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!