Wednesday, February 17, 2010

granada, fiestas, and an upcoming visit!

(I was hoping to get pictures up this week, but I can´t quite figure out the system in the hour of internet I have -- hopefully next week I´ll get some up here for you all!)

This week has been super busy all week, which has been great. On Saturday, after a morning of classes and finding decent pizza (most pizza here is made with ketchup... just doesn’t hit the same spot!) in Diriamba and getting my first actual sunburn (oops), my host family took me to Granada to visit my host mother’s sister. Unfortunately we went just as the sun was setting, so although we got a great view of the volcano Momotombo and the sunset on our way there, once we’d reached Granada it was dark, so most of my pictures didn’t turn out well, and our view of the lake was pretty much peering out into the blackness in the general direction of the lake.

Granada is quite a happening place after dark, though, especially this week -- it is the poetry capital of a nation in love with poets and poetry, and the city was getting ready for a weeklong poetry festival, so there were people everywhere.

Granada’s also known for a few other things, one of them being “la gigantona”, a traditional dance. There are two dancers, “la gigantóna”, who is an enormously tall puppet-woman, and “el cabezóna”, a short puppet-man with an enormous head, and usually a few drummers, and for a few cordobas they’ll dance for you. We saw a few dancing while we were out and about, making money off of the (many, many) tourists out enjoying the evening. Even without the festival, Granada is known for being a tourist destination and even a popular place for foreigners to move to; it was disconcerting to see so many non-Nicaraguans (and to hear English being spoken!) after a month of living in a rural town here.

Another thing Granada is famous for is a dish called ‘vigarón’; something I probably would never have touched in the States but have been looking forward to trying here. It’s yucca cooked with chicharón -- fried pork fat -- and sprinkled with salad (which is usually something like tomatoes and chopped cabbage and onions in a sort of cole slaw minus the sauce), and actually was pretty good. Probably not my favorite Nicaraguan dish so far, but definitely tasty.

Back on the home front, our fiestas patronales has been going strong all week, and it’s been lots of fun seeing everything set up and getting underway. We even have carnival rides: a ferris wheel and a merry-go-round.

The hípica was on Sunday -- that's basically a big parade of horses where people compete to win prizes for the fanciest prances. Sometimes it seems like people are more interested in making a spectacle rather than actually competing.

Every night there’s been music and shows with traditional dances put on by local kids -- Tuesday night I went to see some of the dances, which were full of the traditional flowing colorful dresses and so on, but were also mixed in with some definitely modern dances set to hopping reggaton beats! Most nights (and days, for that matter,) have also been full of “bulla” -- that's general hubbub and noise -- and bombas, which are basically homemade fireworks people set off wherever they want, even in the middle of a crowd. Very different from the US!

We’ve had our first charlas -- our first formal talks -- in the health center and with our youth group; all of them went really well, especially with our youth group. The charla we gave them had to do with healthy decision-making and strategies for living a healthy, positive life, especially in terms of sexual behavior; definitely a priority in a country where it’s not uncommon for 13 or 14 year olds to be having kids, or for 17 year olds to have two or three kids already.

(Another success: our technical trainer came to our youth group meeting and told us he couldn’t believe we were the lowest level language group -- apparently we’re progressing faster than anyone expected, hooray!)

This morning, one of the locals was kind enough to invite us to learn how to make rosquillas, a very typical Nicaraguan food, especially during fiestas. They’re small, Cheerio-shaped crunchy things made out of maize; I think I’ve talked about them before. You usually eat them with coffee, but I like to eat them any old time -- they're delicious!

Today we also found out about our volunteer visits -- starting on Sunday we travel out into Nicaragua to visit current Volunteers in their sites for three or four days, learning about their daily life, what they do, and how they do it. Exciting! I´ll be heading up into the mountains in the north of Nicaragua, to the department called Jinotega -- I am supposed to bring a sweater as it can be much chillier there.

That’s all I have for now; hopefully this weekend I will get to see the famous “macho ratón” dance before heading out on Sunday for my visit! Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Another week come and gone already – I’m writing this on Tuesday, which means today marks three weeks since I flew into DC for staging. It seems like it’s been so much longer than that, though the last week has absolutely flown by.

We have a lot more to do now; the first week and a half or so was almost purely basic survival Spanish, at least for us in the lower level of language ability, and adjusting to the total culture shock. Now that we’re a little more familiar with the area and the language, we suddenly have a hundred things to do...

We’ve met two or three times now with the youth group we’ve formed: so far we haven’t done much except talk and play games, but next week we start giving our first “charlas”, or talks – one with the group and one in the local health center. Intimidating with the language barrier still very much in force, although it’s getting easier to understand other people, at least. Speaking is still stop-and-go to some extent – vocabulary is an incredibly, frustratingly stubborn obstacle – and I am definitely ready to stop sounding like a three-year-old. Sigh. We’re also starting to formulate the survey we’ll be carrying out in our training town: we’ve decided to interview people about myths and knowledge about HIV/AIDS, since the HIV rate in our municipality is worryingly high for the size of the population. We won’t be conducting the survey for a few more weeks, but wish us luck!

One of the strangest things has been catching glimpses of American culture here. Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” keeps playing over TV advertisements for a local beauty pageant. There’s a Quiznos, a Subway, and a Sbarro in the mall in Managua – a mall that’s nicer by far than the nearest mall to my hometown. Today I watched “Invictus” courtesy of my host father and the thriving pirated DVD trade here... but with Spanish subtitles only, since something went weird with the sound and left only the background noise, with no speaking voices.

More adventures in food to report as well: pupusas, (the perfect finger food), which are a little bit like quesadillas with thicker, doughier ‘crust’ and usually cheese and frijoles molidas (think of a sort of thick bean sauce – a little thinner than refried beans,) in the middle, and as of today, pan dulce, which is exactly what it probably sounds like: basically a big crunchy bread thing coated in sugar. A little like fried dough, but less greasy. One other thing was a failure on the taste-front: a drink I think is called “chicha” or something similar, apparently very popular and traditional here. It’s made from maize and tastes a little bit like paste. I can’t decide if the tradition of coloring it bright, lurid pink makes it better or worse.

Irregular verbs in the preterite are on the agenda for tomorrow, along with planning our first charlas and heading to one of the local Ministry of Health offices for a technical seminar. I have finally unpacked my camera, as well, so hopefully I’ll have some pictures to put up here soon!

PS: I just found out that the fiesta patronal for my town begins this weekend -- 8 days of celebrating the town and its patron saint (Nuestra Madre de La Paz -- Our Lady of Peace) with traditional food, fireworks, and dancing! Should be very exciting; one of the famous dances that happens at a lot of these fiestas patronales is actually recognized as a World Heritage tradition. I´ll let you all know how it turns out!

Friday, February 5, 2010


Welcome to Notes from Nica, a blog about my life as a Peace Corps trainee in Nicaragua! Two weeks into training here, and as so much has already happened and I’m always terrible at starting things like this anyway, I’ll get things going with something simple: lists! Everyone loves a list, right?


- My host family and my training town. Pretty lucky for me! I live in a small town about an hour away from Managua, the capital city, where nearly everyone I meet is related to me through my host family. It’s a new experience to live in a place where people leave their doors open all the time, where they smile and wave and stop you in the street to chat, where kids and aunts and brother-in-laws are in and out of each others’ houses all the time. There’s a pulperia (a sort of Nicaraguan convenience store) and a public telephone in my front hall here, so there are always people in and out to talk to; a great way to meet more people in the community.

- The food in Nicaragua. There are very few foods I refuse to touch, and usually they involve fungus. I have to say, though, that Nicaraguans really know my weak spots. Beans and rice? Check: the favorite food here is gallo pinto, rice and beans cooked together with spices. Fresh fruit and veggies? Check: so far I have indulged in watermelon, oranges, mandarins, pineapple, avocados, limes, bananas, plantains and more, all a hundred times fresher than I ever got in the States. Eggs? Check, especially scrambled and in combination with potatoes. There isn’t as much meat here, which is a change, but instead there are things like rosquillas, baked crunchy tart-like things made from maize which are particularly popular during Holy Week, when they’re made into empanadas with a little bit of cheese and sugar inside. Delicious!

- My fellow trainees. There are something like 24 of us in our training class, and it’s been glorious to live and work with such a group of fun, positive people. I know there are probably going to be days when we want nothing more than to leave and go back home, when we won’t be able to stand each other, Nicaragua, our work, or ourselves, but starting with such a wonderfully upbeat group has got to count in our favor. Everyone has so far been very laid back and easygoing, and has brought their own kind of passion to the work we’re doing here; it’s so interesting to talk to everyone about the kind of work they’ve done in the past, and what they’re hoping to do in Nicaragua. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what kinds of creative things they start here.

CHANGES, because I don’t actually have a dislike list:

- The bus system. Nothing runs on a schedule or anything like one. We mostly rely on a network of microbuses, hopping on and off from bus “stations” which are sometimes nothing more than street corners, or just hailing the driver or “cobrador”, who sits with the passengers and takes the fares. Add to that the fact that there are no street names here – just directions like “one block north and two blocks east from the bank” (or from the site of an important event – even more difficult!) and traveling is always an adventure.

- Bucket showers. My house has indoor plumbing, but the water here doesn’t run all day – some days it only runs for a couple hours at about 4am. We fill a tank in the back yard and haul buckets from that all day to shower, flush the toilet, do the dishes, and wash our hands. I use a lot less water here, now that it’s more difficult to get than just turning on a tap! Added to that I’m going to throw in the lack of resources we take for granted in the States, particularly internet. I was so dependent on my wireless internet before I came here, and now the nearest internet café is a 20 minute bus ride away. Definitely a tough adjustment to make.

- Language. Obviously I knew I’d be living and working and breathing in another language, but it’s beyond frustrating to have things to say and be unable to communicate them. Adding to that the fact that existing in another language is seriously mentally exhausting, it’s no wonder I sleep incredibly well here (and have already breezed my way through three of the English books I brought with me, just to have a little bit of English in my day!). Slowly but surely, poco a poco; that’s my motto – it’ll come in time. Already I am light years ahead of where I was when I flew into Managua, and it’s only been two weeks!

That’s all I have for now; I’ll try to update this at least semi-regularly with new and hopefully exciting things, but we’ll see how it goes.

Adios for now, amigos!