Friday, February 19, 2010

Granada and the War of the Sexes

The Central Market.

Fish market!
Typical storefront.

The church in Granada.

Drinking Cacao.

A view from Catarina.

Looking out from Catarina.

A colorful doorway.

A view of the Central Market from the outside.

Again, the fishy part of the market!

Life here in Nicaragua is taking shape now more than ever. I am sorry that this entry is so delayed. The internet has been down and out lately. I received my 25 students to work with individually, got things organized, visited Granada during break, and have a full weekend of activities ahead. I find myself quite tuckered after the day, but it is a good feeling to be working on what I am here to do.

Aula de Recursos (Resource Room)

I am the official Resource Room teacher for the primary grades. This past week I began working one on one with students at the teachers’ recommendation. While doing many simple math problems, sounding out words in Spanish, and doing coloring worksheets, I, too, have been learning a lot. Some of the kids come in at age 10/11 and have never been to school. I look forward to seeing them hopefully progress. I find myself sort of shooting in the dark when it comes to ideas of things to do. Bringing a mini whiteboard and some markers was a good thing and planning a head of time is a must. Copies are at a premium so we use a lot of scratch paper. So far all I know is I have so much to learn. I do realize, too, that in order to have the same position in the States requires one to have a teaching certificate. Here an art degree and somewhat broken Spanish works just as well I guess.


The colonial architecture of Granada was a wonderful visual treat. Set up in the grid system things were easy to find and remember. It is one of the more popular tourist spots and we spotted many fellow travelers. It was fun to get a nod from almost every white person as if we are apart of one big not so secret club. J We stayed at a hostel near the center of town just a hop away from the crazy Central Market and Park. Now, I can say I have been to my fair share of grocery stores and open air markets in my lifetime, but nothing compares to the endless maze of tomatoes, fish, yucca, sparkly sandals, laundry soap, rice, strange cheese, dress shoes, phone chargers, pirated DVDs and anything else under the sun in Granada. The once beautiful building spills into several blocks of crowded and sometimes smelly mayhem. It was exhaustingly thrilling to see. We spent many hours people watching in the central park and saw some of the more affluent side of some citizens. I have decided that one of my favorite groups of people are the older men, dressed well, who sit in the park and talk for most of the day.


After Granada we went to Catarina, which is a small town on the other side of a huge lagoon separating the two cities. The view of the lake, lagoon, and Volcano Mombacho is spectacular and not very well mentioned in the guidebook. It reminded be a bit of one of those Tuscan villages, Nicaraguan style. We also discovered that Cacao is a refreshing drink of ground up cocoa beans and milk.

The Ferry

I have not mentioned yet the ferry one must take to get on and off the island. The Isla is about an hour’s ride away from el otro lado (the other side). Ferries run frequently depending on the strength of the wind, but like most transportation here, it can be a bit of a run around. Five different “ferries” take the normal route. Three of them are sort of small and ask for a vomit marathon. The remaining two are fairly large, my favorite and cheapest is Ferry Che, which has a large portrait of Che Guevara. Sometimes the ferry changes when it chooses to leave, but it is pretty reliable. It is also a great chance to see who is coming on and off the island. Usually there is a group of tourists, but it is nice to see the real, non-kid crowd that inhabits where I live.

La guerra de los sexos (War of the Sexes)

Yes, here on NPH property we have had a two part series of War of the Sexes. On the past two Wednesdays for two hours we have displayed that yes men are from Mars and women from Venus. It was great fun to watch. Ryan was able to represent his team well. In the end the boys took the crown, but in my opinion there were too many relays…after awhile we lost our spunk. What was hilarious to watch was how every result, no matter how obvious, was argued about. The boys would get all huffy if the girls answered the riddle correctly and make accusations. On the same token, the girls would scream and argue when the boys clearly won a race. Good to know some things don’t change across borders.

Ceniza (ash)

Ash Wednesday has come and gone and now we are in the 40 days of Lent. For the ashes here we of course had an hour and half long Mass, where I still have not gotten the hang of The Lord’s Prayer in Spanish. While sweating and sitting, I began to contemplate if I wanted to give anything up as I have in the past. Still, I am not sure. I could give up my weakness of trash TV, but we don’t have one. There is always chocolate, but they don’t sell it here. When I called my grandmother on Valentine’s Day this past weekend and I realized how much I missed talking to her weekly, when I think about my Mom’s food, and when I hear about my friends getting together for a beer I realize I am not able to be around some of the things I love most for more than 40 days and that is enough for this Lenten season.

Battle of the Sexes!
View of the Girls side.
Another. :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Setting Up School and More

The entrance to my room.

Inside my room!

A better view. :)

The path I walk to the volunteer house from the kids' house.

Scarlet and I.

Carina and her High School Musical Shirt. This one is for you Abeytas!

My section of boys from top left to right: Oscar Medina 14, Julio Obregon (the Tio) 24, Henry Jimenez 14, Carlos Ponce 14, Alvaro 15, sitting down, Oscar Condry 14, and Heymi Lopez 13.

Visiting people outside of NPH.

Another show of the visit.

The first days of school were always the best. New notebooks, new clothes, new backpack, new students, teachers etc. were always the highlight. Here at NPH was no exception as the week began with a new school year, many meetings, and a low-key weekend.


The school day begins at 7 a.m. the children have classes until 1 p.m. Lunch directly follows and then study time is from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. The kids have “free time” which consists of washing their uniform and doing their chores from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. At 6 p.m. it’s dinnertime and after dinner the kids iron their uniform for the next day and are in bed by 8 p.m. It is quite the routine! Although, this week was more low key with the homework I think the kids were definitely jolted back into the swing of things. In general, everyone seems to be comfortable at school and the routine is a welcome change for all, including the volunteers. As one of the two resource room teachers, I have been assigned my own room to work one on one with students. Many of the kids come to NPH at different education levels for their age. My task is to get the ones who either have come in a bit behind or fallen behind up to speed. I frustratingly still have not been assigned students because the other resource teacher has been on vacation until today. Tomorrow, I will hopefully get my list of students. The past week I set up my little room and tried to make it look like less of an interrogation room and more of a learning space. I knew my art skills would come in handy! Rumor has it that I will be working with the primary grades and this is a good thing because my math skills are definitely a concern. I am very much looking forward to welcoming the kids into my newly spiffed up room.


With the first week of school came many meetings of different groups. Meetings here are called reuniones and can last for as short as 10 minutes or be as long as 5 hours in the case of one I attended this week. The problem with meetings here is that you have no idea when they actually start and if you are in it for the long haul or not. All the volunteers, the director, and all the Tios (caretakers) had a meeting to discuss certain issues and set some standards. I thought it was a great idea until I realized that when someone starts talking about an issue they beat it to death. We discussed everything in great detail from how the boys need to do a better job showering every day to how the best way to work out the shortage of spoons to eat. It was a good meeting to have, but I had no idea people felt so strongly about which soap was best to wash the school uniforms.


Everyone is required to go to mass here once a week, usually Saturdays at 4 p.m. Because it is the most formal event of the week the boys get all handsome with closed toed shoes, ironed jeans, and a tucked in shirt. Their hair is always perfectly gelled in porcupine fashion as well. The girls on the other hand have a much different concept of Sunday best than Midwesterners like myself are used to. Tight, bedazzled jeans, with a brightly colored painted-on shirt seem to the requirements to make the sign of the cross properly. Although, just a difference in taste and what is considered attractive, it can be a rather funny event to look around and realize I look like a nun in my plain black dress, my sandals, and gold hoop earrings.

New Roommate!

When I first arrived I was rooming with Verena, a lovely woman from Germany, who unfortunately decided to leave NPH for personal reasons. It should be obvious that NPH and all its dealings are not for everyone. It was a good decision for her, but it means that I am getting a new roommate and her name is Carmen. Carmen is a 20 something Nicaraguan lady who seems very nice and is the other resource room teacher who has been on vacation. I am looking forward to working, living, and talking with a native speaker!

The front porch sounds like U.N. Conference

Almost every night all the volunteers gather on the front porch (where the best internet connection exits) before they go to bed with their computers to either check their email or chat. Sometimes it is very fun to catch up and get updated with what everyone is doing. Other times it sounds like a break from talking about the world’s economic development in Geneva. Ryan and I are speaking English, and the others are speaking a potporrui of Dutch, German, German dialect (because one of the Austrian girls speaks with her family via Skype), and Spanish. It is very funny because in order for everyone to understand one another at once they have to speak Spanish or slowly speak English.

Visiting the Sick

One of the Tios, Randal, is in charge of religious growth of the kids. With this, every week he plans an excursion of sorts to take a group on. Some have gone to a special mass in the larger town here, some have helped clean the church, and today I accompanied a group to visit the sick who cannot make regular mass. About 10 kids, Randal and myself visited 3 people in the nearest town. We sang (well the kids sang in Spanish), prayed, and Randal shared a message. It was an eye opening experience to see how people where living here on the Island outside of NPH. The make shift living spaces that people are comfortable in are truly amazing. The kids seemed to enjoy it too and some who in my presence have not shown much maturity were very respectful. It left me feeling very thankful for my healthy body and the comfortable volunteer house.

Another week

It is strange to think I have been here enough time to consider the coming week “just another week.” Taking things day by day have been challenging, but it has been the best way to approach some of the uncertainties. I wake up many days here not knowing what will happen, for example, I did not know today I would be meeting 3 homebound women. I am constantly learning more Spanish, more about myself and why the heck I’m here. I am not sure I can define much yet, but the picture is less blurry than it was a month ago.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

El simulacro y Bluefields

I cannot believe that this week will bring a month long stay in Nicaragua! The past week has been eventful as NPH continued with its “regular” activities and Ryan and I traveled to Bluefields, a city on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua for a 5-day journey during our break to a VERY different part of the world.

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Driving away from NPH.
NPH bus ready to go.

El simulacro

Last week at NPH and on the entire Island of Ometepe (where NPH is located) there was a simulacro (simulation) of an evacuation of the island in case the active volcano, La Concepciรณn, decides to blow off some steam. Although, a somewhat reassuring exercise, it consisted of 4 full mornings, a disorganized jumble of changing orders, and very restless kids. The “simulacro” was monitored by the civil defense department and proved to be an interesting sample of military “organization” in this country. The basic rundown is that an “alarm” is sounded in the center of the property (which consists of a large metal pipe that someone hits as hard as they possibly can), then everyone is to prepare a small bag and be in order at their sections. After everyone is accounted for we are all to assemble in the center of the property and load into prepared vehicles to then take us to the port to board a ferry that will supposedly be there to take us safely to the mainland. Gulp. It is a bit understated to say that after awhile the kids lost serious interest in the potential of a catastrophe and enjoyed playing with their breathing masks and poking each other in line more. Afterwards, in Latin America fashion we completed the final practice with a party involving juice in a bag and a sweet treat. All in all it was a positive experience and led me to pack a ready-to-go emergency bag, but my gringa patience was tested to the limits.


For this descanso (break), Ryan and and I decided to be adventurous and go to the autonomous region that is known for its exotic dark-skinned people, Creole language, and fresh seafood. On the other side of the country Bluefields is only accessible by plane or boat. Due to budget and against better judgment, Ryan and I boarded an overnight bus on Thursday to El Rama, the river town that sends pangas (river boats) to Bluefields. We arrived groggy to El Rama at 4 a.m. after a bumpy, but sleepy ride. It felt like the end of the world and the river to Hades with the heavy mist and creepy lighting as we boarded the panga. The ride on el Rio Escondido (hidden river) was jungle ridden and beautiful. By 8 a.m. we were in Bluefields.

The streets of Bluefields.
Hmm... anything stand out? :)

Shrimp cocktail for $2.
The main transportation hub.

In the panga.

View from the window of a restaurant.

The central park.

View from the hotel.

More shrimp!

Los ranchitos at the beach.

Walking among sand traps. They are there to reinforce the land so that it doesn't wash away.

In the rain looking like a tourist!

The Hidden River view from the panga.

A parade we stumbled upon promoting a political party.

Abandoned fishing ships.

Typical house in Bluefields.

At the hotel.

View from the hotel balcony.

The streets. Typical walk way.

Riding in the panga.
Waiting for the bus.

The people

In general, the people are very dark as they have African blood and most are bilingual in Spanish and English. They speak Creole, a combo of both tongues. It was strange to hear, “Hombre, what’s up” and because of our blindingly white complexions compared to theirs we were greeted with an almost perfect “Hello and good morning.” There were hardly any other tourists and we felt very much in the minority out and about. I even wore a hat on Saturday when we went to a beach to not attract more stares. Like the rest of Nicaragua, the people were laid back, but reggae music was always blasting from somewhere. For the most part the poverty is more visceral than in other areas on the east side of the country. It was especially interesting to notice that those of wealth, ones with nice clothes and nice jewelry where mostly of African decent, while the service people, the transportation/wait staff/vendors were mostly of Mestizo (Indian/Spanish decent). On the streets there were just a lot of people hanging out waiting to see what the day would bring. I found it difficult to take pictures when I wished because of the attention it drew. We were only uncomfortable once walking to dinner at night on Friday. We walked past 3 very large intimidating black men and realized that our cameras and Birkenstocks were not up to a possible encounter so we decided to take a cab back after dinner.

The food

The seafood is very rich, varied, fresh, and cheap! Those who are lucky to have employment are mostly fisherman and as a result we were able to enjoy lobster, shrimp, and fish. We attempted to try turtle, but unfortunately no restaurants were serving the famous rondon, turtle stew, when we wanted it on Sunday. The central market that sells all kinds of fruits, veggies, and meat was right on the water and delivers from the panga to the market stand. Everything that is fried is very sweet tasting because instead of using vegetable oil, coconut oil is used, and wow, what a difference! The rice, plantains, and fried fish were wonderful as a result.

The scenery

Basically put, Bluefields is tropical rainforest paired with a coastline. The river that leads into Bluefields Bay is something out of a movie and the birds are colorful and beautiful. Each day we were there it rained heavily for about an hour in the morning and then was humid and heavy the rest. The coastline is rough and rugged and is not your bathe in the sun for hours scene. There are several small islands serviceable by panga and on Saturday we went to El Bluff, a small island community that has a “beach.” The beach, however, was basically deserted minus a beverage stand along with the remnants of attempted tourist huts. The sand seemed to go on forever and there we only saw a total of 10 people enjoying the beach as well. Because the Bluefields is difficult to get to the potential of tourism is slim. Apparently, there have been several attempts to catalyze industry here, but all have fizzled out.

Not in Kansas anymore

While on the Atlantic Coast I had a palpable feeling of separateness from the developed western world. I felt very removed from things I know. Not only was the scenery distinct, but the way people were living and what they considered important felt so different too. It was a great break with many moments of beauty and rest, but it brought me to think about how far I am away from the US. The highway/transportation system and the Walgreens/Wal-Mart within a 30-minute drive are a given en “Los Estados” and I will admit I am beginning to miss them. People here in Nicaragua also seem more than content to spend the day watching others walk by and chat with their friends. In the US one might consider it a waste of the day, whereas work has a different value here. There continue to be new systems to figure out. Customer service is an anomaly here with strange bus services, no sign-restaurants, and open when they feel like it stores. I think both sides of the world could use a healthy dose of one another.

New School Year!

After a very long, overnight bus ride back to Managua complete with salsa music until 3 a.m. and a war movie we are back on the Isla and today was the first day of school for the 200 students. There are about 75 students that travel from around the Isla to go to school at NPH with the rest of the kids. Everyone was very cute all dressed up in his or her uniforms and everyone recited a Ruben Dario poem to start. Today was very low-key all the kids met their teachers and helped clean the school. Tomorrow actual classes start. I learned today that my tutoring will officially begin next week, but today I was assigned a small room all to myself where I will help the kids who are assigned to me. Apparently, I will be working with more of the primary grades. I can decorate it however I please, but I need to track down a light bulb for the socket first J. Tomorrow, too, they have a special training for me and the other tutor that will last the day. I am looking forward to getting my room set up and will have more to say next week!