Friday, June 20, 2008

Less Then 5 Months to Go!

Mason and I have already been back here in Nicaragua for a week. We had a wonderful whirlwind trip to Colorado for Emily and Jason’s wedding. We spent two nights in Denver, three nights in Crested Butte for the wedding, and two nights in Fort Collins. Clavo and Poster flew to the U.S. with us, where they are currently content. Clavo will be living with Carol for the next few months, and Poster is with my parents in Denver. It seems as though they are both happy little gringos, enjoying the comforts of carpet, couches, wet food, dog parks and comparatively cool temperatures. As an added bonus, we discovered in Crested Butte that Clavo LOVES the snow!
It has been great to be back here, living our daily routine of working until noon, eating, reading/sleeping in the hammock, maybe working some more, visiting friends, eating again and sleeping. Yesterday and today I have been pleased to see that my students have been doing an outstanding job of taking care of our school gardens. Today in one of my rural schools we counted 30 squash plants, 25 papaya trees, 3 cantaloupe plants, 2 tomato plants, 16 green pepper plants, 2 enormous mint plants, 1 oregano, 10 green bean plants, and 4 watermelon plants. The teacher told me they ate the first squash yesterday as a part of the school lunch. I am so proud of them for caring for the garden, because sadly, most poor Nicaraguans eat very few fruits and vegetables because they cannot afford to buy them. It was recently pointed out to me that in our town of 6,000 people, there are only 4 little vegetable stands, which is about enough to feed 300 people. The reality is, the daily diet consists of red beans, rice, and corn tortilla. They do consume fruit juices, but they always contain way too much sugar. These gardens are an ideal way to make kids excited about eating fresh fruits and vegetables, since they are growing them all from seed.
My rural students are from farming families, and in working with them in our gardens, I have learned a few funny superstitions. Today the students caught me pointing various times at individual plants and the fruit growing on them. Each time I pointed, they all reprimanded me in all seriousness because if a person points at a plant bearing fruit, the plant will immediately dry up and die. After accidentally pointing various times, I finally got the hang of it and started “pointing” at plants with my entire open hand. They seemed to like that. Other interesting Nica superstitions are: One must never bathe at night because you will get sick (Mason and I both bathe at night!). One must never open the refrigerator door at night, you will get sick. Cat hair makes women sterile. A pregnant woman must never watch a solar or lunar eclipse; she will immediately lose her child.
Mason has been playing in a basketball league every Saturday and Sunday night for the past few months. It took him a while to adjust to the Nica street ball style, and to the strange calls the refs make. Mason’s final game was this past Sunday night when his team (who was favored to win the championship) lost in the first round. The crowds have been steadily building every week, but Sunday night’s game was the most crowded yet, because the team who won the most games out of 7 would go on to the championships, and both teams each had won 3 games. Tensions were high, the sky was thundering like mad, and the excited crowd was overwhelmingly cheering for the other team, since they were the underdogs. The fans of the other team were extremely riled up, and trying to mess with Mason’s team. They even brought a “marching band” for an added effect. The game was moving along smoothly, despite the disruptive crowd, when suddenly a big guy on the other team decided he wanted to make some trouble. Out of nowhere the guy gave Mas a shove and Mas was taken aback. He didn't push him back, but also didn't back down and they had a little face-off and shouting match. Basically that’s all that happened, the game went on, there was a break for a fight that broke out in the crowd, and Mason’s team eventually lost by 2 points. It was a very heated game with a few other almost-fights and multiple technical fouls. Well, the next day all around town, the only thing people were talking about was the big fight the gringo got in at the basketball game! People were telling me they saw a fist go into Mason’s jaw, others say he lost his two front teeth. I even heard that the other guy had to go to the hospital for a broken nose! All of my students know about the rumble and they think it’s SOOO COOL! It’s funny how gossip spreads here, especially if it involves the town’s only gringo. It was alsoa funny way to end Mason's basketball season.
Thank you for reading, don’t forget to remind your friends and co-workers to please donate to our TRASH TREATMENT PROJECT!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Brenna’s Updated Reading List

Since I’ve been in Nicaragua I have been lucky enough to have had the time to read 31 books. I find them in the Peace Corps book exchange in the Managua office, or by exchanging with friends. Here is an updated list of books I have read beginning with those I have read most recently.

  1. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, by Kim Edwards. About a family torn apart by the father’s secret decision to give away their daughter born with Downs Syndrome. My rating:7
  2. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. Amazingly, I had never read this before. It was of course a wonderful book, full of complex characters and tales of injustice. My rating: 9(East of Eden is still the best book I’ve ever read).
  3. A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah. This is a first hand account of the life of a child soldier in Sierra Leone. Beah doesn’t hold back any gory details, making it a remarkably shocking and gruesome book, but it’s an excellent view into the destruction and suffering plaguing so many African countries. My rating:7
  4. Freakonomics, by Stephen Levvitt and Steven Dubner. Levvitt is a young and brilliant economist who looks at common issues and asks unlikely questions, leading to sometimes shocking answers. The section that I found most interesting was how he links the falling crime rate of the 1990’s to the legalization of abortion 20 years prior, with Roe v. Wade. He claims that all of the unwanted babies that weren’t born would have begun causing crime (they would have been in their late teens and early 20’s), and because they weren’t born, the crime rate went down. This is just one of the interesting theories he discusses in the book. My rating: 6
  5. On The Wild Edge, by David Petersen. This was recommended by Mason. In this book, the author describes his quiet life living in an isolated cabin in the woods near Durango, Colorado. He is a minimalist who prefers the company of the natural world to that of the city or towns. My rating:8
  6. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. This book was so much fun to read! It follows a train-based traveling circus in the 1930’s. I loved the funny characters the fun pace and the interesting situations they get into! Rating: 9
  7. The Old Patagonia Express, by Paul Theroux. This is the first Theroux book I have read, and I didn’t really like it. It’s his account of his travels by train from Boston down to Patagonia. The book was basically boring and depressing, which I guess well describes third world train travel. My rating: 4
  8. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins. A must-read for all Peace Corps Volunteers, since Perkins was a PCV as well! This paints a bleak picture of the US’s imperialist ways, and how our government would and will do just about anything to protect our own interests. It involves the CIA (naturally), USAID (which surprised me), other government entities and multi-national corporations committing scandalous “economic” crimes to suppress third world economies. The truth is, these tactics still occur today. No wonder much of the world hates us. Are we paying for our past today? My rating: 9
  9. The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh. Thanks to Mike Doyle for sending us off to Nicaragua with this book. Our copy is now underlined and starred and highlighted, it’s so full of good thoughts and practices. Its main message is to live and think in the moment. “Wash the dishes to wash the dishes, not just to get them done.” We should take our time with all that we do, and always do everything well. This book will be read many more times. My rating: 9
  10. A Framework for Understanding Poverty, by Ruby Payne. This is a quick academic study on generational poverty, which I found extremely useful in understanding things here in Nicaragua. Poverty has the same characteristics worldwide. Nicaraguan poverty is inherently the same as Harlem poverty, or Indian poverty. She argues that poverty places a lot of value on entertainment, which explains the constant TV. watching, too loud music, and loud funny personalities. She also says people living in generational poverty don’t have planning skills, and discipline is not based on an expected behavior change. She argues that society (the system) is based on middle class norms that generational poverty cannot thrive in, because they don’t understand the rules. My rating: 7.5 (recommended to Peace Corps Volunteers and teachers).
  11. The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay. This was once my favorite book, so I decided to read it again. The story follows the life of young Peekay, a South African boy of English descent. I loved the characters that shaped his life, especially Hoppie, Doc and Morrie. My rating: 9

The rest of the books are listed in a previous blog entry. Click Here to check them out.