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.

Spring Vacation

Many of you may already know that Thomas and I recently went back to the States for a couple weeks. I wasn’t gonna write a blog post about it, but I’ve had a December vacation post saved in my drafts that I think it’s too late to publish, and I’ve been generally terrible about posting the March/April vacation photos on social media, so I decided to throw some here while I figure out what else to do with them.

The primary reason that Thomas and I went home was for his sister’s wedding. We love to celebrate love, plus it was nice to wear something other than my usual outfit of stretched-out jeans and t-shirts and thick layer of sweat.

Y’all know I love a good wedding, and it’s even better when there’s delicious food. Which THERE WAS and it was Italian and we ate leftovers for days and it was amazing.

The day after the wedding, we took the scenic drive to Blacksburg to see Grandma and Papa and celebrate Easter. I ate Grandma’s deviled eggs and Chris made some delicious chicken. We didn’t take any pictures (oops) because we were too busy having wonderful conversations and catching up. I’ve always loved the drive to Blacksburg from Missouri (despite the likelihood that I’ll get carsick driving the winding mountain roads.) The drive from Richmond was beautiful too, and as we were driving back after the sun set, we witnessed a glorious orange supermoon (ok, I’m not sure if that’s what it actually was because I forgot to Google afterward, but it was large and very orange.) We failed to get worthwhile pictures because we are not astrophotographers, obviously.

I’m shocked I was able to even get this photo without a tripod. The rest are complete basura.

The next day was Easter! We went to church and Thomas’s family all got together and again, I have no pictures.

We also went to New York for a few days! That was something that we’d been planning on doing for like a year, because I wanted to see Jackie and Jon at some point before my service ended, and I’d assumed we wouldn’t see them at Christmas (we did, but only for like an hour.) Anyway, we’d decided to go to New York, so I made the financially irresponsible choice of buying Hamilton tickets (the pretense was a late present for Thomas’s birthday/our anniversary, but let’s be real, it was a gift for myself too.)

That said, I feel like I need to *REWIND* to point out that I give Hamilton a ton of credit for Thomas and I becoming friends. When you’re in a new country with 40 other volunteers who you just met, you have no idea who’s gonna be important to you, or who to make important to you. Thomas and I had no formal introduction, at least not one that either of us remember. I was overwhelmed by new people, but we’d ended up sitting together at a charla or two, and all the volunteers had recently gotten each other’s phone numbers.

Anyway, his name is Thomas AND he’s from Virginia, so I thought of a couple Hamilton references and texted him asking if he’d ever listened to it. (He hadn’t, but said he’d be willing to.) It’s worth noting that comparing him to Thomas Jefferson was merely an excuse to text him, and that, gracias a dios, the first name and home state are where their similarities end. Well, they’re also both white men, but you get my point.

Anyway, I shared Hamilton with Thomas, and he shared Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book with me, and that’s kind of how our friendship and history of music sharing started. (Running into each other at the batido place in Catarina didn’t hurt either.)

So I bought four Hamilton tickets. (When people found out we were going, they kept asking, “so I guess it’s easier to get tickets now, huh?”) LOL NO, I bought those tickets in August, y’all. And I BARELY got them. I somehow managed to keep it a secret from Thomas until our anniversary weekend in February, but then I couldn’t keep it to myself any longer and freaked out and told him.

Anyway, that’s all to say that Hamilton is really important to both of us, and seeing it together was an indescribable experience.

We’re about to see Hamilton and we can’t contain the excitement.
Windy. So windy.

Ahhh I was telling this story chronologically and now it’s all jumbled because the process of buying tickets to seeing the show was like 7 months long.

Anyway, we were also suuuuper excited to go to NYC so we could meet up with our friend Maddie, who we last saw in September and have been missing like crazy. A few months before the trip, we told her we were planning to make our way to the city for a few days and that we would LOVE to see her if she could come down. We picked a meeting time and place, and I’m not even kidding, when I got there we locked eyes across a crowded room and everything went in slow motion for a second and then we hugged and it was incredible. Remember earlier when I said that at the beginning of the Peace Corps journey, you have no idea who will be important to you? Well somehow, through circumstance and coincidence and shared experience, we became friends. Important friends, and I can’t imagine my service without her.

After a delicious lunch (I ate tacos, and the dude who made my tacos automatically spoke to me in Spanish because maybe I look like I speak it, idk) we spent the day together walking in the crazy wind and talking about life plans and obsessing over books.

Maddie has a better Nica face than I do, but she’s also more Nica than me soooo

JUST SO HAPPY

I’m sad to have parted ways for now, but I’m excited to see how and when and where we come together in the future ❤️

The day of Hamilton, we also met up with Uncle TJ, who took us to lunch and to Roosevelt Island, where there’s an old smallpox hospital. It’s now a protected historical ruin or something, and also something I didn’t know existed, so I was glad TJ took us out there!

And OF COURSE, is any trip to New York complete without visiting the Balto statue? (Answer: no.)

I think I mentioned most of the big things we did on vacation? In the future, I’m gonna try to be better at taking photos, because this is basically all I got 😬. Specifically, JACKIE, how do we NEVER get pictures when we’re together? I think the last photos of us together were at your wedding??? THREE YEARS AGO? We fail.

Anyway, thanks for reading. I’m back in Nicaragua until I finish service, so I’m gonna try REALLY hard to keep on truckin’ and updating you more regularly. Hold me accountable if I don’t!

Matagalpa English Methodology Conference

In mid-January, I had the wonderful opportunity to help lead a conference for about 40 English teachers in the department of Matagalpa. I am one of five TEFL volunteers in the department, and together we organized a wonderful weekend of teacher training. Ben and Caley did a ton of work up front to get the grant funding for this project, and we all reached out to friends and family for contributions as well. We each planned sessions with Nicaraguan counterparts (shout out to Jessica, who I forgot to get a picture with that weekend, but who did an incredible job) and led small-group activities and communities of practice.

PCV Greg, PCV Jill, PCV Ben, Bossest boss Aleyda, PCV me, PCV Caley, and PhotoQueen Ashley

Honestly, even a month later, I can confidently say that this has been my favorite part of my service so far. Often, the work we do can be frustrating, unpredictable, and it doesn’t feel like we’re creating lasting change. The day-to-day work in my site has been a challenge at times throughout the last year, but the highlights of my service last semester were my weekends at STEP teaching English classes to Nicaraguan English teachers.

This methodology conference took it a step further. At STEP, we teach participants grammar and vocabulary, but during this conference, all of our sessions were about strategies that they can implement in their classrooms to make them more effective teachers. We spoke 100% in English and challenged participating teachers to do the same. It was a unique experience—both an incredible professional development opportunity and an chance to be completely immersed in English for a weekend. At the end of it, the teachers discussed and wrote action plans: How will they take what they’ve learned and implement it? How will they share their new knowledge with the other English teachers in their communities?

Conference participants (and PCVs) with their certificates! 

After the conference ended, I was overwhelmingly grateful to have been a part of it, and I felt like we had done something truly sustainable. Even after I leave Nicaragua, those teachers will have the knowledge that we left behind, and they will put some of it into practice in their classrooms. In that moment, I also felt incredibly motivated in the work I do every day with my counterparts. How we can work together to implement different strategies and be better teachers? What areas do we want to focus on this year?

I know that 9 more months seems like a long time, but the last year and a half went incredibly quickly and I feel like I still have a lot I want to accomplish before I leave. I hope that I can take the energy from the conference and let it motivate me for the rest of my service. If this ends up being the most fulfilling part of my time here, I will honestly be happy with that. No matter how long I ramble, I don’t think I will ever be able to put into words how incredible it was, but hopefully watching this video shot and edited by rockstar PCV Ashley will give you a little peek into the experience.

Gatito, gatito

Frito Lay is my family’s cat. She typically spends her days running around and keeping our house free of mice. These days, her life has changed somewhat.

On Friday, Frito Lay had 3 kittens! It was a magical, happy time in our house (for me at least. I don’t think my family particularly likes cats.)

I tried not to get attached to them because my family was planning to give them to other people who need mouse killers, but naturally, I had a favorite: This little babe with the orange stripe.

Unfortunately, tragedy befell the litter, and when I came home after the weekend away, only one remained. RIP first- and third-born kittens.

Baby Orange Cat is still with us, so until school starts (soooo sooooon) I’m protecting him with my life.

Wish me luck!

2017

For 2016, I recapped my year through photos that had never been posted. The only rules were that I had to be in each photo, and I had to share at least one photo from each month. I liked doing this, so I’m doing it again for 2017. Here we go!

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Dec. 30 – Playa Gigante: Closing out the year with this guy by my side.
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Dec. 23 – Springfield, MO: ❄️
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Dec. 8 – Glen Allen, VA: Snowtogenic?
Nov. 24 – Matagalpa, Nicaragua: I compulsively take people’s temperatures when they’re sick. Thomas had a fever of 103 and was basically as hot as an O-type star.
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Oct. 10 – Matiguás, Matagalpa: No puedo expresar la alegría que siento cuando la gente me regala fruta.
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Sept. 19 – Matiguás: She asked me to pour water in her mouth like this. Also, my floor is filthy.
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Sept. 16 – Managua, Nicaragua: Reunited with my Niquinohomo loves.
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Sept. 9 – Springfield, MO: There’s a pain goes on and on.
Aug. 29 – Matagalpa: When they review grammar, I review grammar.
Aug. 20 – Matagalpa: The cuddliest of all puppies.
Jul. 4 – Springfield, Missouri: Emotional day at the record store.
Jul. 4 – Springfield, Missouri: 💇🏽‍♀️🍭
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Jun. 28 – Ellijay, GA: S’more 🔥
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Jun. 2 – León, Nicaragua: Catedral
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May 31 – Matagalpa: Bodas negras
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May – Matiguás: Heaven on Earth
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Apr. 15 – Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua: Sunscreen Wilson© by Thomas Orange
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Mar. 19 – Estelí: Stacks on stacks 🥞
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Feb. 25 – Matagalpa: Sneak attack besitos at Kiss Me
Jan. 30 – Matiguás: With pain comes beauty? Or something? I don’t know.
Jan. 26 – Matiguás: Baby’s first fever, vomiting, and diarrhea in Nicaragua! #triplethreat
Jan. 7 – Matagalpa: Great views of my home away from home away from home.

I’m not going to give a long commentary on what this year meant to me, but I’ll say this: it went quick. There were good parts and bad parts, but I always felt supported and surrounded by love, and I’m grateful for that. I already know that 2018 will be an interesting one. I don’t know exactly what it has in store, but I’m excited to find out.

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!