Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Just another Sunday

This Sunday can only be described in one word- hilarious. Whenever Marissa and I try going anywhere with just the two of us, we often get ourselves into trouble. Even before this whole adventure really started we got lost. We should have realized the affect we had on each other when he couldn´t even find the travel clinic in CANADA, our English speaking country. What made us ever think we could survive traveling together in SPANISH, I´ll never know.

Weeks have gone by since we first planned to hike to the waterfall in Esteli. and since this weekend was lacking any serious travel plans we decided we´d give in another shot. Marissa (who has already gone) said ¨it´s a bit of a hike¨ A bit ? It was 5k UPHILL. more like a marathon if you ask me. Under the scorching heat of the Nicaraguan sun it is safe to say she kicked me sorry butt up to that waterfall. Unlike Marissa, I haven´t yet been blessed with the gift of long legs or the discipline to really ´use´ them. Needless to say this hobbit experienced a slight bit of trouble, though i did make it, it just wasn´t pretty- and that is where the real adventure begins.

Since the hike was longer than life itself we packed a lunch of PB and banana ( a classic) so we didn´t have to rush back in time for lunch and could enjoy some fun in the sun.

Obstacle Number One
With each day I am forced to stretch passed my comfort zone and experience the unwelcome as well as the uncomfortable . and of course a day at the waterfall was NO different. Once we got there keeping our lunch down was a bit of a problem with the sight of a very very hairy man sporting a pair of tighty whities- ONLY a pair of tighty whities AND they were wet- awesome! When your back hair intertwines with your shoulder hair and your shoulder hair intertwines with your armpit hair and your armpits into the rest of your body- you have a bit of an abundance that should be dealt with pronto if not for the common decency of others, than simply for yourself. Resembling the likes of a bear is never something one chooses to put on their dater s profile, I wonder why.

Obstacle Number Two
As always men in Nicaragua often cause problems. It ´s like a competition between who can be the most creative and degrading all at once. I thought this competition was usually kept to the city streets however once again I was wrong.Out in the middle of NOWHERE ( 5 km may i remind you!) I look up to admire the greatness of the beautiful waterfall before me and the peace is ruined by a group of men shouting insults and terrible pick up lines from the top. Seriously, they´re everywhere!

Obstacle Number Three
So after sweating a very unattractive amount I get to thinking This is actually ´ cold´ f or Nicaragua since we´re in winter.. COLD ? What planet are you on? However the rainy season did kick in while we were swimming , but really would you expect any less? When it rains, it pours and it´s no different here in Nicaragua. The rain started HARD, lasted LONG and rained A LOT. Since we thought walking around in our bikini bottoms wouldn´t be the smartest idea Marissa and I attempted putting our shorts on, not to stay dry but maybe to attract a little less attention. As ungracefully and you can possibly imagine we crouched under trees in an attempt to stay dry , leaned up against rocks for balance and shared the space with about ten locals. It was hilarious. Marissa puts one foot in her pants and falls flat on her butt, legs flying in the air. Free entertainment for the locals? I think so.

As we dragged our wet selves back to the trail we came across a recent tantrum thrown by mother nature. With all the rain and mud she created a little river for us to cross. The seasoned travelers that we have become, we changed into our flip flops and began trudging thorough the mess. Each step was more difficult than the last until I took one step and came u p without any shoes! Digging through the mud, up to my knees in water, soaked to the bone , and STILL looking for that darn shoe!

I forgot my ruby slippers back at our house so we had to keep walking. though I kept my fingers crossed a kin d soul would stop and pick us up. The trucks zoomed by no one giving us a second glace until the fanciest car we´d seen all day drove by and STOPPED! They put a blanket down in the back so we would leave mud behind but really- t hank you kind citizen!

By the end of the afternoon we looked like 2 drowned rats as the bus driver laughed at us while we got on . On the way home we weren´t disturbed by any men, I wonder why?


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Father´s Day

Last Friday we had a celebration for Father´s Day at Los Pipitos and needless to say, it was yet another tear jerker. I came to Esteli with ten packs of Kleenex (about the size of a small forest) and now I´m on to toilet paper, pretty sad, I know. There are approx fifty children and youth the frequent the Los Pipitos Centre, and out of those fifty, thirty have fathers, and out of that thirty four were able to come to the celebration. As I was sitting, waiting for Nica time to kick in and the presentation to begin I noticed that a lot of the children were looking sad, much sadder than their usual cheery faces especially on a day when the work load is less and their is a party about to begin. After realizing that their sad faces were very out of place I couldn´t stand my own ignorance anymore and had to ask the first person that was a) around and b) can understand my terrible Spanish. Sitting close by was Marcia, a mother and a worker at the Los Pipitos Centre began tell me the histories of some of the children, and they weren´t lying when they said ´ignorance is bliss.´ Each child had a story that was sadder and more heart breaking than the one before them. Many have been abandoned by their parents in one way or another and are living with older siblings and even some on their own. Many parents have passed away, moved away or simply turned their children away because they have a disability. One little girl nicknamed ´Precious Girl´ in Spanish has lost both parents in the last year. Usually an upbeat smiling girl was sitting alone sad and frustrated. As the reality of their lives began to sink in I just wanted to throw on a mask and a cape and take away all their nightmare, problems and obstacles that they face every day and ever night. They are all such beautiful people that deserve the same kind of love and attention that we all crave.

With each day spent at Los Pipitos my purpose seems to get a little clearer. I was never sent there to be productive, at least productive in the Canadian-work ethic sense. I am not there to produce goods or do physically demanding work. I am there because someone needs to love these kids. They need one on one praise and recognition. I am now appreciating my position more than I ever thought because I know how much they need the love I can offer. Not only me, but all the volunteers at Los Pipitos are brought there to offer a kind face and helping hand to those that need it. No one could have told me ´Jess, these kids need love, so love them-´ The only way I could really understand this reality is to experience it. To see them when they are sad, and when they are happy and when all they want is a hug. Though the Father´s Day celebration did leave me sad, it opened my eyes to something I would have never have realized, and for that I am truly grateful.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

long over due

Time seems to be an interesting thing while I have been away. Though the weeks seem to ultimately fly by, sometimes the days inch slowly by like they´re racing snails. Last Thursday Jeanette (our American journalist friend) took us to the capital city, Managua, and more importantly to La Chureca, the biggest dump in Nicaragua. The dump was unlike anything I could have even imagined and even after walking through it I am still unable to comprehend the realities of their lives. Staring poverty in the face is truly and indescribable experience. As I was walking through meeting the children and adults who live, work and go to school in the dump my body was numb. I was seeing them, but couldn´t really ´see´ them.

La Chureca is a community of over 4000 families that call the dump home. Many do not ever step foot outside the gates of hell (the entrance) into a world completely different than their own. Spontaneous combustion's, decomposing animals, discarded needles and if they´re luck rotting food is what awaits them day after day. Their days are spent scavenging through the trucks that drop off the city´s waste, and many worker have yet to celebrate their 8th birthdays.Though the dump is equipped with a school, many children are forced to spend their days searching for food and recyclables to make an extra buck or two for their families.

When Jeanette made the plans to take us to La Chureca ( where she had volunteered for 5 months) she contacted two very brave women for help. Percilla and Dorthy who were thrilled to give us a presentation on La Chureca, by explaining both the brutal past and their hopeful future. The two power houses are in the midst of creating their own non profit organization focusing on the youth living in the dump. Their hope is to bring education and opportunity to those who have nothing. Percilla and Dorthy's 1st project revolves around Little Fabiola and her terribly difficult life. At nine years old her step father is guilty of sexually abusing her while her mother is in the house. Meeting Fabiola was one of the saddest things I have faced while in Nicaragua. Her big brown eyes had a past more difficult and complicated than what most adults have to deal with. What´s even more disturbing is that Fabiola isn´t a case of one in a million, this kind of abuse happens all over the dump and there is no one to stop it. Many of the drivers will have sex with the children and pay them in plastic bottles. This trip was disgusting, smelly, heart breaking, eye opening and a shock to say the least.

Though most of La Chureca is a story of heart break and hopelessness there are a few glimmers of hope. There is a safe haven that has been built for the children by a group of generous Italians. They are able to bathe, eat and get away from the difficulties that are their everyday lives. While Jeanette was working there for five months she took some of the students on field trips to explore other parts of Nicaragua, parts they would have otherwise never seen. They are being taught interview and writing skills, bracelet and necklace making among other things.Franklin, a teen cared for by Jeanette is a talented bracelet maker, so of course I couldn´t pass up the opportunity to buy own and support their cause. Though La Chureca is a very overwhelming experience, with the help of people like Jeanette, Percilla, Dorthy and other like minded individuals there is a very possible future for those living in the dump. A future that doesn´t consist living and working in the landfill hunting for their own food and plastics.

one step up

Finally, a plan! Things are slowly coming together at Los Pipitos and I couldn´t be more thrilled. Though I don´t think it will shape up to exactly what I had envisioned. this week is a step in the right direction. I am working in Pre Taller, a work shop consisting of about eight children a day. In Pre Taller much of their time revolves around doing many different arts and crafts by making their own paper, reusing and dying corn stalks, making pinatas, painting and of course, paper mache. Because these children cannot attend a conventional school Los Pipitos offers alternative education focusing on the enjoyment and possibilities that the arts allow. My responsibilities include having one on one discussions with the children as well as having home visits in order for me to be able to identify with the child based on their own life experiences. I also have bus duty, lunch duty and my favourite , bathroom duty. Though some responsibilities are a little less than glamorous, it at least gives me meaningful work, which is exactly what I have been looking for. I am also making an effort to learn sign language because I hate not being able to communicate with those children who are unable to speak.They all have so much to say, I just want to be able to understand and maybe offer a little in return. I am looking forward to seeing the progress in the weeks ahead. With a solid plan in place I feel like things are looking up.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Off the grid

Off the grid and into the mountains for the second time in six weeks. This weekend Marissa, Megan Siobhan and I all traveled in a true Nicaraguan bus, as always, two hours into the mountains for some serious R & R, returning to Paradise on Earth, also known as Miraflor. Miraflor is a community of people that work on or have their own organic farms. They produce coffee, bananas and veggies of all different kinds. While visiting a lucky explorer can take advantage of the abundance of orchids as well as other plant life, horseback riding, hiking, swimming and quickly making friends with dogs, cats, horses, cows and maybe a rooster or two.

I find it very difficult to write about Miraflor because words, and even pictures of that matter cannot begin to describe the beauty and magnificence that is present. I didn´t address Miraflor the first time we went because I knew my words were far from the real experience, but since this is our second time and will not be out last, I thought it was high time you are all let in on my secret to sanity, big shocker it´s the county? On our first visit we spent the entire day on the move horseback riding all throughout the farms, only stopping for pictures and lunch.We loved the clean air, open land and ´stillness´that we can´t get in the city so we promised each other and ourselves that we would back, for a girls only weekend- an escape from life in the city and a celebration for Siobhan´s 20th birthday. Lindos Ojos (Cute Eyes) is where we stayed hosted by the biggest hippies I´ve ever met. Gene and Katarina, both born in Germany- lived briefly in the states and now reside in Nicaragua are two amazing people that are so conscious about the environment and their own personal impact they use very little energy and do all they can to help the environment. Fluent in ENGLISH, Spanish and German, they were gracious hosts that went the extra mile for us to ensure a wonderful weekend.

Since we already had the pleasure of a guided tour all across Miraflor on horseback exploring the trees, coffee and flowers, we decided to be a little more low key this weekend. Needless to say we took the laid back approach to this weekend. Our physical exercise stretched only across Saturday afternoon while we hiked to the waterfall, swam and hiked back, which took about 4 hours in total, and yes - it was uphill both ways.

The funny thing was when we were making our way to the waterfall a young woman pointed out a great short cut for us. Shorter, yes.. Easier- NO. If we had continued the way we knew it would have been only ten minutes longer, yet with our new and improved trail it required a few Indians Jones moves where a barbed wire fence was concerned- fun? not really. A few bloody fingers and the inner girl scouts in all of us came out putting that fence and the short cut to shame.The waterfall was so close we could hear it, a little team work was necessary and it sure wasn´t easy and certainly not graceful but we got there all the same.

The waterfall- beautiful, clean, clear and refreshing! It was exactly what we came to Miraflor for, and boy did it fail to disappoint. The only way I can describe it, is paradise just got better. While we were exploring the waterfall, and the ways to get there Christmas must have came early, or maybe a visit from Gene, because once we made it back from the waterfall a beautiful white hammock was hanging on the porch of our cabin- Hello Heaven. I will tell you all right now, it is taking every bone in my body to stop myself from bringing one home. If Nicaragua does something well, it´s got to be hammocks. There is no problem a cold beer and a jump in the hammock can´t fix, Nothing! Drowning ourselves in good music, girl talk, a little rum, blankets, hammocks and the best food I´ve had in six weeks, it was the best weekend so far. I think I ate my weight in pasta, because Gene, he sure knows how to cook, and I didn´t want all that hard work to go to waste!

The mountain air , cooler temperature and lack of ´hola chica, I love you´s´ made the weekend everything I had hoped for and more. I kind of expected the sleeping conditions to be a little rough, maybe a little ´roach motel´ ish but the cabins were beautiful, the beds comfortable and get ready for this .. WARM showers.. as many as you wanted to take. Hot water doesn´t exist in Nicaragua but Heaven had it warm and that´s good enough for me.

While we quickly made ourselves comfortable we made four new friends, Rin tin tin, Molly, Tobey and Molitof, who all relaxed a little on our deck and patrolled the rest of the farm in shifts. All three pups were from Molly, although they didn´t look anything alike and a quick visit with Maury might be in order to discover the father. This weekend was so refreshing we have already made plans to visit one more time in July, to purchase coffee for home, eat until we fill out our pants and hang out in the hammock. If this is what Heavens life, sign me up.


I love Fridays. I think it´s a world wide trend that people look forward to the weekend, and sorry to disappoint, it´s no different here in Nicaragua. Although here Fridays mean more than TGIF on the ABC channel and a few beers celebrating the end to another week, because here I cannot understand the t.v and beers, well they can flow any day given that your thirsty and they are cold. In my neighborhood in Esteli, Friday means market day and the streets are cramped with locals buying and selling fresh flowers, fruits and veggies. As I watch from the sidelines waiting for the 7 45 bus to pick me up and rush me off to Los Pipitos I notice that an outdoor market has the ability to bring the young and the old together, making strangers into instant friends and reuniting old friends with each other. For a brief moment the grime and vulgarity seems to fade while the city comes alive- i love Fridays.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Ups & downs, turn it all around

While preparing for this adventure I was told many times to go in without expectations because I will save myself the disappointment when things don´t go as planned. True- It is impossible to predict how are lives will turn out and it is just as difficult to predict how a three month stint abroad will go, but having NO expectations- HELLO how is that possible? After putting so much effort and planning into my time in Nicaragua, having no expectations is unrealistic, CRAZY even .. though now that many expectations, even though I thought they were very much attainable and realistic are kind of laying scattered like a flat tire on the side of the road, disappointment is slowly creeping up on me, and he is neither cute or charismatic- he´s kind of a downer and I'm trying to kick him to the curb.

This last week I have spent trying to get comfortable at Los Pipitos, though as of now it´s been a fail. Though it is difficult with my broken Spanish and constant use of a dictionary I feel like it is acting like more of a hindrance than it should. It could be my lack of initative, or the organizations but it has been holding me back communicating with the organizers as well as the children. What is frustrating is that Los Pipitos is this brightly colored, well shaded FULL OF POSSIBILITIES facility for children to come and express themselves through different kinds of art- though for much of the time they are seated focusing on nothing, and so am I.

I am having a hard time adjusting to the slowness of the culture. In Canada I am used to being on the constant marathon of a fairly busy life shouting GO GO GO!! While here naps are not mandatory, though highly suggested, the city closes down from 12-2 and everyone walks like it´s Sunday- it´s culture right? I am not naive in the sense that I wanted to come here and change the world, do great things and solve world peace.. although if it were possible i would sign up. I just want to do something good, really get to know these children and know that my efforts are pro active rather than a bench warmer when so many good things could come from these children as well as the organization. This week my plans are to contact the people in charge and ask for some more responsibilities, I don´t want wear the paint off of a stool because I sit on it all day, I want to work, I came here to work. I hope that this will result is something proactive and give me a little piece of mind.

On an unrelated yet positive note, I am finally done with my Nicaraguan dentist. He was a nice and funny character although I thought it was a smidge odd how his mother and aunt would remind me of how attractive he was all time, perhaps they saw my visits, as some weird north American courtship.. i just wanted my tooth fixed. After 4 visits, mucho drugs, and minus one tooth I am finally feeling much better. The stitches are out and the pain is gone- thank goodness!

Life is as interesting, and challenging as ever.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

1 month

Today is the official one month anniversary with me and my new buddy Nicaragua. It´s crazy to think I have already been away from home for a month, and have lasted this long.. it´s also crazy to think that there are 2 months to go! I have to admit i am finally getting comfortable here, and I can say that i am enjoying everything Nicaragua throws at me, both the good and the bad. One month in and I have grown a lot, and am very excited to see what the next two months have in store.. although fingers crossed they are a little lower key than the first month. Thanks again for everyone who is reading, I will continue to write about my life here in Nicaragua!


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What happens on the volcano, stays there

3 30 am! as if the wake up calls could get any earlier , well they can and they did! At 3 30 we were crawling out of bed and getting ready for out next adventure. At 4 we were at the tour guides office eating a breakfast very familiar to Canada. Our group was climbing the Volcano called Cerro Negro and our guides were two volunteers from Canada, Jake and Justin. Our breakfast was the first thing to get excited about, There was CRUNCHY peanut butter, bread, fruit and BOILED EGGS! they only thing i missed here was my handy dandy egg slicer!

Once about every piece of food was gobbled down we set out carrying 2 L of water as well as snacks for lunch. I'm not exactly sure what i was thinking when i signed up to climb this volcano . somehow it didn´t cross my mind that this would be difficult, that volcanoes are HaRD! No i thought because it´s a tourist attraction EVERYONE could do it , haha FALSE! Climbing Cerro Negro was the hardest thing i have ever don e by FAR. Just getting to the base of the friggen thing tired me out because we were walking on volcanic ash and sand. One step forward and two steps back. Climbing CN was a challenge from beginning to end, but 100 percent worth it. It was boiling hot coupled with a heavy day pack added more of a challenge, how ever once we made it to the top it felt like such an accomplishment and the view was incredible. The whole way up my body was screaming WHY WHY WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME! It was a continuous mind vs body challenge, but with the support of our tour guides i managed to drag my sorry butt up to the top. Making it to the top had me thinking the tough part was over , getting down was less physically demanding however it was TERRIFYING. Jake and Justin encouraged us to RUN DOWN. okay, run down the side of a volcano, are you kidding me? I was hoping maybe if i clicked my heals a little bit and wished really hard i would end up a the bottom. As I started walking down lots of loose rock would give away doing nothing for my comfort level so i thought i would be safer going down on my butt. (this isn´t an option for a reason) I went down on my butt for about half of the way and with a sore toush i thought I should walk the rest of the way. Well volcano rocks proved to be tougher than my pants and not only did I end up with a gigantic hole, I also left half by butt on Cerro Negro! - hello polysporn!

All ki dd ing aside this weekend was amazing . we got to experience a different region of nicaragua pampering ourselves a little and chall enging ourselves a lot. When we finally got back to Esteli sunday night i was plus 3 blisters, minus 1 pair of pants, red as a tomato and smelling like volcanic rock. - a beautiful terrifying exhausting weekend ? check!


You know it´s hot when your knee caps are sweating!

The time spent abroad so far has been anything but an easy road. There have been MANY unexpected bumps that have caught my off guard, but in the end of made me a stronger person. As Hans (a fellow traveler from Belgium) likes to remind me.. everything that happens is `good for me` well whether it´s good for me or not , it has tested me, exhausted me and left me with a bitter taste from time to time for the culture here in Nicaragua.

However, as May faded away an unexpected opportunity presented itself to me, leaving me in much better spirits! Marissa (my roommate) and Krista ( from Virginia) planned an ambitious 2 day trip to Leon, that i couldn't miss. Obviously I agreed to go before assessing the ungodly hour we were to begin our trip. (4 30 ) I wasn´t quite sure this hour actually existed, well let me tell you.. it does and it´s far from pleasant.

On previous entries i may have mentioned this state of the buses in Central America.. a vision of jammed pack sardines forgotten out of the sun often comes to mind, but this time the bus gods were finally on our side!At 5 30 in the bus terminal the three of us set out to find the correct bus headed for Leon. The bus staring back at me was no cramped school bus piled high with chickens and travelers- on no, it was coach. WITH AC. and plenty of room. At first i thought it was too many cervezas from the night before and perhaps lack of sleep but pinch me, it was real. Feeling rather spoiled our trip to Leon starting off with a bang.

Saturday- hello paradise. The Cathedrals in Leon are beautiful . They house the biggest cathedrals in central America and they live up to their reputations. Walking through them it was hard not to be overwhelmed by the years of worship and the stories kept deep within the walls. As we walked through there were many families within the churches, perhaps because it was mothers day or perhaps a regular occurrence. It was a pleasant surprise to see all these families coming together in such a beautiful atmosphere.

Once the sightseeing was checked off our list of to-do s, the heat was pretty much unbearable so we headed for the beach . Though we indulged ourselves for an afternoon of drinks by the beach, swimming and sunning I couldn't help feeling slightly hypocritical - we obviously stumbled on a small tourist hot spot as the beach bar and unlimited waves made it look and feel like an all inclusive resort when just around the corner of the mud road were unstable huts, mound s of garbage and little children. The afternoon hidden away from reality may have been indulgent , however after 4 weeks here it was incredibly necessary.Th e sand was hot, the waves refreshing and the juices incredibly tasty. The day was rejuvenating and picked up my spirits 100 percent!