Monday, April 28, 2008

Take a Letter, Maria

Time is sneaking up on me, we're down to my last week at home. I saw lots of people this weekend in the cities (I counted last night, more than 20!! That's a lot in 3 days, but it was awesome!) and have taken over the living room with all my stuff to pack. Before I forget, here is the vaguely comprehensive guide to the communication methods I'll have open to me in Nicaragua. It's pretty much straight out of my welcome book:
  • MAIL: Relative to the service in most developing countries, mail between the U.S. and Nicaragua is dependable. Airmail takes about two weeks; surface mail can take months. Packages sometimes mysteriously disappear in transit, and sometimes they are opened and the contents stolen. It is best if packages do not exceed 2 pounds. Padded-envelope-sized packages work well. It's not always worth it to send large packages since volunteers are responsible for paying customs feeds on larger items (which can exceed the value of the items).
  • PHONE: International phone service to and from Nicaragua is good relative to other developing countries. For telephone communication to the States, most volunteers use Internet cafes or have family and friends call them at a local number. Others call home collect, using international calling cards. Many of the families who host volunteers during training have phones in their homes. If not, there is public phone access in all the training communities. Cellphone service is available in all departmental (state) capitals, however service rarely reaches the more remote areas.
  • INTERNET ACCESS: Local internet providers exist in the capital, in nearly all major cities, and in some smaller towns. Most volunteers have regular (weekly or monthly) access to email.
During training I'll be receiving my mail at the Peace Corps headquarters in Managua & mail can be sent there throughout my service:

My Name, PCT
Voluntario del Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 3256
Managua, Nicaragua
Central America

I take off for staging in DC early next Monday morning and my phone will be functional until we leave for Nicaragua on Wednesday, so give me a call or better yet, send me a happy email that I can print off and take with me :)

Friday, April 25, 2008

My Application Timeline

I meant to post this a while ago, but with my program switch I just kinda forgot about it. When I was going through the motions of applying to the Peace Corps, I searched everywhere for timelines of people who had been accepted to see how long each stage took. This post is mostly for prospective Peace Corps Volunteers who are looking for the same information.

It is recommended that you apply to the Peace Corps 9 months to a year before you want to go, largely due to the amount of time it can take to get medical clearance. Here's my timeline:

July 2007: Started application
Aug 30: Submitted application
Sept 10 : Interview
Sept 19: Nomination; leaving May 2008
Oct 29: Mailed Medical Packet
Nov 5: Dental Clearance Received
Feb 5, 2008: Medical Clearance Received
Mar 3: Invitation to Bolivia Received
Mar 13: Bolivia training group officially canceled
Mar 17: Invitation to Nicaragua received
May 5: Departure for Nicaragua (same date as I would have left for Bolivia)

Basically, it took a month to do my application and about 10 days to do the interview and then 10 more days to get my nomination. It took me about a month to complete my medical packet and about a day to get dental clearance. It took 3 months to get my medical clearance and then another month to get my invitation, which left me with about 2 months until departure.

It is said that the process is meant to weed out people who aren't really serious, and I definitely believe that now that it's over. There were times when I thought about just doing something else instead of writing all these essays and asking for recommendations, then seeing doctors and more doctors and then going back after the PC wanted more information. I think I read somewhere that something like 17% of applicants are actually accepted.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What's in a Name??

I've had some questions about the name of the blog. "The wisdom of the little toe" is actually a phrase my yoga teacher used once that I filed away because my poor little toes have suffered serious mishaps over the years:

At probably age 10 or 11, I froze my left little toe. I was doing my brother's paper route during the winter but this was before I had one of my own so I walked it instead of biking because it freaked me out to bike in the snow. Unfortunately, I also had really crappy boots so when I finally got back my feet were frozen but my one little toe was worse off than the others for some reason & it swelled up real big. Ever since, if my feet get too cold my left baby toe swells up & itches (I've been told that's a sign of nerve damage).

At age 22, I fractured my right little toe. It was the first of three shows of my very last dance concert at Mac and during the last piece I didn't kick quite high enough during a fight scene and nailed my partner in the head. I was initially much more worried about her but as the dance continued, I felt my toe swelling up and by the time I stumbled off stage it was huge!! I went to urgent care the next morning and it was indeed fractured. The doctor sure gave me a look when I asked if I'd be injuring it further if I danced on it, but he said I wouldn't. I finished up the last two shows (adrenaline is an amazing thing!!) and then hobbled around for several weeks afterward.

It's surprising how important such small appendages can be, so the idea behind the name refers to the importance of small things.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Blast from the Past

I've been spending a whole lot of time cleaning out my childhood room as I've been meaning to do it for some years now. Since I was raised as a pack rat I still have a lot of random assignments from my K12 education including such things as an old Physics paper entitled "Isn't it time for a real appliance? Isn't it time for a toaster?" The last page included a series of Toast Haikus that I got online, and they're still there, but this was my favorite:

Thirty-six croutons
Sewn together with great care
Spicy slice of toast

Probably the most interesting thing I've found is my prediction of how my life would play out from age 13, verbatim:

  • Graduate at the top, or close to it, of my class
  • Start college somewhere out east
  • Study archaeology and literature
  • Start work as an archaelogist
  • Sometime go to Britain and study Stonehenge, the wheat circles. To Yucatan Peninsula to see the Mayan temples. Go storm chasing with Rachel. Go skydiving with Rachel, Nichole, Roseanne, and Andrea
  • Study aliens
  • Somewhere try to become an archaelogical professor
  • Live in Britain for 2-3 years
  • In my retirement study art and literature, write a book or novel
  • Travel the world while I'm retired
Soooooo..... yeah. I haven't done any of that really, except graduating towards the top of my high school class & I went to Britain but didn't get to see Stonehenge because of Mad Cow. Of course I haven't yet retired so I guess I might still study art and literature (though I doubt it) and travel the world (I hope so!). At 13 I apparently didn't have much interest in marriage or children or anything else between getting a job and then retiring.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

So long DC...

I moved to DC more than a year and a half ago as a post-college adventure and my big chance to move out of Minnesota. When I drove out with a friend and his dad who happened to be going to Baltimore, I left with an offer for a job I wasn't too sure about, a second interview lined up for the job I wanted, and a bed in someone else's parents' basement - somehow knowing that I wouldn't be moving in with my own folks made it seem better. But I was lucky & got my preferred job only 2 days after moving out and was soon settled down in my new home.

There are things that I loved and things I hated about DC, but overall I would never want to trade my time there for anything. Highlights:
  • 804!! My house was a blessing in that it brought me together with one of my best friends in DC, but it also was the location of many many frustrations. If we weren't dealing with contractors in the basement, Comcast was screwing up our bill, a bird was in the kitchen, or there was housemate drama. Not to mention the monster $700 gas bill we got the first winter we lived there. But Laura & I made the best of it & at least we had each other to lean on when we were ready to walk straight out of the house & never come back. And I have enough happy memories of chatting in the kitchen, spying on the neighbors, or having the girls over for dinner before we went out to last me some years.

  • The DC Dance Scene. The first house I lived in was shared with 3 professional dancers, which I think really helped push me to get back into dance class. Spring 2007 was crazy as I started workstudying at one of the Joy of Motion studios, took at least 2 to 3 classes a week and was rehearsing for 2 shows at different times. I'm proud to say that I was able to get by on my natural talents & perform in semi-professional shows. Knowing that, I finally listened to my aching joints & nagging back pain and cut way back on my classes & stopped performing. I don't think I'll ever stop dancing, but I just couldn't keep up the way I was.

  • Worky Worky. While looking for a job in DC, I kept my sights on doing something with a nonprofit, & only hoped I might find something housing-related. I was lucky enough to do just that and even got to combine it with a subject area that I felt was often overlooked: rural issues. I learned a lot about rural housing, got to attend hearings on the Hill, and met some great people as well. While so many of my friends were floundering in jobs that had nothing to do with their interests, I felt lucky to be working in the field I hope I might continue on in someday.
  • Weekend trips to New York City. I can almost maneuver the system without a map and I only accidentally ended up in Harlem at 1am alone by accident once & didn't die. I'd still really like to live there, but only for a little while before the city would swallow me whole.
  • Good company. There isn't much to say, my friends rock.

Flying out of DC on Monday, I finally got the view I wanted. Somehow on previous flights I was always on the wrong side of the plane or we took off in the other direction, or I was flying out of Dulles. But on Monday as the plan lifted up off the ground I was able to take in the full view of the Mall and downtown DC before we ascended into the clouds and it was gone. I know I'll be back, but I'll never know the city as well as I did when I lived there.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Todo Sobre Nicaragua

I've been alerted that I need to post more to keep my housemate entertained at work. All that's happening in my life right now is packing & generally running about, which means that I'm going to re-write the CIA World Factbook page on Nicaragua for you all. Enjoy!

A Brief History
  • Nicaragua became its own country in 1838, and later was almost taken over by Crazy American William Walker but they killed him.
  • The U.S. Marines were called in in the early 1900s to help settle unrest within the country and that is apparently the reason that baseball is insanely popular there.
  • From 1934 till 1979 Nicaragua was under the rule of a military dictatorship.
  • A huge earthquake in 1972 destroyed large parts of the capital, Managua.
  • In 1979 Marxist Sandinistas overthrew the dictatorship and ruled until 1990. Free elections have taken place since then & the current president, Daniel Ortega, is the first Sandinista elected since.
  • Nicaragua has widespread underemployment, one of the highest degrees of income inequality in the world, and the third lowest per capita income in the Western Hemisphere.
  • They are part of CAFTA - Central American Free Trade Agreement with the U.S.
  • 48% of the population lives below the poverty line
  • Agricultural products: coffee, bananas, sugarcane, cotton, rice, corn, tobacco, sesame, soya, beans; beef, veal, pork, poultry, dairy products; shrimp, lobsters
  • I can't figure out where I read it, but I swear tourism is something like the 2nd largest sector of the economy!!!
Climate (copied from ViaNica)
A tropical climate can be observed in Nicaragua. Just as in the other Central American countries, there are two seasons: the dry and the raining season. During the dry season (January - June) there is virtually no rain and trees and plants start to dry out. Once the rains come around June, July, everything starts growing and the yellow plants and leafless trees turn green and start blossoming. In August and September it often rains once a day. Fortunately, it just rains for a short period of time and these are often spectacular, tropical downpours. In the eastern part of the country it rains more than in the west.

There are three temperature zones in Nicaragua. In the lowlands (Pacific and Atlantic coast) temperatures vary roughly between 72° F at night and 86° F at daytime (22° C - 30° C). Temperature can reach 100° F in May (38° C). The central part of the country is about 9° F (5° C) cooler, and in the mountains in the north it's about 18° F (10° C) cooler.

Other Interesting Facts
  • Nicaragua's about the size of New York State
  • The largest lake in Central America is located there, creatively named Lake Nicaragua
  • The median age is 21.3 years old, compare that to the U.S. median of 36.6 & we're talking about a very young country!
  • Race/Ethnicity
    • 69% Mixed Amerindian & white
    • 17% White
    • 9% Black
    • 5% Amerindian
  • Catholic is the majority religion @ 72%
  • While almost everyone speaks Spanish, there are some indigenous groups along the Atlantic coast that speak other languages
The Peace Corps in Nicaragua
Peace Corps first entered Nicaragua in 1969 but the program was suspended in 1978 due to the civil war that brought the Sandinistas to power. It was reestablished in 1990 and they've been there ever since. Volunteers serve in 5 areas: small business development, community health education, environmental education, agriculture, and teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). The TEFL program is the newest area, it was established in 2006 which makes my group the third to go in which is kinda cool since our experiences and feedback have the potential of the future of the program.

So there you have it! That's a fraction of the stuff I've read and I still feel like I have much to learn.