Day 5- We danced. We sang. We dug.

Well, today was our last day building pilas. In total, we finished 10 pilas within the Santa Julia community. To break it down: That’s ten pila holes excavated; 40 small pieces of wood hammered to keep the tops sturdy and 40 large pieces of wood to build those tops; 20 pieces of mesh to serve as the pila’s filter, 20 pieces of tarp-like plastic to line the pilas; 50 spear-shaped tree branches, “estacas.” planted in the ground to keep the pila plastic in place; endless rolls of duct tape; endless rolls of string; and an endless amount of hammering, raking, shoveling, digging, and, throughout the entire process, smiling (cheesy I know).

The day started with a mobile ASB concert on the way to Lola’s house to finish the coffee process. Taylor Swift’s new album, “1989,” was blaring, and so were the dog-summoning pitches of our team. Anyway, we learned how to clean, toast and grind the coffee beans. What made the morning even better was that we were working with the coffee beans we had picked and peeled on Monday.

Before finishing the last of the grinding and bagging of the coffee, we needed to finish our pilas. So, we divided in to two larger teams. One team finished the pila at Alfonzo’s house, and the other finished the pila at Guillermo’s house. To celebrate the completion of our beautiful rain harvesters, we then gathered for lunch, pinolillo and a few energizing minutes of the game, “steal the bacon.”

Now, back to the beans. I say “beans” instead of “coffee beans” because when we went back to Lola’s house, we literally smashed the dried pinto bean plant while waiting for the rest of our coffee to be ground. The way Nicaraguans “pick” pinto beans is by gathering the sun-dried crop on top of a large tarp, and then beating the crop with sticks so that the beans simply fall out of their pods. It’s a great way to release some tension as well. After smashing and collecting pint beans, it was on to bagging the ground coffee.

After measuring, pouring, securing and sealing, we had packed 18 bags. Mac even translated the story of the Santa Julia coffee that is pasted on the back of each printed bag. Once we made it back to the community center, it was officially DANCE TIME! Kati and Lauren choreographed a simple enough dance for the local children (as well as the rest of us). Although not many children participated, they absolutely loved watching us make fools of ourselves. We found out they like freestyle dancing more than anything, afterward. It was quite a sight.

After dinner and showers at the hotel, we headed off to “Tamazcal” for a long, relaxing reward. Tomorrow, we have the sixth grade graduation, going away party for us and the Christmas party all in one. It will definitely be bittersweet.

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Day 3- Pilas, Pilas And More Pilas

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Today, we began building Santa Julia’s “pilas,” or rain harvesters. Our goal is to complete ten pilas by the time we leave Nicaragua. So far, we’re off to a great start. Below are the summaries of each team’s day:

Team “Cuchillo” -Megan, Kirsten, Katie and Ellen

Today, we built our first pila before lunchtime because we were given a jumpstart on the hole. Although that occurred, the work of digging through the hard clay of the earth was more difficult than expected. Luckily, two local boys of the community gave us help, which made the job much easier and faster. It was amazing to finish something so important to the people of Santa Julia. After lunch, we moved on to our second pila that we started from the very beginning. This pila was located behind Eloisa’s house. During the process, Katie began to play music and a dance party ensued with the people of the children and adults of the community. It was a great chance to bond with the some of the people of Santa Julia. It was even stated that, “Once you dance together, you are apart of the family.” Our second pila is half way finished but after a long day of work, Eloisa shared a fresh cup of Nicaraguan coffee with us all. -Megan

 Team “Prix”- Henrietta, Paige, Lauren and Ethan

“Super woman” took on a whole new meaning today when we were paired with the strong and outspoken women of the Santa Julia community, Norah and Isabell, to assist in building pilas. Each woman dug and constructed the structure at a rate that all of us “team prix” members were simply amazed by. We all tried our best to keep up but couldn’t exactly compete with their efficiency or (wo)man power. Our first pila location was down a long, winding and well let’s be honest, slightly terrifying one lane dirt road. We all piled in the back of a truck driven by the fearless Jose and held on for dear life while making the journey. Once at the site we were able to get to work and get to know our pila making partners a bit more. We learned that Isabell has a grandson graduating this Friday, and that Nora will be using the pila to water her crops among other things. After breaking for lunch we came back to finish off the structure and then relocated to Isabel’s house to construct one for her home garden. We were given a glimpse inside her world as we met many of her family members including a one month old granddaughter and made progress on the pila; completion set for tomorrow. -Paige

 Team “ Sacuanjoche” Stephanie, Danielle, Courtney and Callie

Our first pila project had a bumpy start to say the least. We were assigned to build a pila for Alvin and Alba’s family, and the trek down to their plot of land was a rather petrifying one, but we all made it safe and sound (with a few minor scrapes). When we got to our site, which was completely covered in shrubs, and thought about digging this massive pit, we were a bit intimidated. Alvin, a very particular and precise individual, wanted his pila to be perfect, so he gave us a lot of tool usage tips throughout the day that helped a lot. About halfway through our project, we were all in need of a break and after a hardy lunch full of protein, we were back at it full force. After hearing a few stories about Alvin and Albas’s life journey, our crew managed to form a little assembly line, each of us dedicating our efforts to what we thought was our strongest work point. When we thought our digging was over, it turned out that we had actually made the hole too deep (we told ourselves we were just too good at making pilas). We made a quick fix, threw some soil back in, and were good to go and completed the project shortly after. Finishing the pila was a relief, yet we were satisfied knowing we could help make Alvin and Albas’ lives a bit easier, and they were beyond appreciative. We’re off to another day of hard work tomorrow, but as always, a day full of rewards. -Danielle

Team “queda onda” # numero uno # primero Anthony, Mac, Carly and Lyndsey

BAM! What was on everyone team onda’s mind you ask? HOW TO MAKE WALLS ON A DIRT HOLE STAY. Having our pila nearly completed before lunch turned out to take an extra two and a half hours because we could not (to save our lives) figure out how to make the dirt pile up -in order to fix the length of the opening- because it was so dry that it would crumble. Before that dilemma, all of the work went smoothly switching in between the pick axe and shovel while digging the hole. In this compeettion to finish first although with our major set back we still have hope to finish first tomorrow. If not we will sabitoge the rest of the groups #goodnight #GONNA REST TO WIN TO TOMORROW -Anthony

Day 2 and 3: Two Years too Long

Monday and Tuesday we worked on a home in Neptune, New Jersey.  When we arrived we met Peter Farewell, who was our main coordinator for the entire trip.  He welcomed us to the area and talkASB 2ed to us for a little bit about the the organization we are working with.  We also met Cassandra, our project site leader.  She talked about what A Future with Hope does and their progress over the last two years.  She then told us a little bit about the family whose home we were working on Monday and Tuesday.  The family has been living out of a hotel for the last two years and this will be their first Christmas in their new home.  All of this was heartbreaking to hear but it also made us realize the impact and difference we are making on these people’s life.  Being able to help a family move into their home for the first time in two years is an unexplainable moment and puts life in a new perspective.  We were working at this home for two days and accomplished a lot in order for the family to move in on Friday.  We painted the inside and outside of the home, cleaned the floors, hung lights, caulked all the cracks and centASB 1er blocks, weather sealed the stairway leading to the basement and cleaned out the attic and basement. We were so glad to help in the process of getting a family into their home while learning a lot of new skills on our first two days.

#ASBoceans7

Hurricane Relief Day 1: Big Apple

NYC 2After we arrived in New Jersey at midnight we woke up at 5:00am to head to the wonderful city of New York.  We had to drive an hour and a half to the train where we found a delicious bagel place.  It was called Wonder Bagels and they served the BEST orange juice we had ever had.  We began our NYC journey by taking a 20 minute train ride from Newark, New Jersey to NYC. The train ride was a great opportunity to take a snooze like our grad advisor, Tori did. Once we arrived in NYC we went to the 9/11 museum and memorial.  The museum was such a great thing to see.  After that we wanted to go somewhere in Brooklyn so we took the subway to Brooklyn and then realized once we got there we were at the wrong location.  So we got to see a little subway stop of Brooklyn and went on our way to Times Square.  We took some selfies at Times Square and then went to John’s Pizzeria right in Times Square.  The pizza was AMAZING! We all recommend it to anyone going to NYC.  Rockefeller was next for us.  We went to the top of the rock and were able to see all the city lights from 69 floors up.  Such a beautiful view! We of coarse had to take a photo at the famous  100 foot Christmas tree.  We attempted to go ice skating in Central Park but it didn’t work out so instead we hung out there for a little bit.  From there we went to Bryant Park and decided to people watch and drink hot chocolate.  Taylor L. and Amy got thick Italian life changing hot chocolate as known as the best thing ever.  To this day they are still talking about it.  Our last stop was Tom’s Restaurant as seen on Seinfeld.  Valerie and Darrell basically cried (well Valerie actually did) because they were so excited.  We had typical diner food and then headed back on the subway to go back to New Jersey.  On our way back we had so very interesting encounters: 1. Amy helped the slowest old man down the subway stairs.  He only had three teeth and smelled like coffee and cigarettes but was really nice  2. Taylor L. and Amy bonded over everyone talking about Darrell sleeping with his ear warmers over his head looking like Cyclopes.  3. We got lost once we got to Newark and couldn’t find our car and walked around Newark getting redirected for about 30 minutes before we finally got to the car.  We finally arrived back to the church we are staying at around 3:00am.  We all had a great time in NYC and bonded so much.  It was a great start to our week and trip.  Great memories were made with great people.

#ASBocean7NYC

Day Two: Santa Julia Knows How To Pick ‘Em (Coffee Beans)

Well, today was our first “working” day in Santa Julia, a community that is home to the “Gloria Quintanilla” cooperative. Although picking coffee beans doesn’t seem too strenuous, the pathway that the local Santa Julia women must take in order to get to the field is definitely steeper than Auburn, Alabama terrain. Finding coffee beans was like a game. The ripest are those that are red. So, finding a cluster of red beans, or even a branch felt as though you were digging for treasure. It’s amazing how much these little beans support and mean to the Santa Julia community. We –with some help from the local children and workers- picked 15 pounds of coffee beans today, and helped peel the casts off of about a quarter of that. The coffee itself is delicious. In case you didn’t know, Nicaraguans love their “café con azucar,” coffee with sugar, and they may love having others indulge in it even more. We toured Doña Lola’s –treasurer of Gloria Quintanilla- house, and saw the “frijoles,” organic soil and natural medicines that the community produces as well.

One of the funnier parts of the day was lunch. Ham and cheese with tomato sandwiches –made by the local women- and a side of bananas were on the menu. However, for the pickier ones, peanut butter was brought to the site by our coordinators. There was a little miscommunication, and the women thought the peanut butter was meant to go inside of the sandwiches with the ham, cheese and tomatoes. How could someone misunderstand PB&J? Well, Nicaraguans don’t buy, and therefore don’t see, peanut butter often because it is expensive. Even though I thought it was a “Nicaraguan thing,” the group was split between embracing it or sticking to bananas. Don’t worry, regular ham and cheese and regular PB&J’s were fixed up in no time.

After a ninja name game (Don’t knock until you try it.) and a quick photo-op, we headed out on a walking tour of Santa Julia with 18-year-old Claudia as our knowledgeable and passionate tour guide. We made the 55-minute trek (I timed it.) down to the natural spring that used to be the only water source for Santa Julia families. Yes, these women had to walk with empty buckets for 55 minutes, wait in a long line, wait a while for the water-fountain-like flow of the water to fill their bucket, and then walk back up (I say “up” because the way there is mostly downhill. Imagine the walk back.) with a full bucket of water for washing clothes, cooking and bathing. Some of our team even got to feel what a smidgen of this experience was like by putting one of our half-full water buckets on their heads for part of the return to the main road.

We were then driven to the ruins of the old coffee plantation that was abandoned in 1999. I say “ruins” because the cement buildings have been left in disarray by earthquakes and neglect. Claudia told us anything and everything about the ruins’ rooms, patios, employees and even the sewage system. Fun fact: many of the Santa Julia residents were born in the old coffee plantation employee housing when it was still operating.

Our last stop was the local school where we will be celebrating our last day AND the school’s first graduation ceremony or, “promoción!” After stopping at “La Colonia,” a local grocery store, we freshened up, and then ate some delectable “fajitas de pollo.”

Stay tuned tomorrow for news on our construction of rain harvesters!

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Day One: Quesillos and Craters

ASB Nicaragua has indeed arrived to Managua (last night), Nicaragua’s capital city. Although the traveling was long, the friendly faces from our program directors/ coordinators; Henrietta, Mac, Stephanie and Ellen were very much worth the trip. Each one of these women greeted us with a smile, a hug and an energy that seemed contagious.

Well, that energy was surely present today in our various Nicaragua cultural day activities. In case you were wondering what we did today, let’s just say we tried everything Managua and the surrounding cities had to offer, and then some. Before we began our travels, we started with a breakfast of “gallo pinto” (rice and beans), eggs and Hamaika (hibiscus) juice. If you haven’t been to a Nicaraguan market, then you’re in for a treat. Tons of handmade wallets, jewelry, key chains, paintings and even shoes line the shelves in each merchant’s store. (Be prepared for some awesome souvenirs). Next, we headed to an “optional” zip-lining trip overlooking a crater lake. Safe to say everyone participated, and even tried some tricks.

Afterward, we snacked, rehydrated and headed to “Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya.” The Masaya Volcano is one of Nicaragua’s most active, and most beautiful. Many pictures were taken at both the opening and the view just diagonal from it where we could see a bird’s eye view of Managua.

Next, on to “Laguna de Apoyo!” The Apoyo Lagoon is a natural reserve located between Masaya and Granada. Surrounded by shops, restaurants, people and music, our first stop was a food stand that served the oh-so-popular “quesillo,” a tortilla wrapped around cheese, onions and a sour cream- like sauce. Then, we saw the breathtaking view of Laguna de Apoyo, and took a look at the local merchants.

After a much-needed lunch at a local Granada restaurant, we were off to the city’s center, which included the town square, the Cathedral of Granada and William Walker’s home. Surrounded by mangos, music and yes, even more merchants, our time in Granada was nothing short of spectacular.

From Granada, we hitched a ride on captain Cesar’s boat, “Guapotona,” and explored Lake Nicaragua. We saw the sunset, fed some Spider Monkeys who just so happen to have their own island and took some great selfies and group pictures.

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To conclude, here are everyone’s favorite moments from today:

Callie: sharing a granola bar with a monkey

Megan: going to the Laguna de Apoyo

Anthony: eating a quesillo

Lindsay: zip lining

Danielle: watching everyone’s face while eating the quesillo

Chelsea: boat riding, zip lining upside-down and taking pictures with the active volcano

Ethan: seeing a father and his toddler playing during the boat ride

Lauren: eating French fries at lunch

Katie: the boat ride

Kirsten: feeding the monkeys

Carly: getting over the initial fear of the zip line, then going upside-down and “superman”-ing

Paige: climbing to the top of the bell tower in Granada

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