May 14th – June 5th
While Friday nothing exciting went down, things finally started rolling on the 15th. I woke up and caught the 5 AM bus to León, only to find that there were 3 busses instead of one. It turns out that 2 of the busses were for the university students. “If you’re in a hurry you can take the expreso,” is what I was told by one of the bus workers. I was all about getting to León even earlier until I saw that the bus was completely packed, “I’m not in that much of a hurry.” So instead of expediting my trip (and standing up for 3 hours) I took the slower bus. It turned out to be an advantage because the bus was completely empty. So though the bus went slower, at least I was more comfortable.
Once in León, I made my way for the post office, knowing that a couple of weeks before Brie had sent a few boxes. Luckily they were there, so all stress related to lost mail/waiting for the mail is now a thing of the past. Once unloading my boxes in my hotel room, I headed over to El Convento, the hotel where my friend Jordan was going to get married later that day. Since neither her family nor her friends from the U.S. spoke Spanish, my job was to help them out with translating and whatever else they needed. By 1 PM, everything was set up, so I set out to the market with Jordan’s brother and her friend to get them some Nicaraguan souveniers. In spite of my bargaining skills (people just get pissed off at me) Jordan’s brother and friend were still able to walk away with a handful of souveniers.
Afterwards, I headed back to my hotel and got dressed before meeting up with Jordan’s brother and friend at their hotel for a few pre-wedding drinks. Ronald (Jordan’s soon to be husband) showed up for a bit before we all hopped in a cab and went over to the hotel where the wedding was going to be.
Jordan and Ronald had some pre-ceremony pictures before the ceremony started. When the ceremony finally did start at 5:30, around 50% of the invites weren’t even there (they were all Nicaraguan). Following the ceremony (where Jordan crying ended up making me cry), all the people that hadn’t showed up somehow made it to the dinner on time. Go figure. The rest of the night was good fun and I was even pulled out onto the floor by marimba dancers. I was super embarrassed, but there wasn’t much else to do but just go with it. The night finally ended around midnight, and after bringing Jordan’s family back to their hotel, I headed back to mine where I collapsed from exhaustion (I can’t even remember the last time I’d been awake so late).
The next morning, I grabbed breakfast while I waited for Carla (Brie’s old neighbor in Malpaisillo) to come to León to pick up stuff that Brie had sent her. It was good seeing her and I ended the meeting by saying, “Well since I don’t know if I’ll see you before I leave…” to which Carla responded, “You’ll see me again, it’s a surprise.” I was confused, but knew that if Carla was in on some surprise involving me, Brie definitely was too. Still, I had no idea what it could be.
Since my boss Georgia asked if I’d help out the new technical trainer on Monday, I headed to Managua that afternoon. As luck would have it, I was able to catch a ride to Managua with the Luis, the USAID guy whose house I went to for Thanksgiving. This was perfect since I had an enormous bag full of stuff that Brie had sent me.
Monday morning I headed to the PC office to help out the tech trainer. He was running late so I decided to check my email, when suddenly I got a phone call from Carlos, a friend from Chinandega.
“Don’t even tell me you’re in Achuapa again.”
“No way, I never want to go there again.”
“Ok, well what’s up?”
“Luis is coming this week, we should meet up in León.”
Luis was coming to Nicaragua? There’s no way. When he came back in December, he couldn’t wait to get out of the country – he even rescheduled his plane ticket so he left a week earlier than he had planned. It was just too ridiculous to hear that he was coming back to Nicaragua, and since it’s not uncommon to here ridiculous gossip from Nicaraguans, I just forgot about it.
I went with the tech trainer to Masaya to ask permission for the volunteers to practice teaching there just in case they don’t get permission to teach in the public schools. We spent the majority of the morning doing that and then headed to a few of the training towns to see how the trainees were doing after their first weekend in Nicaragua.
By the time I got back to the office, it was roughly 5 PM. I tried to schedule some medical appointments in the subsequent days, but it turned out that the office was full up, so I’d have to go back to Achuapa the next day. I headed back to my hotel and watched TV for a few hours with my roommates before I started drifting off to sleep. Around 8 I got a text message from Luis – “I’m in Nica call me.”
Though completely exhausted, I threw on some clothes and headed over to the hotel where Luis was staying – The Hilton (typical). We had a couple beers and made a short plan for the week. He was going to be in Nicaragua until Saturday morning, so we decided to make the week a despedida party (send off party).
The next morning, we caught a micro to León. Luis stayed in León while I headed back to Achuapa to drop off my stuff and get some new clothes for the week. Back in Achuapa I got the typical “Que cara más perdida” business from everybody (essentially “whoa it’s been a while since you’ve been here). With the game plan now radically changed, I just spent the night in Achuapa, grabbed clean clothes, and hopped on a bus back for León the next morning.
In León, I reassumed my Peace Corps life in Chinandega circa December 2008. This life involved always going out with Luis since he lacks anything that even remotely resembles cooking skills. Oh the days of “balance”.
We went out to lunch with Carlos and soon thereafter went out to a bar, followed by another bar, another, and another. While at first glance it may seem to be, this was not a college-like bar crawl. It was a Luis philosophical bar crawl – fewer beers, more comtemplative conversations that became even more out there the more beers you were into it.
Around 6 PM we’d had enough and decided to wander around the corner to the movie theatre. “Case 39? Yea, sure, whatever.” We were pretty apathetic about what movie we went to, but afterwards we’d definitely reached a consensus – it was terrible. But it’ll balance out right? Maybe it already had?
The next day, we went out to breakfast and spent the morning in the hotel reading. We were going to meet up with Carlos before driving out to Las Peñitas, a beach outside of León. A hotel there, Hotel Suyapa, is known for its seafood…so we continued the spending spree. Unfortunately the food wasn’t as good as I’d remembered, and the lobsters that we’d ordered ended up being 4 small ones on a plate. It was nice for the first few bites, but was just too filled with…stuff/flavor/etc. for me to enjoy it.
Following our lunch at Suyapa, we drove back to León where Carlos dropped us off at a bar we went to the previous night, “I’ll see you guys in a bit.” Carlos can be a bit flaky, so we didn’t really expect him to come back. The night was even more tranquilo since we just drank a bit and went to yet another crappy movie before turning in.
While we’d planned on going for filet migñons in Chinandega for lunch, we decided to be budget conscious (though Luis wasn’t quite working on the budget I was) and just go out for breakfast instead. It was unbelievably hot in León, so the only viable option was to go back and sit in the hotel room with A/C until we got kicked out at noon. Once out of the hotel, we headed to the bus terminal. Luis headed for Chinandega for his last night in Nicaragua before he headed to Costa Rica, while I made my way back down to Managua for our COS (Completion of Service) staff presentations.
The presentation was basically a video of everything that we’d done in our service that is shown to the staff members that attended. Following the presentation, we went to the country director’s apartment for his traditional COS spaghetti dinner. While at the dinner, I completely gorged myself and spent the majority of the time chatting with my program boss about how my service had gone.
Following the dinner, Sam (another volunteer in my group) and I headed to the office to work on a presentation we were going to give to the new trainees on Saturday morning. It was just an introduction to the advising process that the trainees will be doing in training, so our PowerPoint presentation was only 3 slides long. Despite its short length, we didn’t finish until around 10:30 – and we had to be at the office at 6:30 the next morning for the presentation.
Despite having a panic attack after waking up at 3:30 AM (and not getting back to sleep), I made it to the office ontime, albeit without breakfast in me. It was definitely the most out of it I’ve felt after waking up (at least since I’ve been here). When our time to present finally rolled around, our presentation was a grand total of 15 minutes long. Not exactly worth the panic attack, but así es la vida.
After the presentation, I grabbed lunch at the cheap place over by the office and then headed to León. I was offered a free room in Managua, but I can’t get back to Achuapa until the afternoon if I stay in Managua, so I decided to spend the night at my trusty hotel in León. Before heading over to the hotel, I stopped by the grocery store to grab food for dinner. I always take advantage of the trip to the grocery store by getting tons of bananas (ones from the States since they’re bigger and sweeter) and a yogurt drink.
I’ve never been one to eat slow (everybody probably knows that), but after drinking the yogurt drink I felt terrible. “Huh…” I thought. The last time I had experienced pain after drinking a milk beverage was when I drank 2 liters of milk in an hour. That was overconsumption and clearly stupid. I’d drank a full yogurt drink many times before, so it couldn’t be that right? As I’ve mentioned in the past, an upset stomach in Nicaragua is never an upset stomach – it’s a little friend. I was afraid of that, but I made it through the night without serious problems.
Back at site is when I started encountering problems. “Could it be that I drank too much water?” I’d only had diarrea in the past when I drank 2.5 liters of water in one sitting, and that definitely wasn’t the case. Things just got worse and worse through the day as well as that night. That was enough confirmation for me – I clearly was hosting a tiny little buddy.
I got ready and resolved to go to the cyber, recharge my phone, then give the Peace Corps doctors a call. However, when I got over to the cyber, I discovered that Claro (the phone company – a horrible one at that) had cut the service because they were doing repairs. Great timing Claro. I had to call the PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) and I had to wait until the sorry phone company got their act together. I sat around the whole morning waiting for the phone connection to come back, but I didn’t really feel like giving my stomach companion more time to wreak havoc on my insides. I headed over to the lab and asked him what I test I needed to find out if I had unwanted friends. With that knowledge, I headed home, got a “specimen” and went back to the lab to drop it off.
An hour later the verdict came back – Entomaoeba Histolitica and Entomaoeba Colí. I could only speculate what that actually meant unti I could call the doctors, but my first reaction was not good. “Oh my god! E coli!?!?!” The phone’s were back online around 1 PM, so I headed to the cyber to do some research. Apparently the amoeba that I had is commonly mistaken for the scary kind of E coli because it’s from the same genus (or something like that). However it is something I needed to take care of. A short call to the doctors later and I had my prescription – 42 pills taken over 13 days. Holy Jesus. That’s the first sickness I’ve ever had where I’ve needed to buy half the pharmacy to cure me. One of the medications was easy to take – a whole bunch of pills once a day. However, the second medication called for one pill every 8 hours for 10 days. I was planning on being in Managua on Wednesday, so I let PC buy those pills.
I started feeling better after the first treatments, which was a relief. Unfortunately, the entire time I was in Achuapa (Monday through Wednesday) we had power cuts 2 days, and phone cuts the remaining day. This really wouldn’t have bothered me were I not be so close to leaving the country. I feel this is what really prepares us to leave our PC service. We’re mentally preparing ourselves to be able to eat and drink whatever we want safely in the states. On top of that we’re looking forward to have everything at our fingertips. When something like power cuts/water cuts/phone cuts happen, it throws off the dream we’re living in our heads. Furthermore, I had tons of work to do (I’d been requesting work from my bosses since I have nothing going on in site) and I couldn’t do any of it without any power. So instead I taught a class about making graphs in my private school – terribly difficult to explain I realised. I figured it was common sense, but it appears not.
As I’m sure I’ve well established, I’m not a fan of traveling from Achuapa to Managua the morning of some event. I’m just exhausted the whole day. So I took off Wednesday afternoon and spent the night in a hotel in Managua.
Thursday morning, I headed to the office to do the mountain of assignments I had. Looking at all the work I had to do, it was almost as if I was in the States again – I had to fill out an evaluation form for the leadership camp we did in January, update my journal, call my landlord about my broken bathroom sink, tidy up my spelling bee rules/list, prepare the presentation I was going to give that afternoon, and work on my new assignment that I’d been given at the last minute – give a workshop on the business course to 53 teachers in Masaya the next day. I think the only time I’ve had nonstop work like that are the days of the business competitions – in other words – a handful of days in my entire service.
While it was good to have the work to do, I was reintroduced to the deadline stress that I had forgotten about so long ago (particularly since the mentality in Nicaragua is anything but “we have to do this right now”). Or who knows, maybe it really wasn’t a lot – just the combination of work and the 8 million pills I was taking. Whatever it was, it felt good to be productive again.
Incidentally, our presentation that afternoon was canceled because the trainees didn’t have any questions about the business advising process, thus eliminating the point of me coming down to Managua in the first place (if it hadn’t been for my last minute workshop, I would’ve taken the trip for nothing). With the worry about the business advising session over and done with, Katie Earle and I worked on improving our presentation for the workshop for the rest of the afternoon (thus keeping us out of the rain too!).
Friday morning, my task was to haul an enormous box of handouts and a projector to Masaya. To make things even merrier, Katie called me early to tell me that the school had no laptops, “Could you bring a laptop too?” Crap. I was wary about hauling all this valuable equipment (and equally valuable handouts!) in a bus to Masaya, but I didn’t really have a choice. Initially, it appeared that I couldn’t even get a computer. However, all my apprehension was alleived when I found out I could borrow the technical trainers laptop and he would take me too and from the charla. There went all my worries out the window.
The ride over was smooth sailing until some kids threw a huge rock onto the roof of the PC SUV when we drove under. However, after seeing there was no damage, we continued on to pick up Katie and her counterpart before arriving at the high school in Masaya.
Katie had given a workshop before already, so she had some expectations on how things would go, but I was clueless. Fortunately things went along without a hitch and we even had 3 trainees observe our workshop (for whatever reason). Afterwards, we grabbed some food, and Katie and I palled around with the tech trainer while he ran errands (I waste the whole day for a free ride – it beats being kidnapped).
Saturday, I headed back to Achuapa. Despite being the day before Mother’s Day, there were no microbusses that were going to León. This is always the case on Saturdays – you’d think they’d take into account that weekends could be popular travel days (in contrast, on Wednesdays there are always microbusses and they’re always parked and waiting). Could it be because nobody wants to work until Wednesday, and then only until Friday? Quite possibly. I’ve certainly seen stranger things here.
It was good to be back in Achuapa. First, because I’d been traveling so much the past 2 weeks and been sick on top of that. Second, even though I’ve had nothing to do in town, it’s nice to at least soak up those last Achuapa experiences before I leave (who knows when I’ll be back to visit?) On top of the novelty of the “Achuapa experience,” I recently had a new influx of money. Peace Corps owed me around 100 dollars (about half my salary) in refunds and I got them all. So instead of having to make a budget out of my normal amount of salary – I’ve got around 2 times the amount of money I normally have. This meant but one thing – I was going to be eating chicken. Not only that, I decided I’m going to eat chicken every day of the month. Why not? Before this month, I’d bought chicken in Achuapa less than 10 times. I’m tired of depriving myself of protein. I’m going to splurge. That will get me big and beefy by the time I go back to the U.S. Nobody will even be able to tell I was in a third world country – “You look like you’ve been eating well,” they’ll tell me. That’s right, “That’s the power of saving.”
On top of my big plans to be a chicken glutton the entire month, I was getting back into my workout routine. The lack of exercise and poor eating had really taken a toll on my body – but that’s nothing that one week in the Luis Cabrera Gettin’ R-r-r-ripped program can’t fix, even though the name is a misnomer.
Though I was finally back in Achuapa, I didn’t really have anything to “jump back into.” The most exciting thing that happened was me tackling books and then reading anything on it that I’d never read before. One book, The Final Solution, is written by a Pulitzer prize winning author, but I really can’t stand it. Every time I get done with a page, I have flashbacks to my IB English classes from high school. There’s even an interview with the author in the back where he talks about how people said the novel is dead. Supposedly, he has been dubbed the next American novelist. Now half way through his superfluously worded aberration of a novel, I can see why the novel did die – all these literary elements distract the reader from capturing the most important part of the novel – the story. For every noun, he throws in 75 adjectives and adverbs to make his book more “cultured.” The only thing it does is turn his boring story into unintelligible garbage. I want the facts, and I want REAL language. You live in the present day – write like it. Get with the times buddy.
Another way I’ve managed to kill time has been the overwhelming number of Peace Corps reports that I’ve had to do. On top of that I’ve got my own “professional” documents to work on. First on the list (actually the first one I actually completed) was my resume. I spent a good 2 hours working on it trying to improve it. I sent it off to Brie to edit it, and one hour later I had nothing that even remotely resembled the one I’d given her. But hey, that’s why you get things edited right? Next on the list was my site report. The site reports I had before going to Achuapa weren’t very good, so I did my best to give all the information about Achuapa that I never had. I poured a good 5 hours of work into that stupid report, but at 15 pages long, it should provide plenty of reading material for the next do-gooder that shows up to try to reteach Achuapa to make the wheel.
Essentially book-less, I cracked open a book about meditation that I’d already read. It has a real calming effect on me when I read it, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to clear my mind a bit. A couple pages in and something falls out of the book – 400 córdobas, or about 20 dollars! I’d totally forgotten I’d put the money in the book. Whenever I leave Achuapa I always hide my money places. Since books are great places to store valuables (I know one student in Achuapa that reads for fun) I’d stuffed my money in the book. The idea behind putting the money there was because I always forget where I hide things. The books name Mindfulness was supposed to remind me to be mindful about having hidden a bunch of money in the book. Who knows how long the money has been there, but now I’ve got even more money to enjoy my last days in Nicaragua. Nothing wrong with that.
Then, as if god was determined to balance out my good fortune, I get a phone call from Luis on Friday. He wasn’t the biggest fan of Costa Rica, so he’s coming back to Nicaragua for a week. Since his last visit left me close to bankrupt (as well as any other time I’ve ever hung out with him), I apparently will need the newfound fortune this coming week. I’m going to have to use a lot more fiscal discipline if I don’t want to end up penniless for the last 2.5 weeks of June. So looks like I’m going to probably tap into my reserves. There’s only so many times I’ll be in my last days in Nicaragua anyway.
The other big “shocking” news is that I discovered one of my favorite students is pregnant. She hadn’t been in school for a few days, so I stopped by her house. One of her family members told me that she has a medical appointment in León and then another one in the Achuapa medical center today. “Why would she go to two hospitals?” Then I found out that she’d been out of school because she’s pregnant. It’d been a while since I’d been so worked up about something. She did so well in my class last year. She went from having a 40ish percent in the class to getting an 85%. Other professors would tell me how much she likes my class and how it motivated her to do well in her other classes. It was a great feeling to see that it had that impact on her.
However, come this school year, she has been horribly lazy and without the interest she brought to the class last year. I don’t know what changed for her, but it’s a shame. Being from a small town in Nicaragua and not having her high school education is disastrous enough. Throw a baby into the mix and it becomes official – her life is over. In Achuapa, the number of people that stop studying high school because of problems and end up making something out of their lives is close to zero. Most people get their high school diploma (you can go to just Saturday classes, one day a week, and still graduate in 4 years – that’s definitely not a quality education), but since they’re not accustomed to being pushed, or pushing themselves for that matter they don’t study. If they do want to study, they typically don’t have the money to study regularly. If they manage to scrounge up enough money to study on Saturdays in the university, they graduate in 6 to 8 years. 6 to 8 years for a bachelors degree! I want to do something though, so I think I’m going to give her the manual that we have for the class. This way, should she really hit dire straits, she can review what she learned in my business class, and start a creative business.
During all this nonsense, I finished two books:
Gomorrah – B.
A book about the Naples international crime network. It was pretty remarkable to see how much reach the Naples “mafia” has. It was also interesting to see how much influence it has all over Italy. The author was put under police protection after reading the book, so I guess he hit a nerve. Judging by what he wrote, I have little faith that he won’t get knocked off. The book was enjoyable, but for a section he would talk about stuff and then follow it up with “I know this and I can prove it. I have seen it.” That’s great buddy, but I understood that the last 18 times you wrote it. I was annoyed by this and had to put the book down for a couple days before finishing it.
The Lost Symbol – A.
Luis gave me this book on his random visit to Nicaragua, and I flew through it. Whereas he didn’t like it, it has a ton of symbolism in it and talks about religion in it, which I like. Pretty much just like the Da Vinci code (it’s written by Dan Brown as well). Also just like the Da Vinci code, I was always unsure what was fact and what wasn’t because he sites historical information – but is it real information or fabricated? Someday I’ll remember to look this stuff up.
And some pictures since I´m generally lacking them in the blog:
Jordan and Ronald before the ceremony
Katie Earle and Luis
Cutting the cake
Carla with her bag jam packed full of the stuff Brie sent
The mutant carrot I bought - it cost a dollar!
Just another size comparison if the fridge and 8 cans of tuna fish weren´t enough for you to tell
The wedding ¨favors¨ from Jordan and Ronald´s wedding