A lot of things have happened since my last blog post, so prepare yourself for a long entry! In sum: within about five days, I had a parasite go through my system, bites from bed bugs cover my body, and a wonderful visit to my future home for the next two years 🙂

The name of my site is Condega, located in the department of EstelĂ­. EstelĂ­ is a mountaneous, cooler region in the northern part of Nicaragua, but not quite on the border of Honduras. The region is famous for its tobacco and cigar production. There are also numerous natural reserves located within the mountains. The department capital city (also called EstelĂ­) is a city of some 120,000 people, the third largest city in Nicaraua. I’m about a half hour bus ride north of the city on the Panamerican highway, which is very convenient.

The mountains of EstelĂ­ – en route to Condega.

Condega itself has a population of about 10,000 people in the urban center, with some 30,000 living in the greater city. Condega also is known for its cigar production, as well as pottery/ceramics (pre-Columbian art has been found in the region), coffee and leather. The town is also known for hosting a spy plane (from the previous dictator Somoza) that was shot down by the Sandinistas in 1979. It’s on display on the top of a hill. I went and visited it during my visit, quite fascinating! The region was hard hit by the fighting during the Revolution, so there’s a lot of interesting stories to learn. The site is considered medium size but for me, it’s quite large: before coming to Nicaragua I had the image of living in a hut for two years for my Peace Corps Service. Quite the contrary! There are plenty of restauraunts, internet cafes, ice cream shops, a small supermarket (a bigger one will be built in a few months), many shops, a few bars, baseball and soccer stadiums, a basketball court, multiple schools, a police station, a cultural center, a beautiful central park with a fountain, among many other things.

Condega has a lot of the things I asked for: it’s up north in a cooler, mountaineous climate, a small/medium size city, there are NGOs to work with, lots of work in surrounding communities, great need for youth education in town, etc. Probably the thing I like most about the site is that I will be the first health Volunteer there. A Small Business Volunteer was there from 2007-2009, but it’s up to me to start the relationship with the health workers, NGOs, schools and neighboring communities. The sky’s really the limit when it comes to work opportunities. I love the idea that I have the opportunity to start a great tradition and legacy of Peace Corps Volunteer service in Condega. I can do as much, or as little (but for those of you who know me, this of course won’t be the case!) as I want during my two years. Because I’m not following in someone’s footsteps, I can start the precedence of PC service here.

The few days before our site visits were really busy back in our training towns, and by the time last Thursday came around, I was exhausted. Between Wednesday night and Friday afternoon, I slept over 24 hours, and basically spent two days between my bed and the bathroom. Not fun. I knew something was wrong and got in touch with the Peace Corps Medical office. The lab tests came back Friday afternoon; I had a parasite (amoeba)! Made one too many trips to the bathroom during those days, I won’t go into great detail but let’s just say it was gross. I made it to Managua on Friday night, ate my first meal in two days, and headed out Saturday with my new work counterparts to Condega.

The three hour rides was one of the most exciting of my life. I could hardly contain my excitement as we rounded hills and drove past mountains. I’m still in disbelief to how lucky I am to call this beautiful place my home! Condega is a beautiful town in the valley of a mountain range, with a river flowing through the back of town. Sweet. I spent the next few days in a whirlwind of meetings and brief introductions to many people in town. One day was spent visiting an outlying community with a doctor and two nurses on a vaccination campaign. It was pretty cool to watch young children get vaccinated against polio, couldn’t help but marvel at the wonders of modern medicine. Part of my job assignment in this particular site is to work in the neighboring communities on health education. Many of these communities are impoverished with various health problems, and little access to health care. This particular one didn’t have a paved road to reach it. Driving on dirt roads in a Jeep with health workers reminded my of my days in Uganda with the World Food Programme. I can’t deny I love the adventurous nature of getting out to remote villages, and considering the need for sexual health education, I’m pretty sure I’ll continue on many community visits throughout my time as a Volunteer.

The next big surprise started Sunday and continued through Thursday, when I woke up each morning with small red dots covering my body. My range of emotions went from confused by the patterns of the bites, to scared when I realized what it might be, to crazy when I realized how much my entire body itched! The prognosis: bed bugs! Ahh! I might have had over 70 bites across my body, just an estimate. The largest concentration was across my stomach and back. It was not a fun few days, especially waking up at night in “itch attacks” because hydrocortizone was seemingly ineffective.  I received them from the bed I stayed at with my likely future host family. Eek. Thankfully the bites are dying down now that I’ve returned from my training town, and got some high-powered anti-itch pills from the Peace Corps medical office. If nothing else, it makes a good story, and I can laugh about it now!

Obviously the most attractive pictures of me you’ve ever seen but it was photo-worthy and share-worthy: the “belt” of bites that covered my back and stomach, and my right calf covered in bites.

I spent my last day in Condega walking around by myself, learning more about the layout of the community. Having spent the last four days completely on my own, and only in Spanish, I got a taste of what my future life will be… and I love it. The site visit was great for a lot of reasons. The biggest was to preview what our service will be: where we will live, who we will work with, what types of jobs we’ll be doing. But for me, it was also a great reminder of why I signed up for Peace Corps. The final weeks of training will be a great time to process what’s gone on the last few months, and recommit to service now that I actually know my site.

Despite a rough few days with a parasite and bed bugs, and the scariness of the first time really being on my own in this country, I can happily report that there is no where else in the world I’d rather be at this moment. As some of the “team north” Peace Corps Trainees headed back to Managua through rolling hills and beautiful scenery, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the wonderful opportunity I’ve been given: to make some wonderful relationships (both within Peace Corps and with Nicaraguans), explore this new, beautiful region of the country, learn about the culture and history here, and embark on possibly life-changing work. So much to learn, so much to see, so many possibilities and opportunities ahead. I truly can’t imagine being anywhere else!