Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Here I am all settled into my new home, at last! It has been a whirlwind so far, with moving in and starting to cook for my very own self and the vaccination campaign that’s been going on since I arrived.

The government here is very serious about vaccinating all the kids here, as many as it can reach. We’ve been going out in teams of three or four to different rural communities and setting up shop: sometimes in a school, sometimes in a “casa base” (a little one-room health post), sometimes just on someone’s porch. We vaccinate kids all morning and into the afternoon, I give a short talk about nutrition and the importance of a balanced diet, and when it looks like everyone who’s planning on coming has come, we go through the registry we have, note which kids are missing, and then we go and find their houses. Hiking through the forest in a thunderstorm? No problem. Over a mountain in the blazing sun? We’re on it, thermos of vaccines and bag of syringes, anti-parasite tablets, and vitamin A drops in hand.

It’s been good to get out and meet my neighbors, to see the area of the world I’m living in now. It’s very mountainous here, with lots of scrubby pines and rocky soil, and the people have so far been wonderfully kind. Stop to chat with someone for a minute to ask directions, and before you know it you’ve been sat down and given a plate of fried plantains, a cup of super-sweetened coffee, and the neighborhood kids have all come over to watch you eat and ask you questions -- where are you from? did you take the bus to Nicaragua? what's it like to fly in an airplane? are you married? how old are you? -- and when you leave you’ll have fifteen new friends and probably a plantain as a parting gift... or possibly an entire bag of them.

The campaign ends this week, and I’m still working out what I’ll be doing when it does. As a community health volunteer in Nicaragua I have three main goals to work on: reduce child and maternal mortality rates, reduce the incidence of HIV/aids, and reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy (a serious problem here: it’s not terribly unusual for fifteen and sixteen year olds to have children, and I’ve met more than a few girls my age or younger who have two kids already). I’ll be working primarily as an educator – I’m hoping to start working in the school here in the “urban” center and go from there. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Well, here we are... the last days of training! How incredible is that? The days are long here but the weeks have flown by, especially the last few. Swearing-in is at the end of this week, after which we will be honest-to-goodness bonafide Volunteers (complete with capital "V").

Last week we had mini-vacation of sorts, because of Holy Week. Nicaragua is a very Christian country (mostly Catholic), so Semana Santa is a big deal here. There´s no school all week, and Thursday through Sunda almost nothing is open. Lots of people go to the beach -- it´s the middle of summer here, and hot; perfect beach weather if you don´t mind a sunburn -- or vacation somewhere: León and Granada are both popular hot spots.

The evangelical churches here don´t do much to celebrate the occasion, but there are Catholic services every day, usually centering around processions. They start on Palm Sunday with a procession with palms and usually an "imagen" -- a statue -- of Jesus; in our town he was even mounted on a live donkey. The imagen went on a few other walks to different parts of town during the week, but the biggest deal started on Friday. All over Nicaragua people walk the "Via Cruz" in the middle of the day in the blazing sun, sometimes on their knees. That procession usually goes for a few hours, and then on Friday night there´s another procession. In my town, the imagen of Jesus was put in a glass coffin lit up -- they processed around town with it like that from about eight at night to more or less one am, accompanied by a marching band playing mournful music at top volume (because no Nicaraguan procession is complete without a marching band).

Saturday night there was a mass here for Easter Vigil, and another service on Easter Sunday itself, but they were very low-key after Friday´s excitement.

Another common thing here during Semana Santa is giving food -- we have literally a bucket of rosquillas sitting on our kitchen table which people have given us. Delicious!

There are lots of other cool things here during Semana Santa -- for example, in León they make all sorts of beautiful pictures out of sand on the streets, and when they´re finished, everyone processes over them. Maybe next year I´ll visit see it first hand.

First things first, though. Swearing-in, here I come!