Light.

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I love the way the light falls in this country. There is such a contrast between darkness, shadows, and the full-noon sun. Each tree lends a different type of shade, umbrellas provide a shelter from the midday sol, and gracias a dios, buses have roofs and open windows that let in the right light and keep out the strong stuff.

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As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have the pretty incredible opportunity of not only passing through towns and villages, but staying. Seeing, observing, and documenting life in tiny little corners of the world. Lately, these times have been providing some incredible photo opportunities with some of the most beautiful families and children, quiet city streets, and sunrises over mountains.

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As I look towards wrapping up my time here in Nicaragua, I have been going through pictures and figuring out what I have not been able to record yet. There is so much here and I so want to capture it in its essence. Light, smiles, architecture and more light.

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Don Félix.

About 3km off a small highway to the beach is a turnoff to a small pueblo tucked into some beautiful hills. Walk half a kilometer down this road. When you reach the main corner of the small community, take a right and follow the road another kilometer even farther out into the middle of nowhere until the road ends.  The small wood house on your left is where you can find this amazing guy:

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Meet Don Felix, who I had the privilege of getting to know on Christmas Eve. This incredible man is 105 years old, still collects firewood for his family and can often be found wandering his corn fields. I had gone to the house to teach some folks how to make sugar cookies and banana bread, and he was sitting in a chair in a corner of the smoke-filled kitchen. Greeting me with a gummy, toothless smile and I was smitten. His family asked me if I could take a few pictures of him to print, and well, duh, I agreed.

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He didn’t understand what was going on when I snapped this first one, but after showing him on the camera what the picture looked like, this was his face. The largest smile I have ever seen and a loud, triumphant “BAH!”. It is a little blurry, but the following photo is his reaction to seeing his picture on the camera:

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Quite probably the most special and precious moment I’ve had yet in-country. We took some more and he quickly got to work posing, then wanting to see his picture. I’m predicting an even longer life that includes a stand-up modeling career for this guy.

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Thanks Don Felix and fam for allowing me this privilege. Just such a joy!

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I’m going to attempt to post a bunch of Christmas photos and stories in the coming days, as well as a recap of my Dad’s time here the week before. These past weeks was full of amazing memories and I can’t wait to share some of them!

[Forward] Motion.

September disappeared, and for the life of me, I don’t know where it went.

Well, okay, that’s a bit of a lie. It was spent in classrooms and meetings, on the beach, dancing in rural town canteens at midnight, drinking coffee like nobody’s business, attempting to sleep, building ovens, moving houses, and taking a few days of vacation with friends visiting from the States..

But it feels like I blinked and now it’s gone.

I was editing photos the other day and noticed a theme:

Movement.

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When I first came to Nicaragua, I had the overwhelming sense that things moved slowly. But now, even as things around me to continue to move slow (think transportation, deadlines, communication!), I have the new sensation that things in my life are moving forward quickly.

It’s a strange, blurry place to be.

It has a rhythm and a beauty to it, but is a little nerve-wracking as well.

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I’ve now reached the point in my service where instead of counting upwards of how many months I have been here, I now am counting downwards to how many months are left.

I want to make sure I am soaking things in, really experiencing this country, this culture, this life. Really take advantage of the time I have left here.

My communities have so much movement, so much motion. So much moving forward, stepping back, moving a little more forward. It is a slow process, and part of the quiet joy I have been finding lately is letting myself just watch it happen and document it from behind my lens.

I spent a couple months trying to make sure that I was taking every opportunity that came my way, not passing up anything. But I’m realizing that for now, that is not what I need the most. What I really need to do is slow down. Watch the motion going on around me, be okay with it, and let myself enter into it when I can. But not push things. Be okay with being still, but also okay with hopping on the bicycle Nica-style (pictured below!).

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I know this may not make sense to everybody, but it is where I am at right now.

Moving.

Sometimes forward, sometimes backwards.

And occasionally bachata dance move that takes you to the side…. you know, just to keep things interesting!

Wait, So What Exactly Do You Do?

I’ve received this question, in one way or another, so many times over the last year and decided it is time to clear the air. If you have been wondering what my job consists of, read on!

My official title with Peace Corps is Small Business Development & Education Volunteer. A mouthful, I know. What that breaks down to is this: the majority of my time is spent in high school classrooms, co-planning with teachers, working on various programming projects for the Small Business PC Nicaragua program, with in-site side projects filling the rest of my time. 

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By the numbers:

8: classes I attend weekly during the first semester

15: classes I attend weekly during the second semester

5: counterpart teachers I work with

4: schools I work in

300+: students I see in class each week

43: student groups submitting business plans

10: families my site-mate and I are currently building improved ovens with

7: families participating in Personal Financial Education classes I am facilitating

2: student interns I am currently training and working with in a community project

4: side projects I am currently working on outside of the classroom

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About the classroom experience: Nicaragua’s Ministry of Education has a relatively new small business curriculum, Emprendedurismo (Entrepreneurship), that is being implemented and forms the main component of my job. The curriculum is a basic overview of what a creative business idea is, how to write a business plan, and how to find investors in communities. Fifth year students (seniors in high school) are going through this curriculum in their OTV (essentially job-prep) class. I also work with fourth year students (juniors in high school) training teachers on the curriculum and giving classes on vocational preparedness.

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About side projects: While I don’t have tons of time to spend on side projects due to how much I am in the classroom, I find a lot of joy in working on these little babies. Current projects include:

–  Building energy-efficient ovens for 10 families in a rural community

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–  Giving personal financial education classes to those same families

–  Working with two student interns to train them in community development practices, as well as personal financial education & stove building

–  Leading an English Conversation group once a week. Love these folks!

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–  Team Emprende, PC Nicaragua’s Small Business department leadership team. We plan the National Congress & Competition, organize fundraising opportunities such an annual Cocktail Party, and work to improve the Entrepreneurship experience

–  Designing a new database for all of the school contact and counterpart information that the Small Business sector has

– Playing photographer for Peace Corps projects such as the Inside Out Project in Granada, and other events

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So that’s the gist of what my professional life here looks like. A full, but fun life.

Tired yet?!

That One Time I Got Lots of Gas.

No, not that kind…

This kind:

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And oh, what a difference it made!

I still don’t know how I lived a month without gas when I first came to site. Being unable to cook for the three days it took me to change my gas tank this time around caused enough stress. Cooking my meals in the evening is a huge stress relief for me and to not be able to do that for a few days? Disaster!

Getting gas in my town is a little adventure. Here’s what it takes:

1. Wait for your gas to go out – your clue will be your stove doesn’t light and that quinoa that you have waiting to cook will sit uncooked for days.

2. Unhook the hose and nozzle from the gas tank – stand back from irrational fear that something will shoot out when you do so.

3. Lug the empty tank out to your front step – try not to bump the walls and take the paint of your host family’s newly painted hall.

4. Hail a ‘caponera’ (three-wheeled bicycle taxi) – this may take a few minutes of yelling trying to get the attention of man taking a siesta on top of his bike and require you to recruit the help of some of your students who are heading down the street to wake him up.

5. Hold on to your gas tank as you drive over the cobblestone streets – these are tricky little things, quite the movers and shakers, be cautious! Also, hold onto your hat as your caponera takes a turn – que peligroso!

6. Attempt to help the caponera driver unload the tank into the corner store – but really just stand back and watch as he does it for you.

7. Buy caponera driver a Pepsi as an extra “thanks” – he really did not have to lift that tank for you…

8. Answer, otra vez, questions about who you are and why you are in that store buying gas – “You are not German?!” “What do you mean you live and work here?” “By yourself?!”

9. Hop back on the caponera and brace yourself for the trip home – this time with a fully loaded gas tank to balance on the cobblestone  ride!

10. Get dropped off and wrestle the tank back into your casita – those things are heavy! They even leave imprints on your hands…whew, battle scars.

11. Reconnect the hose and nozzle to the tank – once again, stand back for irrational fear that the thing will explode on you.

12. Thank God for not having stomach hair – because when you light the stove again that first time, a mushroom cloud of fire explore out.

Yes, that happened.

Happy Gassing!