Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Feeling at Home

We have been in Nicaragua for about two weeks now and I cannot help but feeling like I am home, despite the fact that I have never been here before. After a baby peed on me during a Wednesday morning visit to the jewelry cooperative, I think I can safely say that I feel genuinely comfortable here in Managua.  The first week was all about getting the hang of things: who lives where, which children can you expect to see every Tuesday and Thursday at Camp JAM, the importance of having a spare couple of cords when going into Cedro to ensure that you can purchase a bag of ice cream. After the dust had settled from the whirlwind week of introductions, it was much easier for me to see (and probably for all of us bright-eyed and naive interns) how Manna worked and what we could do to contribute to this amazing organization and the communities with which it works.

Because we felt more comfortable walking through the community and navigating on our own, last week provided us with greater opportunities to get to know the amazing people that live in Cedro. Best exemplifying this was the trek through the community we made on Thursday morning. Three of the interns are med students at the University of South Florida, and part of the reason for their time here in Managua is the completion of a health-related project. One project is dedicated to an investigation of the respiratory health of the women in the communities. Three of us wandered off bright and early Thursday morning with the intention of talking to women in the community and measuring their peak respiratory flow. Considering that none of us are fluent in Spanish and two of us have absolutely no background in medical Spanish, the data collection process was challenging and a bit comical. We could not quite figure out the best way to explain how to blow into a peak flow meter and the women, through no fault of their own, did not really understand our poor explanations. Taking the measurements took patience but it was also the primary vehicle through which we got to know some of the women. We all laughed, and maybe one tear of exasperation was shed, but what impacted me the most was the fact that all of these women were willing and some even eager to take part in a poorly-explained survey for three girls whom they have never met. After working on political campaigns in the United States that have required me to go door-to-door, a warm welcome from a stranger was more than I could have expected.

The work we did for the health project also opened my eyes to the reality of those who do not have the good fortune of readily accessible medical care. Though we are measuring the respiratory health of the women in the community, we are not providing them with any medical diagnosis or care. That did not stop them from asking myriad questions regarding their health status, all of which we had neither license nor expertise to answer. Because I have asthma, I have a great relationship with my doctor and an even greater relationship with my albuterol inhaler, my constant companion throughout my life. However, these women have not been so fortunate. The importance of the clinic run by Manna could not have been more obvious.
On a lighter note, we spent the last weekend rolling through Nicaragua in micros and taxis and spent an awesome couple of days in San Juan del Sur, which must have the highest concentration of American surfer bros in all of Central America. Spending a weekend away with the fellow interns was a necessary bonding experience, as we are all undoubtedly much closer now than we were upon leaving Managua on Friday. I have never had a better burrito in my life than the one I inhaled while lying on the beach on Saturday afternoon, and I think I speak for all of us when I say I would return to San Juan del Sur if only to have a quick meal at the Taco Stop.

I refuse to believe that I am already halfway through my month in Managua, but I cannot wait to see the exciting opportunities that will come in the next two weeks. Adios from the Manna house!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Out of the Comfort Zone

Our Summer Interns arrived last week and spent the week settling into Nica life. Most of them will be here for four weeks working alongside us supporting our programs. We've asked them to share their experiences on our blog. Be on the lookout for weekly posts from our incredible summer interns. First up, Caroline...

Buenos días, amigos!

I am currently typing this from a hostel in Granada, Nicaragua. I got up with the sun and because I didnt bring my phone had no idea what time it was, so I crawled out of a top bunk bed next to 10 strangers and went and sat in a hammock.

Life in Nica is so different, but in the best way possible. On the first day we were here the interns all set goals for ourselves for what we wanted to accomplish during our time in Nica. I knew what mine was going into this trip: to go outside my comfort zone.

I definitely am always playing it safe and not taking risks or doing anything that puts me outside of the comfort I've built up. I knew that while I was here I wanted to do what I didn't do on my last trips: make myself uncomfortable.

This past week has been tiring, challenging, and amazing. The interns and I have all become fast friends and are learning and spending more time with each other each day. We all come from such different places and make for a fun group if you ask me! The PDs in the house have been nothing but welcoming and encouraging and helping us figure out this month along the way. It helps to be surrounded by a group of cool, unique people each day.

My favorite thing thus far was dinner at one of the family's homes in the community. Manna works in two communities and the relationships built in each are very evident. The community closest to our house is home to some of the kindest people I've ever met. One cool thing we get to do is just go visit and eat with the families. It's not like in the states where you call two months in advance and show up at a designated time but here you approach their house at any time of day and they welcome you with open arms. The community also looks nothing like the states. I haven't brought my camera into the community because I want to respect the families and their homes as I am still building trust and a relationship with them.

Their houses are not usually bigger than one or two rooms and are made of a variety of materials from wood to metal slabs. They mostly all have barbed wire fences around their houses and guard dogs which are probably one of the scariest things as they run at you until you threaten to hit them with your water bottle.

The houses are pretty far apart and are seperated by hills of trash, trees, and dirt roads. Each house is tucked away off the roads, if you can call them that, and I'm still learning how to navigate. I was able to eat at Jessenia's house, who is one of the funniest most outspoken women here. She operates a small food stand and is an amazing cook - and luckily I got to experience a dinner at her house. We sat on wood benches and talked and laughed through broken Spanish and English as we got to know her and her children better. She also has 3 puppies, one of which has become my Nicaraguan boyfriend ;)

The next day, we had an hour break between classes and three of us went into the community to go visit her again. She was so excited as always and welcomed us to sit and talk while her puppy fell asleep in my lap. It was simple, but exactly what I needed to reassure me that the most important thing here is to focus on building relationships with the people and immersing myself into the culture and very different from my own lives of the people here.
One thing I will have an opportunity to do soon is a home-stay which is where I will be able to have dinner, sleep over, and eat breakfast the next morning with the family and really get a taste of what their day to day life is like.

I also have enjoyed helping out with the level one English class. It has given me the opportunity to improve my Spanish and help the people in it with their English. They have such a drive to learn that you really don't see in the states. I got to work with the same group twice and as lame as this sounds it made my day when the second class they came in excited, remembered my name, and squeezed my hand. I've been having little moments like that that have meant the most so far in my time here.

Yesterday, our group of interns and our group leaders got to travel to Granada to do an overnight stay and get a feel for what Nicaragua has to offer. We first climbed up a winding circular staircase to the top of the bell tower of the most beautiful church to see the most amazing view of the entire city. It honestly was breathtaking. We then got a tour of the city in a horse buggy where I got to help the driver steer and chat a little about his learning English and my time in Nica. The people here are so kind and full of conversation that you can tell is genuine. We ate at a yummy restaurant for dinner and then got to go out to a dance bar and club to experience Nica night life, which was an absolute blast.

So far, I am loving my time here and can't wait to see what adventure comes next. Also, my apologies for any typos as this keyboard is different than any one I've ever known and I can't figure out how to make apostrophes or exclamation points....