More 80's Music References

>> Thursday, January 31, 2008

There's a really great article in Time Magazine about Nicaragua and I suggest everyone check it out. It even mentions Masaya, so it's almost like we were mentioned in Time.

Tuesday, Jan. 08, 2008
'How Far Are You From the Place Bono Sang About?'
By Tim Rogers/Managua

A year after Irish rocker Bono visited Nicaragua in 1986 in an effort to raise awareness about Central American war refugees, U2 released its smash-hit album The Joshua Tree and Nicaraguans immediately recognized that one of the songs was written about their country. Twenty years later, most people here still hold as fact that "Where the Streets Have No Name" was written about Managua, a squat and sprawling capital city where... well, the streets are unnamed.

The Managua of today still has the feeling of a rural backwater that hopes to one day grow up to be a capital city. No building is taller than 10 stories. There are still more trees than buildings, and going "downtown" means going to the Metrocentro shopping mall.

Finding one's way around Nicaragua means developing an intimate understanding of the spatial relations between current and past landmarks, some of which were destroyed more than 30 years ago in the 1972 earthquake. Stephen Kinzer, a former New York Times bureau chief based in Managua in the 1980s, accurately describes the fine art of giving directions in Managua as a "Socratic" technique, based on first determining what the direction-asker knows, then working backward from there.

For example, if a foreigner were to ask, "how do you get to the Nicaraguan Tourism Institute?," the conversation might go something like this:

"Well, do you know where Casa de Los Mejia Godoy is? Where Antojitos Restaurant used to be?"
"Do you know where the former Lips strip club was?"
"The Hotel Crowne Plaza, which used to be the Hotel Inter-Continental?"
"From there, it's one block south, one block down."

One block "down," of course, is Managua code for "one block west." And, in the case of the Tourism Institute, west is literally downhill, so you can't get lost. In other cases, however, "one block down" really means one block uphill, adding a new level of adventure to the game. To further confuse things, directions are also given in an anachronistic unit of measurement known as a "vara," which is apparently based on the arm-length of a former nobleman from sometime and someplace in the distant past.

Outside of the capital, giving directions is an equally colorful experience. My girlfriend's college friend lives in Jinotepe, "half a block north from where the Indian died." Even on the Caribbean coast, which was settled by the British rather than the Spaniards, things are equally relative. British expatriate Louise Calder lives in the Caribbean city of Bluefields, "in front of Francisco Herrera's house." Her neighbor, Mr. Herrera, in return, lists his address as "in front of Louise Calder's house."

My favorite address story, however, comes from neighboring Costa Rica, where I lived for several years before moving to Nicaragua. Six years ago, my friend Blake Tenore sent out an e-mail to a list of old college friends, asking for people's addresses to send out Christmas cards. Since I lived in a house without a street address, I jokingly e-mailed him back with the directions that I used in Spanish to tell people how to get to my house: "From the Lourdes Church in Montes de Oca, two blocks west, past the Pali supermarket, take a right at the next corner where an old woman sells fruit, past the Bar Maguey and go to the end of the dead end street, where there's a two-story white house with a black gate, where the gringos live. Costa Rica, Central America." To my surprise, a Christmas card arrived three weeks later, with the smallest and most careful handwriting I have ever seen printed on an envelope.

The funniest part about giving directions in this corner of the world is that some streets actually do have names, but no one knows what they are. My girlfriend, by chance, recently saw an official government map of her hometown, Masaya, Nicaragua, and discovered that the street where she had grown up in fact has a name: Calle Palo Blanco.

Now, as a joke, sometimes when we get into a taxi, we tell the cab driver to take us to "Calle Palo Blanco," to which he invariably responds by staring at us blankly in the rearview mirror. Then we give the more common address, "From the San Jeronimo Shell Station, two and a half blocks down." And off we go without further question.

So perhaps Bono did in fact write a song inspired by his trip to Nicaragua, but my guess is that it was "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."


They Did Their Homework!

>> Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Last week was the English Immersion Summer Camp, but now we’re back home and here I am, up early on a Wednesday morning because it’s trash day. We have to wake up early to put the trash out; if it goes out the night before, the dogs will tear it apart and make a giant mess. As I was outside putting away the trash, the paper man walked by so I got a La Prensa in which I noticed an article saying that Ortega committed the Nicaraguan military to Venezuela to fight against the US. That kind of scared me and made me wonder what Nicaragua got itself into. I made a mental note to search Google news later to see if this was noticed in the US media (it seems like cooler heads prevailed). All of these forces combined keep me from getting back to sleep so I just accepted it and made some great Matagalpan coffee in my French press (thanks, Santa!) and started listening to my iPod to find a song that would be good to teach my community English class tonight.

We taught Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy to our “Beginner” summer camp class and that went over really well, but I think those kids are a little more advanced than my English II class at the library. This makes me a little sad; the summer camp was so inspiring because all of the students were really motivated and wanted to learn as much as they could. I didn’t hear “Profe, no entieeeeeeendo” (“Teacher, I don’t understaaaand”) a single time all week, which is something I hear at least once every hour at my high school.

Last week’s newspaper article about the camp said that it was the 100 best students in the country and (for the most part) I believe it. Everyone was really eager to speak in English and practice while they had the opportunity. The whole week was a great cultural exchange and we got to teach advanced concepts like Americans’ aversion to butting in line and the always-useful phrase, “Who cut the cheese?” All of the classes were completely in English and the students participated enthusiastically.

The summer camp was split between beginner and intermediate (5 classes total) and during the second week there were 10 Volunteers teaching the listening and speaking, reading and vocabulary, and culture classes, so most of us taught together. Jeff and I taught listening and speaking to beginners while Holly and Nicole took the intermediate listening/speaking classes. Here’s Nicole doing something wild:And Jeff about to get mauled thanks to an ill-conceived game of Spoons:All of the students had to learn the US National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance (which might have been taking things a little too far), but I think this group worked in some subtle protests… see if you can spot the rebellion:

Here’s one of our classes:

And one of Holly’s:

Here’s Holly’s other class showing off their homework (they did their homework!). They had to design a new clothing invention and make up an advertisement for it:Each class had just 20 students, which meant that we got to play a lot of games and have more fun in class. Here’s a game we played with balloons:

Here’s a board game that was a big success and that showcases Nicaraguans’ love for 80s pop culture (they got to choose which people to put on their game boards):

We also took a couple of field trips. When we went to El Nuevo Diario the students got to talk to the reporters and walk around the office:

For the close of the camp, Ambassador Trivelli came by to speak to the group and to pose for pictures. Here is Ambassador Trivelli, the PC Nicaragua country director, the Nicaraguan teachers that worked at the camp during the first week, and all the Volunteers that helped:

Here we are with Holly’s student from Masaya that went to the camp, Mosiah:

Just like all of the best summer camps, it was really hard for everyone to say goodbye when it was over. It was a big success and we’re ready to sign up for next year.


Funny like Joke

>> Thursday, January 24, 2008

Paul's summer camp class has been learning to describe people. To practice, they did a role-playing activity where they had to describe a lost friend to a police officer:

Police Officer: Hi. Can I help you?
Student: Yes. I am looking for my friend, Mario. He is missing.
Police Officer: What does he look like?
Student: He is tall, has curly hair, and is fat like elephant.
Police Officer: Anything else?
Student: No. That is all.


Salimos en el periodico

>> Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Yesterday our summer camp went to visit the El Nuevo Diario (one of the two main papers) headquarters and after the tour we got our picture taken. This morning we opened up the paper to see the headline "The 100 best visit El Nuevo Diario" with a picture of the group. Holly and I can really only be picked out by the keenest Where's Waldo eye, though (especially in that tiny picture). I'm all the way in the back and when I was standing back there some drunk stranger wandered up to be in the picture with us and decided to stand right next to me. I bet he's very proud of the "100 best" distinction.


Peace Corps Director Tschetter Visits Central America

>> Tuesday, January 22, 2008

While we were in Managua last week for an in-service training, the worldwide Peace Corps director came to visit Nicaragua as part of his Central American tour. Since our hotel was right across the street from the airport, his first stop was to meet all the TEFL volunteers. Director Tschetter and his wife served together as a married couple in India in the late 1960s, so he spoke to us about their experiences and about the current Peace Corps. Perhaps best of all, he gave us all a Peace Corps patch and lapel pin! No, it doesn't take much to impress us.

Peace Corps Director Tschetter Visits Central America
Director Travels to Guatemala and Nicaragua

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 18, 2008 - Peace Corps Director Ronald A. Tschetter finished a week-long visit to Peace Corps programs in Central America today. Director Tschetter started his trip in Guatemala meeting with Peace Corps Volunteers and staff, and continued to Nicaragua where he met with President Ortega and visited Volunteer sites.

Director Tschetter had a meeting with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in Managua on January 17. During their historic meeting Tschetter said, “As I traveled around the country, I'm not only impressed by the work our Volunteers are doing, but also by the strong relationships they are building with your citizens. I thank you and the people of Nicaragua and look forward to continuing our relationship in the future.” Tschetter met other Nicaraguan government officials including Foreign Affairs Minister Samuel Santos Lopez, Health Minister Guillermo Gonzalez, and Education Minister Miguel De Castilla Urbina.

Nearly 1,800 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in the Central American nation of Nicaragua since the program opened in 1968. The program closed in 1979 but reopened in 1991 with a special focus on agriculture, business development, education, environmental protection, and health and HIV/AIDS initiatives. Tschetter visited Agriculture/ Food Security Volunteers David Grist, of Atlanta, Ga., and James Hollins, of Waxhaw, N.C. and Small Business Development Volunteer Melanie Bittle of Carrollton, Texas.


The Peace Corps is celebrating a 46-year legacy of service at home and abroad. Currently there are more than 8,000 Volunteers serving, a 37-year high for Volunteers in the field. Since 1961, more than 190,000 Volunteers have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the 139 countries where Volunteers have served. Peace Corps Volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.


Coffee Break (from reality)

>> Sunday, January 20, 2008

I'm sitting in a coffee shop enjoying my cafe con leche in the air conditioning and using the free wireless while all around me people are speaking English. The brand new Porsche driving by is enough to make me forget that I'm in Managua for the week. The Nicaraguan teenage couple making out on the couch across from me brings me back to my cultural reality, though.

Holly and I don't start school again until February 4th and so we're in Managua working at an English immersion summer camp. It's sponsored by the embassy and we're doing cool stuff (like a trip to the newspaper and the zoo!), so thanks to the American taxpayers for that. We actually don't start the camp until tomorrow so we're going to take advantage of our time here and maybe go see a movie and definitely get a good dinner.

That's about it. The Nicaraguan baseball championship is right now and Masaya's team is in it against Managua (the decisive favorite). The series is tied 2-2, so there's still time to jump on the San Fernando (Masaya's team) bandwagon. I know everything is better with low-quality pictures, so here's a picture from the all star game that we went to a month or so ago (foreigners vs. Nicaraguans):

I think that game ended up tied, but the Nicaraguans usually win because the foreigners always drink heavily before the game so it ends up pretty lopsided in favor of the home team. We'll update again soon, hopefully with pictures from the zoo.



>> Wednesday, January 16, 2008

When we were home it let us know that we failed to answer some important questions, so here's a frequently asked questions list that we compiled to address our deficiencies:

What do you eat? Mostly carbohydrates at home--rice and beans, pasta, fried rice, chow mein, etc. Gallopinto is the main nicaraguan staple that I we eat a lot with tortillas for dinner. It's basically rice and beans with a little extra flair.

That sounds delicious. Where do you get your food? I think most people buy their food at the open-air market in Masaya. We do this some, but the supermarket is a lot closer so we usually just go there. It's not a great supermarket, nor even a good one, but it keeps us from starving. If we want anything special like Ragu pasta sauce we have to go to Managua.

How's your Spanish? It's a lot better than when we got here and we can do day-to-day stuff but we both have trouble when we have to do stuff outside our normal comfort zone. For example, I always feel pretty dumb when I go into a health clinic because I don't know all of the medical vocab and some of that is pretty technical. Basically, it's ok but there's room for improvement.

Do you still live separately? Thankfully that was only during training and we've been together since July.

Do you teach at the same school? Nope--different schools. Our city has at least 3 public high schools (that seems like something I should know for certain) so we are in different places. My school is small--300 secondary students--and Holly's is way bigger with more like 3000 students.

Do you teach alone? In the high schools we teach with a Nicaraguan counterpart. I have one counterpart and Holly works with 2. Mine is male and Holly's are both female, but that's purely coincidence. Besides working at the high schools, we both have community classes that we teach alone.

How do you get news? We are kind of lucky because we have a TV and get pretty good cable. We get CNN and Fox News channel and most of the major networks. Otherwise, we read La Prensa and El Nuevo Diaro a few times a week if one of us is up early enough to catch the paper man. There's a guy that walks by every morning selling papers and we just have to be around when he walks by t pay the 5 cords for a paper.

What are your neighbors like?
Well, most of them are really nice. There´s one old lady that lives across the street who has recently become really bossy about our security. If she sees someone talking to us that she doesn't like she will come over and scare them away and then tell us to close our door and turn on the outside light. She's not exactly the kind of lady we'd want to be friends with, but it's nice that she's looking out for us. One of our other neighbors, Juan Carlos, is normally a pretty responsible guy, but as soon as Friday rolls around and he's had his fill of Caballito he turns into a totally different guy. Then he's a little too friendly. The only other neighbors that we talk to are little kids who deserve their own post.

What do you do in your free time? This and that. Mostly we sit in our hammocks and read or watch TV. If we're really ambitious we go to the beach or visit friends on the weekends.


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