Saturday, February 2, 2013

Christmas vacay and the Nicaragua National Zoo

Happy belated New Year everyone.  The first month of 2013 is over already, and it's crazy to think I've been in country now for a year and 9 months.  Spending Christmas at home in Santa Barbara was great.  It was my first trip back to the States since I left for Nicaragua in May 2011.  I spent time with my aunt at her elementary school in Lompoc and did a photo slide show presentation of my service for many of the classrooms there.  Her school did a penny drive to raise money to donate to the primary school in my site for some much needed materials.  So I think the kids and teachers there were very interested to see where their donated money was going to and what my community looks like.  I also got to see my two cats (who are living with my aunt) and snuggle with them again.  They remembered me and that's all I really hoped from them.  Overall my visit home consisted of a ton of amazing food (Brie! Chocolate! Nuts! Appetizers! Pizza! Sushi!).  Every meal was absolutely delicious and I was basically totally spoiled and taken out to dinner multiple times.  Not to mention trips to the drug store and Trader Joe's to pick out goodies bring back.  And washers and dryers!?  Oh my God, have I been missing those miracle machines!  You just throw your clothes in and they wash and dry themselves?!  And in less than 2 hours no less!  Magic I tell you.  And water faucets and shower heads that pour water on your hands and body using no hands.  And toilets that flush, without the need to pour a bucket of water down the hole.  And putting toilet paper inside the toilet bowl?  Unheard of.  My sister didn't hesitate to remind me that in America we don't put our toilet paper in the waste basket next to the toilet.  Americans are so spoiled.  I miss being that spoiled. 

However, as great as it was visiting the States, my time here in Nicaragua will continue even longer than originally planned because I've been accepted by Peace Corps to extend my service for a 3rd year!  That's right, so instead of closing my service this July to complete the normal 2 years of service, I'll be staying and continuing my work in my same site until July of 2014.  I'm just one of two volunteers from my agriculture sector group that was accepted to extend.  I feel very lucky that I was chosen to stay.  It gives me assurance that the work that I've done so far in my community has been valuable, and that Peace Corps believes I can continue doing good work in the future.  It also puts a fire under my ass to get some bigger projects going that may take longer to get going than the original 6 months I had left of my service.  Because really, at this point, I'm only half way through my 3 years of service.

My goals for my third year are to start some animal husbandry projects with local families that have chickens and pigs in the house (which is basically everyone) and perhaps some families that have goats and sheep (which are very few) and help them improve their basic animal care techniques, like having a solid vaccination schedule and improving the diet of their animals.  Animal care is pretty much my entire background, and yet I haven't done any projects relating to animals in my service so far.  I'm starting to read a lot of animal care manuals I've found here that are in Spanish (it helps to know the Spanish terminology of animal husbandry vocabulary) and have been talking here and there with some local families I'm close with to get a better idea of their interest in working with me.  I think at first I'll start with some basic vaccination activities and then go from there.  Ideally I can help start a small household egg-laying business with some families, or improve the nutrition and weight of pigs sold for butchering. 

Lots of piglets in my site!

The other project I'm currently working on is starting some women's baking groups.  I have people asking me all the time to teach them how to make a chocolate cake or to show them how to use their ovens, so I figure I could start doing monthly classes with different groups of neighbors and each class teach a new cake or cookie or bread recipe, and maybe some will become interested in selling the baked goods to make money.  I'm also currently building the ovens of the second ovens project I started last year.  I'm still missing bricks for half of them and hope to find a place to buy them in the next few weeks, but at least at this point I’ve finished 4 of them.  Six more to go! 

Three days after arriving back from my trip to the States my friend Jodi came to Nicaragua to visit me for a week.  We visited Selva Negra, a cloud forest in the department of Matagalpa where I also went with my family back in June, and we hiked around the mountain in the rain.  It's a really beautiful place and I would go there anytime.  She spent two nights in my site and got to see the house and community where I live, then we spend the last part of the week visiting Granada, the oldest city in all of Latin America.  We visited the Nicaragua National Zoo, where I hadn't visited yet, and did some shopping in the markets of Masaya, known for their artisan crafts.  The zoo was actually nicer than I thought it would be, although most of their big cat and monkey cages were inadequate.  I couldn't believe how many big cats they have! We counted, they have 30 big cats at that zoo, including jaguars, lions, tigers, pumas, ocelots, and margays.  There were too many cats per exhibit, and the exhibits were small and practically pure cement and bars.  There was one chimpanzee that was all by himself locked off his exhibit into a small holding cage, where he apparently was told to live by the vet because he was mentally ill and aggressive.  Another baboon lived on his own as well, in a small cement barred exhibit with nothing to do.  The smaller monkeys, including white-faced Capuchins and spider monkeys, had relatively more space, but still little to no enrichment or even plants and greenery provided for them.  The good things about the zoo were the variety of animals presented and the amount of local species available for education and conservation projects.  I'd love to plan a field trip to the zoo to show the people and kids in my site the variety of animals they have in Central America, including the chance to see other animals from all over the world, like the tigers and lions (they call their local cats “tigres” and  “leones”, not understanding that lions only come from Africa).  

Visiting neighbors in my site

Me and Jodi at the Nicaragua zoo with a couger

Check out my photo page for more pics:


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