Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Alphabet Soup

Like any good government agency, Peace Corps is full of acronyms: PST, IST, COS, APCD, ET, SLF, VRF, PDM, the list goes on. So this past week we had our one-year IST which stands for In-Service Training. There was one three months in that I missed because I was still hanging around in Panama and then we get this one at a year in. I have officially made it through one full year of Peace Corps service!

For IST everyone grabbed a counterpart or two and headed to the lovely northern city of Matagalpa:

I originally was gunning for a site in this area because of its cooler temperatures. I brought a sweater, wore closed-toed shoes, and even wore my hair down! Craziness! And we were put up in a lovely hotel up on the hill that had hot water and cable TV – quite frankly they’re lucky we left our rooms.

But it wasn’t all hot showers and vegging out, we definitely worked hard for our nice accommodations. Most of us left our sites between 5 and 6am on Wednesday to be in Matagalpa by 10:30am and we started promptly at 11. We worked all day Wed and Thurs. Friday our counterparts left after lunch and us volunteers stuck around to do some more stuff and were cut loose on Saturday. We covered a lot of topics, largely pertaining to activities to use in the classroom, evaluation methods, planning teaching workshops, going over our new manual for the new curriculum, and learning a bit about Nonviolent Communication – which I think everyone should learn about! Here are Erin and Alli teaching everyone about how to resolve conflicts more effectively:

It’s challenging to get so much information in such a short time, but I know my counterpart, Axel, really enjoyed it. Here he is with a mango:

And here’s Axel with Matagalpa in the background, I guess he’s trying to look like a tough guy or something:

More photo highlights:

The lovely ladies of TEFL:

Enjoying a break:

And singing along to Eternal Flame, yes those microphones are markers – we were a little punchy by the end:

It was really great to see everyone and get to hear a little about what people have been up to for the last year. We also received our official COS date (that is Close of Service, when we’re done) and that is July 16th, 2010. I know that the next year will fly by so I need to get on those projects that have been floating around in my head. Also, after April 16th I can’t take more vacation so all you stragglers out there who still wanna come visit better take note!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nica 51 Packing List!

This post is really for the new group of TEFL trainees who will be landing in Nicaragua in September. I figure at this point they’re starting to gather some of the stuff they’ll need for the big plunge so I present my list of necessary items:

Must Haves:
• Headlamp – for late night reading under the mosquito net/trips to the latrine/when the lights go out
• USB Memory Sticks – for taking to the ciber, backing up photos
• Camera - duh
• A good everyday bag – I actually found my good everyday bag in Panama, it has a strap that you can lengthen to wear crosswise or shorten to wear on the shoulder & it’s big enough to fit a couple notebooks & a water bottle
• Umbrella or rain jacket – it rains a lot, especially in October, I recommend the umbrella route
• Books – again, duh

• Ipod & speakers – you can take them to school if you want, or just to play music at home
• Battery powered alarm clock
• Command hooks – esp if you think you’ll live on your own
• Cards/Uno deck – my host sisters really liked playing Uno during training
• Laptop & DVDs – aside from the obvious benefits, PC does a lot of communication electronically so it will save you money going to the ciber all the time to write reports, etc. Don’t bring a shiny new laptop though, it could get stolen, attacked by viruses from using USBs at the ciber, and most likely will be covered in dust after the first summer in Nicaragua. Mine is suddenly slow as molasses & I can’t figure out why. Be prepared to junk it when you leave.

If you have space
• Pillow – I brought mine and I’m sooooo happy I did!
• Spanish-language book, if you have one you like – I didn’t bring one & wish that I had
• Sheets – this is more for if you plan to live on your own, you also might just wait & have them sent down later or bring them back when you visit home which is what I did

Women’s Clothing – my advice is to pack what you can and leave a pile of clothes behind, some for hot climates & some for cooler climates & when you get your site assignment you can have your family or whoever send off a package – this goes for anything you wanna pack & don’t have space for.
• Look for materials that either absorb sweat or don’t show it, or bring camisoles to wear under your shirts if you sweat a lot
• At least 10 pairs of underwear, synthetic if possible
• 7 bras, including sports bras
• 5-7 pairs of socks
• Work-appropriate tank tops with wide straps – no spaghetti straps at school, but teachers here do wear sleeveless stuff, just make sure it’s tasteful
• 7 shirts/tank tops you can wear to work
• 5 shirts/tank tops for casual
• 2-3 long-sleeved shirts
• 1 going-out outfit
• 1-2 pairs of jeans
• 3-4 work pants or capris or skirts
• 1-2 casual pants or skirts
• 1-2 nice outfits or dresses
• 2 pairs of shorts for lounging around
• 1-2 swimsuits
• Pajamas
• A fleece or light jacket
• Tennis shoes
• Walking sandals
• 1-2 Nicer work sandals/shoes
• Flip flops

For guys, work dress is a lot more lax – nice jeans are acceptable for both sexes but the male teachers wear jeans a lot more than the female ones. And a simple button-up is good for work or whatever.

Toiletries – it is true that you can buy most any of this stuff in-country (except contact solution, which you can find but it’s tricky) but during training you get very little money so either pack it or bring money from home to buy it with
• Lots of contact solution if you use it
• If there’s space, a large supply of pads and/or tampons, pantyliners or bring a Diva Cup
• Pack Towel
• The usual: toothbrush, tooth paste, shampoo, conditioner, soap, hair bands, etc

• School supplies – markers, whiteboard markers, index cards, pens & pencils
• Special spices for cooking
• Sheet/blanket/sleepsack for hostels
• Sewing kit
• Sunglasses
• Moon Handbook
• Anti-bacterial hand stuff
• Flashlight
• Gatorade powder
• Yoga mat or other exercise stuff – I didn’t bring my yoga mat & was able to buy one here but I had to wait till the very end of training. I have started downloading yoga podcasts on my laptop to do at home & you can bring exercise DVDs or buy them here (only a dollar for bootleg DVDs!)

You’ll be given a big bag o’ books during staging as well so be prepared. It includes a Spanish-English dictionary & some more language stuff, as well as technical manuals & a notebook to use during training. I packed in a large backpacking pack, a rolling duffle bag, and my normal backpack & so far that’s served me pretty well.

And a word on staging in DC – a number of people in our training group had problems with the staff in DC in terms of clothing and piercings, but as far as I know none of the issues they brought up were actually issues in Nicaragua. Por ejemplo, my roommate in staging was told that her dress pant capris were too short (they kinda showed her knees a little) so she ran out and bought a bunch of new stuff before we left but I know she’s worn them here and never been told they were inappropriate. Same for piercings, some people were told to take out eyebrow and nose piercings in DC but when worn in Nicaragua they never have had problems. And not everyone with piercings was told to take them out. My recommendation is to wear your nicest stuff to DC and if you have a piercing to wear a small one. If there’s a real issue with something you wear, the staff in Nicaragua will tell you. Keep things tasteful and respectful while at the same time being true to who you are. We want to be good representatives for the U.S. while at the same time representing its diversity and ourselves as well – that of course is my opinion and has nothing to do with official Peace Corps policy :)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Wedding, Nica Style

As you may or may not remember, there is a former volunteer who lives about 20 km away from me. Sarah left Peace Corps but she stayed in the country to teach in another school near Managua and this past weekend she got married to her boyfriend (now husband), Moises.

You may be thinking “woah, PC volunteer marrying a Nicaraguan!?! Craziness!” but it actually happens a whole lot – more often with female volunteers marrying Nicaraguan guys but it can go the other way too. Seeing the direction the rest of our TEFL group is headed in, I kind of doubt that anyone else will be taking the plunge before we leave.

I digress.

Six of us volunteers attended the wedding, and we weren’t really sure what to expect. Sarah’s parents and a group of friends flew down for the festivities but it was largely a Nicaraguan affair. First off, it started a half hour late :) All the gringos were firmly in their seats but the Nica’s kinda just rolled in whenever so although we started with a half empty church, it ended closer to full. There were also about a zillion screaming babies.

The actual service was what surprised me the most. It started out much like any religious wedding, but in the middle of it the pastor stepped down and a lady in a suit stepped up and took care of the civil part of the wedding. This involved reading off the full names, ages, professions, and birth places of the bride and groom and having them along with their witnesses sign some paperwork. When that was over we got back into the religious stuff and finished with the usual kiss. We all thoroughly enjoyed the part where the pastor was trying to pronounce English stuff and would make his attempt and then follow it with “algo asi” (something like that).

Then there was the reception with food and the best cake I’ve eaten in Nicaragua (Nica cake is different from American cake- especially the frosting which just doesn’t taste right and they put something between the two layers of cake that looks like it might be tasty but usually it’s not – the first time we got Nica cake during training everyone’s eyes lit up but that only lasted until the first bite when we realized that it’s not what we were expecting). Then my friend Maria caught the bouquet, the second one she’s caught in Nicaragua thus far:

Overall, really not that different from a wedding in the U.S. except for the civil part.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fun with English-learning

One of my secondary projects (teaching in the schools is my primary project) is teaching English to the three person staff of a local NGO – I know I’ve written about them before. I love teaching them, partly for situations that arise that are absolutely hilarious. One of my favorite misunderstandings that came out of that class happened a while back. I asked one of the women “Do you have a cousin in Rivas?” and her attempt at translating before answering (“Eres una cocina en Rivas?”) actually means “Are you a kitchen in Rivas?” That might be one of those, “you had to be there” moments but we still laugh about it to this day.

Last week in class we were going over the homework which was to match the opposite adjectives in a list (small-large, deep-shallow, etc.) and the two women in the group had worked together and determined that “tall” didn’t match with anything on the list and so they had written in “bass.” I kept looking at it thinking “how in the world did they come up with bass?” With a little more thought I realized that they had taken “tall” which is “alto” in Spanish and knew that the opposite was “bajo,” which translates to both “short” and “bass” as in bass guitar. It’s like a little puzzle sometimes making the connections :)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cultural Tidbits from Central America

As I hope you all have heard, there was a coup last week in Honduras. The same day I flew into Nicaragua, the military took over the government in Honduras, installed a new president, and flew President Zelaya to Costa Rica and thus far have not allowed him to return to the country. This happened for a variety of reasons, foremost being that the Honduran constitution prohibits not only re-election, but any attempt at changing the constitution to allow it. So Zelaya was trying to find a way around this little hurdle, not unlike all the Alba buddies (Chavez, Morales, and Nicaragua’s own Daniel Ortega) who are all looking to find a way to remain in power. So far all Peace Corps volunteers in Honduras are staying in their sites since most of the action is in the capital and there have been no far flung effects into Nicaragua.

Closer to home, not to be outdone by Michael Jackson’s sudden death, the mayor of Managua unexpectedly shot himself in the chest (so they say) this past week. The mayor, Alexis Arg├╝ello, is well-known and loved in Nicaragua not for his politics but for being a three-time boxing champion who put Nicaragua on the sports world map I believe back in the 70s. Although he was the Sandinista candidate, he was apparently not strongly Sandinista and so the official story is that others were pushing him and trying to control him to implement more of the Sandinista ideals which pushed him to suicide (yeah, I dunno either). I’ve been told that he only got into politics because he’s got like 8 kids and no money after years of battling a drug problem & in Nicaragua you can make some serious money as a politician which is the reason most people want to be mayor, not a desire to improve anything.

I happened to be in Managua the day they processed through town which made my trip to Granada a whole lot slower. People lined the streets to say goodbye and lots of trucks full of supporters and fans followed behind the hearse. Here’s the hullabaloo as it passed:

When I did finally make it to Granada, I enjoyed a lovely weekend with my fellow-volunteers celebrating the 4th of July:

It helps to know expats with pools:

And of course, there was a dance party:

Oh yeah, speaking of pools, we also celebrated Dia del Maestro (Teacher’s Day) last Monday. Our mayor threw a big party for all the teachers down by the beach which was lovely, though it was also my first full day back in the country and I was a little overwhelmed in general.

Mariachi band by the pool:

Last week was kind of a slow start for me coming back, but a little volunteer bonding time has me back to normal and ready to work. Luckily this week we have school vacations before we start the new semester next week so I have some more time to regroup and get ready for the second half of the school year.