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La Semana Santa

Ay Dios Mio! The week, for the most part was a relatively calm one... but there were definately some rough parts! On Palm Sunday I participated in a procession at 8:00 in the morning. We had trumpeters and drummers and fireworks and everything. We walked around the neighborhood singing for about an hour until church started at 9:00. It was a particularly long one I thought... but I would soon learn that I didn´t know a thing about long masses.

On Monday and Tuesday we had regular service days and no classes. Thank God. On Wednesday I went to Confession, which was sufficiently awkward... I think I admitted to some sins that I didn´t actually commit. The priest started asking me questions, so I just kept saying... Si, Si, Si. Is lying about your sins a sin? Oh well. I started cooking for the family... but hardly anyone was home! Nieves was on a school fieldtrip at some shrimping place. I don´t quite understand it. All the students and Javier went home for the long weekend so it was just me, DN, DF, and Jaime. We started dance classes on Wednesday and also Javier, Dona Nieves son had a baby... so she is a grandma again. She was really excited and hasn´t stopped talking about how big it is. Evidently it´s huge.

On Thursday I can´t remember what happened. I was reading all day I think, and had dance class at night. I have been learning over at one of the neighbors houses. Marjorie is our teacher and she is a great dancer. Jaime is my partner.. and that´s been the source of a lot of my frustration. He isn´t picking up on the steps as quickly as I have been, and he´s been stepping on my feet. But, I smile because that´s what I think it will be like when I try to teach Bill how to dance. Right Bill?

On Friday, I started having regrets about wanting to participate in Holy Week activities. I participated in only 2 hours of the 4 hour march through Managua that culminates with a prayer service at the cathedral. It was really hot, and some people, for penitence were in any combination of the three following ways: barefoot (in Managua city streets! People drive horse carts around and just throw their trash and glass bottles on the street!), walking backwards (facing the direction of a large crucifix at the end of the parade), or blindfolded (I don´t know why.). When people were doing all three and walking behind me I got so frustrated because they would step on the backs of my heels and lean on me. There was no where to go. I think I might have developed some clausterphobia after that because I wanted to be by myself the rest of the day. I went with Jaime, and he walked ahead of me. He didn´t really check behind him to see if I was still with him so I almost lost him a few times. Or rather, he almost lost me.

Dona Nieves invited me to another procession at night. I said no.

On Saturday we celebrated the day by relaxing and hanging out together. At 7:00pm we had the mass in celebration that was not one, not two, and not even three hours long... it pushed three and a half and ended in us burning Judas. It was by far the most frustrating mass I have ever attended in my life. I was in the way way back, so I couldn´t see or hear. After the 9 readings the youth decided it would be a good idea to set off fireworks. Not the pretty ones we have on the 4th of July... no... the only that Kevin McCallister used in home alone. The noise came out of no where and scared everyone in the church, especially the old ladies and the babies. They cried. The babies... not the old ladies. Periodically one of the fireworks that hadn´t gone off with all the rest of them would go off. That was exciting. Every couple minutes you get the devil scared out of you. Perhaps that was the point. Anyways, I was frustrated, so I tried to concentrate on praying individually which helped. Afterward Dona Nieves told me that she considers attending that mass a kind of penitence, a punishment. I agreed with her. She asked me if I wanted to go to mass the following day (it´s now 10:30, and we just finished watching a giant doll, Judas in effigy, burn... it had more fireworks tucked into the clothes...). I said no.

On Sunday my family called me. That was a surprise because I didn´t know it was possible for them to call me at my house. That was exciting. I read for the majority of the day. Don Francisco cooked chicken for lunch. It was good. Dona Nieves was gone most of the day seeing the baby and finally Nieves came home at night. Now we´re all back together and things can get hectic again, like I´m used to.

In total, I read about 700 pages since Thursday, and I only have about 100 left for tomorrow and I will have completed two of my books. I have to read three more books and write two big papers. I´m getting nervous, but I´ll find a way to get it all done.

We´ve got some fun things planned for the last two and half weeks here (the time has flown by!). I may see Jack here soon. I invited him to the same club as us tomorrow. We´re going to practice the dances we have learned, and it would be great to see him there.

I am looking forward to coming home, but I want to enjoy the little time I have here. I can´t wait to see my family, friends and boyfriend. Dona Nieves told me that if I ever came back that I would have a place to stay. It was sweet. She also is thinking about things we can do WHEN I come back. I´ll be back in the States in 16 short days. It´s been a great trip.

Thanks to everyone who has kept in contact, has been reading my journal, emailing me, snail mailing me, and all that. I appreciate it. Much love,

Yak Attack.

P.S. My family was asking me to say my name how I say it in English, so I did and they laughed...hard. Then they tried to say it like I do, and I laughed...harder.

El Salvador and Semana Santa

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

It has been a loco two weeks. Sorry I haven’t written for so long, but really, I’ve been busy. I guess I will start to explain what I’ve been up to chronologically. It’s a bit heavy, so prepare yourself…Here goes:

From the 21 de marzo until the 26 de marzo, we went to El Salvador. The purpose was to experience the celebration of the 27th anniversary of the death of Monsignor Oscar Romero. He was a great Archbishop of San Salvador who advocated for better treatment for the poor, which was ultimately what got him assassinated on March 24, 1980. So, on Wednesday, starting at 5:00am, we rode 12 hours in a big bus to El Salvador. We passed through the western half of Nicaragua, a pinch of Honduras, and half of El Salvador to get there. Upon arrival we settled into a hotelita owned by Carmencita. She took great care of us and her cooking was phenomenal. Also, we met our guide Matt Eisen, Xavier graduate who went on the Nicaragua ASLS like us about ten years ago. He planned a full schedule of activities for us, all of which we thoroughly enjoyed. That night he took us to a little coffee shop called Foto Café. It was quaint and we just relaxed after quite a long journey cooped up in the bus.

On Thursday we went to Comadres. It is an organization of woman who have lost family members in the Civil War (1980-1992). They work together to find their loved ones and bring those responsible to justice. Hardly anyone who committed war crimes has been prosecuted. The government of El Salvador granted the population blanket amnesty after the war, which means that no one can be found guilty of any crimes that occurred during the war. The government wants the people to forget what happened and move forward, but the people want at least an apology for the suffering they have endured. A woman named Alicia, probably in her 60s told us the story of her experiences living in El Salvador during such times. She lost three children in the war, they were taken by the Army (trained by the US) and tortured and disappeared. She herself was tortured for 15 days. He story was so sad and she cried while she told us that she was 7 months pregnant when she was captured and taken somewhere underground. Her captors delivered her baby and killed it. She never got to hold it or see it. Both she and her daughter were raped. Her daughter became pregnant as a result and has a child now. Her story is not unlike many that we read about before we went.
Afterward we went to the memorial for the victims of the war that the Comadres helped to build. It lists 26,000 names, including Oscar Romero’s. It is still in construction and names are being added.
We went to Divina Providencia, the place where Oscar Romero ministered for the last years of his life. We saw the very place where he was killed- the altar. A drive-by shooter killed him during the 6:00 mass but firing a bullet straight down the central aisle into his heart. He died before the people could get him to the hospital. As I stood up to leave the church I saw Jack. Jack McLaughlin! I was so surprised that I started shaking. I gave him a hug and we caught up ever so briefly. It was really a fluke that we saw each other. We just happened to be at the same place at the same time. I went on a tour of Romero’s little house, casita, then talked to Jack a bit more. He planned on moving to Managua on Sunday. While I still haven’t seen him we are planning on meet up soon. It was really exciting. From our brief conversation I realized that he is learning about a lot of the same social justice issues that we are. I can’t wait to see him again.
We visited Café La-T where fairly traded coffees are sold, and then went to Equipo Maiz which sells goods (books, posters, t-shirts) that are easy to read for the majority of the population. The purpose of the books is to break down concepts that are difficult to understand for the general population, thinks like globalization and neoliberalism. I bought a book about transgenic plants because it interested me.
Afterward we watched the sunset from a lookout point called Mirador del Diablo. It was quite a climb but worth it because we could see the Pacific Ocean and many volcanoes from where we stood. For dinner we had papusas, an authentic Salvadoran dish. They are bland in my opinion but filling. They are usually made with corn and its like a thick tortilla filled with cheese, beans, or meat. During dinner we talked about all that we had experienced in our first day in El Salvador. For me, it was a turning point. I realized that this trip to Nicaragua is very different than going to Spain for a semester and learning. Here the point is not just to learn a different language and to experience a new culture. No, in addition we are getting exposed to big issues. And since we are aware of things were weren’t before, we have a responsibility to change the things that aren’t fair. The question in everyone’s head was, “Ok, but when I go back to the United States, what do I do?” “How will the things I’ve heard, seen, and done in the past three months really change me?” As you will see, the first day we only scratched the surface of what El Salvador had to offer us.
Antonio the kind driver of our van took us to a different lookout point at night so we could see all the city lights. It was really beautiful from where we stood. Unfortunately cameras cannot do Central America justice.

On Friday we went to the Museum of the Word and the Image. The most interesting exhibit was a photo montage from the massacre that occurred at El Mozote. I forget what year it took place, 1984 I think, about 1,000 people were killed in one day. There was only one survivor. The Salvadoran Army came into the town, accused everyone of being guerilla sympathizers, and killed them. I won’t go into the details but we read a short story about what happened and how both the US government and Salvadoran government tried to cover it up and it was difficult to read at times. Even after this event the US continued funding the war (against communism). It’s shocking that the military got away with it.
We went to the UCA where the 6 Jesuits were brutally killed by the Salvadoran army (see a theme here for this trip?). There was a lot of tribute to Romero and museum that explained a lot about the lives of the 6 people. They had pictures of the corpses taken right after the people were shot in the head. I couldn’t look at them.
As a side note and to prove that the world we live in is a small place, I’ll tell a little story to Meaghan, Emily, Julie, and Jack: You will never in one million years guess who I saw at this museum and later at a talk with some North American activists. I saw Tad. “You’re three snaps away from Z formation.” THAT Tad. His university from Texas was in El Salvador for the week. If you don’t believe me I have a picture to prove it. In any case, I couldn’t get over how weird that was.
Like I was saying…we listened to some North Americans who live and work in El Salvador, one being Matt Eisen, our guide. They shared the stories of how they came to live there and how they were working for social justice. I was feeling very inspired and could see myself doing some of what they were doing in the future. They lived simply and really enjoyed life. We’ll see what the future has in store for me. I can tell that I’ve changed a lot since being here. For one, I’d like to keep myself more informed of current events, and I’m also going to pay attention to who is running for president in the next election and make an informed vote. I’m going to be more aware of ways to live more in solidarity with the people here. I don’t want to be preachy, which is why I’m choosing these things for myself. However, I feel like I am responsible for spreading what I’ve learned. Now seems like a good time to remind people that our group will be having a “formal” presentation on Friday, May 4th, at 4:00pm. It will be about 2 hours, probably less, and we’ll talk about all that we’ve learned, show tons of pictures, and introduce you to the people that we’ve met along the way.

On Saturday we participated in a Mayan Equinox Ceremony. It took place in the ruins of San Rafael (?). We were on sacred ground… in an old Mayan City. There was a fire built and everyone gathered around it (it was so hot). Some Mayan priests led the ceremony and we saluted the four cardinal directions together. The rituals are centered around respecting the earth and living in harmony with other people and the environment. Later on the students got to add their offering to the fire, but I had left to sit in the shade by then. I went on to meet a very interesting indigenous man who spoke Quechua, Nahua, Spanish and a bit of English. Later in this day we participated in the march for Oscar Romero. I thought it was all together a very spiritual day, and thoroughly enjoyed taking part in both the Catholic and Mayan ceremonies. There were thousands of people involved. I watched some youth spray paint “Romero Vive” on a lot of buildings (while the police watched). We also heard people chant things like, “Con Jesus y Romero, los pobres son primeros.” (With Jesus and Romero, the poor people come first.) All together it was moving to see how it brought the people together. We ended at the cathedral and returned the next day for the mass in his memory.

On Sunday, we attended mass in the crypt of the cathedral, which is where Romero’s body can be found. The mass was somewhat crowded and for the first time I heard a priest preach real liberation theology. Several times during the sermon people clapped along and shouted in agreement. His message was that so long as there are people who are poor, we need to continue the fight for justice. On that note we visited a little community called La Cuchilla (The Knife, because it’s shaped like a knife). It is a community of 400 people who are being pressured off their land by the mayor who wants to continue to build up the land in San Salvador. What that looks like is the largest Burger King I’ve ever seen on the right hand side of the road and shacks with tin roofs on the left hand side of the road. It looks ridiculous. We talked with the leader of the community who has been fighting with the mayor for 20 years over the land. The mayor actually said to her, “When you have trash at the edge of your patio, what do you do with it? You throw it away, right?” In effect, the mayor is willing to leave 400 people homeless in order to build a golf course and to have a public greenspace. The people have been given no support from their government in obtaining water or electricity. So, they have one pipe that supplies the whole community with water, and they constructed it themselves. When the mayor found out, she sent people to cut it, leaving people without water. The community came together and fixed it, but the point is that the people need help. They asked us to find them and NGO (non-governmental organization) in the US who would be willing to help them with legal matters. We all were charged about this when we left. There is no end to the injustice in El Salvador. We left the next day, on a bus for 12 more hours to return to our Nicaragua with a fresh outlook. We noticed that the things we learned about in El Salvador don’t just happen there. They happen in Nicaragua, in all of Central America, in all third world countries, and even in the third world of the United States.

We started back up with our service work on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday as usual. I tried to contact Jack so that we could go dancing together but I couldn’t get a hold of him before he left for Costa Rica. When he comes back we’ll have a few more weeks.
On Thursday we went to Benjamin Linder and heard the Vice Mayor of Cuidad Sandino talk about the history and present situation of his city. We all had so much work to do when we got back- we had three papers due (and we still have more now), so we were all busy using the computers. Also, I failed to mention all the reading we did in El Salvador. If we weren’t traveling or participating in activities, we were reading. We have about five more books to read now, but the academic load has been heavy lately.

Over the weekend I did a lot of homework, writing, reading and researching. It is so hard because I don’t have all the resources I am used to having when I’m at Xavier. I only had the binders and books I brought with me to uses as sources for my papers, so it involved a close re-reading of my material. When I wasn’t studying or sleeping I was spending time with my family. It’s Holy Week, which is a very exciting time here. On Sunday I took part in a procession through the neighborhood with Dona Nieves for Palm Sunday. At 8:00am a group of about 75 Catholics marched around the barrio setting off firecrackers and playing the drums and trumpets. Somehow the grandkids of Dona Nieves saw us, so they walked with us too. We arrived at the church at 9:00am for mass. The very long gospel was hard to understand, but I got the idea and re-read it in my Bible afterward. The priests emphasized that this is the best week of the year and that we should act like this was the last week of our lives. Two hours later, mass was over. I went back home, ate breakfast and played with Andrea (5 years old) and Javier (9 years old). We had a very relaxing day.

On Monday and Tuesday I ran with Amy and her sister Yuneli from about 6:00am to 6:45am. I’m glad it’s not 5:00am, but running is so hard in this heat! We had service as usual, but classes were cancelled. Yesterday was such a good day. We are officially on a few days of vacation, free from classes and service commitments, and I’ve gotten all my homework done. I talked to my mom and Bill for a while on my new SKYPE account, which makes calls much cheaper for me. Also, when I got back from the cybercafé I found that I had letters from each of them! Bill sent me some drawings and a CD (it’s awesome!). My mom sent letters to me and the family, which I translated. They were tickled! They also want to know how you guys like the coffee (Presto) …. Later I went to the Parque Japones (for the second time that day) to play with Andrea and Javier. Much to our surprise there were a bunch of gringos (North Americans) there organizing games and songs and a little puppet show. I talked to some of them and they told me they were visiting for the week and came with their Baptist churches in California and Kansas. I was sorry I asked after that because the man I met talked my ear off about the gift of Christ in the evangelical faith. It was the first time in a while I wished I didn’t understand English. I couldn’t fake it though. Later, someone heard me speak Spanish to the kids and asked me first if they were my kids, (NO! Javier is 12! Are you crazy!), and then if I was Nicaraguan. I decided to be flattered.

Today is Wednesday, and since I don’t have service today I went to el Mercado Oriental with Dona Nieves. It is the largest market in Central America. It’s a bustling place, where you can find anything and it’s pretty smelly. The whole time we were carrying this bucket around that was filled with corn, cacao, and other stuff to make pinolio, a corn-based drink. We had to bring it with us to get it ground up at a little shop in the market. It was annoying to have with us because it weighed a lot and was bulky. Dona Nieves almost fell when she was carrying it which scared me sufficiently. And now, I’m going to confession with Dona Nieves at the church. The weekend will be very religious, and I’m looking forward to taking part.

We have three weeks left here, and I’m going to try not to waste them.
The Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua is such a different place from the Pacific side that when we visited for five days people asked us when we were going “back to Nicaragua”. The reality is that the whole Atlantic Coast is part of an autonomous region located within Nicaragua. We visited the Pearl Lagoon and Bluefields, both located in RAAS, the southern half of the autonomous region. The region gained the title of “autonomous” in 1987 during Daniel Ortega´s first presidency, and the buzzword has been technically defined as, “the recognition and effective exercise of the historical rights of the indigenous people and ethnic community in the context of national unity under constitutional principles”. The ongoing struggle of the coast is to be integrated into the rest of Nicaragua without losing its rich indigenous culture. Since Ortega was reelected, the costeños´ have high hopes that more of their constitutional rights will be granted within the next few years.
Our activities included speaking with Wesley Williams about the history of Pearl Lagoon. He emphasized the current need for the government to reallocate the communal lands to indigenous and Creole communities, in accordance with the national constitution. Johnny Hodgson spoke about the history of the Atlantic Coast and he mentioned the acquisition of the Atlantic Coast by the Nicaraguan army in 1894. This event was termed the “Reincorporation” by Nicaraguans and the “Overthrow” by the then sovereign nation of Mosquitia. Also a representative from MARENA (the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources) mentioned some of the environmental projects that are in effect to protect the rainforests in the autonomous region. A department director at the URACCAN (the University of the Atlantic Coast of the Autonomous Region) gave us the history of her institution and education in the area. We also spole with the leader of a small coastal community, and our guide, a native of the coast. We learned that the ethnicity of the people there is vastly different from the rest of Nicaragua. Indigenous populations include Miskito, Mestizo, Sumu, Rama, Garifuno, and Creole. In addition, the people have darker skin and the majority speak either indigenous languages or Creole (“bad English”, as our guide put it). The cuisine consists of a lot of seafood and a traditional dish called “rundown”, which contains coconut milk, potatoes, plantains, and shellfish.
Lucky for Dr. O´Hara, her birthday fell during the trip. In true Nicaraguan style we “serenaded” her at 4:00 in the morning with the song “Feliz Cumpleanos”. It was a good start to the day for everyone. We celebrated that night with birthday cake, and also had the unique opportunity to watch traditional coastal dances as well. The dancers invited us up to try to dance with them at the end, and we saw just how much harder the dances were than they looked. We struggled to move our hips even half as fast as the trained dancers.
To complete our experience on the coast, we finished the trip with a visit to the Keys. We took an hour long boat ride out to a deserted island in the Caribbean where we relaxed on the beach, swam and snorkeled. Some people saw starfish and others saw sea urchins, lobsters, tropical fish, king crabs, and coral reefs. The boys collected coconuts to eat and shared them with the group. On the way back, we saw dolphins swimming in the distance. We spent the evening riding 9 hours back to Managua, which more and more, feels like home.

Un Buen Viaje

Hello all- this is Kate. I had intended on updating this a while ago and never got arond to it- still in Nica time I guess. I don’t know if I still see a point in doing so as my mom described pretty much everything. I just wanted to give a huge “Thank You” to Jaclyn and her family for letting us visit them- and stay in their house. The trip started out well from the very beginning- entering into the airport. Some lady was finding us a taxi to our Bed N Breakfast when I looked outside and saw a green sign yielding “Xavier U.” As a huge dork, I thought “Hmm..that’s weird” and kept walking. (I was tired...- I took four naps and slept for 13 hours at night). Then a stranger (Alba) walked up to me and said “Hey, you’re Kate, right?” I froze. Then she let me know that Jaclyn sent her to pick us up. Pfew. When we asked her later how she knew it was us, Jaclyn had described us to her quite accurately: She said I was ‘mas fuerte’ (strong) and that I would be wearing something black. Correct. She said mom was Italian (short) and that she would be wearing a button-up shirt. Correct again. I realized later too that we were the only gringos coming out of the airport.

Some of my favorite parts of the trip were: the dance club (shocking, right?) we treated the family to Thursday night, making friends with another host family’s 12 year old daughter (I helped her with english and she helped me with spanish a little), going to Jaclyn’s service site and playing with the kids (the same ones my mom mentioned), seeing the trash dump where people live- it was very humbling, and just living with Yackie’s family- they are hilarious! Oh yeah, and finding out that my monetary worth is $2.50 (when Abby and I almost got arrested- thanks mom for paying for me).

Although translating for my mom when Jaclyn wasn’t there was difficult, I think I did okay- though sometimes I would throw in a ‘blah blah blah’ just to fill the space. I was really glad when Jaclyn was there to translate Jaime for me- I don’t know what it was, but I could not understand about 80% of what he said to me. Needless to say, I had a fantastic time with them- and I was sad to leave. Thanks again to Jaclyn and her Nica family. Hasta Luego!


Una visita buena!

Hola, de nuevo,

I promised funny stories, so here they are:

This took place in Ocotal. Me and Holly had just gotten back from a day trip and were at our house. I put my bag on my floor and came out of my room to talk to Dona Lesbia’s family. In the meantime, the little dog, Pelusa, went into my room and opened up my bag and pulled out my underwear (because we had gone swimming) and was carrying them all around in her mouth. Someone saw her doing that and put them on the side of the couch. Then I noticed some underwear perched on the couch and I got really nervous so I went back in my room to see if it was mine. When I came out my face was all red and Dona Lesbia asked my, “Isn’t that your underwear?”, and of course it was, so I had to go over and get it. It was really embarrassing, but they teased me about it for the rest of the trip. You kinda had to be there to see how embarrassed I was, because as most people know, it´s hard to embarrass me. I guess having your underwear on display in front of 6 perfect strangers did it for me.

The next story took place in the kitchen at Dona Nieves house. I heard Don Francisco banging around the kitchen, literally, so I came out to see what the matter was. What I saw was a little mouse jumping all around the sink, and he had a spoon that he was hitting it with. He got it into the “pila”, which is a large sink that doesn’t have a drain. The little mouse couldn’t get out and it was swimming all around. I was jumping all around the kitchen because it scared me. Don Fransisco “taught it how to swim” (Grandpa Stenger, does this sound familiar?), and I ran in the other room. Since it got quiet for a while, I came back into the kitchen and asked it everything was OK. Dona Nieves was trying to give the dead mouse to the cat, and when she saw me she used the spoon to fling it out of the sink at me. Now I have a dead mouse flying at me. I screamed, enough to scare the cat, and ran almost clear out of the house. The whole family was laughing at me. A few minutes later, once I calmed down, I went back into the kitchen and they summoned la Negra, the cat, (it´s black) to take care of the mouse. I was really scared, and I don’t even know why exactly. Maybe it’s because the last time I saw a mouse was at Disneyworld. Or maybe it´s because my Nica mom threw a dead mouse at me. Cualquier. (Whichever).

Mom, I liked your journal entry, thanks for posting your view of Nicaragua. I found everything to be a good representation of your experiences here. The name you were missing was “La laguna de Apoyo” and the vista point was “Catarina”. You two were great guests, and we all liked having you. I must say, it was really hard juggling my Stow family, my Nica family, my homework, my chores (thanks for washing some of my clothes mom, even though you didn´t use soap), and service. I was exhausted every day last week, and I felt like such a mom myself. I was worried about Kate and mom when they got back late from the beach, and I was afraid that they weren´t liking the food or weren´t getting enough attention and this and that. I´d have you back, and so would Dona Nieves, she was tickled. She doesn´t run down the street in her pajamas at 4:30 in the morning to hail a cab for just anyone you know. That´s love.

The next topic is the Atlantic Coast, which is where I traveled to this past week. On Tuesday, we leave for El Salvador. This has been the busiest month of my life, and it´s hardly halfway over!

Announcements: Happy St. Patrick´s Day to everyone, and please watch the Xavier vs. OSU basketball game and root for the Musketeers. Sullivan and Libertin, you´re going down. That´s all the trash talk I feel comfortable saying.

Hasta pronto, mucho amor,

No más sueño para la Mamá en Nicaragua

Thursday morning we checked out of Ideas di Mama's Bed and Breakfast and rolled our luggage down the street to Dona Nieves, which is about 2 blocks away. Tonight we were taking our host family out for dinner - they wanted pizza. Not knowing how many of the family (and friends and brief acquaintances) would show up, I carried lots of cords (1,000). We ended up having 8 people at dinner, which was about a 8 - 10 block walk. Dona Nieves, daughter Nieve, Jaime, two students that board at her house, Jaclyn, Katy and I. We ordered 2 XXX-Large pizzas and had enough for Don Francisco to have some for breakfast. He hardly ever leaves the house, let alone leaves his chair on the patio. Not wanting to move in and then leave, we invited them to Fran's birthday party at a club with a live band. We were there for a couple hours for drinks and dancing. It was alot of fun and again, our treat. In Nicaragua, if you extend an invitation to go somewhere, it is assumed it is your treat and that everyone is invited. Went through all 1,000 cords... Totally exhausted, I flopped into bed, only to hear the most horrendous sound I've heard in a long time. Don Francisco snoring in the adjoining room. When I say adjoining, I mean our rooms are connected by a wall with a hole in it, covered only by a curtain. Needless to say, being a picky sleeper, it was pretty rough. I frantically searched in the dark for my purse, where I tore a tissue in half and shoved it in my ears. Put a towel and pillow over my head and managed to get a couple hours sleep.

Friday Jaclyn was busy all day with double classes and also service hours, so Kate and I and the other families took a trip to Pacific Beach. We had one of the students host-sisters, Marjorie, arrange a van for the hour drive. She came, along with 5 other members of her family. Our van stopped at a police check point and asked for our passports. Only one lady had one. The rest of us had driver's licenses, except Katy and Abby, another Xavier freshman. Since they had no I.D. on them, they were going to be held at the checkpoint until we returned with I.D. That would have been an hour roundtrip to retrieve I.D. Marjorie said, you can go back or you can pay. We said we'd pay! It cost 50 cords (or $2.50) each to stop Kate and Abby from being arrested. We arrived at the beach and drove through about a zillion people charging the van asking us to eat at their restaurant. We found a place on the beach that had a large pavillion with hammocks. We spent the afternoon there and had lunch. I asked for fish, with the head on (la cabeza) so I could bring the head back to Dona Nieve. I also asked the other parent if I could please have the head of his fish (something I swear I never thought I'd say), so I came back with two fish heads in a doggy bag. We asked for the check, and about 45 minutes later, the waitress came out with one check for all of us. It took 1/2 hour to deciper who owed what and we got home about 2 hours later than we had expected. Had dinner, played UNO with the familia and went to bed, but not to sleep, because the snoring, combined with spanish-sleep-talking was in full force again.

Saturday the teachers had planned a trip to Mesaya, an active volcano. The students had already been there, but we stopped at a museum, which was new to them. We hung out near the craters and volcano and enjoyed the view, some went for a hike. It was about 100 degrees with no shade, so we stayed in a little hut and talked. Kate did the hike. We had lunch at a Papa Johns/Pollo Narcy, which was kinda like a KFC. Then we went to the market and had 45 minutes to shop. On the way back, we stopped at (Jaclyn fill in the name of the place), where there was a lake and basically a vista point where you can see all the way to Granada. We hung around there for about 1/2 hour and headed home. All of us had to pack because Jaclyn was leaving for a 5 day Atlantic Coast trip and we were flying out early in the morning. Dona Nieves had cooked us a special dinner, but we had had a late lunch and weren't very hungry at all. Not wanting to insult her, Jaclyn and I filled our plates, and not wanting to insult her, we had to eat everything. Katy took a small bit and said she wasn't very hungry. Jaclyn and I got about halfway done and couldn't eat another bite, but knew we had to finish it. I think we sat at the table for about an hour. Jaclyn got up to take a phone call, so while she was gone, I put some of my food on her plate. Realizing she didn't notice, I started cracking up. When she realized what I had done, we got into one of those laughs you just can't stop and caused quite a scene, but couldn't tell them what we were laughing about. I deferred our dessert for about an hour because she had made chocolate covered bananas for us too. Dona Nieves is a seamstress and with Katy's translating, I had asked about her business and told her I wanted to see some of the things she had sewn. That was Thursday. Tonight she said she would show me a dress she had made. She brought in about 10 outfits and described them. Went out - came back with things she had made Nieve - went out - came back with more things she had made Nieve. She makes the patterns herself by drawings that people give her and measurements they take. By now, it's late, we're tired and getting up at 3:00 the next day. As Jaclyns packing, Jaime and Javier and Nieve come in to talk. They are so friendly and funny and Jaime started out with "Let me tell you about how I met Dona Nieve". I knew that was going to be a long story. We got to bed pretty late, but had a good time getting to know them. They just love to laugh and talk and they love Yackie. She fits right in and I'm sure they will miss her very much. We had done and seen alot in 6 days. As Yackie misses hot showers, I missed cold water to drink, because it was extremely hot every day and our water bottles got warm very fast. We left Jaclyn in good hands and look forward to her returning home next month. Adios para ahora!
I'm going to update you on our whirlwind week in Nicaragua. Jaclyn has been traveling for the past 5 days and will pick up with her Atlantic Coast trip & I guess, will tell you the underwear and mouse story. Not sure what the underwear story is, but I got the mouse story the day before I left Dona Nieves house. Wonder why???

Well we arrived in Managua Monday morning and were happy to be greeted at the airport by Alba and Juan Carlos. Friendly faces holding a 'Xavier U' sign. We settled in to Ideas di Mama' when Jaclyn came a pounding. We had a nice reunion and brought her much needed shoes, chocolates and showed her the goodies we had brought for the cancer hospital. Kate and I slept 13 hours this night, which, if you know me, is about 3 days worth of sleep.

Tuesday, Jaclyn was busy and the teachers were kind enough to take us to a craft shop, where local artisans sell their goods and also on a tour of the city. This is the tour Jaclyn took which included the government (downtown) part of Managua. Lots of history/memorials of the recent struggles, two buildings that survived the 1972 earthquake. It was almost a ghosttown when we arrived in the afternoon. Apparently, there are tourists that come in the morning, but we were all alone in the center of the city. We saw the new cathedral, the old cathedral still stands, but is condemned because of it's unstability from the earthquake, the Japanese park, and the trash dump, that I believe Jaclyn described. It was worse than I had imagined. There were smoldering ashes all around, sickly, bony cows and dogs scavenging, kids and adults rummaging and packaging recyclables, that I'm not really sure what they do with because they have to send them out of the country because they don't recycle in Nica. Some had made makeshift houses out of the trash and actually lived there. The feeling I had was total helplessness. I don't see how you could help so many people because I'm sure they are illiterate, with no skills. They are invisible. The most amazing part of all is that the people in the most dier conditions, are not hostile or aggressive, as I see in the homeless people I work with in Akron. Jaclyn was busy for dinner, so Kate and I had dinner and went to bed early.

Wednesday, we visited her service site and took our first bus ride. That was an adventure in itself. We hung on to the bars in the aisles (no seats available) and rushed out the back door at our stop so we would clear the doors before they closed. Jaclyn is correct about the hospital. We, as volunteers, were invisible to the staff. They completely ignored us. We cleaned the play room up and threw out some old, broken things because Dan's family and Kate & I had brought new games, puzzles, crayons and stuff. We loaded up carts-on-wheels and headed off to play with the kids. Since my knowledge of Spanish is ZERO, I blew bubbles and passed out stuffed animals and did my best. Ended up playing with lego's with a couple kids where talking was really not necessary. It was exhausting trying to find things that they could physically do and were interested in. Blowing bubbles and popping bubbles was their favorite activity. Kate & I went to Jaclyns 2 hour history class. It's an informal setting, but they work just as hard as if they were in school. At night, Xavier threw a 'Parents Welcome to Nica' party. Started off slow and then ended with some fantastic Nica dances performed by two sisters and a boy friend of theirs. Dona Nieves was the master of ceremonies and she said she was very nervous because Yackies two moms were there.

Thursday, we started the day as the students do, we traveled to the Benjamin Linder Center and heard a guest speaker. This was also International Women's Day, so we ended with a special toast to women. This lady that spoke was one of the several dozen women who helped the guerrilas communicate during the Contra war. She lost her husband, and had to take care of 5 or 6 children, while passing notes back and forth to the guerilla leaders. They credit the women for helping them defeat the Americans in the war because they were able to pass under the radar and do things that the men couldn't do. If they were caught, they and their families would have been killed. Kate and I also moved out of the Bed and Breakfast this morning and moved into Dona Nieves house with Jaclyn. I then experienced true Nica life for the next few days... to be continued...

Ocotal and this past week...

My my my, I have so much to catch up on. I can hardly remember it all. We went to Ocotal two weekends ago, and lost our beloved Dr. O´Hara. She went back to the US to visit her family. However, we were led by the magnificent Alba, the new trip assistant. She is really cool and fluent in Spanish. We are lucky to have her. We arrived by way of Martin´s bus on Wednesday. We met our new Ocotal families. Now we have so many families to keep track of... the one is Ocotal, the one in Managua and the one in the US. Me and Holly lived together with a delightful family that had a mom, Dona Lesbia, two daughters, and each of their daughters. They also had a puppy. The house was gorgeous, and more like a hotel. We were well taken care of. On Ash Wednesday I went to mass at the Cathedral. I guessed that there were probably about 600 people in the church which was similar to St. Bernard´s, but without the balcony and much narrower. We didn´t get seats so we stood in the back. It was swelteringly hot and I couldn´t understand the priest. When it was time to give out ashes, there was no organization... everyone just rushed out to the center. The mass was two hours long. It was somewhat frustrating since I couldn´t understand the readings or the homily.

On one of the days we went to a coffee farm, one that won the Cup of Excellence which is a prestigious coffee competition held in Central America. It was situated against a cloud forest so we went climbing with our leaders. The scenery was beautiful, but we found out that the very parts of the forest we were in was where a lot of fighting took place during the Contra War (because Ocotal is located really close to the Honduran border). Later in the day we tried our hand at cupping, which is tasting coffee. We also visited the Virgin de la Piedra, the Virgin of the Rock, which is where Nicaraguans come to worship. It´s a huge statue. Ocotal is much smaller than Managua, cleaner, and the people are very kind.

I am getting all the days mixed up, so I will skip to the best part. On Saturday we went to the Canyon. It was such a great day! We hiked all around the Rio Coco and went swimming. Then we took a little boat ride (and by little I mean there was one many rowing it for everyone) to a place where we could raft around. It was awesome. The group really bonded with each other and Alba because we jumped off these really high rocks into the water. We were cheering each other one. It was mighty cute. Also, I bonded with Amy a lot because I had to share a tube with her, so I laid on top of her. It´s a good thing we´re friends, otherwise that would have been really awkward, right? That night we said goodbye to the Spanish teachers who came with us and to the families at the Despedida. Dr. Hodgson arrived with us and she got to hear all the reviews of the weekend from the families. I think they reflected accurately the time we had. After that we went dancing at a little club. I had a good time but really missed Bill, even though I know I wouldn´t catch him dead at a club like that (Mango´s...).

On Sunday Holly and I had chicken feet soup. It was pretty good. The group also visited la Cuidad Antigua. We saw places on the way of where Sandino fought in the mountains. The city was rich with history from the colonial period. We visited a church that was raided by pirates and two museums. The weekend was very educational, busy and fun.

Last week, on Monday I came down with something. I had white spots on my throat, but nothing to be too worried about. Dona Nieves made me some herbal teas and gave me cream for the outside of my throat that smelled like IcyHot. By the afternoon I was feeling better but Spanish class was rough. It was certainly an off day. At night Dr. Mirna looked at my throat and gave me a prescription. I went home and ordered it, and they brought it to the house within the hour. Cool, huh? On Tuesday I went back to La Mascota with Dan and Alba came with us. It was probably the worst day so far. We talked about why we didn´t like it and how we could make it better. A lot of the problem was that we didn´t know what we were supposed to be doing and so we didn´t feel like we were helping anyone. It´s disheartening to feel like no one appreciates you. But, she and Dr. Hodgson both reminded us that we are here to ¨accompany¨the people of Nicaragua. We are along for the ride, and just by being there with them on their journey is enough and is a lot. I thought that was a good way of thinking about it, and the next day was better.

Thursday we heard a speaker from a Women´s Organization at Benjamin Linder House. She talked about the ups and downs of her organization. It is very successful, since it started as a group of women who wanted to build latrines and get potable water for their community and has turned into two schools, an Olla de la Soya nutrition project, a health clinic and other services for community members. I liked a lot of what she had to say. On Thursday I read like a madman to finish the book ¨From the Revolution to the Maquiladoras¨for history class. I read a lot on Friday too because we had a paper due on Monday.

On Friday we had history class, and Dr. Fairfield and his daughter Fran visited. They had a lot to add to our discussions. He is the Dean of the history department and he visited to get a taste of the Service Learning semester. I think overall, he was impressed because he made a point to talk to us each individually, and he said that he really had a lot of respect for us for coming here to study. I appreciated how open his mind was to the program. On Friday night we went out to eat with a great big group at Rincon Salvadoreno. I had papusas which were delicious. Jeff was excited that we went there because he loves papusas. Also, his father has been visiting.

On Saturday, we went to Leon and brang a lot of the families. The day was a bit slow going because we had a group of almost 40 people, but fun none the less. Dona Nieves and Nieves both accompanied me, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We passed through Dona Nieves´ hometown on the way, Nagarote, and she was happy to show it offa s we drove through. We went to Old Leon first and saw the ruins of the colonial town. It was sad to see the place where a lot of indigenous people had lived for hundreds of years and to hear that they were enslaved by the Spanish when they came. The indigenous people had to build things, and in the process many died.

We went to Leon which was the location of many battles during the revolution in the 1970s. Leon is historically Sandinista, and it triumphed. We saw some buildings that were destroyed by the Guardia Nacional. We also saw a Heroes and Martyrs museum. It was a record of many of the young guerilla fighters who were killed during the revolution. The woman who guided us through the exhibits was the mother of one of the soldiers who died. She told stories about the cruelty of the National Guard and the heroism of the young fighters who opposed the Somoza dictatorship. We also saw the place where four students were killed. We read an article about it for class, so it was interesting to see where the events actually took place. To bring this home, the article actually mentioned the Kent State shootings and related the events to the incident there on May 4th. Four unarmed students were gunned down in front of their university. Now their pictures are hanging from the building in their memory.

We visited the famous church and climbed up the bell tower. There was a great view of all of Leon. It is a very elaborate church uncharacteristic of the rest of the churches in Nicaragua. Afterward we went up the Fortin, which was a fort operated by the Somoza government that was used to torture people. It was very eerie and located inside the present day trash dump. It was easy to picture people being inside there, but hard to imagine what they must have gone through. The whole place was dark and scary inside.

Just before we got on the bus to go to dinner we watched the lunar eclipse. It was very cool, and we learned from Amy what exactly that is. We had pizza for dinner, all 36 of us, and then went to a small venue and restaurant to see the Carlos Mejia Godoy concert. It was an intimate setting, and he even made an annoucement about Xavier. Martin has a lot of connections to CMG, and is actually his mechanic. I always think of what Mrs. Swinnerton told her religion classes in high school, that more important than finding a good husband is finding a good mechanic. I left early because I was falling asleep and I felt rude. I got back at 12:30am, but Dona Nieves and Nieves got back at 2:30. What troopers. On Sunday we had two parties. It was Frances´21st birthday, so Alba made her a cheesecake. It was much better than the cheesecake we had at Andreas birthday. We also got to sing the birthday songs, which are really cool... Felicidades... something something something.... I wrote a sentence of my paper after the party, felt proud of myself, and chatted with the family until the other party. It was a welcome-goodbye party for Dr. Fairfield, Fran, Jeff´s dad, and Dr. Hodgson. There were folklore dancers, Kenia and Jenny, some music, and food. I had a good time mingling, and also noticed a marked difference in everyone´s spanish language skills when we introduced our families this time. Then I went home and wrote the rest of my paper. Exhausted, I went to bed and got up at a quarter of 5 to go walking with the group. There are getting to be a lot of us actually! Me and Amy ran afterward and did some exercises. At the time it felt great, but today I feel really sore. Yesterday I went to La Mascota, it was a good day, but the whole time I wanted to leave because I wanted to see my mom and Kate. When I got back from work they were safe and sound at the hotel. I took them to meet Dona Nieves, who chatted our ears off, and put my translating skills to the test. Today, I went to work, as usual, and mom and Kate are getting a tour of Managua while I go to class. This has been a long time coming, and I still have two funny stories to tell. Remind me. One is about underwear and the other is about a mouse. I realize that this was a dry entry, a lot of events, but for my sake I need to get it in writing so that I don´t forget about all the things I´ve done here in Nicaragua. Also, when you see the pictures, they people and places from the stories will really come to life. I promise funny stories and more commentary in the future. Hasta pronto, mucho amor!


It´s Been a Long Time!

I don´t have time to write anything too long right now, but my mom and Kate just got here in Managua. They were picked up by Juan Carlos and Alba at the airport and got settled into their hotel Ideas D´Mama before I saw them. It was very exciting because I guessed what they would be wearing, and they guessed that I would bang on their door when I got there. So, we´re here checking in with dad and talking to Christine too.

In other news, a bird pooped on me this morning. It was only on my leg, and it was while I was running, but that didn´t change this from being a good day. Kate says she got pooped on yesterday. Maybe it´s a Stenger thing.

I am going to write about my amazing trip to Ocotal at some point, and I´m also going to have mom and Kate update this journal so that you can get a taste of their perspective here. I have grown somewhat accustomed to the language barrier and other things here, like not expecting water all the time and what not. I took my first bucket shower yesterday. I used only three quarters of a bucket, I was proud. There was a bit of conditioner in my hair leftover, but that´s ok, I just looked like a total greaseball all day.

Ok, we´ve gotta go, the half hour is up. The much anticipated news of that past week will come some time. I´m a bit busy this week. Much love (triple now!) from Nicaragua,

Jaclyn, Kate, and mom

Vamos a Ocotal

Ok, I’m in a bit of a pinch right now, because we just got back from an amazing weekend at the Island of Ometepe, situated in Lake Nicaragua, and now were are leaving for Ocotal tomorrow morning at 7:30. There’s not too much down time here! I want to start off by saying happy birthday to Emily Sullivan who is turning 21, and also, Happy Fat Tuesday!

On Friday, I went to work at Olla de la Soya because there was some kind of meeting at La Mascota. It is a nutrition project for children who don’t necessarily get enough food in the day. I had such a good time! I am trying to see if I can get my service site changed to this Olla, because they appeared to have a greater need for help. I worked with Krista and a teacher in the 3-year-old room. It is about half the size of a bedroom in Brockman. In other words, it is probably eight feet wide by eight feet long, and filled with 10 crazy 3-year-olds. The teacher tried to teach them about toys by basically lecturing, and it was excruciating, because the kids were really misbehaving. I did teach them the pizza song, from camp, “Oh, a le le…” and they liked it. Sometimes the only meal that the kids get for the day is from this place.

On Saturday, we left for Ometepe in the morning, at about 5:30 I think, but it wasn’t anything for me, since I’m usually walking with Dona Nieves at this time. She was so cute! She packed my up with sandwiches, fruit and a bag of juice. It took about 2 hours to drive to San Jorge, where we took a ferry for another hour and a half to the island. We met our tour guide, Eduardito, who tricked us big time. He asked us, “Cuantos haños tiene?”, which I took to mean, “How old are you?” (and was part of the trick, it’s said, “Cuantos años tiene?”), so I answered twenty. He looked shocked, and said, “Verdad?”, “Really?”. Anyways, he went on to explain that haños is an indigenous word used on the island that means “novios”, so I basically told him I had twenty boyfriends. Sorry Bill. Anyway, Eduardito was a really cool guide because he talked very slowly with us. I could understand him very easily. Anyways, we first went to out hotel, which was gorgeous. It was right on the water, and there were hammocks and soft black sand (because of the two volcanoes on the island… don’t worry, only one is active). We toured the city of Altigracia, the museum and the church. We saw some carved rocks that were over 1800 years old! The island has a rich indigenous past. We had lunch, then took a big hike up the “Mirador del Diablo”, the “Lookout point of the Devil”. It was a climb! The view from the top was gorgeous. We could see both volcanoes from where we were standing, the lake, and even the volcano in Granada… across the lake. It was about a million degrees outside, so everyone was sweating. After all this we went swimming in the lake, and it was awesome. Lake Nicaragua is the only freshwater lake with sharks… but Eduardito assured us that they only eat Canadians and Europeans, not Americans. Phew, close one. At night, we went back for dinner at the hotel, and afterward to a concert. We say the band Parazampopo, or something like that. They were talented, and I think I’ll buy their CD. I realized there what the people on the island must think of gringos. There were a whole bunch of hippies there, I’m assuming from the United States, with dreadlocks. They couldn’t dance very well. Anyways, when we went back to the hotel, I had a drink with Amy, Martin, Eduardito, Dan, Jeff, Matt, and Frances. Afterward me and Amy watched the stars twinkle. Never in my life have I seen so many stars. Also, me and Amy saw two huge meteors streak across the sky. We also saw a lot of shooting stars. I made lots of wishes. It was the perfect ending to a great day.

The following morning, we were given a difficult choice. We could either wake up at 5:00am to hike up a volcano in the blazing hot sun for five hours, or sleep in and go swimming. Needless to say, I went swimming. I, personally, started off the day rather goofily. I felt like I was in the twilight zone. My alarm didn’t go off, and when I checked Amy’s watch, it said 7:35. We had to meet for breakfast at 7:00 am. Oops. I rushed around, and me and Andrea went outside to find everyone else and apologize for being late. Except, there was no one anywhere. We did our best to communicate our problem to the people working there, but no one understood why I kept saying, was there a large group here at 7:00? Did they leave? I later found out that Amy’s watch is an hour fast. I don’t know why. So actually, me and Andrea were really early for everything, and no one was even up yet. I guess that’s good. Anyways, a weird start to the day. After breakfast (pancakes!), we went to a coffee cooperative to look at petroglyphs. My favorite one was the rock used for human sacrifices. We got our picture with it. After that we walked along the beach in between the two volcanoes. And then, my favorite part of the day, we went swimming at a natural spring called Ojo de Agua. It was a little pool that refills itself naturally with clean water. There was a tree swing. It was the clearest water I’ve ever swam in! I could see my toes on the bottom. Then we went back to the hotel and packed up. It started raining pretty hard which is a bit rare for this time of the year. I liked it because it was a warm rain. We got back on the ferry and went home. It was such a gorgeous weekend. I had a lot of fun.

Monday and Tuesday (today) were very similar. Both days I had service from 8:00 to 11:00, then Spanish class with Professor Ramon at 3:45 to 5:15. I am learning a lot in his class, and practicing with my family. I wish I could have talked to them more these past two days, but I’ve been trying to catch up on my calls home and my homework. In any case, we leave tomorrow for Ocotal, which is a small coffee farming town, to my understanding. I hear it’s much colder than Managua. That reminds me, it has been a little bit cold in the mornings, but my family has been whining about it the past few days. They told me that they are sleeping in sweaters and long pants and socks. It cracks me up. With how cold the shower was this morning, I had a reason to chime into the whining. When Dona Nieves stepped out of the shower to let me in, she said, “Que rico, que frio!” She was right, it was cold.

Random things: It can get up to 100 degree here. It is not fun wearing jeans in that kind of heat, but that’s what everyone seems to be wearing. I got the week off of walking. Gracias a Dios. I found out Amy Wetterau (who I hope reads this) was a part of the Recorder Club in grade school. The sorry group who when volcano climbing saw howler monkeys. The pictures sufficed for me. Dan took a video of them. Oh, academics are going well for all of us. We just turned in two papers to Dr. O’Hara for her to take back to the States for us. It’s a great weight off our shoulders to have those turned in. We have been reading our books at every chance we get. We have read so many articles and books, and listened to so many speakers it’s hard to keep them all straight. In any case, I feel like I am learning a whole lot. I am also improving at Spanish, I think that trying to read an article a day in the newspaper is helpful. Also, I can understand more and more of what people in the family are saying. And when I can’t, they tease me. But it’s ok, because I know they like me. I will have news about the younger Nieves very shortly… I’ve been talking to her a lot lately. Another thing is that Kate and mom are visiting here in less than two weeks! I’m so excited because I know they will have a good time here.

I’ll write more next week about the trip to Ocotal. Much love to everyone. I am starting to miss a few things from home. The first being hot hot showers, the second, McDonald’s. Hasta luego!