Thursday

This morning, after a hearty mushroom omelet and dark Nicaraguan coffee, our group hit the Managua town in a 20-passenger manual transmission bus. Our tour guide, Peltier, detailed the painful but passionate history of Managua as we rode past children juggling fruit hoping to make a few Cordobas.

Our first stop was Lake Managua, an expansive, beautiful, but polluted body of water. The city government was trying to bring tourism back to the lake-side by building parks, bars and restaurants.

The park reminded me of a life-sized mini-golf course, complete with low white picket fences, multi-colored fire hydrants and animal shaped bushes.

It also, sadly, gave me an eerie feeling of the Ocean City Boardwalk (sans the Thrashers French Fries, of course). Again I asked myself, “Am I home?” What a contrast to what I saw on the streets last night and this morning.

After a quick stop, and a brief introduction to the history of the park’s location, we hopped on the bus, destined for the historical center of Managua and the National Historical Museum. Here, we had the opportunity to learn about Managua’s eco-system, freshwater sharks, and view historical jewelry and artifacts.

Peltier shows our group a photo of “Independence Day” and the crowds that massed in the central plaza of Managua.

Nicaraguan style chafing dishes!

We had a wonderful lunch – a buffet of typical Nicaraguan cuisine. Everyone was happy to sit under the covered porch and enjoy the warm breeze quietly blowing through the second-floor rafters. Honestly, I was nervous about my first Nicaraguan meal – I had heard horror stories of debilitating stomach bugs – but I savored the blend of corn, pork, chicken and plantains on my thick clay plate. (And thanked my mom for reminding me to buy Tums.)

After lunch,  we made our non-profit stop at a soap making business where Wake Forest students have been helping the owner develop new marketing strategies and also a new design label. The owner didn’t speak English so Peltier translated for us. After a few questions, and some very gracious thanks by the owner to Wake Forest University, someone asked, “Does he know that Dr. Hatch is the President of Wake Forest?”

Peltier smiled, and translated the sentence, pointing to Dr. Hatch who was standing right next to the owner. You could just see his face light up and change completely… He was at once honored and humbled. And quite speechless.

President Hatch and Professor of Finance, Ajay Patel, watch the owner of Trax demonstrate the effectiveness of his soapy product.

A few minutes later, he served us coca-colas on a neon plastic tray with bright yellow straws – Tom Dingledine, Trustee and June Sabah, Board of Visitors of the Schools of Business, snapped a funny picture with their Coke cans. (They anxiously await Steve Reinimund’s reaction.)

The two-room Trax factory - soap is mixed, molded and wrapped.

That of course, was the good. The bad? They work in the most awful conditions, it’s hot and sweaty in this small two room shack, and much of what they’re doing in that “factory” could easily be replaced by a machine.

Children are born in the Trash Dump and make $2 a week selling recyclables on the street. NicaHOPE's jewelry program helps students raise close to $80 a month and keeps them in school and out of the trash dump.

Our next stop was NicaHope. Many families in Managua live in trash dumps and collect recyclables to sell on the street. The goal of NicaHOPE, which is now part of the Frabretto Children’s Foundation, is to make sure children attend school and are provided with after-school programs. They have a jewelery making class and the kids made us a bunch of Wake Forest jewelry, all in gold and black! Wake Forest students have helped out here, too. NicaHOPE sent a bunch of their work back and Wake Forest students helped them develop the best price points. We did some serious damage there!

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