Let There be Light

>> Monday, June 25, 2007

Last Sunday afternoon just a little bit after Paul left to go back to his town, everyone in my family suddenly and spontaneously migrated to the street and called me to follow them. For some unknown reason, two power lines in our street just fell down (one pulled the other down). That same morning a big tree in the same street had just fallen over, so I really thought that there was going to be some catastrophic earthquake right on my block… nine days later, however, I’m still here. What was not here for a long time, however, was the electricity on our block. I’m pretty sure that they called the electricity company on the second or third day, but my host mom told me they said it would be another five days to get new poles from Managua.

The next step, then, was that my host brother called a Nicaraguan news channel to tell them about what happened. Apparently the best way to get someone like an electricity company to do something is to shame them into doing it by embarrassing them on the news. Tuesday someone told me that it was on the news that our block hadn’t had power for several days (obviously I couldn’t watch the news myself) and Wednesday my host mom said she heard that they'd be coming on Thursday. The electricity company did come, and it was a community event. My host mom told me to go down and watch with my host niece and nephew, Claudia and Williamcito, and she told me to bring my camera to take some pictures, so I gladly obliged.

This is the look down the street from my house. You can see the two fallen poles and the small crowd gathering by the repair truck.

Here's another shot of the crowd on one corner sitting to watch the action.

The funny thing is that it’s not really that big of a deal… it wasn’t like in Springfield when the power went out for a week in the winter and we had no heat; here it’s not like there’s air conditioning anywhere anyway. The only real difference is that after it gets dark around 6:00 every night, the evenings are unbelievably boring. I talk a lot with my family, but really a person can really only say “¡Hace calor!” so many times each day. The only real good to come from the situation is that my headlamp is quite the commodity and I have definitely gotten my money’s worth this week alone.
For some reason, instead of coming early in the morning to take advantage of the light, the electric company crew didn't come until about 4:00 in the afternoon, which left them with only about an hour and a half of light. My host mom told me that they were working until 2:00 in the morning trying to get everything put back together. Last weekend I stayed with Paul, and I was sure that everything would be fixed and the light would be back by the time I returned to my pueblo on Sunday; I was so wrong. They had fixed the electricity for everyone else but my family, so we were the only house without power. Doña Petrona decided that enough was enough so she had William (who is an electrician) hook us up to "borrow" electricity directly from the line yesterday afternoon. Finally, the electricity company came back today (Monday-day nine of the electricity crisis at our house) and fixed it once and for all (I hope).


Pictures from Home

>> Saturday, June 23, 2007

Paul has posted plenty of pictures of where he now calls home, and I figured it's high time I do the same.

First, this is the view of my house from the street. Before this picture was taken, there were flowers covering the whole front of the patio. When I saw them cutting down the flowers, I decided I had better take my picture quickly before they were all gone. Now it's a lot hotter on the patio because there's not as much shade (but it's still the coolest place in the house to be) and it's not as fun because I used to be able to watch people walking down the street through the flowers... I could see them, but they couldn't see me. Now that I write that, it seems sort of creepy, so perhaps it's for the best that the flowers are gone. The picture looks pretty messy because there's all the brush around; usually it's really neat and tidy.
Here's a better picture of the porch where we have Spanish class and where I like to sit to cool off.
Here's a picture looking into my host mom's pulperia. It's just a little room off of the patio, and so whenever someone comes to buy something they just yell ¨¡Buenas!¨ and my host mom comes outside to help them.
Here is my bedroom. It's small and simple, but very nice and cozy. I have my bed with my mosquitero on it, a desk, and a nice dresser with drawers, a mirror, and a place to hang my clothes.
Finally, here's the living room looking from the kitchen in the back of the house toward the porch. My room is on the left side, but you can't see the door in the picture. Bonus in the picture is Guido the cat.


El Mes de Chavalos

>> Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I have discovered by now that the schools don't really need an excuse to not have class--the election, Mother's Day, it looks like it might rain, etc.--so it wasn't much of a surprise when I heard that there's no class on Teacher's Day. This is a really special day for the teachers in Nicaragua, so special that they changed the schedule and moved back the vacation so they could have school on El Día de Maestros. I think this is pretty cool, but it also comes within the context that the entire month of June is children's month. When I asked some kids about it I said, "So there's one day for mothers, one day for fathers, and one day for teachers. How many days do kids get?" 30 days, that's how many.

When I was a kid and would ask why there's a mother's day and a father's day but not a children's day, I would always get the answer that every other day of the year is children's day. I didn't really have the gall to ask why there wasn't a children's month. Maybe there is and no one thought to ask. For an entire month whenever something exciting is happening, the reason is invariably that it's for children's day/week/month. The children's holidays don't really seem to be strictly regularized, so they get to celebrate them over and over again because different groups recognize different days.

The result is that every other day they get to eat cake. Lots and lots of cake. Holly's host sister made cake for almost all the kids in the town. She used 48 eggs, 4 dozen oranges, and a truckload of sugar, flour and margarine.

This is the (very impressive) array of cakes:
The kids that I have seen have been constantly chewing on caramellos or cake, missing class for an assembly, or just skipping school altogether in the name of children's month. I don't really forsee that the lack of excuses will really deter people from doing the exact same things, but I'll be curious to see how just long festivities continue because it's the 1- or 3-month anniversary of children's day. Meh, that's probably not needed... there's always El día de Maestros or Father's Day on the horizon to keep kids celebrating and out of school.

Bonus, unrelated photos:

This is the saddest picture I've taken. Partly because it's out of focus, but also because Nicole dropped her Eskimo (that's es-kee-mo) and that's a tragedy:
I promise that we do things other than eat Eskimo, but it's a really good way to forget that it's stupid hot:
Holly and I got some cookie mix in a package. After buying a single stick of butter and realizing that there is no such thing as 375 degrees farenheit on Nicaraguan ovens, we actually got some decent cookies:
Finally, doing laundry is so much less fun here (not that it was ever fun in the US):


Return to Innocence

>> Thursday, June 14, 2007

  1. I go to sleep at 9:30 every night.
  2. I watch a ton of cartoons and don’t really understand them.
  3. I have to ask for help reading the newspaper.
  4. If I don’t eat all of my food my mom gets mad at me.
  5. I have to ask permission to leave the house.
  6. I’m really excited to take my Flinstone’s vitamins every day.
  7. None of the older kids like talking to me, so my friends are mostly under 10.
  8. I played pin the tail on the donkey today …by myself because I have classes alone.
  9. I don’t know my numbers very well. When I went to the bank the other day I had to ask someone how to say 500 (for the curious, it’s quiniento).
  10. I feel like everyone stares at me when I walk around the high school. But this time it’s really happening.
On the other hand, I have experiences that reinforce that I am indeed an adult and even somewhat crodgety. Today, for example, I was at the high school planning my next lesson with my counterpart when kids in the next room were making a ton of noise, and suddenly they started pouring out and the teacher asked me if I wanted to go see an election. I was like, ok but I’ve seen elections and they’re pretty low-key. That is false here. Nicas take their elections very… seriously.

This election was for school queen and it was part reggaeton dance party, part beauty contest, and part riot. There were three candidates for queen and they each had their respective groupies who could be identified by their varying spray-painted hair and the headbands that said “Marilyn” or “Victoria.” Every time their candidate’s name was mentioned, the gangs exploded with cheers, drumming, firecrackers, and mosh-pitting. For intermission each of the candidates dispatched two people from their crew to perform really raunchy dance moves for the crowd and the school administrators.

I knew that I was definitely a grown-up when my counterpart and I exchanged glances that said, “kids these days.” Despite how humbled I am by my shortcomings in Spanish and Nicaraguan culture, I’m glad that teenagers will always be around to embarrass themselves. Besides, some of the things about my renewed childhood are nice. I’m going to keep taking my Flinstone vitamins because it´s like healthy candy and being friends with kids is cool because knowing how to jump rope turns you into a superhero.


Masaya Pictures

>> Sunday, June 10, 2007

This is almost our entire TEFL group... there are 20 of us, so 3 (Irene, Liz, and Sara) are missing.

Looking into the volcano. There was no lava, but it is active with the smoke rising out of the crater.
Some of the other TEFL trainees standing at the edge of the volcano. The guy in the picture is our TEFL trainer... he is incredibly nice and everyone in our group just loves him.
This is us at Volcán Masaya overlooking the blue skies and green trees and grass.
These are just a few of our pictures... as always, you can check out all of our pictures here.


Seeing More of Nicaragua

Before this week, all the trainees have been more or less sequestered to our small training towns except for a trip or two to Managua. This week, however, we got a much-needed change of scenery. First, from Sunday to Wednesday we went on a volunteer visit to get to see the daily lives of TEFL volunteers around Nicaragua. Paul and I got to go together to visit another married couple in Chinandega, Chinandega. Chinandega is in the northwest and is probably comes in at a close second as the hottest place in the universe (second only to the surface of the sun). Despite the heat and the humid sizzling heat after it rained in the afternoons, our trip was really nice. We got to meet a lot of volunteers that live in the department of Chinandega, we got to observe a lot of classes in the volunteers’ schools, we ate a lot of good food (Subway, Pizza Hot, and Eskimo ice cream, for example), and we got to stay in a fairly nice hospidaje (hostel) in a room equipped with two nice fans and cable TV. The other great part of the trip was the transportation: from Managua to Chinandega we got to take an expreso microbus, meaning that it went straight to the destination without stopping a million times along the way to pick up other people. Paul and I were shocked that there were 15 seats in the microbus and 15 people in the microbus and we even had nice upholstery and head rests to enjoy our two-hour trip.

Yesterday, Saturday, we all went to Masaya for a charla (talk) and we got to go to Volcán Masaya. It was fun to see my first active volcano even though we did not see the lava we had been promised. After hiking around the volcano and taking lots of pictures, we went into Masaya to have lunch and walk around and see the city. Masaya is well-known for making hammocks and other furniture items, and there are lots of tourists; I’m a little embarrassed to admit that now after being in Nicaragua for five weeks, I react a lot like Nicaraguans when I see a gringo I don’t know: I can’t help but think to myself, “A gringo! Who is he? What’s he doing here? Does he speak Spanish?” Unlike many Nicaraguans, however, I am able to show some restraint and keep the comments to myself.

This week is back to the same ‘ole Spanish classes, but then Saturday is our site fair where we find out all the sites our group will be sent to for the two years; there are presentations from current volunteers in each of the six departments where we’ll be going, and we get little descriptions of each individual site. Single volunteers fill out preference forms about where they do and do not want to be sent, but I think site placement is usually pretty underwhelming for married couples. Because we have to be in a site big enough for two volunteers (with two separate high schools, for example), the Peace Corps usually already has a site picked out. We might get to express a preference between two sites, but I think Paul and I are both relieved that it’s not going to be as stressful an experience for us as it is for everyone else.

Overall, I can’t believe that we’re entering our sixth week in Nicaragua and that training is already nearly half done. Part of me feels like I’ve been here forever, while another part feels like I just got here. Our Spanish is still making slow but steady progress, and we try to pat ourselves on the back for small victories like successfully being able to fill out a withdrawal slip at the bank (no easy task—they’re very particular about how you fill them out) or asking for and receiving only the vegetables and condiments I want at Subway. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet mastered the art of eavesdropping on nearby conversations in Spanish or comprehending an entire episode of Spongebob Squarepants (Bob Esponja here)… but then again, training’s only halfway done.


Transportation P.S.

>> Saturday, June 02, 2007

I had mentioned that there's a legal limit to the number of passengers on a bus, but what happens if there's a violation of that limit? Well, I can tell you because our bus today got pulled over by the police for having 20+ people when the limit is 15.

We pulled over to the side of the road and I thought someone was getting out--you can get out wherever you want along the side of the road--but only the driver got up. He opened my door and grabbed a plastic bag from under my seat and started walking toward the officer. He handed him the bag and told him that there were bananas and other snacks in there. Holly and I exchanged a glance like, "did you see what I just saw?" We did and it was. The question that I'm stuck on now is what was that bag doing there? Was it the driver's lunch or is there always a prepared bribery goody bag in the van? I'll have to keep my eye out for these things in the future.


Nica Time

This Wednesday was Mother's Day in Nicaragua. I quickly learned that Mother's Day here is a really big deal--there's no school on Mother's day, and the stores and markets are all really busy with people buying cakes and gifts for their moms. The night before Mother's Day, a band of teenagers from the church goes to the house of each mother to serenade them and to celebrate their motherhood... Tuesday night, they were at my host mom's house at 5:00 am. It was still dark and I thought I was dreaming when I heard the music playing, but then I realized that it was the band outside. Some moms wake up and go outside to say thank you for coming... I'm not sure if my host mom went outside, because I pressed my pillow firmly to my ears and just tried to go back to sleep.

The other interesting thing that happened this week was that there was a new bridge being dedicated in the next pueblo over from my little town. A group of people from Japan paid for the bridge to be widened, so there was a big ceremony with the Japanese people, the mayor and other VIPs from our towns, and the little sister of Shannon (the trainee in my town with whom I have Spanish classes) was going to be dancing at the ceremony. Shannon and I convinved our language facilitator to let us go and watch the ceremony even though it was kind of drizzly and raining. We grabbed our jackets and cameras and caught the microbus to go to the bridge. The ceremony was supposed to start at 9:00 am, so we when we decided to go at 9:15, we were a little worried we'd have missed the whole thing.

That was a very stupid thing to worry about. Our biggest mistake was that we forgot about Nica Time... nothing in Nicaragua ever starts on time. It is perfectly acceptable to arrive late for things, so it's really silly to arrive early or on time.

We got to the bridge at about 9:25 and there were only a few people there and some kids from the nearby school. There were some plastic chairs stacked up and the bridge looked nice and new, but it certainly didn't look ready for a big ceremony. After we had been there for perhaps two minutes, it started to pour. We had our jackets, ponchos, and umbrellas, but that really didn't matter. We realized that there was no way the ceremony was going to start any time soon and we were soaked, so we were just ready to go back and resume Spanish classes. However, because it was raining, the microbuses run less frequently, so we had to wait for nearly an hour for the microbus to come back through the bridge to take us back to my town. By the time the microbus came back, the mayor and other people had started to arrive, but everyone was soaked from head to toe (very few people had jackets or umbrellas) and we were pretty sure that no dancing or cool ceremony was going to happen.

We later found out that the rain had made some other bridge impassable for the Japanese people, so the ceremony never happened at all. Everyone waited around at the bridge until after 11 because they didn't want the guests of honor to get there to find the bridge abandoned. We went back to our town, changed clothes (we felt really bad for our language facilitator because she didn't have a dry change of clothes; we finally convinced her to borrow a dry pair of socks from me), and resumed our Spanish classes. We didn't get to take cool pictures of a cultural event or see Shannon's sister dance, but it was an adventure nonetheless.

I learned one other important lesson on Thursday. Shannon and I have a youth group that we lead every Thursday and Sunday. The goal of the group is to do a project in the community, give them charlas (little talks) on topics of interest, and have fun and get to know each other. Our first Charla was Thursday and the kids had asked us to talk about how to prepare for a job interview in Nicaragua. We worked really hard the whole week to make papelogrofos (posters), plan a skit, have games, blow up balloons for one of the games, buy soda and snacks, not to mention practice our Spanish a lot so that we could say a few coherent sentences to them. Usually our group actually arrives on time (I think they have learned that gringos expect them to come on time), but the meeting was scheduled for 5:00 pm and 5:15, 5:30, and 5:45 passed with not one single youth group member. It turns out we needed to learn a second important lesson: when it rains, no one really does anything. With our balloons and snacks and everything ready, Shannon and I both felt like little kids who had a birthday party and nobody came. We'll re-give our charla next week, so I just hope it doesn't rain!

Paul and I leave tomorrow to visit another married TEFL volunteer couple, so we're really excited about that. We'll be gone from Sunday to Wednesday and plan to bring our camera and take lots of pictures--expect a full account when we get back!


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