Thursday, October 29, 2009


A popular activity to do in English classes here is to do an English Song Festival where the kids pick songs to sing. Any English song festival would not be complete without the inclusion of one of the following: Rivers of Babylon, Eternal Flame, or anything by Air Supply. What most of us volunteers consider to be cheesey 80s music is still widely listened to here and I’ve almost gotten used to hearing Cindy Lauper on a semi-regular basis. And Air Supply recently performed a concert in Managua and the band stayed at the hotel where my friend Maria works so she managed to snag tickets to the concert and was super duper psyched.

So the 8th grade kids in my country school were performing their songs this week, there was Rivers of Babylon, Dust in the Wind, a song I didn’t know, and a reggaeton song that was totally inappropriate but since neither the students nor my counterpart understood the lyrics it was pretty much ok (if you don’t know what reggaeton sounds like, google Daddy Yankee or Wisin and Yandel). However, I was shocked to find that most of the students were really embarrassed to sing in front of everyone.

It might seem natural that high schoolers would be embarrassed to sing in front of their class, but I had generalized that all Nicaraguans love to sing, regardless of talent for the art, because I have seen so many people sing rather out of key in front of large groups of people and not blink an eye. My counterpart at that school never understands why I don’t feel comfortable jumping up and belting out the Star Spangled Banner all by myself. I’ve tried to explain to him that in the U.S. only people who sing really well sing in front of groups of people but he always shrugs and then belts out a couple lines from his favorite songs.

I think back to my friend Sarah’s wedding here, where one singer didn’t quite hit all the correct notes. The volunteers in attendance maintained composure but Sarah’s gringo guests who were new to Nicaragua were giving each other glances and even Sarah’s mom couldn’t keep a straight face. Meanwhile I’m sure the Nicaraguans were like “What’s wrong with the gringos?”

However, the person who takes the Singing Cake is one of my neighbors. This neighbor loves to sing at the very top of her lungs to the point that she’s yelling and not even singing, and completely out of tune. This clearly drives me perfectly insane on a nice Saturday afternoon when I’m reading in my hammock and find myself cringing every 10 seconds.

I don’t want this post to come off sounding judgmental and negative, I just generally find it amazing that people are able to get up and sing with abandon and not worry about what they sound like. Perhaps we gringos (or at least me gringa) are too uptight in expecting anyone who sings in public to be perfect and should learn to appreciate the sentiment behind song, rather than concentrate on each note.

Since I don’t have any pics from the singing this week, here’s the student who sang the inappropriate reggaeton song lip synching a different reggaeton song at a big presentation-type thing a couple months back:

And on a completely unrelated note, there have been some pretty major political developments recently. Major enough for the BBC to take notice at least.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

El niño is Spanish for…. The niño!!!!

At this time last year I was pulling my hair out waiting out days upon days of nearly non-stop rain. Generally, September and October are the rainiest months of the year as hurricanes and tropical storms mostly swing through the Caribbean which causes a bunch of rain on the Pacific coast. However, Rainy Season 2009 has turned out to be quite the dud & the fact that it’s been raining every night since Sunday is a miracle & much-welcomed by all. The el niño effect is apparently responsible for our sequia (drought) – something about the ocean heating up and preventing clouds from forming. Algo asi (something like that).

At first I really had no problem with the lack of rain, it meant I could still make it out to my country school on a hilly dirt road that becomes nearly impassable when it rains a lot and just getting around town wasn’t such a pain. But after a while everyone started getting a little worried (my counterpart even told the kids to pray for rain, & yes that’s legal here for him to say that) because obviously no rain = fewer crops = higher food prices + economic crisis + no more aid money = Nicaraguans are hungrier & poorer. It’s pretty late in the season for the rain so I’m not sure if it’ll make a huge difference but I’m hoping so. It also means that I get to remember what it feels like to be cold & even sleep without a fan!

I don’t have any super exciting stories this week, yesterday I did go represent the department of Managua at the Site Fair for our soon to be TEFL volunteers. Wednesday they will find out where they’ll be living for the next two years & I’ll find out who will be my new neighbor (only 10km away!) for the next 9ish months (can you believe it!?).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A little of this… a little of that…

Sunday was the final final game in the local men’s soccer league (I say final final because the real final game was the Sunday before but they ended in a tie so they did it again the next Sunday). Unfortunately I don’t have pictures because based on what I’d heard (tons of people, fights break out, the usual soccer helter skelter), I wasn’t sure it would be a good idea to bring my camera. The two teams in the finals happened to hark from two different towns which made it all the more fun to cheer for our home team who won & were rewarded with a trophy that was taller than most of the players.

After their victory & some necessary victory dancing around the giant trophy – which was quite entertaining seeing as these guys actually know how to dance – the team walked down the main street (which is also the highway, but whatevs) followed by a caravan of screaming fans in trucks & hanging out of car windows announcing to the rest of the town exactly who won the league this year. It was muy alegre (very happy).

We are also counting down the days left in the school year (28 by my counterpart’s count today) which ends at the end of November. I don’t think I ever mentioned here the schedule change that was decided at the end of August so I will explain now. All schools run on two shifts, there’s the morning shift (7am – roughly 12pm) and the afternoon shift (roughly 12:30pm to roughly 5:30pm), in my high school here in town the morning shift is 7th thru 9th grades only and the afternoon as 7th thru 11th but there were only two sections of 7th, 8th, and 9th grade and they have tended to be smaller than the morning classes which is always nice. Although we started out with a good 50+ kids in each of those 6 sections, some had dwindled to as few as 20 students regularly showing up plus a few randoms who only came some of the time. This “problem” of smaller class sizes was most prevalent in 7th grade but also in 8th.

So at the end of August someone decided that those sections should be combined, which was feasible in 7th grade, kinda crowded in 8th, and overflowing in 9th – we still had more than 30 students showing up regularly so when combined the 9th grade section was at 60 to 70 students. Luckily they’re well-behaved and many of them actually like to learn English so it hasn’t been too much of a problem. Now, you don’t have to be a mathematician to know that fewer classes means fewer teaching hours sooooo several teachers got their hours cut, my counterpart lost three hours off his schedule & was told he would now teach Civics to these three sections. Needless to say, he was not happy being told to teach a subject he’d a) never taught before and b) knew pretty little about.

Now with the end of the school year within reach, even these combined classes are shrinking in size. In the old system, students could skip tons of class but still show up for the big final exam & feasibly pass the class, even if they didn’t there was always summer school & reparaciones – exams they could take before the next school year & a passing grade meant they would pass the class. However, this year we’re assigning points based on attendance, discipline, participation, & projects & small quizzes which means if they don’t show up to class they’ll probably fail. The word on the schoolyard is that they’re still gonna do reparaciones though. Should be interesting to see how many kids have to take them and if there’ll be pressure to make them “passable” - if you know what I mean.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Full Circle

This week, from Sunday to Wednesday, I found my role reversed as I hosted a trainee for her volunteer visit. After about a month of training, when they’re heads are juuuust about to explode, all the trainees are sent off to visit volunteers to see what their lives could be like in just a couple months. After my volunteer visit I remember I was excited to see how much freedom volunteers have compared to trainees but obviously the thought of living on my own in some random town was still scary.

Let me back up a moment & explain some more fun Peace Corps details. In Nicaragua, training groups come in three times a year in January, May, and September. Each year the same sectors come in at the same time, unless they decide to change things, which was the case this year. My group of TEFL volunteers came in May 2008 with the Small Business (SBD) trainees, but at some point the decision was made to bring the agriculture volunteers in with SBD so the new group of TEFL trainees this year came in September with the environment group (health is our last sector and they come alone in January). The group before ours left in July so we’re the only TEFLers in-country right now and assuming no new changes are made, we will be gone before next year’s group of trainees come in so this is my only round of training in new volunteers.

My goal was not to freak this girl out too much, but also to give her a realistic sense of what volunteer life is like and I think I did that. We went to the beach twice, she went to class with both of my counterparts and saw the different dynamics I have with both of them, and I feel like she came away with a somewhat better sense of what she wants to have in a site. And after hearing some more about the new group, I’m excited to go next week and present How to Teach Vocabulary and in two weeks I’ll also be presenting a nearby town at the Site Fair and come December I’ll have a new neighbor (keep your fingers crossed!)! Barring this town getting cut from the list or the chosen trainee going home, we will once again have two TEFL volunteers in the department of Managua. Que cool.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

What were you expecting? Part II

When joining the Peace Corps, the advice I heard over and over and over again was “try not to have expectations.” It’s excellent advice but nearly impossible to follow, especially for someone like me who looooves to daydream. Those first months in training and as I was adjusting to my site, I built up an expectation that the first year would be difficult but once I passed that magical one year mark that my second year would be easy. I thought I would have it all figured out and have my life perfectly in place- I would be used to the language and the people, be comfortable with my friends and my work environment, and plugging along smoothly on those big secondary projects that everyone seems to do in their second year.

However, I recently have found myself dealing with homesickness greater than in those first six months of service and battling back the desire to just get through these next nine months whatever way I can. Instead of feeling at home in Nicaragua, I felt like I was half out the door already and it surprised and dismayed me.

Luckily I had a little visit planned to those cool, green central mountain highlands to teach a ballet class to the girls group another volunteer has organized. Although it was a quick visit, it made me realize that I’m not the only one who is mentally checking out, whether we want to or not. Stephanie also made me realize that maybe the best way to deal with that strong desire to be back home is to really get into work here – to find the projects I really want to do and keep myself occupied and just watch the time fly by. I’ve returned to site with a renewed desire to get something accomplished in these coming months and to enjoy the parts of Nicaragua that I truly love.

And the ballet class itself was a blast to do! I’ve hesitated and worried about trying to start a class here in-site because of the logistics of footwear, floors, time, music, and participation. To go and do one isolated class with a group of girls who showed up entirely inappropriately dressed, on a concrete floor, without music because the power went out is one thing and trying to establish an ongoing class is another. I’m more motivated to try now, but also especially concerned after watching this group of seven girls run up against something challenging and see almost all of them sitting on the floor, decidedly defeated by the end.

Here are some pictures, the non-participaters became the photographers:

And our awesomely posed group shot:

And the vistas around Esquipulas:

Ending note: when I started my blog I didn’t want to present a totally sugar-coated view of Peace Corps life. Reading blogs before I left, I rarely read anything negative but I felt that I really wanted to hear about the tough parts. So this is my attempt at being real about my service. However, the real Real Story is that I can now communicate easily and comfortably in Spanish, I AM comfortable in my site, in my house, and with many of the people I interact with on a daily basis, and while working in the public schools is and always will be a challenge, I do feel like I can do my job effectively and it doesn’t leave me completely drained at the end of the day like it used to. I’m trying to get some cool secondary projects going and although I often feel like I’m not doing as much as I could be, I don’t know how I would fit in much more without overdoing it. I’ve learned that the second year isn’t easy, it just presents different challenges than the first.