Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Did somebody say care package?

List of goodies for care package (in no particular order)

...Dark Chocolate
...Magazines / Articles (Mountain Gazette, Yoga Journal, Climbing, Economist, Discover, Rolling Stone, NOT Newsweek (we already get that)…)
...Hot Tamales and/or Skittles and/or Twizzlers/Red Vines
...Cranberry flavored Emergen-C
...iTunes Gift cards
...Burned copies of good CD’s or DVD’s (SNL, Simpsons, Seinfeld…)
...Pictures of you having fun (we’d love to be able to show you to our new friends)
...AA and AAA batteries
...Good books or suggestions
...Any random fun things that you can think of

**We are in no way implying that you should send us anything. We are simply responding to many questions about what we would like if we were to hypothetically receive packages. We will have a PO Box soon (likely by December) and we’ll let you know. Until then, any mail can reach us via: Cuerpo de Paz, Mason Wiebe or Brenna Brooks-Larson, Apartado Postal 3256, Managua, Nicaragua. Be sure to write Air Mail on anything.

More pics again...

So, the other day we saw some monkeys in the trees on the side of the road. Pretty cool since I´ve never seen monkeys outside of the zoo. I know this is a pretty bad photo, but I had to use the digital zoom.

This is a drainage flowing into Lake Nicaragua. Pretty polluted.

Here is a group of us that went to Granada. That´s Lake Nicaragua in the background.

This is a picture that Brenna took of a kid in her town. I really like it.


This weekend, 6 of us went to Granada. It is a great colonial city on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. It’s pretty touristy, but not so touristy to be annoying. It was the first time we really went anywhere just to wander around. It felt really good to get out of our training towns for the day. Training is starting to wear a lot of us down. Every day is so structured and we are always either in language class or one of a seemingly endless supply of meetings or workshops. It was nice to have a break. I’ll put up some pictures later.

In a couple of days we will learn where our site will be, and then we will go visit it for about a week. During that time we will meet the people we will be working with, the family we will stay with for the first few weeks in site, and probably other important people like the mayor and the police. We will also try to look for a house to live in, and for places to buy things like beds and refrigerators, etc.

When we get to our site for good (a day or two after Thanksgiving, which I think we get to have at the embassy) the PC will give us a settling-in allowance that will help us buy necessities such as a bed and stove, etc. After that we will receive a monthly stipend from the PC that will be about the same as what a teacher here makes (you don’t even want to know what that is in US $). The stipend will be enough to pay rent and buy food and take buses.

Speaking of buses, they are the primary form of transportation here. Most people don’t have cars. In fact it is quite rare to own a car. Buses run to almost all of the towns. The majority of them are old school buses from the states. They are still big and yellow with the same seats and sticky floors. Some have been painted, but some still say things like “Tulsa Public Schools” on the side. There are also quite a bit of “microbuses” which are a bit bigger than mini-vans, but which hold on average 20 passengers, not comfortably. Also, on most buses, there are no scheduled stops, just a beginning and an end. Just let the driver know if you want them to stop and they will, even in the middle of the highway. I am able to get off right in front of my house. Also, if you happen to be standing on the side of the highway, and you signal, the bus will stop for you. This system, combined with the state of the highways here can make a 7 kilometer trip take 30 minutes.

It has been raining for the last 8 days, mas o menos, and because of that I have no clean clothes. Here is why. All of the laundry here is done by hand and then dries on a clothesline. If it is raining, then the clothes don’t dry. I tried hanging a few things in my room, but with the humidity brought on by the rain, they never dried and now smell funny. There are many things like this that make me realize how nice we have it in the States without really knowing it.

I gotta go. Thanks for all of your e-mails.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Another round of pictures.

This is our friend Elliott. He lives with Mason and he´s posing here with the puppies his host-dog had a few days earlier. I think he´ll take that one to his site with him.

This is the active crater of Volcan Masaya. We went there a couple of weeks ago. It is a national park and we were able to tour the area with a guide. We also got to go into some caves that were formed during one of the eruptions. I think the last one was in the 1700s.

Here is another photo from the top of a cathedral in Leon. The volcano in the distance is called Mombotombo.

This is a tasty fruit called pitayah and it really is hot pink. It grows on a cactus-like vine that grows on a jicaro tree. It looks a bit like an artichoke, but the leaves arent edible. It makes a great juice with a bit of sugar and some lime juice.

Friday, October 20, 2006

What are we doing here? 10.16.06

Peace Corps has 5 different sectors in Nicaragua: Health, TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), Small Business Development, Agriculture, and Environmental Education. Brenna and I are in the Environmental Education (EE) sector and we will primarily be working in elementary schools.

Our goal is to work with teachers in at least three schools and help them to incorporate environmental curriculum into their classes. In the beginning, we will be observing classes and eventually we will teach classes about the environment. Ideally the teachers will observe our teaching and learn from us because the next step is to co-plan and co-teach with them, and finally observe them using the new teaching methods, strategies and curriculum that we have taught them. We’ll see how well it goes.

We will be working for two school years, so we will definitely get to know the schools and teachers. Here, the School year begins in late January or early February and ends in late November. So, we will get to our site just as school is ending for the “summer” and we will have a couple of months to try to get to know the community and get an idea of the people we will be working with. This will also be a great time to work on my Spanish.

Down here there are a number of environmental issues, but in most communities the major concerns are deforestation and what to do with trash. Both of these problems are greatly compounded by the economic situation of the people here. Many people are only able to think about making sure they have enough food for their families, so anything else takes a backseat. Many forested areas have been clear-cut to make room for cattle grazing and trees are also cut down for firewood, as many families use woodstoves to cook their food.

I always think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (basically that people have certain needs i.e. food, shelter… that must be met before others can be achieved i.e. fun, nice things, education, self-actualization) when I see the environmental challenges facing this nation. I think that until people don’t have to worry about food and clothes and shelter, it will be very hard to convince them to stop cutting down trees for firewood or to stop throwing their trash in the streets. I know that all of these problems can eventually be worked out with education, but that is another thing that costs money, which most of these people don’t have. I guess that is where our work comes in…

Check back for more rantings or random Nica tidbits.

Hasta luego.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

More pictures

Here is a really skinny dog. They´re everywhere. Most of them have owners, but dogs here are seen more as guards than companions.

Brenna took this picture of medicinal herbs for sale in the market here. Everyone I´ve met knows all of the plants and which ones are good for which ailments. It´s very interesting.

This is the church in my town at sunset. Most towns have a Catholic church attached to a park in the center of town.

In front of my house. Those are my host nephews and a friend with their new cow. Nothing out of the ordinary here.

These two perritos are Pimienta (in the back) and Clavito (up front) and they belong to Brenna´s host family. This picture was taken right when we got here, so they´re a bit bigger now but just as cute. I´m pretty sure we are going to take Clavito with us.

I recently found out that you can click on any picture and make it bigger. For that reason I am making them smaller on the screen because it is faster. Enjoy!!

Friday, October 13, 2006

This is a view from my front porch. The volcano is called Mombacho, and the City of Granada is on the other side. I love having this view every day.

Here we are on top of a church in the city of Leon. There were great views of the Nica volcanoes from up there and it´s the biggest church in Central America! Pretty cool. And if you´re into poetry, the tomb of Ruben Dario is inside.

We've finally started a blog...

Hello and welcome to our blog. We hope to add to this often so that we can keep you all updated with our lives as Peace Corps Volunteers in Nicaragua. We are both Environmental Education (EE) volunteers, so we will be working with teachers, trying to help them infuse environmental ed. into their classes. We will also be involved in various other projects, but we’ll have to wait and see what those will be.

Right now (early October) we are in training. Training varies depending on your language ability, so Brenna and I are having completely (almost) different experiences. Since she was practically fluent in Spanish before coming here, she had only 2 weeks of language class and I think it was pretty informal. I, on the other hand, could put together maybe one or two sentences at a time that consisted of no more than 5 words.

It is amazing how organized it is. There are three different sectors in our training class: EE, Agriculture, and English (TEFL). We were first split up by sector, and then by language ability. So all of the Ag volunteers are training in one part of the country, all of the TEFL in another part of the country… Then, in each sector, we are further grouped according to our Spanish ability. So I live (during training) in a town with 2 other EE trainees who spoke almost no Spanish before this. Near our town, all of the other EE trainees live in 4 separate towns with people of similar abilities. We get together with all of the other EE trainees every Friday and have meetings and classes all day, and also in the afternoons on Wednesdays. All day Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and half a day on Wednesday, I am in Spanish class.

Class is non-formal. There are 3 of us and most days we have 2 teachers. The focus is really on us being able to communicate and interact with the community. We spend the vast majority of class speaking. We also walk around town and practice talking to different people. A huge chunk of our learning comes from just talking to our families, since they obviously don’t speak English. I really am amazed that I’ve only been here for 5 weeks and I’m already able to carry on conversations and do things I didn’t think I’d be able to do with my language ability. It’s really exciting.

Another aspect of training is the technical side: teaching and doing environmental activities. We have spent a bit of time observing in elementary schools, and I even taught a 45 minute lesson in a 3rd grade class! After only 4 weeks of Spanish class!! The people who were already fluent have taught more than that, but they don’t have the whole language obstacle to overcome. We (the other trainees in my town and me) have also formed a group of 6th grades with whom we have built a vivero (tree nursery). It is quite small; we planted 50ish seeds and about half are growing. It is mostly just for practice, but we hope to have the kids transplant the trees elsewhere after we leave our training town and go to our permanent sites.

Speaking of our permanent site, we will find out in about 2 weeks I think. I am not allowed to say here specifically where we will be ( it’s a Peace Corps policy to protect our safety), but if you want to come visit or are just wondering, we’ll let you know some other way where it is we will be living. Right now during training, we are living in the Department (like a state) of Corazo, which is in between the big lake and the Pacific Ocean. No, we haven’t been to the beach yet, but we plan to soon.

I’m running out of time, but I think we’ll be able to update this more frequently in the future. Be sure to e-mail us if you have any specific questions.

The picture above is of some kids in the park in my town. I'll try to add more later, but it takes a while.