Friday, August 1, 2008

Volando: a few bits and pieces

Has it really been this long? Sorry guys. It has been a bit crazy here in Nicaragua for me…nothing drastic, don’t worry…just life here has been happening too quickly to record it accurately in any sort of form. I’m also bad at the “this is what I did today” as it usually feels rote and dull when I do so. So of course, I am not about to start now. Rather, I’ve tried to capture some moments in the past few weeks that have been
particularly noteworthy. I hope you enjoy.

Here We Go: time to transition. Again.
I type this to you dear reader from the frigid El Crucero…my necio neighbor the fog has not yet left and won’t for a while, though this time around I’m feeling less annoyed by him. Still not fun to shower, but I did buy some cute closed toe shoes today. Always about perspective. To be painfully honest, I did not want to come here. There were so many unknowns overshadowing the good things I had encountered in El Crucero, and so many known goods that I was leaving behind in Santa Teresa. It became this teetering balance of transition, which was not helped as I talked to my peers and staff members who encouraged me to see if my situation was really permanent. What ensued threatened to push me off my feet, challenging what little fortitude I had in myself and bringing forth the doubts and fears that seem to always surface when you are the most vulnerable. I would sit on my bed beneath that mosquito net and just cry, feeling so very certain that I had made a very large error in coming to PC, which of course did not help any of the doubts/fears/etc. But somewhere in the middle of it all, those moments that I just stared at anything remotely familiar with eyes of detachment, that I felt the very kernel of my soul say stay. Calm down. Wait. Wait! It is just about to come, the dawning of that new day, the spilling of light into the dark crevices. [To which I, of course, cynically retorted that El Crucero doesn’t get that much light!]But I would consider that voice and decide to eat a bonbon sucker (or 5) and continue waiting. And you know what? As I think about the 20 some adults that just came to my community class, the American girl who will be staying here for a year working with one of my schools, my various friends that I have made in country, both American and Nicaraguan, and just the fact that I am getting to start what I signed up to do, I can say that indeed the light is cresting and with it comes the hope. Here’s to putting one step in front of the other.

Something new I’m learning about myself is my great enjoyment of sensory details. A pleasant smell, the perfect alignment of lines, a savory bite. Part of the change here is losing the opportunities to enjoy certain sensory experiences and trying to learn how to accommodate others. For example, the market smell is the mix between freshness and rot that makes my stomach hurt, while the taste and feel of a bonbon sucker pressed against my cheek has the ability to smooth over frazzled nerves. But this past weekend I experienced wave after wave of sensory experiences to the point of exhaustion. It all began when I went with three other PC ladies to this restaurant called Ola Verde in Managua. This place is a small gem of organic gourmet, two things I was certain did not exist here in Nicaragua. You first walk into a cool room that is filled with the scent of basil and olive oil, two things that begin to appease the palate before you taste them. We ordered hummus to start, with warm whole wheat [whole wheat!!] pita and carrot sticks. Oh my gosh. I can’t even express just how pleasing that first bite was, the flavors and textures absolutely perfect on my tongue. This was followed up by a homemade tomato soup rich in basil and tomatillo, with a pinch of mozzarella, whole wheat panini with roasted vegetables, chicken and mozzarella, and to finish, this succulent carrot cake with a cup of GOOD coffee. Oh my. We sat there for over three hours, discussing life of course, but also just going on and on about how amazing each part was. [So good was this place that I ate there for three more meals over my time in Managua]. And all that was just the beginning . Friday night we went to a restaurant called Scampis to celebrate our official status of volunteers. Fresh marinara pasta loaded up with sautéed veggies, Jose Cuervo Especial in a salt-encrusted shot glass and hours of dancing with all my PC buddies – even the sensation of the rising blisters on my sandaled feet was enjoyed simply because of how wonderful everything else was going. And then there was the hot water…that was sheer bliss.

In the midst of all this pleasure, I found myself thinking about fasting. It’s been something that I’ve wrestled with in the past, the why and the how, and always have ended up feeling like I misunderstood. But after an involuntary fasting of 3 months, I was surprised by how delighted I was at the littlest thing. Perhaps fasting isn’t so much about bearing through the discomfort but about the renewed enjoyment, and thus thanksgiving, that follows. Just a thought.


So I’m a professional planner. I really love it, take great pleasure in it, spend a fair amount of time on it - in fact, it borders on being a serious problem. I purposely left my dayplanner agenda at home in an effort to release some of the control. And yet I realized today that I had been totally planning out my time here and depending on my own resources and understandings to get me through. It’s why El Crucero/Santa Teresa stuff upset my equilibrium so much – to me, it didn’t make any sense at all and thus could not work. And yet I remembered that 1: it’s ok to be blind and 2: He still knows how to and is actively leading the blind. So instead of pretending I see better than I do, I’ll remember that my path is taken care of. And reduce my list making to once a week. [Confession: I just made my Nica notebook into a makeshift planner. Some things are just inherent!!!]

BonBons: a growing addiction.
I realized in revising my posts that I have mentioned these beloved suckers at least 3 times, so I’ve decided to explain to you my newfound coping mechanism. At the very basic level, it is a physical coping mechanism for dealing with increased stress I was experiencing – with the lack of time to run, added stressors and emotions, the need to expel this energy was satisfied by eating these suckers. They are this line of gum-filled suckers from a company called Colombiana. This of course started all sorts of funny jokes about me getting my “fix” from the Colombians…paired with a Coke, my training buddies would chide me for coke habit, both in drink and supposed ingredients in the suckers. [I AM NOT DOING DRUGS]. Now these are not your average suckers. Blow Pops are good, obviously, but these suckers have unique flavors, like my personal favorite – mango, cool which is a minty sugary mix, atomic, which is just a sweet almost berryish sucker that has small balls of spun sugar, transfer which is not a distinct flavor but has the same balls that atomic does but is also blue on the outside, staining your teeth and tongue. There are a ton of others, including strawberry yogurt, but these are the ones I have played around with the most. The best part is that these suckers are just a cord, and though they only last about 15 minutes max, I feel good about spending 1 cord for 15 minutes of satisfaction. Some days I made it into the 3 or 4 range, and there was the week that I bought a nine pack of crackers, bag of 25 bonbons and innumerable cokes…[this combination is also very satisfying…the coke through a straw, the club social crackers broken into pieces and the bonbon finishing it all off]. If you come to visit, I will make sure you get to find your favorite bonbon sucker. The confusing part is there is also another chocolate-y candy called bonbons, but I haven’t yet tried those…they are kind of expensive [5 cords for one little bite!...which is only like a quarter, but still…that’s FIVE bonbon suckers].

Ok, go ahead. Make fun all you want. I am fully aware that this is ridiculous, but here we are. 

If I’m Brave: not as it seems
I’ve been told by many a person how brave I am for doing this…for coming to PC and taking this journey. I am always surprised by this compliment…because it simply isn’t true. If you knew how scared I am half the time, how often I don’t want to do it, how many times I complain or whine inside myself, the innumerable times I’ve thought about quitting or wondering why I’m here….you would not call me brave. But that’s the coolest part, I’m realizing. If I was brave, I wouldn’t need the Lord to walk this out with me…but the reality is that everyday I realize how much I need His help and guidance, His love and company, His sheer strength. And even greater than that is realizing how freely available it is to me, and how willingly He offers it up. I am not brave, my friends. But I am well-loved and well-taken care of by Someone who is. If you find yourself thinking, I could never do that, that person is more _________ than me….just stop and remember that you have a Father who has more than you’ll ever need to do whatever you are dreaming. Just be available and take the first step – you’ll be amazed at how swiftly He begins to lead you through it.

“Teach me how to hunger, cus I don’t know the words yet…” – Bethany Dillon.

Development: different
What if the best thing we could offer had nothing to do with what we knew or possessed and everything to do with seeing what a person already has and drawing that out of them? I’m finding that anything that succeeds here as far as development goes will come from the hands, minds and hearts of Nicaraguans…and all the better for it. As Lao Tzu said, the best leaders leave their people looking at a finished work and saying look at what WE have accomplished. Absolutely.

“Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.” – Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea

I really believe that if we can get a hold of that, we actually will make a difference…and the best part is that it won’t be about the difference we made but the lives we got to share in.

Almost Famous
Part of the closing ceremony to becoming a volunteer includes a trainee giving a speech after everyone has sworn in as official volunteers. My fellow trainees chose me, which was really surprising and humbling. And slightly terrifying. I spent two nights working alongside the other trainees chosen to speak in Managua trying to put it all together. It went really well, even though I had to consciously make myself stand still during it – I was so nervous! Everyone was really gracious and said they really enjoyed it, which was sooo encouraging. I also got interviewed by channel 11 here! At the end of the day, I couldn’t believe the things I got to take part in – speaking in Spanish to a number of people and cameras, swearing in to my two years here in Nicaragua, just all the journey I’ve taken so far…it is so awesome to realize I’m actually doing something I dreamed about, something that always seemed so far away and here I am, living it out. Absolutely amazing.

Here is the speech in Spanish, and then in English [which will be fluffed up a bit as this is what I would have said had I such fluidity with the language]. You can also find the interview chunk I was a part of on youtube by searching Cuerpo de Paz – the still is a photo our director George, an older man with white hair and glasses dressed in a suit at a podium. It’s really short, my part, but still freaking awesome…even with my messy Spanish. 

In Spanish:
Buenas dias, representante de MINED Central, Ivett Soza, Señor Embajador de los Estados Unidos de América Paul Trivelli, Director Nacional de Cuerpo de Paz Señor George Baldino, personal de Cuerpo de Paz, familias anfitrionas, y Voluntarios, invitados especiales. Mi nombre es Sarah, voluntaria del programa de TEFL y en presentación de nuestro grupo quisiera expresarle algunas reflexiones y emociones después de finalizado el programa de entrenamiento.

Iniciamos nuestra aventure en Cuerpo de Paz porque habíamos visto algo lindo en la visión de este organismo. Como un mural, el Cuerpo de Paz nos invitaba a venir y mirarlo. Empezamos una exploración de esa vista exótica. Pero mientras la abordábamos durante el entrenamiento nos dimos cuenta que el mural no era una pintura sino que en realidad era un mosaico. Nos dimos cuenta que habían partes sin repellar y borronosas. No era como lo habíamos pensado. Para nosotros, estas partes fueron las enfermedades que tuvimos, las dificultades en el trabajo, los dias cuando nos sentiamos perdidos o ansiosos y los momentos cuando perdiamos la confianza en nosotros mismos. Pero, la parte bellisima es que las partes imperfectas son las que forman el mosaico, es decir las que le dan su originalidad y belleza. Los mismo pasa con nosotros. Cada uno de ustedes llevan dentro de su alma lo que necesitan para ser parte de ese mosaico. Quisiera ejemplifica lo anterior describiendo las cualidades de los voluntarios de TEFL.

Scott: Estas motivado y listo para hacer cualquier tarea que el servicio te mande.
Erin: Sos pragmática y tranquila. Tenes la paciencia para cumplir tu trabajo
Shyra: Tenes la habilidad de adaptarte a cualquier situación que vas a encontrar.
Steph: Estas llena de pasión y el fuego que es necesario para aguantar.
Liz: Ves la realidad aquí y con ese conocimiento podes hacer un cambio en la gente
que va a durar.
Mateo: Tenes el carino que los jóvenes aquí necesitan. Podes usarlo para darles
confianza a si mismos.
John: Sos un recurso rico para los maestros y tenes la habilidad de conectarlos entre si
con tu humor y amistad.
Ryan: Siempre te conectas con los jóvenes y con eso creo que vas a hacer la diferencia
en sus vidas.
Elizabeth: Siempre estas lista para aprender cualquier cosa que necesitas para ser un
recurso a los maestros.
Lara: Sos dedicada y flexible. Ves lo que tenes que hacer y estas lista para hacerlo. La
gente puede confiar en ti.
Adam: Sos tranquilo y paciente. Estas preparado para oír las necesidades de la gente y
para apoyarles a realizarlas.
Diane: Tenes la creatividad y podes usarla para hacer un cambio en los jóvenes de
Jen: Tu amor por el baile va a crear una oportunidad para las chavalas con las que
ellas pueden tener mas confianza y amistades.
Allie: Tu experiencia en la enseñanza va a darles a los maestros un inmenso recurso
que ellos pueden aprovechar con gusto.
Danica: Tu gentileza va a invitar a las mujeres y las muchachas a venir y a aprender
como pueden vivir con la misma gentileza.
Maria: Tu experiencia con el Cuerpo de Paz y la enseñanza de Ingles nos da un recurso
como ningún otro. Todos nosotros, nicaragüense y estadounidense, vamos a
Joanna: Tu amistad y disponibilidad va a unir a muchas personas para realizar algo
Sonia: Ves dentro de cada persona que conocistes y las reúnes en cualquier situación
que están.
Anjie: Tenes la habilidad de vivir al lado de esta gente, lo que va a servirles mucho.

Por todo esto, y lo mucho que falta por decirles, les agradezco por ser quienes son y les aliento en su servicio, ya que sin ustedes, no seriamos el mosaico mas completo. También, quisiera agradecerles a la gerente y al personal de Cuerpo de Paz porque ustedes son las artistas que nos pusieron en el mosaico entero. Ustedes saben adonde y como ponernos para que seamos lo mejor. Les quisiera agradecer a la gente de Nicaragua porque nos han dado el espacio y los materiales para realizar este mosaico de desarrollo y cultura. Nos han recibido y nos han hecho sentir bienvenidos en su pais y en sus familias. Por eso yo se que estamos en deuda con ustedes. Al final, cuando la vida se sienta dura e imposible, recuerden que el concreto que pone juntos las piezas en el mosaico tiene que ponerse duro para terminar el trabajo. Entonces, no permitan las dificultades nos rompan. Mas bien que unámonos para ser fuertes y maravillosas. Juntos seremos así.

In English:
Good morning and welcome to the representative of MINED Central Ivett Soza, Mr Embassador of the United States of America, Paul Trivelli, the National Director of Peace Corps Nicaragua Mr. George Baldino, the staff of Peace Corps Nicaragua, host families and volunteers, our special guests. My name is Sarah, volunteer with the TEFL program and to present our group, I want to express some reflections and emotions after finishing our training programming.

We began our adventure with the Peace Corps because we had seen something beautiful in the vision of this organization. Like a mural, Peace Corps invited us to come and see. We began exploring this new and exotic view. But as we began to approach this vision during training, we realized that it was more of a mosaic than a mural. There were parts that were broken or irregular. We realized there were parts that were not at all attractive within this work of art. It was not like we had first thought or perceived. For us, these rough parts were the sicknesses we got, the hardships we experienced in our jobs, the days that we felt lost or anxious, and the moments when we lost confidence in ourselves. But, the beautiful part is that the imperfections are those that make the mosaic – that without these irregularities and ugly parts, the mosaic would not be the original beauty that we see. This is the same that happens with us. The times that have been the most difficult have also been the ones that made us ready to be here today. Each one of you carries within your soul what you need to become a part of this mosaic that is Peace Corps. I want to explain this idea by describing the qualities within each of my TEFL friends…I think you will also agree that they are definitely Peace Corps mosaic material.
Scott: You are so ready and motivated to do whatever challenge comes your way –
the most adventurous of us all and always ready to learn something new. I
have no doubt you will have an amazing service.
Erin: You are so practical and level-headed. You have the patience needed to
complete your service perfectly. I always admired how you handled the
number of uncomfortable situations thrown at you during training and I have no doubt you will find the tools you need to endure the rest of your two years.
Shyra: You have the ability to adapt yourself to whatever situation you encounter.
This diversity will help you deal with the various counterparts you may have
and any number of issues that might arise.
Steph: You, my dear training buddy, are full of the passion and fire necessary to deal
with all that comes with the PC service. I know that you have more than
enough to offer to the people of Nicaragua and I am expecting to see such a rich growth during your service – not just within yourself but the many people you will work alongside.
Liz: You see the stark reality that the Nicaragua people face and yet with this
knowledge I know you will be able to do what is needed to begin changing it.
You will not wilt in the face of despair but rather will be the one that brings hope to those who so desperately need it. I know that you are going to bring about a change that will last.
Matt: You have a kindness that the youth of Nicaragua crave. I know that you will
find it useful in your friendships here in Nicaragua and it will be something
that will draw youth and adults alike into a positive thing that can bring them
more self confidence and direction.
John: You are such an amazing resource for the teachers here and I know that with
your stellar wit and ability to connect to people you will bring many of them
together, not only to improve their teaching skills but to see them blossom
within the new relationships they will encounter through your presence in
their town.
Ryan: It is not surprising that you got yourself injured playing with some Nicaraguan
youth. You have this ability to connect with whichever youth you encounter
and this will be invaluable during your service. You have the opportunity and
ability to become a mentor that these youth have wanted for some time.
Elizabeth: You are always so eager to learn new things and open to the ideas around
you. This willingness to learn will ensure that not only will you become an
amazing resource to those you work with but that you will also be more
successful, as this attitude enables people to work more closely and more
openly with you. You are going to be amazing in Chinandega.
Lara: You are so dedicated and flexible, always ready to help those around you. You
see what you have to do here and you are ready to do it, regardless of the
circumstances. The people of Nicaragua are going to be able to trust you,
which will be invaluable in your development work.
Adam: You are so chill and patient. With this calmness and steadiness, you are more
than ready to become a part of these people’s lives, listening to them and
helping them find what they need to make things happen for the positive
growth in their lives.
Diane: You are such a creative and entertaining person. I know that you will be able
to use this unique way of looking at things to stimulate the youth of Granada
in a way that will help them create a positive change in their lives. You see the things no one else does, which can lead to amazing results.
Jen: Your love for dance is going to open doors to the young women of your
town, with which they will be able to grow in their self-confidence and find
friendships that will impact their lives in a positive way.
Allie: Your experience in teaching is going to give an immense resource to the
teachers you will encounter, which will invite them to take full advantage of it.
You are going to be able to support and improve so many things within your
school and the long-term impact is going to be amazing.
Danica: Your gentleness and the way you are so kind to each person you meet is
going to invite the women of your community to learn how to live with this
same kindness and yet not lose the strength within themselves. You will be
able to teach them how to care deeply yet stand firm, which will empower
these women to become fuller versions of themselves.
Maria: Your vast experience with the Peace Corps and the teaching of English gives us
a resource like none other. You will be able to help us do our jobs so much
better, not to mention all the teachers you will be able to help in Carazo.
Joanna: Your friendship and simple availability to whoever is going to unite any
number of people to make something fantastic happen. Your artistic flair and
ability to think outside the box is going to be an amazing resource to the
people of the Isla.
Sonia: You have the ability to see inside people and meet them where there are, no
matter the circumstances. This will make all the difference within the
friendships you form over the next two years and may be just the support
some Nicas need to improve their lives.
Anjie: You have such a beautiful spirit and the unique ability to live right alongside
this people. This is going to serve them so well, just having that person who
wants to be right in there with them while connecting them to the things they
need to pull themselves out of some of the hardships they face.

For all of this, and all that I failed to mention, I thank you guys for being who you are and I encourage you in your service, because without each of you, we couldn’t be the most complete mosaic possible. I also want to thank the staff of Peace Corps because you all are like the artists who have placed us within the larger PC mosaic. You know where and how to place us so that we can be the best possible mosaic, fitting in just exactly with the rest of PC Nica and PC global. I want to thank the people of Nicaragua because you have given us the space and materials to make this mosaic of culture and development. You have received us and made us feel welcome in your country and your families. For this, I know we are in debt to you.

All this to say, when life starts to feel hard or impossible, remember that the concrete holding the pieces together in the mosaic has to become hard to finish the mosaic. So when the hardening begins in your service, don’t let it break us apart. Rather, let it draw you back into us to become strong and marvelous. Together, we will become part of the rich history that is Peace Corps and maybe our stories will invite someone else to come and see.


Brenna said...

BEING brave isn't about FEELING brave. You are brave, Sarah.

luke said...

hey planner, care to plan some of my life for me??? :)

it was good to read this. thank you for sharing sarah.

Sara said...

So you have discovered the Dove dark chocolate of Nica, huh? You ARE adapting! :)

I agree with Brenna. Being brave doesn't mean not being scared.

It seems like you are discovering a new part of yourself and I am excited to see it continue. A little painful sometimes, I'm sure, but exciting nonetheless.

p.s. I just got a new laptop. With a built in webcam...sooooooo maybe I can SEE YOU SOON!?!??!?! I can only hope.

Lora said...

I'm in the PC application process right now. I sooo want to go to Central America, but don't know if my language and education skills are applicable. If not, I want to work to improve them. My recruiter put me down for Central Asia in June. Can you write a bit about your background and some of the other PC TEFL volunteers there? I'll follow your blog and watch for them. PS. I'm an 'older' volunteer. :o)