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Filtron Filter Factory which is owned and operated by a Belgian man named Frank Schuringa who came to Nicaragua twenty-five years ago, married a Nicaraguan woman, had a couple of kids, and established a coffee business, a compost-making operation and the filter factory. Last year when I visited the factory the filters were formed by manually pumping a car jack to press the two pieces of the mould together, and each brigadista took a turn to make one filter (it was hard work!) but the factory now has an hydraulic version of the press (just push a button and away it goes). Not as much fun for the brigadistas but a lot easier on the workers.
Alvarro, our young guide-in-training, used to work at the factory so he showed us around and explained how they run the clay through a hammermill to crush stones, then mix the dry clay with sawdust and water to an exact proportion by weight, then press the filters, dry them slowly, fire them in wood-burning kilns, test each filter for the proper flowage rate (if the flow is too fast, the filter can be refired; if the flow is too slow, the filter is discarded), then paint the filter with colloidal silver and lastly, box it.
We had a long chat with Frank, during which we sipped his excellent coffee and he told us how things had changed in Nicaragua since he first came here when people were more open and willing to help each other, then we took a look at the coffee roaster and the compost operation and some brigadistas bought some coffee and one bought a filter and then we went into the town of Jinotepe for lunch at Comida Vegetariana, a little café that is run by a Malaysian family and that serves vegetarian Chinese food (no chicken stew!). Lunch was delicious.
In the afternoon we stopped in at the home of our translator Beatrice and her husband Fred—a beautiful two-bedroom home with all the modern conveniences and a luscious garden. When Beatrice told me that she had the house on the market for only $120,000US, an amount of money that wouldn't even buy a studio apartment in my city, I pictured myself living there—maybe after I master Spanish Level 2 and can find my way around without a guide, a driver and a bunch of other gringos.
Stove Team International who work on the design, manufacture and distribution of fuel-efficient cookstoves that will reduce the amount of smoke inhaled by people in the developing world (most cookstoves are inside the house and have no chimneys), reduce the amount of wood being consumed by cookstoves, and reduce the number of burns on family members (the outside of these new stoves don't get hot). Since we had just inhaled a fair amount of smoke from cookstoves, we could see the beauty of these stoves, although they are so different from the long narrow, counter-height adobe cookstoves that also provide a large area for resting pots and keeping food warm, it will take some work to persuade many Nicaraguan cooks to use them.
After that it was back to Kairos (where we began our journey) where we ate dinner (yes, chicken stew) and spent the evening trying to stuff all the pots we'd bought into our suitcases. This year I brought a bigger suitcase but I still had to leave behind my sheet and towel (which the hostel at Kairos can certainly use) in order to get everything in. Then I sought out the brigadistas who were not leaving with me at dawn the next morning and we exchanged hugs and promises to email. It was especially sad to say goodbye to Maritza, our Nicaraguan brigadista, since my Spanish is so limited that I was unable to tell her how much I had learned from her. So we just sat on the bed hugging each other and crying a bit. Even though I hadn't been a tourist in the usual sense, without fluency in their language I would never be able to get to know these people. (Yes, I have enrolled in more Spanish lessons!)