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 ❤️

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.