Saturday, June 9, 2007

Back from Survey!

So I just got back today from visiting the towns that I'm going to be in charge of. It was a totally surreal, emotionally up-and-down three days. Typically AMIGOS, the emotional downs were really bad, but the good moments were unbelievable and exhilarating and made all my frustrations seem so insignificant.

Day1: started out at the office of our partner agency SILAIS, an organization which I think falls under the umbrella of the Ministry of Health (MINSA). A driver from SILAIS took me and the two other supervisors who will be working in the region of Granada to our communities in a pick-up truck. It was a great ride because of the relief from the heat you get in the back of a truck going I don't know how many miles per hour. The countryside is beautiful, it's so green here! At one point, we veered off the road and were literally driving along the shoreline of Lake Nicaragua, which was like a dream for me. The lake stretches out farther than you can see and we had a breathtaking view of Granada on the horizon and the volcano Mombacha rising up behind the city. The colors of the landscape were just SO exactly what they were supposed to be. I wish I could do the scene justice, but there's a small chance that my camera is broken. I'll try to upload photos in the future.

I got dropped off in my first community, Los Angeles (ha ha..), which is actually a smaller subset of the town Malacatoya. It's sort of a planned community because it was built by this international NGO Fundación Tres Mundos (or something like that, and which I'm planning to research a bit more) only 7 years ago. Probably the highlight of staying in Los Angeles (at least in hindsight) was that the only host family I could find happens to run an evangelical church out of the back of their house. In a town that is so poor that I'm probably going to have to be carting sacks of beans and rice in every week so that the volunteers have enough to eat, I don't know where the host father (and head of the improvised church group) Don Martín got the money for an electric keyboard and speakers that are taller than I am. But somehow he managed to get ahold of a pretty fancy set-up. The service (which takes place three times a week) was already happening when I arrived with my stuff, and it triggered a mini panic attack. I think that the loneliness and anxiety about being out in the field by myself sort of sunk in just about the time I locked myself in my room. I curled up on my bed and literally felt songs about Jesus and love reverberating in the thin walls of the house and had to talk myself into a reasonable state of mind. I finally convinced myself that it was irrational to be afraid of evangelicals and forced myself to attend the service, because it was really my only option. It didn't turn out to be so bad. I'd read about how Evangelicalism in Latin America has actually been really empowering for women, and sitting through the service, I kept myself occupied with thinking about the Magic and Religion in Latin America seminar that I took last semester. I guess a Wesleyan education has some application in the real world.

Day 2: I arrived in the town of El Paso, which has ended up being my favorite of the three towns. I had to cross a ferry to get there which was a plus. I was initially nervous about this town because it does not have potable water and I just couldn't imagine putting volunteers into a situation where they might been the only ones in their host family who have easy access to drinking water because of the purification tablets they'll be bringing with them. But it turns out that El Paso has an amazing community. I spent a lot of the day at the health center, which is a rural outpost of the main hospital in the city of Granada. I made friends with Irma, the nurse there who is doing her social service; she is also 21 and it turns out 3 days younger than me. El Paso has an amazing youth group, whom I met in the afternoon and who then spent the next several hours helping me find host families for the volunteers. The youth group has a lot of energy and enthusiasm; they are currently working on raising enough funds to build a fence around the local cementery, and they're also involved with the projects being done around the issue of getting a potable water supply. Unfortunately, these projects are currently being held up at the regional level, and have been tied up with officials in Granada for a really long time. I'm a little worried about rule-breaking, because the youth I was hanging out with are really excited to take the volunteers to the discoteque in the town across the river, via the ferry, and I suspect there was a lot of leaving the community without permission by the volunteers from last summer. I had a lot of fun with them, and it made me miss having one community to live in for the summer. I'm a little jealous of the volunteers who are going to have the opportunity to work in El Paso and become closer with the youth.

But then I wouldn't have had the opportunity for Day Three: going to the town of Los Cocos. It's another small town, and I think will be a bit difficult because the community is not very organized. I think the volunteers will be able to work with the town's representative of Vision Mundial, another international NGO that works with women and youth in the community, doing health education and vocational training. There are also some nuns in the town who run a private elementary school. Despite their prominent TO ABORT IS TO KILL posters, they seemed nice and could be a good resourced. The host family that I found is wonderful and I spent most of my day hanging out with them. I would have liked to have gotten around the community a bit more, but it was too difficult to walk with my boot. I did get some rides from jovenes on the front of their bicycles, which seems to be the most common form of transportation here. Keeping your balance sitting sideways is harder than I would've thought, and I was a little worried that I would fall and break my other foot. And then really be up the creek. The host family has a pack of kids who entertained me by walking me around the family's land and testing me on all of the different kinds of fruit they introduced me to, fresh of of their respective trees. I am absolutely in a tropical paradise populated by fresh mango and guava!

Then I stood up for an hour squished into a big yellow schoolbus on my way back to Granada. I hadn't showered in days and I literally had to climb over people as we packed in more and more passengers at each stop (which was actually every ten feet because there aren't actual bus stops, just people waiting by the side of the road), but I was grinning like a fool the whole time. I ran into people I had met in my communities on the bus and it was like greeting old friends. I couldn't believe that I had survived the last few days and I can't wait for what lies ahead. First I just have to get rid of the allergic reaction I'm having to about a trillion mosquito bites without getting an injection, which seems to be the typical medical solution in Latin America.


Ricky said...


Mary said...

Rebecca, I felt your exhilaration on the big yellow school bus all the way here in Bangkok! Lovely stories and impressions, looking forward to following your adventure here, and sending very best wishes and hugs...

Plaszloc said...

hahaha - is Sara in one of these 3 towns? The bus ride reminds me of what I saw in the Philippines: the bus stopped for random people standing in the streets, and to signal the driver to stop, you had to tap this rhythm into the aluminum support poles. The bus filled to the brim, with people hanging out of the open doors and windows, but they were so afraid of the white men (myself and my friend) that we actually had a bench to ourselves.

Ricky said...

and please don't break your other foot..... :)

Rachel said...

Sholem Aleykhem Rebecca! Te extrano un monton. I love reading your blog. I already want to nominate you for some kind of blogging award. You rock at it. You are such a wonderful writer that I feel like I'm crammed right next to you on that yellow school bus. I have to admit that I'm envious that you and everyone are in Latin America. I feel like I'm on a bizarre episode of MTV's Real World: Yiddishland...Overall, I'm enjoying the internship, and my Yiddish is slowly coming along.
Zey Gezunt (literally "be healthy" and used to say goodbye),
Un abrazo fuerte,

Roberto said...

Efectivamente, como dijo Rachel eres un maravillosa escritora que nos haces a todos sentir como si estuvieramos contigo. Un par de comentarios, si me permites: lo que comieron tu y Jenny se escribe viboron y el volcan se llama Mombacho:-)

Sigue escrbiendo y cuida de tu salud!