Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Other Coast of Nicaragua

On Thursday I’m going to visit Bluefields on the east coast of Nicaragua! The Caribbean or Atlantic coast is largely cut off from the rest of the country and has a culture and history apart from the Pacific side. It was actually first settled by the British, not the Spanish, who landed from their other colonies in the Caribbean. They brought African slaves as well, and so the population today includes many people of African descent (in fact, Nicas often assume that the African American girl in our group is from the coast) and although most people speak Spanish, Creole is also spoken. The area is also home to some of the only remaining indigenous communities in Nicaragua the largest of which are the Miskito. I’ve even read about an ancient cannibalistic tribe called the Kukra that lived near Bluefields long ago.

Most of the history I know about the Atlantic coast comes from my Moon Handbook for Nicaragua from 2005. Basically, the region was occupied by the British for many years until it was integrated into the rest of Nicaragua in 1894. Prior to its forced integration and for a while afterwards, Bluefields was a capital of commerce for American timber and banana companies. However, the area’s resources were depleted and the companies left, leaving poverty and corruption in their wake.

The coast was largely left alone until the Sandinista revolution in 1979. Indigenous leaders formed a political group with the intention of working with the new government but ended up fighting against them for increased autonomy and supported the Contra resistance. In 1981, the Sandinista government relocated entire communities to refugee camps and burned their villages, particularly in the north near the border with Honduras where the Contras were operating from. In 1985, the Miskito people agreed to put down their arms in exchange for returning to their villages.

Today the Atlantic region is divided into two parts: the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) and the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS). They enjoy a certain degree of autonomy and self-reign that I’m not entirely clear on. I’ll be visiting Bluefields, the capital of RAAS. There are few roads in either RAAN or RAAS and Bluefields is only accessible by boat or plane (we will be flying). The area is constantly hit by hurricanes (don’t worry, it’s not hurricane season) and is generally considered off the beaten track in terms of tourists destinations. More popular are the Corn Islands just off the coast where you can scuba dive and snorkel around coral reefs and spend long days on the classic, white sand beaches staring out at the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean. I wish I had time to do both but that is not looking like it’s the case.

When I get back it’ll be Semana Santa (Holy Week) which is when everyone goes to the beach and there are massive parties all over the country. The week after that I go to my Close of Service conference, which will mark 100 days left in my service. How the time does fly.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Random Pictures & Videos

Awhile back I finally got a bunch of videos uploaded to YouTube so I thought I would share. I think the only non-camp video I’ve uploaded so far is my friend’s dad playing his guitar and singing Nicaragua Nicaragüita which really should be the national anthem. This is quintessential Nicaraguan music.

The summer camp stuff includes the boys dancing to Soulja Boy and my little reggaeton ballet from the talent show (the only time I can remember falling during a performance is captured on that video, but I recovered so it’s all good). There are two videos from the digital scavenger hunt in Granada, one where the boys interview a guy and then sing him a song. In the other one they’re birds. There are also several from the advanced English class, which I didn’t take and actually don’t really know what’s on them! One. Two. Three. Four. Lastly, there are just a couple random ones, goofing around on the bus and singing one day before going to lunch.

And now, some pictures from the past couple weeks:

At the end of February I was official photographer for my friend Maria’s niece’s 7th birthday party. Here’s Nataly, the birthday girl, swinging at the piñata:

And blowing out the candles on her cake:

Last weekend I went to watch my friend Lesbia dance folklore dance at the inauguration of a public works project. Here she is in her pretty dress:

This week the Ministry of Health (MINSA) came and fumigated my house. This is part of the work they do to prevent malaria & dengue, going house to house fumigating every so often. They also go house to house distributing this powder called abate (ah-bah-tay) to put in standing water to prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs. This is the first time they fumigated my house, it looked really creepy:

Since I’m talking about MINSA, I finally got the money for the HIV/AIDs project I’ve been planning with the health center since forever! Yay! We’re going to train 30 youth health promoters on the topics of HIV/AIDs and STDs in general, as well as self-esteem and gender issues and then they’ll go give little presentations at their schools. And we’re going to print some informational pamphlets on the same topics. I just bought a bunch of materials for the trainings which will be in April. I’m really glad this is finally coming together!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Terremoto en Chile

At 3:34 am on February 27th, an earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale struck Chile. It was one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded. The earthquake itself and the resulting tsunami killed hundreds of people and devastated the country, particularly the city of Concepcion where my good friend Paula lives.

Paula was a volunteer here for a year in 2008, and we overlapped for a couple months at the beginning of my service. Thankfully, she and her family are ok. This week Paula sent a short story she wrote the day after the quake as well as some photos, and with her permission I’d like to share them with you. It makes the reality of this tragedy seem much more real, and perhaps will motivate you to contribute in whatever way you can to the victims of this and future natural disasters. I translated the story but I’ll put the original Spanish version Paula wrote below for my Spanish-speaking friends.

The Day of Silence

Anguish, horror, fear, the worst that accompany this feeling of solitude in the middle of everything, in the middle of nothing.

The silence abounds in the streets, our faces exchange looks, undressing the panic that surrounds us.

The long and eternal wait for the sunrise, the search for our families, and of not knowing….

The hugs, tears, and happiness of reuniting, a light in the distance gives us hope and keeps us alive, trying to see the lighter side in order to forget the present.

The energy from the bottom of the Earth wants to remain, coming and going as it pleases.

The sunrise comes and with it the silence continues… the calm after the storm, we leave to find food and water, but there is nothing, only abandoned streets and rubble filling the spaces. Is it a nightmare or a horror movie? This is the escape… the belief that it is a parallel world and that we’re not really living this moment.

We are comforted knowing that our family is ok and that no one was hurt, the hours pass as we try to stay calm and think about the coming arrival of help… meanwhile rationing the food and water that we have.

To think that the only method of communication we have with the outside world is my grandfather’s portable radio, thanks to this little machine we learn what is happening around us. But the news that comes to our ears isn’t good, it’s sad and devastating, better to not hear it as sometimes the anguish returns.

We feel powerless, unable to communicate with our friends, I want to believe that they are ok and with their families. The phone battery is dead and there isn’t signal to hear the voices of the people we long for.

A new kind of waiting… the most horrific, dusk arrives. Outside a beautiful sky welcomes us, but inside the memory of the previous night returns, the strength of nature that arrived without being invited, improvised, and changing our lives forever… the fear returns, making sleep impossible, but in the end the soul yields to exhaustion.

The energy continues to dance, at times it is subtle and at other times stronger, waking us occasionally…

Finally, another sunrise, another day with a bitter taste, without expectations, without future plans, only to live the present, it seems as though time has stopped, everything continues the same….

* * * * *

El Día del Silencio

Angustia, horror, miedo, son lo peor que acompaña esta sensación de soledad en medio del todo, en medio de la nada.

El silencio abunda en las calles, en nuestros rostros las miradas se cruzan desnudando el pánico que nos rodea.

La espera larga y eterna para que llegue el amanecer, la búsqueda de nuestras familias y el no saber…

Abrazos, lágrimas y alegría al reencontrarnos, una luz a lo lejos nos da esperanza y nos mantiene vivos, tratamos de verle el lado gracioso para olvidar el momento.

La energía del fondo de la tierra quiere quedarse con nosotros, aparece y se retira cuando lo desea.

Llega el amanecer y con él se prolonga el silencio…la calma después del caos, salimos a buscar alimentos y agua, no hay nada, solo caminos abandonados y escombros inundando ciertos espacios, es una pesadilla o una película de terror? Ese es el escape…creer que es un mundo paralelo y que no estamos viviendo este momento.

Nos reconforta saber que nuestra familia esta bien y que nadie salio afectado, pasan las horas, tratamos de mantener tranquilidad y pensamos que pronto llegara la ayuda…mientras racionamos el alimento y agua que nos queda.

Pensar que la única comunicación con el mundo es la radio portátil de mi abuelo, gracias a ese pequeño aparato nos enteramos de lo que esta sucediendo a nuestro alrededor, pero las noticias que llegan a nuestros oídos no son las mejores, son tristes y desoladoras, mejor no escuchar por que la angustia reaparece a ratos.

Da impotencia no poder comunicarnos con nuestros amigos, quiero creer que están bien y con sus familias…se agota la batería y no hay señal para escuchar las voces de aquellas personas que queremos.

Nueva espera…, la más horrorosa, llega el atardecer, afuera un cielo hermoso nos acoge, pero adentro retorna el recuerdo de la noche anterior, esa fuerza de la naturaleza que llegó sin ser invitada, de improviso y cambio nuestras vidas para siempre…vuelve el miedo, dormir se hace imposible, pero al final cede el alma ante el cansancio.

La energía sigue danzando a veces mas sutil, otras con mas fuerza, despertamos a ratos…

Por fin otro amanecer mas, otro día mas con sabor amargo, sin expectativas, sin planes futuros, solo vivir el ahora, pareciera que el tiempo se detuvo, todo sigue igual…

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Far Ranging Effects of SNOWPOCALYPSE & Bag of juice, anyone??

I used to live in DC and still have many friends there, so I was rather amused by the huge snowfall that hit the east coast a couple weeks ago. The Washington metro area cannot handle any weather out of the ordinary, it would rain and suddenly everyone forgot how to drive, they even preemptively delay school openings for even a forecast of snow. As a Minnesotan I always chided my friends and coworkers for not being able to function in an inch or two of snow. They always retorted that DC didn’t have a fleet of plows to deal with the snowfall to which I quickly told them that in many parts of Minnesota the plows don’t come out till there are up to four inches of snow on the ground.

Why am I publicly poking fun at DC’s snowphobia other than for my own personal entertainment?? Because that giant snowstorm even had effects down to Nicaragua, or at least Peace Corps Nicaragua & I imagine Peace Corps posts all around the world. For reasons I do not know, all the operating money we receive from Washington has to be physically sent in the form of a check through the mail. Therefore, when snowpocalypse hit and no one could get into their office for however long, those checks didn’t get sent out on time and we volunteers were alerted on Thursday that we would not be paid our monthly living stipend on Friday as scheduled! Luckily I live in a smaller site and have reserves every month but for the volunteers who live in larger sites or who spend all their money were left to work with our scrambling office to figure out how to get some money. We’ve been paid now apparently, but that’s my own snowpocalypse story, even if I don’t live in DC anymore :)

As mentioned last week, the art of drinking a beverage out of a plastic bag. I figure the bag option is popular here because it’s probably cheap. Compare the cost of paying for that plastic bottle or aluminum can with a little plastic bag. Therefore, my favorite Eskimo (eskeeeeeeemo) brand grape juice in a bag only costs 2 cordobas, or 10 cents:

The technique for drinking this little bundle of happiness (a cold bag of juice after a hot afternoon of teaching is oh so refreshing) is as follows:

Rip a corner off the bag with your teeth, being careful not to squeeze the bag too much while doing so or else the contents will spray out (this is of much more concern with the little 1 cordoba bags of water they sell at school and on the bus which are filled up good and full). Spit out the little piece of plastic for effect. Then enjoy your beverage, squeezing the contents up to the top as you go. Really it’s not all that tricky, just different.

This photo was actually taken after I got home from a long, hot walk, hence the shininess:

At many pulperias (little general stores) where they sell soda in returnable glass bottles (also a cheaper option) instead of waiting for the bottle to come back, they simply take a regular little baggie & pour the soda in, tie a knot, and the buyer just bites off a corner & enjoys their beverage. This might be one of those things I import back to the US with me. One technique I have yet to learn is how the refresco ladies are able to tie a straw into a regular old baggie which makes the whole deal much easier.

A couple of my 10th graders modeling the straw-in-bag option: