Monday, March 15, 2010

New schedule and NPH kids



View of Santo Domingo.

Laundry station.

Alvaro and I scared of the volcano ash!

Wilbur, Wilson and I.

Boy it’s been hot lately and that means that the warmer/wetter season is on the way. Things continue to change here as Ryan and I have a new schedule due to a new class he is teaching, as I my roles here continue to mold and as I find myself wondering what I will do when I get back to the US. I have realized that lately my entries have lacked details about some of the kids here at NPH. I hope to remedy that now.

Wilbur and Wilson

Wilbur and Wilson are brothers and are 17 and 15 years old respectively. They are extremely close and say openly that when one of them is not around they feel very alone. Their story is a unique one as Wilbur, the elder, left his family at the age of 8 to work in the fields due to the quick remarriage of his father to a woman he did not respect after his mother’s young death. Wilson was left at home. Once the powers that be in Nicaragua figured out that Wilson at the age of 12 should go back to school he refused to go back home and ended up at NPH. NPH then discovered that his brother, Wilson, was also not happy at home and Wilson chose to live here too. So, at NPH the brothers have lived since. Unfortunately, though, Wilson lives here on the Island, and Wilbur lives on the new property in Jinotepe on the mainland. Thus once a month a day is arranged for them to hang out together. For a little “adult” supervision, Ryan and I as volunteers were pegged to accompany them to the beach. We spent the morning riding bikes, getting to the beach, playing soccer, learning card tricks, and drinking soda. They are wonderful kids and I will truly say it is by the grace of God they are seemingly emotionally stable and socially normal due to their story. They have dreams and they talk about everything any teenage boy does: sports, girls, cell phones etc. They are not bitter young men, but ready to take on the world and expect more from it than the hand they were dealt.

Angel and Bryan

As the Resource Room Teacher at the NPH School I have played a lot of number and letter bingo so I have those down, but I have also found myself needing to review my multiplication tables and figure out how to explain syllables in Spanish, but no school could have prepared me for Angel and Bryan. Angel and Bryan are two very special boys who I have begun to teach in individual math instruction for 90 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Carmen, the other Resource Room Teacher, teaches them Spanish. I start with Bryan at 7 a.m., she with Angel and then we switch at 8:30 a.m. to then we are to be done by recess at 10 a.m. Both boys have proved that they are too much of a disruption in a regular class to the other students, so the school psychologist and administrators have come up with this new plan for them. Carmen and I are told the topics and we try to come up with creative ways to reinforce them. So far, they seem to be responding, but it is a day-by-day, minute-by-minute marathon. Only time will truly tell if it works.

Bryan Jimenez is 13 years old and in the first grade. He is a sturdy, awkward kid who has a tough presence, but when he gives you a hug he reminds you of a big friendly bear. He is developmentally challenged and will probably not supersede a third grade level of understanding in math or language. He can be sweet and mild and often asks me what my favorite food is. He says his favorite thing to do is eat so we have that in common. J His huggable character though can change without warning and I feel I am constantly negotiating with a rabid Winnie-the-Pooh to give up his honey by asking him what number comes before 50.

Angel Ponce is 12 years old and in the 4th grade. He is fully mentally capable of being anything he chooses, but suffers from serious behavioral problems and refuses to believe school can be anything but a colossal waste of time. He is known to be abusive to the younger kids and disrespectful to adults. He lives with the older boys at the house in order to prevent him from roughing up the kids smaller than him. I have learned to not approach him socially as he is very influenced by his peers and will always call me ugly and to shut up. He is really just a little ray of sunshine. We have been working on addition, subtraction, number placement, word problems all with numbers 1,000-1,000,000. I had no idea that I would learn so much vocabulary from math word problems upon arriving here. I am constantly trying to come up with ways to trick him into doing anything math related. Sports has helped, but why has someone not developed a sport where you can score 300,000 points?

I wonder how/what/why I find myself making up math games for these two. Everyday there is a small glimmer that something clicked like when they ask to play a certain game rather than me coaxing them with candy. It is a test of my patience, and they are not always learning math, but they are one of the few 150+ kids that get one on one adult attention for more than 5 minutes a day. I hope it does something. If I can be that attention, so be it. That is why I signed up for this gig. I credit my brothers, who I am very proud of, Brian and Greg, as I continue to meet with Bryan and Angel daily. Growing up I was lovingly, constantly reminded of how I should shut my mouth, how I was fat and unappealing, and how I was the source of all pain and suffering. Well, apparently the years of training built up to an immunity that has come full circle today. God works in mysterious ways.

Nuevo horario (new schedule)

Upon arrival the normal schedule for all the volunteers was to work for 10 days and have 4 days off. This worked to have every other weekend be a four-day freebee to travel and get away. At first, this seemed like paradise, but upon living here now for going on 3 months, a break is not only a perk, it is a necessity. Well, due to a new English class Ryan has begun teaching, we now have every Saturday and Sunday off as opposed to every other weekend with 4. This past weekend was the first one with the new routine and we spent the two days on the island exploring Santo Domingo beach and I finished a good book. On Saturday, we had lunch with Tio Julio (the caretaker of my section of boys) and his mother, near Santo Domingo. Chatting and learning how the island looked before the road was put in was awesome as we sat on the front porch and watched several herds of cows go by to drink water from the lake. It is the first time I felt like I was not being pushed back on to the NPH property, because I have next weekend to look forward to! Next weekend we have been invited to Juan Pablo’s , a Tio that works here at NPH, house for beer and empanadas to meet his wife and baby in Managua. While there, I hope to visit the Oriental Market in Managua, the largest market in Central America.

As I discover myself looking forward to the days I realize that I am getting used to life here. I still find things to throw my hands up and say whatever at, but the good with the bad have become more normal. One change that has come to be is that the role of Activities Coordinator. Many of the Tios had a system in place and it does work. Every Wednesday morning they gather and schedule the weekend. Well, now with the new program with Bryan and Angel I am teaching them during the meetings, so I cannot attend. They often come to the volunteers for help with ideas, and for this I have been willing and useful, but not really in realizing them. So after some time here I have stepped back from wondering how I can organize things in an ambiguous schedule of weekend events and said I am willing to help when you need me. The reality is unless someone is here every weekend, which a volunteer can’t do anyway, there cannot be one activities coordinator. I am more than okay with this as I have realized that being a Resource Room teacher is taking up a lot of time with planning and being at the school from 7-4 everyday. In my opinion, too, it is where more support is needed.

I apologize for the lack of photos. More from Managua and of the kids to come! Mucho amor.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Island and Visitor's Day

Painting faces!

Ryan and Spiderman!

Ryan and I at Visitor's Day, notice the "friends" pose.

I helped celebrate Yaridmi and Erika's birthdays this week. We made cookies!

Seeing the pretty sky from the ferry.

Luisa and I after my art skills were put to use!

Coconut ice cream!

Crane while kayaking.

Rio Istian.

Love the colors!



Roberto, our knowledgeable guide.

So, I know that my blog entries have had new installments about every 10 days as opposed to every week as promised. I very much like to keep all informed and don’t want to leave things out. Sometimes, though, the days run away from me and I find myself needing to be in the right mindset to write a thoughtful entry. The good news is today is the day!

Island of Ometepe

This past weekend we were able to enjoy a couple of days of break on the island and I have since realized I am living in a truly beautiful and unique place. It was nice to see and meet other travelers and say…”yeah, we live and work on the island. We just have a couple of days off.” We encountered a bunch of backpackers, a very nice U.S. family who reminded me of my own, a lovely couple from Galicia, Spain, and two blond, dreadlocked women who were fire throwers. Yes, fire throwers who are touring Central America and spontaneously putting on shows. They were on their way to a full moon party on the other side of the island. It’s good to know there is something for everybody here. We took a kayak trip for the morning on Saturday and saw some awesome birds all while being led by Roberto, in whom we had some doubt when he fell in the water while standing up in his kayak. We also got royally sunburned from the adventure and are molting now. There is much to explore and see including hiking the Volcano Maderas, and Conception. The population of the island is 38,000 people who mostly are farmers and/or involved in the somewhat underdeveloped tourism. It is larger than Maui, Hawaii and has so much potential. It’s rural and sometimes quaint character make you feel that you are indeed in a special place.

In true Nicaraguan fashion, though, it seems like people have tried to make an effort, but in reality the notion of hospitality is not fully realized. It has become a running joke as to how unfriendly some of the wait/hostal staff can be in this country. The island is famed to be more relaxed than the rest of the country, but when your waitress looks at you like you are an idiot for ordering a beer and doesn’t smile despite the most polite of interaction, we have begun to deduce that the lack of interest in Nicaragua in tourism is due to the hot and cold attitude of those you might meet.

Getting around the island is no skip and jump. Buses are slow, but the paved road is only from the two largest cities. Half the island is rocky, bumpy, muddy, and nearly impossible to travel. Taxis are common and quite expensive compared to the rest of Nicaragua. As a result, Ryan and I had the glorious idea of renting a rugged motorbike and taking our sweet time to the other side of the island. Almost all island natives have a moterbike and it is their main mode of transport, so we thought, hey, we can do this, but upon an hour of practice, two people, two full backpacks, and realizing that our lives were truly in danger, we decided to pass and coughed up the cash for a taxi and decided it was the best decision since January.

Visitor’s Day

On Sunday, NPH had its first of three Visitor’s Days of the year at the main offices of NPH which are on the mainland in San Jorge. Everybody got on the 7 a.m. ferry and spent the whole day hanging out, playing games, painting faces, eating ice cream, and some saw family. Visitor’s Day is an opportunity for the kids’ families to visit for the day. Unfortunately, following the past, it was apparently a poor showing. Some kids were able to see grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins and siblings. It was a bittersweet day as some kids have never had visitors and some can count on Aunt so in so to always show. To keep those with no visitors occupied I now can play the game Uno and win with my eyes closed. As with most things, economics keep many families from visiting as some kids come from at least a 12 hour bus ride away. It was a long day, but nice to see some organization take place and some of the kids very happy.

The Volunteer House

As of now there are 11 volunteers living in the “casa de los voluntarios.” It has a lovely setting away from where the kids live and we can hear the lake water from inside. The view from the porch filled with banana trees and sugar cane is wonderful when the sun is right and at sometimes I feel like I should breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the free style living. Other times, which unfortunately is more than I will admit, I think, what the hell am I doing living here? The bugs are disgusting and we lately have had problems of rodents. The electricity will go off right when you are cooking something or writing an email. At times there is a waiting list for the outside laundry station. As with any community living there are serious frustrations about who eats who’s food, who doesn’t refill the water, who leaves what light on, who is making that noise, who doesn’t do their dishes, personal space etc. It can be even more blood boiling when some view things as “part of life here in Nicaragua” when, in fact, with some structure people might be more comfortable. Can you tell I am venting? Now, as some of you might know, I have lived in some pretty crappy living situations. This is better than those to some degree, but let’s just say, it is one of the most annoying parts about this experience.

Officially, unofficial

Here at NPH there is a policy that boyfriends and girlfriends are “officially” not permitted. In effort to wane some of the inevitable hormonal issues that arise with over 100 pre-pubescent kids it is probably not the worst idea. This policy, however, applies to everyone including the volunteers and that means Ryan, my boyfriend and I are officially unofficial while on NPH grounds. What is a bit confusing is that upon applying for our positions we were led to believe that our “relationship status” would be a good example to the kids and it was encouraged. As we arrived, on the other hand, one of the first things we were told before meeting the kids was that we could not reveal that we in fact came together, are boyfriend and girlfriend, and plan on spending a significant amount of time together when we aren’t around the little buggers. Of course, the volunteers know and are very cool with it, the other adultus/Tios are too. Not wanting to upset the powers that be Ryan and I have thus indeed remained “amigos” (friends) while around the kids. I pretty much lie to a child everyday when they ask or accuse Ryan of being my novio (boyfriend). These kids aren’t stupid, nor are they secret keepers, so until further notice we are just two people from the same country (who don’t know each other’s family), speaking the same language, showing respect to one another, spending breaks together, usually walking together, teaching together, and sharing a plate (sometimes there are not enough plates at dinner and like we want to share with any of the biohazard kids who don’t wash their hands) who happen to be friends.

Two months

As of today I have been in Nicaragua fro two months. I cannot believe how time works here. Much has happened both here and home. This past week I found out my brother is officially going to college and will playing soccer for the Air Force Academy, one of my dearest friends now has a diamond on her ring finger, and I can do a load of laundry here in a hour. Life continues to move and sometimes the pace of it scares me to death.