Thursday, August 30, 2007

Most boring entry yet.

No pictures, sorry. It´s going to be a boring entry. But as for an update, I can tell the story of my Close of Service Conference.

First of all, it takes place in an all-inclusive resort. As you all know, nothing about my service thus far has been all-inclusive. Nothing. No part is soft and cushiony, cool and relaxed, nor tastey and indulging. Nor is it very comfortable at times, but it feels right none-the-less in a very strange sort of way (probably because I`ve been doing it for the past 2 years). Now, take a group of people living like myself and place them in the pinnacle of luxury and what do you get? Initial smiles followed quickly by comments like, ¨Well, the food isn`t all THAT great.¨ ¨The pool is awfully chlorinated.¨ ¨I feel like I´m gonna puke, I ate so much ice cream.¨ ¨The ocean looks like this place´s sewage tank.¨ ¨I think the air conditioning is giving me a cold.¨ ¨The down comfortors make me sweat at night.¨

Do these sound like happy people to you? There we were living the ¨American Dream¨ if I may use the cliché despite being in Nicaragua, and nobody was any happier than they were living in their 2-room houses, some with dirt floor, pigs living in the back yard, no privacy, hot tin roofs, sleeping on hard beds under mosquito nets, and eating a less-than-ideal diets. So while many people would disagree, I say give me a tent and a backpack any day and I´ll have a great vacation. I´ll pass on the all-inclusive-resort (be it on land or a boat).

Making the ¨vacation¨ even more disappointing was the fact that we were in meetings from 8am-5pm. The meetings didn´t do much more than stress me out about going home. How am I going to say goodbye to people I´ve been living with for the past 2 years who I may never see again other than during 2-week vacations every few years? How am I going to get rid of all my stuff, and what of it do I give away or sell, and to who? What job will I get when I go home? Where will I live after the initial stay with my parents? How will I explain to loved ones what these past 2 years have meant to me? And when they ask ¨How was the Peace Corps?¨ and expect a four-word answer? Then what do I say?

With all these questions going through my head, I`m having a hard time focusing on the reports I still have to write, the classes I still have to give, and the visits I still have to make to other volunteers. Wish me luck as I try to live as much in the moment without suffocating in the stress that seems to want to over-take me! Hopefully I can keep this updated with pictures, but if not, look for me on US soil, and ask to see my pictures. You´ll become my instant best friend!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Busy, Busy, Busy!

So much has happened since I last wrote! Mother´s day here in Nicaragua came and went with large celebrations in the school. In preparation, we made piñatas:

Then the kids celebrated their mothers by inviting those said mothers to a lunch at the school where they read poems, played games, and danced!! Here are some pictures of the cuties:

Then after all that excitement, I went to the southern part of the country to visit a friend from college and her roommate who came up to Nicaragua after doing some Biology research in Costa Rica. It was great seeing them and catching up after 2 years of not seeing each other! Here we are in Granada:

Only a few weeks after, my mom and her friend, Jeanne came for a visit! Both she and Jeanne did some work in my site (a workshop on starting up your own business, and preschool literacy ideas), and then we went on a mini vacation to Masaya and Granada. Jeanne was only able to stay about a week, but my mom was here for nearly a month! Besides hanging out in my site, visiting, and doing laundry by hand (Mom´s favorite part), we attended a wedding of a volunteer and her Nicaraguan boyfriend, did quite a bit of hiking, visited places new to the both of us, and talked- a LOT! One interesting hike was to the top of a mountain near my place where we tried hard not to get blown off the top. It was windy!! Here´s my mom trying hard to look like she´s enjoying the experience:

We had such a great time, and it was hard not to want to crawl into her suitcase while she was packing. But for now I´m trying to prepare for the beginning of the second semester. I plan on teaching as much as possible during these last few months here since I really don´t have any other projects going on. I´ll try to keep this updated as much as possible!

Hope all are well!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Mrs. Spider

I´m back! I´ll start with April. Holy Week is big here in Nicaragua and nobody works nor goes to school. So I decided to take a vacation, too! Part was spent in my site. On Wednesday I went with a group of people from my site to a river a couple of hours away (one of the few that hasn´t dried up), where we spent most the day swimming. It was a beautiful place.

Afterwards we went to a nearby farm (owned by the father of one of the girls in the group) and ate a whole shmorgasboard of Nicaraguan food including different roots (potatoes, yucca, malanga, and quiquisque), tortillas, plantains, tamales, and cooked chickens that had previously been running out back that morning; no part is wasted- I actually got a chunk of the skull. It all tasted great after not eating breakfast that morning and swimming all day!

The rest of the week through Easter weekend was spent in Boaco and Managua with Raina, a volunteer living about an hour from me, and Megan, an ex-volunteer now working in the capital. On Easter we got dressed up and went out to an Easter buffet at the fanciest hotel in Managua. They had everything from sushi to lobster to a desert buffet large enough to put anybody in a sugar coma. I was in non-rice-and-beans heaven. Here Megan, Raina, and I are outside of Megan´s apartment dressed up and ready to go:

And here´s a great picture of Bandido, Megan´s new puppy waiting with us patiently for the bus in a bed only a US citizen would buy for an animal (but doesn´t he look comfy?):

The rest of April was busy and flew by. The final week I had my final In Service Training with my group. It was great seeing them again, and afterwards I traveled with a few of them visiting sites in the Northern parts of Nicaragua that I had not been to yet. It made me realize how important it is to visit with other volunteers while I´m here as it really is the best way to get to know the ¨forgotten corners¨ of Nicaragua where the tourists don´t go. I´m going to try to get in as much travelling as the Peace Corps allows me during the rest of my time here. Can you believe I only have 6 more months left??

One more picture I want to share with you. This is my neighbor, Mrs. Spider, who made her home right outside my window. I never met her husband, but I figure she probably ate him. By the time I got back from my trip up north, she had died, but about 5 of her children had comfortably moved into my room. I felt bad for killing the descendents of such a peaceful neighbor, but they had effectively made it hard to get into my bed! So I dedicate this blog to Mrs. Spider. May she rest in peace and not curse me from her grave for playing God.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Hey everyone!
I´ve disappeared off the face of this earth as far as my blog is concerned. I guess I was waiting for some good pictures to put up, but I should write even when there´s not much to show. Things have been busy. I only come into Boaco to use the computer about once a week. But the nice thing is that I´ve been staying with Raina (another volunteer) almost every Sunday night and then returning to my site on Monday which gives me a much-needed break from my own house!

I´ve been enjoying work a lot. Work has been almost exclusively restricted to within the schools. I decided to do something about the horrible excuse they have for literacy here, and teamed up with the Spanish teacher at the local high school. Even though my time is supposed to be restricted to working with 3rd-6th grades, I´m helping out with the 1st years (which translates into 7th grade in the States). I only just started, but the goal is to increase their reading comprehension and their writing skills (their spelling is atrocious). The first class was pretty much a bomb, but in all the right ways. I now know that their reading comprehension was WAY worse than I ever imagined, and that they´re far below a 4th grade reading level. So at least I know where to start with them. Hopefully the next class will go a little more smoothly.
Wish me luck!

As for my work with the 3rd-6th grades, it´s pretty sporadic. I´ve been putting more of an emphasis on reading comprehension while trying to stay on the topic of ¨Saving the Environment.¨ It´s been a success mostly- the kids love being read to- but it´s not exactly following my job description. But hey, what are they gonna do, fire me?

The most regular class I give at the primary schools is with a multi-grade class in a school about a half hour away from me by bus. We do arts and crafts projects once a week using ¨garbage¨ or materials that are cheap/free. For example, they made boats out of the shell of a seed pod that they call the Devil´s Penis. Despite the fact that I have a hard time hearing the kids using these words freely during school hours, I have to admit that the name makes sense. The outside of the seed pod is full of really sharp spines. So the boats have a spiny bottom and a little stick with a hand-drawn Nicaraguan flag sticking out the top. Then we used seeds and hand-made beads made out of magazine paper to make some pretty cool-lookin´ necklaces, if I do say so myself! Here´s a picture of us all showing off some of our work:

I´m not sure if I´ve mentioned this yet, but the water situation here has been horrible. It didn´t rain much last rainy season, and this dry season has been disastrous. The wells are drying up, springs that once gushed water now give none, and most rivers are bone dry. We do have potable water (is potable a word in English?), but so little has been coming that we only use it for drinking. In order to ¨shower¨ (aka: bucket bathe) and wash clothes, we have to find outside sources. About a quarter mile from where we live, there´s a river called Río Grande (Big River), that still has water, but is more of a creek than anything now. Anyway, it´s enough to wash clothes in. So here´s a wonderfully ironic picture of the Environmental Education Volunteer polluting one of the only rivers left in the area (along with my host mom, neighbor, and neighbor´s son):

As Semana Santa (Holy Week) approaches, I look forward to a break from work. There´s no school all week nor the following Monday after Easter (people really know how to celebrate here), and so I plan on leaving town. I don´t yet know where I´ll be going, but I plan on taking lots of pictures so here´s to hoping I post a new blog sooner rather than later!

Happy Easter!!!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Rodeos and More!

At the beginning of February before I really got into the swing of work, I went to visit Celine, another volunteer, in her site. They were in the midst of celebrating their Fiestas Patronales (losely translated Patron Saint Day). They happen to have 2 Patron Saints so they get to celebrate twice a year in February and August! This time around the fiesta was tainted by a death at the beginning of the week of one of the well-known farm owners in town. Out of respect, another farmer who was supposed to loan all his famous bulls for the rodeo that Friday, pulled out- leaving the fiesta organizers scrambling to find more bulls to ride. They found them, but they were small and rather tame making the rodeo less exciting than usual.

But that, of course, didn´t stop Celine and I from getting all dolled up and making our appearance with Susan, another volunteer. We were making fun of ourselves and decided we had to get a picture of the rediculousness. Susan was kind enough to take a picture of Celine and me:

Try downloading this video of the rodeo and let me know if you can watch it (email me at

Other than visiting volunteers and watching rodeos, my time has been occupied by work. Finally! I´m enjoying work for the most part, though it has a constant depressing undertone to it. I have been attending a lot of meetings lately, and there´s always a part of it that gets under my skin. The lack of organization is most of it. At the last meeting the teachers held for the parents of their students, the teachers actually got into a cat fight right in front of them! No pulling hair or scratching with nails, but they were pretty darn close!! And then a week later at a teacher-only meeting with the director of the 12 schools, the high school spanish teacher stood up and said that her freshmen were having trouble reading. She gave them a literacy test, and most of them scored 3, 4, or 5 out of 40!! What really made me want to scream was the fact that the director simply scolded the elementary teachers for not doing their job, and then moved on to the next topic of conversation. These people don´t need to be scolded, they need to be fired!!

Then, to make matters only worse, the Ministry of Education of the department of Boaco told my director that there are not enough students in the classrooms at the base school just down the road from me. Each grade has about 23-26 students in it, and in order to be able to afford the teachers´ salary, there has to be around 40-50 students per teacher. So just last week, they fired one of the teachers and put 3rd and 4th grade together in one classroom. That poor teacher now has around 50 students in two different grades! I´m SURE literacy rates will just boom after that move.

So as you can see, there´s not a whole lot I can do for the real problems in my town. I can help the teachers make some of their lessons a little more dynamic and fun for the kids, but if they really want thier kids to learn they need to majorly reconstruct the entire education system of this country. And stop laundering money. That would probably help, too.

To end on a happier note, I went to visit a family who used to live in my neighborhood. They now live about 15 minutes walking distance outside of town, and invited me to see their new-born calf. They taught me that in order to milk the cow, you have to trick her into thinking that you´re the calf, so they tie the poor little thing to her leg while the milk her. A part of me really doubts that the cow is that dumb, but who am I to judge? This is a picture of Nevardo, one of the sons, milking the cown while the very unhappy calf looks on:

One more happy note is that one of my neighbors, Yasser, turned 1 last week! He has a special place in my heart since he´s actually newer to my town than I am!! So I bought him a birthday outfit and we had a photo session. My favorite photo was this one:

Well, that´s all I have for now! I´m really hoping to update this site more often, but work has kept me all-too busy! Have a great week everyone!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Teacher Workshops

We´ve finally finished! Teacher workshops, all 6 of them, have been completed with only a minor problem in Teustepe when only 4 of the 50 teacher invited showed up. We found out later that somehow the invitation didn´t make it out to all of them and so we ended up inviting random teachers that had shown up to the school that day to work. It was one of the largest turnouts we had! Here are some pictures from the last 2 weeks:

Me at the beginning of the last workshop:

Here we all at the last workshop looking very happy to be done!
Back row: Ben, Jennie, Elliott, Raina
Front row: Ryan, Jocelyn, me

Hanging out during the introduction at the beginning of the workshop in Boaco (Raina, Jocelyn, me, Elliott, and Ben):

The last workshop happened to be in Santa Lucia, Elliott`s site, and quite possibly the most beautiful site in all of the department of Boaco. After the workshop, Ryan, Ben and I stayed an extra night and all 4 of us went on a hike to the top of one of the nearby peaks (Sta Lucia is set in a crater of a very old volcano causing it to be surrounded by rocky peaks). Elliott took this shot of me and Ben once we reached the top:

It was an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day, and we didn´t want to head back down after climbing all that way! Here Ben and I are again hanging out, getting a sunburn:

Of course, we had to play around with the camera for a bit. Here´s Elliott pinching his town making him quite possibly the most powerful person in Santa Lucía:

That´s all I have time for today! I´ll add more once my schedule calms down a bit. School just started a couple of weeks ago, and I´m trying to get my projects up and off the ground. Wish me luck and check back in in a week or so!

Monday, January 15, 2007


Upon return to Nicaragua, I´ve been keeping myself busy by daily readying myself for the teacher workshops that all the volunteers in the department of Boaco (8 of us) will be participating in. However, I took last Saturday off since my host dad´s siblings came over to, well, kill a pig.

It´s tradition here in Nicaragua to kill a pig for whatever celebratory reason be it a birthday, Christmas, graduation, etc. Far from a pig roast, every inch of the pig is used in a variety of ways from making chicharón (fried pig fat) to pig-bone soup. My host family had planned on killing this doomed beast for New Years but decided to wait until the 13th since not every sibling could make it over the holidays. Which meant that I got a fantastic lesson in Nicaraguan cooking with the emphasis on the laborious nacatamale (which were made right in my own kitchen).

As many of you may know, a tamale according to Mexican tradition is a mass of ground up corn stuffed with meat (you choose the animal), wrapped in corn husk, and boiled. The nacatamale is similar in the sense that it is based in ground up corn, wrapped, and boiled, but everything else is quite different.

First of all, the ground up corn is mixed with liquified green pepper, onion, LOTS of garlic, LOTS of manteca (liquid pig fat), and achote (a red seed used for coloring more than flavor). Instead of corn husks, banana leaves are used to wrap the contents. So... you start with a boiled banana leaf (it bends easier), lay it out flat, pile on the ground corn, and then the following ingredients are piled on top: pig ribs, subcutaneous pig fat (optional), potato slices, tomato slice, green pepper, mint leaves, onion slices, and raw rice to soak up the juices. Here are my host mom, Doña Elia, and her niece adding ingredients:
The nacatamale before being wrapped up:

Once all ingredients are on, you wrap it up and tie it with another type of leaf that strips into strong, rope-like pieces to keep water out while boiling:

Then you put all of those handy little meals (we made 70 of them off of one pig), in a large pot of boiling water over fire and cook for 5 hours. Here´s my host mom again in our kitchen boiling banana leaves and preparing the pot for the wrapped nacatamales:

The end result was a hot, artery-clogging meal that they claim is much better the morning after for breakfast since cooking all night gives the flavors a chance to mix more thoroughly.

Other new developments in my house include the family´s dog, Lili (mother of my dog, Nico), slowly turning into a cat. She´s killed 3 mice since I´ve been back! She´s never sure what to do with them after killing them, but makes sure that Nico doesn´t get close to her prize:

I´ll hopefully have some pictures of the teacher workshops up here soon. We are in some danger that the new Sandinista government and all the changes its bringing into the education system will cancel some of the workshops, but we´re moving forward as if all signs say go. Wish us luck and check back in a couple of weeks!

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Getting ready to go back.

Deceiving though the title of this blog page may be, it's the best I could come up with. I actually am more than half-way done with my Peace Corps service. With 11 months to go, I had been out of the United States for 16 months living in rural Nicaragua when I came home to visit for the holidays a couple weeks back. One would think reverse culture shock would've taken its hold, but I actually transitioned back into States-side living a little too well. There were the typical initial shocks: watching people walk out of Starbucks with coffees the size of my head, eating a salad large enough for 3 meals, etc., but once at home, I was more relaxed than I had been in, well, 16 months. As a parting (and very liberating) gesture before I go back to Nicaragua, I donated 11 inches of my hair to Locks of Love (Google it- the link wasn't working for me).
Of course, I had to take the before and after pictures:

Kindly ignore the fact that I look drugged in this picture.

Yay! Look how happy and not-drugged I am!

So in a couple of days I'll be heading back, and though I'm nervous, I'm pretty excited to get back to my host family, my friends, and of course, my dog. I have a number of projects lined up- the first of which will be a collaborative effort with all the volunteers in my department (we're a small group at 8). We'll be giving one teacher workshop in each of our sites to 50 teachers in the area on a variety of topics ranging all the way from First Aid in the classroom (done by a Health volunteer) to creative fundraising and budgeting (done by a Small Business volunteer). By the end of January, we hope to have finished all 8 workshops so that when school starts in February, we're free to start our own projects within our sites.

So enjoy the new website! I hope to have a lot more pictures and maybe even videos to make the words just that more interesting.