Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Huevos por el cumple

First, I'd like to apologize for my lack of blogging. But I have some time now, so here I go.
This past weekend we went volcano boarding on a volcano named Cerro Negro. Volcano boarding is kind of like sled riding or snow boarding, except instead of snow, you ride down on volcanic ash. Cerro Negro is an active volcano that last erupted in 1999. It's about a 45 minute hike up the side of the volcano before you ride down (for about 30 seconds!). It was really fun, but very very hot and tiring.

After the volcano boarding, we made a pit stop at a place that keeps iguanas. I think they said for eating (?), but I was unsure.

It has been very hot the past couple days due to the lack of rain. The mosquitoes have been driving me nuts. The rain here is very cold, so it cools everything down when it happens. Right now it feels like the city is going to burst with all the humidity and anticipation for rain.

This city is very loud, despite its small size. Trucks ride around all day long blasting advertisements for promotions and such. There are also trucks that blare political propaganda. It reminds me of something I've seen in a movie about Nazi Germany because the trucks play this strange music along with whatever they're saying. It's honestly pretty creepy. This morning I was awoken by dogs fighting in the street. There are a lot of stray dogs here, but they're usually pretty docile. Today, though, there were like 10 dogs gang raping each other and fighting and just being loud.

We saw two movies last week at the movie theatre. The theatre was surprisingly nice. It was air conditioned (the only two times I've been in air conditioning since I've been here!). On Wednesdays girls get in for free for ladies night. I think that will become a weekly thing...cuz why not?!

We went to a bar over the weekend with a live band. It was so fun and nice. They played a lot of songs in English, as well as local favorites. They started to play "Yo No Sé Mañana" by Luis Enrique when the sound cut out. I kept singing and got a round of applause from the tables next to me! Ha. Who would have thought that my singing in Spanish, let alone in English, would warrant any applause?

Work is good. It is hard to work here since it is so incredibly hot all the time, and I'm using this piece of crap PC (I miss my MacBook Pro so much!). Today I was reading about the effectiveness of human rights treaties. They are just not very effective, whatsoever. It's difficult to do this kind of work in a country where you cannot trust the judicial system. I think the only way we will find an end to Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in the community is by pushing a social awareness campaign (think: KONY2012 except without the naked breakdown in the middle of the street or the hypocrisy).

Last week I visited the community. It is small, isolated, and poor. To get there, we had to take public transportation to a gas station, call a taxi driver who knew the way, get out of the taxi and ford a small river on foot, then walk a little ways more until we were there. I met a 19 year old girl who is a cane cutter. She started when she was 14. She was carrying a machete. It was an intense but incredible day. We followed the community's nurse around while she gave flu vaccines to the very young and old. It is very hard to call attention to a community like that because it is so distant from the rest of the world. Why should we care about them? Well, I care at least. Hopefully one day the rest of the world will care, too.

Today is our friend's birthday. Do you know what Nicaraguans do to you on your birthday? They smash eggs over your head and then throw flour on you. What a mean tradition! But we did it. We tricked her into thinking she had to go into a meeting, while we were all holding eggs at our desks. It was kind of funny, but I was afraid we were going to hurt her! Eggs are not soft! She does not know this, but tonight we have a piñata for her!

Tomorrow is Mother's Day here. We have a half day at work for it. It's a much larger holiday here than in the States. There have been Mother's Day decorations up at bars and restaurants since I got here two weeks ago.

Well, that was a long post to make up for my lack of posts. I hope you enjoyed. I'll post again after I do something fun!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Um, ok, I just wrote a whole post and it's gone. I have no idea what happened. Sorry. I'll do a new post at another time. Maybe I'll have more to write about in a week anyway.

Monday, May 21, 2012

I think I have an audience now so I'll try to make this post really really good!

I'll start with the fact that I fed a monkey from my hand this weekend! Her name was Lucy. She lives on an island with 3 other monkeys in Grenada. We toured Las Isletas (the tiny islands) and our tour guide stopped at a tree to get some fruit so we could feed them. One of the monkeys does not have a tail because he tried to leave his island on a power line and electrocuted himself. Apparently monkeys hate water. Did you know that? I didn't. You learn something new everyday.

So, this Saturday morning we left bright and early for Managua on a micro. Micros are public vans that take you short distances to other cities. They cost C$46, which is less than US$ 3. They do not have air conditioning, but the drivers travel very fast so you always have a breeze. They are very efficient; I like them a lot. Then we got to Managua and took a public bus to Laguna de Apoyo. The public buses in Managua are a little nicer than in Leon. They cost C$ 22. That's about US $1. Eventually we made it to the lagoon. It was about a 4 hour trip (for that cheap!).

Laguna de Apoyo is just about the most beautiful place you could ever imagine. It is a lagoon that is inside of a volanic crater. The water is very warm and crystal clear. There are hardly any fish, so it is very clean. We had our own private cabin, which was very beautiful. We kayaked, dove off floating docks, drank, and swam. It was hard to leave such a wonderful place. On our way back to the city, I said a vulgar phrase to the cab driver that I heard once. He was SHOCKED! It was probably the funniest language experience I have ever had. I think it was shocking to hear such vulgarities coming out of a woman's mouth. He laughed--and then we all shared a laugh. I still don't know what it means, but now I know not to ask!

On Sunday, we went to Grenada. Grenada is the oldest city on the continent. They spend a lot of money maintaining the city; all the buildings are very old but gorgeous. In Nicaragua, many of the buildings are only one story because they were destroyed in the earthquake, but there are a few two story buildings in Grenada, so that is cool to see. We walked through the market--"que buscan?" (what are you looking for?)--and eventually we decided to take a tour of Las Isletas on Lake Nicaragua.

During our tour, we saw an island with a beautiful house owned by the Pellas family. These are the bad guys here in the Foundation. They own like 95% of the country. They own the sugar cane plantations and the rum company. It's hard to know how the country feels about them because it seems that the family has commanded a lot of respect among the people. Of course, here, we think they are evil because they treat the people as if they are disposable.

And this brings me to the reason I am here: work. Today we are going to the community of La Isla. We will take public transportation to Chinandega and then a taxi to the community. The Foundation does a lot inside the community, like giving school supplies and English leessons to the children. Today is a tour day for all the new volunteers. I am supposed to have a meeting with the two lawyers here about what my exact role will be.

And in other news, I am taking advanced Spanish lessons to expand my vocabulary and more effectively convey other tenses of speech. I speak fluently, but can only read at about a 4th grade level, so there is a lot of room for improvement.

Next weekend I believe I am going to Costa Rica. I'll update again soon.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hola a todos! I have arrived. On Wednesday around 5pm I finally got to Leon. I was awake for nearly 30 hours and exhausted. I slept like a freakin' rock that night. It rained last night a lot. Feels very nice out today, though I have a few mosquito bites already. But no importa.

I'm sorry to say, but I haven't taken a single picture since I've been here. I was always not so good at remembering to snap pictures, but more so when I feel like a douche bag tourist taking a picture. Soon I will have pictures for you all. The country is just as breathtaking as it was the last time I was here. The people are just as friendly and wonderful. The gallopinto (rice and beans) is just as delicious as I remember. The rain is still ridiculous.

The dorm is very nice. Everyone was really welcoming. Dwyer and I are in a dorm room with 6 beds. Right now there are only 4 people staying in the room, so it's fairly quiet. We have a maid who does our laundry for $US 3 and half of that money goes directly to her, and the other half goes to the Foundation. There are Spanish lessons for $US 6/hour, and again, half of that goes to the instructor, and half goes to the Foundation. I am about to take a refresher course today for 2 hours. I need to improve just a bit.

Yesterday I visited my host family and another family. It is incredible how welcoming everyone is here. I stopped by a hostel that I remembered and the woman who owned the hostel remembered me. Kisses on the cheek and hugs all around. It was wonderful to see everyone again. I feel like I am home again.

So, I'm not really sure what to write about since I haven't done anything new yet. I'll tell you all a little bit about our journey here because that is always a difficult experience for a foreigner. We arrived at the airport and left the building and immediately a taxi driver asked if we needed a ride. I was told to cross the street and catch a cab like the Nicas do so we didn't get ripped off, but the road was wide and I was afraid to cross with so much luggage. So we took a cab to la UCA (the bus station) for $US 20. Meh. Probably a bit of a rip off, but it was a long drive. Then we got to la UCA and there are all these vans and people yelling stuff like, "A Granada!" or "A Leon!" We hopped on one to Leon, paid for 3 seats (one for our luggage) and we were crammed like sardines in a van. There were maybe 14 people in a single van. It was hot and sticky and crowded, but after 2 hours, we arrived in Leon!!!!! I acted like a tough guy and really pissed a cab driver off because I thought a cab drive in Leon was still only $C 15 a person. Whoops, the rate changed to $C 20 a person. My bad. I kept telling him he was lying and I knew he was wrong, and finally I just gave up and believed him, and now I feel like a jerk since he was telling the truth. It really wasn't even a big deal. The exchange rate right now is 23 cordobas per US dollar. Pretty favorable, no?

Public trasnportation here is both great and terrible. Yesterday I took a public bus. $C 3.50. It was fast, but crowded and hot. They also have the camionetas, which are just trucks with a tarp over the back. You grab onto the guy's hand in the back and hop on as it drives past. Also very fast. Looks absolutely miserable, though.

I feel 100% confident here for the first time since I've ever traveled. Maybe it's because I feel like I have to be strong and knowledgable for Dwyer to get around, or maybe it's because I have grown since my last trip. Either way, nothing scares me. Nothing intimidates me. I feel very confident in my language abilities. I have been able to have tons of conversations and if I don't understand something, instead of smiling and nodding, I just ask. I feel like I am ready for something new, but I'm not sure what yet.

We are thinking of taking a trip to Costa Rica, but it sounds like it might be difficult. I think we could stop in at a travel agency and just ask. The bus ride is supposed to be like 12 hours, so we would probably have to take a whole week off work and Spanish lessons to take this trip, but it would be amazing. I was also thinking about maybe going to Honduras, but I'm hesitant because I don't know what there is to do there!

Anyway, that's that for now. This weekend we are off to Granada maybe? I don't really know. We will figure it out in the morning or later tonight. I'll write again after something interesting happens.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I am leaving for Nicaragua (again!) in less than one week. I couldn't be more excited. I could probably be a little less stressed. There is a lot to do before traveling, especially to a place like Nicaragua, but I think I have it under control. Don't I always have things under control?
I chopped all my hair off for the trip.

So, what will I be doing in Nicaragua?
Well, I am going to be working with La Isla Foundation (laislafoundation.org). They are a non-profit NGO working to find a cause and a cure for Chronic Kidney Disease, in Nicaragua particularly, but it is prevalent all across Central America and other parts of the world.
I will be working as a part of a team at La Isla. It is supposed to be real world law experience, but we will see how it all pans out. I am sure I will learn a lot. I don't know how applicable it will be to US law, but I think the experience will be valuable nonetheless.

How long will I be in Nicaragua?
3 months. Yikes. I will be staying at La Isla Foundation because they have dorms. I thought about going back to my host family, but they have enough going on at their house with 3 generations living there (grandparents, parents and spouses, kids).

What else will I be doing?
Well, if I have enough money, I hope to do a little inter country traveling. I'd like to see Costa Rica. I'd really like to see Honduras, but given the situation there right now, I don't really think that's feasible or safe. Honestly, I really just want to go everywhere, see everything, and do as much as I can.
I will also still be working for JURIST (JURIST.org). I hope I can maintain the same level of work that I have been doing all year, but the internet situation in Nicaragua makes me a tad nervous. I think it should be fine. It's beyond my control, though.

Well, that pretty much sums it all up. Please send me your address if you want a postcard. And Skype me! I'm bringing a shitty little PC netbook (very sad to be parting ways with my MacBook for awhile), so I'll have access to email and Facebook and such.
Last but not least, if you have time and little bit of money, COME VISIT MEEEEEEEE!!!! I promise you will not be disappointed! Nicaragua is a beautiful country with wonderful people and it's amazingly cheap for US tourists.

Next time you hear from me, I'll be in Nicaragua! Chau!