Strengthened.

“We really find out what we are made of during these “in-between” periods of time. We have the opportunity to be fighters; to look within ourselves and find a sense of strength that we never knew we had. It’s in transition that we are strengthened, that our character builds and we really discover who we are and what we want from life.”

~ Erin Willis-McKeenly ~

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Here’s to a lot of sh*t going down over the last two weeks.

And to coming out the other side.

Standing. Breathing. Living. Rebuilding. Hopeful.

Thank you to my friends and family, for support that I have received from near and wide. For the beds that have been offered to me, for the laundry that has been done, for the prayers, thoughts, funny pictures and meals bought and cooked.

Nicaragua, we’re not done with each other yet. Get excited.

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Did That Actually Happen?

Maybe call it a lack of pre-planning or foresight, but there are a few things I never imagined happening here in Nicaragua.

The other evening, I sat down and brainstormed the first 30+ that came to mind. So here commences the not-even-close-to-being-finished list of…

“Things I Never Thought I Would Be Doing in the Peace Corps”

Teaching people how to de-seed tomatoes.

Working in operating rooms – with a scalpel in hand.

Learning how to bloodlessly kill a chicken.

Mastering mold-removal techniques for cement walls.

Teaching people how to correctly wash hands.

Pooping out worms.

Learning to identify clay content in soil.

Feeling completely and utterly inadequate on an almost daily basis.

Transporting 100 toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and floss packets between countries.

Setting and enforcing boundaries with neighborhood kids who want to use my apartment as a recreation center.

Throwing away books and clothes because termites ate through them.

Figuring out that mice are living in my bed.

Knowing the fancy hospital’s lab technicians on a personal basis. Frequent flyer, yo.

Watching a C-section of a young mom. Hi, cute baby!

Thinking about changing my career.

Being peed on by bats while trying to sleep. It burns, folks, it burns.

Riding buses for three hours to buy an iced latte. Worth it.

Running outside at midnight to do a celebratory dance in the first rain after 8 months of dust and dryness.

Enjoying washing my laundry by hand. It is therapy that I swear by.

Correcting my Spanish-speaking students’ spelling errors.

Being congratulated by my community on the Seahawk’s win. Wait, they were in the Super Bowl this year?

Explaining to small children and adults alike that no, vegetables do not make you fat. But that fried cheese you have in your hand? It could.

Feeling like my heart is physically breaking in two at the stories I hear from community members.

Processing the idea that sometimes (almost always), stepping in with money is not helpful.

Dancing to ranchero music at midnight in a dirt-floor cantina with a man I just met, who would soon become someone really special to me.

Standing at the airport and cringing at American mission groups and other tourists who are entering/leaving the country. We are our image here, and it is not always pretty.

Explaining to male professors why I do not wear shorts in public.

Asking male professors to stop cat-calling me in front of their students.

Playing a midnight game of chase with a mouse.

Throwing pottery in a rural mountain town with my dad.

Mastering the art of tortillas tostadas, a specialty in my community.

Explaining to my community on an almost weekly basis that no, Americans are not required to get a microchip implanted in their arm.

Being asked by a national TV show to dance with a towel in order to promote summer vacation, while at a bus busy terminal.

Getting sprayed by fresh, flying cow dung while waiting for a bus.

Getting teary-eyed every time one of my old students tells me that they are now studying in college or have gotten a job.

Chasing after a pig who ate through the Christmas stocking my mom sent, and ate the bag of chocolate. Bacon was almost had for Christmas dinner.

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Thankful.

I sit here in my hammock, already sweating at 8am, enjoying a cup of stovetop-brewed coffee that still has some of the grains in it because they can’t ever be completely strained out. The street outside my house is loud, kids heading to classes, people to work, the occasional cowboy riding by on his horse. Dogs bark, fireworks go off, and life goes on. Today is not a holiday in here.

Amidst the heat, noise, and unstrained coffee, I find myself thankful.

Really, really thankful.

Thankful that this morning I could wake up and ‘aprovechar’ the wifi of my neighbors to post this.

Thankful that I now live in a house where my things no longer mold just from being inside the building.

Thankful that I have a house.

Thankful that after struggling for years with gray/cloudy skies, I am living out a two-year respite of sunshine and blue skies.

Thankful that when I went to clean out my mini-fridge yesterday, I came to realize that over half of what was inside was deliciousness I had been given by six different families. Love.

Thankful that I have a mini-fridge to clean out.

Thankful for the hospitality, love and patience of my Nicaraguan community.

Thankful I have not gotten Dengue.

Thankful that my self-care afternoon this week included spending three hours at a rural beach swimming and splashing around a natural, crystal-clear swimming pool that forms when the tide is out with local kids.

Thankful that later this afternoon I will get to be swimming in a pool and enjoying turkey, gluten-free stuffing, and no-bake cookies with some dear friends and PC staff.

Thankful that I have met some pretty incredible people over the last few weeks who have changed my views about the future, careers, and loving the job you have.

Thankful that I get to see my dad in t-minus three weeks.

Thankful that regardless of parasites, thefts, and the hard days, I get to live out this dream of spending a couple years abroad.

Thankful for my incredible friends and family back in the States who I know are rooting for me and love me.

Lastly, thankful that I have no shame in posting this early-morning, puffy-face selfie for you all to enjoy. See Mom? I’m alive and happy 🙂

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Love you all dearly. Happy turkey day!

One Year & The Slump.

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Sometimes you just need to find a kitten, a kitchen chair, and cry.

There days when I just want to curl up into a ball. Where bed seems like the logical answer and reruns of TV shows are calling my name.

The days where despite running a successful teacher training this morning and seeing good progress with my students, I still lack motivation to invest in my job here.

The days I have to suck down the snarky comments to any and all things culturally different and of frustration.

The days when try as you may to continue eating and drinking normally, you can feel the parasites latching themselves onto your intestinal walls, sucking the weight off you and the life out of you.

There are days when you sick of arguing with your doctors that no, it is not IBS again, but yes, there really are creatures living me. Yes, I’d be happy to do the lab test to prove it.

These are the days I miss my mountains, my coffee shops, my friends and family. I miss walking Greenlake with Annie and lazy evenings on the couch at Drea’s.

The days I miss hot showers and convenience. And Target clearance racks. And being able to decorate a cozy little apartment. Mostly just being in control of my living situation, period.

These are the non-glory-days of the Peace Corps.

They told us when we were first in training that we might hit a ‘one-year slump’. I tucked that info into the back of my mind, but didn’t think about it again until May of this year. In May, I felt like I had hit that ever-mysterious ‘slump’.

It was two weeks of feeling un-motivated. Frustrated. Exhausted. And let’s be honest: these feelings are normal for a PCV, pretty much on a daily basis. But these two weeks were these feelings on crack. Amplified. All-consuming.

Two weeks of questioning what the heck I was doing here and if it was worth it to stay. Two weeks of making myself leave the house everyday, making myself continue going to work, doing my job, investing in relationships. It was hard.

But it passed.

Life got good again.

And then it hit again.

This week marks one year here in my site. One year.

In some ways it seems like it has gone by quickly, in other ways I feel like a turtle, just crawling along inch by inch.

A lot has happened in the last year. Lots of changes. Lots of illnesses. Lots of little victories. Lots of lots.

I love keeping track of numbers, so here is a little count of my life in the past year:

46: books read

4: jigsaw puzzles completed

500+: bus rides

9: parasites I have diagnosed with

4: bacterial infections.

3: rounds of amoebas

3: rounds of food poisoning/random stomach illnesses

600+: students worked with

1: police report filed

3: security incidents reported to Peace Corps

6,000+: photos taken

Maybe it’s just a bad day(s). Maybe it is having been really sick all of the last week. Maybe it is the dreaded slump. Whatever it is, I’m ready for it to be over.

So there we go. Just keeping honest down here in the these parts of Slumpsville, Central America.

On my radar for the coming days: go to the beach, camp on top of a volcano, splurge on some good coffee, and keep on keeping on.

Here’s to letting Nicaragua do its thing in me and being open to it as it comes.

Thoughts On A Week Gone Awry.

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So, as you might have gathered from previous posts, Colin’s trip did not quite turn out as we had expected. You’ve heard his version, now here’s mine:

Friday

11:30 am – Land in Managua after taking the red-eye from Seattle. Head to the PC office.

2:00 pm – Go to bus station to go back to my site. I get robbed. Get off the bus.

3:00 pm  – Back to the PC office to fill out paperwork and spend the night.

8:00 pm – Colin eats no less than 8 tacos, chips, guacamole, and two drinks for dinner.

Saturday

7:00 am – Try to get Colin out of bed. It’s surfing day!

8:00 am – Give up on the buses and hire a taxi to take us out to the beach.

10:00 am – Arrive at the beach. Meet my fellow PCV friend Sam. Drink fresh juice in our beachfront cabana.

11:00 am – Colin tries his hand at surfing, thanks to Sam. I awkwardly try to float around on my borrowed board and watch the activities.

11:30 ish – I have a funny feeling that something has happened and get out of the water. Go check my cell phone. Three calls and four text messages inform me that there has been a 6.4 earthquake three miles south of us and we are to evacuate ASAP.

11:45 am – After using an air horn and jumping up and down to get Colin and Sam’s attention and get them out of the water, we load into hitched rides in church group vans and drive a few miles inland to a higher spot of land.

12:15 pm – Receive word that the small tsunami has hit and all is well. We get packed and head out.

Afternoon – Head back to my site to rest and settle in. Buy fritanga for dinner and watch Spanish TV with my host family.

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Sunday/Monday/Tuesday

Colin meets my English group, plays soccer with my friends, comes to classes with me, watches some movies and tears through some reading. Peace Corps life = a good amount of downtime.

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Wednesday

3:00 am – Colin wakes up screaming about his head hurting and needing to pee. I tell him to go to the bathroom and get a glass of water. Done.

6:00 am – My alarm goes off. I get up and prep to travel about three hours to another PCV’s rural site to meet their counterparts and take part in a training activity.

6:15 am – I get the brother up. He comes stumbling down the metal stairs in my apartment saying he doesn’t feel well and thinks he might have a fever. I put my hand to his forehead and pull it away immediately after feeling burnt. Literally.

6:17 am – A disposable thermometer (thanks PC med kit!) shows that Colin has a 104 degree fever. Yikes.

6:20 am – After dosing Colin up with drugs and cold rags, I head out, leaving my cell and instructions with my host sister, as well as asking my site mate to go check on him at some point in the morning.

9:30 am – After getting to Managua and spending an hour trying to flag down buses, I give up and go back the hour and a half to site…Colin is asleep, fever still raging.

2:00 pm – I take a sample of Colin’s to the local lab, then head to class in one of my rural sites.

5:00 pm – Return to the lab to get the results. He has a bacteria infection.

5:30 pm – After getting the correct meds and walking home, I find Colin exactly where I left him:

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Thursday

All day: Colin lays in the exact same spot, after sleeping in the exact same spot. Besides getting up to use the bathroom, this is where he stays. He watches a record 10 movies in 48 hours. I spend the day teaching and on the phone with my dad in the States figuring out alternative travel plans for the sickie.

9:00 pm – After a cold shower, more cold rags, and almost 40 hours of the highest dose of Tylenol one can have, his fever breaks. Color this big sister relieved.

Friday

7:00 am – Wake and up take Colin’s temperature for the bazillionth time. Still running a small fever. Ask Dad to call to talk travel plans.

8:00 am – Colin’s noon flight ticket is now cancelled and moved to the following day. I start to feel sick.

9:00 am – Colin and I pack up and go to Managua. I need a break and a hot shower after dealing with diarrhea man for two days!

1:00 pm – I see the doctor because I’m feeling sick. Go to the lab.

Saturday

8:00 am – I go the bank headquarters to get my new bank card. Sweet relief.

10:00 am – Colin and I go to the airport.

11:00 am – Colin is checked-in, lectured by his sister, hugged goodbye, and through security. I find a bathroom.

12:00 pm – I am back in bed at the hotel. Lab results show I got Colin’s infection. Thanks, bro.

11:00 pm – I’m still in bed. Start meds. Get word that Colin made it back safely. Thank goodness.

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So needless to say, this week was not all peaches and cream. But Colin and I still had fun. It was pretty cool and kind of strange to show him a bit of my life here, and it opened up some interesting conversation. I’ll leave you with a few quotes straight from his mouth, observations on Nica life:

“This country is really pretty” (said while standing in one of the dirtiest part of downtown Managua)

“Your host mom is really nice”

There’s something floating in my water” (his own backwash)

“Your apartment is very….basic.”

“Wait, there was another earthquake this morning?”

“They have horses here? I’ll them an Asian can ride a horse!”

 

Midnight Special.

Peace Corps Moment #123019:

Exactly what I never, ever, ever, want to find in my shower at midnight.

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Little Big Fella is resting in sweet peace now – it only took me about 10 minutes to get up the nerve to kill him, after running around my apartment looking for anything that would be effective in trapping and killing him. Praise the Lord for bug spray. Half a can later and he was belly-up.

Here’s to getting over your fears at the most inopportune times!

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Also, can anybody tell me what this is?!

Pincers on the claws, huge sack of what I assume were eggs underneath its belly, and a hard shell like a cockroach. Not fully pictured are his antennas, which were about 6 inches long.

A student just saw this picture and told me it was a scorpion-spider mix. Ummm, gross.

Update: A friend who has experienced these before just informed me that it was a Tailless Whip Scorpion, otherwise known as a Whip Spider.

Here’s to trying to sleep tonight…

A Five Minute Life Update.

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If you and I had five minutes to chat, here’s what I would tell you:

It rained last night in my site for the first time in 5 months. A sweeter sound has never been heard.

Every other minute of the day is mid-90s and crazy strong wind that causes dust storms. I have eye infections galore due to the crud that travels with the dust and into my eyes every time I open them. Regardless of how often I sweep and mop (multiple times a day is my normal routine), there is still an inch of dust coating my floors, books, clothes.

Mangoes are coming into season. Watermelon is delicious, as is the cantaloupe I bought today. Avocados are making their appearance in the market again after a long absence. Well worth the 20 cord splurge. Green peppers are now huge and amazingly delicious, and only cost 5 cords.

My site mate made my week by making me a morning iced coffee to start a long day. And it was amazing. My recycled Gatorade bottles now have a steady job of chilling full of chocolately-coffee goodness in my family’s fridge to be waiting for me in the morning.

I only had three guys ask for my phone number this week. And only one of them was a student!

I spent today rechecking in with various contacts in the community since I don’t have classes Fridays. Besides visiting the superintendent, I even snuck in a visit to the NGO in town that has air-conditioning and purified water. Sweet bliss. I ended my day by showing up at my friends’ house and begging to chinear (snuggle) with their one month old baby boy. Between baby snuggles and being named ‘Tia Kacie’, this lady left with a very happy heart. I have strict instructions to come back every day and am happy to oblige.

There has been a lot of death and random violence in my community in the last two weeks. Between a horrid car accident I saw in Managua last weekend and one that happened right outside my community on Wednesday, no less than 11 people have been killed in the last 5 days. At one of my schools, a fight broke out between a couple students and ended up with 16 students fighting and somehow beating up an old man in the central park. I saw another car/motorcycle accident this morning in town. Thankfully the driver was okay, just nursing some cuts on the side of the road, where the local business owner had provided him with some bowls of water to wash up, his motorcycle laying sprawled in the middle of street. During a break in classes on Wednesday, I had to notify the vice-principal about another fight at a different school this week, and she called the police to come handle it. Too much.

I may have broken out into a really embarrassing celebration dance on the sidewalk in the center of town today when I caught the quesillo lady 30 seconds before she was leaving. She not only unpacked all of her stuff to make me a fresh quesillo, but gave me double cheese. For free. Best. Day. Ever.

I bought a basil plant in Managua two weekends ago and a planter to put it in last weekend in Caterina. I finally planted it today and words do not even begin to express how happy it makes me to see that little plant when I come home.

I have started working out more frequently, even going on 6 AM runs. If you know me, you know the level of stress required to get me out of bed that early and to go exercise is high. Very high.

I am trying hard to remember to be gentle with myself. These have been a couple rough, stressful weeks. And I need to remember to breathe, to give myself some grace, and to loosen up a bit. Life is going to go on.

“But this is what I’m finding, in glimpses and flashes: this is it. This is it, in the best possible way. That thing I’m waiting for, that adventure, that move-score-worthy experience unfolding gracefully. This is it. Normal, daily life ticking by on our streets and sidewalks, in our houses and apartments, in our beds and at our dinner tables, in our dreams and prayers and fights and secrets – this pedestrian life is the most precious thing any of use will ever experience.”

~ Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines