New Arrivals

Last weekend our program’s first volunteers since I’ve been coordinator arrived. Getting people to volunteer at a small program is a challenge. I remember looking for volunteer programs, and except for the biggest, most established and most well funded programs, it’s always impossible to know what you’ll find when you show up. It’s made more difficult by the fact that instead of being one of those ‘free’ programs that ask you to find and pay your food and lodging, which would be rather expensive, we are in a situation where we have to charge a flat fee, one which would actually be less than normal living expenses here. But, of course, that doesn’t really matter, because it’s all about marketing. In a few sentence summary, “free” with hidden small print, looks a lot better than $30 a week. Oh, I’m on that rant again. The point is, my job involves a lot of marketing, and our program is a great product with a lot of marketing disadvantages. Getting people here is a small success not to be taken for granted.

Our new volunteers are a couple from Oregon. Hiromi was working in business and quit her job recently, as she put it, “to have a life”. Her and her husband Aaron have set out on a journey through Latin America that will take them a little over a year, through most of Central America and eventually parts of South America. They’ve come from 3 months in work-away programs in Costa Rica, and one and a half in Granada, Nicaragua. They’re trying hard to learn Spanish and are excited to have the opportunity for full immersion at Noemy and Bismark’s house. They’re even more excited to get to work. It’s what I like to see.

Noemy is a baker who’s trying to expand her bread sales. Up until now she’s been occasionally cooking some sweet tortas, sort of like a loaf of cake, in a small electric oven. Unfortunately, that little electric oven has substantially limited her possibilities as it is only big enough to cook one torta at a time and uses too much electricity to really make them profitable. A friend in the community has just welded them a wood oven out of a couple of metal drums. Having done a bit of welding myself, I feel like I can say that it’s a pretty nice piece of metal work.

Apparently the design was actually taken from a community member who’d spent some time in the US and spotted something similar. The oven will allow Noemy to produce bread at a larger scale. The bread will be sold in local shops for now, but eventually she’d like to have a small storefront of her own in town. She knows a few more complex recipes than the torta including one for carrot cake, but it’s a matter of finding that confidence in the community for trying new things.

As she said to me yesterday, “people just buy what’s cheapest and what they know”

It might be hard to break people out of the habit of buying what’s cheapest, but maybe it only takes a little time and bit of word getting around for a new recipe to catch on. I think if she had her own store front it might be easier. Hiromi has had some recent experience in one of their previous homestays with bread making and told me she has a little book of recipes she’s collected, so I’m looking forward to some continuing collaboration.

This week Hiromi and Aaron finished up the bricklaying for the wood burning part of the oven with Bismark (all three seen below). When I went and visited Wednesday they were baking their first loaf from Hiromi’s recipes. Noemy was impressed by how economical it was. Tortas contain boat loads of butter and sugar, which apart from not being so healthy, also cost quite a bit. As there’s nothing along the lines of a temperature gauge, and there’s a learning curve for this kind of thing, the first loaf was a little imperfect, that didn’t stop me from loving it though. It was so nice having a bit of real, fluffy bread.

Now they’ll be moving on to preparing the ground for planting some new bean and corn crops. I’m excited to see how it all works out. We might get a couple blog posts from them about their stay, and in general we’re trying to get a lot better about updating regularly, so check back in!