Saturday, June 7, 2014

Sea Turtles and Tulululu Festival

Olive Ridley laying her nest
The month of May was a very busy and active one for me.  I took a few vacations out of site to try to take advantage of the fact that even though my service is swiftly coming to a close, I’m still here in Nicaragua and there are so many places and things to see and explore.  One of the activities I had yet to experience was all the sea turtle nesting activity that occurs all along the coastline here.  So I gathered up 3 friends and we all headed south towards the border of Costa Rica and spent 2 nights on a couple of beaches where a group called Paso Pacifico is monitoring the sea turtle nesting and hatching activity there.  They have turtle rangers that spend every night out monitoring the beaches for the arrival of nesting turtles and try to save their eggs from the turtle poachers.  It was the same location I went with my friend Tina back in early April to try and see the turtles, but at that time we went too early in the nesting season and didn’t see any turtles.  So I wanted to go back, and when we went in May we saw some turtles!  The trip down took over 12 hours, and we were really tired and cranky from all the buses, so the first night we arrived to spend the night with the turtle rangers we only stayed out until midnight.  And we saw an Olive Ridley turtle within the first hour we were on the beach!  It was surprising considering all the turtle poachers that were out on this beach.  It was ridiculous!  We literally saw about 8 turtles total that night, but 7 of them were taken by poachers, meaning they grabbed them out of the water, flipped them upside down over their heads, and walked them up the sand to a spot on the beach where the turtle would most likely lay her eggs once she was set down.  Then the poacher just sits and waits until she lays her eggs and collects them right out from underneath her.  They don’t hunt or kill the turtle, the poachers are just there for the eggs, which are a very traditional specialty food item. 
Finally got to see a nesting turtle!

We rescued 102 eggs! They got transported to a safe spot.  
So the turtle we saw was a surprise because we were all just sitting in the sand talking with the turtle ranger when one of us saw her making her way up the beach and called it to attention.  It was crazy that she hadn’t been spotted yet by a poacher!  I think we lucked out because she happened to leave the water and come out right where we were sitting, so the poachers probably kept their distance since they knew we were tagging along with the Paso Pacifico ranger.  So we all jumped up and ran over to her (I remembered from my previous trip that the turtle ranger said that when he spotted a turtle he’d run like mad to get to her first so the poachers wouldn’t claim her for their own).  After a few jumps and squeals of excitement that we got to her first, we watched and waited behind her until she made her way up to a higher part on the beach.  She started to dig in a really rocky spot where she wouldn’t have made a very good hole, so the turtle ranger started digging another hole down lower where the sand was softer, then he grabbed her by her hind flippers and gently dragged her down over the new hole, where she paused for a second, probably getting her bearings since she had been moved, and then continued digging as if nothing had happened.  So we got to see her dig her nest and lay her eggs!  It was really cool. 

Then the turtle ranger told us we wouldn’t be able to rescue the eggs since he technically wasn’t scheduled to work on that particular beach that night and therefore didn’t have the key to the turtle egg nursery where they transfer all the eggs to for safe hatching.  I wasn’t having that one bit!  We did not just travel 12 hours and spend half the night out on this beach to finally see a turtle lay her eggs and then let the poachers just take them from us!  So I made a stink about it and in the end (after trying to call the other turtle rangers and get them to bring the key, with no luck) we did end up digging up and transferring the eggs to the nursery, but he had to “break in” to the nursery to be able to re-bury them.  Hopefully since then they have made the nursery break-in-proof from poachers, considering it wasn’t that hard to do.  I was praying and hoping that none of the poachers nearby saw us and that the nest of eggs we saved hatches successfully.  If we hadn’t been at that beach that night, every single nest would have been poached!  So we were all very pleased to have been able to help out at least one nest out of 8. 

Baby Green sea turtles hatching out of the nest!
Besides seeing a turtle lay her nest and rescue the eggs, our other goal for that trip was to see babies hatching out of the nest and head to the ocean.  So the next night we hiked out to a different beach with 4 other turtle rangers that worked out there with the hopes of seeing a nest hatch.  There were multiple nests already laid there that were due to hatch, so we decided to go there.  The hike was short but kind of hard since it went up over this hill that led to the beach.  On the way up we were all panting and sweating and thinking how shitty we were going to feel hiking out the same way the next morning after having been up all night.  It was a full moon that night so the beach was really clear and beautiful all night long until about 4am, when we watched the moon set over the ocean.  It was so beautiful.  We only saw one turtle that night, but the group of poachers that was there got to her first and we never saw her lay her nest.  BUT, we did get to see one of the nests hatch!  Only about 7 little baby Green sea turtles came out of the nest that night, but it was really cool and really special.  Their little heads just kept poking out of the sand and then they booked it to the water.  Their little flippers are so strong and they fight really hard to get out of the sand and push their way to the ocean.  Needless to say we all got lots of baby turtle photos.  So all in all we got to see everything we came for, but we only saw one nesting mama and one nest hatch.  I was hoping to have seen much more activity, but I’ve still got over 2 months to hopefully make that happen.

Another oven workshop done!
Immediately after the sea turtle trip I traveled back to Jinotega to help give an improved ovens workshop to a group of volunteers and their Nicaraguan counterparts.  We spent a few days teaching about the importance of using less firewood to cook and reducing smoke inhalation, and then we spent a morning constructing an oven so they could learn how to build one.  Then two days later I was back in Managua to give another presentation about the HIVaids Task Force to the newest group of trainees (that has since sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers).  Then I had three days back in site before leaving again for a 2-week vacation! 
Giving an HIV charla to a new group of trainees

De-worming a pig with the vet team during the brigade
It started with 5 days in Jinotega interpreting for Trinity Medical Mission, who is a brigade based out of New Orleans that has been coming to Jinotega for the past 20 years.  They come every year and always go out each day to a different community and provide basic medical care for the communities, including dental work, OB-GYN, pediatrics, wound care, and basic adult and family care.  But this is the only brigade I’ve seen that comes with a veterinarian!  Dr. Troy from Mississippi comes with the brigade every year and offers rabies vaccines for cats and dogs as well as de-wormers, a flea and tick spray, and other vitamins or antibiotics as needed.  I worked with him last year when I first interpreted with this brigade, and I had a good time.  This year I worked with the vet team 4 out of the 5 days they were in country.  I must have been good help because they kept scheduling me with them each day, when normally us Peace Corps volunteers rotate around with various doctors to help interpret Spanish with the patients.  This year the vet team saw a few horses and some cattle in one community in particular, but mostly people bring their dogs and some cats to get their rabies shot.  What’s funniest is that the dogs hate getting sprayed with the flea spray more than getting poked with a needle or de-wormer shoved in their mouths.  They scream and squirm and fight the hardest when the sprayer gets turned on them.  It’s pretty funny.  I helped out more this year than last year in actually administering the rabies shots.  I feel pretty confident giving shots, but the animals here aren’t really pets most of the time and aren’t comfortable with some stranger approaching them, especially when they’re already tense at having a leash strapped to their neck and having been drug away from their home to some tent in the park with 20 other dogs yapping all around them.  So I only gave shots to the animals I felt were the least crazy.  It can get pretty tense and stressful for most of these animals.  Also surprising is seeing some people (mostly kids) walk up with their un-collared cat just hanging onto them for dear life.  Sometimes it’s all too much for these cats and they inevitably scramble away, but sometimes they’re pretty calm and take it all well.  We saw a ton of adorable puppies and kittens too, which of course is a perk.  Until you see how covered they are with fleas and then feel really sorry for them.  Hopefully their owners are actually using the free flea shampoo we were handing out!
De-worming a box of puppies in Jinotega

The "Palo de Mayo" during the Tulululu festival 
Immediately after the brigade I went to Managua to catch a night bus to Bluefields for the weekend.  It’s a 6 hour bus ride from Managua to El Rama, where you wait in line for a few hours and then get on a panga boat and ride the river another 2 hours to the city of Bluefields, which is on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua.   In all it’s about a 12 hour travel day (or night) to get to the coast, unless you fly, which costs way more.  I pretty much went on my own for this trip, but met up with other volunteers that were there celebrating Tulululu as well, which is the last festival in May celebrating Palo de Mayo, or May Pole, which is a HUGE Atlantic coast celebration each year.  It was really rainy and humid the whole time I was there, but the dancing in the streets was really fun and I had some really yummy seafood dishes.  I had planned to visit Pearl Lagoon while there, which is another popular spot along the east coast, but my bank card had expired the day before (they give no warning!) so I couldn’t get any more money out for the other leg of the trip.  So that morning I had to borrow money from another volunteer just to get back to Managua, where I went to the bank the next day and got my card all settled.   That was my 2nd time in Bluefields where I wanted to go visit Pearl Lagoon and didn’t due to some reason or another.  Yet another place I still need to visit in this country!

Immediately after coming back from Bluefields I was in Managua again, this time to give a presentation to the current health volunteers during their In-Serving Training workshop about building improved ovens and stoves.  So I got to spend another night in a nice hotel in a beautiful setting, where there were howler monkeys and lots of pretty birds to look at.  Then it was back to Wale, where I am now, after spending over 2 weeks out of site last month on vacation.  It was fun, but I need to get focused on finishing the activities I’m working on in site, such as my girls’ club and finishing making the stoves.  Not to mention I have a ton of books I still haven’t read and study materials for the GRE I need to crack open at some point.  I’m still planning on applying for grad school next year, and I’m currently in the process of applying for some jobs for when I come home in September.  I have yet to choose my actual fly-home date from Nicaragua, but it’ll be sometime during the last week in August, unless some amazing job happens to pop up in the meantime.  But the way things look now that’s not likely, so I’m expecting to leave late August and start working again in the States in September.  
Me and Jureymi after she performed a folklorico dance in school

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Earthquakes and Semana Santa

Nicaragua’s been quite shaken up this past week.  Thursday, April 10th, was the day of the largest quake I've felt since living here.  It was a 6.2 based near Managua and did a lot of damage to nearby community houses and buildings.  It was around 5:30 pm and I was in site, in my room, making a quesadilla at the stove when I felt it.  About 3 seconds before I felt the tremor, the electricity went out, which I thought somewhat normal considering that happens occasionally here, but then I felt the ground start to sway smoothly back and forth, and thought, uh oh, if I can feel it that strongly way up here in the north, then it must have been a pretty large one down near Managua.  Almost every earthquake in this country is epicentered in or very near to Managua, where most of the fault lines are located (also conveniently located near a string of various volcanoes).  After the tremor the lights came back on and everything was normal again.  There were many smaller aftershocks that day and in to the next, but they were small enough that I didn’t feel them in my site.  We’ve of course been receiving lots of texts from the Safety and Security staff at the PC office, letting us know the details of the quakes and that Managua was on red alert for more quakes during the whole week due to ongoing tremors.  Seismologists came to Managua from various other countries, and have stated that the microseisms are mostly located around the Momotombo and Apoyeque volcanoes that surround Lake Managua, and that small tremors will continue as the tension is being released progressively and not drastically, which potentially reduces the risk of a really big earthquake (hopefully!).  So things have been a little exciting here in that sense, but luckily nothing serious enough to affect service. 

Tamales pisques, the plain kind with no bean filling

Filling and rolling tamales pisques for Semana Santa
This past week the whole country has been in celebration of Semana Santa, or Holy Week, the religious week that proceeds Easter Sunday.  It all starts on Holy Monday, when people start to prepare to make their traditional Holy Week foods.  Holy Wednesday seems to be the big day to make tamales pisques and bake lots of bread.  The tamales pisques are probably my favorite style of tamal here in Nicaragua.  They’re only made during this week of the whole year.  The corn masa is different than the masas of the Nacatamal and the sweet tamales, because they add wood ash to the masa, which gives it a browner, greyer color and different flavor.  They make two types, one that’s just solid masa, which really doesn’t have much flavor and is mostly used as a substitute for the tortillas or the boiled bananas of any meal, and the other (my favorite) that has delicious refried beans rolled into the masa.  Both types are folded into green leaves and boiled in a huge pot over an open flame for 2 hours, then enjoyed with cuajada, the campo cheese I love, or some crema on the side.  The refried bean ones are so good!  It’s all about the flavor of the beans, which usually have garlic, green bell pepper, and chilies.  I don’t care much for the plain ones. 
A cooked and ready-to-eat tamal pisque with refried bean filling. YUM!!!

Me and Nayelis making bread for Semana Santa
The baking of bread is also a huge Semana Santa activity for all the women here.  Luckily for 20 of them in my site, they all have improved ovens to bake with, and I’m sure they all used them this past week to get their bread made.  I baked with Gloria at home one day, and I also went to Filomena’s house to help them roll tamales pisques and to see what kinds of bread she was baking.  Gloria made plain white bread and attempted to make a pineapple cake that was a sugary explosion disaster in the oven.  She was really angry
when it didn’t turn out and was pissed off the rest of the day (losing a cake or bread recipe is a big blow sometimes since the ingredients cost a lot of money, and that cake was meant for her husband Santos belated birthday who’s here for the week on vacation from his job that’s really far away).  So to avoid Gloria’s sour attitude, I went to Filomena’s to watch them make their bread the rest of the afternoon.  There are usually two types of white flour breads they make, one that’s just a plain simple masa, and the other is sweetened with sugar.  They mold them into various shapes, from a simple long log of bread, like the looks of French bread, and then there are circle shapes like donuts and braided bread and solid blobs of bread like scones.  But they mostly all have the same flavor, which when they’re cooled has a really hard, crunchy consistency and is mostly really sweet with all the sugar in the dough, plus the extra coating of sugar they stick to the top before they put it in the oven.  Plus, they love to add pineapple jelly to the middle of a lot of breads, but they always color the pineapple bright pink with this cheap raspberry food coloring, which is weird to me.  Why not leave it yellow if it’s a pineapple flavor?  It’s not my favorite flavor of bread, to be
Pineapple jelly-filled picos, a popular Nica bread item 
honest.  Nicaraguans love really toasted, crunchy breads, and rarely eat anything soft and spongy like we Americans usually like when it comes to our breads.  So when I made a loaf of rosemary Focaccia bread and brought that over to share with them, they didn’t seem to love it like I do.  First of all, they thought the rosemary was ginger, and scrunched their noses at because the strong flavor surprised them.  I explained that it was rosemary (an herb they rarely or never use in cooking, yet are familiar with its name), and that I used olive oil instead of margarine, which also gives the bread a (wonderfully) unique flavor.  They never use olive oil either, since it’s so expensive, plus I just don’t think they really have a taste for it.  Nicas love their margarine and lard when it comes to baking.  So needless to say my focaccia bread took some getting used to.  Filomena had tasted it before in the past, and she said she liked it, but I saw some chunks of it put into the oven with her other breads to get toasted to crunchy state, so even if she says she likes the flavor, I don’t think she likes the softness of it.  That just seems totally crazy to me how they only eat hard, crunchy, dry bread here.  One of my favorite things is a hot loaf of soft steamy bread right out of the oven, and Gloria and the others I’ve baked with always wait to eat it until it’s cooled and crunchy.  I just don’t see how that could be good all the time!  It just shows how much your culture raises you and molds your taste buds and flavor choices. 

This coming week is the AG and Business 59er’s Close of Service (COS) conference, where staff presents information about preparing resumes, interview and job search skills, health insurance options offered while in the States, closing our service here in country, and other topics regarding returning to the States after our service.  It turns out that us 3rd years aren’t permitted to attend, since we technically already received this session last year with our own group.  I’m pretty upset about it considering part of the purpose of attending your COS conference is to prepare yourself for the end of your Peace Corps service in country and the return to the U.S.  Well, the budget won’t allow all of us 3rd years (there’s only 6 of us) to attend the conference this year, even though this is the year we’re actually leaving.  I’ve talked to a few staff members about this and there’s really no way around it, but they are offering to set up another smaller meeting with the 3rd years to go over anything we’d like to discuss before finishing our service in August.  So at least we get some time with the office staff to prepare ourselves for the return to the U.S.  I’m already in the process of looking for job opportunities for when I come home, mostly at this point just trying to figure out which organizations offer the types of jobs I’m interested in.  So far I’ve found interesting positions with the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, and the Student Conservation Association, that all offer part time and full time positions working in wildlife biology and conservation fields.  The problem right now is that all currently offered positions are for the summer season, and I won’t be ready to work until probably September or October.  So the wait is hard for me right now since there’s some pretty cool sounding jobs available right now that I can’t apply for.  Another option that’s been in the back of my head is applying for grad school and getting a Master’s in Wildlife Management and Conservation.  There’s a fellowship program offered for RPVC’s (returned PC volunteers) that offers full tuition coverage for certain schools, which is something I’d definitely consider.  However, that would require taking the GRE, which I wouldn’t look forward to.  But if I get serious enough about getting a higher education in order to gain more experience and education and to obtain a better paying job in the field I’m interested in, then taking the test would have to be another hurdle to deal with.  

Happy Easter everyone!