Getting around

>> Thursday, May 31, 2007

If you need to travel within the city there are a couple of options: first is by foot. It’s cheap and for most people reliable but slow. The next step up is a guy on a bicycle with seats on the front pushing you around. Also slow. After that there are moto taxis… they’re sort of half motorcycle and half car but they’re not really good if you need to go outside the city. Then there are real taxis. In my city the taxis are all a flat rate no matter where you need to go, but in Managua you have to haggle and explain that yes you’re a gringo but no you’re not going to pay $50 to go 2 miles.

If you need to go to another city, you could go in a taxi but they’re pretty expensive for traveling long distances and we’re not allowed to own/drive cars and even look at motorcycles so the only real choice we have is to take the buses. There are basically two kinds of buses… there are retired school buses from the US (some still say “Jefferson County School District” on the sides and others are painted bright green with chrome wheels) and there are microbuses that are more like vans than buses. I haven’t been brave enough to take a big bus, but I think we’ll get the experience that this weekend when we go to visit another volunteer.

So far we’ve stuck to the microbuses for traveling between our cities and to Managua. In my city it’s usually really easy to catch a bus… you just walk to the park that’s a couple of blocks away and there are usually three or four competing microbus cobradors yelling “Managua Managua Managua” which comes out sounding much more like “manoamanoamanoa” than actual words, but they definitely get their point across. The cobrodors aren’t the drivers… they’re just guys who get passengers onto the bus and who take your money. They’re more or less bus pimps, and they can be really aggressive in their marketing techniques. If you walk up to a terminal you will usually have to pass by several buses going places that you don’t want/need to go to before you get to the bus you want, but the cobradors do not care. They will take you by the shoulder and try to guide you onto their bus, like even though you need to go to a meeting in Granada, Matagalpa does sound awfully nice so you’ll just change your mind after the suggestion of a nice cobrador.

Once you find the right microbus you aren’t really done. Very few people have their own cars, so everything they need to carry comes on the bus with them. The bigger buses have roosters, dogs, and whatever on them, but I haven’t had to share my seat with any farm animals yet. Usually it’s furniture, a huge basket of wares that weren’t sold at the market, or for Mother´s Day yesterday there were a bunch of people with gigantic flower arrangements on the buses. The buses technically have a maximum capacity, but I’ve never seen a bus refuse a passenger. If necessary the cobrador will hang half his body out the window in order to accommodate another person. The buses slow down on the side of the highway to let someone on but they never really stop. Once you get to the destination terminal you really just start the whole process of cobradors courting you over again. Managuamanaguamanagua.

This is a pretty typcial microbus:

This is the market in my city. It's really crowded all the time and for some reason taxis choose to drive through it. That red thing on the right is a moto taxi:
The rest of these pictures don´t really have anything to do with transportation. Sorry for the theme shift.

This is the high school where I am working:
This is the Catholic church in my city:
 This is the (much nicer) church in a nearby city:


Down Came the Rain

>> Sunday, May 27, 2007

The rainy season has started. So far it has been really nice... the rain cools everything down (it was only 76 this morning--I have been tempted at least twice to put on a long sleeve shirt) and it has been raining mostly in the evenings and nights. The rain here is really hard; literally when it rains it pours. The rain sounds even more intense as it falls on my family´s zinc roof. There have been several times where it´s just impossible to have a conversation or hear the TV because the rain is so loud, so we mostly just sit quietly in the living room shaking our heads in disbelief of how hard the rain is falling. Last night it rained for most of the night and is still drizzly now, so this could be the transition from when the rain is nice in the evenings to when it´s out of control. Paul´s host mom was telling us that last year it rained one time for 20 days without stopping. I guess I´ll worry about that when it gets here, because I like it a lot right now.

Otherwise, things are going very well. The food my mom makes is still awesome and I think my Spanish is making slow yet steady progress. We´re getting busier with our various projects that are going on (we have a youth group in our communities, we are beginning to co-teach classes at the high schools in our towns, and we have our language lessons) and I´m really pleased with my progress in all of those. I plan to post a longer entry (with pictures, I hope) about my youth group and our project, so stay tuned for that. Until then, please keep e-mailing and commenting to say hello!


Like traveling back in time

Yesterday a group of us had to go to Managua to observe classes at one of the universities and a few of us decided to stay in town for a little while and for a lot of reasons we didn't make it back home until 7:30 (after dark). Even though I told my host mom that Holly and I might be gone all day we got a stern talking to when we got home. On one hand it is really great to know that my host family is worrying about us, but at the same time I haven't been treated like a little kid for a long time and it's really strange. My mom even threatened half-jokingly to spank us like niños.

I don't know if this is related or not, but this morning my host mom came into my room and looked pretty dismayed at all of the books, backpacks, and clothes strewn about and told me to clean my room today, and I didn't get the impression that there's any flexibility in that request.

Ok, I need to go because my parents told me that if I don't study this afternoon for my big algebra test, I'll be grounded for the whole week and won't even get to go to the big pep rally for the football game!



>> Wednesday, May 23, 2007

We finally added some pictures from Nicaragua. These are from the 3 day retreat in Managua:

A sunset in Managua:
A pretty cool shot of Lake Managua from the airplane:
Another picture of Lake Managua:
And pictures of our families and new towns...

My host mom´s birthday was last week. She didn't say anything and I woke up from a nap to find a surprise party happening:
My host mom is wearing a white shirt and actually smiling in this picture:
There was a birthday in Holly's family, too. This is William, Sol, and Williamcito:
Williamcito and his cake:
Holly and my sobrina, Alejandra:
I live on the main street in town... it´s really loud and this picture doesn´t really do justice to the noise during the day:
This is a typical street in Holly's town:
This is Volcán Mombacho from the park in Holly's town:
Holly's family's bird, Lola:
These borratas interrupt my Spanish class all the time. They're sort of the Nicaraguan equivilant to the loudspeaker car in Back to the Future:


Where to Begin?

>> Saturday, May 12, 2007

¡Hola! This is now my 11th day in Nicaragua—3 days at a hotel in Managua and 7 days at my training site with my host family. So far everything is great! Most importantly, my host family is wonderful. I have a host mom, Doña Petrona, and I also live with a host sister and brother-in-law (Marisol and Ramón) and a host nephew, Walter. Walter’s dad lives nearby and comes to visit often, as do my other host brother and sister-in-law William and Solsiria and their son, William (It helps a lot that there are two Williams and two Walters!). Walter is 13 and William is 5; I really like having them around because they’re really patient with me and are pretty amused with how much Spanish help I need. Also in the family are a couple of dogs, a cat, and a bird that loves to sing and call out the names of everyone in the family.

When the Peace Corps trainer told me who my family would be, she said that my mom is a really great cook and that I am very lucky—she was right! The food is really great. I get lots of vegetables, fresh juice with every meal, lots of good BBQ-type chicken, and even had spaghetti for dinner. I’m the eighth “aspirante,” or trainee, that has lived here, so Doña Petrona has this all down to a science and is always telling me that this or that aspirante taught her that in the US we like less oil in our food or showed her how to make garlic bread. Everyone’s also really concerned about taking good care of me. On Sunday my stomach hurt a little bit, and my family set up a hammock for me on the patio and made everyone be quite so I could rest. They’re all also really concerned about the bug bites I’ve managed to collect, and I’m not really sure how to say in Spanish “Don’t worry, there’s always something a little bit wrong with me like Poison Ivy or hives from something or other—I’ll be fine.” I guess I should look up that phrase in my dictionary.

I think my Spanish is slowly improving. I feel really bad for my family as they listen to me stumble through really easy sentences at a snail’s pace, but they’re very patient and tell me that I’m doing a really good job. We have Spanish classes for 6 hours every day, and they’re entirely in Spanish (the language facilitators don’t speak English). I have a long, LONG way to go with my Spanish, but every day I’m able to understand a little bit more of what people around me are saying, and I learn how to say more and more. In the afternoons we have Applied Spanish where we perform different tasks like introducing ourselves to the police, or asking the bus driver how much it costs to go to the next town over. It’s a little scary to meet new people and practice my Spanish, but it’s gotten a little easier to have those simple conversations even after just a few days.

I really like my town a lot. It’s very small—about 5 blocks east to west and 4 blocks from the north to the south. It’s very calm, very safe, and I like the people a lot. I like the change of scenery in that there are always dogs, pigs, cows, and goats roaming freely around town (though they always seem to remember exactly where they live) and kids that play soccer in the park every night. I can walk anywhere I need to go (obviously), and am still learning which little stores in people’s houses (called “pulperias”) sell what.

The heat isn’t as bad as I feared it might be. It is pretty hot, but it’s not as humid as it gets in the summers at home and there’s usually a really nice breeze. I spend a lot of time on the porch doing my homework or talking with my family and it’s coolest there. It’s only really hot between about noon and 3:00, and even that’s manageable in the shade or with a cold glass of pineapple juice in hand.

That’s really all I can think of for now, but I’m definitely happy, healthy, and settling in to my new home very well!


The weekend

The weekend is finally here and Holly is staying with me for a couple of days. She gets along really well with my family and I think that with both of us there it´s a lot easier to communicate. I´ve been kind of sick for a few days but I´m pretty sure I´m on the upswing. Yesterday my temperature was 38.5 degrees celcius but I have no idea what that is in Farenheit. I felt pretty bad but today my fever is gone and the PC medical office is taking really good care of me. It´s nice to finally have health care.

A couple of other trainees are visiting from surrounding pueblitos and I think we might get to eat some pizza :). Some nasty American food is just what I need right now to speed a full recovery. Seriously. I´m not sure exactly what made me sick, but I have my suspicions. I´ve been drinking purified water but sometimes my host mom gives me refrescos with ice that might not be purified. I went with my host brother to buy some cheese from someone´s house, but just through the grate at the front door. He slipped her 50 cords and she went into another room and came back with a bag of queso. I´m not usually one to point fingers but eating that cheese could have made me sick. I think eventually my stomach will get used to new foods and beverages but this first week has been kind of tough. On the other hand, Holly hasn´t had any problems adjusting to the food. She really seems to like Nicaraguan cuisine and it makes me a little jealous.

Once again I´m running out of time at the cyber so I should go.



>> Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I said that my room isn´t really that loud. That´s a lie. It´s pretty loud sometimes. There´s a mechanic that works right across the street from my room and I think sometimes at like 4 in the morning someone comes and knocks on his giant metal door but he has to get out of bed and go open the door so the person knocks for like 3 minutes. That definitely wakes me up.

One of the most popular forms of advertising here is for a guy with HUGE speakers mounted on the roof of his car to drive around blaring some message (churches use it a lot and apparently they announce funerals that way, too). I do feel sort of lucky, though, because I don´t have any roosters in close proximity and my neighbors might be too old to have a strong affinity for the apparently very popular reggaeton. It will be interesting to see how much I´ve gotten accustomed to in a year or two. Va pue. My time is almost up. Nos vemos.


My new family

>> Sunday, May 06, 2007

We finally left the hotel in Managua and made it to our host sites. I´m in a pretty big city and so far the only thing that´s been difficult has been the language. My family is really cool and my host niece is really cool and helps me learn a little bit faster. So far I´ve only had one class (I start for real tomorrow) so not too much can be expected. My teacher is great and I think (I hope) I´ll be ok within a couple of weeks.

My bedroom is right up against the street, but it´s really not that loud. Besides, I´ve been so exhausted straining to communicate that I´ve been exhausted. One thing that surprises me a little bit is that American pop culture is everywhere. The TV channels are about 50% English and there are just little signs all over the place. I really like it here... Holly is about 20 minutes away by bus (so I´ve heard) but we haven´t seen each other yet. She´s farther out in the countryside and her town is a lot smaller so it will be really cool that we get both perspectives. I just talked to her on the phone and it sounds like her family is really great, too.

All right... I only have 6 minutes left at the cyber. Hasta luego.


We made it :)

>> Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I just wanted to make a quick post to let everyone know that we made it to Nicaragua and we are spending a few more days of orientation before we head to our host families this weekend. I´m definitely feeling tons of emotions all at once... excitement, anxiety, enthusiasm, and a whole lot more that I can´t even identify, but I think mostly we´re just happy to be here.


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