Saturday, 30 June 2007

Back to work - sort of

Apologies for the belated update. I meant to post an update of my progress and write a huge critique of Nicaragua after my course. Instead I fled to to the quiet and fairly remote Isla Ometepe where the urge to blog strangely left me. After that I met my girlfriend for a lovely 2.5 week sojoun in Costa Rica. So, after a month´s break it´s time to get back to blogging and start speaking Spanish.

Here´s a brief update of what´s happened since my last post.

School´s out
After completing my 160 hours of tuition I spent one week on Isla Ometepe, an island on the middle of Lake Nicaragua - the largest lake in the world. Because of their distance from the mainland they remained largely untouched by the civil war and with water from the mountains and extremely fertile volcanic soil they were virtually self sufficient. Now in peacetime the island has plenty of cars and consumer goods, but the residents still feel that they are quite different from those on the mainland.

On the island I stayed in a hostel - formerly the holiday home of the late dictator Somoza - run by Alvaro who also doubles as an internet entrepreneur. He´s currently working on a project to bring fast free internet to all the schools and rural communities on the island. And in addition provide every school child with a laptop. Once the network is set up the fee local companies, tourists, and government offices pay will fund the schools and rural ares. Having just received substantial funding from the government he believes he can change the future of the island giving people a choice to do something other than agriculture. I belive he has the knowledge and charisma to suceed with it I just hope the government follow through on their promise because on the whole people seem to feel let down with the new government.

The state of Nicaragua
Throughout my time in Nicaragua I have met many young people trying to get somewhere in business and continually being frustrated by beauracracy, high prices and poor services.

The electricity company is run by a Spanish company who continue to hike the prices while power cuts become more a part of everyday life than ever before. During my time in Leon we would pretty much have a least one brief power cut every evening and occasionally they would last 1-2 hours. In the last weeks before I left they were also happening most mornings.

Broadband interent is too expensive for most people so they have to settle for an over priced slow dial-up connection for around $30. This is what most people pay in the UK for super fast broadband.

And the reasons for these high prices? One family has a monopoly on some of Nicaragua´s most important goods and services. Without competition prices have got out of control. The 2nd poorest country in Central America is paying for utilities at first world prices. I was shocked to hear about the monolopoly and how the family/companies retain it but for fear of libel I should probably say no more until I can get all the facts.

So having been to the vastly developed countries of Costa Rica and Panama - they have their problems but everything seems to work - I am now looking forward to returning to Nicaragua for stage 2.

The city of mists
The next stop is to the mountains of Jinotega, near the Honduran border, where I´m going to volunteer with a coffee cooperative. They´re fair trade certified and supply coffee to the UK and beyond.

What I´ll be doing there I don´t actually know. There was a mention of machinery and another of teaching the workers´ children. As long as I´m not risking any of my limbs I´m easy. As for the other arrangements such as accommodation and food, in true Nicaraguan style, everything is pretty vague. My main concern is whether I´ll be able to understand them and vice versa. Given that I had great help in writing my introductory email in Spanish they probably think I´m a native.

So, if I´m not sacked on day one I hope to be updating you more frequently on my progress.