jueves, 5 de julio de 2007

The good ol' USA, a road trip, and a new apartment!

Today I talked to a young woman who I have never met but got referred to me because she is deciding whether to do a year-long internship with Opportunity International in Nicaragua. My first emotion was envy, I must admit, partly because I wish all of my time in Nicaragua had been spent working for Opportunity and partly because I just really love Nicaragua. However, I also love being with Ben, connecting with friends and family more easily, and living in Seattle. The transition has been pretty smooth. People talk about culture shock, and maybe it's because I've kept busy or traveled a lot or maybe it's because I did get to go home for a weekend about a month before actually coming home, but I've been fine.

A week after coming home, my sister and I took a road trip out to Minnesota, where we got to see such things as "Pioneer Mom with Scary Child," a life-size X-Wing Fighter (from Star Wars), and some friends and family, of course. Lucky Allie got to be dragged along to meet a lot of my friends and Carleton people. Allie left me in Minnesota and I continued on to Seattle. I love Seattle, I love the apartment, I love the location. The rain has not arrived, so I am generally pretty happy. And job-searching.

This picture was taken right before I left, before anyone had started to cry (notice the lack of red eyes). When Christopher, the 2 1/2 year old, saw that my host mother and I were crying, he started to cry as well, and then actually came with me and 2 friends to the bus stop to give me a last hug. If that's not sweet, I don't know what is.

Stacy, me, and Allie, living it up in Chicago!

Instead of going to an art museum, Allie and I just hung out on the grass, by Millenium Park, with the cool globe (see below).

Allie's new home next year!

I loooove motorcycles!

Ely, MN

Medora, North Dakota--the only interesting part about the North Dakota drive

On the road again...

Seattle! (view from my bedroom)

the nicest apartment I will probably ever live in

miércoles, 30 de mayo de 2007

Blessed beyond words

As my time in Nicaragua comes to a close, I keep thinking of where I was at the beginning of this year and where I wanted to be, and where I am now, and I honestly couldn't imagine a better place. I'm asked constantly when I'm going to return, which makes me sad because I would love to return as soon as possible but also know that I probably won't live here again. At the same time, I'm looking forward to being back in my country and reconnecting with the people who I've been away from for so long.

I have been trying to think of how to thank Geralyn Sheehan, the Opportunity International director, the rest of the Opportunity team, and the community that started Biblioteca "Quiero Aprender Contigo" because they have all taught me more than I could have ever imagined. I have been challenged, frustrated, exhilarated, and incredibly blessed to have gotten involved in this project. Well, they beat me to it. Imagine my surprise on Wednesday when I went to one of the last Board of Directors meetings and found that community members, the Board of Directors, the entire Opportunity International staff, and school students were waiting in their classroom with a goodbye ceremony. Eva Maria, the President of the Board of Directors and the other members organized the entire ceremony, which was more than I could have ever asked for. Students danced folkloric dance, sang a song, read poems, and then presented me with beautiful gifts. Since the library organized a crafts class and a painting class, students from the painting class presented me with a painting that was done from the view of the school with the volcano Mombacho in the background and students from the crafts class presented me with a beautiful hand-crocheted bag. I was blown away by their generosity and their sincerity and only wish I could do something in kind.

I find myself sometimes reluctant to use the word blessing, because I come from pretty secular backgrounds, but I really do consider this year a blessing in my life.

lunes, 28 de mayo de 2007

Destruction and sadness in a small town

Granada, Nicaragua feels like a safe town. Everyone knows everyone's business, the streets are walkable, the houses are brightly colored, and you don't hear of much crime other than petty theft. That's not to say that you throw all caution to the wind, but I've felt safe living here. Until this past weekend. Last Thursday, a single American 49-year-old woman, Lemon, who owns a bar in Granada and has been robbed twice in the past few months, was raped multiple times and hit over the head with a vase that essentially crushed her skull by a group of young male neighbors in their 20s. Other neighbors heard her shouting and somehow managed to call the police, who took her to the hospital, where she lay in a coma until she died yesterday.

I had only gone to her bar twice, a cozy bar with bright paintings on the walls and funky lights and rum infusions, and tried to go a few other times with no success (due to the robberies). Apparently she had had some troubled with neighborhood boys in the past sitting on her stoop and being rude in general, and even had some proof that they were the ones who robbed her house the second time since she lined a back entrance with nails that had the heads cut off and the next day their arms were covered with scratches, but the police never did anything.

Last night I went to a candlelightvigil where more than 50 Nicaraguans and foreigners came to offer condolences and pray together and share the grief. I lift up a prayer for Lemon, but also for all women around the world who have to suffer such horrific deaths.

I feel fortunate to be living with a Nicaraguan family on a quiet street where I know almost all the neighbors. Honestly, I do not feel that much less safe after this incident and do not want you all to be worrying about me. It's a reminder to me that this kind of thing can happen anywhere. The really unfortunate thing is that the police seem to be ineffective in this town because they often arrive late to crime scenes or just never arrive at all and don't follow-up on investigations. Hopefully in the future that will change.

(Some pictures, limited that I have, of the bar, Casa de Limon.)

miércoles, 16 de mayo de 2007

Feliz Dia de la Madre...with a surprise!

About two months ago, I found out that the youth program at my church back home in New Jersey, Central Presbyterian Church, raised $1600 for the Network of Libraries that I'm working to establish here in Nicaragua. I couldn't have been more thrilled that youth so many miles away (and the incredibly hard-working adults that made this happen of course) were able to raise the money to support community-owned lending libraries here in Nicaragua. Through my mom's Spanish-teaching resources, the money was used to buy books in Spanish, and each kid who participated got to choose a book and put a dedication sticker with their name inside. The real question became how to actually get all these books down to Nicaragua. While I've found the postal service to be mostly reliable here, it would have been a great loss for the books not to arrived.

Claire and Kim, the two amazing women who organized the entire project, threw out the idea of me flying home for Mother's Day weekend and bringing the books back, because the children were doing a special service that day and could present the books to me (with the added bonus that I could surprise my mother!). My dad stepped in with the purchase of the ticket and last Thursday, I got on a plane at 7am, and my brother and sister picked me up from Newark airport that night. My mom was having a meeting at a local restaurant and my whole family entered the restaurant, me last. My mom was a little confused and then completely shocked to see me. The brilliant part is that my dad caught it all on his little video camera.

Being back in NJ felt remarkably normal, which sort of surprised me. I hadn't actually been in the United States in 8 months, and I think in some ways I expected the place to change as much as I feel changed by my experience here. Relaxing, stress-free, lots of great eating (Indian, Thai, Japanese...mmm I love different types of Asian food and it's hard to find here!). Plus, the weather was absolutely gorgeous. I could actually wear jeans without sweating during the day and slept with blankets at night. Riquisimo. I don't think I'm a tropical-year-round-type-of-gal, although who knows what I'll be saying come next winter in Seattle with gray skies and constant rain (or so I've heard).

Speaking of which, I will be in Seattle starting in July and already have an apartment! Check out pictures here. It's in downtown Seattle and the apartment building has a Whole Foods, Bank of America, Starbucks, and an 18-seat movie theater that can be reserved. Next step: finding a job.

lunes, 30 de abril de 2007

One month left

The other day I got lost walking around in a wealthy neighborhood in Managua trying to find a private school. When I finally found the school, I had a successful meeting with the director about a possible collaboration between the school and the library network I'm trying to develop. She had the idea of an interchange where students learning to read from this school each bring a book to the library and read to students there and then donate a book at the end. The meeting made me very aware of how little time I have left in Nicaragua because we were looking at dates, and when she mentioned June, I felt shocked that I wouldn't be here.

Although there have been some things happening lately that have made me looking forward to going back home--being harassed by six guys on bikes, having at least 3 Nicaraguan professionals not call to cancel a meeting and leaving me feeling rather foolish when I arrive for the meeting, the intense April heat, getting an apartment in Seattle with Ben, my trouble communicating at times despite speaking in Spanish for 8 months--I'm sad to be leaving soon. I feel it more acutely working in community development because building community takes time and it feels sort of unfair that I can come for 10 months and then go back and resume my life "as normal". When I tell Nicaraguans I'm leaving in June, everyone asks me if I'm planning to return. The answer is "yes," but only for vacation (unless in 5-10 years I have the opportunity to return). People understand, but I always feel a little like I'm letting them down: I'm just another foreigner who came for a short time wanting to "help people". I don't want to sound too cynical, though, because I love the time I've spent here and the people I've met and the experiences that have made me grown stronger.

Back to the job search...the less fun part about returning home. (If anyone knows of a job in community development or education in Seattle, send the opportunity on!)

martes, 10 de abril de 2007

Semana Santa

So I've been meaning to write this entry for a while. The downside of working in an office where I have internet access all day is that I'm not inspired to stay later. But here's a better-late-than-never update.

Semana Santa (Holy Week) is probably the biggest holiday in Nicaragua, tied with Christmas. The not-very-religious Nicaraguans hit the beaches because the weather is HOT (April is the hottest month) and the whole country is on vacation. As I sit writing here now, the 87 degrees Fahrenheit actually doesn't feel too bad. I had Thursday and Friday off, and instead of going to the beach, decided to go up to the northern part of Nicaragua with my friend Sara, who is from Sweden and was here in the fall volunteering with La Esperanza (the tutoring program where I was working before) and has now returned to write a thesis for school.

As most vacations I've been on in Central America, nothing was really as it seemed or advertised, but I highly recommend playing things by ear because everything works out, even if you do have to share a bed in a storage room (continue reading). To explain, Sara and I had made reservations at this place called the Tisey Eco-Posada, located in this nature reserve that someone had recommended to us. We read in the book that from the town Esteli, the reserve is just a 60-90 minute walk or thus a short taxi ride (it would seem). We arrived at the entrance, and then proceeded to talk with more than 2 taxi drivers and owners of a little corner grocery store right next to the entrance, not one of whom actually knew how far the eco-posada was or seemed like they had even heard of it. There was a sign that seemed to indicate that it was 5 kilometers away, but people were estimating about 20 kilometers, a pretty big discrepancy, especially when the road was not especially high quality. We finally a negotiated a price with a taxi driver that would vary depending on how far away the hostel actually was. Going up the road felt like we were driving in the middle of nowhere in a desert-looking area. I hadn't noticed a big difference appearance-wise between the rainy season and the dry season until then because it reminded me of fall in NJ with no leaves on trees and very little greenery. Very different scenery. When we arrived at the Eco-Posada finally (20 km, NOT 5), we were surprised to discover it filled with people. Honestly it felt like they flew in from the sky or something because the road had been so deserted. When we went to check in, we found out that despite my spelling my name several times the day before and being assured that we had a reservation, somehow the information had not been taken down and so there were no other rooms. After waiting for about an hour with people seem to be running around and no information being given to us other than that they would find a solution, they let us know that they were preparing a bed for us in the storage room where they keep sheets and such. Oh, and would we mind sharing a single bed? I actually didn't sleep too poorly. Sara and I apparently share a bed well. The highlight was getting to use actual blankets. Que rico! (How wonderful!)

Despite our being able to share a bed well, we decided not to stay there the next night--it felt a little more like camping than we wanted. We walked down the 10 km to a waterfall the next day where we were literally almost the only foreign tourists, although it was full with Nicaraguan tourists. What a highlight! I'm not one of those people who only wants to go to places where there are no foreigners, but it's kind of a nice surprise when you seem to discover one of these places. That was sort of how the whole weekend passed, actually, which was really fun. Well, besides Friday night when we ran into a bunch of La Esperanza volunteers in Esteli, without knowing that they were going to be there and came from literally just asking a taxi driver to take us to a hostel in Esteli.

The absolute highlight of my trip up north, and now one of my favorite places in Nicaragua, was the canyon of Somoto. Once again, there were absolutely no foreigners and yet the place was filled with Nicaraguan tourists. [Side note: when I talked to someone later who's been here for longer, she let me know that in the north, especially near the border of Honduras where Somoto is located, there are still bandits who attack cars and rob people, so there's still a warning to be cautious there. However, since Sara and I were just taking the public buses with the rest of the Nicaraguans, I don't think I would have been very nervous even if I had known this.] To get to the canyon, we took a bus, then walked 2km, then rode horses, and then took a little boat. It's not a slot canyon, but there is sheer rock going up many many feet on both sides of you and you can swim in little pools for a really long way. The water was warm and relatively clean and people friendly for the most part. There were some overly friendly Nicaraguan boys who were videotaping and when we passed in our bathing suits (unusual, since most Nicaraguans tend to swim in their clothes) they followed us. Let's just say our swimming increased in speed for a while.

The extremely full bus ride on the way back with me half-sitting on a seat for 3 hours was not incredibly fun, but at least I got to watch a chicken in a bag in the seat in front of me. I arrived tired, but contentisimo (very content).

lunes, 2 de abril de 2007

Enjoy some pictures from around Granada and elsewhere!

Teaching a crafts class at the library

Students working on their crafts project

My "cousin" Maria Fernanda, who is probably one of the most affectionate people I know here.

A shot from Granada, the main street near where I live.

A community meeting out in the countryside