“We’re going to go out there and violate some rights.” NYPD police recordings..
For the few Americans who studied the history of the US of A in Latin America, your studies most likely left you ashamed and disappointed in your government. The constant history of American forces helping to install dictators in place of democratically elected officials is appalling.
Even worse? Finding out it’s still happening today. Read more about the US’s involvement and complacency in Honduras today.
Reverse culture shock started simple with me… I couldn’t figure out what to do with my toilet paper. Each time I went to the bathroom, I had to resist the urge to throw my TP in the garbage, remembering instead that it went in the toilet. What an odd concept, toilet paper in the toilet! I didn’t think such a simple change would bother me, but this slight difference in the routine of my life really caught me unaware.
It was odd to return home in the evening of December 23rd, which was followed by Christmas Eve, Christmas, my birthday (slightly anti-climactic as usual, as it is 2 days after Christmas), and New Years Eve. That’s a lot of events, social plans, and people for a short period of time.
An unexpected blessing was seeing my darling friend Amelie, who I refer to as my novia [girlfriend], as she had plans to be in New York the day after I got back. Since my real novio [boyfriend] was at a Jets game with his Dad, I had the day to myself to enjoy Amelie one last time in the Americas.
The photo below was taken of me at our lunch at Alice’s Tea Cup - my part-braided, part-straightened hair is a perfect symbol for my part-Nicaragua part-NYC state of mind:
Seeing Amelie and having her relate to my confusion of being back in the USA was a perfect medicine to my soul. Because, beyond my shock at the unbelievable cold temperature of NYC, the hustle and bustle was what felt different. It felt as if this crazy Latin American experience of mine had never happened. I wanted to jump in the air and shout at everyone, “WAIT!” I went to Nicaragua, I experienced a whole other reality, and I lived a whole other life, so why is everything here the same?
Mike’s apartment was just as it had been, the MTA Queens/Manhattan bus system was just as frustrating and inefficient as it had been, the New York City people were just as fast-moving as they had been, and everyone in this big city felt so together yet so alone at the same time.
I’d be lying if I said I was embraced by total warmth by the people of Nicaragua, and that instead of whistling at me and calling me names in Spanish, the men said “Buenos dias,” and the women asked “Como estas?” I’m not sure that it’s the country itself that I’m missing, or if it’s the children I had the benefit of getting to know for a short period of time, and the friends I made in the other volunteers.
I miss the confusing buzz of German with the occasional English or Spanish word mixed in. I miss the mutual understanding after a long day of school where the classroom was chaos. I miss hearing “teecha, teecha” from my English students. I miss the shared interest among so many people to make a difference in the world, in whatever way that meant. I miss the daily discussions on what was wrong with the school systems, the teachers, the classrooms, and what we could possibly do to make it better. I miss the feeling each morning of knowing what I’m doing will make a difference, no matter how tired I am (or how upset my stomach is by Nicaraguan food and drink). I miss the children of Nicaragua - no matter how rambunctious, stubborn, and difficult they could be. I miss seeing the smile of satisfaction from a correct answer. I miss speaking Spanish all of the time!
Those things aren’t all gone; they’re still with me. Those conversations can still be had; I just have to take the reins. New York City is still beautiful; my home is as dear to me as it has always been. I feel so lucky that Teach for America is the next big marker on my horizon. I can’t wait to get back into the classroom and continue to make a difference.
A little something in me has changed, and I look forward to continuing to learn and grow from that new corner of my soul.
Belize could practically be a different continent from Nicaragua, and I am loving the Caribbean feel.
Day 1: When I first arrived at the airport, I was dreading having to unpack my overpacked pink suitcase at Customs. Happily, the customs man and I had a conversation that went like so:
Customs Man: Is this your first time in Belize?
Me: Yes, actually it is!
Customs Man: Are you sure you haven’t been here before? I could swear I’ve seen you somewhere.
Me: No, this is definitely my first time here.
Customs Man: Oh, well maybe it was in my dreams or in my future or somethin…
After the airport, I spent my 24 hours in Belize City, waiting for Mer to arrive, and I chose not to leave the Guest House for the 1 day I was there for a few reasons: I was tired; there isn’t much to see in Belize City; the men were aggressive; the danger level is high; I was a single white female on my own.
I did meet a group of fantastic Belizeans who were either working at, visiting, or just hanging around the Guest House in which I was staying. As the chef/my good friend for the night, 60-something year old Michael said to me, “Why go anywhere, when the world always comes to me here?” We had an amazing night of drinks, delicious food, loud music, and good company. It was my perfect initiation into this crazy little country.
A quick highlight from my stay there was a young man named Henry from Nigeria who told me he was in Belize hoping to be awarded a Visa to the US, which is apparently easier to get from Belize than from Nigeria. Shortly thereafter, he proposed marriage to me, explaining that it was fate that had brought us to the Guest House at the same time… he had been there ‘waiting for’ me. Why did I give him my email address? Why not, I thought. Saw this in my inbox today:
Hi lauren,meeting you is the most interesting thing Belize has offerd me late,though 4 a short time we met but really you are d most beautiful of all,more charming,adorable even irresistible.
pls try to explain further why we cant get along.
Enjoy the rest of ur tour.
Merry christmas & a woundafull new year.
Day 2: Mer and I visited Corocal (outside of San Ignacio) today, which was my first ever experience in Mayan ruins! We had a nice time and we’re planning another early day tomorrow, to head to Actun Tunichil Muknal (also known as ATM), for spelunking & cave exploration, to see Mayan sacrificial victim skeletons (!!), and for some wild adventure.
Belize is great! Next stops are Dangriga and Caye Caulker. Home in 5 days. How crazy is that?
With love, peace, & gratitude,
Today is my last day in Nicaragua. When did that happen?! Here is the plan for today:
It’s a pretty Gringa day, but since I’ve already had my last day at the schools, I’ve already eaten my last typical Nica meal last night, and I’ve had plenty of delicious Nica rum, I’m ready to enjoy Granada at its finest.
It’s going to be so hard to say goodbye to the beautiful souls I’ve met while volunteering. The volunteers here—from every corner of the world—are the amazing driving force behind the success of the students La Esperanza Granada serves. And the students themselves… I hope that we’ve done good by them. They deserve nothing but the best.
A rainy day during dry season
It’s rained quite a few days in dry season this year (rainy season is July - October, dry is November - June), which of course gets my overactive mind worrying about the effects of global warming.
The real concern though, is that when there is rain, there is no school. (Happily, although it rained a lot last night and effected my delicates drying on the clothes line, it didn’t rain today to effect school).
The reason there is no school when it rains is because most of the students live in houses like the ones pictured here. When it rains, their houses leak, the roads flood and become muddy, and they can’t risk soaking the shirt on their back-probably one of the only shirts they own-on their way to school. Even worse than the mud and getting wet (which sound like a great time to a developed country kid), their families cannot afford to take them to a doctor. If they catch something while shivering in the rain, their health can be endangered.
And so, rain is yet another interruption preventing the children of Nicaragua from attending school. While the disruption to their education can be frustrating, it couldn’t be any other way with the way that they live.
La Esperanza Granada volunteer video created by my friend Sandra Sikman. A quick glimpse into the volunteer experience here (including a word or two from yours truly!).
My friend Beth, whom I did AmeriCorps with, is soon to head to Guyana as a part of the Peace Corps to teach. She asked me for some best practices and tips which, at the end of the first day of Summer School here in Nicaragua, and after 6 weeks of teaching, I was happy to prepare.
Here are my lessons learned…
Leave time for the slower responses. When you ask a question of the class, the same few hands will always go in the air, or the same few kids will shout out. Different kids learn in different ways, and some just need a few extra seconds to process. Make sure everyone gets a chance to participate, even if that means waiting a few more seconds or calling on someone who is too shy to volunteer.
Group work is key. In Nicaragua, copying off of another student is a common practice, but today I saw an amazing example of peer-learning. While I was helping one student and another boy was awaiting my help, a little girl who was his neighbor helped him with an addition problem by holding up her hands and demonstrating a way to find the answer. By the time I was ready to help the little boy with the question, he had already figured out the answer with his friend’s help.
It’s okay to be stern sometimes. No one responds well to an angry / yelling teacher who is grumpy all the time, but kids do well with order. I’ve had the chance to observe volunteers who teach with confidence, enforce rules, and don’t allow themselves to be interrupted. Other volunteers are a bit more quiet, are flexible with the students, and do not command the same amount of respect. The students are dramatically more receptive to the teachers who take control of the classroom, exerting confidence, and enforcing rules in a fair and reasonable way. My Mom always taught me the phrase “don’t smile in September,” which means that if you are serious about the rules in the beginning and you demand your students respect them, your job will be easier throughout the year as you will have set the tone for your classroom. Once you have commanded your students’ respect, it’s much easier to be flexible and softer with them.
Patience, patience, patience. There isn’t much to explain here, other than how essential it is not to take students’ poor behavior and weak performance to heart. In Nicaragua, many of the students are struggling dramatically. In the Summer School where we teach, the Principal made an announcement at the end of the normal school year that the majority of each class had not passed on to the next grade. There is a lot of work to be done, and it is often slow. Patience can be a difficult thing to maintain, but it is essential to your slow and eventual progress.
Self-care helps your students. I’ve done a lot of yoga while in Nicaragua, and I’ve taken time for naps, a swim at the pool, and books to read. The refreshment I get from taking care of myself makes me that much more enthused and balanced and ready for the next day in the classroom. Even if it seems impossible where you are, a little bit of self-care can go a long way.
With love, peace, & gratitude,