It's Been A Long Time

Published: April 16th 2008
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Eduardo and myselfEduardo and myselfEduardo and myself

One of my best students! We talk in our secret language that other kids don't know well: English!
It's been a really long time since I have written. It has also been a really long time since I have seen home, or so it seems. I miss my family, the familiar and comforting friends, the Minneapolis skyline, the salsa, swing, and ballroom dancing, my car, good wine, the availability of PEOPLE who speak my language and goods and resources, and Lake Calhoun.
One day I will go back...I have to survive 8 more months here. However, thank goodness that there is a lot going on here to keep busy with. I will share with you a snid bit of many things I have been up to and my revelations and thoughts. After all, what is a travel blog that just offers an iternary? 😊

I knew that this trip would really stretch me. I really thought I could survive on a farm on the middle of the island. I have found that in this time of my life, I am a city dweller. I love the possibilities a city brings: goods, resources, and many different types of people. These are things Ometepe does not hold. My work is often difficult and a challenge day in and out. These elements, combined with my environment, feel like an uphill battle. I am really fighting here. I often dream of winning a raffle ticket that would fly me back home...I could just leave I tell myself. However, if I left everything that was hard, where would be the challenge? The key to life is to find happiness in almost any situation, because nothing is perfect. You will always experience heartaches, difficulties, etc. The key is to find happiness in almost any circumstance. Easier said than done though...This is a life lesson and no easy thing to do. A large part of me tells myself that I have to stay strong for all the kids here. That is a duty I have to take on. If I fall, they all fall with me. We have to stay strong and be strong for each other. Like an army of one, we are a family here; we support each other.

I moved to secondary, which you must know by now. I have to give grammar lessons in English and material is more of a challenge. I am apart of a team that administers grades too. I am surprised that they allowed me,
Eduarda and myself, againEduarda and myself, againEduarda and myself, again

This time, we sport our glasses!
a non-licensed teacher, to step in and teach a curriculum to kids and give grades. I have power in the school system. It feels good, but is also a lot. My vacations are harder to take now, as I have to teach a curriculum and stay on track. It is a really good challenge. I still have to modify lessons to adapt to the needs of my students, some of who are 30 in the classroom! I teach 7th-9th grade. I have hardly any experience in these levels and they say that these kids are some of the most difficult. And, they sure are. With my lack of resources, lack of orientation into the world of certified teachers, and difficult students, I am stretched in many ways. However, the kids are great. I have really learned to use my greatest asset, my smile, to my advantage. I have learned that a smile can soften a hard heart and encourage students to participate who don't normally. I am trying to connect with all my students on a personal level outside of the classroom too, which has really worked to my and their advantage. These students are just people, like you, and
A little too much fun in San Jose, Ometepe IslandA little too much fun in San Jose, Ometepe IslandA little too much fun in San Jose, Ometepe Island

On the island, there is a party anywhere there are Tona's and music. And, here on the island, you can do what you want, including laying on the road. :) (Where this picture is taken) This is my German roommate, Anne. We have the same natural curly hair!
me who just need some structure and leadership in their lives. They want to learn; they just don't tell show you that right away. My best students are beacons of light in my class and in my life. I have high aspirations for them. The most beautiful site in a classroom is to see a kid connecting with the other students, the teacher, and the material, where they apply it to their lives. I have one kid who keeps telling me he can't come to salsa club (I started one) because he has to study for a test (talk about dedication!!)

I have also taken some trips. By the time I made it to San Juan del Sur, I was in need of a break! I had worked during my other break, and really needed one this time. To be on the beach, in the sunlight, was music to my soul. I was also in the presence of people I enjoyed. Yoga on the beach was the best, as the sun was setting, we did our downward dog and other poses. Since it is April, the sand and beach is really too hot during the day. April is one of the hottest months in Nicaragua. It is also right before the rainy season...So, these swims after dusk were perfect. Our first night out, we were wined and dined by rich Nicans from Managua who were in the business. They own property throughout Nicaragua and have political connections, one connection being the mayor of San Juan. These guys were really different than the majority who you meet in San Juan. They were even gentlemen in the club. It was nice to meet them, and they have connections!

Before San Juan, I took one day to go to some farms on the island. The island, as isolated as it is, uses that as its greatest asset. A lot of it is virgin land. Fresh water and trees. 😊
Sana, one of the other volunteers, had a connection with a corporative farm in the town of Balgue. After hiking around town, which included hiking up a tall hill, we found a gentleman who hiked us up to a different farm...a beautiful one that is also a hostel, but not the one we wanted...So, he walked us 1 more mile down this time into the bosque, or forest, to the Bonefide Farm. We found ourselves walking through flower stricken heaven. You enter a kitchen where the local woman cooks food grown from the earth. As a volunteer, you sleep in tents, work from 6am-12pm, and take your break using the small library room constructed from palm trees and other natural materials. This little cooperative is earth friendly and only uses practices healthy to the land. It also offers a great view of Volcano Maderas! I mean, a lovely one...A better view than I get from San Lazaro with the kids.

We then headed to the main road, looking for a hostel run by a wealthy Italian family. After getting lost and turning around multiple times, we finally found it. However, the way there was eventful: crossing rivers, walking dirt roads, getting dirty remarks from men (which is cruel of them...) and battling large cattle. The gate to Zopolote brings you up a hill. Once you get to the blue house, it’s a long winding path carved of stone that leads you to the hostel paradise on the hillside. I instantly felt a tranquil peacefulness there. Imagine a large campground on a slow but steady incline. Trees and more trees surround you. In your background is Maderas, the non-active volcano. I was in paradise! In the fields, I just saw pure wilderness and in one field, a white horse. The property is really unspoiled. I got lost navigating my way though the hostel, because it is spread out in this steep terrain! But, I got to be Gulligan, exploring a new territory for a few hours.
I hated to leave, but I had to get back. Sana stayed the night in the paradise hostel while I battled public transportation on the island. I had to teach the next day...

I took the last bus at Altagracia, another large town on the island. I still needed to get to San Lazaro...after talking to the woman on the bus, I found out that I would be stuck in Altagracia, as all buses stopped at 5:30 from the island. One left at 6pm from Moyogalpa and one at 7 too, but not from where I was. I was literally stuck. The nice woman offered her house for the night...I never knew her, but she wanted to make sure I was taken care of. What a gesture. I mean, who would do that where I live? Not in Minneapolis either! (It's not common). However, here on the island, crime is so low, you can do things like hitchhike and sleep in stranger’s homes! I told her I would try and hitchhike first or find a taxi (almost impossible at this hour, as the sun was gone too). As I waited on the street curb, I found myself talking to the many people strolling on bike (what they have for transport). Here in Nicaragua, if you don’t have a car and live in a small town, you use your free time to stroll around on bike and talk to people. I love that. So simple. I noticed that when I was in Liberia, Costa Rica a year ago, alone, waiting to use the pay phone.
It's just apart of the Latin American culture. While talking to the nice women, I heard a pig squealing. Apparently, it was strapped onto a man's bicycle with rope. Well, I know what he was having for dinner! Fresh Nican pig! The image disturbed me...but, capturing cattle and transporting it by hand on by bike is normal here...But that poor pig...He was really struggling on that bike! I thought he would wiggle loose!
Another well-dressed man came up in bike and told me that he was Emelina's son. Emelina is my boss, the director of the NPH school. What a small world. I politely turned down the offer, being embarrassed that it was Monday and I still had to prepare material for class the next morning. Plus, I knew I could find a ride. Common...a gringa with BLOND hair? It's easy.... I just didn't know which way I needed to head, as there were two ways: left or right. I guessed left and stopped cars going that way.
I asked every car going by and finally found one. It was transporting many carts of Nican beer (Tona's) and on the back were two other tourists, from Switzerland, also volunteering on the island. I instantly felt safer. I just had to say NPH and the driver knew exactly where to drop me off. The wind passing through my hair on the back of the beer truck while looking at the stars was so tranquil. There is something serene about being outside, in the dark, with nothing around you, just the stars, God, and your thoughts. My dream was interrupted when I had to get off. I thanked the man and walked the 30 minutes from the road all the way back towards the beach where the volunteer house is. On my long walk, I hope Sana would learn that the last bus for any large city leaves at 5:30pm…I hope she won’t get stuck like I almost did!

These long walks around the island or on property for NPH are nice, but not when you have large cattle. To add to my list of fears, besides birds and fish, bulls and other things with horns top it off. And, there are plenty of bulls here on the island. I had to walk a long ways, alone in the dark, on NPH property. I felt chills and rustling...and large objects in the distance. Well, not to my surprise, they were the cattle, feeding one last time before bed. Well, just don't bother then I told myself and they wont bother me. To add to the list of fears, I heard a loud banging in the background. It was insistent too...not stopping. As I reached lights, I found out what it was: our NPH dance group practicing their latest song and dance: the dance to the folklore Ometepe song that uses drums. The kids were getting ready for their upcoming trip to Minnesota actually. They have been practicing every day for many months to get ready for the trip of their lifetimes!

Well, in other news, I went to my first meeting since switching to secondary school (where the kids actually have a curriculum). Every month, all the teachers on Ometepe Island get together to plan the next month. You are divided depending on which subject you teach. In the English room, I was the only gringa. I was surprised that Nican's were teaching English, but then again, native speakers are hard to come by and the pay is low. I just wished for a native speaker for pronunciation and grammar sake. It would be like me teaching Spanish in Minnesota's not my first language and my pronunciation needs work. However, a teacher is better than none at all, even if they cannot speak all that well in English.

I was introduced to the other English teachers on the island, saw a curriculum in ENGLISH that I could use, and found books to use as resources. It was an eye opening experience. To back up a little, I have also been trying to connect with Peace Corps since my move to secondary, as the primary kids didn't have a teacher. The director encouraged me to find Peace Corps and see if they could help out. Since then, I have connected with a Nican woman in a tourist office in San Jorge who received classes by a Peace Corps member. That member has connected me with others. I haven't met anyone, but today I would get that chance.
Eric is a gringo serving with Peace Corps in the island town of Moyogalpa. For the first time during that teachers meeting, I could communicate fully to another person about teaching and gleaning techniques on teaching material. From him, I learned of more resources, like conferances in Managua. As the Nican Engish teachers know just as much, it was much easier gleaning resources from the American, as we could talk with no hesitation in our first language. I learned more about Peace Corps too and the many resources you are provided if you serve with that org. I was jealous...However, that's why networking is a handy tool: you can always share something, especially something that benefits others!

For lunch, a teacher offered her house to the two gringos at the meeting. It was a nice gesture. We borrowed some people's bikes from the teachers meeting to get there, because people just share here. I don't even know this woman, but she offered to feed me. So, I said yes. We passed through the town of Altagracia on bike Nican style. The site of two gringos sure brought looks, as happens any time I leave the island... For us, him being from Chicago and me from Minnesota, passing to go home on bike for lunch was not normal for us. Along the way, I learned of the locations of the anchient writings on the rocks (in this town) and other important markers if I ever decided to come back to this town. The teacher led us to her moby dirt house.
Inside, her father was peeling cocoa seeds to sell (you use these for chocolate) and her mom was cooking up a traditional Nican meal of meat, cabbage, tostones, gallo pinto, and tortilla. The son was grinding the cocoa beans. The sound being too much, I just offered to peel shells. That we could do in silence. We couldn't communicate, so I showed my gratefulness by peeling with him. A silent type of accompaniment is very powerful.

One thing I love to do is make connections, and here on the island, you can easily if you know the right people, since it is so small!
This teacher meeting brought together NPH (my organization), Peace Corps (Erik's org.), and other teachers from the island, one of who is connected with this other non-profit...They are from Seattle and happened to be at the lady's house this week. So, in one room, we had Eric (Peace Corp), myself (NPH) and this other gringo and his whole group! The gringo's outnumbered the Nicans! Three great non-profits in one house. By the natural flow of things, the non-profit from Seattle was already talking about a visit to NPH in June.
The teacher meeting ended with a workshop given by Peace Corps. We learned how to teach using maps.
I think the whole day there was successful, as I learned that I wasn't alone in teaching English. I was now in the loop.

This is just the tip of the ice berg! More to come later. Now you have just a gist. If you really need a more detailed explanation of mylife, you know where to find me!


20th April 2008

Love the storys
Michelle, Love your storys so much. Very time I read them though, I feel warm that you are back at your home base and safe, because I am reading about them. Out wondering on the Island by yourself is unsetteling but very fun to read about. You are going to learn so much through this and God and I continue to be so proud of you. God has many more surprises in store for you. Love DAD

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