Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lovely job by a fellow volunteer

Hi all,
Just wanted to share this video done by a fellow volunteer, Travis Meier. You can read about the project here. Travis left to go home today. It was really sad.

Things are going well this week. Danone came today (yes, the people that make Activia and Evian water) because they will mostly likely fund our causality study. I think we impressed them with our enthusiasm and the number of volunteers that showed up on a Sunday, though we are not paid nor were we obligated to go.

The drama has passed, even though things are still a little strange with the staff change-up, but I think it is (mostly) for the best. My colleagues on the Legal Team are really just as good as ever, and I am really pleased with what we have done so far. It took us awhile to get into the flow of the work, but now I think we are working at a good pace and our visions are aligned with each other. Also, I'm really happy to be considered an actual staff member now, and not a volunteer. It's better for the ol' resume, if you know what I mean.

Unfortunately, despite finally reaching this happy place, I was thrown into a project that was never mine to begin with (after the other staff members were let go). I had to go to the community and conduct 8 interviews with current and former sugarcane workers. Because there are so few of us that can speak almost fluent Spanish, I was selected to go, even though it has nothing to do with my legal work. The Foundation collaborates with a man working on his PhD at the University of London, so one of us had to conduct the interviews for him. The results will take awhile to type up. So that sort of ruined my week for the legal stuff. Oh well.

As a reward for such a tough week, our boss is taking us to Esteli next weekend! Esteli is in the highlands of the country. The climate is much cooler, which I'm looking forward to. Also, it is quiet. There is no electricity or running water, however, sooooo that's always interesting!

I am beginning to worry about reverse culture shock when I return home to the states, especially after working with such a tough subject. The whole "first world problems" bullshit will most likely really get to me. So, as a warning to my friends and family reading this, please keep everything in perspective. The thing you may be freaking out about right now is nothing compared to what others have to deal with on a day to day basis. (Yes, that advice is for myself, too, as I often think about my law school grades and start having mini-heart attacks). I also want to start sharing more, complaining less, working out, eating right, and all of the other good stuff that I've been missing in my life.

A conversation that touched me today discussed between two other volunteers:
"Here, I bought you these from the market today."
"Oh, you bought them for me? Oh yay! I'm going to share them with everyone!"

And with that, I'm out. Peace. :-)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Drama at Work

Hi all,
I'm writing in the wee hours of the night because I feel like so much has happened. In the last two days 3 staff members resigned. It was a shock to many, and expected for others.
So, an NGO. How do you exactly move on from that? Well, the great thing is...when everyone is already working for free it is because they care. So lots of people have stepped up to take on the work that needs to be done. In this sense, I have been told I am lucky because now I am helping lead the legal team (as in, no longer an intern really). I think in the next few weeks I will have a LOT to report about work. It's going to be interesting, challenging, and fun.
I must be up in 5 hours to go to the community, so I must be off, but I wanted to write a quick update that things are all dramatic and crazy right now. I'll keep you all posted on the happenings.
Until then. Chau chau!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Work Environment

Hi everyone,

Nothing too exciting happened over the weekend, so I think I'll take this time to discuss what it's like to actually work in an environment like this.

But first, I did go to the beach this weekend, which was fun as always. I will miss being only a twenty minute drive away from the beach! I will not miss, however, sticking out like a sore thumb on public transportation. When I got on a camioneta (coolest form of transportation ever--a pick-up truck with a tarp over it!), everyone was like, "look at the china, there's a china, what's that china doing on here?" But whatever, I just try to be as nice as possible and remember that they don't see Asian people very often, and they don't mean offense by calling people by their skin color, race, etc. They call our Nicaraguan friend Chino because his eyes are kind of small.

It's kind of difficult to work here sometimes because our office is very crowded. It's hard to explain the feeling of not being able to find what you want, but not really needing the same things you need at home. No here. You just kind of accept the fact that you can't find everything here in Leon. A lot of things are in Managua, but Managua is a two hour commute, so we don't go there very often. It's frustrating to have big bills and know that you can't use them at certain places because they won't have change. We end up paying for one another and then paying each other back later, simply because we know a place will not accept our C$500 bill. The first time we went to the grocery store, we were like, wow, this place doesn't have anything! But now I feel like the grocery store has so much because I'm comparing it to what I can get on the street. Everything is relative.

We went to the community on Thursday. I've begun teaching English classes. It's ok. It's difficult because the children do not have text books or notebooks or pens. They have what we have brought. So we have to take the pens and notebooks back at the end of the class. They kind of steal things from us, like paper, but I don't blame them, so it's hard to care. Though we have to because we have limited funds to buy new things. A highschool group of kids came and brought the children a pinata, so we had a little party for them. When the pinata broke, they all practically killed each other for a piece of candy. It kind of made me upset. We also brought coloring books for them and the kids ripped out pages to take home with them so that they would have something later. That also made me upset. It's not something I haven't seen before, as I did similar work when I was in Argentina. But it's unsettling to know that kids in the US would be indifferent to a coloring book after awhile, and parents end up throwing them away after the kids neglect them. Here, every last page will be colored, and there won't be enough pages to go around. There is a library for them there, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that there are MAYBE 20 books in it. Additionally, they were donated, so a lot of them are in English, so they can't even read them. It's hard not to just cry there. Everything looks kind of normal (albeit, poor), but there's something dark and sad going on there. Seventy percent of the population is dying of kidney disease, an incredibly treatable disease in the developed world. In this sense, my work here is hard. It's emotionally draining and at times feels very pointless.

The heat has become much more bearable. I thought it was cooler the past few days, but when I checked the weather, it has still been in the 90s...I'm just used to it finally. I no longer sweat all day long--just in the hottest part of the day when I'm in the direct sun. It's all relative!

For the first time, we had a long power and water outage in the same week. It's kind of just whatever. It was annoying, of course, but it's not like it was enough to ruin our day. We are really conscious of our energy and water usage anyway, so it didn't have a huge impact on us.

Working here has a lot of frustrations for other reasons, as well. We are a group of very young individuals. The oldest person is 34. Most of us are students or very young professionals. It's kind of difficult for me because I crave structure and order at work. Well, here it's very tranquilo. We are kind of making it up as we go along. Everyone is very hard-working and intelligent, but sometimes I'm just like, "UGH," because I want shit done like yesterday. Everyone works 40 hours a week or more. And, don't forget, everyone is working for free. That's the craziest part of all.

I would absolutely recommend that everyone work in an environment like this. I think my experiences in Nicaragua from before made me appreciate the things I have in the US much more. I just think people would be much better working with what they have if they were used to working with so much less. And we wouldn't bitch about so much.

I just wish everyone could understand what I am seeing every day. It's part of the reason I haven't really taken any pictures. I want to show you all what the market looks like or what a crowded bus/camioneta/shitty cab looks like here, but I'm not going to be that gringa that takes pictures of people living their everyday lives. And it's not just about seeing it--it's about actually understanding what is there in front of you and why it is the way it is. Why don't they have addresses or street names here? Because of shitty governance. Now tell me the government should stay out of our lives. Please. When the government doesn't give a shit, this is what happens. Everything goes to hell. Now, that's not to say that I want our government in every aspect of our lives, but I think people are being a little naive and misguided when they say big government is bad. The things we debate in US politics are just absolutely ridiculous. There are bigger things to worry about. And we have so much power to use for good, which we don't, because we are too busy debating about fucking hanging chads and keeping our own citizens from exercising the right to marry!

Well, anyway, that's what I wanted to write about this week. Hopefully next weekend I'll have done something more exciting to tell you all about! Until then.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Hello, everyone! I just got home from an amazing weekend at the beach. We went to the Tortuga Hostel in Poneloya-ish. It was very relaxing and a much-needed break from Leon. It's crazy how much I missed my bed here...even if it's a single bunk bed!

I've been to this hostel before so it wasn't as ridiculous of a trip as I remember, but for anyone who has never been there, it seems kind of nuts. To get there, we take a "chicken bus" (old US school buses used for short distances) to Poneloya. We get off the bus and look for Chepe's Place, a random bar. Then we ask for Juan Carlos. Then Juan Carlos takes us on a boat ride somewhere, we get off, and a man with a horse and carriage takes us the rest of the way. This time it was a little boy, 13 years old, who directed the horse for us.

We spent the day playing in the ocean, getting sunburnt, and drinking. The waves here are so crazy. The tide is incredibly strong, so I honestly fear the ocean a bit. But I went swimming nonetheless and had an awesome time. Some of us attempted to learn to surf (I did not), and it was met with mixed success. A lot of bruises and blood. We played some beach volleyball with the other people staying at the hostel and everyone had one hell of a night. We met some med students from UC Davis that were doing some work in the communities near Esteli. They were so cool, and it was refreshing to speak with educated people doing good things, too, and not just random backpackers.

Something that I have gotten used to here is BUGS. They are everywhere. Last night, I went to lay in the disgustingly moist top bunk bed and there were bugs all over my sheets. I just brushed them off and tried to fall asleep. I was bit like 7 times in the first minute I laid down. Gross. Eating can be kind of annoying because you spend most of the meal shooing away flies. It's at the point where we honestly just don't care that flies are in our food. I can't tell you all how many times I've just pulled flies out of my food and continued eating.

The next day we just relaxed and swam. We decided to hitch hike home instead of taking the bus. We just sort of  walked in the direction of Leon and waited for cars to pass by us and thumbed them down. Eventually three of us ran into a blonde German girl, who was also attempting to secure a ride back to Leon. She is here also doing do-good work for a non-profit organization. Very cool to meet people just like us from all over the world. A truck finally stopped and we all hopped in the bed of the truck and they drove us into the city. We jumped out when we were where we wanted to be. I never knew hitch hiking could be so easy and so safe. There are probably not many countries in the world where you could so safely do so, but really, here in Nicaragua there is not very much to fear (despite popular silly US opinion).

I wish there were not so many tourists here (even though there really are not very many at all). US missionaries are the easiest to spot. They don't even bother to learn the culture or the language and they walk around in huge groups, looking stupid. I don't understand how a group plans on helping a country if they don't even take the time to understand it first.

My dilemma is: I love this country so much and I want everyone to see how awesome it is, but I never want it to change. More tourism means change. And fortunately for them, tourism also means money coming into their economy. But the problem is...I don't want the people here because they're ruining it! Haha.

Well, anyway, I'm tired, so...until next time! Oh, and sorry, but I forgot to snap pictures this time. Oh well.