Sopa with Albondiga — Alan Wright of SosteNica

Francisca Perez is a lovely campesina.  She lives with her husband Mario, on three manzanas (about five acres) of very dry, compacted, deforested land just outside of Nagarote.  They share their small home with two of their three sons – Francisco and Jose, a daughter-in-law and two very precious grandchildren.

Francisca put a lot of effort into her first garden, some years ago, even though her soil is really exhausted.  With significant effort, she managed to get some annual vegetables growing.  Then, when she wasn’t looking, her chickens escaped.  It’s amazing how much damage twenty-five chickens can do in just a few hours.    The devastation so discouraged Francisca, she gave up on gardening.

Her sons haven’t shown much interest in farming.  Jose works as a bouncer at a bar in Nagarote.  His younger brother Francisco aspires to be a singer.  He really has a nice voice, as he demonstrated to our group, accompanied by his guitar, despite its missing one of six strings.

When some of the Cornell students arrived to help build a new composting toilet, Jose and Mario at first only watched.  Eventually, they joined in with surprising enthusiasm.  Then, when the landscape crew started watering the parched citrus orchard, laying out an expanded garden area and digging a hole for a banana plant to take advantage of the overflow from their shower, Francisca rekindled her fire for gardening.  She works hard, every day, frying pork scraps to sell in the Nagarote market.  They call it “churasco”.

Despite her many family and market responsibilities, today Francisca and her daughter-in-law prepared an impressive “sopa de gallina con albondiga” – a hardy chicken stew with corn masa dumplings, tomato, yucca, quequisque, chayote, elotes, potato, and assorted herbs.  At 1 PM all 18 of us had gathered in the yard, seated on hay bails where she served us an impressive country style lunch of soup and tortillas.  Can you imagine whipping up a meal for 18 guests as well as your seven family members at short notice?

While Francisca is very special, she is not unique.  Hundreds of thousands of women in Nicaragua work from sun up to well into the night, without complaint.  They are as loving as they are talented and hard working.  It was an honor for us to dine with Francisca and to devote some of our sweat and ideas to the future of her household.

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