Well, it has been a while. I have been to the states and back. This is going to be a doozy of a blog – so sit back and enjoy! I will start with a quote from a fabulous song ‘Happy’ by Leona Lewis.
“someone once told me
that you have to choose
what you win or lose
you cant have everything
dont you take chances
you might feel the pain
dont you love in vain
cause love wont set you free
i could stand by the side
and watch this life pass me by
so unhappy but safe as could be
so what if it hurts me
so what if i break down
so what if this world just throws me off the edge
my feet run out of ground
i gotta find my place
i wanna hear my sound”
Translation: Cysts of parasites on your intestinal line. Yeah, that is what I had about a month ago and also Girardeau. Apparently this is contracted through feces. Sooo I ate poop at some point. Check that off the list of things to do before I die. So it was actually quite different than a bacterial infection (much less violent), but basically parasites eat the nutrition in the food that you eat and also kill your appetite. Was not the diet plan I had in mind – but I have lost some weight here lately. The medication was equally as intense to get rid of these cysts of parasites in my stomach. Shortly after finishing the medication for this I had a sinus infection with a fever, cough and stuffy nose. Promptly after finishing the medication for my sinus infection I contracted some kind of virus with a fever and serious bowel movement (which was originally diagnosed as a kidney infection in my health center). Needless to say this month (October) has not been the best health-wise. I sometimes wonder whether my body will have any long-term side-effects from living here. I definitely have my fair share of scars already (most recently from a motorcycle muffler. Ouch.), so no matter what I will have reminders of Nicaragua for the rest of my life (when I look at my legs).
October 30th was the anniversary of Hurricane Mitch (11 years ago – 1998) and there was an event held at the memorial site/park where President Clinton visited and a tree is planted for each life that was lost that day. The only way to really explain what it’s like – for a small town of 15,000 to lose 4,000 people – is to compare it to 9/11 in the States. A week rarely goes by when I do not hear a story about this horrific event; someone’s life that was lost, property that was lost, family separated. It is the 2nd largest natural disaster to occur in Nicaragua’s history. A lot of effort has been made to avoid another disaster like this through organizations such as, World Vision (a lot of reforestation, etc.).
It was a beautiful day and I got to take some photos of the event (see Facebook). I also hitched a ride on the back of a tractor. I was sore the next day from this less than smooth ride, but it was quite an adventure.
Hana came to visit me in Posoltega after Halloween for a few days. It was sooo nice to spend some quality time with her – it had literally been since training that we really had any one-on-one time to catch up. We did a little cooking, shopping in Chinandega and a lot of talking and laughing. It was interesting to hear her take on my town and also just the accessibility to my town. She is so isolated from other volunteers, where as I live in the department with the most volunteers. There are benefits and challenges to each site, but I am definitely thankful for the location of my site above all else. We then headed to Managua where a cocktail party was being held by the business sector of Peace Corps as a fundraiser. I lost my cell phone in the bus on the way to Managua – which was definitely a bummer. Called the number several times only to find out that it had been sold to a woman in the north department of Jinotega. Going, going, gone.
The party was a blassssst. It was so nice to see so many people from my group and also from others. We all had an excuse for the first since swearing-in to get all pretty and dressed up. It is amazing what that can do for someone’s self-esteem…just to look beautiful. I do not even have a mirror in my house, so most of the time I have no idea what I look like (quite a change from the USA aka vanity world). I really enjoy meeting new volunteers especially one in particular… from DELAWARE. His name is Jeffery and he went to Brandywine HS and UD. We are both representing Delaware to the fullest. He is super funny and played in a band at East End café. And now here we both are in … Nicaragua. Small World.
Peace Corps holds a conference every two years for all of the volunteers in Nicaragua. This year it was held in Managua and all 180 volunteers participated. It was the first time during my service that I got to meet everyone from all the different work sectors and different areas of Nicaragua. We were given information on different work opportunities after Peace Corps and Grad School options. It was very informative and also fun!
Right afterwards we were all taken to Embassy families houses for a Thanksgiving dinner. It was the best food I had eaten in a very, very long time. I literally think I rolled out of their house. It was very interesting to observe the lives that these Foreign Service families live as compared to the rest of Nicaragua. They are in a beautiful house, gated in with security, fully-furnished. Not to say that these families have it easy in all aspects. They move from country-to-country to work as ambassadors to our country and move their families around with them. It takes special people to endure this kind of ‘instablity’. The family that Erin, Elizabeth and I ate with was incredible. We had a Wii-Bowling tournament, and of course… I won.. Ha. I was with two fabulous friends, a beautiful family – and although it was hard to be away from my own family– I did not feel alone.
All three of their children attend an American-Credentialed school where the teaching language is English. I actually attended an informational session during the Conference about teaching at this school. It was a very interesting dynamic that the school holds. The majority of the children are of the 1% population of the upper-class (ironically also politically aligned) here in Nicaragua. Although this school does not represent the majority of this country – it holds an incredible amount of power. The teachers at this school literally have in their classrooms the future of this country. If they are able to break-through to them and help to achieve a different perspective, who knows the ways this country could change.
Nica49 is down 5.
We have now lost 5 people from my orginal group of 21. 3 due to medical reasons and two for personal choices. As times goes by, it gets harder to lose another member of our group. The latest to go was one of my very closest friends here, Erin. I definitely cried – but I have faith that God has something greater in store for her. She is a special person and has become one of my best friends through this experience. I am so proud of her and even prouder to call her a friend. I know we will see each other again
My town through me a going away party right before I left for the USA (as if I was never coming back) haha. They just love to celebrate anything here. Anyway, it was a blast (with disco and everything) and my friend Ely came to visit right before and then we traveled to Carazo together (where we completed our first three months of training). I got to spend a few days with my host-family and then headed off to Managua to get ready to go home! I left the 15th, and got a ride to the airport from my friend in Managua. The entire day could not have gone any smoother. On my flight from Managua to Miami a flight attendant fell in love with me and I received a glass of wine and a bracelet (what!?!?) I completed my 4-month report for my boss here in Nicaragua on this flight. Then on my flight from Miami to Philadelphia another guy flight attendant fell in love with me (two more glasses of wine) and I met a sweet freshman girl from Univ. of Miami and we bonded the whole way back to Miami. As we got closer to landing in Miami - I got more and more anxious (despite the 3 glasses of wine). I wasn’t sure how I would react to seeing my mom, dad and dog – but I knew it was going to be emotional.
As I was waiting for my luggage impatiently, I saw one of the cutest little boys walking in through the sliding glass doors of the airport. When I looked up, I instantly realized it was my NEPHEW!!! My brother, nephew and sister surprised me by coming with my parents. I sprinted to my family and collapsed in the arms of my brother and my little baby (not-so baby anymore) nephew. After I stopped embracing my family – we gathered my belongings and headed to the car, where I got to see my dad (who was driving around in circles waiting for us). I then cried again and never wanted to leave my dad’s arms again in that moment. The whole ride home I was completely entertained by Ethan and how big he was! He was a little man already with a BIG, beautiful personality.
When we got back to the house I ate an assortment of things, including a sandwich, tasty-cakes and more wine. I somehow convinced (and easily) my parents to come to Iron Hill to meet some of my friends out. It was very surreal to be driving down Kirkwood Highway and see how so much has changed and some is just as I left it January 2003. We went out to Iron Hill that evening (where I worked for 5 years) and ended up on a little tour of Main Street. It was a BLAST and I was overwhelmed by love and joy (and alcohol) haha. The night ended in me sleeping on the couch and waking up to my dad leaving for work at 6am. I then climbed into bed with my mom and slept a little more.
It was amazing to just be in my house. I missed that house so much – and all the comfort it represents to me.
Buddy the Elf goes to DC
I was pretty amazed with things in Delaware, how beautiful it was – the buildings, the landscape, etc. But when I got to DC on the 17th I was more than amazed I was … borderline overwhelmed. First of all, I was using my grandmother’s friend’s cell phone for this trip (since I obviously didn’t have my own). I made another friend on the train to DC and as I was entering DC the phone was dying. As I exited the metro station, I realized I had no idea where I was going. With a text message and ½ a bar of battery I ventured out to find Jillian’s office building. DC is … HUGE. And beautiful. I was walking around amazed at the beautiful buildings and beautiful mix of different cultures, when I realized I had no idea where I was going. The only way to fully describe how I felt is… like buddy the elf. I was almost hit by three taxis, ate some chewing gum off the subway and perhaps drank the world’s worst cup of coffee but thought it was the best thing ever invented. The best way to describe how I was the entire trip home was like an infant slash stoner. Everything was beautiful, everything was interesting, everything was … new. It was such an overwhelming and beautiful experience in my life.
After asking a group of people who were asking for directions, I finally asked my buddy Lester on the corner for directions to Pennsylvania Avenue. Somewhat well-known. I finally made my way to the Vice-Presidential building, past secret-service to my absolutely amazing sister/best friend/soul mate…Jillian. Long story short – her life is incredible. Although we sometimes say she is living in Peace Corps Washington DC, she is having the experience of a lifetime. Her building is beautiful; she works with the most important people in our country and looks fabulous while doing it all. All in all, she in my hero. I went on a tour of the West and East Wing with my personal tour guide slash Jillian. We then went later to the Kennedy Center to see a play in the … presidential box. Far cry from my cockroach, rat, bat infested little house. I was sometimes worried about some of the cultural differences between Nicaragua and USA and how well I would be able to switch in between the two of them. But as I told my good PC friend Elizabeth, ‘At first I felt like an alien, but then I put on my knee-high boots and fell right back into it (the American culture).’ DC is incredible – it is undoubtedly one of my favorite cities in America and I can definitely see myself living there somewhere down the road (more than likely with Jillian. Ha).
We all have to admit that time can change a lot of things. But the relationships that are the strongest, the relationships that strengthen with time and distance – those are what make it all worth while. That is exactly how I felt about so many people that I saw while I was home. My parents. My rocks. I say time and time again – and it is more true than anyone could ever imagine. Without my parents’ love and support – I could not be doing this. A lot of people ask me if I am crazy or if I am running away from something – but I am doing the exact opposite. I feel like I am flying… towards something greater. And on the wings of the love of my parents. Right before Thanksgiving I had a long talk with one of the girls from my youth group. I had just received a package from my parents in the mail and she asked me if my parents send me a lot of things (materials, money). And my response was ‘yes, they support me however they can. But if I did not have their love – I would not still be here right now. The love that they give me is more than anything of material value.’
As I looked up at this 15 year old girl, I realized she was crying hysterically. I then realized in that moment that she, in her 15 years of life, has never felt this kind of love. It was then, when I started to cry. For several reasons; for her because she has never known this kind of love and for me, a moment of gratitude beyond explanation, that I have parents that have unconditionally loved me. No matter what I have done – no matter what mistakes I have made – my parents’ love has gotten me through it all. The bad moments, the great moments – would be nothing without them. No matter where I have been, no matter what I have done, no matter who was around me, I have never, ever felt alone.
My friends. Wow, what greater gift is there in this world than true friends? It is so easy to get caught up in our own lives – and forget about people that are far away or not involved in our daily lives. It is work – the work that it takes to nurture the relationships that mean the most to us that really count. People will always change – friendships will come and go. But going home this past December only made me appreciate the real friendships that I have been fortunate enough to find in this world. I am truly, truly blessed with the best friends in the world. It is the friends that you pick up with after 11 months, like you did not even miss a second, that give girl strength.
This was something I hadn’t really thought about prior to my visit to the states. I felt like I still had a decent amount of connection to technology with internet and a cell phone here in Nicaragua. I was … wrong. I completely forgot how technology advanced the US is and how incredibly far behind Nicaragua is. The more I learn about different cultures other than my own – I realize there is no ‘right’ way no ‘right’ culture. There are some things about the Nicaraguan culture that I absolutely love (the generosity) and some things that I cannot stand (someone calling you fat while blowing their nose into thin air). Equally standing is US culture, I appreciate so much the laws of our country, the level of comfort and the mix of cultures, but I also found myself annoyed at the individualism of the culture and obsession with time, money and responsibilities. Instead of becoming bitter about either faults of each country – I made the decision to try and be appreciative. I now know a different way of living. And although questionable at times, I can now say for sure that this has done me no harm, only good. I can now say that I appreciate both cultures for what they are – and have learned an immense from both of them. I can only hope that from this experience I will carry with me the positive components of each culture and create one of my own, perhaps.
Technology is obviously something that has contributed to the great power that the United States holds, but I also feel that countries that lack all of these advances carry with them a sense of innocence. Prior to entering Peace Corps, I remember writing an essay about how I would react to the withdrawal of technology. I now think I will have a harder time getting back into the US culture of advancement. The lack of technology advancement here can also be looked at as an advantage. No one is connected to their cell phone – no one is constantly text messaging, checking their facebook, email, etc. Therefore what remains is … conversation. I feel that through this experience I have become more and more appreciative of just … talking, face-to-face, listening. I enjoyed not having a cell phone most of my trip. It also proved to me the people who really wanted to see me and make an effort. We will see how technologically messed up I am when I get home – but I definitely see challenges in the horizon.
So, I thought I would buried like an Eskimo during one of the worst snow storms in 100 years, but I was actually Okay! Ha. I loved the snow, more than likely because I knew it was the only time I would be dealing with it for the next two years. I guess the grass is always greener… ha. The snow was gorgeous and I took some photos and videos for the people here that asked me to ‘bring them back snow.’ This snow storm happened to land on the wedding day of one of my closest friends. But she handled it beautifully – and the wedding could not have been any more perfect. It was by far the nicest wedding I have ever been too – and my closest friends and family were all there. It was a beautiful, snow-filled day.
I will say that I think my body temperature has begun to change a bit here. December to February is definitely the best climate that I will get on the Pacific Coast. It is still hot, around 90-95 degrees, but a really nice breeze (perfect time for visitorsssssss). I am not using my fan at night anymore and can honestly say that I have been chilly a few times in the morning when it is about 75. Wow.
Other Buddy the Elf Moments
My appreciation for small things was quite apparent during my trip home. Here are some moments when I felt like an alien and/or was called one.
• When I spent 20 minutes in WaWa amazed at the selection and came out with a reese’s cup, vanilla cappuccino and fruit salad.
• When I spent 20 minutes in WaWa getting explained how to use the self-serve credit-card swiper.
• When I asked for assistance from my grandmother for text messaging (ok maybe not her.. but everyone else).
• When I tried to save…everything (tubes of toothpaste, plastic spoons, etc.)
• When I was in awe of two-story buildings
• When I re-discovered wireless internet and that songs can download in less than 30 seconds.
• When I tried to kiss everyone that I met for the first time (sorry Jillian).
• When I did not want to leave an open bag of SunChips on Liz’s floor because the “rats would get it.”
• When I laid on carpet floor just…because.
• When I was so appreciative when I mistakenly thought Jillian was giving me a travel-size toothpaste.
• When I constantly went to bed in the wee-hours of the morning, but woke up by 6am because I didn’t want to miss anything.
• Avoiding driving for the first 7 days I was in country (eventually drove and … loved it)
Several more moments such as this, but you get the idea. The whole time I felt like I had ADD and my dad finally diagnosed me. The minimal amount of stimulation that I receive in Nicaragua was a far cry from over-stimulated America. I wanted to do EVERYTHING. Went to the movies, roller-skating, tried to go bowling – and was just overwhelmed with how many options there are in America. In Nicaragua there are three malls in the entire country, 4 movie theatres and one bowling alley (for 5 million people!!!). In an impoverished country, they just do not have options for entertainment. Correction: they do, but they get very, very creative. Plastic bottles, puppet shows, freeze-tag, etc.
My typical night of entertainment includes sitting outside of my house, talking with my neighbors, chasing around my little 4 year old boy, perhaps playing soccer or volleyball and … going to bed.
Needless to say I feel that this experience has opened my eyes (even slightly) to what it must be like for someone from another country coming to America. I have only lived in Nicaragua for one year – and the culture shock that I experienced was overwhelming at times, I cannot imagine someone that has lived in another country for 15+ years and then comes to … land of the free. The culture shock can be incredibly scary at times and overwhelmingly exciting at other times – but none the less, people from other countries, immigrating to the US, deserve our welcoming and support. Just as I have experienced here in Nicaragua.
The meaning of Christmas
So, this was an odd Christmas for me considering I (as mother says), ‘took an oath of poverty’ when I signed up for Peace Corps. It was an interesting collision of words coming home during the Christmas slash shopping season. After a trip to King of Prussia, I found myself equally disgusted with the money-driven society of the US and also indulging in it. It boggled my mind how stressed out people were about gift giving and if this person was going to by them a gift, they had to buy them one, and so on. People in my town make an average of $1.50 per day and work daily to make it through that same day. This was a hard transition to go from straight into main-stream, consumer-driven America during the Christmas shopping season. Coach, LV, Armani – actually made me sick to think about some of the people in my town that do not have enough money to buy beans to go with their rice and tortilla. I was reminded of the feelings of guilt that I felt when my parents came to visit me in Nicaragua.
Whether someone was given a life of poverty or a life of prosperity – it is due neither to fault nor fortune. We cannot blame someone for having certain opportunities, nor guilty for the person whom lacks these options. Life is a mix of what is given to us and what we chose. Feeling guilty is as useless as hate. In that same breath, Gratitude is as powerful as Love.
So much of my life has been put into perspective from this experience. A type of perspective that cannot be gained from going on a two week vacation to Jamaica or reading a book on the Rwanda genocide(which both offer glimpses of a different life). I am actually getting to experience a different way of living.
For the first time in my life, I sat around the Christmas tree with my family – with no anticipation of gift opening, no greediness, and no self-righteousness. Just content, full of gratitude. Being there with my family – that was Christmas to me. I felt a sense that my whole family felt this way – as we all watched my nephew opening his presents.
The true meaning of Christmas to me was not King of Prussia, Christmas songs, endless lines and money. To me it was the family that my dad’s school adopted and gave clothing and toys to a single-mom who could not afford a winter coat for her children. It was the message that she left for my dad, unable to explain her gratitude in between sobs for the Christmas that had been given to her family out of the generosity of people’s hearts. It was the 150 toothbrushes and 50 tubes of toothpaste that were donated to my town in Nicaragua on Christmas Eve.. It was the boxes and boxes of used clothing donated by my dad’s colleagues, my friends and complete strangers. It was raising money for my youth groups by selling their bracelets and receiving open donations so they could see the beach for the first time. It was spending time with the people I love most in the world. It was holding my nephew. All of that was my Christmas.
So I obviously have changed in several ways through this experience. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you I doubted myself at several points throughout this experience and may have even lost myself a little in this new life of mine. Going home grounded me in a lot of ways – helped me remember where I come from and even more so, who I am.
One way I certainly have not changed was in ‘over-booking’. I wanted to do everything and see everyone while I was home. Before I knew it, New Years Eve had passed – and I once again found myself with a few of my best friends, some vacuum packing bags and packing to go back to Nicaragua.
I had a mix of emotions saying goodbye to the people I love, yet also feeling re-energized and motivated to go back to Nicaragua. No one was harder to say goodbye to than my nephew – who has already changed so much in only 11 months.
As I held onto my dad and hugged him for the 17th time in the Philadelphia Airport, knowing I would not see him for another 9 months – my heart actually hurt. I have decided that I will be coming home around September/October in 2010, for several reasons. I missed the season fall, baseball, crabs and I will be spending Christmas down here to see how they celebrate it.
Back to Reality
Well. Here I am, in Posoltega. I have to say that I am in an incredibly great place right now. I feel like all of the stars are aligning and I have gotten over the curve of cultural adaptation. Obviously there will always be hard days- no matter where I am, but I feel incredibly thankful to be here and more motivated than ever to work with and for the people of Posoltega. One month has already passed – and it has been full of new experiences, adventures and lessons learned. I am going to end this blog here – because I am already 8 pages deep and will start off a new blog about the past month here. I love you all SO much and truly believe that no experience is truly appreciated until it is shared. I love that I am able to share this experience and my life with you.