Thursday, September 25, 2008

Despedidos

Nica 47 TEFL has officially lost its first person to a medical separation (holla, Ryan! Aka Gimpy McOwmyarmhurtspassmeanotherto├▒a), and Nica 47 in general has had its first ET (Early Termination – shout out to David, we were once mistaken for the married couple by PC staff one of the first days of training in Managua). And just today an email went out from another business volunteer announcing her imminent departure (I don't think Kristen reads this, but in case she finds it in the future, heya chica!). It's hard to have people leave, but I cannot pretend like the idea of saying “Adios!” to Nicaragua has not crossed my mind, possibly even daily since I got to my site.

I was discussing my own motivational failings with my brother via email, and he brought up a good point: “The annoying thing about life, I think, is how we're trained to think we need to plan everything out ahead of time and then go and do it, when really it seems like more of a back-and-forth process of "Hmm, what do I want to do? Well, I have some vague ideas..." then "Oh look! An opportunity that might allow me to pursue those ideas!" then maybe "Hmm this experience is not as satisfying as I'd hoped... what do I really want?" "Oh maybe this is the chance!" etc...”

I think a challenge that is not unique to Peace Corps but is present in everyone's lives is deciding when something just isn't working, whether it's a relationship or a job or school or anything. Rarely do opportunities come along that are 100% what we want to be doing and so indecision or the refusal to address an issue keeps us stubbornly banging our heads against a wall, literally or figuratively. One of the questions I ask myself a lot if I´m having an extended bad time is “How will I tell when this changes from being challenging-good to being challenging-bad? How do I know when it stops being worth it?” Even though I'm disappointed to say goodbye to fellow volunteers, I also respect the fact that they were able to look at their situation and say “Not for me! Next?”

Definitely do not take this as a precursor to my own Early Termination, because I'm nowhere near that point yet. The first three months in-site are supposed to be the hardest, and even though I have bad days when all I want is to be baking cookies with my girlfriends in DC or BBQing with my college friends, I also have plenty of good days. I was just laying in bed last night thinking about all of this and just had to share :)

My Workplace

Now that the Fiestas Patrias are over and therefore so is marching band practice, I have one less thing to contend with in order to instill the minds of tomorrow with the knowledge of English. However, the instituto still does not exactly provide an excellent learning environment. Classrooms are set up around a central courtyard and don't have windows, so noise from other classes or kids out in the courtyard can be a lot sometimes (add to that marching band practice and you understand why I might be a little happy the holiday has passed).

Here´s the school´s courtyard:


What's that you say? Why are the students so noisy, aren't they in class? Funny you should ask. My first couple weeks I was amazed by the number of students just wandering around the schoolyard and no one seemed to be doing anything about the fact that they weren't in class. So I finally asked one of my counterparts and he told me that either their teachers didn't show up so they have a “free hour” or maybe they just aren't in their classes. And even if they're in class, sometimes it seems like the kids do about 5 minutes of learning and then literally seem to just scream for the next 45 minutes. I guess it's not quite that bad, but with 40+ kids in a classroom you can see how it can get real loud real fast!

The classrooms themselves, despite being without windows can get really hot, especially in the afternoon when the sun has been beating on the zinc roof for several hours and the breeze dies down. I don't even want to think about what teaching will be like come March and April, the hottest months of the year here- I'm already sweating up a storm during some of my classes. Ick. Even more ick are the two classrooms closest to the bathrooms, which are ironically called “hygienic services” but judging by the stench they are nowhere near being hygienic. Now throw in the fact that the walls are covered in graffiti, half the desks are broken, and most all of the lights are nonfunctional and that about paints an accurate picture of my current workplace.

Classroom:


Seeing conditions like that, I wasn't surprised that the teachers receive almost no resources to speak of – they buy their own white board markers, no paper or markers for making visual aids, and most definitely no copy machine – and the students don't even have copies of the decades old textbook. However, we do have a computer lab with donated computers from the local cement plant, and that has lights and air conditioning. And the teacher's lounge has lights and air conditioning. I still haven't figured out where the resources for that come from though.

I have a huge amount of respect for the teachers and students here, it is not easy to teach in such an environment let alone to learn in one. More than complain, my intention with this post is to draw attention to the challenges faced in education in Nicaragua. Only with the election of Daniel Ortega did school become free for all to attend, that's a big step and it was only 2 years ago. The importance of education is so immense and I really am glad to be able to work in the schools, last little tidbit I'll throw at you: 50% of Nicaragua's population is 18 years of age or younger, 60% is 24 or younger. That's how important this young generation is, if they can start out right then this country can grow in a whole new direction. And if not....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fiestas Patrias

This weekend marks the 187th anniversary of Central America's independence from Spain. I know that number by heart now because they repeated it over and over and over again at the acto today. I don't really know what acto translates to, but it's basically a presentation of sorts. Despite having a long weekend, I chose to stay in-site to see what these Fiestas Patrias are all about.

Friday a torch that was being run through all of the Central American countries came through town. There was a parade and then some good ol' baile folklorico (folklore dance). I went with two German girls who are volunteering in town, Janni and Eva:



and we managed to sit up in the Important People Area because their boss was up there and signaled us to come on up! Here are some cute little girls in their traditional dresses for the baile (the middle girl is my neighbor, Erin):



and here's the alcalde (mayor) and the torch, I was sitting behind him so I didn't get such a good shot:




Sunday was the big parade and my friend Dianne was in town for the weekend, here we are clearly having the time of our lives:




and here are some shots of the flag girls and marching band from my school:








Watching the parade brought back dorky memories of marching band in high school and how awful our thick, polyester uniforms were- wearing them in a summer parade was described as being like taking a shower with your clothes on. These kids got significantly more comfortable uniforms but I'm sure they were still unbelievably hot marching in the hot sun, even if it was 9am. All the schools had dance teams in those short skirts and at least knee-high boots, and if that wasn't enough, their dance moves would scandalize most adults but that's par for the course in these parts.

Monday was, from what I can gather, the actual Independence Day. Although the acto didn't start till 8am I had been told by several people that the stadium would fill up really early, like by 6 to 7am. I showed up at about 7:10am to this:



Sooooo yeah. I chilled out till things actually got under way around 9am and the stadium looked more like this:



Each school from the municipality made their entrance, some people said some words, and by around 10am we were finally getting into the performances the schools had prepared. After several weeks of having to teach (or more likely not) above the din of marching band practice not so far away, I was excited to see the whole show. Here are some shots from the instituto's showcase:






Unfortunately things didn't go off quite without a hitch, being the biggest school there were both a lot of performers and also a lot of people who really wanted to see the instituto perform. This is a problem when the audience is standing on the field where the band needs to be and pretty soon people are throwing pop bottles and the the police are linking arms to herd people around while the announcer is yelling at everyone to move or else they won't finish the show. It took a good 5 or 10 minutes to get things back into order so the band could finish. All the bands did a great job and I think I saw the last one perform, but at 3pm I'd decided that I had had enough after 8 hours in the stadium and took off.

No class till Thursday! Hopefully planting trees today! The fun just never ends.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Anecdote of the Day

I hope to have an exciting and photo-filled post after this weekend's Fiestas Patrias (aka Nicaraguan Independence Day), but for now I thought I'd share a little story that exemplifies the weirdness that I encounter on a day to day basis.

This morning I was walking to one of the local NGOs when this man next door to my destination started calling out "Alemana! Alemana!" which basically means German girl (this is not surprising to me because this particular NGO has a lot of funding from Germany and I was actually on my way to see two German girls who are working there for a couple months, people rarely think I'm American). So I stopped and explained that I'm actually American. He then told me that he was going to give me a souvenir so I'll remember that I have friends here, or something like that, this is a random, old, semi-crazy guy speaking in Spanish so I didn't catch quite everything. Anyway, he pulled the rubberband off his wrist and placed it on mine.

I was actually pretty relieved to see that he was only giving me a rubberband, I'm still not very good at accepting the sometimes overwhelming generosity of some of the Nicaraguans I've met so I wasn't sure what he was going to give me. Then, in true Crazy Guy in a Rocking Chair style, he asked me to give him my ring as a gift. I kindly explained that this was a ring from a trip a long time ago and it meant a lot to me, but would he like his rubberband back? No, no, I got to keep the rubberband and my ring, win-win for me.

Mini-life update: Last week it rained everyday because of the passing tropical storms and hurricanes in the vicinity. My laundry didn't dry and that made me sad, but otherwise I enjoyed the cool weather. This week it's hot and dry and despite all the damage they cause, I miss the tropical storms. This weekend is the equivalent of Nicaraguan Independence Day so classes have been erratic with cancellations for band practice, as well as missing students due to torrential downpours and we've been doing exams as well so nothing has been happening like it should. Lastly, my “site mate” arrived this weekend, he's a South African soccer player who's going to be working with the phy ed teachers in the schools and who knows what all for the next year. He makes me feel unaccomplished as he's already gotten himself a spot on one of the Division I soccer teams, that's professional soccer here in Nicaragua, and he's only been here about 5 days.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Priscila Queen of the Pacific Coast; or Gay Rights in Nicaragua


I have a big soft spot in my heart for drag queens and have been known to frequent many such events, particularly while I lived in DC (might I suggest Drag Queen Bingo at Chaos on Tuesday nights, Drag Queen Bunch at Perry's on Sunday mornings, or the annual Drag Race on 17th Street at the end of October??). I thought when I came to Nicaragua that my days of rubbing elbows with men in drag would be over for the next 27 months, boy was I wrong!!!

In a show that rivaled John Travolta Nica, I was able to see two lovely drag queens sing and dance at a discoteca down near the beach this past weekend. Unfortunately I wasn't properly prepared and thus do not have any photos, but here's a photo of “Shakira” from Drag Queen Brunch last spring that I think adequately captures the event:

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GLBT issues in Nicaragua are complicated, as they are most everywhere, but the climate here is much more open than I had expected. I remember being surprised to see a man dressed in a tube top with make-up one day in my tiny training town, but it turned out he was Marisol, the local beautician that people really didn't pay much mind to. My impression is that for the most part gay men (who may or may not like to dress in drag) are left alone, but can still be a source of much gossip and are generally looked down upon by other men and often befriended by women. Not necessarily that different from the U.S. However, the definition of just who is gay can be another story. We were told Marisol had a boyfriend who was married with children, but he wasn't gay. Peace Corps staff explained this phenomenon to us with a local saying: “If the canoe gets wet...” And I'll leave it at that.

Gay women, I've been told, largely don't exist here. I mean, they may be out there but they are generally married to men and living a traditional female lifestyle regardless of their sexual preference. Who can really know if this will change anytime soon, the country has bigger fish to fry right now than thinking about gay rights. But, I'm still pretty happy to know that I might get to see some guys in 8 inch platform spiked heels and bad wigs doing cartwheels every once in a while for the next couple years.