Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Boards & Bruises

To continue where I left off, I went volcano boarding in Leon with three visiting friends (Mateo, Curran, and Annie) and my volunteer friend Maria. I realize this might be a totally new concept for people, so let me explain: there are a couple ways to do it, but we went through a hostel that supposedly was the first to offer this crazy opportunity. They drove us and about 8 other adventure-seeking tourists out to Cerro Negro (in Spanish: Black Hill) which we climbed up and hiked around in under an hour. We had to carry our boards which consist of wood with a rope handle stuck onto some sheet metal and a piece of plastic under your butt to make you go extra fast. You’re basically sledding with a handle. We were also given sexy orange jumpsuits & goggles.

The group heading up the Black Hill

Geographers on a volcano (the three of us were all geography majors in college, so no, I’m not the only one)

Maria & me dancing on the volcano

Curran & Annie modeling their jumpsuits

Our guide was this Aussie guy who irked me by explaining for the ladies how to go slowly and for the men (who were told they weren’t allowed to brake or they’d be called pussies) how to go fast. This of course made me decide that I had to go as fast as possible just to prove him wrong. I ended up going first with Annie. My friend Curran ended up pushing me off, I couldn’t really think fast enough to try to steer like we’d been shown so I just held on and rode out the bumps and curves as best I could (this isn’t sand, mind you, but mostly small volcanic rocks so some parts weren’t exactly smooth riding). I made it all the way to the bottom before wiping out at top speed in the worst place to fall due to the larger rocks in the last few meters.

I tumbled a couple times, gathered my wits, got up, and the guy at the bottom showed me my speed: 68 km/hr (aka 42 mph)!! I was pretty stunned from the fall but he said good job and I limped off to check my wounds. I had some minor scratches on my left arm and right leg, but my crowning glory was on my left leg – clearly the pants had flown up leaving my leg exposed when I fell.

Everyone in the group fell at least once, except for Curran who actually slid to a stop halfway down the hill, but no one got scratched up as bad as me. In the end I had the top speed by more than 10kph for both men and women and got my name on the high speed list for women at the hostel: tied for #4!! Totally worth it.

Maria volcano boarding

Annie & me showing off our wounds (Annie does have one, you probably can’t see it though!)

Look at me, I have a record!

The rest of the week we spent in my site celebrating Central America’s independence from Spain and at various beaches. As if I wasn’t beaten up already, I tried surfing since Curran & Annie had done it before and wanted to get some wave-riding in. Nicaragua is actually a fantastic surf spot due to favorable winds created by the big lake. I picked up some more bruises from that adventure (including a beauty from getting whacked by the fin) but I did manage to ride in a couple small waves on my knees and kind of almost stood up a couple times!

I’ve never seen sunsets as beautiful as in Nicaragua

Sand castle triumph

Clearly I had an amazing time traveling and hanging out with my friends, but now it’s back to site for the last 2 months of classes and continuing to plug away on my random projects. Oh, and healing up – don’t worry, my leg is healing nicely.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

All work and no play.....

I´ve been super busy the past couple weeks, culminating in presenting at a conference on Thurs and Fri in Managua. The conference is open to all English teachers in Nicaragua, it´s not free but there are scholarships and such available & while we initially were told about 600 people would be there the final tally after registration the first day was more like 1,100!! Awesome that so many teachers were able to attend, but it created problems for us who had been told to expect 30 participants per session (and therefore 30 copies of handouts) while in some sessions double that showed up.

I was nervous going in, I get anxious about speaking in public in general & yet had decided that I should do not only the one presentation with my friend Maria but a second one by myself which I ended up preparing only the weekend before. I thought it would be a good challenge for myself and provide good practice, but I was afraid that maybe it was too big of a venue to be ¨practicing.¨

Luckily all went well, Maria and I did our presentation on how to improve your English twice the first day - first to a group of 60 and then to a group of 40. On Friday I did my solo presentation only once to a group of 35. Both went really well, it´s probably the least nervous I´ve ever been before speaking before a sizable group of people. Not to say my public speaking fear is totally gone, but I¨m proud of myself for taking a risk and having it pay off.

After the conference on Friday I met up with some friends visiting from the states & headed up to Leon to see the sites and do some volcano boarding! So far we´ve had an awesome time, it´s nice to get a chance to relax and unwind after all that stress. Today we´re heading back to my site to enjoy the Fiestas Patrias festivities tomorrow and Tuesday celebrating Central America´s independence from Spain. I will post pictures as soon as I can but it might be till after my friends leave that I have a chance to post again.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Poder Ciudadana (Citizen Power)

When I was at PDM, my counterpart, Rafael, mentioned to me that his NGO was going to be doing a series of trainings with community leaders from the small communities around San Rafael about laws guaranteeing citizen participation as well as how to design a community project. He asked if I’d like to help out and obviously I jumped at the chance.

Those trainings were this past week and it was a very eye-opening experience. I had the opportunity to meet folks who live in some very impoverished areas, hear their thoughts and concerns, and see what projects they would like to see completed in their communities. One thing that caught my eye was how many women were in attendance – I guess that even in a country where machismo is the norm and women often don’t have the same opportunities as men, they still are the ones who are most involved in their communities. I suppose too that since the training was held during normal working hours that perhaps there were men who would have come but were working.

Groups working:

Rafael presenting:

Part of the agenda was for groups to make a map of how they want their community to look in five years, and then a list of projects needed to make it that way. Since CEDRU was going to take the lists to the mayor’s office to give them an idea of all the needs in the communities, we asked the participants to make the lists as specific as possible (exact numbers, distances, etc.). I was helping one group put more detail in their list – the project listed was for electrification so I asked how many houses were without electricity and they answered 22. Then I asked how many houses were in the community and they said 25.

I was surprised to see how many communities had electrification projects as well as drinking water & well building projects on their lists – imagine that, living only a couple kilometers from people who have lights, water, TVs, computers, the works, & you’re stuck carrying water from the river and burning candles. Living in my fairly large site with all its amenities, I something forget how poor Nicaragua really is. Other desired projects included repairing and paving roads, building health centers, fixing roofs for the poor, food programs for children and the elderly, libraries, classrooms, and parks and playing fields.

The idea behind the training was to educate these citizens about their rights to participate in local government and to get started on a project proposal to turn in to the mayor’s office to be included in the budget for next year. Many of the participants thanked the NGO for providing the training, they never knew anything about the laws guaranteeing their participation and even less about how to formally present a project. They were excited and motivated to participate, now let’s see if a) they turn in their proposals and b) if the mayor follows through and funds them.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ciao Chele

Although I’ve never had a Peace Corps sitemate, I was blessed with a random white South African German dude named Bernd, or Bernardo as the case may be. He’s been here almost the entire time I have working in primary schools as a physical education teacher and training some soccer teams. This kid has one of the best dispositions I have ever seen, rarely in a bad mood, always ready for an adventure, willing to talk to anyone and everyone. We’ve shared good experiences (days at the beach, nights out, traveling, learning the difference between British and American English, & when to slip “cheeky” into a sentence) and bad ones (that time I kicked rebar into my foot and he helped me to the centro de salud, the general stress of living outside one’s country). It is entirely impossible to explain our friendship, so I give you Montage de Bernd:

I think this one photo sums him up:

Getting crazy in the truck:

Gangsta volunteers:

The beach!

Getting more crazy when the truck breaks down:

Excellent posture:

Training a soccer team on the beach – with Bernd I got to get a peek into the life of men in Nicaragua that I may not have seen otherwise. Since I can’t trust really any man in Nicaragua, it was nice to have one guy I could go places with and not worry if it “meant” something:

I can’t remember what they’re called in Spanish, but those things we’re eating are bull testicles:

Throwing around small children, as usual:

It’s not really goodbye, it just means that a trip to South Africa is in the works :)