Mary Elizabeth and I spent 3 weeks of our stay in Nicaragua as students at Hijos del Maiz
spanish language school in El Lagartillo near Achuapa. We lived with a homestay family, shared meals, conversation, riddles, day-to-day life, and lots of laughs.
|Nuestra familia Nicaraguense. Whalder, Yelba, Mercedes, y Margarita. (Mary Elizabeth and I are in the middle.)
Everyday we received 4 hours of 1-on-1 language instruction with professional teachers who rotated weekly. Our classes were comprised of formal grammar lessons or informal conversation- based on our personal preferences. Typically, any given class was a mix of grammar, exhanges of personal & family stories, and stories about their community's history that is rooted in a farming cooperative that brought them together in the early ´80´s and the US-backed Contra's attack on their community in '84 that cost many in the community the lives of their brother and sisters
. Beyond our classes, we were free to visit with others in the community, go swimming at the community's cascada (waterfall), help our homestay family around the house, and check out books from the community library. It was a superb experience. Did I mention it was $200/week for room, board, and instruction? Wow.
Although Hijos del Maiz
is most certainly a language school, and learn loads of spanish we did, amongst the first things I noticed upon arriving in El Lagartillo were the economies of our homestay family's household food systems. There is no waste. It is a story best told by pictures.
Host families receive CSA-like baskets of fresh fruits & vegetables each week.
If you look close, you can see the homemade cheese loaves (made using the family cows' milk) on the counter in Yelba's roofed, open-air kitchen. Notice the wood burning, clay-construction stove made from local tierra,
The whey (leftover milky liquid from cheese making) was combined with vegetable scraps and fed daily to the family pig, which lived only a few steps from the kitchen door.
Family chickens scratched in the pig manure looking for any undigested granules and fly larva. In doing so, they broke up the piles thus eliminating the classic bad odor of pigs.
My host family told us that the reason a piggy bank is in the shape of a pig is because it´s premised on the same idea: feed the pig or piggy bank your leftovers each day and over time you grow something that can allow you to make it through tough times or give you an opportunity to splurge in celebration. We celebrated new family ties and delicious, good meat.
Even at this close range, I kid you not: this home-raised pig did not stink. Something was very right about its diet and living situation.
No waste, like I mentioned: the neighborhood dogs ensured the bloog didn´t simply soak into the ground.
Our family´s brother-in-law oversaw the butchering. His care and precision ensured no meat was spoiled by an accidental puncturing of the intestines.
Our first piggy meal was fritata
, all the spinal bones cooked together in a rich broth with a little garlic and chili powder. Delicious. And talk about local! The cows are approximately 1/3mile away on the periphery of town, the vegetables from a market 3 miles away, the pig 20feet from the kitchen door. The butchering, curing, and eating within a few steps of each other. (For those of you familar with Permaculture
, it was a brilliant lesson in elements and functions not to mention zones.)
If the time and computer access were available, I could write a book about the grass-roots organizing and community-based food systems we witnessed. More stories to come...
Nathan, Man in Overalls