My Nicaraguan softball team

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For the past six months, I’ve been playing softball with a group of women in Condega. It’s been one of the most unique experiences I’ve had so far in Nicaragua, and I wanted to share a bit about it. After a bit of searching and through the connection of my old host brother, I started practicing with a group of women last June(ish). After enough women came out and expressed interest in starting a league, Condega formed its first softball league in decades. Baseball has been a wildly popular sport since the US Marines brought it here almost a century ago, so it seems fitting it would only be a matter of time before it got popular with women.

The Condega softball league has three teams, with the majority of the women playing organized from various tobacco factories in town. I’m playing with the Alfareras, basically meaning female Potters (nothing like a tough name like “Potters” to really intimidate the opponents, eh?). Alfareras refers to the pottery which has made my town somewhat famous (pre-Columbian pottery has been found in Condega and many artifacts are on display in a local museum). In any event, I like the ring to it and we’ve got pretty sweet uniforms. My team is comprised of a group of women, the majority of whom work in one of the local tobacco factories rolling cigars. Our two managers (both men) also work at the factory. In addition to the tobacco factory workers (three of whom are sisters), we’ve got a fifth-grade teacher and her two daughters, a woman who owns a meat-shop, a few homemakers, three high school students, a primary school gym-teacher, a university student, and me (the random foreigner). It’s an interesting group, to say the least.

From the months we spent practicing until now, I’ve had a wonderful time getting to know the women on and off the field. I’ve been out with them, been invited to a few of their houses, gotten to know their children, husbands, secrets, of course the ever-present chisme (gossip). Chisme is unfortunately unavoidable in Nicaragua, and it’s led to a few disagreements and fights within the team (more on that later). Nonetheless, I’ve formed some wonderful relationships that I’m pretty sure will last after my service ends, and already had some of my favorite times in Nicaragua with the team. One fun Friday night we tried holding a fundraiser for the team at a local bar. The fundraiser itself didn’t go so well, but we had a fun dance party anyway. Another Friday night we were hanging out, waiting for our uniforms to be done, with the topic of conversation the ever-exciting speculation on Alyssa’s love life (a topic I am unfortunately quite used to being asked about at this point…sigh.) After a particularly fun double-header, the entire time plus their families all went to a local pool to eat burgers, hang out and swim. A bunch of us jumped in the pool in our uniforms, and I taught my friend’s daughter how to dive. Great times.

The coolest thing is probably seeing my teammates on the street and having a connection with people in Condega that doesn’t have to do with work or health-related things. It’s also done wonders for me in town, both in terms of popularity and my image. Considering I’m the only foreigner playing in the league, I’m known more or less as “the white girl that plays softball.” I’ve met people on countless occasions who have referred to me as such. I find it entertaining. The conversation goes like this: general greetings, my name is Alyssa, I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer, I live in Condega… and then something like “oh, you’re the white girl that plays softball!” Often when I’m up-to-bat I hear random people in the crowd yelling “Vamos chela!” i.e. “let’s go white girl!” I don’t find it racist or offensive at all, people call me chela everyday (not unlike the mzungu I heard in Africa) and you get used to it after a while. Hey, at least they’re cheering for me!

In our Condega league, there’s a double-header every Saturday in the local baseball stadium. We got a decent crowd every now and then to show up; even the local TV stations have come to cover the league. My team is the best (no I’m not just saying that, we’re undefeated!) so our Saturdays are usually pretty fun. I’m not sure of our record, but it must be something like 15-0 within the league. I’ve been playing third base most of the season because I’m one of the few women with the stronger arm to make the throw. Some of you may know that I played fastpitch softball most of my life until college, so for me it was a bit of an adjustment playing slowpitch with women who had never picked up a ball before. I got a lot of action at third base and every now and then I’d make a diving catch that would be cause for an infield celebration and applause (or a few hoots and hollers) from the men watching on the sidelines. The different level of play was definitely an adjustment (I came to the conclusion there is no such thing as “hustle” here) but I didn’t come to the Peace Corps to show off my softball skills. I joined the league to meet women, get involved in a community activity and have a fun thing to do in my spare time. Although I must admit it something of a confidence booster to know I’m must be hitting something over .800 and my slugging percentage must be off the charts! I never hit a home run in the States and have hit a few here. Hooray.

We’ve also traveled to nearby municipalities (two communities near Condega, to another municipality of Estelí called Pueblo Nuevo, the municipality of Palacagüina in Madriz, and even in the city of Estelí in the military base). Traveling with the team was a blast. A bunch of us pile into whatever vehicle we can find (hiring a microbus, someone’s husband’s SUV or more likely hitching rides from a random man with a truck) and hit the road, laughing and enjoying ourselves as we hit potholes and fall over each other. Children and buckets of enchiladas included. We didn’t fare as well on the road because the teams in other municipalities had more experience playing. But it was good for our team to play better against better teams and generally improved team camaraderie. For me, it was just fun to leave Condega for an unknown Saturday adventure. I can’t really think of a better way to pass an afternoon than playing a sport I love, with people I love, in a country I love.

Another cool part about playing is the general enjoyment and difficulties of playing a sport in Spanish. Can’t say I’d ever done that before! I had to learn the lingo, especially the funny accent of English words and positions said with a Spanish accent (heeet, ronnn, peetcher, etc.) Every now and then it’s a bit difficult for me to get across what I’m trying to say (you try explaining infield fly rule in Spanish to a bunch of women who have never heard of it and may not understand the rules of baseball!) but generally I think I’ve done okay. My team finds me amusing, and as with all things Peace Corps and development work in general, you have to be okay with people laughing at you from time to time. Every now and then I say something stupid, and just laugh at myself anyway.

I try to stay positive and maintain a happy-go-lucky attitude which I’ve always tried to have since my high school sports days (I’m a huge high-five fan), but it’s hard when the women can often be extremely negative, gossipy and hard on each other. We’ve had women stop showing up to practice, quit the team in protest, refuse to talk or associate with certain women on the team, and worse things I won’t share here. The gossip is really uncontrollable. I try my best to stay out of the conflicts but it’s very difficult. Things came to a boiling point in December when we played a double-header (winning one by slaughter-rule) in the Championship series. However, we played without bringing our ID cards. The other team voiced a complaint with the Federation, who rewarded the two victories to them. My team was furious after we’d had multiple issues within our team and the others. Apparently there was a verbal fight and someone on my team said something that really ticked the other people off, so the league has been canceled indefinitely. We only just started the Championship series but it’s not looking too promising. Not the best ending to the league; let’s hope somehow it will be resolved.

My final anecdote is much happier and definitely the most amusing. Things are very official here, so a month or into the league we started to fill out personal identification cards for the softball league. As I was filling out my card, I notice something interesting on the ID card. Liga: Alyssa Eisenstein. Our manager and our team representative for the Baseball Federation were sitting next to me, so I asked them why my name was on the ID cards. They kindly informed me that at the meeting of the Baseball Federation, the three teams came to agreement and decided to name the league after me. Apparently they appreciate my “positive attitude and punctuality” (I’m one of the few that can be guaranteed to be on-time, not on Nica-time i.e. an hour late). I assume the fact that I’m a foreigner may or may not have something to do with it as well.

So there you have it, I’ve got a Nicaraguan softball league named after me!

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Elections and Celebrations

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So the national elections were last month which was a pretty big event. Election day was pretty tranquilo in Condega, but when the election results came in the celebration began. Current President Daniel Ortega won re-election, and because my town is pretty Sandinista, Condega was celebrating. People were lining the streets, singing campaign songs and waving flags. It was a very cool event to witness and I wanted to share some photos and a video with you!

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Local TV appearances

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I’m lucky enough to live in a town with multiple local television stations. As a former broadcast journalism major, and as someone interested in health communication, I recently had a few exciting weeks of media exposure that I wanted to share with you! From highlighting the work I do as a Peace Corps Volunteer in my first TV exclusive (see interview posted below), a radio interview, two live TV programs on family planning methods, and a few interviews with my counterpart and I on the activities we’re doing concerning sexual health education, my counterpart and I took advantage as much as we could to get the message out on sexual health education.

Last month, the Ministry of Health held a series of events regarding on sexual health in teenagers, organized by myself and my nurse counterpart Elba. We held a health fair specifically for adolescents in Condega with all three TV stations covering the event and over 100 youth in attendance. It was a great success. (I’ll put up some more pictures in another blog post about the heath fair)

 

Elba giving an interview during the health fair. I was also interviewed but don’t have any pictures!

The week before the health fair, Elba and I held a training for some youth promoters on sexual health, specifically on how to use condoms and encouraging the promoters to help us out at the fair, which they did. Here, Elba talks about the importance of youth promoters and the upcoming health fair with a local channel. (I was not interviewed).

The following week, one of the health center doctors and I hosted a 45 minute live program on family planning methods. We talked about appropriate methods at each age and received calls live on air from people calling from home! It was a great success. Many people told me they watched the program. Hooray!

  

Then again on a different channel, I was asked to talk about family planning on a weekly social issues program. We didn’t take any calls but it was a great program. I was also interviewed regarding family planning for the weekly regional radio program, which is heard all across northern Nicaragua and even parts of Honduras!

Probably the most exciting of all was my TV exclusive with Channel 6, a fifteen minute interview about me, the Peace Corps, my work here, my softball team, etc. It’s in Spanish so sorry for those who can’t understand… but perhaps you can hear the improvement in my accent since my last interview!

A beautiful country, before and after the rain

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Wanted to share a few cool panoramic photos I´ve put together!

 
This is the beautiful place I call home, taken this past April in the dry season.

And here´s what Condega looks like now, in the midst of the rainy season.

A beautiful view and best part of my run.. somewhere around mile three. Definitely beats a treadmill.

And here are two beautiful ones from the mountains Nueva Segovia, where I recently went to visit a Peace Corps friend and we went hiking in the mountains.  Qualalí is the town in the valley. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, Qualalí is absolutely breathtaking!

What a beautiful country I live in! Hope you enjoyed the pics!

The longest I’ve ever lived outside the US

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Hey everyone! I’ve been quite busy the last two months, so sorry for the lack of blogging. Hopefully this lengthy update with lots of pictures will make up for it. I’m about to finish my fifth month of service, with almost eight months in total in Nicaragua. That’s the longest I’ve ever lived abroad! I collectively lived in Africa nine months in college but on various trips, but my time in Nicaragua marks the longest I’ve continually been outside the US. While eight months is just a small part of the 27 months of my Peace Corps service, I’m feeling really good about what I’ve learned so far. I’m truly happy with my life here. But there’s still so much ahead, so I’m just trying to take it one day at a time. If I start to think too much about the fact that I still have over a year and a half left, it just gets overwhelming and freaks me out! So I’m just living day by day, planning just the month ahead and taking things as they come.

I’m involved in quite a few things now and I’m starting to form lots of relationships. Condega is a big town (10,000 people), but I’m happy to report that I see someone I know pretty much every time I walk out the door. Some of my happiest moments are the times I’m walking to buy some fruits and vegetables, greeting the familiar vendors at the market while running into a few of my students, someone I met at the gym, a woman on my softball team, a nurse, an NGO worker and some friend I met through my host family in the span of 20 minutes. Little things like that help me feel integrated in the community and put a smile on my face daily. I try to be friendly and meet as many people as I can, and it’s starting to pay off. I’m really starting to feel at home here :)

 

Lovely afternoon on the river in Condega with a Nica friend and a Peace Corps friend!

I’m continuing my health classes at La Fraternidad, a local NGO, as well as with fifth and sixth graders at one of the local elementary schools. Teaching is probably the best part of my week. It’s a lot of work planning the classes and it’s exhausting teaching them (I teach three hours back to back in the school with up to 35 students in each class… so an inevitable part of every class is quieting everyone down), but it’s definitely worth it. I’m developing relationships with my students and I can tell they look forward to class from how excited they are when I enter the classroom. Even after three months I still get a few girls who run to hug me (aw!). I’ll be finishing the series soon and will be quite sad not to be seeing my students on a weekly basis. However, I plan to come back at least once a month to visit and give follow up classes so the students don’t forget everything I’ve taught them. I’m hoping to move on to high school students, which I’m quite excited about because there are many girls who get pregnant as early as 14 or 15 at the local high school. There’s definitely a need for comprehensive sexual education, exactly the reason I’m here.

Photos from a recent class on preventing teenage pregnancy.

  

Between the eight combined classes I teach weekly, plus two youth groups I’ve formed and youth promoters, I’m working with over 200 teenagers weekly in Condega. Wowzers. So far I’ve really enjoy working with youth. They are definitely a priority group as far as risks for pregnancy, HIV and STDs (the prevention of which are the main priorities of my program). However, I’m also starting to look into other groups as well, as my job requires working with adult populations as well. Many work opportunities are arising. They include working with various community women’s groups (I’m starting to work with a women’s NGO that supports solar ovens and a juice cooperative), working with youth promoters from around Condega (I’m currently supporting about 20 promoters from two different local NGOs), giving charlas to a group of young men who play soccer (a lot of them dropped out of school, aren’t working and basically never received sexual education), and perhaps even assisting in the building of bridges from an American NGO working in Nicaragua. As you can see, I’ve got my hands quite full!

Another recent development is that I moved host families two months ago and am now living pretty much in the downtown area of the city. I’m a lot closer to everything as far as food, work and errands go, and things are going really well with the new family. I really like the family and the food is great. I think I’ll be living with them for a while. I really like living with families so I’m not in a rush to get my own place just yet. I’ve been back to visit my old host family a few times and we still get along very well. I also bought a bike, so now I fly around town and get places much faster. I’m hoping to start going on some bike rides to some of the areas in the mountains around here.

My new street in the heart of downtown! It just rained so no one is outside… but usually it’s full of people.

The house cat Mariposa (butterfly) pays a visit to my room. Plus the view of my table after the power went out and I was reading by candlelight (it’s been going out pretty frequently recently). Making the table are photos of grandparents, college friends, my favorite Peanuts strip (best birthday gift ever! thanks mom!), my cousins, a going away card from my parents, and a pic with Barack Obama/Dick Durbin from high school :) Another family photo is on my desk.

The other exciting thing is that I’m playing on a softball team! The team is comprised mainly of a group of women from a local tobacco factory. After almost two months of practicing, we’re about to start an official Condega softball league with three teams. As some of you may know, I played softball all my life back in the States (shout out to the HPHS Giants) so my skills are coming in handy here. Besides being the only foreigner, I’ve gained something of local fame for the occasional ball I send flying to the outfield when up to bat (hey it’s slowpitch, a lot easier than what I was used to with fastpitch!) Some people I meet randomly have even commented, “oh you’re the white girl playing softball here!” I get a kick out of that. It’s been a great way for me to get out and meet people and to be visible in the community.

Last week we traveled to a nearby municipality in Estelí to play another women’s team. We had a rough first inning where Pueblo Nuevo went up 6-0, but we played very well and had a great time. We still lost, but I was happy after going 3-4 with three doubles and 4 RBIs… hehe. After the frustration of the first inning wore off, it was all laughs and smiles. I was having one of my “on” days with Spanish and was joking around with everyone, it was a great time. Exactly the reason I love sports and am so happy to find baseball here in Nicaragua. The second game was canceled after the rain came in the second inning, but we were served lunch and got to hang out with the other team. One quietly asked if I would join their team. No dice, I’m 100% Alfarera (the symbol of Condega meaning potter or artisan). We get our uniforms next week and are having a little parade in town to kick off the league, so I’ll be sure to share pictures!

Can’t imagine a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

Last Friday I visited a small community an hour and a half outside Condega for a health fair with a Nicaraguan NGO, Movimiento Comunal (Community Movement) and a team from MINSA (the Ministry of Health). We had educational charlas (I gave one on personal hygiene/prevention of diarrhea/hand washing), medical consultations, vaccinations, dispensed medications, pap smears and even a piñata for the kids. Plus I got to meet the Vice Minister of Health who traveled all the way from Managua to see it. I always enjoy traveling out to the communities. It was a great day so I thought I’d share some pics!

 

Views of the health fair. All the posters were made by me- they are the posters from the charlas I normally present at the health center but thought people could read them as they waited in line for their consultations. Plus a nice picture of me with the Community Movement youth promoters.

Now for a few travel updates. Two months ago my group met up in Managua for a three-month reconnect, and a group of us went to Granada for the weekend. Granada is a beautiful colonial city, touristy, lots of activities, restaurants, etc.. We spent an afternoon out in the lake visiting one of the isletas (small islands) and swimming at the base of a volcano! The highlight was probably just getting together with some friends and eating great food, a nice change of course from the traditional Nicaraguan staples of rice and beans. I had some friends come visit last month and we went to Estelí for a day trip to visit a pine forest up in the mountains. It was refreshingly cold and windy 1,000 meters up. Unfortunately forgot my camera, so no pictures to share, but it was very beautiful! I also celebrated July 4th with a bunch of Volunteers. It was really fun to celebrate America abroad. Other than the random day here or there I’ve been in Condega for almost two months straight, so I’m looking forward to the upcoming month of September with many activities ahead. I’m attending two Peace Corps workshops (one in the beautiful mountains and coffee region of Matagalpa and the other in Estelí) and will take my first true vacation in Nicaragua after being here almost nine months… it’s about time!

Beautiful Granada, stunning view of Mombacho Volcano (perfect place to jump off the boat and swim!), and having fun with some Peace Corps friends (likely in back of a taxi with at least seven people stuffed in).

 

Celebrating Fourth of July in Ocotal, Nueva Segovia

 

Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Celebration in Ocotal, Nueva Segovia (with my spiffy new Peace Corps Polo shirt!). JFK’s legacy lives on…

Enjoying fritanga (basically fried street food that is cheap and delicious). The above plate cost me less than $2 and consists of gallo pinto (Nicaraguan staple of rice and beans), an enchilada (rice and chicken in a fried shell), fried cheese, fried mashed potato, fried plantains, and a cole slaw type salad topped with cheese. A gastronomic delight. With all the fried stuff you understand why diabetes and blood pressure are huge health issues here. Can’t imagine how much weight I’d gain if this was a regular part of my diet… but I do treat myself to fritanga every now and then!

Overall eight months in, I’m feeling good. I’m grateful that I’ve made it this far, and also that I still have so much ahead of me. So much to learn, so much to see, but so much time to do it! My Spanish is definitely improving and I’m getting to know a lot of people. Keeping very busy with work. Starting to make some friends. Eating better, exercising and taking better care of myself (luckily haven’t gotten sick in five months! It’s a miracle!) Reading again (there was a full month I didn’t have time to pick up a book) and trying to slow down a bit. Life is (still) good.

Not a bad setting for a baseball stadium. I traveled to Esteli two days in a row to check out a baseball game but it was canceled both times because of the rain! With a member of my softball team and her son after the game. Hopefully I’ll actually see a game soon!

That’s all for now. Hope you’ve enjoyed the update and all the pictures! Sorry for the small sizes, uploading 45 high-resolution photos was going to take forever so I had to downsize them. Looking forward to hearing from everyone back home! Hope you’re all having great summers. Comment below!

The soundtrack of my life

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I spent the last few weeks recording the various sounds of Condega to put together an audio slideshow of the “soundrack” of my life. Although I’ve since moved to a new host family (so my walks and daily routine are a bit different now), you can get a glimpse at the sights and sounds of my daily life. Hope you like it!

 

I’m on TV!

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Last Thursday a weekly show on a local public access channel interviewed me for a program on HIV to find out what I am doing, as well as MINSA (the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health), to combat HIV/AIDS. The interview is in Spanish.. so sorry for those who can’t understand, but in general I talk about the various activities I´m doing (giving educational charlas about HIV in the health center and in various communities, teaching health classes, forming youth groups, helping out with the HIV test when I go out to community visits, etc.), what MINSA’s doing, as well as why it’s important to know your status and get tested.

My accent is better than it was a few months ago but still needs much improvement…oh well. Also the sound quality is pretty bad (recorded on my camera, not the best mic). Sorry :/

Happy watching!

Here’s a short clip featuring a local NGO worker talking about my role, includes a cool shot of me giving the HIV charla in the health center. The audio is terrible so you can’t really hear what he’s saying. Oh well.

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