Saturday, August 14, 2010


Reality is something I am learning is different for everyone. As ironic as that may seem. Logic appears to be completely absent at times here, especially in regards to health beliefs. But then I have to stop myself and remember that we all start our knowledge base with what we are taught by our culture, our parents, our surroundings. The other day I was told not to shower after I had worked a long, hot day out planting seeds at a farm. I should not have been surprised by this, as I´ve been warned by other gringos of this belief, but since I am working in a well developed NGO with educated Nicaraguans, I was. Apparently hot and cold can´t mix here, so if I was to take a cold shower (realllly cold, bucket shower) while hot, I could die. Or experience a lot of pain. When I responded saying I had done so the night before, after a long days work and heat, I was given then answer that gringos must have different bodies, or that it was only because I was accustomed to it. One girl even warned me that the pain would come years later, and then I would realize that it was a bad thing to do.

Hot and cold health theories go well beyond just hot bodies and cold showers...they even go into the diet practices...such as a cold drink with a hot plate of food (bad), spiritual practicies...such as women who have just given birth not being able to go to cemetaries for 40 days because of cold spirits (that could infect their warm uterus that just gave birth)...and the list goes on.

How does one spread health knowledge and contribute to development when up against such beliefs? I try to be respectful, and remember that they have believed this their entire lives, so I am not going to change it in one conversation. But at some point I wonder if its possible to merge cultural medical practices with scientific ones, or if they just contradict each other too much. I suppose thats why its development work...little by little, very slowly, progress is made.

This is my last week or so in La Dalia, then I will have a few days of evaluations and working on my reports for school, a week for vacation here, and then I am back to the states.

I will miss my family here I know...but I can´t wait for a good meal that does not consist of rice and beans.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Here are some fun shots...with my host family, and with the ladies at the Casa Materna...which is where the women here go when they are far along in their pregnancy. They live there until they give birth because it is a way of insuring that they will have access to good medical care when they are in labor. The infrastructure in the country is too difficult otherwise to get a woman to the hospital once she is already in labor, so instead they come and live in the city and wait for the big day to arrive.

They have a beautiful set up at this Casa Materna, including an oven that never gets used because no one feels capable of baking. So, I went and gave a baking lesson...we made cookies, pan simple (bread) and banana bread. They big concrete looking thing in one of these photos is the oven..its an outdoor barrel oven, made with a big metal barrel, white clay and bricks...heated by firewood. Also, there is a beautiful mural painted by the last Peace Corps Volunteers in the courtyard.

Friday, July 16, 2010

my host family

When I get a chance, I will borrow a camera (I forgot the charger for and take a picture with my family. But for now, just a quick reflection.

I live with a family of 5 -- mom, dad and three kids. Erich is 14, he`s shy with me. Angelica Maria is 12, and I love her..she is learning English and wants to practice with me every night after dinner. She is quite motivated, and she tests me on my Spanish vocab as well, so its mutually convenient. Then there is Erling, who is 7, and an adorable little boy.

The family is quite modest and humble, and I am already falling in love with them. They are all beautiful, with big brown eyes, and beautiful skin...but they are also very nice, and always concerned for my well being. My host mom asked me the first day what I like to eat, and then immediately went to buy it...ALL of This is rare from what I have experienced here so far...usually I am only offered what is normal to eat, but she is very concerned with me eating what I want.

Anyways, more later, but I love them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

vamos a ver...

I leave for La Dalia first thing in the morning, and I am nervous, excited and a little bit worried about my ability to adapt. I do not know too much about what I will be doing..
What I know of my situation in La Dalia is that I will be working with the AMC office in the city, and going out to 5 different communities in the campo to shadow and assist with health projects. I will be living with a fairly poor family, and will be using a latrine and bucket shower. I know I will be giving charlas in the schools about health and hygiene, and I will be working with land banks in different communities to diversify their crops, recycle their water for irrigation and possibly much more. I want to think about what all I can do, but I know I should be much more focused on what I can learn. I am learning rapidly here how much I actually do not know, and how big the world really is.

So, for now, I will be reflecting on what I admire in this culture, and packing my bag that keeps getting tighter everytime I repack it..even though I feel like I am using stuff up.

Something I enjoy about the culture, especially in the campo here is that the people have an unwritten code of conduct regarding the stop and chat. It is normal and expected to greet practically everyone you pass by on the road. Sometimes if you are lucky you will get a goodbye or hello followed by chuckles of satisfaction at knowing an English word. But the greatest thing to me is that they have an out for the stop and chat. If you are not available or really just not interested in stopping for a uneventful conversation with an aquaintance, or really even someone you know well, you just say Adios instead of Buenas. that easy. and in the campo they say Adiooo.. and let the word just linger in the air incomplete as they pass by. What a nice cultural norm to have a way of still being friendly, and acknowledging that we do not always need to stop for someone we know. Perhaps its the small town mentality, where you see them all the time, so its easier to just keep walking.

For now, I am going to focus my attention on the things I enjoy, so that I dont spend much time worried about the things that will probably be uncomfortable.

[dear people who are commenting on my posts frequently in Chinese...though I appreciate you reading my blog, please write in English or Spanish when you comment, or stop writing comments. thank you.]

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

a day in the life

my day yesterday:

2 hr express bus to Managua from Matagalpa at 6:00am

Sat in AMC office for 2 hours waiting for a ride to the dentist

Root canal at the "rich people's" oral surgeon who charged me $300...less than my copay in the US

Back to AMC office, ran into my padre de Nica, who offered me a ride back to Matagalpa in the back of his truck

Waited 2 hours for him to return from a mysterious meeting

Loaded 6 cases of latex condoms in the back of the truck.. 43200 in total, boxes marked keep in a dry, cool environment...that my padre says are for the hombres del campo who don't like using them. Public health in the field...picked up 3 family members, and headed to the mall where they bought new clothes. +1 hour.

Then to the Nica version of a Sam's club that I'm pretty sure is owned by Walmart +40 mins

Then to Matagalpa.. 3 - 3.5 hr ride that should've taken 1.5 hours, luckily I was comfy enough to sleep.

I slept on the mini seat with cushioning and felt like I was being smuggled into another country. I'm getting better and better at sleeping anywhere when the need arises.

Arrived home at 8pm, could've been home by 4 if I would've taken the bus, but by far an exciting cultural experience.

Things I'm learning: I have no patience, though I thought I did. Probably in part because I'm used to Philadelphia, but I'm gaining more every day, which is good for me, and character building.

Public health in the field means giving up the best case practice for the overall goal sometimes...i.e. transporting condoms in an open pick up truck ...boxes which are marked "keep in a cool, dry place" ...whilst driving in 90 degree heat in the day and rain after dark.

Is Paul Farmer right that we should not settle for giving poor people just "appropriate" technology that sacrifices quality for quantity....or is that just not realistic in a place where its difficult to accomplish even the quantity part?

Things I love today: the fact that I learned how to talk in future tense. And that Nicaraguans are so patient, and understanding of my poor Spanish grammar. And that they all live together, and love each other regardless, with more patience and sacrifice than I can imagine.

I'm also grateful for the Scottish and Canadian girls down the street who gave me lasagna tonight. Thank God for Italian food when beans and rice just aren't cutting it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

estoy viviendo donde mucho es diferente, pero sigue siendo lo mismo

Hola amigos.

Its been a while, and there's much to tell. So far, so good considering. I've had a series of health frustrations...but, I'm still in one piece. As my AMC supervisor puts it, my body is adjusting to a whole new world of bacteria and its information overload.

Besides that, I've made so much progress with my Spanish studies, and I'm very excited to continue my studies.

What I've noticed the most so far are the cultural similarities and differences. Similarities first. The shopping culture here is very much like that in the states. People have a lot less money, but everything costs a lot less, so in some odd way, it works least in the city...except for those who purchase brand name clothes for the same price as they would in the states. LOCO. In the campo (country) where people are much poorer, my opinion is that it doesn't work out, because people do not prioritize the important things, such as diversifying their diets, buying medicine and soap..etc. Instead, they spend money on cell phone minutes, bags of chips and sodas. Often I see television sets and cell phones in houses with dirt floors where people eat beans and rice for every meal. Its so similar to what I felt when I worked with a poor population in North Philly -- very poor conditions, but satellite dishes on their rooftops.

Things I've noticed that are different are interesting, because I'm learning that not everything is what it seems -- I assume certain actions to be inherently natural, as if they are instinctual part of human nature. What I'm learning here is that assumption is far from true. For example, to point at something, people here use their lips, not their hands. To wave for someone to come over, they point their hand down and wave, not up. One thing I am most grateful for is the whole emphasis on word problems in the States -- we learn logic through paragraphs of words where we have to sort out what is important for solving the problem, what is just extra detail, and how to logically work through that. Here, they do not have such education..and its obvious. And it makes me feel really impatient. But, I'm learning more patience and how to be a much more empathetic and understanding individual.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mi primero semana en Nicaragua

Week one has been a good introduction to my summer. After my arrival, I hung out with the peace corps group for a training...Michele and other volunteers spent the day training new trainees (aspirantes) on food security. It was fun to meet people and spend a day seeing what Michele has been working on.

On Saturday night after the training, we went to Michele´s training town in Fatima and met his host family from his first three months here. They were quite hospitable, and his host sister was excited to take us dancing at a festival in the town nearby. It was just like a carnival in the states...cheesy rides, and fried food, and a concert with a boy band...a bunch of teenagers dancing. Good times.

We returned to Managua the next day, and arrived in Matagalpa, where I am studying Spanish for the month of June on Monday evening...just in time for the foreign bacteria in my stomach to settle in. Within a few hours I was violently ill, the onset of which conveniently happened on my way to the bathroom at a cafe...luckily it was out the top end! And, lucky for me, Michele stayed and took care of me, got me cipro, and made sure I got better before he left for his site. No pasa nada.

I´m doing great now, no health problems (knock on wood) and I´m settled in quite nicely with my host family. I´m learning Spanish quickly, though its tricky with native speakers, because they talk soooo fast! My host family is quite hospitable, and fairly wealthy I imagine...I have a toilet and shower, and they have nice tile floors. Its normal in the city, but outside of the city it is much more poor. So, this is good for me now to get aquainted with the culture and the language, and then in July, I will probably have to adjust to poorer conditions.

Today´s cultural Nicaragua, the taxis pick up as many people as can fit in the cabs, even on different trips, as long as they are all going the same direction. Logical for them, better money for them, but a strange adjustment for me. They also charge more to give you a ride home at night than during the day...perhaps its more of a risk for them to be driving at night?

More to come later...for now, I must go to the park and see the girls from my family dance in a festival!