Another book

2010 6 July

Go figure – of course I read another book (I should knock out another one before I leave).

The Secret History of the American Empire – A.

A book about the corruption and pressure that results in corporations essentially “running” the world. It scares the crap out of me.


Some pictures

2010 4 July

Rene, Kelly, and Sarah (Rene owns the bike shop I hung out in for my first couple months of service)

Me - "What are you doing?" Kelly - "Cutting..."

My neighbors - the only time my neighbors are serious is when they´re taking a picture. Go figure.

Lucia (works in the MINED), Jim (my sitemate), Keyla (the 6th grade teacher I started my spelling bee with)

Me and my counterparts (once again, only serious in photos)

My best students, Jeffry and Suggeyli (she didn´t smile because she didn´t like any of her smiling pictures)


Winding down (and the death of a volunteer)

2010 2 July
June 6th – July 1st

With little else to do, the beginning of the week was just spent in Achuapa doing the normal socializing and lounging about – my now super familiar routine. When Wednesday finally rolled around, I headed to Chinandega to meet with Luis. He went from being completely in love with Costa Rica to hating it more than anything in around a week…thus bringing him back to Nicaragua for a second go around in less than a month. Either way, it was still good to see him.

That day we met up with his former school principal for a lunch. We spent a good couple hours chatting and eating before heading over to his house a little later to pick up a “gift” he had for Luis – a bottle of rum. We killed some time later that day in the hotel before meeting up with a friend of his whom recently opened a business in Chinandega – with all the furniture that Luis had sold him when he left. We had a good time hanging out and even called our old TEFL volunteer friend who quit in my first couple months of service. Furthermore, a couple hours after hanging out some random guy showed up and starting drinking with us. A few hours (and drinks) later for the new random guy, and he said he’d drive me down to Managua the next day (I had to be down in Managua for training stuff). I reluctantly and apprehensively accepted this offer. I also didn’t think he’d actually come through when I needed to leave…even though we were leaving at the same time. Surprisingly enough, when I called him at 6 AM on the dot, he picked up and was at my hotel within minutes – very un-latino of him. It was kind of weird getting a ride down to Managua (its about a 2.5 hour trip in car) with a guy I’d met the previous night drinking and another guy who I’d never met in my life, but it worked out in the long run. Not to mention I saved around 3 dollars! I’m always up for saving.

I spent the day in Managua meeting with the new trainees and did a presentation on the business advising process, thus killing the whole day. Nothing too exciting. That night, Luis and I headed out to some local bars in Managua with the 2 guys I drove down to Managua with and the son of Luis’s former principal. It was a good time until the the booze brought out the anti-gringo in the guy who gave me a ride down to Managua.

The next day, following another series of presentations and work with the trainees, Luis and I went to have dinner at the son of his former principal’s house. The whole night we chatted with him and his wife about politics but in a totally intelligent way. The conversation lacked all of the fanatical irrationality that unfortunately is super prevalent in political discussion in Nicaragua. Unfortunately, tons of booze was consumed on the part of our host – our driver. Since we were WAY away from the hotel we were staying at, he had to drive us – and what a drive it was. Though it scared the crap out of me, we made it back.

I had yet another day of work to do with the trainees on Saturday and then headed to Leon where I met up with Luis for one final round of shenanigans. We’d planned on going to a movie, but…it just didn’t happen. We were just too beat – I even convinced Luis to go cheap on dinner. It was my first (and not the last) rotisserie chicken I’ve ever gotten in Nicaragua.

The next morning, I headed to Achuapa on the early bus so I could get there in time to get my house looking presentable by the time the trainee showed up for the volunteer visit. Little did I know, but the trainee was on the bus that left an hour after mine. So instead of showing up around 4 PM, he was there at noon – thus undermining my attempts to unwind and clean my house at the same time.

For the visit, I gave the trainee a rundown of how my life has been throughout my two years of service. He too graduated with a degree in Economics and was health crazy like me, so we definitely related on many levels. Furthermore, he was super laid back and was looking forward to not be bogged down with all the pressure of being in training. To keep things light, that night I made some Wang Chai Ferry sweet and sour chicken (check your local supermarket!) and topped it off with some delicious brownies (obvious thanks go out to a person that doesn’t even need to be named).

The next day, we woke up at around dawn so we could catch the morning Esteli bus so we could go to the waterfall near Achuapa (and thus avoiding the 5 km uphill hike to the entrance to the town it’s near). It was really great to go back there one more time before I finish my service (I’d gone last April), and it was especially good to see it during rainy season (though the mud was unbelievable). Roughly 5 and a half hours later, completely exhausted, we stumbled into my humble hovel. We were so beat that we needed a post-lunch siesta.

The last days of the volunteer visit, I hauled the trainee (Jonathan) to my class where we co-taught the class (we’re 3 months ahead of schedule – so why not?) so Jonathan could get some more teaching practice in before he heads to his site. On top of all that, we did some pretty good eating during his visit (my cooking skills are definitely getting better).

He took off that Wednesday, which would leave me with some downtime of my own…or so you’d think. Instead, my boss had me go to Chinandega to meet with the counterpart of a volunteer who had quit. She wanted me to gauge how she was doing in the class and get an idea of whether or not they’d be able to compete in the competition this year. My initial plan was to leave at noon…till I missed my bus. I left an hour later and ultimately rolled into Chinandega right around 5 PM.

The game plan had been to meet up with the counterpart when I got there, but after numerous phone calls and even a couple visits to her house, it seemed like it just wasn’t going to happen. I went and grabbed some dinner to kill time and resolved to stop by her house one more time before I turned in. As “luck” would have it, she was at her house and told me that “sometimes she goes out,” which is why she wasn’t at her house earlier. This was in spite of our conversation the previous day discussing exactly what we were going to do and when. Que será, será.

The next day the class went pretty much how I expected and the teacher even bailed on me in the middle of her class. But hey, she’ll get a replacement volunteer to help her out. Everybody also was under the notion that I was going to be the new volunteer for some reason, and thus offered to lend me a bike so I could take a tour of the town where the school was (a small town called El Realejo). I was in a rush, so I had to decline the offer and instead made my way to León to wait for my bus back to Achuapa.

Back in Achuapa (with a loaf of whole wheat bread – a first for me in site!) I got the same flood of questions/assumptions:

“Oh, you really want to go, that’s why you haven’t been around.”

“You’re bored of Achuapa, aren’t you?”

“You don’t like Nicaragua, do you?”

“You’re a vagabond.”

The list goes on. It bothers me that instead of looking at my 2 years that I’ve been in Achuapa, people tend to look at a short amount of time I’ve been outside of my town (even after explaining that it’s been for work related reasons). Instead of seeing the end of my service, my increased absence is associated with a lack of pleasure derived from my life/work in Achuapa. Then all the negative talk on their part makes me want to leave even more – I´m just of their negativity. It stresses me out.

Back in Achuapa, not surprisingly, I spent little time before taking off yet again. I kept as busy as I could to kill the time before I headed off to Managua yet again on Tuesday. There is a new “volunteer” in Achuapa who is working in the library for her summer vacation from college. She kind of got the raw end of the deal as the handful of other volunteers here with her are in huge cities around the country.

I kept reading and finished another book, Thunderstruck, which makes it the third book by Erik Larson that I’ve read during my service. Coincidentally, his book was the first one that I read when I got to Achuapa, and it’s quite possible that his book is going to be the last one I read in Achuapa.

Tuesday the 22nd I made my way back down to Managua for another training session with the new volunteers. I’m park of the business advising committee, so basically my task is to convince them the idea of advising isn’t nearly as terrifying as it seems (I was so overwhelmed by it in training that I’d resolved to NEVER advise anybody during my service). While this time it wasn’t a training session, I visited 2 of the training towns to see how the trainees were doing with their “trial run” of business advising. Some were terrified, others were fine, and some didn’t even care. Nevertheless, everybody had at least one question that needed answering, thus rendering the trip useful.

The next day we had the yearly idea exchange among the 3 small business groups that are in the country (2 current and the trainees) about best ways to run the competitions. The meeting lasted a few hours and then I headed to León with Jordan. That night was the first time I’d spent the night at Jordan’s house since she got married. It was also weird to start thinking about her being married. Her boyfriend is now her husband. It’s hard for me to make the transition. It’s also hard for me to believe that I now have friends getting married.

The next day, I headed back to Achuapa for another couple days in my town. Nowadays, my time is spent going around and taking pictures of the things that I’m going to miss about Achuapa, people/friends, buildings, etc. So it keeps me temporarily busy and also gets me out in the town. This is also a good thing since half the town thinks I’ve already left anyway (since I’ve been out of my town for multiple days every week for a while). In addition to taking pictures of my town, I’ve spent some more time with my sitemate since he’ll be all alone in the big scary world of Achuapa.

Come Monday, I put out the word that I was selling all my stuff – and by the end of the day, I’d “sold” almost everything. I say “sold” because nothing is truly sold until people actually pay me. Tons of people always say that they’ll buy things but then don’t come through with the money. So, everybody has until July 3rd to pay me, but after that – it’s a free for all. The first person with the cash gets the goods.

Monday, while doing my rounds, I was invited to the teachers appreciation dinner at the elementary school where I started my spelling bee. Though I worked with 3 of the high schools, I really got more out of working with the elementary school simply because of the unconditional support I got from the staff there. It was good to hang out with the teachers and talk to them about what we’d done together over the last 2 years. It was also nice to hear them say they wouldn’t forget me because of the spelling bee, since no school in the whole municipality had ever done anything like that.

The next day, I continued selling my stuff and took some more pictures. It was going to continue that way until Jim somehow convinced me to go to the teacher appreciation dinner for all the teachers from Achuapa. It started out fine, and Jim gave me some good classified gossip. However, it dragged on and on and on. It went so long that I had to leave before food was even given out. I had to head to Managua the next day for my last medical appointments, so I still had to pack and eat (on top of going to bed early).

The next morning, I got into Managua around 8:30 and did the first of my med appointments. Why there was nothing exciting about the med appointments, I received some very sad news: John Harrington, a 75 year old volunteer business volunteer (from the group after mine) died on the 30th. I went out for lunch with him the day before he was medically evacuated and he gave me his Spanish joke book and told me a bunch of stories about his life. He was a great guy and had an amazing attitude. If I have half as good of an attitude as he did at his age, I’ll consider my life a success. I was convinced he was coming back since his medically condition seemed so harmless. He’s the first Nicaragua Peace Corps Volunteer to have died. Sad times. He’ll be missed.

The start of July meant but one thing – I’m done with my Peace Corps service THIS MONTH. It’s hard to believe that something I wanted to do for so long is almost over. While I’ll miss the novelty of having this job (I mean, I can pretty much do whatever I want), it will be nice to have a non-government job afterwards. I’m really looking forward to continuing teaching. We’ll see where it takes me – you might be surprised…

And the book review:

Thunderstruck – A.

The third book I’ve read by Erik Larson. He really researches the hell out of every book he’s written, which I think is what makes it so interesting. He writes the story like a novel, but with completely factual information. It’s a refreshing way to dive into history.

I really forget how green Achuapa really is since I live in the town itself (I live around 50 meters from the antenna)

I really take for granted how beautiful Achuapa is. Same way I take Colorado for granted.

I forgot the downside of taking the hike during the rainy season - the mud.

The rainy season left the path kind of overgrown...

All the teachers from the primary school that I started my spelling bee in


I´ve read some more books

2010 19 June

I´ve yet to write about what has happened this month because my keyboard is broken…and so is my backup keyboard. I´ll write an entry when I´m down in Managua next week. But until then…

The Final Solution – D.

The only reason I don´t give this book an F is because I could understand it. The problem is that I didn´t care. Particularly towards the end. As if I didn´t care enough about the plot, at the end of the book, his twist makes the whole story all the more pointless. Terrible book. I hope he ceases writing for the rest of his life.

Digital Fortress – A.

Unlike The Final Solution, this book was amazing. Like other Dan Brown books, it was super fast paced and kept you on the edge of your seat. A great book. Maybe Chabon and Brown should meet up to discuss the proper way to write books.


WHAT is this??????

2010 8 June

This bug flew into my house the other night and just would not leave.  It was so big I thought it was a bat, I trapped it under a container before throwing it out in the yard, but it definitely made me even more jumpy.

Those tiles are 4 x 4 inches square


E. Coli but not E. Coli

2010 5 June

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.”

“What?”

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.

So disappointed.

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

6-inch slug!


Small projects with big outcomes

2010 14 May

May 3rd – May 13th

Due to the lack of projects going on, this weekend I spent an inordinate amount of time in the cyber. Some of these days I would sit back and think, “What am I doing?” Here I am in another country – why don’t I take advantage of my last months here and get out and visit with the people? Why don’t I go start something new? Then at the same time I remember that I’m trying to transition myself out of Nicaraguan culture. The closer I get to my departure from the country, the more I seem to re-adjusting myself to the American mindset. I’m passing more time thinking about what I’m going to do after Peace Corps; where will I end up? What will I be doing? What do I want to do? It doesn’t help that I get a new idea every other day, but that’s always been how I’ve tended to work. Lots of options mean lots of potential experiences on the table. We’ll just have to see how it pans out.

When I wasn’t freaking myself out by making my future even more uncertain, I kept working on my spelling bee word list. For whatever reason, going through the dictionary for hours on end, selecting appropriate words for as spelling bee is absolutely draining. It took me 2 more days this week to actually finish the list. With that big step out of the way, I just have to go to the German NGO and get things rolling. First I sat down with the director to hash out plans for the competitions. The NGO has always gotten my hopes up only to smash them so many times, but I was content with what our most recent plans had been – we’d put the competition in 5 schools and I’d train the teachers that would be heading the classes.

First I told the director that I thought it’d be a good idea to bring all the teachers into Achuapa instead of having me hoof it out to each school to explain the competition. Furthermore, this way we could ensure that every teacher hears the same instructions. We can clear up any questions with everybody present, thus preventing most major headaches in the future. This idea got the green light – then he one-upped me. Instead of 5 schools, why don’t we put the spelling bee in all 52 elementary schools in the municipality? 52 schools? This has been the initial idea the NGO had when I presented the spelling bee to them back in December before they whittled it down to 5. I quickly agreed, as this is what I’d hoped for since I started the project back when I showed up to Achuapa (almost 2 years ago). The final plan is to have every 5th and 6th grader in the municipality participate in the competition. Each school will have their own competition (or select their best students via grades on the spelling tests) and send 2 students to a “nucleus” competition. In Achuapa there are 8 nucleuses that have around 3 to 4 schools each. So they nucleus competition would have 6 to 8 students participate (maybe more now that I think about it), with 2 winners going onto the final competition in Achuapa in September. In the end, the 16 best students would attend the final competition to determine the winner in the municipality.

When I had the first spelling bee back in August of 2008, I had a grand total of 24 kids participate in it. “So this is what a successful project feels like.” Being the first project I’d started in my town, I looked at the successful completion of the activity as a sign of the project being successful – sustainability be damned! Naively, I thought that that exuberance of the principal and the teachers was indicative of what they thought about the activity (while it ended up being true in this instance, Nicaraguans will be super excited about anything that is suggested – the catch is that it generally revolves around the volunteer planning and doing everything). Fortunately though, the excitement turned out to be genuine. Come the next school year we did the spelling bee again, this time expanding from just 6th graders to a combined 5th and 6th grade competition. I had parents running up to me in the street asking how their son/daughter did in the competition, as well as telling me how hard they’d been studying the words. That competition also went super well. So well that the principal told me that the 3rd grade teacher wanted to do a competition as well.

I left the teacher the words, thinking that she’d talk to the other teachers that had already participated in a competition. Well, when I came back from a 2 week vacation in Guatemala, I discovered she’d approached the spelling bee from a totally logical way – one I had never bothered considering. She didn’t teach any of the rules that we wanted the kids to remember; she just taught 120ish words. I don’t know I never thought of doing the competition this way – I mean that’s the way I learned to do it. So we had a competition over the words that they’d covered – and the kids did a GREAT job. That’s when it hit me – teach the words, and use the rules as a reference. That’s exactly how the spelling bee will be.

On the 6th I went to my public school to “co-teach” with my counterpart. The more times I do it, the more…apathetic I feel. The kids are out of control this year. I attribute this to two things – my counterpart being a total softy when it comes to discipline (I’m completely opposite) and the kids being seniors. My counterpart had the new manual for the class as of 3 days prior to the class, yet he used the old one when making the lesson plans…resulting in inaccurate information being taught to the class. I gave a brief explanation of what the kids needed to do and had them do their work in class. My counterpart wanted to plan the year with me and suggested we do it outside of the classroom (herein lies the conduct problem I imagine). Then the kids too came up with a bright idea and went ahead and asked me:

“Profe, can we work outside?”

“No. You don’t work when in the classroom, so why would you work harder outside?”

“But it’s hot in the classroom profe.”

“It’s hot anywhere you go. So no.”

You have to earn rewards in my class. Even though my bosses told me I need to work on positive reinforcement, I quite enjoy being the stickler. But I’m working on it. I told the kids they needed to at least turn in one factibility study by the end of class. By the end of class, I had 2 that were turned in. Unfortunately, they were done exactly how I said not to do them. I gave them back to them and told them to write more. It ended up turning into homework since nobody actually listened to directions, and instead created an easier way to “complete” the assignment. I don’t know whether it’s because my kids are just super lazy or what. They’ve already received all the material in the class, but are less willing to put in the work. On top of that, they’re more argumentative. One of my groups said they’re going to make a lamp. In the class the goal is to create creative products. So a lamp…is not very creative:

“Why is a lamp creative?”

“Because profe, it’s not a real lamp. It’s just going to be an adornment for the house.”

“Who will buy a fake lamp to put in their house?”

“Everybody.”

“Have you ever seen a fake lamp in somebody’s house?”

“No.”

“Would you ever buy a fake lamp for your house?”

“No.”

“Then why would you want to sell a fake lamp?”

For some reason this is always a no-win situation for me. I can’t ever convince my kids to think of something more creative. Furthermore, I don’t have counterpart support, which I think is pretty crucial. So the creative products coming out of Achuapa: hair gel and fake lamps. Watch out Nicaragua, here comes Achuapa!

After my Thursday class, I actually needed the whole weekend to recuperate from it. I kept reading a book about the Naples mafia and tried to do my description of service and site report. I’ve got to turn them both in by the end of the month, but what else am I going to do?

I started the next week with a community bank presentation to the German NGO. The presentation went super well – so well that I longed for the times when audiences were so attentive (attentive audiences are non-existent here). My presentation set off a good conversation about how to promote saving in Achuapa. If nothing else, at least the employees of the NGO know how to do a community bank now si Dios quiere.

On the 18th, the new phenomenon in Achuapa happened again – the lights were turned off. Now this would be totally understandable if we weren’t in a drought, but everytime it has happened, there has been no rain, weather, nor clouds anywhere in our part of the country. The electric company has just been turning off the power simply to watch us melt in our zinc roof houses. Usually they end the joke around 6 PM so we can all eat dinner, but this time it wasn’t turned back on until 9 PM. So a potentially productive day was completely destroyed. I spent the majority of the day reading. It was too hot to take a nap (2 billion degrees maybe?), so I spent 3 hours that afternoon sitting in front of my house staring at the street. Life just goes back to the Stone Age without light. Thanks electric company!

The 19th was perhaps the most important day of my service. I woke up super early because I was so excited, did a brief workout, and headed over to the German NGO for an 8 AM meeting with the superintendent of the Achuapa school district and the NGO staff. Because I’m in Nicaragua, the superintendent showed up at 8:45, but whatever – at least she came. At this meeting, we hashed out the details of my spelling bee and other things the NGO had going on. The spelling bee got excelente’s across the board and we set up a date for me to train the teachers and principals that the spelling bee will be in – all 54 of them (there 52 rural and 2 urban schools that the delegada pointed out to us). So on the 26th I will breakdown the basics of the competition and how to teach the material. So the tiny spelling bee that I created in my first months of my service with 24 students is now a municipal wide competition that will affect 54 schools with approximately 800 participating students. I had no idea of the potential amount of success I could achieve with this project. Including this year’s competition which I won’t be present at, close to a thousand kids have participated in my spelling bee – there are only 14,500 people in the entire municipality!

Later that day, I got a call from my APCD (my boss) asking me to go to all the training towns with the business technical trainer to get permission for the new trainees to enter the schools. Since the tech trainer is new, I’ll just be there to explain exactly what the volunteers will be doing. Just clarification I guess. At least it keeps me busy – the down times are killer at this stage in the game.

Thursday, after another super (sarcasm) class, I grabbed some lunch and headed over to my buddy Santo’s house. Of all the projects that I’ve done, the spelling bee has been the most successful and Santo’s business has been the second most successful thing I’ve devoted my time to. Unlike other Achuapeños, any suggestion I’ve ever given him has been implemented. I taught him to control his accounting, the importance of product placement, how to do a business plan, the importance of doing a survey, marketing, and now – he has opened a cyber. This was his goal from the moment I first met him, but it’s nothing I thought I’d ever see finished. He took every suggestion from the surveys into thought – privacy, good machines, fast service, good air circulation. I really think the business (and him as a businessman) is destined for big things. I helped my buddy start a cyber – my other super successful project.


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