Wednesday, December 2, 2009

AVC and AIDS Day

What a crazy past 10 days this has been. Two big things to update you on: All Volunteer Conference and the World AIDS Day concert in my department capital.
I’ll start with All Volunteer Conference (AVC). All of the ~180 volunteers in Peace Corps Nicaragua descended upon the Best Western Hotel in Managua (one of the nicest hotels in Managua- we were pumped) for two days of workshops, forums, meetings, etc. Due to budgetary reasons, apparently AVC was not held last year, so I feel lucky to be able to have participated this year. The theme of this year’s conference was “A cross-sectoral approach to food security.” If you’re a follower of my blog, you may remember a previous entry I wrote that had to do with food security. For those of you who missed it, the quick definition of the phrase food security is: “when all people have sustainable access to sufficient food to lead a healthy and productive life.” The root cause of food insecurity is poverty, so this topic is especially relevant in Nicaragua. Food security involves all the five sectors of Peace Corps working in Nicaragua (small business, environment, agriculture, health, and teaching English), so it makes sense that we addressed this problem with all the volunteers in-country with a focus on collaboration and cross-sector work. Food security has to do with whether appropriate food is available, if people have the purchasing power to access that food, whether they know how to prepare it in healthy ways, health conditions of food preparation...
Throughout the conference I attended workshops on food preservation and cooking, an informational session on careers in the Foreign Service which was facilitated by U.S. Embassy staff from Nicaragua, a information session on extension/transfer options within Peace Corps (yes, it’s possible to stay in Peace Corps for longer than two years, and perhaps go to another country!), and a session on career building for Nicaraguan youth. Throughout the entire conference we also enjoyed hot showers, air conditioning, cable television, a pool, gym, and amazing food. We all felt like we were in a sort of mini-United States for a few days. I met so many new people and made a lot of good connections for future projects and collaborations with other volunteers.
To close-out the conference, a talent show was held and open to all volunteers. To start out the show, they had asked for a presentation by each of the five Peace Corps sectors. Somehow, some girls from my health group and I ended up being roped-into doing a rap about HIV/AIDS. This was a rap that we had created in pre-service training months before, and it was still well-remembered by the other health volunteers and they all voted that we represent the health sector. Our rap group’s name was “Fusion 4” and we created a rap about the four bodily fluids that transmit HIV/AIDS. Intriguing, I know. It took us quite a while to think up rhymes in both Spanish and English, and each one of the four of us represented one of the fluids: blood, breast milk, semen and vaginal secretions. I got semen.
I’ll give you a few samples of our English rap lyrics so you can get an idea of our rhyming genius: “You might think you’re cool and daring, but you could be infecting yourself with that needle you’re sharing,” “If you wanna be a he-man, you better be baggin’ that semen!” “Hey mama, do the test before you give ‘em your breast!” And so on…
Needless to say, it went over pretty well and don’t worry, I have it all on video. Here is our rap group:

AVC ended on Thanksgiving Day, and perhaps the best part of the whole event was the Thanksgiving dinner that I got to attend. Peace Corps set-up all the volunteers with Embassy families and Peace Corps staff to have dinners at their homes. I was assigned, with three other girls, to the Public Affairs Officer (Kathleen) for the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua and enjoyed a very memorable Thanksgiving.
Kathleen had invited about thirty other people from her office (mostly Nicaraguans), and her two adopted Bolivian teenage daughters were also visiting from the boarding school they attend in the U.S. Now, to give you a little background information on why I was so blown away by the dinner, you have to remember that on a normal day-to-day basis in Nicaragua I am killing cockroaches in my bedroom, going without water/electricity, taking bucket baths, and eating beans and tortilla at every meal. Kathleen’s house, on the other hand, was located in a very fancy suburban gated community of Managua, had a pool and eight bathrooms. We ate with silver and china and had four different types of pie. The other Peace Corps volunteers and I were practically crying at the end of the meal we were so happy. We also were invited to spend the night at Kathleen’s house and to top all of it off; she let us use her washing machine!! What an amazing invention. We were in heaven.

The next day, I had to tear myself away from Kathleen’s house- it was very difficult to leave Managua after a week of gringo-time and good food and hot showers, but I had no choice. Besides, I had to scoot back to my site to get ready for World AIDS Day (December 1st). In my town, we organized a work-party with about 25 youth to make posters and large red ribbons to put up around the town with information about HIV/AIDS. Volunteers in my nearby departmental capital had applied for some Peace Corps funds to hold a concert by a popular Nicaraguan rock group, and it was held on December 1st and open to youth from the surrounding communities. I traveled there for the concert with six youth from my community (between 13-15 years old) to help out with the concert and to chaperone the kids. Before the concert started, there were lots of games and activities with questions about HIV/AIDS and prizes. I manned the ring-toss.

Many non-profits were also there with informational tables and were giving out pamphlets and condoms. About 400 youth attended in all. The musical group was called Perrozompopo (sp?) which in Nicaragua means “gecko.” The kids were star struck and after the concert were getting autographs on their arms, backs, shirts, pants… The three girls that came from my town were excited to be able to leave home on an adventure and spend time with other youth.

The highlight of the event was a large condom costume that the Peace Corps volunteers had made, and one of them wore it around the whole night, strutting his stuff and dancing. It was quite the scene. As a health volunteer you learn to be pretty comfortable with condoms.

After the concert, I ended up having to chaperone alone about forty girls in a dormitory-like facility. These girls were all hyped-up from the music and all the contact they’d had with boys that day and it was no small feat getting them in their bunks and the lights turned off. I think I slept about two hours the entire night. It reminded me of middle school, except this time the roles were reversed and I was the mean lady telling them to get in bed and be quiet. It went successfully though – when we woke up the next morning I was relieved to see that all the girls were still alive and breathing and not pregnant.
The concert was a great way to celebrate World AIDS Day – I met a lot of youth who were really passionate about AIDS education and were very knowledgeable. Others had no clue what AIDS was but just wanted to come to the concert. I guess the event helped both of them – hopefully the kids learned something through it all.

I’m getting ready to take Christmas vacation in a couple weeks, so no big projects planned until I get back. Just relaxing a bit in my site and settling-into my house a bit more (good news – fleas are gone!) I’m planning on going to Costa Rica with some girlfriends over Christmas. I’ve never been before and it’s going to be interesting to see the differences between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Although they are so close, they are worlds apart in terms of their economies, tourism, and environmental policies.
More soon – from Costa Rica!

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