Saturday, June 28, 2008

Answers to Commonly Asked Questions

Question 1: Do they have siestas in Nicaragua?
Answer: Sadly no, I think I could really use a good nap after lunch but I guess that tradition never got this far south from Mexico where I hear they do still do the siesta thing, at least in some parts.

Question 2: Do you have a latin lover yet?
Answer: Nope! We're thinking about putting together a pool to bet on who dates and/or marries a Nicaraguan first. So far, nada.

Question 3: Are you tan?
Answer: Yes! Well, my arms and face. My legs don't really see the light of day that often, or else I'll have lots of people wanting to be my latin lover!!

Question 4: Where will you be living for 2 years?
Answer: Ha! Not telling!

No, truly, I'm not going to post my whereabouts nor those of my soon-to-be fellow volunteers on the blog for everyone's personal safety. But I will say that I'll be living in the department of Managua, but closer to the coast than to the city of Managua itself. It's a mid-sized town, so I probably could post the name and not have to worry too much about some random person walking into town and asking “Where does the gringa live?” and getting the right answer (FYI: gringa, or gringo, is what us white, American types are referred to here. And yes, this tactic does work in small towns - we used it to find our friends in one of the smaller training towns once.)

Overall, I'm pretty happy with my site. In fact, it almost made it into my top 3. I'll be living with a woman who teaches at my school and her daughter who is somewhere around 12 years old. And their dog. I've been assured that they're lovely people :) I'll be working with two of the three English teachers at a good sized school, one man and one woman. They're highly motivated, according to my packet so I hope that's accurate. There are two other TEFL kids from my group who'll be living fairly nearby and a business volunteer from last year's group lives in the department as well. I should be pretty well connected by transit as well as phone and internet! I'll spend Wednesday through Sunday meeting people and getting to know the town a little bit and should have more interesting information to share after that.

Pretty much everyone is happy with their sites, some people got just what they wanted, most people got something they're at least happy with, and at least one person got a site that's almost the opposite of what he wanted but even he's not too upset about it. The only thing I'm disappointed about is that my closest friends are kind of far away, but they're also in areas I really want to visit and I should be able to do a weekend trip everyonceinawhile to see them.

Oh, and we definitely put together a betting pool on the site assignments. I only got 3 of the 20 correct, the girl who won got 6 right. Cheap entertainment :)

Another Peace Corps hurdle down!!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Oh! The Places You'll Go!

One of the fun (crazy) things about the Peace Corps is that not once, but twice you leave the very important decision of your place of residence up to someone else. The first time, I got Nicaragua. Next Friday I'll finally be able to tell you all where exactly in Nicaragua I'll be biding my time for 2 years! We received a packet of information on the 17 sites including population, services, info on the schools where the volunteer will work and opportunities for secondary projects. Yesterday, after talking to volunteers who are serving in the same area talk about the sites, we all were able to express up to three preferences. After final interviews with the boss-lady this week, the staff will choose sites for us based on our skills and preferences, in addition to medical considerations if there are any.

I'm trying not to get my hopes up for anything in particular but my preferences were for two mid-sized towns in the mountainous regions north of Managua (read: it's not so hot there!) and a rural town in southern Nicaragua near the big lake. None of the sites are places I feel like I couldn't live, but I'm gunning for a mid-sized city, or a rural area. I'd like to steer clear of larger cities.

I think much of the group is hitting a mid-training slump of some kind, at least I know I am. We're more than halfway through now and we can almost taste our site assignments so it's hard to concentrate on the tasks at hand. And despite now feeling much more confident on the transportation system and my Spanish abilities, I'm still not supposed to venture very far from my town without having a host family member present. It can be frustrating at times, but I know when training is over that I'll miss having my American safety net.

The good news is that I've been out seeing a little more of the country and the culture recently. Last weekend was busy as Peace Corps took us and the Small Business group to the Volcan Masaya (oh yes, that means volcano!) and on Sunday I went with my host sister to an Ipica a couple towns over. An Ipica is usually part of a town's fiestas patronales which is just a big party to celebrate a town's patron saint. An Ipica involves everyone lining one of the main streets in town, drinking beer, and watching people parade around on horses. It's a pretty good time :)

Photos from the volcano:

Alli and I as dinosaurs

And the Ipica:

Yes, this man is standing on his horse

Friday, June 13, 2008

One Twenty-Seventh of the Way Through!

As of Saturday I've been in Nicaragua for one month! I'm both amazed that it's already been a month and yet feel like it's been much longer. Now that my volunteer visit is over, I think the rest of training really will go quickly. In two weeks I'll get my site assignment (!!!) and then spend a week there getting to know people before returning for 2 more weeks of training and then we spend a few days in Managua before swearing in and being sent off on our own. Wowza!!

Anyhoo, I spent Sunday through Wednesday in a medium-sized city in the department (aka State) of Granada with a TEFL volunteer who's been here now for a little over a year. We ran around the countryside a little bit, visiting Masaya and the nearby Laguna de Apoyo with a group of trainees/volunteers on Sunday and then ran some errands and checked out Granada on Monday afternoon because classes were having exams that afternoon or were just canceled.

But mostly we talked a lot about life as a volunteer and what she's been doing this past year. It was really helpful to get an unedited and unsupervised perspective on everything and meeting up with the other volunteers meant I got more than one perspective on a few things. But no two volunteers have the same experience so I am now even more anxiously awaiting the second interview about site assignments and trying to decide what my preferences are for what kind of place I'd like to live and work in for the next two years. Some photos:

Here's Kristel and her dog Tye. It's hard to tell in this picture, but Tye's a tripod dog! He was rescued off the streets of Granada by an American vet and rehabilitated.

The Laguna:

and here are some shots of Granada:

We also had two work days last week with the youth group and have made some amazing progress, almost none of which is thanks to my machete-wielding skillz. Both times we brought a small contingent from El Rosario and were joined by some hard working guys from San Isidro (the barrio where the “park” is located) who came in with their machetes and cleared out more than twice what our group could accomplish. In our defense, I think they gave us the dull machetes so we wouldn't hurt ourselves because those suckers hardly did a thing! Anyway, it was good bonding time and also excellent exercise.

Our environment (medio ambiente) discussion with the youth group:

Here are some work shots:

And some not working shots:

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Word on Words

I've never considered language learning one of my strong points. After I fulfilled my language requirement in college, I was so sick of Spanish that although I felt I should have studied abroad somewhere where I could use it, the thought of speaking more Spanish was absolutely absurd to me. Now that I'm forcing myself back into it, I'm starting to see some of the more interesting points of learning another language.

There are certain words that don't exist in Spanish that we desperately want to be able to translate for our Spanish speaking friends here in Nicaragua. But the theory goes that if there isn't a word for something in a language, that the concept doesn't really exist there. Some of the words we've been unable to translate directly include embarrassed, creepy, nerd/dork, and awkward. If you slip up and tell someone “Estoy embarazada!!” then you've actually just told them that you're pregnant, which obviously just increases your embarrassment. And there's no way to tell someone that awkward is the new cool. I know my friend Allison has tried to explain the concept of creepy to a few Nicaraguans because this is how we feel about the men who spew out pick up lines despite probably not knowing what they're saying (por ejemplo: “I will love you for ember!” is my favorite of late).

As part of our youth group project we are expected to do particular activities that are supposed to help us get better acquainted with our sites and the needs of our future neighbors. This is all well and good in theory, until you're standing in front of a group of 15 to 20 year olds asking them to write a schedule of their daily activities or giving a “charla” (a chat) about the environment. This is when we all feel like huge dorks. However, we haven't yet found a good word of equal meaning in Spanish. Hence, a joke that I made up that made everyone here laugh (will it make you laugh too? I'm not sure):

Q: What do you call a dork in Nicaragua?
A: A Peace Corps Trainee aka an Aspirante

In completely unrelated news, I found the dancers of El Rosario!! I got semi-tricked into teaching a ballet class last Wednesday- my host sister knows this dance group in town and must have mentioned my ballet background so the guy who leads it asked if I would teach them a few steps. Well, they really wanted a whole class which I wasn't prepared for but I did teach them some steps and am coming back prepared with a real class tomorrow night. Their style of dance is called “ritmo” which I consider to be kinda like Latin-influenced jazz. They really are phenomenal dancers in their style and hopefully some ballet classes will just supplement that. They wanted me to teach everyday, but that's clearly impossible with my schedule so I agreed to once a week. Also, they know the choreography to Thriller, which I'm dying to learn! And hopefully I might get some salsa instruction out of this deal.

Our training projects are moving along. We had another youth group meeting last night and will hopefully be going out to clear out brush and weeds in an area that will be a park someday soon (hopefully) later in the week. I also had my first chance at co-teaching and I feel like it went pretty well. We've been struggling to schedule time to plan and teach with the one guy we can work with and it's not a very ideal situation. The class I worked with tonight is only about 20 people and they're adults who work during the day and take class at night (it strikes me as being similar to something like a GED class in the states) whereas most classes volunteers work with are upwards of 30 to 40 students anywhere from age 12 to 20+. But really, who knows what kind of a situation I'll find myself teaching in come August. Next week I'll get my first taste of a real volunteer's life when we all go out on volunteer visits. I'll be spending Sunday through Wednesday with a yet to be determined volunteer somewhere in Nicaragua, going to class and just seeing what day to day life is like. I'm excited and also nervous! I won't find out where I'm going to visit until Friday. And as far as I know, this has no bearing on where I'll be placed for my site- we won't find that out for another couple weeks.

It's warmed back up now that the big storm is gone, and there's another strike happening but this time it's only the truckers who are on strike so while it hopefully won't affect our ability to travel, food and commodity prices will start to go up again depending on how long it lasts. I hear cereal is expensive in the U.S. now. Otherwise, I'm trying to learn to walk slower. One of the host sisters was poking fun at us for how fast we gringos walk. Such is life in Nicaragua.