Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Although I haven’t taken all that much time to blog since arriving in Nicaragua, I often find myself thinking “yea, I should Blog about that……that would be a GREAT Blog theme” as I’m going about normal life in a foreign country. AND, one of the themes that has consistently been at the top of my mental Blog list over the last few months is “the culture of driving” here in Nicaragua. The lunacy surrounding the driving habits of taxis and buses, the venders that loiter in the lanes, the pedestrians that simply walk or stand wherever they desire, the missing manhole covers (definitely a hazard for the motorcycle), the enormous potholes large enough to swallow a truck, the overuse of horns, the blatant disregard for traffic laws, the unwritten rule of “ignore all traffic lights after sunset”, the “bigger always wins” rule (definitely closely tied with the buses), and the absolute disrepair of the majority of vehicles on the roadway. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.

Anyway, although my intent has been to Blog about the actual ADVANTURE of roadway survival, how it’s ALWAYS crazy but can also be kind of fun, after Sunday night I unfortunately have to write from a different angle. Hope you enjoy it.

El Choque

Mary--“Hey Jason, can you help Lori with a flat tire? She’s at Km 14 on the South Highway”.

Jason--“Sure”, I say. “But since it’s raining pretty hard and I only have the motorcycle (my new motorcycle, that is), can I borrow one of your vehicles to drive up there?”

Carey—“Sure, you can use my truck. Since you’re doing Lori a favor, I’ll do YOU a favor”.

Jason—“Funny…’s like that “Pay It Forward" movie.

......10 minutes later, I’m driving Carey’s pickup, looking for Lori and her flat tire. It’s dark (about 8:30 PM) and raining a bit.

Jason (thinking to himself)—“Man, it’s REALLY dark out here. I feel like I’m driving into a black hole. I can’t see ANYTHING.”

………7 seconds later……..WHOA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!............screeching tires……..explosion of metal vs. metal………silence in the world.

Jason (to himself again)—“well…..I think I’m OK…… pain……don’t appear to be bleeding…..seem to be thinking clearly…….better find the hazard lights before this gets worse……..where ARE those things?”

……….another 30 seconds passes.

Jason—“Hang on…..hang on…..I’m looking for the hazard lights…..I know…….I’m sorry……give me just a minute, I need to turn on the emergency lights!

“Well, I’m sorry…..I never saw you guys….you had NO LIGHTS IN THE BACK!!!!!!!

After finally locating the hazard lights, I’m now out of the truck. I’m finding myself in a sea of people with more still climbing down from the truck I just ran into. “Where did all of these people even come from”, I think?

“Is everyone OK??????”

NO response…….only looks of anger and resentment.

“I’m sorry…..I know I just hit you guys, but I just happen to be a paramedic. Is anyone injured?????

Again…….nothing but accusations.

“Well, I suppose everyone’s OK….that’s good”. “Hey look, that’s my friend Lori driving by…….apparently she got her tire fixed………”Hey LORI!!!!!! Lori!!! Hang on a minute!!!!!!!”

…….10 minutes later…..

Other driver—“So what are you going to do for me?


OD—“Yea, you hit US…….look, the bottom of my truck is damaged…..what are you going to give me?

Jason—“Let’s just wait for the police”.

So that’s pretty much it. I ran into the back of a large cargo truck on the Pan American Highway. The police came, a report was filed, one small white light magically appeared on what was left of the truck bumper, they changed drivers for the police report (I assume the real driver didn’t have a license), stories were changed several times for the official report, I took lots of photos, the police hit on my friend Lori repeatedly, there was looting of debris on the highway, and I finally left the highway after about 4 hours. I also learned that an accident in Nicaragua is very much a “self-service” operation with regard to such things as traffic control, cleaning up (and guarding) debris, towing away your vehicle, etc. etc. etc.

As for what will happen from here, I’m still getting all of that figured out. Over the last couple of days, I’ve hired an attorney, I’ve run around getting documents of EVERYTHING, and I’ve apologized to Carey about 7,649 times for literally destroying her pickup. Tomorrow AM, I’ll be going to the police station for the official ruling on the accident. From there, things could go any number of directions, but it’s a strong possibility that I’ll be buying Carey a new pickup.
I suppose that as always, the most important thing is that everyone was OK. As for the explanation behind that sea of people? Well, after the accident, I learned that I had hit a large cargo truck filled not only with food, but with people. Apparently, sacs of produce act a pretty good insulator. Looking at the pickup, it’s also pretty spectacular that I walked away LITERALLY without a scratch. Call it God, the universe, fate, karma, or just the technology behind the seatbelt………pretty amazing.

I suppose for my first real accident, it was a pretty good one. And you know, maybe I CAN end this Blog entry with my original premise of driving in Nicaragua. It may not be quite as “fun” as it was a week ago, but it’s ALWAYS an adventure.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What The #%$@? Part III.....Recurso Disponible

So one day, I’m over at the Fabretto office (other local non-profit) and this lady asks me the standard “oh, so what do YOU do here in Nicaragua” question. After answering her with my usual “oh, a little of this, a little of that…….I help here, I help there”, she says “Oh, so you’re like an AVAILABLE RESOURCE”. And with that, the name stuck. Of course it sounded much cooler in Spanish………”RECURSO DISPONIBLE”…….but regardless, it became my new title.
What does a “recurso disponible” do when he’s not getting in the way over at the medical clinic or spilling hot oil in the school cafeteria (see previous Blog entries)? Here’s a sample:

Alvaro is probably in his later 20’s, Nicaraguan, and grew up in California. He spent a number of years working on oil rigs in Texas and California before being deported a few years back. Now he’s trying to get to Canada (legally) to get a job in the booming Canadian oil economy. What did I do for him? Well, after researching the job opportunities and Visa requirements online, he asked me if I would help him with his resume. We put together a nice resume and a cover letter that he sent to Shell, BP, Esso, etc. As far as I know, he’s still in Nicaragua, so maybe he needs something more than a RD.

Another non-profit from the US has decided that they want to help Nicaraguan children in a very specific way. That is, they want to sponsor (i.e. give money to) local pre-schools. To get the ball rolling, they want to find the FIVE pre-schools in Managua that have THE MOST need. Enter Recurso Disponible. I basically just provide the “driving ability” on this one, but I, along with a local Nicaraguan teacher, drive around Managua and look at pre-schools. We get a feel for the neighborhood, we inspect the building (or lack thereof), and we chat with the teacher(s). We still have a number of schools to go, but it has been a GREAT way for me to get to know Managua…….and it’s endless amount of poverty.

Occasionally, medical groups in the area pack up a truck and head to the “country” for a day or so. The idea is to provide medical care to those who don’t have access to such a thing (or at least REGULAR access), so they set up a mobile clinic for a day or weekend. I’ve helped out with these on occasion, basically just playing “nurse”. It’s pretty basic stuff, but again, it’s a great way to get to know Nicaragua and some areas outside of Managua.

NicaHope is the organization with which I spend most of my time, and their focus is MOSTLY in education (of various forms). One of the things they do is to provide computer classes to children in the area of Acahualinca and La Chureca. By giving these kids a tool in the form of computer education, the hope is that they will use these skills to have a life OUTSIDE of the trash dump. With this in mind, someone had the idea of setting up a “Sponsorship program” for the kids in these classes (think World Vision for computer classes instead of food). I basically just helped with the initial stages of this program and the associated literature. It should be launched ASAP.

And that’s pretty much it. As a “Recurso Disponible”, I basically just act as your friendly, neighborhood volunteer, helping out wherever I can. I’ve done a bit of painting (walls….not art), I’ve given out medicine, and may even have some bicycle maintenance in my near future. I try to be open to wherever I can be of service, and generally only say NO to the teaching of English classes (a popular request)……..everyone has their boundaries, right?.......or things COMPLETELY outside my scope of knowledge (Blacksmithing, for example…..THAT was an interesting one). The good news is that I have found that I can pretty much be as busy as I want to be. The bad news? Nobody seems to be open to the Fire Dept. schedule.