Friday, December 31, 2010

New Years In Nicaragua-- A guest blog by Tom and Mary Aldon with our host blogess Katie contributing as well

Maria and I, Tomas have come to visit Katie, my daughter for a couple of weeks over the New Years holiday.

Day 1,
After a close connection in Atlanta Mary and I landed on time in Managua and anxiously waited for Katie to show up to meet us. While waiting a very nice looking little boy gave Mary a flower made out of a sugar cane reed. It was only 5 minutes later when he came back asking for
some money--welcome to the 3rd world. Katie arrived and after hugs and such we boarded a very nice van which whisked us off on a hour drive to our first stop-Granada. Granada is a quaint colonial town which I would recommend for anyone who is looking for a quite reasonable vacation spot.
Mary and I were expecting a dirty town with a bunch of traffic and garbage and stuff laying around and were quite surprised at how nice our hotel was and the town it self. I think Katie decided to break us in easy. She even arranged for a fireworks show over our restaraunt while we were eating a very nice meal. Our first day ended with Katie and Maary hittin some nite spots while dear old dad hit the sack by 9:30. I'll let the ladies fill in on their dancing expoits

sidenote from Mary: Never have I ever been scared of my surroundings in the dark... and i really did not think about it until we got halfway across "el parque" and Katie's friend on the phone warned her "walk AROUND the park at night" ...immediately my stranger danger instincts perked up... it wasn't till after we traveled through several alleyways to the pizza place where we met Luis, Johnny and Kate (Fellow Peace Corps amigos) that i finally became at ease. From there we were led by our tour guide, Luis the great who has a story about everything and is OBVIOUSLY an expert in bachata dance as well! We went to a bar with a huge screen playing beyonce live in concert, never thought that crazy in love could feel so comforting. And the drinking began. The rest of the night was a combination of sick dance moves (Most Wii Just dance inspired), rum y cola, and singing random Bring it on cheers. Our dance moves were so impressive in fact that some canadians on the walk home felt the need to come up to us and comment, they were probably being sarcastic but we obviously took their wisecracks as compliments.

Day 2
Waking up at 10Am was quite surprising to all of us but felt real great. We ambled over to the Garden Inn for an awesome breakfast and a beautiful garden which enabled us to take some pictures of a tropical nature. Next was cathederal visiting and a cool walk up the bell tower where the views provided some additional photo ops. Next was muchas shopping in the square which the girls used to spend Dad's money for gifts for all back home--of course Ellie gifts were the most fun to look at. I was appeased during the shopping by a promise to a cigar shop where I would be able to roll my own cigar! Well worth the wait. Just a really neat place with nice people who let you roll a cigar while you are there. Of course you are expected to purchase said cigar but no problema. Dad purchases several cigars to share with mi compadres back in the big D.
That evening we enjoyed some excellent pizza with a group of Katie's fellow Peace Corps volunteers. Quite the ecclectic and nice group folks. Names withheld to protect their identities but we had a sweet married couple from Michigan, a suave bolla lad from Cleveland who knew all the people in the restaraunt--I thought I was with the Don or something-- a Missourian, another Ohioian and a Oregonian. Also, suave's buddy the Egyptian aka Goldberg (think mighty ducks) Good time and then some nite caps. The boys were just getting fired up but me and the girls decided to call it a nite due to our early morning trip to Katies home in Los Limones.

Day 3

Arriving at Katie's sight we were greeted with many warm hugs by her familia here in Nicaragua. The little girls, Crystal, 4, and Carlita, 8, ran up to KK and gave her big squezzes, very heartwarming for dear old dad to see. We met the rest of the familia, Donnadonella, the matriarcdh of the family and her daughter,Anna and the only man of the house, Adon, who works tirelessly in the fields all day. Last but not least we met ,Pearla, 11 months as she awakened from her nap--what a bundle of joy! We visited for awhile and then got the nickel tour of Katies site-Los Limones. We met the nurse she works with-Geronima-who told us she loves Katie but she gets sick too often, I told her she takes after su madre. That is where we saw katies work office where they administer medicine ans shots to the locals. Next we walked to Katies project where she is revitalizing a youth center for the children in the area. It is on a very high point in the area and provides outstanding views of the surrounding mountains and country side. Looking over it i could imagine the revolutionaires trekin over the hills and making progress towards Managua. More to follow on that aspect of Nicaragua.
Later in the day after way to much food served to us, Gallo Pinto--rice and beans, and tortillas.
Backtrack-- before we went to Katies village-- no internet or cell service--we stopped in the big town 12 kilometers away, Somotillo to experience the market and have some lunch. The market was what you would expect with chickens out in the open in hot air with flies buzzing around waiting for you to buy them!! We purchased some rice and beans and avocados to contribute to our meals for the next 2 days.
In the late afternoon we walked the town and met Katies extended family, uncles, aunts co-workers, etc. etc. What was supposed to be a 30 minute jaunt evolved into a 3 hour series of visits--something which is the norm in Nicaragua, very cool.
After a very late dinner of Gallo Pinto , tortillas and avocado, we played games with the kids and ajourned to our respective rooms to go to sleep. Those of you over 50 will relate to my middle of the night predicament. The latrine aka outhouse , happens to be in the middle of the pen for the cows of the familia. So Tomas, wakes up at 4 Am and needs to numero uno. Unbeknownst to me all the doors are locked and in the dark I could not figure out how to open la puerta. Fortunately, lpvely Anna was getting up to start breakfast 4AM mind you- and let me out the door. Afyer that embarrasing momenta for me, I then proceeded to step in the biggest pile of cow dung you can imagine on my back to the house. My humility has been gratly enhanced by this adventure and my finding a way to wipe the shit off my docksiders in the dirt--trust me it is impossible and I will be purchasing new shoes and a new suitcase when I return to estado Unidos.

Day 4

Ah, waking up to the sound of roosters and the smell of cowshit-- there is nothing like it at 4:30 Am! We arose to a lovely breakfast of GUESS-- si, gallo pinto along with ayote-a pretty tasty pumpkin like fruit--again way too much. It was at this meal that Mary started to illustrate the greenest face you could ever imagine on a human being--she just had her fill of gallo pinto! However she was a trooper and ate enough not to offend our wonderful hosts. After breakfast we took a 2 hour walk to see the family farm. Some impressions/sights from our adventure. Ox pulled carts, the scrawniest horses you have ever seen, beautiful countryside, joyful kids and mary racing and hopping and skipping along the rocky/dusty trail, Adon with his machete wacking some bushes in our way, and last but not least an enormous amount of cow, horse and ox dung--it was like a frickin obstacle course!
We arrived at the Rio Guasale on the border with Honduras. It is a marvelous place with rocks and views of the volcanoes, etc. we saw the family farm and all the kids and the familia went swimming in the river. Tomas caught his breathe and laid down on a rock. Katie and Mary waked across the river to Honduras just to add it to their list of countries visited--a proud moment for thier papa--yikes, I was waiting for the federales to come out of the bushes to take them away but I kept my fatherly mouth shut. Everyone took their swims and baths and then we trekked back another 2 hours to Los Limones. Agua por favor!!!

Mary's sidenote: Don't be fooled America, when Katie says rice and beans she does NOT mean your average everyday Anamias side dish. This is red beans and rice... with no seasoning...whatsoever. You also have to keep in mind that that is all that is on your plate. Invision "shots of water" con as many carbs you can manage to swallow at once to clear your plate... ouch! I got to the point where I needed to decide which would be worse/more insulting... not finishing my plate or throwing up from gagging. On a better note, the RIO (yes including the much needed exercise after all of the carbohydrates) was one of the most amazing things i've ever seen. And completely worth the 2 hour walk to and fro. Some things i'd like to add are the border patrol we saw on horseback..complete with large guns. Also that my now nica sisters are the sweetest little girls i've ever met. They would not let go of my hand the entire walk...I would give them my entire wardrobe or anything they wanted! I don't know how anyone hasn't already! Last, it was really hard for Tomas y yo to not join the soccer team that passed us on horseback on their way to their futbol juego en Honduras.

Of course, Eda, another family member who came home that day insisted on serving us lunch before we left. The fried chicken was awesome and now Tomas was turning green from the Gallo Pinto and the Pinol for dessert. There is no way to describe Pinol other than think of the absolute worst medicne you have ever drank and times by 2--again (PS Linds, Ana insisted on us bringing 4 bags of Pinol for you to make, ENJOY ;)) mary and i toughed it out to not cause an international incident or to embarrass Katia--we took one for the Aldon team big time. Our driver ==Darwin arrived in time to enjoy our lunch and load us up to trek off to Leon. Some lasting impressions from Los Limones-- it reminded me of my childhood growing up in the hood in B'More. All the kids were out inthe dirt/rock streets playing with whatever was around. My lasting impression will be this little brother-javeline- probably age 4, running around in his bare feet chasing a bicycle tire. Very reckless and stepping on rocks and crap and hahaving a ball. How tough these kids are with very little and just having fun in the streets--very sweet and innocent. My other impression was the love of the people and how loving they all are of Katie and in turn to me and Mary. I left Los limones at peace with where katie is and confident her familia will always have her back, very comforting for dear old dad.

Mary's sidenote: Mom, they LOVED the gifts, and most looked to fit them. They were nervous to open them in front of us because that isn't in their culture, but once we assured them it was a okay they went ahead. Karlita Bonita LOVEDDDD her Charlotte's Web book because she has seen the movie.. She went through all the pictures and told Katie and I the story. Linds, Ana loved the list book AND the bible! Anna kept referring to Ellie and asking about how she is doing. She made sure to send us with lots of goodies (enough for you and mom) and had already written a letter to send back to you! She really appreciates Perlita's mejor amiga en los Estados Unidos and pointed Ellie out to Perlita in all the new pics. Oh and you'd also love this place because if a dog comes within 5 feet of us Dad yells at it to go away! PERFECTO PARA TI, NO?? Andy, I really could have used you to vaccuum both of our plates...but seriously! And to all, It is such a testament to how much we love our family... we cannot go 20 minutes without name dropping that you guys would love this or that or how much we wish you were here. We wish you all could experience all of these wonderful sights and people, but hope this and the pictures come close to doing it justice! XOXO---MEA

On to Leon-Katies place to enjoy city life, hot water and the companionship of some of her peace Corps compadres.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Epiphaniacal Beer (and subsequent weight gain)

In August, I had the pleasure of going home for a fourteen day visit. The trip was nothing short of lovely or over due. Activities included: finally meeting my precious and spanking new niece Eleanor, eating all the vegetables I could get my hands on -scratch that- all food not consisting of rice beans, or tortilla that I could get my hands on, spending time with my nearest and dearest (notable surprise guests including none other than Monica Parrish and Dan Stowell, all the way from Denver), and quite possibly setting a record by gaining seven pounds in fourteen days. You heard me, seven pounds! My father, being the pragmatic man that he is, responded to my misfortune quite candidly in saying, “Well, what did you expect Kate? You´ve had a beer in your hand since you got off the plane.” That I had, and that you would too had you been drinking nothing but Toña for eight months (you especially Tom Aldon, lover of Guiness).

Aside from rekindling my relationship with well brewed beer and jeans that are a size larger, going home proved to be truly reenergizing from which I emerged with a refreshingly new perspective. Though unaware, I had spent my first eight months here viewing Nicaragua as someone with poor vision may observe a painting. With my nose to the canvas, all the fine strokes, blending of vibrant colors and subtle textures were pervading and overwhelming my vision. And as obvious as the beauty was before me, so were the flaws. Since going home, I´ve managed to take a few steps back from the canvas. View the painting in its entirety, radiating a holistic and moving beauty whose presence greatly overshadows the flaws present at a closer distance. And, as art is made to do, offering a spiritual presence capable of stirring something deep within, both exciting and calming, understood yet still a mystery. So thank you America… and while we´re at it: American Airlines, Houston´s , EDOHANA Sushi, Dickson Street, Bari´s, Fayetteville (and all of its residents), Dallas (and most of its residents), friends, family, and of course Shiner, Flying Dog, Samuel Adams, Purple Haze and all other participating breweries. Thank you for turning my life into a Monet, I have since forgiven you for the seven pounds.

All right, no more analogies, promise. So, what have I been doing since my epiphaniacal return? Let´s hit the high notes shall we?

In September, due to the urging of the director of the primary school in Los Limones, I agreed to a project of epic proportions. Her name is Carmessa Suñiga and she is a force to be reckoned with, the good kind that is. Together we are applying for a grant (Small Project Assistance grant or SPA project available to Peace Corps volunteers through USAID) to repair a former school building currently in wretched condition. If completed, the building will serve as a community center, tutoring center and (eventually) a library. To assess the situation, aside from the hanging of a crooked curtain rod (as any drape-conscious visitor of 1479 Gregg St. circa 2007-2008 can attest to) my knowledge of construction is quite, make that incredibly, limited. As for grant writing, in Spanish may I add, imagine a third grader writing a Congressional Bill. Seemingly in over my head, I am luckily not alone. The aforementioned Directora Suñiga is not only motivated but extremely resourceful and has recruited not one, but five experienced foremen to be our shepherds. In addition, I just so happen to live a town over from the lovely Elisa Stemmler, a Peace Corps veteran/super star who recently completed a SPA project of her own. Thus, she has become my SPA project guru, and her assistance has been truly invaluable. With their help, lots of finger crossing, prayers to all gods available and correct alignment of the planets, the building will be up and running by April 2011. All happy thoughts and good wishes are welcomed if not needed.

September also marked my induction into the world of teaching. English that is, to a class of nine children from my neighborhood, ages ranging from eight to twelve. They are all incredibly eager to learn, bright, attentive (well, most of the time) and I have quickly been charmed by all of them. Teaching English five days a week has certainly been full of surprises, the most surprising of these being of (surprisingly) political nature. The area where I live is widely Sandinista, most everyone pledging allegiance to the party of their controversial President, Daniel Ortega. Though Nicaraguan Politics is a topic I certainly try to avoid (in part because as Peace Corps volunteers we are never to infer any political sentiment other than neutrality, but more the impassioned and epic monologues that tend to accompany said topic, almost always aimed at your recruitment to the Sandinista ranks… in my experience that is) questions regarding my political affiliation are about as common as those of my marital status (in other words, very). In spite of such, I had yet to encounter the elusive “liberale”. That is until I met Brenner. He is great, the brightest student in my class, ridiculously politically conscience, and as it turns out, Liberal. Not only does he easily outdo me in knowledge of his country´s current and past political affairs but, even more embarrassingly, those of my own country. In addition to killing my ego (did I mention I have a degree in History?) Brenner is proof that Liberales do in fact exist in Nicaragua, though facing a multitude of obstacles, most namely in size, both number of members (one) and height of actual member (4´7"), and age range (11-11).

Aside from my attempts at construction and the English language, I have also been doing the health volunteer thing, working in the health post, working with my youth group of health promoters and giving the occasional health charla in the schools in town. October welcomed two new exciting projects, teaching yoga to pregnant women once a week (comical for all parties involved, particularly spectators), and working with a support group of HIV patients (a wonderful group who I´ve quickly fallen in love with).

Other notable mentions:

The Bean Crisis of September/October: Due to heavy rain, bean prices shot through the zinc roof and then, without warning, completely disappeared from the market. Luckily for most, fish was in abundance thanks to the overflowing rivers. For those of us psuedo-vegetarians, it was a dark and carb-loaded time.

Tropical Storm Matthew Gives New Meaning to the Word "Rain": Two weeks of torrential down pour wreaked havoc on Central America. Nicaragua specifically suffered massive flooding and landslides. After two weeks of rain, mud, mold, and gloom I have a new found respect for residents of Seattle and will likely never trust anyone by the name of Matthew again.

Well, I suppose that about sums it up my friends. Hope the sun is shining brightly wherever you are, and more than anything, that you too will encounter epiphanaical beer (or something like it) in the near future.

Peace, Love and seven pounds!,


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Van Morrison and Spandex

This weekend I had minor crisis of vanity. It occurred at an event I was attending in Somotillo, where I realized that the man I was watching on stage could not only “shake it” like Shakira (and naturally, far better than I ever could), but also looked more fantastic than I could ever dream of looking in a neon pink mid-drift, white spandex leggings, and sky-high stilettos. As I glanced down at my khaki shorts covering my incapable of “shaking it” hips, my loose black t-shirt, and my “as flat as physically possible” sandals, I was suddenly and acutely aware of how “un-fabulous” I am. Now, you may be wondering why my weekend involved dancing men in spandex (and if you are not, I would like to spend more of my weekends with you). My unusual entertainment was a result of the “Miss Gay Somotillo Showcase” I was able to attend Saturday night. So there I sat, pondering my lack of fabulousness, which then quickly shifted to pondering the fact that I was comparing myself to a fabulous gay man, which then shifted to pondering the fact that I was in a position to ponder such things in such an unlikely place as Nicaragua, all while unavoidably humming along to the Gloria Estefan playing in the background. My pre-service packet’s cultural summary of Nicaragua, describing it as a “traditional and generally conservative culture” had certainly not alluded to activities such as this, perhaps I should have focused on the use of the word generally. Yet another of my preconceived notions, pleasantly proved fallible. Since arriving here in January, I have had quite a few of these moments (and unfortunately I am not referring to watching men dance in spandex). Other notable revelations have included (I know, the listing thing is getting old. I promise to come up with a better format…eventually):

I am not as tough as Survivorman. I had thought, or more had hoped I suppose, that I would approach this whole Peace Corps bit as ascetically as possible. An authentic Peace Corps, living in the middle of the jungle, severed from the “modern world,” with nothing but choppy Spanish, love, bountiful hugs, and a hut with a hammock experience (says, err, types the girl from her laptop -in English-, while listening to her Ipod -in English-, parked behind her electrically powered fan, who will later be watching "Arrested Development" -in English- from her electrically powered DVD player while laying on her bed, in her four-walled house). As it turns out, I have not gone from suburban princess to austere monk overnight, or in five months for that matter. At first, I was slightly disappointed with myself, cringing the first night I watched a DVD in English, or busted out my Ipod, or (gasp) bought a cell phone. However, I have since come to peace with my continual use of technology and English, and am gratefully humbled by what a wimp I have proven to be. Call me a sell-out if you like, though I am still showering with livestock, which should count for something.

There is much more to Spanish than, “Me llamo Katie.” There is also “Soy Katie” or “Mi nombre es Katie” or for the more creative speaker, “Mi nombre es cualquier quiere.” I had thought that by the end of my three-month training I would be nothing short of fluent. The more optimistic reader may view this notion as optimistic, though I, and likely as well as the rest of you, recognize my miscalculation of language learning as well, dim. Whichever, my “journey” with español has proved to be rocky, slow, and frustrating. Five months in, and yes, I am still regularly citing my dictionary, confusing el’s with la’s, and frequently (and at this point shamelessly) saying, “No entiendo, podría hablar mas despacio.” It turns out I am not a language genius, and Spanish is more challenging than a crossword puzzle.

Mosquitoes are not to be messed with. As I discovered a month ago, dengue does exist, and insect repellent (though toxic, and awful, and disgusting) is worth wearing when compared to a week’s stay in the hospital thanks to a bout with the not so mythical “bone-breaker” disease (OFF!®:1, Katie:0).

Much to the pleasure of my Grandpa, I am carnivore. While I managed to maintain my vegetarian diet for the first four months in country, I have since (sparingly) started eating meat again. Though I am now living a lie in Los Limones, where my community continues to be baffled by the fact (well, now myth I suppose) that I only eat rice, beans, and tortilla (“¿No come carne? ¿Ni pescado? ¿ Ni pollo? ¿Ni cerdo? ¿Ni queso, crema, ni leche?”). I am still sleeping well at night, telling myself that the innocent animals I have been consuming are free-range, cruelty free, and lived a happy life until ending up on my hamburger bun. Don’t tell PETA.

Cultural ties are stronger than shoelaces. In spite of my anthropology professors´ best efforts, I have been a self-proclaimed culture cynic for years. And was certain that I would come here and all of my thoughts on the invalidity of culture and the oneness of humanity would be affirmed. That I would have many a moments in which I could pat myself on the back for my worldly knowledge in spite of my undeniable lack of “worldliness.” I had always viewed culture as somewhat of a dirty word, equating it with other labels such nationality, ethnicity, religion, hair-color, shoe size, astrological sign, etc. Believing that man is far too complex to massively categorize, I’ve been reluctant to accept these labels (I think that word may be a cliché now, whoops), rendering them all equally flawed. In addition, I simply don’t like them (I know, amazing logic). They are divisive. Distracting man by their promises of security, superiority, and comfort and deterring him from recognizing his humanity (cue all anthropologists’ far superior counter arguments). Sorry, I didn’t mean to make this a podium for my humanity spiel. What I’m trying to get at, is my new found faith, or more so, recognition of culture‘s validity. I suppose I had been almost denying the weight of its existence. Assuming that culture was merely a social construction, I had imagined that the cultural differences I was to discover in Nicaragua would be, for lack of a better word, fluffy. What I have found however, is that our cultural differences are extremely profound, and practices which I had come to think of as human nature (and therefore innate) are not present here. Practices I am familiar with because of the culture I was raised in. Conclusively, I am a product of United States’ culture ( spikes!), and I have some serious cultural ties to that culture (gasp!). Well more ties to, suburban, central/southern United States’ culture… but you catch my drift. Moreover, that dirty word, culture, is very real. This is not to say that I have abandoned all of my previous, arguably naïve ideals of the oneness of humanity. Because culture is a force much stronger than I had imagined, the planes in which we (Nicaraguans and I) are able to communicate and relate are that much more profound. Therefore, said sentiment has in many ways been reaffirmed, specifically in the kindness I’ve been shown, the patience and understanding I’ve encountered (you try talking to me in Spanish day in and day out with a smile on your face), and the love (love so present that you can almost breathe it) that I’ve witnessed and experienced. Things that, in spite of cultural and language barriers, beautifully translate.

Speaking of things that beautifully and easily translate, Van Morrison, who I’m listening to right now, the man is a universal truth. Disagree with me if you will, abash yet another of my unfounded beliefs, I welcome you. However, I can confidently say, that while I have abandoned my vegetarianism, anti-culturism (I realize this is not a word, but for the sake of the -ism), and many other things I have once held dear, I will never abandon my belief in Van Morrison and “Tupelo Honey.” End of story.

Ok, stepping off the soapbox, or whatever that was now. I need to go prepare the 90-minute STD charla I’ll be giving to a room full of 11 year olds tomorrow (per request of the teacher). Thanks to all for sending thoughts, prayers, good vibrations and whatever else my way during the whole dengue saga. I attribute much of my speedy recovery to your kindness.

Peace, love, and Van Morrison,

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Excessive use of the word and practice of "chatting"

So, it is 1:00 p.m. on Cinco de Mayo. Normally, I would be planted at a Mexican restaurant (likely La Hurtya), exploiting this blessed Mexican holiday as a means to acceptably consume a (or a few) cold and delicious Negro Modelo(s) midday on a Wednesday. Instead, I’m currently sitting in my room, planted behind my “overworked/constantly running when electricity is present” fan, sipping on a delicious fruit juice whose contents I’m completely unsure of (no need to question when it is cold and tasty). I had a meeting this morning in Somotillo where I found out that my youth group will be receiving funds to throw our “carnival” at the end of the month(basically a “health themed” parade, involving masks, cultural dances, and condom demonstrations). Later tonight, I’m going to this beautiful farm near my community to philander, relish in its beauty, and fend off mosquitoes. All in all, I think it is safe to say that today has turned out to be a pretty fantastic Cinco de Mayo (in spite of the absence of Negro Modelo).

As of Sunday, I have officially been in site for a month now. It is unreal how quickly time flies here, as the general pace of things is far from hasty. Regardless of the time warp, I have somehow managed to develop a bit of a routine. Before sharing, I will preface with saying that according to the Peace Corps our first three months in site are to be dedicated to “community integration.” This, I have interpreted as chatting with my community members. And by chatting I mean, discussing whatever my limited Spanish allows for/the random strangers I chat with feel like sharing. Hence, a typical day consists of the following: waking up around 6 or 7, enjoying a refreshing bucket shower in the company of cows, chickens, and sunshine, and then eating a delicious breakfast consisting of some variation of rice, beans, tortilla, and my multi-vitamin while (in between bites of course) chatting with my host family. Then I head up to the health post for an hour or so. Chat with the patients waiting, chat with the nurses, chat with strangers on the way to and fro, perhaps give a charla over a topic someone mentioned as worth mentioning during a chat. From there, I’ll usually go on a nice walk to one of the communities surrounding Los Limones, to my favorite farm across the highway, to the lovely and recently filled (thanks to much needed rain) rivers around town, really wherever my feet feel like taking me for the afternoon. Naturally, this involves chatting with whomever I pass, the occasional invitation to coffee or, if I am so lucky, a fresh mango or two. Eventually, I’ll head home for a lunch of rice, beans and tortilla… and of course, a chat or two with my host family. Then I’ll spend some time working on my Spanish, working on charlas, reading, relaxing, abusing my fan. Finally capping off the evening with yet another walk, this time to the “cancha” (paved sports like area where all the kids hang out, kick soccer balls at each other, exchange vulgarities, etc.) where there will be more chatting. Until finally, heading home for a dinner of (you guessed it) rice beans and tortilla, possibly a telenovela, chatting, and eventually bed. As it turns out, “community integration” is kind of my thing.

This of course is merely a typical day, the last month has not been entirely dedicated to rice, beans, and chatting (as if I haven’t typed that word enough already). Other noteworthy activities have included:

1) Participating in the annual countrywide vaccination campaign. This involved chasing small, screaming children with drops of vitamin A and anti-parasite medications/coaxing or at least attempting to coax them as they were stuck with large needles filled with various vaccines. In spite of the atmosphere of terrorized children, this was a fantastic experience. I was able to see many of the rural communities outlying Somotillo, chat with some incredibly friendly and insightful nurses, ride in the bed of a truck for hours each day (I’ve always loved convertibles), not to mention the efficiency of the campaign was thoroughly impressive. Props to MINSA.

2) Took an excursion with my youth group and a handful of others from my community to Campusanos (a natural spring outside of Chinandega). The setting was slightly reminiscent of floating the Buffalo (minus the abundance of beer, koozies, and college students) so naturally I felt right at home. It was really nice getting to spend some quality time with my youth group, though I have yet to become accustomed to swimming in my clothes (wearing a bikini is essentially social suicide in this country) and may or may not have come close to drowning once or twice.

3) Experienced getting soaked by my first Nicaraguan storm. Little did I know that this encounter would occur indoors, while sleeping in my bed, at two o’clock in the morning. Not that I can complain, given that it was certainly the coolest night’s sleep I’ve had in this blessed desert that is Chinandega. However, the roof over my bed has since been patched and I no longer have to sleep in a raincoat. Gracias a Dios.

4) Visited my fellow and fantastic volunteer in the community just north of mine (Santa Thomas del Norte) for their “fiestas patronales“. This of course involved dancing until the wee hours of the morning, luckily with the help of strobe lights I think it is safe to say that the fact that I dance like a tranquilized elephant remains a secret to my Nicaraguan friends… or so I hope.

5) Bought a bicycle in spite of the fact that I haven’t ridden one since the age of nine. She is red and beautiful (though pales in comparison to that beloved Taurus of mine, Rhonda), and I’ve named her Sue. Our first ride together was memorable to say the least, as I missed the bus from Somotillo to Los Limones and opted to make the twelve-kilometer up-hill trek with Sue. Did I mention it was noon, I wasn’t wearing sunscreen, and I’m about as in shape as Valerie Butonelli pre Jenny Craig? I somehow made it to my youth club meeting by one, a frightening shade of red, sweating buckets (which didn’t cease for at least two hours), and I’m not even going to mention the state of my behind. Nonetheless, Sue and I have been getting along just fine since (though our trips together have since been much shorter and less inclined).

6) Lost my phone, bought a new one, have used it four times since. I have a feeling this cycle will prove to be a trend throughout my service.

Well that about sums it up I suppose. Sorry for yet another epic post (blog? I still don’t know how all of this works). Maybe one of these days I won’t wait a small eternity to post another. Anyway, I’m headed to the beach this weekend with a few other volunteers. Activities will surely include chatting, swimming (hopefully in something less than a snowsuit), the consumption of rice and beans, and perhaps belatedly celebrating Cinco de Mayo with a Tona or two (unless the world stops spinning and Negro Modelo is available). Hope all is well in “the land of the free home of the brave”.

All my love from the Central Am,

Friday, April 9, 2010

Tricycle Taxis and Offending Public Figures

In my three months here in the land of gallo pinto, I have fallen in love with several things (gallo pinto being one of them). Hammocks, bartering, using “que” followed by whatever adjective suits my fancy (typically bonita) to describe nearly every situation, telonovelas, and eating fruits whose names I cannot pronounce currently top the list. But surpassing them all would have to be my most recent discovery, the tricycle taxi. It is quite possible, and more than likely that a good portion of my monthly allowance will be allotted to tricycle taxi rides. Not out of necessity (as walking is nearly an equally efficient means of transportation), simply because they are utterly fantastic. I plan on using them often(while possibly on my way to use a hammock, an activity which I would describe as “que bonita”, while bartering the price of said trip on said tricycle taxi, while possibly discussing the latest telenovela with said triciclero, while eating a fruit whose name I cannot pronounce). Mind you, these tricicleros charge a pretty penny. But, being as they are environmentally kosher, not to mention the workout the triciclero is benefiting from while pedaling my ass to and fro, I think I will be able to sleep easy.

In other news, as of today I am off the training tit. And by this of course I mean that I was officially sworn into the Peace Corps today. I my friends, am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer (insert woooo here). The morning was pretty fantastic. It was about a four hour event involving all of our host families, the U.S. Ambassador Robert Callahan, our Country Director George Baldino, and (my favorite component) Earl Grey tea. I’ll post pictures eventually, and yes I have one with the Ambassador. I’ve never been photographed with a person who is referred to as “his Excellency” until this morning, so as you could imagine I was slightly (and by slightly I mean obscenely) nervous. Not to mention the fact that Ambassador Robert Callahan is utterly amazing, which of course only heightened my anxiety. So, it came time for our photo together. I walked over, trying to come up with something witty and memorable to say (which of course turned out to be nothing but giggling and blushing, far from witty or memorable). His Excellency (I just like to say that as often as possible) placed his arm around me and we looked into the sea of cameras. Then he, in his regal and “ambassador like” voice, asked which camera we were to be looking at. My camera, thanks to my host sister Fernandita, now sports a large sticker of Beauty and the Beast. And so, likely in an attempt to be witty (fail), I responded to his Excellency’s question with “Beauty and the Beast.” He then said, “you’re right I suppose we are.” Oh dear God. I, inadvertently and unintentionally, called his Excellency a beast. I called Ambassador Robert Callahan ugly. It was awful, I of course immediately started stuttering, trying to explain myself and show him that God forsaken sticker that had been the source of my horribly misinterpreted comment. But it was too late, all had been lost. Now I live with shame and the hopes that I will never be in need of help from the embassy as I don’t expect that his Excellency, “the beast”, would be all too quick to assist me.

So, the “site gods” have spoken and I will officially be spending the next two years of my life in the town of Los Limones. It is a small (and by small I mean incredibly small) town located in the northern corner of the department of Chinandega, about twenty minutes north of the municipality of Somotillo(and home to the glorious tricycle taxis). Chinandega, in a nutshell, is a northern department bordering Honduras. It is the hottest department in all of Nicaragua and also holds the title for the highest quantity of cases of HIV in the country. Somotillo, the municipality twenty minutes from my site, retains the highest number of cases of HIV in all of Chinandega (this is largely due to its proximity to Honduras) and thus much of my work will be devoted to HIVAids education and prevention. Somotillo is a relatively (and I stress relatively) large town of about 30,000 people. It has just about everything anyone could need (cell service, internet cafes, ice cream, a large market, tricycle taxis) but most importantly a health center that serves 66 surrounding communities. My site, Los Limones, is one of those 66. Los Limones is a town of about 1,000 people, composed of two churches, two ventas (convenience store like establishments), a high school, a primary school, a health post, and sunshine (or for the more pessimistic reader, heat and subsequent excessive perspiration). This package does not include paved roads, cell service, or running water. However, it does include a community of wonderful loving people, who, in my six day stay, made me feel more than welcome and wanted (what more could a gringa ask for?).

So anyway, I head off into the abyss on Sunday and couldn’t be more excited. For the previously listed reasons, and of course the tricycle taxi ride I intend to take on Sunday afternoon. Life is good. I’m out of here, big night out in Managua tonight to celebrate our “volunteerhood” and hopefully to drink enough Flor de Cana to forget about that one time when I told an Ambassador he was feo. Love you all, send me letters and I’ll send you love.

Peace, Love and his Excellency,

My new address (not to be desperate butttttt…):
Katie Aldon
Voluntaria de Cuerpo de Paz
Somotillo, Chinandega
Central America

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Insert clever and catchy title here

Sup party people,
Sorry it has been awhile. You know how life gets.
Quite a bit has happened since I last wrote, so I’ll try and hit the high points and skip the boring details, though I make no promises as brevity has never been my strong suit. Alright, so in the past three weeks I have:
1) Visited a live volcano. Volcan Masaya, as well as the dormant San Fernando. It was pretty fantastic to say the least (minus my regrettable decision to wear chacos). The entire experience was one of those, is this real life or an episode of planet earth moments. If I can ever figure out how to upload pictures in a time period shorter than all of eternity, I’ll be happy to share.
2) Learned how to make soy, soy milk, and some ridiculously tasty soy chili (also the first remotely spicy thing that I've tasted in Nicaragua). Anyway, I visited a current health volunteer in Palacaguina, Madriz for a few days. Her name is Penny, she is from Alaska, and in short, the bee’s knees (for many reasons, including her knowledge of soy products). To make a long story short, we gave (or more she gave) a few charlas, met with a group of pregnant women to talk about HIV/AIDS, met with a youth group, had a cooking class with a group of Nicaraguan women, and had my ass kicked in her aerobics class. The trip was fantastic as a whole, really great to see what the life of a bad ass volunteer is like.
3) Bought a phone, lost it, found it, and have actually used it…twice.
4)Visited the department of Matagalpa. It was utterly stunning. Mountainous, green, floral, the entire bus ride I was waiting for Julie Andrews to appear singing “the hills are alive.” Wish I had brought my camera, not that I would have been able to upload the pictures had I taken any. But seriously, if you ever make it to Nicaragua, go to Matagalpa.
5) Talked to a room full of Nicaraguans about HIV/AIDS. Preparation for this charla included the drawing of various reproductive organs and cartoon caricatures having “relaciones sexuales.” This was exciting for various reasons, namely that I could actually speak in Spanish about HIV/AIDS for an extended period of time, and of course getting to draw cartoons “doing it” was a major perk.
6) Met a tarantula about the size of my hand in the bathroom one morning. She was hiding behind the toilet seat when we bumped into one another. It was pretty early in the morning, which is the only explanation I can come up with as to why I didn’t scream. That, or my fondness for Charlotte's Web.
7) Heard "Piano Man" in Spanish on the bus this morning, AMAZING.
That about sums it up. I find out my site placement on Monday, fingers crossed I'll be living the good life wherever the "site gods" elect to be my home for the next two years (and by the good life I mean to imply the happy life of course). I'll keep ya posted. Until then, keep writing me those letters I know you are all just dying to send.
Peace, love and dreams of American beer,

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My life in Spanglish

Hello big beautiful world,

Greetings from La Paz de Carazo, Nicaragua. I’m not really sure how this whole blogging business is to be done, but I’ll go ahead and do my best and fake it.

Well as of today I have officially been in Nicaragua for four weeks, my my how time flies. I’m finally starting to feel like I’m getting into the groove of things here (minus the whole Spanish proficiency thing). Nonetheless I am really enjoying my time here and am in awe at how quickly the last four weeks have flown by.

So what have I been up to? As I’m sure you’re all just dying to know (I hope that sarcasm can be sufficiently conveyed via blog, as previously stated I’m new to this whole thing). Well as far as the job front goes, my fellow training site mates and I have been working on forming a youth group in our town. We’ve successfully had four meetings now with about ten kids or so (mas o menos). The first few meetings have really just been spent getting to know one another, often in broken Spanish which amazingly does the job when paired with humor. The meetings also include my site mates and I presenting a charla (basically an informal and interactive presentation over a health related topic). Ideally, the objective is to educate our youth -over the topic, as well as how to present the information to others- in hopes that in time they too will be able to present such information in the future. It has been an interesting project thus far, the kids in our group are really fantastic and we manage to have a pretty good time. We are getting together to play volleyball tomorrow, which should be great. Certainly entertaining for them, if any of you have ever witnessed me playing volleyball you should understand why.

In addition to our youth group we have each been preparing individual charlas to give at the local health center and at the primary school here in La Paz (three at the health center, and one at the school). My partner Juancito and I gave our first this week over Dengue. It went well, though I was slightly nervous. I will be giving another in two weeks over HIV/AIDS and I’m really looking forward to it. In addition to charlas and youth group meetings, my group and I are also working on a survey regarding HIV/AIDS which we are to administer and analyze in the next few weeks. Overall, what we do here in our training town is primarily for the sake of training, as what we are practicing here is a lot of what we will be doing (on a larger scale) at our sites in the future. I guess I should go ahead and explain that my 24 fellow trainees and I will be spending a total of three months in our respective training towns, ending in April when we are sworn in and officially hold the title of a PCV. Following our swearing in, we will all head to our assigned “sites” in various cities (I use this term loosely as some of us will be placed in relatively rural pueblos) all throughout Nicaragua. There, we will remain for two years, and there, the real work begins. Thus I have been learning a lot through this training process, and continue to garner excitement about the work I will be doing at my site (April is just a hop and a skip away).

Enough of that work business, so this weekend was the start of La Paz’s “festivales patronales.” It is essentially a week long party celebrating “Our Lady La Paz.” In short, a week of fiestas, showcases of Nicaraguan culture, dancing, and bulla (NOISE, and lots of it). This weekend was really a good time. I missed the festivities Saturday because I had class for most of the day and then went to Granada with a couple of other trainees (and their host families) that night. Anyway, Sunday afternoon there was the annual “hipica,” a competition/parade of horses. It was sort of like an SEC tailgate, where the football was replaced by horses, the Bud Light replaced by Tona, and frat attire replaced by cowboy hats and denim…all other components were present (including a man in a Confederate t-shirt). It was pretty fantastic as the pictures should attest. Later that night there was a fiesta, conveniently three houses down from mine at the town Alcaldia (municipal building). I went with my host sister, two cousins, and another trainee Juancito. It was a pretty good time, though I found myself having unfortunate flashbacks of middle school dances and the inevitable awkwardness that accompanied them (the strobe light and abundance of 13 year olds really added to this sentiment). But overall it was really fun and the strobe light made my horrific dancing less obvious to those around me (or so I hope).

Aside from the previously listed activities I’ve just been spending a lot of time getting to know my host family (who are utterly amazing), working on getting this language business down, and eating more rice and beans than I have ever consumed in my life (I type this with an endearing tone). Overall, I really look forward to each new day and whatever new and exciting nonsense it will hold (today it was the discovery that the family dog Lassie is actually a boy… I have been referring to him as a girl for the past four weeks, poor old chap). Alright, I suppose I’ll cut my rambling off now. Ta-ta for now dear friends, but before I go I will leave you with my address for the next two months (in case you’re feeling crazy and want to send something my way).

Katie Aldon PCT
Voluntario de Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 3256
Managua, Nicaragua
Central America

It is apparently best to send small packages through U.S. mail as to avoid nonsense with customs (Fed-ex and UPS are apparently quite a hassle), but nothing would brighten my day more than a letter (in English…please!). Until next time…

Peace, love and fiestas,