Friday, February 7, 2014

Volcan de Masaya

Whenever Fiona and I got the chance, we participated in the activities organized for the students at La Mariposa who were not volunteering. One of our first outings was to the Masaya Volcano. This volcano is one of the six active volcanoes in Nicaragua. Its crater, the Santiago Crater continues to emit sulfuric gases and often has tremors that can be felt miles away.

We visited the volcano, climbing the ridge of the crater which allowed us to see an amazing view down below.
We went on a night tour of one of the caves under the volcano that was made by lava a long time ago. We went in with helmets and flashlights and experienced the pitch black of the cave without lights. We disturbed the sleeping bats and more than once jumped from the fast wings breezing over our heads.

Children doing crafts in front of the school
As I mentioned earlier, part of my time in Nicaragua I spent volunteering. Fiona and I helped out with a program working with children with developmental and learning disabilities from San Juan de la Concepcion. Los Pipitos, an organization that has programs around the country has a special education school in San Juan. The school, however, was robbed of everything a few years prior and because it had no learning material or electricity only two students had been attending the school. With donations from students at La Mariposa the school now has some books, pens, pencils, paper, art supplies, crafts, games and toys for the children. The program Fiona and I helped with was designed to be a six-week program during the children's vacation to encourage the children to come and participate in crafts, games, reading and sports. The hope was that at the end of the program, when school resumed, more children would attend school again.

When Fiona and I arrived, the program was half-way done and the children had already had three weeks of fun and games. We arrived just in time to help start the last three weeks of the program (the children had a few weeks off for Christmas and New Years). On our very first day we had 18 children come, plus siblings and other family members, but the rest of the time we had between 5 and 10 children each day. Each day Fiona and I spent two hours with the children leading them in various activities. Our creative Waldorf minds were useful in coming up with fun ways to use the materials we had on hand.

                     Here are some pictures of the various crafts we did with the children:
Octopus we made out of Styrofoam
paper which the children then colored
with markers and glitter glue.
Funky cats that we made out of toilet
paper roles, pipe cleaners and paper.

Little people we made from Popsicle
sticks, yarn and markers.

Working with these children was wonderful! Each and every one of them was full of happy energy and excited to learn. The smiles and greetings I received each morning brightened my day and made me thankful to be learning so much from them.

They took pleasure in the small things and enjoyed creating things out of play dough, making fortune tellers for hours, drawing colorful pictures and creating the same puzzle over and over again. Throughout the three weeks I built relationships with each of the children allowing me to experience their individual strengths, joys and challenges.
Something I had never experienced before was the patience and care that family members had for each other. Some of the children in the program came on their own each day, others came with a parent, but a few of them were accompanied by young siblings and cousins. An example being two sisters who always came together. Katherine, who attended Los Pipitos was accompanied each day by her younger sister of 11 years, Margaret. Without Margaret's care and supervision, Katherine would not have been able to attend the program. Not once did I hear Margaret complain about getting up early each morning during her vacation to take her sister to the program. Maybe you have experienced otherwise, but I have not experienced this kind of patient care of siblings and cousins in the US. Once again, I was reminded how strong and important family is in Nicaragua, an aspect of the culture I cherish.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Host Family

Paola making orange juice
My host family was wonderful!! I lived with my host mom Jami, my host sister Paola, her husband Alex, and their precious little two-year-old Camila. I also had a host brother Josimar, who was often over, but he didn't live with us. My host family was incredibly kind and included me in everything they did. Living with them allowed me to experience what life is like living in San Juan and I came to appreciate how much family is valued in Nicaragua. 
Jami making tacos
Aunts, cousins and friends would come over whenever they wanted to hangout, watch tv, or just to say hi. I often walked with my host mom to her relatives to borrow something and ended up staying to chat for a while. People are there to interact with each other, they aren't worried if the house is clean, they don't stop cooking dinner or washing laundry when someone stops by unannounced but continue doing what their doing while interacting with the visitor. Everyone is so welcoming and laid back in that respect and it is something I miss in the US. For example, at the beginning of my time in Nicaragua, I was always hesitant to go over to Fiona's house because I didn't want to be annoying or a burden, but as time went on I realized that was the last thing her family was thinking. After that realization, I went to Fiona's house (conveniently right around the corner) all the time to hangout with her family because we all enjoyed being in each others company. I learned to cook at her house, I played card games with her family and went on adventures with her brothers. In Nicaragua Fiona and I both have two families, my host family and her host family.

One of my yummy breakfasts.
Eggs, coffee and fried plantain!
Tortillas we made at Fiona's house
Making dinner at my house

One of my favorite things was helping Jamie and Paola cook dinner. I learned how to make tortillas by hand, tacos, pupusas, Nicaraguan style rice, fried plantains, fried chicken, empanadas, carne asada, and the list goes on and on. In Nicaragua they eat lots of beans, rice and plantains. Every lunch and dinner had rice and/or beans with it and some of my yummy breakfasts, that Jamie made me everyday, did as well. I love love love plantains!! They have so many ways to cook them, fried, boiled, as chips etc., but my favorite by far was fried plantains. Fiona and I are planning to cook Nicaraguan food when I come home because it is so delicious!

The famous gallo pinto!!

Incase you are wondering how to cook rice like they do in Nicaragua this is what you do: wash the rice with water three times, put oil in a hot frying pan, add the washed rice and stir it every 1 to 2 minutes until it feels light and is kind of hard, then poor water over the rice so about a quarter of an inch is covering all of the rice and let it cook until the water is evaporated. Maybe you knew how to cook rice like that, but I sure learned something new!

My friend the tarantula who decided
 to visit me in my room...

A few things I was not used to prior to living in Nicaragua were dogs barking through the night, trucks honking at 5am every day and my little sister getting up at 6am every morning. I also had to hold my breath every morning when I took cold bucket showers :). Although I did not have experience with any of these, they became routine within a few days and the loud barking dogs that kept me awake my first night became background noise, my cold bucket showers, although always shocking to my system, became the norm, and my little sister was just the most adorable thing ever!

My front yard and house


La Mariposa Spanish Language School

Entrance to La Mariposa (follow sidewalk to the left)
La Mariposa is a small non-profit Spanish school and eco-hotel located in Masaya, Nicaragua. Everyone who attends the school has four hours of one-on-one Spanish classes (2 hours of grammar, 2 hours of conversation) Monday through Friday. All of the Spanish classes are taught by natives from the surrounding villages. There are two options for taking Spanish classes. One option is to have classes from 8am-12pm and participate in activities that La Mariposa offers in the afternoon; such as, exploring various cities, volcanoes, restaurants etc. The other option is to volunteer in the morning and take classes in the afternoon from 1-5pm. Another thing you get to choose is whether you stay in the eco-hotel or live with a host family in either La Concepcion or San Juan, the two villages closest to La Mariposa. 
I chose to volunteer in the mornings, take classes in the afternoon and live with a host family. I could not be more happy with my decision because I was able to get a feel for what life and culture is like in San Juan, Nicaragua.

I had classes at the tables both above and under the bridge
At La Mariposa I met people from all over the world. It was great to connect with these people and hear their amazing stories. Many people had been traveling for months, La Mariposa being one of their brief stopping points before continuing on to another journey. I really appreciated meeting these people who value new experiences and take the time to travel and share what they've learned with others.

One of the indoor classrooms
Fiona and my favorite latrine
Where we ate lunch every day

Constant supply of bananas
to snack on

La Mariposa is kind of like a tiny jungle. They have many different kinds of trees and plants, over 30 kinds of wild birds that come through the area, and other wild animals that visit to snack on the large supply of bananas available to everyone, both human and animal. They have monkeys, exotic birds (both in big cages), cats and TONS of dogs that they rescued. They also have lots of hammocks that Fiona and I took many naps in.
Our favorite hammock chairs to nap and study in

 My Spanish Classes

First day of school picture...
Over my three weeks I had three different grammar teachers and three different conversation teachers. Changing teachers was nice because each of my teachers taught me so much and they were each able to share new perspectives with me. The length, experience and background of teaching Spanish was different for each of my teachers. Some had been teaching at La Mariposa for over five years and others for only a few months. A few of my teachers did/are studying English at the university in Managua.

One of our outside classrooms

I learned so much Spanish these past three weeks. I had Spanish from first through eight grade but hadn't had any classes since then so the review was extremely helpful and necessary. I almost filled an entire notebook with Spanish grammar, vocabulary and notes. But, as my last teacher kindly informed me... I'm half way through!!! Something he saw as an exciting thing, but that I groaned about :). Living with a  host family and volunteering with children who only spoke Spanish accounted for at least half of everything I learned. These situations required me to use my Spanish and that helped me progress so much faster. I still have so much Spanish to learn, but am so happy to be learning it all.

What I've Been Up To

These past three weeks, January 3 - 24, I was living in San Juan, Masaya, Nicaragua. While there, I attended the Mariposa Spanish Language School, volunteered, lived with a wonderful host family and explored a tiny slice of the amazing things Nicaragua has to offer. I was lucky to have my best friend from kindergarten, Fiona, join me on my trip.