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Monday, January 20, 2014

That time I didn't write in my blog for almost 2 months...

Well, I guess it was bound to happen.  I haven't written in my blog since Thanksgiving.  And now it's January.  New year, new (awesome) things happening.  I could make excuses and say I've been really busy, but that'd be a lie.  I'm actually not busy at all.  Just enjoying life in Nicaragua and the school vacation.

The school year finished up the second week of December, and I couldn't have been more ready.  It seemed like less and less actual learning was happening as the school year drew to a close (but that's how it is in the states too).  I listened to the Nicaragua school "promocion" song way too many times to count.  When I was in high school wind ensemble we used to have to play "Pomp and Circumstance" every year at graduation.  "Pomp and Circumstance" is way better than the Nicaraguan promocion song.  Especially because the sound system is usually awful.  Anyway, I went to a total of 4 promociones.  2 in my school in town (preschool and 6th grade), one at my rural school (combined preschool and 6th grade), and the high school graduation ceremony in town (because my host sister graduated.)  Promociones were way more fun this year because I got to see my own students, who I worked with all year, graduate from 6th grade.  I sat on stage and helped give out the diplomas, and took pictures with some of the kids after the ceremony was over.  My rural school promotion was short and sweet, with just 10 or so kids graduating (only 2 of which were 6th graders.)  I'm hoping both of those students keep studying and head on to the instituto (secondary school) next year.  Many students in communities don't continue with their education and instead help out their families, most of which work in agriculture.  Just finishing 6th grade, as a student from a small community, is an accomplishment that is highly celebrated.  I was so proud of my 2 sixth graders!  And, last but not least, my sister's high school graduation....which was the longest of all.  Luckily it was a block from my house, so I was able to go home in the middle to change my uncomfortable shoes and hang out for a little while.  I snapped some pictures of her, and helped out at the party that we had for her at the house after.  I helped serve up the food, but also got to enjoy some of the rum later on in the night.

Preschoolers are always adorable, but even more so when they're all dolled up!

With my 2 Sixth graders in Valerio

6th graders in La Concordia

With one of my best students, who won 2nd place nationwide in the "best student" competition!
Seydi graduating from high school

Then, on December 20th, I headed home for Christmas!   With a quick stop the day before to the artisan market in Masaya to buy some gifts and a visit to my training host family in Niquinohomo, I made it home to celebrate Christmas with my family.  Being home was fun and overwhelming at the same time.  It's hard walking back into people's lives after being gone for so long.  There's a lot less you have in common, a lot less to talk about, and many things have changed.  Overall, I enjoyed my trip, but by the last couple of days I was ready to come back.  I felt a little bit bad about it, but I have a family, friends, a community, and work here in Nicaragua.  And feeling excited to come back just helped me realize how much I better take advantage of every minute I have left here!
Enjoying time with friends at home

I came back on January 1st, and had a few days to hang out in La Concordia until my parents arrived for a visit on the 7th.  We traveled to Granada and Masaya before they came to visit my site and meet my host family.  Then we stayed a night in Jinotega and finished out our trip in Leon and at the beach.  It was a nice vacation, but a little stressful for me with all of the translating and navigating that I had to do since my parents rented a car.  Overall, I know my parents enjoyed their trip, and it was nice to show them around a country that I've grown to love so much.

After saying goodbye to my parents at the airport, I headed back to my site, but only for one night.  My PC group had an in-service training the next day at the Selva Negra, a coffee farm and resort about 2 hours away from where I live.  Each volunteer brought teachers that they will be working with this year to receive trainings.  In addition, I brought one of my best co-teachers to help me lead a session about co-planning and co-teaching.  Often volunteers have trouble getting their counterpart teachers to share the responsibilities and understand what working with a volunteer entails.  I think Profe Maritza and I did a good job of clearing it up.  We'll see what everyone says once the school year gets started.

So, after being gone for a week with my parents, followed by 2 nights at the Selva Negra, I am finally at home and really just hanging out.  I've gone to the pool a couple times, but mostly I'm just relaxing and gearing up for the school year, which starts on the 11th or 12th (or so I've been told).  I'm working on planning a short little day camp for the kids in town, just 4 days, 3 hours each day.  I'm enlisting the help of friends from my PC group and other volunteers that live close.  The camp is next week, so I'll try to post pictures and hopefully I won't go so long without blogging this time!

Thanks for reading!
Oh yeah, did I mention I spend a significant portion of my free time hanging out with this adorable 6 month old?!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Well, I think it’s time again for the annual “what I’m thankful for” blog post.  Last year everything was timed nicely so that my whole training group got to eat Thanksgiving Dinner at the Peace Corps Country Director’s house the night before our swearing-in ceremony.  This year, I will be enjoying a turkey sandwich in a nearby city, celebrating the fact that I am done teaching for this year, and school’s out ‘til February!  Here we go with the thankfulness:
  • ·      I am thankful for my host family.  They make me laugh, make me food, and treat me like another part of the family.  My host siblings like to tell people I’m their sister, and my host mom once said to my host dad when I came home from being away for the weekend, “Your oldest daughter is home.”  I have an excellent living situation, which is something that can really make or break your Peace Corps service. 
  • ·      I am thankful for my host niece.  Because you can’t help but smile when you’re hanging out with an adorable 5-month-old.  And when she stays over, she pretty much always sleeps through the night, which is excellent for me because she sleeps in the room next to mine.
  • ·      I am incredibly thankful for my Peace Corps friends.  It’s hard for anyone who is not here living this crazy experience to really understand what we’re going through.  The friendships I’ve formed with these people are deeper than most others, and I wouldn’t have made it this far without their funny texts, shoulders to cry on, encouraging words, and the adventures we’ve had together.
  • ·      I’m thankful for my family and friends back home.  Though we don’t talk often, I’d like to think they’re thinking about me every once in awhile, and I know they’ve got my back.  And I’m so grateful for the opportunity to come home for Christmas and New Years (thanks mom and dad!)
  • ·      Last but not least, this year has not been an easy one for me, and I can tell you that on December 31st, I am more than happy to say goodbye to 2013 once and for all.  However, I have learned to be grateful for difficult moments.  While we’re going through them, they may seem like the worst thing ever, but in this past year I have learned how strong of a person I actually am, and I know now that I can get through whatever challenge is thrown my way.  For that, I am thankful.

So, enjoy your turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie.  I’ll be here in Nicaragua taking a 90-minute bus ride just to enjoy a turkey sandwich and a beer.  And maybe some ice cream for dessert.  I didn’t want to be cliché and write about how living in a developing country has made me thankful for things like always having food on the table, running water, a roof over my head, etc.  But keep in mind those things tomorrow.  We have a lot to be thankful for.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Miraflor and Halloween!

Last weekend I had 3 of my fellow Nica 60 volunteers come visit me at my site.  They live in Rivas (south of Managua), so it was a long trip for them, but I'm so glad they came.  I love having people visit, and we also took an overnight trip to Miraflor Nature Reserve, which was a much needed retreat.

After showing my friends around my site (the 10-15 minute tour, it's a small town), we headed out on the bus to Esteli.  We got a bite to eat, found the UCA Miraflor office where we got a map and paid for our stay, and then headed back to the bus station to get on the noon bus to Miraflor.  It was a 2 hour bumpy ride on the bus, and then we got out of the bus at a fork in the road and had to walk a couple of kilometers to get to the place where we were staying, Finca Fuente de Vida.  Miraflor is basically a huge protected nature reserve which used to have lots of deforestation, but ecotourism has stopped this and given the residents an alternative way to earn money.  You can read more about Miraflor here.  We stayed in the highest zone of the reserve, in the cloud forests.

We arrived at Fuente de Vida after traversing some muddy dirt roads and huge puddles.  After opening the front gate, we followed the path through beautiful gardens.  Lunch was waiting for us, and then we headed out to explore.  Going to Miraflor during the rainy season probably wasn't the best idea, but we brought our umbrellas and went out to walk around, trying to find our way to a waterfall that we had heard about.  We made it to the waterfall, but it started to rain harder and it was going to get dark soon, so we decided to head back.  We made it back just as it got too dark to see, and, once again, our food was waiting for us.  I should mention that the climate in the cloud forest isn't only wet but also COLD (relatively speaking, for Nicaragua).  After changing into warm, dry clothes, eating dinner, and drinking lots of hot tea, we hung out laughing and chatting under blankets in our room.  The next morning we had breakfast and had wanted to go out explore some more, but, once again, it was raining.  We hung out close by, walked down to the bus stop, and caught the bus back to Esteli.  The bus was crowded, and I ended up standing up the whole 2 bumpy hours.  In Esteli, I said goodbye to my amigas and headed back to my site.  It was a great, relaxing trip, and I'm already planning a trip back to see more of the reserve.

In my site, before leaving for Miraflor
path and gardens at Finca Fuente de Vida

exploring the cloud forest

On a whim, I decided to try celebrating Halloween here in my site.  Halloween is not typically celebrated in Nicaragua, although it has become more popular in recent years.  Most people call Halloween "Dia de Brujas" (Witches' Day), so it took some explaining to teach the kids (and teachers) that Halloween is really just a day that kids dress up in costumes and get candy, nada mas.  I made the decision a couple of days beforehand and put up a sign at the school that the kids could come to my house on Halloween in costume and I would give them candy.  Needless to say, it caught on, and I ended up with LOTS of kids, mostly in costume.  Kids here get pushy for candy, but I think everyone got some.  I had grabbed an ayote from my garden in my rural school, which looked just like a little green pumpkin, and I carved it and lit a candle inside.  My host family also had a dried out gourd-container that I drew a face on, and my host mom brought me a plastic jack o'lantern from Jinotega.  I bought like 10 bags of candy and made a sign telling the kids that they had to say, "trick or treat," to get their candy.  

Kids came in little by little, and I gave out candy, took pictures, and everyone hung out in the street outside of my house.  We decided to do a little halloween parade, and we walked down to the park and around back up to my house.  Despite kids getting pushy for the candy, I think everyone enjoyed it, and now has a better understanding of what Halloween is.  Afterwards, I watched a report about Halloween on the news in which multiple religious figures talked about how awful and diabolical it is.  Hopefully I was able to teach those in my town that it's actually a harmless, fun holiday.  Everyone had a great time! (see Facebook for more Halloween pictures!)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Hmmm.... what have I been doing?

I need to start blogging more often.  My last post was from September 5th, our one-year anniversary of being in Nicaragua.  And now, we're coming up on our one year in-site anniversary in a little over a month.  Crazy stuff.

General consensus from my fellow Nica 60 environment volunteers is that we are ready for the school year to be over.  We've learned a lot this school year, and at this point are tired and ready for a nice long school vacation.  Almost all of the other volunteers from my group are heading home to the states for Christmas/New Years, so they have begun their countdown.  Some claim to be making lists already of things to do/buy/eat while they're home.  Because I went home in May, I'm going to be spending another Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years away from home.  However, I'm going to be having some visitors in December and January, so I'll be taking vacation, just not in the states.  I haven't begun the countdown yet, but I'm sure I will soon.

Work has been nothing special.  My gardens have all kind of stopped producing or become overrun by weeds or had all of the vegetables stolen by neighbors or plants ripped out by kids.  In the schools I've been focusing on science classes, co-planning and co-teaching.  I've got a good rhythm going with a few of my profes, and the kids look forward to the days that I come in.

In September, because of Independence Day and giving some training sessions in Managua for the new group, I feel like I barely spent any time in the school.

Here are some highlights since my last post:

Celebrating one year in-country with some Nica 60 friends in Leon.  Ate some yummy, non-Nicaraguan food and went to the beach.  Also got to celebrate my birthday a few days late with some good friends

I opted out of this year's Independence Day celebrations and took a weekend trip to the Laguna de Apoyo- a huge, beautiful lake near Masaya and Granada.  I used my birthday money (thanks mom and dad!) to spend a few days there.  Relaxed, went swimming, and had a great time.

2 of the trainees from the new group came up to visit me for a few days.  Trainees do a visit to current volunteers in order to see a new place and learn more about what the daily life of a volunteer is like.  They came right after Independence Day, so there were a couple of days without class.  We spent one day off climbing up to the cross in Jinotega and they helped me co-plan and observed my classes in my rural school.  It was kind of funny answering all of their questions and seeing how fascinated they were by small things like the wood stove my host mom cooks on and some big avocados that we bought across the street.

I gave a training session to the new volunteers at the end of September.  Got to hang out  with some other volunteers from my group.  We had a lot of laughs hanging around the Peace Corps office, ate Papa Johns pizza and saw a movie (pizza is a big deal).

On October 4th there was a big celebration here.  Why do we celebrate October 4th?  Well, La Concordia celebrates the birth and death of General Benjamin Zeledon (strangely, he was born and died on the 4th of October).  The day before, there was a "carnaval" at the school where I work, which is named after General Zeledon.  The kids showed up in crazy costumes and we paraded around town.  On the 4th, there was a parade with the bands from here in La Concordia and some from neighboring towns.  In the park, each band performed with their scantily-clad dancers and there were also musical groups and impersonators.  There were tons of people, even more than the fiestas patronales back in February.  I was glad that I got to see the band presentations because I had missed them on Independence Day.  At night, there was a party in the recraeativo, and those are always interesting.
carnaval costumes

gross carnival costumes- apparently made with paint, flour, water, and rice. 

dancers from the primary school where I work, marching in the parade on October 4th

Next up...4 friends from my group are coming to visit me in a couple of weeks.  We are hopefully taking an overnight trip into the Miraflor Nature Reserve in Esteli.

That's all for now!  Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

It’s Not All Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows

It’s my birthday, I can cry if I want to

Someone from Peace Corps once told me, “If you have a great day, write about it on your blog.  If you have a bad day, write about it in your journal.”  That’s a nice rule, but then my blog will be misrepresenting my experience here.  Does every class go great?  Am I happy every day?  Do projects always go smoothly?  Does the garden always grow?  No, no, no.

Today marks one year since we arrived in Nicaragua.  No matter what we’ve done in this first year, it’s an accomplishment in itself that we’ve made it this far.  Some others who started out in our training group with us a year ago today didn’t make it to the one year mark; whether for personal, medical, or family reasons they had to make the difficult decision to head back home and not finish their service.  Just making it one year is an accomplishment.

Yesterday was my birthday.  I had a great morning at work at my rural school.  The students sang me songs and we had a little dance party.  It was impromptu and heartfelt, and the kids and I really enjoyed it.  Then I came home from class.

I’ve found that when I have too much time alone, to much time to think, that’s when it’s the toughest.  I start to think about the fact that I’m 25 and still haven’t started my career, I think about my friends at home and all of the things I’m missing out on, I think about how I would be celebrating my birthday if I was there instead of here.  You don’t know boredom until you’ve been in the Peace Corps.  In the last year, and in my time in Honduras, that’s one thing I’ve definitely learned—how to be bored and be okay with it, to embrace it and not let it overwhelm me.  Yesterday afternoon I was bored.  And it was my birthday.  And I was sad.  And pretty homesick.

What was I expecting?  I don’t really know.  My host family here hasn’t ever done anything big to celebrate people’s birthdays.  It was just a regular afternoon.  I washed all my clothes, stopped by the school to plan with one of my teachers, watched some Netflix, and spent some time feeling sorry for myself.

If there’s anything that has made me grow over the past year, it’s my ability to pick myself up after days like yesterday.  To acknowledge “yeah, that was rough.”  And then remind myself, “and now it’s over.”  Peace Corps service is a rollercoaster. 

My parents sent me a calendar in the mail, and I use it to write down important things that I have going on, but even more importantly, at the end of each day, I take a Sharpie and put a big X through the day that is ending.  At first I thought that this was a bad tradition for me to have, that it seemed too much like I was counting down the days until my service is over.  But then I realized how therapeutic it is sometimes, after a hard day, to put that big X through the date and remember that I’m moving forward and that it’s time to put that day behind me and look ahead to the next one.  Maybe the kids were wild in class and I got frustrated, maybe I felt unproductive and sat and watched movies all day, maybe I worked hard on a lesson and then ended up not having class, maybe it’s rained all day and my clothes didn’t dry…but no matter what happened, I still get to put that big X through the date and it’s done, over, finished.

Happy 1 year in country, Nica 60.  We’ve made it this far, and we’ll make it the next year and three months too.  Birthdays and anniversaries are a great opportunity to look back at the good and the bad of the past year.  To remember how we’ve grown and changed and think about the year to come.  I’ve learned, experienced, and grown so much, and things are always looking up!  Like I said, Peace Corps service is a rollercoaster, and even after the lowest moments, there's always something to look forward to...things always start getting better.  My birthday wasn't the best of days, but I'm leaving tomorrow to Leon with my Nica 60 friends to celebrate 1 year in-country.  And then Luis finishes his volunteer program and I'm going away with him next weekend.  It always gets better!

Monday, September 2, 2013

In Managua.

Before you read this post, please watch this absolutely ridiculous music video...

I've been spending a lot of time in Managua over the past three weeks, which also means that I've been spending very little time in my site/at my schools. 

A couple of weeks ago, I got a phone call from Felix, the new tech trainer for the environment project (although new to our project, Felix is not new to Peace Corps, he used to work for the agriculture project) asking me if I'd be willing to give a charla (training session) to the newest group of volunteers, Nica 62, who arrived in mid-August.  I had been chosen by my supervisors to give the charlas about school gardens, along with Patrick, another volunteer from my group.  It was cool to be chosen, because that means that they were impressed by the gardens that I've done in my site (which, by the way, were my first-ever gardens that I've ever made).  Most volunteers who give charlas to trainees just do one session, however the garden charlas have multiple sessions.  First, a training session on the basic theory behind school gardens (find a flat place, make a fence, make sure to water and weed---we're talking really basic), then a practicum where we make a little sample garden to practice the techniques, and lastly the trainees set up gardens in the schools in their training towns to maintain for their 11 week-long training period.  Add to that list a meeting in Managua beforehand to plan everything and we're looking at a LOT of time spent in Managua.

After a 1 day/1 night trip in to plan everything, Patrick and I returned a week later to give the garden theory charla.  The new group of trainees is much bigger than our group was (20 compared to 13), and they were only a week into their training.  That means that they are still attentive, enthusiastic, excited, nervous, and have a MILLION questions about EVERYTHING.  After giving our charla, Patrick and I answered lots of questions about gardens but also about our work schedules, co-teaching, language learning, and other projects.

Two days later, we helped with the garden practicum.  We divided the trainees into 5 groups of 4 and each group was led by a facilitator.  During the practicum, I let the trainees do most of the work, but helped guide them and explain why we were doing things the way we were.  My group worked hard and we got everything finished before the other groups.  We built a small seedbed, complete with roof for sun and wind protection, planted rows of cucumber and radish, and planted 4 squash plants.

The charla was on a Thursday and the practicum was on a Saturday, so on Sunday I headed back to my site.  However, all of these training sessions also coincided with the time period in which we all have to do our mid-service medical visit (a short talk with the Peace Corps doctors, and a trip to the dentist).  I had scheduled mine for Wednesday, so really I was only in my site from Sunday until Wednesday morning, when I headed back to Managua once again at 5:30 a.m. to be in the office around 9:30. 

Healthy and with no cavities, I spent a few days in Managua before going on Saturday to help the trainees set up gardens in their training town schools.  I was in El Rosario, Carazo helping a group of 4 trainees, Tom, Geri, Claire, and Claire, to set up their garden.  I was extremely impressed with the preparation and planning that they had put in.  They did a name game with the students who came to help, talked about the different tools, and did a good job organizing the students.  I did my best to help them with whatever they needed (which many times was Spanish vocabulary, or helping explain something to a student) but they did an excellent job.  I think every new group has it's own dynamics and personality, and to me this group seems very focused and serious.  Hopefully they'll lighten up a little bit over the next few weeks, because they're definitely going to have to learn to be flexible and roll with the punches-- one of the most important things when being a PCV.

After working the whole morning in the gardens, we headed back to Managua and Felix dropped Patrick and I off at the Holiday Inn to check into the hotel for the Small Business Gala that was happening Saturday night.  It's a fundraising event put on by the small business volunteers in order to raise money for their entrepreneurship competition that they do with high school students every year.  I checked into the hotel, caught up with friends, took a nice hot shower, hung out by the pool, and then in the evening we headed to the gala.  It was a great event with good food, lots of dancing and drinking, and a chance to see lots of volunteers all in the same place. 
Me, Tara, Robi, and Amanda at the gala

Now, I'm back at site and about to have my first full week of work in a long time.  The trips to Managua were a nice break, but I was ready for it to be done.  I got to see almost everyone from my training group, as well as other PCV friends over the past few weeks, and met some volunteers that I didn't know before.  Now it's time to buckle back down and finish out the school year.

Next up on the radar are some more traveling...a trip to Leon next weekend to celebrate 1 year in-country; a trip to the Laguna de Apoyo with Luis, who is finishing up a volunteer program that he's been working with for the past 2 months; and oh yeah....my birthday.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What's Going On?

Wanted to fill you in on what's going on.  But this blog post title has a double meaning, because I've been asking myself that same question a lot the past few weeks.  Why?  Well, last time I posted we had a week off of school for inter-semester break.  Then, the following week, teachers were having meetings and wrapping stuff up for the first semester, so there was basically no class.  Then the week after that there were more days off and....What's going on?  There's almost no class EVER!  I haven't been to my smaller school since before vacation because there are so many "concursos" (competitions) that students are competing in, and teachers have to attend with their student so they cancel class.  This has affected my 6th grade classes at my bigger school as well because there are always students competing in municipality-wide and departmental-wide competitions (but one of the girls from one of my classes won the department-wide best student competition, which is super exciting!).

I've been doing my best to co-plan and co-teach as much as I can, but if there's no class there's not really much I can do.  The national government has also decided that each municipality should hold parades every Saturday to celebrate independence day.  This started last Saturday and goes until the end of September.  I should mention that independence day ISN'T UNTIL SEPTEMBER 15th!  And obviously, because there are parades every Saturday, the band has to practice every single afternoon...which means pulling half of the students out of class and not being able to do anything with the other half because they're distracted by the band/pom-pom-girl/baton-dancer rehearsal that's going on right outside their classroom.  What's going on?

At least I'm getting a lot of reading done...and spending lots of quality time with my dog.