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.

Semana Santa

I’ve been terrible about writing things down as they happen, so I’m going to try to remember what I did. 

I started out Semana Santa by meeting up with Thomas in Estelí so we could travel together instead of arriving separately to a city neither of us knew. I’m getting pretty familiar with the Matagalpa-to-Estelí trip and it’s not too bad compared to some of my other viajes, but it’s still a 5-hour trip I’d rather avoid for a while.

Anyway, the first leg of our journey was to the beach in León! After some slight drama (getting our alcohol temporarily confiscated) we arrived at the beach where some wonderful friends were waiting.

After the first night, Thomas and I woke up early to see a little sunrise.

Spent the day lounging in the shade because the sun at the beach was not very forgiving, and the water was a little rough.

At some point we climbed atop these rocks where Ashley, our photo goddess, captured our joy.

We caught a nice sunset, too.

Ashley took some pretty gross photos of me and Thomas.

The next morning we went to the city of León, where Thomas and I didn’t spend enough time to actually do anything touristy. Next time.

We traveled to our favorite place, the Laguna de Apoyo. Our training groups spent quite a bit of time drinking batidos and then going to the mirador to gaze at the laguna’s beauty. Naturally, for our first vacation, we had to go back.

We kayaked out into the laguna. We swam and sat in the sun and spent way too much money on food. We took almost no photos, except this on the morning we left.

I’d say this first vacation was a success!

So thankful for this adventure, and looking forward to many more.

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.

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.

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.)

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

Dificultad: alta 

This morning at 6:30, I went on a hike with Caley and her host family. I didn’t exactly know it would be a hike beforehand; I just knew we’d be walking to the laguna. All I knew was that our whole trip (getting there, swimming for a bit, and getting back home) would take about 3 hours.

Anyway, I was excited, because it’s my first full weekend here and I didn’t have any plans. When we got to the entrance point for the hike, we saw this sign, and we kind of chuckled because it said “Difficulty: high.”

Anyway, we started the hike and quickly realized that it was pretty steep, and I remember thinking “this trip back up may actually kill me.”

It probably took about 40 minutes to get down to the laguna. We swam for a while and the water was FANTASTIC. The temperature was perfect, and I probably could have stayed there all day.

As we were leaving, Caley’s host brother-in-law asked if we wanted to take the bus or climb back up. I suggested subir. (Sorry, Caley. It’s possible that I made the wrong choice.

The hike back up was brutal. I’d worn a long-sleeved, dri-fit shirt (mistake #1, but I’m trying to avoid showing much skin until I’ve integrated in the community a little more) that I had to take off within the first few minutes. So I hiked in my swimsuit and shorts.

It’s about 4 kilometers down and 4 back up. That doesn’t seem like much, but the incline was brutal. I couldn’t tell if my hair was drenched from swimming or from sudor (spoiler alert: SO MUCH SWEAT.) But thank God for sweat, because when the wind picked up, it felt like heaven.

When we got to the top, I felt like we’d accomplished a Herculean task. But then we had to walk even more to get to Caterina to get something to drink and find a mototaxi. My bottle of orange soda cost like $1.50, which is an absurdly high price, but we were in a tourist trap and I would have died without it, so I paid.

By noon, when I got back to the park, I’d walked over 7 miles and climbed the equivalent of 121 flights of stairs. 

I’m exhausted and hungry (did I mention that I forgot to grab my water bottle on the way out of my house? I did this hike with only two small sips of Caley’s water to sustain me. How am I alive?)
All that said, I’m glad I did this, I’d recommend it to a friend, and I’d do it again (but with a tank top and some agua.) 5/5 stars.