October 2010


On 10/10/10 people around the world joined together in efforts to reduce carbon emissions, pollution, and contamination.

We decided to use our 10/10/10 to visit a rural Nicaraguan community who have inspired us by always taking into account the long term sustainability and health of the local ecosystem, and taking great pleasure and pride in their choices.  For us, the community of El Lagartillo exemplifies a low-impact lifestyle with a high quality of life.  Here is why:

The houses are surrounded by gardens, filled with vegetables and flowers, which host a myriad of wildlife like this hummingbird.  Among dozens of ornamental plants (most of which are traded amongst the community members and do not come from nurseries), our friend Tina has coffee, papaya, lemon, bitter orange, herbs, and mangos in her yard.

Laundry is washed by hand and hung out in the sun to dry.

Most of the food in the village is grown or sourced locally.  Helen’s neighbors have enough cows to generate twenty liters of milk daily, and they make cheese for many of the community members who don’t have cattle.

When we arrived in the evening on 09/10/10 Tina was baking rosquillas, a salty corn cracker with sugar on top, in her cob oven.  The oven is made of mud and straw, and built on a large rock.  A wood fire is lit inside the oven, and burned down to ashes.  When the coals are scraped out, the cob has absorbed enough heat to bake a batch of nearly 600 rosquillas. Much of the cooking is a community activity – instead of everyone lighting their own cob oven every day, the community members will flock to Tina’s for rosquillas until they are gone and someone else lights their oven to make the next batch.

The daily cooking is done on a wood fire stove in the kitchen.  Chemer, Tina’s son, built this cookstove (fogón) recently after seeing a similar model, and then built several more for his mother and other members of the community.  Instead of the traditional open fire, this cookstove has a chimney and flu so that the airflow can be controlled by blocking or opening the hole on the side.  These improved cookstoves can reduce firewood use by up to 50% and also improve community health by removing the smoke from the kitchen.  The United Nations declared the instilation of improved cookstoves on of their top goals this year.

Tina stores her tortillas in this eco-friendly calabaza gourd.  She can easily afford a plastic tupperware like the city folks use, but prefers this traditional method.

There is no regridgeration in the community, although most of the houses now have solar panels for lightbulbs at night.  These are Tina’s water jugs, double-ceramic vessels that have a ceramic filter inside that filters out parasites and bacteria.  The jugs are filled in the morning when the well water is cool, and the ceramic keeps the water cool all through the hot days.  I always look forward to drinking this water and have never treated it with anything and never gotten sick.

About six years ago a project came to El Lagartillo and installed a few of these baños secos, or separating composting toilets.  The toilet separates urine from feces, and the urine goes through a tube straight out to the garden, whereas the feces are collected in a chamber, layered with ash or sawdust, and composted for over a year before being applied to the community coffee patch and citrus orchard.  When properly maintained, these toilets are cleaner and less smelly than the traditional “drop toilet”, and don’t contaminate the thousands of gallons of fresh water that flush toilets do.  Tina, who was a recipient of the original project, much prefers using her toilet and sealed off her traditional outhouse years ago.  Since then, nearly the entire community has adopted these toilets, and all the new houses being constructed have them.

The community owns one truck together, which can be rented by members of the community.  Most of the transportation is by bus, a few motorcycles, bicycle, or horse.  Horses serve as both transportation for people and goods, and also pleasure.

Perhaps most inspiring of all is that the village of El Lagartillo fosters strong, community oriented visionaries who maintain the traditional values of living sustainably and healthily.  Our conversations during the day were filled with discussions about which green manures were best for which crops, what building materials were most easily available and most sustainable, how many grains and beans can be grown for auto-consumption, what kinds of water systems save the most water, why breast milk is a million times better than infant formula, and what the indicator species are in a naturally regenerating forest.  And we didn’t bring up these topics because of 10/10/10 – these are among the most relevant and important themes in their lives.  Our friends in El Lagartillo always inspire us to pay attention to the details in our city life, to think about the quality of what we eat and how we live, and to strive to have the same pride in our daily decisions.

For SosteNica´s promotional tour this fall I´ve made a short video highlighting our environmental work with borrowers.   Tell me what you think.