"At any given time, we are what we are. We must accept the consequences of being ourselves; only through this acceptance can we begin to evolve further. Though we may select the battleground, we cannot avoid the battle..."
k. I am gonna pick up where I left off in the last blog.
So my friend from college came down, John in August. It was not a vacation that went as planned – by any means. But I have to say he was supportive and incredibly patient during his visit. The timing may not have been perfect – with everything that was going on with my house, etc – but none the less, I appreciated it more than he will ever know. We ended up going to San Juan del Sur – one of the biggest tourist attractions in Nicaragua – because of the surf. It is a beautiful little surf town and we stayed at an Irish Pub/Hotel (the owners were a Nicaraguan man and an Irish woman). The town was crawling with surfers and backpackers. We had some great seafood at a restaurant on the beach and some serious sun. We went to one of the beaches a little further away in the back of the hotel owner’s pick-up truck. It was incredibly beautiful. Undoubtedly the most beautiful beach I have ever been to.
When John and I went for a dip in the beautiful Pacific Ocean, we had quite an adventure. First of all, the waves were just a little bit larger than…Bethany Beach. Haha. They were gigantic and crystal clear water. When John and I were about to go under one of this beautiful five-foot wave, as it was crashing we both saw a 4-5 foot…what was assumed to be a shark. I screamed like I was in Jaws…8. We both end up getting knocked out by the wave because neither of us wanted to go under it after seeing the shark. After exiting the washing-machine tumbling of the wave, I proceed to start to run for the shore. John then gets knocked down by another wave – and crashes into me. He then grabs by hand and we start running for the shore. My heart may have reached an all-time high rate. We then proceeded to ask locals if there were sharks or extremely large fish. Both of which they said no. For purposes of saving face – we will stick with the fact that it was a shark (which I truly believe). It was quite an adventure!
Literally the day that John went to the airport at 4:30am was the day I was leaving for Costa Rica. After speaking with one of my friends in Managua, I realized that I had brought the wrong passport for my trip. We have our normal passports and Peace Corps passports. I brought the normal one (which doesn’t even show that I entered Nicaragua). Long story short, I had to reschedule my bus from 6:00am to 12:00pm and run back to Posoltega to get the right passport (high five Amanda). The company that I went with Tica Bus made the trip very easy (taking care of everything with customs, etc). Without any way of communicating with the girls I was quite nervous if they would be at the bus station as we had originally planned. I arrived in San Jose around 10pm and as I was getting off the bus I saw three very beautiful, yet tired looking muchachas otherwise known as my girlsssssssss. J It was so amazing to see them. They quickly informed me that none of their luggage had arrived with them to Costa Rica. We had to be pretty flexible the next day and went to the airport to retrieve all of their luggage. Afterwards we decided to head off to Zulu-land. Dave aka Zulu is one of our friends from Delaware that is living and working in Costa Rica. He lives in a little surf town on the Pacific Coast, called MalPais. After 4 taxis, 3 buses and a ferry – we arrived in his town. I was pretty impressed with our getting there safe and soundly. Without knowing anything about where he works, how to get there or where we were going to stay – we made it. It ended up working out better than we could have imagined. Dave works at a ‘hotel’ that was actually closing for the rainy season- so we were able to stay there for free for 3 nights. I say hotel, but what I really mean is … paradise. It is basically an exclusive resort tucked away in the hills and overlooking the Pacific ocean. There are only three rooms in this hotel and the only people that stay here are honeymooners and/or celebrities. We could actually see Mel Gibson’s house being built in the distance. It was undoubtedly the nicest place I have ever stayed.
To best explain the relationship between Nicaragua and Costa Rica is to compare it to that of the United States and Mexico. A large number of Nicaraguans go to Costa Rica to work, because Costa Rica is much more advanced (not 3rd world) and offers a lot more opportunities. Also, Nicaraguans work for lower wages. The entire time I was there people were criticizing Nicaraguans, it was difficult for me not to take offense to these comments. It was obvious that I am starting to identify myself with Nicaragua. Costa Rica is beautiful and although poverty still exists there, it felt like I was in America in comparison to the devastating poverty of Nicaragua. Although part of me wanted to show Nicaragua to my three close friends, I was ultimately thankful that we went to Costa Rica. There was a lot less responsibility on me – I was able to actually relax and get a break from translating and feeling like I had to take care of my guests. Unlike Nicaragua – a large number of people in Costa Rica speak English.
We fell in love with this little surf town and … never left. We ended up staying the entire time in MalPais. A lot of memories were made – we laughed a LOT, saw monkeys, had a bachelorette party for Liz, went to the beach, ate some great food, missed a few taxis and a canopy tour, hiked up the ‘mountain’ and drank a lot of beer. In the end we were all broke, a little bit tanner and had managed to fit 6 months of missed girls’ nights into a single week. The last night we had one last dinner in the hostel in San Jose and then I headed out the next morning around 4:30am to head back to Nicaragua. With tears and sleepiness in my eyes, I hugged three of my best friends goodbye – holding onto the fact that I would be seeing them in less than 4 months.
The first half of the trip back to Nicaragua was relatively smooth. I had the furthest back two seats to myself and slept the majority of the ride to the border. I awoke to a less than optimal sight (and smell). These buses have bathrooms – but it is a rule on the bus that you are not allowed to ‘go number two’ because the bus ride is 12 hours or so and they don’t want the bus to smell. In cases of emergencies we were told they would stop for someone. Well, apparently someone had an emergency and did not inform any of the bus staff. I woke up to a man practically falling on my head and then into the aisle. As I wiped my eyes to see more clearly – I realized that this man with pants at his ankles had fallen out of the bathroom, off the toilet and … practically on my lap. And by ankles I mean ankle, because I then soon realized that this poor soul only had one leg. Myself and others helped the man up and let’s just say that the rest of the ride was anything but roses. I held one of my head wraps over my face for the remaining 6 hours. Welcome back to Nicaragua. Ha.
Decided to make a little list of things that I have learned, whether in general or about myself since I have been here in Nicaragua:
1. Silverware is not necessary (forks and knives do not exist here and spoons are luxury)
2. I like cats (they are cleaner than dogs here and eat mice)
3. Microwave popcorn can be emptied out of the bag and put on your two-burner stove and come out just as yummy.
4. Scorpions in the shower are normal
5. Blowing your nose into the air is widely accepted
6. I love Harry Potter
7. Anything can be served in a small plastic baggie (dinner, soda, snack)
8. People will try and sell you anything (lizards on the side of the road)
9. You can fit a 30 minute conversation into 60 seconds when in Nicaragua (minutes expire)
10. Clouds and rain are gifts of God
11. You can celebrate anything (Oct. 10th National Mental Health Day)
12. You are not Nicaraguan if you do not have: plastic chairs in your house, a super-imposed picture of you in Thailand or somewhere outrageous, rocking chairs and/or a hideous metallic mirror.
13. There is no maximum capacity for means of transport (families of 4 on a bicycle or motorcycle, 28 people in the back of a pick-up truck, etc)
14. Privacy is not a part of the culture here (ex: my neighbor asked me today if I was sick – because she heard my fan on at 1pm when I took a little cat nap).
15. Today is all there is – people’s daily activities are surrounded around survival of today.
16. I am having withdrawal from the season Fall. Please take photos. Posoltega weather yesterday: 94 degrees, feels like 104. I thought it was chilly. What.
So I would be lying to all of you if I did not address one simple thing about my experience so far here in Nicaragua. This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Sometimes I feel like I need to sugar coat things for you all back home – so that you don’t worry about me or maybe for selfish reasons also. But the reality is that this experience has challenged me in ways that I never imagined. Coming into this I anticipated the hardest part being homesick during these two years. Of course I am missing you all more than words can explain – but the real challenges have been much more personal. Challenging the very person I am – the strengths I thought I had – learning new things about myself daily. Before coming to Nicaragua – I felt like I had a good understanding of who I was and where I came from. That is easy to say when you are in your comfort zone because you are … well, comfortable. But being in another culture – away from everything you know – challenges everything you thought you knew. Obviously within these discoveries – are both good and bad findings. Strengths you thought you had, or very well may have had – may be identified as a weakness in another culture or just completely not accepted. This re-discovering of ‘you’ in a new culture causes a lot of questioning and also calls for me to suppress some of my feelings. If I were to stand up for myself every time I was harassed – I would have no time for my project. Where as in the States, it is such an unaccepted part of the culture – the harasser would have charges brought against him within days if I pursued it. That is just a blatant example of what I am trying to explain – but there are countless.
I try to deter from sounding bitter or upset in my blogs – because I chose this experience and I am so lucky to live in a country that has given me this amazing opportunity. In the end of these two years – I know that the personal insight that I will have gained will far outweigh any challenges that I am currently facing. But I also felt I owed it to you all, to also tell you that some days I cry, some days I shut the world out – and some days all I want in the world is to be in Delaware eating some of my Dad’s home-cooking watching an Eagles game with the people that mean most to me in the world.
I am going to end this section with a little excerpt from one of the essays I had to write to get into Peace Corps:
“There is no way to predict what challenges will present during these twenty-seven months of service. The one thing that is certain, however, is that challenges will exist. While the possibility of these challenges and life-changing experiences initially attracted me to apply for the Peace Corps, it is the knowledge that I can overcome adversity and persevere that continues to inspire and compel me. “
Let me Work It.
So. Speaking of challenges. Back in August my boss from Peace Corps called me to ask how things were going in Posoltega. I said ‘pretty well’. And she continued by saying ‘well the Health Center director called me to say that you have not been to the health center in a month.’
Silence… Cricket, Cricket.
The truth is that between my parents visit, John’s visit and Costa Rica – I had been pretty ‘vaga’ that month. And all the work that I had done had been in the schools. My motivation to go to the health center was practically non-existent, for a lot of reasons. I felt like I had no one working with my directly and no real direction or role when I did show up. Long story short – I went with my two bosses to the health center and had a meeting with the director. It ended up going really well – and we all agreed that it was not too late to mend this working relationship. It is important to my PC bosses that I keep an open relationship with the health center for several reasons. They are our main counterpart on a national level – and also I am the first volunteer in my site. My PC boss was very supportive and assured me that being in a new site – this was a typical challenge and that the main source of the problem has been lack of communication (which both the health center director and I took fault for).
The next week was my group’s 5-month in-service training. It is obligatory to take a counterpart from the health center – and I was able to take a nurse named Myra (who I had never worked with prior to the training). It turned out to be great – Myra is a huge sweetheart and I hope to work with her in the future. More than anything – being back with my group was incredibly comforting. We have all faced challenges during our first five months – some similar and some different; but it was incredibly comforting to be with people who knew what I had been going through the last five months. In general, I felt dissatisfied with the amount of work I had done during my first five months – but the training also served as a re-booster and motivated me to get back to my site and start working more.
The last day of IST I got incredibly sick with a bacterial infection and was in Managua for a few days after that during the Nicaraguan holiday. But had some great company in the hotel – Lorna and Ely (two girls from Rio San Juan).
Current update on my work situation: Health Center relationships have only gotten better – I go the health center daily – and the communication has improved tremendously as well. I have not worked in the schools since the meeting with my PC boss because I have been focusing on the health center and mending this relationship. The schools are not very happy – but I cannot make everyone happy, alas.
The health center requested that I ‘reforzar’ or re-form youth groups at the health center and posts (by re-form they mean 5 years ago there were adolescent clubs). Well with a lot of hard work, determination and help from some of the friends here – I have successfully formed two clubs already! One is about 16 adolescents (boys and girls) and we meet Tuesdays and Thursdays. The other is 11 adolescent girls between the ages of 13-19 and we meet Wednesdays and Fridays. I still need to work on planning with someone in the health center to help me with the charlas – but I have already given 2 hour workshops on each topic: Drugs and Alcohol, STDs and Reproductive Health. I am really proud of these two groups and plan on going out into the rural communities now to form more. The goal for me is to have them be self-sustainable groups and help train and form other groups with me (and without me after my service).
(Side note: I asked one of the nursing students to help me with the STD charla and we were discussing what signs of peligro (or warning) were and what normal characteristics were. Some of the kids asked what masturbation was – and I let the nurse take that question. She went on to explain that it was a way for men (exclusively) to relieve their urge to have sex and that it can be addictive. I wish my face could have been video-taped. I obviously went on to explain that this was actually something very natural – that both men and women practice, yada yada. But… seriously!?! That is just an example of what I am up against here.
Turned 25. What? How did that happen. My closest friend here in Nicaragua, Elizabeth’s birthday was the 25th of September and she invited me to Managua to celebrate it with her. We stayed at the nicest hotel in Nicaragua – the bed felt like I was lying on clouds, the brunch was to die for (hashbrowns, real cheese!), a bathtub and much more. We went out to a really nice club called Moods in Managua – and I actually forgot I was in Nicaragua for a night. We had an amazing time – and did not want it to end. So we got extended check-out and stayed in bed a little longer.
The next day I met up with 5 or 6 girls from my group for the Daddy Yankee concert. I know, I paid 30 dollars to see Daddy Yankee. But it was my birthday weekend and choices were limited. Because of whom I was with – I had an amazing time. A girl named Erin from Cincinnati has become one of my favorite people here and we had a ball.
I came back to Posoltega Sunday afternoon and celebrated my birthday Monday by going to the health center and working. I then later had a Piñata party at my house for my favorite kids in the community. It was hilarious – coca-cola, candy and reggaeton. Who could ask for a better birthday?
I also received from some fabulous packages, cards for my birthday from my parents, Aunt Linda and Aunt Gale. Thank you so much for making my birthday so special – even from a distance <3
Platanos & Policia
What started out at 7am as a great day, ended pretty badly on the 3rd of October. I went with the coach of my soccer team and another player to a finca aka farm to cut-down some platanos or bananas with machetes. I was picked up around 7am in a horse drawn carriage (those things are dangerous). The view of the volcanoes from the farm was amazing – and I took a mountain of photos and also fell in love with the daughter of the girl I play with on the soccer team, Mayleng. They also invited me to stay the night at their house in El Bosque, one of the rural communities of my town, because our soccer team was throwing a party to fundraise money for our team. Several girls on our team do not have shoes and play barefoot or in their school shoes – and the league is now enforcing that they wear sneakers or cleats. Well this innocently started evening ended horribly. My camera was stolen and 5 or so platos or fights broke out at the end of the party. For the first time in my life, I witnessed someone get stabbed. Needless to say, I was hiding under a table and frightened as hell as I saw blood pouring through this guy’s shirt.
So. I now do not have a small digital camera (just my larger Nikon) and lost a bunch of photos. There has been a lot of talk about who took the camera – but I obviously cannot be certain. I filed a report with the police – but I know the chances of me finding my camera again are about equal to the odds of winning the Powerball. The owners of my house had a long talk with me after this incident and told me I need to be more careful with who I trust here – and that a lot of people will try and take advantage of me simply because I am not from here. They then went on to tell me things about my soccer coach and that I should not trust her, etc. Well, I really appreciate all of this advice and information – but before the fact would have been nice. Live to learn, Learn to live.
Funny story about the police: the guy that I filed the report with came to my house one night the next week at around 8:30pm. My door was already closed and I was getting ready for bed (I know), but I figured he wanted to talk about the case so I let him in. Only to quickly realize while he was looking at the photos on my wall and calling me ‘simpatica and Hermosa (sweet and beautiful)’ that he was not there to talk about the case. He then proceeded to ask me (in uniform) if he could go buy us some beer. I declined politely and told him I would be going to bed. Sometimes this thought does go through my mind: what is my life?
Last little story: I learned how to milk a cow! I have a video of it but cannot figure out how to upload it on facebook. It was amazing and not as difficult as I anticipated! I then drank the milk – which I do not recommend. Didn’t get sick – but almost gagged while drinking the warm, occasionally hairy whole milk. And then I rode a donkey at 6 in the morning. Normal.
Wellll, I have gotten you all up to date on my life!!! Finally! I hope you all are well. I will be home December 15th – January 3rd and look forward to seeing all of you.