Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Musings from Minnesota

Once my feet hit American soil I went right back to my busy ways, visiting friends and family and trying to ignore culture shock. It really hasn’t been too bad, and a lot of things that catch my eye are things that I would notice when I visited from DC as well: really big trucks, all the space, and mullets. I haven’t seen a huge number of mullets but this is rural Minnesota, they’re around. I’ve also found myself staring at shelves in stores trying to determine which of approximately 359 different types of toothpaste I should buy. The options in this country are mind-boggling.

But overall it’s been nice to be home, I’ve run into lots of familiar faces and enjoyed the loveliness of a Minnesota summer. I got out on the Mississippi not once but twice.

And ate smores fresh from the bonfire

And enjoyed a Minnesotan potluck. I know people do potlucks all over the country, but there’s just something unique about the hot dishes and salads and bars you find at a Minnesotan get-together. Unfortunately at our family picnic/potluck the tater tot hotdish got left in the oven on a farm a good 20 minute drive away (I still think it was intentional so they could keep all that tasty hotdish to themselves), but we had plenty of food anyway.

Beautiful afternoon except for some flies

I’ve also been spending a large amount of time indoors performing round two of Throw Away All the Crap! Before I left for the Peace Corps I tossed and donated tons of stuff. When I got home I was horrified to see how much stuff I still have so I’m again removing a decent amount of things from my possession, with much more brutality than before. I’ve chucked a lot of my school assignments but I’ve uncovered a couple interesting things that I want to share with the blogosphere before I share them with the dumposphere.

Dated January 7th, 1998 - which places me smack in the middle of 8th grade - I filled out an inventory in order to determine which career path would be best for me and my result was….. Science, Professional. Sample occupations include botanist, statistician, archaeologist (which was my chosen profession at age 10), and geographer! I also chose “Being famous and known for what I do” as one of the three job aspects that would be the most important to me.

Next I have some weird collage thing that is dated May 29th, 1996 which would be the very end of 6th grade. At age 12 I wanted to visit Washington, DC (check), Washington state (not check), and see some Mayan temples (check). I also wanted to be an archaeologist (not check) and do some writing (check right now!). My pet peeves were Jonathan (my brother), Heise (Jonathan’s friend), Spam (one of Jonathan’s obsessions that I had to eat occasionally), zits (no explanation needed), and chewing loud (still drives me nuts).

I’ve been told by a few people that I should keep writing in the blog, so I’ll do that either until my readers get bored or I get bored. Whichever comes first.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I am officially an RPCV, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer!! My official Close of Service (COS) date was yesterday, July 16th but because my flight left at 7am I finished everything up in the office on Thursday. When volunteers COS the tradition is to ring the bell in the office and the staff comes out of their offices and everyone cheers. We had three people who were flying early on Friday so we rang the bell together on Thursday afternoon:

My flights home on Friday went smoothly. I had a fellow-RPCV as a travel buddy for the first leg and I still just love his comment after we passed through customs in Houston and headed into the airport: “Let’s integrate!!” It seemed so perfect after being so focused on integrating into a foreign culture for two years we’re now back home and quite frankly, I do feel a little bit like I have to switch and re-integrate myself to American culture. And what better way to do that than to go to a big party?!

I was a little nervous about basically going straight from the plane to my cousin’s wedding reception but it was the perfect reintroduction. I got to see almost my entire family, enjoy fantastic food and drink, and danced my face off with my cousins, aunts, and even my grandma.

The fam:

Holy crap, American cake!!! (Nica cake isn’t nearly as sweet):

All the cousins minus one with my grandma:

Dancing our faces off:

Now I’m back at my parents’ house, exhausted and still adjusting to the familiar and yet strange surroundings. The plan is to move back to DC on August 4th and go back to work at my old job starting August 9th and I’d like to apply to grad school this fall for Urban Planning. So life marches on, I’ll probably keep writing in the blog as the mood hits me. I don’t think my post-Peace Corps life will be quite as interesting but we shall see about that.

Lastly, I bring you the massive list of 62 books I read throughout my Peace Corps service. Many of these were sent to me by my wonderful friends and family, but we also have a library of books at the office and much trading occurs among volunteers. My Top 10 are in italics:

Persuasion – Jane Austen
The Prophet – Khalil Gilbran
Beloved – Toni Morrison
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
Next – Michael Crichton
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
No 1 Ladies Detective Agency – Alexander McCall Smith
A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
Dreams from my Father – Barack Obama
Still the Mind – Alan Watts
Sula – Toni Morrison
Through the Arc of the Rainforest – Karen Tamashita
The Perfect Storm – Sebastian Junger
The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown
Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
The Mirror Crack’d – Agatha Cristie
Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
The Other Boleyn Girl – Philippa Greggory
Love Me – Garrison Keillor
My Horizontal Life – Chelsea Handler
Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez
The Audacity of Hope – Barack Obama
The Celestine Prophecy – James Redfield
The Devil in the White City – Erik Larson
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Instinct for Freedom – Alan Clements
A Case of Exploding Mangoes – Mohammed Hanif
Bonk – Mary Roach
Speak Peace in a World of Conflict – Marshall Rosenberg
Timeline - Michael Crichton
And Then There Were None – Agatha Cristie
Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
The Penguin Book of International Women’s Stories
Deception Point – Dan Brown
Before You Know Kindness – Chris Bohjalian
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
The Tipping Point – Malcom Gladwell
13 Clues for Miss Marple – Agatha Cristie
Tears of the Giraffe – Alexander McCall Smith
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon
Forever Ours – Janis Amatuzio
Middle Passage – Charles Johnson
Murder in Mesopotamia – Agatha Cristie
The Tao of Equus – Linda Kohanov
The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
Veronika Decide Morir – Paulo Coelho
Diary – Chuck Palahniuk
Twelve by Twelve – William Powers
Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger
The Zahir – Paulo Coelho
Collapse – Jared Diamond
Running with Scissors – Augusten Burrows
The Moving Finger – Agatha Cristie
A Caribbean Mystery – Agatha Cristie
Lamb – Christopher Moore
Three Act Tragedy – Agatha Cristie
The Murder on the Links – Agatha Cristie
Cards on the Table – Agatha Cristie
They Came to Baghdad – Agatha Cristie
Spider’s Web – Agatha Cristie
Caramelo – Sandra Cisneros
The Country Under My Skin – Gioconda Belli

Monday, July 12, 2010

Countdown: 4 days

I had a fantastic, and exhausting, last weekend in Nicaragua. Friday night I spent in Managua with a couple volunteers and two Nica friends who live in Managua. There was an artist at the bar who drew portraits for my friend Kat and me:

Saturday my friend Vera had a cookout at her house, she’s Nicaraguan but has residency in the U.S. and has been back for about a month to visit. When she’s in Nicaragua I get to see how the other half lives: her family has a nice house with a pool, we ride around in her Land Cruiser, and go out to some of the nicer places in Managua. Almost all of the people at the barbecue spoke perfect English to the point that I almost forgot I was in Nicaragua.

One epic grille out:

We watched the World Cup 3rd place game between Uruguay and Germany (Germany won):

And went swimming:

After the BBQ I returned to my recent home of Granada for one last fiesta. As our group likes to say, we danced our faces off:

“Jump on it”

And lastly, I dragged myself back up to Managua on Sunday noontime for the uber fancy Champagne Brunch at the Hotel Intercontinental. It’s pricey but worth every cordoba.


The World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands, pretty much everyone I know here was going for Spain so everyone in the restaurant cheered when they won in overtime:

I’m hoping to finalize more of my post-Peace Corps plans before I actually fly out on Friday. I know that I’m moving back to DC sometime in probably August, I have an apartment lined up with a friend from college and am waiting to hear about going back to work at my old organization as a researcher, which I should know shortly. If that doesn’t pan out then I’ll continue sending out resumes and bugging everyone I know about job openings. After the weekend I just had I’m definitely sad to be leaving my friends, but I’m still pretty psyched to see everyone at home.

Monday, July 5, 2010

More Despedidas

My instituto did get their act together and organized a despedida for me and also for a teacher who's retiring, Profesor Oswaldo. They had a short presentation with dancing and everything:

and then we had lunch:

and cake "Thank you Oswaldo and Jennifer for your labor":

With Profesor Celso in the middle and Profesor Oswaldo:

I have also made peace with my former landlady and her cousin, we've hung out a couple times and thankfully any discussion of the attempted break-in was amiable. Turns out one of the guys who tried to break in was the son of the owner of the sketchy bar that was down the street from my house. I actually saw him being arrested by police for breaking into houses nearby about a year ago probably, so it wasn't just me. And he's back in jail because he attacked his uncle. Awesome.

So here I am with Claudia & Linda when we said our goodbyes:

After one last trip on Sunday I'm pretty sure I won't be going back to San Rafael before I leave Nicaragua in about TEN DAYS!!

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Despedida is another word in Spanish that I prefer to its translation in English, which is a farewell or going away pary. My despedidas have officially begun in my site, on Friday I said goodbye to the English teachers from the municipality at our monthly planning workshop. Most volunteers hate these workshops and many don't even go but I hate missing them because I just love hanging out with this group of teachers. After the workshop was over they took me out for lunch and gave me a couple recuerdos (memories, presents). Not everyone was able to come but here's the group:

After that I went to CEDRU, my friendly neighborhood NGO, and had cake and coke and they gave me a really nice ring as a going away gift which miraculously fits me (they often don't). I also presented the ones who participated in my English class with their certificates for 18 months of participation. Wow.

My seriously awesome cake:

With my class plus one of the German volunteers who's still around:

Handing out certificates:

I spent Saturday and Sunday at a beach near the city of Leon with the English and Business volunteers for our Nica 47 despedida. It was a pretty chill weekend, which is normal for our group. I think the high points of Saturday night were a couple games of Twister played on a homemade board and when the hostel randomly put the instrumental of the national anthem on the stereo and we all stopped what we were doing, saluted, and sang the whole song, much to the shock of the staff and other patrons!

The high point of Sunday was definitely the lobster lunch a few of us indulged in. I've never really eaten lobster and here it cost less than $15 for this:

Everyone was veeeeery happy after that meal:

These several days of despedidas were bookended by celebrations for Teacher's Day, which is actually June 29th but the mayor's office threw a big party for the teachers last Thursday, Monday we celebrated at school, and Tuesday we had the day off again for the actual day. Some photos from Thursday's celebration:

With some teachers from the instituto:

With Joe, the volunteer who lives closest to me & apparently looks like we're related:

And with my friend Blanca who teaches preschool:

On Thursday both of my schools told me I had to be at their Teacher's Day celebrations on Monday, when I really wasn't planning on going to class because I'd still be at the beach. But whatevs, I got up early and made my way down. I actually ended up missing the majority of the festivities at both schools because one started literally three hours late and the other an hour and a half. Sad news. Hopefully I'll have a despedida still at my instituto but I'm getting a sneaking suspicion that they're gonna schedule it for my very last week in-country when I will be living far away and won't be able to make it. I guess we'll see.