Sunday, December 17, 2006

Updates Part 2

More events/thoughts:

• A week ago, two teachers from my school showed up at my house and invited me to a party. They had told me about it earlier, but I had forgotten the date and wasn't particularly excited about it anyway. In fact, on the particular night they showed up at my house, the power was out on my street and I was looking forward to using it as an excuse to shut my door and go to sleep early. I obviousily didn't shut my door soon enough, and when they asked me to come I couldn't easily come up with an excuse given the power outage..."actually, I've gotta a lot of work here to do in the house without power, so I'm gonna have to pass," wouldn't work, so I reluctantly went.

We arrived at a house and the majority of the 25 or so teachers from my school were waiting, dressed in their best. Like every other Nicaraguan party I've been to there were an assortment of plastic chairs sitting around the room and a large stereo system that blasted music at an uncomfortable volume, making conversations beyond two word phrases impossible. This never seems to be a problem, however, given the only thing that is ever said to me at the parties is !Baile, David!

When I first got to Nicaragua, I would normally decline the requests to dance until the end of the night when everyone else was dancing, foolishly thinking that given the number of dancers I would be able to blend in a bit more. It never worked and generally made things worse, only prolonging the anticipation of the other party goers of watching the gringo dance. This particular night, I decided to try the exact opposite and immediately started dancing. Was I the only one dancing in the center of the plastic chairs? No, there was one other lucky lady, but you can imagine who the wallflowers were watching. To the cheers of my coworkers, I danced to the first song wishing I had had a few drinks before coming to the party, but my strategy of dancing immediately seemed to work as the hoopla surrounding my dancing was significantly less than what I had experienced by waiting until the end to dance. After the first song, I took a seat along the side of the room and was surprised to have one of the teachers hand me a drink.

Most of the drinking I see within my site is the drinking that's done in the park by groups of men that drink cheap rum out of plastic bags. The idea of a casual drink is almost non existent and I had never seen a woman drink before this night. Given the conservative nature of the teachers and that almost all of them are women, again I was surprised to see that many of them were drinking as well. But, I didn't have much time to dwell on this thought or finish my first drink before I was grabbed again to dance.

I quickly realized that the downfall of my new strategy was that now I had shown them that I would dance, making it that much harder to turn down an invitation to dance. So, I ended up breaking it down with just about every teacher that was there. "¡A ver, David! ¡Baile!" As they all drank a little more, things started to get a little more relaxed. First the cigarettes came out. Then, the chants of ¡Arriba! ¡Abajo! started and I laughed watching all the teachers dressed is their handmade, knee length skirts dance as close to the ground as they could. Professora Esperanza, with her painted eyebrows and short, curly hair, was the clear winner and was applauded with screams of approval.

Even further into the night the karaoke dvd made an appearance and some of the teachers took turns with the microphone. Unfortunately someone also brought a karaoke dvd with songs in know, all the greatest hits, ABBA, It's my party and I'll cry if I want to, Rivers of Babylon. The calls for "Dance, David!" turned into "Sing, David!" With horror I watched them put in the disc, and with delight I watched them switch the audio/video cords incorrectly. When they asked me what was wrong, I politely said "I have no idea."

By the end of the night, many of the teachers, though certainly not horribly drunk, had had a few drinks. Beer cans, cigarettes, CDs, and left over food could be found on every chair/table and the house looked more like a college house than a Nicaraguan sala. When I finally bid my farewells, I was happy I had come. I didn´t particularly want to dance as much as I had to (my original strategy is better), but it was really nice to see the women from my town enjoy themselves and relax. I wish it happened more often. I just hope that next time they don't bring the English karaoke dvd.

• I often eat two lunches or two dinners in one day. It doesn't matter where I go, without asking the family always seems to give me food. Not only do they give me food, they give me more of it than anyone else in the family. More meat, more soup, more fresco. I accept it with a smile and eat it even if it's the last thing I want.

Along the same lines, I've become quite a coffee drinker here. Like the food, almost every house that I go to, I'm given a cup of coffee. Last week, before two p.m. I had had four cups of coffee and a coke. It was rather disgusting, but what can I say when they just give it to me?

• I've posted some online pictures online. I have other pictures that I will post when I get home, so check again in about a week.

• Last week, my next door neighbors had a purisima, a celebration of the Virgen Mary. What seemed like the whole town showed up to celebrate, and the family handed out food, toys, and candy to anyone who showed up. The party was really nice, but unfortunately, the shrine to the Virgen included one of those plastic, Christmas dolls that play the really plasticky, annoying, looped music. No words, just a da da da, da da da, da daaa daaa da da to the tune of Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is coming to Town, and We Wish you a Merry Christmas.

It was drowned out during the party, but when everyone had left I began to hear it. I didn't think anything of it until I went to bed that night and it was still on. The houses here are really close and the concrete walls block no sound from passing through. It's not rare for me to be in my house, listening to a conversation that my next door neighbors are having. So, though I've learned to ignore the conversations, the blaring stereo at 5am, the roosters, and the fighting dogs, the Christmas doll was impossible to ignore.

I lay in bed annoyed, but surely someone will turn it off, right? Wrong. It played the entire night. The next day it continued and again drove me nuts as I went to bed. By the third night, I was no longer angry at the doll, I was furious at the 12 people that live in the house. Isn't there at least one person that is annoyed as much as myself. Had I not left for the weekend on Friday, I was going to pay my nine year old friend, who is always with a sling-shot in his pocket, to assasinate the thing. Thankfully, when I returned on Sunday, the doll was no longer turned on, was taken out by the other neighbors, or was out of batteries.

• I'll be in the states from December 21 through January 4. I wasn't allowing myself to think about my return trip home until this past weekend. Now, I can't wait for Thursday though I'm still debating what my first meal will be. I hope to talk to you over the holidays. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Updates: No particular order

It's been awhile since I last updated and a lot has happened. Rather than try to catch up with everything I'm just going to write about some specific events/thoughts in no particular order.

• I'm all moved in and settled into my house. I've done a lot of work over the last two months to get it into shape and finally I feel like I have a home. Among my bigger projects: building my shower wall up so that it covers more than just my lower half; replacing the actual shower head and pipes so that I can take a shower rather than a bucket bath; painting the inside of the house (it didn't quite come out as I looks like a mint chocolate-chip ice cream, but my options were limited and it certainly looks better than what it was); cleaning my backyard of most of the trash that had been thrown there; and building a fence in my backyard that, unfortunately, fails to keep the roosters, cats, dogs, and ducks that still get in.

I also finally have tables, chairs, bowls, more than two plates, and everything else that I was lacking. My site mate just ended her service and left me almost all of her things, including the above items and her first class mattress which, though is wonderfully comfortable, left me with a funny feeling after the first night because I didn't wake up with a deflated four inch mattress resting on the uncomfortable wood frame. You'd be surprised what you get used to.

• I actually think I'm moving up in my age group of friends now that I've been here a little longer. First, the street that I live on is also home to around 6 fourteen to sixteen year olds that I've become friends with. Normally they just come over and sit around, making me say swear words or asking me to talk in English. Although at times I wish I could come home without one of them seeing me and coming over, it's nice to have some friends older than 8 years old. Strangely, the 14-16 year olds remind me of hanging out with my friends from home which has a lot more to do with our immaturity than their maturity.

I also have become better friends with two kids that are around 25. They've helped me do all the work at my house and we're starting to hang out a bit more. My language is getting good enough where I can generally joke around which helps, but it's still hard to make friends here. In the states, you can easily go out and get a drink, go to a movie, or go out to eat. Here, at least in my town, there's nothing like that and if there was no one would have the money to do it anyway. So, the manner in which you become friends is fairly different than what I'm used to. But, like I said, I really do feel like I'm becoming friends with some people and I'm definitely not lonely here...if anything, I could spend more time alone given the street that I live on and the number of kids knocking on my door.

• My birthday last week was actually fun. I was expecting it to be rather boring and uneventful, but it went well. I went over to my host family's house for dinner and my host sister bought ice cream for me after. We walked by La Casa del Adolescente where a youth group that I hang out with meets and heard someone talking in there. I peered in and...Surprise! We ate cake and drank pop (you know, just like my 2st, 22nd, and 23rd birthdays in the States) and there were never ending calls for ¡Dance, David! When I got out of there and finally reached home to have a well deserved drink, my sitemate, and the other two friends I had mentioned earlier came over and hung out. Overall, I had a good time.

• Two weeks ago all the volunteers (around 150) in Nicaragua were invited to spend four nights in a hotel/resort in Managua. The conference happens once a year, the week of Thanksgiving, and gives us the chance to meet the volunteers in other groups and learn more about their work. It was basically two full days of presentations on selected topics that volunteers might be interested in, from your career after Peace Corps, to how to build a community garden. Anyway, the hotel was the same hotel that I stayed at the first three days when I arrived in Nicaragua. I remembered it being alright, but nothing very special and certainly not nearly as nice as the hotel they put us up in in Washington, D.C. So, when I found out that the conference was there, I was excited, but didn't think it was that special. I guess I had forgotten what I'm use to now.

The hotel was awesome this time around. The showers I took twice a day were certainly the nicest showers I've had here in Nicaragua. Hot water and water pressure, how quickly I had forgotten how beautiful you are. The food was all you can eat buffet and included more than just rice and beans. The air conditioning, the pool, the cable tv, none of this I remembered from my first stay when I wrote the hotel off as mediocre at best. At the end of the four nights there this time around (after 7 months here) I was ready to write a five star review. I think I've actually become accustomed to my living conditions here and now after experiencing this hotel, I'm a little worried what might happen when I get to the states.

You mean to tell me that I can throw toilet paper in the toilet and it'll flush. The water comes out hot! What's this...ahhhh, a napkin to wipe my hands off. I don't have to wear shower sandals?

• I finally feel a bit more defined in my work. The school year here ends at the end of November so I won't start teaching again until the end of January. As for my other projects, I'm working with three businesses here. One group makes bamboo baskets that they sell in the markets in the larger cities. Another group is a group of 10 or so women that are just starting to make coffee and ground up powders that the people here use to make several types of drinks. The third business is a restaurant that just opened in my town. Right now I'm working with the first two groups trying to come up with a name for the business, a logo, slogan, etc. Both groups are just selling their products to friends and families, but really have no real grasp of what a business is in the way that we define the word. They have both received funding from a program here in Nicaragua that hands out money to small businesses. So, although they were required to write a business plan to be considered for the funding, I've gathered that the plan was mostly written by outside people and not the actual owners of the business.

The restaurant is a little bit further along, despite being only a couple of months old. I'm just starting to help them with how they manage their accounting. I really enjoy working with the groups, but it is frustrating. There's so many things that need to be done that it's hard to figure out where to start, and everything takes longer than necessary. You want to do so much and it'd be so much easier to do everything myself (the stuff that needs to be done is very basic and would have been done before the business opened in the US), but I can't because one it's not my business or money, and two, they need to learn not only how to do it, but why they should do it. It's certainly challenging, but it's nice to have finally somewhat figured out a few other projects other than the classes at the school. The frustration now is a good type of frustration in that I have figured out what I'm doing, but I'm not in a position to fully start given the vacations here and my vacation to the states in a couple of weeks.

• My beard is over two weeks old.