What I’ve Been Up To

Mango season is starting! This fact began to assert itself as heavy, unripe mangoes began slamming into the tin roof as they fell from the branches above my house. This usually happens during the day, but when it happens as I’m falling asleep it makes for a disturbing jolt. It’s nothing like the silly scrabblings that I hear when the chickens get up onto the roof during the day. But, as I was saying, the mangoes are getting ripe now. This means mangoes are my main (and favorite) breakfast of choice. I’m impatient, though, because I can see so many of them hanging from the branches of the three trees in our yard, but they don’t seem to be getting much riper very quickly. When my host mom picks them and sells them in her store, I buy them up quickly (it’s not hard when she’s charging 10 cents apiece). I’m also picking my own, but I’m not great at telling when they’re ripe. Luckily, they ripen after being picked, so if I’m early I just try to keep it somewhere where the ants and the dogs won’t get at them. Not as easy as it sounds.

The last couple of weeks have been busy, and this week is a week of transition before my real work begins with the new school year. The weekend before last I had my first volunteer action committee (VAC) meeting on the mainland. It consisted of about seven volunteers from my region meeting up to talk about administrative things like changes in the Managua Peace Corps office, security issues, feedback about policy and about cross-sectoral projects. There were representatives from three of the five different sectors active in Nicaragua, and we are encouraged to teach each other what we’ve learned in training so that we can all implement each others’ ideas in our own sites. It was a nice opportunity for me to get off the island for a bit, see a new place, and hang out with fellow volunteers. We met in San Juan del Sur, which is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the country (and the location for the most recent Survivor show). It was a pretty relaxed time, considering that after the meeting we went swimming in the Pacific, had lunch, I read my book by the beach, and went to a bar that evening with a fellow volunteer for a while. Peace Corps sound rough enough for you? šŸ™‚

Sunrise over the Beach in San Juan del Sur

Last week was busy with my final morning classes, my regular evening classes, and starting to spend time with my counterpart teachers at the local high school, where they’re helping students register for classes. The faculty and staff have a great relationship, and I’m rapidly feeling accepted and comfortable in the staff room while we wait for students to come in with their parents. The teachers are expected to be at the school from 12:30-5 each day for the two weeks leading up to school, helping students register, giving remedial classes, and administering make-up exams for those who didn’t pass a subject the year before. There’s really nothing for me to do, but it’s a good opportunity to learn names and see how the education system works in practice. As it turns out, sitting in a room with people and not having a lot to do is a great way to get to know one another. They definitely poke fun (the nickname ‘fideo’ or ‘noodle’ was suggested for me, considering that I’m white and skinny), but it’s in good humor. They ask me about my girlfriend in order to place bets about how long it will take us to break up and for me to marry a Nicaraguan girl. I roll my eyes at these strands of the conversation. They also ask interesting questions about US culture and I try to explain how and why abortions are legal, the religious demographics, sexual activity and norms, and any other topics that they’re curious about. I don’t mind the interrogation, because it gives me a chance to practice my Spanish and to clear up some misconceptions about the States.

Have I mentioned that I have geckos skittering all over my walls? I see, on average, one gecko per 45 minutes that I spend in my room. I haven’t been able to tell how many there are, but they eat bugs and one night I saw some quick movement out of the corner of my eye and looked to see one of these guys with a big moth in its mouth, munching away. They’re tan or brown colored and really quick. I’d like to catch one, but haven’t even come close. They make chirpy/squeaky noises, and they have been known to fall off of the tops of doors onto the floor or unsuspecting passers-by. I like them.

Last Thursday afternoon I left Balgue with four youth from my town and headed to Managua and then Jinotega, which is in Northern Nicaragua. We went for a leadership camp that Peace Corps organized for promising youth (ages 15-21) that volunteers had identified. The travel was long-11 hours and an overnight to arrive, 10 and an overnight to return-but the experience was really positive for all of them. The camp was a beautiful place with boys and girls dorms, a cafeteria with decent food, an indoor basketball court, ropes courses, a rock-climbing wall, a zipline, and a soccer field. Their time was very structured, but we fit in a lot. They went to a variety of sessions about improving communication, leadership, how to prepare a resume and apply for jobs, how to organize a community bank, strategies for staying positive, personal finances and time management as well as other topics. In between these sessions they had opportunities to run around, do competitive outdoor activities, play sports or watch movies at night, and generally be young people at camp. Many of them had rarely been outside of their communities and probably fewer had every been to an event where they could meet peers from across the country.

My group during the youth camp

A lot of camp friendships were formed, many emails and phone numbers exchanged, and good skills learned. I had a great time, too. The kids were pretty well behaved, I got to play basketball in the evenings, took lots of pictures, and ate lots of good food. Also, the weather got downright COLD at night! It was really nice not to be overheated for a change. I met new volunteers and had fun exchanging stories and hearing about other sites. As long as the traveling was, it was definitely worth it. Here’s a link to a photo album of pictures that I took.

Next week, on February 15th, classes start and I’ll be starting to sort out my schedule for the semester. I will be working with my three counterparts at two different schools. I will plan with each of them over the weekend at some point and then will co-teach with them for about 6 hours each during the week. My schedule will probably be crazy for at least three weeks because, from what I hear, class schedules aren’t finalized until into March. Still, I’m excited about starting to work with my counterparts. I get along with all of them, and it will feel good to start my main project here, which is increasing the capacity of English teachers. The goal with the co-planning and co-teaching model is to increase their language ability and teaching methods as well as assist in developing materials for their classes. Materials are anything physical that is used in teaching, like diagrams, pictures, books, flashcards, maps or dialogues written on paper. By focusing our time and effort on assisting the teachers, we hope to reach a far greater amount of students than if we were to directly teach classes. Sustainability is the name of the game.

In a few weeks I’ll complete my sixth month in country, so I’ll try to do a reflection about what I’ve done and how I feel Peace Corps service has affected me so far. A few more really great books to mention: I read Lolita a couple weeks ago and was amazed by the writing. It’s a disturbing but beautiful book. Next was a book recommended by a literature professor I met on a bus: The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. It’s an incredibly impressive book about the ‘Great Migration’ of African-Americans from the South to the North of the US between 1910 and 1970. I’m currently reading ‘The China Study,’ which was passed my way by mom and which is really bowling me over. It’s essentially laying out why and how diet (not genetics) is the most important factor in our health and how we can take control of cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, Alzheimer’s and myriad other conditions just by focusing on eating whole plant foods rather than animal foods. The science is compelling and clear, and the results of his studies and analysis are astonishing. I’ll post reviews of these last two soon.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Amanda on February 10, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Your photos are always so stunning.
    Also, I love you. šŸ™‚


  2. Posted by Cindy Salo on February 11, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Have a couple (dozen) mangoes for me!


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