Reflections from Nicaragua


Masaya Volcano

Greetings from Charlottesville this time,

 Now that I am back in the States. I have chance to reflect on my time spent abroad and what I learned not only about Nicaragua and their health/waste systems but also about myself too. The town of Siuna is such an interesting town with a unique history in the mountains of central Nicaragua and I really appreciate the opportunity to go off the beaten path that tourists usually take and see how many Nicaraguan live.

As I discovered earlier in Siuna, things can be quite hectic there with many obstacles popping up. I had been have trouble finding the garbage truck there since it did not follow the same schedule that I had been given. So two days before I left, I went into the city hall with my translator, Eva, and somehow, thanks to her miraculous ability we happened to get an appointment with the hospital administrator who oversaw the garbage trucks schedules and routes. After speaking with him about following the truck, he told me simply come to the city hall at 6 and follow the truck on the entire route. Finally, after so much waiting I was going to be able to collect what I needed and on the last day I was there! So I had a driver who would follow the truck around town on its route and my job was to geocode the location of every stop so that I could find its route and distance traveled. I also had to mark down how much time was spent at these stops so we could get a more accurate picture of how the garbage truck operates on its schedule. It was quite an experience. Following a large blue garbage truck around town the small streets trying to avoid taxis, horses, dogs, and motorbikes was quite a sight. There even was a fender bender between the truck and a taxi. No one was injured but there was a fair amount of raised voices in the street!! All in all it was quite fun thrill ride in its own way.


Following the garbage truck

One of my favorite moments from this trip was actually from following the truck and just sitting in the passenger seat listening to Reggae with the driver. He could barely speak english and I am completely new to spanish but we both love some Bob Marley. The driver even managed to make some recommendations for me through lots of hand gestures and broken English. 

On my way out of Siuna I had the opportunity to thank many of the people who helped me in my project. And I realized even though it was a solo project, the successful parts I was able to accomplish would not have happened had it not been for these many people who took their time to help a foreigner out. And as my little 12 seat plane took off from the gravel airstrip past the local baseball diamond (Baseball is just as popular as soccer in Siuna), it dawned on me how much the little town had grown on me in a mere two week stay.

Just to give you an idea about the state of Nicaragua’s roads: the flight from Siuna to Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, is less than an hour. But the drive by bus takes about 10 hours! And that is with no rain. One of the people working for the non-profit which helped coordinate my trip told me a trip took him 2 days because the rains washed many of the roads along the way. Thank goodness I was on the flight! On my way into Nicaragua I got the chance to see the historic downtown of Managua.


The old Managua cathedral


On my way out I was determined to see some of the area outside of Managua. I ask the NGO group in Managua what were some of the best places to see and they called a trusted cab driver who drove me around to 4 different sites within about 50 km of Managua. I got to visit the Masaya Volcano, the locally famous Masaya market, Catarina, and Granada. 

Nicaragua has 72 volcano’s I got to visit one active and one which caved in. To be honest the active one was a little anti-climatic. You can drive up to it but once you get there and peer inside all you see is a mix of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide,The caved in volcano on the other hand gives you some fantastic views of the entire area from the large Lake Managua to massive Lake Nicaragua. The Masaya market was inside of an old colonial building and was quite a maze but I found some good souvenirs and I got to see a local parade. Catarina is on cliff next to Apoyo Lagoon, a beautiful clean lagoon used to be a crater and filled up with water. It has great views of Lake Nicaragua and the active Mumbacho volcano in the distance. And finally we had some time left to drive through Granada, the old capital before Managua, and see lots of colonial architecture.



Caved in crater at Masaya. Mombachu volcano is in the distance.




Rushed picture in Granada


While all these views were terrific, once again one of my favorite moments was driving around in the late afternoon sun while listening to the taxi driver’s favorite Beatles tracks. Sometime’s it just the little things that really make an impression.

Its been fun!!





The reality of hospital waste disposal and collection in a rural Nicaraguan town

Hello from from rainy Nicaragua!  

UVa has had several projects over the past few years in the rural municipality of Siuna. There was one a couple of years ago where a group of students built a garbage station at the local hospital to make the disposal of hospital waste safer, easier, and more convenient. My project during my brief two-week stay in Siuna would be to collect data and observe how much waste is generated by the hospital, what kind of waste it is, and how is that waste disposed of. And as I near the end of my stay, I can tell you that nothing is what I expected it to be. In fact almost all of my assumptions about what things were going to be like were proved false.

Siuna is a bustling little town that you can explore in about a day. Being in the large north east province of Nicaragua, the province is self-governed with little oversight by the main Sandinista government which governs the rest of Nicaragua. That said there is a more visible military force here since the town is very close to the border of Honduras where there was resistance activity during the Contra scandal where the U.S. funded Nicaraguan resistance back in the 80’s. While the town is not large the surrounding area is quite expansive with communities as far as 2 hours away still considered part of the municipality. Trash is visibly a large problem in town as there is only garbage truck and lots of trash is either thrown in the streets or creeks and rivers nearby.


Morning in Siuna

The hospital here was quite surprising as well. It was a collection of about 5 or 6 one story building all brightly painted in blue, green, or pink and lined with palm and coconut trees. These buildings house administration, the visiting/registration center, the sick wards, kitchens, and a couple others I never learned about. There is also a garbage disposal area, and incinerator. What I quickly learned however is that things in Siuna are very unpredictable. My meeting with the hospital administrators was moved back several days once I arrived in Siuna giving me free time to explore the city and the surrounding communities. Next the hospital administrator with whom the project was previously explained had been moved to another position so I had to meet with a new hospital administrator to explain the project again so I could have access to the disposal area. Once I was given permission I quickly found out that much of the trash was not being disposed of correctly. Almost all of the hospital trash including gauzes, bandages, and used medical bags were mixed in with regular waste making it impossible for me to measure how much of each category they were generating. While the more dangerous hospital waste was to be put in the incinerator. I found that vultures had found their way into the incinerator and thrown trash everywhere. Finally, the garbage trucks schedule was just as unpredictable leaving me waiting for half a day before giving up.


The Siuna Hospital just inside the entrance

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The new garbage station

All these challenges required unique solutions to make sure I can collect as much data as possible in a safe manner. My complete lack of Spanish is another challenge and while I am learning as much as possible I still rely heavily on a translator who is extremely helpful.  Everyday can bring its own unique challenges to overcome and I have learned quite a bit about learning to expect the unexpected. I guess that sort of chaos is just part of the whole learning experience!

Take Care everyone,