There is nothing quite like the cantada of singing machetes, and that morning as we plodded along through the mud and undergrowth of the dense jungle I was, in a strange way, serenaded by it. Somehow knowing that the three men leading our small group as we penetrated deeper into the jungle were all brandishing machetes and were more than willing to use them gave me comfort, and with each note of the song they slashed out ahead of me, I walked my way deeper into this foreign, lush place of madera, hojas, and tierra. We were skirting the border between Nicaragua and Honduras, cutting a path through the jungle in search of a viable water source for the Nicaraguan communities that lay in the valley below. I was the only gringo here, and, laden with my mapping equipment, a water bottle, two sandwiches and my camera, this was my mission for the day.
We had gotten an early morning start, as no one quite seemed to know how far the potential water source actually was. When we had picked up our group and everyone climbed into the back of the old, beat-up Toyota pickup that was to drop us off at the base of the mountains, I first wondered why an older gentleman was accompanying us, however I soon found out that he was the only one who had seen this source before and the only one who might be able to remember how to get to it.
We hiked on through the morning, steadily fighting our way through the dense trees and up the mountain, and as we walked I kept trying to put out of my mind the reality of what I had seen in the preceding days. We had visited a well in the countryside near a small village where the water was first discovered when a landmine exploded. They were burning the field to facilitate new growth the following season, the landmine got a little too warm, exploded, and when the dust settled water flowed from the new cavity in the earth. Accordingly, a well was built there. I had also met a man with one arm, one eye, two fingers missing on his good hand, and a face that was mildly disfigured and blotched purple. He had attempted to simply plow a new area of his land in the mountains, and when his plow met a landmine and triggered it, he was sent flying through the air and was lucky to land with his life. The areas we were walking through in the mountains surrounding the Jalapa Valley were the sites of some of the most intense conflict in the Contra/Sandinista war only 30 years ago, a war that ravaged the countryside and left 250,000-some-odd landmines hidden in the jungles, only to be found years later by civilians such as, perhaps, me and my machete friends.
We walked on, my gringo eyes taking in the foreign, green treescape, enraptured with every detail…
Bloggies, thank you for humoring my writing [above], and the length of this post(!). There are photos coming, I promise! OK, on to the post:
To let you in on a little bit about me (Travis), one thing I’m very passionate about is helping people in developing countries to live with a quality of life commensurate of all human beings. Within that passion, I particularly like exploring ways to meet the need of providing people safe, clean drinking water, adequate sanitation facilities, and the knowledge to know why both are important and how they impact people’s lives and the lives of their children. I’m actually in my last year of the University of Colorado’s graduate Engineering for Developing Communities program, which has and is equipping me to do sustainable and empowering development work in the future. Currently, I’m working with a local non-profit that has partnered with people of the Jalapa Valley of North-Central Nicaragua over the past 25 years, and am hoping to be able to (with much help, of course!) provide 7 communities in the region with safe, adequate drinking water in the next few years. This past August I traveled to Nicaragua, spending 2 weeks visiting communities and both performing assessments of their current water situations and discovering how to improve those situations in the future.
In my time in Nicaragua, I hiked through lots of jungle, I rode buses, I got rained on, I drove a motorcycle, I rode in the back of trucks, I drank lots of coffee, I mapped out communities and water sources, I interviewed and talked with lots of people, I took lots of photos, I made lots of friends, I facilitated and recorded over 250 minutes of focus groups, I got rained on, I visited 12 different communities, I got our truck stuck in the middle of a big sandy river, I laughed, I smiled, I ate a piece of fruit that had maggots in it, I slipped and fell into 2 creeks, I got rained on, I visited two cigar factories, I learned about growing coffee, I delivered guitar parts to two local guitar makers, I went to a Nicaraguan church, I taught two English classes, I got 700 mosquito bites, I learned a lot of Spanish, I did a family photo shoot, I ate lots of gallopinto, I saw a funeral, I took a sunrise time-lapse at 4:30 in the morning, I saw two volcanoes, I took a tour of the Filtron Water Filter Factory outside of Managua, I met a cool guy named Rodney who really helped me out, I took lots of photos, and, all in all, had an amazing time doing development work, meeting people, exploring needs, and getting excited about going back and doing more development work to help the people of the Jalapa Valley.
Reeling this all back into why I’m talking about this on our photography blog…one of my goals with photography is to use the skills, talents, and abilities I’ve been blessed with to bless others, both in tangible and intangible ways. I want to help others in tangible ways by using profits from our business to help fund and enable us to do development work, and I want to help in more intangible ways by inspiring people (through our work) to see the God-given beauty in themselves, in others, and in the world around them – inspiring them to live in the fullness of who they were created to be. This goes for everything from weddings to families, to seniors to development work photography. So, on that note, thank you to each one of our clients who has supported us in the past by hiring us to capture your story, and thank you to our family and friends who have supported us through your encouragement and kind words (and, in the beginning, willingness to model for us!). This is starting to strangely sound like an acceptance speech, so enough of that.
Moving on, I’m giving a presentation in November at Namaste Solar, where I’ll be talking about both my time in Nicaragua and development work in general, so stay tuned as that’s coming up!
For now, to wrap up this post, enjoy a few photos from Nicaragua!