Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Photo Montage of America

Week One: Minnesota:

Ate cheese curds at the Dam Festival with friends:

At my dad’s family reunion with my cousins:

Family reunion potluck = the best food in Minnesota:

Visiting friends:

Visited a winery, I never even knew there were wineries in Minnesota!

Last Three Days: Washington, DC:

At happy hour:

Wandering the city:

A night out with the girls:

More quality time with the girls:

The visit was waaaaay too short, but I had a fantastic time and I miss everyone terribly. I didn’t get hit by culture shock too badly, but here is my Top Ten Weird Things About America list:

1)You can flush toilet paper down the toilet – I knew I was home again when I got to flush TP in the Miami Airport. However, I didn’t get used to it and nearly threw it in the trash every time I used the facilities (TP can’t be flushed here, the system can’t handle it).

2)Streets are clean and free of stray dogs – really I noticed this more in returning to Nicaragua, I guess in the past everything was wrapped up in banana leaves so everything was just thrown on the ground and it would decompose quickly. Not so with plastic bags, but everyone still does it and I have to resist the urge to yell at people when they throw trash out of the windows of the bus.

3)Lots of cars – and in MN, an unbelievable amount of Pontiacs. Never noticed that before.

4)The sun sets at 9pm – we have 12 hours of sun in Nicaragua pretty much year-round, give or take a few minutes. I was in Minnesota during the summer solstice and thought my watch was broken the first day when it hit 6pm and the sun was still pretty high in the sky. I remember that being a major adjustment for me when I first got to Nicaragua, I miss long summer days.

5)Diversity – moreso in DC, people of various colors!! Nicaragua is homogenous.

6)English! – Everyone speaks English (except in the Miami airport), big surprise.

7)People dress weird – Everyone in the U.S. has something to say with their clothing, and in a way so do people here in Nicaragua, but the difference in dress is much less pronounced especially in the countryside. And you can always tell when new shipments have come in because suddenly everyone is wearing the same shirt or shoes or hair clips.

8)I can walk the streets in peace – outside of a couple cat calls in DC, no one paid any attention to me – well they may have paid a little attention to the crazy girl with a massive backpack on the metro but whatevs.

9)Tall trees – driving around in Minnesota I was amazed at how tall the trees are there and how small they are around here in comparison.

10)Easy access to goods and services – Even in Small Falls there are various 24-hour establishments and in DC you can get a wide variety of food and goods at any hour of the day. Some of it will even arrive directly to your door. Amazing!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Adios America

I've been too busy eating everything in my path and spending time with my family and as many friends as I have had time for (sorry to those people I missed, the visit was short) to post on the blog. And I still haven't been able to upload my photos so I don't have much to show for the past 10 days yet. But my vacation is quickly coming to an end, sadly enough. The whole thing has felt much like a dream and going back to Nicaragua is neither sad or exciting for me. Regardless, I fly out tomorrow morning and I'll have a better post sometime next week.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I'm writing this from the comfort of my parent's unbelievably comfortable recliner couch while hooked up to wireless internet (though that was a bit of a challenge) and listening to the sounds of my mom making bars (a midwestern delicacy of epic proportions). I am home.

My mind is still in a half-dream state about being here, but my stomach sure isn't. So far I've been fed amazingly wonderful food: hamburgers, steak, yummy sandwiches, grapes, pizza hut pizza, and cheese curds!! There will be a picture of the cheese curds later when I find someone to lend me their camera cable because I intelligently left mine in Nicaragua. Even though they cost $6 (that's about 120 cordobas which will buy you a small but very nice fish at the beach), the cheese curds were totally worth it.

In my small hometown I happened to come home during the Dam Festival (hence the cheese curds), celebrating the dam in town (toted as "the best dam festival in Minnesota") which reminded me again of the incredible diversity of rural Minnesotans. Granted they were all white, but you got your rural gangster types, farmers, bikers, townies who think they have money, townies who definitely don't have money, and about half of my high school class. Ok, there weren't that many of my former classmates there, but enough that I was doing double takes every couple of minutes trying to remember names and faces.

Today we're heading down for family reunion fun with my dad's family and I'm quite excited for the potluck lunch on Sunday. It should be good times with a large group of very chatty folks.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009



I can breathe a huge sigh of relief now that we’ve given the workshop for the English teachers in my municipality. I’ve been planning this workshop (or in Spanish: Taller) with two other volunteers for a couple months now but it kicked into high gear towards the end of April/beginning of May as I started talking with the principals and the Ministry of Education folks and set a tentative date of June 9th that I wasn’t really sure would happen. Plans changed a little bit from what I had been envisioning and so I made a last minute attempt to get money from the mayor’s office (alcaldia) to cover the transportation for the teacher participants and the volunteers who would be presenting, a snack, and some materials. This can be a long, arduous process as you chase down the mayor and hope that he’s feeling generous, and since I’d heard mixed reviews of our new mayor’s willingness to give money, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Luckily a friend advised me to make an appointment which I never would have thought to do because usually you just have to go to the alcaldia and hope the mayor’s there and that there isn’t a huge line of people waiting to speak to him.

I went to the alcaldia in mid-May in hopes of seeing the mayor but ended up making an appointment for the 29th and left a letter of request for 725 cordobas (roughly $36). I went back on the 27th to confirm my appointment and the secretary told me that my request had been authorized!! I was shocked, and kind of didn’t believe her at first. She made some copies of stuff and told me the money would be ready the following week. I did go back that Friday for the appointment but the mayor wasn’t in the office, but my check was all ready by June 3rd and I went to the bank this past Saturday and stood in line for an hour and a half to cash it. But not without documenting it first:

With my money in hand, I only had to organize a few last details such as the snacks and, oh yeah, planning almost my entire presentation on materials development on Sunday morning! But I got everything in line, a good location, thank you notes for the mayor and MINED folks, food for the other two volunteers, and small change to use to reimburse the travel expenses. Tuesday morning I woke up at 4:30am to the sound of rain and figured that my good karma was ending because no one does anything when it’s raining out and they certainly don’t travel anywhere from one to 20 kilometers to go to a workshop they may not even want to attend. To beat, I got a call from my volunteer friends that they had been waiting for the bus for a very long time and none had passed.

I kind of nervously made my way up to the school around 7:15 (morning classes start at 7am) and there were a few kids and fewer teachers around. I waited calmly and eventually the rain let up, the teacher with the keys to our space showed up and around 7:45 so did my volunteer friends. Slowly the English teachers started rolling in and by 8:30 all of the six teachers I expected had arrived (we told everyone 8am but planned for an 8:30 start time, it worked out perfectly). Needless to say, I was relieved and amazed to have everyone there, the presentations went really well and I think the teachers really learned something – one woman gave us all hugs which was nice! The afternoon wasn’t quite as smooth, I expected four teachers and we only got two, but it was still a good session.

I wish I could accurately convey just how proud and happy I am that things went so well. Doing a taller seemed like something so far above my level when I started my service and I never expected to do one before my second year (more experienced volunteers are expected to do talleres their first year and those of us with less teaching experience are expected to start them the second year – of the three of us who were working together, one was more experienced and two of us were newbies). My work can be really frustrating at times and I have trouble getting projects off the ground, so this comes as a huge personal and professional accomplishment for me, and what’s more I feel like I built up some good relationships with people in the community who helped me draft letters and thank you notes, set up the appointments, and just generally gave me advice.

Here are the six teachers working hard in the morning session (the two guys on the right are my counterparts I work with every week):

On Monday and Tuesday we’re doing the same taller in the other volunteers’ sites and Wednesday I fly for Minnesota! Unbelievable.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Another Successful Visit

The rest of Laura's visit was fantastic, we enjoyed the beach at Pochomil

and then headed down to the Island of Ometepe for the weekend which was spectacular.

I believe it is my new favorite place in Nicaragua, too bad it's it takes forever to get there from my site. I think the island is Nicaragua at its best: the people are super nice (I have the number for an excellent and informative taxi driver if anyone is looking for one), the landscape is gorgeous, it's safe, and although there were many tourists around even for the end of May, it didn't feel like they were encroaching on the local culture and I got the impression that more of the tourist infrastructure out there is Nica-owned (as opposed to Granada where it seems like all the most successful businesses are owned by expats).

Rather than spend a full day and what I can only imagine would have been gallons of sweat climbing up one of the two volcanoes, we opted for a 3 hour hike to a look-out point on Volcan Maderas, the smaller of the two. I think it nearly killed Laura and left me with a little family of blisters on both my feet.

Laura & our guide heading up the last steep portion:

The lovely view, Volcan Concepcion hidden behind the clouds and the lake below:

We rewarded that effort with an afternoon on the beach at Playa Santo Domingo:

(It was windy)

The next day we walked 4 kilometers to a farm in Balgue to see petroglyphs and buy some locally grown coffee.

We saw some howler monkeys along the way:

My feet survived that trip better but Laura's did not and we had some extremely good luck when the owner of our hostel drove past and gave us a lift home.

We also rewarded that with some beach time.

We spent our last night back in Granada and after all that sweating, we opted for a room with AC and got prettied up for our last night.

Cable TV and air conditioning totally warrants a photo:

Out on the town:

I'm sad to see Laura go, we had a great time and it seemed like everyone and their mother was asking when she would come back (my students even offered to raise money to fly her back down!). But continue I must, and I’m happy to say that I just had my mid-term health check-up and I’m pretty darned healthy. However, the highlight of my week was definitely receiving a check from the mayor’s office to cover some of the expenses for the teacher workshop I’m putting on next week with two other volunteers. That's a whole story in itself that I'll tell another day.