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 ❤️

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.

I’m back in my training town

So I’m back in the town where I spent my first 3 months in Nicaragua. I’m doing a four-day Spanish class before I go back to my home in Matagalpa. I’ll probably write more about this weird feeling of being back, but for now I’m gonna be quick. 

Sometimes I feel like not much time has passed since I’ve been in Nicaragua. I sat down to eat lunch today, and Princesa, that tiny kitten who I loved during training, walked by me.

But she’s not a kitten anymore. She’s an actual CAT. I mentioned to my host mom how big Princesa had gotten, and then she dropped a bomb on me.

Princesa is a MAMÁ . I HAVE BEEN GONE LONG ENOUGH FOR HER TO HAVE KITTENS. THREE KITTENS. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?! 

Begone, vile man!

The boys around the way holler at me when I’m walking down the street

Their machismo pride doesn’t break my stride—

It’s a compliment, so they say

The boys around the way holler at me every day but I don’t mind, oh no

If I’m in the mood, it will not be with some dude

Who is whistling ’cause he has nothing to say

Or who’s honking at me from his Chevrolet!

– “It Won’t Be Long Now,” In the Heights

One common struggle of living in Nicaragua is figuring out how to deal with unwanted attention. This comes in a variety of forms, but a lot of us—women especially—get a lot of unwanted (romantic, gross, lecherous) attention from men. Strangers, members of our host families, our students, other teachers, administrators, and the list goes on. Other female volunteers often share their experiences, and it is almost always met with a chorus of “I’m so sorry, that sucks” followed by “I have a similar story.”

I’m thankful to the ladies in my life who share their stories with me, because even though we’re all having slightly different experiences, we have all faced machismo, and we can try to support each other.

I want to be clear: This is not exclusively a Nicaraguan problem. Most of us have faced similar problems in the U.S. One time, a man insisted on talking to me as I’m tried to walk down the street, grabbed my arm, kissed me without my consent, and refused to leave until I walked into a museum that he didn’t have a ticket for. Every woman I know has dealt with guys who have felt entitled to our time, attention, or bodies. Guys who won’t listen to a simple “no.” “Nice guys” who just don’t understand why we don’t want to date them. This is not a Nicaraguan problem.

That said, I have had problems here in Nicaragua. Mostly, dudes just yell at me or try to get my attention as I walk down the street. It’s annoying, but it’s nothing I haven’t faced before, and it’s generally pretty easy to ignore.

I’ve had teachers in my school ask if I’m single, and when I said I had a boyfriend (even though I didn’t actually have one) one of them responded (in Spanish) that I must not love him, because women are as needy as baby cows on their mom’s tit.

Most recently, while I was sitting at the park (a place where I can usually enjoy peace and quiet and wifi) three guys crowded onto the bench with me. The following are messages I sent to Thomas at the time.


I appreciated his response:


There were endless empty benches, but these men chose to take over my space. I decided to keep my headphones in, not make eye contact, and wait them out. The guy closest to me (we were literally shoulder to shoulder) looked over my shoulder as I scrolled through photos and live-messaged Thomas what was happening.

Finally, one guy left.

A few minutes later, the second guy left.

Last, the guy who’d been reading over my shoulder accepted that I wasn’t going to acknowledge him and walked off, defeated.

And I stretched out on the bench in victory.


Not even a minute later, as I was still stretched out across the entire bench, a different guy came and sat on the edge of the bench, right in front of my feet. I moved my legs. Ceded territory.


*eye roll*

I thought that I could wait this guy out too, but he motioned for me to take out my headphones.

I took one out.

He started talking to me, and he asked for my phone number. I told him I didn’t have a phone number. He insisted. I put in a fake number. I told him I had to leave. He grabbed my hand tightly and wouldn’t let go. He told me how happy he was to have my number. I pulled away, left the park, and called Thomas as I walked home.

A couple days ago, the same guy noticed me again. I accidentally made eye contact, and he recognized me and sat down. He started asking me questions.

Where do I work? Oh, I’m a teacher. How much money do I make? Probably a lot. Do I have a boyfriend? Yeah, oh, well that doesn’t matter because you can still be with me. No? Because you have a boyfriend? But I have a farm! Look at my boots. They’re nice boots. I have a farm. I like you. Why don’t you want us to be together?

I stood up to leave, he grabbed my hand. I said had to go teach. I left the park. I called Thomas as I walked home.

It’s always so, so easy to assume you know what you would do if you were in a certain situation, but until it actually happens, you have no fucking clue. It’s easy to look back and say, “why didn’t you just walk away after you realized who he was the second time? Why did you answer any of his questions? Why did you make excuses for why you don’t want to be with him when a simple “no” should have been enough?

In the moment, it is very, very easy to freeze. Sometimes, your mind goes blank. Sometimes your Spanish vocabulary doesn’t include all the curse words you want to use. Besides, you have to keep living in this community with these people for two more years, and you’re trying to figure out the best way to manage that. Sometimes, as much as you wanna punch a guy in the face after he makes physical contact with you, you don’t, because you haven’t made friends with the policía yet.

I feel lucky that what I’ve faced here isn’t as bad as what some of my friends have faced. I’ve faced worse in the United States. I feel safe at home and in my schools. I feel safe in my community, but pissed that I sometimes have to leave the park when I’d rather stay there another hour.

For all the people who have dealt with (or are currently dealing with) shitty situations: I see you, and I’m here if you want to talk about it. You’re not alone.

To all the wonderful men in my life who listen to our stories, acknowledge your privilege, offer to be our fake boyfriends if/when we need it, and support us however you can: Thank you. You make trudging through this shit so much easier.

Sending lots of love to all of you.

Buñuelos

Buñuelos were one of my first favorite Nicaraguan foods. I used to order them pretty regularly when my training group went out for drinks. But then I fell in love with tostones and batidos, and the buñuelos fell off my radar for five months.

Until today.

I was handed a cup full of fresh, homemade buñuelos and I swear they’re by far the best I’ve ever had. Hot. Crispy on the outside. Soft and doughy on the inside. Dripping in honey. I ate most of them before I thought to take a picture.

According to the child of the house, the family makes them every year on the first of March. I asked why and she said, “it’s the start of Easter.” That puzzled me because yes, today is technically the first day of Lent, but that date changes every year.

Regardless, they were delicious.

Getting back in the swing of things

I kind of fell off the blog wagon. The last month has been weird, and I haven’t been writing much for some reason. But I’m back! Here to give a quick update on what I’ve been up to.

The school year just started at the beginning of February, and I’ve spent the last few weeks observing, co-planning, and co-teaching with three teachers. I’m working in three different secondary schools, and it’s had its ups and downs. It’s been a great experience working with teachers who really want to share ideas, try new things in their classes, and improve their English proficiency. 

I’ve faced a few frustrations too. I don’t know my students yet, and they don’t have confianza with me, and sometimes that means that they don’t participate. One of our goals is to increase the use of English in our classes, but at this point, some students are frustrated even when the only English words I say in an hour are the vocabulary words I read off the board.

I just have to keep reminding myself that progress comes with time. We’re only a few weeks in, and I’ve only taught a few classes, and eventually things will start going more smoothly.

I also have to remind myself that some of my classes have been wonderful, and I’ve been able to build confianza with my counterparts and some of my students.

During games of hot cabbage (in which students pass a ball of paper around until the music/noise we make stops, and then the student holding the cabbage has to answer a question in English) students usually pass the cabbage as fast as they can because they don’t want to be called on to speak. But one girl in class last week held onto that cabbage the entire time because she wanted an opportunity to practice. I appreciated her so much in that moment, especially because other classes had felt like disasters start to finish. 

Yesterday while I was in the park using the wifi, a group of girls came up to me and started asking me questions (in Spanish) looking up music videos for me to watch, asking to see pictures of my family and the United States. I loved that they approached me outside of class and wanted to learn more about me.

  • “Do all people in the United States have eyes like yours?” (Nope.)
  • “Do you have kids?” (Nope.)
  • “Are you married?” (Nope.) “Why not?” (Lol I don’t know, partially because nobody has asked me yet?)
  • “How old are you?” (25) *horrified faces because I’m an old maid in their eyes*
  • “You don’t look like your sister!” (No, I don’t. She’s tall.) “She’s white!”

Every day here is a new adventure. I love this Peace Corps experience, and I’m so happy that I have the opportunity to serve in Nicaragua.

I’ll try to be better about updating you all on my life here. I just had an amazing weekend in Estelí for my friends’ birthdays, and *fingers crossed* I’ll find a way to put it into words.

Ttyl.

Last Words

Written on February 1, 2016 (5 days after)

Sitting in my cubicle, crying at my desk because my coworkers left me a sweet card with lots of handwritten notes.

Thinking about last words.

I got to the house. I kissed his cheek. He kissed my cheek for the first time in weeks. Usually he was asleep or too tired to do it. But that night he did.

He was semi-comatose. He didn’t really speak directly to anyone else except to say “let me out of here.”

I told him I love him. I told him Jasmine loves him.

I sang him “All Along the Watchtower.”

Before I left, I said, “I’ll see you soon. I love you.” I kissed his cheek.” He said, “I love you.”

I said, “I love you, Dad. I’ll see you soon.”

And that was the last time I saw him alive.

Semi-comatose, and he managed to give me one last “I love you.”

Thank you, Daddy. Thank you for that. I think you knew that would be the last one. I think you found the strength to give it to me.

I said I’d see you tomorrow. I said I’d see you soon.

It didn’t happen the way I thought it would. If I’d known, I would have stayed all night. I would have flown Jasmine in on a $1,000 flight.

It’s okay though. I may not have seen you the way I thought I would, or the way I wanted to, but I do see you. I see you everywhere.

One year after

I’m forcing myself to write today. I don’t feel like I have a lot to say, but I’m gonna throw some stuff out here anyway.

Yesterday, I felt pretty gross. Emotionally, I felt surprisingly…okay. Physically, I started to feel nauseous. I threw up in my family’s bushes. I felt better. And then I continued to be sick for the rest of the day until I finally passed out. I couldn’t keep any food down, so I just prayed and prayed that I could keep all bodily fluids inside me until I got off the bus in Matagalpa the next day. 

(Right, did I mention that I’d made plans to come to Matagalpa so I didn’t have to sit alone with my sadness on the anniversary of Dad’s death? I wasn’t about to cancel those plans.)

When the nausea first hit, I wondered if I was having a physiological response to my grief. I hadn’t eaten anything weird, and the sickness just hit me out of nowhere. And then I started thinking about Dad.

I thought about sitting in the waiting room every day while he was getting radiation. How he started off feeling fine and then eventually got thinner and weaker and couldn’t keep his food down.

I remembered being thankful that the doctor cut his radiation treatments short, because watching his weight fall below mine, below Jasmine’s…it was painful for all of us.

So last night, as I was feverish and nauseous and losing my food in all the unglamorous ways, it helped me put some things in perspective. Dad was going through that for months and months. He hated it. 

And today, which had the potential to be emotional and horrible, I was just thankful that I didn’t shit my pants on the bus. Thankful that today wasn’t as bad as yesterday.

In the last year, I’ve had so much support from friends and family. I’m sitting here right now—on a day when I thought I might be an emotional wreck—and I’m surrounded by friends who care about me. 

Where was I this time last year? Sitting, surrounded by people who love me, prepared to drive to pick up Jasmine by myself because I felt like I needed to be alone with my grief. Stupid on so many levels, when I have so many people prepared to step up and take care of things for me. Luckily, Mom wasn’t about to let me be an idiot, and she drove me to St. Louis and let me play the Hamilton cast album the whole way.

In the past year, I’ve tried to be more open with friends and family. I think that’s one way that I’ve really changed. Last week, in anticipation of a total emotional breakdown, I told some friends that I was planning to take a day out of site. I wasn’t sure how I was gonna handle today, but I knew that I shouldn’t be alone. It’s very, very easy for me to isolate myself, and I’m trying not to do that.

Saying, “This day may be hard, and I’d appreciate if you could keep me company” is a significant step for me. It would be so easy to shut myself off with my grief and regret and pain, but sometimes you have to give people a chance to be there when you need them. 

Even if you can only bring yourself to share little bits and pieces of your story. If you need a stupid distraction, or a hug, or a text that says, “thinking of you today.”

So today, like all days, I’m missing Dad a helluva lot. I’m thinking of the laugh he gave me, his love of westerns, the way he was always barefoot inside. Most of all, I’m thinking of how he loved me unconditionally even when I took him for granted. How he forgave all my faults and saw me as my own talented, smart, beautiful person.

Today, I’m seeing the good things. Memories of Dad, love from people back home and here in Nicaragua. Today, I’m not angry, and I’m not distraught, and I’m not bitter.

Today, I’m thankful for the people who love me. I can feel it so strongly. It transcends time and space. I can feel it from people sitting in this room, and from people back in the U.S, and from Dad, through memory and stars and his voice that I still hear clearly.

I have nothing left to say, 

but

I love you.