Peace Corps Recruiter, University of Arizona!

You can take the girl out of Peace Corps…

My PC work continues as the new recruiter for the Wildcats. I look forward to learning more about the new application process and supporting prospective students as they explore their options for Peace Corps service.

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A walk in the woods

I wrote the following poem when I was in the throws of what was the most difficult time of my life thus far, in late August of 2013:

Morning tears that won’t stop flowing

I wake to meditation and go through the routine

I’m sorry—I love you—Thank you

But the response is empty

There’s nothing there

I try again and am greeted with the same

Hollowness

The pain of not believing

Of not loving anything

Where to go from here

How to start over

Trapped

In the stories that twirl around in my head

Every morning of

every day

Good news: I don’t feel this way anymore. I haven’t felt this way for almost a year.    But being in that place, and feeling that pain in Nicaragua opened me up to all the beauty and adventure and learning that entered my life thereafter.

When my friend and I visited Peñas Blancas reserve in my final weeks of Peace Corps, we met a remarkably insightful and engaging biology professor who was researching amphibians there. Before hiking one day, he insisted on telling us a story before we set off for the famed Arco Iris (Rainbow) Waterfall.

Photo taken from: http://bataholavolunteers.wordpress.com/tag/indigenous-population/

Peñas Blancas Waterfall, Nicaragua. Photo taken from: http://bataholavolunteers.wordpress.com/tag/indigenous-population/

The true story that the professor recounted (I’ll do my best) was about an indigenous woman in Guatemala who had been left by her husband for another woman while pregnant. Because of traditional practices of marriage in Mayan culture, she couldn’t continue living with her mother-in-law, and she also couldn’t return to the home of her parents. Abandoned and alone, the woman fell into a hopeless depression. Not knowing where to go or what to do, she resolved to take her own life and the life of her new-born child. Luckily, a friend visited her before she could carry out the plan and invited her to an educational session on self-esteem that was being offered by an NGO in the village. The workshop was in Spanish–which wasn’t the woman’s first language–but what she managed to gather from the talk was the idea that there was maybe still hope. Soon after, she sought the counsel of a local Mayan spiritual advisor. To the woman’s surprise, what the wise man prescribed was a half-hour walk in the forest everyday. Although she was skeptical, the woman diligently followed his advice. For the first several weeks of this routine she felt nothing, just dull emptiness as she walked, mechanically and numb. One day, however, her eye caught the attention of a strange, small flower along the path. The flower was like nothing the woman had ever seen, and she was suddenly inspired by curiosity to bend down and examine its every detail–its pistil, stem, sepals, and petals. Suddenly, a breeze came and gently blew the flower out of her hand. Slowly getting up, she noticed everything in the forest was moving together and coming alive with the wind–from the grass and the trees to the birds and other small animals. Her heart filled with joy as she realized that she too was part of this aliveness, and not separate and alone as she’d believed for so long.

Photo posted to Facebook by Tara Brach

Photo posted to Facebook by Tara Brach

With a soft smile, the professor abruptly ended his story and sent us along on our hike.

In the month since I’ve been back in Oregon, the memory of that day comes back to me regularly. It reminds me of where I was and how far I’ve come. It reminds me how important it is to be mindful as much as possible and to try to live everyday with intention and presence. Also, it reminds me to fully enjoy and soak up this glorious summer before beginning the hectic life of work and graduate school in August. Thank you for reading! As always, big abrazos. – Anna

Ends, Plans and Reflections

At the farm in Rancho with Claudia and Elvira (All photos taken by Ilana).

At the farm in Rancho with Claudia and Elvira (All photos taken by Ilana).

The lunch that Elvira took so much love and time to make. She made a point to include lots of veggies as she knows how much Ilana and I cherish them.

The lunch that Elvira took so much love and time to make. She made a point to include lots of veggies as she knows how much Ilana and I cherish them.

Three years and four months in Nicaragua later, my Peace Corps service will be coming to an end on May 15th. Like many people, I’ve always struggled with transitions. It’s so difficult to stay present and enjoy my final moments here while also trying to piece together the next chapter. I know that Nicaragua will remain in my life, but this moment is particularly precious and unique. I’ve changed and grown so much in the past few years. I feel stronger and wiser, humbled and more conscious of both my limits and potential.

On the way to Claudia's farm with Alexandra.

On the way to Claudia’s farm with Alexandra.

As I write this I’m in Rancho Grande visiting my host family. I slept to rain beating down on the zinc roof and woke up to more downpours this morning. What a blessing. This is how I remember living in Rancho Grande. Rain. From the moment I arrived here in April 2011 until departing for Matagalpa in April 2013 it was always green in this place. Practically every other PCV was deeply aware of the dry season. Not me. But in Matagalpa we recently went four days without a drop of running water. Despite all the things I’ve loved about living in a city this last year—more access, more things to do, more anonymity—I do miss the rain.

Rain out my window.

Rain out my window.

Today is my last day in Rancho for the foreseeable future. I plan on spending it at home, relaxing with the family. I might also take a short hike and finish putting together a photo album for Doña Elvira (my madre Nica). She made me another delicious breakfast this morning of Gallo Pinto, fried eggs and sugar coffee. Yesterday we went to visit our friend Claudia’s farm for the last time. As always, she gifted me cacao from her backyard. Normally I eat it in her living room, but this time I decided to save it. I want to break it open in Matagalpa and suck on the sour, sweet fruit while I pack for the States. Tomorrow Ilana and I are taking a trip to a reserve called Peñas Blancas to visit a giant waterfall. I’ve wanted to go there my entire PC service.

Watching a movie with Alexandria my last night in Rancho.

Watching a movie with Alexandria my last night in Rancho.

I have lots of activities planned for the next week—fun things mostly. On Monday I’m going to my third dance class at Grupo Venancia. On Tuesday and Wednesday my friend Ally will be in Matagalpa building an improved stove for an organization I’ve worked with called Little Cob (http://littlecob.wordpress.com/). Friday I’m having my despedida (goodbye party). And on Saturday the 10th I’m going to Jenevieve’s wedding in Selva Negra. The following days will be spent packing and organizing. My close friend Brandon is doing me the enormous favor of giving me a ride to Managua on the 14th with all my suitcases. That afternoon I’ll ring the bell in the PC office signifying the end of my service, and my last night I’ll stay with Brandon, Chris, and Ilana in the hotel across from the airport.

View from my room.

View from my room.

I’m trying to think of being in Oregon again as a further extension of this experience. A friend who works in the Managua office—a returned Peace Corps volunteer himself—told me that being back in the States for the first time is like a mirror. It’s challenging to know the specific ways we’ve changed and the things we’ve learned until we’re back in our old, familiar space. Also, the thought that this journey doesn’t end when I leave Nicaragua is comforting.

Peñas Blancas Reserve

Peñas Blancas Reserve

As far as next steps go, I’ll spend most the summer in Eugene and then leave for Tucson, AZ in early August to begin a dual master’s degree in Public Health and Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona. When I’m back in Oregon I’ll be sure to post pictures of my final weeks in Nicaragua. Thank you all so much for being with me on this adventure.

Youth Leadership Camp!

YLC 2014!

YLC 2014!

Peace Corps counselors

Peace Corps counselors

From February 4th-7th my big project of the year finally came to fruition. Youth Leadership Camp (YLC) was a major success thanks to the hard work of all the Peace Corps volunteer counselors, my NGO (Asociación la Amistad), and the dedicated staff in our Managua Peace Corps office. 60 Nicaraguan adolescent leaders from all over the country came to take part in three days of education, activities, and cultural exchange. The following video was made by my co-worker René Olivas to promote the camp next year:

I have to say, the fact that things came together in the end was a minor miracle. In order to fund YLC we applied for a grant from USAID called SPA (Small Projects Assistance). A month before the camp we were told that everything was approved and we’d get the money soon. But two weeks later we found out that, largely due to the government shutdown in October, the funding wouldn’t arrive until mid-February at the earliest. Henceforth ensued a mad dash to come up with nearly $6,000 in a little under two weeks. We thought of various solutions that ultimately failed, and it wasn’t until a few days before the camp that we were able to save the day by re-writing the grant and using funding from the last fiscal year that previously hadn’t been available to us. It was a terrific learning experience for me, and I was very grateful to many staff at the Peace Corps office who were there every step of the way to help figure things out.

Directing YLC was one of the most meaningful and stimulating projects of my third year as a Peace Corps volunteer. I’m happy to say that there are also many PCVs who are already on board to organize and direct it next year as well. I’m excited to hear about how it grows and develops in the future. Enjoy the photos!

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The beautiful Vida Joven.

The beautiful Vida Joven.

Dinner on the first night.

Dinner on the first night.

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What's a camp without s'mores?

What’s a camp without s’mores?

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René and me.

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Translating for eye-care team in Rio San Juan

A LOT has happened in the past two months, so I’m going to have to go back in time a bit. Immediately after my trip to the States in December/January, I spent exactly one day in Matagalpa before getting on a bus and traveling eight hours to San Carlos–the capital of the southern province of Rio San Juan. My Peace Corps friend Tessa who lives there invited me to translate for an eye-care team in a town called Boca de Sábalos, which is located about two hours downriver from San Carlos. On our journey along the Rio San Juan we passed several troops of monkeys, egrets, herons, and the occasional cow grazing along the shoreline. We stayed at a beautiful lodge right on the water, and during the day helped conduct basic eye exams and gave out glasses to over 400 patients who came during the two days we were there. On the last day we traveled further downriver to a place called El Castillo. The town is home to a famous fortress that switched hands several times between the English and the Spanish throughout the 18th century. Instead of taking a bus back to Managua, my friend Paola and I were invited to travel back with the team by plane (45 minutes to Managua vs. six hours). I had the time of my life. Enjoy the pictures!

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The Rio San JuanIMG_0197Eye-care team at a school in Boca de SábalosIMG_0198IMG_0207IMG_0208IMG_0235Morning boat-ride to Boca de Sábalos from the lodgeIMG_0259IMG_0266The fortress of El CastilloIMG_0317Translating team from left to right: Christina, me, Paola, Tessa and Henry (all PCVs)IMG_0382IMG_0393IMG_0399Approaching Managua…

#DecemberinOregon (confused by technology)

At a park in Masaya with Ilana and Brandon (my friend from an NGO called Bridges to Prosperity)

At a park in Masaya with Ilana and Brandon (my friend from an NGO called Bridges to Prosperity)

Our photographers

Our photographers (taken by Ilana)

First of all, many apologies for not posting in October or November (though infrequent posts are clearly my M.O. at this point). The past several months have been absolutely stupendous. I’m on the road a lot as usual, doing many site visits, planning for the Youth Leadership Camp in February, and visiting new and exciting destinations in this beautiful country. Side-note: I recently discovered hashtags and the concept confuses me.

On a site visit in Las Palomas, Matagalpa

On a site visit in Las Palomas, Matagalpa

UPDATES:

1) TED

Immediately following my parents’ visit back in early September I got to attend TEDX in Managua and hear from all kinds of fascinating, Nicaraguan speakers. Also, my friend Nishant spoke briefly about ChatSalud, an SMS-based sexual and reproductive health hotline project started by a group of PCVs. Great Initiative! http://www.nicaraguadispatch.com/news/2013/03/chatsalud-coming-soon-to-a-cellphone-near-you/7091

PCV Nishant Kishore speaking at TEDX

PCV Nishant Kishore speaking at TEDX

2) Marlene

When time allows one of my favorite pastimes is relaxing and chatting with my landlady, Marlene Blandón. Marlene always goes out of her way to do nice things for me. One afternoon we were sitting on her balcony and she called out to the Eskimo ice cream cart as it passed by. She lowered a wicker basket to the vendor with money and pulled up chocolate ice cream bars for us. It reminded me of the opening scene in Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax where the boy puts some coins in a hamper to hear the story of the Truffula Trees.

Marlene

Marlene

3) Made recycled paper with kids at Asociación la Amistad

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4) Site visits with Alice, Joe and Marisol

We recently got five new environment volunteers who are all a lot of fun. Three of them are located relatively close to me in a municipality called San Ramón so I’ve been able to see them on a fairly regular basis.

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Joe in front of his school in site

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5 & 6) Yoga classes at a nearby bar & finished grad school applications

My yoga/work space (photo from web)

Much of the past few months was spent at a bar/café a few blocks from my house called Artesanos. My friend Angie–a former Peace Corps volunteer and English teacher in Matagalpa–has organized an hour-long yoga class there on Wednesdays and Thursdays that starts at 6 a.m. We typically spend the first half hour or so doing some semblance of yoga before meditating a bit and then talking about our goals and intentions for the day. It’s been a really cool way to make more friends in town and get my day off on the right foot. After yoga I go home, take a cold bucket bath (my house has running water about 20% of the time) and head back to Artesanos to work on grad school applications, camp planning, and other Peace Corps work. I’m applying to public health master’s programs at UCLA, Arizona, Michigan and North Carolina.

7) Somoto Canyon

(picture from web)

(picture from web)

After two years of putting it off, I finally traveled to Somoto Canyon with my friend Paola. We hiked/floated/jumped down the canyon for about five hours of bliss. One of the coolest things about this third year is getting to visit so many rivers.

(picture from web)

(picture from web)

8) Thanksgiving with Ambassador

For the second year in a row I, along with many other PCVs, was lucky enough to have Thanksgiving with the U.S. Ambassador Phyllis Powers. We ate a delicious meal, and then Ilana and I got to spend the night in her home.

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9) Global Dialogues

I’m helping RPCV Robyn Singleton with a project she’s doing with an organization called Global Dialogues (GD). This year GD has chosen to start working in Nicaragua and is holding a competition where youth under the age of 25 (no minimum age) submit short stories (between 1-10 pages), poems, or songs about topics that are normally taboo or difficult to discuss (e.g., sex, drugs, violence, discrimination, etc.) The best stories will be turned into short films by some of the world’s greatest directors and young cinema talents. I’m promoting this project with my friend Paola and a woman named Paz, who is the president of a feminist organization in Matagalpa called “Grupo Venancia.” We are hoping to get 400 submissions from youth all over the country by the end of March.

Paz

Paz

Paola, Paz and me at Grupo Venancia.

Paola, Paz and me at Grupo Venancia.

10) I bought a new hammock for my back patio–love sitting out there and watching the sunset.

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11) Alternative Winter Break with UO

Once again I got to accompany the University of Oregon on one of their Alternative Break trips. This time we were based out of a beautiful fishing town called Gigante. The students–with the support of local leaders–were conducting surveys about access to clean water and consequential health outcomes with families who had requested water filters from the organization “Comunidad Connect” http://www.comunidadconnect.org/. As before, it was great spending time with UO students, especially because they allowed me to indulge in constant reflection about my Nicaragua experience in the past three years.

Gigante

12) Holidays in Eugene

I’ll be at home until January 1st and then I start my last four months of Peace Corps service. In the coming months I’ll be hearing back from graduate schools, visiting the University of Arizona, having my youth leadership camp, visiting more volunteers, promoting Global Dialogues, translating for a few different medical teams, and (hopefully) continuing to update my blog more than once. Let me know if you’re in Eugene!

The above video is the view out my window in Matagalpa celebrating the Purísima (the conception of Mary).

August and September 2013

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Taken by Ilana on the bus from Rancho Grande to Matagalpa…

August was another month of travel. I went to Rancho Grande twice! The first time was with a professor from the University of Oregon, Gabriela Martínez, who interviewed people about their experiences during the war for a project she’s doing on the politics of collective memory.  It was fascinating listening to my friends talk about their recollections from that time, and from both Contra and Sandinista perspectives. My second visit to Rancho was to celebrate the 15th birthday of my host niece Adriana. In much of Latin America, 15th birthdays are a BIG DEAL, sort of a ‘coming of age’ event. Ilana and I spent hours blowing up pink balloons to decorate the house. Adriana looked gorgeous, and it was really touching watching her have fun with friends and dance with her dad, Jaime.

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Alexandra (my 13-year-old host niece) and me.

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The birthday girl Adriana getting ready for her big night!

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Quite the cake! You can see that the “15” is a little messed up; the baby got to the cake before the rest of us.

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Adriana with her dad, Jaime (my host brother).

In addition to the Rancho Grande trips, I visited volunteers in August and participated in some leadership meetings in Managua. I finally got a chance to visit my friend Kevin in his site of Matiguas. Kevin is a business volunteer so he works primarily in the schools with their entrepreneurship classes. After doing the official site visit, we walked an hour and a half to see some breathtaking local waterfalls.

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Above the waterfall in Matiguas.

At the end of the month, my parents came to Nica and attended our Peace Corps annual fundraising Gala. I loved having them here. They got to meet many of my PC friends/colleagues from the office.  Then we went to Matagalpa for a few days so they could see my new house, and the sites around where I live. We visited Selva Negra—a local coffee farm that I’ve written about in previous blogs—and also a nearby waterfall called Cascada Blanca. The waterfall is massive, especially during the rainy season, and there is a cave behind it that you can camp in. I’m hoping to do that at some point before leaving Nicaragua. From Matagalpa we headed to León, walking around the city and visiting their beautiful historic cathedral. We also toured a local art museum with incredible European portraits dating back to 1490.  We stayed in an amazing hotel called El Convento, a converted convent.  My parents especially appreciated both running water and hot water after several nights at my place in Matagalpa. Their trip to Nica was just a week, but we covered a lot of ground.

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Fundraising Gala in Managua!

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Carlos Fonseca and Tomás Borge, two founding members of the FSLN.

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The ladies at Asociación la Amistad.

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My wonderful mother bought this for me at Selva Negra. I had been looking for a good coffee harvest painting for two years.

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Cathedral in Leon.

14 In September I’ve been scrambling to organize the funding and general structure for a national youth leadership camp that we hope will take place in February. Right now I’m sitting at a local café near my house, ‘aprovecharing’ (Spanglish for taking advantage of) Internet. Today is the festival of the patron saint of Matagalpa—as I discovered at 5 a.m. waking up to the sound of fireworks and parades. The time is flying! Only seven more months in Nicaragua… I’m having trouble processing it all.