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round two

02/03/2011

I can hardly believe it, but here I am again at the beginning of a new school year here in Nicaragua. Only this time, I know the people I’m working with, where the schools are, and what Peace Corps expects of me. I know the students’ names (most of them) and I have a fairly concrete idea of what projects I want to accomplish this year. It’s a whole new feeling, this knowledge, and let me tell you – it feels great. We, the volunteers, jokingly refer to this as the “do over” year, meaning that we are able to correct all the mistakes we made last year, rebuild all the gardens that failed, work with new teachers if we so choose, adjust our schedules, and basically start over – only now, we have the aforementioned knowledge Personally, I am going to change my schedule around to spend more time in the school in my town because, honestly, I feel closer to those kids because I see them every day in the streets, and also because it has the fewest resources and has the most room for improvement.

One of the things I would like to start is a community bank with my teachers, which means that each person that would like to participate will contribute $5 a month for each month during the school year and will be able to take out loans from the total amount, with a one-time 10% interest fee. For example, if they borrowed $25, they would pay back a total of $27.50, and they would have 3 months to do so. Then, at the end, they would all split evenly the money they had saved plus any interest that has accrued. This is important because in general, Nicaraguans don’t save their money. They only worry about today, not about the future, so the goal of the community bank is to promote saving. I’ve heard stories about how happy the participants are to receive their money plus interest at the end, so hopefully it will work the same in my site and encourage saving.

And then, of course, there is the ongoing water tank project. It is moving along, slowly but surely. We finally got the total cost of the project, which is over budget of how much the project funds will cover. So now we are looking at cutting the project down to the bare bones and looking for other funding. It looks like it’s still a go, so I am still optimistic that it will happen. I’m still doing everything in my power to get it going, so hopefully I’ll have some more news the next time I update.

I finally moved houses! As most of you know, I wasn’t feeling too great at my other house because I knew my landlord was charging me WAY more money than he should have, but I didn’t know what to do about it because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. But thankfully, a family was moving out of their home and building a new one so I was able to rent their house for almost half the price, AND it’s a nicer house. I’ll put up pictures soon!

Honestly, I’m feeling a whole lot better about things than I was last year at this time. The time is passing, and quickly. I’m on the downhill slope. I feel like I have lots of things to keep me busy this year. And I’ll be home in 9 months! I haven’t thought about this so much, since I’ve been so focused on the present, but I am going to pretty dang proud of myself for finishing what I started. I’ve quit on a lot of things, but this – this I will see to the end. And at the finish line, what a party there will be!

Another Milestone

11/11/2010

Well, once again it has been too long since I updated, and here I am feeling like there is so much going on that I don’t know where to begin! One of the big things that I would like to share with you all is that I found a church home. This is a HUGE deal because it is something that’s been weighing on my heart and something that I have been missing immensely for the past year. It’s called NewSong Mission Nicaragua, and it’s located on the outskirts of Chichigalpa, the bigger city that’s close to my town. The church was started by an older couple from North Carolina, and there are 3 other younger people working there also. I can’t believe that it’s been here the whole time and I’m just now finding it. Take a look at the website to find out more about the services they offer to the community. It’s really an amazing setup that they have there, and I am really excited to get involved in the future!

Something I haven’t talked a whole lot about but bothers me on a regular basis is how Nicaraguans treat their pets. This is a picture of my neighbor’s dog –

– obviously emaciated  and starving. He frequently wanders over to my house looking for scraps, and I try to give him any leftover food I have, but it’s hard when I don’t eat that much meat or anything that would be beneficial to him. Here he’s eating soy meat, which after a few bites he didn’t want any more (I don’t blame him; I think it smells and tastes horrible). I have seriously considered buying dog food for him especially, but it’s hard when he’s not the only dog in this situation. In general, Nicaraguans only have dogs (and starve them and hit them) so that they will be bravo (vicious) to any intruder. So, I could use some advice. It makes me so sad to see this dog every day and know how they’re treating him and not be able to do anything. Should I just break down and buy the dog food, even though it’s expensive and inconvenient? Let me know what you think.

As of Monday, Paula, Constance, Hiro (a Japanese volunteer from JICA), Katie (a trainee from the new group) and I finished our sequence of environmental fairs! I was glad Katie got to participate, even though she just observed, so she could see how something like that was done. She’ll be living about 5km from my house so hopefully we can do more projects together in the future also. We did the last fair in my school on Monday, and it went very well. We were able to execute 3 activities: origami with newspaper, environmental slogans, and story time. Here are some pictures:

Paula facilitating Environmental Slogans

Darwin and Ali making boxes out of paper

Constance teaching the kids stretching exercises

3rd and 4th graders with their newspaper boxes

Newspaper hats

Constance reading stories

Hiro teaching origami

My 5th and 6th graders writing Environmental Slogans

You don’t see me in any of the pictures because I was behind the camera and running around making sure everything ran smoothly. Thankfully we didn’t have any problems and at the end of the day, I was able to give out 15 backpacks filled with school supplies that had been donated to me from an NGO in Managua. I wish I been able to award the backpacks and take pictures because the looks on their faces were indescribable. They were ecstatic to be receiving a new backpack with school supplies for next year. The kids loved the whole day and I’ve already had about 10 students from my community ask me when we can do it again!

I have been having some problems with my SPA (Small Project Assistance) project. For the last few weeks, my community counterpart (Chilo) and I have been working diligently 3 days a week to write the grant proposal that we will eventually have to take to Managua and present for approval. When we first got started, a woman showed up at Chilo’s house saying that she wanted to talk to us about the project, how to was going to executed etc. We talked for about 15 minutes, she asked a lot of questions, and we left it that we would wait for the mayor to tell us whether or not he could produce the land title for where the tank will be, because if he couldn’t, there would be no project. Chilo and I both thought that was that, and over the next few weeks we set out working on the proposal. Apparently, however, during that time,the other woman had set to work on her own project and was telling everyone that would listen that I had invited her to Managua to present (untrue), and that I had told her that they needed to clean their patios and the streets because I was going to come around taking photos to send to the States (untrue). She also went to the mayor talking about how she was leading up her own project and that I was working with her, after I had only had one conversation with her. So the whole time that Chilo and I had been working together, she was spreading rumors and getting the whole community confused as to what was going on. Then on Tuesday I was invited to a “meeting” of the water committee in my town. I was not able to be there at the time it started and by the time I got home, I thought it already would have ended. Apparently not, however, because 2 minutes after I walked in my house someone came and asked me if I could come over to the meeting for a few minutes. Once I arrived, I was asked to proceed to the front of the group and was henceforth interrogated on every aspect of the project in a very rude, offensive way – as if I were the one causing the problems. I found out later that this was all due to this other woman who had been spreading rumors, and of course the community didn’t know who/what to believe. They are desperate for a better water system and I think they can sense it slipping through their fingers, although they didn’t know who to blame for it. The other woman kept saying to me that I needed to make sure that the mayor was 100% committed and that I needed to appeal to him to help the community and that I needed to do this and to do that. That really upset me because the truth is that I don’t NEED to do any of this. I’m doing it because I want a better quality of life for my community, and because of that I (with Chilo’s help and direction) have only started to put together the project.

In the end, thank God, Chilo showed up (apparently they hadn’t invited her to this “meeting”), got really angry at them for acting as they had, and said she had no interest in working with the other woman who had been causing all the problems (which it seems was all the woman wanted in the first place, was to be included). And now Chilo says she doesn’t want to work on the project any more because of everything that’s happened. She said that she’s tired of people acting so immaturely and doesn’t want to be the one put on the chopping block if something doesn’t go our way – and honestly I can’t blame her. It makes me sad to think that the community would lose out just because of one woman, but the truth is it’s THEIR project, the community’s, not mine. It’s them that need to be leading things up and directing and making decisions. Chilo is a community leader, she has a lot of respect and good standing, and she came with me to Managua for the project planning conference….so if she says she doesn’t want to do it any more, then I have to respect her decision. So be in prayer for this situation. We’ll need it!

On a last, more positive note: November 27th, 2010 marks one year (one half of my service) that I will have been in my site! I have been waiting for this for….well, a year to be exact. In commemoration of this feat, I’ll be celebrating here in Leon with some friends Thanksgiving weekend (and we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving too) by cooking a big meal and just hanging out together. More pictures to come!

Projects Galore

10/16/2010

It’s kind of overwhelming, but all I can think about lately is what other kinds of projects I want to do in my community in the next year. It’s difficult to believe that I only have a year left. In most ways it feels so short. I can’t believe that I of all people would say that, but all the thought I have been giving it has made me realize there are still so many things I want to do. This entire first year has been all about getting to know the community, building relationships with the people, and coming up with ideas about what to do next year. The “do over” year, as we jokingly call it among us volunteers, is approaching fast and I want to be prepared.

First, I have the water tower project. We are finally starting to make progress, meet with the mayor, and form a committee of people who are willing to take on the responsibilities. There will be a lot of measuring pipe and a census needs to be taken, plus a million more details that need to be arranged before I travel to Managua on December 3rd to present the project to my bosses and get it approved. This will be a huge undertaking, and it makes me nervous to think that I’m undertaking it. More to come on that front as more details are developed, but I would appreciate your prayers for patience and perseverance. I want more than anything to see this project finished before I leave, and it will take a lot of both of those things to make it happen!

Another thing that I’m hoping to get started on is an event in my town for International Women’s Day which is March 8th, 2011. I want to put together a little (or big) fair with several activities, including speakers on self-esteem and self-confidence, gender roles, and condom use as birth control and prevention of  HIV/AIDS. I hope to invite a representative from the health center to help with these talks, and to hand out condoms and literature on the different topics. As an alternative to the speakers, I hope to have a manicurist, a hair stylist and makeup artist there to have a sort of makeover for the women of my town. For the most part, they are always working so hard and they deserve to be appreciated. I will be applying for funding for this through a grant process called VAST, which comes from Peace Corps Washington. I’ll be collaborating on this with a fellow volunteer, so we can do it in her town and mine and support each other at the same time.

Last but not least, two other volunteers and I have completed 2 of 3 environmental fairs. We did the fairs at their schools and this week we will be doing it at my school. We are doing sack races to learn the difference between organic and inorganic trash, environmental jeopardy, story time, arts and crafts with recycled materials, an environmental slogan contest, and the Disney movie Earth. It has gone well in the other two schools, so I am hoping and praying for a successful turn in mine. Honestly, though, after we finish we will have hardly anything else to do so perhaps I should savor this time of being busy with plans. As soon as school ends (November 17th) I will be pouring myself into the water tank project, so that will be good. Hopefully we can make a lot of headway before school starts back up again in February.

The only other bit of news I can think of is that I will be moving houses. Way back when I got to my site, my host family told me that they had a house waiting for me. I went to look at it and I thought it was really nice, so without asking any more questions or looking at any other houses, I agreed to it and moved in after my 6-week stay with them. It was only after several months of living there that I started to think about it and talk to other people from whom I found out that they (my host family) were charging me more than double what everyone else pays for housing in my community. While U$35/month might not seem like a lot, no one in my community is paying more than U$15/month, and most people pay less than that. The news that my host family had been overcharging me – plus several incidences in which I wanted/needed their help with the house and didn’t feel like they were there for me – led me to talk with them about lowering the rent, and if they couldn’t, about moving out. After speaking with them about it, they declined to lower my rent so I will be moving out by the end of the month! Now I just have to decide if I want to move into another house by myself or move in with an older, single lady who has offered to rent me a room in her house. There are advantages and disadvantages to each side, including security when I’m not there (advantage of living with someone) and lack of privacy when I am there (disadvantage of living with someone). I also have to decide if I trust the lady who offered to rent me the house, because although I would have most of my things locked in my room, I would keep my food in the kitchen and a few other things that may not fit in the room. I also have to consider whether or not I want to keep my cat, because I don’t know how the woman would treat her when I’m not there. So all in all there are lots of things to consider before I make my decision, and I need to hurry up because I only have until November 8th to be out of the house. So once again, I ask for your prayers that the right place for me be revealed soon.

So, that’s what’s going on in a nutshell! It doesn’t seem like a lot until I sit down here to write it all out. I hope all of you are well and please continue to keep in touch. I love to receive emails (erin.anthony.05@gmail.com) and snail mail!

winding down

09/24/2010

So the school year is winding down. Officially, it’s supposed to last until the end of the November, but it’s clear that the teachers are wrapping things up and preparing for review and final exams. We celebrated the national Independence Day the 14th and 15th, which meant that the whole week was slotted as vacation time for teachers and students. So I decided to take a little trip to northern Leon to visit fellow volunteer Jim’s site, and we traveled to Esteli together to see the city and get some great cowboy boots, which are currently being handmade to my measurements and specifications! I had heard that Esteli was the place to go for those type of boots, and now I can see why. The shop that I went to was full of different types and styles, all for about US$70. Jim and I visited some delicious restaurants and walked around the city just getting to know it. We stayed at clean, safe hostel for US$7 a night and had a blast!

Even more fun, though, was getting there. I spent the night on Friday night at Jim’s site, and we got up at 5am Saturday morning to catch the 6am bus to Esteli. We get going on time, and at 6:45am the bus gets stuck in a mud/sink hole. The road is not paved and because of all the rain we’ve been having, and there were a lot of pot holes and muddy patches along the way, but apparently this one was too much for the bus to handle.

stuck in the mud

So, long story short, we sat around for 3 hours waiting for them to try and get the bus unstuck. At about 9am, a bus coming from the other direction pulled up and after a few tries, was able to pull the bus out.

tilted bus

even deeper in the hole, after many tries to get out

finally out of the hole!

When we finally got to Esteli, we had a great time! It is a relaxing city with plenty of conveniences but still tranquilo. It was a very cool city (literally and figuratively) that I am excited to visit again when I get the opportunity!

The only other thing that’s happened this month is a visit to the doctor and dentist for my one year medical review. After 3 days of poking and prodding, I was deemed healthy and set free for another year. I won’t have to do that again until I leave for good, and then it will be even more extensive than that. That is one huge benefit of PC…free medical care!

That’s all for now. I’m looking forward to having one of the trainees come to visit me next week, just as I visited Elizabeth one year ago (feels like such a long time ago!). Paula, Constance and I have planned an environmental fair that we will be doing in my town this week and in Constance’s town next week so that we can show the trainees and give them an idea of what volunteers do (besides sit around and watch movies). It should be fun, and I’ll update after that. Saludos!

12 months down, 15 to go.

09/06/2010

September 2nd marked one year in country for me and the 17 other volunteers that remain in my group. We had lost two people from our original 20, one in training and one during service. To celebrate completing a year, we decided to go to the Sunday brunch at the Intercontinental hotel in Managua, and let me just say – it was amazing. There were bottomless mimosas, meaning that the entire 4 hours of the event, the waiters carried around bottles of champagne and refilled our glasses every time they were below half full. The food was unbelievable too – there was a salad bar with a bunch of different cheeses, a sushi bar where you could order whatever kind of sushi you wanted, and a crêpe station where you could order crêpes made-to-order. There were also about 15 other dishes to choose from, and a plethora of desserts including chocolate mousse, cheesecake, and tiramisu. All in all, it was delicious and a perfect way to celebrate our one-year anniversary in country.

To celebrate my birthday, my neighbor and other people in my town have been talking about throwing me a party since I got to site. When the time finally got here, they weren’t able to do it on my actual birthday because I had to be in Managua for a meeting. So, on Wednesday night, they came to my house to ask me if I still wanted to do the party and to go over logistics. Nothing like some last-minute prep to really put me on edge! But in the end it worked out wonderfully. Apparently they had asked the mayor’s office in Chichigalpa to give them some money so that they could pay for the food, drinks and decorations.  They prepared all the food themselves (fried chicken, salad, rice, fried plantains) and came over on Thursday afternoon to clean my house and decorate it with white and purple balloons and streamers. They set up tables for the food and a stereo system for the music, we got our party on! After everyone got there, we ate and then we started dancing around 8pm and didn’t stop until midnight! It was a lot of fun, but more so it was a great opportunity for me to realize that there are people in my town that truly care about me. So much so, in fact, that they went to the mayor to ask for money for my party and did all the work themselves because they wanted to celebrate my birthday with me.  They also brought me a few little presents – from Chilo I got a bottle of sunscreen (haha) and from my English students I got a pair of earrings. I was really nervous about the party because I’m not the most social person in the world and I thought it might be awkward, but in the end it turned out really well.

The only other big thing that’s going on is that I was elected to the Volunteer Advisory Committee, or VAC. That means that I will represent all the volunteers in the department of Chinandega in the national VAC meetings where a representative from each department will meet. I’ll bring the concerns of the volunteers to the PC staff, and then bring news from the office back to the volunteers. It’s an important position because information is not always spread to everyone, and when people start to gossip, information gets convoluted. So I’m excited to represent Chinandega and be in the loop on what’s going on in the office and PC Washington.

I haven’t made much progress on any of the projects that I hope to complete before I finish my service. I did have a meeting with the mayor, and he is supposed to be getting me estimates on the water tower/tank so that I can make my formal presentation to my bosses. But so far I haven’t heard anything. I hope to stop by the mayor’s office this week and see if any progress has been made. PC recommends that you start your projects with at least a year left in service so that you will have time to finish them, so that’s what I hope to do. I hope to have the ball rolling on this project by mid-November. I’ll keep everyone updated on my progress!

I think that’s about all for now. Thank you to everyone who recognized my birthday…it was a good day and I was able to celebrate it with friends (and they even bought me a chocolate cake!). It’s hard to believe that one year is already down, but I’m looking forward to what the next year will bring. I really hope to push myself to do everything I can do before I leave. I want to leave a mark on my community so that 10 years from now they will still remember with pride that a gringa lived there for 2 years and made a difference. I also want to recognize and thank everyone who has supported me and helped me make it to this point, whether it be financially, emotionally, or in prayer. Each one of you is very important to me and I wouldn’t have been able to do this without you. So that’s it – until next time, folks!

back in the swing

08/07/2010

It’s taken me this entire week, but I think I am finally getting back into the swing of things here in Nicaragua. It really helps to be around other focused volunteers, because who wants to be known as the slacker? I have a ton of things to look forward to as well, which I will detail for you here:

1. My birthday. As many of you know, my birthday is September 3rd (cards are appreciated!). I’ve decided that I want to do something special for it, so that I have something to look forward to. So I’m planning a weekend trip to San Juan del Sur with a few other volunteers. I haven’t been yet, but supposedly it’s really beautiful and a great beach town. Like any major Nica town, there are hostels there that you can stay at for cheap, and lots of places to eat and of course, THE BEACH.

2. One-year in country. On September 2nd, I will be completing one year in Nicaragua. To celebrate this feat, we have decided to go to Managua and enjoy the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Intercontinental hotel. They have sushi, a carving station, and many other treats to gorge the palate. We’ll be doing this the same weekend, on Sunday the 5th.

3.  New volunteers coming in. The next group of Environment volunteers will be coming in right around that time as well. I’m really hoping to get to be a “greeter” which means I would go to Managua and meet the new volunteers at the airport and stay with them for 3 days at a conference center in Managua while they have their first meetings and debriefings about life in Nicaragua. There were 2 Environment volunteers there when we came in, and they were invaluable to me.

So that’s what I have to look forward to. Hopefully once September hits, time will fly. In the meantime, I am tirelessly working at the schools and gardens. More updates to come as all these wonderful things unfold!

10 Things I Hate, no wait, LOVE about Nicaragua

05/08/2010

This has been a fairly hard week, what with adjusting myself back into Nicaraguan life – a life without maids to come and make your bed, without air conditioning, without all you can eat buffets with homemade bread and REAL butter. I’ve been doing so much traveling this month and attending so many different conferences that I haven’t been in my house for more than a few days at a time. And when I was there, I knew I had another hotel stay or trip to McDonald’s (I get an Oreo McFlurry every time I’m in Managua) to look forward to. But that all came crashing to a halt when I came home for good a week ago to my hot, dirty house that has since been without power two days this week. I’ve had kind of a rough transition, and it’s really hard not to focus on the bad things. It’s really hard not to think about going home in 2 months and enjoying the luxuries of hot showers and every food I have been craving for the past 8 months. I find myself sometimes thinking so much about the bad things that I decided instead to focus the good things, the things that I love about this place. And that’s where this list came from. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed making it.

  1. I love how all of the children want to be my friend, how they call out my name when they see me, how they rush to greet me when I come to the school, how they make me drawings and are so very trusting and open.
  2. I love how everything (food wise) you could want is sold in the streets of the bigger cities, and how a lot of the people selling get on the buses also. I know this is out of necessity, because they need to make a sale and not because they are trying to make my life easier, but it’s still quite convenient.
  3. I love the sound of rain on my tin roof, and the relief from the unbearable heat that it brings. Rain has become the ultimate sigh of relief for me.
  4. I love that in pretty much any situation, I can speak Spanish and understand it. Living here for the past 8 months has improved my Spanish SO much…I can’t wait til I get back to the States and I whip it out on some unsuspecting Hispanic person. I’m going to blow their socks off.
  5. I love how almost every fruit and vegetable I could desire is available and SUPER cheap. For example, I can get a pineapple for $0.50 or 6 avocados for $1.00. Pretty sweet, huh?
  6. I love how public transportation is so easy here. Although sometimes it can be really frustrating, I have to admit that it is way more accessible (and cheaper) than in the States.
  7. I love the people who are truly generous and not conniving, who don’t want to rip me off and share everything they have, even though they have so little. It’s so nice to encounter these people.
  8. I love the beauty of the landscape. On the way home from Chichigalpa, there is the most beautiful view of the volcano La Casita, which is actually only 6 km from my site. The mountains make an amazing backdrop. And the lush green up in the mountains is unparalleled to anything I’ve seen elsewhere.
  9. I love tajadas (fried plantain chips) which come with a salad of cabbage and tomato and a spicy vinegar sauce. An order of tajadas with an ice-cold Coke in the middle of a 110° day – priceless.
  10. Lastly, I absolutely love the fact that I am not a tourist here. I love that I know the history of Nicaragua – where the people have been and where they are going. I love that I know about the political system and the economy, how I know where places are and how to get there.

Well, there’s my list. I really try to focus on these things when I’m having a bad day or really missing home. Speaking of which, I’ll be home in 53 days!

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