This seems to be the question of the week. Each day this week, we´ve had to say goodbye to more and more people. We always get the same question: so when are you coming back? The only answer I can give is I have no idea, but I hope it´s soon. The more people I say goodbye to, the more I realize how many people I´ve gotten to know this summer.

My main jobs this summer have been doing two solar oven construction workshops and interviewing 50% of the women who have solar ovens so that FUPROSOMUNIC can evaluate the whether or not the women are using the ovens and what changes should be made to the project. In the construction workshops, we worked with groups of women to build solar ovens. Each woman gets to take home her oven at the end of the workshop. Through these workshops, we got to know two different communities of women, one in Catarina and one in a very poor community called Monte Horet. Although the basic ideas were the same, the workshops ran very differently. The first one was much more disorganized, and there was a lot of tension between the women running it. At the beginning, a few of the women from Catarina only showed up a few times. By the end it was definitely going better, with women showing up on a daily basis. In Monte Horet, however, the experience was completely different. Almost all of the women were there all of the time, willing to learn and work, and the coordinators seemed to have put aside their differences and seemed to be enjoying working together. Everything was run in a much more efficient manner. Towards the end of the workshop, Mercedes, the director of the organization, asked us how we thought the workshop was going. When we told her it was going really well, she told us a large part of that was because she had had a meeting with the women and told them the suggestions we had made to her after the first workshop. It was really cool to learn that our suggestions had actually really made a difference.

Yesterday, Amanda and I went to visit the women in Monte Horet. It was great to visit; they seemed really excited to see us. Although only about three out of the ten of them have tried out their solar ovens (it´s been raining a lot…), but they all seemed to have them covered in their houses to protect them from the rain. We sat and talked to one woman, whose house was only about 12 feet by 12 feet. Despite this, the solar oven got a prominent spot inside so that it wouldn´t get damaged.

The three weeks of interviews I did really showed me the good, the bad and the ugly of the solar oven project. We encountered one woman who claimed that the “the women who actually manage to cook anything with them must have three to make it work.” Although this was a rare extreme, it shows the reality that goes with any project like this. There are bound to be women who are not willing to even learn to use the ovens. This is a large part of our job in the interview; to figure out what the problems are with the project. If there are women who are unwilling to give the solar oven a fair chance, their ovens are given to another woman in the community who has a greater interest in the project. For the most part, however, the women really appreciate the ovens. Many spoke about how much money they save for gas and firewood, how nice it is not to breathe smoke every day, and how much more time they have for other things when they can just leave their food cooking in the solar oven.

It´s hard to believe that the summer is almost over. Last night, we had our goodbye dinner with the women from FUPROSOMUNIC. One of them said that she honestly didn´t really want to come because she hates goodbyes because they´re so sad. In some ways it seems like we just got here, and in some ways I´ve become completely accustomed to life in Nicaragua. It will be strange to be back in the US in just over a week. When I get the question about when I´m coming back, I really do wish I had a better answer. I would love to say see you next summer or next year, but who knows if that will be possible. As the women in Monte Horet said to us, however, “even if it takes a while before you can come back, always remember us.” This has definitely been an experience I will never forget.

Katie Clay ’11