As my one year in-country coincides beautifully with the dawn of 2012, I thought it appropriate to share with you the most photo-worthy moments of my first year as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua.
It started with a snow day. Armed in layers of clothing appropriate for the tropics, my group ventured out into the snow, explored the Smithsonians, and had one (or two) last burgers as we waited for Peace Corps to re-schedule our cancelled flights and get us to Nica-land.
I love this shot of us waiting for our flight. We all piled into buses that brought us to the airport at 2 or 3 in the morning. It was so early we had to wait for the airport gates to open before we could check-in to our flights. To pass the time, some of us slept, some of us tossed frisbees, and some of us stalked the Dunkin Donuts until it finally opened. Here’s a few of us waiting for our connecting flight. From left to right: Liz (love the socks), Shona and I looking for some tunes, Nishant stealing my pillow, and a rockstar (I mean Gabe).
After settling into our training towns, it was time to start giving charlas at the health center. Here’s my very first charla! It was about handwashing.
Getting accustomed to the public transportation system. Here’s a shot of Ashley and Emily, crammed into the back of a microbus (a glorified minivan), packed with 30+ people, with all of our luggage from a week of traveling around the north of Nicaragua (practicum week), going home mid-day (read: hot, sticky, sweaty, gross), after I asked them the following question: but how do you really feel? A year later, I still feel this way about buses.
Site Assignment Day. After 2.5 months of grueling 6-hour-a-day Spanish classes plus more classes on how to be good Peace Corps Volunteers, we finally found out where we were going to spend the next two years. From left to right: Emily, Natalie, Ashley, and me.
Swear-In Day, at long last. This is the day that I became a Peace Corps Volunteer after a year and a half of applying to the Peace Corps, waiting, going through med appointments, getting my invitation to Nicaragua, and completing 3 months of training. Here’s a photo of my host family and I at Swear-In. (I’m the one in the red.)
Also in April, I began my job as a maternal and child health volunteer. This is my first outing to a nearby community, which was quite a bit different from my three months of training. We got there in a pick-up truck, traversed rivers, and set up shop in the middle of a field in front of a river. The pick-up truck was used as a pharmacy, and the doctors set up tables for consults. Pictured is a nurse handing out contraceptives to women who are family planning.
May was spent getting to know my town, getting to know my host family, watching my host brothers play soccer (see soccer players in the background), and falling in love with this little dude, Ellean, my two-year-old, bad-ass host nephew. You may remember this post about him trying to breastfeed from me.
In June, I teamed up with an organization called Los Pipitos. Los Pipitos is a national organization that works with parents of children with disabilities. During a medical brigade in my town, I acted as the team’s nutritionist, where I came across some of the most malnourished children I have ever seen. It was both sad and eye-opening, but I left the brigade with a better idea of the types of challenges my municipality is up against, as well as the power of involved parents. Pictures above are the physical therapists working with a child.
In July my group grew up and we became real volunteers with the ability to travel (the first three months we had a strict “stay-in-site” policy.) So on July 1st, we grew up. On July 2nd, I left site for the first time and traveled to the northern city of Ocotal to celebrate the 4th of July and all that is America! We had an America-themed party, complete with festive decorations, nachos (those are American, right?), and beer. From left to right: Hanna, Kate, me, Jen, Lucas.
In August I had a minor freak-out and decided I needed a house. So I got one. The catch? Peace Corps policy had changed so that my group had to stay with host families for the first 6 months of service–until October! So I spent August painting my new house and September furnishing it and prepping it for my October move-in. Here’s a picture of my sitemates and I enjoying our first beers in my new house. From left to right: me, Alison, Sam.
Also in August, my family came! Yup that’s right, Mom, Dad, Nadine, Ari, and Grandma Gloria (happy birthday!) made the trek down to Nicaragua. It was so great seeing them, but the best part by far was seeing a monkey sit on my grandma’s head as she sat helpless in the boat (see above photo). What a gem. And grandma, thank you for being such a trooper.
The highlight of September was participating in the annual northern region PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) conference, put on by second year health volunteers for Nicaraguan health workers. Through good luck and a chance meeting in Estelí, I was able to participate in the meeting as well. I teamed up with Merissa, Robin, and Nishant on a presentation about working with most at-risk populations. Here’s a picture of me discussing the importance of reaching out to men that have sex with men and transgender populations. (cough, cough…it was all in Spanish…cough, cough).
In October we got all dressed up for the cocktail party, an annual event put on by business volunteers to raise money for their national business competition, in which groups of high school seniors compete to see who has the best product. As the event took place at a fancy hotel (read: hot water, nice beds, air conditioning, internet, and pool), and we got to get all fancy and dance, eat, and drink the night away, I was happy to help out by attending. Here’s a photo of some of the gang. From left to right: Kourtni, Hanna, me, Nishant, Kate, and Paul. The Monday following cocktail, I came down with Dengue. But that’s another story, and happily, it does not include a photo.
As I was finally able to move into my house in October, I also spent the month getting to know my neighbors. Here’s a shot of the neighborhood kids coloring. I swear I’m not buying their friendship with paper and crayons. From left to right: Belen (back to camera), Anna, Jarvin, Julie, and Kiki (his name is not Kiki, but that’s how he introduced himself to me, so I’m sticking with it).
In November we had a Thanksgiving spectacular hosted by the wonderful Kourtni at her home outside of Matagalpa. Here is a shot of Sophia trying to carve the turkey. It is only slightly terrifying that her life ambition is to be a surgeon.
In December I took a detour to Chinandega, the hottest department in Nicaragua, to visit some friends, hang out with Nishant and Julie, see a cool bottle house, and go to the beach. We spent the night at Laurel’s site after seeing her bottle projects. Here’s a shot of where we stayed. And this photo concludes another episode of “Nishant is Too Big for Nicaragua.”
While the year began with a snow day, it ended with a puppy. Here is a photo of my new puppy, Maní Dalia Raptor Spigel.
And so concludes 2011. A year ago, I spent New Years with college friends at Chip’s apartment in Boston–one last hurrah before leaving the country for two years. This year I will welcome in the new year in site with my puppy and host family, as we celebrate my host niece Alison’s quince años. Things change, but we live, learn, grow, think, and take great photos in the process.
Here’s to a photo-worthy 2012. Happy New Years, everyone!