Further north the highway used to wind through a valley, crossing back and forth across a small stream. That stream, which in summer barely exists, had become a raging river, hauling down huge trees and washing away houses. Worse, in terms of transportation, were the rivulets that come down from the hills, which had cut huge chunks out of the highway. Where the road was not covered in feet of mud from a landslide, it had been eaten away by the river. Every half kilometer or so the road would end abruptly in a giant ravine. We crept along, crossing back and forth through the river and winding into the mountains around the ravines. A trip that normally would take 15 minutes took hours. The locals say there is no way the highway can be repaired, that likely it will be rebuilt somewhere else. They're probably right.
When we got to Dipilto two of the promotoras and I passed out our packages of food to women who had walked miles to collect them. We sorted through all the food, trying to make equitable packages. I was useful because I could explain the contents of all the mysterious foodstuffs labeled in English and make sure that the canned dog and cat food was removed from the other canned food. They teased me about all the weird food we eat, and while the peanut butter, canned lentils, and applesauce made me long for a U.S. grocery store, the canned Chef Boyardee spaghetti made my stomach turn, thinking of the poor campesinos who would wonder about the diet of those funny foreigners.
After spending the night in Dipilto we went further up the highway on foot to a cooperative where many Cenzontle participants lived. It is at the bottom of the valley and had been completely inundated, many buildings washed away and the remaining ones filled with feet of mud. There were still people there, living in the buildings left standing, cleaning out, determined to rebuild.
I survived the journey, although I don't know what will become of Dipilto. It seems impossible that they will be able to repair the damage done to the highway, which was once the main route in and out of Nicaragua to the north. Doubtless things will be rerouted on some other road, but life in Dipilto will never be the same.
Since that trip, things have begun to return to normal, although for many the standard of living has dropped even further. The people most affected by the whole disaster were already the poorest and most invisible, the majority from rural areas. Many NGOs such as Cenzontle continue to deliver emergency aid, and substantial progress has been made in reconstructing roads and bridges and repairing water and power lines. At Reed, the community service office coordinated a donation collection that is being used to help two single-parent families repair damages done to their homes by the storm.