The work, and the rain, begins


And so begins the work and the rainy season here! Sorry it’s been a while for a real update on my life. I’ve been keeping pretty busy with a full work schedule the last two months, while trying to stay dry and not get eaten alive by mosquitoes. Estelí is looking quite beautiful at this time of year: all the mountains and hills that were dry and a depressing shade of yellow are now a bright vibrant green. My running route continues to take my breath away (see previous post for pictures). Life is often put on hold here, sometimes for an entire afternoon, when the rain comes. It’s fun to witness. When it rains here, it doesn’t just rain: it downpours. The sound of the rain falling on my host family’s roof, though loud, is really beautiful. I like to sit in a rocking chair in the front entrance of the house and watch things get washed away in the street, or sit in my room and read with the natural sountrack.

My work schedule looks something like this: Monday health classes in La Fraternidad, a NGO funded by Austria that supports various before- and after-school programs; Tuesday with my nurse counterpart observing house visits to various barrios in town, Wednesday morning in the health center observing and giving a charla (15 minute health presentations on various topics) with the afternoon giving health classes at a local elementary school to 5th and 6th graders; Thursday visits to neighboring communities with various health center staff; and Friday mornings at the elementary school again with the other session of students. With the help of two nurses, we’ve started two new youth groups as well: a group of young women and a group of adolescentes from different barrios. We’re meeting every few weeks and so far I think it’s going well. Lots of things keeping me busy!

So far probably my favorite thing is teaching. I’ve designed a three month health series that I’m implementing at a local elementary school and at the NGO. We started with themes like self-esteem, communication, drugs and alcohol/making decisions and now are moving on to puberty and adolescence. Teaching is oodles of fun. I’m pretty interactive in class, using games, posters, activities, etc. The kids call me “profe” (short for profesora) and get really excited (some run to hug me) when they see me enter the school. I’m sure the excitement of having an American teacher will wear off soon but I’m enjoying it while I can. Also now there’s a ton of kids saying hi to me on the street which is a great confidence booster! Kids are an easier age group and entry point into the community: they’re open minded and accepting (and especially love the games and activities I use). Plus they are a lot of fun!

There have been quite a few celebrations as of late. A month ago were the Fiestas Patronales in Condega (festival of the patron saint of Condega, Saint Isidro). I had my first visitors in town: a few Peace Corps Volunteers from the neighboring northern department of Nueva Segovia. It which was really fun having people to show around town. Work slowed down for the week as people went with their families to the carnival rides, to the central park where artisan vendors came to set up tents, to check out the stands full of toys, to eat street food, or to drink (which was a big part of the festivities). It was a fun few days in town.

Mother’s day is a national holiday here (i.e. no school) and somehow it became something of a four-day weekend. We put on a celebration in the health center for the brigadistas, volunteer health workers that help the health center staff mobilize people about various health campaigns. I got to introduce myself to the many brigadistas in attendence, which was great because I hope to work with them in the future. A few local musicians played, we danced and of course had piñatas. Yours truly even made it on local TV when it was my turn with thepiñata. There’s a lot of dancing involved while partaking in the festivities: you don’t just go up swinging, you dance in circles and occasionally swing to hit the piñata. I unfortunately missed seeing it on TV but my host family said it showed me dancing.. oh dear. First celebrity moment here I suppose! The health center also had it’s own celebration for all the staff who are mothers as well. Somehow I ended up dancing in front of everyone. Again. I’ve come to realize you’ve got to be willing to make fun of yourself in front of a groups of people from time to time… hehe. In any event, a few people gave me compliments on my dancing skills! Hoorah.

Another celebration was for my 23rd birthday! I baked oatmeal raisin cookies at a new friend’s house to share with the health center staff (got me some brownie points from the nurses who loved them!). We also baked a chocolate cake to eat at night with my host family.  I did treat myself to a pedicure for $3 (big splurge). Other than that, nothing too exciting went on. The more exciting part was the weekend, when I made my first official trip to Estelí, the big regional capital (120,000) about 45 minutes south of Condega. I had only been to Esteli a few times for only a few hours before, so it was great to spend some time there. A bunch of Peace Corps Volunteer friends came in to celebrate so we had a great time. Italian food for dinner and a fun place after with live music! The next day happened to be a huge earth festival which was really fun to walk around. Lots of great food throughout the weekend: mexican tacos! hummus and pita! granola and yogurt! iced coffee! garlic bread! pasta! flan! oh my! (Note: My current diet consists of pretty much rice and beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner… so this weekend was a welcome change). Plus great company. Overall a great birthday!

Thanks to everyone for your birthday wishes (especially big shout-out to my parents, sister and aunt for the amazing packages). Fun fact: this year marks four years in a row celebrating my birthday in a different country with people of a different nationality than my own.

As you can probably tell from this blog, I’ve been keeping pretty busy and some pretty exciting things have been going on. Hard to believe that in a few weeks I will have marked six months in Nicaragua! In two weeks, I’ll leave Condega for the first time in three months to have a reconnect in Managua with my training group. I’m also about to move in with a new host family next month, stay posted for details on that. Also I’m working on putting together an audio clip of the sounds of Condega so stay tuned… been recording sounds over the last week so it should be pretty cool.

Hope you enjoyed the update and this post finds you well, wherever in the world you’re reading it!


A few happy pictures from this week 🙂


Running along the Pan-American highway

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I hope to have a blog post about my first two months in site up soon. In the meantime, I´d like to share some recent photos taken while on a run.  Condega is located right off the Pan-American highway, which at just under 30,000 miles stretching from Argentina to Alaska, owns the title of the world´s longest “motorable road.” While very convenient for me (I can reach two nearby department capitals in 45 minutes in either direction), there is something fascinating about living along this route.

I see trucks heading to Honduras carrying various goods (I´m an hour from the Honduras border), the ¨Tica¨ tourist bus on the Costa Rica-Nicaragua-Honduras route, old schoolbuses carrying Nicaraguans back to various smaller communities in the mountains, people in their private cars returning from a day´s work in Estelí, workers piled in the back of trucks, groups waiting outside one of the tobacco factories in Condega, military men outside the military base located 3 km south of town, men on bicycles, kids playing soccer, teens hanging out on a bridge, etc. There are some stunning views as I head south, especially starting at about mile 3 when the highway starts to weave in an out of the mountains. I also catch some spectacular views of the sunsets as I turn back north to complete my run. I´ve never been able to get myself up early in the morning when it´s cooler out, but it´s usually cooled down at least a little bit by the evening as the sun sets. Anywho, I really enjoy my runs and thought some of you might like to see what it´s like!

The slideshow automatically starts but you can try to scroll to find the first photo title ¨Starting off at km marker 184¨ to go through the series from the beginning.

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A good day


Last Friday was a great day that had a little bit of everything that makes me happy… so I thought I´d post about it!

Woke up at 7 am, got ready, breakfast served by my host mom (rice and beans, avocado, coffee, tortilla, pastry). Walked 15 minutes to health center, greeting a few people along the way. Arrive at health center, get the go-ahead to give a charla on nutrition. Greet everyone waiting to see doctors and nurses (about 25 people in the waiting room) and proceed to give a 20 minute charla on the importance of good nutrition. Used three of different posterboards as visual aids: various benefits of good nutrition, its importance during pregnancy, and one on the food pyramid (some very nice food drawing I must admit). Lots of questions from the patients, various compliments from people saying they enjoyed it. Nurses told me good job. Success.

Left with my nurse counterpart and another nursing student to a nearby barrio, attempting to track down a pregnant mother who missed her day to come in to the health center. Didn´t end up finding her (she lives in another barrio) but learned a lot. We went house to house for a few hours, talking with people, updating health forms of who lives in each house and some demographic information. Talked with various people about their health problems and what they can do about them. Ignored whistling from ten construction workers and a few catcalls (ugh). Stopped at local produce stand to buy vegetables (carrots, avocados, cucumber, tomatoes). Home at noon for lunch (rice, beans, cheese and tortilla) plus a little salad I made with some of the veggies I picked up.

Relaxing afternoon at the house (didn´t have to return to the health center in the afternoon). Sat in a hammock for three hours with my current book of the moment: a story of a family in Kashmir as they deal with the ongoing conflict in the region. Finished book. Next on the list: Tom Sawyer. Ate three mangos. Delicious. Fried tortilla chips and made guacamole with fresh ingredients. More deliciousness. Talked with host mom. Refreshing outdoor shower under the sun to cool off and get ready for night ahead.

One of my most exciting moments since being in Condega: a teacher from one of the local high schools came to my house to ask me to teach a lesson on sexual health to her class. She went to a Ministry of Education meeting, the topic of sexual health came up, and people had heard there was this new volunteer in town who is working on this issue. (People know me! how exciting). So she went to the health center, then next to my house to find me, and we planned a lesson. Hooray! I´m teaching the class this week.

15 minute walk to another barrio. Met up with nurse counterpart, had our first official youth club meeting (I´m helping start two new youth clubs in town). Some 20 teens from 11-18 showed up. We did some fun activities (a name game, the human knot, sang some funny songs) and got to know what health issues interest them (self-esteem, puberty, sexual health, HIV). Planned our next meeting in a month. Everyone´s excited.

Walked to the house of a German volunteer living in Condega to celebrate her birthday. First time being invited anywhere past 6 pm… ha. Had cake and ice cream. Beautiful night chatting with some new Nica friends in an outdoor table under the stars. Met up with some of the other German volunteers in town and recognized a few of my own new Nicaraguan friends. Happy I´m starting to recognize people, and they recognize me.

Got home and went to sleep, content with my day 🙂

Starting over: my new life in Condega


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!

Officially a Peace Corps Volunteer!


Our three-month in-country training ended a week and a half-ago with our swearing in: I’m officially a Peace Corps Volunteer! Hooray!

The last few weeks in our training towns were filled with lots of activities. We gave our final charlas at the health posts, taught a few classes in nearby schools (my group no longer had Spanish classes during the week as we had advanced), and held our last meeting with our youth group. Saying goodbye to the girls in our youth club was so sad! For our final meeting, they put on a charla for us about HIV/AIDS, even including a socio-drama and traditional folkloric dance. It was so exciting to see the girls who were embarrassed to say their names in front of a group 10 weeks ago give a lesson on HIV prevention and put on a skit about a teenage mother with an HIV positive child. Powerful stuff. It got me excited to think of the relations I’ll have with the youth in my site for two years, considering our group got pretty close after only 10 weeks. After the meeting we went for ice cream to celebrate. Always good closure.

Our youth group presenting a charla on HIV, a sociodrama, enjoying ice cream in the park!

I didn’t really realize how attached I had become to my training town until the last week. Probably the hardest thing was saying goodbye to my host family. They were such a wonderful family and I was quite reluctant to leave them! On our last night together, I thanked them and gave them gifts from the States (my mom sent an amazing package full of goodies!) Candy, Cubs apparrel, Chicago postcards, Spanish magazines and a few games were among the gifts. They seemed to really enjoy them. I know I’ll be keeping in touch with them over the next two years.


Coloring with my host brother, and enjoying my package from the States!

We traveled to Managua quite a bit our last week or two for final Peace Corps training sessions to get us ready for our sites, where we’ll be pretty much all alone for the next two years (yikes). Our hands were held throughout the three months of training with schedules and meetings all set up for us, but life on our own as Volunteers will be quite different. I go back and forth as to whether or not I’m ready to be on my own!

We spent swearing-in weekend in Managua. One day we got to visit the American embassy, meet USAID staff, Embassy staff and the Ambassador! He was a really cool guy, bonus points for being from Chicago. It was really awesome getting to see the Embassy. Anyone who knows me knows I’m interested in US foreign policy and international relations, so getting to go inside our embassy and hear the Ambassador speak to us (quite frankly!) about US-Nicaragua relations was fascinating. Also we got pizza, so all-in-all a great day.

Our swearing-in ceremony was on a Friday. To begin, we paid tribute to our host families, the majority of whom traveled to see us swear-in (my host mom came). There were a lot of speeches about the history of the Peace Corps and its legacy (this year marks the 50th year since JFK created the Peace Corps in 1961), our role as Volunteers, the importance of health in Nicaragua, etc. A representative from the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health spoke, as well as the Peace Corps Country Director and the Ambassador. Between singing the American and Nicaraguan national anthems, listening to the various speakers thank us for the work we are about to do, being told we are the “best of American diplomacy” and saying the oath to service, I was pretty inspired.  In that moment I was quite proud to be an American representing my country abroad.

The Nica 55 health group- Healthy Lifestyles and Maternal/Child health

With our Program Directors, my host mom and our language instructor!

The Peace Corps Country Director and a lovely cake to celebrate.

I was able to hang out Saturday in Managua with the other PCVs from my group, and even catch a movie at one of the nice malls downtown. It was nice to have some chill time before the craziness that will be the next few weeks. Sunday was the big day: the official beginning of my Peace Corps service!

Some new PCVs, plus me and my training group – made it through three months spending 8 hours a day together without killing each other!

I’ve been in site over a week now and am having a great time so far. Lots of introductions, formalities and the like but already some very cool experiences. Many things foreshadowing lots of work opportunities, social things, and other things that will make my two years rewarding. There is much to share about my first days in site, so I’ll save that for another blog post.

As a small anecdote/preview of some notable things that have happened, I’d like to share that despite being in a fairly large city, a few days ago a mouse crawled on my floor and up my wall, last week a lizard jumped on me in the shower (I bathe in an outdoor shower stall), ants were crawling all over my newly cleaned laundry (that hung on laundry lines), and there is a semi-return of the bed bug situation. I know these are just surface level things, but I got a kick out of them and thought I´d share. My Peace Corps service has definitely begun!

A new site, a parasite, bed bugs, and why there’s still no where else in the world I’d rather be


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 Estelí. Estelí 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 Estelí) 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 Estelí – 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!

Two months in! Chinandega visit and site preference


Hey everyone! Apologies yet again for the lack of blogging. The last few weeks have been jam-packed with adventures. Last week the Healthy Lifestyles training group headed up north to the department (basically a state) of Chinandega for a HIV/AIDS practicum week. Known as the hottest part of the country, Chinandega is an HIV hotspot in Nicaragua. While Nicaragua has a relatively low HIV prevalence rate and not nearly as many people living with the virus as other Central American countries, HIV transmission is on the rise. HIV education will be one of the most important parts of my Peace Corps service. The goal of the week was to give us an introduction to HIV work as a Volunteer.

Throughout the five days, we received technical trainings in HIV education and also got the chance to apply what we learned in different settings. Along with other Peace Corps Trainees, I helped deliver sessions on the importance of getting tested for HIV at a local health center, delivered a charla at a local high school on the importance of goal setting, and worked in a group to deliver a session to 20 policemen on HIV transmission, prevention and testing. We even included an interactive condom demonstration, which was hilarious. Our last night was spent at a local billiards hall where HIV education was integrated into a pool tournament. We also spent a lot of time talking with the Volunteers who hosted the week to learn about life as a Volunteer, which was very helpful.

Things started to get pretty exciting this past week with site preference. This week Peace Corps decides where we will live for the next two years! There are 24 sites across the country for my group (44 in total including the Maternal/Child Health Trainees). We received a booklet about them last week to read up on various details of the communities: location (three main parts of Nicaragua with the health project: the mountainous center/north bordering Honduras, more tropical south bordering Costa Rica, and the Atlantic Coast with a more Caribbean culture), population (ranging from 1,000 people to 150,000), climate (mountains, coast, tropical, heat), what type of education is most needed, at risk-populations, opportunities for secondary projects, how many NGOs are in town or nearby, internet access, transport, location of other PCVs, etc. On Monday we had a site fair to learn about each department, what it offers, what types of projects the Volunteers currently there are doing, etc.

I had my interview on Tuesday with the health program director. Without getting too specific, I generally want a smaller-to-medium size site up north (in the mountains where it´s cooler, this Chicago girl can´t take the heat!), access to a nearby city with some NGOs /access to funds/other resources, interested in work with various at risk populations including youth but also perhaps sex workers/truck drivers/mobile populations, and the ability for secondary projects such as community gardens or other environmental projects. But generally speaking, I´ve got an open mind and will go wherever Peace Corps sends me. I came into this whole thing with no real geographic preference nor sector, and here I am working on healthy behavior change in Central America and loving it! There´s quite a buzz among the Training group now with site placement but I´m just trying to stay as level headed as I can. All the sites have a lot to offer. This Monday is the big reveal. Can´t wait to finally find out where I´m posted!

The other big news of this week was that my training group progressed onto the advanced Spanish level! Yipee. That means the four of us will no longer have four hours of class everyday and instead will be doing technical activities. Next week is jam-packed with charlas everyday at health posts, schools and a local library. I still have a ton to learn and need to improve my accent, but it was a personal victory just to know I came in at intermediate and have progressed. Next week we´ll also meet our Nicaraguan counterpart, the Ministry of Health worker who will be our partner for two years in our site. And next Saturday begins the big test: we head out to our sites to meet our future host families, get to know the local health workers, be on our own and mostly get a feel for the community in which we will live in for two years. Wow. After that it´s two more weeks of training and then, assuming all goes well, I´ll be sworn in as a Volunteer!

I´ll try to find some time next week for an update on my site assignment. Until then, take care everyone and I hope you enjoyed my latest blog post! Hasta pronto.


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