Nicaragua

Home again

Well, I’ve been home for a month now. I’ve never had much of a problem with reverse culture shock, so I settled back home quite nicely. My entire time at the Miami airport during my layover, however, was spent by attempting Spanish, then realizing I could speak in English now and be understood. It felt marvelous, but also bittersweet.

My greatest fear now is that I will lose my vocabulary. I already have lost a few words, I know, and I am attempting to speak in Spanish to myself as I clean my house or drive around town. I look a little crazy, but I think it’s worth it.

My experience in Nicaragua was intense. I learned so much, but at times it was very stressful. I caught a virus while there and was sick for a week. I am convinced that the farther one is from their own toilet, the more intense the pangs of stomach bugs are. Also, traveling solo is probably not my favorite mode.

I am so grateful I had the opportunity to go and will cherish my time with my friends there always. Nicaragua really is a beautiful country and I highly recommend people travel there. Perhaps one day I will be able to go again!

I learned a lot about not only Nicaragua, but myself. I realized I had a privileged childhood–and not mainly because I had electricity at all hours of day, or my parents owned two card–but because my parents never told me that I wasn’t able to do something, that I wasn’t worth investing in, or that I wouldn’t have a good life.

There is no doubt that Nicaraguan parents love their children dearly, and that they would give them the world if they could–just like American parents. But being surrounded by women who had to fight their fathers to graduate high school was enlightening. Being told by well-meaning but sexist men that I’m “just a child” and I “couldn’t ride the bus” by myself and I “shouldn’t have to be told what can happen to women at night in alleys” made me angry–and also grateful for how I was raised. These attitudes and people are all over the world–not just in Nicaragua. I do not in any way mean to insinuate that Nicaragua is inferior to the United States. It’s not. 

God showed me how much I have–and I don’t mean the two cars I own or the air conditioning (though I thank God daily for that now!). He also gave me opportunities to love others and rely on Him in stressful, lonely circumstances. For example, when I was sick and on my hands and knees in front of the  trash can, I tried to focus on His nearness and care. And when Mama Adilia bought me a pill and prayed over me (I was impressed I could understand any Spanish with a fever and stomach flu), it made me feel so much less alone.

So I returned to the US with a greater sense of understanding and gratitude for my life. As a Christian, it also makes me that much more passionate for restorative justice in all corners of the world, and with a great sense of homesickness for the beautiful Spanish language.

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Laguna de Apoyo

On my last Sunday here in Nicaragua, I finally was able to visit Laguna de Apoyo. It’s about a forty minute drive (by  personal vehicle) from Managua and very worth going to.

A crater from surrounding volcanoes, the laguna is now the best place for swimming, relaxing, and eat beach food (barring the actual coast, I’m sure).

Through a series of events I still don’t totally understand (because decisions were made very quickly in Spanish), I went with a fellow student at Viva, Mateo, my host brother Eduardo, and his close friend Edwin (I think).  The water was perfect, and the area was much cooler than sweltering Managua.

Nicaragua 008 This photo does not do it justice. According to a friend, swimming in the laguna makes you feel like you’re at the bottom of the world with mountains rising above you. And he’s right. It really is perfect.

Nicaragua 005 This was before swimming.

We returned home in the rain, tired and hungry. Rain that night was fierce across Managua, and flooded many of the downtown streets. It made national news.

It was a great place to finish my time in Nicaragua.

And today I depart, very sad to have not learned more Spanish. I’ve realized that it takes close to a month to begin to truly settle in a place. I only now feel like I’m really understanding the culture and the language, as well as actually getting to know my host family. I’m envious of people that stay for three or four months. But, truth be told, I really do miss home and family. So I am ready.

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A Day in Granada

 

 

 

On Saturday I was able to go to Granada (again on the public transportation bus). I’m glad I went. Although some people call Granada a tourist trap (and I can understand why), the history and buildings there are far too beautiful to miss, in my opinion. It is prettier than Leon, though more touristy.

The bus trip there was about an hour and cost c$24, or roughly 90 cents in USD. Even though it was marketed as an express bus, it took its time getting places, making frequent stops along the highway and even in Granada before getting to the bus station.

I went with a fellow student at Viva, whom we call Mateo. He had been to Granada before, but on a more scheduled tour. We hopped off at a church we saw, before getting to the bus station. Iglesia laMerced is one of the older churches in the city, originally built in 1534. There is a tower attached to the church. The bells still ring during certain times of the day, I’m told.

The tower costs c$25 to climb, or roughly 1 USD. Nicaragua 011Nicaragua 012

The stairs are pretty steep and it’s easy to hit your head, but the view is absolutely worth it. Many panoramic views of the city.

Granada, which was founded in 1524, has a more Andalusian feel to it, as opposed to Leon, which feels more Castillean. Many of the buildings were burned, however, in the mid 1800s by William Walker’s military. Walker was an American with the plan to rule all of Central America as a president. Obviously, he failed. And Granada was rebuilt.

 

 

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One of the beautiful statues dotting the eaves and roofs of Iglesia la Merced. Beyond, you can see the hills and volcanoes near Masaya. The nearest volcano, Mumbacho, was covered mostly in clouds the day I went. But I’m told that it’s beyond worth going to, even if it’s a little bit expensive for my taste (total is around $35 USD).

Granada is on the western shores of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. It is gorgeous. People fish, swim, travel, and do other things at the lake. Nearby are the Islets of Granada, which were created after Mumbacho blew. Now people and monkeys live on them. A boat tour of the islets costs between $20-$40 USD for a boat, and I think a boat can take up to 10 people. I wanted to go, but didn’t want to split $20 with just one other person, so it didn’t happen.

Below is one of the views from the tower. You can see La Catedral de Granada, as well as Lago de Nicaragua behind it.

Granada as a beautiful, historical city, has strict building codes. Although tin roofs are more common throughout Nicaragua, buildings in the city center are required to use tiles. Paint colors and other building materials are strictly enforced as well.

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Nicaragua 033Another, closer view of the cathedral.

Mateo and I were able to meet up with four medical students who are also studying Spanish at the same school, Viva. They were on a special, schedule tour, so we only spent a few hours with them, just walking around the city in the rain.

Yes, it rained, and yes, I got very, very wet. But I didn’t mind at all because it finally wasn’t hot. Though somehow, through the rain, I still got sunburned. It’s so easy for me to forget that I’m much, much closer to the equator than normal.

We ate a nice sandwich lunch at a cute restaurant. Prices weren’t bad–For my sandwich and lemonade, I spent close to eight dollars. I’m kind of cheap, so I didn’t want to spend that much, but the food was really good. And their courtyard garden was beautiful.

Many of the best restaurants are on La Calle Calzada, which is mostly pedestrian-only. It’s very near the cathedral, and it has shops, tourist booths, and other vendors. Back when Spain was in control, I hear, the street was reserved for only Hispanoles. Indigenous people were not allowed to walk on the street under penalty of death.

Because our feet were hurting, we went to one more museum at the Convento de San Francisco. It cost roughly $2 USD to get in. Many of the travel websites said to look for a robin’s egg blue church (San Francisco), and the museum would be right next door. As of 2014, however, the church is now a pale yellow/beige color. So if you plan to visit, don’t look for a blue church.

The museum had artifacts and murals of ancient Granada and the indigenous people before the city. I saw a lot of artwork picturing Granada, some showed victorious battles against the Americans. Hopefully they were battles against that William Walker fellow, not the US government.

Nicaragua 041  An artifact and myself.

We visited the market in parque central, and I was able to haggle a price down from c$360 to $200. I was quite happy with myself, because several years ago in Italy I was too nervous to negotiate at all. Now I am able to get a good deal. I do have to tell the vendors, “sorry, I don’t have more,” and walk away, hoping that they call me back. Luckily, this time they did.

Our feet hurt, so we decided to head home after that. The bus station was incredibly easy to find, on Calle Verga just a two minute walk or so from the cathedral, and we found a bus without any difficulty. Again, the trip back was c$24.

In total, the transportation there and back cost about $2 USD for one person, and my activities cost about $3 USD. Getting a taxi fback from the Managua bus station (At UCA) to home was another $1 USD apiece. Lunch was the most expensive part.

I highly recommend an overnight stay in Granada, and the willingness to spend more money to visit the volcano!

 

 

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My end at Bartahola Norte (for now)

My time in Nicaragua is coming to a close now, and it makes me very sad. Although I miss my home, my husband, and even my cat dreadfully, I’m very disappointed that time passed so quickly. I wish I had more time to learn Spanish, to get to know new friends, and to help people at the community center. It’s only now that I feel more accustomed to the weather and that I’m really starting to get to know people. Only now are things beginning to come more easily to me.

But I do miss the US, and I am very ready to be in charge of my own home again. And my own portion sizes. I really miss that.

My last day at Bartahola Norte was Thursday, and the English class was so sweet and sorry to see me leave.

Nicaragua 001 Nicaragua 002 Nicaragua 003 I have a hard time figuring out how formatting photos will look once publish, because it looks different when posts are published. So I apologize if this looks odd.

Anyway, these are photos of the English class. Kelsey is one of the teachers that trades off days. She has been here for about eight months and will be here for a total of two years. The other two photos are of different sides of the class. There wasn’t a huge turnout, as you can see, on Thursday. About 13 showed up for class.

At the end of class, they presented me with a gift–a framed feather of the national bird, with a painting of the bird on the feather. It’s very lovely and I can’t wait to bring it home. It was such a sweet surprise.

Nicaragua 004 Some of the girls in the group. I have tutored several before class and helped all of them during class, and they have helped me somewhat in my Spanish. It’s been very gratifying to hear about improved quiz scores and see more confidence in their eyes.

Nicaragua 007The boys also, have learned a lot. I have seen progress during my month at Bartahola Norte, and it has been really great to be a part of an educational movement for students who might not otherwise have a chance for language skills or secondary learning.

I originally asked the director of the Spanish school if I could volunteer somewhere so I could get to know the people of Nicaragua as well as give back to the community. It’s been a good experience, and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity. It’s encouraged me to continue my work in education and the international non-profit sector. I would love the chance to return and do more someday!

 

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I’m a white girl, but I’m not stupid

So I finally rode a chicken bus.

Last weekend a friend and I braved the trip to Leon on our own, and it was great. We met up at the bus station across from UCA (University de CentroAmericano) and got in line for a bus to take us to Leon, which is about an hour and a half away in the minibuses. Buses run roughly every 20 minutes, so we didn’t have to wait long to hop on. The driver collected the price for the trip. There was no ticket, we just handed him 51 cordobas apiece for the trip up.  This is about 2 USD.  Of course there was no air conditioning, but it wasn’t bad in the morning and with the windows open.

We arrived at the bus station in Leon, which is about a 25 minute walk from city center, or central park. Neither of us felt like walking, so we snagged a bicycle taxi for 26 cordobas apiece to take us there. The man was incredibly friendly, and Kelsey began talking to him about his job. Then he offered to let us try the bicycle. And how could we refuse?

So here we are, two gringas trying out the man’s job.

10178146_10204153590226907_8633478112400964741_n 10409546_10204153591546940_3713088404497718861_n Biking wasn’t that hard, but the steering certainly was!

Once we reached Parque Central, we looked around and enjoyed the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Leon. My teacher told me (and I haven’t verified this) that the reason Leon’s cathedral is so huge is because the approved plans got mixed up with another cathedral in Montevideo. So their cathedral is small, while Leon’s is much larger than the population needed, back in the late 1700s. It is the largest cathedral in Central America. It is a beautiful old building with so much history surrounding it that I felt like I could just sit inside for an hour to soak it all in.

 

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The inside was so much cooler than outside, though I’m not sure how that’s possible.  It was easily over ten or twelve degrees cooler, which all the windows and door open for the breeze and the sun.

Unfortunately, the cathedral, although obviously loved, has not been well taken care of. There are cracks in the floors and walls, and plaster has fallen off some of the vaulted ceilings.

Stone lions surrounded the cathedral on the steps, platforms, and everywhere outside. The lions can also be found around parque central.

Leon, as the second largest city in Nicaragua, is also the capital of the department of Leon. Founded by the Spaniards in 1524, it was too close to volcanoes and earthquake fault lines. By 1610, everyone agreed to move and rebuild the city where it now stands. Leon was the capital of Nicaragua on and off in the mid 1800s, until Leon and Granada, its rival, compromised and made Managua the capital of Nicaragua.

Because of Leon’s ancient history, it has many, many churches, although now it is known also for being a college town.

The picture of me below should give some perspective of how large this place is, as the door are behind me and to my left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I don’t think I will ever tire of looking up at the high ceilings of cathedrals.10452380_10204153595307034_7853487384688602067_n

Afterward, we strode across the park (which is really quite small) and bartered for souvenirs for a while. During our time there, a journalist and camera man approached us, interviewing people in the market place. Being the tallest, whitest people there, we stood out. Our first thoughts were, “Crap. We are going to look like idiots on the news.”

I thought I was going to get away scott free, because the journalist turned to Kelsey first, and asked questions about where she was from, what she was buying, if it was her first time here, and what her name was. We had to tell her several times to slow down. Between the two of us, we could figure out what she was saying and respond appropriately. But then she turned to me, and I had to come up with answers of what I was buying (which was really nothing, but I thought it would be rude to say I didn’t like anything in the market) and answer in Spanish. Bad idea. Thinking and talking in a foreign language is something I can’t do well. So after we stumbled through that, we decided not to check the news when we got home and hope it wasn’t aired.

The museum of the revolutionary war was just on the other side of the market, so we went. It was about 50 cordobas per person to get in, and they offered English guides. We turned them down and decided to puzzle through to Spanish ourselves.

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10459922_10204153597987101_2678119746664649301_n The war happened in the 1980s, so we promptly understood that if we wanted to be liked in Nicaragua, we should never, ever, ever mention Ronald Reagan. Particularly to anyone who probably fought in the war.

While we couldn’t understand everything, we could piece together that the contra war began in Leon in roughly 1981. You can, of course, learn more with wikipedia or other online sources.

10356305_10204153632187956_7089263944310580260_n10455441_10204153642308209_281704103663815653_n There are many more church in Leon. To the left is Iglesia El Calvario.  Although the church has existed in that place since 1609, the present building was erected in 1810. To the right is another church that I snapped a photo of while driving past in a taxi. I really couldn’t tell you want church it is, only that it’s old and beautiful.

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Another of the more famous churches in Leon is the Iglesia la Recoleccion.  As you might be able to guess, this was also snapped in a moving taxi. Construction on this church began in 1785.

 

After tiring our feet out in Leon, we returned to Managua in a smaller, more crowded “chicken bus.” The taxi from the center of Leon to the bus station was 26 cordobas per person again. This return trip in the bus also cost 51 cordobas per person.  I wouldn’t call the experience miserable, and am planning to do a similar trip in the next couple of days, but I definitely wouldn’t call it fun either. Especially in the afternoon heat.

Upon arriving back at UCA, we still needed to return to our respective homes. Taxis are plentiful in Managua, but you have to be careful. And you have to negotiate. It is not common, but still, sometimes men masquerade as taxi drivers to rob or kidnap gringos. To be safe, we got in separate taxis at the same time but wrote down the plates of ours and one another’s. It also shows the drivers that you aren’t an idiot.

My taxi driver, however, was very pushy, and I didn’t like him at all. He encouraged me into his car, and that was when I realized that I hadn’t agreed upon a price. You never let the taxi drive without agreeing on a price.

“Wait,” I told him. “How much to Barrio la Luz?”

“5 dollars,” he told me.

“In cordobas,” I said.

“120 cordobas.”

“Absolutely not,” I told him. I was tired, hot, and not in the best of moods and not willing to be ripped off. “My neighborhood is one mile away. It’s very close. I only have 40 cordobas. Will you take 40?”

“I will do 100,” he told me, frustrated.

“No,” I answered, equally frustrated. “I will not and cannot pay you 100. I have 44 cordobas. That is all.”

“Find another taxi,” he told me, not even looking over his shoulder while talking.

“Fine,” I said, and marched out of his car, across the parking lot, and hailed the first cab I saw.

“How much to Barrio la Luz?” I asked.

“30 cordobas,” the other taxi driver replied, and so I hopped in and got home safe and sound. It was quite liberating to know that I got a Nica price even with my white skin.

When I retold the story the next day to my teachers, they were happy for me. “I’m so proud!” one told me. “You weren’t ripped off and you acted just like a Nicaraguan!”

So now our joke is that “Yo soy chela, pero no soy tonta.” Which, translated, means “I’m a white girl, but I’m not stupid.”

And now that I have that victory under my belt, I am more confident that I can really do this travel thing.

 

 

 

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7 Ways to Make Your Homestay Language Student Happy

Taking strange kids into your home has got to be rough. It disrupts your schedule, it places a person you can’t communicate well with in your life, and you have to cook and clean more. Being a homestay family isn’t easy. And I’m so grateful that my “mom” has kept me fed and patted my back when I threw up and all sorts of other grandmotherly things. Seriously, my hat is off to you brave folks.

Being an international student isn’t easy either–adjusting time zones, a different culture, a different language, and wondering “is my family different, or is the culture different?” takes up a lot (and I mean A LOT) of energy.

So if you’re taking a foreign language student into your home, and you know they’re not fluent, I have a few tips that might help you understand what is going on with them.

1. Always, always face them when you talk. It is really hard to understand muffled voices when heads are turned or people are in another room.

2. Speak slowly. I can’t over emphasize this. Whenever anyone begins speaking to me, I always say, “Slower, please. Slower, please.” Sometimes the people listen and sometimes they don’t. But I am always very grateful to the people that have the patience to slow down their speech for me.

3. Tell us your funny stories. But enunciate clearly. Nothing makes me feel left out quite as much as everyone at the table laughing at a hilarious work story when, in the excitement, everyone spoke fast that I couldn’t understand but one or two words through the whole telling. There’s one “sister” of mine that will repeat the stories at a much slower pace specifically for me, and I can’t even tell you how grateful I feel to be included and helped at the same time.

4. As a good rule of thumb, if we aren’t near fluent, and we can’t see your mouth, we won’t understand you. This kind of goes back to number one. I have a hard time understanding people when they talk with food in their mouths, put their hands over their mouths, or yawn while talking. Of course, that last one is hard in your own native language.

5. Correct us gently. We want to learn, so we don’t mind correction. But laughing at our mistakes, even if it isn’t mean-spirited, gets old really fast. I’ve been laughed at a lot here. And while it is good to put my ego in it’s place, after a time it makes me insecure of my language skills and get so worried about making a mistake that I don’t want to try. Also, when I ask, “how do you say…?” and get a three sentence long answer, it doesn’t help. I just need the phrase all by itself, or I will become more confused.

6. Don’t try to speak over the truck driving past. Wait. It’s not that we don’t know the words you’re saying. It’s just that our ears aren’t used to picking up those sounds in that order. While I might be able to continue to understand a conversation in English with a friend because I’m intimately familiar with the syllable placement and context, I won’t be able to in Spanish. At least, not for a long while yet. So if the noise is going to pass, just wait and save us both the frustration of mis-communication.

7. Stay patient with us. We realize that it’s really frustrating to be misunderstood. Or ignored. Or stared at with glazed expressions. Having an international student disrupt your life is inconvenient enough, and having one that doesn’t understand what you say is harder. But I promise you, we are more frustrated than you. You are misunderstood by one person, while we have difficulty expressing ourselves to everyone we meet. I had one woman roll her eyes obviously when I asked her for a second time to speak slower, and it made me angry because I was trying really hard to understand her and I already felt like an idiot. I didn’t need her to confirm that for me.

 

The people in my life in Nicaragua that have shown extraordinary amounts of patience for me and enunciated their words have my everlasting gratitude, and they are the ones (outside the language school) that helped me learn the most.

These are just a few tips that I’ve come up with during my time as a foreign language student. But each person is different, and each family and culture are different. So these can be used as guidelines, not hard and fast rules.

What are some things you would suggest?

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Machismo in Nicaragua

“So, are you dating anyone here?”

“No. Nicaraguan men are mean. It’s just not worth it.”

I and my American friends have had this conversation several times with Nicaraguan women, and they all say the same thing, whether we asked or not. Most Nicaraguan men are mean.

A common term in Latin America for this is “Machismo,” which is closely related to the US term “Macho man.” These men are often extremely masculine. Many spend time working in the gym, if they have the luxury of time to do so. Others get the best office careers and make sure that women don’t.

Machismo is often described by Central American feminists as a form of patriarchy used to dominate women and make men feel better about themselves. While in the past machismo has had positive connotations, people use it today as the idea of a machista, a sexist man that sees woman as objects to be used in some form or another. Years ago, and possibly still today, some men see machismo has a code of honor–a way that the head of the household would live. Defending his land, protecting his family, and supporting his community were the highest duties of a machista and the honorable way of life. But most men use this idea to live however they want to–even at the expense of women and children.

This idea, unfortunately, is not confined to Latin America. The United States, even though equality is more of a reality, has many problems with patriarchy and rape culture. There are far too many boys in the United States that believe having sex with a drugged or drunk woman is perfectly okay. But in the United States, there is at least a backlash to that sort of behavior.  At least online and in some courtrooms, the “boys will be boys” excuse falls flat.

In many parts of Nicaragua, this is not the case. In the past, machistas regularly raped women, attacked gay men, had two or three girlfriends at once, and/or beat their wives. While that still happens, less extreme versions of machismo are now more common. It’s the comments that “women shouldn’t go to college” because they “only belong in the house,” or all those catcalls when a woman walks to the bus stop, or the dismissal of a girl partner for a school project because “girls are stupid.”  My male teacher said that because he studied French in college, many of his acquaintances told him he was gay. And when he washes his own clothes at home, his male neighbors laugh at him for doing “women’s work.” My other teacher, a woman, said her previous boyfriend (who is in his late 20s) left her for a fifteen-year-old girl. There was a news story a couple years ago showing father and son going to a brothel for the boy’s birthday. And this is normal.

“It is getting better,” my teacher told me. “It used to be worse. Some women are doctors and engineers and architects now. And Nicaragua doesn’t have the gang violence that Honduras and Guatemala have, so the [sexual violence] and crime isn’t as organized.”

Still, a friend at Bartahola Norte told me that about three years ago a man killed his wife, and no one in the neighborhood did anything about it for a long time. A few people were to scared to tell the police, and others just didn’t care. Many years ago, another man in the same neighborhood also murdered his wife. But he didn’t go to prison, and the neighbors don’t like speaking poorly about him because he’s such a nice man.

Because of this, the cultural center has neighborhood meetings on violence prevention. Ideas do take time to catch on, however, and usually the men of the neighborhood see these meetings as an opportunity to talk about whatever they want, while the meetings were really designed to help women know they have resources to help them get out of bad situations.

The people of Nicaragua are friendly, usually kind people. They make tons of food and are always trying to give you more. But there are some deep-seated problems in their society–ones that are not unique to them.

It is exciting to learn more about the culture if Nicaragua, and encouraging to learn about nonprofits and individual people that are slowly eroding the abusive “machista” image of manhood and replacing it with something that benefits the whole society. And something I believe is much nearer to our own roles as image-bearers of God.

 

For an interesting workshop on education the public about the culture of machismo, go here. Another nonprofit website is here.

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Bartahola Norte and Language Difficulties

Though my schedule includes four hours of Spanish lessons every day, in the mornings I volunteer at Centro Cultural de Bartahola Norte. I work as a tutor and teacher’s aide for their English classes.

The center at Bartahola Norte was founded in the 1980s by a Catholic priest and a woman who wanted to provide the people of the poor neighborhood an opportunity to learn, grow, and get to know one another in a safe environment. It has always tried to help children and women, focusing on educating them on their human rights and other tangible skills they wanted to learn. Sewing classes, theater classes, and after-school programs are some of the activities they offer. English classes are another.

Currently, the English class has about 25 students, roughly between 18 and 25 years old. There are a couple of older women there that want to eventually get a better job through knowing English. Two employees trade off days to teach and grade homework, and they create a fun atmosphere for the students in the open-air area of the compound.

I arrive around 8:15 in the morning Monday-Thursday to tutor any of the students that want help. I have recently made a break through with one student. She has very little understanding of English and I think she is quite shy as well. Before, when I would try to tutor her, she would look away and pretend no to hear me when I asked a question. I would repeat myself, very slowly, separating each word (not each syllable, because that is impossible to understand!) in English, and still she would not look at me. I would try speaking normally in Spanish, and still not get a response. Finally, this week, she began responding to me. I have told her that when she doesn’t understand something, she needs to say “I don’t understand,” in English or Spanish, and I can help, rather than look away and ignore me.

Other students have been through the class before and have a good vocabulary. Sometimes I don’t know the Spanish word, but they know the English word and can help me help another student. It’s a little humbling. But we’re all working together to learn a different language, so it’s also wonderful. Sometimes the class is challenging because of poor attendance, few turn in homework, and they don’t follow instructions in class well at all. Today it was like pulling teeth to make them play a game.

I easily get discouraged with my Spanish, particularly when a couple of the male students speak rapidly and then find it funny when I don’t understand. My family often laughs at my mistakes. Not in a “you’re stupid” way, but in a “that’s a silly mistake” way. Still, after enough times, laughter is not pleasing no matter how they mean it.

In fact, the taxi driver that picked me up from Bartahola Norte today saw me speaking English with a fellow volunteer and scolded me on the way home. “You only speak English,” he said. “You never speak Spanish. You do not understand Spanish. You will never learn because you only speak English.”

I was rather offended. To be honest. Because I’m very tired of people telling me that my Spanish is “malo” or “so-so” or I only know a little. So I told him, “I do speak Spanish! I spoke with you this morning in Spanish. I speak Spanish at my house, in the school, and sometimes to the students at Bartahola. And I’m speaking to you in Spanish right now.”

He told me, “But you were speaking English earlier.”

“Yes, because we are both from the U.S.,” I replied.

And I wanted to add, “I speak Spanish, not well, but I can speak it. And the only word in English you know is ‘Spiderman,’ so you can’t talk.” But that would have been rude. And un-Christlike. So I did not. But I thought it very loudly.

An hour later, I had lessons at Viva, and I recounted the story to my first teacher, Elvin. At the end he laughed and said, “You speak Spanish really well when you are angry! You didn’t make a single mistake. I think I need to make you angry tomorrow.” He went on to tell me that my Spanish is not bad at all, and is improving quickly. He was even so generous enough to say that I know 55% of Spanish and he knows 35% of English, which is a big fat lie f0r both of us, but it was really sweet of him to say.

My second teacher, Marjorie, told me that many people just don’t understand how hard it is to learn a second language, and that I am doing well and my grammar is good. People that tell me my Spanish is bad just don’t know English or any other language, nor how difficult it is to learn.

I much prefer to believe my teachers.

 

Categories: Lost in Translation, Nicaragua | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Weekend plans

This weekend has been busy so far! And I’m glad for it–it lets me meet more people and see more of Nicaragua. It also distracts me from the heat.

Classes, overall, are going well. In class I feel like I’m learning so much I won’t possibly be able to remember it all. Outside class I feel like an idiot that can’t communicate with people.  I do feel quite accomplished in that now I, at least theoretically, know present perfect and preterite past.  I assume the other past tense and future tense will begin on Monday.

But one of my two teachers told me Friday that next week I might switch up teachers. That actually makes me a little sad because I really, really like my other teacher, Elvin. Elvin’s English is fluent, but I routinely ask about words he doesn’t know the translation to. He is much more fluent in French. We talk mostly, rather than having structured grammar lessons, and now he has me reading and writing in Spanish. It’s great because he’s taught me about the ethnic background and history of Nicaraguans, and I taught him about selkies and the Northern Lights. All in Spanish. Well, mostly. So I don’t want to leave him. I think it’s possible to request him back, so I may.

Friday was El Dia de Los Madres in Nicaragua, so the whole family, like 22-25 people, came over to celebrate. It was fortunate then, that I had been invited to go dancing with another student at the school, Mateo, and his family. Mateo (that’s his Spanish name, of course) has been here for three weeks and will be here until August to learn Spanish. He was placed with a family that knows quite a bit of English, so he uses English at home quite a lot. They were impressed that I tried to speak Spanish, and I was impressed that I could understand them. I truly have the hardest time understanding my homestay family’s Spanish.

With that note about my family, here are some photos of them!

Nicaragua 010

 

 

Nicaragua 016

 

 

Dona Adilila at her sewing machine and Benjamin. He is never without his soccer ball.

 

Nicaragua 004         Nicaragua 021           Nicaragua 019

And this is Maria, the girl who helps me with my homework.

I was grateful that the night before Rodrigo tried to help me learn salsa. I was pretty bad, and when I stepped on his toes, he jerked back and said, “you’re so heavy!” The bad part was I didn’t even use all my weight when I stepped on his toes.

Anyway, I didn’t exactly have a clubbing dress, but we went out anyway, again to Salvador Allende. There are many bars there with great dancing places. We went to one that was having karaoke night. It wasn’t the best place for dancing, but someone’s boyfriend works there, so we stayed. I was quite intimidated when all the Latinas got up and really started swaying their hips to the rhythm. I’m not sure many white girls can move like that!

But I got up and danced with Mateo for about ten minutes, then his “mom,” who is actually a salsa instructor. Definitely felt out of place among these glamorous girls with their sexy moves. A few couples kept looking at me over the space of ten or fifteen minutes, and I could just imagine the conversation they had with one another:

“Look at the poor epileptic girl over there trying to dance!”

“Oh, the gringa? Yeah, she doesn’t look so good. Wait! Is she having a fit? Should we go help her?”

No, no. I think she’s just trying to dance.”

So we danced until Mateo fell down and hurt his knee. Apparently for the second time this month. And around midnight they took me home.

Saturday, or yesterday, I went to see Maleficent with a friend from Bartahola Norte and her friend, who knows a lot of English. It was an ordeal getting to the theater, even though it was in Metrocentro, about a four-minute drive from my house. It was impossible to find a taxi, and my family didn’t seem willing to drive me there themselves. I was getting very frustrated when Rodrigo said he was available and would take me 30 minutes early.  We went, and he even stayed with me for half an hour until my friends showed up.

I had been told that Maleficent would be in Spanish with no subtitles of any kind, and was prepared to not understand much. But thankfully, it was in English with Spanish subtitles.  I think I would have been able to understand about 35% of the Spanish, had it just been words, and much more because it was accompanied by a movie. It was not necessary, thankfully.

Today I may go to Laguna de Apoyo, if my friends call and I’m able to find some way of transportation to meet them. I hope to go and get out of Managua. I’ve heard it one of the prettiest places in Nicaragua and can’t wait to see it!

Categories: Lost in Translation, Nicaragua | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Home away from home

I’ve been here for nine days now, and am settling into a routine. Below is a photo of my family’s casa.

DSCN0584

My homestay family is very large, for a couple of reasons.

First, most Nicaraguan families live together in some way even after children are grown. The ones that do move out live very close to home and visit one another often.

Second, my homestay mother, whom I affectionately call Mama Adilia, is the grandmother of 13 (I think) and the mother of 5. Four of the adult children live nearby, almost within walking distance, and the fifth lives with Mama Adilia. Her son is Rodrigo, who also lives here.

Every evening the family gets together here, in the grandmother’s house, to eat dinner, hang out on the front porch/courtyard area, and talk. There are easily up to 20 people going through the house in the evening almost every day. It was very overwhelming for me at first, especially because I have a difficult time communicating, to see so many faces and be around so many conversations I couldn’t understand. It’s still a little overwhelming. Tonight some adult cousins and great-uncles came over.

It’s getting better however, and much of that is because of Maria. She is the 9-year-old granddaughter of Mama Adilia, and she is the cutest little “sister” I could possibly ever have. About three days ago Maria realized I was having trouble putting together who was married to whom, and who their children were, so she made me a list, complete with ages and the parents of the children. I was so grateful.

It is very difficult to be around so many people that talk quickly. I give up trying to understand. Even students I’ve met that are close to fluent say that they give up when a group of Nicaraguans begin to talk. I’ve been able to communicate to Mama Adilia and Gladys, Maria’s mother, that I need to see their mouths when they talk, and that my ears really don’t pick up the sounds as well as theirs do. I know the words, but my ears really don’t pick up the subtleties of Spanish like they do English.

For example, if a friend is talking to me in English and a loud truck goes by, I’m likely to put the syllables together and guess what the words are that I missed, put them into context, and keep going. That is impossible for me in Spanish. Unless some is extremely clear, sometimes I need to hear things twice. Unless it’s an academic conversation or something about history. Then, because of cognates and the hand gestures that usually go with complicated topics, I can follow along fairly well. I don’t catch every word, but I get the gist of what is being said.

Gladys has begun speaking slowly to me, and repeating stories in a way that I can understand, even after everyone in the room laughed at the joke. Her youngest son is always willing to show off how many random English words he knows, as long as play with him. Her daughter, Maria, is always ready to teach me Spanish and correct my pronunciation.

I have been writing all the vocabulary I need to memorize (pages and pages and pages of it) in a yellow notebook. Last night, Maria quizzed me on the nouns/adjectives that I had and began to explain some of the verbs to me. She knows a few basic words in English, so sometimes I help her out there.  We got to the C’s, and came across “cruzar” (to cross) and “cursar.”

Delighted to have stumped me on the latter’s meanings, she whipped out a pencil and her own notebook.

“See?” she said, pointing to the verbs she had written. “Cruzar and cursar. They SOUND the same, but they are very different.”

I nodded.

“Repeat after me,” she commanded. “Cruzar. Cursar.”

I did.

“They SOUND the same. These words are homophones. Can you say that word with me? Homophones.” Maria exaggerated her pronunciation.

I was trying not to laugh at this point, and earned a glare for my amusement.

“Do you know what homophones are?” She asked, her tone of voice revealing that I had better know, or she would be quite upset.

I nodded again.

“Tell me,” Maria said, tapping her pencil on the arm of the rocking chair.

I told her that they were words that sounded alike but had different meanings.

“Very good,” she said. “Just remember. They are different.”

With that teaching, why am I paying a school?

Categories: Nicaragua | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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