It’s been three weeks since I’ve been in my new site of Condega, Estelí. The first few months of Peace Corps service (in fact, some say the first year) is all about getting acquainted with your community: getting to know people, learning about the health services, becoming familiar with community organizations, getting involved in community activities, etc. I’ve spent a lot of time observing my counterparts (a nurse and a health educator in the Ministry of Health), but have also had the opportunity to get out on my own. So far so good!

The majority of my first week was in health center observing what happens when people arrive, from admission to consultations. I observed multiple consultations with pregnant mothers and the vaccinations of young children. Let’s just say lots of screaming babies. My arrival to site coincided with the national vaccination campaign, so I was able to go out to a nearby tobacco factory (Estelí is famous for its tobacco production) to observe and help out.

   

Some shots of the Health Center last week during the holiday. Normally it´s full of patients!

In addition to observing at the health center, I’ve begun to give the charlas that are a large part of health education. My first week, I was invited by a doctor to help lead a workshop on HIV/AIDS with a group of pastors from various Evangelical churches. I was a bit nervous going in (talking with religious men about sex!) but they were very receptive. I unfortunately have not yet attended church here as I did during training, but I plan to start attending the Catholic church. I hope to also attend at least one service at all the churches in town at some point. Last week was Semana Santa and there were massive celebrations around the country. Here in Condega, I participated in a two hour “Jesus walk” through town to commemorate/pay homage to Jesus’s crucifixion. I’d guess some 800-1,000 people walked in the procession. Definitely one of the more interesting religious celebrations I’ve taken part in!

 

Prior to coming to Nicaragua, I worked as an HIV test counselor in a Chicago clinic, so I was excited to learn of the Ministry of Health HIV-testing initiative. While at a tobacco factory, two nurses administered the test while I went around convincing the workers to get tested. While people waited in line, I gave informal charlas (none of my usual posterboards with me) about HIV transmission and prevention. Out of 150 workers, over 80 got tested! It was a personal success for me convincing some middle-aged men to get tested. For many people, it may be the first (and possibly will be the only) HIV test of their life. I returned home that day quite inspired; definitely one of my more fulfilling days here 🙂

I gave my first health center charla on the importance of hand-washing and the steps to do it. I sang in front of 30 people (the happy birthday song, twice, is about 30 seconds), all the patients in the health center were silent (a feat), and the nurses who watched were entertained. I gave the same charla at another health post in town, and again at a school for children with special needs in one of the barrios. It was my first time entering a school in the community, and I loved it! I’m hoping to begin teaching in the schools in the coming weeks. I’ve already met the Ministry of Education representative here and have been invited to two teacher workshops, so I can happily report that relationship is starting to grow.

During my afternoons, I do any variety of activities, including trying to meet the other community organizations, walk around the community, attempt to make conversations with anyone willing to talk to me, spend time with my host family, read and/or exercise. I’m still getting used to the size of my site, but there are definitely benefits to living in a city. One of the nicest benefits is that there is a gym! I’ve been trying to head there once or twice a week. Probably my favorite time of day is between 5-6 pm. I’ve been going on a fair amount of runs here. It keeps me in shape, clears my head, and gives me the opportunity to view the surrounding areas: the views of the mountains lit up like gold takes my breath away. I still can’t believe I live in such a beautiful place…

Yes, I live here.

Although I’ve only been in site three weeks, I’ve already learned a few valuable and entertaining skills that I thought I’d share. They include how to eat a mango with no knife (i.e. peel using teeth), the skill of blowing your nose with no kleenex (of great use while running), only using about a third of the toilet paper I’m used to, the art of rocking in a rocking chair (yes it is an art, I can even do it for an hour now), and the ability to eat the same meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner and be okay with it (rice, beans, cheese and a tortilla). Hehe.

While it can be scary, it’s pretty exciting coming to a new place. I actually changed my name two weeks ago from Spanish name “Alicia” (pronounced ah-LEE-see-ah) to “Alisa” so I can spell my Spanish and English names the same on forms. So in a way, I kind of am a new person. I’m not saying I’m going to be someone I’m not, indeed it’s just the same old me (for better or for worse). But it’s exciting to think this city will be my home for the next two years, and I craft whatever type of life I’d like. While my days are pretty full, in general I’m enjoying the slower pace of Nicaraguan life. Sometimes the best part of my day is simply coming home and eating a mango (indeed, I’m averaging 2-3 mangos per day!) I’m consistently reading for pleasure for the first time in a while. I’m journaling more than I ever have in my entire life. I have time to do yoga or meditate if I choose. I can’t think of a time in my life I’ve been able to do all these things. All in all, life is pretty good.

   

Thought I´d share some photos of me and my host family planting peppers at their ¨finca.¨ I went again last weekend to help out. Fun times!

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