Sunday, January 31, 2010

Almost half-way… projects in-mind and underway

Well, I’ve adjusted to being back in Nicaragua now. The first few bucket showers were a cold wake-up call (literally). It was nice to come “back home” after vacation to my little pink house and visit with my neighbors and friends in the community. They were all excited to hear what I had done back in the states and they all loved the little gifts (candy, hand lotion, “Alaska” souvenirs) I brought back to share.
Some news: a new Peace Corps Nicaragua community health volunteer group has just arrived in the country. It’s hard to believe that my group arrived one year ago! I’m involved in helping train the new group by giving a two sessions: working with youth and community analysis tools. This new Peace Corps group will be in training until April when they will be officially sworn-in as volunteers (just like I was last April). The sad part is that the health group who arrived one year before I did will be leaving – their two years of service is up and their replacements will take over their sites. I’ve gotten to know the older health group pretty well and will miss them when they leave. They had a lot of good resources in that group: a previous nutrition college professor, two married couples who always had neat projects going on to inspire me, some had Masters in Public Health degrees… They’ll be missed! Can’t wait for their going-away part in March, hopefully at the beach!
Now that I’m back in site, I’m starting to think about projects that I want to accomplish in the 14 months I have left of service. I’m realizing that the time is really flying by and I need to take advantage of every day I have in site to get things done. Here is a look at what I’m thinking of working on/have already started on:
-HIV/AIDS training for all teachers at the local high school
-HIV/AIDS training for the local police
-First Aid/CPR training for local health volunteers and midwives from the villages with the aid of a non-profit organization from the U.S. ( )
-Continued support to rural teen “health promoters” who learn about health topics (STDs, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, sexual and reproductive rights…) and teach other youth about these issues. I educate them on the topics and help them plan their sessions.
- Continued classes on sexual and reproductive health in the high school and a possible health fair.
-With my site-mate (who is a small business volunteer), starting a community bank with the health center staff to encourage savings and earn money off the interest.
-I’ve also recently started an aerobics/dance class with a group of women. It’s been a fun way to stay active and also share information with them about eating right and exercise.
-Continued work in soy cooking – perhaps some cooking classes for my neighbors who own several restaurants in town and mothers in rural communities.
-Private tutoring for some neighbor kids in their college courses.
-Billiards tournament at a local pool hall with a focus on HIV/AIDS education for men. The participants have to answer questions about HIV/AIDS to win – it’s a great way to reach a vulnerable population and increase knowledge about the importance of condom use.

Well, those are just a few of the main things that I’ve been thinking about and starting to work on since I’ve been back. New ideas are constantly coming up, especially when I talk with other volunteers and hear what they’re up to. The biggest roadblock to all projects in Peace Corps is of course, lack of funds. There are some funds from the U.S. government we can request especially for HIV/AIDS education, so I’m hoping to apply for those in the future (they give up to $500), but the rest is mainly do-it-yourself funding or begging local organizations to help out.
Last night I went to a girl’s 15th birthday party (if you’ve read my previous blog about this, you’ll remember that it’s a BIG deal here). The family pulled out all the stops. All the women and girls of the family had new dresses, there were pink balloons and banners everywhere, a large box draped in pink silk held all the gifts, a three-layer pink cake topped with a figurine of a girl in a pink dress towered on a table and there was even a private ceremony by the Catholic priest. We all got dinner, soda pop, ice cream and they even started handing out rum at the end. In short: a fun night.
Oh, P.S., here is a YouTube video I posted last month of me giving a tour of my house. If you haven't already, check it out! My house is pretty darn nice by Peace Corps standards, but it did take a lot of work to get to that point. I'm sick of painting, fumagating, fixing, repairing... I am pretty happy with it though since my previous two host families were a lot more cramped and dirty situations.
Until next blog!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A well-deserved break...

¡ Feliz Navidad! y ¡Próspero Año Nuevo! (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!) Okay, so I’m a little late getting this blog out, but hey, I’ve been on a much-needed vacation for the past three weeks! (my only one in the past year) I’ll give you a little rundown of where I went and what I did.

I spent Christmas in Costa Rica with two friends who traveled from Sweden to visit. It was a little weird celebrating my first Christmas without snow, but it was nice to be on the beach on Christmas Day.

Although Costa Rica neighbors Nicaragua, sharing the same flora, fauna, climate and many of the same foods; there are some immense differences between the countries. Costa Rica is a much more politically neutral country than Nicaragua - they have no army and their main economic focus seems to be tourism (along with coffee and electronics exports). When I crossed over the border into Costa Rica by bus (it took eight hours total), I could almost instantly notice a difference. There was no trash littered on the sides of the road, and trees and plants were greener and healthier-looking. You could tell that Costa Rica takes care of their nature - they seemed to have a national park or wildlife reserve every few miles and you saw little exploitation of the land (in comparison to Nicaragua of course).

What you did see though was a lot of tourists – approximately 2 million tourists come to the country every year. From the moment we stepped foot into the capital of San José, to the beaches of the pacific, we were just a few more faces in crowds of countless Germans, Scandinavians, Australians, Canadians, Americans… But, tourists = money = development, and you saw that Costa Ricans had a much higher standard of living. Many Nicaraguans cross the border to come work in Costa Rica at low-paying jobs, and they send money back home, often to children and spouses they’ve left behind. Many people equate the relationship between Nicaragua and Costa Rica to that between Mexico and the United States.

I did enjoy Costa Rica – it was nice to see a place where the land was cared for and things like “customer service” weren’t just an afterthought. It was also great reuniting with my Swedish friend Mia who I hadn’t seen for over two years! We did a zip line canopy tour in the Cloud Forest, hung out at the beach, and even saw a leatherback sea turtle! On Christmas Eve enjoying a tropical drink :)

After Christmas, I headed from Costa Rica to Alaska. What a trip that was! I split it up into two days, so I wasn’t too jet-lagged. It was very nice to be able to see my family (including a new niece!) and friends again for New Years.

Alaska was as beautiful as ever, and I even go to see some snow! Being home, I relished in the little luxuries that I had always taken for granted before: hot water, potable tap water, carpets, wireless internet, a variety of food available at the grocery store… I definitely went through a bit of reverse culture shock when I first got back to the U.S., but I think my little Costa Rica trip sort of eased the transition a bit. The best part of being back in the U.S. was simply blending into the crowd. No one looked at me funny on the street, I didn’t get catcalls from rude men…I was surrounded by people who looked like me!
Above, the view from the flight into my town.
My family and I with Mt. Edgecumbe in the background.

I cooked my family a traditional Nicaraguan meal while I was home: red beans and rice, fried green plantains, steamed ripe plantains, steamed chayote squash, fresco cheese, avocado, corn tortilla and tomato and onion salad. I was giving them a preview of Nicaraguan food since they’re planning on visiting me this coming summer! My sister and I on a hike with our dog.

After I was in Alaska for a week, my family and I headed down to Portland, Oregon for my Grandma’s 90th birthday. It was a fun excuse to see family that had travelled from other states to celebrate together. My Grandma is an amazing woman. She is truly a world traveler. She picked up traveling after her husband died and has been to countless countries. Israel, China, Russia, South Africa, Egypt, Spain, France, Greece, Germany, Costa Rica, Philippines, Indonesia, Panama…and many more that I can’t remember. I’d love to have a list that long when I’m her age – and hopefully I can make it to 90 and still be as healthy as she is!

My cousins and I surrounding my Grandma with "spirit fingers"!

From Oregon, I returned to Nicaragua. This country is so small; on the flight from Houston to Managua I recognized like three people (an Embassy family and another Peace Corps volunteer). I just got in last night. It’s a little strange to be back and it will probably take me a couple weeks to fully adjust. I had to remember that you can’t throw toilet paper into the toilet bowl here…and I sort of miss hot showers, but oh well, my time here is so short (I have 14 months left) and those things won’t be bothering me in a few days.
More updates soon when I get back into the swing of things here. The new group of Peace Corps health volunteers comes next week! It was one year ago on January 22nd that my health group arrived! What a fast and crazy ride this past year has been…