Monday, December 19, 2005

MTU Gringo Parade

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

WHY: La vida es un carnaval

Had an exciting Gringo packed I mentioned before, my advisor, John and nine MTU students are here in Nicaragua for a few weeks. They took the weekend off, and I joined them for a little tour around some of the highlights. Above is a picture of Volcan Mombacho - still alive and kicking.

We started off the weekend with a party at Melvin and Amparo's (Amaparo's in yellow below) home, where John and I stayed last year when we came to visit. In true Nica style, they brought in live music, tons of food, and cleared the living room for dancing. I didn't bring my drum (which I'm still determined to learn!), but I did get to play along with some claves.

Jill and Gary picked up the Palo de Mayo right away - one of Nicaragua's traditional dances that comes from the East coast. The East coast is made up of people mostly of Afro-Carribean descent (many fled slavery and landed in Nicaragua), and the dance is high energy, kinda savage, and very suggestive. There are movements to tone-down the dance a bit, as evidently in the last few years, it's gotten even wilder.

Fatima and I - she's Melvin and Amparo's helper. I tried to pick up some dance moves from her...but I lack the 19 years she has behind her.

Local live music (Houghton's Koskinen would fit right in)...

Tried to pick up some moves from her too...

I wasn't the only one trying to learn how to dance. Fatima's a great teacher, but she's not a miracle worker, John.

Tango is not traditional Nica, but they lovedGary and Katy...

We left Boaco on Saturday morning and headed to Volcan Masaya

This isn't the best picture, but this is what an active volcano looks like...evidently there is a species of parakeets that use the caldera as their breeding grounds. Sulfur doesn't bother them, I guess.

This is a view of a dormant volcano that is right next to volcan Masaya

Masaya has a great museum too - information on geology, geography, ecology, and anthropology.

Onwards to Granada!

We found a Spanish restaurnt there in Granada - we shared some great tapas - jamon serrano, queso manchego, spanish olives...made me all nostalgic. The woman in background is the owner and is from Barcelona.

Here's Debbie and I at Catarina overlooking Laguna de Apoyo. We went down to the lake afterwards and had a swim before heading home.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Swimming, Purisima, Water Treatment Plant

WHO: Essa (aka Vanessa)
WHAT: Peace Corps, Environmental Education
WHERE: Nicaragua
WHEN: Sept '05 - Nov '07
WHY: I needed more time to make cookies.

Lots to catch up on! Last week, Gigglia's nephew, Rafael, was in town and he and Keren (a niece) and I went to a waterfall nearby called La Palma. It was beautiful and secluded. Photos do more justice than my words:

After a meeting I had with the local natural science library, which I will be working with, I gained the confidence of the librarian and she agreed to let me take a book to read to the kids in my house. Libraries here aren't like in the States - it's more like a resource center since they don't let people take the books home. We had a long talk about how to promote reading with kids...reading is really not a pastime here, so not only do kids not do it, rarely do adults either. Hopefully reading this Richard Scarry book with me will encourage Larry to like reading!

These are the three kids in my house - William (or commonly called Willee), Larry, and baby Elias.
I went to a Purisima service (to celebrate the Immaculate Conception) in the rural community of Quebrantadero (where the school I'll work with is located). It was about two hours long and they said the entire rosary! Afterwards they gave out little bags to the kids filled with oranges, candies and juice.

My counterpart and I went to visit the municipal tree nursery. I'm hoping to spend a week or so there to learn more about planting trees in January, and possibly bring the students from Quebrantadero here for a field trip.


I'm going to get one of these for my house to remind me of AZ!

John, my advisor from Michigan Technological University, came down to nearby Boaco with a gaggle of engineering students to do some geophysical studies in groundwater exploration. I hung out with them for a bit in Boaco, and John came to Juigalpa to see my site. They are also doing a blog for their project here - check it out at:

John, my friend Patricia and I:

Work stuff! John and I went on a tour of Juigalpa's well field and water treatment plant. We were fortunate to have an engineer at ENECAL (the water company), accompany us and get us aquainted with the aqueduct project that they have planned to begin next year.

This is the water quality laboratory on site at the treatment plant. Every hour the water is tested at various points in the treatment process. They also say that the Ministry of Health does random checks on water quality througout the town. I am able to drink the water here (well, I drink the water everywhere in Nicaragua) and have yet to be sick. Not true of other volunteers however...

Some parting shots - the first was taken on the way to some local, undeveloped, hot springs. There not too far from perhaps that might entice some of the reluctant to visit me?? The second is a sorghoum (sp?) field in Quebrantadero. They say they make tortillas out of it...
Between all these activities, I've been trying to keep the house stocked with cookies! I've made 3 batches since I got to Juigalpa, and each batch is better than the previous one. Hot springs and homemade cookies? Whose NOT going to come visit me??

I've got a few pictures of the baby turtles (thanks, Noemi!), but I'm having a hard time putting them on the blog - you can still see them by going to:

and then clicking on "Nica Nov 05" to view the pics. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Nica home tour

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

Got real estate on the mind as I look for a house to move into in 5 weeks. I tell everyone I know I'm looking for a house to rent, but they keep wanting to show me rooms that people rent out. It's hard to get across that I want my own house - mostly they ask "Won't you be scared?", "Won't you be lonely?", "What do you want to do with all that room to yourself?". I'm still hopeful - it's been done before...Interestingly, they charge rent by the Dollar, not the Cordoba.

So, to continue with that thread, I thought I'd give you all a home tour of the house I'm currently staying in with Gigglia and her famliy (which has grown since I visited a month ago). Her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend have moved in, so now we number 7 (including me).

From the yard - looking east (clean, huh?):

From the yard - looking west:

The living room
Living room:

This is a view from the porch:

My room:My room (on the bottom shelf, you can see a pic of one of Gigglia's nieces that was born in and lives in the States):

This is the bathroom, and though it needs paint - it's clean and that's all that matters! Compared to lots of other bathrooms and latrines I've visited, this is great.


Kitchen again (I paid 40 cents for that pineapple!)

Gigglia, William, Adiran, Adriana, and Jose's room. (Two are young kids):

The back porch - we have metal workers behind us which was really annoying at first (but not as annoying as the roosters), but I'm getting used to it.

Back yard - the tower is a storage shed and on top is where water is stored - we currently get it every 3-4 days, and have yet to have any real water supply problems. I drink from the tap and haven't had suffered any consequences.

Other view of backyard, today I saw a kid pop his head out of that black water tank (it's empty).

I skipped a few rooms - where Ketel (Gigglia's sister) and Larry, her 6 yr old son sleep. Also, there's an extra room with a TV and ironing board, and they have a storage room. So, with all those rooms, I don't know why they pack so many in one. I guess Gigglia's hoping that Adrian and her boyfriend won't be staying long...

Besides looking for housing, I've met lots of people at the mayor's office - the vice-mayor, as well as several engineers that work with the environmental comission. There was also an end-of-year party with the entire env. comission, which was a great opportunity for me to meet everyone - there are representatives from different neighborhoods,NGO's, the dept of health, and the dept of environmental protection. It was kinda awkward at first, but after the meanest game of musical chairs I've ever played (I didn't win), we all loosened up. We had several "dinamicas" is what they call them here - icebreakers, I guess. I have a meeting scheduled with the mayor for Tuesday. Sorry I haven't taken any pics of these folks yet, but it seems too touristy to whip out the camera when I go in for a meeting.

I also was invited to the 6th grade promotion of the rural school I will be working with when school starts up again after summer vacation. There were 16 graduates, between the ages of 12 and 16 maybe, from about 5 rural schools. All I can say is that everyone looked uncomfortable with all the formality. No one smiles for photos here - how long does it take a culture to move through that phase? I know we did it in the US for decades, but that was for technical reasons. Some people must, as I often hear people saying "Diga wheeeskey!" (instead of the English "Say cheese!")...but rarely do I hear the photographees say it.

A note to potential phone callers - in a brilliant move, I left my cell phone in a taxi, so don't bother calling it. PC will be getting me a new one soon. I'll notify you all of my new number as soon as I get it.