PeasCorps: NicaRagans - 5 new articles
Every time that someone finishes his or her Peace Corps service in Nicaragua (called "COS" or close of service), he or she rings this bell that's in the middle of the office. It's a tradition that started right around the time that we got here, and today is finally our turn to ring the bell and become RPCVs, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
Whenever TEFL volunteers get together, an inevitable topic of conversation is difficult counterparts. It always made me feel a little smug that I never had anything to contribute to those chats since my counterpart, Romel, has been a really great teacher and friend over the last two years. Even though my official job here is to help him improve his English, I think he has taught me more.
I can't really say enough nice things about Romel: he works really hard to support his family, working 10-hour days teaching at two different schools. He's a really affectionate and kind father to Jeycob and Natalia, and he and his wife, Azalia were always there to remind me that the odioso Nicaraguans that want our dog dead or to kick us out of our house are the exception rather than the rule.
Romel and Azalia are two people that I know we'll stay in touch with and they're a big part of the reason that we will continue to come back to Nicaragua to visit.
Romel and me planning a lesson:
Carmen has been my counterpart at school since the very beginning. Here in the English program, we are required to work with Nicaraguan counterpart teachers so we're not taking a job away from a Nicaraguan, and so our work will be more sustainable as our counterparts improve their English and their teaching methodologies. So we plan for all of the classes together on the weekends, then teach together during the week.
The first time I met Carmen was at our Counterpart Day during training, and I honestly found her really intimidating and I thought she hated me. I was even more worried because we had to live with Carmen and her family for the first six weeks that we were in Masaya. Fortunately, my first impression was wrong and Carmen turned out to be not only my colleague but also one of my best friends here.
Carmen is unlike any other Nicaraguan I've come to know; she is a really tough lady and has a strong sense of fairness and right and wrong. Carmen is very different from the Nicaraguan women I met in training: she's independent and raised her daughter by herself and cares for her granddaughter while also working as a teacher. She's one of the only people that doesn't continually ask when Paul and I are planning to have kids, and she stands up for me when others ask by saying that we're still young and it's better for us to complete our educations and have jobs and establish ourselves before rushing to bring kids into the mix. Though that's not revolutionary idea to have in the States, it is quite atypical here, and is one of many examples of Carmen's modern thinking and willingness to disagree with the majority.
I've come to trust Carmen a lot and can talk honestly with her about any subject. Carmen and I have a lot of free time between classes, and we use the time to talk about just about anything. She's probably the only Nicaraguan I feel comfortable talking to about the things about this country and culture that I dislike--the sexism, the way politics influences all decisions, and the way people are mean to dogs, for instance. In Nicaragua it's pretty risky for Americans like us to discuss topics like politics because people feel very strongly about those issues and are often biased by their loyalties, but Carmen is always honest and open about her opinions and she is never afraid to call it like she sees it, always while thinking critically about each topic. Carmen and I are also very similar in that we enjoy complaining and finding the irony in things, so we really were a perfect match.
During the last two years I've also gotten to know Carmen's daughter, Lizayara, and her granddaughter, Natalie. Lizayara has been studying English in Managua on Saturdays and I'm amazed at how well she speaks after a short amount of time. She's one of the most studious people I've met here, and though she doesn't yet know what she'd like to do as a career (engineering and medical school are a couple of her top contenders), I know she'll find success and grow up to be as smart and independent as her mom. Recently Lizayara invited us to her 16th birthday party this spring:
I'm amazed at how much Natalie, Carmen's granddaughter (also in the picture above), has changed over the last two years. When we first moved in with Carmen, she was living with her son and helping care for Natalie because Natalie's mom was killed in a motorcycle accident the year before. Natalie was very shy and quiet and I'm pretty sure she found me really annoying. Now when I go to Carmen's on the weekend and Natalie is visiting, she's a lively little girl who is always scheming to get cookies and is willing to talk with me and let me help her study for her upcoming tests, and is even eager to show off the English she's learning in school.
On my last day at school the teachers threw me a despedida, a going away party. I had to say a few words, and as I was talking about how much I appreciated Carmen, I started to tear up, the first time since we've started saying our goodbyes. Tomorrow Carmen, Lizayara, and Natalie are coming over to have lunch with us, and we're also going to make sure that they have e-mail accounts and give them a crash course in how to use Skype so we can stay in touch. Carmen really has meant a lot to me during these two years, and it's going to be tough to say goodbye.
The Peace Corps office in Managua has a lot of functions: it's (obviously) an office where people go to work, a meeting point for volunteers from all around the country, a doctor's office, a library, and an air-conditioned refuge for volunteers. It is especially easy for Holly and me to get to the office because it's right off of the highway that we have to take to get to Managua, so if we have a lot of work to do, it's worth the $1.50 roundtrip to go to the office and do the work in air conditioning and with free internet since there's basically no place in Masaya with air conditioning.
Here is the outside of the office. Up the stairs is the entrance into the security guards' office; they are always really friendly as we sign in, and always on guard for stray cars parked in front of the office or terrorists that may be passing through (the FBI's most wanted list and various terrorist pictures are prominently posted in their guard station, just in case) :
The fleet of Peace Corps Landcruisers that are ubiquitous in international development circles:
Here is Karen with her really adorable son, Ryan.
Today is my last day of classes at my school, INJOCRUM (Instituto Nacional José de la Cruz Mena). I’m actually pretty sad to be leaving the kids… though at the beginning of my service I sort of dreaded going to school, by the end I finally found my groove as a teacher and going to school became the only thing that I really enjoyed about being here.
Here’s where I walked daily to get from the market where I got off the bus to my school. This is also where Marvin and company always harassed me:
This is the outside area of my school; this is before first hour when kids are just hanging out, playing soccer, and buying snacks:
Here’s the marching band at a competition my first year at INJOCRUM. I never liked all the class we missed for the band to practice, but I did like their cheese grater instruments.
I spent many, many hours in the teachers lounge since my teaching schedules always had a lot of free hours in them. The barred doors in the first picture go to the principal’s office, the secretary’s office, and the vice principal’s office. The painting in the second picture is of José de la Cruz Mena, the musician for whom the school is named.
These are some of the students I had my very first school year here, in first year (7th grade) in the morning with Francis. The one in the middle is Eddyson, and he was one of my favorites:
This is my IV E (fourth year, section “E”) class from last year. This class first made me enjoy coming to school, and I was legitimately sad when I no longer got to teach them. They were all good kids that participated in class, did their homework, and laughed and my corny attempts to make jokes.
Here’s III G (third year, section “G”) from this year. In the first picture they’re learning directions. I had many of these same students last year in second year as well.
This is Rafael, one of my favorite kids that I had both last year and this year. He loves to ask me how to say new phrases and then practices them on me later (like, “Teacher, welcome to our class!” “I am finished!” and “See you tomorrow, teacher!”). Here he is showing off the chicken skeleton he made for science class. They asphyxiated the chicken so as not to break any of its bones, and then he carefully disassembled it and glued it back together. I think it’s really gross, but also pretty interesting.
Here’s Rafael’s class, III I, learning prepositions of place.
Finally, I’ll also miss the teachers. This picture is from a staff meeting where we also had a dance competition to practice our solidarity. This is Lila, who is an amazing seamstress and sews most of her own clothes (and also brings clothes and purses to school to sell to other teachers). At the far left is Iris who took a long time to warm up to me, but eventually she learned my name (“Holly Regan, but not like Ronald Reagan, that’s it, right?”) and we became friends.
When the last bell rings at 5:45, the kids come pouring out of the gate to the school. I rarely get out of school quickly enough to see the whole mess of students leaving to go home; these are a few stragglers that took more than 30 seconds to get out of school.