Wednesday, July 9, 2014

View looking down over Jinotega, Nicaragua from our hike
Jinotega, Nicaragua is in the northern part of Nicaragua, tucked into a valley surrounded by beautiful green mountains. The northern part of Nicaragua is full of farms that produce coffee, lettuce, tomatos, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, fruit, lots of corn, and more. The small city and rural areas almost give off a southwestern aura with men wearing cowboy hats (here they're just refered to as sombreros) cowboy boots and their "country" accent as well. At times the people seem easier to understand than the rushed speach in Granada. Maybe their relaxed speach is something that comes naturally from the slower pace of life here. Everything is "tranquilo", the lifestyle is simpler, never rushed, and runs on "La hora Nica" aka and hour or so late.

Streets of Jinotega sourrounded by farms in the hillside

View of clouds hovering over the hospital courtyard
 The city is nicknamed the city of mists (las brumas) for the constant light rains. The weather here is much cooler than Granada and I'm reminded quite often of what being cold feels like. Especially in the morning with our cold outdoor shower. Our homestay is modest but our host mother's cooking more than makes up for it. On weekends she makes around 70 nacatamels which is a traditional dish here which are always gone by Monday. She has also blatently admitted to trying to fatten me up before I go back to the states. We live in an old empty building around the corner from our host family's. Our room is sectioned off with plywood reaching halfway to the roof wich is visible and likes to shower us with dirt when there's wind and drizzle when there's rain. We also share our room with another companero, a mouse who loves rustling through our stuff at night and popping out of my box of granola bars when that wasn't the snack I was looking for. Our bathroom and shower are outside where the laundry basin is as well which we use as a sink and is decorated with cartel grafiti. In reality, I have all I need and more but there are many families with less than these luxuries here.

Our shower and bathroom
Our room in Jinotega
Our room in Jinotega

Entrance to Parque Central
Our city is small, with only 2 stop lights which many people will give you directions in reference to. Addresses here don't exist and if you asked what mine was it is one block west of the Uno Gastation or two blocks west of the semaforo (stoplight). But there are many clothing stores, workshops, stationary stores, comedors (smaller, cheap places to eat sometimes out of people's houses) and mini "supermarkets". Vendors can be seen everywhere carting fruit, vegetables, tortillas and more. I wake up every morning to the newspaper vendors which are always heard before seen with their megaphones on their bike yelling "la prensa la prensa la prensa" (the main news source here). If you find a mangled megaphone on the street one day it wasn't me.. There is also a beautiful park with a playground, bandstand, gardens, and place to eat that faces the cathedral here. Although it's small we have the convenience of finding most of the replacements parts we need. When fixing an infant warmer the other day we switched out a bad sensor then had to change the halogen bulb. Within a day we found the right voltage bulb in a taller (workshop) here which is a luxury some of the smaller cities don't have.

My Spanish has gotten exponetially better since I've been here because my partner Brittany is the only person I know who can speak English here. However, my starting point wasn't exactly solid so that puts me at slightly comprehending when people talk very slow. It gets better every week but I still have those days (quite frequently) when I try to ask for a rag (trapo) and mistakenly ask for a shot of liqueor (trago) or ask where the laundry machine (lavadora) is in the public bathroom instead of sink (lavamanos). Thank you God that you have given everyone a sense of humor. It's been working out quite well for my benefit this trip. I think my best yet was when I told someone I didn't sleep well because turkeys (pavo) kept falling from my ceiling instead of dust (polvo). By the end of the day I'm exhausted from intensely listening and trying to piece together sentences. I sincerely salute everyone who has mastered more than one language. You are incredible.

Hospital Victoria Motta

Working with Anibal, a tech at the hospitalç
on a infant warmer
The hospital we work at is the only in the city of Jinotega and serves the surrounding rural regions as well. It's a larger hospital with about 260 beds. The hospital is public and completely free for patients. There are private clinics here as well where the care is better and waiting times are shorter but many people don't have the money for them or must travel a far way to reach one. There are also smaller public clinics run by SILAIS (the ministry of health here) in the surrounding rural municipalities but often  doctors have to bring equipment with them and for the equipment they do have there are only a couple technicians who visit once a week for maintenace or repairs. The majority of patients in the hospital are low income families and campesiños (those from rural areas) that need an operation or need treatment other than the clinics can provide. We chatted with one man who traveled from his farm because his daughter was very sick. Later he came back to introduce us to her and she came running out with her IV sticking out from her tiny arm and wearing a puffy pink princess dress. It's moments like that that remind me why I'm here. Even if we can't cure every disease or fix every piece of equipment I am completely certain being able to share that one smile between dad and daughter made this entire trip worth it.

Testing an electrosurgery unit with soap
The hospital we work at has a great maitenance team with 3 engineers, multiple techs and plenty of equipment to keep everyone busy (if you search for it). They kicked off a preventative maitenance effort a couple months prior so we've spent a lot of time cleaning and making small improvements before returning monitors, electrosurgery units, incubators, fetal monitors and more. We were brought one electrosurgery unit (used for cutting and cauterizing skin during surgery) covered in everything from dust to bird feathers. We cleaned the unit, sanded and repainted it's cart then found an old metal plate for the dispersive electrode
Fetal monitor we fixed the printer for
and soldered a new connector onto it to fit the port on the unit. Taking something from closet to surgery unit in a days work definitely makes up for the slow days full of cleaning blood and blowing out dust from machines. When returning a fetal  monitor the other day after fixing the printer on it I got an inside look at the maternity ward. The cynderblock walls of the ward were painted a light purple and there were two major rooms each holding around 20 beds full (some with two per bed) of pregant girls. I say girls because the majority were teens. Teen pregnancy (many times as young as 13) is a common problem here especially among the low income families. We had a chance to talk with the director of SILAIS here the other day and he mentioned they are in process of creating maternity houses in the rural areas where pregnant women who are often indiginous people (Miskito) can live for a about a month prior and after their pregnancy. There have been complications and even 3 dealths this month from women trying to make the journey to a hospital too late in their pregnancy or leaving the hospital too early and later pass away from complications that could be treated if they had stayed. Of course every program has it's challenges but it's great to see the investment in improving health care here.

Electrosurgery unit we found in a closet
Operating room ready!

That goes for many other infrastructure and civil projects as well. Nicaragua had an oppressive dictorship for over 40 years. After the revolution, the FSLN or Frente Sandinista de Liberacion National, took power and are still in control today. Although there have still been many unscrupulous leaders since the revolution there have also been many positive trends. The government has invested lots of money to fix highways, beautify parks, restore buildings, improve sanitation conditions, and other areas of healthcare. The signs with "project complete" everywhere are a promising site to see and I would love to return in 10 years to see the changes.

Leon- Volcano boarding

Volcano boarding down Cerro Negro
Either because central america doesn't get the joy of snow sledding or because or there was a real crazy adrenaline junkie out there somewhere who thought it would be a grand idea to hike up a volcano then hop a board and 'sled' down the bed of sand and rocks the sport of volcano boarding was born. And of course I obliged because ya know, when in Nicaragua. This may have been one of the scariest, biggest rushes of adrenline I've ever had. I really think they should call it Volcano luging just so you get the right idea. Or in my case even volcano falling. We hiked up active Volcan Cerro Negro with our sledding suits, goggles, and boards then plummeted down as fast as 55km/hr. It is extremely hard to stear going this fast on rocks and I ended up sliding down the volcano on my side for a good while and came out with only a burn on my ankle and sand everywhere. I'm still finding it in my ears. And I would totally do it again.

Street next to central park in Leon
View from Volcan Cerro Negro

Leon is another colonial city like Granada and have a beautiful central park that makes me feel as if I was trasported to Europe. Leon has a big University that many students from other parts of Nicaragua travel to to study at. It has also been known as the more liberal city for this reason as well. One of our host brothers studies in Leon during the week and comes home to Jinotega on weekends and was nice enough to show us around the city.

View of Central Park in Leon, Nicaragua
So far I've loved my time in Jinotega. At times the communication barrier is frustrating and there is a lot of waiting at work but we've made friends with the techs at our hospital and our host family as well so there is always someone to pass the time with. The weather and views here are also like none other and will definitely be hard to leave behind.

¡Que les vaya bien!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Reflections on Month 1, Beaches, Volcanoes and More

I have made a breakthrough in my Spanish immersion endeavors.. I actually dreamt in Spanish the other day. Although in my dream I was still confused how to say what I wanted to say. I'm now very familiar with the fact that learning a new language is extremely humbling.The other day I was trying my best to talk with my driver and at one point he mentioned I spoke good spanish which I tried to respond by telling him he's the only person that has ever said this which I completely butchered in Spanish and he had no idea what I was saying. There are plenty of ups and downs but I'm learning it's all part of the experience and the more I step out of my comfort zone the more I learn.

Calle La Calzada
Last week was my last spent in Granada with all the other students. I've come to love Granada with it's colorful colonial buildings, bustling streets, and lively people.  It's a city of past and present like many developing areas. On our walk to school we would see horses with buggies carrying people or produce and women pushing wheelbarrows while SUV's and pickups zipped by them. It was hard to pass the people still asleep on the street in the morning, see the starving dogs looking for food and kids wandering the streets asking for money (although I'm told Granada does have a great orphanage and some of these kids choose to take to the streets because they think they can make more money instead of staying in school).But there are also plently of great things happening there. It's tourism industry is growing more and more for it's history and beatiful views of Mombacho Volcano and Lake Nicaragua. There is a street called Calle La Calsada where the main bars, restaraunts, and more are located and is dubbed "calle de los gringos" for the fact that it is always lined with backpackers and tourists. Which I can't deny we frequented often for the one air conditioned bar.The street was one investment made by the government to restore the architecture of Granada and is a great example of the improvements happneing all around.
                             Granada, Nicaragua                                           View of Catedral, Mombacho Volcan and
                                                                                                                                 Central Park in Granada

My host family´s house in Granada
It's impossible to leave my homestay in Granada without appreciating the opportunities I have waiting for me back in the states when I return. It's difficult to find work here and my host mom, Fatima, and father, Carlos both dropped out of school to find other jobs because it would be difficult for them to find well paying jobs in their fields. Fatima hosts exchange students and tourists in two rooms while the family of 5 stays in one room for themselves. She also sells ice and cooks lunch for others (it's common here for famillies to run restaraunts or small stores out of their houses) Carlos works long days leaving before 6 and coming home after 7. I've also noticed the men of many families live elsewhere in central america like costa rica to work and provide for their families here.

I was also suprised to learn how expensive commodities were in Nicaragua as well. Air conditioning is extremely rare here although it's common for the heat index in the "winter" time to be over 100F. My host mom said her electricity bill is the same or more per month than her father's who lives in miami and runs his air conditioner and appliances all day while Fatima uses a minimal amount for fans, the refrigerator and light at night.

The baby food competition got a little competitive..
One thing I´ve come to love the most about Nicas is no matter what their circumstances are they love to celebrate and enjoy the current moment. I have yet to meet a Nica who doesn`t love to party and dance. Mother's day here consisted of muchas fiestas, lots of drinking, dancing, and music with family and friends. For our last day of Spanish class the teachers even threw us a fiesta complete with a pinanta, food, and games that consisted of popping balloons between yours and another person's chest, back, and by sitting on the other person's lap, and a blindfolded baby food feeding game. Whatever the occasion you can be sure Nicas know how to make it one to remember.

Leaving Granada was bittersweet to say the least. I'll miss my host family and friends I made and I
feel like there is so much more I want to do and explore but I know there are many more adventures ahead in the northern moutains of Jinotega and I´m already loving my first week here. For the next month I'll be working with my partner Brittany in Jinotega, Nicaragua in the local hospital, Victoria Motta. I'm excited to put class knowledge to use fixing medical equipment, translating manuals, teaching troubleshooting or english classes or anything else the hospital may need. Look out for the next post about our new homestay, hospital work and Northern Nicaragua!

Weekend Adventures

The last two weekends in Granada we took trips to San Juan Del Sur and Omtepe Island. San Juan del Sur seems like the california equivalent of Nicaragua. It's on the coast with lots of beaches for surfing and extraneros come from all over to surf and a lot that end up staying for the relaxed lifestyle. Sitting at lunch one day we saw a women riding a rainbow bike with her two monkeys. She then proceeded to stop for a beer leaving her monkey outside then returned to feed it some Fresca. To each his own. The second day we took a jeep to Maderas Playa wich was further away from the  touristy part but had huge waves and beautiful views. This is also where I encountered the first true "Best fish tacos in Central America" sign. I can vouch for this place that they tell no lies. Definitey worth the trip.

                         San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua                          Only in San Juan del Sur

Volcan Conception on Ometepe Island
Our last weekend in Granada we went to Ometepe which is the island in Lake Nicaragua with two volcanoes. Reminder to myself that planning a trip for 13 people to a remote island the week before leaving with little to no wifi is about as hard as it seems. But the beautiful island was well worth the effort to get there. We took a shuttle to San Jorge then ferry over to the island and stayed at a farm on the opposite side of the island way after the paved road ended. The owners make every meal from the food at their farm and after weeks of rice and beans it was heavenly. We hired a guide and hiked up Volcan Maderas, the non active of the two on Saturday. The hike started in a hot humid rainforest and transitioned to a vertical crawl up a muddy slope and ended in a freezing windy cloud forest. I was half expecting to see a dinosour or avatar jump out from the trees. We decided to take it easy the next day after our 8 hour hike and stopped by Ojo de Agua before heading home which is a place on the island with natural mineral pools.

A "cangrejo del tierra" on the hike
Sunset over Lake Nicaragua

     Conception Volcan which I´m told is the same  featured 
    on Tona labels which is the most popular Nicaraguan beer 

Jurassic Park/Avatar/Lion King Jungle  aka Volcan Maderas

     The group at the top of Volcan Maderas

View of Finca Mystica, our hostel

Oh yeah and my last day in Granada I gave up on washing mi ropa by hand and decided to dish out some money for a lavanderia (laundry mat) for someone else to tackle by hand. No shame. I promise you clean clothes have never smelled so good. If I ever get another day in Granada I´m going back so I can learn their ways.

View of  Volcan Maderas from the ferry 
Ojo de Agua, natural mineral pools in Ometepe Island

¡Que le vaya bien!
Becca Avena  (which I have now learned means `scholarship oats` in Spanish, awesome)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


My third week in Nicaragua is over and I can't believe how fast it's going. As promised this post I'm starting with our work in the hospitals which all 25ish of us visit every friday for the first month.We work at the public hospital in Granada, Hospital Amistad Japon, which was founded by the Japanese who also invested money to treat the local drinking water. The hospital is small.. all on one level besides offices for the jefe and a couple others. The only AC units are in these offices, the lab and the operating room. The layout is four small open air courtyards surrounded by patient rooms, labs, an OR room and doctor offices. People line the courtyard waiting to be seen. Depending on how dire your issue is you could be waiting all day for care or weeks for more serious procedures.

The medical "junk yard" in a hospital courtyard
When visiting the maintenance room in the back of the hospital you pass a courtyard filled with unused and/or broken equipment. This can be a huge issue in many developing world hospitals. People with good intentions donate used medical equipment that arrives broken, or arrives without a manual or one not in the local language. It can also arrive set for a different frequency setting (UK is 50Hz and we are at 60) or without consumables needed for the equipment. There are a multitude of reasons why the equipment may not be usable but the end result is an added responsibility for the hospital to find a place to store or dispose of this equipment. Hence the junkyard piles of medical equipment. I've even heard of cases where hospitals had to spend money to rent out a storage unit on the other side of town just to place the unused equipment they didn't have room to store. It all started with a good intention but ended up being a detriment for the hospital.

Cleaning out an industrial sized dryer. Never have I ever
sweated so much in my life.
Our time at the hospital is mostly spent working with the maintenance crew of 5 helping out with whatever they need  which involves a lot of taking apart and cleaning equipment to keep it in good condition. This isn't always the most gratifying experience but is actually a great way to learn how equipment works and what kind is typical in these hospitals. Also when our group was cleaning out a broken industrial sized dryer ("just in case" our maintenance guy, Jimmy said) we ended up finding a troubleshooting guide in English for the gas regulator which Jimmy said was broken and translated it for them to step through. We've fixed wheelchairs, cleaned ceiling fans, cleaned dried blood out of aspirators (thank goodness that wasn't my group) and last visit we gained enough credibility from the team for them to give a broken incubator to a group who successfully found and fixed the circuitry problem. The maintenance team has been incredibly accommodating to our large group and have an invaluable amount of knowledge about equipment and also the culture in hospitals here and we're doing all we can to learn from them to prepare for the hospitals we will be placed at next month on our own.

Dayo and myself fixing a wheelchair
A "pausa" (break) from work. We've
been adapting well to the slower pace of
work here.

Doctor visits and private hospitals are expensive here (I'm told about $20 US for a doctors visit which is a lot for most families). This forces low income families to use the public hospitals' ER for basic care. While working in the ER we saw a boy with a cough being treated there. This makes it very hard to have any type of preventative health care for low income families.

Fin de Semana Adventuras:
Hammocks where we slept at Postre Rojo hostel in the jungle
Because class is long and work days are longer we use the weekends to unwind and explore outside our city of Granada. This past weekend we stayed in my dream house. A tree house in the jungle. It was awesome and I was also very ready to come home after two days. It was a hostel called Poste Rojo close to Volcan Mombacho that we took the "chicken bus" to. Chicken buses here are super cheap (less than 50 cents)
and are school buses packed to triple capacity with Nicas. If I'm going to pass out here it will be in one of these buses. The last trip a nice man had to physically lift me up and pull me off the bus at my stop because I couldn't move.

Bridge from the bar to more hammocks at Poste Rojo
Back to my dream house. The hostel is built on a hillside in the jungle with an outdoor bar
and suspended bridges leading to other open tree houses with hammocks. After a night in a hammock
I've decided naps are the optimal length for hammock sleeping. Also doesn't help when it's 4 am and you really really need to pee but the howler monkey outside is screaming like King Kong and I'm pretty sure I'll be eaten if I get out of my hammock. Howler monkeys definitely live up to their name.

Saturday we all took Tuc Tuc's to Laguna de Apoyo which is a lagoon in a crater created by a volcanic eruption. We spent the entire day swimming and kayaking in the water. The Tuc Tuc's are like a three wheeled motorcycle with a top which we ended up cramming 6 people into. My arms were actually sore from holding myself inside the tuc tuc so I wouldn't fall out. The lagoon is beautifully clear and much cooler. At one point in the day I even had goosebumps.. I completely forgot what those felt like and it was glorious. I also learned that I am incapable of taking a decent underwater selfie. But hey to each his own.

Laguna de Apoyo. Photo cred to Leila. 

Jamie with both my phones. Which one is now lost
and the other broken.. welcome to my Nicaraguan
adventures :)
Mi Casa Nicaraguense:
Our 11 and 4 year old Nica brothers love to watch TV. They watch cartoons before and after school (they only go half days here) and at night too from their mini rocking chairs. The other day Carlos got a bad grade on his English exam ( he had written that your lips could be found on your rear end.. poor kid, I've made some comparable Spanish mistakes as well.) Fatima, our host mom then decided he wouldn't be watching TV that afternoon and Carlos suddenly morphed into a 6 year old throwing a temper tantrum screaming and crying "Porque no puedo ver television?!" Had I not just had three weeks of Spanish lessons every day I probably would have thought they were watching a Spanish soap opera on max volume. Needless to say it's a mad house and hilarious all at the same time. Oh and Jamie is still as cute as ever.

One thing I miss the most:
VEGETABLES. Spinach, broccoli, green beans, peppers, seriously I would even eat asparagus or brussel sprouts at this point. It is very difficult to get enough nutrients and vitamins in your diet here. The supermarkets are expensive and don't have much variety which is something we're used to being overwhelmed with in the US. Most Nicas buy their food from the local outdoor markets which sell fruits, cheese, bread, meats, and beans. But even prices for beans which many Nicas eat for every meal are rising to triple what they were last month and some are having a hard time finding the money to make meals beyond plain rice. It's common for us to have just Ramen noodles or bread and cheese for dinner but our host family is well off enough to still be able to purchase meat and beans for lunch and occasionally dinner. Breakfast is usually bread and fruit.

The cheese here is also extremely salty to preserve it during transportation and they like to deep fry it which unfortunately tastes nothing like WI cheese curds. Frying is their staple method of cooking for pretty much everything. Turns out even Gallo Pinto which is an extremely common dish of rice and beans is fried. Last week our family dressed up to go to the local Tip Top Pollo restaraunt which is like a KFC version of McDonals and bought the biggest special of fried chicken and fries for us. While I'm extremely thankful for the food I swear I was sweating grease that day.

Nacatamales, a typical Nicaraguan food
But with that being said they definitely do some foods right here. Nacatamales are tamales with chicken or pork and a combination of potatoes, peppers or more in a dough layer made with corn. They are wrapped and cooked in plantain leaves and are delicious. Pollo asado (grilled chicken) is also amazing here. And to my delight they do pancakes very right here. I think there may be some type of drugs and/or a whole stick of butter in them.

All in all it's been an amazing three weeks so far and I can't believe I'll be leaving Granada for my hospital in Jinotega next week already. I'll miss my host family here and all the friends I've made from the program but I'm excited to test out my Spanish and troubleshooting skills. Also I'm excited to get a break from the heat since Jinotega is north and higher in elevation.

Que le vaya bien!


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hola from Nicaragua!

View of Granada and Lake Nicaragua from Mombacho Volcano
What an amazing, hot, humid, and busy first week! I'm staying in Granada, Nicaragua which was a Spanish colonial city located on Lake Nicaragua known for having freshwater sharks although I'm told they're mostly fished out (still not taking my chances on that one). During this first month of the Engineering World Health Summer Institue myself and 25ish other students/recent grads take daily Spanish, Biomedical Instrumentation and Lab classes catered to developing setting applications. The architecture of the city is well preserved and our classes are in a beautiful old building in the central park area of the city just 5 or 6 blocks from my homestay.
Inside of our school

View of Central Park and Catedral from school

I'm staying with a Nicaraguense family (who only speak spanish) and one roomate, Katie, who's in the Engineering World Health program as well. If you wanted to see an epic charades game you should have been there the first two days. Luckily for me there's three kids, Carlos, Danni, and Jamie (Yeh-Me) because my spanish is just about on their level and kids don't judge.  Carlos didn't even look phased when I told him my sister was 203 or asked if he had any clouds in Go Fish. I'm in desperate need of our daily 4 hours of spanish lessons. Did I mention Jamie is the cutest 2 year old I've ever seen? I was a little wary the first day when she went number 1 and number 2 on the floor then ate diaper rash cream all in the span of an hour. But thankfully she's been incident free since.

My heart melts a little every time I come home and here her yell "chicas chicas!" from the doorway and take our lunch bag when we walk in.. and not because I'm dying of heat exhaustion. Have I mentioned it's hot? I think I could start a bikram yoga studio in my room to make some money on the side this trip. I'm slowly becoming used to being constantly drenched in sweat and find every reason to go visit the bank which is the only air conditioned place I've found so far. It also doesn't help we were given the impression long skirts/pants were an everyday must but for school but after our host mom asked if we were a different religion and told us it was too hot for that we pulled out the shorts and haven't gone back since.

Typical Lunch of rice, meat, ensalda, y platanos
We walk the 5 or 6 blocks to school every day and start with 4 hour of spanish lessons.. solamente en espanol. We have an hour break for lunch and our host families bring us hot lunch at the school. Lunch is the bigger meal in Nicaragua and usually consists of a meat or beans with rice and platanos or a salad with cabbage, lettuce, carrots, and or tomatoes which usually seems to have a vinegar flavor. Gallo Pinto is a rice and beans mix and very popular in Nicaragua. Schools in Nicaragua don't usually provide food so the older kids go a half day in the morning and come home for lunch then the younger kids go in the afternoon and classes run monday through saturday.

My lab partner, Brittany, and I soldering in
100 degree heat
After lunch starts our instrumentation in the developing world lecture followed by lab. So far we've made our own extension cord, flashlight, AC to DC conversion circuit, learned how to find replacements for batteries not available here and now are learning the function and trouble shooting necessecities for medical equipment. I'm a year away from my Bioelectrical Engineering degree and yet I feel like I've learned more practical knowledge and tied concepts together better here in one week than in those 3 years. Except for some interesting suggestions from our text like buying a recently killed pig to test your defibrillator on prior to releasing back to the hospital floor. If it visually jumps then you're good to go. On the bright side I guess our hospital could have a nice luau afterwards.

During the first month here we visit the hospital in Granada on Friday's to get accustomed to working in developing hospitals and get a sneak peak of what to expect during our second month. This is when we'll be heading to separate cities in Nicaragua in pairs to work full time in the hospital as biomedical engineers. More on this to come for the sake of not making my first post a novel.

Roughest part so far: Laundry. Or maybe the termites in my bed. But I haven't seen any in awhile and washing my weeks worth of laundry has turned into a 3 day ordeal so I think that wins. My family like many others do their laundry by hand in a concrete basin with a washboard and drain then hang clothes to dry in the center of the house (most houses have square courtyards or concrete slabs open to the air in the center of the house). Problems: we have class until 4 or 5, it gets dark at 6 and pours for at least an hour almost every day which requires us to run home when we see the clouds rolling in. Katie is actually still washing hers as I type this. I have gained a new respect for Fatima, our Nicaraguense mom. She also got a good kick of out me digging out my headlamp to wash after dark. I really think laughter might be the best form of communication and I'm taking full advantage of this.

View of Granada and Lake Nicaragua from Volcano Mombacho

Best part so far: Mangos. Mangos. and Mangos. They are fresh and sold everywhere on the street for 10 cordoba (less than 50 cents). Also the views. We took a trip to Las Isletas which are a string of private islands which was blown into Lake Nicaragua by Volcano Mombacho. Then hiked around Mombacho and got a great view of the city on my birthday last sunday.

Mama and baby monkey on an island in las isletas
I can already tell this will be an extremely challenging, rewarding, and perspective changing experience. I'm working hard, playing hard, and trying to soak up all the experiences I can. While posting this blog at a local cafe (no wifi at school or my homestay) I heard the sounds of my Duoling Spanish app coming from the girl's phone who worked there. Turns out she has the same app for learning English and we're on the same level. We both had a good laugh and it reminded me that everyone has a story to tell and the effort and courage it takes to overcome the language and culture barriers to find them out is well worth it and greater than the contrary.

I'm thinking of you all and hope you're having great adventures and summers of your own. God bless and I'll talk to you soon!