Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Communication is Key

I think the most frustrating thing here is the lack of communication. Sure it makes you go with the flow at a moments notice but would it really be that difficult to just get a little heads up once in a while? That´s not how they do things here, although I think it would be refreshing.

I don´t know if it´s the culture, or my lack of Spanish but no one at work likes to tell me anything about anything in advance, regardless of the activity or the time commitment it requires. I´m thinking that most of these celebrations are not planned at a moments notice or anything- just a little hunch I have. If this is culturally how they approach events than I suppose it´s another thing I need to embrace and get used to, but if it´s because I am unable to speak Spanish fluently than I think that is very frustrating! I find it many situations there is no tolerance for people who cannot speak Spanish and when your trying to learn this is very intimidating!

Taking communication for granted has been a huge realization for me in the last three months. You don´t realize how comforting a conversation can be until the lines of communication are cut and you now rely on facial expressions and awkward silences. Randomly striking up a conversation with a stranger can be a great experience allowing you to learn about different people, their background, situations, beliefs etc. Yet here that ability has basically disappeared. I can communicate the minimum with most people and a Little more with those who are patient, but the rest- forget it. The personal connection is lost and that makes me both sad and frustrated. I love learning new things through people, and through the way they live their lives. Here people of all places live a little differently than I do which would allow for very interesting conversation and lessons but I can´t because i am shy and it is a difficult process through broken Spanish. I am disappointed that I was never able to really communicate with the people hear and after a while I had to rely on my fellow BBer´s for communication because otherwise I would have none and be very lonely. The next time I go on any time of trip I hope to learn more basics of the language before coming because I think I underestimated how difficult it would be. Is it bad than one of the things I´m missing most is the ability to strike up conversation anywhere with anyone at anytime?

First Impressions

This is officially my last week of work at Los Pipitos and it´s got me thinking back to they first impressions I had when I first stepped foot into dear old Esteli and what kinds of thoughts I will walk away with once I pack up and head home. Not to anyone´s surprise I´m sure, all my previous expectations FAILED miserably, yet thankfully most of the feelings I had in May have mostly changed for the better into a much calmer version.

For example, after one week of living in a dodgy neighbourhood I pretty much ´hated´ Esteli. Now I never wanted to come out and say HATE but i´m pretty sure there was some serious emotion I was dealing with. I couldn't take the heat, the men, the lack of organization, the language barrier and the fact that I left cheddar cheese behind. After many many conversations with a lot of helpful and caring people the really bad soon got sorted out and the rest, well it kind of faded into the dust. I mean really, I guess even I can do with a little less cheddar in my diet.

It´s refreshing because I will be leaving Esteli on Monday and free from hate. I still have frustration and confusion, it´s still foreign and I still don´t like everything here but I think you could say that about anything that isn´t ´home.´ Heck, you can even probably say it about home. The heat I have finally gotten used to, the cheese is missed only vaguely (shocking I know) and the language barrier has started to come down a little. The lack of organization would take much longer than three months to get used to and the men- well I don´t think no matter how long I love here I will get used to them, but now at least I can tolerate it. It feels strange to look back and try to feel the way I once did. I think a lot of the mix of emotions had to do with pure confusion. Now that I know the people a little better and the town itself it makes me fear less and enjoy my time more. I wish I would have known beforehand that ´things will get better´ because at times I was seriously doubting this advice.

The mix of emotions have all lessened and now I´m left feeling bittersweet. Part of me is ready to close this chapter and head back home to where my family is waiting and another part wishes I could stay and live it a little longer. It´s been such a long and difficult road to finding ´normal´ here that now I just want to sit back and enjoy it a little. The impressions I had when I had been here for a week were mostly built off of fear and ignorance, however I can now say I feel comfortable here, and maybe even like it. I´m glad that my feelings towards this city has changed even if it took so long to do so. Better late than never.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


As last week came to an end so did some feelings of unease and anxiety. Rather than working a regular week at Los Pipitos classes were canceled as the week was dedicated to home visits for all staff members. When my boss Isabel first told me about these home visits I had no idea what to expect and to be honest I was a little leery of being brought into the ´real´ lives of the children. Before the visits my presence only lingered between the hours of 8 and 3 in a safe and happy environment. This time frame ensured food, water and an abundance of love, but after 3 nothing is for sure and a lot is left up in the air. Once they leave Los Pipitos sadly the real world beckons and it isn´t a very good environment for anyone let along a ten or eleven year old.

If I had a choice about going to the home visits I would have probably refused. Not rudely I assure you, but I think a polite mumble of miscommunication that would free me from my volunteer obligations would be on the menu. My fear of these visits was real, the truth isn´t always pretty and I knew going along with bring me a little bit more out of my comfort zone, and needless to say it did.

Our first visit was with Heydin and her mother. Heydin is a young teenager and has been going to Los Pipitos for many years. She belongs to a single parent family where it literally is just her and her mother. As I first walked into their home I was greeted by both Heydin and her mom, her mom smiling and heydin hugging me. They found two plastic chairs for Isabel and I and the interview begins. Heydin´s home is literally unimaginable. It is a two room cement building with literally nothing in it. They have one light bulb and share the space with a few chickens. After the visit Isabel translates that Heydin´s mom washes other peoples clothes for a living and obviously has very little money. Sometimes they have money for food, and other times they don´t. Isabel assures me that it´s no SO bad, at least there no violence.

No violence? Since when is this the only standard? Walking out of Heydin´s home all I could think of were my shoes. Yes you read right my shoes. I´m walking around Nicaragua in a house where people cannot eat regularly in a pair of $90 berks. They can´t even get a decent meal, and I´m wearing a hundred dollar shoes.. yes grandma they were 100.

Heydin´s visit was the first to break through my comfort zone and there were many after her, 13 in all and they were each tough in their own way. In many visits the first thing I would think of was ´who do i think i am´ I felt very uncomfortable sitting in on the interview while they discussed their personal hardships. I thought that because these were such private matters that they all deserved their privacy, but that´s not how they do it here in Nicaragua.

Last week was a great learning opportunity for me ever though it was tough and uncomfortable. Most learning opportunities like that pull you out of your comfort zone and show you what your made of, and this one did not let me down. This week gave me the ability to see a little more of the whole picture. It showed me once again how important Los Pipitos is to them, even though I was second guessing it in the beginning, and what kind of lives they deal with on a day to day basis. These kids, youth and adults are stronger than they will ever know and for that I am still reflecting on the events of last week. I have never really seen such living conditions, these are homes you see on a world vision commercial, I have also never personally known the people living in them, that in itself is a serious reality check. It makes me want to sprinkle fairy dust all over their heads and free them from what tortures them, be it disability, violence, poverty, everything. For children and youth that experience such difficulty they have amazing spirits. I want to keep their optimism with me and think of it in good times as well as hard times because if they can continue to smile so can you and I.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

feeling bittersweet.

I began my journey here writing in my journal every night without fail and blogging at least once or twice a week. It was a time of reflection, solitude and the only way I could sort out all the crap
that was going on. However, Now, days and days can pass before I even think about writing anything down.

I like to write about the new, the unexpected, the challenging and the frustrating. All of the things I was first worried about all seem so minimal now, it´s crazy how things change so quickly. Since the beginning of the month I have finally felt a sense of calm, a sense that has been long over due. I have a routine, some form of a family, I can walk down the streets and recognize people, I can ride the bus and NOT get lost- it´s a great feeling when your living it comfortably especially after all the bumps in the road in order to get to this place. It´s a very bittersweet moment here in Nicaragua because part of me loves it here finally, and the other half wants to jump on the next plan just so I can see my family.- i guess i like them a bit. All is well here in Nicaragua and it´s crazy to think that in a few short weeks I will be back readjusting to life in Canada. Life is as interesting and crazy as ever.

Friday, July 17, 2009

another week gone

Like most of the weeks here, this one too has flown right by faster than I can even recount. The end of this week brings our countdown to less than one month,the 30th anniversary of the revolution another reality check and of course three more goodbyes! Because the week has been so busy with new things happening here is a quick and choppy description of the week!

Last weekend I had a little taste of home between the many Tonas (local beer) and nachos I heard a very familiar sound, yet very unfamiliar for Esteli.. Can you guess?

¨She thinks my tractors sexy, it really turns her on.¨ Yah I know, country music playing in Esteli, Nicaragua.. it was crazy.. and I think very unappreciated by MANY of the customers. A little piece of home was very nice to have on that Friday night.. although some how i don´t believe it will ever happen again since I was about the ONLY person in the whole place happy with the change of music, but hey we can´t have everything.

After the delight I found in a little country music I also had another piece of home basically delivered to my doorstep. With the two familiar faces traveling all the way from Canada for a week visit was all it took for me to realize how much I really do miss home. 2 BB alumni, Brittany and Becca came to Esteli for a week allowing Becca to check in with all the friends she had made last year and introduce Brittany to the Nicaraguan culture. Just having them pop into my life here had me blubbering like a little baby with diaper rash- it was redic. God only knows how I will react when my own two feet touch Canadian soil, but I´m thinking it will be a good idea for the parents to back some Kleenex.. just in case. I´m hoping to remain my calm cool and collected self but seeing how that self never really got on the airplane with me, all is up in the air.

This week was FULL of festivities in Esteli, and really all over Nicaragua because it was the 30th anniversary of the revolution. We had short work weeks and long week ends to celebrate in true Nicaraguan style. It is really something special to be present in such a huge celebration in a different culture. Though I didn´t exactly understand everything I was very happy to be able to attend the celebrations, take pictures, buy shirts and go out with the locals after. Even though the language barrier proved understanding to be a bit difficult it is great just to be fully present with the people and watch their reactions, you can see how important this event is just through their faces regardless of the language. Esteli has a separate celebration than the rest of Nicaragua. The capital, Managua has a huge celebration today which I thought about doing but with the buses, taxis and masses of people I think I am content with the celebrations here on Thursday avoid the headaches Managua often gives me.

It´s hard to believe my work placement only has 2 full weeks left, and with this new project I am working on I really only have one week left of working with the children. This next week will be structured differently because I am doing home visits with my boss. These visits are to check in on the parents, the conditions of their homes, possible violence and the availability of food in the home. I can´t really say much to the parents but I can listen and use my eyes to evaluate it and my boss, Isabel does the interview. I think that this week will be a difficult one in regards to their living conditions because many struggle and live below the poverty line. It will be difficult but it is necessary for me to leave having an accurate depiction of the children and their lives in Nicaragua.

Friday I had another great opportunity to work with another group of students. Los Pipitos was closed from Thursday - Tuesday where as everyone else had to to work on Friday, so instead of just hanging out at my house and sleeping in to a ridicules hour I went to the University with Megan and Malinda ( 2 other BBers) and worked with them for the morning. They are helping a group of British students teach a three week English program to students in Esteli. This was a great opportunity because I was able to meet another group of people that I would have otherwise missed. They were all so friendly and eager to learn that it was a great morning. Mind you, I didn´t really do too much I was still able to help a few students and watch Megan and Malinda in action, and it was very much worth it, plus there is always the siesta after lunch.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


WoW! I have not been able to stop, drop and collect my thoughts for about two weeks now. It´s crazy how time flies when you are BUSY and ENJOYING your day to day life. Things in Esteli are still difficult but they are finally getting better and I am happy- with all the previous bumps in the road, this in itself feels like an accomplishment.

This week all the children attending school received a week of holidays, and as Los Pipitos tries to resemble any other school in Esteli, they two had the holiday meaning some serious travel time for me! As I think about it now I should have known that this little vacation wouldn´t necessarily revolve around the beach and multiple cervezas because apparently my ´vacation´is a little different that what my travel buddies call a vakay, and so the adventure begins. This week the crew consisted of Sara, a BB alumni, Austin a new arrival from Canada, Siobhan, Marissa and yours truly. To tell you this trip was nothing but a laugh from beginning to end would be nothing short of the complete trip.

Our adventure to Granada and Ometepe started with us missing the express bus to Managua on Sunday resulting in an EXTRA long bus ride to the capital. Thank god for gravol. After a hot cramped three hour bus ride to Managua we had a second bus waiting for us which would take us to Granada, and that bus too was HOT, CRAMPED and had a very interesting group of passengers. One family had their pet bird out for a walk, while one disoriented man boarded bleeding from various places on his face. There were tourists, people protecting birthday cakes, four to a seat and my favourite -periodically men and women would board the bus with the soul intention of selling goods, and a variety of goods they were. Anything from ´cold´ water to watches to mystery meat dishes- just in case you got the urge to munch.

Granada- six hours, 2 buses and 1 taxi later proved to be worth it. Cathedrals, restaurants and shops all over the town were painted bright colors. We had a romantic carriage ride, all five of us that is and we received a great history lesson and the crazy William walker and all to do with Granada.I spent a fair chunk of change in Central Park because all the local artists were out displaying their works, and really who am I to say know to beautiful jewellery..
While in Granada fate jumped in and handed us two more travel buddies. Juan and Justin, both Canadians and oddly enough friends with BB alum Sara. We ate dinner at the Bearded Monkey which has a reputation for delicious burritos. They may not be tacos at Ethel's but they were nothing short of heaven.

The next morning like ALL mornings on our ´vacation´ began before I thought it was humanly possible. The trek to Ometepe was one requiring an over dosage of gravol, 2 buses, a taxi, one ´ferry´ and a whole lot of Nicaraguan booty in the face- My favourite. Ometepe is a beautiful Island surrounded by two very intimidating volcanoes, fresh water sharks and it´s fair share of beautiful beaches. The sun here is Nicaragua proved to be a strong little buggers and burnt my butt to crisp in a matter of minutes even WITH the SPF. You´d think my butt has gone through enough with the whole adjusting to the country and with Cerro Negro taking a chunk out of it but oh NO, the fight is apparently not over yet.

After spending a morning at a beautiful beach on the island we took another series of buses that eventually took us to Media, out final destination. Along the way we met many more travelers and we all stayed at the Hostel Hacienda. This hostel was beautiful! They had great views of both volcanoes, close Monkey Island (yes, where there are monkeys) and with the buy now pay later frame of mind that makes you think your at an all inclusive resort when really.. your not. Goodness gracious the visa came in handy. Multiple hammocks, great swimming, kayaking to monkey island, enchiladas, tonas, Internet and Sun- now this is the vacation I pictured! My travel companions who do not know what RELAXATION is and who rest little had the fantastic idea to climb of the two HUGE volcanoes on the island. After the terror of Cerro Negro I made a deal between my head and my body that I would NEVER do that to myself again ever ever ever again, so i climbed a waterfall instead and the view was spectacular and I didn´t have to die to get it, thank goodness!

The trip to Granada and Ometepe was a fabulous break! We met fantastic people, ate delicious food and saw some beautiful sights but I am happy to be back home in Esteli. It´s crazy to think I only have three weeks left here and the one week to travel and then ladies and gents I will be home!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

White Rabbits

Last night I received some much needed advice from one of my new house mates. Her words of wisdom? White Rabbits. In England the first of the month means one thing.. a chance for good luck, and boy was I in need of some! This morning I followed her orders and the FIRST thing I thought of and said to Marissa in the grogginess that follows the alarm was WHITE RABBITS.

This was the best advice I have EVER been given, because today.. well Karma was finally on my side. I´m not exactly what I have done to have the gods back in my corner, but I will take and ask questions later, much later. This morning at Los Pipitos began as a slightly grey morning. Since there has been a crazy break out of influenza a lot of kids have to stay at home, diminishing numbers, while others were sad, my boss was MIA and this little boy Hugo who breaks my heart everyday because he´s SO sweet suddenly HAD NO TEETH! I was looking around the circle thinking oh boy, today .. well it´s going to be a long one .. get ready..and try to save the tears for later...

After the morning circle is when things got REAL interesting. I had no idea where to really begin because I had no one there working with me. Since my boss was ill the others just kind of threw me to the sharks. I mean come on.. lets see how well the gringo will do? Seriously.. at first I was a blank faced mumbler but soon I was telling everyone about Canada and had them painting and coloring right away. I´ve never seen them so excited and actually happy to work. We made a collage of the sky with silver Bristol Bord and danced the afternoon away. I was using more Spanish that I have ever used before and people were actually understanding me! It was great! Later in the afternoon Edwin, a boy who has recently lost his mother gave me the most gigantic hug i have ever received.. after this the day couldn´t get any better. It was so special because usually Edwin is off on his own wanting to be ignored and never ever touched. I also helped administration with a few e-mails to English speaking visitors and was basically on cloud nine when the bus pulled away. This was the day I have been waiting for, this is why I came and this is why I have NO regrets. Through all the road blocks .. and man there were road blocks they don´t seem nearly as bad after dancing away the afternoon with some very special children.

Now here's where things get a little freaky deaky.. I jumped on the bus (yes the RIGHT bus) and right in front of me was a man wearing a baseball hat that said KAPPA.. Now it was probably completely unrelated but it got me thinking of my dear sisters of Kappa Kappa Gamma. I thought they have been SO supportive through all the tears and frustrations I have had thus far that they really deserve to hear about today. I was thinking I would just stop by home for a minute and then send a MASS email to all of them.. however I walked into my bedroom and there was a package awaiting my arrival. This mystery package was FULL of letters, pictures and other trinkets from those lovely ladies.. freaky eh?

I want to thank everyone who has been reading all the negative blogs, e-mails and phone calls because it is all turning around. This is the step I need and I am excited to go back tomorrow and give it another shot! .. and ladies.. in short you rock my socks!