Hard to believe I’ve already been in Nicaragua one month. Sorry for the lack of blogging – it’s been hard to find time to sit down and write. The most important thing to know is that things are going very well and I’m truly enjoying my time in this country. So what have I been doing for the last month?

We have Spanish class most days from 8-12 with “cultural sessions” in the afternoon. My group is at the intermediate-advanced level, meaning we’re already pretty proficient. Class consists of discussions, grammar, new vocabulary, games, reading articles, etc. Pretty much as long as we’re speaking Spanish all the time, it gets easier. I feel pretty comfortable with my Spanish at this point and am grateful I had some knowledge of the language before (not everyone comes in with a strong Spanish background and it’s a lot harder for them to communicate). However, I really need to boost my vocabulary, improve my accent and lessen my grammar mistakes.

We have official Peace Corps training sessions on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The sessions consist of anything that will be relevant to our service for the next two years. The past few week’s sessions have included the biology of HIV/AIDS transmission, how to train youth promoters, the stages of pregnancy, common illnesses among Volunteers, non-formal education techniques, cultural adaptation, teenage pregnancy, HIV prevention, etc.

Twice a week we get together with a youth group. One of the main goals of the Healthy Lifestyles program is to cause healthy behavior change in Nicaraguan youth, particularly in regard to teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and STDs. Once we move to our sites we’ll be doing a lot of work with youth, so our current work with this youth group is to learn, try out different facilitation techniques and have fun! Most of our group are teenage girls. We played soccer last week and had a blast. This past week we had our first “charla” or chat/informal lesson on behavior change. We talked about self-esteem, confidence, communication skills and other key factors that help lead a healthy, positive life.

Machismo culture is huge here, so working to empower young women is essential. I’m sure I’ll be writing a lot more about this in the future, but here’s a summary of some of the problems Nicaraguan youth face: it’s a mostly male-dominated society so young women here often don’t have much confidence. The male in the relationship often can do whatever he wants, particularly in regards to pressure to have sex. Teenage pregnancy is a huge problem; consistent condom use is about 3 percent nationally (!!). It’s not uncommon for a 13 or 14 year-old to drop out of school because she is pregnant. The burden usually falls on the girl and her family to care for the child. It then becomes a cycle; she drops out of school, stops receiving health education, often will have two or three kids by her 20s. Small prospects for economic growth considering she has no time for school or a job with all the work to do around the house and caring for the children. The fathers are often absent. Nicaragua has one of the worst, if not the worst, teenage pregnancy rates in all of Latin America. But all is not bleak. The upside to the culture is that family is a true unit here, similar to what I found in many African countries. People aren’t banished to the streets, whether they are teenage mothers or grandparents. No one gets left behind. Everyone is taken care of, somehow. A big part of what I want to do as a future Volunteer will be to form strong relationships with the young women in my community to encourage them to be empowered, strong and independent women. Causing true behavior change is a long, hard process. But it’s why I’m here!

Once a week, every Trainee gives a health charla at the local health center or health post. Last week I gave my first charla on HIV transmission and prevention. Health charlas are informal, 15 minute sessions for the people waiting to see a doctor or nurse. We’re expected to give four or five health charlas throughout our training, in addition to five charlas with our youth group. In the health centers, patients are often waiting for a while with nothing to do anyway, so it’s a great way to reach people and try out different teaching techniques. For my charla, I talked about what HIV does to the body, myths of transmission (saliva, tears, urine, shaking hands), and a bit on prevention (the popular ABC method of abstinence, be faithful and condom use). Everyone was pretty quite but I must have done a good job because after the session my other PC trainee friend (who followed with a charla on AIDS) were asked when we would come back to give another one. Hooray! Next week I’m giving a charla on nutrition and the importance of a well-balanced diet, especially for pregnant mothers. Stay tuned.

We don’t have too much free time but when I have it I do a variety of things, from running, taking a nap, reading (books from home and also Nicaraguan newspapers, the inner journalist in me won’t go away), playing soccer (not as much as I’d like – I sprained my ankle two weeks ago which put me out of commission), walking around town, hanging out with the other trainees at my site, doing class activities, visiting a Cyber, watching CNN (my family gets cable, so it’s been awesome to keep up with what’s going on in Egypt), and hanging out with my host brothers and sisters. As you can see with all the aforementioned activities, Peace Corps keeps us pretty busy. I’m just taking it day by day. I started to come down with strep throat this week but luckily caught it early and am starting to recover.

It doesn’t take a lot to make me happy, and there are so many little things here that put a smile on my face. The people are incredibly warm and friendly. Yesterday I sneezed on the street and a man 50 feet away from me yelled “Salud!” I can’t walk for more than a minute before being greeted on the street. I’m recognizing people at church and at the church youth group. Last week I had one of the most delicious mangos and pineapple in my life (not as sweet as the ones in Uganda, though!). The sunsets are stunning, and every now and then I’ll walk on a small hill and get a view of the surrounding mountains. Last week I saw a double rainbow. The stars are brilliant at night. My sister Mara bought me a map of the stars before leaving the U.S. so I’m going to learn about the constellations with my host siblings.

I actually look forward to eating rice and beans for lunch and dinner. Life is good.