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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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March Brain Dump.

My mind has been all over the place lately. Between traveling for work, keeping sane in site, enjoying time with friends, cooking,endless  bus trips, English group, and starting to think about post-PC life, it’s been a bit crazy. While I’ve had a ton of ideas of quality blog posts to put up, it just hasn’t happened.

So, welcome to the brain dump, aka, things that have been grabbing my interest, bringing me encouragement, and straight up challenging me. And some pictures, because, well, it’s me.

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I’m quickly becoming a tortilla-making pro and find that I rather enjoy spending hours making them. Even better, it is an amazing time to chat with local women who have been patient enough to teach me. I’m planning on buying a ‘comal’ to bring back to the States so I can make legit tortillas.

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Trips to the beach. Needed. Enough said.

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School is back in full force. Here are a couple fotos of my students presenting their work and the picture below shows a pretty normal day in the big high school here – hectic-ness.

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Earthquakes! We are still shaking and rattling and rolling here. Looks like the Pacific coast has been pretty active, and I just happen to live in the community where they epicenters have been here in Nicaragua. Keeping us on our toes, and thankfully, nothing hugely serious and no injuries or tsunamis. Much to be thankful for.

About two weeks ago I got to help put on a small business incubator, where we brought to together 20+ business owners from all around the country to spend three days in Granada looking at ways they can improve their businesses. I would consider this one of my favorite events I have gotten to help plan. Amazing to sit with business owners, here their stories, ask questions, and help brainstorm ways they could try doing things differently.

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The above picture is of me giving a presentation on human resources, and below is an outdoor hallway in the hotel we stayed at. I’m kind of in love with the pots, and the volcano in the background doesn’t hurt anything either.

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Group foto with our business owners and leadership team (minus me, I was taking the picture!).

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Monkey feet on a recent outing the zoo – yes, Nicaragua has a zoo. And it is pretty well done.

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Thinking of my sweet state back home and sending love to these communities:

This bridge. Hello, beautiful.

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A recent day trip to Leon to go volcano-boarding didn’t quite pan out, so I spend the morning taking myself on a photography and good coffee date. Not bad at all. And it meant finding this gem of a wall.

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And to end, this quote, from a blog I read:

“Instead of guilt, gratitude.  Every sip of cold water, every good night kiss, every moment of this very precious life.  It’s vital to recognize that our culture is well beyond the boundaries of comfort, having become guilty of lavish excess, and surely guilty of increasing injustice too.  Gratitude though, is for the fact that there no bombs on the roadside, that people gather in public places to express their views, mostly without fear of reprisal, that there’s food on the table and the possibility of friendship, love, education.  It’s far from perfect, but there’s much for which we can be grateful.  This is a starting point to living here well.”

~ Richard Dahlstrom, blog ~

The Unexpected Art.

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Every single bus ride out of site and back to site takes me by this abandoned building. And every single time, I think to myself, “I really want to photograph that.”

Well, it finally happened when my dad was here and we had a car to stop and go as we pleased.

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Last year I had the honor of photographing the Inside Out Project in Granada that a group of Peace Corps Volunteers organized. While a post on that is long overdue, you can read a little bit more about the project and see some of my photographs of the event here. The idea is to share a message through photographs that are then printed and posted in public spaces.

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That said, street art has since caught my attention, and this building has a lot of it.

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What makes this place really unique besides the art, is where it is. Just outside of Managua is a little mountain town, El Crucero, that is home to the windiest and blusteriest weather one can find within a hundred miles. This gas station is on the very outskirts of the town, right as it hits the narrow part of the mountain, where you can see on both sides of the highway, out to ocean one way, towards a range of volcanoes the other way.

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With a mix of posters with photos on them, political messages, and random kids’ graffiti, it has a bit of everything.

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I’d be curious to know who put what up. The painting of the man above is rumored to have been done by a famous artist here, but I’m not sure.

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Anyway, just wanted to show off a little love from a small corner of Nicaragua. Art, mountains, and photography – you can’t go wrong!

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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!

La Purisima.

¿Quién causa tanta alegría?

¡La Concepción de María!

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The Christmas season is celebrated in a unique way here in Nicaragua. Lots of bombas (fireworks that don’t actually look like anything, just make a lot of noise), roasting pigs, small strands of Christmas lights, and La Purisima, which we celebrated on Saturday night.

The holiday is a Catholic celebration of the immaculate conception of Jesus, and is a cross between the ever amazing Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating and Christmas Eve carols. I didn’t quite know what I was in for, as last year during La Purisima, I was relaxing on the beach with some surf buddies in the midst of medical craziness. My host family knocked on my door Saturday evening and invited me to go ‘gritar’ (shouting) with them. I was told to bring a ‘saco’ (traditional Nica bags made of woven plastic) and off we went.

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All over town, selected houses had spent the day decorating altars on the front porches or in side alleys. Each altar holds lots of plants, flowers, Christmas lights, a statue of Mary, and sometimes pictures of loved ones who have passed away. At one of my student’s houses, they had even taken woven reindeer and a wood cart to make a large Santa meets Mary display. Awesome.

We started about 6pm and managed to go to a couple houses before the crowds formed. But as you can see from the picture below, the crowds later came! At some of the houses we had to wait up to half an hour for a turn to go to the altar area and sing.

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When it is your turn, you and your group of friends and family sing carols about Mary from a book that is available to buy around town. My family selected a variety of about 4 different ones and at each house we visited, we sang two of them. My host mom was nice enough to help me find the right page every time so I could attempt to sing with them!

After you have sung for a few minutes, you step away from the altar/display and approach the door of the family’s house, where you are handed, without fail, a present. It was ridiculous and incredible. I then understood what the saco was for. We visited about 10 different houses and I walked away with sugar cane, oranges, cookies, lollipops, fresco (fruit drinks in a bag), plastic cups and bowls, tupperware and my favorite, this awesome mug:

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So here’s to the start of the Christmas season. My little strand of Christmas lights have been hung, I’m starting to buy a few gifts to send back home, Dad comes to visit soon. It will definitely be a different holiday season with not returning to the States, but a beautiful one nonetheless.