Monday, November 28, 2005

Peace Corps Tourists

WHO: Essa (aka Vanessa)
WHAT: Peace Corps, Environmental Education
WHERE: Nicaragua
WHEN: Sept '05 - Nov '07
WHY: La vida es un carnaval

Many apologies for taking so long to update - we've been playing tourist for the past few weeks - there were many times I heard one of my fellow PCVs ask "Are we still in the Peace Corps?" I even had qualms about showing you all what we've been up to...I mean, I know you're all expecting photos of me hauling water, eating my 100th plate of gallo pinto, suffering from dengue...


Playa Coco

The day after swearing-in, we were treated (in part - we did have to shell out some cash too) to a weekend vacation on the Pacific Coast - just north of the border with Costa Rica. They put us up in posh accomodations, and one evening we went to a nearby beach to see baby turtles hatching and heading out to the sea. (I forgot my camera that night, so I'll post some friend's pics as soon as I get some). It's quite a sight to see 80 little turtles crawiling out of a hole in the sand...we'd all coach them along as they crawled across the beach. I'd always get a stap of empty nest syndrome as they caught a wave and took off.

We also got to view one big turtle come ashore and lay eggs. The guide said that within the span of three days, 50,000 turtles come to lay eggs on the beach. They often destroy other nests that were previously laid because there's so little space to accommodate them all.

The beach has it's share of soldiers there to protect the eggs from poachers - turtle eggs are a delicacy around these parts...

Our accomodations for the weekend - oo la la!

These are some of closest friends from training - Marcy, Jade, Allie, Noemi, and Celine. Miss them already! The rest of the pics show some of the highlights and scenery from the trip:

Endless Summer - starting in November...

So Celine and I discovered our newfound love of body boarding. Holy cow - what have I been doing all my life!? I can't believe I'd never done this before! My only experience with boards and waves was an attempt to surf with my cousin when I was maybe 13. (Remember that, Glen?) I never really enjoyed the beach - I'm not supposed to be in the sun, kinda sandy there, and who likes salty water? But, body boarding truly was an enlightening experience - can I even go as far as to say "transcendental"?


All Volunteer Conference - Managua

Every year, all 160 some odd volunteers get togehter at a super nice hotel in Managua. Volunteers give talks on projects they've done, tricks they've learned along the way, share ideas. We also had various NGOs and aid agencies come give talks. (Learned all about the controversial DR-CAFTA initiave from USAID.) I actually did get pic of President Bolanos (but it didn't turn out so good - see below) - and I got to shake his hand. He went to the University of Missouri - how 'bout that.

The press were all over Ambassador Traveli after he gave his talk. He's on the news all the time because people want to know his perspective on the approaching election (November 2006). It'll be an exciting time to be in Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega, a die-hard Sandanista, is vying for a spot on the ticket - though it could mean quite a shake up for Nicaragua and international interests, he's lost the last three elections, so I don't think people are too concerned.

Peace Corps Nicaragua Staff. I'd say maybe 90% are local hires.

We also had a talent show to close out the conference. Above is a picture of Nola - she has been in Nicaragua for 3 years, and just got an extension for a 4th. She works with deaf children up north. She also has a column in the PC Nicaragua publication called "Hola from Nola". Volunteers in the department of Chontales (where I now live) did a parody of Phish's "Farmhouse." We didn't win. =====================================================================


Todd, our Country director, invited about 20 volunteers to his house for T-giving dinner. Had the best cranberry sauce good as it was, I'm sure I'll appreciate it even more in a year. In my excitement to eat, I didn't get a pic of the spread. But this is what was left over...


In Site! Finally!

The day after Thanksgiving, we took off to our sites. Sunsets here are as beautiful as in AZ...

On Sunday, some friends invited me to the local swimming hole called "El Salto" (The Jump) - I didn't do any jumping. I'm too chicken.

Smart cat...

This past week, I've had a few meetings with folks at the mayor's office, as well as the natural science library. Things are moving along, but I have a feeling it'll all come to a standstill soon as things close down for the month of December and Xmas. Settling in pretty well here and exploring running paths early in the mornings. It's pretty hot already, but not unbearable.

More soon! Hope all's well out there!

Friday, November 18, 2005


WHO: Essa (aka Vanessa)

WHAT: Peace Corps, Environmental Education

WHERE: Nicaragua

WHEN: Sept '05 - Nov '07

WHY: La vida es un carnaval

We spent this last week in Managua having endless logistial sessions...but now we know EVERYTHING there is to know to be effective Peace Corps Volunteers. (Ha)

We hung out all week at the "Casa Grande" (the Big house), which was rumored to have been giving to the US Ambassador in the 70's by one of the Samoza dictators. Who knows if it's really true. It really is big and in a few years, will house the US Ambassador. It was built in the 30's (and is one of the few buildings to have survived all the hurricanes and earthquakes that have plagued Managua) on a big hill overlooking Managua and Lake Managua.

Here's the Nica 39 Environmental Education group all dressed to kill. All 19 that arrived two and a half months ago have sworn in - we didn't lose anyone! Oh, and I lied about the President, he didn't come. Never was scheduled to. Oops. But he will be attending the All Volunteers Conference next week. I'll try and get a pic.

Here's my training town group - Marcy, Celine, Noemi and me!

Maura, Nazareth and Mihail attended the Swearing-In, along with all the other training town families. frosting....

So, we're now officially volunteers - not just trainees. This weekend our training group will be headed to Playa Coco, where, if we're lucky, we'll be able to see turtles laying their eggs. Keep your fingers crossed. Then, it's back to Managua for the All Volunteers Conference (with Pres Bolanos - I promise ), and Thanksgiving dinner with an Embassy family. After that, we are scheduled to head off to sites and actually BE volunteers.

Monday, November 14, 2005


WHO: Essa (aka Vanessa)
WHAT: Peace Corps, Environmental Education
WHERE: Nicaragua
WHEN: Sept '05 - Nov '07

WHY: La vida es un carnaval

I wrote a letter to my best friend, Lacey about leaving my training family, which I did this morning...thought I'd post an excerpt that I think is interesting. Hmmm... seems pretty strange to be quoting myself...

"So, I said goodbye to the family early this morning. We left at around 6 am, and it was sad – Nazareth got out of bed to say goodbye, which I was in a way hoping she wouldn’t – just made it all the more difficult. Just as I gave Maura a hug, she started to get teary (llorosa, in Spanish in case you wanted to know). It just tore me up. This whole time I was here, I couldn’t help but make comparisons between myself and her daughter, Claudia, who is Nazareth’s mom. She left about two months before I got to Nica and went illegally to the US. I know we look at those traveling to the US illegally as sketchy, or perhaps get uncomfortable talking about it, but being down here has given me a totally new perspective on the topic. This experience with the family put a real face on the issue. This is not a thug from the border – this is a woman, in her early 30s, with a college degree, and a young daughter who is looking for a better life for herself and her family. And, she’s found it in part. She is sending stuff home - money, clothes, toys for Nazareth. But in another way, it breaks my heart because Claudia doesn’t get to participate in the raising of her daughter, and she works 12 hours a day, 6 days a week in a restaurant in Miami. I know she wants her to come to the US, but who knows when that will happen. Or how?Maybe it never will, as Claudia may come back to Nicaragua...

So how do Claudia and I compare? Yeah, our situations are vastly different – I’m not illegal, and I don’t have to work like a dog. And I’m safe, and more or less viewed in a different light than Hispanics who don’t speak English are in the US. But, I am new to the country, and am having my share of culture shock and difficulties. I told Maura in a thank-you letter, that I felt that Claudia and I are experiencing similar challenges and that my transition was made so much easier by the fact that I had Maura and Nazareth to keep me company, care for me, worry about me, teach me, and make me laugh! "

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Week 11 - Home stretch!

WHO: Essa (aka Vanessa) WHAT: Peace Corps, Environmental Education WHERE: Nicaragua
WHEN: Sept '05 - Nov '07 WHY: La vida es un carnaval

Okay, we finally got a breather before the last stretch of training! I don't know what I'm happier about - the break, or the end of training. Tomorrow we all say goodbye to our training host families, it'll be hard leaving Nazareth (who actually told Maura she wishes I were her mama - someone pass me a tissue...) and Maura, who has been incredibly helpful, warm, loving, and supportive. But, they know they can always come see me in my new home - and they are prepared to let me crash out there whenever I need a change of scene.

Next week is the final push - lots of meetings in Managua with those folks in charge of PC logitics and whatnot - and Friday we all swear in. It should be exciting with all the host families present, embassy peeps, as well as Senor Bolanos, the president of Nicaragua. Time to get all slicker'd up and put away the red shirt and kakies that you all see me in in every one of the photos I post. I promise I do change every so often.

The photos below were taken from my site visit last week:

Here's me doing the laundry. Though I want to say it's not THAT bad, I've only been doing it for about two weeks...I'm sure I'll end up hating it. A lot of PCVs hire a neighborhood woman to do it for them...will I befall that same fate?

Yet another homely pic - here I am making gallo pinto (the typical rice and bean dish) with my host...person (she's only 6 years older than I, so I don't really want to call her mom). Her names Gigglia - she's holding baby Adrain, who is actually her grandson. She cares for both of her grandsons as her daughter, 19, lives with her boyfriend and evidently didn't want to take responsibility for the kids. It's kind of an atypical situation I gather. In all, I live with Gigglia and her sister Ketel, Gigglia's grandsons Adrian (6 mos) and William (2 yrs), and Ketel's son, Larry (6 yrs). I'll try to get a family photo up soon. Both the sisters are divorced, and Ketel works outside the home. Their Dad is in Miami working in construction and he sends them dinero. I feel really comfortable with Gigglia and Ketel, and though they are busy, they have a pretty extensive family,so there's always someone to guide the gringa around and show off the town's sights.

This is our living room...and the only real room except the bedrooms. There are a few rocking charis, a TV, and a fridge. Oh, and the baby's hammock.

Here's Larry with his favorite kitten. Behind him you can see all the plastic bottles that are filled whenever the water gets turned on by the water company. In the rainy season, this neighborhood gets water every other day, but in the summer, it comes once a week or so. The family has a large storage tank, so I don't gather it's too problematic except during severe droughts.

Around town...this is the central park gazebo.

The Catholic church.

I also got a tour of the town's zoo. I have to say it made me kinda sad. The animal's cages are very small, and though they are clean, there is just not the funds to re-create an appropriate habitat, as we are accustomed to seeing in the US. Many times animals are caged individually. I should note though, that around the monkey cage, a wild one was hanging around on the oustide visiting those inside.

Who's on whose team?

Some of the spectaular scenery on the edge of town - I'm hoping to do lots of exploring down there in the valley and around the Amerisque mountians in the distance. However, I've found that hiking for fun is largely the white-mans' pastime than Nica's don't really share, and trails seem hard to come by. Most roads just lead to someone's house. We'll see. I have a couple of years to figure it out.

Yeah, that's a carrot pinata. The rural school I visited put on a big welcoming reception for sang and recited poetry, and afterwards there was a pinata. There are three teachers, and about 40 students at the school. So the classes are multi-grade, with pre-school alone, younger kids and then older ones. The school was only about 3 years old, and in great condition. It's very clean, and it looks like the teachers put lots of effort into their teaching with lots of posters and activities. They have new latrines, and even two 1000 (?) gallon tanks for rainwater collection off the roofs. During the dry season, the community really suffers as the valley drys up. I think UNICEF and possibly USAID have helped the school quite a bit recently.

Here's the kids scampering for candies...

Last Sunday, Rafael, who is Gigglia's nephew hooked us up with a family (that has a car) and we drove to a nearby hot spring. As you can see, they develop them a bit differently here - more like a big warm Olimpic pool. Not as hot as I'd like, but worth the effort and buck and a half to get in. There's rumored to be some un-developed ones just a few k outside of my community, but that they run hot and not-so-hot. But, they're free.

Okay, folks. Thanks for tuning in once again. Hope all's well with everyone!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Week 10 - Site visit

WHO: Essa (aka Vanessa)
WHAT: Peace Corps, Environmental Education
WHERE: Nicaragua
WHEN: Sept '05 - Nov '07

WHY: La vida es un carnaval

So this is going to a boring text-only entry, sorry - no time to download pics. Our group has dispersed to all parts of Nicaragua to visit their sites! It was a much anticipated week during training, as Spanish class and technical training is getting old.

So last Saturday we all set out for our sites. I will be living in one of the larger communities in the department of Chontales. My site visit has been successful - the family which which I will be living for a while is great. (More about them when I post photos).

According to my site report, I am slated to work with the mayors office/environmental comission on a community-wide water development project, as well as help put together a proposal for a sanitary landfill. They are also interested in developing some type of water treatment facilities for the businesses here. I also met with an employee of MARENA, the equivalent of the EPA, and we talked about a watershed conservation project he is involved in at the moment.

Through the Department of Education, there are work possibilites with the local natural sciences library that serves the community and schools. Additionally, I have been assigned one rural school located a few miles away to help integrate environmental education into the curriculum.

So, there seems to be lots of possibities here! Everyone I met with was very warm and helpful...though the community seems big right now, I'm sure that as soon as I start making friends, it'll seem more like home.

So, back to Managua for a week-long wrap-up...