No News is Good News

>> Monday, July 30, 2007

We've been slacking some in the posting department, but we've just been very busy getting settled in to Masaya and trying to figure out our routines. Paul works only in the afternoons at a small school that's a little bit on the outskirts of town, and I work both in the mornings and afternoons (I just have a lot of long breaks in between my classes) at a bigger school near the middle of town.

We've also started looking for a house to live in after our six weeks of living with one of my counterparts is complete (I work with three of my school's seven English teachers; Paul works with his school's only English teacher). We've found a couple of houses for rent, but so far they've been out of our price range... it's also difficult to find a house here because there is no newspaper or anything with listings; we just walk up and down the streets looking for¨"SE ALQUILA" (for rent) signs in windows, or asking people sitting in front of their houses if they know of any houses for rent nearby.

Our final adjustment we've had to make is that Masaya is noticably hotter than our training towns... Masaya is still cooler than other parts of Nicaragua like Managua or Chinandega, but Carazo (where we were before) is the coolest part of Nicaragua, so we were initially very spoiled. Now we make sure not to go anywhere or do anything without a bandana nearby to act as a sweat rag and a Nalgene bottle full of water.

We've both started co-teaching classes with our counterparts, and are going to begin getting started on community English classes soon. Until then, you can find us-- sweat rags in hand--walking up and down each and every street in Masaya looking for the place that we'll (finally) be able to call our home for the next two years.



>> Wednesday, July 25, 2007

After swearing in, we had one more day to spend in Managua. None of us were really looking forward to it, especially since we had to pay for our hotel room. Luckily, we found this awesome hostel in Managua and I think it deserves a mention. It's called the Managua Backpackers Inn and if you're stuck in Managua, you should check it out. The owner is a really nice and relaxed guy, and there's a pool, a bunch of movies to watch, and a kitchen to cook in. Oh, and it's pretty cheap. What more can you ask for?


¡Somos Voluntarios!

>> Friday, July 20, 2007

We are now officially Peace Corps Volunteers! We've been in Managua this week having our last training sessions, administrative sessions, and preparing ourselves to go off to our sites and no longer be the baby trainees. Today was our juramentación (swearing in) ceremony. We sang the Nicaraguan and US national anthems, swore in in Spanish and English ("to defend the constitution against enemies, foreign and domestic," etc.), said goodbye to all our training families who came in for the ceremony, and took lots of pictures!

First, this is our entire TEFL group of 17 along with our technical trainer and project directors.
This is me shaking the hand of the US Ambassador to Nicaragua, Paul Trivelli. He spoke to us on Wednesday and swore us in today.
Here is Paul with his host mom, Doña Rosita.

This was the fancy (and yummy) cake they had for us.
Finally, they had a traditional Nicaraguan folklórico band come and play for us. Here is a quick video of them playing their super-cool music.

I think we're all going to miss our host families the other trainees in our group since we're all spead out over the country, but I think we're also ready to get to our sites and start working! Wish us luck as Peace Corps Volunteers!



>> Saturday, July 14, 2007

It should go without saying that I miss Hector a lot. However, it does help the transition that my training host family has lots of furry friends that are there for me when I need a helping paw, claw, or fin.

Cutest in the whole bunch is probably Lyca and her eight (!) puppies. They were born on June 7 and already there are only 2 left (in Nicaragua puppies are given away a lot earlier than in the US), but I took plenty of pictures of them as tiny little puppies and as rambunctious trouble-makers. Four are black, three are light brown, and one is a chocolate brown.
There are two other dogs, but the Internet is acting up and it's taking forever to upload... you'll just have to imagine Ricky and Muñeco. Ricky is the proud dad of those puppies and is a really cute collie-looking sort of dog. Apparently Ricky is quite a stud and has a lot of "families"around town, but I'm sure he's particularly proud of his eight puppies.
The last canine friend my family has is Muñeco. He isn't really particularly cute or friendly; he just lays around all day and chases bikes, cars, or people who walk by the house. There's also a hierarchy of the family dogs: Lyca lives on the porch and sometimes gets to be inside the house. Ricky lives outside but sometimes gets to be on the porch. And Muñeco always stays outside and never even gets to go on the porch. I don't know how or why this hierarchy was established, but all three dogs seem to accept it so who am I to question their system?
Guido the cat gets to roam freely inside and outside, but mostly he just sleeps in weird places all the time.
Lola the lora (parrot) is certainly one of the most interesting animal family members. After spending the first night with my host family, early in the morning I heard someone screaming "¡Marisol! ¡Ramón!" and I couldn't figure out what was the matter. I later realized it was Lola yelling for them because she was really hungry for her breakfast (usually a mango or a banana). Lola knows a lot of words including "Mi amorrrr," the names of all the family members, and she yells "¿Qué?" quite frequently as well, as if she's having trouble hearing what someone said. Most often of all she yells "Lyca!" because my family members are always yelling Lyca's name when she barks incessantly. When it was pouring two days ago, Lola also left her shelter to sit out on the clothes line to give herself a bath... she was cooing and whistling and was happy as a lark (?) even though she wasn't very pretty with wet feathers for the next 24 hours.
 There's another lora that lives next door; although I have never seen it, I feel like I know him or her very well because he or she is always squawking uncontrollably. In addition to squawking, the other bird also makes other animal noises, so the most irritating thing is that it will bark exactly like a Chihuahua for really long periods of time. At first I thought it was an actual Chihuahua barking wildly until Walter told me it was a bird and distracted it from barking by whistling a tune that the bird then repeated. Since then, I've also heard the lora making sounds like a horse and a rooster... I'm not sure if it's really smart or if it's experiencing some sort of obsessive compulsive or multiple personalities disorder.

The other pets my family has are a tank full of fish (guppies I think) that Walter caught somewhere. I tried to take a picture of them, but it really didn't turn out well and they're just pretty run-of-the-mill fish.

However, there are other honorary animals that make themselves at home in my family's house: salamancas. They love to hang out on the long florescent light bulbs in the living room and they eat the bugs that fly nearby. For this reason, I love salamancas very much. They make a funny squeaking sound that sounds a lot like a mouse; the sound is a little bit irritating, but they're not bad. They also come in a lot of different colors: white (sort of albino), black, and a purplish color. Sometimes they crawl around on the walls in my room at night as well, but I'm never really afraid because I'm in the safe confines of my mosquitero.
And the final category of animals are animals that my family does not own and do not live with my family, but are constantly roaming around the streets in town. With the exception of cows, bulls, oxen, and horses, no one really pins up any sort of animal, so they're always just walking around freely. Somehow they always seem to remember where they live so they go home at night (I think), but from dawn to dusk it's a free-for-all. For example, huge chanchos (pigs) are always rooting around, roosters and chickens run around clucking with a row of chicks in tow, dogs run freely, and several times a day farmers move their herds of cows and bulls from one side of town to the other.
The other day I told Williamcito and Claudia I wanted to take pictures of animals around town, so they were trying to "help" me. This is Williamcito trying to calm down and corral a goat so I could take its picture. The goat definitely wasn't relaxed by Williamcito's herding attempts, but I love the picture even more because of it:
I think that's a pretty good summary of all the wildlife that resides in my town... I needed to get it all chronicled here ASAP because I can guarantee that I'll be missing all the sights and sounds of the free range pigs, horses, and cows when we move to the big city, Masaya, next week!


¿Qué busca chele?

>> Thursday, July 12, 2007

It’s a given that there’s no Wal-Mart or Target for your convenient shopping needs in Nicaragua, but sometimes finding somewhat mundane things is an all-afternoon task even in the big cities (actually only in the big cities because you can’t really find much in the pueblos). Some things are easy. For example, if you need any pharmaceuticals, you just walk to the nearest farmacía, of which there are plenty, and buy to your heart's content just about anything you need.

For more every day things, however, it can sometimes be more of a scavenger hunt. Today I was looking for some jalapeños to make guacamole, but they aren’t all that popular because Nicaraguans have an unhealthy fear of all foods spicy so I had to walk around the market asking for about 10 minutes until I finally found some in pretty bad shape. To make it even more interesting, one of the supermarkets in town doesn’t even carry vegetables. At all. In the one that does have veggies, you can never really be sure that they’ll have what you need so you can still have time to go to the market before it shuts down for the day. (The reason you don't just go the market first is that the stuff there is a lot dirtier because it just sits out for flies and all kinds of other nastiness to get on it all day.)

Pulperías are another option for all kinds of stuff. There’s never really one set pulpería inventory—in the smaller towns it seems like they try to divide the basic goods between them, so if you need rice, sugar, and beans you’ll get to walk all around town. The pulperías just buy huge 50- or 100-pound sacks of their wares and you usually BYOS (bring your own storage) to buy a bag, a cup, a pound, or a tupperware container full of whatever you need. Other than that, pulperías are sort of like convenience stores--they usually have soda, club social (my favorite) or Ritz crackers, and a decent selection of galletas (cookies). Some of them are really obvious from a big Colgate or Coca-Cola insignia, but others just look like normal houses, and everyone just has to know that it's a store.

I'm a little sad that we'll be leaving our training towns; I'm just now figuring out which market vendors are really nice and helpful and ask ¿Qué busca chele? (whatcha lookin' for whitey?) and I know where I should go if I need to buy a bag of milk or cup of flour from my neighbor. The good news, through, is that there will be a brand new smelly market to explore and get lost in for the next two years, and eventually I can be the one to tell silly gringos where they have to go to buy jalepeños.

A farmacia:
The pulpería close to my house:
Holly's family's pulpería--a little bit of everything is a really accurate description:


Housekeeping Post

>> Tuesday, July 10, 2007

For some reason, a couple of our recent posts weren't included in the nightly e-mail feeds that are sent out... if you subscribe to the blog by e-mail, you might visit the blog to see if you missed anything. We've figured out the glitch now, so there shouldn't be any more missed posts.

For a slightly more interesting update, training is starting to wind down... classes finished on Thursday and we had a free day last Saturday so nearly our entire group went to the beach (on the Pacific side) and had a great time. Sunday we left for our our "site visit" in Masaya to get a taste of what our service will be like. We will be able to find a house in Masaya to live in together, but for the first six weeks we will be living with one of my counterparts (a Nicaraguan English teacher) to help us get acquainted. Our assignments during the site visit are to meet our other counterparts, visit our schools, and try to find our way around.

We'll get back to our training towns on Wednesday, we have our final language interviews on Thursday, then one last weekend with my training family before we all go to Managua for a few days of last-minute sessions to get us ready to be out on our own. Then we swear in on Friday, July 20 and we will officially be Peace Corps Volunteers!


Thinking in terms of Nicaragua

>> Saturday, July 07, 2007

I was watching the Under-20 World Cup with my host brother last night and I noticed that the field was really well-lit, but I couldn't help wondering what they would do if the power went out. Would they have that many generators for the entire field? Would they stop playing? Would all of the players get headlamps? Then I realized that the game was in Canada. The lights don't go out in Canada like they do here :(.


Anecdotes from this Week

>> Thursday, July 05, 2007

1. Mangoes
Before yesterday, I had never eaten a mango; the closest I had really come was the mango-flavored syrup at Sno Biz each summer. My host brother came home with some fresh mangoes and asked if I wanted to try one. When I said yes, I thought I would get a nice piece of mango to try. Instead, I received a gigantic mango and a couple of napkins. My host brother demonstrated on his mango how to peel the skin off in long strips with my teeth before eating the fruit. I can now say that I like mangoes, but that the act of eating the mango itself was by far my worst experience yet in Nicaragua.

First, I had to bite into the gross skin of the mango and peel it off without getting my nose and chin sticky. Then the wet, sticky mango was so big I could barely hold it in my hand. As I tried to eat it, I got mango juice everywhere (face, arms, shirt, and later I think I later discovered some mango stickiness on my forehead) and I had no idea that mangoes are incredibly stringy: I spent about 20 minutes flossing after I was done because probably 75% of the mango was in between my teeth as opposed to in my tummy. The rest of my family that was sitting with my on the porch thought my messy foray into mango-dom was hilarious and of course my host brother, Walter, ate every last bit of mango without getting a drop anywhere.

I think I’ve decided, however, that if the act of eating a mango remains my worst experience in Nicaragua, I’ll be doing okay.

2. Money in perspective
This morning after I put on a pair of pants, I was digging around in the pockets and pulled out a green bill. Immediately I thought it was a 10 cord bill (each bill here is a different color and 10s are green), but I quickly realized it was actually a $5 bill that I guess I left in there a while ago. Even though a $5 bill is worth a lot more than 10 cords, I was immediately disappointed because, while apparently you can use US money here, I would have been much more excited to have a 10 to use for the bus.

I think I’ve also become a lot more pinché (stingy) with my money here… I often find myself thinking, “What! That bottle of Coke is nine cords? No way!” even though nine cords is about 50 cents. After two years in Nicaragua with my new pinché attitude, I just may have saved up enough to buy a six-pack of Coke when I return to the States.

3. Yet another example of how incredibly nice my host mom is
Our entire training group has a day of charlas and meetings in one of the other training towns just about once a week. We are on our own for lunch on those days, and we usually go to one of a few pizza places that are in town. On a night when there was no electricity and I was trying to make conversation, I told Doña Petrona that I’ve been eating a lot more pizza here than I did in the States, but that I’m getting sort of tired of it and need to find a new place to eat. She was very alarmed by this and told me she would pack me a lunch tomorrow because pizza has too much grease. I tried to tell her that it was okay, that I could find somewhere else to eat, and that I was really just trying to make conversation, but she insisted on packing me lunch and planned out that I was going to get a tortilla española, a grilled cheese, a cookie, and a box of juice. That was fine, and I then jokingly told her that because she’s such a good cook, all the other aspirantes were going to be really jealous of me. Her response to that was that Paul wouldn’t need to be jealous because she was packing him the same lunch as well. I tried to insist that I didn’t want her to have to do the extra work and that it really wasn’t necessary, but I sensed pretty early on that it was a losing battle and I was going to be taking my sacks of lunches the next day whether I wanted to or not. The final surprise was that when the other girl in my Spanish class stopped by in the morning so we could ride the bus together, Doña Petrona also had a sack lunch (juice box and all) ready for her so she wouldn’t have to eat pizza either.

That afternoon, then, we all had our juice boxes and aluminum foil packages while everyone else was eating pizza. The moral of the story is that I should never just “make conversation” or “joke around”; I need to carefully consider all possible logical extensions of what I am going to say before opening my mouth, or I may be stuffing it with a cold grilled cheese later.


Grupo de Jóvenes

>> Sunday, July 01, 2007

In addition to our language classes and co-teaching, the other major part of Peace Corps training is having a youth group. The first week we had to seek out members of our youth group, and our goal during the eleven weeks of training is to complete some sort of project with the group. I am facilitating the group with the other trainee in my Spanish class and we were really fortunate to have kids in our host families that are of youth group age that we could 1) guilt into being in our youth group and 2) guilt into helping us recruit more jóvenes (youth) to be in the group as well. Some youth groups sort of flop after a few weeks (the Peace Corps tells us often that it is what we learn—not the outcome—that matters with our youth groups), but I’ve been really pleased with the enthusiasm and initiative of our kids.

We have usually around 11 kids in our group ranging from age 13 to 18. We play lots of dinámicas (ice breakers/games) with them and also have to give them charlas (talks) in Spanish about issues like AIDS or how to prepare for a job interview in Nicaragua. The main purpose of the group, however, is our project. The project is supposed to be something the group wants to do (we are just facilitators to help them along)—it can be a project to plant trees in the town, pick up trash, make a book about the town, have a soccer tournament, or whatever. Our group eventually decided to make a new sign to go at the edge of our town welcoming everyone to our pueblo. The one that’s currently there is just a regular looking green highway sign, but it’s really old and rusted-through. After picking the project, we had to figure out how much it was going to cost, how to raise that money, and we had to figure out a timetable to complete all the steps we’d need.

Right now we’re at the stage of raising the money for the rótulo (sign); originally we thought that the whole project would cost about 600 córdobas (about $33), but when we went to the alcaldía (mayor’s office) to get permission for the project, the vice-mayor told us that our idea of painting a piece of pine wood was a bad one because it would weather too quickly, so he offered to give us a piece of metal to use instead. That was really awesome because it takes some of the pressure off of needing to raise a lot of money. All we needed to do, then, was raise the money for the paint and brushes and we did that by having a rifa and a venta de sopa.

For the rifa (raffle), the kids all brought items that their families (especially families that have pulperias) donated to make a canasta básica, or a basket of stuff. The items in our basket include rice, beans, sugar, soap, toilet paper, soup, bread, and a variety of other odds and ends. Each kid then has a paper with 15 numbered lines on it, and for 3 cords a person can pick which number they’d like and write their name on that line to act as their raffle ticket. Once the rifa was over, we eliminated papers and them numbers until we wound up with our winner, who happened to be my host nephew Walter from our youth group (it was fair and square, I promise).

The second fundraiser was a venta de sopa (soup sale) that we did two weekends ago. The kids all pitched in to donate vegetables and ingredients for soup, then that Sunday morning we went to one of their houses to make a huge batch of soup. While the soup was cooking, we broke up into groups and walked door to door telling everyone that we were making soup, that it would be ready at 11:00, and that it cost 15 cords. If a person wanted to buy soup, he or she gave us some sort of bucket, bowl, or thermos and we wrote the family’s name on a piece of tape and stuck it to the bucket. When the soup was ready, we filled up all the buckets, delivered the soup back to each house, and collected the money. We sold all of the soup we made very quickly (I wasn’t sure how many people would want to buy hot vegetable soup on the day that I got a sunburn from walking door to door), but everything worked out. Our only problem was that a lot of people forgot to bring their ingredients, so we had to buy a lot of things; that significantly cut our profit from the venta. However, I think it was still a success.

We purchased our paint and have now painted the primer and the base coat (yellow). Tomorrow we'll paint the letters on the sign, then we just need to add our drawings. I'll be sure to post pictures when it's done!


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