Sunday, July 30, 2006

8 months in site

WHO: Essa (aka Vanessa)
WHAT: Peace Corps, Environmental Education

WHERE: Nicaragua

WHEN: Sept '05 - Nov '07

WHY: La vida es un carnaval.

Leon for Allie and Jade's good-bye party___________

With a vey sad heart, we said good-bye to our good friends Allie (in the bright pink) and Jade, who decided Wyoming's call was too strong to resist. We got together for a good-bye party in the department capital...though I'm smiling here, I was a soggy wet rag when we parted ways at the bus station. We agreed to get a cup of coffe at the Muddy Waters Cafe in Laramie when I get back...

At the hostel, all of the pinche (cheap) volunteers pack into the room of the volunteers that decided to live large and get a room with air conditioning. Here we are glued to the TV watching "Along Came Polly." Allie phrased my sentiments exactly when she said, "I didn't like watching TV until I came here."

Our beautiful hostel. At one point, I was thinking, I wanna live here...I can't believe how much I took art for granted before I got here. It's really interesting to me to feel surprised and in a way, relieved, when I find myself in a beautiful garden or building...I don't necessarily note the lack of art when it's not there, but in the moments when I do find it.

A political statement we found near the central park of Leon:

While there are those that vent their dislike of US politics, there are many that understand that the country offers lots of possibilities and don't want to jeopardize Nicaragans' chances to take advantages of them.

John's visit and Boaco__________________________________

John, my advisor, came to Nicaragua to help me with my thesis idea (which he made much more manageable - whew!), present preliminary findings of the geophysical work he and his students did in Boaco last December, and, unknowingly, help me out of a low I was having a hard time coming out of. He let me whine and complain all I the end of it, I was sick of listing to myself enmired in my own personal pity party. As you can read or have read in the following post, I've finally decided to do something about it by improving my friendships here for a little support.

Here we are presenting the work to an attentive audience:

John and I with our good friend Moises, who works for the Partners of the Americas, and Erin - a student from New Mexico that just completed her masters on surface and groundwater quality in Boaco. She also presented her thesis the same day (her results: contaminated due to lack of sewer treatment plant).

We "treated" Moises to a sushi meal in Managua. He had never had it before and was brave (or maybe it's the machismo thing kicking in) as he sucked down a baby squid. He said his favorite was the tempura, but didn't dig the fish egg rolls.

Moises snags one of the "Managua Rolls" (not really sushi) - they taste just like expensive chicken McNuggets.

Boaco's fiestas patronales (patron saint parties)______________

I went to Boaco for a couple of days for the fiestas - the family John and the Michiganders stay with there gave me plenty of grief when John and I last came since I never come visit though I'm only a few hours away. I really like the family, just get absorbed in life in my site...the church was decked out with colorful flags, and there was a parade.

I'm not sure why they are dressed as they are, when I asked the old man, he said they were commemorating the explusion of the Moors from Spain. Hmmm...I certainly didn't see any processions like this when I was in Spain...the Nica's must have added a new world flair. And maybe they Spanish are trying to forget that part of history...

I also went to a little, though kinday scary in a rusty way, fair they had during the fiestas. I did go on the ferris wheel (which in Spanish, is a Chicago wheel), despite the fact that the little car ride (in the lower left of the photo), had to be push started by two Nicaraguan fair workers. As I was watching the goings on, I was thinking that that could be a really good book idea - a year in the life of a third world carnie...something to do after Peace Corps??

My friend Fátima and the two Melvins:
They even tried to sucker us into playing a game to win a blender, TV or iron.

In any case, I enjoyed my time in Boaco, though things got kinda strange later that night when I barely escaped a cat fight with a woman who thought I was out on a date with her husband (a nephew of the family I visited). I managed to get away with only losing a few strands of hair. Lesson learned. Stay far, far away from men. Even when out with families.

My first Fashion Show ever__________________________________

Certainly didn't think when I signed up for the Peace Corps gig I'd get the oportunity to go to a fashion show...not something I'd be inclined to do in the US, but I have to say I really enjoyed it just because it was art. Appreciation of art and creativity appear to be too luxurious yet for many Nicaraguans...and with reason as the tickets cost almost $2.50!

I went with my friend Yvette.

All the designers and models were locals.

I leaned over to Yvette when the models came out donning swanky, metalic-y attire with anteanna and feathers sticking out of their hair to tell her that I felt like we were in Paris...she said, "or on Mars."

Before the show, we got a concert by the native Nicaraguan Carlos Mejia Godoy. He and his band (los de Palacaguina) really are impressive and I was excited to see him live as I have some of his music. He is a jack of all trades - not only is he a national icon as a mucisian, he is the owner of Toro coffee (a Nicaraguan brand coffee bean), and is the running mate for a Sandanista presidential candidate for the November elections. It was a great show, though the Toro coffee paraphanalia was a bit much for me. He was really pushing it way too hard - there were free samples, he talked about it between songs, and at the end he said "Viva Chontales! Viva Nicaragua! Viva Café Toro!" Whoa, there cowboy, it's a drink, not a country.

WNBA (Women's Nicaragan Basketball Association)___________

So, I joined up for to be on the Chica Lakers basketball team. We had our first game today after two 5:30 am practices (in which only two others besides me showed up). We won, though with little thanks to me. It was so hot and humid and I'm so out of shape I could barely drag my rear from one end of the court to the other. It's great to be doing something I know how to do instead of all the new things I've been tackling lately. The only thing is now I'm a center instead of wing...

(bottom row) Itshel, Olinda, Walkiria, Indira, Aracely, Melissa, (top) Ada, and La Gringa.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Making amigos

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

Once again, I am plagued by technical problems with uploading pics...I hope someday I can put up all the ones I want to!

In any case, in the past month, I've been focusing more on making friends here since though work is going well, the lonliness was starting to get to my head. It takes a lot of time to make friends...after 8 months of being in my site, I am finally starting to be able to joke around easily with the little shop owners, stop and talk to people as I walk through town, and feel like I'm more of a part of the community. I don't think it would take so long in some of the smaller communities many volunteers are in, but my site has around 60,000 folks, and is the department capital, so there's lots of people traveling in from the satellite communities - lots of activity and new faces every day.

Getting a puppy has helped a lot with getting to know neighbors and people in the street - almost everyday as I'm walking through town I have someone I don't know ask me about Gueguense. (I'm thinking, how do they know his name and only refer to me as La Gringa??). It's also helped a lot with the piropos (catcalls) from the men in the street, which was really getting to me. Now instead of making a comment about me, they say something about him - its a real relief. I was actually considering dying my hair a mousy brown color for a while there.

Getting to know the community takes a long time. When you do errands, you don't just do what you have to do, it helps a lot to stop and talk to the shop assistants and owners. You buy some eggs at the local mom and pop shop, and you sit with them, have a coke, and talk about the weather or the upcoming fiestas patronales (patron saint party) for 20 minutes or a half hour. So, I think if I could do it over agian, I'd have stopped working so much at the beginning of my service, and just visited with everyone a lot more. But, it's hard to do that when you're a busybody anglo-saxon with a certain hardwired puritanical work ethic.

I will try tomorow to put up the pics of what's been going on - here are some random ones:

Mark, Marissa, (two voluntees that live nearby) and I watching a bootleg copy of Crash at my house:

The following three pics are by Celine - I really like them and think they're not only great shots, but great to show what Nicaraguans look like:

Bean planting started last month. Here's Erwin, a guy I met while doing some field work on water resources, planting. With the big stick, he makes a little hole in the very rocky soil, throws three beans in it, covers it a bit and moves to the next about 6 inches away or so. The following photo is the "field" - really the side of a hill - that he must plant full of beans:

An enormous cow I stumbled upon in the field.

The bus from Boaco:
York, a volunteer in El Salvador and with whom I went to school last year with at Michigan Tech, helped me andMaria, another volunteer from El Salvador get in touch, as she was coming down to Nicaragua for a conference. So we hung out for the weekend in Granada - being tourists for a change - eating phad thai and waffles, swimming, and sleeping a lot. She has lots of interesting stories since she's halfway through her third year of PC and has had 4 different sites. It was also really interesting to see how her service was so different than mine just because of how different we look. I have a hard time getting people to take me seriously somtimes for being a blonde female with cat eyes (that's what they call those with light colored eyes), they ask me a lot for money, help getting a visa, etc. On the other hand, she is constantly mistaken for a Salvadoreña, and talks about the fact that many of the people don't really value her or her work since she doesn't look like a gringa. She thinks that perhaps they are kind of disappointed with her since she looks just like they do.

The hot springs are once again in service now that the rainy season has started. Celine and I went for the afternoon. This photo captures the essence of life in the tropics :

More pics soon!