Volunteering at the Mariposa, or, A Recipe for Stone Soup
By Hannah Wallerstein
Photo credit to Alice Stafford
In my second week volunteering at La Mariposa, my volunteer mentor, Pedro Cerda Bustos, told me a story I want to share. We were going door to door talking with families about a community day-care program Pedro is helping to develop. While waiting for one family to fill out paper work, Pedro picked up a rock and grinned. “Quires sopa de piedras?”
Do I want stone soup? I thought I had misunderstood (an experience quite common to my language learning process). Soup made of stones? He grinned again and nodded, telling me an old folk tale about stone soup.
It goes like this: travelers come to a starving village needing food. They are refused, so they put water in a pot with a stone, and tell curious townsfolk that they were making a delicacy called stone soup. People are interested in trying it, so they offer to contribute ingredients needed until an actually edible soup is made and enjoyed by all. The story was a joke between us the rest of my time.
Stone soup is, of course, a tale of scarcity, something all too pertinent in Nicaragua, where American-backed wars, debt restrictions, and free-trade agreements have left it the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere. But there is another level of meaning, which I am now gleaning. The ingredients for a food that could feed all already existed in the story. But it wasn’t through charity that the soup could be made. It was only when the townspeople understood the travelers as having something to offer them, that working together became possible.
Such is La Mariposa’s philosophy of volunteering. Upon arriving, you have a conversation with Paulette about what interests you. Based on that, the two of you work together to figure out which project makes the most sense. There is no illusion of selflessness — the work is explicitly meeting both community and personal needs from the jump.
I was placed with Pedro, who titles himself a community leader, worker for community development, and helper of poor families and children from the community. In my time with Pedro I built a fence, learned about structures being implemented in La Concha to support community development, attended a government-backed community organizing meeting (something foreign to my American self!), heard story after story of la revolucion and proceeding Contra- years, discussed the current political context in Nicaragua, the United States and the World, and envisioned collectively what solidarity could look like. Pedro took me to his home, introduced me to his family, brought me to the local Sandanista office to talk with local officials. I shared with Pedro the work I do back in the US, problems we run into with governmental structures, my thoughts on Obama. He became one of my closest friends at La Mariposa, and in my first month back we have already exchanged letters.
Put simply, Pedro and I made great soup and a recipe I will keep with me for a long time. I strongly recommend you make your own version while here.