Monday, July 30, 2007


After nine weeks here, I had to try traveling by myself. All of my weekend trips have been with friends that I've made from La Esperanza, and as fun as they've been, I felt ready to go somewhere on my own. I chose Miraflor, because it's rural, a good change from the city of Granada, and because I could stay with a family, a good change from the volunteer house.

Miraflor is a cooperatively run nature reserve, really just a bunch of families and farms trying to market itself to tourists through an organization called UCA, which stands for something about cooperative agriculture. I've seen a lot of things passed through bus windows. I've seen the usual exchanges of a couple of coins for candy and frescos (sugary sweet juice drinks that you sip out of a plastic bag), a plastic back full of five hundred cord bills, bushels of bananas, and the like, but this time I actually saw a baby shoved through the window at one stop. At this point, I was barely surprised.

After one of the most packed and bumpy busrides, yet, (that's really saying something) up into the mountains on the usual chicken buses (the old school buses), I was dropped off on a dirt road in a thunderstorm with only one sign with an arrow pointing to la comunidad de las perlas, part of the community of united families of Miraflor. The sun was setting. One woman did get off at the same stop, and walked me up the hill. I was slipping and sliding, and she managed to make it just fine in 3 inch heels while her two little boys rode a horse at her side.

I finally made it to the house where I was staying, which belongs to a woman named Maribel. I was greeted by two other visitors who were having dinner. Gallo pinto (rice and beans fried up together), avocado, and cheese. I knew it would be gallo pinto night. The two are here doing volunteer work in a small town further north, and one of them is taking my same flight back to the States on Wednesday. So now I have a friend to kill time with in the Atlanta airport. It's easy to make friends on your own, and you always meet the same people over and over again traveling the same routes in Nicaragua.

We all shared a guide the next day who led us through an orchid farm that doesn't bloom until december, a coffee plantaton and laboratorio (which we couldn't enter), and to watch a baseball game. She was very into the baseball game, and kept trying to get us to stay there under the pretense of 'observing campesino beisbol.'Really she just wanted to hang out with her friends. It started to rain again, so we skipped a dip in a waterfall, and I rode horseback back up to maribel's house for the night. I played cards with her kids, watched a boxing game on TV, and fell asleep absolutely exhausted around eight.
I was sent out of the class for the first hour of school on Friday. I'm pretty sure that my teacher was convinced that I had no idea what was happening, so I played dumb and helped out with art class while the kids made cards for me. Flowers and hearts and houses were drawn, names were scribbled, cards were folded and completed, and then it was recreo. We alternated between playing on the swingset and playing a full class version of tiburon. I'm always the tiburon, and so I'm always doing all of the chasing and tiring out before them (what else is new). Whenever I play just with Xochil, one very charismatic and adorable, but wild preschooler, she calls for a break once she gets tired under the pretense of explaining a new set of very complicated rules. With the class, it was just a free for all of running around the school yard and snapping my jaw like a hungry shark. Not the most rigorous day in preschool. I ate my last delicious serving of rice and beans made out back behind the school, and then pulled out my camera and tried to take as many cheesy photos with the kids as I could. Then came the formal goodbye.

Whenever a volunteer leaves La Prusia, the school puts on a despedida. The whole affair involves hanging around for an hour while the students that have actually come to school that Friday afternoon assemble in a classroom, a couple of teachers saying a few words, three or fou raggaeton numbers in honor of the volunteer, and then a big line of cards and hugs as the students head out the door. I'd seen them before, knew exactly what to expect, and when the time came it felt like I was watching somebody else's despedida rather than my own. I don't feel like I was there long enough, gave enough, or really knew enough of the students to merit an all school affair. But that's how they do it at La Prusia, so I just stood there in the front of the room with Ervin Alberto, one of my preschoolers who I actually spent my entire first day reading with, at my feet clutching a tupperware full of rice and beans to take back home, smiled and hoped that they wouldn't try to get me to dance.

But they did. Of course. Like I said, that's how they do it at La Prusia. One out of a group of fifth grade girls dancing put on a pair of sunglasses, and started mouthing the words to a Daddy Yankee song. Egged on into the middle of the room, I stalled for about a minute, danced for a couple of seconds, and then was saved by the end of the song.

Most of preschool had already gone home. It was about four thirty by the time that we got started and there had been a futbol game for the past two hours. I don't think that goodbyes mean so much when you're that little, and getting to have a good last hug definitely means more to me than it does to them. So many volunteers come and go, they've done it too many time already. Georgina, Xochil, and Alberto were still there, though, and the preschool teacher tried to coax Georgina and Xochil into singing a song for me. They were too shy, and so they stood there looking wide eyed, awkward, and adorable while the rest of the school sang 'Elefante' as they mouthed the words, staring their toes and the ceiling. Of all of the preschoolers, Georgina reminds me most of myself when I was little, so it has been fun to work with her. As they left, she and Xochil both got all shy with me again, like they realized that I was leaving and that soon they wouldn't know me anymore. I was afraid that I would cry at some point, but I only started to tear up when one teacher asked me to say a few words. I knew I wouldn't get out of there without looking at least a little glossy eyed.

Christy, another volunteer who has been living here for a year, walked home with me. I wanted to walk instead of the bus for that last time, and it was good to be able to see a few kids in their houses, say goodbye again, and soak up my last hour or so of this time that I've been able to spend in La Prusia.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

This is the morning before my last day at school. I'm running out of time here.

I'm not going to say that it's just suddenly happened, like I woke up one morning and only had a week left. It's just that in the thick of it, I never really believed that I there would be a point when I wouldn't have any more days of kids asking me for pencil sharpeners every five minutes, reciting ma me mi mo mu with four year olds, showering out of a bucket by candlelight, yelling 'el callejon' (my bus stop) and then squirming out of a packed old American school bus, eating fried plantains (maduro) out of banana leaves from the comedor on my corner. All of the day to day that always ends up being the sweetest part.

Too much premature nostalgia. I still have this day, a weekend trip to Miraflor, and then one more day in Granada doing all kinds of last minute who knows what and packing. I can save the missing until I'm actually gone.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


So far, I have gone swimming in a a crater lake at the top of Volcan Madera, boarded down another, Cerro Negro, and gone sliding upside down across zip lines through the canopy on Mombacho. We went to the Isla de Ometepe last weekend, an island in Lake Cocibolca, and on Saturday, we crawled and slipped and slid and stumbled our way up and down a very muddy Volcan Madera. Another weekend of volcano play to add to the list.

We took our time while our guide, who appeared to be in his mid fifties or maybe even early sixties, took a lot of breaks to roll up cigarettes to smoke and touch up the trail with his machete. The poor man had to listen to us while we sang Grease and Spice Girls and whatever else we could think of to keep ourselves trudging along towards the end. Although, after doing with four times a week for fourteen years, he has probably had to deal with worse. I had my first monkey sighting, too, a white faced, long haired, and very suspicious creature that was eying us from a tree off of our trail. We also encountered a small family of monkeys eating bright orange fruit down by the entrance to the finca (farm) where we spent the first two nights, a forest crab that snapped its claws at us as we walked by (and when our guide poked at it with a stick).

We ended up staying at this intensely crunchy hippy eco-farm owned by two Italians in the middle of the island the next night, resting sore muscles and singing eighties songs. We ate at a comedor on the island and when a hog walked through the tables to rub up against a boulder in the cooking area i didn't even think twice. For some reason, that made me happy.

The food was amazing. We just asked for whatever they had, and the women working there emerged from a smoky back area behind the house with six heaping plates of rice, beans, avocado, thick and sweet homemade tortillas, and a dollap of ketchup to top it off. I asked if they had any salsa, any chile sauce to put on our food, and she plucked these little green pepper bulbs from the bushes around us, dropped three or four in the middle of the table, and told me to be careful. More than enough spice.

Also, I've started to take dance lessons. They're once a week, fifty cords a class, and pretty much my whole house goes. We do salsa (not real salsa, I've been informed, but an easier gringo version- still pretty rough for me), bachata, and merengue. We never have enough guys around to partner up with, so the teacher recruits these awkward and a little bit gawky teenage boys to dance with us. I definitely have middle school and high school school dance flashbacks at certain points during lessons. My usual partner appears to be about fourteen years old, and, when we first started, would sort of hold my skirt instead of actually touching my hip. I think that he's getting used to me, but the awkward factor doesn't exactly help me get over how stiff I am to start with.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I don't think that I write enough about school in this thing. So this is an attempt to correct that.

La Esperanza put on a summer school program for the the kids at La Epiphania two weeks in the middle of my time here. La Ephiphania is kind of like the model school around here, and, compared to what I was doing with pre-schoolers at La Prusia, I felt like I was working with little geniuses. Adding and subtracting and shouting out A E I O U like nobody's business. I noticed a USAID poster up at that school, too, so I wonder if there was ever a project, extra funding, etc. etc. put behind La Epiphania.

I missed La Prusia, though, so I was happy to go back at the beginning of this week. I was sure that all of the kids would have forgotten me. We sat around the table talking about the break, and this is what all of the kids said that they did.

Went to Granada to buy cookies. And chicken.
Went to Managua to buy cooking oil.
Went to the beach with their moms.

Attendance has been it's worst since vacation let out. The teacher told me that one girl, Gissel, who also happens to be the best student in the class, isn't coming back, that the family has moved away. I do have three who are coming everyday, though. Ervin Alberto, Ronal, and Georgina. In hopes of trying to keep them coming back, I have been playing marathon games of el tiburon (shark). El tiburon involves me pretending to swim, snap my jaw like a very scary shark, and chase them around until I catch them and pretend gobble them up while they giggle. It's more popular then swinging on the swings right now, and I feel like I'm loosing my swing set pushing muscles.

I feel like the kids finally know me. I am also realizing how nervous I was around them at first, just how awkward and a little bit scared of working with kids that I was. At this point, with so many volunteers coming and going all the time, it's like they are some of my most long term friendships in this place. And now I'm going in two and a half weeks. Yes, I know that they won't really miss me and that more people will come and go and that they are used to it and that's the system and all of that, but it just leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Spending a summer used to feel like somewhat of a commitment, but now it just seems like a tease. All I had to commit was an in between, between either really living here or purely passing through and a little chunk of time in between years in school.

The preschool teacher has more lessons planned out this term than at the end of the last one. We still seem to be doing a lot of drawing, but lately it has involved cutting, coloring, numbers, and letters, so I have been staying in the classroom and trying to keep the momentum going rather than taking them out to work one on one. There is a new volunteer here who is going to take over as preschool helper after I go. She keeps asking me what she should do, what normally happens, and I just kind of look at her a little bit blankly, because there is no real rhyme or reason to anything here. I can tell her about the kids, but she'll get to know them on her own. I do tell her that she lucked out with preschool. They are the best, I'm sure of that.

Monday, July 2, 2007

There is no such thing as a full bus in Nicaragua. If you want to, you will get on that bus. They will fit you on somehow, the guys that man the bus will do some very impressive acrobatics to squeeze down the aisleway to collect your money.

We took a weekend trip to Esteli on Saturday morning. Twenty minutes into the trip two red plastic buckets were passed down, and my friend Rachel and I took turns switching off sitting on it in the middle of the aisleway. That is until I managed to fall asleep while perched on it. It was kind of impressive, really. I just put my head down and fell fast asleep while a crowd of passengers huddled around me passing little bags of water down the aisleway and a woman sold quesillos out of her apron, exchanging money over my head.

They put on this terrible terrible 80's-couple-of-guys-go-to-the-beach movie called Private Resort. Definitely not appropriate for all of the little kids looking up at the screen from their mom's laps. The driver and the other bus guys kept taking pictures with their cell phones, sending text messages, and passing around a drink that they sipped out of a coconut. We did make it to Esteli.

Esteli is further north of Granada, and up in the mountains. It´s a little town of cowboy boots, cigars, and an uncanny number of dentists´offices. There isn't a whole lot to do in Esteli, and we went with the intention of going directly to Miraflor, a nature reserve that is two hours away from the city. Bus service is spotty, though, so we would have been hiking in the dark, which would kind of hinder the frolicking in waterfalls, butterfly and monkey watching, and all of those other cliche touristy nature things that we were looking forward to. We opted to hang around Esteli instead, and managed to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening wandering around town looking for a place for one of my friends on the trip to buy a good pair of cowboy boots. We ended up sitting on a bench and eating candy in the park. One of the highlights of the trip was being able to sleep with a sheet on and not waking up with the power out, the fan stopped, and drenched in sweat. Esteli is in the highlands, so it is a little cooler. We heard rumours that we'd need sweaters and we all got excited and packed one. No such luck. It was still hot, just a little bit more bearable.

Sunday morning we headed out to see a waterfall just outside of town. We wandered around looking for breakfast first. Esteli opens late on Sunday mornings, and the best place to eat appeared to be a Shell Station. Reccomended: pancakes, omlettes (listed as an omleth). Not reccomended: cornflakes and milk. Unless you like yours heated up, all soggy and swimming in a big bowl of nice warm milk.

Back on the highway, we caught a taxi to the entrance of the falls, walked a little ways and then spent an hour swimming and taking cheesy photos. The water was actually chilly, and I actually got goosebumps. I forgot what those felt like.