Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Very Peace Corps Week

I say I had a very Peace Corps week because it was literally a rollercoaster of emotions and frustrations that I think is particular to Peace Corps work not only in Nicaragua but probably all over the world. Saturday I came back from the summer camp tired and drained of all energy, and also sad after such a fun week. Sunday I woke up still sad, but picked myself up and prepared for what I knew would be a good amount of work to do my second teacher workshop on Thursday the 28th.

Monday rolled around and my first point of order was to secure the manuals I needed. In all the madness of the past week I had forgotten one key step: check with the embassy to make sure they could bring down the manuals & do their program presentation that they require if you receive manuals from them. Cool. No problem. Except that when I finally was put in touch with the right lady I found out that any day would work except for Thursday.

That hurt. I briefly entertained the idea of Wednesday (because Friday was already out of the question) but realized that it would be nearly impossible. So then I thought of moving it to next week, but school would be in session & it’s hard to get teachers out of class. Then I called my boss at Peace Corps and she was able to scrounge up some manuals for me. Score. After all that I had a 3pm appointment to finalize details with the head honcho lady of education, except she had already left when I arrived which forced me to call her which I hate doing because I never understand people well on the phone. With a little difficulty I got things straightened out & the rollercoaster stopped for the day.

Tuesday was a good day, I went to Managua & called to invite all the teachers, talked to my contacts in the other two municipalities to make sure their teachers knew, made copies of the handouts, and was back in San Rafael in time for a meeting with some health folks who are thiiiiiis close to turning in the funding application we’ve been working on for way too long. Again I’ll say it: good day.

Wednesday was going fine until I went by my landlord’s place where she lives with her cousin, Linda. Some of my readers have met these two and thankfully they’ve always been in a good mood, but this day Linda was all worked up over something from the moment I arrived and to keep this short, she started yelling about something to do with my house which I didn’t appreciate since she’s not even the landlord and I ended up leaving because I was already stressed out as it was and she wouldn’t calm down. My landlord did call later and we got things kinda straightened out, but that was it for Wednesday. Bad day.

So Thursday arrived, and I was hoping the pattern would hold: Monday was bad, Tuesday was good, Wednesday was bad so Thursday = good?? Well, my day started when I was woken up before 5am to a marching band and the welcome ceremony for a brigade of Cuban doctors who were in town. It’s been awhile since I’ve been woken up so early by a marching band, but it does happen.

In describing the workshop to a friend back home, I gave it a B. I had good turnout, I expected a maximum of 25 teachers and I had 19 from all three municipalities I’d been working with. I give it a B because some of the subject material (writing unit plans, creating evaluation techniques and writing associated rubrics) was kinda tough for my audience to grasp in the short time we had. Although the evaluations were all positive, I know some of them walked out of there going “whaaaaaa??”

My counterpart, Axel, lead a couple games including hot potato (which here is called “cabbage”):

My more or less sitemate, Joe, helping one of the groups during his presentation on lesson planning:

Now I intend to take a couple days to truly rest before classes start anew on Tuesday. And have I mentioned that I have less than 6 months left?? Absolutely ridiculous if you ask me.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Summer Camp!

As promised in my last post, I have lots of stories from my week at Intensive English Summer Camp with 80 kids from 12 to 19 years old from all over the country, including the Atlantic coast. It was a fantastic week with a truly great group of students. They learned a lot, made tons of new friends, and had an experience that almost no kids in Nicaragua get to have (the idea of “summer camp” doesn’t really exist here).

Although a total of six students from my two schools were originally accepted into the camp, only two were able to attend:

But I didn’t really see much of either of them all week.

We had a staff of 11 adults: one English Language Fellow (Misty) who was the coordinator, 4 Nicaraguan teachers who taught the actual English classes in the mornings (they were great!), 5 Peace Corps Volunteers, and a friend of Misty’s (Fatima).


Misty & Fatima:

Some of the Nica teachers:

All of us, minus Misty, had groups of about 7 to 9 students who we ate with and did a lot of the activities with. I was the leader of Crimson Cross, named for a cartoon army apparently, of 8 guys who were in the advanced class and spoke really well when they arrived and amazingly by the time they left. There were 3 from Managua, 2 from Bluefields on the Atlantic coast, one from Granada, one from Jinotepe, and one from Esteli (up north):

From left to right: Carlos, Gustavo, Christian, Jonathan, Mario, Emilio, Lonny, and Kiefer on the ground, where he could usually be found:

(This one has an extra kid in it, he snuck into all the group photos we took the last day!)

I seriously couldn’t have asked for a better group, these guys had no qualms about doing the goofy camp songs we taught them, almost always spoke in English, and had the best manners I’ve ever seen in teenaged boys (they carried my dishes for me at lunch, were friends with everyone, and I only had to yell at them in the morning because they usually arrived last for breakfast :)

So our week went something like this: the students arrived in Managua on Sunday afternoon

and we all bussed down to a retreat center near Granada where we got settled in and played some games to get to know each other.

The students were supposed to be in their rooms at 9pm and lights out at 9:30pm every night because breakfast was early at 6:30am. As leaders, we all made rounds to check on the kids and then met each night after lights out to talk about the day and discuss details for the following day which meant we generally got less sleep than the kids. The first morning I was completely confused to wake up at around 5am to the boys in my hall talking and listening to music! Turns out some of the kids got up as early as 4am!! We actually had to chastise them and tell them to SLEEP IN, or if they are awake early to be more quiet. I’ve never seen teenagers have to be told to sleep in. My boys had no problems with this and when I wandered down to wake them up at 5:45am every morning all the other kids were up except for them :)

Every day started with English class in the morning, we assisted in the classes but also used the time to rest and prepare other activities.

I assisted one of the beginning classes:

The PCVs taught a one hour “culture class” each day about holidays (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, and MLK Day since it was this week).

I had Christmas, we learned about the Nutcracker & made little Christmas trees:

The trees were a little tricky but at least they were good about it:

After lunch the schedule changed a bit each day, on Monday we had a bunch of activities prepared (I taught ballet again):

And we had field trips three days of week:

Tuesday we did a digital scavenger hunt in Granada (which we won, btw).
A “small” group photo:

Wednesday we visited the American Corner in the national (?) library & the Nicaraguan-Northamerican Cultural Center (CCNN).
At the library:

Group photo at CCNN:

Thursday we went to a TV news channel and one of the national newspapers, El Nuevo Diario.
Jonathan & Kiefer with the anchor at the TV station:

Trying to stay awake at El Nuevo Diario (they were really tired by this point):

Otherwise we used free time prepare presentations for the closing ceremony,

Important people came to see what the kids had learned, hopefully we convinced them that the camp should be an annual event:

Since we were named for an army, in our presentation I was a drill sergeant and they told me all their reasons for coming to “Basic Training English Camp”

practice for the talent show on Friday night,

Lots of singing:

And dancing (the guys and a few more doing Soulja Boy):

Maria & I did a ballet (we were roommates again, so we basically spent the last 3 weeks together. Good times):

The ensuing dance party:

or just rest. Needless to say, we were really busy all week. I got home yesterday and slept 11 hours last night. This morning when I woke up alone in my house, I actually kinda missed the sound of giggling and gangsta rap that the boys played outside my door at 6am. This post is definitely long enough and I need to get on to other things but maybe I’ll post more of the fun stories from the week later.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Guatemala!!!! PartII

San Marcos La Laguna:

So I guess I left off at Lago Atitlan. Sunday we left our beautiful lakeside paradise so Nitivia could make it back to work on Monday and Maria and I could do our kamikaze mission to see the Mayan ruins at the ancient city of Tikal, which is very far north, almost to Belize. We hoped to only have to do one overnight on the bus but it quickly turned into two because the only bus line that answered the phone on Sunday only did overnight trips.

We caught our bus out of Guate at 9pm and arrived to Flores at a very brisk and dark 4:30am. There was only one guy who was waiting with a van to take tourists to Tikal and although he charged us a lot, there wasn’t much to be done. It worked out well though because we made it to Tikal shortly alter the 6am opening time and ended up in a group tour with what appeared to be mostly South Americans (there was an English group as well but there were lots of them and few Spanish speakers and since we said we could do either one, we went with the Spanish group).

In the main square:

Fun fact: I used to want to be an archaeologist when I was like 10 and I read books and was fascinated by the Mayan Indians. Hence my strong desire to travel an obscene amount for a day of touring.

The view from the highest temple:

Our tour was informative, but it’s hard to absorb much after not that many hours of sleep. Tikal was one of the biggest cities the Maya built, and one number I do remember is that only about 15% of the structures from the city are currently visible. We did a lot of climbing up and down pyramids which absolutely killed my legs (I was surprised at my out-of-shapeness until I realized that I live in a country with no stairs). It’s definitely amazing to see what was built by these people hundreds of years ago and really only increases my curiosity to see more :)

That evening we ate dinner and hung out till our second 9pm bus, which again arrived at 4:30am. Thankfully this time we were able to go back to Nitivia’s and sleep for a couple more hours. When I did get up again, I discovered another volunteer friend online and in Antigua, so of course he berated me to wake up Maria and get down there since it’s not far from Guate. So we did.

Antigua is similar to Granada in Nicaragua, but much more developed (they have a McDonalds!) and tons of gringos!! Very pretty though, and all we really did was eat nachos and walk around.

After a lovely afternoon, we made the trip back to Guate, made dinner, and slept a couple hours until another 4am wake-up for our Ticabus ride to San Salvador. Although we generally had fantastic luck on this trip, our only bad luck came in trying to get to the Ticabus station in both Managua and Guate. Both times the taxis we called did not show up, leaving us either desperately calling taxis or standing on the side of roads at the crack of dawn hoping one would stop. But we made the bus both times so no worries.

Back in San Salvador, we went to an anthropological museum which was interesting because we don’t hear a lot about the indigenous groups that were in Nicaragua but it looked like many of those that were in El Salvador also made their way to Nicaragua.

Maria and I calculated that we spent almost 60 hours on the bus during this 10 day trip (240 hours), ergo we spent about one quarter of the trip on a bus. So I’m back in hot and windy Nicaragua (I won’t even describe the amount of dust I found upon returning home!). I’m busy preparing to leave yet again, this time to work at a student summer English camp for a week. Should be fun and interesting, and I’ll definitely have some good stories to share when I get back.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Guatemala!!!! Part I

It's my last full day in Guatemala - it's been a great trip but I was seriously not prepared for the much cooler temps in this country!!! During the day it's comfortable, but evening is chilly! Hence, all the scarves.

I left Managua with my friend Maria early last Monday morning, we crossed into Honduras and then into El Salvador, where we stayed the night because we couldn't cross the last border after 5pm. We stayed in a nice part of San Salvador (the capital of El Salvador) which blew us both away, as did the nice parts of Guatemala City (Guate) where we arrived on Tuesday midday. Both had large malls, name brand international stores, Mercedes Benz dealerships, sky scrapers, the works. Managua is all messed up in terms of urban planning and development due to the earthquake in the 70s and because of that continued threat throughout Nicaragua it is rare to find buildings above one or maybe two floors.


Our plan was to meet up with Maria's friend, Nitivia, who lives and works in Guate and make a plan from there. Maria and Nitivia met in Peace Corps Georgia (yes, Maria is serving in two countries) so Nitivia prepared a Georgian supra, this consists of lots of food and wine. One person is basically chosen as toastmaster, in this case Nitivia, so she would toast something (peace, family, music, friends were a couple) and then we went around the circle and each person said a little something on each subject. It was really fun and we had a great group of people who got pretty insightful.

We spent the rest of the week at Lago Atitlan in San Marcos, which is seriously a hippie's paradise- lots of meditation centers, massage, holistic stuff, beautiful lake though! We spent a lot of time walking around, taking boats to other towns around the lake, eating really good food, and meeting crazy people.

Ok, I'll get to Part II: Tikal later.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Feliz Año Nuevo... again

To say goodbye to 2009, I spent NYE running around town visiting friends, dancing, but unfortunately not burning a doll at midnight like last year. My friend Maria didn't have the materials and since we waited till the 31st to make it we had to scrap the plans we made last year.

On New Years Day I spent the day at the beach mostly with a bunch of people I didn't know but that never seems to matter here - they fed me a ridiculous amount, we swam, we talked, we watched like 5 little kids topple over one of their rather rotund uncles. Good times.

Part of me is still surprised to find myself in the mythical 2010 which seemed so far away when I started this Peace Corps business in 2008. We have just a little bit over 6 months left and I think at this point I've lived in Nicaragua for longer than I lived in DC. People keep commenting on my departure this year & how I'm going to forget all of them and Nicaragua. I don't know why people assume that I'm going to completely forget this place that I'll have spent over two years in by the time I go. Mostly it makes me sad to think about saying goodbye to everyone here, but it's not time to wallow in sadness yet. I do still have those 6 months left.

And I clearly can't get caught up in these sad 2010 thoughts because tomorrow I'm leaving for Guatemala!!!!! I'm going with another volunteer and we're gonna stay with her friend who's been working in Guatemala for the past year. It's gonna take a day and a half on the bus to get there, but it's been a while since I've really just traveled so I'm excited. I don't know when I'll be posting again because right after I get back from Guatmala I will go work at an English camp for students from across Nicaragua for a week. So I hope everyone has a wonderful start to 2010!!