The Trip Down: Managua - A celebration of life

Looking back on my journey through Mexico and Central America, Part IV.

With my beloved host family (just missing Jorge) in the inner courtyard of their home in Managua: doña Coni, don Isaac, Jenny (2004).


This is the fourth in a series of posts here on the blog. I am doing a review of my life and travels throughout Latin America, and I thought I would unearth my former blog for you, dear reader. I first wrote these next posts on my way to Costa Rica back in 2008. That was when, in August, I flew to Mexico City and proceeded to take buses through Southern Mexico and the four other Central America countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua) until I reached Costa Rica.


I had decided that this would be a good idea, since I had friends in all of the capitals of these countries. It would be like a classic US-road trip to see friends, just on King Quality (Greyhound-style) buses, with border crossings and passport checkpoints, sleeping in hostels or in indigenous villages in the jungle, and carrying all of the possessions that I planned on using for the next year of my life. Mom and Dad, how you let me do this trip, I’ll never know, but I’m glad you did.


It is at once inspiring, terrifying, embarrassing, and nostalgia-inducing to read these posts. I like to think that my writing has improved some since I wrote them. And my confidence. Some of my “major insights” or observations from back then today do not seem all that major. I miss being 24 and jetting off to explore countries I love. And I also don’t miss it – after all, I now have a great husband, two fun kids, and more good fortune than I or anyone deserves.


I am embarrassed and surprised to read some facts in these lines, because of how I felt at the time, or because I had totally forgotten about them until going back and reading. Some of them are important (see below - I was staying in a house with Sister Helen Prejean, who wrote Dead Man Walking!).


Here is the fourth installment, originally entitled “A celebration of life” It's the second half of a post I made from Nicaragua, shared with reflections from Honduras.


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September 7, 2008


I stayed in Tegus [Tegucigalpa, Honduras] that night so that I could get up early to catch my bus to Managua. I was glad that I did, because when I got off the bus at 2:30 PM and was picked up by my host brother, Jorge, I was told that one of my CGE teachers, Kathy, had lost her husband a few days ago and there was to be a memorial service yesterday afternoon. I arrived home just in time to change my clothes and hop in the back of a pickup truck to attend the celebration of Ron Rivera´s life at the UCA.


I want to tell a little bit about Ron, here, because the celebration was so moving, and because the work he had been doing is so important. Everyone yesterday mentioned that the 2 passions of Ron´s life were his family and ceramics, especially the Filtrón, which is a ceramic water filter that he has been promoting around the world to bring potable water to poor communities that have never had it. Kathy and Ron had dated when they were younger, but then they each went their separate ways and started their own families. When Kathy´s first husband died, Ron found her again and they joined their families together, and have lived in Nicaragua ever since.


Ron worked with ceramics here with Potters for Peace, and has worked to strengthen the artisan communities throughout Nicaragua. When he discovered his passion for the Filtrón, he dedicated his life to making them and educating people about potable water and about the Filtrón system (a ceramic bucket infused with colloidal silver – it filters water at a rate of 1 liter per hour). The Filtrón is affordable, natural, and can be made with the different kinds of clay native to different parts of the world, and so is very appropriate technology. His dream was to open 100 production centers, and he succeeded in opening 30 in 25 different countries around the world.


Ron died doing what he loved. He had been in Nigeria, where he contracted malaria. He came back to Nicaragua, but the malaria he had was different than the malaria in Latin America, and more deadly, and there was no medicine here to cure him. He passed away last week. His ashes were placed in, (what else?) a ceramic water pitcher.

I felt so honored to attend the celebration of his life, and was especially grateful to get the chance to see many people from my time studying in Central America. Cesar was here from El Salvador, Vanessa came from the US, Augsburg College representatives came from Minnesota, JC was there, of course, and Mike from Ciudad Sandino… Father Fernando Cardenal spoke, calling Ron a martyr in the service of humanity (very true), and the artisan community of San Juan del Orriente presented the family with some of their ceramics and spoke some very moving words. Other family and friends spoke, as well, to a packed room in the auditorium of the UCA. And a group called La Guitarra de Madera Azul (they indeed have a blue guitar) played music throughout. Beautiful beautiful.


And my host family, and Batahola Norte! How good to be received back here! As if I had never left! 4 years later! I feel like I have arrived home to my family (again!). Dona Coni, the mother of the house, is especially radiant these days, I think because she has stopped working at the cultural center and now dedicated herself to taking care of her house guests (since she lives right by the center, she gets quite a few) and her new business, which is selling ice cream from her home. She makes it herself, and people from the neighborhood come and purchase. She says it makes her feel more like the community is a family, because she gets to know everyone as they come to her door. I get the sense that this community is a family, also. Many people from here went to the memorial service yesterday, and I rode home on the bus with some very lively and very protective women, who insisted on holding my purse for me on the bus and who welcomed me into their homes when we arrived back and Coni wasn´t in.


The same group of Americanos is staying here at Coni´s house as was staying here when I came in 2004! What a coincidence! So, it´s been interesting to hear about their projects, again. And this time, Sister Helen Prejean is also staying here. Yep, on the other side of the wall from my bedroom sleeps the author of Dead Man Walking (also a film). She came a spoke at Valpo several years ago.


The only sad part is that Jenny, my host sister, is not here anymore. She emigrated to Barcelona soon after I left. I had such a good time with her, so I am missing her.


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Thank you for reading the New Backwater blog! I hope that you find ideas and perspectives here for making connections between the US and Latin America, for finding balance by leveraging tools of the past with lessons of the present, and for achieving transformation to make the world a better place. I'm trying to work on these things every day, and I'm grateful you're sharing that journey with me.


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