Por Fin, a New Adventure

I tried to write a new series of haikus over the summer to capture the essence of my “funemployment,” but it was hard to sell the self-deprecating humor without sounding slightly depressed.

The haikus went something like:

Today I woke up
and arranged sea shells by size.
Productivity.

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After drafting many iterations of my resume, a mountain of cover letters, and traveling to interviews in Miami, New York, Boston and DC, I landed a job at a wonderful organization called VaxTrac.  I’m their newest Program Associate.   It’s based in DC, the city that I’ve been fantasizing about since I lived here:

My home in my site, La Dalia, Matagalpa

My home in my site, La Dalia, Matagalpa

DC is the epicenter of most of my social networks. University of Maryland friends are in DC, Peace Corps friends are in DC, grad school friends are in DC, and even my sister Ari is in DC.  I’m near people, horrah!

So Maní and I packed our bags and arrived in DC last week.  I’m living in a cute row home with a friend from college, a friend from Nicaragua, and an RPCV from Peru.

Moving day!

Moving day!

I even fit the Ikea bed in my car.

I even fit the Ikea bed in my car.

I’m really proud at how my room turned out.  Here’s my new and improved Tour de House:

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I will blog at length about my new job at VaxTrac in later posts, but for now, I just want to say that one of the perks of working there is that I get to bring Maní to work with me.

Photo Credit: Meredith Baker

Photo Credit: Meredith Baker

So, in conclusion, I am so happy to have landed where I have landed. Here’s to new adventures in DC!

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Reuniting with Peace Corps friends on the National Mall.

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Siempre La Gringa (Always the Gringa)

Waiting for the Calle 13 concert to begin

Waiting for the Calle 13 concert to begin

Amidst the crowded floor of the Calle 13 concert in DC, Alyssa and I danced and made friends with the group of people standing right by us.  Two of their friends left to get a drink from the bar.  As they navigated their way back, the girl said, “I told you– we’re here, right by las gringas!!!”

I couldn’t help but laugh at how our gringa-ness made us a landmark in the huge crowd.

I tell Alyssa, “it doesn’t matter if we’re at home or abroad, we’re always going to be “las gringas!”

“Nailed it!” was all Alyssa said in response.

Nailed it, indeed.

Las gringas

Las gringas

Calle 13 in action

Calle 13 in action

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Peace Corps Volunteers in Nicaragua Create SMS-Based Health Hotline

Lauren:

ChatSalud was featured on the Peace Corps website! Here’s the press release from another Peace Corps blog.

Peace Corps Volunteers in Nicaragua Create SMS-Based Health Hotline

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 7, 2014 –To empower Nicaraguans to lead healthier, safer lives, returned Peace Corps volunteer Lauren Spigel of Baltimore, Md., and current Peace Corps volunteer Nishant Kishore of Glen Allen, Va., together with fellow volunteers and community members, created a text-message based health hotline called ChatSalud to anonymously share accurate health information and connect Nicaraguans to local health resources.

Nicaraguan youth group ready for ChatSalud 2“In the small community where I was living and working, youth often faced barriers when accessing sexual and reproductive health information,” said Spigel. “In doing our work as Peace Corps volunteers, we found that people want information about sexual and reproductive health, but they want a way to get it anonymously.”

An unwillingness to talk openly about sexual and reproductive health in Nicaragua has led to a widespread lack of reliable information for young people and high rates of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. The topic is considered taboo, and as a result, about one in every four adolescent girls in Nicaragua will become pregnant before they turn 18, and only about 60 percent of the rural population engages in family planning.

Testing out ChatSaluds SMS content with a focus group in NicaraguaSpigel and her colleagues found that while less than 10 percent of households in Nicaragua had access to the Internet, nearly 90 percent of the population had access to a cell phone. The volunteers’ mobile solution is filling an important gap by making sexual and reproductive health information accessible in a reliable and confidential way that resonates with Nicaraguan youth.

The free text hotline will be the first of its kind in the country and will work to break down the stigma associated with talking about sexual and reproductive health in Nicaraguan culture. The ChatSalud team has brought together significant resources and local organizations, including the Nicaraguan government, to get the program off the ground. With the help of local telecommunications companies, the text message service will be completely free for users.

“ChatSalud is showing that Peace Corps volunteers can mobilize coordinated efforts between partners at the grassroots and national levels,” Spigel said. Youth from the program’s pilot community in rural Northern Nicaragua are already proving the impact of the project, and in the months ahead, ChatSalud hopes to expand across the country.

Texting, even in rural Nicaragua.  -ChatSaludIn honor of World Health Day, the Peace Corps celebrates the work of volunteers around the world to improve global health in collaboration with the countries and communities they serve. World Health Day is celebrated annually on April 7 to commemorate the establishment of the World Health Organization in 1948 and bring worldwide attention to public health issues.

“Really, this is what the modern Peace Corps is all about,” Spigel said. “With ChatSalud, we identified a problem at the grassroots level and had the flexibility, perseverance and technological know-how to innovate a solution.”

Peace Corps volunteers work at the grassroots level with local governments, clinics and non-governmental organizations to expand health education and promote social and behavioral change in public health, hygiene, water sanitation, and HIV/AIDS. Health volunteers work in both formal and informal settings, targeting those most affected by specific health challenges.

About Peace Corps/Nicaragua:  There are currently 172 volunteers in Nicaragua working in the areas of community economic development, environment, health and education. During their service in Nicaragua, volunteers learn to speak the local language of Spanish. More than 2,295 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Nicaragua since the program was established in 1968. 

Originally posted on Peace Corps Mid-Atlantic:

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 7, 2014 To empower Nicaraguans to lead healthier, safer lives, returned Peace Corps volunteer Lauren Spigel of Baltimore, Md., and current Peace Corps volunteer Nishant Kishore of Glen Allen, Va., together with fellow volunteers and community members, created a text-message based health hotline called ChatSalud to anonymously share accurate health information and connect Nicaraguans to local health resources.

Nicaraguan youth group ready for ChatSalud 2“In the small community where I was living and working, youth often faced barriers when accessing sexual and reproductive health information,” said Spigel. “In doing our work as Peace Corps volunteers, we found that people want information about sexual and reproductive health, but they want a way to get it anonymously.”

An unwillingness to talk openly about sexual and reproductive health in Nicaragua has led to a widespread lack of reliable information for young people and high rates of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. The topic is…

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Youth Leadership Camp!

Lauren:

Congratulations Anna for organizing your third annual Youth Leadership Camp!

Originally posted on ¡Salve a ti, Nicaragua!:

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 a few weeks later we found…

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One Year Later

On March 27, 2013, an emotionally upheaved chela boarded a plane in Managua and, after a short confrontation in the Miami security line when an insensitive man said something like, “We’re in America and these people don’t speak English,” landed in Boston.

Upon seeing her family she burst out crying.  And then she reunited happily with her dog, and then with her mother.  In that order.

The chela in question is 4th from the left in the photo below, taken right after ringing the bell, signifying the end of our Peace Corps service.

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Hanna, Lenka, Alyssa, me, Kourtni

A whole year has passed, and I want to pass on my congratulations to all those from Nica58 (Nica 50-great!), who finished their service this week.

Nica58ers (photo credit: Hannah Grow)

Nica 58ers (photo credit: Carli Dean)

Things that have changed since coming home last year:

  • I’m nearly a Master (of public health)
  • I lost my grandmother and my great aunt
  • The Mid-Atlantic got Northeast-level cold
  • Maní went on a diet
The diet started after she began snoring at night. Sleep apnea is real.

The diet started after she began snoring at night. Sleep apnea is real.

Things that have stayed the same since coming home last year:

  • I still wake up with the sun and go to sleep by dark
  • Beans are a staple item for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • I still can’t dance
  • And I still do the infamous Nica nose scrunch. People here just don’t get it when I look at them like this:
See: http://lspigel.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/say-what-nica-gestures/

See ‘Say What? Nica Gestures’ blog post: http://lspigel.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/say-what-nica-gestures/

So, there you go. Lots has changed; lots has stayed the same. Miguel (our Acting Country Director) promised that after a year I’d stop being so god-damn weird in social situations. But, alas, I think that some things are just a part of who I am. Congrats to Nica 58, and I can’t wait to see you weirdos on the other side!

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Let’s text about sex(ual health)

Lauren:

Chloe wrote this article, and I just found it on the PC blog!

Originally posted on Peace Corps Passport:

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Yesterday I googled “safer sex.”

You’ve possibly done it too. Most people have. Perhaps you wanted to double check something that your friends were talking about or maybe you were simply curious about an aspect of your own health and didn’t want to navigate a face-to-face discussion.

While sex permeates many aspects of our lives, including health, relationships, self-esteem and gender dynamics, it is still a sensitive and often uncomfortable subject. For topics such as sex, the Internet is particularly useful. One of its unappreciated beauties is that you don’t need to endure the discomfort of an in-person conversation. Instead, you can investigate your concerns and questions in private. After all, your search engine can’t judge you. But how do you get the answers you need when you don’t have Internet access?

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Hacking away for fair farm prices

Lauren:

Peace Corps posts about a texting project in Kenya, but the photo highlighting the story is from our very own ChatSalud project in Nicaragua!

Originally posted on Peace Corps Passport:

Back in April I received an email requesting creative, humanitarian ideas to improve the everyday lives of Kenyans through technology. Well the Kenyans I hang with on a day-to-day basis are farmers. Not John Deer-ridin’, irrigation-pipe-slingin’ farmers, but plough-pushin’, hand-pickin’ folk. I watch these guys and gals work all year long on their seasonal cash crops of mangoes and oranges, which they then turn around and sell at dirt-cheap prices.

During the harvest season farmers typically get less than 5 cents a mango, which doesn’t necessarily reflect the fair-market value of the crops they work so hard to cultivate. The amount they get for the less exportable orange may be even less. Figuring out how farmers could get the crops’ fair-market value is where “my” idea comes in…

Back in December another PCV told me about a cell phone service that would respond to texted queries about fair market produce…

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inner monologue

Ever Mainard is a comedian.  She has this bit in which she talks about trying to go home one night in Chicago while being followed by a really creepy dude.  Like all good comedy, her bit is humorous, but her message is spot on.  She starts off saying, “as a woman we’re taught: NEVER WALK ALONE AT NIGHT!  IF YOU WALK ALONE AT NIGHT YOU WILL DIE!” And continues with, “every woman in their entire lives has that moment when they’re like, ‘oop, here’s my rape. This is it….[checks watch] 11:47 PM, how old am I? 25? Alrighttttt, here’sssss my raaape [said as if you won a game show]!’ “

She, of course, goes on and does what many women do: imagines a scenario in which you stand up to and outsmart your would-be rapist with wit and poise and threats of 25 to life jail time. In actuality, though, she called her mom.

Her bit is funny because it’s based on truth. I have a constant inner monologue whenever I’m walking alone. Sometimes I even practice my fighting skills in my head.

This behavior is not irrational, nor is it over-dramatic or unjustified.  It’s a consequence of living in a world in which women are constant targets of sexual assault.

A coward (aren’t they all?) raped a woman by the park near my house last week at noon. The next day, I took my dog to the park around noon, remembered what happened, and immediately felt like a sitting duck.  I hurried out of the park.

I’m writing this because I know that most women have probably had this same inner monologue at some point in their lives. Many, like me, might have this inner monologue daily.

And most men never have to.

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I’m Back

I’m back in Nicaragua!

I’m working with the lovely Lindsey Leslie who served with me in the Peace Corps and now lives with me in Baltimore, as well as my friend William Garcia who is from La Dalia and taught me how to speak Spanish.  We are working together to do some research that will benefit school and ChatSalud.

Let’s back up.

SCHOOL is going well, though I constantly feel as though I’m treading water.  Not quite thriving and not quite drowning.  While I periodically choke on water, I’ve managed to stay afloat so far.  I’m currently getting my Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins and it is a super fun, 11-month accelerated program.  I’m focusing on behavior change and health communications and am involved in the mHealth student group (JHU Global mHealth Initiative) and the Peace Corps student group on campus.  This hands down explains my absence over the last several months.

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with other JHSPH students at the 2013 mHealth Summit in DC

CHATSALUD is also going.  We’re at a pivotal moment right now in which it can either go really well or flop.  We’re hoping for the former and actively trying to prevent the latter.  We’ve not yet piloted, but content on HIV/AIDS, safer sex, and intimate partner violence has been developed and is awaiting governmental approval.  In the meantime, we are going full throttle to transfer all of our work to a Nicaraguan organization.  This mostly involves looking for funding to hire a full time project manager.   Other work we’ve been doing with ChatSalud includes focus groups to perfect content, formative research (this is what I’m doing now and will talk about it next), building relationships, and testing out the system.  We’re going to try to do a mini-pilot in a small community using the website and Android phone app called Textit.in.  We’re hopeful that this will work out kinks before the system goes live and will help push the government to approve the content by demonstrating proof of concept.

Helen, a PCV in Nicaragua, conducting focus groups with youth to see what they think of ChatSalud

Helen, a PCV in Nicaragua, conducting focus groups with youth to see what they think of ChatSalud

RESEARCH IN NICARAGUA! Yes, this is the most exciting part!  I received a grant called the MPH Field Experience Fund Award from my school that is allowing me to travel to Nicaragua to conduct interviews with youth.  The interviews will serve a double purpose as my final Capstone project for my MPH and as formative research that will help inform the design, development, and launching of ChatSalud.  The interviews ask Nicaraguan youth about their access to sexual and reproductive health services and information in their communities, as well as their use of cell phones and how they would feel about receiving sexual and reproductive health information via text messaging.  So far, Lindsey, William and I have conducted a total of 25 interviews and we expect to complete approximately 40 interviews before Lindsey and I leave Nicaragua at the end of January.

rainbow in Terrabona, Matagalpa

rainbow in Terrabona, Matagalpa

In my absence being a grad student, I haven’t been able to write about quirky Baltimore life nor about the newest addition to the Spigel family.  Thus, here is one quick update on each:

QUIRKY BALTIMORE: My classmate Eric said it best as he gazed out the windows of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, looking over East Baltimore and concluded: “Welcome to East Baltimore, a developing country.”  In many aspects, it’s true.  Baltimore simply isn’t as developed as other US cities.  The electricity often flickers in and out, for example, once shutting down as I was finishing the last question on an online final exam for Biostats.  Yet, the story I want to share happened over the summer during a heatwave when the lights went out (la luz se fue) for a few days in a row.  Yes, it was disruptive, my groceries were destroyed, and elderly populations were seriously at risk of heat-related emergencies. Yet unexpectedly, all the neighbors commiserated outside while drinking Natty Boh’s and playing guitar.  It reminded me of my time in La Dalia when the luz se fue, and when I knew all of my neighbors.

Another effect of this, of course, was that I was worried about Mani having heat stroke in the house while I was in school all day.  As I went by to check on her one day, I saw two of my neighbors outside–one standing on a chair looking through her window while holding her infant, sun blazing down, and the other was the elderly man on our street that keeps watch of our block all day.  He was trying to help her.  I walked by and quickly learned that she had locked herself and her baby out of the house.  Meanwhile, the giant dog danced excitedly by the window.  My first instinct was to offer to hold the baby as she tried to break into her house.  As she tried to lift herself up, the dog licked at her face and she couldn’t quite hoist herself up enough.  I handed her the baby and in my dress, lifted myself up through her window, exposing myself to the world, and was able to unlock the door for her.    Quirky Baltimore indeed.

When la luz se fue, Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) didn't quite know what to do

When la luz se fue, Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) didn’t quite know what to do

AVA:  While home for winter break, my parents came home with an 11-week old puppy named Ava.  Mani and her are becoming fast friends and I shall now conclude this blog post by posting a series of cute puppy pictures below.  Bienvenidos a la familia, Ava.

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“Grandma Dot”

My Grandma Dot passed away this weekend.  She was such a prominent figure in my life that even though we knew she didn’t have much time left, I’m finding it difficult to write it down because writing makes her death definitive, and I partially still can’t believe it.

When her brother (my uncle) Nathan passed away a year and a half ago, I wrote down their shared history of leaving Lithuania for America as children in 1929 as Europe became highly antisemitic.  Instead of recounting it here, I encourage you to read it: A History Lesson.

I had the privilege of being able to speak at her funeral and I wanted to share what my sisters and I wrote for her:

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One thing I am certain of is that Grandma Dot lived a very long life.  But if there’s anyone here from the office of immigration, she was 92.

Growing up, her age was always a mystery to us and a big topic of discussion. We’d ask her age, and without fail, she’d answer:  “I’m a little different from everybody else; everyone else gets older every year, but every year I get a little bit younger”

We had our educated guesses, but still never heard her admit to her age until last week, when we were sitting around the table at Newbridge and one of the residents said, “I’m 90 and I’m proud,” and then proceeded to ask Grandma how old she was.  “I’m 92,” she responded.

So even though that was the first time we’ve ever heard her say her age aloud, we still knew it was a little tiny white lie.

Sometimes we had to go a while without seeing Grandma Dot—due to college, or travels, or living far away, but we were always able to make up lost time through lunch.

There was always a lot of negotiation that went into lunch.  Not about where we went (since it was always Cheesecake Factory or Legal Seafoods—or in recent years, the Cottage in Chestnut Hill), nor what she was going to eat (burger, pink—all the way through—not medium—but pink— all the way through, on a brioche bun…with fries….extra hot).

The negotiation was always about WHEN we would go to lunch.  The conversation would always be the same: “Hi Grandma, let’s go to lunch,” we’d say –“OK, how about 4:00?” –“How about 12:00?” —she’d groan— and we’d usually end up agreeing to 1:30 and in actuality we’d head out around 2, have lunch around 3, and get back home in time for dinner.

I should mention that after the long lunch of us talking to grandma about our lives, we’d sit down in her living room and she’d recount stories from her life—about her journey to America, about her childhood in Lithuania, she’d share with us artifacts from her life that she had around the house, and she’d explain the context of Uncle David’s paintings that adorned her walls.

One thing that characterized our childhood—or at least mine and Nadine’s—was sleepovers at Grandma Dot’s.  Despite a couple attempts, Ariel never quite made it through the night.  One of Grandma’s favorite stories was about how Nadine was so little the first time she slept over that she surrounded the bed with pillows so she wouldn’t fall off.  I lost my first tooth there. On Friday nights we helped prepare Grandma’s famous cornflake chicken and light the candles for Shabbat, and on Saturdays we went out for fancy dinners at the Marriot and collected tiny Heinz ketchup bottles. We’d always greet the new day with a hearty bowl of corn flakes and OJ with Papa Abie while grandma completed her meticulous morning routine, and we’d split the rest of our time between the Smurf tricycle and playing dress up with Grandma’s endless beaded necklaces.

She was a very dedicated grandmother. Even after we were too old for sleepovers, and especially when we were far away, she’d always hand-write letters to us.  Her letters were sincere and heartfelt, often containing rhymes.  However, she’d consistently place quotation marks in very odd places.  Dear “Lauren,” a letter would start out.  And it would always inevitably end with Love “Grandma Dot.”

I found one letter from her last night that she sent me when I was in college.  On the outside where the envelope says to handle with care, she wrote “thank you” next to it.  Inside, there was no note from her.  Just the signature of her neighbor’s nephew, who happens to be a member of a famous musical group—Phish, for the youth in the audience.  This is how cool she was.

When we found out what had happened on Saturday morning, Ari and I got in the car from DC and Baltimore respectively and started traveling home.  Almost embarrassed, I asked quietly: Ari, what’s going to happen to Grandma’s glasses?   We were very seriously concerned about this.  This thought was reiterated when we made it home to Framingham and Nadine asked the same thing almost as soon as we arrived.

We mused that when we got to Grandma’s house we’d find brownies in the freezer and a stack of crisp $1 bills somewhere with the letters A—for Ariel, L—for Lauren, and H—for Hannah—Nadine’s middle name, because as children, without fail, she’d always hand us a $1 bill with our respective initial on them.  Looking back, it must have been painstaking to track down dollar bills that corresponded to specific letters of our names.

Speaking of money, I can’t leave here without mentioning the countless savings bonds that she gifted to us year after year throughout our lives.  At the time, I couldn’t understand their significance.  I wanted a My Size Barbie Doll and Ari wanted Nadine’s Easy Bake Oven.  But these gifts over the years have added up and have helped pay for our education.

So thank you Grandma Dot.  We love you and wish you well.

Love always,

Your “granddaughters” Nadine, Lauren, and Ariel

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It’s only the beginning, after all.

My despedida (goodbye party) in La Dalia.  These are the people that got me through the two years :)

My despedida (goodbye party) in La Dalia. These are the people that supported me throughout my time there.  I’m the chelita in the back.

I thought it was over.  I bought a cake. I said my goodbyes.  I left.  I thought it was over, which is why I mourned so heavily over leaving.

But what I didn’t take into account was how fundamentally I had changed–or rather, how fundamentally Nicaragua had change me.  I had my moments of culture shock when I came home, but the change goes deeper than that.  I feel unequivocally connected to Nicaragua and it is an integral part of who I am.

Two months into my service, I wrote a poem that spoke of the difficulties of adapting to a new culture.  I feel it’s appropriate to share now because I predicted the state in which I currently find myself: American (ehm…United Statesian) with a pedacito of Nicaragua lodged within.

Aquí estoy, en Nicaragua, Voluntaria del Cuerpo de Paz.
Today I am at ease; tomorrow loneliness will seize
my insides: it will strangle my heart, my body, my mind, my soul
de repente, like an acute illness, subsiding only to appease
my need to feel whole
again, by transforming something trite into something beautiful to
remind me that I can thrive here too.
It’s this dichotomy that causes me to pause,
only for a moment, to realize that this gaping hole
from within, where familiarity se fue, can cease
and can root me to this land if I allow pieces
of Nicaragua to become pieces of me, as if I keep a ray of the Nica sol
stored away adentro as a reminder that aunque vine sola,
I am no longer alone in this new país. Only two
months done. The strangeness now—the bolo that pees
on brick while onlookers yell “¡cochino!”, or the dog, barely able to stand on its paws
for hunger that dodges rocks and kicks from the kids that see
him sniffing for crumbs nearby, or the packed buses confronting potholes
like bulls ramming heads as passengers swop sweat and goods and hold
tightly onto the nearest immobile object, or the stranger asking bluntly, ¿Andas soltera?,
or worse, when alguien me pregunta algo and all I do in response is nod and say
uncertainly—all of this will become commonplace to
me. It will calm my soul like Dunkin Donuts, autumn, and running used to: en caos hay paz.
In chaos, there is peace.
So I’m weaving the bulla, the Spanish, the fresco-in-a-bag, the Nicaragua that I am conociendo, and piecing
it together within, so that its joys, sorrows, colors, and tongues, will make me whole
again. I came to Nicaragua totalmente American, but when I leave Cuerpo de Paz,
I know that nestled within this American soul
will be a Nicaragüense that drinks oatmeal, craves beans, and doesn’t use ,
but vos. But for now, glancing out onto this sea
of unfamiliarity, of Iris’s blood dripping down her post-partum leg when she stood to see
what the nurse wanted; of getting caught in the lluvia without a piece
of rain gear, utterly destroying my charlas; of succumbing a bit too
quickly to a certain hombre, without understanding the whole
picture of how relationships might differ here; me doy cuenta that I will never be the sole
person to experience anything. Me doy cuenta that I should always pause
to gain perspective. Pause to breath. Pause to see
the sol that I have stored adentro. Pause to fit the pieces together.
And finally, pause to affirm that I’m still whole, that I’m still one within me.

I have not found the time to write as much since returning to the States.  Instead, I’ve been finding my way, trying to figure out how to integrate this new aspect of my identity into daily life.  Sometimes it’s difficult, like the time I passed by a group of teenage boys and they said something to me, and I didn’t quite hear them so I scrunched up my nose as we often do in Nicaragua.  They misinterpreted my facial twitch as a sort of snarl and they yelled out “woahhhh!” as they physically backed away.  I pushed my embarrassment aside and mentally noted this newly-discovered power over street hooligans.

Other times it’s easy, like yesterday when I started talking to Ana, my neighbor and new friend/ fresh corn tortilla connection from El Salvador, and it felt like being back in Nicaragua where paseando is a recognized afternoon activity.

Since being back, I’ve been seeking out ways to feel connected to Nicaragua.  In Boston, Kate and I went to a Spanish-language meetup at a bar, in DC I held the Nicaraguan flag and marched with the Peace Corps in the Pride Parade, in Baltimore I chose to live in the neighborhood with the highest population of Latinos, where I can go to the corner store, speak Spanish to the Dominican shop owners, and buy cuajada.

When Esperanza, Nishant’s host mom, came to the States, I put Maní in the car and we drove up to the Jersey Shore to visit her and meet her family there.  I felt so at ease: it was the perfect meshing of worlds.  We sat at the kitchen table for hours, talking and eating. We spent the evening walking along the beach and going from house to house visiting family, eating, and drinking coffee, just like we did in Nicaragua.  Experiencing the Nicaraguan lifestyle within US borders made me realize that leaving Nicaragua doesn’t necessarily mean that Nicaragua has to leave me.

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So here I am, an American with Nicaraguan tendencies, embarking on a new chapter of my life. I’m currently in Baltimore studying public health at Johns Hopkins.

Just as my life is starting a new chapter, so too will my blog. This will be my last post for Nicaraguan Lauren.  You see, part of the reason why I haven’t been writing is because this can no longer be a forum for my Peace Corps story.  While Peace Corps and Nicaragua will always be a part of my story, the blog’s parameters seem too narrow now.  When I come back, my blog will not only have a new name and a complete makeover, but it will become a forum where I can write about personal anecdotes, culture, gender, and public health.  I hope to see you there.

Hasta la proxima.  Thank you for reading.

Lauren Freda Spigel, RPCV (Nicaragua ’11-’13) signing out!

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Sometimes she gets away from me.

When walking Maní in Nicaragua, she’d sometimes get away from me.  She’d get into a neighbor’s yard and run around, play with their dog, bark at their cat, stare at their horses, or chase their chickens.  The whole family would laugh and help me chase and catch her.  I’d introduce myself and they’d tell me a little about themselves.  Maní and I would walk away lightheartedly as I cooed her and pulled her away on the leash.

When walking Maní in the States, she stays on the leash. It’s a long leash, though, and sometimes she gets away from me.  Today my neighbor and I exchanged pleasantries. –Neighbors talking about the weather. I used to walk around La Dalia and do this with just about everyone I passed.  I joke that when I started my service, it took me 15 minutes to walk between my home and the hospital.  By the end, it took a half hour.  And when I walked with Alma, it took us an hour and by the time we got home, we’d be stuffed with dinner and coffee.– And then Maní got away from me.  She rolled in my neighbor’s dirt by the curb of the road.  His dirt.  He yells, get her away from there. I pull her leash close and apologize.  Go away, he shouts again, closer this time.  I’m working on it, I’m really sorry.  And then Maní and I walked away in silence, hollow, stiff, and mortified.

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