>> Sunday, June 14, 2009
>> Saturday, June 13, 2009
>> Friday, June 12, 2009
Here is Karen with her really adorable son, Ryan.
>> Thursday, June 11, 2009
Today is my last day of classes at my school, INJOCRUM (Instituto Nacional José de la Cruz Mena). I’m actually pretty sad to be leaving the kids… though at the beginning of my service I sort of dreaded going to school, by the end I finally found my groove as a teacher and going to school became the only thing that I really enjoyed about being here.
Here’s where I walked daily to get from the market where I got off the bus to my school. This is also where Marvin and company always harassed me:
>> Wednesday, June 10, 2009
>> Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Nicole and I lived on the same block during training and since her Spanish was already pretty perfect when we got here, I would go to her for homework help, and during the week we would make frequent trips to Eskimo.
I think one time Nicole came to visit us and asked, "So... where are all of your friends?" I know she didn't mean anything by it, because that's just the way Nicole is. She makes friends with everyone everywhere she goes. We tried to explain that it's different being married in a big city, but ultimately she was a pretty good example of how to be a good volunteer. Everyone in San Dionisio will remember Neeecole for years and years, and if the goal is to give people in the host country a positive impression of Americans, the Peace Corps couldn't have chosen a better volunteer than Nicole.
Nicole is moving back home to Florida, and since everyone here assumes that everything not Nueva York or Virginia is just a part of Miami, we liked knowing someone that came pretty darn close to coming from the real thing. The whole family will miss her visits, and our tijera just won't know what to do without her. Even though Palo Alto and Lake Worth are pretty far apart, Palo Alto and Miami are just a short drive away (or so my neighbors just told me).
>> Monday, June 08, 2009
Though I listed yesterday the things I won't miss about Nicaragua, that doesn't mean it was all bad; there are plenty of things I already begin to feel nostalgic about, and we still have a few days left here! In fact, the things that I disliked yesterday are exactly the same things I like and will miss about the place:
10. Daily Life – For the last two years we haven’t had to worry about jobs, health care, or (until recently) housing. In the economic security sense, it will probably have been one of the least stressful periods of our adult lives. Our main teaching duties only require about 20 hours of actual work a week, and if we wanted to, we could just do that and spend the rest reading books or playing bocce ball.
9. The Weather: While six months of the year are a little too rainy or hot, the other six are pretty nice. In December through February you can be guaranteed sunny, warm (but not too hot) days with a nice breeze. It goes without saying that we never have to worry about snow or ice or being too cold, and it’s been nice not to have to worry about heat or air conditioning in our houses during this time. We’ve become very finely tuned thermometers; I feel comfortable between about 82 and 88 degrees; any cooler and I feel cold, and any warmer and I feel hot.
8. Food – We’ve eaten our share of gallo pinto, tejadas, and arroz de leche; we can’t honestly say we don’t enjoy the food here. It’s also so much more convenient here—there are helados and ice cream and snacks for sale in nearly every house, and people go door to door selling other goods or come into buses to sell cheap, yummy food while we’re traveling.
7. Inexpensive Wares – I think it goes without saying that on a Peace Corps volunteer’s budget, cheaper is better. Beautiful hand-woven hammocks cost $10 and original paintings can be had for $5. Additionally, people go door to door selling most things you could ever need, from food to universal remote controls to pillows.
6. Transportation – Public transportation is inexpensive and prolific. We’ve been without a car for two years, but we only really regret it occasionally. Taking the bus is inexpensive and convenient to and from Masaya almost all waking hours (and several hours before waking). Additionally, we can take a cab anywhere within our town for 50 cents or a ruta for 15 cents—I am quite sure we’ll never see such cheap transportation again, especially not in Palo Alto.
5. The Critters – Obviously Dora has earned a special place in our heart, along with other neighborhood dogs, little lizards, and Dora’s friends like Brown Dog, Luna, and Colacho.
4. Culture – It is still kind of a shock to meet grown men living with their mothers without shame, but it is nice that strong family ties are important in Nicaraguan culture. There’s also a distinct culture here in terms of holidays and celebrations, food, music, and beliefs—it’s very different from the States but sort of comforting at the same time.
3. Being Different – It’s always easy for our friends to find out where we live once they get close enough because they can just ask the neighbors where the gringos live. Being different also gives us a chance to share our culture and ensures that no taxi ride passes in silence.
2. Spanish – It’s great to know another language and we’ve learned a lot. Over the last week with the landlady drama our Spanish seems to have improved greatly. Also, English lacks some really useful phrase and words; some things like como no and fachento are just better in Spanish, and (with each other at least) I think we’ll continue to use them long after we leave here.
1. People – We have made great friends in Nicaragua that we’ll be sad to leave, especially our counterparts, neighbors, volunteers, and Peace Corps staff. We’ll be talking more about some of our closest friends and Nica family in our last few days here.
>> Sunday, June 07, 2009
One of the things I think I fear most about returning home after Peace Corps is having to answer the inevitable question, "So did you like it?"
Peace Corps' motto is that it's "the toughest job you'll ever love." It was without a doubt tough, and we're still not sure what the experience meant to us, let alone sure how to condense it down to a sentence or two to explain it to friends and acquaintances. Part of the difficulty is that it's been quite a roller coaster, often with lots of emotions even within one day. We've celebrated little victories and felt helpless during little crises.
Now that we overcame our housing crisis, I feel much more at peace with my Peace Corps service; though it was really stressful at the time, I'm really happy it helped us get closer to Romel and Azalia, and I'm happy we are back in our old neighborhood with people we know well.
That doesn't mean I have a wistful, romantic view of everything that happened here, though; many of the things that I love most days are things that I hated on others. As our time here fades, I think we'll begin to forget many of the things that were so difficult about being here, or that made us want to pack our bags and head home. In case we're feeling sad about leaving, here are some of the things that we won't miss:
10. Daily Life: Even the simplest tasks are just much more complicated here. Seemingly pleasant things like going to a restaurant or ordering a pizza can be complicated, un-fun tasks, and these little things seem to happen nearly every day. Even venturing out of the house can be difficult as we have to avoid the crazy drivers of Ministry of Health trucks, people zooming down the streets in their motorcycles, and other everyday hazards.
9. The Weather: It's unfortunately that Nicaragua only has two seasons since one of them is decidedly annoying. It rains a lot during October. During March right as the rainy season is beginning, it is really hot and downright miserable.
8. Food: No matter how good food may look, there could be trouble lurking. We've imported more boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese than I'd care to count, and even the most basic supplies can suddenly disappear. Outside the home, our options are limited to pizza or gallo pinto, both of which can get a little old.
7. Inexpensive Wares: Stuff here is cheap, mostly in the "poor quality" sense of the word. Most of our Nicaraguan possessions seems to have a two year lifespan and are now giving out: handles are falling off pans and pots now have holes, clothes we bought here (even from the nice mall in Managua) are falling apart, and most recently our prized plastic furniture started giving out:
5. The Critters: We've had a lot of critter encounters during our time here. Lately our most vicious enemies have been scorpions, culminating with me getting stung by a scorpion in my arm pit at 2 in the morning a few weeks back. Eww.
4. Culture: It's hard to live in a culture that's not your own, and as much as we try to integrate and accept it, about some things we just have to agree to disagree. The machista culture that's so accepted here just isn't cool, I don't like that people make things up instead of just saying, "I don't know," and politics here caused a lot of uncomfortable situations. Another thing we never came to accept is the different views on personal space and privacy--it's perfectly acceptable for people to blast their music any time, even if it's the Alvin and the Chipmunks birthday song over and over at 5 in the morning.
3. Being different: Missouri isn't known for its striking diversity, and I looked just like everyone else there, so coming to Nicaragua was a double whammy: we came to a place even more homogenous than our own home, and we were totally different from all those other homogenous people in appearance, culture, and speech. People make lots of assumptions about us (like that we're rich, stupid gringos that can't speak Spanish) and it's impossible to blend in and do anything anonymously.
2. Spanish: Related to number 10, any little thing becomes more difficult when it has to be done in a different language. I am not a fan of the usted/vos distinctions or preterit and imperfect split, and a lot of people pretend not to understand what we say even though we're pronouncing the words just fine.
1. People: Some people I just won't miss. We won't really miss the people who tried to take advantage of our volunteerism, people who throw rocks at dogs, the cobradors and other vendors who charge us more because they think we're rich and/or don't know any better, or people who steal stuff from us, and I don't think we'll be sending "We Miss You" cards to our landlady anytime soon.
The bad things are often easier to list and recall because they happen every day and stick out in our minds, and I don't think it would have been fair for anyone to expect that we would love everything about this place and our time here. Overall, though, I think the good probably outweighs to bad. I don't want to end on a negative thought, but I promise that tomorrow I will have a list of the 10 things we will be sad to leave behind.
With only ten days left, I think we'll make it!
>> Saturday, June 06, 2009
The other day as Paul and I were in a taxi, we saw the driver give a woman some weird-looking Monopoly money. It turns out that Nicaragua got new money overnight:Since then we've decided this money is really cool so we've been trying to collect it. Today, for instance, we just got this C$200 bill ($10 USD):It turns out that might not have been such a good idea, and we plan to spend it first thing in the morning to get it off our hands. Time Magazine talks all about it here:
Most of the criticism, however, seems to indicate an underlying lack of confidence and trust in the government. There are many who remember the first Sandinista government's inventive monetary policies and the resulting mega-inflation of the 1980s. As a result, some people are now treating the new plastic dinero as if it were a hot potato. "Many people don't want these bills because they think they are valueless and they're going to get stuck with them, so they're spending them as fast as they can," says clothing vendor Fabiola Espinoza. It has unintentionally created a bizarre stimulus effect on Nicaragua's beleaguered economy. "As soon as I get one of the plastic bills, I try to pass it on right away to someone else," says shopkeeper Gloria Romero.Apparently the money is also illegal and worthless (read the Time article for more details), so let's hope we can pawn our bills off tomorrow morning. Yikes!
To have been posted Thursday June 4, 2009.
A daily occurrence for women volunteers here is that we will be catcalled by random men on the street. These calls of “¡Gringa! ¡Chelita! ¡Hermosa! ¡Mi amor!” really bother some women, but I usually never let it get under my skin. On my daily walk to school from the market where I get off the bus, though, there are a couple of men in particular that have yelled to me every single day I’ve walked by them on my way to school even though I shake my head fiercely and refuse to acknowledge their existence.
After my trips to the States this past spring, my first day back to school the cat calls started anew: “¡Mi gringita! Where have you been? We thought you were lost! We’re so glad you’re back!” It was at this moment my heart softened a little bit for these guys… at least they had noticed my absence and seemed to miss me a little bit. More recently, I’ve been going to school in taxi because I don’t leave the house in time to catch the ruta, so when I passed by them on Tuesday they said, “¡Mi gringita! I know you’ve been passing by in cab so you can avoid me! I’m glad you’re back!” and at that moment I decided that perhaps I should try to reach a truce.
Yesterday I went shopping for souvenirs during my free periods at school, so I had to walk past them to get from school to the market. Normally when I approach the men I look straight ahead and keep walking, but yesterday I walked up to them and said hello… this alone was enough to preempt the catcalls for that visit. I explained to them that I have been ignoring them for all of this time because to Americans, those catcalls are very rude and offensive. I told them I now realize, though, that they don’t say those things to offend me, but rather because they think it’s nice. They agreed and said they meant no offense, so we introduced ourselves and agreed that I will stop ignoring them and will say hello to them when I pass, and they will stop catcalling me and say hello instead.
In the end they told me I needed a picture of them to remember them by, and it just so happened that I had my camera with me yesterday. Here’s their picture:
>> Friday, June 05, 2009
To have been posted June 3, 2009.
Now that we’re about to leave, we’ve been thinking a lot about what sorts of souvenirs we’d like to bring back with us to remember Nicaragua by. Masaya is the undisputed capital of arts and crafts in Nicaragua, so we have a lot of things to choose from, all right under our noses.
Masaya’s Old Market is its tourist market and it housed in an... old market that looks like a castle.
We will probably make a couple more trips to the markets to scout out the wares we’d like to buy and bargain to get a good deal on them. We’ve decided to take some art home with us so that we can display it in our home as a recuerdo of Nicaragua and of our markets here.