mother, father, step-mother, half-brother, sister, and two nephews were all there. And of course there was Evelyn, Juan Pablo and Raquel’s daughter. It was a nice ceremony, and afterwards some more people showed up and there was a dinner and of course cake.

So much for studying tonight. Luckily tomorrow is a day off in León for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, so I’ll have some extra time.

Juan Pablo's mom, sister, and her two sons

Juan Pablo’s mom, sister, and her two sons

 

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Pizza & Art

About an hour south of León there is a small sea-side fishing town called El Tránsito. And ten years ago, a an American woman founded a center called “El Tránsito Centro de Artes,” or “El Tránsito Arts Center,” (ETCA) in the center of town. The original intent of the center was to provide an avenue for income generation by teaching women from the community how to sew and embroider little handicrafts.

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El Tránsito is a small town, and most of the income for the community comes from fishing. It is not very stable, and like many communities in Nicaragua, there is a lot of poverty. El Tránsito is known for having excellent surf, and recently a number of surf lodges have set up shop. I’ve been to the town twice and there are a lot of gringos strolling around.

To this day ETCA is still up and running. In addition to the handicrafts studio, ETCA has a community library with a part-time librarian, a turtle egg sanctuary on the beach, and will be using AirBnB soon to rent some rooms. They have also given out micro-loans in the past and still support a few university scholarships for locals. It’s really a nice center. Just think about how cool that is for a second. A small, poor fishing village has an arts center, childrens’ library open five days a week, educational, cultural, and environmental activities, and on top of all of that is trying to improve the livelihoods of members of the community. It’s a cause I can get behind.

However, to this day ETCA is still primarily financially supported by the American woman. It is not self-sustaining, even though they have marketable products. Through some contacts that I’ve made I met the American founder, and she invited me for a visit and to see if I could help with the sustainability aspect of ETCA.

To give you some insight into how I go about my work, when I visit a new business and/or community I spend my time talking to people, asking lots of questions, and trying to figure out the basic structures, networks, and systems of the community. I want to know if there is electric and running water. Is there a health post? A high school? Since it is a beach-side community, has the Defensa Civil installed tsunami warning sirens? What are the main economic activities? How do people make money? What about access and transportation? What government organizations and NGO’s are present in the community?

El Tránsito has sometimes running water and power. There is a health post that is attended to part-time by a doctor or nurse, and there is a high school. Access to the town is poor. From the highway it is 14 unpaved kilometers. Three buses leave early in the morning for Managua and come back in the afternoon. If you are not on one of those buses you have to hope to hitchhike up or down those 14 km. El Tránsito is in a hard situation. I’ve seen worse, but it is still challenging for them.

As for ETCA itself, it is set up so that the women are paid based on the numbers of items that they produce. However, they are not responsible for sales. This “contractor” arrangement creates an incentive for the women to seek a lot of production, regardless of costs and sales. So I’ll definitely have to work with them on sales (for which I see a ton of options) and on possibly changing the structure of the collective so that the women have more of a stake in the business.

On the grounds of ETCA there is also a brick pizza oven that a missionary group from Sacramento made two years ago. It has gone nearly unused. The administrator of ETCA expressed interest in learning to make pizza and selling it to surfers, so I organized a full-day workshop for ETCA. It was yesterday.

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The workshop went very well. As usual, I started started by having the ladies draw their personal goals. One of the ladies drew rain. El Niño has made this rainy season very very dry. We’ve been in a heat-wave the last two weeks, the air is extremely dusty, and the crops are dying. but I told her that was a dream, not a goal, and to hit the drawing board again.

After we talked about personal goals we went on to the themes of savings, entrepreneurship, marketing, and sales. Most of the afternoon was dedicated to a pizza demonstration. Alex, a fellow Volunteer from the Environment sector who has experience with wood burning ovens came down from Telica to teach the ladies the art of pizza.

Alex during the pizza demonstration

Alex during the pizza demonstration

Our experiment did have its challenges. The dome of the oven cracked, and at first the oven was not hot enough. Plus, getting the pizza in and out of the oven itself was a challenge. Then we were making the crust too thick. But finally, using an innovative pre-bake process, we were making some awesome brick oven wood fired artesanal pizza. I even forced the ladies out of their comfort zone and out into the community to try and sell some pizza, and sure enough we sold two personal pizzas.

There are more challenges ahead for the ladies. Running a pizzeria in El Tránsito is nothing like running a pizzeria in the US. There are no restaurant supply trucks running to El Tránsito. A trip to Managua for supplies is an all day affair. Plus, the ladies are under-educated, but I am more than happy to help them with business administration. I’m going to set up a series of training sessions with them. I may also work on personal finance with them. I hope someone will give me a ride down those 14 km!

I had to get a selfie with the first ever El Tránsito pizza art!

I had to get a selfie with the first ever El Tránsito pizza art!

And sure enough, after the last pizza was baked and we were cleaning up, it started to rain.

 

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