Tacos La Salle

>> Friday, May 29, 2009

Another dining option for those days when we don't have any dinner ideas, are too tired to cook, or are too poor to order pizza is tacos. There's this adorable little taco truck motorcycle in the central park that makes delicious chicken tacos for C$15 (75 cents) each. They're not the typical hard shell tacos that we were used to, but they're pretty yummy.

When I first discovered Tacos La Salle I would ask first if they had tacos, and then if there was chicken. I eventually figured out that they don't sell anything other than chicken tacos, so now I just ask for "two." They also know me well enough to leave off the ketchup and crema from our tacos.
The chicken is sort of sweet, and while I like to eat my tacos with some chile (a mix of onions and vinegar) and cabbage; Holly prefers to eat hers plain.


20 - Palí

>> Thursday, May 28, 2009

We could do most of our grocery shopping in the market... it's a little bit cheaper and the produce is a little bit fresher, but it's also an inconvenience and disgusting. Instead, we go to Palí, the Wal-Mart-owned grocery store that is found in most cities throughout Nicaragua. As far as grocery stores go, it's pretty shabby, but it keeps us supplied with the staples most of the time.

Here is the refrigerated vegetables section. I haven't really been adventurous enough to try most of the veggies in here. I can recognize about half of them, but sometimes when you think it looks familiar it turns out to be flavorless chilote:
Once you pick out your vegetables, you have to take them to the one scale at the back of the store to be weighed. Forgetting to weigh your vegetables before you check out is the biggest faux pas you can possibly make at the grocery store. Yet, I try to put it off because most of my fellow shoppers have no sense of line-making or first-come-first-serve, so you have to fight to get your vegetables weighed along with anyone buying rice, sugar, or beans in bulk. This was a slow day at Palí, but trust me, it can get pretty heated.
Most of the food in Palí I just pass by without noticing. There's no way that we're ever going to be desperate enough to buy sardines, spicy vienna sausages, or whatever other abundance of canned meats are deemed worthy of an entire aisle:
Here's a cross-shot of the store. Note the weird prices: I'm convinced that it's a scam because the cashiers don't have exact change to give you so you end up losing 3 or 4 cents every time that you check out. If you buy that 3-liter of Pepsi for C$26.30 and pay with with C$27 you're lucky to get C$0.50 back, but best case scenario is that you lose out on C$0.20 (Palí accepts cash only, by the way). Also, since there's no better place to say it, I'll point out that you have to pay for your plastic bags. There is absolutely nothing "green" about this--it's just the store being super cheap.
About a quarter of the small store is devoted to food. Half is cleaning supplies and toiletries (which is really just a subset of cleaning supplies) and the remaining quarter is rum:
You might imagine that taking pictures in a grocery store was exceedingly awkward. It was, but it was worth it for posterity.


Showtime: The Small Screen

>> Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Though we love our visits to the movie theater, it's not convenient for frequent visits and is too expensive.  That doesn't mean, though, that no one here gets to see the latest movies.  Though there are no Blockbusters or Netflix, there are pirated movies for sale on nearly every street corner, either in wooden display stands or laid out on the sidewalk.

It's important to ask about the quality of the movie and if it's dubbed or subtitled.  The very newest movies are always really bad quality, like handheld camcorders in movie theaters where you can hear people coughing or laughing and someone's head covers part of the screen.  I think that out of this picture, Angels & Demons is in that phase.  Of similar quality are the combo DVDs that might contain three or four movies.  Popular combos are Steven Segal movies, the Harry Potter movies, or other animated children's movies.  Though they're really fuzzy and often hard to hear, four movies in one is a pretty good deal.

After a movie's been out for a while, its quality increases to like an award show preview so every once in a while a notice will come up on the screen saying, "For Awards Consideration Purposes Only."  These pictures are good quality, but I don't understand how non-English speakers can watch them: the subtitles are always comically bad and often make no sense at all.

The jackpot is when it's a DVD "con menú" and sometimes they even include the special features and deleted scenes.  Most movie salespeople are pretty honest when you ask about the quality, and many even have portable DVD players so that you can preview a movie before you buy (movies always cost C$20, or $1).
The movie sellers also keep big stacks of movies that they'll hand to you to browse through, or they'll hand us things they think we might like.  Normally, their guesses are way off and they try to convince us to buy the newest Bratz movie or Anime Combo 2 en 1 or something like that. 
We've seen most of these movies and many volunteers trade movies when they come across a good one ("good" in terms of cinematic value and/or good video quality):
Obviously, we would never condone the purchase or viewing of pirated films.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.


My worst day here

>> Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Normally we try to keep our blog relatively positive and censor ourselves from saying a lot of the things we really want to say, not posting on the blog when we're too angry, etc. In the (distant) future I'm sure I'll look back fondly on Nicaragua and might even miss being here, but this is not one of those times.

I may regret writing this post and delete it when I feel better in the morning, but until then I need to vent and get my frustrations off my chest.

I've been working really hard for the last few months on a manual of lesson plans, games, and classroom strategies to accompany the new national English curriculum. We've been working on it in a small committee and asking for the input of all the English volunteers here. The committee members have been working, but I've been especially stressed that very few of the other volunteers agreed to help us, and most of those that did agree backed out because they're "too busy" or it's too hard, leaving the few of us with even more work to do. I spent the day today in the Peace Corps office working on the manual, and that always leaves me exceptionally stressed as I realize how much work there is to do and how little time there is to do it. Peace Corps (Cuerpo de Paz) is often jokingly called the "Cuerpo de Paseo" (hanging out corps) because people don't actually work, and that seems to be the case with many in my group--they no longer even go to school, let alone help with any extra projects.

After traveling home I took Dora outside since she had been cooped up in the house all day by herself. She went about her business like she normally does, and happened to stop to poop in the street in front of a house where people were sitting outside in their patio. As she started going to the bathroom, they started yelling at us and picking up rocks to throw at Dora even though I had my plastic sack in hand to pick up the poop. Though I told the people to stop yelling and not to throw anything since I was going to pick it up, they continued so I ran Dora home to get her safely inside before they could hurt her. I went back with the bag to pick up the poop and calmly tell the people that it really wasn't necessary, that we're responsible dog owners, and that Dora's poop being on the ground for 15 seconds is nothing compared to all the street dogs that roam around freely.

I had hoped for an apology, but didn't get that at all. They told me they were going to call the mayor's office and report me because a dog pooping is prohibited (?), they started laughing at me for being upset, and told that they'll throw rocks at Dora to kill her if they see her again.

I don't really know what we're going to do for our last 22 days here, but I do know that I hate being here and just want to go home.


Showtime: The Big Screen

One of the best escapes from the heat and the stresses of everyday life is a trip to the movie theater.  In Managua there are several movie theaters that are pretty darn similar to theaters in the US: air conditioning, popcorn, comfy seats, (relatively) overpriced sodas, the whole works.  Managua has two theaters that we've visited, Metrocentro (which is near the Peace Corps office) and Galerias (which is on the highway to Masaya).  Here's Galerias' movie theater:

And Galerias at night:
We saw our first theater movie in Nicaragua about a month and a half into training.  For those two hours during Pirates of the Caribbean 3, the four of us (Paul, me, Kelly, and Nicole) completely forgot we were in Nicaragua; I won't lie, we were all a little sad to walk out of the theater and realize we were still here.  Paul's host mom threatened to spank us for getting home so late (about 7:00), but it was completely worth it, though at that moment I wasn't quite sure we'd last the full two years.

Since then, we've gone to see a few movies that we legitimately wanted to see, but we often just need a break from reality and see the best thing that's playing and that's subtitled (some movies are subtitled and others are dubbed).  I think this is a complete list of the movies we saw in the theater while we were here:
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Ocean's 13
  • Gone Baby Gone
  • Beowulf 
  • Sex & The City Movie
  • Gran Torino
  • Changeling
  • Fast and Furious
Tickets cost about $2.50 a person and refreshments actually aren't that expensive; we usually go for a popcorn and soda (though no free refills here), but recently have tried nachos and hot dogs to make the experience that much more authentic.  Finally, most trips end with a visit to the (also air-conditioned) La Colonia Hyper supermarket that's next door to the mall to buy other fachento goods like supplies for mini pizzas, cans of Dr. Pepper, cookie mixes, and pickles.



>> Monday, May 25, 2009

Before we came here, I thought coyotes were just the predatory canines found throughout North America and the guys that smuggle people across the US-Mexico border. It turns out that coyotes are also guys that hang out in the park and change dollars for córdobas and vice versa.

We have to change money every month because we earn córdobas and pay rent in dollars; the first 10 or so times that Holly and I employed the services of a coyote we were convinced that they would rip us off. There's no regulatory agency or any avenue for complaint, but they are unfailingly honest, which is surprising for guys that pack heat and carry around a huge wad of cash. In the US someone that fits that description would definitely be a shady character.

You can't see it in this picture, but coyotes always wear fanny packs. The fanny pack contains a gun and their trusty mini calculator.

Here's Nicole changing some of her hard-earned córdobas for dolares. When we first got here the exchange rate was 18:1 but now it's a little over 20 córdobas to the dollar. Also, coyotes offer a slightly better value over banks and bonus drive-up service.



>> Sunday, May 24, 2009

In addition to the buses and micros that go from city to city in Nicaragua, larger cities like Managua and Masaya also have rutas or urbanos that are neighborhood buses within the city. In Masaya, for instance, there are rutas that go from the market to the neighborhoods of Monimbó, San Carlos, Sacuanjoche, La Villa, and El Estadio. All the rutas in Masaya cost C$3 (15 cents) no matter where you get on or off. I never ended up getting a bike, so I took the urbano to school every day (Paul always tried to make me feel guilty by saying a bike would be cheaper than the cost of the urbanos every day, but after doing the math, I realize my daily commute over these two years cost less than the three bicycles he bought).
The urbanos that go to Paul's school just got upgraded so they're now really nice charter buses, but most of them are just obnoxiously decorated school buses like the one I used to take to school when we lived in Monimbó:
When we moved to the stadium, my daily commute improved significantly (though it really wasn't bad to begin with). In Monimbó, there were only two urbanos and they stopped running to eat lunch between 12:15 and 1:00, which was exactly when I needed to go to school. Now in San Juan (our neighborhood) there are three urbanos that run all day; I can count on one to pass every eight minutes like clockwork, and I only have to walk a few steps from our front door to catch it. Here's the route our ruta takes (P.S. I'm proud of this map, and think I'm probably the first person to put a Masaya ruta's route on the Internet):
Here are our neighborhood rutas. This one is my favorite because there is more leg room, the seat covers aren't ripped as badly as in the others, the the cobrador (the guy who takes the money, standing in the second picture) is nice. It's parked in front of the market, and I always get off there then walk the block to school.

This is my second favorite ruta. Its driver doesn't really like to come to a complete stop for me to get off, so I always have to jump out really quickly.
This is our arch enemy ruta, though I've never been willing to wait the extra 8 minutes for another one to pass in order to boycott it. We hate it because the cobrador is mean and won't let Dora on; he tells us that dogs are prohibited, but this is clearly a lie since Dora has ridden on dozens of other buses in this country.  Once I did spill a bag of dog food on this ruta and maybe that's why he's mad, but Dora had nothing to do with that. Besides, if he would have relaxed his no-dogs-on-the-bus rule, the spill would have been a non-issue, anyway.
I can only hope to find public transportation in Palo Alto that's both as convenient and cost-effective as the urbanos here.  I'll keep you posted.


Economics of Dog Food

>> Saturday, May 23, 2009

Note: Holly and I realize that the last week of posts have really centered around our cuisine, and that this is unfair to Dora, so I hope this corrects any unfairness.

Since she was a puppy, we've fed Dora Pedigree because it was the only brand we had heard of before (the second most promising brand is called Dogui). When we took Dora home last year, we found the exact same Pedigree puppy food that we buy here, but she loved it. It took us a while to figure out that the difference is probably that the food came in a sealed package and wasn't stale like the food that we buy her from huge bags in the market here. You can find full bags of dog food here, but due to some awful economic decision it is cheaper to buy individual pounds of dog food than it is to buy a whole bag; we would end up paying 50% more if we bought a 25 lb bag instead of 25 individual pounds.  I'd like to introduce you to Nicanomics.
Though prices for Pedigree are pretty much consistent throughout Masaya, it's a little risky to buy it from unknown vendors because the less scrupulous ones mix it with lower grade foods. Dora will be shocked when we get to the US and not only is there fresh Pedigree, but there's also a much wider selection of dog food, up to and including free-range organic vegetarian human-grade prime rib-flavored tofu dog food.  I hope she'll share with us when we fall on hard times.
Then again, Dora also likes horse poop, so maybe Pedigree is all she needs.



>> Friday, May 22, 2009

When we moved to our new neighborhood last September, we were devastated that our new house (with its drop ceilings and lack of exposed wooden beams) has nowhere to hang a hammock except outside in our garage. To pour salt in the wound, our new neighborhood is the heart of the hammock industry in Nicaragua, and I would venture to guess in all of Central America (see picture below of the souvenir "Panama" hammock). There is quite a variety of hammock styles: hammocks with a wooden beam, hammocks without the wooden beam, hammock chairs (like the Panama hammock), baby hammocks (like the neon blue one in the picture below), lazy hammock chairs, and banana hammocks (seriously, hammocks to hold literal bananas). Add to that that hammocks can be ordered in any combination of colors and materials (most hammocks are made out of colored string, manila, but others are made from fabric or plastic) and you quickly realize that the possibilities for relaxation are endless.


Training Youth Group

>> Thursday, May 21, 2009

One of the rites of passage to become a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua is creating a youth group and doing a project with your youth group during training. I posted a long time ago about my youth group, but never posted the pictures to prove that we got our project done. At long last, here they are!

Here was our first youth group meeting:

One of the requirements for training is that we give two charlas, or workshops, to the kids on issues relevant to them. They wanted a charla about how to prepare for a job interview. The night of the presentation, the power went out, so we did it by candlelight.
The youth group also played a lot of games like Uno.
To raise money for our sign project, we had a soup sale where we made soup, sold buckets of it to people in the town, then delivered it to them for lunch.
It was a success, but I think Shannon and I did more than our fair share of vegetable chopping.
Here's the old sign; the plan was to dig it up and put the new one in its place.
But it was quickly decided that they'd just put the new sign in front of the old sign, then remove the old sign later. As far as I know, the old sign still stands directly behind the new one.
At the end of training, we had a presentation and celebration for all the youth groups from our five training towns. Here's our group giving its presentation:
And here's our official youth group portrait:


Repostería Castro

>> Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Repostería Castro is right next to where I wait for the bus to take me to school. Sometimes that's a long wait, so I make my way down there to get some Torta Combinada (chocolate/vanilla swirl cake). Holly is a big fan of the galletas de colores (sprinkle sugar cookies) so I'll usually pick up some of those, too. They have lots of decorated cakes and other deserts, but I haven't really had much reason to buy Sponge Bob or Rosita Fresita birthday cakes... we usually just eat pizza.



>> Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cashews, or semilla de mariñon, are grown in Nicaragua and are sold pretty much everywhere. Most of the vendors in Masaya have learned the word "cashew" and are really proud of it so they like to find gringos to practice. The cashews are unsalted and really good; I'm sure if we find something like it in the US it will be $10 a baggie, but here they're just 50 cents.



>> Monday, May 18, 2009

When people ask me (and they often do) if I have children, my response is usually, "No, but I have a dog and she's like my baby." It generally makes people uncomfortable enough that they don't push the issue further, but it's not that far from the truth; Paul and I have definitely turned into "dog people" and have realized that whether or not people like Dora or dogs in general is a pretty good litmus test by which to judge them.

Before joining Peace Corps, one of the things we read was that many volunteers get dogs during their service, and we had this same plan long before we even knew we'd be coming to Nicaragua. Once we arrived I had some cold feet, but I finally relented and we wound up with Dora. Though having a dog isn't always easy--the late-night potty breaks, keeping her from eating horse poop, fretting about her broken leg--it's definitely been worth it and Dora has been one of the best parts of our Peace Corps service.

Though her first impression of America wasn't quite ideal, she's agreed to come back with us on the condition that there will be lots of car rides, an endless supply of liver treats, and no monkeys.

February 10, 2008

February 26, 2008

March 1, 2008

March 4, 2008

March 19, 2008

March 31, 2008

April 2, 2008

April 19, 2008

May 25, 2008

December 18, 2008

December 26, 2008

May 16, 2009

May 16, 2009

P.S. My brother graduates high school today, valedictorian of his class and a graduation speaker. I wish I could be there! Happy graduation, Jake... I'm proud of you!


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