Friday, November 8, 2013

Vive en otro país, por lo menos por un rato.

Rick Eaton asked me to write this for the SSP newsletter. So I did. If you're considering it, do it!

People that stop to read the Sierra Service Project newsletter, as a general rule, already understand the innumerable benefits of travel, foreign culture immersion, and volunteer work. But in case you’re one the few that decided to pick this copy up and aren’t fully convinced of SSP’s value, hopefully I can sell it to you.
My first SSP experience was in Big Sur, California. I went because some friends of mine were going and because my mom was convinced I would enjoy myself and that it would be a great life experience for me. And, as moms generally are, she was absolutely correct. The summer after Big Sur, I probably would have gone no matter where the trip was too, but I practically flipped when I heard it was in Honduras. I had been to Mexico several times, but rarely was I able to escape the tourist zones and really get to know the culture, which is what I craved. This was the trip that really changed my life. 
I was sent to rural Honduras. And I mean, RURAL. We stayed in a hotel in a city, but in order to work on the houses we were building, we had to take trips down pot-hole ridden streets and bumpy dirt trails for hours. On site we worked with local Hondurans to make just two cinder-block houses, while the rest of the town came to study us with unbounded and unabashed curiosity. After lunch we’d organize a large game of soccer with the local children, then back to work. We worked hard and the days were long and almost unbearably hot, but we arrived at the hotel smiling every single night. Each day we learned more about a foreign culture and cross-cultural exchange from people with whom we could barely communicate than months of teaching would have given us in our native country. And, sure enough, these were the days that most shaped my future.
After Honduras, I knew it was official. I loved Latin America. And I knew I wanted more experiences with the real people of the region, not just hotel receptionists and Canadians on vacation.  I had already been studying Spanish, but I came back and got to it with renewed vigor. If I was going to meet the real Latin America, I was going to need MUCH more Spanish than I had at the moment. Then college rolls around, where my convincing accent and desire to learn soon landed me a major in Spanish Linguistics from UC Davis. But where to go from there?  The memories of Mexican and Costa Rican beaches I had previously bummed around on never left me, but the experience of visiting the startlingly real Honduras and giving my time to help a community in need were a far greater motivating force to apply for the Peace Corps in Latin America.  With the goals of volunteerism for sustainable development and intercultural education, there was no better fit for me.  (And there is no doubt in my mind that SSP was the key factor leading to my acceptance into the Peace Corps.)  There I was accepted into the Health sector where I worked in a tiny town for 2 years and 3 months in rural Nicaragua, working with health workers, educators, and, most importantly, youth, in sexual education.  It was like SSP on steroids.  Unimaginably challenging, yet incomparably rewarding.
But now I’m back in the USA.  No longer volunteering, no longer in my beloved Latin America.  But the experiences I have volunteering with SSP and Peace Corps continue to shape who I am and what I value in my life.  I wouldn’t take them back for anything. Anyone who has limited volunteer or travel experience and is on the fence about whether or not to do an SSP trip, even if it’s within the United States, I unequivocally suggest that you do it. I never cease to credit the Sierra Service Project for opening up my eyes to that much more of the world. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

La aventura empieza

To my beloved family and friends,

I'm sure you're all like, "OMFG, he actually wrote another blog. LOL".  But if my mother asks for updates, bet your ass my mother gets updates. Plus I know some other family members actually check Facebook occasionally, so maybe they'll want to know this stuff as well. The ridiculous part of this blog is I've only been out of the Peace Corps for 2 weeks, so obviously there just isn't that much I can have to say.  But a couple stories I wanted to share.

So I spent a week in Nicaragua after finishing my service because it was the week before Easter which is vacation for the whole country and a great opportunity to say goodbye to everyone and to the country that had been my home for a significant percentage of my life.  It was fun, but very sad at the same time.  But I'll be back relatively soon, so I was actually able to avoid the waterworks.  From there I just went straight to Costa Rican border and crossed that sonofabitch.  Feelin' all big and ready, with my chest puffed out and everything.  But then I was like, "HOLY SHIT. SHIT. SHIT. WHAT DID I JUST DO?"  It was actually a super surreal feeling, although maybe it shouldn't have been considering I went to the States twice during my service.  But something about the realization that I no longer live in Nicaragua made it more than a literal border I was crossing.  Now I'm just another gringo that was there, not one who lives there. I didn't really like the feeling, but there was still the excitement of not knowing what the next 2 hours would bring that kept me trudging forward underneath the overbearing sun and absurd weight of my goofy backpackers backpack.

I had already decided that I was going to go to Liberia and then continue on to Tamarindo because it's a very famous beach town.  But then I met this English woman on the bus with one of those Central America books, and she read me a section about Playa del Coco that made it sound pretty cool.  Plus, it was a lot closer to Liberia than Tamarindo, and it was getting late in the day so on the the fly I changed my plans and decided I'd go to Coco for a couple days and then continue on to Tamarindo after that.  So we change buses to go to Coco and on there I meet a couple Costa Ricans (from here on out referred to as Ticos, because that's what they call themselves).  We get to talking and kind of hit it off.  They're brothers, really nice guys, make fun of me for my Nica accent, (which they are allowed to do because their parents are Nicas, otherwise I would've had to slap them both), they suggest a hostel for me and we part ways.  The next night I was walking around town with some other backpackers I had met, and a car starts honking at me.  It turns out to be them, and I invite them to our hostel to hang out for a bit.  We're chillin' and chattin' and they mention that they're going to Tamarindo the next day in their car.  CAN A BROTHA GETTA RIDE??  I pitch in for gas and the next day I'm on my way to the next town.  But en route they convince me that Tamarindo is extremely touristy and therefore outrageously overpriced, and that I should just visit for the day, then go back with them and stay at their house with their family.  Apparently I'm the first gringo-Nica they've ever met, and had already told their parents about me and it was cool if I ate dinner and stayed the night free of charge. Winning.  So of course I accept, they show me Playa Grande, then Tamarindo, and then we head home.  Their family turns out to be absolutely amazing people and we hit it off immediately.  Then Gilbert, the older of the two brothers who sells tours on the beach to gringos tells me he can take me to a different beach the next day, and the possibly can hook me up with a Timeshare presentation.  Needless to say, I was down.  So he takes me and another backpacker, (who was over 30 because that's necessary to sit through a Timeshare presentation), to Playa Hermosa, we hang out for a couple hours, he gets his friend to hook it up, and shortly thereafter we eat a super fancy buffet meal and then have an all-inclusive and access to the pool for the rest of the day.  That, my friends, is how you backpack.

The next day I was actually able to liberate that poor family of their American burden and left for the capital, San Jose, which is where I currently am, staying with a friend of mine from Rivas that I met while still living in Nicaragua.  He works everyday from 1 to 10pm, so I kinda have all day to explore and hang out and then we go out in the night.  Not too shabby.

It's only been 6 days in Costa Rica, but so far I'm sticking pretty well to the budget and everything has been going well. Hopefully it stays that way.

Love and miss you all so much,


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

No sé

To my beloved friends and family,

Where to begin. I’m at a loss.

I wish there was a way to log memories directly onto a computer, not only because I have a tendency to forget important ones, but also because I feel like I could write until my hand falls off and never even put a bare sketch of the intended picture in your imploring little heads.  I’m not even sure I could pull out just a couple sketches from the portfolio of experiences I’ve amassed in my short time here.  So I’ll just write and see what comes out.

Last time I wrote to you was very soon after my arrival to site.  Soon after that was Semana Santa.  To be honest I’m not positive because I never know when Easter is, but I think Semana Santa is the week before Easter and is the vacation week for all of my country, NickAragua.  Every single Nicaraguan that can afford it goes to the beach.  And guess where I am.  Correct.  Close to some of the best damn beaches in the country.  So my friends convinced me to go to San Juan del Sur for a couple days, (it took some serious arm twisting), and it was insanity.  Nicaraguans have jacked the word “full”, and every time I mention to someone that I went there for Semana Santa they always respond with an almost pained look and say, “Full, full, full!”  There were people everywhere.  Honestly it would have taken away from the experience, but there are only 5 and half million people in the entire country, and so rarely do you see so many people in one city that it was kinda exciting.  It was a lot of fun and I strongly suggest that all of you come down and check it out.  It’s worth mentioning that outside of Semana Santa and Christmas vacation it’s not nearly as “full”, in case that threw you off, and consists mostly of tourists from all around the world.  I still haven’t been to Ometepe, but I’m working on it.

I think right here is a fantastic time to tell you about my job, because so far my time here must sound like a huge vacation to you guys.  But I swear I do work too.  Every weekday I go into the centro de salud.  What exactly I do there varies greatly: go with nurses into the surrounding communities to vaccinate kids or check up on pregnant women who missed their monthly check-ups, go to meetings with the Ministry of Health to discuss ways to improve health/HIV education, fold gauze, give charlas to the people waiting.  These charlas are usually 10 to 15 minutes and are just to get people thinking about the topics presented and get them some information the might not have had.  The centro de salud director also really wants me to push the HIV test.  Apart from the centro, I also give classes to the kids in the local high/middle school.  The teacher whose classes I have essentially hijacked has 13 classes ranging from 7th to 11th grade.  So far I have given all of them the class I prepared on self esteem, and recently begun on sexuality/abstinence/risks of pregnancy at a young age.  Next will be sexual and reproductive rights/reproductive anatomy, then methods of family planning, and finally STDs/HIV.  These classes last 35- 45 minutes and I kind of enjoy them.  Right now those two things take up the majority of my professional time.  In the near future I hope to a youth group off the ground and begin giving HIV charlas in the sugar cane factory nearby because large groups of men are a Most At Risk Population (MARP) for HIV.

So that’s what I’ve got going right now.  But I did want to expound a little on the classes I do, because they highlight some interesting aspects of the culture.  In terms of the subjects, I think I give them with a little more ease than a lot of Nicaraguan teachers because I’m more comfortable with them in general.  A volunteer from my group told me the teacher she was working with asked her to give all the sex and HIV related charlas because she didn’t feel comfortable/know how to approach them.  Sex isn’t something most parents talk about with their kids here, and a majority of parents have very conservative opinions pertaining to the topic.  The teacher I work with right now didn’t ask me to give all of them, but has given me no restrictions pertaining to her curriculum.  I give the topics I want, when I want.  It’s quite nice actually.  I also think it helps a lot of the kids to hear a fresh take on subjects that have so many interpretations.  Because I am planning and giving the entire class, I have complete control over what aspects of each subject I feel are important to emphasize and which I feel would not be a good use of time.  Being that I’m quite liberal in comparison to most teachers these kids have had in the past, I’m assuming even my abstinence charla is going to be different from most (if any) they’ve received.  And I highly doubt any of them has ever received a talk about all the different contraceptive methods and risks pertaining to misuse.  Another interesting (for me) tidbit: because right now I’m only working with the high school in my own community, and I’m the only gringo in Potosí, they all recognize me.  I kinda stand out, being a head taller than most with lighter skin and the most beautiful bright blue eyes.  (The blue eyes get me a bit of attention here, and it’s kept me humble.)  And some are my friends outside of school; some of these guys play on my sala team, some come by my house for help with their English homework.  But the fact that they recognize me as a member of the community, and occasionally as a friend, helps me a lot.

But there is a flip side to that, and some of them get a little too comfortable with me in a setting where I’m supposed to be seen as a professional.  Which leads me to a good story.  Every guy is Nicaragua has a nickname that the community calls him, but no one introduces himself by that nickname. Some people’s nicknames are utilized so much more than their real names that they forget each other’s real names. (Ring a bell, Booch?)  My name, I go by Nicolás here, has a play on words that people love to say when I introduce myself.  “Ni colás, ni dejás colar,” which means “You don’t work, and you don’t let other people work.”  Colar = slang for “to work.”  And colar sounds very similar to culear, which means, put nicely, to engage in sexual intercourse.  So upon learning that I will be trying to convince the young ladies of the town not to have sex with them, and not understanding why a man would ever accept such a job, some of the guys at the soccer field started calling me “Ni culeás, ni dejás culear.”  I’m sure you figured it out:  “You don’t have sex, and you don’t let other people have sex.”   It’s proven to be a tough nickname to shake.  Some of the younger ones tried calling me that at school, and I had to make it very clear that we can be friends on the field, but I am a teacher at school, and my vulgar nickname is a no-no.

Just last week a Navy ship from the U.S. pulled into San Juan del Sur for a “diplomatic” mission.  They’ve just been sailing around South and Central America for 3 months giving out free surgeries, consultations, and medication to various countries.  And because SJDS is so close to Rivas (30 minutes by taxi), they came out to us looking for patients to fill all the surgery time slots. However, none of them speak Spanish, so they enlisted all the local PC volunteers to translate for them.  It is an awesome job.  Sometimes I do intake, sometimes I sit in on consultations to relay symptoms and questions to the doctors, and one day I worked in the pharmacy and explained to each person individually what the pills they were getting were for and how and when to take them.  It’s a long day, but I really enjoy it and kinda wish I could do it more than just the week they’ll be in town.  The funniest story I’ve had so far from it is when a Seal walked up to me with a Nicaraguan and said, “Can you tell this woman that the exit is that way? She keeps trying to walk that way.”  Upon inquiry the old woman said to me, “I just want to use the bathroom.”  That, my friends, is utility.  Making sure everyone gets their trip to the bathroom.

I spend a LOT of time with the group of friends that I mentioned in my last blog who I met through the other volunteer.  Kristel and Porfirio (nicknames Flaca and Polvorón) both work for a traveling bull riding show on Saturday and Sunday, and Fidel (Zancudo) studies in Managua on Saturdays, so they have all week free and would rather spend it hanging out than alone.  You can see pictures of them in my photos on the book of faces.  In fact, the amount of pictures they are in as a proportion of total photos posted is probably an accurate representation of the amount of time per week I spend with them.  It’s extremely nice to have people you can hang out with all the time though.  It can often be tough to meet close friends here, so I was really fortunate to be introduced to them.

I also read. A lot.  It’s actually extremely bizarre because I went through 4 years of college rarely even touching books, and now that I have been mercilessly thrown out of my college-town paradise I’ve taken to reading with such fervor I can hardly satiate my literary lust.  A special thanks goes out to Will Van Trigt who sent me a book in the mail for my birthday that I finished in a day.  But now I’m out of books, so I’m going to have to find a bookstore or something nearby.

I feel like this is incomplete, all over the place and not very exciting, but it’s all your going to get. I just found out the memory card from my first camera still works, so I’m going to upload some photos from training even though I no longer live there.

Salsa music is playing down the street.  It rained earlier today and now it’s nice and cool.  Carla just brought me a banana milkshake with ice. I’ve got a soccer game later.  How’s Nicaragua?  I think I’ll survive.

Love and miss you so much,


Monday, April 18, 2011

Mi ubicación final

To my bleoved friends and family,

Yet again, I must grovel at your email addresses' interwebbed feet, imploring their understanding and forgiveness for the extended lapse between spell-binding posts.  But if they don't find them as rivetting as I do, I implore NOTHING.

For a while, I didn't write because nothing terribly new or exciting was happening.  I was living a very similar life to the one I had told you about in the other blogs.  (I hate referring to them as blogs because it sounds so cliché and carries with it a hipster connotation I'd rather avoid, but I'm stuck with it.)  I was giving charlas to various groups of youth and patients in centros de salud, as well as recieving training from the PC staff.  I did go to the beach closest to my training town, which was awesome.  You can always fin people playing socer on the beach here.  Can we take note, America?  In this time I also went on a visit for 3 days to the pueblo that I was officially assigned to live in.  I didn't want to write or mention that yet because I wanted to wait until I was actually living there and got aquainted with it before I described it.  And then after that, everything started happening so quickly I hardly had time to breath, much less write.  So I'll start there.

After successfully finishing training, getting all the required shots, passing the oral language examination, and sufficiently demonstrating my ability to "integrate" myself into an excessively accepting community, the PC bussed us all to the embassy in Managua for a talk from the ambassador himself and swearing in.  The ambassador's talk was extremely entertaining, and provided a fresh, albeit decidedly one-sided take on the Ortega administration that is currently in power.  Also noteworthy, the embassy provided us with bagels and cream cheese as a snack.  Both are extreme novelties in this little pocket of the world.  I'd almost forgotten they existed.  (And as a side-note to the note that I probaby shouldn't have deemed noteworthy, I probably consistently went 3 months at a time in the U.S. without even thinking about bagels or cream cheese, but the awareness that they are almost completely unattainable here makes you want them more.)

The next day was swearing in day.  Everyone dressed up all fancy, putting on their shiny shoes.  A whole bunch of people gave speeches, to which I listened very little.  We had to sing ours and the Nica national anthems.  I memorized most of the Nicaraguan national anthem, because I do stuff like that.  Then we repeated the oathes, and BAM!, I was in.  Feels like you saw the ceremony yourself, right?  The next day most of us killed relaxing in Managua before we had to go to the sites we would be seizing life in for the next 2 years. 

And now for the first, and probably only, interesting part of this post.  My site is called Potosí, and is located in the department of Rivas.  Wait.  Before you waste 4 valuable minutes of your lives on Google, let me tell you, you will be able to find almost nothing on Potosí, Nicaragua.  Potosí has about 2,000 people in a town approximately 5 streets by 7 streets.  In the whole county there is about 15,000 people spread out pretty thin.  It is the definition of a small town.  Admittedly, I was somewhat disappointed when I discovered I was going to a small town because of my social contact obsession and because everything is more convenient in bigger towns.  But as with anything you have no power in deciding, I'm starting to recognize some of the benefits to my site placement.  In no particular order: 1) The central plaza and soccer feild is right in front of my house.  Granted nothing is very far, but it's still convenient.  It is the only roofed soccer feild I've ever seen outside of the U.S., and even has lights for night play.  And for clarification, it is the cement, "fútbol sala" feild, not a grass feild.  It also has basketball hoops that hang down from the ceiling.  We play soccer or basketball almost everyday, and some of the guys offered me a spot on a sala team they are starting.  It pays to be a gringo.  2) It is extremely easy to meet peole in a small town.  You can only avoid someone for so long in a town this size.  I started out with all the guys at the soccer field and in the centro de salud, and am branching out from there.  Other volunteers from smaller sites always tout the feeling of acceptance and ease of integration that come with smaller sites, which I am starting to recognize.  3) The geographical location is fantastic.  Potosí is a 10 minute taxi ride from the department capital of Rivas, where any shopping or breif escape can be executed with ease.  It´s also located fairly centrally on the Panamerican Highway, making the whole west coast pretty accessible.  Furthermore, Rivas is right next to the island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua.  Ometepe, as it´s called, you should look up because they tell me it´s absolutely amazing.  It is a huge volcano that sticks out of the lake with picturesque beaches on every side.  I´ll give you more details when I go, which should be soon.  Rivas is also only an hour away from the Pacific, and the city of San Juan del Sur.  SJdelS is known worldwide for it´s surfing and beaches and is probably the most touristy part of Nicaragua.  I'm probably checking that out soon too.  4) My host family is very nice.  Doctora Maria Brenes is my host mother and a very nice woman.  She lives with her brother Domingo, who I rarely see because he is a preist or pastor or something and stays elsewhere primarily, her sister Lourdes, her other brother Juan José, and his two daughters Carla and Katthy (pronounced kah-tee).  Carla is 19, studies law on Saturdays in Granada, cooks for me, and her boyfriend all but lives with us.  Katthy is 17 and in her final year of high school.  I help her with her homework a lot, especially English and physics.  We also have 7 dogs.  It´s a bit.  Everyone is super nice, easy to talk to, and someone is always home, which I like.  But the best part is that we live in three separate houses that all share a patio/backyard.  And that's the best part because I actually have my own house.  In reality it's more like a separate room, but I have a little divider to make a sleeping area and a living room.  It has its own bathroom with a toilette and shower, and they even provided me with my own couches and desk.  It has itsown door to the street.  I esentially live on my own when I want, or have a room in a house, should it strike my fancy.  5)  The city of Rivas is known as the Cityof the Mangos.  I had no idea so many varieties of mangos existed, but let me assure you, they do.  And they are delicious.  Ad the trees are everywhere.  There's more mangos than anyone knows what to do with.  That's all I have to say about mangos.  6) I share my site with another voluteer who is a super nice guy.  He introduced me to his friends, and I jacked them so they are now my friends instead.  Kidding.  But it's also nice because he's puertorican and a native Spanish speaker, so I can continue to practice my Spanish with him, or get a break from it and go to English if need be.  Plus he's already been here for 3 months working with environmental education and can show me around a bit.  Additionally, there are two other volunteers from my training group who are very close.  So a break from Spanish wont be hard to find, I just hope it doesn't interfere with my ability to learn it the way I want to.  Which is fluently.  7) The fact that Potosí has less people means less going on.  Less going on equates to less distractions from work.  Since I have a lot of power over my schedule and the effectiveness of my service here, less distractions is definitely a good thing.  Plus, as stated before, Rivas is very close should I require a mental health break.  Not to mention, my effectiveness is largely dependent on my being viewed as a professional in the community, and I'm sure that would be tough to maintain in a party atmosphere.  8) Along those lines, Potosí has a lot of work opportunities.  A huge challenge for health volunteers is finding programs to work with and new audiences to reach with their overflowing information.  But in my case, there are a lot of pre-existing programs, youth groups, organizations, etc. that have already expressed interest in working with me.  This makes getting started much easier and will also facilitate in branching out from there.  I was going to include what exactly I do here in this post, but it's already long enough as it is and I'll have a more complete answer by the time I write my next one.

A couple downsides: It may get boring.  Like poke-your-eyes-out boring.  But then again, it may not.  I may find ways around it so that I'm rarely bored.  I recently picked up reading as a hobby, and it's been working out really well for me so far.  There's also no gym here, which I was hoping for so I could maintain some definition.  Not looking good.  Literally and figuratively.  I'm so clever.  It's also pretty hot.  Granted April and May are the hottest months and all of Nicaragua is quite warm during this time.  Power consistantly goes out, but even that's not that annoying, assuming it comes back within a couple hours.  Which it doesn't always do.  There's typically no water running in the mornings.  We lost water to almost the whole department of Rivas for 2 and a half days, which was rough.  I keep a big bucket of water in my shower for such occasions, but it wasn't enough.  It was actually kind of an exciting experience.  The next one wont be.

So those are the goods and bads off the top of my head.  Not too shabby.  I'll keep you posted on more as I discover them.  But regardless, while it wont be terribly convenient, and downright difficult for more than I'd like, they are the challenges I expected and even sought when I decided to join the PC, because I feel like that's what will make me grow as a person.

I really hate leaving it on that note, but I don't want to stall on posting this anymore.  BY THE WAY, if you want to send me anything, I will thoroughly enjoy any letters written me, books I deem worth reading, and gifts.  You can send it all to:

AP #100 Suc Rivas
Correos de Nicaragua
Rivas, Nicaragua

I have no idea how much it will cost you.  Also, this blog was kind of all over the place, so if you have any questions or if I left out obvious information that you're dying to know, please let me know on here of on Facebook and I'll try to inlclude it in the next one.

<3 U, MIZ U,


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Un poco de viajes y cultura

To my beloved friends and family,
Brace yourselves, this is a long one. (TWHS)
I apologize for the tardiness of this installment, and I am presumptuous enough to presume that you are all waiting on pins and needles awaiting the explanation.  PC organized a practicum week in which our entire group went to either Chinandega or Corinto to work with established volunteers in those areas to get a better feel for what life is going to be like as a volunteer, receive advice, and get hands-on training.  I was sent to Corinto, which is a port-town in the northwest.  It is extremely colorful and has very unique architecture that gives it an almost Disneyland feel to parts of it.  The fountain in the central plaza has a live 7 foot crocodile and a dozen turtles living in it.  It’s pretty bizarre.  As for training, it was super helpful.  First we gave an HIV charla to a classroom of about 40 kids from 12-14.  We included some games in the lesson plan that they really enjoyed to keep their interest.  They go crazy for hot potato where someone has to answer a question if it lands on them.  And that’s like the least fun game.  They had received talks on HIV before and were fairly aware of the basics, but at the end we had everyone write down and turn in a question for me to answer to the class.  This was, by far, the most rewarding part.  When you give a charla, you know most are listening, but it’s a forced listen and you never get that feeling that your audience is waiting with bated breath for the fourth and final bodily fluid that could potentially transmit HIV.  But when I was answering those questions they had written down, I acquainted myself with omnipotence.  They really wanted to know the answers to the questions that you just can’t ask most people in Nicaragua.  For example, during the charla I mentioned that oral sex can transmit HIV, but at the end I received the question, “What is oral sex?” quite a few times.  Because they could ask questions about necessary concepts and receive information that they might otherwise never have gotten, I definitely walked away feeling like it was the most important and rewarding part of the talk.  That’s actually a perfect example of how taboo sex is in Latin American culture.  But the fact that we’re forcing the subject on them will definitely increase awareness, and hopefully communication about healthy sex practices as well.  We also gave a charla at the centro de salud there, as well as the naval base.  The naval base was a blast because were given a bit more liberty with the charla to make it more entertaining.  We played some games that had nothing to do with the theme, but were a blast nonetheless; just to make it more fun.  In one we gave them all a word we had cut out of a magazine and they had to say, “What I have between my legs is                   “, and read their word.    Pick the right words, and it’s hilarious.  We also did one where everyone gets in a circle, puts a piece of tape anywhere on the body of the person to their left, and has to pull the piece of tape off the person to their right using only their teeth.  Watching grown men in military outfits do it is priceless.  We also did a condom demonstration on a wooden dildo, including all the steps on how to correctly apply a condom.  I think they listened, were interested, and had a good time.  Then we went to a beautiful beach with water at the perfect temperature, played soccer and watched the sunset.  It was torture.  Finally, we saw a billiards tournament the volunteers had organized in which they gave a charla between each round.  This seemed a little less effective because everyone was young, rowdy, and very focused on the games, but you never know if the quiet guys in the back came away with something that could change their lives.
So that was two weeks ago.  The week before that I traveled to Masaya, the capital of the state I’m in.  We went as a part of class “to practice bartering”.  It is a huge, colorful market with rows and rows and rows of covered shops.  You can buy all the typical little trinkets you find all over Latin America, but they also have a lot of stuff I haven’t seen anywhere else.  I’m thinking about buys a basketball jersey that just says Nicaragua across the front.  It’s tight. Tight like cool, not tight fitting.
I have also started attending free yoga classes that a TEFL volunteer that lives here in Masatepe gives two days a week.  I go after playing soccer, which is tiring, but I figure I need it in my feeble attempt to combat the ungodly amounts of oil and sugar I consume daily.  And speaking of soccer, I still play most nights on the cement basketball court til dark, but I also joined an outdoor league.  My neighbor’s boyfriend played for a team and invited me to play, once again before ever having seen me play.  There are two fields that they use, and neither is of very high quality.  The first one we played on is horrendous.  It was mostly unever, hard dirt, and one of the goals has solid, jagged rock right in front of it.  Playing on that field makes a man out of you.  The other field is Astroturf in comparison, but still not fantastic.  Furthermore, our team is very young and not exactly Barcelona.  We’ve lost all three games we’ve played, but showed immense improvement each game, and narrowly lost to last season’s champions in our last one.  And despite putting sun block on before all the games, I always get burned.
But probably the most exciting/interesting/illuminating aspect of joining this soccer team is the number of facets of Nicaraguan culture it so clearly demonstrates.  And I haven’t mentioned the culture yet, so this is the perfect segway.
It all began with the team meeting organized at 5pm on the Saturday night before our first game for 7:30pm that same night.  It was held in the club director’s garage, which he had converted into a small church.  Nica Cultural Difference Presented by the Soccer Meeting #1:  Nicaraguans do not stress punctuality.  It’s called Nica Time.  Rarely does anything start when it is scheduled to because no one wants to worry themselves with time.  It kinda makes sense, if everyone’s late, no one’s late.  Plus, unnecessary stress is just that, unnecessary.  No one wears watches unless they are going out (decoration).  But I, being the punctual person that I am, showed up at 7:30, and waited 45 minutes for the meeting to start.  NCDPSM #2:  Religion permeates most sectors of Nicaraguan life.  To begin the meeting, the director gave a straight up sermon.  Soccer was barely even referenced, and I had to wonder if I was at the right place.  Especially entertaining for me as a science major was the fact that evolution was denounced because the earth was created 6000 years ago.  I must admit, however, I found the sermon extremely interesting, and would actually have enjoyed it had I not been so concerned with the ending time because I still had to eat dinner.  He also mentioned that alcohol used to be a problem with the team and got general agreement, but through perseverance and dedication to God, they had largely overcome that.  That also might explain why the meeting was held on a Saturday night.  But I guess I should have guessed the meeting would contain religious overtones when I showed up at a house/church.  NCDPSM #3:  They are obsessed with national heroes and famous Nicaraguans.  There isn’t an excessive amount, but the most famous is the poet Ruben Darío, who is known throughout the Spanish-speaking world and the Prince of the Spanish language.  In the sermon he only quoted two people:  God, and Ruben Darío.  Granted he is one of the most famous poets in the world and a source of immense national pride, it struck me as a little humorous. 
So that was the meeting.  But there are a couple other things I wanted to mention about the team and Nicaraguan culture.  Nicaraguans, and I’m confident this is consistent throughout Latin America, don’t like to admit when they don’t know something or understand.  If you ask for directions to a place that someone’s never heard of or not sure of the exact location, rather than say that, they give you directions to where they think it might be.  Sometimes you end up walking in circles because the three people you asked weren’t sure where it was.  And it makes it even more difficult to get around because there are no street names or numbers on buildings.  All directions are given from a well know place relatively close to the target destination, like a church.  But going back to the understanding thing, it’s also a very funny experience when you try to ask a question of someone with your accented and grammatically incorrect Spanish, and rather than answer, they just nod ever so slightly and look away.  If you were waiting for the answer to a yes or no question, it can lead to some misunderstandings, but if it was an open-ended question, it’s just confusing.  Fortunately Nicaraguans have a nose-scrunch that means, “I don’t understand”, without actually having to say, “I don’t understand.”  Another interesting mannerism is the lip-point.  Instead of pointing with the hands, they point in the direction they’re talking about with both lips, sometimes while still talking, which is hilarious.  I smile every time it happens.  The second cultural aspect I wanted to mention is generosity.  Everyone here is extremely generous.  Most people are pretty inquisitive when they see a chele, (I don’t remember if I’ve already said what a chele is, but it’s a white person), so talking to people on the bus is really easy for me.  On two separate occasions I struck up a conversation with an older woman and she gave me food.  Once we were chatting about music that we like, she asked me randomly if I’d ever tried a certain type of Nicaraguan bread, I hadn’t, so she pulled out a bag of bread and gave me some.  The other time we were talking, and out of nowhere and for no reason she gave me two mandarin oranges from her bag.  And no, I didn’t mention being hungry or demand payment for the conversation.  But it doesn’t stop with women.  If you’re out with friends and one owns a taxi, he’ll give you a free ride even if it means passing up some business and walking wouldn’t be hard at all.  Or if you haven’t tried some street food, he’ll buy it for you before even asking if you have any money on you.  A man associated with my soccer team gave me socks and shin gaurds to play because I didn’t have any.  People have invited me into their houses off the street to sit and talk.  I’m sure it has a bit to do with curiosity, but they also want me to feel welcome and comfortable in their country.  But the curiosity also contributes to my local fame.  It seems like everyone in my neighborhood knows my name.  Walking down the street, little kids yell my name, old men nod their heads, women say good morning, and I’ve never met half of them.  Not to mention, when I joined La Ronda, my soccer team, EVERYONE knew about it instantly and would ask me if I was really going to play on the team.  I still have guys I’ve never met from other teams yell my name, come up and chat with me about how we’re playing each other this weekend.  After the games everyone asks me how we did and if I scored.  I seriously feel famous.  It’s the last thing my ego needs, but, oh!, how sweet it is.  J.R. Tolkien and James Taylor reference in the last line. Cuz I luv ya.
I love and miss you all,

Sunday, February 13, 2011


To my beloved friends and family,

I feel I have kept you all in the dark for too long.  I amn aware that all of you have had but one thought/ponderance/obsession pertaining to my trip to Nicaragua, and now I will put your minds at ease.

I have decided to grow out my facial hair for my time in Masatepe.

I still shave the sides, so it's not completely "No-Shave November"-esque, but the 'stache and chin have maintained the manly reggedness that you have all come to know and love.  Now, someone's going to ask, "Why does he do that to his beautiful face?", to which I would respond, "Not exactly sure.  It just feels right."

And now witht the stuff you might actually care about.  Training has really picked up the pace.  We recieve technical training from PC staff and current volunteers for hours on end on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and have class all day on Mon, Tues, and Thursday.  My Spanish class and I, consisting of 3 other people, started a youth group that meets twice a week as a platform to begin spreading our "Use a condom or you'll get HIV and pregnant" gospel.  It's one of the training requirements and I can't tell if the kids, 12 to 17 years old, keep coming back because they enjoy it or because they're bored and school doesn't start until next week.  Established volunteers have like 10 youth groups that they juggle, which is quite impressive and makes having youth groups in general seem more fruitful of a task than just the one.  I also gave my first talk about HIV to about 20 women in the waiting room at the centro de salud (Health Center doesn't sound right so I'm using centro de salud.)  Doing the charlas there is common because they've got time on their hands to listen while they're waiting for something and couldn't escape even if they wanted to.  My next talk is going to be on nutrition.  We make little posters to put up while we give it, and I think I could definitely get used to giving them.  It's nice to feel like I'm on my way to making a small differece, but all the volunteers tell you it gets much easier once you're done with training, at your official site, and don't have the strict and busy schedule imposed on you.  Not to mention the PC continuously mentions that a good part of the impact you will make comes in the close relationships you build in all areas of your life.  That's why they refer to it as a 24-7 job.

I also never brought up the food here.  If I could use one word to describe Nicaraguan food, it would be, without a doubt, "fried".  EVERYTHING is fried.  The most common traditional dish is gallo pinto, which is fried rice and fried black beans combined and fried again.  And gallo pinto is served with every meal.  Every day.  Breakfast usually also includes a fried, scrambled egg, simple bread, and a cup of absilutely delicious coffee.  (Taylor, you are my resident expert on coffee, so when you come you can let me know if it's actually that good or if I'm just biased.)  Lunch, the most important and biggest meal of the day, has some sort of meat or carb dish, usually fried, and fried plantains.  To wash it down I get a refresco, which is a blended fruit drink.  It's usually made fromsqueezed orange juice mixed with granadia, which I had never heard of before coming here, but is fantastic.  I also got a tomato, onion, and chilote salad with lemon juice and salt once, and it was so refreshing to get vegetables that I made a huge deal about how much I loved it and now they serve it to me everyday for lunch.  But it really is delicious.  Dinner is usually gallo pinto, bread, refresco, and whatever else happens to be easy.  It has to be prepared and eaten in the hour we have before novelas, after all.

Basketball.  I played it.  Kati and I were looking for a place to play soccer because our normal place was shut down for some reason, and they were playing basketball on the other court, so we challenged them to 2 on 2.  The rims are bent and super bouncy, so perimeter shooting is almost impossible.  Furthermore, they play rim instead of posession, clearing it is only out of the key, and inbounding is unannanounced and always directly beneath the hoop, so the entire game takes place within a 5 foot circle in the key.  And they must have gathered all strategy from watching And 1 and NBA basketball because defense is practically nonexistant and everyone just drives the lane, usually calling a foul.  I went back the next day because I was bored,a dn there  was a semi-pro team playiong an official game there.  It was far from what we would expect semi-pro ball to look like, but Nicaragua is a baseball country, give them a break.  What was most exciting for me was seeing the team.  Extremely breif and oversimplified Nicaraguan demographics lesson time.  The east coast of Nicaragua was settled by the Brittish for a while and they brought with them a good deal of Caribbean inhabitants.  For that reason, English, Spanish, and a Creole language called Miskito are all spoken on the side, and the black population is much higher than on the Pacific coast.  So the coolest part was seeing the team that had like 6 black guys that looked just like African Americans in the US, but spoke perfect Spanish.  For me, I don't know if most people have seen that or not, it was like the Starburst commercial witht the Japanese guy that plays the bagpipes and has a Scottish accent; it was awesome.  That same day the two guys we played against were there and asked me to play on a different team representing Masatepe.  I went and practiced with them the following day, but they put me as a center.  Yeah, at 6 feet tall, I'm a center.  Once again I did ok, but I'm still debating whether or not I want to play with them because the style is just so very much not me.  But I'll keep you posted ont he one.

I feel like everytime I have less to say in these things, but write more.  Once you acheive the level of fame that is 11 followers, the fans become your world.  By the way, I will get pictures up before I come home, I just have to travel an hour on bus to Managua to do it, and it could be a while before I have that kind of time.  But I will do it.



Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mi primera fin de semana

To my beloved friends and family,

Since training has yet to get very intensive, I've had a lot of time to keep you updated.  I promise I actually did go to Nicaragua, there are not computers at every corner, and I am spending time outside of the ciber.  But since I've got some time, I figured I'd write about my first weekend in Masatepe.  Someone's got to be at least a little curious, or, at the very least, people can use it as yet another reason to not study for midterms.

There was an earthquake last Friday near the coast.  It was a 5.1 on the Richter scale, (Tim, is that good?), and we felt it all the way over in Masatepe, which is a couple hours' bus ride away.  It was kind of exciting to feel the ground and house shake, and to be able to say I've experienced an earthquake, but what devastation did it leave in it's wake?  You'll have to research that one on your own, because I don't know. I just added that last phrase in to keep the rhyme going.

For the first week it was a nightly routine to play with the kids in the street in front of my house.  There's always about 10 out there just hanging out anyways, ranging in age from 6 to 12, and having an older person play makes it all the more exciting.  But they do not take competition lightly.  As it should be.  Life's too short to lose or "play fair".  Sharing can beat it too.  OK, so they do play fair and share, (rhyming's in my blood), but there have definitely been some heated arguments, of which I understood very little.  We play whatever strikes their fancy that particular evening, be it fútbol, kickbol, or noche y día, a think-fast, tag-type game.

However, lately this has become a less frequent occurance because, as I´m sure will surprise everyone, I found the soccer ballers.  They play on and extremely slippery cement court with a relatively flat ball, but it is an absolute blast and I could do it all day everyday.  I just discovered the court a few days ago, but I go out there every chance I get.  Some of the guys hit it up just to run around and hang out, but most are pretty good.  I go with fellow Trainee and next-door neighbor, Kati, who I have to give props to because she is always the only girl playing.  It's also a great way to integrate into the community because they see us out there and get to know us and realize that we're here for a good while, and not just a week or two. The last time we played, we went til dark and got to chat with the guys afterwards and learned all the nicknames they have, very few of which are kind.  One guy assumed we were German because we play soccer, which I found hilarious, but most enjoy the opportunity to practice their English.  They call me chele and her chela, the Nica word for gringo.  My host family finds it quite amusing how much I play, partly because I come home drenched in sweat everyday.

On Saturday Carlo took me to Jinotepe to buy soccer cleats, (which they call tacos, oddly enough), and a short-sleeved button-down because I'm supposed to wear them when I'm working and I die in the long sleeves.  They didn't have cleats anywhere in my size, because Nicaraguans aren't as big as Nickaraguans, so we then travelled to Diriamba, found a cheap but decent pair, and bussed home.  I really liked Jinotepe.  It reminded me of being in Mexico.  I also am head-over-heels in love with the Latin American bus system.  It's cheap, quick in comparison to the US, it's exciting to ride because it passes slower cars on two-lane roads and barely stops for passengers to board, and its refreshing to think that public transportation is actually utilized in parts of the world.  Sunday Carlo and I went with Kati, who lives with his mother, on a 5 km hike to the laguna at 5:30 in the morning. It was extremely steep and a bitch to get back up, but the lake was very cool and there are some great views.  The best part, however, was definitely when I decided to go off the path and explore the ruins of this huge mansion that belonged to the former, US backed, Nicaraguan president Anastosio Somoza.  It was super cool to see a huge, fancy builing in ruins in the middle of a jungle-like area.  It had a very Tomb Raider like feel.

But don't worry guys, I didn't forget about the fact that I have access to a flat-screen, either.  I watched most of the Bears-Packers game, and watch telenovelas nightly with Doña María and Salvadora.  It gets dark, I come in, we watch Truiunfo del Amor, I shower and eat, and then we watch India: Una Historia de Amor.  They help me practice my Spanish, and it helps me connect with the women of the house.  But these novelas are ridiculous.  I get excited when I finally understand whats going on with certain characters because I came in late in the show, and EVERYONE has a baby that the father doesn't know about or thinks is his own, but isn't.  And the ones that aren't in that situation are seducing someone for their money or betraying their son/friend/spouse.  It's quite entertaining.  

This has, by far, been my longest blog.  I had a lot to say.  I'll come home and everyone will just be like, "Yeah, Nick, no one wants to hear about Nicaragua.  I didn't actually read your blog, but your mom told me all about it.  Shut up."  Oh yeah? Fine.

Love you all muchísimo,


p.s.  I think it's stupid to italicize Spanish words in documents in English and I refuse to do it.