Extreme laziness? Schoolwork becomes blog material

I have to submit a “mid co-op” reflection to my supervisor at my university, and it asks a few questions I was hoping to reflect on in a post for my blog soon. “soon” tends to mean never with these things… so I figured I could kill 2 birds with one stone.

***

Where you are working and your job title.  Also note whether this is your first, second, or third co-op.  State your job duties and the day-to-day activities associated with the job.

I am working at a non-profit organization in Nicaragua called Masaya Sin Fronteras (Masaya without Borders). This is my second co-op. I am teaching classes to middle and high school students on recycling and environmental conservation, where we are also developing a “Recycling Campaign” to collect plastic bottle caps we will turn into a public mural. Additionally I’m working with the community development department of the organization to seek funding for and help implement a community garden initiative in a sub-urban community.

 Have you accomplished any of the goals that you established before your co-op began?  Have you set new goals? If so, what are they?  What are you learning, including at least one unexpected thing?  How has the co-op contributed to your career and academic development?

My first goal was to soak in the culture of Nicaragua, learning as much as possible about the country, the language, the every day life. It’s been hard not to do that living and working here full time- this one was kind of a softball!

My second goal was to improve my Spanish. This goal is incredibly important to me, a part of my broader goal to be professionally proficient before I graduate. I don’t think I’ve improved as much as I could have by now – though I still have one more month of co-op. My listening skills have greatly improved though my speaking skills have been slow coming. The experience of working as the only English speaker at my organization has been invaluable, however – it has truly been sink or swim.

My work went in a completely different direction than I originally thought it would. I came here thinking I would be contributing to the work of a medium-scale microfinance program, to learn that organization had completed 1 pilot microlending project and was not planning to continue the program. I had to create my own role here, which has been challenging, though opportunities are plentiful. I never thought I would be teaching environmental education here (in fact, I think when we sat down to discuss my co-op, I said that was one thing I didn’t particularly want to do). But my interest and knowledge of environmental issues, and my experience working with students in the US combined with MASFINA’s desire to strengthen their environmental education program made for a perfect match. I’m learning a great deal about lesson planning, teaching in a second language, and keeping the attention of rowdy 12-17 year olds.

I also am grateful I’ve had the chance to gain experience in grant writing and project planning, as I know this is a broadly applicable skill.

This experience has strengthened my desire to work in international development and provided me perspective on how my role as a foreigner plays into global issues of poverty and environmental conservation. It has also left me with many questions I’m far from having answers to. Would my time be more impactful working to foster stronger environmental leadership in my own country? What should be the role of the US and its citizens in development around the world? How can we offer aid without intervening in the natural progression of building civil society and internal structures for change?

 I have felt varying degrees of discomfort with my privilege here every day, and it has made me strongly consider how I can most effectively play a role in this field of work. 

Share a success that you are proud of from your experience.  Share a challenge from your experience.  In what ways is your co-op providing new growth and development through these challenges and successes?

The recycling campaign at our school has been unexpectedly successful. When I first developed the idea with my supervisor, I was worried students would be uninterested, that the message behind the initiative would be lost, and that we wouldn’t be able to collect enough materials to create the mural we envisioned. But over the course of the last 2 months, the campaign has taken on a life of beyond what I imagined. Several times a day, students proudly run up to me with bags of bottle caps. They are involving their parents and siblings to collect them, and a few students have gotten their family businesses to be involved in the effort. The designs students have drawn for the mural are fantastic – involving art and music in the initiative has been key to its success. The campaign has gone beyond the classroom, as maintenance workers and people who work in the administrative office have started to collect bottle caps as well. It always makes me proud when the very stern Director of Finance of the organization enthusiastically brings me a plastic bag full of colorful soda caps to add to our collection. I’m encouraged that the campaign has taken on a life apart from my efforts and I’m convinced it will continue strongly after I leave.

A challenge from my experience has been everything that comes with working in a different language and work culture. It has been particularly difficult to adapt to the work pace and the way a Nicaraguan organization approaches planning. Promises to have a meeting tomorrow have a 50-50 chance of actually happening — these plans simply don’t hold the same weight they do in a work environment in Boston. For example, I have been working with leaders in the community where we are hoping to initiate the community garden. I have traveled 4 times in a row (45 minutes by foot in the 95 degree Nicaraguan sun) to meet with these community leaders at an agreed time in their homes, only to be met with “he’s not home! Come back tomorrow”. Moments like this can be incredibly frustrating and at times make getting anything done feel futile. I have accepted that this foreign concept of time and nonexistence of concrete schedules may be difficult for me to adapt to, but it works very well for Nicaraguans. I think too many foreigners come here and immediately judge the culture as backwards and hope to influence it. It may not be immediately efficient, but there are many benefits to this perspective; it values family time over work time, and makes room for the little hold-ups in life that American culture dictates we must stress out about when trying to get somewhere exactly on time. It is a different value system that I am not used to, but have learned a lot from.

Image

The office.

León, Nicaragua

I was lucky to spend 3 weeks of my time in Nicaragua in the beautiful colonial city of León. It’s worth spending a relaxing 2 or 3 days in if you’re visiting the country. The city walls are filled with murals, and its credit as the revolutionary capital of the country during the Sandinista revolution is palpable to this day.

SONY DSC

IMG_3871

While you’re there, check out some of the great cafés the city has to offer. UNAN (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Nicaragua) has its biggest university branch in León, and what’s a college town without more coffee options than you could possibly need?

Pan y Paz (1 cuadra este del supermercado La Union)
I think if everyone in the world tried Pan y Paz’s chocolate almond croissants, their motto “Bread is peace” would become reality. Seriously, these things are worth every morsel of the weird cultural shame you feel for eating such buttery, delicately French baked goods in Central America. They also sell amazing cheese (Camembert, Gouda, Swiss, Manchego… mhmm) made in country, great espresso drinks, and of course, fresh baked bread.

Café La Rosita (Leon Plaza)
The prices are reasonable, and the atmosphere is unbeatable. The second floor has lots of outlets for laptop users, wifi, a great breeze, and is no one will bother you for staking out there for 5+ hours on a Tuesday afternoon. Everything a college student needs.

El Sesteo (Main Plaza)
You can’t beat this location, but it’s touristy and overpriced. If you’re looking to sip an espresso and watch the sun go down over the cathedral, however, you  might consider it worth the premium.

Casa del Cafe (De la catedral 50mts al Norte, junto al hotel Best Western)
I love the consistent 90 degree weather of Nicaragua, but a few times I definitely succumbed to the need for AC. Casa del Cafe is a national Starbucks-like chain that sells nearly US-priced, but tasty, coffee and treats. And their air conditioning works overtime.

I also enjoyed a few museum visits while living in León. El Museo Ortiz Gurdián is the place to go if you’re looking to see Latin American modern art. There were some amazing pieces here, I only wish I could remember which.

My favorite museum by far was the Museo de la Revolución. My guide led me through the first part of the exhibit comprised of old photographs and newspaper clippings, giving a great recount of the political history of Nicaragua, all the way from William Walker, to Sandino, to the decades of misery building up to the revolution. It wasn’t until 15 minutes into the tour he stopped before a picture much like many others on the wall of gleeful young men and women armed with Soviet weapons. Do you recognize this man, he asked me? Shit, I thought. I should know this — I started guessing: Zelaya? Ortega? I had no idea. A grin spread across his face: It’s ME!! he beamed.

Roberto led me through the rest of the tour, which included a trip to the top of the museum and a great view of the grand cathedral of León. I couldn’t get over how cool it was that general of the FSLN was my tour guide — though I guess it’s not that hard to believe, given the war was only 25 years ago, and thousands fought. The personal touch of hearing his experiences made the $2 entrance fee seem almost insulting. There is no veterans benefit system in Nicaragua, he explained to me, which has made dealing with his PTSD all the more difficult. The revolution and the war are glamorized to a certain extent in this country, but many of the wounds have still not healed.

IMG_3928

IMG_3935

The Museo de Leyendas y Tradiciones was a creepy disappointment. We had a pretty hilarious English speaking tour guide, though.

Lucky for residents of León, the beautiful beaches of the Pacific are only about an hour trip ($1) away. You may have to share the dilapidated school bus with 100 other Nicaraguans and their groceries, a dead iguana, bicycle wheels, 5 different radio stations playing at once — but it is 100% worth it.

I find the beaches here infinitely more relaxing than the ones at home. The entire vibe is much more low key. People swim in their clothes, and no one really brings anything to do or anything to read, just plays in the ocean. You won’t see the miles of sunbathers and colorful umbrellas you find at the ocean in Rhode Island. Cold beer, fried fish, and a picture perfect sunset over the breakers is a good way to finish the day before catching the last bus back to the city.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

I miss León (and its proximity to the beach), and can’t wait to visit in a few weeks.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

no llores por mí, alemania

no llores por mí, alemania

Sometimes you’re sitting in a café that coincidentally sells bier and bratwurst and you read your best friend’s blog who is approx. 9.322,03 km away. And you just cry a little bit in public out of happiness when you read a post about how well she is doing and how proud you are of her. Because you inherited your grandma’s genes for this sort of emotional reaction. And you can’t help it dammit. 

And as the waiter brings you your coffee and asks if you need a napkin you remember how lucky you are to be blessed to know such spectacular humans.

And unexpectedly you’re filled with profound reverence for the fact that even though right now they’re not a train ride away, or a bike ride away, or a yell down the hall, just knowing they are a part of your life is sufficient.

This last week has been quite a ride with work starting and getting used to my new living situation, which I’ll write about soon (maybe). It’s comforting to take this step back and reconfirm what I know to be true – that what counts most are the people, not the things, we fill our lives with. If you’re reading this, there’s a 100% chance you’re one of those people… so thanks for being you!

El Año Viejo – New Year’s on the Beach

A bit late…

… but one of the highlights of my stay in Nicaragua thus far has been celebrating New Year’s Eve on the beach. I got a chance to put my toes (and ankles and knees) in the Pacific, and celebrated the Nicaraguan tradition of saying goodbye to el año viejo by burning a stuffed effigy of an old drunk man filled with fireworks on the beach. El Viejo is also traditionally holding a bottle of Nicaragua’s pride and joy, Flor de Caña.

SONY DSC

Fellow expats I talked with agreed that New Year’s is consistently the most disappointing and pointless holiday of the year back home. There haven’t been too many that rivaled this year’s.*

We enjoyed a relaxing evening at a friend of a friend’s rental  in Poneloya, one of the closest beach destinations to León, watching fireworks up and down the coast, and even had a small show of our own.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

*Katie and Dad, please don’t be offended, the only good thing New Year’s has going for it is your birthdays!

A week with FriendsNE in Nicaragua

A week with FriendsNE in Nicaragua

^ Check out a post I wrote for the FriendsNE blog on our work in Chacraseca. If you’re interested in learning more about how to get involved, message me or check out the Friends “Get Involved” page.

I remember making the decision to join the FriendsNE 2014 winter break trip while walking home from work in a slushy New England downpour. Harrison, my good friend and trip leader extraordinaire, had advised me to just go for it — he promised it would be worth it, and that all the details would fall into place. I had an inexplicably good feeling that he was right, and without much hemming and hawing, I booked my flight []


SONY DSC

Quito, round II

The last several days I’ve experienced the thrill and occasional loneliness of spending time in a new city. With blank days ahead of me and most of the main sights already seen from when I was in Quito at the start of my trip, I found myself having to be a bit creative with my activities, branching outside my faithful Lonely Planet guidebook… And least once going literally off the map. always a good thing to do on any trip.

My first morning I befriended a kind and worried mother who was also a guest at the hostel. We bonded over our discontent with the buildings lighting and general dinge. Her high school aged daughter had spent the last month studying Spanish in the city- this lovely woman desperately needed someone to mom. To be fair, I was a bit shell shocked after going from constant and terrific company to solo, and was gladly accepting of her mom-ing and companionship.

One of her momcomplishments was showing me how to ride the city bus. Prior to riding, the Ecovia (“green way”) conjured images of armed robberies, derailing cars, and sardine packed isles based on what I had read about online. To my pleasant surprise, it arrived more frequently than the subway in Boston, and was no more sketchy or malfunctioning. Granted my commute to work was delayed not once but twice this spring due to a car catching on fire…. So Boston is not much to compare to, really.

To top it all off, a one way fare is a mere 25 cents! I rode the rumbling red busses several times, smiling each time I popped a quarter in and swiftly arrived at the other end of Quito!

20130727-225331.jpg

Visiting the Museo de Guayasamin was a highlight of my time here. I was instructed by someone at my hostel to skip the big uphill walk and take a cab to the museum. I happily denied his suggestion, thinking offering up a chance for good excercise on a beautiful day was crazy. I took the Ecovia to Bellavista and started straight up into the foothills. It wasn’t until a good half hour into my trek from the bus stop did I decide to consult my map, when I realized my destination was conveniently just outside the boundaries of what was covered. I had no choice but to follow my nose. (For my dad- I was in the nicest neighborhood I have seen in Quito, so I was very safe.. Don’t worry) After consulting about 7 different locals, all who provided opposite suggestions, I proceeded up up up and finally found the museum, which was once Guayasamin’s house.

Guayasamin’s haunting artwork can be found throughout all of Ecuador- cheap prints adorned the walls of every hostel I’ve stayed at and most restaurants I’ve dined in. He undoubtedly holds a proud place in the heart of Euadorians.

The artwork stole the air from my lungs more than once with its raw and primal virtue, its unabashed exposure of injustice, its disturbing ability to depict human suffering. His style is sometimes referred to as indigenous expressionist, exploring the oppression of Latin America’s indigenous people.

20130727-231738.jpg

20130727-231748.jpg

He painted many other subjects as well, from his family, to his city. His paintings of Quito capture the landscape and spirit of the place flawlessly.

20130727-232251.jpg

Near the exit of the museum a quote is inscribed on the wall in life size script.
“Si no tenemos la fuerza de estrechar nuestras manos con las manos de todos, si no tenemos la ternura de tomar en nuestros brazos los niños del mundo, si no tenemos la voluntad de limpiar la tierra de todos los ejércitos, este pequeño planeta será un cuerpo seco y negro, en el espacio negro.”

“If we don’t have the strength to reach our hands out to the hands of everyone, if we don’t have the tenderness to take the children of the world into our arms, if we don’t have the will to clean the world of all armies, this little planet will become a dry and black body in a dark space.”

Beautiful words in addition to beautiful and moving art. I would strongly recommend a visit if you are in Quito. It’s free on Sundays.

Other adventures in the city included wandering bookstores (purchased a spanish copy of 100 years of solitude), enjoying coffee at Kallari cafe in the Mariscal area, and taking a day trip to the towns of Otavalo and Cotacachi.

Quito has been fun, but I’m ready to leave… Sounds just like last time!

20130727-233907.jpg