Monday, November 28, 2011


As December rapidly approaches and big transitions are imminent, I wanted to share some thoughts that I have been reflecting on in light of Thanksgiving - my favorite holiday!

I am thankful for the handful of students that approached me this past week with concerned looks on their faces, asking me whether or not I will still be around next year. After I reassured them that I will still be here another year, I could almost see their sense of relief as huge smiles stretched across their faces, and they walked away without saying another word.

I am thankful for having a wonderful community to come home to everyday after work. These are the people that know me best here in Nicaragua and continue to love me and share themselves with me. I will not be able to express in words how much they have taught and continue to teach me about what it means to be fully present and to accompany others.

I am thankful for love that surpasses physical distance, for all of my family and friends who have showered prayers and encouraging words on me and who truly listen to my stories even if they don't fully grasp what I'm saying. I am thankful for unexpected emails or letters. I am also thankful for good conversations that challenge me to go deeper.

I am thankful for things becoming familiar and the fact that I now recognize people along the way to school and the way home, too.

I am thankful for feeling safe in our house and that I can share myself openly and honestly.

I am thankful for the elderly woman that lives around the corner and reminds me of my Gram Hillman. When I ask her how she is doing, she usually tells me about her latest illness and then tells me a little more about what is going on in her life. The best part of our short interactions is our despedida, she calls me her amor and asks God to bless me. I like to think that it is my Gram's spirit that is shining through this woman.

I am thankful for our yard, for our dog, for walking to the bus, for people out on the streets talking and kids playing soccer, for dancing, for delicious beans, for time to practice the guitar, for laughing, and for so many of the little things that fill my day.

I am thankful for feeling at home in this beautiful country, Nicaragua.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Time is Flying

I realize that I didn´t get a post up for September but that does not by any means imply that it was a month lacking in stories and activities. In fact, it was quite the opposite which is why I am just now getting around to writing this. Here´s a quick snapshot of a few of the highlights.

At the end of August, we had an English music festival where a representative from each class in secondary, selected by the teacher, sang a song of his/her choice in English. They were judged by a couple of my housemates and our principal. I wasn't allowed to judge since I had been helping a couple girls work on their song and hence I got assigned to being the MC. I was so nervous getting up in front of everyone, students and coworkers, although I'm pretty sure only a handful of people actually understood what I was saying since I was speaking only in English, like I was asked to do. The girls I had been helping won the competition with their song by none other than Justin Beiber. It was a really fun event!

In the beginning of September, we celebrated my community mate, Bianca's birthday. For her party, she decided that she wanted to have a “Holi” party, an idea inspired by the Indian Holi Festival. We got each other wet with buckets of water and then began throwing colored powder at one another. It reminded me a lot of messy games from the camp where I used to work and I loved the carefree and childlike atmosphere that was created and shared inter-culturally with some of our Nicaraguan friends. The picture is my community mate Lauren and I right after I threw some more colored powder at her.

The nine of us Jesuit Volunteers here in Nicaragua went on a little retreat at the beach. We spent a lot of quality time together, hanging out, playing the guitar around the campfire, and swimming in the Pacific. The picture is the view from the house where we stayed.

September in Nicaragua is a time of great national pride and celebrations. September 14 and 15 are days of independence here and were filled with parades and marching bands. I somehow found myself leading a group of preschool girls in a couple different parades. I made up dance moves to the beat of the band and they imitated what I did. Although they were really long, hot days, the little girls were so cute and excited to be dancing and marching.

I was able to get away for a couple days of vacation. I decided to head way out into the campo to visit a family that I stayed with during language school back in January. I went solita and I was really proud of myself for making it there and back without problems. Being out in this little community was very inspirational. The lifestyle in the campo is much more tranquilo and I appreciated the time that I spent reading, journaling, and reflecting. The food was also delicious - lots of beans, tortillas, and a type of cheese called cuajada, oh, and coffee for both breakfast and lunch! Beyond relishing in the physical surroundings which were very green due to the rain, I was very inspired by the family I stayed with. I stayed with a single mother and her 17 or 18 year old son and we talked about speaking out against injustices and working towards true liberation. The son is a very talented guitar player and he played everything from Guadabarranco, a Nicaraguan group, to the Beatles, to his own songs he made up on the fly. I felt so at ease and at home in the company of that family and in the community as well. I know I am not doing the best job of expressing myself, but I left the community rejuvenated and inspired to dream big. The picture is my host brother and I planting beans.

At the end of September, two of our Jesuit Volunteer Corps staff members from the DC office came to visit. One came to visit me at work to see how things were going and it was a very positive and reaffirming experience for me. She observed one of my classes and it went amazingly well! She expressed that she was impressed and I had to admit that I was too because my students are usually never that well behaved! Then, we went on Re-Orientation/Dis-Orientation retreat with all 9 of us Jesuit volunteers here in Nica. The staff created a beautiful space for us to reflect, share, and discuss our experiences as a JV thus far and we also began to consider the rapidly approaching time of transition. We will be welcoming the new volunteers at the beginning of December and saying see you later to our current second year volunteers towards the end of December. 

October has flown by and I have found myself staying very busy, really investing myself here. We had a Halloween party the other night and we are going to dress up again tonight in our house, just for fun! 

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. Sending you all love from Nica. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


As I was trying to decide what to write about, I realized that it might be fun to share some of the things I come in contact with/experience in daily life here.
Here's a brief description of things that you might not know about life in Nicaragua:

-Saludos/Greetings are very important. When you enter a room, it is common to go around to each person, introduce yourself and give everyone a kiss on the cheek.  
--One of the many aspects of life here that I love is that everyday people sit outside their houses and visit with their neighbors or watch the kids playing soccer in front of their house. Whenever I pass someone as I'm walking we usually greet each other with an”Adios” (Goodbye) instead of “Hola” (Hello). Another common phrase to hear is “Que le vaya bien” (That you go well). Even people that I have never met before will say this to me, wishing me a safe journey to wherever I am going.

-Beadazzled jeans and high heels are worn by the majority of women here. I'm talking rhinestones on back pockets of teenagers all the way to middle aged women, and sometimes, I'll see guys wearing them, too. It continues to amaze me to see women walking around in high heels. Not only do I have trouble walking down some of the unpaved streets here in my flats or sandals, but these women walk up and down the steps of the bus in these huge heels! When people leave their houses, they dress to impress.  

-Frescos naturales/Natural fruit juices are so delicious. There is everything from calala (passion fruit) to pitaya (dragon fruit) to melón (cantaloupe) to cacao (a corn based drink that tastes almost like chocolate milk). Typically, these drinks are made with a lot of sugar and are served in a plastic bag with a straw.

-Trash in the streets, burning trash – It is not uncommon to observe someone throwing their food wrappers or other trash onto the street. There is unfortunately a big problem with this. Trash accumulates along the sides of the roads and sometimes people will sweep it altogether and burn it.

-Fritanga/Street food is a staple food in our diet here. Almost every Friday evening, we go buy fritanga for dinner. Women cook, well, usually fry, food and sell it out of their houses. You can find everything from a huge shishkabob of meat, to gallo pinto (a national dish of rice and beans), to enchiladas (a tortilla filled with rice and meat, folded in half and deep fried). Mmm, fried food...

-Busses – The vast majority of Nicaraguans use public transportation to get from place to place. The most common mode of transportation is the bus system. Every day, I walk to the bus stop and wait with a myriad of people for the bus that passes through the neighborhood where I work. Each bus has a number and a specific route. Certain busses only travel within the city and others go to other cities farther away. Bus fare is very affordable, 4 cordobas (about 5 cents) to get from Ciudad Sandino, where I live, to Managua, the capital city, which is about a 45 minute to an hour trip. Riding the bus can be an adventure, finding a place to sit or stand, keeping your balance and making sure you make it to the door in time to get off at your stop. I think busses are one of the most direct ways that I feel in solidarity with people here. Sometimes when the busses are really full and people are pushing past me to get off, I make eye contact with someone and we connect in the fact that we are both uncomfortable but in it together. Often, we exchange sympathetic smiles that speak of understanding.

-Musica/Music is played all the time. Houses are close together and there is almost no sound barrier in the walls, so in the mornings, I am often greeted with our neighbor's radio belting out “Las mañanitas” (the birthday song sung here). There's also music that comes from trucks that drive by and music on the radio on the busses. 

-Chinelas/Rubber house shoes are more or less just like flip flops or rubber sandals. No one walks around barefoot in their homes and when we get home we slip out of our dusty or muddy shoes and slide into chinelas.

-Relaxed sense of punctuality – I like to call this “Nica time.” One of the best examples I have of this characteristic is one day at school, we were supposed to have a meeting with all of the teachers to do an evaluation of the first semester. The principal requested that we all arrive on time so we could begin at 7 o'clock on the dot. What time did we finally start? 8:30! I find myself switching back and forth between being frustrated with tardiness to being guilty myself of arriving a little late. Oops...

-Refrigerios/Snacks are one of the best parts of having workshops or teacher training. Halfway through the meeting we get a half an hour break and a snack. It has been everything from a tortilla and cheese to an enchilada and a fresco. I love snack time.

-Wet hair – Most Nicaraguans shower right before leaving the house and therefore usually arrive to work or school with wet hair. I'm surprised more people haven't commented on the fact that I rarely come to school with my hair wet. It's because my hair dries so fast, obviously not because I don't shower – at least that's what I tell myself.

-TV - “You don't have a TV in your house?! What do you do? Don´t you get bored?” I can't tell you how many times people have asked me this. I think that every single Nicaraguan house I've been in has had a TV in it. All the way out in some of the remote parts of the campo (rural area) people have televisions. They love their soap operas and watching soccer games.

-Answering cell phone during meetings and class – Just like people in the States, people here are connected to their cell phones. It continues to amaze me that teachers will not only leave their phones on during school hours, but that they will answer a call in the middle of class. The same thing happens during meetings. Even the person who is leading the meeting will pause in the midst of their presentation for a quick phone call.

-Baile folklorico/Traditional Nicaraguan dance is a big part of the culture here. The women wear long , beautiful skirts and the men usually wear straw hats. It is a beautiful, graceful style of dance, but it is a lot harder than it looks! For el dia de los estudiantes (students' day), a few of my coworkers and I performed a dance with a mix of music, including baile folklorico. It was a lot of fun and I think my students enjoyed it. The picture is of the group of us that danced after our debut. It´s a shame you can´t really see how much eye makeup I have on, but you´ll just have to trust me that it´s a lot!

Know you are all loved and thought of often.
Until next time.

Monday, July 18, 2011

When it Rains, It Pours

We are in the midst of rainy season which means that it rains everyday. Most of the time, it pours for anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour. Yesterday afternoon, it rained for a few hours! There was just so much rain! The rain brings cooler weather, although increased humidity, and new life. Things are turning green and little plants are pushing their way up towards the sky.

Rain nourishes, purifies, and cleanses. It gives life, heals, and soothes.

As I sit here reflecting on the rain, I find many parallels between its characteristics and where I find myself currently - admist a process of healing and cleansing and soaking in life-giving words and experiences. Grieving is an unique process that everyone experiences in her own way. I have been very blessed to be surrounded by the love and support of my community here and friends and family, as well. Some days are still hard and I find myself missing Gram a lot. Other days I am so busy that I don´t take time to reflect on how I´m feeling. On the whole, journaling and reading have helped me quite a bit.

I am feeling more at ease speaking Spanish at the same time recognizing I have so much to learn! I have had some good conversations with coworkers and students and I feel more and more connected to my school. While it continues to be a process of learning and growing, I am more comfortable in my surroundings and with the people around me who make me smile and laugh.  

Rain can also be gloomy and overwhelming, especially thunderstorms here. When the thunder cracks, it sounds like a tree just split right outside my window and the lightning illuminates the whole room. The ground reaches a point where it cannot soak in any more water and turns the streets into rivers. Walking to the bus in the rain becomes an adventure, trying to avoid puddles and taking cautious steps so as to not slide in the mud.

Lately, I have been overwhelmed by hearing stories of suffering or challenges from coworkers, family members, and other volunteers. The other day, I was at a coworkers house talking to her and her husband about the financial struggles our school is facing. Her husband turned to me and asked if it was difficult to listen to these disheartening possibilities of people losing jobs or families not being able to pay for their children’s tuition. I honestly replied that I do want to hear about these realities because I don’t want to be oblivious to what the people around me are experiencing, but it is also really hard to hear these things. I wonder what my role is here, especially when I feel so helpless when confronted with stories of lack of resources or physical illness. At the very least, my eyes continue to be opened and my perspectives are broadened. There are definitely times when I feel like the moisture rich earth that just can’t take in anymore. I am so blessed in so many ways and I know that I am here to share those blessings and myself, with humility, sincerity, and honesty. Each day I am able to spend in Nicaragua is an opportunity to learn and grow and accompany. So, while at times I feel overwhelmed by all the suffering and challenges, I am grateful for this time to go deeper and attempt to understand the reality of life here for many Nicaraguans. 

I just got back from a trip out to the campo (rural area) where I was able to get to know, laugh, and play with a wonderful family. There are 16 people in this family!! They are filled with such admirable strength, determination, and happiness and I certainly learned a lesson or two about hardwork, generosity, and hospitality. We had lots of fun playing many games, going for walk, wading in the river by their house, and just spending time together in the kitchen. The campo is such a beautiful and peaceful place, especially this time of year since everything is green. Although it was a pretty short trip, it was worth the long bus rides to get away from the busyness and noises of the city. I am quickly approaching the end of this week and a half of vacation from work and I think I will be ready to get back into the swing of things, well maybe not the waking up early part! 
I think I might just go take a nap and fall asleep listening to the afternoon rain on the tin roof...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Whirlwind

I've been describing my life here recently as a whirlwind. My grandma just passed away at the beginning of June and I was able to go home to spend time with my family and be there for the wake and the funeral. It has been a very emotional and challenging past couple of weeks, between making the decision to go home to leaving community to spending wonderful quality time with my family to grieving the death of Gram to coming back home to Nicaragua and jumping back into life here. I am grateful for the support and love that I have received from family, friends, and especially my community and coworkers here. I was welcomed back to school with open arms, lots of hugs and smiles, and kind words in prayer being offered for my family and I. I am slowly readjusting and know that it will take time. I am also confident that I am where I am supposed to be right now and that is daily reaffirmed by conversations with coworkers and greetings from neighbors, hugs from students and being at home with my community. For all of that, I am very grateful.

This past month or so has been filled with many fun activities and I wanted to share some pictures that I have.

 Celebrating my birthday

 I thought all of you who know me well would appreciate this message from one of my community mates. It says: Happy Birthday to my favorite bathroommate. Hopefully, you see this if you actually decide to shower!

 Celebrating my birthday some more with my host mom and sister 
They are both wonderful!

Nicaragua JVs and Belizean JVs who came to visit during Holy Week

 Yes, that's me, jumping down into the canyon during a trip to Cañon de Somoto

Visiting my other host family out in the campo (rural area)

A typical classroom
This is one section of primer año (7th grade)

My friend Jazmina and I at work
She has been an incredible resource and friend!

Hasta la proxima vez - Until next time

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Mango a Day...

keeps the homesickness at bay.

It´s mango season here! You can find mangos everywhere – in the market, at school, in the streets. There are several types of mangos. I actually just got a lesson about all the different types of mangos from one of my students yesterday. There are mango mechudos, lisos, dulces, manzanos, limónes, largos, and rosas. Each has their own flavor, texture, and size. I have already lost track of how many mangos I have eaten over the past week. Needless to say, I love mangos! Until recently, I have not purchased a single mango because coworkers and neighbors continue to give me mangos from their trees at their houses.

So why am I writing all this information about mangos? I wanted to give you a little taste (pun intended) of an aspect of life in Nicaragua that I love. Everyday, I wait for the bus to go home on a corner in Bello Amanecer (the neighborhood where I work). There is a house on this corner and I have been able to slowly get to know the kids that live there. They told me that 11 people live in this house – aunts, cousins, and siblings. When one of them sees me as I approach the corner, they yell to the others that Adriana (my name in Spanish) is coming. Sometimes, one of the little girls who is about 7 years old will pick up a mango off the ground, wash it off and reach her hand over the little wall offering it to me. Of course I accept it and she gives me a big smile. No matter if I am feeling completely exhausted or overwhelmed or close to tears, this tiny gesture of generosity and hospitality brightens my outlook. I am reminded of why I am here. It is not to accomplish a great task or to see the results of teaching – I am here to receive mangos and huge toothy smiles.

As the first line of this blog suggests, I have been experiencing waves of homesickness and culture shock these past few weeks. I want to be honest on this blog and while there are many, many things I love about being here, some days have been really hard. The newness of many things has started to wear off and I find myself frustrated or annoyed with the littlest of things, things that have not changed since I have been here. Waiting for the bus for over half an hour to return home after a long day and receiving catcalls or men telling me I am beautiful or a student who follows me around asking me a million questions are all examples of things that rarely phased me until recently. I have also been getting upset with myself that I still find myself tripping over my words in Spanish sometimes. One trait about Nicaraguans is that they will tell you how it is straight up. In one way it is great that they are honest, but in other ways I find myself wishing they would just sugar coat things. For example, kids will say to me, “Profe, you don’t speak Spanish very well like other white people I know,” or “Profe, it’s hard for you to talk in Spanish, isn’t it?” While both are true statements, I like to think that I’ve come a long way since I first got here and it’s a little disheartening to hear those things.

A lot happens in a month. Some highlights include celebrating my birthday – my community was wonderful and they decorated the house and made M&M pancakes and banana bread and coffee for breakfast and we had a combined birthday party that night for one of my community mates, Andrea, and I with Nicaraguan friends, going to Cañon de Somoto – a canyon up north where we hiked and swam in the river that goes through the canyon, celebrating Semana Santa (Holy Week) with lots of visitors – a few of the JVC volunteers that live in Belize came to visit and it was wonderful catching up with them and going swimming at Laguna de Apoyo again, Día del Verano (Summer Day) at school – the kids brought food and baby pools and we spent the day eating, playing, and watching kids throw each other in these baby pools, and of course I eventually got doused with buckets of water, going on retreat – the theme was talking about what we believe in regards to spirituality and at the end, we each wrote our own personal creed and shared it with one another. The retreat was a great chance to step back from all the craziness of visitors and school and be able to re-center myself.

To finish off this post, I wanted to share this little combination of words that I wrote back in March when I was having a really rough day. I just shared it with my community and I think it does a good job of expressing a lot of my feelings from the past few months.

To Acompañar

To be broken, stripped down, unravelled
To be lost and constantly searching
To question, to dream, to discover
To fall apart and then be rebuilt and put back together by a smile, an “adios”
To wonder what the heck I am doing here
To feel helpless, dependent, like a child
To be wrapped in the arms of community
To discover a persevering strength in the people
To cry, feel defeated
To have dance parties with a battery-powered strobe light
To eat lots of rice and beans and hang clothes on the line to dry
To take naps in the hammock
To feel terribly helpless and yet to see so much hope and possibility in the eyes of another
To discover who I am, me, at the very core, no longer having familiar and comfortable surroundings with which I have defined myself
To hold a hand, give a hug, laugh, listen
To be humbled, to try and fall short and try again
To be taken care of, welcomed, carried
To receive love freely given and to share my heart and love without reserve

I posted this the other day but it somehow disappeared! I also wasn't able to read any of the comments so if you could re-post those, I'd appreciate it. Love and hugs. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Learning to love the process

I just returned from El Salvador the other week where I was visiting a couple of good friends with whom I studied abroad in Uganda (one of them lives in El Salvador now). While I was there, I also had the opportunity to go to the march commemorating the anniversary of the death of Monsignor Oscar Romero. Reflecting on my experiences and how I have been feeling these past couple of weeks, I decided to include an excerpt from “The Romero Prayer” which seems very fitting.
                “We cannot do everything
                And there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
                This enables us to do something,
                And to do it very well.
                It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
                An opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.”

You know, sometimes I just wish I could snap my fingers and things would change - I would be fluent in Spanish, relationships would be instantly formed, my coworkers wouldn’t have to worry about money and safety and good, affordable health care, teaching would be a breeze and I would be able to actively engage my students in class, there would be an end to all the violence around the world, etc. Things don’t quite work like that, though, and I think that there is much to be learned throughout the process of struggling towards these hopes and dreams.

Relationships take time. I am very grateful for the relationships I have formed and continue to develop within the community where I live. Sometimes, though, I feel the desire to have my own friends outside of this community. I absolutely love my coworkers! They make me laugh and we have found ways to joke around despite the culture and language barriers. Yet, I haven’t quite reached that stage where conversation always flows easily, partly because of my Spanish and partly because I’m not really sure what to talk about. With time and comfortableness, I have confidence that these friendships will continue to grow. Throughout all of  this, I have been amazed by the patience, encouragement, and openness of my coworkers, their willingness to sit and talk to me, and most of all to share their lives with me.

Being in a new place, a different culture, attempting to speak a different language, a new role (I’ve never taught before), with different people, there are bound to be challenges. At times I feel like a little kid just starting to learn to speak, how to get around, being incredibly dependent on others. What incredible joy and beauty and blessings are being revealed to me, though! I am thankful for the strong sense of community and hospitality I find in Nicaraguans, for their willingness to be vulnerable, to welcome me into their realities, to take me by the hand and accompany me. I have so much to learn about humility and accepting help, since those of you that know me well know that I am usually stubborn and very independent. However, so much good can come from the intercambio and sharing of ideas, love, and culture. It’s all about taking baby steps, one step at a time, walking to the edge and jumping into the unknown and all of those other cliches. It’s about inviting myself over to one of my coworker’s house, risking the chance of being rejected or worrying that it might be uncomfortable not knowing what we’ll do. The other weekend, I did just that, though. I went over to a coworker’s house and it was really good. Yes, it was slightly awkward for a little bit but then we cooked lunch together, which was quite entertaining for both of us as she tried to teach me how to cook. We also watched part of the movie “Up” and played dominoes when it got too hot inside. After visiting with her husband after he got home from his class at the university, I headed back home very happy for the time we spent together and her generosity.

So, all in all, I guess what I’m trying to convey is that the journey is not always easy and doesn’t always feel good (feeling embarrassed, inadequate, homesick) but I am learning so so much everyday. Whether that is new Spanish vocabulary or taking risks or admitting that I need help, it is a continual process of growing, being broken, and refilled until I overflow. I continue to be thankful for the support of family and friends back home. While the physical distance may feel vast, I feel connected by love and prayers.

I’ve also decided to add some fun little tidbits about what life in Nica looks like for me.

You know you’re in Nicaragua when…
-- I am told by my co-workers that what I am currently eating that day for lunch is not really tough chicken (like I thought) but in fact it is tiburón, aka shark!

-- I start sweating at 8am and find out that the heat index reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit that day.

-- I prefer drinking a fresco, fresh fruit juice served in a plastic bag, to bottled juice.

-- riding the bus is a workout, with so many people squeezing on and trying to get off and crazy bus drivers, trying to keep my balance and find a place to stand sometimes leaves me feeling like I just lifted weights.

-- seeing volcanoes out my window on the way to work every morning has become the norm.

 Bianca and I - yes, we are sitting in buckets of water... I told you it gets hot here!

 Incredible sunset with rain off in the distance

 Napping in the hammock

 The friends I was visiting in El Salvador
Peace out.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Teacher, teacher

February flew by and it´s hard to believe that it is March already. The past month was filled with new beginnings, new experiences, and several new challenges. I am now in the third week of classes and I thought it would be fun to give you a glimpse into my day-to-day life.

Here’s a typical day for me (although each day is filled with its own unique conversations and events):

                I wake up at 5:30 am. Yes, I actually get out of bed before the sun comes up! I leave the house by 6:20 or so to catch my bus. The bus that I take only comes every 15 minutes so I have to be sure I catch it so I will be on time for work. (I have already missed it twice now and I´m confident that I looked ridiculous running down the street after my bus.)
Classes start at 7 am and end at 12 noon for most of the students. A little information about the school I teach at: the school is called Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe) and is a Fe y Alegria (Faith and Joy) School. This means, among other things, that it is a partially private school. The teachers’ salaries are paid by the government but the rest is funded by Fe y Alegria. The school provides the opportunity for children from pre-escolar up through the 5th and final year of secondary to receive an education. This is the equivalent of preschool through senior year of high school. Due to the number of students, fifth and sixth grade have classes in the afternoon from 12:30 until 5:15 pm.
                All that being said, in the mornings I mostly observe (and sometimes co-teach) English classes for first and second year of secondary (approximately 7th and 8th grade). I also am observing physical education classes and this week have started teaching the kids (in all of secondary) a mixture of gymnastics and cheerleading. This is both absolutely entertaining and enjoyable for me. I love being able to get out of the classroom and share my love of gymnastics with the students. I am also grateful for the opportunity to interact with them on a different level. These next couple of weeks, I will be looking for the students who seem to have the most potential in cheerleading/gymnastics. Then, I will pick a team of about 20 or so and we´ll practice once or twice a week in the afternoon. Vamos a ver… (We´ll see…)
                I eat lunch in the teacher´s lounge with a few of my co-workers. They are wonderful and very encouraging and supportive. In my opinion, talking with them is one of the best aspects of my job. Although my Spanish is no where near where I hope it will be one day, we are able to joke around and talk about a wide range of topics – even though there are numerous words that I don´t understand.
                In the afternoon, I do a lot of waiting around. I am observing the phys ed classes and I teach 4 different English classes (there are 2 sections of 5th grade and 2 of 6th). The thing is that some days I wait around until 2:30pm or even until 4pm to teach my one class. These English classes are usually the most challenging part of my day and I´m thankful I only have one each day, except for Mondays. I am by myself in the classroom, unless I ask a teacher who has a free hour to accompany me and help me with discipline. The average class size is about 35 students but some classes have over 40 so it is definitely a challenge for me to get all of them to pay attention. Also, while it is true that I´m teaching English, I mostly speak Spanish in class because they only know a few basic words. I have had some really challenging days and then a couple where I feel pretty proud of myself. Throughout college, I gradually developed a sense of admiration for teachers and that has certainly increased even more since being here. Teaching is hard work! Most days, I am not sure that anything I said sank in but I am definitely learning a lot.
                After I teach in the afternoon, I head home. By the time I get home, I´m exhausted. We eat dinner as a community every night and we all take turns cooking. Mondays are my nights. I am slowly learning how to cook, which my co-workers find amusing and offer me advice on what to make. We have one community night and one spirituality night each week. On the other nights, we might watch a movie or have some Nicaraguan friends over for dinner or read and write letters and catch up with each other. I try to get to bed by 9:30 or 10pm every night. I know that seems early but I do have to get up at 5:30am!!
               The nine of us Jesuit Volunteers here in Nicaragua just went on a retreat this past week and it was a great opportunity to spend time together and process our time here thus far. We were able to get out of the city and travel north to a little community up in the mountains. Our last morning there, we all woke up at 5am and hiked up a mountain to watch the sunrise. The natural beauty that surrounded us was incredible.    
Overall, I feel good about being here. While things have not been easy, I continue to be grateful for my community and the people that surround me. At the end of the day, I am exhausted and mentally drained from trying to think and speak in Spanish all day but I also feel very full.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cockroaches, Dogs, and Scorpions, Oh My!

As you can tell from the title of this blog entry, I have come in contact with several animalitos in our house. First of all, we have a dog named Muñeco here. He came with the school and is supposed to be our guard dog. However, he is extremely friendly and we have taught him how to sit, shake, and fetch a frisbee. I really like to play with him and give him love. Who ever thought I’d be a dog person? Here’s a picture of him:
I am not sure if I mentioned the set up of our house in a previos post but I share a bathroom with one of my community mates, Bianca. This bathroom is notorious for having many critters - cockroaches being the most prevalent. Now, when I say cockroaches, I am not talking about the tiny little things that some people have in their houses in the US. These are some decently sized bugs! To show their size, this is a picture of one next to a US quarter:

In our house, we strive to be people of peace and non-violence. Therefore, we have adopted the philosophy of not killing or harming anything that cannot hurt us. For me personally, it has helped me remember how every living thing has a role in this world and how it is better to live alongside all sorts of different animals, than it is to bring them harm.

And then there’s the scorpions…

I have an immense fear of scorpions. Maybe it is rooted in horror stories or from movies I have seen, I’m not sure. While their sting does not contain deadly poison, I have heard that it causes a great deal of pain and numbness, which I would like to avoid. Needless to say, every now and then Bianca and I find a “friend” in our bathroom. Just last night, we found this one:

When I was out in El Largatillo, the community where we went for language school, I was living with a host familia and my brother and I were talking one night. He was sitting across from me and I was standing, leaning against the door to my bedroom. All of a sudden, my brother got really animated and kept telling me to move. He jumped up and came over to where I was standing, just as I saw something slide under my door. He quickly went in and killed this scorpion:

Afterwards, he told me how close it had been to my foot, only about an inch away! My heart was racing for awhile after that!
One of my very first experiences seeing a cockroach here was sometime during the first couple of weeks I was here. I was already paranoid because one of the volunteers who left in December kept telling me stories about finding them in the house. So, one morning I walked out of my bedroom and as I was closing the door, something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. On the doorframe, near the hinge, was a scorpion with a cockroach in its mouth!! That was fun to experience first thing in the morning! Oh, and of course I took a picture of it.

Despite all the critters, I love being here. I have finally started going to work, although it’s just teacher meetings right now. I will write more about that next time.
Take care and know I am sending you my love.