Final Thoughts

Well...I'm home! I have been for just over a month now. I arrived back home, safe and sound on August 13th. The flights went beautifully, everything was on time (early even!) and we had no problems whatsoever. My one week at home was BUSY - a wedding to attend, preparation for back to school, floor decorations (buying and prep work) for SJ Residence, haircut, dentist, shopping....AHHH! It was so nice being home though and even though I was busy I still managed to see my friends and enjoy myself.

Some concluding remarks: This summer was amazing. I had this fantastic opportunity to travel, learn a new language,experience poverty, discover an entirely new world, and overall remove myself from everything that is familiar. I have my CT scans from my little 'incident' this summer posted on my window in my room; everyone that visits me sees it and asks me about it so I get to tell them about my summer (great conversation starter). I don't regret or wish different anything about this summer because in some way I learned from each experience. Even the sickness part. The independence is one aspect that I can't get over...the fact that we were literally on our own, under the supervision and care of no one, getting to travel throughout the country - relying only on our abilities and small knowledge of the language. If we got lost, we got lost; if we were on the wrong bus, well then we went somewhere else. It's almost overwhelming to me to think about that aspect of the summer, mostly because I'm not used to that type of freedom. It was thrillingly scary and exciting.

In terms of reintegrating back into the North American lifestyle, I honestly didn't have much difficulty. I don't think I experienced the "shock" of coming back. This worries me a little because I feel like it means that I didn't experience my summer correctly...that I wasn't remote enough or subject to enough poverty or there wasn't enough change. It could just mean that I handle things well...I don't know. Someone was telling me about their time reintegrating - they said that they were at a festival and suddenly started crying because they weren't used to seeing people having money to spend. This made me realize something: A lot of what people say they realize upon their return is stuff that I already knew or was trying to do. I've never been one to just spend my money on anything (except ice cream) - I've always saved it and put it in the bank. I would like to think of myself as a minimal consumer, not influenced much by consumerism and the need to have everything glitzy, shiny and new. I recycle and try to compost where possible; I am concerned for our environment and the way in which it is abused and destroyed. I'm a vegetarian so I know that produce is more sustainable for the impoverished than trying to raise animals for food. I agree with fair trade. Mostly, I try to be down to earth and aware of these types of factors that are affecting everyone. In my mind, I was already living the way I want to be living - so it was like I was just coming back to it with renewed vigor, if anything, for my beliefs.

One aspect of this summer is that I want to become more politically aware, of both international and at home politics. The fact that I was so close to the Honduran coup and resulting 'revolution' this summer really drove home this desire. I realized I really know nothing about Canadian and international politics and this ignorance on my part must be overcome.

I want to thank everyone for coming on this journey with me this summer and supporting me with your comments and thoughts. I really appreciated it and I hope that you were able to learn and experience along side me.

Nicaragua gave me a truly remarkable time that I will never forget.

Heading South

So here I am, finally heading south to San Juan Del Sur. We left Esteli on Monday (yesterday) and picked up Brad, Megan´s boyfriend, at the airport last night. We were only supposed to stay in Managua overnight but ended up having to stay today, Tuesday, as well because Brad´s luggage never made it to Managua. Apparently, someone was too lazy in the TORONTO AIRPORT, to drive his one bag from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3 because it was the only bag going to Managua. How crappy is that?? Anyway, hopefull we can get it tonight and we can be off to SJDS tomorrow, bright and early.

It was a teary goodbye on Sunday and Monday (for everyone else...I just don´t cry for those types of things). We wrote our little blurb on Edna´s wall (ours was by far the best ones there because ours were chunks of writing vs. one or two sentences). We gave Edna her gift we had brought down from Canada when Brittany and Becca came. It was a tote bad with sugar maple leaves on the outside; inside there was a Canadian towel, another reusable bag with the Canadian flag, a dish towel, some Moose Droppings (or as I translated it, the feces of this animal and I pointed to the moose), maple syrup and maple candies. We may have gone a touch overboard on the Canada apparel but oh well. Don´t you know we love our country, eh?? She also loved the little crystal dolphin and nail polish my parents bought her as their thank you for taking such good care of me, through my whole adventure there. Its weird to say goodbye to people and places you´ve seen or lived with the past 3 months. What will the house be like without us there?? We´ve been there to greet so many new people....will the family status we achieved continue? And Cafe Luz...who will keep it in business if we´re not there, almost every night hanging out?? I wonder sometimes how this world survives. Hahaha. If I can, I would love to come back to visit everyone who has come to mean something special to me over the last 3 months. It would be exciting and like coming home in a weird and twisted sense. But until then...Canada in 10 days!!

Once again, I just want to say thank you to everyone who followed my blog and participated in this adventure with me. Your support and comments always made me so happy and I thought about everyone when feeling down. Thank you. When I´m home or have some free time, I´ll try to post some more photos, so stay tuned!!

Some Nicaraguan Cuisine

Here is a look at some of the delicious food I have gotten to try this summer.

Tostones: like huge plantain chips. Really good dipped in refried beans.

Fried mature plantains: they´re sort of sweet and I loved them at first but now they make me gag.

Gallo pinto (rice and beans) with some ¨salad¨ (which is usually just cabbage), and plantain chips.

Corn tortillas to scoop everything up in. So much better than the flour tortillas, and made solely with water and corn flour.

Queso, or cheese. Its very hard, crumbly and salty with a relatively sharp bite to it. Its so good. There is also another cheese thats the same just softer - less water is taken out during the cooking process. Its called cuajaba; its also very tasty.

Big, beautiful and ripe avocados.

Rosquillas: corn based cookies with honey and sugar sprinkled on top to add a sweet crunch to the otherwise bland cookie. But they´re really good and apparently people enjoy them dipped in coffee. Somoto is the town known for the rosquillas.

Amazing, always ripe and juicy mangoes.

Bananas. Obviously.

Pineapple. Only down here, the inside is white and its not as strong a taste.

An interesting fruit called a guyaba - there are small seeds inside that you eat and they´re actually the sweet part of the fruit. The outside, non-seeded part is a bit more bitter and sour but together the combination is fantastic.

A nacatamale - cooked in a banana leaf, its a corn based pocket filled with meat and vegetables. I didn´t try one but they are apparently very good.

This is a tamale, which is what I would get instead. Its almost the exact same except there´s nothing inside. Its just corn. And its made with ¨mais neuvo¨ or ¨new corn¨ so its sweet and very corny.

Elotes - new corn that is picked before it has turned yellow and cooked, usually steamed or barbecued. Its much harder to eat and not sweet but again, fantastic corn flavor.

Indio Viejo, or Old Indian, is made from plantains, tortilla and meat shredded into a thick soupish/ stew consistency. Very popular.

Can´t forget the refriend beans.

Then of course there are all of the fresh juices like mango, pineapple, watermelon, guayabe, lemonade, pitaya. Other interesting drinks include avena con leche (oatmeal with milk or water and sugar. It tastes like really liquidy oatmeal), pozol (milk mixed with ground cooked corn and sugar. At the bottom of the drink, all the corn and sugar sinks so you´re left with this delicious, think sediment. Mmmm) and coffee, which is really good as well.

That´s all I can think of at the moment. Hopefully you enjoyed this little tour of some of the interesting foods I´ve been eating (or seeing) this summer. Some are really easy to make at home, so if you feel like experiementing go for it!!

The Pitaya Fruit

Here´s a picture of the pitaya fruit (although the ones here in Nicaragua are bright purple inside like the bottom picture). Its really tasty.

Last Day at FUNARTE

Today is my last day at FUNARTE which is both amazing and saddening. It´s amazing because it means that I have actually been here for 3 months and the fact that I´m starting to wrap everything up is...incredible to me. To think that 14 week ago I was in Canada and now I´m here, in Nicaragua, getting ready to return to Canada....crazy!! But at the same time its saddening because I´ve only just become comfortable working here and getting to know my co-workers. On the one hand, I would love to stay longer to further cultivate and expand my friend network and activities at FUNARTE; but on the other hand, while I´ve enjoyed my time here in Nicaragua, I am fully ready to come home and see my family, friends and all that is familiar!!

But yesterday...OH MY GOD. What a frustrating day.

Remember when I told you about the mural I might get to paint at the school La Thompson?? One of my housemates, Jon, suggested to the director there that he knew someone who could do it, and I said I´d try and la la la...that one. ANYWAYS. I finally, after 6 weeks of trying to talk to my director about doing the mural, managed to ¨convince¨ her to let me do the name of the school. So yesterday morning, all morning, I worked on designing the outline, doing it on the computer, projecting it so that I could trace it, cutting out the letters to make a stencil, etc. Then it all went to the shitter. Excuse the language but seriously. At 1pm, the guy I was going with (Yaber I think his name was) was supposed to meet me back at FUNARTE. I personally had been ready to go at 11am but he had to go home and eat. So at 1pm he was right on time. The driver however was not. He was 40 min. late. And as each minute passed that he was late, the sky grew ominously dark, black and cloudy. So by the time he shows up, its raining and looks as though it will be a storm. At this point I was so extremely frustrated for many reasons: (a) I hate people who are late, so having to wait 40 min. for someone is ridiculous to me (b) I felt like by us not showing up on time I was letting down the people of GVI even though I basically volunteered to do it. I know there was no real pressure for me to be there and the director of the school is so completely chill, telling me not to worry about it when I called him to say I´d be late/ might not even come until the next day, but still. Do you understand where I am coming from?? (c) I had been really excited to do the mural yesterday. I had planned it all out, told everyone I was doing it and then to not have it happen is so disappointing. I became so upset and overwhelmed that I had a little cry in the bathroom. I just couldn´t hold it in anymore. All I wanted was for ONE THING...just one go to plan and not even the simplest 2hour max mural could happen smoothly.

But back to the story: because it was raining and seemed like a storm was imminent, I thought it would be best to do it the next morning; so I told Yaber and the driver to come Friday morning at 8am. Of course, like 20 min. later the sky clears up and all is beautiful. At this point its around 2pm. Ophelia, the lady helping me organize this, comes back from lunch and asks why I´m not at the school. I explain to her the situation and then asks me if I want to try calling them back. So I say yes; Yaber comes back around 2:30pm. The driver however, doesn´t come until 3:30pm. All my afternoon was spent waiting for people. At 3:30pm we pack up the truck and make our way over to the school. I thought the driver knew where it was; I´d only been there once but I had a rough idea of where it was. We drove past it and I kept telling the driver to go back, we had passed the entrace; instead he drives further the wrong way and doesn´t listen to me. I had to ring my friend at the school to come meet us at the entrance. By 4pm we are starting work on the school name. Tracing the letters onto the wall, centering everything. The only set back there was that we packed oil paint for the letters instead of acrylic so it was very sticky and gloopy and thick paint to work with. It wasn´t the smoothest finish on the letters but it looked good in the end. We didn´t finish until 6pm. While I am thankful that Yaber and the driver helped me accomplish this I was at this point in not the greatest mood. I had been supposed to go to the movies that night with some co-workers but didn´t get back to FUNARTE until 6:30pm and the movie was at 6pm. I am glad and proud that I got to paint this mural but it became so much more of a hassle than it should of been. AND I forgot my camera so I couldn´t even take a picture. But it is done; I am happy and its kind of cool that I can say I left a littl mark in Nicaragua by designing and painting the name of a school.

While I realize that the Nicaraguan culture does not posses the same meaning of being on time and whatnot, it is so frustrating for me (like I said) when people are late. Especially because (and I think this is why is was so aggravating for me) it was something I wanted to do. Normally, if we´re late going to a community or a meeting doesn´t start on time it bothers me but doesn´t get to me nearly as much as yesterday did; but when it applies to me and I feel as though I´m wasting my time and the time of others I get so annoyed. Maybe its selfish but I´m sorry. Its the way I feel. The fact that I have to rely on people to get things done here, that I can´t do anything myself---ahh!! I am a control freak I realize and its been a tough lesson to learn to let go. As yesterday has shown me.

But last nights dinner did make me happy (just in case you were wondering) - rice, soy meat, lightly breaded and fried eggplant and..the cherry on top... steamed broccoli. With pureed avocado on the eggplant. It was delicious. And a tortilla and pitaya´fruit juice (this bright purple, radioactive fruit drink that looks like a dragon fruit but isn´t). So good. I wanted ice cream at Cafe Luz because there they serve vanilla ice cream with honey and crushed Oreo cookies but they didn´t have any so I couldn´t even eat my feelings yesterday. Hahaha. I know its bad but don´t judge me.

Anyways...I guess I had go out with a bang. Begin and end with frustration. So far today I´ve been projecting and tracing new mantas and getting everyone at FUNARTE to sign their names on the back of my shirt. I think they may be planning a little leaving party for us because I saw them making a piñata with a Canadian flag on it. I love the staff at FUNARTE and the work that I do so I am going to miss it very much. Like I said: I´d stay longer to work at FUNARTE but otherwise...Canada here I come!!

Later :)

The Importance of Communication

Another important lessson I´ve learned this summer is the necessity of communication in our lives. You don´t realize how much we rely and take for granted the ability to communicate.

Being placed in a country where you don´t speak the language is very challenging. In the beginning its stressful and frustrating because you can´t just say what you want or convey anything. I walked around for the first month always carrying my Spanish dictionary, phrase book and notebook from my Spanish class. It was often when all I wanted was to say the simplest things and couldn´t that I would lose it. It´s overwhelming to constantly hear the language but to me its saddening when I can´t say anything. As time progresses, you begin to learn, remember and use more of the language everyday until 3 months comes and ¨tu puedes hablar bastante español¨. But up to that point, and even still I rely on using my hands, sherades and looking for other ways to explain a word if I don´t know it in Spanish (using only the Spanish vocab I know). And if the Spanish culture didn´t gesticulate as much as it does, my comprehension of stories and conversations would be much worse.

Back home in Canada we have multiple methods of communication. TV, email, phones at home, cellphones with messaging and texting, newspapers, faxes, sign language, brail, mail and of course person to person. Here is so different. Mail is used and most people in the city have phones (home or cell). But for those living in communities outside the city, such as Miraflor, who generally don´t have electricity or phone lines, its much different. A lady I know was trying to get in touch with a guy in Miraflor. The only way to do that was to write a note, give it to the bus driver of the bus going to Miraflor that day (with a cash payment of course) and hope it gets there and to the right person. Its almost like stepping back in time when people used messengers on horses to send messages long distance. Her meeting never happened because its so unreliable. But its all there is, besides travelling the 2 hour ride to get there. I´ve been very lucky being placed somewhere where I do have easy access to phone, internet and electricity. It´s been here that I realized how much we take it for granted the availability of communication back home. One of my new housemates said he brought his laptop thinking wireless be would available. The idea that we can always be connected is engrained into our culture.

Having developed my skills of sherades and gesticulating this summer (I am now ready for the ultimate test - the Italian culture) I certainly can´t wait to go back to Canada where everyone understands me. So that if I lose my luggage for instance, at least the airport will be able to comprehend me and what I tell them (like where I live and what I´m looking for) instead of trying to interpret tears and the few descriptive words in Spanish I know like blue and big. (FYI: azul and grande)


Travelling: The Key to Self-Realization

If you want to learn about yourself - leave your comfort zone. Travelling is the best for that; volunteering abroad and living in the country for 3 months will also do the trick. It´s the most objective way to find out the good, the bad and the ugly about yourself (and others for that matter). Physically, emotionaly, and mentally you are tested. I certainly have made some realizations about myself over the course of this Nicaraguan experience, some strengthening what I already knew and a couple small surprises as well.

My friend once told me: ¨You become very aware of your bowels when you travel¨and my goodness is that true. I have never been so sick as I have been on this trip: diarrhea, constipation, parasites, bacteria, vomiting, crzy drug side effects and to top it off, a CT scan. Despite all this, I never became this paranoid traveller, monitoring everything I do or put in my mouth. I eat the sald washed and grown in the water, drink the juices with ice and have eaten mangoes picked right off the tree. I don´t want to limit myself, and to me getting sick is a right of passage to travelling. I knew I would get sick (though admittedly not as bad) and I tried my best to embrace it and get better (it did become very frustrating at times). To fully experience the culture you need to not be overly concerned with such things. It´s important to be cautious bit not paranoid. I´ve also learned that its tough to be a travelling vegan so I became vegetarian and do my best to avoid meat. I eat the eggs and milk here because I know that they are in no way produced the same as back home and I also need a source of protein. As much as I love beans I cannot eat them 24/7. I´ve come to see that I´m pretty adventurous and open minded with trying new foods and experiencing the cultural practices and always try to emerse my self fully in the country. As my teacher said: ¨You haven´t travelled properly until you´re as sick as a dog, sleeping the night on the bathroom floor.¨Though I didn´t spen a night hugging a toilet, I do feel I´ve travelled properly (using that train of thought) this summer.

Embracing new cultures is so fantastic, exciting and different. I love doing it and learning about these other ways of life. It can be extremely frustrating, overwhleming, confusing and tear spilling but it teaches you about your adaptibility, communication skills, language abilities and much more. From this summer, I have learned to let go of a lot - planning, organization, constant productivity, etc. and tried to become more flexible and laid back to match the culture. IT´S HARD!! I am a plan making, order seeking person so this Nicaraguan culture has been tough for me in that sense. I´d like to think that I´m adaptable though and was always open-minded to new people, places, food and experiences. You must be open-minded and adaptable to travel otherwise you miss out on so much of the experience. I hate people who travel and refuse to try new food, go new places...why travel then??!!

Before this summer, I never realized how much my family means to me and how much I would miss them and home. The safety and security you feel there. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I´ve felt on constant vigilence and never like I was completely safe, always having that little voice saying ¨Just keep your eyes open...¨. Travelling certainly challenges you comfort levels and places you in many foreign, not always good, situations. But it shows you if you can handle it and cope with whatever is thrown your way. I´ve struggled frequently this summer with homesickness and its been very hard to not just give up and go home. For a first time abroad and for an extended period of time, 3 months is a decent chunk. It was difficult but ultimately rewarding because I made it through a stronger and better person. I now have more appreciation and love for my family than ever before just because I now know whats its like to be away from there for so long.

When it comes down to it, you discover ¨Is travelling for you?¨ because it does teach you a lot about yourself and the ways of the world. I would travel again and possibly do more living abroad but it certainly wouldn´t be easy. I´ve realized now just how anxious a person I can become an what can and can´t make me cry, angry or happy. But I´ve also enjoyed learning the positives about myself and seeing how I can shine even when things are bad. Comfort zones were blasted this summer and while I know I won´t be the same person as before (with everything I´ve seen and learned this summer) I look forward to cultivating and expanding these new attitudes, perspectives, values, ideas and ways of living. For instance, seeing the garbage strewn everywhere makes me want to recycle and be even more environmentally aware than ever. Also, being more aware of consumption - of food, energy, resources - and trying to diminish my ecological footprint (and wasteful habits), all the while sharing my knowledge and experiences with others. Reading world news, taking an interest in politics at home and abroad, continuing my veganism - all exciting adventures I can´t wait to embark on and leanr more about!