Mis Pensamientos Finales
Wow! What an amazing experience! Thanks to everyone for following me through my journey and supporting me every step of the way! I couldn’t have made it through without all of the support from my family, friends, and boyfriend back home! I am so glad I did it and so proud of myself for sticking it out. My Spanish is so much better and I am confident that I could definitely hold a conversation with any native Spanish speaker (I tested this at our nail salon at home because the employees are from Ecuador and I spoke with them in Spanish the whole time!). I met some amazing people, visited some places that resembled paradise, and experienced a totally different culture while putting myself completely out of my comfort zone. And hopefully I made a difference in the lives of some Nicaraguan children along the way (the teachers promised to update me on the progress of the garden!). Now I have a third home in Nicaragua (my friend Caroline always made fun of me for referring to Newtown Square, Boston, and Ciudad Sandino all as home and she never knew which one I was talking about). I hope that when I go back to the U.S., I can continue to appreciate the little things in life that I had to live without here. A final small story that I feel is the perfect way to summarize life in Nicaragua: I was sitting on the porch on a Saturday afternoon, when a lady walked by selling bath soap that she carried in a basket on her head while she sang “jaboooon” (soaaappp) to all of the residents. Dona Maura walked out to see what kind she was selling. As she was looking over a new, oatmeal scent she commented on how beautiful it was and was truly amazed by how they can make such intricate scents. As the woman told her that each one cost 8 cords (35 cents), she smiled longingly as she put it back and said she gets hers 3 soaps for 10 cords from the market.
I absolutely hate goodbyes in all shapes and forms. I like when people say “it’s not goodbye, it’s see ya later”, but in this case that may not be true. The hardest part about leaving is knowing how unlikely it is that I will come back again. I know that I’m young and it will always be an option for me, and I would love to come back one day if I have the time and money, but for now I can’t count on it. The first step was saying goodbye to the kids and all of my co-workers. The kids put on a mini show for me and brought in lots of presents and some pictures. I’m going to miss them so much and I’m really curious to see how they’ll turn out 10 or 20 years from now. Hopefully I’ll find out from keeping in touch with the teachers. Speaking of which, even with how much they made fun of me, it was really hard to say bye to them too. I spent the most time with them and they helped to shape my amazing experience here. They made me feel like one of them and invited me into their culture and all of their celebrations from the start. I can’t even imagine how much patience it must take to guide an intern who barely speaks your language, but they never yelled or got annoyed and took the time out to explain everything and make sure I was getting the most of my experience. The hardest people to say bye to were my host family. Dona Maura is such an amazing, passionate, strong person and I hope to be like her one day. She puts everyone else first and does whatever it takes to take care of her family (and by family I mean extended cousins, her sister’s husband’s cousin’s aunt’s uncle’s brother…you get the point). My “real” parents got her a blender as a thank you present for taking such good care of me (she was planning to take out a line of credit to get one) and she cried tears of joy when she opened it. I also gave her a photo album with all of the pictures I had taken of the family since I had been there and when I showed it to Don Lorenzo, he said he’d wait to look at it later cause he didn’t want to cry in front of me. He is such a peaceful, kind, proud man. The day I left was a sad and uneasy one. We all sat on the porch waiting for the cab to show up and trying not to think about the fact that we had to say goodbye. When the car finally came, Dona Maura and I just looked at each other and started crying. After a 5 minute hug, I got into the cab and pulled away from my Nicaraguan life for the last time.
Regreso un poco temprano…26 de mayo 2012!
I knew saying goodbye would be hard, but it was time to go home. My program end date (when I moved out of my host family) was May 26th. The original plan was to travel to the Rio San Juan and then around Costa Rica for a week (alone) and return to the U.S. on June 4th, but for a number of reasons (you can probably imagine them, but basically what was planned to be a relaxing vacation was turning into a stressful, dangerous idea) I decided to go right home instead. In addition to making my mom (and the rest of my family) extremely happy (she saved my life by telling me to come home no matter what at all costs), I also knew I was doing the right thing for myself. I’ve been brave and strong for long enough and it was just time to come home. And I’m SO glad I did!
La Capacitación de los Padres
We held our first garden training on Wednesday and it went amazingly well and was a motivator to keep me going for the rest of the week! Fenix is the agricultural organization that I formed a partnership with for the project and they helped me learn how to make the gardens. One of the trainers there did me a favor by coming to Cantera to offer a workshop for the parents to learn how to make the gardens in the home as well as learn how to maintain the on-site garden at the school (it will be the parents’ responsibility to water & remove weeds everyday and keep up with all maintenance when I’m gone). The teachers helped me out a ton by telling the parents that the training was extremely important, mandatory, and that everyone absolutely had to come. We got about 50 parents to show up and 35 to stay the whole time (which meant they were interested), which is a really strong attendance rate compared to other trainings the preschool has offered in the past. The Fenix representative talked for about 20 minutes just about general garden info, but I could tell the parents were getting bored, so I suggested that everyone head over to the garden and gain some hands-on experience by planting together. It was a win-win because the parents got to learn and they I didn’t have to do all of the planting by myself. The parents were asking tons of questions, writing down the info so that they could use it for their homes, and even asked for some seeds at the end so they could start planting right away! At the end, we asked them how it went and everyone gave shining reviews and said that the project was awesome and will make a big difference to the kids! Finally, I felt my work was appreciated and that it was all worth it!!
Una Diferencia de la Cultura
Throughout my garden project (by the way, it’s official name is: The Cantera Nutrition Project: Vegetables for Children), there have been few cultural obstacles that I’ve had to adapt to in order to get stuff done. Mainly, just the pace of getting things done here drives me insane. My boss always tells me that I’m fast, but it wasn’t really a problem until this past week. Basically, she told me she was frustrated because she felt that she didn’t really know what was going on with the project since everything happened so fast and she wished I had consulted her before doing each step of the process. Needless to say, this was a blow to the face since I’d been working so hard only to hear her complain. After hearing her out, I told her I’d include her more in the last 2 weeks but also defended myself by saying that if I hadn’t worked that fast, they would have lost the money (the deal is that if the grant money isn’t spent by the time I leave, then they have to give it back). So even though I am trying to adapt to the culture as best I can, the requirements of the project don’t really let me do that. And she only works at my site 2 days a week which would have made it impossible for me to ask for approval of everything before doing it. The conversation never got heated, and it wasn’t a huge deal, but it pointed out to me what a huge difference there is in the culture here. At my job in Boston, if my boss asks me to work on a project, they are thrilled if I can do it independently and pretty much take care if it all myself. Of course, they are always there for questions, but I feel like it’s more of an attitude of “try to take stuff off your manager’s plate, not add it). Clearly, here it is more of a micromanagement style where they want to know everything that is happening all of the time. Maybe it’s just my specific experience and can’t be generalized to all of Nicaragua and all of the U.S., but it was definitely worth mentioning.
Last week was full of insanity trying to finish everything up with my vegetable garden. The funnest (I know that is not a real word but it should be) part was going to get the compost because I got to ride on a horse-drawn carriage thingy. It’s really more a wooden box than a carriage, and we filled it with 12 sacks of compost that I rode on during the trip back to Cantera. Everyone on the street was waving and laughing…I guess it’s a pretty rare sight to see a gringa riding on one of those instead of just using a truck (which is more expensive). It was fun! Between running around like crazy to buy all of the materials, recultivating the soil to prepare for planting, doing the planting, painting the fence, and watering, I literally think I worked 55 hours outside in the 95 degree weather (luckily with minimal sunburn). The Director of Cantera told me that I must have been Nicaraguan in another life since I can work like that without complaining or getting sick (the complaining part I saved for my mom and boyfriend). By the end of the week I was rendida (exhausted) to say the least, but it was worth it because I was basically finished with everything! Next week is my last week, so I’ll be able to just relax and enjoy my final days with the kids.
Matagalpa 3 – La Selva Negra
I have been wanting to horseback riding ever since I got here, but it somehow never manages to work out. Well, I finally did and it was in the best place possible! La Selva Negra is a forest reservation in the mountains that is famous all around Nicaragua (my host mom said it’s on her bucketlist). Since I was exhausted and not up for hiking, I decided to do a 1-hour horseback tour. What a great decision! The roads were full of rocks and hills, so I was a bit terrified that my horse was going to fall and I’d break a limb for the first time in my life, but fortunately that didn’t happen. My guide kept making a weird kissing noise that I realized after a while was to tell the horse to go faster. I was also supposed to kick it in the hiney to tell it to hurry up, but I felt too bad, so I just pretended and didn’t actually touch it with my feet. Once we made it to the highest point, I felt like I was in Homeward Bound when Shadow, Cassie, and Chance first leave and get to the top of the mountain range. It was the most beautiful view I have seen in my life and it literally took my breathe away…I was basically in the clouds riding on a horse in the middle of a Nicaraguan forest. So cool! Totally worth getting out of bed after 2 hours of sleep to come here.
Matagalpa 2 – Mi Hospedaje
As always, I went with the cheapest in the book for the hostel (Vic Pal - $3 for the night), and for the first time I regretted it. The actual room was nice enough with my own double bed and even a second floor view of the cathedral and the mountains. When they first showed me the room, they warned me that they were having a quinceanera (a huge fiesta for all girls when they turn 15 and become women) that night and so it would be pretty loud, but they promised it would end by midnight the latest. I figured midnight isn’t that late, it would be cool to witness a quinceanera, and how loud could it really be? I was wrong, hombre. When I first got back to my room after dinner around 7 (because what else am I going to do on a Saturday night in a foreign city/country by myself?), my entire room was literally shaking from the music to the point where my heart was racing. At first, I looked on the positive side and I had a 1-woman dance party in my room. Luckily, it was loud enough that no one could hear me singing. But after about 10 minutes, I got bored with this. I went downstairs to see how inviting the people would be, but they all just stared at me and I felt extremely out of place and unwanted, so I went back to my hostel room/jail cell for the night. After trying and failing to read myself to sleep, I decided I would just stay awake until midnight when the madness ended….it didn’t end until 3am. And then, people started getting up at 5 and stomping all over. Needless to say, I was very cranky off of my 2 hours of sleep and I had to push myself to go to my next activity.
Matagalpa 1 – El Castillo de Cacao
So last weekend I traveled by myself for the first time since my best friend Caroline left for Boston on Saturday. I figured it would be good practice for my week in Costa Rica and Matagalpa has been number one on my list of places to go since I got here, so I didn’t want to miss it! It is a city further up north in the mountains, where the air is much more fresh (and COLD!) and you can actually breathe. After a relaxing, 4 hour bus ride, I made it to Matagalpa and as soon as I got off the bus, I met a guy wearing a Phillies hat. I was disappointed to find out that he is not actually a fan but just liked the hat. Being a bit flustered and vulnerable since I was by myself (and maybe I was being paranoid but I swear I heard a lady talking to her friend say “look she’s by herself” and it freaked me out), I hopped right into a cab and headed for destination #1: a chocolate factory! El Castillo de Cacao (The Castle of Cocoa) is known for making the best chocolate all over Nicaragua and I was excited to see it (and taste it) being made first-hand. Unfortunately when I got there, I found out that they weren’t making chocolate that day because they were only packaging, but that they would still give me a tour. It was crazy to see that such a big business (they basically supply chocolate to the whole country) could work in such a small factory with so few workers (6 in total). They even crush the cocoa by hand with a stone that used to be used by the ancient Mayans. There are a few different machines that are used to do the rest, and there is one lady that keeps track of the timing of everything and makes sure that each batch comes out perfectly. They also do all of the packaging by hand before they send it to a distribution facility that takes care of the rest. Even though I didn’t get to taste the liquid chocolate as it was being made, they still gave me a few samples at the end that were delicious! Though, I must say, I still prefer Hershey’s.
El Invierno y La Lluvia
After the hottest month of my life, the rainy season is finally coming! Last night, it stormed for a few hours and it was probably the scariest experience I’ve had since coming to Nicaragua. Since the roofs are made of tin, every rain drop sounds like a bomb, and thunder is indescribably loud. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking that I was in a nightmare. Once I realized that it was just rain, I was able to calm myself down and fall back asleep. However, during the day time when it is just normal rain and not storming, the sound of the raindrops on the roof is actually pretty peaceful. The first day it rained, I literally lay in my bed for an hour just listening to the rain and not really thinking about anything at all. It is weird to think that in Boston I need to look out the window every morning to see whether I need an umbrella or not, and here I can just sit and listen. The teachers told me that at the end of the winter season (in November), the streets are all flooded and the students often need to miss school because of it (never new there was such thing as a rainday instead of a snowday!). However, this is actually really dangerous because most people in Ciudad Sandino can’t swim. Since I’m leaving in less than a month, I guess I won’t get to be here to swim in the streets and miss school, but it sounds like what I’m really missing is a lot of inconvenience!