Saturday, July 19, 2008

Em and J's Wedding in Crested Butte!

We were lucky enough to be able to come home for this fun and beautiful wedding on June 8.

Such a beautiful scene!

July, Corinne, me, Mandy and Em celebrating Em's big day!

Clavo running his heart out in the Colorado Mountains!

Clavo LOVES the snow!

Zac, Nicole, me and Carol hiking in CB.

Some of the bridesmades at the wedding.

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.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Hurricane Alma

So, we lived through a hurricane last night! We're fine but have a hole in our kitchen ceiling and lost 2 1/2 trees from our yard.
We likely won't have power or water for a week or so as all of the power lines are blown down and all of the municipal water pumps are electric. At least we're going to the US in a few days. Hopefully all will be back to normal when we get back. Because of the electricity issue, we likely won't post for a while.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Strike Ended...

... a couple of days after the last post. The whole thing lasted just under two weeks, I think. Most buses started up again last Saturday (17th) and all started up the following Monday (19th). So things were pretty much back to normal after that.
Also, since the last posting the rainy season has begun! On Tuesday evening it started coming down hard, once again turning our streets into rivers. We got a rain free morning Wednesday then it started once again that afternoon and rained until Thursday afternoon. A little sprinkle followed that evening and since then (it is now Saturday morning) we have just had lots of clouds but no rain. People are talking about another Tropical Depression so maybe we'll have more storms. I sure hope so.
I know that once the rainy season becomes a daily reality, I'll not be as excited about it and will wish for those hot sunny days that we used to have, but right now I want it to never stop raining. I love it! The town decided we had enough rain after two days to turn the water back on full time, so now we can shower and do dishes whenever we want! Now that we don't have to rush around in the morning filling up all of our buckets and watering the plants before the water goes away, we have a lot more free time. I don't know what to do with my mornings anymore. I'm sure I'll find something.
Hasta pronto

Saturday, May 10, 2008

No hay transporte

So, we’re in the middle of a nation wide transportation strike. That’s no good. Things change from day to day, but here’s the gist:

Starting last Monday (the 5th) taxi drivers in Managua and a couple other major cities and some buses stopped running. The following day, almost all taxi drivers in the country, as well as almost all buses (between cities and within cities) and a lot of cargo transporters joined the strike. Since then, it has been more of the same. We, here in Malpaisillo, are in the middle of a major east-west highway in Nicaragua and usually have 20-30 buses pulling into town daily, plus the 3 micro-buses that are constantly going back and forth between here and Leon. Since Monday, not one bus has come through town. This has had a big impact in some ways and not much of an impact in other ways.

Probably the biggest impact is for people who don’t live in the town where they work. It is very rare here to own a car so almost everyone relies on public transportation. Many people in Malpaisillo (and lots of other communities) work in Leon and haven’t been able to go to work. All of the schools where I work are outside of town along the highway and many teachers live in town and are not going to work because they have no way to get there, so no school. Another major impact, since cargo transporters are also striking, is that a lot of the markets are out of food. We have been alright here because somehow people are sneaking in food every few days, but the prices have also gone up because of this. Some of our friends live in towns that have been without basic food supplies almost all week.

Why is this all happening? Apparently Nicaragua has the highest gas prices in all of Central America (around $5/gal) and those who work in transportation want the government to freeze petroleum prices. In effect, they are looking for the government to subsidize gas costs in order to bring them back down. The government says that there is no money to do that, and the only possible way they could try would be to re-institute the nation-wide power outages (for about 8 hours a day) that we used to have. That certainly isn’t a popular option. The transportation workers don’t want to raise their prices because they say that no one will pay and that they have already had to raise them a lot (example, when we first got to Malpaisillo in Nov 06, it cost 35 cordobas to get to Managua. Now it costs 58. That is a 66% increase in about a year and a half). It is hard to say whether people would pay higher prices or not because people just don’t have much money here. The prices have to be kept low, even if it means very slim profits, just so people can afford things.

Peace Corps has instructed us not to leave our towns because in some areas the strikers have set up road blocks and are harassing all cars. Their goal is to paralyze the country. There are also demonstrations in a few cities and lots of folks have been tear-gassed and/or arrested. So far, we haven’t had any reason to need to leave Malpaisillo, but if this goes on another week we definitely will. Although we are not in danger of running out of food yet, we have run out of some of the things we like to eat that we can only buy in grocery stores in Leon (oatmeal, wheat bread, peanut butter, spices…) where we generally go to restock once a week. Also, there are no ATMs here, so we could potentially run out of money, although I don’t see that happening soon, since we spend most of our money at the grocery store in Leon.

That’s what is going on here, but it gets better. Since late January, we only get running water from 6 am until around 1 pm each day. We have become accustomed to this and are used to waking up early to fill up buckets, do dishes and laundry and water the plants. After the water goes away, we just use the stored water to bathe and clean dishes. Well, for some reason, the power started going out again this week from around 8 am until 3 pm. We haven’t had power outages like this for about 6 months, so we were all surprised. Well, when the power goes out, the electric water pump for the town also goes out so the water stops running about a half hour after the lights go out. That means that we have only been getting water from 6 until 830 each day. That is barely enough time to fill all of our buckets that we emptied the previous evening and do laundry. Especially since we usually leave to go to work around 730 or 8 and then fill up water after. So for a good portion of this week we were sitting in the house, sweating of course, with no power, water, transportation and very little food in town. When we talk to locals about that, they add that there is also no employment and in many cases (because of the transportation) no school. What a mess.

We’re fine though. Our spirits (like the temperature) are still high. A bright spot upon all of this is that the Ramirez Brothers Circus is in town!! As soon as we saw them setting up, in a vacant lot in the middle of neighborhood, we knew that no matter how much we didn’t want to go, we definitely had to go. Now, I don’t know if you have ever been to a circus in the US, but aside from the big tent, this is nothing like that. First of all, there is one circular tent that is probably around 800-900 ft2. Inside this tent are bleachers (2 x 4s resting in a rebar frame, no nails or screws, balanced on the dirt ground) and the “ring” where all of the action happens. The bleachers were packed full with probably 300-400 people and there was absolutely no ventilation.

The show started late (of course) with 3 little girls, probably ages 3, 5 and 5, wearing short skirts and high boots doing some sort of sexy dance to a reggaeton song being played way too loud through blown-out speakers. Now, to the casual observer, this may seem strange but we have learned that any gathering here is not official until there is extremely loud music played through blown-out speakers. If the music volume is such that you can talk to someone standing next to you, it must be turned up much higher. In addition, little girls dressed provocatively and dancing in ways they shouldn’t be are expected at most social gatherings, be they school graduations, birthday parties, holy week parades, summer reading club events or government elections.

After the little girls danced, a guy came out to do some tricks on a big trapeze-like swing that came only inches away from the heads of the crowd in the bleachers. After him was a clown act and then a young woman, dressed much like the little girls only the skirt was shorter and the bikini top was more like a small bra, came out to dance. Everyone hooted and hollered the whole time. After her a different girl, dressed similarly, came out to lip-synch a couple of songs and dance. Then there was a break. The second half was even worse. More clown acts, making sexual and racist jokes almost exclusively, and one of the dancing girls came back out wearing even skimpier clothes and not bothering to lip-synch this time. Also, throughout the night, there was a deer chained up in the corner that never took part in any act. So, aside from a guy on a swing, the circus consisted of crude clown acts and almost naked dancing girls. Did I mention that at least a third of the crowd was under the age of 12? When we left the circus, we (Brenna, our friend Greg, and I) were all disgusted by what had taken place that evening. Obviously, we have come to expect many cultural differences and we know that entertainment is different here than at home, but we were still appalled. What made it even worse is that there really isn’t anything here for people to do, so when something like this comes to town, of course everyone is going to go. Since we went, we have actually had some really good conversations with some folks in our town about what they think about all of this. Many people have told us that they also think it is disgusting and would never go to something like that. I’m glad we saw it, but I will never go to a circus in Nicaragua again. What a funny place.

I guess that will be all for now. Thanks for reading and we look forward to seeing some of you in CO in a few weeks. Please think about DONATING to our town trash project. And if you’re going to donate, don’t waste any time. We need to raise the $$ by the end of July. Thanks for considering it.

See you later.

Friday, May 02, 2008

What Have We Been Doing?

Hooray! We finished planning our Trash Treatment project, and you can now read all about it AND donate online at the Peace Corps website. Just follow our handy link here on the right. Now that we have that out of the way, we have more time to concentrate on other aspects of our lives here. Mason and I are both doing the same sort of work in the schools this year. We started the school year off with making compost with the kids. The kids had fun watching it slowly decompose week by week. In the beginning they didn’t believe me when I told them that all of the leaves, grasses and food scraps would turn into dirt! Currently we are working on school nurseries and school gardens. So far only about 40 trees in all 4 of my nurseries have sprouted, mostly because there is a major shortage of water right now, and because the kids are for some reason not willing to water the 6 days of the week that I’m not there! I don’t know why it is so hard to get them to water, but they are just lazy. Even the teachers don’t seem to care sometimes. It’s really frustrating, especially since this is the second time each school has done these projects with me. Often, getting things done here is like pulling teeth.

About the water shortages… here in town we have had water rationing since early February. Our half of the town gets water from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. and the other half of the town has water in the afternoons. It was hard to get used to at first, but now we are just used to waking up at 6 with the water, washing clothes, watering plants and filling up buckets before leaving to go to work. At night we take “bucket baths,” by pouring water over our heads from a bucket of stored water! We used to think we were lucky because the house we live in has a toilet instead of a latrine, but without water most of the day, we have to flush it by forcefully pouring a pitcher of water in the bowl every time! Not to worry, the rainy season is fast approaching, bringing with it an end to all the dust and dryness.

We had a nice visit from Marilee and Nicole in March. We went with them up to the chilly rainforest called Miraflor. It was wonderful for us to be out in nature without sweating profusely as we do every day here. Unfortunately they couldn’t come down to Malpaisillo, because it was Holy Week (semana santa), and few busses were running. Mason and I went to Leon for Good Friday to watch the parades and processions. They have an interesting tradition (they actually copy Antigua, Guatemala) of making “paintings” on the street using colored saw dust. There are probably about 50 or so depicting typical scenes of Jesus, etc. They are all on display in the evening, and at night, the procession carrying Jesus and his friends trample all of the paintings as they walk by on the way to the cathedral. It’s an interesting spectacle.

Two weeks ago we went to our friend’s wedding. She married a Nicaraguan man named Lenin, and they plan on moving back to the States when she completes her Peace Corps service. She is the first of 4 girls in our group who are marrying Nica men! This past weekend we went to the beach town of San Juan Del Sur to spend time with our buddy Elliott and his family. His dad Jack treated us all to an afternoon sailing trip, which was spectacular. We sailed to a beautiful, isolated beach, and on the way home watched the sunset. Thank you, Jack!

The rest of this month we plan on just working a lot and enjoying our tranquil life here. We’ve really grown to love our days here where we typically work only about 4 hours a day and either read in the hammock, work in the yard or hang out with friends. In so many ways, our lives here are much easier then they were in the states. Sure, the standard of living here is lower, but there is practically zero stress, a tight community of friends and a lot of laughter.

In the beginning of June we head home for a week to go to Emily and Jason’s wedding. The dog and cat come home then too. Poster is set to live with my parents and their cat (who is the center of my dad’s universe), and Clavo is going to be with Carol. There’s going to be a big empty space in our lives without them here.

Only 6 months to go! Things here are really starting to wrap up. Thanks for reading!

At Miraflor looking at the amazing variety of orchids.

Mas, Nicole and Marilee hiking among the old Oak trees in Miraflor.

Taking a cold dip at Miraflor.

A true Nicaraguan revolutionary, flanked by Che and Sandino.

Singing revolution songs around the campfire at Miraflor.

Mas and I enjoying the cold!

The best cook in Nicaragua, our host in Miraflor, Doña Corina.