This image -- a Latina take on Rosie the Riveter -- is on the women's bathroom door at Casa Abya Yala collective cafe.

This image — a Latina take on Rosie the Riveter — is on the women’s bathroom door at Casa Abya Yala collective cafe.

Last night we had dinner at Casa Abya Yala, a women’s collective that opened last year. The name of the cafe means “The Americas.”

In addition to a relatively large menu, the cafe sold items made by local women including jewelry and bags. The art on the walls included a focus on literacy — the words “Leer para volar” or “read to fly” were painted above a bookshelf and books were growing like flowers in one mural. Other murals featured women as freedom fighters.

Ashonte took the time to read as much of the poetry as she could and didn’t realize that she hadn’t ordered for nearly an hour. Katy liked the lights made of recycled plastic jugs and a decorative tree with flowers made of repurposed soda bottles. A group of men sang songs in another room of the cafe and it music added to the fun and feel of the place, which distracted us from the time it took to get our food. (We are a huge group and they had a very small staff, we expected it.)

We helped make the place feel vibrant with our laughter, too. More of that is sure to flow today.

The atmosphere at Casa Abya Yala cultural cafe included murals focused on the women's role in revolution and the importance of literacy. Recycled bottles provided decoration as well.

The atmosphere at Casa Abya Yala cultural cafe included murals focused on the women’s role in revolution and the importance of literacy. Recycled bottles provided decoration as well.

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I don’t know why I am so taken with the sounds of this place. But waking up to the sounds of life being lived strikes me as so much better than an alarm clock.

This morning, a rooster near the hostel began to crow just after 5 a.m., as the sun began to sneak into the sky. Soon after I could hear people chattering, dishes clanking and what I assume to be the sounds of shops opening and people beginning their days. Just before 6:30 a.m., music and the sound of a voice in Spanish saying something about Matagalpa blared into our room. It sounded almost like a radio station promotion truck was driving down the road, but I don’t understand enough Spanish to know for sure. I was glad to be already awake. One of my roommates was startled awake but found a way to get back to sleep.

Katy and I will return to Casa Materna this morning to visit and exercise with the women staying there. I am the mother of an almost two-year-old and I am stunned at the idea of women who are 38-40 weeks pregnant walking up that hill. They know it could be time to meet their babies any minute. That walk was tough for us yesterday and most of us had no more than purses to carry. It is a testiment to the work they are used to, the physical demands of living in an economically impoverished country where everyone does what they have to.

When we get back, we will all travel to an organic coffee farm. We will meet the farmer, learn about the growing and roasting processes and, of course, try some. There’s more planned for the afternoon as well. It’s sure to be another incredible day.


Part of a mural on a wall at Casa Materna. We were all taken with the doctor holding the baby in front of the sun.

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Matagalpa is a community with a population about 20,000 fewer than Topeka. Local residents seem much more surprised to see us and the street-side shops sell daily necessities rather than tourist souvenirs.

Two guests of Casa Materna resting in the craft room with a mural of the center's founders.

Two guests of Casa Materna resting in the craft room with a mural of the center’s founders.

At Casa Materna, the 14 women currently staying there are from communities outside Matagalpa city. (Matagalpa also is the name of a district in Nicaragua.) The organization, funded primarily by donations from the United Staters, works to prevent maternal and infant mortality by providing education in many communities and the casa itself, which houses and provides health care to woman in the final weeks of pregnancy.

One woman, preparing to have her second child, lives an eight-hour bus ride away. She told us she already has been at Casa Materna for 15 days and is expecting her child in late January. Her local clinic encouraged her to come early the first time and she’s returned this time because she said she appreciated the care she received, and the rest from the toil of housework and other responsibilities.

Many of the women appreciated the rest of the Casa, and “the attention” they receive, including nutrition, regular care by a doctor, midwives and nurses. Nearly all of them had nicely painted toenails, a sign of the papering they do receive.

When a woman staying at Casa Materna goes into labor she is transferred to the local hospital to deliver the baby. Nearly all of the woman had received an ultrasound exam and 11 of the 14 knew the sex of their babies. The other three wanted to be surprised. In 2012, for example, 638 women were served at the Casa. Each of them, and their babies made it home.

Literature from Casa Materna suggests the women are experiencing high risk pregnancy. But when we spoke to them, each said they were referred because they were between 38 and 40 weeks pregnant. So, we looked into it. The CIA Factbook estimates that in 2013 the infant mortality rate in the country was 21.09 per 1,000 live births. We took that to mean every woman here has a high risk pregnancy.

We were able to ask all of our questions. Babies born as late as 29 weeks may not survive here, even if the mother is in the hospital at delivery. Most of the woman being served at Casa Materna now have some type of formal medical care in their communities. Each of them said their communities are well aware of the services provided.

Rachel said afterward she was glad to know the women were pampered and well cared for. She enjoyed the chance to hear from so many of them during our visit, too.

For Travis, the reality that problems easily addressed at home are major crisis for women here was difficult.

“These women are like my hero,” he said in a discussion afterward. “It’s crazy to think it’s 2014 and this stuff still happens.”

The Casa Materna logo, a baby held up in front of the sun with two doves flying above.

The Casa Materna logo, at the entrance to the center.

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