339 days

I meant to write this post like a month ago, but y’all know I’m a mess on the blog these days.

We’ve been in Nicaragua for 482 days. That’s 3 months of training and 13 months in our sites. That means that we have less than a year left in our service, and I honestly can’t believe how the time has flown. At the time, those 3 months of training felt incredibly long, but now it’s just a (critically important) blip on the radar, and the year since swearing in is a blur. There was a time before I started Peace Corps when I naively thought that one year would be enough time. Well, we’re 16 months in and have 11 left, and I gotta say, it’ll never feel like I’ve had enough time here. I have so much more that I want to accomplish.

Anyway, to celebrate a year since swearing in, a group of us went to the Laguna de Apoyo and swam in the warm water and ate expensive food and generally enjoyed each other’s company. Then some of us went back to Matagalpa because we had STEP class to teach.

Sorry, but I took exactly zero photos during that trip.

Last week, a few of us had Friendsgiving (which I also took no pictures of). I saw a couple friends who I don’t see often, and a few I see all the time, and we made macaroni and cheese and sangria. Thomas had a high fever and unfortunately couldn’t really enjoy the food, but it was still a good long weekend, and now the school year is officially over and I’m almost in the U.S.

This month, I may even see some of you in real life!

Flaquita, flaquita

“¿Jade, por qué sos tan flaquita?” – my host family, constantemente.

I think most people have heard unsolicited comments about their bodies from people, whether it’s from strangers, family, or friends. Sometimes it doesn’t bother us. Sometimes it does.

I’ve always been skinny. I was born at a healthy 6 lb, 5 oz (over a pound bigger than my twin sister) and throughout my life, I’ve always been seen as skinny, but not quite as skinny as Jasmine. If there are categories of skinny, Jasmine was more lanky-skinny and I was more athletic-skinny. As adults, I usually weighed about ten pounds more than her, not that that’s super relevant.

Anyway, we were blessed with our father’s high metabolism, and no matter what my food intake or exercise regimen was, Adult Jade was always within 4 pounds of her typical weight. No more, no less. When I arrived in Nicaragua, I was weighed by Peace Corps doctors, and I was my typical weight on the dot.

I didn’t have a scale in training, so the first time I weighed myself after the initial weigh-in was at a farmacia in Matagalpa last December. I’d (unsurprisingly) gained about 3 pounds, so I was pretty close to the heaviest I’d ever been, but still well within what I’d consider my normal weight. (I mean, I’m the person who weighs herself before and after Thanksgiving dinner just to see how many pounds of food I can consume in one sitting. Fluctuating 3 pounds is pretty easy to do in one day.) Also, we’d been told that most women gain weight when they come to Nicaragua. The diet is high in starch and fat, and a lot of women alter their typical exercise routine in some way.

Anyway, fast forward to February. I’d done some exercise in my room in December/January (very occasionally. nothing regularly, and nothing since). Anyway, in (mid? Late?) February I put on my Beyoncé pants that I worked out in, and I looked in the mirror and felt different. My pants seemed like they fit differently. I felt less muscular. And like there were places I used to be able to grab some fat, but now I couldn’t get a handful.

I recognize that this is a ridiculous problem, and that I have (and always have had) a lot of advantages because I have this body. People assume that I’m healthy because I’m thin. I’m not seen as lazy or gluttonous, even when I eat junk and don’t exercise (as I have for most of my life). I never diet, and nobody ever suggests to me that I should do certain things or lead a healthier lifestyle.

Anyway, this day I looked in the mirror and suddenly saw a change. A change I didn’t want. But I thought maybe I was imagining it. I didn’t know how it had happened. I sent some pictures to my sisters (a picture from December and one from February) and asked if I looked skinnier. They couldn’t say for sure. I thought maybe I was imagining the weight loss. When I went to the Peace Corps doctors in April, I mentioned that I felt like I’d lost some weight. They weighed me, and I was 3 pounds less than my August weight (6 pounds less than my December weight, which they had no record of since I’d weighed myself in a random pharmacy.) The doctor called a 3 pound weight loss “insignificant,” which is true. I was still within what I’d consider a very typical weight for Adult Jade.

Fast forward to June/July. I went home on emergency leave, and Jasmine immediately commented that I looked skinnier. She took my measurements, but I couldn’t remember what they were before Peace Corps so I had no comparison to my previous body, and I had to just compare my weight to hers. She’d gained a few pounds, and I’d lost a few more (now putting me at about  8 pounds less than August, 11 pounds less than December, if I’m remembering the numbers correctly.) This also meant that, for the first time in our lives, I weighed less than Jasmine (by about 5 pounds) and I weighed less than I ever had as an adult. I bought new jeans (a size smaller than I can recall buying in the last…12-14 years.)

I got back to Nicaragua a couple weeks later (after going to town on alllll the food) and one of the first things my host family said was, “you’re so skinny! You’re too skinny!” Now, I understand that I’m skinny. I’ve always been skinny. But I’d lived with them since November and this was the first time they seemed to have noticed. And in the 3 months since I’ve been back from that first emergency leave, I’ve gotten a barrage of questions.

“Jade, why are you so skinny?” (I don’t know.)

“Did your mom ask you why you were so skinny when you went home?” (No, she said my butt was flatter but I still look healthy.)

“[A previous volunteer] engordaba mucho y ella caminaba y corría. ¿Por qué sos tan flaquita?” (Ok I know that she walked/ran like 7 miles a day when she lived here and that I am both lazier and skinnier but I don’t understand metabolism? My sister is skinny without trying, Dad was skinny without trying. It’s a thing I can’t explain.)

“You need to eat more.” (I mean, I’m trying but all I eat is beans so I just poop it out 5 minutes later.)

“Why are you so skinny?” (I still don’t know.)

“What did the doctors say? Did they say you need to eat more?” (I mean, it would probably be good if I didn’t lose more weight, but the weight I’ve gradually lost so far doesn’t concern them. I’ve only had diarrhea twice in over a year so that’s not the problem and they’re really not worried.)

“Comé bastante. Los doctores dicen que necesitás comer más.” (Ok.)

I understand that these comments come from a place of love. I appreciate that they want me to be healthy and that they want to feed me well. That said, it is frustrating to be so out of control of my diet and my body. When I’m in site, I eat what they give me. I can’t exercise in the ways that I’d like to, because that would require running at 4 a.m. (probably dangerous) to beat the heat. 

I love this family, and I don’t ever want to move, but the hardest thing about my living situation is being so out of control of what and when I eat. When I finish Peace Corps, I will be thrilled to have a crock pot and an oven and to cook all the things I want.

I know that much of this blog post has felt like I’m complaining, either about losing weight or about my family’s comments on it. Now that I’ve rambled for a while, I’ll try to articulate my point. The weight loss itself isn’t that big a deal. I’m still a healthy weight, and I still weigh more than Jasmine has for much of her adult life. The constant comments and questions aren’t hurtful. I think my biggest frustration is just not knowing how to answer them. For my entire life, no matter what I did or didn’t do, my weight would stay fairly stable. Now, I’m seeing a gradual, inexplicable change, one that is opposite of what most people here experience or expect. My family doesn’t understand how I can be so skinny while eating these foods (and they have at least some understanding of nutrition, because my host sister has cut out some of the starch in an attempt to lose weight). That’s why they ask the questions. They don’t understand why I’m so flaca and they assume that I have the answers. The problem is that I don’t get it either, and I don’t like being so out of touch with what’s going on with my body.

I tried to explain this to them, that in the States I ate a lot (“and you got fatter, right?” they interjected.) No, I never got fatter. My sister eats a lot and she doesn’t engordar. My dad ate mountains of food and él no engordaba tampoco. 

El metabolismo es genético, o algo así.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to Christmas. Mom, please bake all the holiday sweets and all my favorite winter foods. I’ll make you a list.

October mishaps

So, October has been the month of mishaps for me. Let me fill you in.

My chiclero was stolen

For those of you who don’t know, a chiclero is what we call these relatively worthless phones.


I think I bought mine for $10-12 at the beginning of training, and it served me well. This is the phone that I use to call people in Nicaragua. We were told very early on that chicleros were the way to go—nobody would want it, and they may actually chase you down to return it to you! 

In fact, this happened to me. One day, I left it in a taxi on the way across town to one of my schools. I fretted all afternoon because I was pretty sure I hadn’t left it at home, but I somehow didn’t have it with me anymore. I was a little bit panicked because I didn’t want to have to replace it—it had my Peace Corps chip that allows me to text in-country for free and call everyone in Peace Corps Nicaragua. It had all of my phone numbers. After my classes had finished, I walked 40 minutes from school, and when I was on the corner 2 blocks from my house, a car honked at me. It was the taxi, holding my phone out the window, asking if I’d left it behind. I think it was a total coincidence that we both happened to be at that corner at that moment, but regardless, the taxista was looking out for me, and he returned my phone when it would’ve been easier not to bother.

Anyway, back to the theft. I was in Matagalpa City at the bus terminal. Now, I may have mentioned before that the buses are crazy. For most buses, you have to shove and punch people just to have a chance of getting a seat (and y’all know I need that seat because I get carsick and I ain’t standing for 2.5 hours). Anyway, I’ve started only taking expresos—faster buses that require you to buy a ticket for a designated seat. When I buy a ticket, I’ve even started asking specifically for a window seat so I can get a nice breeze. Expresos are more expensive than ordinarios, but it’s worth it.

Regardless, I got to the bus terminal just as the bus pulled in. I sent a quick text to Thomas (who had left to go to back to site via a bus terminal on the other side of town) to tell him that my bus was here, and to text me when his bus came. A crowd of people swarmed the bus (despite all having tickets, everyone still wants to be on first). Thirty seconds later, I was on the bus and my phone was gone. I assume that I quickly shoved it into my pocket to face the madness, somebody saw a lump in my pocket and assumed it was valuable, and they took my $12 phone. It wasn’t the worst that could’ve happened, not by a long shot, but I was still in a bad mood because I had to travel the next 2.5 hours before I could report it stolen, tell Thomas that I was okay, and have any correspondence with anyone. Also the guy next to me was all up in my space and asking me about my marital status, and I was so not in the mood.

I’ve since replaced my phone with a free one that I got from my sitemate, who got it from the volunteer I replaced. I got a new chip from Peace Corps. All is well, but faltan many phone numbers.

I broke my hard drive

I think this may have happened immediately after I got home on the day my phone was stolen? It was definitely a day that I returned from traveling. Anyway, I have a 2 TB hard drive that is full of movies, photos, TV shows, home videos, documents, music, etc etc. I dropped it on the ground, can’t use it anymore, and I only had some of it backed up elsewhere.

I lost my wallet

Most recently (and maybe most devastatingly?) I lost my wallet. I think I stuck it in my pocket while I was walking at night, then possibly tried to drop it back in my bag? Anyway, I realized it was gone, retraced my steps, and never found it. As far as money, it only held two U.S. dollars (and U.S. credit cards, easily cancelled), but it also had my Missouri drivers license and the cédula that serves as my identification here in Nicaragua. I just got it renewed, then lost it within 2 months. So now I’m in the process of  getting a new one.

During my language interviews in training, one of the situations I had to do with my Spanish teacher was reporting a theft to the police. I’m thrilled to say that reporting a fake theft in an interview situation was much more stressful than reporting a lost ID to the police a year later. I had to spend 3 córdobas to make copies of the police report and my passport, but the police were very nice and it was much less stressful than I thought it would be. Hopefully it doesn’t take too long to get a new ID, because I don’t really like being without it.

Anyway, only about a month until I’m back in the states (without a driver’s license. Guess I’ve gotta get a new one of those too). Hopefully my bad luck is behind me!

September/October recap

I’ve been putting off writing for so long that now I have to give you a recap of what I’ve been up to for the last two months (much of which I’ve forgotten.)

September started off sad. Less than six months after being diagnosed with cancer, my stepmom passed away. I flew back for the funeral. I was glad I had a chance to be there, but I didn’t want to stay long. I flew back to Managua, where all of my favorite people were gathered. I can’t stress enough how thankful I am for the friendships I’ve built here. These folks were my rock during training and after we got scattered around the country. (Thomas took this photo and is obviously included in the aforementioned “favorite people.”)


Anyway, so I went back to my site and got back into the swing of work as much as I could. I taught more STEP classes and classes in the secondary schools in my town. One of my counterparts has started giving me lunch during our co-planning sessions, and it’s always delicious. I enjoy spending a few hours at her house every week (even on days when it turns out class is cancelled.) Her two-year-old daughter is awesome, even though she’s still not so sure about me.

¿Qué más? 

I’ve traveled to Matagalpa and Managua recently, where I unashamedly blow all my money on food. I just got back from a doctor’s appointment in Managua. I got my teeth cleaned, got two corazón suckers for being so great with my checkup and shots. I’m now realizing that I only ate one of the suckers, and I’m not sure where the other one is.

Panic panic panic.

Just kidding, no need to panic. I found it in my purse.


So what’s next?

The school year ends in November, and in December, Thomas and I are headed back to the States for vacation. We’re excited to see family and friends and eat good food. We’re less excited that everything in the U.S. costs dollars, and we don’t have dollars 😬

I plan on posting at least 2 more updates between now and then though, so stay tuned!

STEP

I’ve been semi-busy for the last month, but I thought now might be a good time to sit down and tell you a little bit of what I’ve been up to.

As TEFL volunteers, one of our responsibilities is to serve as English teachers in a program called STEP (Striving Towards English Proficiency). This program givesNicaraguan English teachers in different departments the opportunity to study English on the weekends so they can improve their English proficiency. Peace Corps Volunteers teach 2-12 classes per semester, depending on how close they live to the STEP site. Because I live in the department of Matagalpa, I was assigned to teach 3 classes in August and will teach 5 or 6 more between now and December.

The Nicaraguan English teachers took a proficiency test to determine what level they’ll start at, and STEP Matagalpa is currently teaching 3 of the 5 levels. Students who start in the first level will take classes for 2.5 years before they finish the program, so it’s quite the commitment. Many of these teachers already teach 5 or 6 days a week and give up their only free day to attend STEP classes. Many of them have to travel long distances (4+ hours on the bus) to get to class. It takes me 2.5 hours to get to the department capital where we have STEP, and I’m exhausted every time I make the trip! I feel incredibly lucky that these students are so committed and that they show up full of energy, excited to practice their English (from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Sunday!)

I teach the third level, so my class already has an intermediate high English proficiency. I’ve had so much fun, because we can have discussions completely in English, but it can also be a little challenging because I have to teach more complex grammar (some of which I’ve never had to think about because I’m a native speaker and it comes naturally for me). We are encouraged to use a lot of dinámicas, games, and different methods to teach the content. It’s more fun for all of us, and the students get ideas for activities they can implement in their own classrooms.

It typically takes me a good 10 hours to plan for one day of STEP class, but I feel incredibly accomplished when the day is over and when my class does well on their tests. 

Here are a couple photos from my class last week. We have a lot of fun!

1 Year

August 10th marked one year since our Nica 68 group got off the plane in Nicaragua and became Peace Corps trainees. We had three months of training, which went pretty slowly, and then 9 lightning-fast months in our permanent sites.

A lot has happened in the last year, and I’m so happy to be here. 

A brief list of things that have changed since August 10th last year:

  • I always write the number 7 with a line through it, lest it be mistaken for a 1.
  • I exclaim “¡Que calor!” about a dozen times a day.
  • I walk in the shade whenever possible often crossing the street for just a few seconds of slightly-cooler temperatures.

Most importantly though, I’ve formed friendships that have sustained me in good times and bad times. My Niquinohomo squad, who pushed through training with me every day and came out the other side



All the other volunteers, especially in TEFL 68, who have made this experience so incredible.

(I’m sure I have some pictures of you all but I can’t bring myself to look for them. Please forgive me but I’ve had a 101 degree fever in a tropical country and it’s been an interesting week.)

Of course, I can’t end without giving a special shout out to Thomas, whose unwavering friendship has given me immeasurable strength. He’s the biggest blessing of the last year, hands down.


I’m so excited to see what the next year will bring.

The return to the training town

For some reason, even though I’ve written a fair amount in the last few months, I haven’t been blogging. I’m going to start posting old stuff and try to get back on track with keeping y’all updated on the goings on in my life.

In April, most of the volunteers from my training group returned to their training towns for Spanish class. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to the Spanish classes nearly as much as I was looking forward to seeing my friends in our old stomping grounds. We traveled together from Managua to our little town in the department of Masaya, and it was such a surreal feeling. I hadn’t been back since I swore in as a volunteer, and it simultaneously felt like no time had passed and like an eternity had passed. I still feel very much like a new volunteer, but I feel like I’ve grown and learned so much since I got to my new home. I’m still the same person, but kind of a different version.

Surreal.

We stepped off the bus on the side of the highway we’ve walked and driven down a thousand times before.

It felt like home. I was immediately overwhelmed by my love of this place. I’ve been out of this town for twice as long as I was in it, but in some ways, it still feels more like home than my permanent site.

Training was crazy and a little stressful at times, but my town was tranquilo and my host family was wonderful. Above all, I had friends close by who I could talk to and lean on when I needed it. We all supported each other and became each other’s family. We try to get together when we can, but we live all over Nicaragua and it is difficult to go weeks and months without seeing each other. I didn’t really realize how much I missed hanging out as a group. Getting tostones and batidos after a long day, watching the sun set over the laguna.

When we visited one of our favorite restaurants in town, the owner recognized us and said “a couple of you are missing” and she was right. Maddie was in the U.S, and Thomas (honorary member of our training group) was in a different town.

We have such memories tied to that town. We had our regular spots and routines, and that’s where we grew into Peace Corps Volunteers. That’s where our friendships grew, where Adrian walked me home every night even though I’d never felt unsafe.

Returning made me reflect on all the ways in which my life has changed, both in good ways and bad ways. I still have the support of my friends in my training town, but now that we don’t see each other every day, we’re really forced to reach out to each other, and we don’t always succeed at doing that. 

I really do feel like I have a lot of different homes. Some of them are places, and some of them are people, but I’m thankful for all of them.

Nica 68 squad: I’m going to try to be better at keeping in touch, even though we don’t live close. 

There and back again

It’s been a month since my last blog post. I have no excuses. I’ve been putting off writing every day. A lot has happened, but I haven’t really wanted to try to put it into words.

At the end of June/beginning of July, I went home. I say “home” but to be honest, home doesn’t really feel like the right word. These days, I feel like I have a lot of homes. Maybe that’s the subject of another post.

Anyway, I went back to the U.S. for two weeks on emergency leave. If an immediate relative has a terminal illness, Peace Corps will fly you back to see them. I was glad I was able to go, even though it was difficult. For those two weeks, I was able to see family and get their support, even when they may not have realized the extent to which they were supporting me.

I saw my nephews and nieces, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and sisters for the first time in a year, and it was wonderful. 

I don’t really want to talk about illness and sadness and all the definitions of “going home” right now, so I’ll throw a few photos from my trip in.

On that note, as happy as I was to go back to the U.S, I was definitely ready to leave by the end of the trip. When I caught my first glimpse of the lake as the plane made its descent, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of homecoming. I’m happy to be back.

Dear Diarrhea,

Dear Diarrhea, what to say to you?(Please sing that to the tune of “Dear Theodosia” even though I was too lazy to write more of the song.)

Last night, I was watching “My Conventional Wisdom,” an episode of Scrubs in which J.D. and Turk go to a medical convention. One of the things they see there is Dr. Toilet, which gives a diagnosis after a patient has a bowel movement in it.

That was my roundabout way of starting this conversation on self-diagnosing my grief through poop.

I’m going back to the United States for a few weeks. I hadn’t planned on leaving Nicaragua until Christmas vacation, but a few months ago I learned that my stepmom had been diagnosed with cancer. I’m allowed to take emergency leave to go see her.

Now, I could have taken this leave a long time ago, really as soon as I found out. I told myself I had a lot of reasons for waiting: the situation was time sensitive but not necessarily emergent. From what I gathered, not a lot would change between April and June. I had a lot of stuff planned for April and May, and I didn’t want to go home unless I could see Jasmine while I was there.

Passable reasons for staying here, but still excuses.

As June creeped onward, I realized that I really really needed to get a move on and go back. I started to feel resentful, because of course I want to see my family, and of course I want to visit my stepmom, but I truly love my life here and I don’t want to leave it, not even for a couple weeks.

More than that though, I’m not ready to face more grief. Here in Nicaragua, I have the luxury of ignoring it, but emergency leave is exactly what it sounds like, and no matter how I spend that time, the purpose of my visit is abundantly clear.

I’m feeling a lot of things that I can’t fully articulate: guilt, grief, anger, excitement, sadness…

Stress.

You may recall that I got sick (and by that I mean diarrhea and vomiting) on January 26, one year after the last time I saw Dad before he died. That sickness was short-lived, and I assumed that it was caused by stress. 

On Wednesday night, I talked to Thomas about all of my feelings about going back to the U.S. Once I get there, I think my feelings (at least some of them) will change, but the act of leaving and actually packing and getting on a bus and going to the airport and getting on a plane…thinking about that made the whole thing real all of a sudden.

All of a sudden, I wasn’t telling people, “Yeah, I’ll probably go home in a few months” or “I’ll probably go home sometime in June” or “I’ll go home after Jasmine is back in Missouri.” 

All of a sudden, I heard myself saying, “I’m probably going home next week.”

All of a sudden, it was real. I was going to have to face the grief.

Anyway, I woke up Thursday morning with diarrhea. For a lot of volunteers, diarrhea is a pretty common occurrence, but for me, I’ve had exactly one bout of diarrhea: as my body’s way of commemorating Dad’s death.

I had agreed to help judge an English singing competition at one of my schools, so I sent a text to my counterpart to tell her that I was feeling sick and didn’t think I could help. 

She begged me to help, so I told her I’d come.

I sat at school for about four hours, praying that I could, at the very least, not poop my pants.

God provides.

For those four hours, I was present, breaking out into a sweat, either leaning back in my seat or leaning forward with my head in my hands.

At one point my counterpart asked if I was asleep. I was miserable, but she’d been asking me to help her for weeks and I wanted to at least give it my best effort.

I feel like I did that. I made it halfway through the day. I took a drink of water. My body was so hot that I felt like I was about to pass out. My counterpart tried to talk to me and it sounded like I had cotton in my ears. I told her that I felt like I needed to get air. I walked outside and puked in the grass while the loitering students watched me.

I told her that I really needed to go home.

Yesterday, I felt fine. I packed my things to prepare for my trip back. Today I feel terrible again. I’m writing this while I sit on the bus. It’ll be okay.

The other day, I mentioned to a few other volunteers that I was sick but I didn’t really know why. They assumed I have a parasite (because honestly everyone does) but I disagreed.

I don’t need a stool sample or a Dr. Toilet to know that I’m stressing myself out to the point of physical illness. 

I still don’t know exact details of when I’ll be back, but it’ll probably be within a few days. Hopefully I can at least keep my shit together until I get off the plane in Missouri.

I’ll see some of you soon.

26

Okay, I’m gonna give you a really brief rundown of my birthday weekend. Caley’s birthday is a few days before mine, so we decided a long time ago (back in training, I think) that we’d want to do something together and have a joint celebration. During training we talked about getting sushi, but the only sushi we’ve seen here is in Managua, and we don’t venture to Managua unless we really have to.

We both ended up getting placed in sites in the department of Matagalpa, and we love the city, so we made a choice to spend the weekend there with friends. All of my training group was able to come, which was awesome because we live all over Nicaragua, from Jinotega to Chinandega to Río San Juan. Thomas and John and Andrea came too, and I was so happy to hang out with all of them.


We got in on Friday (my last day of being 25!) and obviously went to Kiss Me. We got dinner near our hostel and I ate some insanely good vegetarian curry. We went back to the hostel and played cards until after midnight, when my friends sang me happy birthday and I sent a video to Jasmine. 


Saturday, we went to a Mexican restaurant and I ate some vegetarian nachos (I realized at the end of the weekend that the only meat I ate all weekend was one BLT.) and then we went back to Kiss Me, because I’m the birthday girl who can eat as much ice cream as she wants. Next door to Kiss Me, there’s a board game cafe, so we played a couple games of Clue and I won both times.


For dinner, we went to my favorite Italian place and demolished a few pizzas. 


When we got back to the hostel, my friends surprised me with a tres leches cake and Caley and I tried to feed each other/ourselves wedding-style, but we need more practice.



I feel super lucky to have friends here who make me feel so loved on my birthday (and every day, really. They’re the greatest.) 

I wouldn’t have wanted to close out 25 and begin 26 in any other way. Thanks to everyone who made my birthday so special, both in person and otherwise. Love you all ❤️