Monday, December 29, 2008

Last Blog of 2008!

This was a Christmas full of firsts. This is the first Christmas I've ever spent outside of Minnesota and away from my family. It was a the first Christmas that didn't feel like Christmas because there was no build-up and bombardment of everything Christmas like in the States and it's hot and there's no snow = it's not Christmas. Finally, it's the first time I sang karaoke in public!

I give you, Navidad 2008: A Photo Montage.

John and his new kittie who I'm pretty sure is evil, but for now he fits in his pocket!

Being the multi-faith, open-minded, PCVs that we are, we celebrated Hanukkah with Avi and lit the menorah (also a first):

Singing Hey Jude, which is a favorite song of our group, but all those Na Na Nas get really boring to sing after a while:

Dianne and I singing Don't Stop Believin by Journey. Oh yeah.

I had the good fortune to meet up with my friend Sophia from Macalester who was vacationing in Nicaragua with her family:

Finally, here we are just about to devour an amazing Christmas Dinner:

Despite being far from my family, we had a pretty good Christmas here in Nicaragua. I'll be staying in my site for New Years though.

The Español:
Esta fue mi primera Navidad fuera de Minnesota y fuera de mi familia, sin nieve y con mucho calor. Y la primera vez que he cantado karaoke en publico! Pero pasabamos bien y voy a quedar en mi sitio para el fin del año.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Feliz Navidad!!!!

I didn´t write anything up to post, partly because the electricity went out this morning. But Merry Christmas to everyone, thanks for the support over the last year as I´ve started this crazy journey.

A mis amigos del mundo latino, feliz navidad y gracias por su apoyo en mis aventuras locas!!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

And then there was one...

Team Managua takes another hit as the volunteer who lives closest to me is ETing (early terminating). Although it's disappointing for PC to lose her, she's actually going to be staying right where she is since she took a job at a private school. That means that out of the three of us who originally made up Team Managua (basically the only volunteers in the department), I am the only one left until Ryan heals up and is crazy enough to come back or Peace Corps sends me some new friends.

As we once were:

Things have been pretty low-key seeing as I'm on vacation, but this weekend I got out and finally saw the beautiful beaches of San Juan del Sur. SJS is generally considered the best beach and surfing spot in the country and I can see why. It's a small town but very much targeted to tourists. It made me realize just how far the beach area near my site has to come before it can really compete.

Here's the beach in San Juan del Sur:

And the view of the beach from our room in our awesome hostel (Hotel Estrella if anyone's planning a trip):

Here I am with my friends Dianne and Katie with our newly purchased sunglasses after an intense round of haggling:

Surfers at Playa Madera:

Lastly, my friend Zara in San Juan:

It was a good and exhausting weekend. But not to have you all thinking that I'm doing no work and just hanging at the beach all day, on Monday I made plans with the staff of a local NGO to teach them English and then accompanied them to look at some schools that they are going to be repairing and/or adding on to. In January I'll be starting classes with them and also with a group of community members as well. I haven't taught since October so I'm afraid I'm gonna be a little rusty!! We shall see.

En Español
Tengo pereza entonces no voy a escribir todo en español. La voluntaria en El Crucero va a terminar su servicio ahorrita pero ella queda en Crucero para trabajar en una escuela privada cerca de Managua. Antes había tres voluntarios en Managua pero ahorrita soy la unica, así son las cosas.

El fin de semana pasada fuí a San Juan del Sur con Bernd, Vera, Zara, y dos voluntarias. Que linda las playas! El lunes fuí a Villa el Carmen con los de CEDRU para ver algunas escuelas en las communidades. Ellos tienen dinero para arreglar algunas aulas y para construir algunas nuevas. Voy a enseñar una clase de inglés por ellos en enero. Mas o menos este es todo que pasa acá.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Casa Dolce Casa

I'm all on top of things this morning and finally took some photos of my house. And since my Chilean and Bolivian friends that I used to live with have left I'm going to try to write some of my posts in both Spanish and English so they can keep up on the life here.

Finalmente esta mañana sacqué fotos de mi casa. Y porque mis amigos de Chile y Bolivia se fueron voy a escribir en ambos español e inglés para que ellos pueden saber algo de la vida acá. (Rafa, Paula, Felipe: Estoy bien triste que ustedes nunca podían visitar la casa, pero así son las cosas. Les extraño mucho!)

My living room (with maps of course!), I'm hoping to put a whiteboard on the blank wall to have English classes in my house.

Mi sala (claro con mapas), quiero poner una pizarra en la pared para tener clases de inglés en la casa.

The kitchen.

La cocina.

My bedroom, mosquito net and all. My clothes are all draped on a closet pole because I haven't found hangers big enough.

Mi cuarto, con mosquitero. Toda mi ropa esta un disastre porque no tengo ganchas.



The patio in the back.

El patio alfondo.

I still don't have a lot of furniture, but my landlady is going to lend me some more stuff soon I hope. But I love my little house and feel very safe here. Come visit!

Todavia no tengo muchos muebles pero la dueña va a prestarme algunas cosas más. Pero amo mi casita y me siento muy segura acá. Visiteme!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Happy Chicken Day!

I made it safely back to Nicaragua and promptly moved into my casita the same day- I promise to post pictures eventually but I figure it might be nice for there to be some furniture in this place first. I then left again to join some fellow volunteers for Thanksgiving celebrations and I couldn't have spent it any better.

After passing the initial challenge of fording a flooded road in a horse cart...

we were greeted by a brand new facility at this camp/retreat center place that a friend of another volunteer works at (connections connections) and this spectacular view of the Island of Ometepe and its two volcanoes:

We had 15 volunteers and the Assistant Country Director drove down with her husband to pass the day with us (and she brought pumpkin pie!) so we had quite a feast, though we had to substitute chicken for turkey. But we did have real homemade mac and cheese, broccoli casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, salad, stuffing, cornbread, and cranberry sauce. Pretty impressive if I do say so myself:

I've said it before and I'll say it again, it just doesn't feel like Thanksgiving if there are leaves on the trees and it's warm, but that dinner sure did make it pretty close.

A large majority of the group was made up of TEFL volunteers from the group before mine and it was interesting to get their take on things now that they only have about seven more months of service left. Almost all of them are applying to graduate programs to start right after returning next summer and they definitely emphasized how fast the time will go (which is easy to say when you have 7 months left as opposed to being 7 months in, but I do believe they're right). But mostly it was impressive to see how close they all have become and how much they mean to each other, I really felt like I was part of the Peace Corps family.

My list of things I'm thankful for is about a mile long right now, but in general I'm thankful to have a very supportive family at home, amazing friends who continue to send me encouragement in the form of emails, letters, packages, and general good karma, and the opportunity to serve in the Peace Corps- some days I think back to when I didn't think I would or could be doing this right now and I'm proud of how far I've come. Happy Thanksgiving!!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

In case you were wondering...

I made some changes to the layout of my blog, including a Wish List because people have been asking me what I'd like sent. Really any food-related item is awesome, my diet in Nicaragua is pretty much either rice or pasta with beans, a smattering of veggies, and some random fruits. There's not a lot for variety but really I shouldn't complain because I have a lot more variety than a lot of volunteers.

Anyhoo, flying back in the morning! wee!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Spoke too soon!

Another lesson in Don't Make Plans in Latin America: I may have been cleared to go back to Nicaragua by my doctor but due to violent protests in Managua my return trip has been delayed to Sunday, when Peace Corps Nicaragua believes things should be calmer in the capital so I can get in and get back to my site where everything is normal.

Two days doesn't seem like it's too important, but those were two precious days to me that I was planning to spend with roommates who will be leaving on Monday as well as buying the needed stuff for my house (aka Everything! Refrigerator, gas stove, bed. When they say 'unfurnished' in Nicaragua, they mean unfurnished) before we have to be out of the house, which would be Monday. And that means that I will need to use Monday to do moving and buying of things when I'd really rather be at school trying to organize some kids for a summer English class I had been thinking about before I left. Needless to say, I feel a little stressed and I'm sick of being here by myself so I'm just ready to go back to Nicaragua.

As for these violent protests, unless you've been reading the World section of the Washington Post or specifically looking for it, I don't think anyone knows what's going on. Municipal elections were held on November 9th to elect new mayors (Each department/state in Nicaragua is divided into municipalities that include many towns so mayors in Nicaragua have more responsibility than those in the U.S. Plus there is no equivalent of state government, so there you go.). The Sandinistas (the party of President Daniel Ortega) is claiming victory in about 100 of 146 municipalities and have been accused of voter fraud by the opposition, the US, the Catholic Church, the Organization of American States, and lots more people. The elections in Managua and Leon, two of largest cities, are particularly contested and protests have been violent at times, but from what I've heard things in the rest of the country are fine. Right now volunteers are supposed to avoid going to Managua except for emergencies.

That's the basic rundown. If you wanna read more, here are a couple articles I found online:

The Economist

This Washington Post article is a little sensationalist in my opinion, but it's got some good points

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Adios a Panama!

I got the ok from my doctor yesterday to head back to Nicaragua, so that means that I will hopefully be flying back on Friday! Keep your fingers crossed that things go as planned because my roommates are moving out of the house this weekend so I'm cutting it pretty close for getting my butt back there. Since Andrea left last Thursday I really haven't done much that's worth writing about. Saw a movie, did some shopping (tons of cheap stuff in Panama!) to replace the clothes that have taken a major beating over 6 months of hand-washing, caught up on pop culture (watched TV), and ate some good food.

I'm excited to get back to my friends and my work, but school is ending next week so I won't have classes again till February. What will I do with my summer vacation? Hopefully teach some community classes, get moved into my house and meet my neighbors, and maybe see some more of Nicaragua. All I know is that I'm psyched to move out of this hotel!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Adventures in Panama Continue

Went to see the doc on Friday and things are moving along well. Unfortunately my next appointment isn't until the 19th which means I have to miss our in-service training which starts on the 18th :( I was really looking forward to seeing all my friends but I'm hoping that with the holidays coming up I'll get to see people. Hopefully I'll be heading back to Nicaragua shortly after that appointment.

My medevac buddy, Andrea, is going home tomorrow so I'll be left to my own devices for a while. But we've had some good adventures, here's what we've been up to:

Made two trips into Casco Viejo which is where Panama City was started for the second time (after pirates destroyed the original settlement). It has some cool old churches and various forms of architecture. I could wander around there all day!

And we went to an island! Isla Taboga:

Lastly, here's a diablo rojo (red devil) as the Panamanians like to call the buses that run in Panama City. They're all colorful and I think they're pretty cool:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


That title has more than one meaning. #1 I'm free from doctors for a couple days (and doing well, btw, thanks for the concern!) and #2 I like our new President/my boss.

I just got back from a fun-filled day of touring around Panama City and my tummy hurts a little from my dinner of a waffle with tons of Nutella, creme, and ice cream. It was amazing and totally worth the minor indigestion. My mind is continually being blown here, yesterday I went to a supermarket and probably stared at the cheese section for a good 10 minutes. There are American-style supermarkets in Managua, but cheddar cheese is really expensive and still doesn't taste quite right. This stuff was right on the money and is half gone already. Some more stuff I bought that I can't get in Nicaragua or is really expensive so I never buy it:


There's a business volunteer here in Panama as well, so we hit up the Panama Canal today:

Then we went to a big mall. Not a big fan of malls in general, major overstimulation and the malls in Managua aren't that big so this one was a little woah for my brain. However, we kept ourselves entertained and sane (you be the judge) by taking pictures with the giant animal statues that marked the different sections:

I'm amazed at how similar Panama City is to any American City, it's so different from Managua which doesn't have tall buildings or a sensical transportation system, let alone a Dunkin Donuts. My next doctor's appointment isn't till Friday so I can't wait to go see more of the city.

Last night I happened to turn on CNN en Espanol right as Obama was named President-elect. As you may have guessed, I'm happy with the results. Part of me really wishes I was in the U.S. right now to join in the celebrations, but part of me is also really glad to be representing the United States in the Peace Corps at this moment. I don't expect Obama to be the perfect President, I'm sure he'll make mistakes especially considering the domestic and international situations he's inheriting. But I feel like America has shown both itself and the world that we're ready for something different. More than one person in Nicaragua told me prior to the elections that America wasn't ready for a black president and I can't wait to get back to my site to find out what they think of the fact that we apparently are. And it can't hurt that he might help us get some more funding for Peace Corps, which it desperately needs right now. *The opinions expressed are mine and mine alone, again*

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I Corazon Panama

I arrived in Panama City safe and sound this morning. Unfortunately I spent way too long waiting to check in for my flight because I was stuck behind about a dozen Puerto Rican hunters with lots of armas del fuego (that's firearms) to check. But the flight was quick, only about an hour and a half on a small plane. I happened to get a window seat and snapped this picture of ships lining up to go through the canal:

I thought I was so clever until I realized that everyone else was looking out the windows on the other side of the plane at the striking skyline of Panama City. It's not quite a shot from the plane, but here's the amazing high rise-ness that now surrounds me:

Driving into the city I felt like I was in the US, a divided highway with signs with locations and distances and even billboards! And now I have all kinds of food and shops and mostly food at my fingertips! I'm quite excited, if you can't tell. But I'm also here for a non-food-related reason and saw the doctor right away this afternoon. My trip to the Canal and other interesting places around the city will have to wait till I get through some more doctory stuff the next couple days. But I'm definitely in good hands, there's a staff person here whose sole job it is to take care of volunteers here on medevac, so he picked me up and took me to my appointment and told me to think of him as my bodyguard. Later he said he'll take me on a little tour of the city/neighborhood so I'll have more pictures soon.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


In new and exciting news, I will be taking an unplanned trip to the beautiful country of Panama sometime next week for an undetermined amount of time to hopefully clear up some unresolved medical problems that I`ve been having since I got to my site. It isn`t anything dire or super serious (I don`t think) but so far all the tests and doctor`s visits here have apparently not been enough so Washington has decided that I should go see a Super Specialist that they don`t have here (Panama is where they send people when they`ve exhausted or can`t use the Nicaraguan health care system but it isn`t so serious that they need to go back to the States. Why Panama? Damned if I know.)

I should be online, but I know so few details right now that I refuse to promise anything to anyone. Quien sabe!!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cake for Obama just doesn't roll off the tongue....

This is the cake we bought when I was in India during the last presidential elections: Cake for Kerry! We were convinced that buying a pastry and having a sleep over would win the democrats the White House again. With the time difference, the election returns came in in the morning so we talked our instructors into letting us out of class to watch the results. Subsequently, we all wandered into class late, sad, dejected, and saying we wouldn't go home to four more years of George W. Bush.

So here it is, four years later and I've managed to be out of the country again, largely missing the craziness and annoyances of campaign commercials, up to the minute poll results of who's ahead and who's behind, and words like Swing State. But whether it was India in 2004 or Nicaragua in 2008, I'm impressed and amazed at how the entire world watches the politics of America in a way that so few Americans will ever pay attention to the elections in even one other country.

In India, we were out in a rural area on a field trip literally driving around on dirt roads, at one stop a man approached the vehicles yelling “Bush or Kerry?! Bush or Kerry!?” Undoubtedly this man spoke no English and probably had a little jerry-rigged TV set in his earthen house, but he knew and cared about the presidential elections taking place on the other side of the world.

Now Nicaragua's not nearly as far away as India and the people here are much more intimately connected with the States, the majority of the people I talk to have family or at least friends who live or lived in the U.S. And their ability to get a visa to visit those family and friends, or to move themselves one day may depend on who calls 1600 Pennsylvania Ave home next year. I've met a lot of Obama supporters here and a few for McCain, but regardless of who they support it seems that most people think McCain will win. I sent my absentee ballot at the beginning of October and I think most of you can guess which name got my little black dot.

Here I am with my absentee ballot, ever so proud:

For lack of a television and intermittent internet access, it's pretty easy for me to forget about the elections. But I have my preparations made, my friend Maria has cable (you have to pronounce it in Spanish when you read that though, so it's more like cah-blay) and she said I can come over and watch returns on CNN en Espanol on the 4th.

And just as a friendly reminder, the opinions expressed in this blog are mine (MINE! MINE! MINE! - 20 points if you get the ultra-obscure Scrubs reference) and have absolutely nothing to do with the U.S. Peace Corps or anyone else for that matter. So there.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Teaching Update

When I'm not attending foam parties, lounging at the beach, or running around the countryside, I do still teach on occasion. The school year is winding down here. Only two weeks remain in October for new topics, then we review the first couple weeks in November followed by tests for the last part of the month. Then, vacation! So really I only have about a month of classes left.

Classes are still getting canceled on a regular basis for rain or random other events, and it seems like the class sizes are dwindling as well. My teachers tell me that at the beginning of the year you often can't fit all the students in the classroom but by this time a large number have stopped coming or only show up every so often so at least the size is easier to manage.

I've been having one of those rollercoaster weeks where one moment I want to crawl into a hole and hide and the next something fantastic happens to lift my spirits. On Tuesday, that something was a conversation activity that actually went well! I've done this activity with my first year classes, and the first time we did it it totally bombed because my counterpart didn't fully understand what I wanted to do and so skipped the whole preparation part, throwing the kids into speaking before they really knew what to say. That resulted in about half the class just not participating. However! This week we did it with the second year classes, had the kids write their answers to some questions and then got them up in two circles to ask and answer the questions with partners. They honestly loved it, I was amazed.

I feel like I've hit a plateau with both of my counterparts in some ways. Unfortunately I'm still having a rough time getting my one counterpart to work with me and may need to stop working with her altogether next year. The big idea behind my job is to co-plan lessons with my counterparts and so far I have successfully co-planned with her once, and I've been here for about 12 weeks.

My other counterpart has been pretty good, we get together every week to co-plan and he's open to doing my crazy activities. But we were talking one day and I asked him if he uses the activities I suggest in the classes I don't teach with him, and he said no. He's been an English teacher for at least a decade and has all of his lessons planned out already, so I don't blame him for not jumping to change them all right now, but I was definitely disappointed to hear that unless I'm there he teaches the same way he always has. But hopefully by the time we're done working together that will change.

So that's the update on my everyday life. The other thing that lifted my spirits this week is that I found a house I really like! Peace Corps still needs to come and check things out so I'll post pictures and share the awesome story of how I came upon this house once I'm all approved, official-like.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


In Minnesota, the weather is constantly a topic of conversation. Most emails and letters I get, particularly, from my family mention the state of the weather at some point. And I love that! It's one of those things you can always count on. Life works like that because the weather in Minnesota is always changing between seasons or minutes.

In Nicaragua, it's hot. It's pretty much always hot. Unless it's raining and then it rains a whole lot (9 days in a row, I'm happy it stopped but now it's hot again. Sigh.). But people here talk about the weather all the time too, except it's a lot more limited than in Minnesota. Common remarks are “it's really hot today!” or “it rained a whole lot yesterday.” One of my favorite weather phrases is “Que rico!!” which literally means that the person thinks the weather is rich. This is perfect for the rare moment when it's not too hot but it's not raining either, it may actually be comfortable outside with a nice breeze and sunny skies. The first day without rain was totally rico, it was awesome.

I contemplated buying a real rain jacket before I left, but decided I would go it alone with my umbrella instead. My dad joked with me that I should take the “banana suit” which is probably the cheapest rain gear you can possibly buy- a full suit of pants and jacket in bright yellow, unbreathable plastic. This is the rain gear I usually have the pleasure of using on camping trips to the Boundary Waters area in northern Minnesota. I told him that they didn't wear banana suits in Nicaragua, so I'd just leave it at home, thank you very much. Had I been thinking logically I would have put together the fact that many people in Nicaragua get around on motorcycles and it rains for several months of the year so how do they deal with that? BANANA SUITS, that's how! Turns out I would be completely in fashion if I was wearing a banana suit during the rains, except that I wouldn't be on a motorcycle since that's all prohibited and all, so I might still be a little strange to be walking around in full gear. But no one really goes out when it's raining anyway so there would be no one to judge me. So sorry dad, you were right and I was wrong.

Now that it stopped raining, I'm going to the beach.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What were you expecting?

Expectations Confirmed
October is known as the rainiest month in Nicaragua. It has rained every single day so far, granted we´re not really that far in, but still. We also are apparently having a pretty bad season in terms of tropical storms, which is what is responsible for the torrential downpours that occur at least twice a day. Luckily there isn´t much for damage from the storms in my part of the country, but ironically the water service in the house has been spotty at best. That means that this week I have my fingers crossed for a couple of hours of sun in conjunction with functioning water.

Expectations Broken
When I signed up for the Peace Corps, I had come to terms with the fact that I would probably be giving up my social life as I knew it in exchange for evenings spent with neighboring families watching telenovelas and going to bed early. As it turns out, my pueblo has some impressive night life on occasion. This weekend I went with some friends to a fiesta being thrown in a disco not too far from my house. My Spanish skills failed me in reading the advertisements because I was unprepared for the “espuma” which apparently means foam! Around 11pm this machine in the ceiling started spewing out foam and I ended up being soaked for the last couple hours of the party. Never ever did I expect to attend a fiesta quite like that during my Peace Corps service.

As of today I've been in Nicaragua for five months! Somehow 4 didn't seem that impressive yet 5 seems like a lot. Thank you to everyone for the emails, letters, and packages (I had a windfall this weekend with three waiting for me in the post office!), I think all volunteers have some fear of people forgetting about them at home but so far I feel super loved and not that far out of the loop.

Thursday, October 2, 2008



I spent this past weekend in the department of Boaco (pronounced bo-ah-ko) visiting my friend Allison in Teustepe, with a side trip into the city of Boaco as well. As you can see above, Boaco is really pretty! Since I grew up basically around farmland and forests, I think big hills and mountains are neat and never tired of looking up to see something other than sky.

It takes about 4 to 4.5 hours from where I am on the coast to get to Teustepe, which is in the central part of the country on the other side of Managua. I took a 1.5 hour bus into the west side of Managua, then a taxi to the Mercado Mayoreo on the east side which takes around an hour depending on how many other people the taxista has chosen to pick up and drop off along the way (that was 2 going and 4 coming back, and yet it took less time coming back, go fig) followed by another 1.5 hour busride out to Teustepe, oh and another taxi ride from the highway into town. As much as I'd love to go back and visit again soon, I doubt I'll be making that jaunt very often especially because taxi rides in Managua aren't cheap.

Allison just moved into her own little house but Peace Corps doesn't really give us enough money to get set up properly so it was still pretty sparse (we get a settling in allowance that really will only cover a decent bed and a few other items, so borrowing stuff from friends and neighbors is pretty common). This is how we ate dinner on Saturday night:

yeah, my viewfinder didn't open up all the way on that one. And since there was no TV, we spent a lot of time watching Alli's kitten, Smudges, train to be an attack cat by attacking my shoes or my backpack or trash or Alli's hand. She is also apparently training to be a thief because at one point she crawled into my backpack and when I fished her out, Smudges was clinging for dear life to my change purse. I may have to get a cat when I get my own house because there's just nothing like waking up to see a kitten crawling up the mosquito net to greet you in the morning. Here she is, caught in the middle of darting in and out of the holes in the partition for Alli's bedroom:

We didn't do too much other than talk a lot because it's been two months since we've seen each other and hung out a little with her former host family, who are all quite nice and they invited me to come over for Christmas. After hearing their usual menu which went on for about 5 minutes, I think I just might :)

The trip was vastly too short and before I knew it I was back on the bus. The last bit of excitement on my trip was on the way home when I was seated on the bus behind a man who was traveling with his chicken (not unusual) and occasionally would lift the bird up so it could look out the window or get some fresh air or something (somewhat unusual). Sorry, it's a little blurry, my flash wasn't on because I was trying to be ninja about taking pictures on the bus.

Lastly, as anyone who's had the pleasure of sharing sleeping quarters with me knows, I tend to babble either coherently or incoherently in my sleep. This weekend I made a breakthrough: sleep talking in Spanish! Apparently it wasn't coherent, but Alli said I definitely was going on in Spanish, which is pretty cool because I've been waiting for that elusive first dream in Spanish and this means that I've probably been dreaming in Spanish but not remembering it. This goes right up there with my conversation with my friend Kate when we were both completely asleep in High School and the time in India when four of us were sharing a hostel bed and I said “Fine, I'll get my own room!”