Monday, January 12, 2009

Puerto Cabezas

This is day 3 in Puerto Cabezas, located in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua´s Atlantic Coast. Before coming I was warned by many of how dangerous the area is because of corruption and drug trafficing, however I´ve really enjoyed my time here so far, with (knock on wood) no mishaps or run-ins with shady drug trafficers so far. I still have about 3 more days to go though. I´ve had the chance in my wanderings around the city, enchanted by the painted, wooden houses on stilts, to talk with many of the locals, especially about the municipal elections that are coming up this Sunday, about a month and a half behind the elections held by the rest of the country. As in most other parts of Nicaragua, the people here are equally warm and welcoming as those I´ve met before. It´s a very diverse city overflowing with Carribean spirit and indigenous peoples. Pretty much everyone here is bi or tri-lingual in Spanish; Mesquito and English. Today as I wandered around the city on an extremely limited budget as funds are getting tight, I happened upon this random house that apparently is a pretty famous bakery, only known to the locals though. So, with my dinner ration of 20 córdobas=$1 I was able to purchase a bag full of coconut bread and Johnny Cakes which I will enjoy with a hot cup of fine Nicaragua instant coffee.

Tomorrow on the 5 a.m. bus I am off to Waspam which is located on the famous Coco River that serves as a natural border between Honduras and Nicaragua. After speaking with some locals from the region living in Puerto Cabezas I have a handful of reccommendations of indigenous communities which lie along the river. I just came upon an article about the region and thought I would share it. Very well written in my opinion. I wish I was so eloquent.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Atlantic Coast an RPCV

Well, a RPCV(Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) that hasn't officially returned to the U.S. yet. I officially COS'd (closed out my service) on December 22, 2008. I'll quickly summarize some of the December events that marked the end of my service.

Dec. 14-I threw a despedida (goodbye party) for myself which consisted of making a whole bunch of pastries, refrescos (drinks) and popcorn for anyone who wanted to come and I showed a video with music that I made comprised of random pictures of people from the town. I wanted to make a pretty little sentimental, heartfelt speech in the beginning, but no one would be quiet long enough to listen, so I just started the video. Once the people heard the music and noticed that the pictures were of themselves they quickly quieted down and all 150 or so of them huttled around the television...which made for another problem, that the children or shorter people couldn't see. In the end, it seemed like everyone enjoyed it, and I ended up raffling off about 10 copies of it. I also got the privilege of watching the video several times during the week that followed in almost everyone house I visited because between the 10 copies distributed almost everyone in the town was able to borrow a copy.

Dec. 24-For the Nicaraguans this is their main day of Christmas celebration. It began with mass in the morning, followed by lots of food in the evening. My friend, Jess, from T.J./SoCal came out to visit so he had the pleasure of being invited to eat three dinners within the span of a little less than two hours. Needless to say, I was full for the next few days.

Dec. 31-This day also consisted of the same pattern of visiting people and eating til your sick combined with bull riding and dances in the night, which were interrupted both nights by three-eight hour power outages. I also got decked out in my cowgirl wear for the last time. At midnight, we burned the stuffed dummies (viejitos) filled with firecrackers that we had made earlier that day to simbolize the ending of the old year. Finally, we ended the night by going to a neighbor's house to eat torta borracha (drunk cake-cake filled with rum). What a great end to a super year!
Jan 4-Jess and I headed to Managua, Jess for a flight with a destination to L.A. and me with a destination to Puerto Cabezas, a port city located in the north of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua's Carribean Coast. It turned out that the reservations clerk made a mistake and La Costena doesn't flight to that destination on Sundays. So, I had to make a snap decision to change my flight to the destination Corn Island.
Corn Island-just a few words to describe it...AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL, yes, rainbow blue/turquoise water, tropical paradise, bamboo huts, need I say more. I am still pinching myself expecting to wake up from this dream I am having right now. Just a quick recap of the past week: walking along the secluded beaches, exploring the palm tree filled island, drinking coconut milk and eating scrumpsous (sp.?) coconut bread, hanging out with locals and learning to make coconut bread, drinking flor de cana rum on the beach looking up at the moonlit, star-filled sky, listening to regaee music, trying to decipher the creole English spoken by the locals and eating fresh lobster and shrimp at about $10 a plate.
What's next?-Tomorrow I am hopping a 12-hour long boat ride to Puerto Cabezas in the north of the Atlantic Coast, maybe do some touring of the indigenous communities along the Coco River and explore the Mining Triangle. The possibilities are endless. To quote my friend Jess, "From Puerto Cabezas to the sky!"
Fly back to U.S.A.-Jan. 23, destination Orlando, FL to hang out with my niece for the weekend.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Wow, it´s been a while. Just wanted to give you all a quick update. Where to begin...well, first, we finally inaugurated the library which means it´s open for business!! Two teenagers in the town will be in charge of the library. The whole town was invited as well as the mayor and several others from the mayor´s office. In the end around 50 or so parents attended and about 150 children. There were cultural dances, poems, and a snack (sandwiches which were a special treat because it was the first time many had eaten them : ) at the end. It went really well, and I am so glad that the library is finally finished. We also had the priest from Juigalpa come who is very active in the local communities and donated about 10 desks and chairs and about 8 boxes of books! Gracias a Dios! In the evening, there was a fundraising dance which also was a big hit! Here are some pictures to get a taste of the excitement that day. I wanted to send a special thanks to all of you who supported the library throughout the process, whether it be through donations of books and money or by just listening as I vented. : )

In other news...right now I am in Managua doing my COS (Close of Service) three days of medical exams. Every volunteer who is about to terminate their service has to spend three days in the capital have blood drawn, physicals, dental exams, stool samples, etc... fun stuff. It's actually a great time to catch up on all the paperwork that has to be down before we leave...well, for those lucky people like me who have remained pretty healthy throughout their service. My official COS date will be on Dec. 22, however, I will be remaining in my site until Jan. 4th. Yesterday I found out the exciting news of who the replacement volunteer in my site will be. We will be in the town together for about a month before I leave so hopefully I can give her the full scoop to help her transition go even more smoothly.
Yesterday, I am proud to say that I voted by means of an absentee ballot. Hope all of you will be doing the same this Nov. 4. It should be an exciting election and I will be watching it in the next town over where there is cable. The municipal elections are also coming up here as well on Nov. 9 which should also prove to be just as exciting.
Hope all of you are doing well, and I am looking forward to seeing all of you in a few months!

Friday, April 25, 2008

IST (In-Service Training)

This is a picture of the two environments groups currently in country (Nica 42-my group and Nica 45). The Nica 45ers came in last August, a year after us. This IST was pretty useful and a good opportunity to get to see volunteers again and discuss the kinds of things they are doing in their sites. It was also a good awakener because we began to talk about COS (close of service) which will technically be on November 14th, but usually people stick around for a while after. I can´t believe that we are almost in the home stretch. Now comes the big question, what to do next!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

As a Sunday should be!

Today, after my knee finally stopped hurting from my fall, I decided to go visit one of my students who lives about a kilometer and 1-2 from my town on the ¨highway¨ (dirt road). I´ll quickly explain the fall so as to not leave you hanging in wonder. While running on Monday with one of my neighbors we were just about to finish up the run and stop when we reached the entrance to my town. I was trying to encourage her to keep running until the end and because I wasn´t paying attention I slipped on the gravel and skinned my knee and hands pretty good. It didn´t really hurt too bad at the time but the next day it was a little painful to bend when I walked. Anyway, I still have a pretty nice scrap mark on my knee, but it doesn´t really hurt anymore. By the way, third time I have fallen in Nicaragua. : )

O.k. Back to my story. So, I set out on my bike around 6:30 in the morning to beat the brutal sun and as soon as I arrived they put me to work. I finally learned how to milk a cow and it wasn´t as hard as I thought. It´s all about technique. (I say that pretty casually even though what I milked probably would only have filled about a cup.) After ¨we¨ filled about a bucket-full of milk, they made me coffee with fresh cow milk...mmm, it´s so yummy, to accompany the eggs and tortilla for breakfast! What could be better, everything you need right there at your fingertips: the milk straight from the cow, that is also used to make the cheese, and their 4-year old son was sent into the weeds to search for freshly laid eggs. What I loved about visiting this family is that they can live so simply, yet they are still so happy. For example, there is no electricity or running water, but they have candles and the husband just finished digging a well himself, the letrine has no door and you bathe out in the open at the bottom of the hill with the water you pump yourself from the well and no one is shy about it because there is no one else around. Like I just mentioned, they have everything they need food wise and if not, they just grow it. What a wonderful life! After eating a lot (typical of Nica´s to feed you until you have to firmly refuse to eat another bite) I decided to go on a hike with my 8-year old student. We walked over the rolling, golden hills typical of my region and through the tall fields of wheat to her grandmother´s house that was literally in the middle of nowhere (sounds like something out of a fairytale, right!) . From there, the grandmother took me on the most amazing tour of her land. She lives right by the river which was pretty dry in most parts, as is most of Nicaragua or Chontales anyway during the month of April, especially at the height of summer, but it felt like I was in a different world. Unlike the town and surrounding areas that I live in, this place was filled with trees and plants that I had never even heard of and she grew just about any vegetable and exotic fruit you can imagine, unfortunately including nancites, which are these aweful little, round yellow fruit that smell horrible but the Nica´s love to make them into fruit drinks and icecream. She also grew plants and herbs that could cure just about anything including prevent cancer and treat a poisonous snake bite. It was wonderful, especially just for the fact that it was actually cool there because of the shade from the trees, which is VERY hard to find in my site. As soon as we left, you could feel the intense heat of the sun pounding down upon you. This is no exageration!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Finally, a 2008 update!

Hello again...Happy New Year, Happy Valentine´s Day, Happy Birthday, Happy Easter...I think that should cover everything. I guess since it´s been a while I´ll start with the present and work my way back.

We are just entering into our week vacation for Semana Santa (Holy Week), a time of limited working, especially for those in the more rural areas, heading to the beach, public pools or if neither of the two work to a river that may not be dry yet, and lots of food (baked goods such as rosquillas-round, hard treats made from corn and cheese that are oh so tasty soaked in coffee, almivar-fruit such as mango and jocotes (red plum-sized fruit) cooked in a caramel type substance, viejitas (yes, that means old women, but it´s a hard pastry that has caramel in the middle and are also pretty tasty with coffee), pinolío (typical drink made from ground corn and cacoa mixed with water), tamales (made from ground corn)...are you starting to see a pattern-no, it´s not Corn Celebration Week. Anyway, I am kicking off my Semana Santa here in Jinotega in the north of Nicaragua getting ready to run a 21k=15 mile 1-2 marathon, my first marathon ever let me add. I am pretty excited, especially since I actually got my butt out there and started training. I was up to about 3 miles a day and two days I got up to 5-miles without stopping. Maybe to some of you this sounds like a piece of cake, but those who know me well know that it´s a pretty great feat for me. ; ) From what I have seen, mainly from the bus window, Jinotega is beautiful, pretty similar to Matagalpa, very green with lush forests, steep mountains, lots of nature reserves...and it´s chilly here. I think you will all would chuckle at teh fact that I find 77 degrees chilly, but that is compared to the 91 degrees where I live. Yes, as I left the hotel I even took a sweater with me, actually the only one I have because when I went home for Christmas I left there anything that went below the knee or had sleeves.

Besides that, what have I been up to for the past three months since I came back from the states after Christmas break?? Mainly, I have really just been diving into my work at the schools and trying to get the library finished. We almost have it completely painted, the window protectors have been installed, well, we´re still missing one which is why we can´t put anything inside, the old door was refinished, the walls were smoothed out so that we could paint...and that brings us up to date. Hopefully, by the end of the month it should be open! I´ve really learned a lot of patience through this experience. Naively, I thought that in September/October when I took the project over from the Amigos de las Américas that it would definitely be finished before I went home for Christmas, but little setbacks such as the only man in town who could smooth out the walls had gone to work in the mountain for a month, there is only one man in the next town over that makes furniture and as luck has it November/December was his busiest times and the mother of the man who is making the window protectors became pretty sick, so all of that combined has caused some delays. But, it will be finished and open for buisness, as they say. Most importantly, I wanted to thank all of you again for your donations as our funding is quickly drying up like just about everything in my town, and at least with your help the bookshelves won´t be so bare

Hmm...what else? I had to get a new box for my worms (compost project) because the other one was rotting and had about 3 big wholes in the bottom. Luckily though, the majority of the worms survived (including the drought they experienced while I was in the states) and now, I have a new box full of huge worms! Now, I am trying to grow tomatoes in a bucket (an idea I found on the internet) using the compost to hopefully motivate the other members of my community as to it´s greatness. After the tomato plant gets to a certain size you are supposed to flip the bucket over and the plant grows upside down. Cool, huh! Yeah, my neighbors think I´m crazy, too. I really had no other option though, and at least this way the pigs, chickens, donkeys, and cows that daily pass through my yard can´t eat it. His name is Tomy (get it?) and I just found out yesterday that he has a brother that was a late bloomer and is now growing beside him.

The community bank is still a success and now, four new members have joined, including a 6-year old boy. We have started a monthly raffle (items such as laundry soap, dish soap, toothpaste, etc.) to earn some extra money for our social fund and people have begun to take out loans, including myself. I had to borrow 1000 córdobas=$40 this month-I just don´t know where the money goes.

*From my trip home in December, I really began to appreciate the Nica style of saving everything and using it is no more. For example, after I pulled my stepmom´s ¨old¨tennis shoes out of the trash to bring back with me to Nicaragua, I told the people here about how in the states (and this isn´t everyone) after about maybe a year of use tennis shoes are thrown away or donated and new, clean ones are purchased. This seems to me to be the trend with a lot of things in the states. However, here everything is saved and if it breaks it is repaired and it´s life continues. For example, plastic chairs and buckets that crack are simply sewn together again. I think given the amount of ¨stuff¨we have stored up in our attics and basements that we may have forgotten about because it´s been there so long or things thrown away each year we could really learn a lesson from the Nicas.

*I just thought this was funny. The first time we chose our winner for the raffle we had our little baggie filled with the numbers from which the winner would be chosen. The pulled out the first number, called out the name...and crossed him off this list, continuing to pull the second number. I was a little confused and asked if it wouldn´t be simpler to just pull out the first number and that person would be the winner. Makes sense, right? Well, here the fairest method of choosing the winner is to pull out ALL the numbers and the last one remaining is the winner. Yes, it takes a LOT of time, but for them it is the fairest way so that no one can accuse them of setting it up or cheating.

*Time-there aren´t many people in my town that have clocks in their homes or watches. So, you may be wondering, ¨How do they know what time it is, especially if they have an appointment?¨ Well, this definitely explains why it is culturally accepted and a norm to show up to any event at least 30 minutes ¨late,¨ but for the people in my town their clock is the buses. For example, the kids start heading to the elementary school in the morning when the 6:45 bus passes because school starts at 7:00. I really just figured this out the other day when one of my neighbors was sort of walking around aimlessly between the bus stop and the park. She asked me if the 10:00 bus hadn´t passed yet and then, asked the time. I thought it was interesting especially considering thinking about how for many people in the U.S. time is money.

Hopefully, it wasn´t too long for you, but remember, it had been a while!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Where to begin...

It feels like it´s been forever since my last blog, although just a little over a month has passed. Lots to tell, so hold on!

First, I´ll begin with the sad news. My cat, Cusuco who I had come to love despite my initial desire to ¨return him to sender¨ because of his constant mischief, has died. My neighbor´s say I´m the cause because I put a ribbon around his neck which they say was the cause of his 3-day disappearance. After three days of wandering around, probably hungry, i suspect he was led to search out food the only way he knew how, rummaging in the kitchens of my unsuspecting neighbors. When he finally returned home he had been burned from scalding hot water (you make the judgement as to whether he fell into a pot as the gossip was spread or that someone got angry with him and doused him with the boiling water). I had to leave the next day for Managua and the burn didn´t seem that bad, but according to my neighbors the burn was severe enough that he started to smell from the flies landing on him and well, that´s enough details. Being that animals aren´t too high on their compassion list, my townspeople´s sympathy consisted of them doubling over in laughter because I was upset about a dead cat.

This past week we had our annual 3-day AVC (All Volunteer Conference). It is basically a time to get together to see old volunteers as well as meet the new ones that had recently come into country, learn some new information to take back to our sites, and participate in fun events like tug-of-war, dodgeball, the ¨who can stuff your face with the most marshmellows¨contest, and the talent show, but I am definitely glad to be back in my site.

The weekend prior, a small group of volunteers and I got together to explore the island of Ometepe, which is located in Lake Nicaragua (the largest lake in Central America). We spent three days there and had an amazing time. The first day we found a very generous local to give us a $15 full-day tour of the island, followed up by a trip to the rodeo for the island´s patriotic festivals. The next day, we headed out early to climb the Conception Volcano which is an active volcano of about 1, 700 m. (5,600 ft.). It was an amazing hike and after lots of sweating and tears (a little exageration) we made it to the top, well, to 1,200 meters. To go the additonal 500 meters would have taken an additional 5 hours and it was already late. From the top, we had a spectacular view of the volcano, the beautiful island of Omtepe, and Lake Nicaragua. It reminded me a little of San Francisco because the fog would roll in and you couldn´t see a thing. Then, the next the you know the wind carries the fog away and you have a spectucular view. Definitely worth a visit for those of your who are still contemplating!

Right now, we are in the middle of the promociones (graduations). A few days ago after the graduation mass and ceremony, they had the annual graduation dance. I think it was one of my more cherished events here. Before I begin to describe it I have to make a special mention that out of my entire municipality the top two students in the class of 2007 came from...yes, you guessed it, my small, sleepy town, Llano Grande. It was quite a proud moment. If you are reading this, Jess, one of the top was Julith, Ceasar´s daughter. Each graduate that cared to participate bought tickets for their invitees and reserved a table at the Community House in Cuapa. I was highly honored with an invitation to this special event by a graduate from my town. The tables were decorated with flowers, silk clothes, candles, etc. with the common theme of a pineapple as the centerpiece filled with caramelos (candies, such as suckers, marshmellows, etc.) sticking out of it. They also had food, pop, champagne, and the national liquor of Nicaragua, Flor de Caña. It was a great evening and I was proud to be about to share this very proud moment with the graduates and their family and friends, dancing until about 2 A.M.

**Sorry, my camera is currently out of service so I don´t have any pictures to share.