Commuting joys

If I could have one superpower, it would be the power to apparate/teleport. Even if I couldn’t travel the world that way, I’d love being able to just pop to work or the grocery store in a snap. That said, if I could apparate, I’d miss out on some of the little joys of my commute. So here are 5 things that make me smile on my way to work:

The tai chi ladies: Most mornings, there’s a group of seniors doing tai chi in the empty walkways by our apartment.

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The two tiny best friend dogs. They’re tethered together and often frolic past us, side by side.

Catching the 7:06 train. It always has lots of empty seats, and there’s nothing I love more than sitting on my way to work.

Standing a step above Thomas on the escalator so we’re roughly the same height and I can look into his eyeballs. They’re very nice eyeballs.

Making up songs and attempting to whistle tunes as we walk.

A couple of those are more things I like about Thomas than things I like about commuting, but we go to work together so it’s pretty hard to compartmentalize.

A Tale of Two Teaching Days

“Yesterday my day started with two kids fighting and ended with one puking on the carpet, so at least I know tomorrow can’t be worse.” – Wednesday Jade

This week, my co-teacher told me that she’d be gone for two days: Tuesday and Thursday. Now, I may have mentioned that my second graders are a challenge, so I am always grateful to have a second teacher in the room, particularly one who speaks their first language. I won’t say that I was dreading teaching alone, but I certainly wasn’t thrilled about it. I’ve had one other solo teaching day this year–if I remember correctly, it was like the first week of school, and I gotta say, it was not one of my favorite days ever.

Every day is a challenge with my class. As a group, they are a challenge, and I have some individuals who challenge me. Anyway, moving on.

Tuesday

I showed up to school, optimistic and prepared. Mornings are easily our best time as a class, but it was rough. I had a whole writing lesson planned: Reading and discussing a book, making a chart of adjectives, writing stories, and adding adjectives. In the hour, all we did was read the book, and maybe a quarter of students were actually engaged. Why on earth would it take an hour to read a picture book, you ask? Let me paint you a picture. One student refuses to sit down, thinks it’s funny to run around and sit in teachers’ chairs and sit on other students’ heads. Most students are distracted by this behavior. Student 2 wants to chase Student 1. Student 3 is lying on the floor. Students 4-8 are talking. I get (almost) everyone’s attention and have a quiet moment to restate expectations and consequences. I start to read page 1 again, and the process repeats. Some people have given me advice to just stop what I’m doing until they demonstrate the expected behavior. I’ve tried, and this group will just run around and yell all day long.

Anyway, on any given day, at any point in the day, the boys in my class will be hitting and kicking each other, most of the students are saying mean things to each other in Chinese, and when I’m the only teacher in class, that becomes way more difficult to manage. It’s currently Thursday, so I don’t remember the specifics of Tuesday morning’s fight, but I’ll just note that there was one.

The day continued at 11 a.m, when the school librarian came up to help me. We read another book, which if I remember, went a little better, but only because the librarian took Student 1 out of the room (he’d been running around the classroom and then sliding his body under my chair and sticking his head out from between my legs as students yelled at me “TEACHER! MS. JADE! [NAME REDACTED!] [NAME REDACTED!] I know second graders are still learning a lot about the world, but dear sweet babies, you gotta know that I notice a child’s body invading my personal space.

Anyway, we finished the book and had time for about one discussion question (the entire purpose of reading this story was to learn how to infer details from context.)

I’ll skip to the end of the day. It was around 3 p.m, and I turned my back to students for a minute, and next thing I know, I hear “TEACHER! [NAME REDACTED] THREW UP!”

And so he had. Right on the carpet where we have all those fond memories of not being able to listen through a whole page of a book.

When I was explaining this situation to a coworker on Wednesday, he said, “and it’s not like you could go get an ayi to help clean it up, because you don’t speak Chinese.” And I was like, “No, I couldn’t get an ayi because all of my class wanted to step in it and I couldn’t leave them unattended.”

For the record, after many warnings and telling them to sit in their chairs and NOT step on the carpet, one of them DEFINITELY ON PURPOSE STEPPED RIGHT INTO IT TO BE FUNNY.

When I told my coworker on Wednesday that at least Thursday couldn’t be worse, I really and truly meant it.

Thursday

On Thursday, I started my class out with a morning meeting. It took them a while to calm down and show they were ready, but I had them greet each other in a circle by whispering, and until the end, they did a really good job! We played telephone a little later, and Student 1/[Name Redacted], after staying home sick on Wednesday, actually let me whisper a word in his ear, and he maybe even continued the telephone line to the person next to him (actually, behind him, because of course this circle did not resemble a circle.) The morning meeting took about…an hour. It was ridiculous. I had them do a worksheet after, and I had to send one of my model students to get the principal because Student 1 was again running around the class and hitting and kicking everyone. I should mention that while I did the morning message, he sat in front of me and kicked and hit me for several minutes to try to get the attention of his classmates.

Fast forward 20 minutes to recess time.

I went down to recess for a minute and pretty much immediately, one of my students ran up to me and tried to communicate some sort of problem. At the same time, the principal came down because he wanted to have a meeting with Student 1. Then, simultaneously, we see two of my students had gotten into some sort of toxic masculinity competition and one of them had a long cut down the side of his cheek. We temporarily put that fire into someone else’s hands, then went back up to have our meeting about Student 1.

We discussed our expectations for behavior, asked him what he needs, what challenges he has, etc. He was very calm and seemed somewhat receptive. Of course, we got back to class and his behavior remained the same, and spoiler alert: he ended up going home early.

So back to the recess boys. On Tuesday, we’d gotten an email from a mom explaining that her son felt bullied and excluded from a certain popular boy’s friend group. Both of those kids were the ones involved in this recess incident.

Now, I didn’t witness the actual incident, just the aftermath. I often see boys hitting and kicking and wrestling, and it’s sometimes hard to know if it’s well intentioned/playful, or malicious. Sometimes (especially with certain students and in certain situations) it’s obvious, but there are a lot of times when I honestly can’t tell, and I try to err on the side of “how about we just don’t hit each other ever because even if you think you’re having fun, the person you’re hitting may disagree.”

The teacher who broke up the incident said they were wrestling, and some adults questioned whether it was like, play wrestling or angry wrestling. Without witnessing the fight, I was pretty confident that it was angry wrestling. Witness teacher held up a little thorn thing and said that it had cut the boy’s face, but that he was unsure whether it was an accidental cut from rolling in the plants or if the thorn had been used as a weapon. I don’t like to assume the worst, but I was assuming the worst.

We were eventually able to get the boys together and talk a little about their conflict. Boy with the scratch had been reluctant to give any information when he was with the nurse (he actually said that he didn’t know how it happened, just pointed to where it happened.) From what we’ve gathered, Boy A felt excluded/bullied and felt like he needed to assert his dominance before Boy B could hurt him first. So he initiated the fight and Boy B bit his leg in response, and Boy A used the thorn thing to cut Boy B. He says it was an accident, and I do believe that he didn’t think through the consequences/intend to hurt Boy B in that way,  (I’m specifically remembering a time when my nephew touched a sharp knife out of curiosity) but I’m going to make a blanket statement that all of my boys need to learn how to handle feelings of anger and sadness and rejection. They also need to learn how to play nicely and be inclusive. I’m hoping that we can start to take some productive steps towards learning these lessons, because the direction we’re headed is pretty bleak.

We had some additional challenges throughout the day, but nobody ended up bleeding because of them, so I’ll end the story there. By 2 p.m, 3 of my boys had gone home. I have to believe that tomorrow will be better, and that the next day will be better than that. Well, the next day is Saturday, so it’ll obviously better than any workday, but you catch my drift.

On the plus side of all of this, I feel like I’m seeing progress in the process even if some students are regressing. I’ve gotten a lot of support from a lot of people at school, and I feel like we’re starting to work out how to help some individuals get the support they need, which may impact the dynamic of the whole group.

I think I’ll have 2-3 solo teaching days next week (and maybe the week after that? I honestly have no idea), so pray for me and for my 20 kiddos who are still trying to figure out kindness and friendship and respect.

 

Apartment tour

I thought you may be curious about where we live, so I took a few quick pictures of our apartment.

We’ll start with the living room. We finally got our TV today, which is pretty exciting. Our apartment came furnished with just about everything we need.

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We have a washing machine and sink on the balcony. I’ve missed having a dryer, but at least it’s been hot enough that the clothes dry fairly quickly on the line.

We have a kitchen (not pictured) with a fridge that should be big enough for two people, but is somehow full at all times.

We have a dining room table that we’ve never eaten at. It has 6 chairs, presumably for all of the people we have over.

And a guest room in need of guests.

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The guest room is lit by my favorite light in the house.

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We were lucky enough to get a corner apartment with nothing obstructing our nice city views.

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Some people may come into our apartment and not see anything all that special, but the first night we walked in, both Thomas and I were blown away. After living with families in Nicaragua, we’re thrilled to have a space to ourselves, a bathroom with a door and hot water, wifi, and a kitchen that we can use as often as we want. We even have air conditioning and maybe even heat? To be determined when it’s actually cold outside.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this super brief tour of our apartment. Maybe eventually we’ll have a visitor who can sleep in our guest room 🙂

 

 

We’re Engaged!

Okay, so we’ve been engaged since June, but NOW we have fancy fotos to prove it. I meant to share these on the blog ages ago, but, as usual, saved a draft of the post and never published it.

We were sort of on the fence about getting photos done, but we thought it would be worthwhile to get used to working with our photographer before the big day. We both happened to be in Richmond for two overlapping days, so we had a chance to do an engagement shoot. I’m so glad we did, because the photos are truly gorgeous, and maybe we got a little bit more used to the camera. We had a little direction, but mostly we just did our normal thing (talking and laughing the entire time, obviously) and I’m so pleased with the results! If we’re Facebook friends, you’ve seen these before, but if not, here you go! Enjoy!

 

Our new way home

I come bearing good news.

Thomas and I, after six long and arduous weeks of school, finally have some time off. This week China celebrates its National Day, which celebrates the formation of the People’s Republic of China. We have the whole week off school, and while most of our colleagues are jet-setting around Asia, we are taking the week to relax, recharge, and clean our apartment.

One thing you may not know about our neighborhood: we love it, but it’s a bit of a commute to work. Most of our coworkers live one metro stop/a ten minute walk from school, but we have a 15-minute walk plus 5 metro stops, so at a brisk pace, we can get there in 35 minutes (sweaty by the time we arrive.) Also, our area is newly developed, meaning that I don’t think very many people live in our building (though there’s a cute toddler who lives across the hall) and the delivery people will get lost on the way a fair amount of the time. We are lucky that we have a method of ordering most things we need online…but unfortunately, food options are extremely lacking. There are so many days, especially if we’re coming home late after a faculty meeting or something, when we just want to order from a restaurant and have it delivered to our door.

There are a few hiccups with this plan: Firstly, we don’t know Chinese, and secondly, there are no restaurants nearby. We had pizza delivered once, but they charged an outrageous delivery fee because we live so far away (but it was raining, and we weren’t about to walk 15-20 minutes to the nearest grocery store.)

The last 3 Fridays, Thomas and I, as a reward of getting through the week, have stopped at McDonald’s on our way home. I typically order a Big Mac meal (with seasoned waffle fries!), chicken nuggets, an iced coffee, and a McFlurry. Thomas usually orders a more reasonable human amount of food.

So the process goes like this: We get off work, walk down to the metro, and go 4 stops. We exit the metro, go to McDonalds, and order a mountain of food and drinks. We go back to the metro, go one more stop, and then walk 15-20 minutes to our apartment, and then put our fries and nuggets in the toaster oven, because of course they’re cold at that point.

Anyway, the point of this story is that we decided to investigate a slightly different way home yesterday. We’d spotted a bridge that seemed a teensy bit more convenient than our usual route, and we took it, not knowing exactly where it may lead.

We passed this.

 

We walked a little more and saw a different angle of the view from our bedroom window.

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We walked a little further, into what I can only assume will be part of some sort of financial district. The whole plaza was unfinished, and as we passed each building we looked into the big windows and saw emptiness. Vacant buildings, in the final stages of construction, waiting for the ribbon to be cut so they can open their doors as the next investment bank or whatever.

Then, in the distance, I saw a familiar image. I yelled at Thomas.

“Starbucks!”

“What?”

“There’s a Starbucks! I saw it! It’s up ahead!”

I walked excitedly ahead, anxious to show Thomas what I’d seen, and that’s when it happened.

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A McDonald’s, not quite ready to open its doors, but beckoning us all the same. We exchanged a moment of silence, not quite believing our eyes, imagining a world where we were within a 5-minute walk of all the McFlurries our hearts desired.

We pressed onward.

And in the distance, the Starbucks.

 

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I’m not even much of a coffee drinker, but I’m excited to have options at my fingertips.

People told us that Shenzhen was rapidly growing, and that our area would probably be the Next Big Thing, but I don’t think it really hit us until today.

It’s only a matter of time before these paths are crowded and businesses roll in. I’m excited for the possibilities. They seem endless now.

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I’ll leave you with the view from my bedroom window. If I walk a few minutes along that purple line, on the other side of the long black building, I will find all my dreams coming true. Maybe one day, if I’m really lucky, I might even get someone to deliver those dreams right to my door.

Typhoon Mangkhut

I can officially say I have survived my first typhoon! What exactly is a typhoon, you may ask? It’s a hurricane. The only difference is that for some reason when it’s on the Pacific, it gets a new name.

Anyway, we got notice that a typhoon would be coming our way over the weekend. Saturday was perfectly sunny, not a drop of rain, but that day, we already knew school would be cancelled for Monday. Of course, even though we’re only a few weeks in, we’re already worn down by long days with boisterous kids, so we welcomed the day off, even though it was for bad weather.

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Now, I’ve never been through hurricanes, but I feel like this wasn’t so bad. It seemed like we didn’t really get the worst of it. We were on the edge of the storm, so there was lots of rain and strong winds, but we were perfectly safe inside. We briefly lost water (which I realized before I turned on the faucet, after I’d already put soap in my hand) but it came back pretty fast. We spent a nice lazy day inside watching The Sound of Music, then we ventured one building over (through the parking garage) to have dinner and drink wine with friends. I made some sautéed mushrooms, which even Thomas, who isn’t a big fan of mushrooms, didn’t hate.

It seems like most of the damage was to trees (we saw several fallen trees outside our apartment and on the way to school today). We live right by the train station, and at one point I glanced out our bathroom window and noticed that parts of the roof had blown off. Today, despite the damage, it’s business as usual all around town.

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I also took a pretty big risk and made myself some homemade poke (which is like sushi, but instead of rolls, everything is just dumped in a bowl) but it turned out fine and I didn’t give myself food poisoning! That said, I still have some leftovers, so there’s still a chance it’ll happen.

Anyway, we’re safe, and the city of Shenzhen seems to do a bang-up job of handling inclement weather, so all is well!

 

 

It’s going

Them: “How’s it going?”

Me: “It’s going.”

I’m going to set a goal for myself to blog every weekend, because I haven’t done a great job of keeping people updated.

We’re a few weeks into school, and let me tell you, it’s been a challenge. I’m teaching second grade, and we have a lot of energy and a lot of feelings and a lot of loud voices. We’re trying to establish some solid rules and routines, and well, it’s a work in progress. I’ll write a more detailed report about school later.

This week started off with Teacher’s Day, a day in which students show their appreciation for their teachers with gifts. Now, my love language is not and has never been gifts, but one of my kids brought me a box of Ferrero Rocher, and I’m pretty excited about it.

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By the time I took this photo, my once-lush flowers were starting to wilt (I didn’t have a vase, oops) but you get the idea.

Last weekend, Thomas and I also stopped by a supermarket that is straight out of our dreams. They didn’t have everything we wanted, but they had a lot of stuff that we can’t get at our little grocery store by the metro stop, and we were very excited. The last place we went before checking out was to this magical area.

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We bought one bottle of wine, which we haven’t opened yet. Maybe this weekend we’ll do that. I’m pretty sure we bought a corkscrew at Ikea so we should be all set.

The truly tragic thing that happened when we were at the store was the loss of my metro card. It was particularly sad because it probably had more than 20 bucks on it. It must have fallen out of my pocket while we were shopping. We tried to find it, but it was long gone. It was an adorable Hello Kitty design, which I replaced with a Starry Night one. Thomas is entrusted with holding my new one, because his pockets aren’t worthless and he carries a wallet.

Anyway, I’ll catch you up more later, but I feel like I’m running on fumes. Wish me luck.

Week 1

We’ve been in China for a little over a week now, and it’s been a rollercoaster! We arrived in Shenzhen about 12 hours before school started, and it was brutal. We spent Thursday and Friday making brief appearances at school and doing a lot of “official” things: getting health and background checks, getting phones set up, buying some house stuff, etc. For those two days, we were home around 4 p.m, and we fell asleep between 4:30 and 6, then woke up around 10 p.m, and then maybe got a couple more hours of sleep before we had to be up for the day. On Saturday, we had dinner plans with a few people from work, which forced us to stay awake until after the sun went down. We ate family-style Chinese food and stayed out past 10 p.m, which felt like a Herculean task, but it definitely helped our bodies get a little more on track.

Starting Monday, we jumped into work. I’m teaching second grade, which will definitely take some getting used to! The kids already speak English so well, and I’m excited to see how they improve this year.

We haven’t had a chance to do much exploring yet, but our school is nice and our apartment is great. I’ll try to post more as it unfolds, but for now we’re just settling in.

Here’s a quick photo that I took on the night we arrived. The view from our living room window. More to come!

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What’s Next?

There’s been some unfortunate silence on this blog lately. I’d say that it’s because I haven’t really been doing anything, but that’s not quite true. Since we were evacuated from Nicaragua a few months ago, I’ve mostly kept busy, I just haven’t been very good at documenting it.So what am I doing now?Well, I’m currently sitting in an airport. In mid-July, Thomas and I discussed the possibility of applying to teaching jobs in China. Our time was cut short in Nicaragua, and we’re not quite ready to settle into anything in the U.S, so we interviewed for a few jobs and very quickly found one that felt like a great fit. The only problem was that school was starting in a couple weeks. We accepted offers of employment (at the same school!) and scrambled to get background checks and visas.All that said, we are now on our way to China for the school year! We’re a little anxious and a lot excited. (Not so excited for the 19-hour plane ride and the jet lag.)We’ll try to keep you posted on the blog and on Facebook, but I have said that before and we all know how that turned out.Sorry for keeping so many people in the dark. We’re trying to get better at keeping y’all in the loop. We appreciate any thoughts, prayers, and good vibes you can send our way.

Leaving home

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to process my current situation, and now I guess I should blog-vomit all my feelings.

Starting a little over a week ago, Nicaragua has been facing some civil unrest. I’m not going to get into the details, but I encourage everyone to do some additional googling.

On Thursday, April 19, Peace Corps volunteers received an email informing us of some civil unrest and told us to avoid traveling to Managua (where the protests were) for the rest of the weekend. The next morning, I traveled to Matagalpa. I had a STEP class to teach on Sunday, so I’d planned to come in early and hang out with Thomas. By that afternoon, we received another email that we were on standfast, meaning we had to stay where we were and contact staff to report our whereabouts.

My class got cancelled, and I was not allowed to leave Matagalpa. The bright side of that is that I was with Thomas and a few other volunteers in my favorite city in Nicaragua. We spent the weekend eating pizza and waiting for updates from staff and from our friends around the country. There were some protests in Matagalpa, but from what I have heard, it was much safer than other department capitals. There was some confrontation and violence, grocery stores closed, etc, but we felt safe in the hostel and hopeful that we could get back to work soon.

Over that weekend, it became apparent that all volunteers were going to be consolidated to a central location in Nicaragua and then evacuated. I hadn’t been expecting an evacuation, so I was traveling without a passport, and with barely enough clothes for a weekend. I contacted my host family and asked them to pack a few things (including my passport). On Monday, Peace Corps staff drove all over the country to pick us up and drive us to Granada. I’m very thankful to everyone who left their families at 5 in the morning to make sure we were all safely consolidated. I was reunited with my passport and a few other items when I got to Granada.

While I was happy to pass the standfast with other volunteers, I was devastated to have left without having a chance to say goodbye to anyone back in site. Here’s a brief list of things that made me cry during my last few days in Nicaragua:

  • A hug from a woman who worked at my favorite hostel
  • A friend calling me to tell me how much I mean to her
  • A Nicaraguan flag 🇳🇮
  • A bell (brought in from the Peace Corps office for volunteers to ring to mark the end of their service.)

I knew I loved this country, and it has felt like home for a long time, but I don’t think I realized the extent to which Nicaragua has changed my life until I was forced to leave it. We were evacuated to Costa Rica (where I still am) and booked flights back to the U.S, where we will stay for at least 30 days. Some people call it “going home,” but for a lot of us, it doesn’t feel like that. I love my family, and my childhood home will always feel like home to me, but it’s not where I want to be right now. This evacuation feels like I’m leaving home. I was planning to stay in Nicaragua for the rest of my service, and I wasn’t prepared to leave. I feel like I have a lot left to do. I love my Nicaraguan family, friends, counterparts, and students, but I haven’t been great at telling them what they mean to me. It’s been difficult coming to terms with being unable to see them and say what I needed to say before I left. I am committed to going back as soon as I can—to work, finish my service, and hug everyone super tight and tell them how much I love and appreciate them.

Before I left, people often told me they admired me for coming to help their country. They thanked me for leaving my family and my country. But Nicaragua is home to me now, and being a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua has been the greatest privilege of my life. I feel like I’ve received much more than I’ve given. I’m forever in Nicaragua’s debt.

I rarely feel like I’m able to put my service into words, but I’m going to try to share little tidbits of what has made my service so meaningful, and why I can’t imagine it ending yet.

I came to Nicaragua during a year of intense grief, and that grief continued as into the next year as Bev was diagnosed and died of pancreatic cancer within a 6-month period. When I initially talked to my host family about the cancer, they talked to me about how ugly the disease was, about a woman they know who found a lump in her breast. They frequently asked me how Bev was doing, though I never had good news to share. I remember September 1, when I saw the news of her death and knew I had to get to Managua so I could catch a plane back to Missouri. I tried to keep it together as I told my host mom that my stepmother had died. I’m not sure I’ve ever been pulled into a hug so fast and been hugged so tightly. So many things felt so unfair, but in that moment I was thankful that I had a mom in Nicaragua to comfort me.

That is what Nicaragua is to me. The people are the most welcoming and kindest who I’ve ever met. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have invited me to see their community or their finca. I intend to take more of them up up on those offers when I go back. Some of my favorite moments in the week are walking to my counterpart’s house and spending a few hours with her family. We plan classes and make materials and practice English. We chismear and talk about our lives and give each other advice. She always tells me to wait, to stay longer, because she wants to give me lunch and take a taxi to school together.

The week before the evacuation, I left my wallet at home, and she paid for my taxi to school. I fully intended to walk all the way back home after class, and I wasn’t going to borrow any more money, but unprompted, she gave me money for a ride home. She said it was too hot for me to walk. She didn’t want me to be in the heat. She is one of many people who I have come to love, respect, and trust during my time in Nicaragua.

I can’t imagine my service without these people. I can’t imagine my life without them.

I feel incredibly lucky to have had this privilege: to have been invited into this country to live and work with these spectacular people. It’s also a privilege that we get to leave as soon as things get a little tough.

When the protests started, Nicaraguan friends sent me messages. Be safe. Mantente seguro. Tenés cuidado. Me chat cuando estes en un lugar seguro. They care about me so much, and I am so so lucky.

Friends and family in the U.S, please do something for me. Read about what’s happening in Nicaragua. Research what’s happened in the past. Ask me questions privately if you want to (it’s in my best interest not to comment publicly about certain things.) Understand that while you’re happy we’re safe, we’re feeling very conflicted about being evacuated. Understand that though this may seem like a month (or more) of ~fun vacation time~, we feel as though we’ve been taken away from our loved ones without having a chance to say goodbye or see you later or thank you for changing my life so profoundly.

(That said, if you have free time while I’m back, I will be taking limited appointments to reconnect with people. The rest of my schedule is packed with Feeling Things I Can’t Express With Words and binging the new season of The Handmaid’s Tale 😉)

My dear Nicaragua: Te extraño mucho. Gracias por todo lo que me has dado. Nos vemos pronto. Stay strong, and be safe.