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!”