Monday, July 2, 2007

Expat life

I have found that my life in Nicaragua has gone through various phases - first there was the volunteer phase, when I mainly hung out with and connected with the other volunteers as I was first getting to know the town as well, closely followed by a brief traveller phase; then after some more volunteer time, I moved into the main locals phase, when I really put time and effort into building up my friendships and relationships with Nicaraguans here. But finally I appear to have moved into the ex-pat phase (I guess after 6 months in the country, I now count as one myself). I find myself invited on trips, out to dinner events and to visit ex-pat homes, and suddenly I am leading a weekly yoga class for another group of long-term residents. Now a whole new set of people greet me in the street. And I've had two job offers of a sort to stay here! Plus a couple of weekends ago with three friends I rented a car and drove around the "white villages" in style, as well as living it up in Managua for the evening... It was a nice change to the mud and poverty of the villages where I normally work.

Another change which I guess has added to the ex-pat effect is that I decided to splash out and treat myself for my final month in Nicaragua, and started renting my own house. No more cramped shared volunteer quarters - I have a patio and hammocks and even (as of this weekend) a water tank. That, plus the car battery power back-up system, have been coming in very useful with all the extended daily power and water outages we're now getting. I think it must be political, because there's enough rain falling every few days that it can no longer be a drought situation this rainy season. So, yes, a few changes in my Nica life for the final push. I can't believe I have just weeks to go... I'm already in pre-nostalgia!

Latest newsletter

Firstly this month, apologies that there are no photos. Yahoo photo mail has closed, and though I am normally surrounded by volunteers with lots of hi tech knowledge – this is the weekend so this month, sorry, it’s all in writing.

We will catch up on some photos next month, one of which will be Cesar in his new wheelchair which was built specially for him by the Children’s Wellness Foundation. Another would be of Maria Jose, a 12 year old girl in La Prusia who also suffers from Cerebral Palsy. Thanks to the efforts of our health volunteers she is now attending a special school in Granada. Victoria Metzger who has been volunteering with us until the middle of this month sent through $50 to pay for ortheopedic shoes to help her walking, and Mark Turner has donated $250 to have a three wheeled bicycle made that her mother will be able to ride with her. (Sometimes her mother has to carry her on her back from the highway where the school bus brings her to their house about 15 minutes walk away.) Thanks to Christy’s friendships with the mothers in La Prusia we were able to find out about a little boy only 4 months old, Christofer Urtecho who was born with a ‘club’ foot. He now has ortheopedic booties and early correction will mean a cure for this child so he will grow up walking normally.

We will have lots of pictures too from International Children’s Day which was celebrated in all the schools during the first week in June. The children all had a wonderful day with games, prizes, sports, dancing displays by the teachers and volunteers, and lots of good food to eat.

The end of school term saw lots of changeover of volunteers this month, lots of farewell parties, and a few tears as we said goodbye to Alan Cowburn, Charlie Rann, Liz Gage, Mali Kedward, Rena Papatheofilou, Vitoria Metzger, Sam Duncan, Francis Peterson, Emma Close, Rachel Evans, Colin Williamson, Mike Sims, Peter Marsh, Rebekah Ramsay, Nick Atherton, Johanna Holman, Jennie O’Grady, Amanda Brown and Juiane and Karsten Kruetziger, and Mario Calderon. Some like Colin, Liz and Johanna had been here for six months, some like Mario who had to leave early only a few weeks, but all played an important role in helping the children and communities that we work with.

New volunteers this month include two who have returned, Jiri Kaiser from Holland as well as Lauren Kjos from U.S.A., others are Bev Chan, Mary Pearce, Katie Randall, Sean McCarthy, Denny Pham, Carla Sanderson, Leslie Jamieson, Susan Shuller and Darrell Bushnell all from the U.S.A. (though Darrell lives locally), Jessie Grene from Ireland, Rosa Bransky, Alex Wipf, Becky Harrison and Cathy Mitchell from the U.K., Andrea Sousa from Portugal, Huikwan Tam and Hanna Koppenaal from Holland, Gonzalo Garcia from Spain and Esmeralda Contrera from Nicaragua.

Monique’s husband Hans brought more school supplies when he arrived to visit, Carla brought a big bag of clothing and toys with here, and Susan also arrived laden with things for the children and the community. Lauren brought $150 from one of her professors Dr. Claire Drummond. Alan gave us $200 from Peter and Margaret Cowburn, and $100 from Sue and Nara Pandey. Lizzie’s mother Rosemary Dipple sent through $300 for the dentists program, and the friends and family of Peter Marsh sent 110 pounds sterling. Rosa’s friend Tom Latter sent us $300. Colin’s parents Claire and Chris Williamson gave $200 to be used for preschool resources.

Former volunteers have been thinking of us too, which is wonderful to know that their interest in a Esperanza Granada continues – Romeo Kienzler who sent $25 and Mairin Hennessy who sent $250 were both here in the days when our founder Bill was still alive. We have his picture on the wall, and those of us who knew him still miss him. Things were never quiet when Bill was around.

A future volunteer Lauren Robson sent through $180 she had collected from family and friends. We also received another bag of beads for the women’s cooperative from Collette Nolan and a paypal donation of $50 from Joe Hurd.

An interesting visit this past week from a group of teachers from Georgia in the U.S.A. who had come to Granada as part of a journey designed to give them some experience of Latin American culture to enable them to better empathize with the growing numbers of Latin American students in their area. They had an interesting morning at an internet café with some of our high school students followed by lunch with them, and then Bev took them on a tour of La Prusia which they found quite moving. Paula Mellom and Brian Padilla were the organizers of this trip, and we hope to see more of their groups in the future. They also brought us some teaching materials, books etc.

Two important dates to keep in mind for July – firstly if you are in Nicaragua, on the 28th July keep the evening free for “The First Annual Jimmy Threefingers Wanted Dead or Alive Ride” – this will be a big event featuring Harley Davidson motor cycles leading a parade through the town and ending up at the club “Extasy” for a fun filled night. All the profits from this event will go to La Esperanza Granada. Another date to book – this time for a night in, if you are in the U.S.A. – when the Samantha Brown Passport to Granada program will be shown on the Travel Channel for the first time on 18th July. We haven’t seen the previews yet, though a lot of filming was done with our volunteers and in the school at La Prusia.

The painting on the community center, both inside and out is finished now – with extras this month Chris and Mick lending a hand, along with Becky who took up where Sam, Charlie and Nick left off. Next painting will be of the new classrooms at La Epifania, Mark has donated $350 to pay for the paint.

La Epifania is the school where we are currently hold a two week intensive learning camp (the last week of school and the week of term break) designed to try and bring some of the children who are behind in first and second grade up to the level of their peers and to help stimulate their interest in learning. Seventeen volunteers are taking part in this, and there are 24 children. More about this next month when it is completed.

So we have come to the end of the first term for this year – hardly seems possible (we have only two terms here). This year in ran a week later than previous years so that the children would still be in school for ‘Dia de Maestros’ or Teachers Day – pictures of those celebrations will hopefully be in next month’s photo link too.

Till then,
Regards, Pauline.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Donations please!!

This afternoon I came into the office to sort out some information for next week's dental visits, and for the different Children's Day celebrations we're planning at each of the four schools. Every volunteer gets involved with these half-sports-day, half-prize-day, half-party-mayhem no matter what other projects you normally work on.

Anyway, I've just been talking to Pauline, the long-term volunteer (she celebrated her second year in Granada last month) who manages the La Esperanza office and organises all the volunteers here, and apparently we have used up the remains of our dentist program funding, so we're now looking for new donations to keep it going. I have put forward some money myself, given that this has been one of my pet projects, but now I'm extending the opportunity to give to an excellent cause to all of you, my friends and family...

As a reminder of what La Esperanza is and does, you can see more details on our website at

And the donations page is

So if any of you can join in and help it would be very much appreciated here, by the kids (OK, well many of them don't actually enjoy having teeth pulled or filled, but they will in the long run!) and by me too.


(P.S. Sorry about the lack of hyperlinks in this entry but the Blogger insert hyperlink function seems to be on the blink today - so you'll have to copy and paste these addresses into your internet browser.)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Mango season and the rains begin

I'm just now holed up in an internet cafe waiting out a sudden rainstorm (and hence two power cuts that made me lose part of this entry) - the winter rainy season is finally beginning. But it's also mango season (you can buy a dozen small, ripe mangos for just around 10 pence) so I'm not complaining too much. Although it's so easy to eat a lot of mango (you can get a bag of peeled mango slices, about two mangos' worth, for 6 pence on every street corner) and apparently they have antibacterial properties, which are great until you eat way too many and they kill off the good bacteria in your stomach... Fingers crossed that doesn't happen to me.

At the moment I'm on a short trip out of Granada in the east of Nicaragua - travelling through the cattle highlands on my way to the Atlantic coast for a crazy music and dance festival called Palo de Mayo. I've learnt one or two moves for this dance, but it's so fast and mad that even my salsa-ing hips just can't keep up. So far I've visited small market cow towns and tiny tranquil pueblos, passing through stunning mountain scenery on the buses in between. Round here there aren't any volcanoes, although the land is still seismically active and the rocks are volcanic in origin, so the skyline is completely different to the dry, flat Pacific region studded with huge volcano cones. And it's relatively green too, although there have been such water shortages here, with the drought on (rainy season is way too late and still not as much as normal), that I've stayed in hotels without any water whatsoever. You learn to wash as and when you can... and not mind the sweat.

I had to pop in on the pretty village of Santa Lucia (my street in Granada's namesake) where I was befriended by a lovely family who took me in for the day, fed me, and the three young cousins aged 12 and 13 took me around all afternoon to visit their favourite spots. I met their friend Luca, who owns a piece of land up on the hillside and who showed me all his current crops (including the eponymous mangos). We then sat in his pristine front room for 45 minutes, trying to make conversation - i.e. I talked non-stop to fill the gaps because he wasn't the most conversationally-able (probably not getting that many visitors, especially from overseas). It was later that day that I headed over to the cow town of Camoapa, where I ended up in a restaurant/discoteca dancing ranchero, bachata and raggaeton with the local cowboys (everyone had either a seriously curved baseball cap on, or a stetson!)

Anyway, here I am now in Juigalpa: doing washing, catching up on internet correspondence and checking out the local museum, as well as eating fantastic beef and dairy products (yes, I'm still in stetson-wearing country). And tomorrow morning I head off on the bus to the river town of El Rama...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Latest La Esperanza news

So you keep getting the idea of what everyday volunteer life is like, and what we do at La Esperanza, here's the latest weekly newsletter from Pauline.

Dear All,

The first of the primary school excursions was held on Friday with grade 2 from La Prusia and La Epifania visiting Posintepe for a picnic. It was a great success and the children really enjoyed it, and the teachers are following through with questions about their trip to help make it a learning experience too. For the monthly news we would like to continue with what we did this month, putting a link to an album of photos. So anyone with some good photos of the children's excursions please bring them into the office and put them on the computer (mainframe one), and this will be the photo link for next months news.

Planning to do it each month, we will do one in the coming months of each school, health, womens working groups etc. and probably it would be fun to do one of some of the photos from a volunteer party.

Elba Zamora now has a basketball hoop and backboard which Nick put up. We want to do the same for La Prusia - they have asked for a full scale basketball court though and the quote Agosto got was $8000 so we don't think it is on our priority list.

Next week excursions are on Monday, Grade 2, then Wednesday and Thursday, Grade 4 - so it will be a busy week.

Big party last night to farewell Annabel who is travelling on to Cuba. Just one new volunteer arriving this week, Charlie Rann from Australia.

We had a visit from a former volunteer who worked at Las Camelias, Lauren Bloch - she arranged with Laura to go and visit the childrenat the school while she was here which was fun for both her and the children. Friends of former volunteers Shane and Andrew also visited Granada, Daniel Colins and Sarah Jane Caldwell. They went on the tour to La Prusia, and then gave us $100 donation. Shane and Andrew had taught English in the schools.

We had a cash donation too from Andy Pinker, friend of Julia Penny, who gave us $20. We received paypal donations this week too, $100 from Phil Smy, brother of Iain who brought us the vitamin tablets, and $150 from Robert Keddy, another Canadian. Robert is processing Nicaraguan coffee in Canada, Casa Silas Coffee, and has offered to give us $1 from each kilo sold.

Another cleanup session was held at the Community Center on Saturday - and we are going to start painting soon. Would like photo's please of the clean up and of the painting, plus putting the new cupboard in for the library as all of this work to the community center is being funded by a village in UK called Adstock, they want to form a sister village relationship with La Prusia. Any ideas on how we can help make this work for the people of La Prusia would be appreciated.

Mark is back in town once again. He brought with him some photos we had ordered prints of and these will be made into blank greeting cards to sell in the office - to help pay for some of the office costs. If anyone has a couple of hours to spare next weekend we could do with your help in the office to put these together, make the envelopes etc.

Good to see Colin back this weekend.
Hope to see lots of you at the Isletas this afternoon,
Regards, Pauline.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Lizzie is staying longer in Nicaragua!

Fantastic newsflash - I am staying extra weeks in Nicaragua. I just recently got the final confirmation from HarperCollins that I can extend my sabbatical by another 6 weeks, so I will be out here until later in July. All very exciting! This means I can finish the first half of the school year on the dentist program, and hand it over to the free Dentists Without Borders team who turn up in July. And the two women's groups should be fully independent, accounts-wise, by then too. At last that's the aim...

La Esperanza weekly news

Sorry for the lack of news recently - I have been very busy with the dental project (see below). But I'm soon taking off for a long weekend in the north of Nicaragua, for a bit of relaxation and travel experience...

Dear All,
Full week of school, which makes a nice change, at all four schools too. I notice that next Thursday the 26th has been circled on the school Calandario – though it doesn't say why, it would be a good idea to check in the schools. Also as Tuesday the 1st May is a national holiday – we should check if the schools are closed just for that day, or if they will in fact be closed for the Monday 30th April as well making it a really long weekend?

Sunday 6th May we will have our regular outing to the isletas – meeting down at Las Palmas restaurant at noon – I will put a reminder in next week. For those who are new – we have a free boat ride to one of the islands and then hang out for the afternoon at a small cheap open air restaurant, swim, relax etc. normally returning to Granada about 4 or 4.30.

We are full steam ahead on the dental program still now, thanks mostly to Lizzie's input. Also if any children are in need of glasses we will be able to supply them. As for adult reading glasses we have quite a number of pairs in the library.

This week we have have to say goodbye to Julia who has been with us for the past two months. Seems like she only arrived last week – but I have checked the calendar.

New arrivals this week are Amanda Brown from Canada, Alan Cowburn, Emma Close and Rachel Evans, all three of whom are from the UK.

We have had a couple of paypal donations this week, one for $40 from Chloe Sharpe from the U.K., and one of $100 from Jeremy Jensen from the U.S.A. In addition to this we had a visit from Jim and Jan Hainsworth, and Ron and Peggy Garvalia from the U.S. Jim very generously brought with him a new laptop for us – though it is not brand new it is completely reconditioned and so working like brand new – couldn't have come at a better time. The two families each donated $20 on behalf of their grandchildren, Jillian, Gwen and Anna Hainsworth, and Luke, Joe, Sam and Tony Garvalia. Plus they brought with them bags of stuff including school supplies and lots of things suitable for prizes for when we have International Children's Day celebrations.

Clay put on a very good presentation for the tutoring session this past Tuesday, and I believe that Laura will be conducting the next one – though we will need a date check on that one as it would be scheduled for the 1st May.

See you all through the week,
Regards, Pauline.