Practicum week reflection

Tonight is my last night in Estelí. A quick overview of the super official stuff I’ve been doing:

  • Saturday: Arrived in Estelí and co-planned my lesson with my awesome Nicaraguan counterpart.
  • Sunday: Hiked.
  • Monday: Taught a few hours of 9th grade.
  • Tuesday: Observed several classes, taught for a couple hours.
  • Wednesday: Observed a class about natural disasters, had an earthquake in the middle of class.

Anyway, I’m going a few thoughts on my practicum week experience.

Saturday, I had to wake up before 4 am to travel to Estelí. I had to ride in a moto taxi, microbus, and a big bus for several hours, and for the 3ish hours that I rode on the big bus, I had to pee SO BAD. The fact that I didn’t pee my pants on the bus is one of my greatest accomplishments.

We arrived in Estelí and I observed STEP classes (classes that build the English proficiency of Nicaraguan English teachers.) Afterwards, I co-planned with my new counterpart, who attends STEP classes every Saturday. It was an incredible experience. My co-planning antes de practicum week was essentially just my counterpart writing an objective on the board and expecting me to do the rest. I’ve basically flown solo for the last six weeks.

This week, actually planning a lesson with another teacher, collaborating and sharing ideas, was increíble. Teaching together throughout the week (actually teaching together) was a completely new experience for me. At times it was frustrating when lessons didn’t go exactly as planned, but I feel like I got a much better idea of what the rest of my Peace Corps service will be like.

My counterpart this week was so wonderful. She’s worked with a volunteer for a couple years, and at this point she’s teaching almost entirely in English. She’s open to new ideas and really wants to collaborate. It was a fun challenge, and I’m excited to be placed in my site and get started in a new community.

I’m halfway through training. Only 6ish weeks left 😀

The guy with the Royals hat

I’ll share a quick story from today.

I was observing a 7th grade English class, and a Nicaraguan man I’d never met (who wasn’t affiliated with the Peace Corps) was circulating and helping with the class.

He was wearing a Royals hat.

After class, I started asked him (in English) if he likes the Royals. We had a good conversation about how I live close(ish) to Kansas City, and how I love KC sports. 

Turns out he’s a pitcher, and he’s going to pitch for some scouts from the US soon. The Royals are his favorite team. He said he pitches 87 mph. He showed me some of his pitching videos.

I kind of wish I’d spoken to him in Spanish, but I had a feeling he wanted to practice his English. Regardless, it was really good to strike up a conversation with a random local dude and talk about his hat and share a little about where I’m from.

This week has been overwhelming (in the most wonderful way) but that was one specific bright light from my day. Even though we come from different parts of the world and he has (probably) never been to the US, we found some common ground we could bond over.

Estelí is the Bestelí

(All credit for the sick rhyme goes to my girl Magdalena)

I’m not going to write a whole lot right now, but I just wanted you to know what I’m up to this week! We have practicum week in the beautiful department of Estelí, so 12 of us are staying in the hostel and teaching classes with Nicaraguan counterparts.

Yesterday we had the day off, so we hiked to see the art that a local man named Alberto carves into the side of a mountain. 

Then we hiked to a waterfall. It was about 12 miles total, and we almost didn’t have time to see the waterfall because we were about to miss the last bus back. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any pictures from the water. I would’ve loved to, because when you’re floating on your back and looking up at the waterfall, the view is so gorgeous. I need a waterproof camera.

Anyway, we managed to go down to the waterfall because one of the volunteers found an alternate transportation option for us.

I’m sure I’ll give you more practicum week details after I teach, because I think it will be awesome (and completely different than the classes I’ve taught so far.)

Cena Romántica, 21 Septiembre 2016

Last night, Adrian and I walked home a little after 6, and the streetlights went out. We thought maybe we’d lost power in the town, but when I got home and went to my room, prendí la luz sin problemas. And then the lights went out. And then it started storming. For the whole night. My family sat in almost complete darkness for a few hours, and I ate my dinner by candlelight. When my host mamá brought my plate to the table, she chuckled and said, “¡Qué romántica!” I won’t lie, it was one of my better dates, because I am hilarious and excellent company.

Did I mention I was eating by myself? Oh, well I was, and it was wonderful. I had a torta de papa (sin queso, because my mom has realized that the cheese is the one thing that I’m not particularly crazy about and she was thoughtful enough to make mine different, even though I would’ve eaten it regardless.) I also ate some BOMB gallo pinto and platanos maduros. I know I’ve only been living here six weeks, but I’m honestly not sure if I can survive a day (or even a meal) without some kind of platanos.

For the rest of the night, I talked to my host sister and sang “All Along the Watchtower” to myself as the storm raged outside.

Not a bad night overall.

torta de papas, platanos maduras, y gallo pinto

Antes y después: la linea de mi vida

Monday, we started Spanish class in a new location with a new teacher. The new location is the porche of my casa and the new language facilitator is the guy who did my initial Spanish language  interview a month ago in Managua. I was a little nervous to have classes with him (actually, we didn’t know who our new profe would be until he showed up at 8ish on Monday morning). We didn’t know what to expect, but it was fine.

We loved our first teacher (they say you never forget your first) and I was sad to change, but I understand the value of learning from people with different perspectives and teaching methods.

One of the first activities we did Monday was the linea de mi vida, so I had to make a timeline of my life—including all of the highs and lows—and stand in front of the class and talk about it in detail.

I haven’t cried in Nicaragua. I don’t think I cried in the 3–4 months leading up to my departure (but I came close on the day that I left my job and at the airport when I said goodbye to big sister.)

Anyway, as I was standing in front of the class talking about my life, I felt a little emotional, and it almost showed. I talked about how my parents got divorced, and I said that have a stepdad, but in my heart I have two dads who are equal. En mi corazón, mi papá y mi padrastro son iguales. Tengo dos papás.

Hablé de my favorite memory, cuando Jasmine golpeó a mi novio abusivo en su cara.

Mostly though, I talked about the two most emotional subjects in my life: Harry Potter and Dad.

I talked about how the end of Harry Potter marked the end of my infancia, and about how I had a complete emotional breakdown—lloré mucho en el cine—after I finished the last movie (because my childhood ended una vez más.) I talked about how Harry Potter changed my life, and how reading book one in Spanish is like a brand new experience, like I’m a kid again, living the magic for the primera vez.

The end of my timeline was Dad’s death. I don’t have sufficient words in any language to express how hard it was (and still is.) I purposefully ended my timeline there; in many ways, I feel like Dad’s death is still shaping me too profoundly for there to be an after. It still kind of feels like during, you know? Or maybe there is a before and after, but the after just feels like a weird blur that isn’t allowed to be real.

(Side note: I feel like every time I meet a new person, I have to work Dad’s death into the conversation immediately. It isn’t really typical first-meeting conversation, but also I still have a dad who is alive and living in Missouri, so I kind of need everyone to recognize that yes, I have an awesome dad whose shenanigans I’ll likely reference in the present tense, but I also have a gaping hole in my heart that will always belong to Daddy Glenn. Maybe I’d just rather explain it all now than deal with confusion later? [“Oh, your dad died? When did that happen? Weren’t you just talking about him tying flies with squirrel fur?” “No, the dad who ties flies isn’t the dad who died. I have two dads but for some reason I’m just now mentioning that.”])

Anyway, the first question my profe asked after I presented my linea de mi vida was “What about the Peace Corps?”

Fair question, but it’s complicated. I ended my timeline where I did for a reason, but I ended up drawing a point in 2016 for Cuerpo de Paz after he asked. I had to explain that I am happy to be here and I love Nicaragua, but it’s difficult to think about the Peace Corps so close to Dad’s death, because I never told him about my Peace Corps plans. Ten years of thinking about it and a year of application stuff, but I never told him. I was offered this Nicaragua gig on New Year’s Eve, and he died less than a month later.

I explained that I didn’t tell Dad about it because I didn’t want to give him preocupaciones at the end of his life, but después, I really wanted to be able to tell him. 

I’d give anything to tell him and have him say, “be careful” one more time.

For the record, talking about this in Spanish is about 100x more emotionally draining than talking about it in English, so I quickly got to the point where I literally couldn’t continue speaking. I think if I had, I might have shed a tear on my porch in front of my friends and my new profe, so I just said “that’s all.” Luckily, all of the other follow-up questions were about Harry Potter, and I was running late to my English class so I had to cut the preguntas and run across town to play Jeopardy with my 9th graders.

Va a mejorar

“Hell no I’m currently watching the Smurf movie.” – text from Maddie, after I asked if she was planning her English class.

Ok I don’t have a whole lot of time to blog so I’m just going to spew a lot of random thoughts from the week. 

  • Are there no earth worms here?
  • I got a Nicaraguan cell phone a week or two ago. My allowance is like 10 bucks/week so I bought the cheapest one. It has a .3 megapixel camera, but not enough memory to hold photos. It has the capacity for roughly 15 text messages. Its only game is Snake.
  • My students applauded me the other day.
  • Today I had a (Spanish) conversation with one of the students in my English class, and we were talking about how I’m trying to do better at speaking Spanish and he kept saying “va a mejorar” and I thought it was really sweet. He also greeted me with a cheek kiss, but it’s cultural, so?
  • I’m not used to seeing so many dog testicles and dog nipples. Most dogs in the US are spayed and neutered. None are here and you can tell that all of the female dogs have had some puppies in their day.
  • I think the mosquitoes attack when I’m about to step into the shower. I spend the majority of my time in jeans (shocking, I know) and yet I still have mosquito bites on my legs and butt. Rude.

The Grand Peanut Butter Adventure

On Monday, we walked to a nearby town to buy peanut butter. My profe gets it from her abuela, who (I think) learned to make it many years ago from a person from the U.S. (another Peace Corps volunteer?)

When we were near the border between our towns, it started to rain. And then it started to pour. And then the streets became rivers. (I really wanted to take a picture, but I didn’t want to ruin my phone.) Anyway, we pressed onward, because…PEANUT BUTTER. (And also because we were walking up a hill and the road back home was so flooded that it was impassable. I’ve played enough Oregon Trail to know that I shouldn’t cross.

We actually had our rain jackets with us, but by the end of the walk, my jeans and backpack were soaked.

We stopped by our profe‘s house to dry off, and then we took her mom’s car the last block or two to her abuela‘s house.

She drove us home, and it rained all night. It was actually—dare I say it?—chilly. We were warned that September would be rainier than August, but rain like today is apparently excessive, even for the rainy season (also known as winter, which I think is hilarious.)

It’s funny, when my profe dropped me off she told me “¡bañe!”(a command 😮) but I don’t really understand how bathing after getting drenched by the rain would help prevent enfermedad.

Science folks, can you Google it in your nerd brains? Does showering after intense rain exposure do anything to prevent illness? Does showering in COLD water after make any sense at all?

Anyway, here’s my peanut butter! It was  C$70 (about $2.50) but worth it. I want to obtain some honey to mix it with.

Granada, Granada

Today we went to Granada for some charlas (and to play tourist for a little bit.) Our charlas were on resiliency and volunteer diversity.We were in the most picaresque location, right on the lake, sitting in the open air under a thatched-roof pavilion. Tonight, I told Adrian that a) resiliency and diversity were the only topics we could have sat through on such a gorgeous day in such a gorgeous spot, and b) I couldn’t have handled those topics anywhere other than where we were. 

Things got heavy today, but it was a good day with a lot of self-reflection and reflection as a group. We talked about how our personal identities (including race, sexual orientation, religion, gender, etc) affect our experiences (both in Peace Corps and in general. I talked about how I hate it when people say “we’re all the same” and “I don’t see color” because, as well-meaning as those statements may be, they

  • are completely false
  • minimize, ignore, or erase the diverse experiences and struggles that we face.

I, a biracial woman, face different challenges than Adrian, an African-American man, or a white lesbian woman. There may be some overlap between our experiences, but we are affected differently by various aspects of our identity. I recognize that—because I am light skinned and have some “white” features—my experiences as a black person will be different (both in Nicaragua and the U.S.) than of someone with darker skin.

Anyway, by the end of it, people had shared a lot of very personal things, and we were all thankful to be together in a safe space where we could speak openly.

From Day One in the Peace Corps, I’ve connected with these people and talked about a lot of tough subjects (in our free time, too, not just in organized talks.) As aspiring Peace Corps volunteers, I think a lot of us came here with similar beliefs and values, but obviously we are all different people. I’ve talked about sexual orientation, rape culture, race, politics, islamophobia, gender roles, feminism, etc. We didn’t necessarily start out (or end up) on the exact same page on every issue, but everyone has been very open and eager to grow and learn from each other.

Anyway, it was kind of a heavy day with a lot of tears (none from me, though. I don’t think I’ve cried since…April?) After lunch, we wandered Granada for a couple hours and climbed some narrow stairs to the top of a church (nowhere near as intense as sprinting to the top of Notre Dame. How many stairs was that, Jaz? 478?) We also went to a chocolate shop and sampled chocolate rum.

Here are some pictures from my day.

Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción
views from the top of Iglesia de la Merced
views from the top of Iglesia de la Merced
Iglesia de Guadalupe

Surviving a no-English Spanish class

In our Spanish classes, we speak completely in Spanish. We don’t even say como se dice [English word] en español?

No. English.

A veces, when we’re walking around town during class, one or more of the trainees will break out some English in conversations amongst ourselves. We always get the look from our profe. I understand that immersion and constant practice are the best (or only?) ways to learn a language, and that it’s easy to use your first lesson as a crutch if given the chance, but after 6 hours a day of Spanish class, I’m exhausted.

So how do you learn new vocabulary if all of your classes are based on a communicative, Spanish-only approach? And when you can’t just give an English word and ask for a translation into Spanish?

Here are a couple of real life examples:

Last week, I was telling a story about going to the park. It had started to rain, and everyone crowded under the gazebo. But how do you say “gazebo” in Spanish? I’d never used the word before (and for the record, I couldn’t remember “gazebo” in English either.) Anyway, I tried to explain that it was kind of a building, that it had a roof and floor but no walls, that it was at the very center of the park and protected us from the rain, etc. Eventually, I learned the word kiosko.

This week, I was explaining family Christmas traditions, and I wanted to say that my mom doesn’t like giving money as gifts because she likes to wrap things to put under the tree. I got halfway through the sentence before I realized that I don’t know the word “wrap.”

So I mimed and said something to the effect of, “when I have a box and I put paper on it.” The palabra I was looking for was envolver. Envolver un regalo. 

I can’t really imagine learning Spanish this way if you have no prior Spanish background, but it works okay for us. 

Typical Thursday

Some of you are curious about my daily schedule, so here’s a breakdown of a typical Thursday.

3-5 a.m. – wake up because the roosters next door are sounding the alarm.
Until 6 a.m. – exist in a state of half-consciousness. Damn the roosters.
6:12 a.m. – accept that sleep is impossible, and turn off my alarm before it goes off.
6:20 a.m. – take a (cold) shower, eat breakfast, get ready for class.
7:20 a.m. – walk to the park for my morning wifi fix.
8 a.m. – start Spanish class. No English allowed. This is the most exhausting part of my day.
10:30 a.m. – teach 9th grade English class. (Usually, I’m in Spanish class until noon, but Monday and Thursday I skip the last part of class to teach.)
noon – lunch.
12:40 – co-plan for my Monday class.
1–3 p.m. – integrated Spanish class. This is also exhausting, but for this portion of the class, we’re walking around town in the hottest part of the day, practicing Spanish in real-world situations.
3–5 p.m. – teach a community English class with the other four Peace Corps trainees in my town.
5–6 p.m. – go to the park for my afternoon wifi fix. Adrian walks me home after because it is usually starting to get dark.
6–8 p.m. – watch TV with the familia, try to keep my eyes open and make conversation, eat dinner, do Spanish homework, try not to fall asleep.
8–9 p.m. – in bed, doing homework, listening to music, securing mosquito net.
9 p.m. – probably sleeping?

Most of my days are similar to  this, except I only teach my 9th grade class and community class twice a week each.

Once or twice a week, we have training on security, health, and teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). I love those days, because even though they’re longer (we usually have to catch a bus to Diriamba at 6:30 a.m. and we don’t get back until 6 p.m. or later) we get to see Peace Corps trainees from the other towns, and the sessions are in English.

It’s only week 3, but I kind of feel like a zombie.