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a year later...

So much has happened since the last post. For one thing, I've completed my two years of Peace Corps service. (hooray!!) It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but well worth the time and effort. I would never trade my two years in Nicaragua for two years in the United States. Peace Corps has been a truly unique experience.

And now, I'm busy getting healthy again and looking for a job. I really expected a harder time with reverse culture shock, but the transition home has been surprisingly smooth.

Things I'm enjoying again, State-side:
- hot showers
- not sweating 24/7
- daily trips to the gym
- fluffy bed
- fruits and veggies galore
- public library (magazines! books! for freeee!)
- customer service

Things I realized I don't miss at all, State-side:
- television

Things I'm missing from Nicaragua:
- greeting everyone on the street with "adios" 
- the cheek-to-cheek kiss greeting
- randomly visiting people in their houses
- seeing rolling hills for miles and miles
- the other Peace Corps volunteers

Things I don't miss from Nicaragua:
- piropos (cat calls)
- being stared-at 24/7
- washing jeans by hand
- chicken poop, cow poop

Wish me luck on the job search. More updates later!

runner's high

You know how some people feel this indescribable ecstasy when running, AKA runner´s high?
Well, that`s kinda how I feel right now. I guess we could call it... Peace Corps high.

I´d been feeling pretty low for the past couple of months: my pace of work slowing down partly due to factors outside my control, being out of my site often because of training newby Peace Corps trainees, doubts about the effectiveness of my work here as a volunteer. All of these things compounded and created an abyss of desultory inanition that I could not escape. It got pretty grim.

But then something happened... maybe you have to hit bottom before rising again... maybe it was seeing the work of other volunteers from the viewpoint of the new trainees... but something injected me with a renewed sense of motivation. I went to the Health Center, suggested new projects, followed up on previous ones and hounded people to make sure they followed through. This is what I´m up to now:
  • HIV/AIDS Billiards Tournament to target the male population in my municipality
  • Outfitting all schools in municipality with first aid kits, training teachers in first aid
  • Outfitting all primary schools in municipality with fluoride, training teachers in weekly application of fluoride rinses for kids
  • Outfitting all casas bases (one house per community) with first aid kits, training health brigades in first aid
  • Capacitations on Sexual Repro Health in farthest comarcas in my municipality and a neighboring municip.
  • Coordinating more with Ministry of Education (target parents of students, incorporate sex. and repro health in curriculum, etc)
  • Working with Spanish NGO Medicos del Mundo to build casa materna / renovate casa de adolescentes, revitalize youth group, and focus on male population.
  • Strengthen health brigade network (create brigadista appreciation days and give regular capacitations etc)
  • Math tutoring
  • English lessons
This is the most exciting period of time, when everything is still full of possibility, when things are being newly discussed. We´ll see how many of these things actually work out. But for now, at least, I feel like I have direction in my work, I feel more involved in my community, and I am excited about all of these projects. I remember why it is that I am here, that there is value in this work, that there is so much work to be done. And for the first time, I´m realizing that two years really is not enough time. That maybe there is Never enough time for this perpetual, on-going, long-term work. That I have to take full, FULL advantage of my precious two years here. That perhaps, after all this vacillation, I will decide to continue this work after my two years of Peace Corps. Next item in long-term to-do list? International Development grad school!



the faint of heart

PC is not for the faint of heart.

Often, you get zero support from your country counterparts. You care more than do the people themselves. You try your best but things still don`t work out. And what little that does work out is critized and taken apart.

This week I went to a different outlying community every day to give charlas on HIV/AIDS.. I must have walked something like 20+ miles. The first day was to Carrizal. Only one person showed up at the charla but we gave it anyway, to educate at least that one person, and get some practice in for the youth health promoters.

The second day was El Cerro. The doctor in charge of the HIV/AIDS program at the health center was supposed to accompany me, but she didn`t show up. And didn`t bother telling me that she wasn`t going to show up. So I waited an hour, then went alone. I met up with the promoters that live in the community. Nobody showed up to attend the charla. Finally, we rounded up some random kids and gave it to them. Because we started later than planned, by the time we finished, it was getting dark. I ran all the way home down the mountain, maybe 2 miles, debating whether walking quietly and unnoticed would protect me better against rapists and thieves. By the time I got back safely into town and my adrenaline stopped flooding my system, I noticed that my legs were jelly and I couldn`t tell whether it was out of fear or exertion.

The third day was Las Pozas. I woke up with legs so sore I could hardly get to the latrine. The HIV/AIDS doctor doesn`t show up, again. To get to the community was twenty minutes in a bus, then 50min walking. We get there and nobody shows up. Either the doctor who told me he invited didn`t invite, or he invited and nobody could/wanted to come. Also, we find out that the high school in the community just changed their schedule from morning to afternoon, so all the youth was in school. We left.

The fourth day (today) was La Honda. One of the promoters that was supposed to give the charla with me didn`t show up. Rather, I saw him in the street and he acted dumb and said he thought the charla was Tomorrow. Thankfully, I had the foresight to sign up two other promoters, knowing in advance that he was irresponsible. I limp my way to the community, about a 40 min walk. The uphills were much kinder than the down, since none of the muscles that allow me to go down stairs or down a slope were functioning. My knees buckled randomly and my hips ached as my unnatural gait placed undue pressure on them. When we finally get there, we discover that the health brigade worker that was supposed to invite the youth did not invite. Again, we round up random kids on the street and give them the charla. I didn`t buy refreshments because I couldn`t walk and because the two youth giving the charla with me were in a rush to another activity. (refreshments help ensure that youth will return to your charlas, hence their importance). Being the perfectionist that I am, I got upset that we didn`t give refreshments, but there was no time. There was the painful walk back to embark upon! All I wanted to do then was call my sitemate or fellow volunteer and VENT, but of Course there was no cellphone signal in the community where we were. So I limped back, reminding myself that I am only human, I tried my best, and that`s that. At least we educated Some youth, no?

Tomorrow my sitemate and I will head to León for a weekend vacation to the beach. I cannot wait, it is just what I need. 

I just hope I´ll physically be able to get out of bed and board that bus!

fishbowl beach

I got back to country and site almost a month a go, on exactly the same date as when I first arrived for Peace Corps, exactly one year later. This means that I´v been in country for a year already! And the end of March will mark one year in site! I can´t say that time has flown, but thinking about the fact that I only have a year left in PC does make me want to take more advantage of the year.

This week will be crazy busy, going out to the communities with my youth health promoters to give charlas on HIV/AIDS. We´re finishing up the series of charlas in these communities, from Sexual and Repro Rights to Contraceptive Methods to HIV/AIDS.

I´ll be working all the way into the weekend, including Saturday, but with a reward at the end of the tunnel: I´m heading to the beach in León with my site mate, the volunteer in St. Tomas, and some youth and adults from St. T. It´s technically a youth club excursion, but my sitemate and I are treating it as a vacation since no youth from our site is going so we´re not responsible for Anything but enjoying ourselves. I plan to bring a good book or two, my ipod, big towel, and lots of sunscreen. 

Then Monday and  Tuesday are the Fiestas Patronales of Cinco Pinos. Being a Catholic country, each town has its patron saint and celebrate the saint once a year in multi-day bacchanales. There will be cotton candy, crafts and jewelry, live music with Dimensión Costeña (a great band from the Atlantic Coast), and people from all over the country, even Costa Rica and Honduras. This will be my first time seeing the Fiestas of Cinco Pinos so I´m excited. Megan and Liz (volunteers from sites close to mine) are gonna be here too!

After a few more weeks of studying, I´ll be taking the GRE on Feb 21, so everyone send me good luck vibes on that day! I´ll be in Managua on the 19th and 20th anyway to plan and give charlas on Adolescent Pregnancy Risks and Diversity to the new health volunteers (the newbies came in a coupla weeks ago!), which works out nicely. I´m looking forward to meeting the newbies, eating some good food, taking warm showers, fluffy beds, air conditioning, and finally taking the GRE!

THEN on the 22nd to 25th of Feb, one of the newbies will be visiting me for his/her volunteer visit! Remember when I went to Telpaneca, Madriz and picked coffee for my volunteer visit? Well, I´ll be the volunteer this time, hosting a trainee! If everything works out, he/she will go to one of the communities with me and my youth to give an HIV/AIDS charla and maybe participate in some salida at the health center.

So, a very busy month indeed. And somewhere buried in there is my birthday! I´m not quite sure what I want to do yet, but definitely something chill. Just as good meal with friends and maybe watching a video on my laptop will be enough, haha. Gone are my crazy party days and ways. I enjoy a good dance party every once in a while, but most of the time I prefer chillaxing. Is this a sign of old age? Hmm... How bout we think of it as a sign of maturity!

That´s what February looks like for me. Then we´ll be steamrolling it into March, full speed ahead! And boy are there goodies to look forward to in March! (plans for visiting Laguna de Apoyo, a lake in a volcano crater, and lobster-champaign brunch at the Intercontinental Hotel!)

home sweet home

America is so beautiful.

Arriving at the Houston airport was a complete reverse culture shock. Spanish kept on trying to escape from my lips. And I experienced such a sensory overload that at one point all I could do was just sit down and look around. I haven't been around so many people in such a long time, and so many people that look so completely different from one another! and who speak so many different languages! Never before have I appreciated this country's beautiful diversity as I do now.

Today has been a long and draining day. I woke up at 5:00am to try to fly standby on the 7:30am plane, but they wouldn't let me without a $600 fee. So, I had to leave on my original flight, which was Supposed to be at 1:07pm but due to bad weather, didn't leave until 3:50pm. The delay made it impossible for me to catch my next Two connecting flights, such that the only way I could get home Today was to buy an additional round trip ticket and change my itinerary. Add in another delay on the [new] second leg of my trip and you have mom and I getting home at 1am. :P I am so exhausted, physically and emotionally (several times I thought I wouldn't be able to make it home today), but am as happy as a clam. 

Things making me happy:

MY MOM!!!
HOT SHOWER!!!
CARPET!!!!!
nice smelling shampoo and body wash
my room
our apartment
mom's chocolate butter cookies
mom's wonton soup
mom's love and hugs
feeling absolutely, 110% CLEAN!
Barack Obama commemorative edition Newsweek (made me cry and feel so proud to be an American)
Dwell interior design architecture magazine
my computer!
did I mention my mom's love and hugs?

Every fiber of my being is soaking up every sight smell sound touch taste and texture :D Eating at our dining room table felt so surreal that I was going to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming, except I didn't because I didn't want to risk waking up. I'm looking forward to feeling pretty again, and stuffing myself with every vegetable, sea creature, and "ethnic" dish I can get my hands on hahaha

Perhaps the most significant realization is how absolutely fortunate I am to have so much and live so comfortably. Living in Nicaragua for so long had made me forget just how much I have here in the States. Coming back, seeing and remembering stirs up a complex amalgam of emotions, each inadequate and superficial on its own but combined make something like gratitude-guilt-bliss-relief-remorse(?)  I'm not sure any of what I'm writing makes any sense... I'm so exhausted. I think it's time to get some sleep.

G'night all!



hip hip hooray!


THERE IS FINALLY INTERNET AT MY SITE!!!!! *skips a happy skip*

although.. this might be dangerous...for my pocketbook... at 12 córdobas an hour... but OH WELL!

In other news, Thanksgiving day will be sad. I will not be celebrating it because it´s not a holiday here and I can´t join one of the other Peace Corps gatherings because we´ll be busy planning a despedida for an NGO that´s leaving. BUT, my sitemate and I are trying to plan something that following Saturday with the other volunteers in the department. Maybe a nice meal with friends in the big city. :)

I am coming home 21st of December and it will be a beautiful day.

Workwise, I´m starting to work with MINED (Ministry of Education), capacitating teachers and youth on everything from sexual and repro health to nutrition. Still working on the SPA grant to finish up the youth house. Ah, a new thing I´ve begun doing is tutoring kids on math in preparation for the Nica equivalent of the SAT´s (to get into university). It takes a TON of patience, especially when these 18 year-olds can´t do long division or tell me what a quarter of 100 is... but I think the sessions are helping them.

On the books front, Middlesex is original and imaginative, one of those epic novels that follows a family story through generations.  My Sister´s Keeper by Jodi Picoult is a page turning tear jerking ride of a novel. I enjoyed the mixed media (prose and comics) of The Tenth Circle, also by Picoult, but wasn´t quite as enthralled. My Friend Leonard, the sequel to A Million Little Pieces, was good until the end when it became too forced and contrived. In But Inside I´m Screaming, a novel about clinical depression, the protagonist´s voice/ author´s writing style was juvenile bordering annoying. Currently reading Lake Wobegon Days (yep, Garrison Keillor!) which is HilArious, as one would expect. Also finishing up Botany of Desire (v. interesting premise, can get a bit repetitive, which is why I´m kinda struggling through it) and The Wisdom of Crowds (Really interesting read). Perpetually working on Blood of Brothers, Nicaraguan political history.

*does another happy dance for the new cyber in cinco pinos* :D

Hope everyone´s happy and healthy!

MIA

It has been such a long time since Ive posted in this journal. Every time I have something to post, I´m never within reaching distance of a cyber. Everytime I´m at a cyber, I forget what it was I wanted to post.

Just wanted to let people know that I´m still alive. No major health problems recently. Beginning to settle into a routine, although there´s really not much routine about my life here. We´re forming a group of pregnant women in my municipality at the health center, to give them charlas about danger signs during pregnancy and nutrition etc. My youth group is semi-disintegrating, or maybe we´re just sloughing off the slackers and distilling down to the really motivated ones. We continue to give charlas in the comarcas. I continue to give English lessons. The youth house is almost completely done. Still working on SPA grant to install the electrical and water systems.

It´s difficult to live in the moment instead of perpetually daydreaming about xmas time when I´ll be coming home for vacation. There really is so much to do here... and nobody to hold your hand.

A few weeks ago, I had one of those moments that just makes everything worth it. One of our charlas went Really well in a comarca. You could see all the little lightbulbs going off in all the adolescents´heads, blasting misconceptions out of the water, replacing them with truth and knowledge. It was such a rewarding moment, especially since this type of work (behavior change, education) rarely produces such visible results.

And then yesterday I discovered that my absentee ballot envelope had sealed itself in the tropical climate of this country. Before I had voted on it. Before I even got a chance to handle the ballot. In order to open the envelope, I had to tear it apart (it was beyond salvageable by delicate handling), clearly they won´t accept it as it looks like it was tampered. I was so angry I was shaking. It is my RIGHT and RESPONSIBILITY to vote. I will have my mom call my voting clerk and see what other options exist. Maybe they can DHL it to me to get here faster and beat the heat´s grasp on the sealant.

In the evenings and any other free time that I have, I read. I have read more than I have ever read before in my life. All the time I used to spend on the internet or in front of the television have been replaced by trips to Indonesia, peeks into foster homes, nights in rehab centers. Reading here is my entertainment and my escape, along with any form of chocolate I can get my hands on. Some highlights: I recommend Eat Pray Love for those who are seeking happiness. The day and a half after I finished the book were the happiest I had been in the three months previous. White Oleander is beautiful to get lost in. Just don´t read it if you´re far away from family and home, because it will make you too sad. The Working Poor is insightful and revealing, definitely one of those books you should read at least twice. Dry didn´t live up to my expectations, but Naked did. Maybe I´m more a Sedaris fan than a Burroughs fan. I just wished Million Little Pieces were 100% true. Also threw in some little chick flick books, fluffy mindless fun. Currently working on some Samuel Beckett and finishing up some others I´ve started. That´s one of my bad habits- starting but not finishing books. I´m glad I´m somewhere conducive to breaking that habit. Looking forward to getting some new ones from Megan.

Next weekend I go to Masaya to give a diversity training charla to one of the newly incoming PC groups, environment 48. I hope it goes well. It feels so weird to not be the newbies anymore. 

*Daydreams about coming home for xmas time, from the moment I get on the airplane, to the strawberry banana milkshake I´ll buy in the layover airport, to the drive home with my mom, walking into my room, after my first shower at home, to having coffee with my friends, seeing a movie, shopping with mom at northpark, going to whole foods, eating sushi greek vietnamese thai my mom´s chinese home dishes. I have seen in my mind´s eye down to the last detail. I am not looking forward to having to leave all that in January. It´s not that I´m wretchedly miserable at my site. It´s just that I wretchedly miss my family friends and the us of a.*




work hard play hard

So I´ve been super busy this month.

Construction on the youth house has already begun!! It´s on a plot of land right in
front of the health center, which is a little bit far from the town center- I´m a little concerned about the location
because it´s a bit far, but it´ll be good for the
youth house/clinic to be close to the centro de salud. An NGO, Xochiquetzal, donated
some money and i´m applying for a SPA grant (SPA is a collaboration between Peace Corps and USAID) and we´ll solicit the
mayor and maybe some other NGO´s.

We have a new girls soccer team, Las Aguilas Azules (Blue Eagles), and we´re
joining a girls soccer league with a nearby town! We´ve also already gotten many requests from other towns to play! There are so many opportunities for boys soccer here but rarely any for girls and there´s so much interest, so I thought it´d be good to have one, even though I personally couldn´t care less about soccer.

We´re also collaborating with Santo
Tomas, Somotillo, San Pedro, San Francisco, y Villa Nueva for an
encuentro at a river in San Pedro, and trying to figure out
transportation etc for it.

Teaching an English class, LASI (my youth health promoters group) still giving
charlas in the communities, collaborating with other community action groups... SO much going on! And we have a Peace Corps workshop at the end of this month
and then In-Service Training next month. It´s good to keep busy, but some times I
just need some time alone, for myself. Which maybe why I´ve been
staying up way too late at night reading, because I crave that time.
At least I have lots of really good books- hopefully by the end of my
service, if nothing else, I´ll be a much better read person :)

Here in Somotillo for Fiestas Patronales, patron saint festivals. Using the internet, grocery shopping, seeing friends. With so much stress every hour of every day, you gotta unwind somehow, no? It´s so good to use the cyber and catch up with everyone. Miss everyone lots, coming home December 21st ´til Janurary 9ish. Can´t wait! :D

P.S. I have a new sitemate! A small business volunteer named Lindsay and she´s awesome!

updates from Nica

While waiting for the bus today in the stifling sun of Chinandega, I went into a little pulpería (shop) to buy a bolsicle (frozen juice in a baggie, a homemade Nica popsicle). As I was walking out, the little old lady who sold me the bolsicle called me back and told me to wait. I went back in and she took out a little cookie out of a bag and gave it to me for free, ¨to eat with my bolsicle.¨ It was such a sweet gesture, small but so sweet. I´ll definitely be going back there to visit her and buy snacks from her :)

Next week I'm going to Managua (capital of Nicaragua) for a few days for Diverity Committee training. I applied to the committee and got in! We'll see how it goes, I'm pretty excited about it. It's at least something else to do during my service here. It'll be fun meeting some of the new trainees too, when times comes for us to give them charlas.

In the same trip, I'll get my hand checked out and some other med tests. My hand still hasn't recuperated 100% and my fingers have yet to regain their full range of motion. I think it just needs some more time to heal but it Has been about a month already and better safe than sorry.

The language taller last week was so great- I didn't realize how much I missed my original host family. They are just so much fun, so spirited, animated, warm and welcoming. I ate the best and most varied foods I have eaten in three months. Fruits and vegetables and meat, and even fish! Just thinking about those meals makes my mouth water, my original host mom is such a good cook. The little girls, who were 9 months and 2 yrs when I left, have both grown so much. It was so sad the littler one didn't remember me... and she used to Love me! Aw well, can't fault a baby's short term memory. The family told me that I'm on the very short list of their favorite volunteers that they've hosted. The favorites list is 4 long and they've had 13 volunteers! It just felt really nice to be a "liked" one, given that I'm always being compared to the volunteer before me at my site, who was so loved and well-known that throughout the entire department her name is known. I learned a ton of the more difficult grammar and got answers to many questions I've had for the past three months.

Then the trip to the Island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua that weekend was so relaxing. The trip there took FORever, but once we got there, we just chilled out on the dock on the Lake, searched outwards for sharks (it's the only lake in the world with sharks!), jumped in to cool off, chatted, laughed, tanned, listened to music, read. It was Great. Just what we all needed.

So things are going alright here. My youth group is recuperating this month. I'm giving them a month off from giving charlas in the communities because they seemed to be wearing thin. We're also running out of money (rather, are in the negative... with me having spent my own money to buy all the refreshments culturally required in our charlas in the communities), so we're taking time to do some fundraising. Last Wednesday we held a round robin type soccer match to raise funds. Eight teams came and although we didn't raise too much money, it was fun and better than zero. Next Monday is another. Let's hope it's a success!


off to catch my bus!

weekend update

So the biggest piece of news this good saturday is that about three hours ago i was bitten in the hand and leg by a giant dog. He belongs to the family with whom my friend and fellow volunteer, Liz, lives. The back of my hand has a swelling the size of a golfball and my leg looks like.. well like it's been bitten by a dog. But thankgoodness he had gotten all his shots, including rabies vaccine. Other than a limpy leg and throbbing hand, I'm okay. De todos modos, I'm never going to try to pet a Nica dog again, even if he does belong to a friend's family.

In other news, work with the youth is still going well, albeit getting a bit monotonous. The newest project on the line is building a youth activity center slash adolescent clinic. An NGO in my department has agreed (we think...) to give us some money. I'll begin applying to a grant co-funded by Peace Corps and USAID. We'll also have to solicit other NGOs and maybe the town mayor.

For fourth of July weekend other Volunteers and I will try to go to Ometepe, a supposedly beautiful island on Lake Nicaragua. It has two volcanoes, which made the island itself. It's currently being nominated as one of the seven natural wonders of the world! I'm very excited! In two weeks is also this weeklong language workshop - I'll be returning to my original training town to stay with my original training family! Soo excited to see them again, to have a bit of a vacation away from my site, and to see the other volunteers again!

Can't type much more and need to go grocery shopping so signing off from land of the mean dogs...