domingo, 25 de febrero de 2007

An ode to rocking chairs. Plus, some random pictures!

Something I've really gotten used to here and will definitely miss when I return to the US is the culture of sitting outside in rocking chairs. Every family probably has at least 4 rocking chairs, and if you walk the residential streets of Granada at night, almost all the houses you pass have families sitting outside in their rocking chairs. The other night, a friend came over and played guitar, sitting outside in the 75 degree weather in one of the rocking chairs. Although there are times when I miss having seasons to designate passing of time, I can't say I'm missing the freezing cold.

I also just wanted to post some pictures, which are from random times here in Nicaragua--mostly from when I had a stream of visitors actually. (To give some sense to what the pictures are, the people in rocking chairs are family members or friends of the family that I'm living with, the 2-year-old is Christopher who lives in the house and calls me "Tia" which means "Aunt," the people sitting around the table are the staff at Opportunity International currently, there are two of me dressed up with friends was when we went to a fancy party a few weeks ago, and the last are from when Ben visited and we went to the beach, volcanoes, and the largest island in a freshwater lake).

viernes, 23 de febrero de 2007

Party on, Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan parties fascinate me. No matter what event is being celebrated, be it birthday party, wedding reception, baby shower (known affectionately as "baby shower" here, not "ducha de bebe" as some of you might be thinking), or who knows what else, the party is almost exactly the same, with the only difference being that younger children's parties tend to have a piñata.
When you enter, dozens of white plastic chairs are pushed against the wall, music is blasting out of huge speakers, and after sitting in one of the chairs, you wait. The first time I went to a Nicaraguan party, I had no idea what we were waiting for, because no one was talking to each other, except for maybe awkwardly making conversation with the people they were sitting by. Well, after a little while, the host (or host's wife) and other women in the family come around with drinks on a tray for everyone in the room, which by this point may include some 40-60 people. After everyone's been served a drink, the host and family members then circle around with a plate of food for everyone. The first time this happened, I was completely amazed by the amount of preparation that goes into a party, between the guest list and the food and the decorations and the party favors.
Eventually, after the eating and the drinking, the music is turned up even louder (if possible; one of my friends has a theory that Nicaraguans are rather deaf) and the dancing/piñata bashing begins. I've always loved piñatas, and here I love them in a terrifying sort of way. The piñatas here are the largest I've ever seen in my life. For the 2-year-old's birthday in the family I've been living in, the Winnie-the-Pooh piñata was definitely much larger than he was, maybe explaining why he likes the ideas of piñatas more than the actual piñata itself. Piñatas are terrifying to me, probably because I've grown up in the US culture of lawsuits and more cautious parenting, and here, kids are whacking at piñatas very close to each other and little babies.
And the dancing. Man, can Nicaraguans dance. I'm not one of those people who claims that white people can't dance, but I have to say that dancing is ingrained in the culture here and is encouraged from day one. I tried to capture the 10-year-olds dancing in these pictures, but it's hard to capture in just a few images. "Hips don't lie," indeed. (Speaking of which, that song is a requisite in all parties, dance clubs, bars, you name it. Surprisingly, I still like the song).

One of my Nicaraguan friends came with me to a party at one of the volunteer houses a few weeks ago, a house which is comprised of mostly gringoes and Europeans, and was surprised at how little food there was and kept asking me when the dancing would get started or if the music was going to be turned up. It was one of those culture realization moments for me, because I had been thinking how "normal" the party felt, with some snack food and people mingling, but obviously my normal is another person's strange. The parties here are all about the preparation--the food, the drinks, the setting-up of speakers, the purchase of really nice party favors, etc. The party itself just flows by itself. No pre-ordained activities, no children's tables apart from the adult tables, just simply talking and dancing.

viernes, 16 de febrero de 2007

An ending, but a new beginning

Photos from the last day of tutoring for Erin

Pretty much ever since I arrived here in September, I´ve been involved with two different projects: tutoring Nicaraguan first-graders in math and reading as well as helping initiate a library in a completely different, yet similarly poor and rural community. About two weeks ago, I was approached by the Director of Opportunity International, the NGO supporting this library project, and asked if I would be interested in working for the organization in Nicaragua another year as the Library Projects Coordinator. I was blown away by the opportunity, but also knew personally that I couldn´t take the job. The decision was simultaneously easy and one of the hardest decisions of my life. As a wiser and older friend here told me, ˝Whenever I´ve had decisions in my life choosing between personal and career, I´ve always chosen the personal.˝ What she said rang true with me, and also what I actually wanted. So last weekend, I mentioned to the Director that I would let her know by today about the job, but that she should know that I was definitely leaning toward not taking it. I was happy with my decision, if not a little sad that I wasn´t at the right point in my life to take it.

Well, yesterday morning, she approached me and asked if I would be interested in working until I was originally meant to leave in June. My decision was instantaneous-YES. I start work on Monday. This has meant that the past few days have been an abrupt leaving of my tutoring responsibilities, and that today was officially my last day tutoring. It was sad to say goodbye. I was no longer very excited about tutoring one-on-one, but the kids are so affectionate and really know me now that I´ve been around for about 4 months (not including vacation time during December and January). I´m including some pics I took below of my last day of school.

And so here begins, not a new adventure exactly, but a different one. I feel daunted and intimidated by the work that lays ahead, but also incredibly excited.

jueves, 15 de febrero de 2007

Library inauguration!

(To the left, Biblioteca "Quiero Aprender Contigo" (TOP), Inauguration crowd (MIDDLE), Director of Opportunity International receives gift (BOTTOM)

Yesterday, Biblioteca "Quiero Aprender Contigo" celebrated Valentine's Day** with an inauguration ceremony. Yes, the library is officially open! In October, I gave a training to a group of community members on the functions of a library. Now, there is a functioning Board of Directors (Nicaraguan style, so for the most part), volunteer librarians, a painting class that is going to start this Sunday, and an open library with about 150 beautiful books. (Check out for information on how to donate books). Despite roasting under the hot Nicaraguan sun, the ceremony was fabulous and professional. In fact, it was the gringos who were late in coming. A poem by Ruben Dario (the famous poet of Nicaragua), folkloric dancing, an official presentation of a check from the local microfinance trust bank, refreshments at the end--what more could I want?

**Happy Valentine's Day, belatedly! Here Valentine's Day is known as "Dia de la Amistad y Amor," which translates to "Day of Friendship and Love." I'm particularly fond of that name for it because it doesn't seem to be just about romantic relationships, which can make people bitter/melancholy if they aren't in a romantic relationship (or if their boyfriend/girlfriend is far away in another country, I suppose...). Here the Nicaraguan tradition is to go out and dance. I didn't participate, but there might have to be a make-up day this Friday.

(To the left, the President of the Board of Directors, Eva Maria Davila, on the left, lets Helen Rorengold of the private library in Granada speak)

martes, 13 de febrero de 2007

When something goes bump in the night

Two nights ago, I woke up at 4am to hear a bag rustling. Living in a hot, humid climate where cockroaches and insects and scorpions occasionally (not the dangerous Mexican kind, however) are part of life, and where when I once went to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I saw a huge rat in the corner, hearing a bag rustling in the middle of the night is not a good sign. When I couldn't see anything with my rather dim flashlight, I got up and turned on the lights. Let me establish that I had done a rather stupid thing by having a bag of garbage in my room hanging from my doorknob, and that I had thrown some food in it. Never mind that I was meaning to throw it away soon; the point is, I hadn't. I looked toward the bag, and what did I see but a shadow of a mouse running back and forth in the bag. At this point, I sat up straight in my bed, both disgusted and rather alarmed. Maybe I am a wimp and tend to be overly dramatic in creature situations, but I didn't like the idea of a mouse being trapped in a bag, rustling the bag for who knows how long, and potentially creating a hole whereby all the garbage would fall to the floor and invite the mouse's family to feast. (Yes, this was my irrational thinking at 4am).

Being aware that the rest of the family in the house is sleeping, at this point I was trying to think of a way to get the mouse out of the bag without making too much noise and without getting too close to the bag (touching it was not an option in my mind at that point). Instead, I took a hard case I have and slammed it against the bag. This was the most traumatic part of my story, and the reason that I couldn't even fathom writing about it yesterday, because I do not consider myself a violent person. The bag stopped moving, and then I realized that I possibly just killed a mouse, and not in the mousetrap kind of way. The thought really disturbed me, even though I realize that I do eat meat and I am not always aware of the humane or inhumane conditions that animals live in when they are getting killed. Unable to go to sleep, I just sat there for a long time, contemplating whether I should just try to go to sleep, try to read, dispose of the bag, or what.

Ten minutes later, the bag started rustling again. Fabulous. I still had a mouse problem PLUS now I was disturbed that I had tried to kill it. Luckily, this time, the mouse climbed out of the bag and ran under the door. I put earplugs in, turned off the light, jumped back into bed, and managed to sleep until morning. By the way, the bag is now thrown away.

lunes, 12 de febrero de 2007

Country Under My Skin

The Country Under My Skin is actually the name of a memoir about Nicaragua by Gioconda Belli that I have not read, but aptly describes what I want to express, especially starting this blog five months into my Nicaraguan journey. Nicaragua has gotten under my skin, in many senses of the word, both positively and negatively, as most experiences of life are. Conflicting emotions just seem to be more raw and extreme here. I will be walking down the market street in all its hustle, bustle, and general chaos I have gotten used to and think to myself, "Wow, I am completely comfortable in this environment," when a man will touch me on the shoulder as he walks by, hissing "Adios, Amor," and shatter my assumed ease. I think of the people I know now who I didn't know five months ago, though, and realize that this is the right place for me to be right now.