Happy Birthday Manh Hung!
Our coordinator is FINALLY back!!! We walked an hour along the beach, partway through cow pens, just to find this restaurant.
Saludos de Ometepe Island, Nicaragua! Hopefully (soon) to be in the new and revised list of the 7 Wonders of the World. Post your vote on www.laisladeometepe.com
Many changes have been taking place, which is the norm here. However, some are worth taking note. Along the way, I will tell my stories.
First off, NPH, the organization I am serving through, has recently partnered with the Enrique Iglesias Foundation. I am not sure how we made the connection, but we did. A cameraman came to the orphanage to shoot some footage of the kids singing to Enrique's new song: Donde Esta Corazon. That very same day, they sent the footage, crude, to Miami. How crazy, eh?
Unfortunately, I could not be there, as I was on break, which turned out to be quite interesting...
About a month ago, a volunteer managed to get the championship boxers from Nicaragua to come put on a show for the kids. As a result, NPH received 50 free tickets to the next boxing match. I was among the lucky chosen ones to go to an official match. I went with two other volunteers to Managua, pura Nica style.
It was hard to say goodbye to a member of the famiy.
However, we all had fun at the disco brought in.
I am here with Maria.
turned out that our national directors were already driving to Managua. So, we joined. We rode in the NPH truck. Since there was no room inside, Anne and I sat in the back.
What is normally a 2-hour drive from Rivas to Managua took us 1 hour. For one hour, Anne and I tried to enjoy being wiped in the face with wind as fast as a tornado. My hair took a beating...Our director drives like a speedy Gonzalez. Although it was pretty and scenic, we also took a beating from those men who call women, which is quite annoying. We wiped our way all the way to the nations capital, Managua, the city I once hated but have grown to like. Sun -beaten and wind -wiped, we jumped out of the back. Out directors had official business to attend to and now us three had to find a taxi to get to the NPH home. Finding an honest taxi driver in Managua is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Since we had the whole day to enjoy ourselves, what a better way to spend it than to go to the mall!
Living on a paradise
Unfortunately, these girls didn't win. However, they had fun. Look at how creative they are!
island is like heaven on earth, but one thing I miss that the island does not supply is civilization, perhaps other people?? Yes, other people, a change in environment, exactly what Managua brings. Oh, did I mention the A/C??? We spent 4 hours window shopping and enjoying good food, that didn’t happen to be Nican. I treated myself to a Quiznos sub and later, we all shared a rich dark chocolate cake. Just being in this environment was repair to living on the island for some time.
Then, the night came. Us ladies got all dressed up and with the older boys and girls from NPH in Managua, we arrived in a bad neighborhood of Managua. Upon entering, I knew that I was in a different world. I felt like I was going to the Pyrethrum in Rome to watch crusaders beat each other up, only this was more modern. Instead of Italian marble, we sat on old concrete. Instead of animals and men with swords, we saw a big trampoline with strings all around and men with large gloves. To get the party started, good old regaetton music blared through the speakers. Actually, for you Minnesotans, it was
An Interesting Game
The weekend Manh Hung came back, we played a color game. I was "sun" and Kiki was "mariposa" (butterfly).
much like an event at the dome. Man, the good old dome…People get all revved up and drink endlessly at times, and you just get into the event. Being extremely tired, I think due to the fact that Managua is naturally hotter than other parts of the country, I tried very hard to not let myself fall asleep. Well, I did fall asleep. However, I did see some of the event.
There were 9 matches, with the better guys being towards the end. The better you are, the more rounds. For instance, the first matches started with only 1 or 2 rounds. I saw a lot of beating and black eyes and yes, men falling to the ground. I was surprised to find myself actually cheering on these guys. Fight, fight, fight! Geez Michelle, you like this boxing stuff?? I enjoyed seeing the men get passed out. As the rounds continued, you could see the men getting tired. Heck, I would also be tired if I got beaten up for minutes on end. When they took their breaks on the sides, some just collapsed in the sides, waiting to be pampered for 30 seconds.
When I was bored,
I would reflect on the connection between the human condition and boxing. There were some men who did not take one punch at all, did not even defend themselves. That was sad…in my mind, you should fight for what you want and it make me mad when they didn’t fight back. On the other hand, there was the underdog, who took a beating for most of the time yet at the last minute beat the guy down to the ground. So, you had all types of boxers. These men are like heroes to some of the kids, especially the NPH guys with us.
Reflecting on the time, I learned some things about the culture of boxing.
Boxing is very much like how they portray it in the cartoons. When the men take a break in the corners, they have a person who peps them up, rubs then with oil, gives them water, etc. Since they only have 30 seconds, they have to do it quick. It was like the speed of those racecar drivers when they need a tire repaired in the middle of a race: you have to concentrate on the most important things and do it quick.
Another interesting note on the culture of this boxing sport is the role of women. Women in less to nothing paraded in the rink in between rounds holding up the number of round it was on. All the men hooted as they did this. You could tell that boxing was a men’s sport here.
We slept in the girl’s house that night. Of course, we listened to the girly music and watched telenovelias (sope operas) like they always do. J
The next day, we were on our separated paths. However, we all took the bus to Rivas from the Huembas station. If you know Managua, you will know that Huembas is a huge flee market that is often crazy and dangerous. However, we found ourselves on the right bus. From Rivas, I parted to San Juan del Sur, where there was the annual Nicaragua Music Fest. On the way, I met a nice girl named Rosebania who is a university student in Managua. We talked how she could help me and another volunteer put on a career day for the kids at NPH. She too was going to San Juan for the music fest along with all her
Maria "Concha" and I
Maria danced a sassy salsa inbetween costume changes at the Ms. Reyna 2008.
university friends. As we pulled into the familiar San Juan del Sur, Rosebania helped me locate my friends, who I had no way of contacting. When I found them, I found another surprise: Casa Asis.
Casa Asis is home to the babies at NPH, anywhere from 1 month to 7 years of age. They were enjoying a nice time in San Juan del Sur too. Although I take my breaks to get away from the kids I work with all day, I was happy to see Casa Asis, who we hardly get to see. It was like a special reunion. I instantly forgot about my entire luggage and embraced these lovable kids. I even got to play with Lestor, a special kid who I have a special connection with. Playing in the beach and getting all muddy and sandy was amazing. It was like having a beach day with your family, and, in beautiful San Juan.
A Minnesotan-Nicaraguan Love Story:
When I got hungry, I was offered the remains of a big lunch from the kids. Sister Phyllis walked me to the home of Jose. Sister Phyllis met Jose some years ago and they since then formed a
connection. Jose, who has lived in San Juan his whole life since the 1920’s, offers his house to Casa Asis for lunch whenever they come, as the beach is a little too sandy to be enjoying a nice lunch. Sister led me into Jose’s home, a nice piece of property for San Juan, with vintage style. Servants greeted me and I was offered a place around a table with rocking chairs. As any polite quest does, they make conversation with the host. As my Spanish was not working on this particular day, I must have accidentally used English. To my surprise, Jose responded better to my English and we started having a nice conversation. I found out that he was pretty fluent. He began to tell me his story.
After growing up in San Juan, then a non-tourist destination, his father wanted Jose to learn English. Not knowing where to go, his parents sent him to the region of the States where they thought the best English was spoken. Jose chose the University of St. Thomas, then an all-boys school, to be his new home for 4 glorious years. He would tell me of his adventures in St. Paul,
Lestor and I found each other at San Juan del Sur.
then a booming town, and his love for the White Castle burgers. I just had to laugh. He told me of all the fun things to do along University Avenue and his chance to see Elvis and the Rat Pack at a venue along University Ave. He told me of what he knew of St. Kate’s, the university I went to, then a sister school to St. Thomas. Before Jose graduated, Jose met and fell in love with a local St. Paul Minnesotan girl. They were wed and returned to San Juan to raise their kids, bilingually. He has gone on to be very successful in Nicaragua, owing property in many cities. It doesn’t hurt that his cousin is the mayor of San Juan. I remembered meeting some hefty Managuans a few weeks ago at the nightclub who also had a connection with the mayor. Such a small country here in Nicaragua.
I thought I would just be eating lunch at some man’s house. However I ended up meeting up someone connected with my home. Whenever I meet a Minnesotan, I instantly feel at home. And, having that connection is really strongly felt as I have been away from home
Boxing in Managua
The last time I would be with Anne and Kristin.
for quite some time. Jose told me of some other Minnesotans living in San Juan. I guess we are everywhere!
The night was enjoyed at our favorite Italian pizzeria. As always happens, since it is packed all the time, we share a table. Last time, it was with a tipsy old Canadian who happened to be a prominent author of bird books. He was completing his PhD and here to study bird populations. However, he would not let me hear the end of the war in Iraq…Blah, blah, blah. I was polite and told him I would look for his books at Barnes and Noble.
This time around, it was different. We asked to share the table with two cute Portuguese men from Portugal. One was here to surf and the other was here on vacation. I instantly felt a connection to Europe and Spain, my home for 5 glorious months a few years back. I was intrigued by their culture and was interested in the differences between them and the rest of Europe, especially its neighbor Spain. They were definitely more enjoyable than the old man from last week. We had fun eating Italian food and talking about
Danza in Minneapolis
The dance group performed at the Basilica, the church I attend in Minneapolis. My parents supported my kids by coming.
Portuguese culture in Nicaragua.
That night was the big music festival. People all the way from Managua came to enjoy the music. A large stage was set up and the people gathered around. We listened to awesome regaetton and salsa bands and danced the night away. It was comforting to be in this scene, as that would never happen on the island. The island has nightlife, but not like San Juan or Managua. We were among people from different cities and countries that night. I was reminded of my time in Barcelona, also on the port of a large body of water. There is something beautiful about the ocean and music. The most interesting person I met that night was a local from the Corn Islands named Dragonfly. She ended up stealing 4,000 Cordoba (around $200 USD) and a camera of one of my friends who was sharing a room with her at the hostel.
The next day also held another surprise. Naturally, this weekend was full of life from the music festival and many foreigners and locals from all over Nicaragua enjoyed the beaches. There was a large volleyball tournament to enjoy as well. As Sana and I paraded through the beach, we met the older girls from our home on the island! The soccer team was in San Juan enjoying some deserved time off. All wet and happy, they ran out of the water and embraced us, pulling us in. I come to San Juan for vacation and I find NPH here, Friday-Sunday…all with the different homes in Managua, San Jorge, and the island. We end up finding To Cubano as well. Now I understand what Mrs. Zelaya (the mother of a friend) says when she mentioned that Nicaragua is a small country. I passed the time with my girls, who were afraid to swim as the day went on due to the dead eels. For some odd reason, many dead eels washed up on the shore and there were plenty in the water.
The weekend was wonderful, as usual. There is something healing about water and waves. It didn’t hurt that our hotel was right on the beachfront. We would sleep to the sound of the crashing waves.
The weeks in between breaks were full of changes and more surprises. NPH said goodbye to our break guy. As a result, there was no bread for weeks on end…something felt here, as bread is a staple. We also said goodbye to another volunteer and the sub directors Tip Paco and Tia Rosa. All were wonderful assets to the NPH family of their time, energy, and talents. Their loss was felt deeply here. However, on the bright side, NPH said hello to some family members away for some time. The dance group came back from Minnesota and Chicago! Seeing them back was amazing. All had huge smiles on their faces and were changed by the experience. For me, it was a comfort knowing that my parents came to see them perform at my church. My parents said likewise of me. It was as if the dance group served as a connection to my parents and to my home. So, it was nice to see all of them. They all had stories of the snow they experienced and of America. For many, it was their first time. I couldn’t be happier to see all of them. Another stranger came with the group, one we were all familiar with actually. Manh Hung, our long forgotten volunteer coordinator, was back from his surgery in Germany. The whole family was finally back and it was time to celebrate.
The following weekend, all the volunteers celebrated the home coming of Manh Hung with a volunteer reflection weekend in San Juan del Sur. We played beach games, positioned ourselves in yoga positions on the beach, and just had fun. I remember swimming a lot. However, one wave temporarily stopped our fun. Out of nowhere, a mother wave came, tumbling everyone like clothing in a washing machine. I ended up losing my contacts and we were sucked underwater for some time. Just a testimony to the power of the Pacific. Besides that, swimming was so much fun and if you position yourself in the place right before the wave breaks, you can have a lot of fun. However, I fell for a surfer who said there was a shark. I swam so fast that as I was walking out of the water, I messed up my foot. I now have a limp.
During the weeks, the volunteers are often separated, as we have separate jobs and even different break schedules. For the first time since January, we were all together at the hotel on the beach and balconies to enjoy the sunsets and sunrises. Of course we ate at the Italian Pizzeria. I sacrificed a trip to Bluefields to visit a friend to be with the group in San Juan. However, I am glad I did. The only unpleasant things were the men. However, just something to be watchful for.
I stayed back another day as I was on break. However, I wish I had left with the others earlier. Early Monday, all of Nicaragua went on strike. The complaint was due to rising gas prices and this has left taxi drivers with little profits. We left in a taxi that cost double of what we normally pay and at least there was a road that was not barricaded. About ¾ into the trip, we find out that the road had been barricaded the rest of the way. However, for more money, we could be taken through a farm and out the other end. This path ended up being faster and we still had to pay more. It was very unfair. Since the leaving happened unexpectedly, there was no time to get food or money either.
As the week went on, we found out that half the buses were in operation on the island and only half of the ferries were in operation as well. This has inconvenienced many teachers who were late to school. The buses that did run are jammed pack.
I too experienced this when I went to a teachers meeting. I missed the 8am bus and waited 2 hours until the next one. On the way back from the meeting, I met some Canadians who were backpacking through Canada. We started walking, not wanting to wait for the bus. We found a truck that offered a ride in the back with his plantain leaves. However, it kept breaking down. We jumped off and took a bus that finally came instead. I asked the bus to stop at NPH and forgetting, they let me off two towns away. He said a bus would come going the opposite way. Tired, hungry and limping, I walked an hour just to get to the NPH gate. Then, it was another half hour on foot to the house. This is the life of the average Nicaraguan on the island. I should be grateful that I have transport most of the time.
Although the strike has inconvenienced everyone in Nicaragua, I hope it will soon pass. Someone said that the public transport would have to rise in valor by 80% in order to keep up with the rising gas prices. Only the rich would be willing to pay that for transport. And, it is too bad that most of the poor, or the people on the bottom, use public transport. Only the elite have their own cars. The other solution would to have the public government to subsidize the price for transport. However, given a poor government, I am not sure if this is even possible.
I am sure glad that I did not take my trip into Bluefields, as I would have been stranded there for weeks or pay an arm and a leg to get back. I am also glad I didn’t go into Managua to pick up some luggage that weekend, as I would have been stuck with the barricaded roads.
As far as more positive news, last week was the first week I wore a uniform to school. With the coming of secondary into the primary school, teachers are required to wear uniforms. I was the last to receive one a month and a half later. However, when it came, I was thrilled.
These weeks were also weeks of talking to friends I have not talked to since January. Thank goodness for Skype and instant messaging. These connections are vital to my health here and I was happy to have spoken with them.
As May came, so did a special day. May 10th represented three things: the beginning of the rainy season in this region of the world, my sister's college graduation in Minnesota, and the NPH Nicaragua 14th anniversary.
As I celebrated with the children, my parents were also celebrating, miles away. It was nice to know that we were both happy and celebrating, although separated.
NPH Nicaragua all came together under one roof to give thanks to Father Wassen for giving them a home. Among the activities was a large olympiada, consisting of many separate games . That night, NPH Nicaragua crowned Ms. Reyna, the princess of NPH Nicaragua for the year. Much like Ms. America or any other beauty pagent, participants are elimated and this competition has been going on for a month. Tonight marked the finale. The girls are judged on many things including their swimsuit, royal gown, speech, and talent. As we crowned Josselin Ms. Reyna 2008, a large storm disturbed us with strong winds, temporarily closing the festivities. As it dwindled down, we closed the night was a large disco.
May will bring more rain but more life here at NPH Nicaragua. I am mostly excited for the lush green fields to show themselves in the rain. Just a word of advice: Don't hang your laundry out to dry right before a storm. My clothes have been trying to get dry for two days now.
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