Friday, August 1, 2014

My Final Months in Peace Corps Nicaragua!

I recently celebrated my 4th and last birthday in Nicaragua.  I arrived in this country at 27 years old and am now leaving at 31 (which makes it sound like I’ve been here 4 years, but it was only 3 since my b-day falls in the middle of the year).  Three whole years, 39 months total.  Three months of Pre-Service Training in Diriamba, Carazo, where I officially learned Spanish as well as a whole ton of other things, and then 36 full months of pure rural Nicaragua living in Wale, Pantasma, Jinotega.  Although, I did take a little break there after two years and went home to California for a month, then spent two more weeks in Peru, which was amazing!  Nicaragua has been a great experience and it’ll be with me forever, but at this point it’s time for me to start something new and continue on with my career development.  I’m ready to go home.

This is what I’ve been up to the past few months:

In June I stared a walking routing each morning so I could get out more in my community and get some exercise.  After a recent doctor’s visit I realized how much weight I’ve gained (a whopping 20 lbs!) since moving to Nicaragua and decided it was time to try and reverse that.  The diet here, although it’s delicious (or because it’s delicious!), has given me quite the “pansa”, or tummy, and I’m more than ready to get rid of that!  I’ve only lost about 3 lbs so far, but little by little I’ll chip away at it.  I’m hoping my diet will improve once I’m back stateside. 
By birthday pizza with Gloria and Jureymi
July was a very active month.  Not only was it my 31st birthday, but I also attended and helped facilitate a workshop for people living with HIV with some other volunteers from the Health sector.  It was a great experience and I appreciated talking to the Nicaraguans who attended and hearing their stories.  I’ve also made three more improved ovens and 2 more improved stoves.  I think I still have one more stove to make in Wale, then that’ll be it for me! In total throughout my service I’ve made about 36 ovens and about 12 stoves.  Hopefully they continue to help people use less firewood to cook and reduce the unhealthy smoke inhalation of the whole family.

A new side-by-side improved oven and stove for Filomena!

I also spent 3 days in Managua doing my final COS (close of service) med check-up, where they do a physical, send me to the dentist, and do any final follow-ups needed.  That’s when I realized how much my weight has changed from living here (I asked my doctor to check what my weight was when I was applying for PC back in August of 2010, and again when I first arrived in country).  Other than the weight gain and this annoying persistent cough that’s seemed to have been aggravated while living here, I’m A-Okay!  But I’m sure some kind of parasite will follow me home and rear its ugly head at some inconvenient future date.
So besides the ovens/stoves building and the HIV+ workshop, the only other work I’ve been doing is the Saturday girls’ club meetings.  I’m trying to do an activity with them every week now, since my time is dwindling down so quickly.  Recent charlas have been dental care and finding role models, and recent fun activities started with a day of “Uno”, and have since continued each week with more “Uno”.  They LOVE this card game!  I’m bummed I didn’t think to play it with them earlier on, ‘cause they went crazy for it!  I taught them what “Skip”, “Reverse”, “Draw Two”, “Draw Four”, and “Wild” meant in Spanish, and they got it memorized within the first game.  Now they’re pros.  I’m definitely going to leave the cards with Nayelis so they’ll remember who taught them that awesome game.

Profe Josefa and students looking at the photos from Lompoc
I also did the very last pen pal activity with the now 5th graders in the primary school.  This time instead of having them write individual letters back to their pen pal buddies in Lompoc, I had them write a phrase on a poster paper, stating something new they’ve learned about the American students in California.  Some of the phrases included, “I learned that their school year begins in August and ends in June”, and “I learned that they have a computer lab and a library”.  I showed them the photo book that my aunt sent with pictures of the students using the computer lab and visiting the library and getting a book read to them by their full-time librarian, and I think the students were surprised that American schools have these things.  Their school here doesn’t even have books they can read, only the textbooks they have to share between 4 or 5 students during class time only.  They can’t take anything home with them because there’s nothing available to take home.  What’s considered a low-resource school in the U.S. is miles ahead of most Nicaraguan schools, if you compare the available resources, length of the class day, the quality of the education, and the expertise and dedication of the teachers. 
Wale students writing to the Fillmore Elementary students in Lompoc

So these last 3 weeks in site I’ll be starting to sell/give away my things and pack for my trip back home to California!  I’m selling most of my furniture to Gloria so that Nayelis can have a desk in her room to work on and a wardrobe to hang her clothes.  I told Gloria I’d give her all my kitchen stuff if they’d cut me a deal on the last month’s rent, and she agreed and told me I didn’t have to pay at all, so that’s good for her and for me.  She gets a kitchen full of gently used dishes and pans and knick-knacks and I save some money.  Most of my clothes, save for a few items, I’m planning on giving away to the teachers during the despedida (going-away party) they’re going to throw for me.  I’ve also been slowly but surely printing out lots of photos of me with all the different families and will be gifting those out to them when I see them for the last time.  I figure they’re the only photos they’ll ever have of my time here, since no one here has their own camera, so why not print out all the good ones and give them out?  I made a 2015 calendar of photos for Gloria that’s on its way in the mail at the moment, and I can’t wait to give that to her.  She’s gonna love it! 

Now all I have left to do in site is one more stove and the remaining few girls’ club activities, plus a few despedidas here and there as they come.  Goodbyes are so uncomfortable, and I’m hoping this one goes by smoothly and without too much awkwardness.  I’ve already had a lot of goodbyes with the previous volunteer group leaving country the last week in July, so my mind’s set on that mode, but it’s not good to be there for too long.  I’m really looking forward to coming home and getting settled back in with my kitties and my friends and family.  The next big step will be finding a job (hopefully in California) and starting a new career!      

See everyone soon!


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