Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Baby Luck and Culture Clash

I'm writing this at about 35,000 feet above the Gulf of Mexico, flying from Managua, Nicaragua to Atlanta. The International Builder's Show in Las Vegas was the first leg of this trip and San Ramón, Nicaragua the second. Hence, culture clash. I'm not sure that I could have selected two more different places but both were worthwhile destinations.

I was inspired by information and product and material ideas at the Show. While the volume of vendors and education sessions is overwhelming, I walked away with a few powerful take-always for our client's and for our business. Highlights include pet washing stations, water and space efficient and reasonably-priced wall hung toilets, CNG trucks that arrive as original equipment from the manufacturer, beautiful glass aggregate counter material, luxurious composite and wooden freestanding soaking tubs, solar roof shingles (might be good for that pesky HOA), autoclaved aerated concrete, and spectacular and affordable "full wall" door systems.

Seminars included everything from design trends from Houzz (houzz.com) to working in the rental market. Starting at the International Builder's Show, I am now a charter member of the National Green Building Standard Advisory Board and am looking forward to help shape that standard and it's use (ngbs.com).

After the show, I met my wife (Lori) in Atlanta and we set off to Nicaragua to plan a Rotary service project for our South Granville Rotary Club in partnership with the Sister Communities of San Ramon, Nicaragua (rotary.org). We started in Granada and Pantanal, checking on past projects (schools and a medical clinic). The students are on their break - school starts on Monday after a 6 week break. So, we did not see schools in use, instead we saw schools being readied for the next session. The schools look good but well used, just what we would hope. As always, the medical clinic was enjoying very heavy use. We did visit with the contractor and welder (Luis) that we have worked with on two prior projects. His children attend the Jose de la Cruz Mena school in Pantanal. He commented that the school is serving its purpose and that it is well attended. Another notable item is that the electrical infrastructure in Pantanal and in the neighborhood around Escuela Ruben Dario has been completely rebuilt and looks great.

A school we completed years ago
Real electrical service (as opposed to pirated power which has been the norm).
We headed next to Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV) outside of San Ramon. On the way, we saw millions of pounds of coffee harvested, dried, and processed. This is an amazing season to be in the mountains of Nicaragua, especially for a coffee lover.  We had a delightful afternoon at FEV and shared a meal with the owner (Vivienne) and we identified a possible future school project in this tiny rural community. We highly recommend a visit to FEV if you are in this neck of the woods.

Coffee Harvest from the highway

Tuesday and Wednesday were planning days filled with photographing and measuring the school project that we will complete in March (block making for a future school and rebuilding the electrical system of a large existing school), meeting school staff, meeting the SCSRN crew (san-ramon.org), meeting local contractors, attending a Rotary meeting, and checking out hotels and restaurants for our group. A busy and satisfying duty. The staff at SCSRN are a friendly, productive, and extraordinary group. The Matagalpa Rotary Club changed their meeting date to accommodate Lori and I and we had a very good meeting with this amazing and delightful group as well. They are ready and willing to partner with our Rotary Club on future projects. On Thursday we found our way to the sweet town of Leon for fun and for continued logistics planning. Stops along the way include Cascada Blanca and a weaver’s cooperative in an astonishingly beautiful area on a mountain ridge (telaresnicaragua.wordpress.com).
Cascada Blanca
I never cease to be fascinated by transportation modes and Nicaragua is a colorful study. There is still a tangled mass of motorcycles, old US school buses, horse carts, bicycles, pedestrians, hand carts, and livestock. Hazards abound. Lori photographed an over loaded and unbalanced hay truck right before I passed it in the highlands outside of Sébaco. After the semi, I passed another slow van. I looked in my rear view as the hay semi was also passing this slow van. Just as he got past the hay tipped. It was like a hay bomb, complete with a mushroom cloud of grass and dust. Just a little too close for comfort.
Safe load?????
We have been fortunate to never rent a new truck in Nicaragua. I’m more comfortable with a vehicle that has been around the block. The diagram below shows the pre-rental inspection results: dings, scratches and dents. Mind you, usually a different person checks you in than out.
Just a few dings
Friday we visited the Central American Rotary Project Fair in Managua. This was a well organized event designed to build partnerships between clubs to complete international service projects. We met Rotarians with whom we felt comfortable and will plan future projects; exactly what we hoped! We met up with three Folks from Gig Harbor, Washington, that have partnered with us on prior projects (Gig Harbor Morning Rotary Club). We took a spur of the moment trip back to Granada to see projects that they helped fund and, of course, to have a cold beer in town.
Prior school project
Prior school project
One of these Rotarians, I think it was Tom, commented on baby luck. On other words, how lucky he feels that he was born in the states. When you compare the things that we have and take for granted to the same for Nicaraguans, there is a stark contrast. Even if you only consider safe water, a complete sanitation system, and access to education and health care. Regardless of the context or contrast, we consistently find that Nicaraguans are warm, friendly, fiercely entrepreneurial, and just simply decent and good.
The smiles that bring us back.

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