Thanksgiving with Otto

In my last post, I mentioned that some friends and I were planning on going to a beautiful location, hiking, and eating cheesecake.

Turns out, none of that happened.

On Tuesday, I received a text from the wonderful safety and security team, who said that all volunteers would need to leave their sites and consolidate in Managua on Wednesday. Tropical Storm/Hurricane Otto had slightly changed course, and there was a chance that it would affect some of our sites in Nicaragua. They wanted us to all be together to ride out the storm, so to speak.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t at all upset that I had to ditch my plans and go to Managua. Embassy families had invited us to spend Thanksgiving with them, but I’d declined because I didn’t want to pay out of pocket and go to Managua, and I really didn’t want to sit on a bus for ten hours over the course of a couple days. So a few of us had made our own plan, and we were excited about it.

When Otto destroyed the plan, I was a little bummed that I’d miss out on homemade cheesecake (like, they make the cheese there) but I was pumped that I’d not only get to see five of my friends, but ALL of them, and have an actual Thanksgiving meal. 

Apparently, this is the only time in about six years that all of the volunteers from around the country were together in one place. I think there are over 150 of us currently in country.

Anyway, thanks to Peace Corps and the awesome people at the Embassy, I got my name on a list so I could have Thanksgiving dinner. I ended up at Ambassador Laura Dugu’s house with about 40 other Peace Corps volunteers. Thanksgiving started when she greeted us at the door and we were immediately offered an assortment of beverages. (I chose white wine, because red would have been an invitation for disaster.)

Thanksgiving continued with food that rivaled my mom’s (which is really saying something.) I was honestly impressed that  they could cook so well for so many people.

Plate #1

The ambassador sat at my table, and maybe a minute after we started eating, I felt the table shake, and very calmly realized that we were having an earthquake. (Apparently, it was a 7-point-something in El Salvador. We had a tsunami warning in Nicaragua for a while, but all is well here.)
I ended up eating a couple plates of food. There was no pumpkin pie when I went for dessert, so I ended up eating some sort of delicious apple concoction and drinking cafe con leche out of fancy gilded cups.

Before we left, all of the guests took a picture with our gracious host.

Then, when I got back to the hotel, I sent my sisters some maternity-style photos of my food baby, as one does.

I spent the rest of the weekend with friends: Playing Cards Against Humanity, playing ERS (I lost, so Thomas is now a game up), and talking Harry Potter with Adrian.

Hurricane Otto made landfall on the coast, but it mostly missed Nicaragua. There may be a little damage, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. All we got in Managua was a little bit of rain, so on Friday we were allowed to go home. 

Most of us ended up staying an extra night in Managua and going to a fancy mall where we couldn’t actually afford anything. The prices were so high that they were in dollars.

We saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and then we got some sushi that was waaaaaay over our budget.

I’m back in Matagalpa now, but I’m very thankful that I was able to spend my first Thanksgiving away from home with people who feel like family.

68, see you all at New Year’s.

Unofficial Friendsgiving

On Saturday, after a little over a week in my new place, I headed back to Managua for some Access Camp planning. I live a good 4.5 hours from Managua, so I ended up going to Managua on Saturday, doing Access planning on Sunday, and going home Monday. On Saturday night, we went to a restaurant in Managua for dinner. I got a panini, and the price was in dollars (I know things are not Peace Corps-budget friendly when the prices aren’t listed in córdobas.) The food was great, but I always end up spending too much money in Managua.

After our meeting on Sunday, we decided to go to the grocery store to buy food to cook. I’ve been craving fettuccine alfredo for weeks. (I’m serious: About two months ago, I had an actual dream that I was in a kitchen cooking fettuccine alfredo.) So I dropped that suggestion, and my friends suggested some sautéed veggies, so we spent a few hours looking for ingredients (“Where is the heavy cream? Why isn’t it with the milk? How do you say ‘heavy cream’ in Spanish?”), cooking (“you should really wait until it boils to put the pasta in.” “I know, but I’m too impatient.”) and drinking wine (“I got a fifth bottle. I know us. We needed a fifth bottle.”)

And then, without any jokes about too many cooks in the kitchen, it was ready, and I tested the pasta, and no joke, had an out-of-body experience.

Several of us are having a friendsgiving on actual Thanksgiving, but we’ll probably eat at a restaurant because I don’t think our hostel will have a kitchen. (But the restaurant is farm-to-table and has cheesecake, which is literally all I’ve been talking about since I found the menu online four days ago.)

Anyway, even though Sunday night wasn’t our actual friendsgiving, it kind of felt like one. Most of us hadn’t cooked for ourselves since coming to Nicaragua, and we miss it, and we miss each other. Peace Corps is very much a community and a family, and being back together for a couple days was really nice.

We drank a little wine, ate delicious food, and immediately dove deep into scintillating, meaningful conversations about bad sex ed, gender roles, misogyny and patriarchy, adjusting to life in site, why we’re here, etc.

I feel very lucky to have ended up in this country with this amazing group of people. They share their stories with me, provide diverse perspectives, and don’t judge me when I go for a sixth serving of fettuccine alfredo. (Speaking of which, all day I’ve been kicking myself because I didn’t eat the leftovers for breakfast. We basically cleaned the pan, but it physically hurts me to think of any of that delicious homemade food going to waste.)

We stayed up late talking and telling stories and laughing until we cried, and in the morning, we went our separate ways. I’m happy to be back home, but always sad to leave my friends. Luckily, I’ll see a few of them again on Thursday for our planned Thanksgiving festivities.

Until then, look at this delicious food and my wonderful friends!


Don’t want to be a richer man
(Turn and face the strange)
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time

– David Bowie, “Changes

A lot is going to change over the next two years, and I assume that most of that change will be so gradual that I won’t really notice it until a lot of time has passed. That said, here are a few things that have changed since I moved up north four days ago:

  • My new family calls me Jayce/Jaynes/James/Jay (my old family pronounced my name the Spanish way, kind of like Hah-day). I’ll pretty much answer to anything.
  • I drink coffee every day. I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker before, but now I live in coffee country. Can’t say I hate it.
  • I say maracuya instead of calala when referring to my favorite refresco. The words are synonomous but I sound like even more of a foreigner here if I say calala so I avoid it.
  • I sleep in. Sometimes I don’t get up until *gasp* 8 a.m.
  • I actually like the cheese here. You may recall that I just ~tolerated~ queso seco, but I actually eat the cuajada with some level of enthusiasm.

Look at where we are. Look at where we started.

After 13 weeks of living in our training town in Masaya, we went to Managua to swear in as ~official~ volunteers.
This week has been, to put it lightly, a clustercuss. We wrapped up our training the day after the U.S. elections. My host dad had let me use the internet from his phone to keep up with the election results as they rolled in, and at about 11:00, I went to sleep with a sense of dread, praying for an electoral miracle.

I woke up the next morning after fitful sleep and learned that Donald Trump had won, and then I spent the day at the Embassy. 

We watched this USAID video and I cried when the Obama voiceover started.

Peace Corps staff knew that we were all wrecked by the election results, and they told us that we’re needed now more than ever, and then we had a 40+ person group hug. Staff cried and I cried (snot all over my face. Pretty gross.)

We talked to the ambassador, and she told us to remember that we don’t represent the American government; we represent its people. 

It’s very, very easy to be cynical when the country elects a xenophobic, sexist, racist, inarticulate, hotheaded moron who boasts about sexual assault and is endorsed by the KKK, but at that moment, in that room with my Peace Corps family, I felt like there is hope both here and in the United States. There are people willing to stand up and speak out against racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia…the list goes on.

We are all here for a reason, and right now, there is nowhere I’d rather be but here, showing the people of Nicaragua that the ideals of Trump are not shared by everyone.

Yesterday morning, we officially swore in as Peace Corps volunteers. The country director of Peace Corps Nicaragua and the ambassador gave speeches. They both reassured us of the value of the work that we’re doing here. Our country director got a little choked up as he was talking about moving forward in times of change. I shed a few tears and had to hug the closest person to me. (Shout out to Ashley for being such a superb hugger.)

Later that day, we went had dinner at the house of the incomparable, incredible Miguel, who has laughed and cried with us and provided endless support over the last few months. He’s also an incredible chef, so after hours of talking, swimming, and dancing (shout out to Greg for leading me so fearlessly), we ate some delicious gringo barbecue and chocolate cake. 

It was a wonderful way to end training, and it momentarily distracted me from the shitshow of U.S. politics.

(Just a side note: remember when the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln? Y’all know my great emancipator? It would be great if we could get a little more of that instead of standing behind a bleepity-bleep like Trump.)

Anyway, I’m now in my permanent site, ready to serve and thankful to be here. Now I’m gonna bombard you with pictures because we look pretty spiffy.

Your girl is wearing makeup for the first time since arriving in Nicaragua 🇳🇮

I think I was saying something ridiculous. Adrian is giving me a look.
I have a Peace Corps pin. SO OFFICIAL.

Week 13 thoughts

We’ve entered our final week of training. We’ve been in Nicaragua for three months, and it’s honestly a little difficult to picture what my life was like before this. It’s also still pretty difficult to imagine what my life will be like this time next week, when I’m living in my permanent site away from my friends.

Honestly, it took almost no time at all for these people to feel like my family. I feel so supported by other volunteers and by Peace Corps staff, and I know I’ll continue to have their support even after I move to Matagalpa. It will just be different. It will be an adjustment.

Adrian won’t be able to walk me home and talk Harry Potter. I won’t be able to look over at Amanda and feel like I’m reading her mind. Maddie won’t be there to laugh every time I tell a story and use ridiculous voices. Caley and I won’t be able to retell the story of how we met in the airport shuttle in Houston.

We won’t be able to walk down the carretera and get pancakes and calala from the nicest woman in town.

We won’t be able to meet up with other friends in Catarina for batidos and a walk to the mirador.

On Friday, we gave our readiness to serve presentations, and it made me a little emotional. Everyone’s presentations were so different and so wonderful and it forced me to reflect on the last 12 weeks. (I’ll try to post our video sometime soon. It’s in Spanish but I think you’ll enjoy it.)

We’re already planning on times when we can see each other (friendsgiving? Movie night? Dinner? Definitely New Year’s.)

I can’t anticipate what will happen in the next two years, or even in the next two weeks, but I feel ready to face the inevitable challenges. I know I have a wonderful support system to help me along when things get tough (both here and at home.)

Thank you all for your love and support. For laughing at my bad jokes and telling me funny stories when I need to laugh. For sharing desserts and movies and music. For texting me football updates. For understanding that the wifi is unreliable and our phone conversations may be few and far between. Thank you for everything.

We swear in on Thursday and move to our new sites on Friday. Lots of exciting and terrifying changes coming my way!

Laguna de Apoyo, Part II

Oops, I just realized I’ve had this post saved in my drafts for almost a month! Sorry, y’all.

Last weekend, a group of TEFL trainees decided to go to the Laguna de Apoyo. Remember the first time I went, when Caley and I hiked and climbed the equivalent of 121 flights of stairs?

We didn’t hike this time. We took a bus to Masaya, then another bus to the laguna. Most of the trainees in my town didn’t go because they were nervous about time: We had to be back home by 3 to prepare for our movie night, and nobody was sure of the bus schedule.

Now, I’d already told my friends from other towns that I was planning on going, and I really, really wanted to go. I figured I could go, swim for a little bit, and then hopefully figure out a way back. I talked to a couple other people and they thought I’d be fine. So I made a decision ( one that was simultaneously impulsive and responsible): I roped Adrian into coming with me, and we met up with the trainees from the nearest town, and we went together.

We got on the bus to the laguna, and then we learned that the only bus back home arrived at 4, so the very earliest we could have made it back was 5 p.m.

I said we’d find a way to be back by 3, and we went with the rest of our group to a restaurant on the water. It was picturesque and perfect, and the water was wonderful. 

Sometimes, it’s just nice to let your hair down a little, just relax and lounge in the water and see how far out you can swim and panic a little when you swim back because the laguna used to be a freaking volcano and it goes from shallow to oh shit really fast and shouldn’t I be able to touch by now?

I stole this photo from the fabulous Ashley L (my roomie in Houston a million years ago!)

Anyway, we swam and talked and ate tostones and lounged around for a few hours, and then Adrian and I arranged for a taxi back home. (FYI – the bus to the laguna was C$30. The taxi back was C$300, and then the guy didn’t have change, so we ended up paying 400.)

But we made it back in time for our event, and even though we had just about every technical difficulty imaginable, and even though I had a full-scale emotional breakdown after, it was still one of the best days I’ve had here by far. And that’s saying something, because I’ve had some pretty good days.

Oh, I got a little bit of sun, too. I got home and my host mom and sister both immediately commented on how quemada I was.

I had my hair tie on my wrist (shocker, I know) and will now have a noticeable tan line there for the rest of my life.

I’m calling the day a success.