Monday, April 12, 2010

New week and a new word

Ryan with his class for his birthday party.

Ryan's birthday cake with Reyna and Ceasar.

Julio, Franci and I.

Ryan and I in Moyogalpa after dancing a bit.

A low-key week here at NPH was in order after two weeks of traveling and being away from the island. It was good to get back into the groove of things and be reminded of how I do like a routine. It was Ryan's birthday on Wednesday and it was fun to celebrate with the kids here at NPH. As always, though, some things came up worth talking about.


Every now and then when I call the folks they ask me how my Spanish is coming along. I can honestly say it has improved, but to what level is a mystery to me. Sometimes I can communicate confidently and literally feel that my words are being understood. Other times, however, I stumble like a complete idiot. The kids love to snicker and repeat my funny pronunciation, which I agree is hilarious. I do understand better than I can speak. Ironically, Ryan who’s Spanish speaking skills are dramatically better than mine, sometimes does not catch a question or the message from a conversation and I do so I have to explain it to him. Understanding the kids is a battle in and of itself. In my opinion though, it can be a blessing to not understand what a bunch of junior-high age kids are talking about. It is a humbling experience to struggle with communication daily, but everyday I learn a new word or maybe am reminded the grammar structure of how to say something. Here in Nicaragua it is common to drop consonant sounds and make vowels super short. The result is an entire conversation with a Nicaraguan can sound like one sentence and everything blends together. This is especially frustrating for a Midwesterner who loves to make her vowels long and flat and whose consonants are never in doubt. My goal is to impress the brothers and parents a little bit when they come to visit. We’ll see what happens.


Earlier this week while I was playing a math game with two students, Katerine and Imnovis, they asked me if I would be returning to Los Estados Unidos (U.S.A). I replied simply,“ Yes.” They then asked me if I wanted to return. I honestly said, “Yes very much. It is my home.” Being in the fourth grade and loving attention from anyone, Katerine, responded by saying “Que fachenta.” Not knowing what the word “fachenta” meant, I asked. They couldn’t give me a clear answer nor an example and my dictionary translated it as meaning “façade-like.” Not satisfied with that I asked one of the older girls, Iris, what it might really mean later that day. She loves explaining things, so instead of a translation or a synonym she gave me an example. She said, a girl is “fachenta” when she borrows her friend’s shirt and when she gets a compliment on the shirt she does not say it is her friends, but takes credit for it being her own. Iris’s explanation and the frankness of Katerine’s subtle stab took me aback.

Life here at NPH is not sunshine and roses, but someday I will leave. I will return to air-conditioning, trash TV, fast food, better communication and transportation, a family that adores me and can provide for me, all my clothes, my art, and be able to be around my friends who all enjoy the same things. The kids here at NPH know that I do not plan to stay nor do I want to, they however, can’t leave. They don’t have anything to go back to. So then, I question, why am I here? I feel the need to recognize the selfish aspects of living here in this community. I want to better my Spanish, I want to be near Ryan, I want to help out/give back a little of what I have been overwhelmingly given, I want to travel and learn a new culture, I want to say I have done something I have always wanted to do, and I want to return to the U.S. with all of these things. It is fair then to conclude I am using this experience to check a bunch of things off my list and not necessarily altruistically save the world. Does it take away from anything? Not really, I am still here to love on other people, but the person I am loving on the most while I am here is me, and I guess that means I am a little “fachenta.”

The weekend

This past weekend was relaxed. We joined our friend Julio for lunch on Saturday and then went out on the town in Moyogalpa to a bar with him and his girlfriend Franci. It was nice to spend time with islanders and return early yesterday to catch up on e-mails. In Moyogalpa, though, we had a pizza dinner and while stuffing our bellies a clean-cut, seemingly normal looking American came into the restaurant and without much of an invitation sat down and talked with us. Clearly distressed, he began talking and we awkwardly listened. After about 3 minutes, he proved to be either insane or on some serious narcotics. He spoke of the Olympics, baby-killers, secret governments, his relationship with Hillary Clinton, new passports, his Boeing 747, lack of sleep and was swearing sporadically and speaking much too loudly for comfort. All in all, it was something from a weird dream. He eventually left, but not without giving us his business card that said he was a professional life coach from Provo, Utah. Yikes. We giggled and rolled our eyes for the remainder of the evening and were glad not to encounter him again. The next morning, though, the town was a buzz about the “extranjero” (foreigner), who tried to set fire to the gas station the previous night and was currently in jail. We asked a couple of questions and it was indeed our friend from the pizzeria. Double yikes. All is well, we said our prayers, but how cruelly ironic that it was indeed an American with an unstable mind who has been our biggest threat since arriving in Central America.

Not too many pictures from this past week. More news and photos hopefully next time. Mucho amor.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Volcano and Costa Rica Vacation

Nadine (from Austria) and I leaving the Island for a week in the back of a truck.

View at sunset of the volcano. All that stuff is clouds, don't worry.

A view of the school and the volcano. Pretty big neighbor, huh?

Ay! Three weeks is way too long to wait to write an entry! Over the past weeks the ups and downs of being in Nicaragua have continued. Two main events have happened. One was a week before Semana Santa (Holy Week) all the kids and company were temporarily moved to another property off the Island due to some irregular and suspicious activity of the volcano and the other was that I just got back from a week-long visit to Costa Rica. Despite the unpredictability of a schedule, things are “back to normal” on Tuesday with school and living here on Ometepe Island. Gracias a Dios.

Volcano Vacation

As I mentioned, El Volcan Concepcion has not been acting as usual the past month. There has been some more than normal gases and ash, but I want to stress that EVERYTHING IS JUST FINE and that all the scary images that are associated with a volcano have been far from the truth here. A week before Easter Week, though, the NPH powers that be decided to begin vacation early because of the activity. Normally, Semana Santa is the equivalent of Spring Break for everyone in Nicaragua. The original plan was to spend Easter Week in Jinotepe (near Managua where a new home for NPH is under construction). It turned out to be a fun week for the kids, like an extended vacation. The property in Jinotepe is where about 50 of the older kids live and there is sufficient living space for everybody for the period of two weeks. I helped out with an Art Workshop we had daily and we spent a day at the beach. The kids didn’t mind leaving school a week early and many seemed to enjoy the break in routine. The whole experience, however, made me and most of the other volunteers appreciate the tranquility and the beauty of the Island. In Jinotepe we were all living in one room sharing one bathroom, keys, mattresses and living right next to the kids. Here on the Island our house is removed from all the munchkins and we live dorm-style. We are all thankful that it was temporary and life will continue here.

Taller de Arte

Gallery space. :)

Juan Ramon excited about the Art Workshop!

Juan Ramon destroying some play dough/clay.

Talking with the kids.

More play dough/clay
A bird creation.

Katerine helps Brian.

Some of the older boys sketching.

Kenny loves coloring books.

Flora paints the volcanos.

Alex and his clay creations.

The "studio."

The Art Workshop that two other volunteers, Katerine and Ilke, and I helped organize during vacation was really a lot of fun. For five days straight about 20-30 kids participated for about 2 hours a day. There were other activities too, a bracelet making workshop and a math workshop for the high school kids (yuck!). Being right up my alley at the beginning of the week we were coming up with all sorts of ideas, we made a supply run into town and I was very pumped. The first day we had a “free day” where we had big pieces of paper that everyone had to share and use a bunch of crayons/markers/colored pencils to draw whatever they wished. We had a lot of volcano images and lots of names with hearts and the kids seemed to really like it. The next day we attempted to introduce some card-making and paper constructions, what we didn’t expect though is that the kids wanted to just draw on the big pieces of paper again. We gave them paints and they went to town. The third day it was the same deal…they wanted the big pieces and coloring book pages as the day before. We finally broke the mold with introducing some clay the fourth day, but not all the kids wanted to join in. Some of the kids were very detailed in their clay constructions and illustrations. I was very impressed at the end of the week. Obviously, the kids directed the workshop, but I realized that the kids rarely had the opportunity to just draw whatever they want as big as they can. The freedom to spend a couple of hours watching them let loose in a way they normally can’t was a gift. There was also a bit of irony in the planning and organizing the three of us did. It was not in vain, but giving the kids a bit of elbow room for their own creativity was more necessary than us trying to introduce a new activity.

Via Cruz

For the past 5 Fridays everyone at NPH has participated in the Via Cruz (Stations of the Cross) ceremony in honor of Lent. Normally in the afternoon, all are round up and we follow the 15 stations and hear the story of Christ’s crucifixion. Sometimes the kids dress up as the characters and sometimes not, but in my opinion it is safe to say that not everyone considers it a barrel of laughs. It is very interesting how before there is always a long speech about how during Lent, God requires us to suffer with him and how if people are talking and being disrespectful they will not be able to watch the movie after dinner. The ceremony always seems to be right before dinner when everyone is getting that rumble in the stomach. I have no doubt it is a strategic move to encourage everyone to participate, but around station 7 it is rather humorous to see the downward spiral of interest on the faces as we continue.

Costa Rica – Manuel Antonio National Park

Because Ryan’s only week of vacation he was able to take until July was during Holy Week (due to his new teaching gig) we decided and received permission to spend it away from NPH. Initially, I felt some guilt as the rest of the volunteers were asked to stay to help keep the kids occupied in between more Via Cruces and Masses, but they encouraged us to take the opportunity and run with it. So we went southward to Costa Rica. The trip also proved essential because our tourist visa had run out and we needed to renew it by leaving Nicaragua for 24 hours. Taking the bus and two days we finally ended up and spent 5days in the area near Quepos, C.R. in the National Park of Manuel Antonio.

The church in Nicoya, a town we spent the night in.

At the National Park.

Pretty shells.

Eating with the sunset!



Feeling small.


A bridge in the park.


View of the beach.

View from a cliff.

A warning.

The park.

The park was beautiful and we found a reasonable hostel right near the beach and the park entrance. It was such a treat to spend more than two days in one place away from NPH and not get on a bus! Thanks to my active and go-get-em parents I have never spend a full day lounging on the beach getting up only to eat and drink. Well, at the age of 24 I spent a whole day doing nothing but going in and out of the water and getting some sun. It was glorious and the 6 dollars spent to rent the chairs and umbrella was totally worth it. In addition, we went snorkeling, hiking in the park and saw a ton of tropical animals that I thought only existed in the Rainforest Café at the Woodfield MallJ ! We also ate wonderful ceviche (awesome raw-fish soup/salad), drank rum and coke from a can, and due to the exchange rate spent a little more than anticipated. The only major bummer was that my “waterproof” digital camera that I took many photos with at the beach has decided to give me trouble and will not turn on. So there might be a whole in my pictures as you will not see me with my snorkel gear on.

Costa Rica is a different world from its neighbor Nicaragua. Costa Rica leads Central America in all categories of standard of living, health care, education and economic growth. Thanks to its smart moves with tourism it is a highly developed country resembling many qualities of the U.S.: large single family homes, more cars, a knowledge of the consumer, and especially the presence of McDonald’s J . Nicaragua, on the other hand, is the lowest of all these categories in central america. Although, half joking, it is baffling to compare the two countries in regards to development, transportation and tourism when they have the ability to offer and provide many of the same things. Basically, if you come to Nicaragua for a vacation you will spend half the money and see many of the landscapes you would in Costa Rica, but you would have about three times the difficulty of figuring out what to do, how to get there, who can help you, and where you can get a meal besides rice and beans. Costa Rica is most definitely more visitor friendly, but Nicaragua has a humbleness that is unique and beautiful. I feel so lucky to have been able to experience both. An unspoken rivalry exists, too, between the Nicas and the Ticos (Costa Ricans). Ticos generalize Nicas as lazy and unmotivated and Nicas categorize Ticos as money hungry mongrels. Neither is true, but both sides hold firm. Yes, the political past of both countries is to be held responsible, but the difference in countries so close and seemingly similar was very interesting.

“Back to Normal”

As I reflect upon the past two/three weeks I realize to a reader it may seem like I’ve had a lot of vacation J. Partly true and my pictures may demonstrate that, but as of today I have been in Nicaragua for 3 months and it has been no easy task to work with the kids and continue to battle with the language and culture. According to past volunteers for NPH that I have been able to talk to it is common for all volunteers to hit a low point of enthusiasm around 3 to 4 months. I will admit that has been the case. Although I love traveling, speaking Spanish, meeting new people, working with the kids, eating new food, having a new adventure the sheen of things has begun to wear off. Seeing families hanging out together and driving their cars freely this past week I realized I was jealous and dependent upon the bus. I missed my family over the holiday, the Easter brunch and baskets, the spring air, whereas everyday here promises to be hot. The quick/slow quality of the time here continues to confuse me, but I look forward to what this week will hold and the promise of life that Easter brings.