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mls12


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Volunteering with La Esperanza Granada in Granada, Nicaragua

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Avocados

Granada, Nicaragua


Yesterday I was hungry. It was before school and I hadn´t any food to make breakfast so I decided to stop in the market on my way to the bus stop for some local goods. Now, I´m not a picky guy so I decided to just eat the first thing I saw that looked good. Remember, I was hungry too. So I strolled up to this ancient Nicaraguan street vendor woman who was selling some avocados. An avocado would be good for breakfast I thought. I indicated that I would like an avocado in my now much improved Spanish and she replied with just the word ¨diez,¨ meaning ten, or ten cordobas which is about 50 cents.

Aside: An interesting phenomenon often occurs when I and other non natives attempt to speak in Spanish to Nicaraguans, especially those who are not accustomed to speaking with us all that often. In this phenomenon, no matter what you say or how good your grammar or accent happens to be, the person you´re speaking with will simply respond with one word answers, for example the price of what you want to buy from them. Its as if they expect you to not speak Spanish well or at all and are catering their responses to that fact. This has an especially frustrating effect on one of my friends from Spain, who happens to speak very little English. Based on his appearance alone, some people can´t ¨accept¨ that he is a native Spanish speaker and then give him a hard time and not answer his questions or engage in conversation with him. But I digress.

This phenomenon was happening to me at the moment as well. At first I thought 10 cords for an avocado was a little steep based on most prices I had heard or seen. I expressed this sentiment to the woman and she looked puzzled and replied ¨diez.¨ Ok fine, I´ll just take that one and I indicated one of the larger avocados. Again she looked bewildered and said ¨diez¨ just to clear everything up. I was now equally confused and reached into my pocket and held out a 10 cordoba bill so that this whole thing would end. She understood that and then leaned toward her pile of avocados and begin to put some in a bag: one avocado, two avocado, 3 and 4 and 5 avocados all in one bag. She handed it to me and finally everything made sense. I was clearly not versed in the ritual of avocado buying and didn´t know they came in groups of 5 only. She couldn´t fathom that anyone would like to buy any less than 5 avocados at once.
All told, I spent 50 cents on 5 avocados, what would cost about 7 dollars in an American Wal-Mart and probably closer to 10 dollars in an ¨all natural¨ farmer´s market. In the end I had an avocado for breakfast and carried the other four with me for the rest of the day to school and back.

This story reminds me of a great T shirt I´ve seen for sale in a few places and it reads. ¨100% Nica. ¡¿Y que?!¨

permalink written by  mls12 on May 28, 2010 from Granada, Nicaragua
from the travel blog: Volunteering with La Esperanza Granada in Granada, Nicaragua
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AIDS Hike

Granada, Nicaragua


Sorry for not posting in forever. Its been a hectic week or two here as my time in Granada draws to a close.

Now three weeks ago, a woman came to our weekly tuesday night meeting with a proposal to participate in an AIDS awareness initiative happening all over the world. The organization´s goal is summit the highest mountain in every country to raise publicity for the AIDS epidemic. At the top of each mountain, they snap a photo with a banner showing the number of residents infected with AIDS in each country. The idea is that because we can´t go any higher in each country, then, symbolically at least, neither should the number of AIDS infected individuals.

We had that week to think it over and about 10 of the volunteers, myself included, decided to venture to the north of Nicaragua and summit Mount Mogoton over last Monday and Tuesday. So the adventure begins...

We left from Parque Central in Granada with around 20 people: 10 of us, a couple organizing the event and some others who operate a hotel in the center of Granada. We traveled about 5 hours by microbus straight north and first stopped in a canyon, whose name is escaping me at the moment. The canyon is in a national park of Nicaragua and certainly one of the most beautiful places I´ve been while here. First, we walked about a half an hour descending into the canyon and then were met by some locals who were waiting for us to paddle-boat us across a small river/stream thing to where we could walk again. From there we embarked on a 2 hour or so, swim/walk right through the center of the canyon. Stone walls shot up at least 100 feet on either side as we swam through the narrow passage. After quite some time we reached our destination, although none of us knew it to be that- we thought we were just swimming around- when our guide said ¨OK, here´s the cliff jumping spot.¨

OK was right. We spent the next half an hour or so doing just that, jumping off cliffs. The main spot where people were jumping was pretty manageable, maybe 15 feet up. Then one of the guides pointed up, way up, to a perch that had gone unnoticed by me. Needless to say, I, along with some other brave (stupid?) volunteers, scampered up this huge cliff and took the plunge. It was exhillirating and pretty painful on my feet. I asked one of the locals later and he informed me that it was 19 meters up, about 60 feet.

The rest of day one was uneventful as we prepared for an early morning start to our hike of the highest mountain in Nicaragua. Tuesday morning, we awoke at 5:30 for breakfast in order to start our trek by 6. The thinking was that we would be all wrapped up around 12 or 1.

This is where the Nicaraguan flavor of the story shines through. We ended up leaving our hostel at 630. (half hour late) Then we drove to the local red cross to pick up our guides, who had their own van. (few more minutes) Then we went, obviously, to the local army base to pick up our 3 ejercitos, or armed infantry, to come with us. (just a few more minutes) By the way, the mountain is the sire of the 1969 war between Honduras and Nicaragua and the countryside is still laiden with active land mines. We brought Nicaragua´s finest to let us know if we were about to step on any.

We arrive at the base of the mountain, or at least where our bus can´t go any farther. Then the Red Cross took half of the group in their van to drive ¨a short way.¨ Well they got back an hour later while we chilled with our bus driver Elvis. (1 hour more late) Then my half made the bumpy trek to the place where cars really couldnt go anymore. There, the other group rejoiced at our arrival and the opportunity to finally get going. But wait, we must wait for our local guide man to arrive. OK, half an hour later, he arrives. He is an older guy, clearly a man of the mountains. He brings with him no water, no food or supplies, save a machete, for his day long hike. We finally set off. We go about 10 minutes only up a really steep part and take a quick break to catch our breath. There we find out encouraging news. Our guide man, who has lived in these mountains his whole life, has never summitted Mogoton, doesn´t really know anything about it, was just going to wing it for the day. Someone decides that is vaguely unacceptable and so sends for another guide. He gets there almost another hour later and brings big news. Since its now almost 11 (started this at 6:30) and we haven´t started hiking, its too late in the day to do Mogoton because if the rain comes we´ll be trapped up top.

Cool. ¨Instead we can hike this other mountain nearby that sorta kinda tall. Sound good?¨ Yes, sounds fabulous. Maybe not so fabulous for the goal and idea behind the initiative but be that as it may, we were hungry and ready to walk. So we ended up summiting the hill about an hour and a half later of some of the hardest hiking I´ve ever done. We got to the top took our picture and went back down, with out any major event.

On the way back, on the part where cars could drive, a friendly group of Nicas offered a ride back in their pickup. Yes to all 22 of us. That´s correct, 22 adults,15 of them gringos, 3 with rifles, and an old man with a machete all fit in the bed of an average sized pick up.

TL; DR (too long, didn´t read): Tried to summit highest mountain in Nicaragua, failed, climbed a hill instead and made some lasting memories.



permalink written by  mls12 on May 26, 2010 from Granada, Nicaragua
from the travel blog: Volunteering with La Esperanza Granada in Granada, Nicaragua
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5 year anniversary

Granada, Nicaragua


Last night at our weekly volunteer meeting we celebrated our director´s 5 year anniversary of working with La Esperanza Granada. All of the current volunteers, about 30, were there, along with the handful of ayudantes and full time employees. Some teachers from the schools and other member of the community involved with our organization came to celebrate too. It was an impressive turnout and made me realize a little bit how much our organization is really doing and how many people or director, Pauline, is directing.

Pauline made a short speech about ¨all we have done¨ over the last 5 years and it was really an incredible list of accomplishments. Over 600 volunteers from all over the world have come to help, 17 new classrooms have been built, 6 schools renovated and hundreds of children tutored among many other things.

The speech reminds me of another conversation I had with Pauline about the growth of the program. When she arrived and took over, she lived and worked in one of our volunteer Houses called Las Casitas with all the other volunteers. Since that time we have expanded to 4 volunteer Houses within the neighborhood, an office stocked with computers and employees (that happens to be connected to my House), and last I checked Pauline is not living with a bunch of 18-25 year olds anymore.

It was an inspiring night to celebrate 5 very productive years.

Note: I updated my list of crazy things about Nicaragua as well.

permalink written by  mls12 on May 26, 2010 from Granada, Nicaragua
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Thoughts

Granada, Nicaragua


Nothing terribly unusual has happened in the week since I last posted so I will devote this post to a number of accumulating and perhaps entirely unrelated thoughts about my time in Nicaragua.

1. The buses. I take the public bus to and from school every day and therefore get to experience its brand of madness daily. FIrst you get on the bus while its still moving, because it never actually slows to a stop, at the overly-busy bus station in the middle of the already packed and hectic food and everything else market. Inside is well over 100 degrees, and while you sit next to a local nica, a fellow volunteer or stand and get jostled around, people will come on and off the bus selling everything you could imagine, from plastic-bagged fruit juice to cutting edge cure-all pills that mysteriously cost only 5 cents. There are at least three people working each bus, a driver, a money collector and a guy that hangs off the back and throws over sized luggage or bicycles on top of the bus while, you guessed it, it keeps moving steadily. You can also create your own bus stop wherever you please which is one very nice feature. Also, the police here take the bus. Not entirely encouraging about their rescue and response capabilities but what can you do? Also, on long bus rides, us gringos routinely get charged more, only about 20-30 percent more than advertised and what the locals pay, but still more. Lastly, there are stickers everywhere on the bus. From Jesus, to winnie the pooh, to playboy bunnies to the last supper to more Jesus, the stickers cover all the sides and most curiously, a large chunk of the driver´s rear view mirror.

2. Stardust: The volunteers have sort of adopted a street dog named Stardust. He sleeps in various volunteer houses from time to time and follows us around whenever we go out at night. I don´t know where he eats, where his name came from or what type of mix he is. He is an enigma, an adorable enigma.

3. Glue: Lots of things to say about glue. In school, for some reason nodoby tapes anything to the walls. If you want to hang some art up, glue it. Want to post a chart of the food pyramid, glue stick´s over there, stick it on the wall. Also, and this is far more sad, the street children of Granada who walk around and beg all night, especially in the touristy area, are all constantly sniffing glue. They hide it in one hand that is stuck up their shirt and then pull their collar over their nose and inhale all the time.

4. Walking: Many of you reading this post have probably had the opportunity to walk next to me on some adventure or another and you may have noted that I walk pretty slow. I like to take my time, waddle my breaststroke feet around and arrive at places when I arrive at places. Well, let me tell you, I could be the speed walking champion of Nicaragua. Everybody walks at a snails pace here. So chill, so Central American.

5. Change: Nodoby likes making change for you here. A lot of times, us volunteers will have the bigger bills, like 200 cordobas or roughly ten bucks, that we get out of the atm instead of convenient smaller bills. So when we go to pay for lunch and whip out a 200, its customary that the person collecting your money will look at you like you just kicked a puppy. Occasionally tears are shed and then eventually you get your change.

6. Adios: People say adios here to say hello. That is all.

More to come for sure about the cultural idiosyncracies of Nicaragua.

permalink written by  mls12 on May 12, 2010 from Granada, Nicaragua
from the travel blog: Volunteering with La Esperanza Granada in Granada, Nicaragua
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Long Weekend in Ometepe

Granada, Nicaragua


We had a long weekend for the past 4 days as school was canceled on Friday and Monday due to Labor day which was over the weekend. (My school in particular had no classes today either because... 4 days wasn´t long enough?) For our time off, many of the volunteers decided to head to one of the best destinations in Nicaragua: Ometepe. Ometepe is an island formed by two large volcanoes jutting out of the middle of Lake Nicaragua.

On Friday morning we took a bus to Rivas, quick taxi to the port at San Jorge and then about an hour long ferry ride to Moyogalpa, the port town on the island of Ometepe. There is not much to see in the town itself so we took a bus to Playa Santo Domingo, the best beach on the island. The bus ride itself might merit its own post given the lack of paved road, the excess of people on board and the torrential downpour outside that combined to make me question what shape we´d arrive at our hostel in. Alas, we did arrive safely albeit soaking wet. We stayed the next two nights there in the Buena Vista hostel. During the days we went to the beach and a really cool water hole called Ojo de Agua. NExt we took a ¨taxi¨, that is a local guy with a pick up that could fit all 9 of us in the cab or in the back, for 3 dollars across the island to Merida. There we found a hostel that offered kayaking and buffets for dinner and breakfast. We took them up on all three services.

After breakfast the next morning, we embarked on the 6 hours or so of travel back to Granada, perhaps begrudgingly so. In Ometepe, the atmosphere was calm and slow, a stark contrast to the hectic pace here in Granada. I loved the beachy and relaxed setting there; it was closer to what I had imagined Nicaragua to be like before I arrived here. Despite that, being back in Granada is nice and a 3 day week at school is nothing to complain about. As an interesting aside, tomorrow marks the half way point in my stay. Time sure has flown.

permalink written by  mls12 on May 4, 2010 from Granada, Nicaragua
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Quuickly

Granada, Nicaragua


Just got back from a long weekend on Ometepe Island in the middle of lake Nicaragua. I´ll write a full post perhaps tomorrow but for now I need to take a shower. And call my mother.

permalink written by  mls12 on May 3, 2010 from Granada, Nicaragua
from the travel blog: Volunteering with La Esperanza Granada in Granada, Nicaragua
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Futbol!

Granada, Spain


As I briefly mentioned earlier, each afternoon I coach sports with the children while some others do extra reading and tutoring. Yesterday we had our first, and hopefully weekly, soccer game day with all 6 schools we work in. It was a raging success. The children numbered more than one hundred all told, and I think a total of 8 games were played on two adjacent fields, one a concrete basketball court and one an empty lot owned by an orphanage. As blase as the children might be about school, they are equally ecstatic to play soccer, represent their school and above all ¨ganar¨- to win. (I might add both teams from La Epifania, los pequeños and los grandes, won convincingly) Some of the volunteers who don´t even work with sports came out for the games and even lead some teams in chants for their schools. After the last game, everyone was zapped of energy from the long day and the hot sun but had a small problem. The transportation that had been arranged for the last two schools, about 30 children, wasn´t there! Therefore an impromptu game of keep-away then basketball then soccer emerged between the remaining 8 volunteers and the rest of the kids. Our doubling them in height was quite handy for the first two iterations of the game and perhaps precipitated their demands to return to soccer where their numbers mattered more than our height. The pickup truck arrived around sunset to find everybody truly exhausted from 4 hours or so of soccer. Most of the volunteers piled in the cab and all the kids, yes about 25 of them, climbed into the bed and held on for the ride back to their neighborhoods.

Staying in Granda this weekend, although we might go hike the nearby Volcano tomorrow. I´ll let you know

permalink written by  mls12 on April 23, 2010 from Granada, Spain
from the travel blog: Volunteering with La Esperanza Granada in Granada, Nicaragua
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Its not the best system, but its our system

Granada, Nicaragua


I´ve now completed two weeks of school down here in Granada and can mention some of my impressions. School here is quite unlike elementary school in the United States. All the five classrooms in my school have open doors that are connected by a courtyard area through which the kids are seemingly free to roam at any time. If kids feel like walking out of class, to play games, beat up their friends or even walk home, there is little that the teachers can or are willing to do to stop them. When the kids stay in the classroom they are a more well behaved but only slightly more well focused on schoolwork. That is, there really isn´t much learning happening. The schools strive for attendance and not much further. Its impossible to blame the kids for the state of affairs when they have gone to school with low expectations their whole life.

From what I have heard, those families with even a small amount of wealth will do whatever they can to send their kids to a private school. Those who cannot go to puclic school where only 30% of Nicaraguan students complete elementary school. Our program works in 6 public schools in a rural area making some families´ situations even worse. But that is why we are there. When we arrive each morning and ask our respective teachers who we can work with for the next half hour or so all the kids in class scream and beg to work with the gringo ¨Profe¨s. The kids want to learn, they are just hindered by their school and its administrators. For example, on Tuesday, school ended at 10 a.m. because teachers came from a number of surrouding school to, drumroll please, plan mother´s day festivities! It was april 13th, mother´s day is may 13th and they cancelled school for half the day to plan what the kids might do that day a month in advance. Not to take away from mother´s day but that seems a bit excessive.

Anyway, the kids are awesome for the most part. A few bad additudes here and there, but that happens everywhere. More later about the futbol league that we are trying to start!
Peace!

permalink written by  mls12 on April 16, 2010 from Granada, Nicaragua
from the travel blog: Volunteering with La Esperanza Granada in Granada, Nicaragua
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Day to day

Granada, Nicaragua


A typical day volunteering for La Esperanza Granada is as follows. Everybody in our house, Libertad as it´s known, gets up around 7:30 has some breakfast and leaves around 8:20 or 8:30 for our various schools. (We work in six different schools on the rural outskirts of Granada with around 4-6 volunteers per school.) We walk about 10 minutes to the bus depot and take a 15 or 20 minute ride to directly outside of the school that I work at, La Epifania. We start our day at 9 by planning whatever activities we are going to do that day. At 9:30, the kids have recess and they are free to come into the volunteer office and draw or read or whatever or go outside and play. My Swedish roommate Calle and I usually stay outside playing basketball or soccer in the dusty courtyard. Then at 10, the kids scramble back to class and then the volunteers work one on one with as many students as is reasonable for the remaining two hours. (School for the kids starts at 7 and ends at noon.)

Then, our ayudante, a college student named Vanessa who pays for her education by working with our program, walks us over a few blocks to her house where her mother cooks all the volunteers a delicious lunch. As always, the staples are rice and beans, the cabbage based concoction that they call salad and then a surprise, potatoes or eggs, that changes from day to day.

At one o´clock, the volunteers split up and either go into the houses in the community and read and play with the kids or do deportes, or sports. I do sports every afternoon, spefically basketball Monday and Wednesday and baseball Tuesday and Thursday. The kids are too crazed on Friday morning to be expected to do anything in the afternoon, so we don´t do anything then and our week work ends at noon on Friday. We have a baseball game today against Juan Diego, another one of the schools we work with, and La Epifania Tiburones (Sharks) are set to crush the other guys. Or at least complete a few innings.

I guess that´s it for the logistics and I´ll save my impressions of the educational system and my experience so far for another post.

permalink written by  mls12 on April 13, 2010 from Granada, Nicaragua
from the travel blog: Volunteering with La Esperanza Granada in Granada, Nicaragua
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First Weekend

Granada, Nicaragua


Our group of 10 or so heading to San Juan eventually grew to a boisterous 19. After school on Friday afternoon we took an hour and a half bus ride to Rivas and then a second shorter ride to our final destination, San Juan del Sur. Our group was too big to stay in one place so we broke up and found ourselves hostels all a couple blocks away. Ours was a big pink eye sore right on the main tourist strip that costs a lovely $10 per night. Despite the buildings ugly outside it was decent lodging with a balcony and a view of the pacific for only ten bucks a night. Pretty cool. On Saturday we went to the nearby beach of Remanso and surfed for almost 5 hours. the waves were beginner sized, which was fine for me. While there, I had some incredibly good fish tacos for a delicious 3 dollars. After that we had a dinner of either pollo or carne on top of Nicaragua's classic dish, gaya Pinto (sp?), which is a mixture of rice, beans and a bunch of spices. We stayed for Saturday night and embarked and the long sweaty ride back this morning.

Already I feel like I have a ton of stuff to write about, but for now I'll mention just a few universal truths for living in Nicaragua that I've picked up already.
1. Everything is ridiculously cheap.
2. All the food is ridiculously delicious.
3. Absolutely nothing starts on time.

As for 1 and 2, they are closely related, as one can get a filling and tasty dinner here for consistently less than 2 dollars (which perhaps enhances the taste).
And for number 3, we call that Nica time, meaning, for example, our one o clock bus from Rivas to Granada today arrived at the bus station at 1:10 or so and left at 1:45. Its not a bad thing, just something to get used to.

Much more in the days and weeks to come. Thanks for reading everybody!

peace

permalink written by  mls12 on April 11, 2010 from Granada, Nicaragua
from the travel blog: Volunteering with La Esperanza Granada in Granada, Nicaragua
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