Monday, July 23, 2012

Photo Class Exhibition

         Friday was my last day of photography class at Biblioteca La Chispa.  My students were a bit sad I think, but the class culminated in a great exhibition of their work over the past three weeks.  All morning was spent decorating the library with balloons, crepe paper and of course, student photographs, poetry and artwork.  I had the many of the photographs professionally printed at a photoshop in town- and they looked beautiful.
By 3:00pm, the library was filled with students, parents and community members.  I had put together a slide show of some of the photos that I wasn’t able to print, in addition to photos I took of the students hard at work.  The show turned out to be a big hit as we projected the pics onto the wall for everyone to see.  The kids really enjoyed seeing themselves at work, experimenting with camera angles or decorating their poetry.  The event ended in a huge dance party involving students and staff.  It was a ton of fun.  Lastly, Becca and I made pizza for all of the library staff as a thank you for all of their love and support these past few weeks.

La Finca Hermandad

Last Tuesday I took my students on a field trip to a nearby coffee farm, La Hermandad.  The farm is located in the midst of the mountains and its sharp slopes are covered with coffee plants of varying ages.  The main purposes for the trip were two-fold.  First, I wanted my students to practice photography techniques in a new environment.  Second, although many of the children of Matagalpa grow up with beautiful views of the lush countryside, few actually get to experience it first hand.  For many students it was their first time ever in a forrest, while for others it was their first time out of La Chispa.  
      We had nine students and five staff members attend. We were able to use the Bibliomovil to transport us all from La Chispa to San Ramon.  From there we rented a truck that carried all of us up the steep dirt road.  Each turn revealed gorgeous glimpes of the valley below.  The half hour ride itself was an experience, as we were jostled and jaunted, we couldn’t help but giggle.  By the time we made it to the top, my sides ached from laughing so hard.  
       At the top there is a small guest house and reception area where Don Sebastion, one of the owners of La Hermandad gave us an introduction to history and programs of the cooperative farm.  The students learned about the need for biodiversity of crops and soil nutrition as well as how the cooperative works.  Lastly, he explained about the new school that has been built in cooperation with Planting Hope to help educate the children of the coffee workers.  
       After the orientation, we took a 3 hour hike around and through the coffee fields.  We got to see different varieties of coffee as well as bananas.  Also, we took a detour through the jungle in order to get a closer look at the surrounding flora and fauna.  The jungle trail was muddy and steep.  To make matters worse the dense vegetation darkened our vision and made the hike doubly tough.  But the kids were great sports, perhaps better than some of us adults.  They helped each other up and down and didn’t bat an eyelash if/when they fell and became covered in mud.  Throughout our jaunt in the jungle, we were asked to remain silent (or as quiet as possible) to increase our chances of seeing some wildlife.  We were able to see and hear all sorts of birds and insects.  I was a little dissapointed we didn’t spot any monkeys, but our guide told us we weren’t quite quiet enough, and mostly likely they had retreated a bit.  Having a guide really made a difference as the kids could have all their questions answered: “What kind of a flower is that? What does that bird eat etc.”

By the end of the day we were wet, muddy, and tired.  Regardless, everyone had smiles on their faces.  The ride back down the mountain was just as amusing and on the bus ride back to La Chispa, the kids couldn’t stop talking about what was their favorite flower, or which bird had the prettiest song.  I hope it was a day they will remember for a long time... I know I will.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My weekend in Granada.

This weekend I went to Granada to visit my sister.  I left late Friday afternoon on a bus headed for Managua.  The bus ride was very long.  Here in Nica, there are no regular bus stops, the bus will pick you up anywhere along its route, so we stopped constantly, stretching a 3 hour ride into an almost 4 hour ride.  By the time I got to Managua it was pitch black and raining and I just ended up taking an expensive taxi ride from Managua to Granada.  

The city of Granada is very nice, but also very touristy.  There are many "gringo" restaurants and many stores price their wares in dollars instead of Cords.  The night life therefore is a bit more developed as it is more of a vacation town.  The houses are also visibly different as well.  Everyone there seemed to have running water, flushing toilets and closed roofs.        Many buildings from the colonial era are still standing giving the entire city an old world feel.  

I was excited to see Becca and meet her roommate Phoebe.  They have a great apartment and are located close to the main drag., Calle Calzada.  Despite being sick the whole weekend, I was able to do a little sight seeing.  Becca and I went to the nearby cemetery at sunset.  It was gorgeous.  Unfortunately, the large mausoleums and raised tombs make for a dangerous journey as it is easy for muggers to duck behind the various edifices and jump out to snatch a purse or camera.  Luckily, a guard insisted on accompanying us to ensure our safety.

The ride back was equally long and painful as the ride there.  By the time I arrived back in Matagalpa it was pitch black.  I waited on a dark and desolate street for close to 25 before finding a taxi that would bring me back to La Chispa.  It was a great trip, and though cheap, I just wish the travel wasn't so long!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

First Days of Photography Class

Yesterday was my first day of class.  I arrived promptly at 8 to prepare for my 8:30 class.  I printed everything, had the materials laid out and 8:30 came and went but no students.  By 9:00 I had 3 out of the 13 matriculated for the class.  I decided to get started.  By the time 9:30 rolled around I had a full house.  Not much difference from my class in the states!

My morning class is comprised of students from 12 to 16 years old.  They are able to grasp the curriculum easily and are a lively bunch.  My afternoon class ranges from students 7 to 10.  The material seems to be a bit more difficult for them.  I have to go slower and modify my activities, but they are really cute.  They all call me "profe," (short for professora) even though I continue to ask them to call me Sarah.

Yesterday we started with a lesson on self-reflection and comparisons.  The assignment was to write a poem describing what you look like using similes.  The older group in the morning really seemed to get it, but my kiddies in the afternoon had a bit more trouble.  It is also a bit more difficult for me to understand the younger ones.  They don't seem to get the fact that I am not fluent.  They often whisper softly and speak very fast.  Its very endearing, but hard to understand.

Today we worked on symbolism and afterwards the students did an activity where they got to practice taking photos.  In pairs, they were given 4 emotions to represent in photographs.  They had a great time!  They could take the cameras anywhere they wanted and take as many photos as possible.  The next class they will get to see each others photos and guess what emotions are represented.



 La Esperanza


La Soledad

Monday, July 9, 2012

My Weekend at Nereyda's House

Since I didn't have plans this weekend, I was invited to spend the Saturday night at Nereyda's house.  She lives in the same neighborhood serviced by the bibliomovil.  Her house is located in a more rural barrio.  I had a great time.  Nereyda and her partner, Rico, have two small children, Michael who is 4 years old and Minor who is 2. They also have a tiny puppy just a few weeks old.

I had a great time playing games with Michael, he has a tremendous imagination and is very perceptive.  I got to experience my first beer in Nicaragua and when I opened it during dinner, Michael asked "are you going to get drunk?"  I couldn't stop laughing.  Minor is a sweetheart and smiles all the time.  I can't wait to see them again Wednesday when we visit on the bibliomovil.

The puppy, Mimi, was one of the cutest I have ever seen.  It is not proper in Matagalpa to keep an animal in the house, so she spent most of her time outside.  But all night she cried so we finally had to let her in the house.  She is a bit of a handful but a great companion for Michael and Minor.

On Sunday returned by bus to La Chispa.  The rain was something fierce.  It rained all day and all night.  In my house, we had to move the bed and my suitcases because the rain bore hole in the zinc roof.  I spent the evening chatting with my host mom, Fatima.  I really love living with her and Gema.  I call it the "house of never-ending laughter."  Everyone is always laughing and the really full of life.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A beautiful view!

The morning began with a torrential rainstorm.  The wind blew so hard that I actually slept with my arms over my head thinking that the wind might send the roof tumbling down on me.  But by the time I woke up (6:30), the sun was out and the sky was clear- the perfect hiking weather.

By 8:00am Nereyda, Marisol (another administrator here at the library) and I were on a Rapibus heading towards a town on an opposite site of the valley.  We literally took the bus from start to finish.  Oscar, a computer and English teacher at the library, met us where the bus route ended.  From there he guided us on a 4 hour hike around the mountain tops that surround Matagalpa.  The hike was almost entirely vertical.  My legs are beginning to tremble again just thinking about it.

Though difficult, it was worth every second.  The views were breathtaking and the wildlife and vegetation unbelievable.  We encountered a ton of creatures including giant toads, lizards, crabs, bright blue butterflies, birds of every size and color as well as a plant that literally wilts when you touch it (some kind of defense mechanism).  After viewing Matagalpa from afar, I have a bit better understanding for what the layout looks like, as well as where La Chispa (my neighborhood) is located in relation.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Today I spent the day working with the Bibliomovil, a mobile library that serves poor rural villages.  We bring books to the children of these various communities there as well as facilitate educational activities.  The trek through the mountain villages is a bit treacherous in our school bus turned library.  I have much respect for Alvaro, our driver, who makes driving in times square during rush hour look like a cake walk.  The streets are narrow and oftentimes riveted by the huge rainstorms that frequent the region.

Today we visited a small rural neighborhood.  This is where Nereyda lives, she is my tour guide for the month.  We are about the same age, and when I visited the first time we became fast friends.  The houses in the village are similar to those in La Chispa however, there is a lot more space.  People have a little more land, allowing them to keep chickens, ducks, pigs etc.  They are more remote and the schools don't have many supplies.  From what I understood, the bibliomovil is the only provider of art supplies and reading materials.

There are two other interns from the states who help with the program as well, Claire and Molly.  They are both in High School and both live in Vermont.  They have been here a few weeks already and seem pretty settled.  It is nice to have a conversation without having to think so hard.  They also know the ropes and have a pretty good command of Spanish.  When I am a little confused its nice to have someone to turn to, and vice versa.  Out of three gringas one of us is bound to understand.

The kids were fantastic.  They instantly greeted us with hugs and smiles.  The bibliomovil represents fun activities and they are always glad to see it.  In the morning, we read a story to the children about a ladybug and afterwards, the kids got to design their own bugs.  The morning session closed with some group songs and then individual or small group reading time.  The kids were very eager to show me how well they read.  A few were shy at first, but with some prompting read out loud.  Nereyda says that before the bibliomovil the kids really didn't like to read.  Now, they really seem to enjoy it and even call themselves readers.

After a two hour siesta in Nereyda's house, we returned to work with some of the older kids, 6th graders.  We  did a mask project with them in which the students had to represent 3 aspects of themselves.  Unfortunately, I think the kids spent more time decorating their masks then self-reflecting, but they enjoyed it all the same.  I have a similar activity in mind for next week, so I need to think of ways to make the activity a bit deeper.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

First Days...

The roosters start crowing at 4am, well before daybreak.  Not long after that radios begin blasting as people all over the barrio ready themselves for work.  I am living in "una casa" a few houses down from the community center/library where I work.  Today I spent the majority of the time hanging out and helping out.  Its amazing to see the progress that has occurred in 10 years.  When I left Nicaragua in 2002, the library was only 3 small rooms.  Now, there is a second floor, a beautiful balcony, a patio and a kitchen/cafe.  The number of young people served has tripled if not quadrupled.

The morning is a bit crazy as the majority of students here do not officially start school until 12:30pm.  Today a group from the states, "Global Glimpse," stopped by with about 15 American students all around 16 or 17.  They ran a few activity centers and the kids really had a great time.  I lent out a few cameras to some little boys and they quickly became a hit.  It got to the point where kids were trying to grab every camera they saw, even out of the hands of the American students, thinking it was part of the activity.  I let them know that my photography classes will start next week.

My host family is fantastic.  My host mom, Fatima, speaks very slowly and is very easy for me to understand.  My host sister, Gema, is a very serious student.  Last night a storm knocked out most of the electricity for the neighborhood and we had to cook and eat in the dark, well with a single candle.  Gema sat right next to the candle and studied furiously for a test she was having the next day.  I wish my students could see that!  Even with no electricity she still managed to study!

My host house is refreshingly simple.  There is not much furniture, a clay floor and no running water.   Outside in a tiny secluded courtyard are the water basins that hold the family's water.  There is a toilet in one corner surrounded by a black plastic tarp and piece of cloth for privacy.  Cleaning yourself is done with a bucket of cold water and a bar of soap.  Its cold.  Really cold.  Especially in the morning before the sun has come out.  I couldn't get up the courage to wash my hair this morning- that will have to wait until tomorrow.   My host mom graciously gave up her bed so I could sleep by myself, instead of on the floor with Gema.  I wouldn't mind sharing, however I am petrified of spiders or other creepy crawlies getting into bed with me.  I know this fear is unjustified, but the last time I was here, I found a tarantula, and I just can't shake that image.  I feel a bit safer in a raised bed.

Also, I brought WAY too much stuff.  My host family was making fun of me, saying it looked like I was moving in for a year.  I told them a lot of it was equipment and materials for my classes at the library.  That's true, I do have a lot of that stuff, but I also have a ton of clothes.  Too many.  Nothing here is wasted and everyone has just enough.  This month I will really have to reflect on all the "excess" in my life.