Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I must say that this past week, we have seen more progress in our works then we have in the last 2 years put together. First, the Charlas Listas project was printed in its full form and we had a meeting to evaluate them with all the big peops. We invited several midwives and casa materna workers and we tried it out on them. We did a test to see how they react with them as tools without any instruction. We also invited one who did not read, to see if she could interpret the pictures and use the tool. She didnt do so hot, but I think she has memory problems, so probably not a good test. Now we have divided them up amoungst several casas maternas and we are evaluating how they are used and if it is easy or hard, or confusing and if the content is well written and executed etc. We have recieved good feedback for the most part. It has been thrilling to see a whole years worth of work, that thus far we have only seen on a computer screen, printed in the size it is intended to be and to see them used. We pray there wont be too many changes and that they will get funded and we can see them put in the casas maternas AND participate in the training before we leave. That is the clencher.

In other news, we built the oven in the casa materna. We had an agriculture volunteer come and help us build and we invited people to help and learn as well. It was mostly successful and despite the rain, we finished.

Then thanks to a private doner friend, we were able to build a roof over it, something we hadn`t planned for. We also began the clean up for the flagstone project that you all helped fund. The first step, which is part of the required 25% community contribution, was that we had to clean up the area, take out all the rocks and garbage, and level the big piles of dirt the last project left there. We enlisted the help of the members of our church, and sadly, not very many of the husbands came.. only mine and the missionaries, but the women worked their tales off, carrying rocks and buckets on their heads. It was a cool day. Also, for those who missed the donation and would still like to donate, email me and let me know. There are always things that go wrong in nicaragua and-or things I forgot to add in. If that happens we will have to find the funding fast and it would be good to have a list of people ready to help. Ok. Well thats all for now. We will post after the holidays and begin the work. The money for the project has been sent here to Nicaragua and I am waiting for them to deposit it in my account! Yipeeeeee!!!

Friday, December 11, 2009

WE DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I wanted to let you all know immediately that we have now met our goal for the project! I am in tears writing this right now because I think you all just broke some sort of record and raised the money in 4 days! This means that in a weak or so I will hopefully get the money and we can begin after Christmas. This is soooooo exciting. I just want to say how lovely it is to have things get done. I have been calling and pestering the mayors office for a good two months now to get the sand for the project and still don´t have it. (They promised me today, ... again.)

I want to say a special thanks to my sister T and my family for being so supportive and putting fire under lots of peoples seats. Here we say ¨pilas puestas¨ or batteries put. Thats them. Keep checking the blog for updates on the project. Today we build the oven, which WAS part of the project, but the PCPP committee made me take it off. I realized ALL the materials were donated anyway and so we have pressed on. It has been more than extremely difficult to get all the ingredients we need to build this more efficient oven, especially when working with only very old women. But hopefully tomorrow, I will be able to say that the Casa Materna now has an oven, and we will begin training on how to make bread with fruits, vegies and green leaves.

Thanks again. I love you all. God bless you during this season!

Monday, December 7, 2009


Let me introduce you to a big project I am working on to fix the Casa Materna where I work. I need the financial support of all of you back home to make this project happen, so I would like to tell you a little bit about the project and how it works. This is my casa materna, where approximately 450 rural women come during their last month of pregnancy each year. The Casa Materna was constructed to help encourage women to give birth in the health center instead of at home on their dirt floor. There was an extremely high maternal mortality rate here, but the casas maternas have reduced that significantly. The CM provides a safe place where the women can have supervision of midwives, free healthy food and daily checks from the doctors. They stay until they are in labor and then they go to the health center. It is also a refuge for women who have been raped or abused or are fleeing family violence. The service here is absolutly free and we often find that the small amount of funds that we recieve to keep this place running don´t come.
This is the main area.Another view of the main area, this is the first view the women get when they arrive. This is the only entrance to the CM, which is often flooded with water and mud. The women who are 9 months pregnant and the elderly midwives who work there step on those small stones when it´s full of water.Here is the back area, where we did our beautiful mural, but you can see that its not an enjoyable or even remotley attractive place. We would like to put a garden here with benches to sit on. This is an example of all the trash that gets left around or has accrued. This is pretty much how the CM has been for the last 15 years or so. It is dangerous to walk on and the midwives report that there are currently 2-3 slips, trips or falls each week!! I myself have tripped several times. There has never been funds to fix this problem, but the first thing midwives asked me when I arrived was for a garden. When I became aware of a way to get funds through the Peace Corps Partnership Project, we decided to do it.

We decided that we would like to cover all the area that is dirt with a stone and cement flooring that is leveled to correctly divert water out of the CM. We would leave deliberate garden spaces where the workers can plant ornamental plants to make the CM a more inviting place, and hopefully encourage women to use it instead of giving birth in their home which could be hours and hours from a doctor. We would replace all the bad dirt in these gardens with new dirt. In the back space, in front of the mural, we would like to leave rows where vegetables can be planted. It would have a drip irrigation system so it does not dry out in the summer. These are some examples of what we are shooting for.

The way the project works is that the community has to put forth 25% of the total project costs and they have done this! We busted our trousers and raised more than the required 25%, and this from an extremly poor community! Then after hours and hours of grant writing, and presentation before the board here in Nicaragua, the project is sent to Washington DC where it is then approved and given a website. I provide the names and contacts of all my friends back home and you help to donate the other 75%. These projects cannot exceed $5000, and indeed, we are only asking $1652 U.S..

This is where you come in, we need you all to help donate what you can to make this happen. The problem is that I can only start the project when the total has been reached. If this does not happen fast, we will not be able to finish this project before we go home in 3.5 months and it will have to be aborted! That means all our hard work and the donations that the community has already made will be in vain.

If you are thinking of doing something nice for someone else this holiday season, this would be a perfect gift. Please donate what you can, I know for some that will be small, but the sweet girls of Matagalpa and the kind midwives who have looked after me these past two years, would be very much thankful to recieve this gift that they have wanted for so long.

Please help us out by going to the official PCPP website and making a tax-deductable donation BEFORE CHRISTMAS!


If you get lost on there, go to Nicaragua, and look for my name (Heather McKinnon) or you can type in the project number which is 524-075.

It will be A LOT FASTER if you make payment by credit card or electronic payment. Checks are slow and if we have already met our goal by the time your check makes it to Washington, it will go to another project.

Thanks for being part of our service. You have no idea how much all of you support us, by keeping up on our blog, sending us chocolate and taking care of things for us while we are away. This is the part that we absolutley cannot do without YOU. We will keep you posted on this blog of the project success, IF we get the funds on time and can start the project. If you have questions please email me or call me.

Merry Christmas!
Heather McKinnon

PS, if you didnt see the last blog entry, its pretty good...

Two weeks and one long blog entry

We have been gone for two weeks and had many different adventures. The first thing we did was participate in the All Volunteers Conference, wherein all 170 or so Peace Corps volunteers in Nicaragua get together to learn and share ideas. I was asked to do a session on healthy cooking techniques with some other volunteers.We taught how to cook vegetarian tacos and homemade whole-wheat tortillas, hummus, babaganoush, yogurt, sandwiches, coconut pancakes, squash soup and bean burgers. It was awesome! We also promoted my new cookbook ¨Cocinar Simple¨ that right now, mostly has only my recipes and a few of Kory´s, but will soon become a cooperative collection of recipes from all volunteers who want to contribute. It will grow and be an awesome collection of what you CAN cookin Nicaragua.

We also had the opportunity to learn what other volunteers are doing in their sites. We attended sessions on bio-digesters (which are giant poo bags that make an oderless methane gas which you can use to hook to your stove and cook with for up to 6 hours a day). We plan on making one for our house when we get home (someday when we are actually homeowners). Another awesome session we attended was how to use trash to make things.
We learned how to use plastic grocery type bags to crochet purses, wallets, bags, belts, you name it. Now we just have to learn some fancy crochet moves (we are a bit rusty).

We also had the chance to learn about options for working in international development, which for Heather was quite good, Kory… not so useful. We had an awesome talent show the last night by the pool, where most people got drunk, but there were some really good numbers. Kory read some of his poetry that he has written about Nicaragua (and will hopefully be published when we get home). He also did a very sweet thing and read one of my recipes as a poem to showcase my cookbook. It was very darling.

We ended on a Thanksgiving message from the new Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams and another speech about Food Security (which was the theme for the conference) by PC Nicaragua Country Director George. Overall it was really fun to get to know lots of other volunteers.

The next day happened to be Thanksgiving day and we had arranged to eat at the home of a family who works at the Embassy. We had dinner with a Mormon family with 4 kids. We felt right at home with them. They let us call home, lent us a bed to sleep in for the night and prepared a nice dinner for us vegetarians. It is really amazing that they would open their home to total strangers. Mr. Black was just getting into watercolor, and it just so happens that Kory is a professional in this, so we had a watercolor class with him and his 3 girls.

It was very fun. We watched movies, played “Set”, a card game favorite of Kory’s and we stayed overnight there. It was really interesting to see how a family can live in different countries. For us it was really nice to experience a different socio-economic level in Managua for a day.After that we headed up to Madriz to hang out with other volunteers. We really enjoyed being with other people as we are most often alone and isolated. Near Somoto is a famous canyon that really resembled Utah. A fat slot canyon I would say. It was beautiful. We, and 12 other volunteers, piled in the back of a moving truck with 17 other foreigners that our friends know there and drove to the canyon.From there we hiked about 2 ½ hours over rocks and through water. The last 2 hours we got in the water and floated down. When Matt said we were going to “float” the canyon, I, being from Utah, imagined a large raft with paddles and life jackets and rapids, but this was NOT the case here in Nicaragua. We put on life jackets or tubes and got in the water and swam/floated slowly downstream. It was super fun, but it got a bit cold near the end and it took several hours before I could feel my fingers again.
This is a picture of most of the people who are left in our group (Health 46) that arrived here in Nicaragua with us.

That night was the huge Somoto Carnival festival where they have lots of bands in the street and dancing contests. Almost everyone went but us. We were too tired and didn’t want to spend the 120 córdobas (6 dollars!!!!) to get in and dance for an hour, so we watched episodes of “The Office”.

We then decided to go to the Miraflor reserve, which is a jungle/organic farm protected area in a cloud forest.

We had the amazing opportunity to sleep in a TREEHOUSE!!! The tree house was in a very old strangler tree (it’s a parasite tree that surrounds other trees and kills them, the original tree dies, leaving a hollow cavity inside). Here are some pictures.

The only problem was that the toilet was quite far away, which along with the fact that we were drinking homegrown, fresh chamomile tea, makes for a rather humorous story. The tree was off by itself and in the night, the clouds came in and rested over the jungle making it difficult to go pee in the latrine some distance away. So going pee in the night was going to be difficult. I found this awesome spot that was sort of a hole in the tree with a tiny little seat that would allow me to pee all the way to the ground, a PERFECT midnight potty, right outside the door. Not knowing that chamomile could act as a diuretic, I didn’t know why I had to keep peeing, but one time I got up in the night and decided to try the hole. My candle was not light enough to show anything and then it blew out, so I just pulled down my pants and sat down on the “seat”. I went and then when I stood up, my but cheeks felt quite stingy. I thought it was just from sitting on a tree branch. I pulled up my pants and then realized that I had fire ants on my bum! I went inside were there was a candle and we tried for a long time to get all of them off. OUCH! They hurt. I had ants in my pants for another good hour and the welts to prove it!

You wouldn’t think that a place in the middle of nowhere with no electricity, could have such delicious food, but the woman who ran the farm was an AMAZING cook. We ate fresh, organic vegetables prepared in the most delicious ways that I have eaten in Nicaragua. It was like being in Europe. NO ONE stared at us, which you don’t realize is a luxury until you haven’t been stared at for a good two years straight. Anyway we highly recommend Reserva Miraflor.

For the last bit of adventure we headed back to the office to have our final oral Spanish exams, which will tell us at what level we speak. It was stressful but we are now glad we have it over with. (no results yet). The next day our group (health 46) was whisked away to a beachside resort on the Pacific coast for our Close of Service conference. We learned about all the paperwork we have to do, the rigorous medical exams including pooing in a cup once a day for three days, decisions about flights, resumes, how to find a job, apply for graduate schools, etc. It appears that it is just as hard to get out of Peace Corps as it is to get in. The good thing was that we were treated like kings. I had not been less than stuffed with food for the entire two weeks, and this was not helping. We swam in the pool after the first day and then we sang karaoke until 1am. When we went back to our luxurious beach-front bungalow, I had a feeling I should go out on the patio. I was sitting out there a few minutes when I saw a guy in the Turtle hatchery, which until then had not had any movement. I went over and saw that there were baby turtles in there and he invited us to go and release them. What LUCK! We have wanted to do this for many many years and have had no luck. The only bad thing is that our camera battery died and we couldn’t take pictures, but it was a full moon and the turtles were so little and darling. Again with luck, the next morning we woke with dreams of baby turtles and found they were releasing more, so we went crazy with the pictures.

That about sums up our awesome trip, except that we also asked special permission from the Embassy to go to the Corn Islands for Christmas and we were approved!... But we may not have enough money to go. We will see, because we also have a ton of work to do in these last 3 ½ months.




Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cute overload

These are the kittens I saved. Their owner, told me the mother had abandoned them. I told her that we could save them and that I would be over. I went over the next day, and we taught them how to drink milk from a plastic bag TRUE NICA STYLE! It was darling. Their mother came back a few days later. So the family decided to give me one.. I couldnt say no of course. They told me I was their second mother because they had them thrown away in a box int he back yard, awaiting death when I came over with milk. Not to sound like a superhero or anything, I mean, dang, their just kitties. But they are flippin' cute! I dont have my kitty yet, they are too small. Its sure to break my heart again. Im positive of it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Halloween Anarchy

Well what do you do on halloween, your favorite holiday, when everybody in the village thinks its a satanic holiday, and they are also spreading rumors that Mormons drink blood and worship satan? Well. you make a delightful scary breakfast for your wife, you take advantage of your english classes need to learn about culture in the united states and you throw a very quiet party. So kory told his english class to dress up and they arranged all kinds of treats and games. We watched some black and white movies and bobbed for mandarin oranges. It was a great time. But the anarchy came the night before. When having recieved countless plastic fangs and spider rings from our family, we decided that it would never do to pass them out, thanks to the above named reasons, so we thought it would be rather father christmasish to walk around the night before and sprinkle them all over in the streets. Then on all hallows eve, all the children would be helping us celebrate, when they woke and found such strange objects. Surely they would figure out what they were! So that is what we did. A humble but respectable halloween.

Also, the response to the service entry and related blog has been very disappointing.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fishing for Others

The Development Question

Since being here in Nicaragua, I have often considered the illusive and ever-evolving idea of sustainable development. I have entertained several theories, some simple, some complex, which originally lead me to the idea that that answer lied in the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills. I now believe it to be much simpler than that. Here is basically how I broke it down: Brigada development is "give a man a fish" development. He eats for a day, but may have starved otherwise. It is necessary, but not sustainable. The second form of development is that which is employed by the majority of organizations working in third world development: "teach a man to fish." Sure, he eats for a lifetime, but then you are left to teach another man to fish. That, therefore, is not sustainable either. The Peace Corps approach is more like "teach a man to teach a man to fish." This way, the village eats for generations and you go home. Is it sustainable? It is if the village likes fish. That is to say, it is a great idea, fishing, but they don´t own it. Everybody knows that the boy who has a paper rout and saves up to buy his own bike will take better care of it than the boy who recieves a bike as a gift. This lead me to the fourth approach to sustainable develpment, or at least to fishing. It is this: "teach a man to think and he'll find a way to eat." Although we know that "fish" isn´t literally "fish," I used the word "eat" here to leave it more ambiguous. This theory is a little bit more complex. Basically it is the idea that if given the means to occur naturally, the idea of development will become liquid and fill the shape of the container it is given. This is the most sustainable means of development out of the four mentioned, as it makes no assumptions about the size or the shape of the container. However, it gets really ugly really quickly when one considers the enormous task of developing critical thinking and problem solving skills over generations. How do you teach a people to think?

Enter the fifth theory. It is so much simpler than all of this. It´s not new. Not by far. Nor does it require generations and generations of work and long complex explanations. This is not some obscure Jared Diamond social theory. Here is how it works: "Teach a man to fish for others." Service. Simple as that. How does this relate to development? To answer that, one has to first chose one of the dozens of definitions available for the word. That is, we have to ask ourselves, "what is the end-goal?" "Toward what are we developing?" By by-passing all of the complicated problems with "development" work infringing on cultural identities, or imposing Western ideals on under developed cultures, the answer can be as simple as a fulfilling life, personal liberty, and happiness. If this is developement, then the answer can be as simple as SERVICE.

My friends, the Golden Rule is flawed. The Golden Rule asks that you do unto others only after first asking about yourself. It requires that you first ask "How do I want to be done unto?" Forget that. I say, "Do unto others as they need done unto, and for once don´t ask 'what's in it for me?'"

It comes down to this: This life, for whatever reason you assign to it, or whatever religion you use to justify it, is hard. I don´t care if you´re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hare Krishna, Pagan, Athiest or anything else. This life is just hard. If there is anything you can do to make it just a little bit easier for anybody, then damnit, do it! Do it now. Do it quietly. Do it well, with all of your best talents and resources. Do it selflessly. And learn to graciously accept the service of others.

I have started a new blog for the purpose of making anonymous comments about services rendered, recieved or even witnessed. The idea is that it is hard to set an example by doing things anonymously, yet the examples are so important to inspire others. Please comment on this blog and do so anonymously to preserve the spirit. The blog is fishingforothers.blogspot.com

I hope all is well with all of you.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rótulos Milton

Well, enough about us. Let's talk about, ... well it's just us. Us, us and more us. For this, I make no appologies. The fact is, if you didn't care about us as much as you like to pretend you don't, you wouldn't be reading this. I know, I know. The title of the blog may be a little bit exagerated, since not all of our adventures are amazing, but you are, in fact, reading it. I also make no appologies for this since you, the reader, will likely have had a hot shower either sometime before reading this or will have one shortly after. By shortly I mean within five months of course.

I made an airbrush yesterday. You can't put me in a third world country, take away all my toys and tell me not to play. I built this little bruiser out of an old ink jar, a radio antanae, a bit of bamboo and a piece of tubing from a broken iron. What you can't see in the photo is that the other end of the tube is connected to my mouth, making my lungs the air compressor. The advantage of this is that I can control the air pressure with my mind instead of buttons and levers. The disadvantage is that my air compressor is encased in a broken rib (the tragic result of playing soccer in a muddy field against fast little kids who have eaten, breathed and slept soccer for their lifetimes, in a pair of plastic-soled street-purchased sandals). Every breath is agony. I am now working on some various tips to refine the spray. I am making them from tapered metal writing pen heads.

Rótulos Milton

Here is a story for you. A friend of ours, María (name changed to protect the people who have never used the internet or a computer and will never see this anyway), sells tacos. Actually, she makes tacos and her sons sell them. Lately the taco market has dropped through the dirt floor and they can barely eat. Her eighteen-year-old son is a bit of an eighteen-year-old. By this I mean that work is for other people who don't have important social lives. He was a member of our Art Club we started when we first arrived here. He has also been participating in a drawing class I have been giving and an English class. The kid has talent. He just needed some direction. Well, I helped him to start his own business. I helped him with the capital and I am overseeing the financial part and guiding him on the creative and p.r. parts. The business is that of making signs. Sounds simple enough, but this is a resource strapped country and sign making generally consists of the person in the house who knows how to write misspelling two or three words on a piece of paper with a pen, which is then glued to the front of the house. The thing is, there are so many home businesses that are unmarked because of this system. We started with a sign for his mother, which was free, to have a sample to show when looking for clients. She repairs clothes, in addition to making tacos. We decided to advertise for her.

We made the sign using used clothes (some of them may even be yours!) because it is cheaper than buying fabric. We can buy used clothing for ten to twenty-five cents U.S.$ per article. "María" now has over 2,000 córdobas of work to do (about $100, also known as enough to live on for a month or two).

With photos of this sign we moved on to other clients. More used clothes.

We have a Mill sign to make this week and a background to paint for a local photo joint. Milton is learning how to balance the expenses and the income and calculate his profit, fifty percent of which automatically goes to his mother as rent, food, etc. I am really proud of him and his work. After a couple more jobs I will step aside and let him run things.

One night while working, he brought a picture of his head and a catalog for clothes that he had cut up. he said that the body on the picture had been damaged and that he just needed a new body to save the photo. This was the only body in the catalog that was the right proportion to his head size. His intention was to have me photograph it and he would have it printed at the photo store to replace the old (skinny) one. Notice the giant sports bra behind him! He wishes! Hilarious. Enjoy this taste of Nicaragua!