Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Benign Betty!!

That’s right, Betty was a fibroadenoma!! Happiness all around.

I don’t remember if I posted previously about my knee, but it’s been bugging me for a couple months and I finally got to the orthopedist in Nicaragua just before I left for DC. Well, he told me to get an MRI because he thought I have a torn meniscus so when I got to DC I mentioned it to my Peace Corps nurse and she said I should see an orthopedist here and get the MRI so I did that yesterday. Regardless of what the MRI says I’ll still be going back to Nicaragua early next week because it isn’t causing me major problems, it’s just annoying. If I just need physical therapy then I can do that in Managua and if it’s arthoscopy then I’ll do it after I COS.

Sooo, I’m just waiting for the MRI report and to talk to the orthopedist. It’s been nice being in DC and seeing tons of people and calling a few more but I think I’m ready to get back to Nicaragua and finish up. Next week is my two year anniversary!! Weee.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bye Bye Betty!

Surgery yesterday went well, the procedure is usually outpatient but Peace Corps had me stay the night so I’d be taken care of and some friends came by after they got off work to keep me company and my parents sent me flowers so I was pretty content. Today I’m feeling good, chilling in the hotel, doing laundry (holy crap do I love washers and dryers) and making plans with friends. I’ll go in for a follow-up on Wednesday to see what the biopsy says but I was told that Betty looked just like a fibroadenoma (aka benign) so I’m optimistic. In the meanwhile I’ve already starting my rounds of dinners and happy hours with my DC friends and it appears that I will keep myself good and occupied through next week. I do have a prepaid T-mobile cell phone so I can talk to anyone on T-mobile for free and anyone anyone after 7pm for free so email me for the number if you wanna chat.

On a completely unrelated note, I just ordered Chinese food (because I CAN!) and this was my fortune: “You have an unusual equipment for success, use it properly.”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Continuing Story of Medevac Jen

Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m so close to actually moving back to this country or maybe it’s because I’m not just running around with friends all the time, but being in DC is a lot stranger than it was when I visited last June. I feel like I’m just kinda floating around. It’s hard to describe. It’s like part culture shock and part out of body experience.

But all the Peace Corps people are nice and I went to see the doc today. He thinks that Betty remains a fibroadenoma and completely harmless, and she’s coming out on Thursday! I haven’t met all the medevacs, but the ones I have met seem to mostly be from Africa (my roommate is serving in Togo, I also heard Zambia and Lesotho among others). There is one other girl from Nicaragua and a guy who’s serving on a tiny Caribbean island. The hotel runs a shuttle to Peace Corps headquarters each day and on the way in we were sharing fun transportation stories. One girl said that the only van that goes to her site has non-functional brakes so they have to jump out and try to drag it to a stop. Or about taxis with seven people in them and then the driver started putting people in the trunk. It’s funny to see how Peace Corps volunteers from all over the world can bond over the same kind of craziness.

I again find that the hardest adjustment is to the long hours of sunlight. This happened in June when I came home and the opposite happened when I came home from studying in India and found myself in a cloudy, dark place after experiencing sunny days for almost four months straight. I was also frustrated by my inability to randomly toss Spanish into my sentences and still be understood, Spanglish is far more awesome than either of the languages alone (in my opinion). But the best part is the variety of food, tonight I had dinner with my friend Melanie and we enjoyed Thai and sushi. Mmmmmm….

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Medevac Update

Although my travel plans were supposedly set on Monday, something happened and I got a phone call yesterday afternoon that I'm not flying out until Monday (one person says it came from Washington, one person tells me it was the travel agency here, so I'm not sure). Frustrating to say the least, but after eating a large bowl of popcorn, taking my frustrations out on handwashing some laundry (the water came on for more than an hour! a little miracle in my life) and now hanging out with some friends in Managua, I'm feeling better :) I'm gonna use my extra days to relax since I have everything pretty much ready and enjoy the fiestas patronales (patron saint festival) in my town this weekend.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

COS Conference & Some Craaaazy News

I had quite the eventful week last week. Tuesday we had our first training for that HIV/AIDs project I have and it went pretty well. We had 27 teens show up (we were expecting 30) and the only thing that went badly was that the power went out about halfway through which made our fans die and everyone was pretty sweaty by the end.

Wednesday I went to Managua for my final language exam (still don’t know my results!) and then Thursday we came back down my way to a nice hotel on the beach for the Close of Service Conference. It was a lot of talking about what we did here and giving feedback on the first day. The second day was all job search techniques, applying to grad school, interview advice, and that kind of thing.

Here we are visualizing:

Luckily Friday night we had a big beach party and were able to relax a bit and enjoy the fact that our two groups were together again:

My old training town friends:

Lining up to play games:

It was a fantastic time but my mind was about only part there because I was pondering the news I received on Wednesday which is that I’m being medically evacuated… again. This time I’m going to DC to remove what I like to call Betty the Breast Lump. Betty’s been around for about three years but was determined to be a fibroadenoma (aka benign). The reason she’s coming out now is growth and a little pain but the technician who did my recent ultrasound told me that it doesn’t look like Betty’s changed into anything bad, she’s just kinda big. Obviously the timing’s kinda weird considering that I only have three months left and I could be spending one of those in DC. I fly out on Thursday and once I get there and have the operation and such things I’ll be able to say how long I’ll be sticking around the U.S. So, DC friends, expect emails when I know more and anyone with Skype who wants to chat, just let me know.

Para mis amigos latinos: Lo que pasa es que tengo una pelota en el seno (la puse el nombre de Betty para hacerlo mas facil hablar de ella).
Hace tres años hice la biopsia y me dijeron que estuvo benino. Ahorita esta creciendo del tamaño y me duele un poquito entonces tengo que irme a Washington, DC para que la saquen. El tecnico que hizo el ultrasonido hace un mes me dijo que no parece que ha cambiado a algo malo, pero ya esta bastante grande y es mejor quitarla. Podré communicarme en Skype durante mi tiempo en Washington si alguien quiere platicar, seria bueno para que no olvide el español!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

100 Days Remaining

A while back when I was bored I counted back 100 days from my Close of Service (COS) date of July 16th and that day is today! To make it even extra special, today is my final language exam. We had three of these exams when I first got to country to measure our proficiency and then to measure our improvement throughout training. This last one is to give us a final measure so that I can put on my resume “XX-level Spanish oral proficiency.” Tomorrow all of us Nica 47 volunteers from English and Small Business will head off to a two-day COS conference where I guess we’ll get lots of information and be given a long list of stuff to do in our remaining three months.

The rest of my Semana Santa (Holy Week) last week was pretty chill, but only in my state of being because the weather itself was unbelievable hot. Like laying-in-my-hammock-in-the-shade-and-still-sweating-and-somehow-getting-sunburnt­-as-well hot.

Wednesday I went to the river with my favorite NGO people:

The ladies made soup with these “chotes” we got out of the river:

Seriously beautiful, and we had it all to ourselves:

Friday I trucked over to Diriamba to go to a beach there with Maria. Since it was Good Friday, on the way I saw little processions in each town commemorating the crucifixion. This one went right past Maria’s house:

People decorating their house:

Then we went to La Boquita, as did many other people:

I went to a fiesta that night but I hate carrying my camera to those things so there are no pictures. I hope everyone had a happy Easter!! And I finally got some mail that I think was waiting for a long time at the post office, so thanks for the birthday mail, just a little late but that’s my fault :)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Atlantic Coast Recap Part II: Pearl Lagoon

On Saturday morning, bright and early, Dianne & I arrived at the dock in Bluefields to get on a panga (boat) bound for Pearl Lagoon.

“Welcome! So different and in Nicaragua. The Caribbean Coast is waiting for you.”

Since I couldn’t quite figure out how to get us out to Corn Island during this trip, I figured it’d be faster and easier and cheaper to visit the town of Pearl Lagoon on the body of water called Pearl Lagoon. The panga ride out was beautiful:



Slightly rundown but still lovely town of Pearl Lagoon:

That afternoon, despite a little trouble finding transportation, we went to the beach in Awas, a miskito community not far from Pearl Lagoon:

Awas is a tiny little town of maybe 15 houses, some of which are built with reeds and palm thatch roofs:

While we lounged in the water a crazy guy wandered up and offered to buy to Dianne. I kindly informed him that she was mine and I wasn’t going to sell her. Dianne often gets extra attention because she’s Korean-American, usually people call her “chinita” (little Chinese girl) but since so many people speak English we started hearing “China girl” instead. Dianne decided she prefers China girl. When we were done at the beach the sun had gone down sufficiently that we could walk back without baking.

Lots of houses are built on stilts to avoid inevitable flooding that comes from living so close to the water:


The Blue Energy turbine in Pearl Lagoon (see previous post), if I remember correctly it powers the school:

Because the world is insanely small, that evening we walked into the nice restaurant in town and found another PCV, Katie, sitting at the bar. As it turns out she’d spent the whole week there with friends who happened to own that restaurant. This is Katie the next day pumping water:

On Sunday Dianne and I made up for not going to Corn Island by visiting the Pearl Cays which, according to Katie who has been to both, are way better and I would agree. The Pearl Cays are 18 little islands out in the Caribbean and any one of them literally could be that island that Jack Sparrow is marooned on in Pirates of the Caribbean (In fact, Italian Survivor was filming on the island next to ours but we weren’t allowed to go over and say hi. Bummer.). Paradise on earth I tell you:


Our ride:

We basically had the whole island to ourselves, plus Augusto, the guy who got us out there, and the two guys who guard/take care of the place, Hector and Leon. The island also has a half-finished two story monster of a house that belongs to the North American owner. However, construction has ceased on all the islands from what I understand because ownership is contested. Basically the islands were supposed to be reserved as communal lands for the indigenous community and yet several were sold to private owners. The issue has not yet been resolved.

Luckily that wasn’t a problem for us, so we went snorkeling and saw some cool fishies and crabs and starfish as big as my head. After that we spent most of the rest of the day lounging in the shallows and sitting on the beach chatting with the caretakers. Both are mestzos and both moved at some point in their past from the Pacific side to the Atlantic side. I was talking to Leon about Bluefields to see what the mestizo perspective was, which turned out to be pretty much what I expected. He said that it’s not that the blacks are discriminated against but that they don’t want to work. I chose not to argue with him.


Hector cut down coconuts for us so Dianne and I got to enjoy some agua de coco (coconut water):

And for lunch Augusto went fishing and came back with red snapper, which he promptly fried up. Can’t get much fresher than this:

This is the island dog, Duende. Duendes are basically elves that, according to Nicaraguan legend, will steal children who are outside too late at night:

The island behind me is where they’re shooting Italian Survivor, you can see the broadcast tower:

Two very happy travelers:

Atlantic Coast Recap Part I: Bluefields

I decided to split the trip into two posts partly because one would just be really long and partly because it just makes sense. So I start with Bluefields itself, which I don’t think I can convey perfectly just how much I learned but here goes. First of all, it was made particularly meaningful and also educational thanks to the three boys I knew from the English Summer Camp back in January who live in Bluefields: Jonathan & Abraham (brothers) and Kiefer. Jonathan and his father, Jaime, were kind enough to pick up my travel buddy, Dianne, and me from the airport in Bluefields.

I think the plane could fit like 12 people:

Then Jonathan showed us around town a little bit on foot:

Jonathan at the boys’ high school (Jonathan graduated last year but Abraham & Kiefer still go there):

The Moravian Church:

One of the oldest houses in Bluefields:

Later Jaime picked us up again & he showed us around some more and gave us more of a rundown on race politics in Bluefields. He told us that before the revolution in the 80s there were 8 neighborhoods that were mostly all black, now there are 16 and the other 8 are populated by mestizos (mixed Spanish and indigenous origin, aka people from the Pacific side). The city is very segregated and the indigenous and afro-descendant communities are now very much in the minority. Jaime told us that most of the downtown businesses are owned by mestizos and it has become very difficult for blacks to find work in Bluefields.

A street downtown, not all that different from many towns on the Pacific side:

This statue in the central park depicts 6 men representing the 6 ethnic groups in the area - the Creoles, Garifuna, Miskito, Suma/Mayagna, Rama, and mestizos:

We also went to visit the boys’ mothers who work together in a government office focused on the Creole community – I didn’t catch the exact name. They gave us an even more detailed explanation about the challenges facing the black community. In particular, at the moment they are fighting for the demarcation of communal lands for the Creole community. A law was recently passed and communal lands were given to the other four indigenous groups but so far there has been a battle over whether the Creoles deserve communal lands as well.

Dolene, Kiefer’s mom, and Nora, Jonathan & Abraham’s mom:

There are also still disputes over treaties between the Atlantic Coast peoples and the central government in Managua. What the ladies told us, and what I think is obvious to anyway flying over the terrain, is that the Atlantic Coast is very rich in terms of natural resources and has huge tourist potential. However, it is often misrepresented or not represented at all in terms of increasing development and encouraging tourism. Much of what I read about the area before arriving was negative - that Bluefields is really dirty and dangerous when I found it to be at about the same level of both (or possibly better) than many cities on the Pacific side (and not anywhere as bad on either measure as Managua), and even what I mentioned in my previous post about being hit by hurricanes isn’t true! A sentiment that I’ve heard before that was echoed on this trip is that the Atlantic Coast provides resources without receiving any of the benefits (investment is truly lacking in the area, they don’t even have a movie theater and despite having the major advantage of a large and potentially larger English-speaking population, call centers that pay a decent wage are all located in Managua).

Kiefer & me – Kiefer is definitely more badass in Bluefields than he was at summer camp, but he´s still a good boy:

Clearly the city as a whole and the black community in particular have many obstacles ahead of them, however I still saw many positives in Bluefields. For one thing our hostel was extremely comfortable, quite frankly air conditioning and cable TV is a vacation in itself. We also thoroughly enjoyed lounging around the park in the late afternoon and watching a group of boys practice break dancing moves there in the evenings. There were generally people out in the streets till about 9pm so I didn’t feel unsafe walking around the streets and cabs cost 10 cordobas anywhere in the city so there’s no haggling! We ate some good seafood and even a pretty decent pizza. Since it lacks a beach right near town, Bluefields may never be much more than a stopover point to other destinations in the area, but the travel forums I read literally said it was no place anyone should want to go and I totally disagree.

One of the incredibly old and huge trees in the park:

The other cool thing we did in Bluefields was to visit an NGO called Blue Energy that builds wind turbines in and around Bluefields. Back in January when I was staying in a hostel in Managua I met a guy who had just arrived to volunteer at this NGO and since I knew I wanted to visit Bluefields I got his email address and we were able to meet up. The staff is made up of about 20 international volunteers (American, Australian, Argentinean, Israeli, more I can’t remember I’m sure) and about 20 local paid staff. Dianne and I stopped by the office on Friday and then that evening we were invited to eat pizza and hang out with some of the volunteers. It was interesting chatting with them, they live together in several houses and have most of their housing and food costs covered in exchange for their work. Some are techs who work on the turbines but the guy I knew is actually an accountant and works on the financial administration of the organization.

Thus ends part one. Part two is the more vacationy part of the trip to Pearl Lagoon and surrounding environs.