A lot to fill you in on.. so let's get started.
These are lyrics to Carrie Underwood, Change:
The smallest thing can make all the difference.
Love is alive, don’t listen to them when they say, ‘you’re just a fool to believe you can change the world’
The world’s so big, it can break your heart
And you just wanna help, not sure where to start
So close your eyes and send up a prayer into the dark
After arriving to Managua, I awaited my friend Elizabeth and we stayed at the hotel across from the airport. I believe that always when going back and forth between these two lives of mine, a baby step is needed to reduce the intensity of the culture shock. Elizabeth and I talked about our trips home and eased our way back into our Nicaraguan lives with a Nica-brunch and morning by the pool. We then got a ride for $10.00 to our respective homes from a friend of Elizabeth’s. Another baby step. Air conditioning and almost 200 pounds of donations safely secured in the back of a truck as opposed to on top of an old school bus was definitely comforting.
As we got closer to Posoltega, I grew more and more anxious to see my friends and start working again. As I opened the door to my house, at least 20 bats scurried around my room. Welcome home. I spent the rest of the day catching up with my best friend, Wendy and neighbors.
Side note: in a town where things and people rarely leave – every little thing is perceived as a big deal. The fact that I cut my hair – was the hot topic in town for at least a month. For them cutting my hair signified rebellion. Also, my first day back to work, in span of 5 minutes I was told that I was fatter than before my trip and also skinner than ever. For the record: I ate whatever I wanted in the states and never thought about exercising – way too much to do and too much to eat.
I was thrown a little welcome back party by the teenagers on my block and overall felt more motivated than ever to be in Posoltega and truly begin my work.
Somehow my house became a community project shortly after returning to Posoltega. The first three days were dedicated to re-vamping my house. In a way it was like Extreme Makeover: 3rd world edition. A peeling teel colored make-shirt wall was put in the middle of my house as a division between my ‘sala’ or foyer area and bedroom (to offer me more privacy). A lot of photos from my home visit were also put up around my house. It was a great fresh start and the house started feeling much more like a room.
PHYSICAL AILMENTS SINCE JAN.5th - Lice
- Bee Sting
- Kidney Infection
Just a quick little story to demonstrate the extent of poverty in Nicaragua. Since getting back, I had begun to notice more and more that on the back of latrines or toilet seats were small children’s notebooks. After dismissing the thought that we were grooming young Shakespeare’s in the bathroom, I quickly realized there was no toilet paper. Oh. Here in Nicaragua it is commonly accepted to use notebook paper in place of toilet paper. Ouch. (think paper cuts)
DONATIONS AND HEALTH CENTER
With the help and generosity of family, friends and complete strangers I received hundreds of toothbrushes, toothpaste and bags of used clothing for my town, Posoltega. The clothing was utilized as incentive for pregnant women to take the HIV test in the health center. The toothbrushes were given to the children of the community and utilized as an opportunity to give information about dental hygiene. The health center was more than happy about the donations (they love free stuff) and it seemed to be a good starting to point the new year.
Also due to overwhelming support from you all at home – from the sales of the bracelets made by my youth groups, I was able to take 24 (youth and chaperones) people to the beach (in 2 groups). I posted most of the photos on facebook – and I hope the faces of the children spoke for themselves, as to how grateful they were. For most of them this was the first time they had seen a beach. I felt like a mother with 11 children to look after, but I was generally able to enjoy myself as I watched them playing in the ocean, collecting shells and eating fried fish. Even for just day, they were able to just be kids. It was a beautiful day and we cannot thank you enough (in total over $150 was raised).
The only hiccup in the second beach trip was that on the way back, I was stung by a pee in my left hand in the bus terminal. The reaction was thankfully minimal – but obviously it was a very scary experience (fyi: I am allergic to bee stings). Wendy went with me to the hospital after I injected myself in the thigh with my Epi-pen. The reaction of this drug is that it speeds up the heart and causes your body to tremor. This was scarier than anything I believe. Wendy dealt with everything perfectly – at the hospital, on the phone with the PC doctor, in the can, etc. They put an IV of more Epi in my wrist. As I watched birds flying in and out of the hospital room, ants crawling near used needles and cockroaches inching towards sleeping patients, I longed for my parents and Christiana Hospital. They wanted me to stay the night, but because of the conditions of the hospital and the fact that I was with Wendy, I insisted they release me. So with the IV needle still in my wrist, Wendy and I headed back to Posoltega on the last possible bus headed that way (aka jam-packed). We eventually made it back after dodging my wrist from being bumped while standing for 45 minutes. Only in Nicaragua.
Life. Changing. Not only am I exercising more since buying a bike, I am now working much more in the rural communities. At first it was intimidating because it had been 10 years or so since I had rode a bike. I am now riding, ‘sin manos’ or without hands. So true the saying – ‘just like riding a bike’. The community I am working most in is called ‘el Bosque’ and the bike ride is about 3.5 miles each way. Sometimes I have to kick myself to go at 1:00 with the sun blazing down, but it is always worth it. I feel so welcome and comfortable in this community – and thanks to my bike, I can go there several times a week.
Peace Corps Nicaragua used to have a magazine in print, but due to budget costs, it was cut about 3 years ago. Thanks for President Obama and technology, we are starting it back up again electronically. I instantly knew I wanted to be a part of this project and have since started as a photographer and writer. It feels great to be a part of something create and feel challenged and involved in something I am passionate about. I will fill you in on how to read the magazine after it is all finalized this month.
Another volunteer in Chinandega began a project with an NGO, working with sex workers within our department and is now attempting to start a network within the department. He has asked me to be part of it, representing Chichigalpa. I have never felt more motivated to be part of a project. I have experience with this population and fully support women’s rights to their bodies and the choices they make with them. I have already gone out into the community and introduced myself to the workers at their place of work (bars). It was slightly intimidating, but I was not alone. I was with three professionals of the community who already have experience with the previous project with Craig.
These women are often discriminated against in many aspects of their lives, but at the end of the day, they are women, mothers, daughters, human beings – trying to survive and provide for themselves and more than often – their children. I plan on applying for a grant to do a ‘day of beauty’ with them and an HIV charla. Meanwhile I will be meeting with them once a month, giving workshops on self-esteem, human rights, domestic violence, etc. I see this project becoming a big part of my life and spiraling into other projects as well, for example: anti-discrimination workshops with police, health centers, etc.
During the visit I distributed about 5 condoms to each worker. The cost of one sexual relation is about 100-150 cordobas (between $5-$7). I view sex workers in a similar way as my youth groups – they could be promoters of healthy sexual behaviors, perhaps better than anyone else. I will keep you updated on this exciting project! FYI: Yes, I was asked how much and videotaped. Normal.
So every town in Nicaragua celebrated a different saint for one week, or better explained it is one week of no work – all play. The week of Valentine’s Day is Posoltega’s ‘fiestas patronales’. It included a mechanical bull that undoubtedly has take lives, more rejected carnival rides, cotton candy, dance parties and an Hipico (the point to point like horse show). I did not ride the bull (wanted to), I did ride the ‘rides’ (one was named Titanic), danced the week away, and mounted a horse while wearing a cowgirl hat. The week was a ton of fun and I even won some theatre contest in front of 100s of people in my town (my Spanish has definitely increased).
After the part Saturday night, one of my supposed good gay guy friends stole 500 cordobas and a cell phone that belonged to Elizabeth. Long and boring story short – I filed a police report and got the $ back from PC and opted to not have an investigation because I feared it would just bring me more problems. There is an update to this as well. Last week I saw this ‘friend’ using the phone at a funeral. After the funeral (out of respect of the family) I told he had one and only one chance to give me the phone or I would go to the police. He continued to deny that it was the phone and did eventually give it back. More than anything, I am saddened by the feeling that I can’t trust people in my house. Prior to this incident, this guy came to my house daily – helped me clean, chatted with me, used my computer and it appears, only to take advantage of me in the end. No matter what, I refuse to believe that people in general have bad intentions. A lot of people in my town encourage me not to trust anyone, but I don’t think I will ever get to that point – and don’t want to. For every ‘Carmen’ that is in my town, there are 100s of kind-hearted, genuine people. And that is what I will continue to focus on.
In the beginning of February, I met a guy named Kevin who has family in Posoltega, but lives in Costa Rica. I don’t think I can truly explain what happened between us – but I fell head over heels for him. Neither of us was looking for anything serious, but it happened. He left for Costa Rica Feb. 12th and we have talked every day since. He treats me like a princess with so much respect and love. It is something I doubted existed, or that I would find, or that I deserved even at one point. He does not speak English, and obviously there are a lot of cultural differences – but we are going to see where this goes. I am welcoming this incredible relationship into my life and trying not to become preoccupied with the future. All we have is right now and I know that I want to be with him.
Waaaay back in July, Paula (the PCV closest in proximity to me) and I applied for a small grant to do a workshop with 90 adolescents of Posoltega on HIV/AIDS. We finally received the money right before I left for Christmas and planned the event for the 22nd and 23rd of February. We intentionally planned it during the week that I would have a trainee visiting me. The taller (workshop) was a great success and everything came together. The workshop lasted from 9-2pm and as always in PC we were forced to be flexible and expect the unexpected (like arriving and only having 11 chairs for 50 people). We stayed cool during all the little bumps and the workshop turned out to be very successful. During a game where teams race to break condom balloons while doing sex positions, a plastic chair was broken, but other than that – it was smooth sailing (p.s. I almost peed myself laughing).
Working with other PCVs is amazing! It only increases motivation and production level. More than ever I feel fortunate to be close to another volunteer who has interest in doing health projects and working together.
The new group of health volunteers (trainees) arrived in January and we are no longer the babies! Thayer is from Las Vegas and could not have been a better match to come visit me. Just like I visited Ian when I was a trainee, she came to see me for four days and see what life as a volunteer is like. It was an amazing experience and gave me a lot of perspective on my life and work in Posoltega. It is very difficult to believe that just a little over a year ago I was arriving to Nicaragua, hating gallo into (rice and beans), being constipated, stuttering my way through Spanish class and feeling that I was from such a different culture. A year later, I have since gained 25 pounds, lost 35 pounds, had countless illnesses, rashes and parasites, gone from feeling useless to feeling overbooked, crave gallo pinto and sometimes feel more Nica than American. I have gone from feeling two years was an eternity to feeling as though I am running out of time. Thayer just received her site assignment and she will be serving in Chinandega, but very north – close to Honduras (about 4.5 hours north). Overall it was an amazing experience that I will never forget.
WENDY & FAM
= Amazing. I have truly been blessed with a best friend in Nicaragua and a family that takes care of me. They feed me, take care of me when I’m sick, make fun of me and are such a big part of my life. The only thing I don’t do is shower and sleep in their house, and they would let me.
A few weeks ago I felt my first earthquake tremor while in a rural community. Scared the beans out of me. Literally.
An NGO in my town, called World Vision (that is funded by the US), started a project with the goal of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in Posoltega. They heard about the workshop that Paula and I did and we were invited to team up with them and form/identify youth promoters of the community to continue these workshops, as facilitators. We have since replicated the same charla again with 50 new adolescents – the biggest difference is THEY HAVE MONEY. They provide all of the materials and (most costly) the FOOD. Everything went incredibly smooth with them and the most exciting part of everything is that organization, people within the community are coming together for a common cause! Together we truly are so much more powerful and can make such a bigger impact.
The part that most inspires me about this project is that it will continue when I am gone. With one year left in my service I am already starting to think about sustainability of my projects and how little time I have left to secure this. The teens that are capacitated to give pass this information along to other classmates; this passing of information will continue, long after I am gone. With sustainability also comes having less and less control over the workshops and management of this project. But that be essential (even for former control freaks, ahem).
We will continue to give this workshop in all of the schools throughout Posoltega. In 1998 there were 2 cases of HIV in all of Nicaragua. Currently we have 9 cases just in tiny Posoltega. The department of Chinandega reports the most cases of HIV in Nicaragua – at more than 600. I believe that Nicaragua generally has a huge problem of under-reporting. Honduras and Costa Rica have rates almost double that of Nicaragua. I believe this is result of lack of testing. In all of Nicaragua, last month, there was such a shortage of HIV tests that they were only offering them to pregnant women. I hope to continue to fight this battle against HIV that we are all up against.
Wellll that’s all folks. I just got back from a long vacation visiting my boyfriend in Costa Rica and obviously have a lot more to fill you in on. I will get to work on this next week – but the rest of April is quite full, so I am not going to promise anything. I hope everyone is doing well and happy that the weather has started to be a little more pleasant for you all. I love you all so very much and would love to hear little updates on your busy lives up in civilized-land. Fall will be here before we know it and I will get to see all of your beautiful faces again, until then – take care of yourselves, each other and remember someone in Nicaragua loves you.