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!,