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the end

we left nicaragua yesterday morning, which is sad. but we’re home! which is exciting. i think it is safe to say we all found ourselves especially appreciative of the kindness of nicaraguans after experiencing the, well, unkindness of some of the u.s. customs officials we met in houston! they have a very stressful job, i reminded myself. they’re so mean! said ruby. but we made it through either way.
i wish we had sent some more updates toward the end, but everything got so busy, my computer was on strike (it’s back to work!), time was moving too fast. but it was a wonderful and crazy last week or so.
me, i taught those english classes i mentioned earlier. notably, to a pediatrician in her 30’s who lived in town, who was so nice and so interesting. she works in a public hospital and in the evenings attends patients out of her home. every night i was there, people were coming by to see her, to get checked out, to see when they should come back, to thank her, to bring her gifts or payment. (one father brought her a chicken–a live chicken. “soup!” said her sister with a big smile as she carried it toward the kitchen.) we got along really well, i gave her pep talks about her english and she gave me pep talks about nursing, we exchanged contact info, and she told me to come back to nicaragua soon so i can go on rounds with her at the hospital. it was great! also, that last week, one of my most favorite spanish teachers, richard, turned in to one of my most favorite english students, every morning at 7 am. in spanish, he was so dry and funny and always had me laughing, our classes were about 75% laughing at life’s absurdities, the other 25% mostly talking about politics or telling ghost stories. it was fun to do the same in english! well, minus the ghost stories.
the best part of the week…and there were lots…was our last day, the 19th of july, the anniversary of the sandinista revolution. i woke up to fireworks and a marching band at 6 a.m., with goosebumps, wondering what it was like to be in nicaragua that day in 1979, which i had been hearing so much about in these past weeks, and then suddenly wondering what it was like to be in egypt this past spring. at breakfast, our host mom, rosa, was telling me how when the sandinistas finally took over the government palace on july 19th in 1979, folks came from all over nicaragua, almost everyone, by caravan, and entered managua–the capital–to celebrate. so every year since, the nicaraguan people have made this symbolic journey to managua to converge in honor of the day they finally forced the somoza dictatorship out of power. in la concha, they had rented 20 school buses, plus everyone came in their trucks, and microbuses, and motorcycles. some students and staff and family rode in the mariposa truck, with most of us piled in the back. ruby was smart and brought her camera, and took some amazing photos…which yet again will have to wait. we waited for probably an hour for the whole la concha caravan to converge, and then headed toward managua. it was one of the coolest experiences i’ve had in my life. people, mostly young people, piled on top of the school buses, hanging off the backs, brass bands in the backs of pickups, families on motorcycles, crowds of people along the side of the roads, radios blaring, everyone waving flags, screaming, smiling as if heaven has dawned on earth. and driving into managua, the caravan began to multiply by hundreds. then everyone heads to the plaza on foot, to eat and drink and watch fireworks and sing and dance and listen to daniel ortega speak. then drive back home. rosa told me the next morning it was the biggest 20 de julio ever: an estimated 600,000 in managua. it was so so so fun and i felt so so lucky to be there, for what ended up for us being the best going away party i could imagine.
and now, for something radically different: pics! not of managua, but still.

oscar, the 3 year old grandson in our homestay, who was head-over-heels in love with alice, on july 19th. he has cake all over his face and as you can see is supporting daniel ortega for president this term!


counter-clockwise from left: danilo, alice, rosa, and augusto sandino (on mule)

some of the family members at the home where alice and i stayed: neli, karen, rosa, oscar, josue, danilo


me and my teacher/student/friend richard at la mariposa our last morning


oh and btw, in addition to being incredibly interesting, smart and kind, danilo is also the cutest man ever: "ok, now please take a picture of me with my dog."


alice and krissy, the mariposa's wonderful intern and our friend. krissy is so excited because alice just gave krissy her zebra pants. alice is excited because she told krissy they would fit, and krissy didn't believe her. but they do!


ruby with favorite teacher and close confidant, kinema. can't know all that went on in their "conversation" classes, but i do know that one day ruby managed to drag a very confidential first-love confessional out of kinema, that involved lots of laughing, yelling, and ruby at one point running out of the classroom screaming "what's cavanga?!" (in nicaragua, anyway, it's more or less what happens when you get really wasted after getting dumped by someone you really like.)


alice with small man jeremy, a mariposa student. jeremy should be in his spanish class but prefers playing with alice instead.

ruby takin pics on the flight from h-town to mpls


almost home.

technical difficulties.

we are still here, but see my computer is not doing so hot. i think it’s the battery is tired and the solar power here has been negligible since it has been raining most of the day for the past 5ish days! so i’m borrowing someone’s computer, and the little time we were finding to do computer stuff has diminished even more so. so the photos of mine and alice’s near-death experiences riding horses on the edge of a cliff of a volcano will have to wait. (parents: “near-death” is an exaggeration! sort of. :) ) and of my/our friend regina’s visit here, who was joined a few days later by her husband, and some of the adventures we got into, including a 2-year-old’s birthday party. we will try to upload some stuff when we get home. we will try to post again before we leave…on wednesday! love to everyone!

we’re still here

we only have a week and four days left! i’m definitely counting. the time is really flying by now, and i will be soooo sad to leave although of course excited to see friends, family, and good beer again. in no particular order. :) but really, other than missing people tons and a few of the simple pleasures from home, being here has been wonderful and it will be hard to leave.
a few highlights from the last week…ruby alice and i went to the beach last sunday with other students from la mariposa and it was super fun. i played soccer on the beach, with a danish schoolteacher, two high school kids from d.c, and a gaggle of boys on the beach. it was awesome, and even though i sprained my big toe (barefoot, you know…) it was not only worth it but probably the most fun i had all week!
our homestay dad, danilo, is really interesting, and politically active, and has been telling alice and me stories of nicaraguan history in his lifetime. how there was no public school when he was a kid, so his parents had to choose which of his brothers and sisters they could afford to send to school…how he had to run to and from high school to evade the national guard because his father was known to be opposed to the somoza dictatorship…how the first time he got a pair of shoes was when he was 18…how after graduating and getting his teachers license in 1978 he couldn’t find a job in any school because he was a sandinista…the unforgettable joy of the 19th of july in 1979, “el dia de alegria,” when the somoza dictatorship finally fell to the sandinistas, who established for the first time a free public health system and free public schools, and the literacy rate rose from 50% to 87% in those first following years…and about the u.s. invasion, and how awful it was, but also about the volunteers coming from all around the world to help…the hurricane in 1998, and how it rained for 15 days straight and they only ate fruit from their fruit trees because the highways were shut down for 8 days…and his current hopes for sandinista daniel ortega’s reelection this fall.
and finally, it was my last day at the clinic yesterday! i’m so excited and was sad to say goodbye to everyone there at the same time. i know i got a ton more out of the experience than i gave…which is to say that, somehow, i think on monday they’ll find a way to go on without me. of course for me, selfishly speaking–for spanish, nicaraguan culture, public health, and basic technical nursing skills–it was an awesome crash course. i mean, i know i did my best, and i’d like to think that i contributed in some small yet meaningful ways in these past 6 or 7 weeks. i had a lot of really nice interactions with patients, and i know there were some times where my being there helped things move along at least a little more quickly for patients and staff alike. of course, there were at least as many times that the nurses took extra time for me, going out of their way to teach me things, when they didn’t have to. but it felt really nice saying goodbyes yesterday to everyone; even if for them it was a wash having me as a volunteer, it was pretty clear to me yesterday–if it hadn’t been before–that most of the staff liked me pretty well and had enjoyed having me around. it was almost lunch time, and one of the administrators, who was way up in an orange tree as i was walking out (while one of the doctors was picking goiabas out of a nearby tree–i’m serious–i love it here!!!), started throwing oranges down to me for my “despedida.” even the sometimes-brusque director of nursing, after we had said goodbye, ran out again to the clinic doorway to whistle and wave goodbye emphatically one more time as i was walking down the road.
but i’m excited too…because for the last week i’m going to be doing some different volunteering, working with some people in the community who really want to practice their english. including a doctor, a woman around my age who lives in town, a good friend of one of my favorite teachers here. also, some of the teachers here at la mariposa speak some english, but are desperate for more structured, focused practice. because my spanish instructors have been amazing here, and a lot of them even after only these few weeks already feel like friends, and i’m really looking forward to having the chance to give a little back to them! then the next week, we’ve got monday, then tuesday july 19 is a national holiday, and wednesday morning we take off. in many ways, too soon!

the daycare (alice)

i volunteered at the daycare for the first time tuesday. i went with marie on the microbus. it’s like a big van, and there were 21 people on it when i went. i stood, holding onto the seats near me. it was definitely an interesting experience… and would probably be very much against the law in minneapolis. after the microbus, we went in a small car with open sides, a mototaxi. the first time i used it, we were the only ones in there, but other people often go on with you (i’ve been in with 7). you yell to the driver where you want to go (the traffic is loud) and they take you there. pretty straightforward, and actually really fun, especially in the heat. the wind blows through the open sides, and it’s like have the air conditioning on high. it’s now one of my favorite things to do.
well, after the transportation, you walk down a dirt road for a short time until you see the building. the daycare part of the building is one small room with a long, low table that will seat 12 or 13 kids in the multicolored chairs. there is a locked store room connected to the building where they keep supplies, a cardboard box and a plastic bag with a couple stuffed animals, chew toys, some clay, markers, pencils, and crayons. All of the supplies are donations, as it doesn’t cost money to send your kid(s) there. the kitchen is a small building right next to the day care. the food is really good there, but simple. maize cereal with some meat and vegetables, tortilla, and rice. they are thinking of starting a garden so that the meals will have more fresh veggies. right outside the kitchen is a “black top”, a cement rectangle where the older kids play ball games. beside the black top is a 30 foot deep pool – looking thing with a fence around it that collects rain water they use for cooking and cleaning. i was really surprised when they told me the fence had just been put up. it’s right beside the daycare. behind this is a plastic outhouse with a plastic toilet. that’s the daycare!
when i arrived, there was a two year old girl already there, and the 2 workers were setting up. it is really hard to communicate with the workers because i hardly know any spanish. one of the workers there was especially good at explaining things to me though, so it wasn’t too much of a problem. that day two more kids, both babies, came. the number of kids vary. i guess people aren’t too crazy about the idea of daycares around here. they think children should always be with there family, however extended it is. it was really fun volunteering there though! i had a great time! at first i helped with the babies, keeping them from crying, but most of the time they wanted me to keep the two year old entertained. we drew and used the clay, and i tried to understand what she was saying – without success, but it’s easy to just smile and nod with little kids! i’m going to try and take some pictures next time i go and post them on the blog soon! hope whoever is reading this is well!

public health and politics

in the most enormous news, ruby and alice are here!! it is soooo great to have them here. despite the expected adjustment/sick/etc. issues that can come in the first few days, they are both doing awesome getting settled in. but they’ll be able to fill you in on that much better than i can…as you may have noticed from ruby’s fantastic entry/photos.
today i got to go along with two of the nurses at the clinic on home visits. it was so cool! they have a list of people they prioritize seeing (high-risk pregnancies, diabetics, for example), but other than that it is basically a really proactive public health strategy. that is, we stopped at every house in the designated neighborhoods and hollered into the yard or entryway to ask if any “chiquititos” (a really cute way to say “little ones”!) or pregnant women live there. if there are little kids or babies, do they have all their vaccinations? people here are very organized in that every family we saw was able to produce their child’s vaccination card! we carried a little cooler with vaccines, and vaccinated the ones that weren’t up to date. (most were.) if there is a pregnant woman, they did a consultation to see how she is doing and ensure that she is on track with prenatal visits at the clinic and/or hospital. we took some blood pressures, and did a lot of talking. and remember, every service that people got was free. nothing!
i really didn’t do much, just helping with little things, and carrying the thermos, sort of like the chick in dirty dancing. (“i carried a watermelon.” anyone?) since it was so heavy on the education piece, it was mostly just really interesting to get to be there, and see the way this really great and experienced nurse, ana, interacts with patients. we went into so many homes, and met so many people, and really everyone was so hospitable and friendly. relative to what i’ve seen so far here in nicaragua, some of the homes were big and kind of fancy, and some were made of plastic with dirt floors. it reminded me in some ways of political canvassing kind of things i’ve done in the u.s., with some notable differences. like, ahem, everyone was so hospitable and friendly. :) come in! sit down! i made you something to drink! and more interestingly, pretty much no one had an address. so when they were making notes about the visits, in the address box, instead of writing, you know, “342 1st st”, they’d write “from the primary school, take the second left, about 10 meters straight ahead” or “across the street from roxana’s house.”
and then i got back to school and got to hear about alice’s really interesting morning visiting the daycare where she plans to volunteer, and then ruby, who was feeling not so hot this morning, came in to school after a morning of much deserved rest, and looked aglow all over again. did i mention how great it is to have them here? :)
and finally, we went to a little talk yesterday, given by brian, the pastor from texas who’s here as part of a delegation investigating the role of the u.s. government in “promoting democracy”/intervening/meddling in the upcoming nicaraguan presidential elections. their findings: where is u.s. money going? well, to use the media to undermine, and promote opposition parties to, the current sandinista administration, you know, the one from whom people in nicaragua have been getting the aforementioned free health care. he said they met with u.s. embassy officials who were pretty clear about that. and they met with different nicaraguan political organizations citizens’ groups, too, who shared their thoughts with the delegation. he shared a quote from one man in the northern city of esteli, who said, considering not only this election but the decades of heavy-handed u.s. intervention in the nicaraguan political process: “i wish we could have just one election without their gun to our head.”
on that cheery note, i’m finishing my cafe con leche and signing off.
love to everyone!

Dear Everyone-family and friends,
This is Ruby here reporting from the far of land of Nicaragua. Can you read me?Just kidding… this is my first blog post since I got to nicaragua and I have managed to take a few pictures and successfully upload them thanks to the new and improved internet service (says Betsy). It has been pretty crazy since we Alice and I got here and very overwhelming at times, but it has also been a great experience so far to be in a new place like this. Nicaragua is so different from anywhere else I’ve been, there are so many new things to see and learn.
My host family is super nice. My sister speaks a good deal of English because she takes classes at the university and is studying to become an English teacher so I am happy because it is a lot easier to communicate. Her name is Maricela. My mother, Aura, and father, Hernaldo, are also very nice. Hernaldo is very funny-always gesturing and trying to help me understand something. Aura is very sweet, giving me hugs and preparing our meals, which are delightful so far. It took a couple nights to get used to the living arrangement (outhouse, shower, food, room, etc.) but I am slowly becoming more accustomed to it all. I took my first bucket shower last night and I took another one today. I really love it! I think it is so much fun and so nice and refreshing. The first shower I took was at the one at the hotel that everyone can use-it has an actual shower head but it is still outside. I really enjoyed that one to. It’s walls are made of rock, which makes it nice and cool in there and I can here the bird calls around me. ahhh…wonderful.
The Mariposa is really beautiful-more so than I imagined. I love all of the different animals that live here: the monkeys, dogs (including the puppies! I will get a picture of them soon), birds, cats, and chickens. It is so nice to hear them making all kinds of noises around the hotel all day. The monkeys can be pretty funny, screeching away. I had my first Spanish lessons last week. Everyone who works here is so nice, friendly, and extremely patient.
There has been a lot of partying around here the last few days-even now I can here the music from somewhere in town. They are celebrating the Saint that the town was named after. Last night Betsy, Alice and I went to a fiesta. It was kinda crazy, but I actually danced, believe it or not… not that that changes anything back home, but it was pretty fun.I also went on a trip to Leon yesterday, a city in Nicaragua about an hour and a half dive away at least, I think. We went to an art museum, which was really exciting to see artwork in a different country. We also went to an amazing, old cathedral. It was really beautiful. We ate lunch at a really good vegetarian restaurant, which I thought was kind of funny that it was vegetarian. It was so yummy, I got quesadillas. mmmmm.On our way back we stopped at a sight where there were some ruins that were fun to walk around in for a while.
Today Betsy and I went horseback riding up into the mountains and we got a beautiful view of Nicaragua! My horses name was pepper. I loved her! she was so sweet. The lady who runs La Mariposa told me she had just had a baby a little while ago. That was a lot of fun. Well, there is a lot to talk about but I am going to take a little snooze in a hammock in La Mariposa. :) I will try to post as regularly as I can. I miss you all back home, but I know you are having a good summer there, as I am here. Lots of Love, Ruby


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View of a big crater of a volcano.

climbing the greasy pole in la concha

friday at the clinic, i saw an example of what mercedes, the director, meant by the problems that come from not having a vehicle available. a 12-year-old girl came in with her mom, sobbing, to the emergency room; she had cut really deep and wide into the back of her hand. we cleaned her up a little but she needed to see the doctor, which took forever, because he was seeing patients. when he finally got there, he had already shot her with anesthetic and prepared to stitch her up before he realized that she had (close your eyes if you’re squeamish!) cut all the way through her tendon and would need to go to the hospital for a more complicated surgical procedure than the clinic is capable of. if it had been a “real” emergency, they said would have called the ambulance, which was in managua, which is about an hour away. instead, we bandaged her up, they gave her transfer papers, and they had to tell this scared and crying girl and her mother to…get on public transportation to the nearest hospital, which is about a 30-45 minute bus ride. and for the record, “bus” in this case means these “microbuses” they have around here, which are 18-passenger vans in which it is not uncommon to cram in over 30 people, sitting backwards, crouching over each other, on laps, etc. so that is what the director meant by “it’s a problem.”
in other news, it turns out there was no use in my being pleased to miss the week-long annoying south minneapolis backyard fireworks-fest around the fourth of july. this coming week is the day of san juan bautista, for whom this municipality is formally named (“la concha” is the nickname for the proper “san juan de la concepcion”), which means party party party here in town, which means the “practice” fireworks started last week. at 4 in the morning. and have more or less been going on ever since. and the official holiday isn’t till this coming friday. ruby, alice, pack earplugs!!! there are kiddie rides already set up at the park across the street from my house, and the big fireworks event is on thursday night (seriously: they light pinatas in the shape of cows’ heads and watch them explode). the town will be more or less shut down for the celebration next friday–during the day they will set up a palo lucio (“greasy pole”!) where they put a prize at the top of a…you guessed it…greasy pole, and men try and climb up the pole, and supposedly it is a real crowd-pleaser. and there is a huge party next saturday night that danilo, the father at my house, is helping to plan. he is sooo excited that “las muchachas” (a.k.a. ruby and alice) are going to be here for all the events. i am excited too! most importantly, the clinic will be closed, at least on friday, maybe on thursday too, i’m not sure yet, so i get a break from my super-demanding 7:30-11am gig, thank god! :)
it turns out, too, that we will still be here for pretty much the biggest nicaraguan holiday all year (vying i’m guessing with christmas), the anniversary of the sandinista revolution on july 19, 1979. we leave the 20th, so we will get a really cool send-off! our family are big sandinistas, this year is an election year in which sandinista president daniel ortega is running for re-election, and danilo and rosa were telling me what a beautiful and important day july 19 is for them. it is so interesting and emotional to hear people here talk about history and politics. of course, expect related rants to come on this subject! :)

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