Saturday, July 26, 2008

Nica 47: Officially Volunteers!!

Subject: Hi Jenny

Yesterday we officially swore in as volunteers, all of 38 of us, sort of. We started out in DC as 39: 19 TEFL and 20 Business and so far we've lost two Business kids - one to a family emergency and one to not reaching the proper language level - and we've gained one TEFL volunteer who has already served two years in Eastern Europe. However, really only 37 of us swore in because one TEFLer is currently en route to the states for a shoulder surgery. He's welcome to come back after he's healed but that could take months so we'll see. He's one of the closest volunteers to my site so I've got my fingers crossed :)

My host mom, sister, and I at swearing in:

Our goofy TEFL picture that someone took with my camera:

So I'm spending the day in Managua at a nice hotel with wireless internet and hot showers before heading out tomorrow morning to really start my service. The following is a bit I wrote about our group a while back and hadn't posted it yet, enjoy:

Each training group in Peace Corps is titled with the country and a number, so we're the 47th group of trainees in Nicaragua since they re-entered the country in 1991. A while back one of the girls meet a guy who was part of Nica-2. Whoa.

Basically Nica-47 rocks. And even moreso, Nica-47 TEFL really rocks (Nica-47 technically refers to both the TEFL and Small Business trainees but for my purposes, it only refers to TEFL). There are now 20 of us, a girl just transferred from the TEFL program in Georgia (the country, not the state. Yes, there's a country called Georgia, it was in the Soviet Union. Look it up.) and she'll be doing a 2nd stint of 2 years with us here (she already speaks very good Spanish, in case you were wondering, which we all were, so she didn't have to go through all the training nonsense again).

Soooo, anyway, our group gets along amazingly well. We've been told this by many volunteers who have come to do training stuff with us. We're not all best friends by any means, and there can be tension at times, but in general I like everyone in the group and most people would say the same. We haven't broken down into smaller cliques, but this can make it complicated when 15 to 20 gringos want to hang out after class. But you know, that's not such a bad problem to have.

Again with the dorkatry, here are some geographic and demographic tidbits:

Home States

Oregon (2, the married couple)



Minnesota (2)


Illinois (2)



West Virginia




DC area (inluding NoVa) (3)

North Carolina


Of our 20, we are 15 women and 5 men. That includes one married couple, two gay women, two gay men, one African American woman, 3 Hispanic women, and one Asian woman. The age range goes from 21 to 31, but almost everyone is under 27. There are several actual teachers and/or education majors among us, a handful of Spanish majors, some folks straight (or nearly) out of college and some have spent some time in the real world. It really is a mixed bag.

I wish it was possible to really introduce you all to my Peace Corps fam. I think the thing that freaks me out the most about starting my service as a real volunteer is having to say goodbye to seeing everyone several times a week for classes or just hanging out. These people have really kept me sane over the past 12 weeks (12 weeks!), but I look forward to getting together once we've got some more freedom as honest to goodness Peace Corps Volunteers.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nicaraguan Cultural Adjustment #52: What did you expect??

It can be risky to have expectations for much of anything around these parts. This weekend I was planning to walk around town and take photos and spend time with the host fam and get some good pictures of them too. Well, I got a bacterial infection and spent almost all of Saturday in bed and Sunday I was still loopy. Ergo, no photos, no quality time.

Cut to Tuesday night, it's my last night with the host family, still planning on getting those photos and hopefully some quality time. Just as I finished my packing, the lights went out. I did get some good quality time sitting in the dark chatting, but there were no photos to be had.

Planning on taking the last bus home? The driver might not feel like driving that day, or someone told you the wrong time and that bus doesn't exist. Planning on working with your youth group? Oh wait! There's a concert/event/marching band that everyone is going to and no one will show up.

Some days I love the disorganization and craziness, like that I can just stand on the highway and wave down a bus at (almost) any time of day. And it never ceases to amaze me the condition the taxis were in in El Rosario (door panel? who needs a door panel? or a window for that matter?). And sometimes it's really frustrating. But, I have two years from tomorrow to get used to it all. My life as a Peace Corps Trainee is just about over, in the morning we will all swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers and on Sunday I will officially move to my site to begin my work.

Scary, exciting, overwhelming, amazing.... are all words to describe how I feel about this. I'm ready to be done with training, that's for sure. Do I feel fully prepared for this assignment? Nope! But that's life.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Si Dios Quiere

One of the dichos (sayings) that we've picked up here in Nicaragua is the ever popular “Si Dios quiere” which translates to “if God wants it.” For example:

Trainee: Bye, Host Family, I'm going to visit my site now. See you on Sunday!
Host Family Member: Si Dios quiere!

It can be a little disconcerting to be told that it depends on if God wants you to come back whether or not you actually will. This saying may be appearing on the t-shirts that may or may not be made for our group. Si Dios quiere.

I am extremely happy to report that it appears God wanted our youth group project to succeed, because it did! You may remember back a couple months when I talked about this youth group thing we were doing. Our group has had its ups and downs, but it largely fell apart right around our site visits when we were out of town and returned about as unmotivated as can be. However, this week we actually finished our project!

We had one last bit to accomplish: planting the trees. It wasn't clear how long this would take, but we scheduled a workday for last Tuesday morning only to find out that they were having a big celebrations to inaugurate the newly blocked road in town (the streets in the pueblos aren't paved like the highways, they're either dirt or covered with concrete blocks and it's a big deal when a street is finished) so we wouldn't be accomplishing anything. So we switched to Thursday. Unfortunately the woman we had been working with in the mayor's office, who really should get most of the credit for our project working out, was out sick so all efforts at communication failed: no trees, no workers, no nothing. We scheduled our last attempt for this past Monday and were able to plant 40 small trees with the help of a couple youth, some workers from the community garden, and our language facilitator who got dragged along in the process.

Here we are with our plants:

and planting:

and the finished product:

The cool thing about this project is that the mayor's office intends to continue working on it throughout the year. The trees we planted ring a basketball court and the plan is to put in some benches as well to make it a gathering place for the community. I hope to come back in a couple months and see all of our trees alive and healthy and hopefully with some shiny (not really, they'll be concrete) new benches around as well.

Si Dios quiere.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Just Call me Shel Wichmannstein

Less than two weeks of training left!! I knew the time would fly. It's kind of the same old same old, so here are a couple poems I wrote and some pictures. One of my personal goals for my Peace Corps time is to get back into writing so I hope I have a good batch of poetry and prose under my arm when I come back in 2 years (not saying it's gonna be good!). My attempts at serious poetry sound cheesy, so here are two of the goofy ones I actually like:

Nicaraguan Morning
Fireworks early in the morning at five
In my half-awake state that just doesn't jive.
Marching bands and excitement of an afternoon parade
and yet the night's moon is just starting to fade.

Enter now roosters with a cockle-doodle-do
and we always thought the the sun was their cue.
Reggaeton, Bon Jovi, the bass beats next door,
I shut my eyes tighter and wonder “What more?”

Morning isn't morning unless the baby is crying
then her sister starts up, you'd think she was dying.
The pigs, turkey, chickens, and cow at the neighbors
Along with the family begin their day's labors.

By the time my alarm cries in my ear
I feel as though I've been awake for a year.
Dragging myself slowly but surely from bed
I figure “What the hell, I can sleep when I'm dead.”

Ode to a Washer/Dryer
O Kenmore, GE, and off brands too
I never realized how much I love you!
You wash my clothes so quick and so clean
and even get out stains that are mean.
Now that I wash all my clothes in a sink
it has given me this special occasion to think
all about your spin cycle and ability to rinse
I would take you any day over a Nicaraguan prince.
We could live together so happy, so long
but only if you bring your friend dryer along.
You see, my dear washer, it's mighty humid here
so your clean clothes just won't dry till it's clear.
What good is a clean pair of jeans in the fold
if they stay wet and eventually mold?
So I need you both, my washer and dryer,
in order to keep my Peace Corps spirits higher.

And some photos from my site visit:

Here's my future workplace:

And a classroom:

The Parque Central:

And the beach! Come visit and we'll go here!:

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Peace Corps Rollercoaster

Here´s the situation:

First time meeting one of my counterpart teachers, they´ve just done an overview of Peace Corps and the project areas. First thing my counterpart, Thamara, and her husband ask me: So what are you going to be doing? I was dismayed, but not surprised that she had really no idea who I was or what I was going to be doing. The school´s director basically told her to come to Managua to pick up an American who would be working at the school. So that was my Tuesday.

I´ve just returned from my 5 day site visit and I can pretty honestly say that at least once each day I felt confident, competent, and ready to do my job. And at least once each day I panicked and wondered what it is that I´ve gotten myself into and just how I´m going to survive two years here. I figure that at least the first 3 months will be like that, if not more.

I spent a lot of the first two days with Thamara. I watched some classes at the school, she took me around town, and introduced me to her family who are all quite nice. She´s a little on the quiet side, but very excited to improve her English. and she´s my age, so that´s nice. The town itself isn´t as big as I thought it would be, there´s a supermarket and a sizable indoor market as well. There are some NGOs that I want to check out as possible collaboraters and the school´s in pretty decent shape, they even have a computer lab with free internet for teachers (score!).

My big challenge will be meeting people in the community. I had been hoping for a smaller site because it´s easier to meet people and know everyone, but I´ve got a mid-sized site and I don´t even live in town. My homestay is very comfortable (except for copious amounts of mosquitos) and my host mom and sister are really nice. However, we live in a little suburb like place north of my site and commuting in will be a pain. I had been told it was bikeable, but I´m not at all psyched to bike on a hilly highway all the way to school when it´s incredibly hot outside. Nosireebob. I´m trying to prepare my host mom for me leaving after 6 weeks, but she´s already intent on me staying.

I already am finding myself wondering if I´m doing this Peace Corps thing right, but the current volunteers have passed on words of wisdom that I feel like I should tattoo on my arm: Don´t compare your service to anyone else´s. Really, every volunteer is different and every site is different. Even so, I get caught up in questions like Am I talking to my family enough? Have I spent enough time on the stuff Peace Corps told me to do? I read like half a book today, is that bad? I hope that I can have a successful service, but I also need to cut myself some slack and do things at my own pace.

In any case, I doubt I´ll be paying much attention in class for our remaining 3 weeks of training and trying to soak up as much together time as I can with my friends. We´ve been blessed with a really good group of people who I hope to see somewhat often during service and I think I should be able to do that pretty easily.

Happy 4th of July everyone! You all had better have watched some fireworks and eaten a burger for me :)