>> Saturday, June 13, 2009

Carmen has been my counterpart at school since the very beginning. Here in the English program, we are required to work with Nicaraguan counterpart teachers so we're not taking a job away from a Nicaraguan, and so our work will be more sustainable as our counterparts improve their English and their teaching methodologies. So we plan for all of the classes together on the weekends, then teach together during the week.

The first time I met Carmen was at our Counterpart Day during training, and I honestly found her really intimidating and I thought she hated me. I was even more worried because we had to live with Carmen and her family for the first six weeks that we were in Masaya. Fortunately, my first impression was wrong and Carmen turned out to be not only my colleague but also one of my best friends here.
Carmen is unlike any other Nicaraguan I've come to know; she is a really tough lady and has a strong sense of fairness and right and wrong. Carmen is very different from the Nicaraguan women I met in training: she's independent and raised her daughter by herself and cares for her granddaughter while also working as a teacher. She's one of the only people that doesn't continually ask when Paul and I are planning to have kids, and she stands up for me when others ask by saying that we're still young and it's better for us to complete our educations and have jobs and establish ourselves before rushing to bring kids into the mix. Though that's not revolutionary idea to have in the States, it is quite atypical here, and is one of many examples of Carmen's modern thinking and willingness to disagree with the majority.

I've come to trust Carmen a lot and can talk honestly with her about any subject. Carmen and I have a lot of free time between classes, and we use the time to talk about just about anything. She's probably the only Nicaraguan I feel comfortable talking to about the things about this country and culture that I dislike--the sexism, the way politics influences all decisions, and the way people are mean to dogs, for instance. In Nicaragua it's pretty risky for Americans like us to discuss topics like politics because people feel very strongly about those issues and are often biased by their loyalties, but Carmen is always honest and open about her opinions and she is never afraid to call it like she sees it, always while thinking critically about each topic. Carmen and I are also very similar in that we enjoy complaining and finding the irony in things, so we really were a perfect match.

During the last two years I've also gotten to know Carmen's daughter, Lizayara, and her granddaughter, Natalie. Lizayara has been studying English in Managua on Saturdays and I'm amazed at how well she speaks after a short amount of time. She's one of the most studious people I've met here, and though she doesn't yet know what she'd like to do as a career (engineering and medical school are a couple of her top contenders), I know she'll find success and grow up to be as smart and independent as her mom. Recently Lizayara invited us to her 16th birthday party this spring:
I'm amazed at how much Natalie, Carmen's granddaughter (also in the picture above), has changed over the last two years. When we first moved in with Carmen, she was living with her son and helping care for Natalie because Natalie's mom was killed in a motorcycle accident the year before. Natalie was very shy and quiet and I'm pretty sure she found me really annoying. Now when I go to Carmen's on the weekend and Natalie is visiting, she's a lively little girl who is always scheming to get cookies and is willing to talk with me and let me help her study for her upcoming tests, and is even eager to show off the English she's learning in school.

On my last day at school the teachers threw me a despedida, a going away party. I had to say a few words, and as I was talking about how much I appreciated Carmen, I started to tear up, the first time since we've started saying our goodbyes. Tomorrow Carmen, Lizayara, and Natalie are coming over to have lunch with us, and we're also going to make sure that they have e-mail accounts and give them a crash course in how to use Skype so we can stay in touch. Carmen really has meant a lot to me during these two years, and it's going to be tough to say goodbye.


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