Monday, May 31, 2010

Quiere un nino?

While all the rest of you were probably eating hot dogs and drinking beer this past Memorial Day weekend, I have been in the land of Mamas. It was Nicaraguan Mother's Day and just like good old Memorial day in the states its a three day weekend. Anything that even closely resembles a holiday here gets a day off work. When the big ones roll around its much more time. Easter, for example, gets you a week of relaxation. And the entire country pretty much shuts down from the end of November to mid January for Christmas. Ridiculous. Anyways, I went into Ocotal on Friday night and Saturday day, and realized that Mothers Day here could have a different name entirely. Rotisserie chicken day! They were everywhere. Grocery stores, pulperias, the side of the street. I have never seen so many in one place.

I came home Saturday afternoon and the talk to the town was a pueblo-wide fiesta that was happening that night. I decided to go with my host sister and brother and check it out. I was wearing jeans and a tank top, she was wearing a very fancy dress with sparkle makeup covering her chest and eyes. She fit in more than I did. The night was going pretty well. Everyone was dancing, lots of people were laughing at my inability to bootyshake. Then, BOOM. FIGHT! Two bolos started fighting, crashed into a table and slammed into a speaker. One had walked away with what looked like a broken nose. I advised him to the centro de salud. If only I had an alcoholism pamphlet handy. The party died down pretty quickly after that.

The following day was the actual "Dia de los Madres". All of Dona Martha's 74 children were in attendance. It wasn't exactly that many but she does have a ton of kids. We baked a cake. It was a lovely time. Another guest at our little celebration was Dona Marthas mother. A very old woman, yet she arrived with a small child in tow. We were chatting, and I asked who the child was, where were the parents, ect. She was speaking very quickly, so I had hard time getting everything she was telling me but the gist was that she was caring for the boy. She then, in much slower and clearer Spanish, asked me if i had any interest in adopting. Slightly stunned, I asked her to repeat herself and she once again said "would you like to adopt him? you know bring him with you to the states." Flabbergasted, I tried to politely explain that no, I am not in the market for a young Nicaraguan child. I am too young and definitely not mature enough for a baby.
"What about your mother?" she counters.
"Excuse me?"
"Your mother! Your mother in the United States! Would she like to adopt a baby?"
"I dont think shes really interested in adopting either."
I then started to explain the normal range of child rearing in the states. How I am too young for children, and my mom has already raised her two and wouldn't really want to start all over. The grandmother walked away while I was mid-sentence. I dont think she wanted to be my friend.

That ended my Mother's Day celebration. I couldnt risk more random relative trying to pan their children off on me or my family so I went to bed. It was 730.

Monday, May 17, 2010

cleaning and claro

hey everyone sorry its been almost a month since ive posted but being in site has been quite a roller coaster and i promise this will be a good one if you stick with me. And by roller coaster I mean my emotions are absolutely out of control while my day to day life is about as low key as it has ever been. On a day to day basis I get up around 730 and go to bed around 9.. crazy huh?? Living in Totogalpa has definately been a change of pace from the business that was training. No one is here telling me what to do, where to go, who to talk to. This is both a blessing and a curse. Lately Ive been hanging out in my centro de salud in the mornings trying to prepare for chalas i will give in the future, making papelografo and looking up words and phrases i dont understand. I started to give classes on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in the school to 5th and 6th grade which I thought would be a smooth transition into volunteer life. For one, let me explain that the schools here are nothing like you (or I) have seen in the states. No one has control over the classroom. Teachers scream over students. Kids talk out of turn. They walk out of class without any reprimand. I thought at first that all this commotion was due to me not only being an outsider in the school system but also an anomily in the community. As I may have mentioned in a past post I am the only white person my town has seen for the past 5 years. After talking to the teachers and sitting in on some other classes I realize this is just how school is in Nicaragua. Its not disrespect, its just the mode of education here. I naively thought I could change this behavior by pinning up a list of rules and standing till the class fell to silence. Fail. The class got even more out of hand. Thank god I have a loud voice, because without screaming my messages about self esteem, nutricion and safe sex, they would reach no one. This is not to say that my time in the school system has gone to waste. Children all over the community know my name now, along with their parents. These are including children I dont interact with directly (again, and not to be cocky, but Im kinda a big deal in a community that rarely has outsiders fall into its mist).

I would now like to shread some light on the day to day living conditions that have become my reality. I have absolutely no reason to complain as I have a family who would bend over backwards to help me adjust, speak to me in the painfully slow spanish I require to communicate, and totally understand my absence (clearly to visit other volunteers) that has been the reality 4 out of the 5 weekends I have lived in site. The one weekend I have stayed here was this past one. Solely out of guilt and financial shame. But now down to the nitty gritty of why its awkward.. They stare at me all. the. time. I sit in my hammock and read. they stare. I eat dinner (everything on the plate including cheese and tortilla, fried). they stare. I wash clothes. they stare. this has actually become a neighborhood passtime. "Lets watch the gringa wash her clothes" they say. And let me tell you, it is an entertaining event for them because I clearly doing it wrong. Day one since I came here I have had the women in my family tell me how I am too busy to wash clothes, sweep my house, make my bed, ect. I am one of few women in Totogalpa that has a day to day job. That being said. along with the fact that I am an outsider they find me incompetent to do any daily chore. Normally I would be all about this. You want to clean my house? sure. Wash my clothes? if you feel the calling, go for it! However, here I feel the need to prove myself not only as a productive member of the community but also as a fully functional FEMALE worker. This means I need to handle all my household chores as well as my working responsibilities. This sounds much more daunting than it is. Handling this still leaves me 3-5 hours a day to read in my hammock. But hey, Im breaking the mold. Anyways back to the clothes. The women here scrub their and their families clothing clothes against rocks to get out the stains that are inevitable from their children playing in the mud and their husbands doing serious manual labor. I try to explain to them that this is unnecassary for me and that my clothes are too delicate for this kind of handling. Again, Fail. After letting my clothes soak in a bath of water and detergent that is customary before washing here, I come outside to see the mother of my house scrubbing my jeans telling me that she would just like me to wear something clean. They are clearly concerned. Jeans are hard to wash, so I just let i happen. Alls well that ends well.

My most recent disaster has to do with trying to get wireless internet for my laptop. So fechencha, but I dont really care. The internet cafes here are open on a whim and rarely have comupters that work. Along these lines I have decided to get a modem (something that looks more like a flash drive) for my laptop. Think 3G network from Verizon. I go to the store for the first time about two weeks ago and they give me a list of things I need as long as the list I recieved for my college Western Civ class in college. Bank statements, water and electric bills, passport, visa, family tree with a lineage dating back to the 12th century. Ok, that last one was a joke but you get my drift. This is a pain in the ass. So I finally gather up all the required documents and go to the Claro store, this is the Verizon equivalent of the states. They spend 45 minutes on the phone talking about the fact that I have an American bank account. Multiple times I was asked if this was an account from Spain or Central America. No, I say, thinking if I had a bank account in one of these places wouldnt I be better at Spanish. Wouldn't I know how to say "bank account" in Spanish at the very least?? Eventually they turn back to me. Only national accounts allowed. Fine, I say. Im going to transfer all my money into Bancentro (my Nicaraguan money handler). Ok, great well see you in an hour dictates the lovely Claro employee. Lines at Nica banks and ridiculous rules, like you cant get a statement at the counter, are nothing like you have ever seen in the US. Im going to spare you the details of these 2 hours. I re-enter the store bright faced and optimistic. Hello, I say, Im ready to buy my motem. The girl gives me a happy face smile. I am thinking, this is fantastic. Im getting internet, shes getting a commission. Everybody wins. We actually dont have the motem you need in stock. I fall into a pit of anger and depression. Thank god I still dont know how to say curse words in Spanish because in this sitution I would have let it rain. Two weeks later and several visits to the Claro store I am still without internet. Thats all Im going to say about this experience because I am still trying to censor myself for my younger readers.

Other than the Claro debacle my life has been calm. I still miss the states and all of you a lot but hopefully I may be seeing some of you sooner than you or I thought. More to come on that later. Write me!! Seriously.
PS.. This is a list of Spanish terms that I have been using or probably will use in my blog without realizing that you guys dont know what im talking about. Entonces, here is a glossery:
•entonces - soo..., about that
•funchenta - fancy, unnessary
•feo - ugly
•centro de salud - health center, all free
•charla - health talk, educational talks
•papelografo - big sheets of white paper that i prepare my notes on. Ghetto powerpoint.
•casa materna - home for pregnant women in their 9th month as to make sure they give birth in a proper facility
•alcaldia - mayors office
•counterpart - a person that is assigned to work with me by peace corps
•MINSA - ministerio de salud, the overiding health system in Nicaragua. in charge of the centros de salud
•Claro - Nicaraguan Verizon, death
•NGO - non governmental organization (think Nica Red Cross)
•campo - the country part of Nicaragua, without paved roads, proper schools, or teeth for that matter
•bolo - drunk man
•gallo pinto - mix of rice and beans that I eat for breakfast and dinner each day
•panedarea - bakery and central to my survival
•Ocotal - the closest big city to me

Members of my family you should know
•Carmen Maria - the girl that takes care of me, feeds me, ect. 21 years old.
•Dr Blanco - my boss at the centro de salud and husband to Carmen Maria (25 yrs her senior.. awk..) and im pretty sure he has another family in a city 5 hours from here. more awk.
•Elvin and Ramon Ariel - teenage brothers. Ramon Ariel is not in school and no one seems to care saying that it "basically didnt agree with him.. at age 10." not ok.
•Charon - adorable 2 year old girl who lives with the below couple and is my "niece"
•Carlos and Jorlene - my brother and sister in law who live next door
•Dona Marta - mother of Carmen Maria, lives in the campo and along that line has approximately 4 teeth. love me some Nica dental care
•Carlito - the bane of my existence. endulged 4 year boy whose origens are relatively unknown who cries at the drop of hat (to get his way) and doesnt wear clothes. only tighty whities. always. never, ever shoes.
•Don Fransisco - bolo brother of Dona Marta who loves me and hates medical care. He broke his arm are refused to put on a cast until they said they would have to amputate

talk to you soon!

Monday, April 19, 2010

My life..

I have officially swore in as a Peace Core Volunteer! I spent a glorious 4 days in Managua in a hotel with good food, internet, and a grocery store within walking distance that sold Lays sour cream and onion potato chips. Life was good. I have now moved to my site and after a week of living in Totogalpa I could tell you a boring story about how Ive been floundering around the town trying to get my bearings, but I wont. Because even I dont want to hear that story, and its my life. Instead Im going to tell you about some of the more colorful people and events Ive encountered in my short time here...

There are two resident "locos" who live in Totogalpa. I think they both know about the other and try to one-up their competition in craziness. One woman walks all around the town wearing a bath robe. She hangs out at the health center, roams the streets, and passes a decent amount of time in my backyard. Some of you may just think this is quirky. I have yet to mention that she also carries around an old, extremely rusty machete whereever she goes. The thing that gets me most is that no one in the town seems to have a problem with it! She walks around in her bright pink robe, brandishing her extremely large knife and everyone just laughs it off. I actually think she has more access in the town than the average person. Comes and goes as she pleases, no one fearing that one day shes going to snap and slaughter their dog. There is also a real life warewolf living in my site. This man wears no shoes, has hair so matted and disshelveled that i think you would need to shave it off to comb it, and wears cloths that are ripped and two short. He also goes really crazy some days and starts to hit himself and yell what im sure are obscenities that i dont understand at the sky. The first time I witnessed this I literally ran in the other direction and had to find another way home. I believe him to be a warewolf because everyone told me he only gets nuts when there is a full moon. I will observe him and the moon patterns more closely and write back with updates.

I attended a "cultural night" in the park a few days ago expecting to see some Nicaraguan dancers and hear some traditional music. What I encountered was FAR better. The cultural director of the town (yes, thats a job) acted as MC and may I say he took his job very seriously. He acted as DJ, announcer, game show host, and that guy who gets the crowd cheering at talk shows all at the same time. The show started off relatively calm except for this mans excellent announcing skills, but we were all in for a treat when the rapping and booty shaking began. Duos of teenagers gave rap proformances set to the backdrop of some of our favorites, such as Bootylitcous and Glamourous. Then came the dancing. I clearly remember the MC warning the crowd to "toma su medicina si su corazon no esta fuerte" or take your pills if you have a bad heart. 6 rather chubby girls with mini-skirts and belly-shirts took the stage and proceeded to shake it.. at completely different rhythms. The climax to the show happened when the skys randomly opened up and started pouring rain on these girls. Maybe someone was trying to tell them to keep their day job.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Friday I am going to become an official volunteer! We are going to be swearing-in in Managua and then it is off to our sites. So scary. I visited Totogalpa about a week ago and definately got a dose of reality about peace corps living. Latrines. The only running water is in some outdoor sink. 3-4 hours of electricity a day. excellent. I actually am really excited though. I met all the people I will be working with for the next two years and everyone seems really excited and enthusiastic about me being there. They do however all think I am qualified to give therapy. In Nicaragua when you major in something in the university you become whatever it is that you studied. For example, there is no medical school here. Doctors go to the university for 5 years and when they are finished they are licenced physicians. When I went on my site visit and told the people in the health center that i majored in biology and psychology they were very impressed and said I would be able to help them a lot in there office. At first I was flattered. Then i realized that they thought I was both a clinical psychologist and qualified to do lab work or was a nurse (which is what you become with a Biology degree here). Despite my best efforts to convince them that NO i am by no means qualified to give psychological advice, they do not believe me. I would not be surprised to return to Totogalpa on Sunday and have my own little consulting room. Another stereotype i am facing in my new home is that all Americans are amazing artists. Upon minutes of arriving at the health center I was asked to draw to scale a map of the municipality. I tried to explain to them that my drawing ability consisted of making stick figures but again to no avail. I then proceded to trace the map off a large one that they already had in the office only proving to them that I am indeed the excellent artist they expected. They have also tried to commission me to paint of mural of a nursing mother on the front wall. I need to find a way to politely decline so if anyone has any ideas.. Then again maybe if i just paint it, that will be the end of the artist debaucle when they realize that I am not in fact a muralist. Nicaraguans have lots of crazy notions about what ALL Americans are good at or like and when you try to explain that no, this is in fact not the case they just look at you with a stare that says "crazy gringo! she doesnt even know about her own people". In general all the people are very well meaning and Im really excited to get to work out there. My spanish hasnt quite reached the level i need so I will be getting a tutor in my site! woohoo! i need as much help as i can get haha. Ill write again soon when I get to site. Hopefully at that point I will have dispelled most of the rumors that are floating around about my nonexistant talents.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Site!!

Hey everyone! Sorry I haven’t posted in a while but I have lots of stuff to tell you!
First off, last week I took a trip to Chinendega (aka the hottest place on the planet) for HIV/AIDS week. We spent 3 nights there in a hotel with a pool which was a nice little mini-vacay. The week was so busy that we didn’t have much time to relax. I had charlas every day until like 8 or 9 at night but we got to eat at some restaurants which was great. I ate Chinese and Mexican food which is absolutely nothing like Nicaraguan food. Coming here I thought “This is gonna be great! I love Taco Bell” but alas, I was very very wrong in that assumption. When reflecting on what I miss about home, eating out is definitely number one on my list. However, it is followed VERY closely by laying on the couch and drinking wine. Kinda a toss up. Oh and FYI, they don’t have wine OR couches here! Ok that’s a lie, but I have seen very few houses that have a traditional living room set. There are rocking chairs everywhere and living in rum country I have yet to see an affordable bottle of wine. But I digress.. There were 2 highlights to my trip and they were on very opposite ends of the spectrum. First, I got to give a charla to firefighters about HIV. Sounds lame but this is what my life is now and it was actually really fun. My group of 8 arrived at the station ready to blow these firefighters minds with knowledge only to find 3 guys sitting in an empty firehouse. That is correct, we outnumbered the men by 5 (7 if you count the 2 volunteers who were there to supervise). The chief was really great though and went out into the street and park to drag random men and boys into the station to listen to us talk. I was intimidated at first about speaking to a group of men. A little background: Nicaragua has a very machismo culture where masculinity rules and disrespecting women is a very common occurrence. Men are constantly tsk-tsking at women in the streets which is the Nica form of a catcall. A little more sneaky than a straight out whistle, which I think is actually worse. I was nervous about standing up in front of a group of men as a white American woman whose Spanish definitely leaves something to be desired. It actually went great! Our group did an amazing job and the men were really responsive. We even got a bunch of guys to do condom demos and they were excited about learning the material. The experience gave me a different perspective on Nica men. Not all are the machismo vagas that roam the streets. The other fun part of the trip was a visit to the beach. It was my first time going to the beach since I’ve been here and my first time ever swimming in the Pacific. The ocean was beautiful and everyone had a good time swimming and playing in the waves.

The other big news from the past few weeks is I KNOW MY SITE!!!! For the next two years I am going to be living in Totogalpa, Madriz. It is a smaller site in a mountainous region about 3 hours from Managua. At first I was a little upset about my placement but after learning more about it I’m actually really excited. Totogalpa is very close to Ocotal (only about 15 minutes) and Somoto which are 2 larger cities in the north. There are also a lot of other volunteers in the area and, while I don’t have a site mate, there are 2 girls in my group that are only about 20 minutes away from me. The last volunteer in Totogalpa was over 2 years ago, so essentially I am starting from scratch which I am excited about. This gives me the freedom to work on the projects I am passionate about rather than following up someone else’s work. There is a Casa Materna in my site which was one of the things I was pushing hard for during my site interview. Casa Maternas are a cool concept that we have no equivalent for in the states. Women journey to the Casas Maternas during their final weeks of pregnancy and stay there until they have their baby. In essence, it is a hostel for pregnant women which I think is such a fun concept. The idea behind it is that health officials are pushing for more institutionalized births to try to decrease the rate of maternal and infant mortality. Their goal is to have every women give birth in a health center or hospital. In the states this would never be a problem, but here there are many communities that are hours from the closest Centro de Salud. If a woman waits until she goes into labor to head to a health facility she could often times give birth right on the side of the road. In some of the rural communities it could be a 3 or 4 hour walk or horse ride. If a woman lives in a rural community she can stay in the Casa Materna for up to a week after she gives birth. I’m really excited about working with groups of pregnant women. Friday I am going to visit my site for a week which is going to be insane. I will go with my counterpart and spend the week with the family I will live with for at least the first 6 weeks. A counterpart is someone who works for the Ministry of Health (or MINSA) who is assigned to be my work partner. Its going to be really awkward. No one speaks English in Totogalpa so Im going to have lots of practice with my Spanish. I can’t wait to get there and see what its all about but I’m also really scared to leave the safety and comfort of my current host family, training town, and basically the cocoon that Peace Corps has made for us in during training. The most awkward thing is that I have to negotiate prices for food and rent with the family while Im there. In Spanish. Its going to be excellent haha. Ill take tons of pics when Im there and put them online. Right now my pics are only on facebook but im going to find another online place to put them so those of you who don’t have facebook can see them too.

Miss you all! Send mail :)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Volunteer Visit

Hey everyone sorry its been so long since my last post but I have been crazy busy for the last 2 weeks. Our schedule has kicked in full force and I am now giving charlas and meeting with my youth group on a fairly regular basis.

I spent this past week visiting Rio Blanco, Matagalpa which is about as far east as you can go without entering the autonomous northern region of RAAN. Despite what it may look like on a map (pretty much directly in the middle of central america) it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I left my training town on Sunday morning to take a crowded bus to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. This was my first time traveling alone and since my Spanish is still far from perfect I was a little nervous about my trip. I traveled to the capital with a lot of the other trainees but from there I was on my own for the 5 hour journey into the mountianous region of Nicaragua. Luckily, I happened upon some Belgiun exchange students who were headed in the same direction to a rural community to do a survey on water quality. They, along with their very accomidating teacher, made sure I got on the correct bus and did not end up heading south instead of north.

When nearing my destination, a blond haired blue eyed American approached me and asked if my name was Jen and I was in the Peace Corps. Startled that she knew who I was, yet happy to speak to someone in English, I told her that yes I was a PCV. She explained to me that she lived in Rio Blanco and was friends with the volunteer I was headed to visit. She said she would get me safely to his house (which made me feel good) however then proceeded to tell me all about the dangers of Nicaragua all of which I am already acutely aware (which made me feel bad). Needless to say this girl had me scared to death by the time I got off the bus. She eventually led me to my volunteer (Mike's) house where she left me to ask about 54,000 questions. He had a sweet living situation which I hope is similar to what I will have in my site. He lived in a larger house which was separate from that of his host family, providing him privacy but still being part of the family. The city was gorgeous. It was situated in the mountains, giving some amazing views but causing some problems for us walking around in the 100 degree heat. The trip was meant for me to see what its like to be a volunteer. The main thing I noticed was the lack of structure you have as a Health PCV. Right now my life is very rigidly structured by classes, charlas, and studying, so it was nice to see that volunteers are not restricted to this kind of schedule.

The best part of the trip was hiking up to this waterfall. The fall dropped into a lagoon so if you were willing to climb up the rocks you could jump into a small lake. I decided to brave it but definately fell a couple times and have some not so attractive bruises to show for my clumsiness. I put the pics up from the trip on facebook so check them out.

Now Im waiting to hear about my placement. Its a really stressful time and the whole group is buzzing about where they hope their site will be. Ill keep you all updated on whats going on in the next few weeks! Miss you all every day!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Fiesta

Hi everyone! This past week has been by far the most entertaining one I have had while in Nicaragua (not that I have been here for that long). Last weekend my town of Santa Teresa had a "fiesta patronales" which is a big Catholic festival which included a rodeo, beauty pagent, horse parade, and 4 am Meriachi band wake up call.

Everyone in town has been talking about this fiesta since my arrival. It is one of two very large events Santa Teresa holds every year and the people of this town are very proud of it. It started off Thursday night with a performance of native dances. I liked the Carribean dances the best because there were basically a competition on who could shake it the best. The costumes were amazing and again you could tell how much pride the town took in representing themselves and their culture. Friday night the dances continued acting as intermissions for the Miss Santa Teresa pagent (ok, thats not what it was actually called but you get the idea). A representative from each neighborhood took the stage in 3 categories: sportswear, costumes, and formalwear. The sportswear section had the girls in booty shorts and tanktops dancing around to the roaring approval of the crowd. The costume round consisted of the girls in flashy but beautiful vegas style outfits with each peice representing a part of their culture. The each neighborhood fanbase was very invested in their girl and a fight even broke out among the crowd. My Spanish is still pretty shakey but this was my interpretation of the confrontation.
Drunk man 1: man that chick is ugly
Drunk man 2: you better not be talkin about my neighborhood girl like that
Drunk man 1: Uhh.. I think I just did
And fight erupts...

Saturday I attended a rodeo, and to actually call it a rodeo is to use the term loosely. Bulls were let loose in a ring filled with extremely drunk men who decided that it was a great idea to taunt the bulls for sport. Their only means of safety from the raging beasts was to dart under a wood fence seconds before the bull completed its attack. The rodeo occured again on Sunday and some of those "barachos" (drunks) were not so lucky. Word around town is that 2 men were too slow and fell victim to the extremely pissed-off bull. They were speared in the gut and despite the best efforts of the medics that were standing by, they could not be saved. Thankfully I was not in attendance for this massacre and rather, was watching the Hipica, or horse parade. Cowboys paraded though town for over an hour making their horses dance for the crowd. People from all the surrounding towns came in for this event, bringing with them tons of street food and trinkets for sale. With lack of better judgement and an intense longing for my favorite foods of home I indulged in a hot dog and slice of pizza from a street vendor. The pizza tasted as if it had ketchup in place of marrinara sauce and the hot dog wasnt so much of a hot dog as it was a skinny peice of unidentifiable mean smothered in what I think were onions. How I didn't wake up vomitting or have some crazy uncurable parasite the next day I will never know.

Since the fiesta, my life has been pretty low key. Taking lots of classes and try to break this stubborn talking in English habit! Ill update again soon

Oh! here is my address (i like mail):
Jennifer Luiz, PCT
Voluntario del Cuerpo de Paz
Aparto Postal 3256
Managua, Nicaragua
Central America