Los Pipitos

We stopped by their center in Rivas and I was really amazed with their project for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I put this up for those of you who are interested in this kind of service!


Week 2: Finally, I can breathe


Day 8

Rivas, Nicaragua

May 25, 2012

The things you think you’ll miss, but you really don’t

On Friday, I made my way to Rivas to get my internet fixed.  In Managua, they hadn’t activated the modem properly so I was forced to travel about two hours to the nearest city to have Claro check it out.

The bus station is more or less in the center of the city. It’s definitely a bustling city. There’s like an open-air bazaar.  If you walk straight down the main road from the bus station you enter a fruit and vegetable market. Again the déjà vu set in and all I could think was that I was at Serojini in Delhi again.  The dirt roads, big barrels of legumes, baskets full of oranges, mandarins, bananas, plantains, tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, everything!

We made our way over to the Claro building. Outside of this telecom giant’s service store a group of promoters (I don’t know what they’re promoting) were blasting “Wild Ones” by Flo Rida ft. Sia and a bunch of other US Top 40 hits. As I entered the store, I was shocked by the cool air. What? There was air-conditioning?! It was the first time in 8 days that I felt artificial cold air and even watched a bit of ESPN. Wow, the luxury! I didn’t care.

It struck me but I didn’t miss it. I thought about it and the whole feeling-toasty-from -the-heat-with-no-air-conditioner kind of makes me feel more alive. There is something very lulling and lazy about living in air-conditioning. I guess part of the comfort in the heat probably stems from nostalgia. I used to do my homework in a stuffy, hot room in Singapore and Delhi. I think it helped me work faster–I just wanted to finish and get out of there. I never used to turn on the air-conditioner until I went to sleep. So maybe it’s just a way to remember how life used to be before moving to America.

So far, though, so good. I’m not missing anything yet. I’m perfectly content, which is nothing but a  blessing.

Don’t be a hypochondriac. Save your stress levels for something more productive.

The problem with going to a new place is that you don’t quite know how it will be and what you’ll need. To be honest, I pretty much brought half of CVS (a common American pharmacy) to Nicaragua. I have things with me that I’ve never even thought of buying before but I was like, “I’m going to be in a small town  who knows what I’ll need. ”

During orientation the FSD directors talked to us about “emergency plans”, what we would do if we got sick or if there was an earthquake or tsunami. That did not relieve my apprehension, especially since we learned all this within the first two days of the program when I hadn’t even arrived at my final destination yet. I literally asked my house mom, Mama Maria, how far the ocean was from the house the day I arrived and wondered whether the distance sufficed in case of a tsunami. I also examined the house and wondered what I would do if there was an earthquake. El Toro told me that if there was an earthquake, you just had to keep your eyes open and rely on your instincts. He told me you wouldn’t know how to react until it happened and even then you would just have to be attentive and pray your gut guides you the right way. That wasn’t totally convincing for me.

The second night in Limón there was a really “violent” thunderstorm. The lightning was hitting close and I couldn’t help but wonder how the zinc or aluminum roof would hold up to lightning, or stronger rain and winds.

The unknown pesters me at times, at times it quenches my curiosity and drives me. But at that moment it really just kept me from focusing on what I wanted to contemplate most: the culture, the people, the community, the education system and of course, the library.

So I decided to change the mentality and stop focusing on the things that could happen, because no matter where you are, what country you are in, and in what conditions you live, something can always happen. So why not disregard it and have faith in goodness?

The precision within the imprecision

The public bus system in these parts amazes me. I already gave you a taste of what it feels like to be in these crowded buses but I failed to mention that they pretty much drop you right at your house if you live on the main road. I for instance live at the very end of the town, a couple doors down from a famous restaurant. So on my way back from Rivas. I told them to drop me three houses after Yolanda’s Café. Exactly three houses after, they opened the door to let me out and I just responded, actually it’s that orange one over there. (There was a pack of dogs waiting for me, and the neighbor’s dogs are vicious so I asked them to take me to the door, which is what they do anyways). The driver looked at me and was like, “I thought you said 3 houses, that’s like 5!” I apologized for not having counted the houses properly.

Some buses leave at exactly the time they say they will. Some, however, can be 30 minutes, sometimes an hour late. Still, they find some type of precision. In fact, I can’t quite grasp how they remember what house each person tells them to go to. People will literally get on the bus and be like “In Limon 1, 3 houses after the school”. Without reminding the driver, the driver does it.

The only thing I noticed on the way back from Rivas was a rat making its way down a window pane. I immediately paid attention to my feet. I did not want a rat crawling over my toes. I just kept thinking that they needed a cat. In America, me no like cats. Here, I love them.

Day 9-10

Limón Dos, Nicaragua

May 26-27, 2012

Relax, Take it Easy

The weekend arrived and I finally was free to do whatever I wanted. So I stayed home, relaxed in the hammock. Read my book. Thought about the week to come and goals and possible projects. I let everything sink in, which is exactly what I needed.

Day 10-11

Limón Dos, Nicaragua

May 28-29, 2012

How qualified is qualified?

It’s time to talk about the project. I am here with the intention of helping out. So the first few days FSD talked to us about the region, the economy, the resources. They had us go out and talk to leaders in the fields that we are working in. My subject is community youth development. So last week I went out to a local public school in Tola. I walked in and asked if I could talk to the director. The sub-director immediately let me into her office and was kind enough to let me ask her a couple questions about the school, the students and the teachers. She told me that the majority of the teachers hadn’t studied beyond primary school. I was a bit confused. From another source, I had learned that in these rural towns it is more common for teachers to have finished secondary school, but in this primary school in particular many had not. She herself had finished secondary school and the first two years of university. I asked her why she hadn’t finished her bachelors. She said she got pregnant unexpectedly and decided it would be best to stop there.

In contrast, the nearby high school by Nancimi required that every teacher have a university degree. I want to be clear, this is not necessarily the norm. In fact, I interviewed a science teacher from a primary school 16 km from Limón Dos, who had a degree in business administration, agriculture and law. How he managed to get all those degrees, I don’t know, yet again he was a very smart man.

Still, during the meeting with the sub-director of the primary school in Tola, I learned some troubling things. For one, they have never conducted standardized math tests. This year marks the first year that they do. They did, however, have standardized reading comprehension tests at the school. They lacked some crucial materials, too. They didn’t have enough books, so kids usually had to read class material in groups of 3-4, which I suppose isn’t ideal but, relatively, good enough.

Now, I think it wouldn’t be fair for me to judge the teachers’ qualifications considering the nature of the work I am doing. What are my qualifications? I am not an education major. I am a third year university student majoring in French and European Studies with a minor in Latin American Studies. I am a native Spanish speaker but I have only taken one semester-long Spanish class. I am severely insecure when it comes to typing up reports, I can do it, but I usually wish I could be writing in English. So where does my experience come in? I have taught IT classes, I have tutored kids of different age groups, I have helped organize mentorship programs, I have interned at a charter school, I have taken a spring and  summer course on community youth development, I have worked with Teach for America teachers and learned a thing or two of how they help at risk youth, but what do I really know about building a library program? I guess I worked briefly at a Library last summer in Cape Town but to a very real degree, I am not academically or officially qualified to consult on this work. So what is my role? And moreover how legitimate is it?



I love this Hammock

Linda, my 22-year old “sister” and her niece, Brittany. Brittany is a cutie-pie. She comes up to me in the mornings and just stares at me as I eat breakfast.

I spent most of Sunday laying in this little piece of heaven. We need hammocks at Vanderbilt. ResEd should invest in some.

Mayra, the Librarian!


Mayra, the Librarian!

Mayra, the lady in a black shirt on the far left as she listens to Anarelis read. Mayra keeps the inventory of books and helps the students with their homework. She has a university degree in Math. She also teaches at a nearby school in the indigenous community of Las Salinas.