PLEASE BE AWARE THAT THIS BLOG IS NOT A REPRESENTATION OF MY HOST COUNTRY OR OF THE PEACE CORPS.
DONATE TO CAMP GLOW!
Hello family and friends!
The fundraising link to our all girls, gender empowerment camp is up and running! You will see that our committee has a lot of work to do in reaching our goal to make this opportunity a reality for the girls of Nicaragua. It would be incredible to have your support in this process (it's never fun to ask for money) and remember that all donations are tax deductible and go 100% to the camp and the girls without any administration costs! Also, let me know if you are able to donate so that I can send out thank you cards accordingly! (you are welcome to make a comment on this post) Happy Holidays and thank you so much!
Los Meses para Celebrar!
I can’t believe we are already wrapping up 2015! It’s been a little tricky to get into the holiday spirit in 100+ degree weather having been born and raised in New England. However, I’m trying to learn the words to the popular Spanish Christmas songs that Mama Chepita blasts every morning while we clean the floors. November seemed to have a lot of running around. The other health volunteers of Chinandega and I had to present our all of the work that we have been doing in our communities to the heads of the Ministry of Health and our Peace Corps Health Sector staff. It was awesome to see the support that the Ministry and our counterparts have for the work we are doing in Chinandega (trust me, it makes our jobs a little easier that way!).
The new English and Environmental volunteers also swore in November and moved to site! I now have an English volunteer named Andrew who lives with me in Villanueva and he is great! I have been super lucky to be able to use him as a support for my projects as December closes the school year here in Nicaragua. All the volunteers from Leon and Chinandega got together in the middle of November so that we could all meet each other. We stayed at a El Transito Beach for a night and it was a lot of fun. It just so happened that the sea turltes eggs that the hostel had rescued earlier in the year from poachers hatched the morning we arrived so we had a super cool opportunity to release them into the ocean! It was precious.
The last two weeks of November I literally ran around with my head chopped off to prepare activities for December 1st’s World AIDS Day. I organized a health fair focused on educating the community on HIV/AIDS for the first half of the day. I was incredibly lucky to have the support of my fellow volunteer and sweet friend Jules help me alongside Andrew and health center staff. We were able to give a handful of HIV tests in the fair’s tent and educate a large number of youth and adults on HIV. I think my favorite part was making all the young guys extremely uncomfortable with condom-step practice.
Later that night, I hosted a billiards tournament at the local billiards hall. With this activity I gained support from another volunteer Kendra as well as Doctors from the health center. It was a HUGE success and we had 29 men show up for the event! Every man left with a handful of condoms and a lot more knowledge about HIV.
In other exciting news, I received a phone call last Thursday that I had been accepted to be a part of the Peace Corps Nicaragua Gender and Development Committee, compiled of 12 volunteers here in Nicaragua. The vision of our group is that “power, respect and opportunity are no longer gendered” and a mission to “promote sustainable gender equality, both for Nicaraguans and Peace Corps Volunteers by providing camps, technical trainings, and resources.” For those of you who know me, I nearly passed out when I found out I’d been accepted. We had a meeting this past weekend to welcome us 3 new members and also to talk about all of the great upcoming events that we will be hosting. PLEASE BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR A FUNDRAISING LINK THAT I WILL BE SENDING OUT TO SUPPORT OUR ALL GIRLS GENDER EMPOWERMENT/LEADERSHIP CAMP THAT WE WILL BE PUTTING ON FOR GIRLS FROM ALL OVER NICARAGUA AT THE END OF JANUARY (CAMP GLOW)! IT’D BE AN AWESOME [AND TAX DEDUCTABLE] WAY TO GIVE BACK THIS HOLIDAY SEASON! Additionally, at the end of the meeting, I had an incredible honor of being nominated and selected to be a new co-chair of the committee because our 2 co-chairs will be leaving this spring. I definitely have a whole bunch of nerves about living up to the awesome co-chairs I will be replacing but I am excited to take this bull by the horns and have them as mentors for a little while before they depart. I truly wish I was a better writer to get through how pumped I am to be a part of this group, SHOOT!
Looking ahead, I am coordinating a gender equality sports camp that will be put on here in Villanueva for little boys from 8-12 years old in the beginning of January. I am so soooo excited about this project and am getting together the last details before the holidays commence! I will be headed out to Panama with some other volunteers to celebrate Christmas and New Years and am really starting to feel the time crunch as that is in LITERALLY 2 weeks from today… yikes.
The past few days we have been celebrating Purisima here which is basically just like Halloween in the states but celebrated by all ages and you go to houses to sing in front of these beautiful little shrines that are made to honor the Virgin Mary. I joined some friends last night to “Gritar” (trick or treat, kind of) and TOTALLY hit the jackpot. My treasures were: a bucket, a dessert of squash and honey (don’t bash it til you try it), an orange, candy, a plastic bowl, a nacatamal, and soap! We should honestly be more practical with our treats in the states. I got dinner, dessert, and stuff to clean with all in one round of my neighborhood! But seriously, I really enjoyed this holiday. It was beautiful to watch a community share. The rich, the poor, the middle, everyone supported everyone and sang their hearts out in thanks to the Lord. Even when houses ran out of treat and goods, groups still went to the houses to sing. It was a very humbling night. My family hosted a huge “Rosario” today in our house with about 40 people. My host mom gave fruit, yogurt, plates/bowls, reusable bags, candy, juice, and toys for the kids. The holidays have a huge element of giving and I want us all to remember the importance of the beautiful FIRST gift of Jesus when we get so distracted with materialism. The simplicity of it is much more beautiful than anything we can purchase.
For everyone up in the states, make a snow angel for me this winter please! I’ll be sweating, as usual, for you down here.
Back In Action
I am finally back in Nicaragua after an incredible time in the beautiful New England fall! When the taxi driver picked me up at the airport, I drove all the way to the hostel with my head out the window like an excited dog! It’s crazy how quickly a month passed by but it honestly feels like I never left now that I’m here. However, my tongue feels heavy trying to settle into Spanish again. Being reunited with my little ones has probably been the best part so far. Sadly Mattias doesn't 100% remember me but Alejandro is very happy to have his "novia" (girlfriend) back. I also was super lucky to come back to a package from my Grammie. Alejandro has now picked up a new coloring hobby. I'd say he's pretty legit for a 3 year old. Even Sergito joined in on all the fun :)
Coming back has been incredible HOWEVER I did have a little surprise waiting for me… In Nicaragua we have two seasons: summer and winter. Being from New England I struggle to call the 6 months from May to November “winter” when the only thing that changes is that it’s incredibly hot AND it rains. So, being back in the states for a month left my tiny Harry Potter room super vulnerable. The humidity from the 100 degree weather with all the rain worked its magic to cover my room, floor to ceiling, in mold. All of my clothes, shoes, bed, and guitar were absolutely filthy. The second I got home and for the next 2 days all I could do was clean. I thought the mold was enough but halfway through the first day, the power line to my room went out so I could no longer have a fan to help air out the musty smell or help me to stop sweating profusely. And to my surprise, there was an extended family of mice that found my bottom drawer and my guitar case adequate for living and took up shop. They of course ripped apart skirts and tons of my charla materials to build themselves a home but all in the name of comfort, right? It was pretty sweet finding them as well; I took my bottom drawer out back to clean all the clothes from the mold when I realized while I lifted a skirt out, baby creatures were falling from it… I salvaged what I could but definitely had to say goodbye to a lot of things upon my return. Luckily the mice seem to love the rat poison I laid out for them but I don’t think it’s actually killing them. We’ll have to try something else… All I’m saying is that I’m incredibly thankful for my new Glade Plug-In I bought while I was home. Shout out to you guys, shoot, coming home to the smell of Pumpkin Pie and not mold and mice excretions has been lovely!
Another great addition has been this cute little guy! With all the mice, I think he'll settle pretty well into his new home!
Work wise, I have hopped right back in! I got back to site Wednesday last week and Thursday I did an overnight shift with my friends at the hospital. Sadly, I still haven’t seen a birth… OH side note: both of my sisters had their babies while I was gone so I definitely have the unlucky gene or something. But Francís Loreno and Julio César are absolutely precious! I will try to sneak get some pictures of them soon and share them!
Today we had our monthly Red Comunitaria meeting with our volunteer community health workers (brigadistas) and our midwives (parteras). Kendra, the volunteer who lives in the site closest to mine, came to visit and help with the meeting. Today we evaluated the past year and all the topics that we covered over the past 9 months. I made a jeopardy board that covered the different topics and the group seemed to love it! I got lots of great feedback about how the activity went from the members but now I’m a little nervous for expectations of fun activities in the months to come! I’m really looking forward to next month’s meeting though. We will be celebrating Christmas together and I’ve been put on decoration and game duty; I think I got this!
And in close, the “winter” is finally ending so now it’ll be 100+ degrees without rain. Goodbye humidity, hello desert air! WOOOO! Luckily the Peace Corps medical office were the sweetest and bought me tons of flavored rehydration salts instead of having to choke down just salt and sugar water. ;) AND!!! THIS SATURDAY I GET A SITE MATE! He will be working as an English teacher in the community! I’m so excited to welcome him in to Villanueva and hope he is ready to live in the greatest municipality in all of Nicaragua! Also.. I may be running a volcano 10K this weekend? I'll get back to you on that one.
A Long Overdue Update
It needs to be said that the Nica 65 group is pretty great. Through the incredible roller coaster of ups and downs that come on as Peace Corps Volunteers, this crew sure knows how to cheer each other up. The last week of August, our health team met up in the capital to have our 3 month IST (in service training). Leave it to our group to take a 15 minute between-session break to transform into pirates. I mean, I did theatre and changing between scenes got pretty professional, but take my word for it, this was down right impressive. And of course, I only took this one picture to put on my snapchat story...
September had itself a slew of some pretty fun activities. I was able to go back and visit my host family from training in Santa Teresa. It was awesome to be able to go back and see my family after 3 months of flying solo in Villanueva. The best part of the trip was being able to actually hold meaningful conversations with my family members AND UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY WERE SAYING BACK TO ME! It was a bit of a confidence [in my spanish] boost to know that I'd come a long way since leaving Santa Teresa in June. It makes me excited to know that the future family reunions in Santa Teresa will only become more fun as my language continues to improve.
Back in Villanueva, we also celebrated a "Trabajadores de Salud" (health workers) holiday. We all had the day off of work (well.. expect for a few rotations) and the Ministry of Health threw us a dinner party at a local restaurant. I had my friend help me get ready and she definitely had me Nica'ed out for the party. Lipstick. Heels. Sass. It was a blast. And while dancing is one of my favorite activities, I was not actually born Latina so my coworkers helped me out on learning the most suave moves. Once I master the dance floor, I'm pretty sure people are going to be convinced that I'm pure bred Nicaraguan.
Something I was super happy about this past month was a training that I did with the community health workers and midwives of Villanueva. If you remember from past blogs, every 2nd Wednesday of the month, my counterparts and I hold a training called Red Comunitaria with the workers from my site. I was in charge of running the main session for September's meeting. I decided I wanted to focus on HIV because of the huge misconceptions and lack of information that I've found existed in my community (from prior conversations). With the help of some friends and one of my PC bosses, I built a curriculum to lead a HIV training that would help the community health workers/midwives learn how to educate the people in their rural communities. I was lucky to have my boss Alexis come and watch the session and I think it went really well! At the end of the session, all of the health workers present had presented some type of non formal education technique that taught about HIV prevention or transmission. I think the coolest part, was some workers pulling me aside after the meeting that day to ask if I could help them make their own materials to teach the games and activities about HIV in their communities. I am hoping to be able to plan some type of training for all of the upcoming Red Comunitaria meetings because I am super lucky to have a passionate group of people who are ready to go out and give their communities the educational opportunities that they've not had the chance to learn before. Here is a picture of one of the groups giving their presentation of a game called "Sida, No da" (SIDA in español is AIDS, creative huh?!). This activity helps groups to understand the different fluids that can transmit HIV and those that do not; helping to break down some myths and misconceptions about the virus.
And I can't forget to mention the crazy Villanueva celebrations that took place in the middle of September. I kid you not, when I came to site visit in MAY my host family was already talking up the Fiestas Patrias and HIPICA that would happen in September. Wellp, they came and holy moly were they right about how crazy my town gets. Our calm little park turned into a beer garden with carnival rides, tents on tents of nick nacks, snacks, and fried food... It was intense. A few friends from my group came to visit for the different events and it was a whole lot of fun. On the Friday that began the madness, I was asked to judge an english singing competition put on by the ministry of education for students taking english courses that wanted to participate. My english-teacher-friends (not knowing that I actually sing and do musical things with my life) thought it would be hilarious if I participated in the event because english is my first language. They were a little upset with me that I hid my musical talents from them but I think it was more so the fact that they couldn't watch me crash and burn singing in english. (sadly, I didn't take any pictures during the event but my friend Kendra snapped a few of me playing with my neighbor before I headed to the competition)
For the rest of the weekend, there were parties and lots of justified reasons for everyone to drink a whole lot of alcohol in my town. OH and how have I not mentioned the 4am bombas and drum line that happened every morning... I talked about the bombas when I was training in Santa Teresa but let me just remind you where I am now... My town is a little guy and there aren't big buildings or things to muffle sounds. POR ESO, every. bomb. sounds. like. you're. under. attack. AND it sounds like the people are lighting them off right next to your head. Ear plugs and pillows did not help with anything, I was up every morning to walk my little neighbors to watch the bomba show in the park at 4:30am. And other than bombas, highlights were probably all of the children dressed up as cowboys/cowgirls for the HIPICA. And speaking of my little neighbors, my novio was the cutest!
Oh and last but not least, right now I am back in the states for a little visit home! I have to admit, the whole running-water-all-day thing and the throw-your-toilet paper-in-the-toilet thing are crazy. My whole bathroom routine is such a mind process! But outside the lou, the fall in New England is incredible and I've been able to eat and enjoy lots of things that I've missed while abroad. I've only had Pad Thai 6 times so far (yikes..) and am hoping to shovel in some more before the flight back to the land gallo pinto and tortillas! Hoping everyone up here is enjoying the long weekend! I'm excited for a sister hike tomorrow and a day of baking with the coolest hermanita I ever did have! (Also hoping this cold and sinus pressure will chill out...) Besos mis amigos.
Hi August, Bye August
Woops, it’s been a while! So sad news first? Last week the sweet little cat, Micho, in my house died. We’re pretty sure that an iguana killed him in an epic roof battle but we haven’t spoken to witnesses. This cat was a smarty pants and also could eat chicken bones without chewing them. As a memorium, here is a picture of him figuring out a way to get into my room through the gap of me wall and the ceiling from outside.
I’m not trying to toot my own horn but I’m getting pretty popular around town… Within the past 3 weeks was invited to 2 birthday parties. My girl Guadalupe turned 7 and Alioska hit the big 1-0! Toy Story and One Direction themed parties #blast. AND, last weekend in Somotillo was the Patron Saint celebrations. My friend Kendra (another PC volunteer that lives there) and I literally just spent the whole weekend eating and dancing. The HIPICA/HIPICO, I can’t figure out which is the correct one, was a good time as well but the rumor is that the celebrations and HIPICA here in Villanueva are suuuuper mejor. Those will take place from the 11th-15th of September and people are already getting out their outfits to prepare for the craziness.
Work has been super busy which has made this month absolutely fly by. I finished my murals in the health post in Becerro that I have been working on but now the nurse that works there is trying to think of other murals for me to make because we have way too much fun working together and she wants me to stick around. I will be starting the next health post mural project in a community called Israel so that will be fun! Oh, and I can’t forget the sweet “Diarrhea” mural I have been making for the health center. When I finish, you know I will share that with you all. I got to visit another health post last week and my job for the day was “recording fichas” or.. like... data points? But I just want to get something off my chest, I am AWFUL and writing spanish names. TERRIBLE. First of all, I usually cannot understand what they are saying in the first place because people in Nica speak at 100 mph with hushed voices and they each also have like 7 names. (Okay.. 4 names but still) My counterpart just has accepted the fact that I need to work in pencil. At the Casa Materna (maternity house), the nurses and I have been working on our garden! We cleaned out the super overgrown forest and are now speaking to people in the community to help us out with tires, dirt, seeds, and paint. Shout out to Mama LaVoye who is sending down some seeds for us, thank you mom! This little garden project will be fun because we are trying to not only just teach the women about gardening but also incorporating nutrition into it. We’ll be growing lots of veggies and I’ll be drawing up a huge mural to paint in the kitchen at the Casa Materna to teach about essential vitamins and nutrients from locally sourced food! Fingers crossed that we will be able to get supplies from donations around town because I am not allowed to apply for project funding for at least another 3 months! Once we really get started with planting and painting, I’ll post pictures! Oh, and I also went on a vaccination campaign with one of my counterparts to vaccinate dogs in the community from rabies! So many puppies, so very precious. Aaaand other than that, I’ve still been giving charlas in the schools around town. Sadly, I am no longer the interesting white girl that people want to pay attention to… Now I’m just boring Profe Justina and kids treat me just like the other professors and don’t always wants to participate or pay attention. I need to be more strict because they get carried away with the fun we have in our activities haha. For example “snowball fight” with crinkled up balls that we wrote our future dreams and goals on. There were kids who fell over desks and others that were wrestling each other to the ground. We’ll figure it out…
And here is a picture from our monthly Red Comunitaria meeting. This month’s topics were Chikungunya, Malaria, Dengue, and Leptospirosis as they all have a presence here in Villanueva. We had each group present on a different topic either doing a sociodrama or presenting the topic as a story or as a broadcast. These women were giving a radio talk about Leptospirosis and it was hilarious. I’m super lucky to have a solid group of midwives (parteras) and community health workers (brigadistas) in my municipality.
The last weeks of August are pretty full and next week I will be back in Managua with my Nica65 group, reunited after nearly 3 months, to have our in-service training! I can't believe it has been that long since I've seen so many beautiful faces...
Hoping everyone back in the states is doing well! Prepping for school, packing for college, getting ready for the September 1st move out/in... All I'm saying is that my baby sister is going to college and I'm having a minor life crisis haha (love you Boo). Enjoy the last weeks of "summer" my sweet friends and family! Don't worry, it's going to be hot here forever so you're welcome to come and visit if you miss the heat!
So I realized that my last post did not tell you anything about the work I have been doing aka this is going to be a long one! I got too excited last time... Apologies. So my counterparts have continued to be incredible. I am very very lucky to be working alongside a group of people who are just as excited about getting me involved in their work as I am about doing it. Over the past month I have been doing a mural project in Becerro, one of rural communities that I have posted about before. Yesterday I completed my first big mural on lactancia materna exclusiva (exclusive breast feeding). We put a protective layer over the posters so that they'd last, but they aren't super photogenic now.. I'll let you get the idea anyways though.
And speaking of the project, it reminds me of a story that I never shared from one of the first times I was working on this project. Okay, backtracking (kind of like when Harry gets sucked into Tom Riddle's diary).. My friends who I'd gone to the finca with are both nurses at my pueblo's Casa Materna. Every 2 weeks, I believe, all the doctors and nurses have to do night shift, el turno. So after a long talk where I found myself as usual getting so excited about birth and women's health, they invited me to come and join them for their turno that week. They told me that there has been a lot of births recently during turnos because of our steady numbers of women who are staying at the Casa Materna (which is the greatest!). I agreed, was gifted some scrubs, and was all set to go. The night was full of fevers, people needing injections for pain (they're all about injections for EVERYTHING here), and keeping check in some pregnant women who had high blood pressure in the final weeks of their pregnancies. A poor little guy came in with his face all ripped up because he'd fallen off his bike. He was so nervous, but the doctors got him all stitched up like Frankenstein. There weren't any births that night... Of course and the next day I went back to Becerro to start the mural. We were cleaning up when we first arrived and the nurse, suuuuuper chill, was like "oh, look, there's a spider.." Continuing to go about her sweeping. I look down and this MASSIVE HAIRY SPIDER THE SIZE OF MY HANDS (okay I know they're not that big) WAS JUST HANGING OUT AT MY FEET. The doctor came in, kicked it, and it was swept out the door. I was pumped because I didn't have enough time to do something embarrassing like pee my pants, puke, or pass out as a fear reaction. I felt brave for being so suave about it. Then later, the doctor called me in to watch a "mini surgery" aka relieving this lady's ingrown toenails. Let me remind you, I watched all the vomiting, saw a boy who looked like he got massacred via face, almost got eaten by one of the spiders from the forbidden forest in the last 36 hours, but until I saw that lady's toe being cut open I was doing fine. Nope. Let me watch a birth, I don't want to see any more in grown toenails,ew ew ew. And speaking of births, I get back to the health center later that afternoon and some other doctors come running up to greet me saying, "Justine! There were 2 births in the centro today! We looked for you!".... Of course... All I wanted. It's great now though because I get kept up to date on all the births and everyone is awaiting my lucky moment to get to witness one. To be continued, obvi.
I've also had some cool opportunities to go on salidas to rural health posts in the outskirts of my municipality. From a site called La Pimienta, I could see the mountains of Honduras and we literally were off-roading in the MINSA truck to get up there, carrying pregnant women in the tail bed who were not even phased by the boulders we had to drive over and river crossings. That post was really quaint and I was just followed around all afternoon by some kids from the area who could not fathom the fact that my blue eyes were real and that even though I spoke English, I could also speak Spanish. Last week I went to La Consulta and that trip was the best yet. I got to hang out with my counterpart Antonia all day and run the gynecology clinic! The number of nervous hands I got to hold during the checkups was awesome. In a matter of 2.5 hours, we gave 11 PAPs and hold consultations with women of all ages about ways to control their pregnancies! That is HUGE! Down here there is an absurdly high number of women with HPV and cervical cancer, due to women's lack of access to gynecology services and STI testing. Long story short, I was pumped up that day and I am looking forward to more opportunities during future salidas to work with the beautiful women in the rest of the municipality.
Oh my days, I've also started to attend an Evangelical church in my town with one of my nurse friends. I. Love. It. It's super fun because a lot of the worship songs they sing are songs I've sung in English so I am able to actually join the congregation in praise! During every service, the church's youth dance group performs a routine after the worship set. Every time I've gone, my eyes have welled up with tears... It's just so beautiful to watch the Lord be worshipped with so many different talents and these kids do a beautiful job. I feel such a sense of community at this church which is something I've really missed about home. My first week, an older woman a couple rows ahead of me, walked back and gave me her bible when we were going over the scripture passages so that I'd be able to follow along with the beginning of the sermon. This past Sunday, I was asked for prayer requests! Shoot. Can I get an amen?!
My same friend who brought me to church started running with me this morning as well! It's pretty funny how accountable I am kept for my exercising routine. When I first moved here, I started running nearly every morning and now if I ever skip a day or decide to sleep in, the whole community knows about it. And people aren't afraid to be like "didn't see you running this morning... Sleeping or something?" I've even been introduced to people and the first thing they say to me is, "yeah I know you. You run every morning around 6. But come to think of it... You didn't run this past weekend." Haha I guess it only helps me stay motivated. And speaking of exercise, I've started doing yoga with the woman at the Casa Materna. We're still working on the element of relaxation and fluidity because they get too embarrassed by some moves and just sit up and laugh. They also think we should listen to reggae tone while we do it.. We'll get there.
Oh and the cutest thing I ever did experience, my counterparts threw a little birthday party for me and a brigadista after work last Friday. We did a little activity where everyone had to draw a picture symbolizing me and the brigadista and each needed to be presented after we ate. So it was the most precious thing ever and each little simple picture had such a beautiful meaning behind it. Also, everyone just all of a sudden had presents for me... It was the sweetest.
And other than that... I'm thinking my next investment will be a machete so that I can start cleaning up the garden at the Casa Materna so we can actually start planting! Super excited to get dirty.
Here's to 23!
First things first, I need to let you all know that I think Nicaragua is really trying to keep me around... within the past 2 weeks I have been peed on twice. TWICE! (once by a dog on the finca I visited and the other by the baby who lives next door to me) I'm honestly flattered because the beings of Nicaragua are trying to mark their territory on me, only reinforcing that I belong here. OH AND LISTEN, I survived horse back riding! I actually loved it! Look at me corralling these goats!
Within minutes of arriving to the finca, my friend's abuela called all the chickens over (super impressively) and said ¨alright, which one do we want¨, snatched it up, tied it to a tree, and from there I'll just say.. I've reconsidered my taste for meat haha. (not a veggie though...yet)
The weekend following was little rough to say the least... the stretch of fevers, terrible stomach pains, the toilet getting to know me too well was just the start. But no worries! I have now finished, not only, anti-parasite medication but also anti-biotics so I'm hoping my system is thoroughly flushed out of anything that was going on. It was such a bummer because my host mom's birthday was that weekend... I managed to pull myself out to dinner with everyone (CRUCIAL SIDE NOT: we went to a "Cantonese" restaurant aka the only restaurant in my town and before we arrived everyone was raving about their food and how they loved cantonese. We sat down and everyone ordered grilled chicken, rice and plantains... palm.to.the.face.) but the rest of the weekend was a HARRY POTTER MARATHON in my room. I got through all of the movies AND 2 books haha. Luckily I started to feel a lot better just in time for my 23rd birthday! The actual day of my birth was pretty relaxed. I hung around the health center and then was able to go and get lunch with a volunteer in the site next to me. BUT LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE WEEKEND. I have to admit, this past weekend goes down in the books as my favorite birthday of all time. Saturday morning at 5:00 we left to start hiking Volcano Cosigüina. Our guide was well versed and was able to show us a whole lot of wildlife on our trek through the jungle, up the beautiful volcano. We made it up in exactly 3 hours and let me just try and share with you how incredible it was through pictures... Oh and don't mind all the sweat!
Straight off the hike, we headed down to Jiquillo, another of Chinandega's treasures. We all passed out on the bus ride down and hopped out to hitch a ride with a shrimp-truck bringing some fresh caught shrimp into town. We had bought a watermelon at the entrance before getting into the truck and were cutting it up with a machete in the back of the truck, sharing it with our super amable new shrimp friends who decided to give us a ride. We had a short was from the truck's stop and walked along the ocean until we reached our hostel. First impressions of the hostel were perfect. It was a big open field with a bunch of palm-roofed cabanas, painted murals, walls made with recycled glass bottles, and a dreaded man waxing his surf board near the main hang-out hut. I almost fainted with excitement haha. The rest of the weekend, we hung out at the hostel, napped in hammocks, got to know some pretty sweet travelers from ALL over the place, and played around on the beach. The hostel had everything from chocobananos to japanese curry dishes and all I'm saying is that I will be returning ASAP so warning to whoever is going to stick it out and come visit, we are going to staying at Rancho Esperanza and we will be sleeping on the beach in my hammock :)
happy birthday america
Happy 239th Birthday America, shoot!
This picture is from the HIPICA in Chinandega last week. I needed to document the fact that they were selling candy apples and I was freaking out about it. It´s not super fourth of July but I enjoy eating these while I am in America so.. USA USA USA!
Today marks 4 months in Nicaragua and this week will be 1 month in site! It feels like forever since I was trekking through the mountains of snow in Boston but looking ahead, there sure is a heck of a lot of time left! Some members from my host family in Carazo called me last week to check in and ask when I was planning to come back and visit. I think the most encouraging part of the calls was being able to actually understand everything they were saying. I gave myself a little pat on the back because I was convinced that my Spanish hadn’t gotten any better since I got up here. It was so nice to hear from them and hopefully I’ll be able to go back and visit soon! Until then, I´ll still be trying to regualte my body heat here in Chin! Oh, I wanted to do a quick MTV cribs, Nicaragua style to show you my sweet little Harry Potter room. The fish eye lense definitely makes it look a little more spacious. Maybe you can find yourself on the wall :)
Work has been going great, and I’ve still been kept busy! This past week I got to go to another health post in one of our rural communities called Becerro. Shoot, I think I’ve fallen in love with that community. It is so green, there are tons of butterflies and the land just rolls with hills of trees (and cows). I’m going to do a little project for them and remake all of their murals. In the post, there’s posters that cover the walls, full of great information but it’s all words! Many people in the rural communities are illiterate and they deserve to understand all the super important information that is posted in our posts. So, I have a lot of drawing to do. Please be sending down all the creative vibes for me!
Oh and I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think I am actually starting to make friends down here! Like real Nica friends who think the strange white girl makes the cut to hang out. It’s an incredible feeling. Tomorrow I was invited to go horseback riding out in a finca (plot of land/farm/field thing). For those of you who know me well, big animals and I are still trying to become situated with one another but hopefully this experience will get us acquainted better. We’ll do an update on that next time.
OH AND HEY EVERYONE, I FINALLY GOT A MAILBOX! If you would like to send anything, please use the US Postal Service or the country postal service in your country! Fed Ex/DHL/UPS and the other fancy stuff is super expensive for you and me and I have to travel to the capital office to pick it up. Also, things will take about a month or so to get here... I’ve learned a lot about patience down here ;)
Playing In The Big Leagues
I’m finally living in site and soaking up the hot, humid Chinadegan air! I absolutely love it but still have a lot of work to do on immersing into my new home. Swear In was June 5th and it was beautiful. Our group was accompanied by some special guests like the US Ambassador, the director of MINSA (ministry of health, Nicaragua), the director of MINED (ministry of education, Nicaragua), and our Peace Corps Country Director. And, nearly all of our host families were able to attend as well! Once again I was reminded that I am exactly where I need to be.
The ceremony was pretty emotional. It was just so hard to believe that after all this time, I was finally going to be able to call myself an official volunteer! (the years and years of dreaming and even more so after the 3 months of training, crazy!) For all my campies out there, it felt like the first time being a part of the "goal-of-the-summer circle" that we do to start off every summer on the last night of staff week at PVC. After the years of being a camper, the moment finally sinks in there that you´re now a part of something bigger. It’s a moment full of fear, excitement, joy, anxiety, and unpreparedness but it´s more than anything beautiful. You´re literally about to take everything you´ve done up until that point, to start a whole new adventure. And now, I´m sporting my "staff bead" (Peace Corps pin) proudly and ready to take on the next chapter of this incredible opportunity.
Settling into Villanueva has been easy with the awesome family that I have been assigned. I had a couple of fix up to make in my Harry Potter room, but it´s starting to feel a lot more homey since I´ve put up my pictures, posters, and cards from the beautiful friends and family back home. It´s been really fun to share stories of all the faces on my wall with my family down here. It helps me cope by telling ridiculous stories about you guys so thanks.
Work has been a lot of fun and my counterparts have sure kept me busy! I´ve given charlas at every school in town so far, at the casa materna, and the health center. I also have been helping my group start the "Familias Fuertes, Familias Saludables" program in my town which has been fun. (picture above is from our last meeting!) The program is a 7 session series that meets with adolescents and their parents to learn how to be parents to teens, how to strive for your goals, and ultimately to prevent teens from going down some bad paths. So far, so good!
I hung out at the Casa Materna last week and did some manualidades (crafts) with the women. I´m hoping to be able to hang out there once a week to start a yoga program and also start working in the garden to teach the women about nutrition. Oh, and I need to spend a day going through pinterest to try and figure out some crafts to do with the ladies. Maybe if you have some ideas, you could post them in the comments for me!!
Last week I got to explore Leon a little with some other volunteers. It was beautiful! We attended game 4 of the Leon vs. Matagalpa national baseball championship, holy moly what a blast. We stuck out like sore thumbs in the crowd of Nicas but cheered just as loud, rooting on Leon!
I´m not too sure if it has totally sunk in that I am going to be here for the next two years, but I´m sure that day will come! I am on a crazy journey down here and would love to ask if you could continue to keep me in your prayers. I got a whole lot of learning and growing to do down here :)
Wow sorry folks, the past month has been a little nuts and I haven’t had much time to breathe, never mind tell you all the crazy stuff that’s been going on! So recap: practicum week. Goodness gracious my time in Chinandega was probably the most fun I have had in all of my time in Nicaragua thus far. The week definitely had its fair share of stress with trying to prepare charlas and fulfill all of the activities we needed get done but it was highly rewarding. Oh and the rumors were totally verdad… Chinandega is BRUTALLY hot but strangely, I didn’t mind it too much. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely went through delusional dehydration on the daily but I think I could work with the heat if I end up going somewhere that’s on the warmer side. We did some pretty sweet activities while we were up there too, por ejemplo: visited las isletas de Corrinto (the little islands off the beach in Corrinto), did yoga with a huge group of pregnant ladies at the most beautiful casa materna I have ever seen in my whole life, ate our body weight in pupusas and shwarma (yes you read that right, SHWARMA) in the park in downtown Chinandega, and got to go to a make shift water park on the last day. Let me just take a moment and explain to you how interesante this water park was… first off, there was a merry-go-round and a ferris wheel that both were without motors. So, of course we figured out a way to use them through man operation.
They had about 6 different water slides but the hose could only be on for one slide at a time. And, these were pretty legit slides in their height but you were flying at 100mph into 5 feet of water… as you can imagine, there were some gnarly bruises. The pool was also so chlorinated that you couldn’t see the bottom of the pool and would find yourself stepping on crushed beer cans and mangos that fell in. I just tried to tread water as much as I could. But most importantly was the fact that there were peacocks, sheep, horses, deer, rams, and massive parrots roaming freely throughout the place. It was worth every penny and totally bringing the lucky ones who want to visit me down here.
After practicum week, all of my time and focus has been on trying to fulfill all that we need to get done before heading out to site. I finished my last charlas at the health center, finished up the meetings with the youth group, and got to hang out with my extended host family a whole bunch. One of my favorite activities was learning how to make nacatamales with my Tía. The process took about 6 hours in total and the end products were delicious. My Tía is my cooking buddy down here and I’ll be really sad to leave to leave her when I go to my new site.
I also got a chance to escape with a couple friends and hike the Volcano of Masaya. It was so incredible to get a chance to get away and forget about the deadlines to experience some nature with sweet friends. I’m really excited to continue hiking around and exploring this country. The only intimidating part is how small Masaya is in comparison to the rest of the volcanoes here in Nicaragua. I sure got some work to do before I try San Cristóbal!
But probably the most exciting news to share with you all is that I finally received my site placement for the next 2 years!
VILLA NUEVA, CHINANDEGA (BACK IN CHIN CITY, BABY!)
On site day, I got a little packet that basically explained what I’ll be getting myself into and from the looks of it, these next couple years are going to be incredible. I can already tell that this is where I am supposed to be. Obviously I am psyched out of my mind to be heading back up to the department of Chinandega but I’m more excited to try out this rural living situation. I am such a city girl at heart and I think this will be a great opportunity to take me out of my comfort zone. Cattle and gold mines… washing my clothes in the river… This is going to be an adventure. I am going to go check it out this upcoming week for site visit so say a little prayer for me to fall in love with this place!
OH! I have a couple goals for my time in service that I want to vocalize so that I’ll actually follow through:
Hola, I'm Justine