Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving in Nicaragua

While our families sat around a table adorned with giant turkeys, mashed potatos and the works, we drove half an hour to Rana Roja, a delicious Italian-owned pizzeria to feast with fellow gringos. Although we missed the traditional Thanksgiving fare, we found much to be thankful for in Nicaragua.

This week at the school was the most successful thus far. Everyday was reasonably well-structured, the teachers brought various activities to the table, and the children are beginning to use more creativity and thoughtfulness in their work. One day we took a mini field trip down to el mar (the beach) where we collected shells and rocks which we then painted and used to decorate cardboard slates. The children enjoyed completing several mural paintings which are now hanging in the school.

Music classes are a new frontier that we attempted to cross this week. The school has found a musician to come for an hour twice a week. This being Nicaragua, he failed to come the first day. However, he came Friday and held his first class. The children were immediately excited by his guitar playing and eager to use the tambourines, bells, maracas and drums generously donated by Hilary Wyler from Music Together in East Hampton. In terms of structure, though, the class still has a ways to go.

We were fortune to have several Americans from Texas visit Una Escuelita this week in between their surfing ventures. The children loved having the presence of more male role models and took to them immediately. With that said, it seems clear that the school would greatly benefit from a male volunteer who could fill the void which was left by both Mathias (the first volunteer from Germany) and Quinn. One of the biggest problems at the school continues to be impressionable adolescent boys who lack concentration and are disruptive to the other children.

We have formed a daily routine in which several of the girls from the school walk us home each night. They enjoy listening to our ipods and learning English words while we walk. Once we arrive, the girls are fascinated with learning to use the mousepad on A’s laptop and always ask to “borrow the bathroom” (literally prestar el bano). One of the most important things we are learning is how to balance between being their friends, teachers and role models.

We are officially out of DVDs and downloaded TV episodes and running low on books. Luckily, next week we start our intensive Spanish lessons with teachers from Bigfoot Escuela in nearby Playa Gigante. We will be sharing four hours of Spanish lessons for the next three weeks and will resume again after the holidays. Hopefully this big push will prove to be helpful. Maybe the next blog will be written entirely in Spanish…maybe.

Buenas Noches,

Jane and A

P.S. View our photos at:

Monday, November 24, 2008

Explorations of San Juan del Sur Biblioteca Movil

Once the first group of gringos left the Surf Sanctuary, we quickly realized that tourist season does not actually begin in Limon Dos for another couple of months—with that in mind, we planned a trip to San Juan Del Sur. It proved to be more like Mexico than any part of Nicaragua including many cafes and restaurants that catered to our American palates. Two of our particular favorites—in case you ever find yourself in San Jaun—were El Gato Negro, a café and bookstore, and El Buen Pan, an organic, vegetarian restaurant found off the beaten path in it’s own Garden of Eden.

Our main purpose for this trip was to visit the San Juan Del Sur Biblioteca Movil, a library with a mobile component which caters to nearby schools founded by an American woman, Jane Mirandette, seven years ago. (Visit the website here: We were fortunate enough to participate in the anniversary celebration which included piñatas, dancing, face painting, and other festivities. The library has flourished under Jane’s guidance and is now, as we see it, a staple to the local community providing activities for parents and children alike. In addition to the library in San Juan there are approximately thirty other sister libraries throughout Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Although Una Escuelita is too far to be a part of the mobile lending program, Jane suggested starting our own library at the school. She was an extremely generous host for the weekend answering all of our questions and giving us her insight on the trials of working in Nicaragua. We left San Juan rejuvenated and equipped with several new books that Jane graciously donated.

Back in Limon Dos, several changes are underway. As we write to you the wind is howling and we just recently regained electricity after yet another blackout--it seems the windy season has officially begun. Our new roommate, Erica, has recently moved into the house with us. The three of us have already begun talking with women in the local community with the hope of beginning a women’s empowerment group. A local woman named Maella has offered us her guidance and support in this venture. Maella owns her own shop in town and is a strong female role model. Her son is working in the States (very unusual for this area) and her daughter has plans to attend medical school in Cuba (practically unheard of). Maella and other instrumental women from the community will hold discussions with local girls as a way to inspire and aid future women like themselves. We hope to involve many of the older girls from Una Escuelita in this group. We have already seen such empowerment in the girls’ enthusiasm for baseball which has quickly become part of their daily routine. Everyday, the girls are gaining confidence and skills, and the boys are beginning to respect them on the field!

Jane has been working steadily with a group of the older students in English. There is now a regular group who eagerly stay at the school once they have finished their meal. They have been learning verb conjugations, vocabulary, and the hardest thing of all, pronunciation.

We are still working to find a daily structure that successfully accommodates the different needs and abilities of the children. Recently, we divided them into two groups by age and are still deciding whether or not to continue this structure. Although this is the most practical method to use in the States, there may be a different structure that is more natural to Nicaraguans.

Friday the children finished their exams and Monday marks the commencement of their Winter break. For Una Escuelita this may mean an even higher attendance, but only time will tell. This evening, we cooked a delicious Pacific lobster dinner fresh from the ocean. Though they look different than their Atlantic Ocean cousins, they are just as tasty and much cheaper…seven for ten dollars!

Hasta Luego,

Jane and A

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Ometepe Excursion

Last weekend we traveled to the Island of Ometepe. This island is one of Nicaragua's main tourist attractions intriguing visitors with it's two volcanoes and its unique history, which is largely separate from that of the rest of Nicaragua. Juaquin, one of the local school teachers from Una Escuelita accompanied us on the trip. We thought that bringing a "local" would help us to navigate the weekend. As we learned, however, he was just as much as a "tourist" as we were. People from Limon Dos rarely have the time or money to travel. Regardless, it was interesting to have his perspective on the island and to get to know him better.

To get to Ometepe, we took a two hour bus to Rivas, a twenty minute cab ride to the port of San Jorge, an hour and a half tumultuous boat ride and another three hour bus to our final destination, Finca Magdalena. (Keep in mind the public buses in all of Nicaragua are former American school buses.)

Finca Magdalena has been a famous destination for backpackers since the early 90s. It is a coffee cooperative owned by several Nicaraguan families; by staying there one is directly giving back to the local community. Although an interesting and laudable idea, we found the "hippy, coffee snob" vibe coming from the other guests a bit off putting. We went to bed soon after we arrived around nine in preparation of our big hike up Volcan Maderas the next morning.

The hike was decidedly more difficult than we were expecting. Picture the hardest terrain you can think up, multiplied by at least three, straight up hill. Upon approaching the top we entered a cloud rainforest which worsened the already damp and muddy trail. It also meant that there was not a view when we reached the summit. Needless to say, we had plenty of falls and aching muscles when we and a half hours later.

That night we decided to head to the second largest city on the island, Altagracia. Although the guidebook and other travelers hadn't highlighted much in this town we found it to be a surprisingly fun place. For starters, we found a welcoming hostel which accepted credit cards. Considering the rest of Ometepe's lack of financial infrastructure this was like striking gold! Despite it's flourishing tourist industry the island has only one ATM several hours from where we were staying. To make the night even more exciting there was a local block party just around the corner from our hostel. Quinn, in particular, greatly enjoyed practicing his dance skills with the locals. On our trip we experienced several of these parties and learned that they were being thrown by local politicians as a way to garner support for the upcoming elections.

On Sunday we rented bicycles and rode to a natural, fresh water spring known as Oja de Agua. We were pleasantly surprised by the beauty and tranquility of this spot. While at Oja de Agua we ran into several of the other tourists that we had met throughout our trip. This turned out to be a common occurrence as tourists are constantly going to the same attractions. That night we walked around the market where Jane learned the basic techniques of fire dancing. While looking for a place to eat we came across a group of people on the side of the street grilling. They said we could eat there for under two dollars and we ventured to try it. As it turned out, their carne asado (grilled steak) was the best meal we had on the trip!

After a quick stop in Rivas to pick up more supplies for our house, we returned to the school on Tuesday. The following day was Quinn's last day at the school. The kids were very sad to see him go (as were we) and they requested many photographs with him. We hope he has gotten back to the States safe and sound and is prepared for knee surgery.

We are now experiencing a host of new trials at the school. Now that Quinn is gone, Jane will take over English lessons with the children who get tutored upstairs. Initially, this left the downstairs in a chaotic state. We have since met with the teachers downstairs to discuss a more effective approach to the daily schedule. Furthermore, A began Spanish lessons with Chico this week which will hopefully help to close the language barrier.

The weather in Nicaragua is beginning to change over to Summer which brings in a cooling wind and many tourists. The Surf Sanctuary is hosting its first group of guests this week, livening things up. We cooked a fabulously seasoned chicken in our new oven earlier this week and are still eating the leftovers. There aren't any pressing plans for the weekend so we are going to go relax by the pool.

Hasta luego,

Jane and A

P.S. Again, here is a link to more of our photos. We are still learning the ropes with this whole posting photos thing so bare with us...

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Beginning

We made it! It was quite a journey getting everything down here as people were very generous in their donations. We brought down nine bags full of art supplies, sports equipment, clothing- even musical instruments. Due to recent airline restrictions, each bag was a considerable cost to bring down, but, as we have already seen in our first week down here, well worth the effort.

The trek to Limon Dos was even more difficult than we had envisioned based on Pope's description. The dirt road that connects this small town to the small city of Rivas had been closed off due to extensive rainfall in the weeks before our arrival. It is said that this was more rain than the locals had ever seen- even during the rainy season, which we are at the end of now. Once we arrived, the rain had ceased and we were able to make it to Limon Dos. However, once we arrived we realized how serious a closing of that road can be. The town had lost power for a week, meaning no lights, fans, refridgerator or water. It also meant that food could not be brought in, leaving only one local restaurant and a few tiendas that sell drinks and snacks open. Even for us at the Surf Sanctuary, we did not have power the first few days and could not shower or escape the suffocating heat.

Still the Surf Sanctuary is a beautiful place. Our home is at the end of a road lined by beautiful, tall orange flowers. We have a nice kitchen and living room area and two bedrooms. Quinn is sleeping in one bedroom and we are sharing bunk beds in another. The house has not been lived in for a while so we've had a few surprises- including the four scorpions and thirty-two baby scorpions we've encountered (but whose counting). Once the tourist season picks up in November, the pool and restaurant will open here and we should have a few more neighbors for company.

The town of Limon Dos is actually just two perpendicular dirt roads lined by houses. One road is the same one that takes you all the way to Rivas; the other goes down to the ocean. The people here really are some of the poorest in the world. Their houses are not the ocean masions that one might envision when thinking of tropical Nicaragua. We have yet to actually enter one, but as Pope has explained and is easy to see from passing, they are dirt floors with pieced together walls and rooves, which often leak. The people cook on large clay wood-burning stoves, located outside their houses due to the extensive smoke. There are also animals that roam freely- mangy dogs, large pigs, chickens, cows and horses. Despite this poverty, the people seem very happy and very generous. The main problems here are probably the lack of employment and overwhelming number of children in each family.

The past week we have busied ourselves with the school. The building itself is very pretty, two stories with a significant amount of land that has yet to be fully utilized. There is a small soccer field, what will hopefully one day be a baseball field, and a nice garden that has persevered despite local scavengers.

Our favorite aspect of the trip so far has been the children! They are all so friendly and full of energy and life. Although their lives are so drastically different than their American counterparts, their personalities and mentalities are surprisingly similar. They love soccer and arts and crafts, as well as simple games such as jacks and marbles. We have already taught them Simon Says and Duck Duck Goose, which they quickly caught on to and loved. Their are also a lot of children who are dedicated to their school work and spend the majority of their time at the school studying and being tutored, with great success in even the week that we've been with them. We end each school day with a meal- generally some combination of rice and beans and potatoes. For some, this is the largest and most nutritional meal of the day.

On Saturday, we separated out the donated clothing for the children. This can be a daunting task, considering the wealth that the clothes represent for these families always inevitably leads to some gripping over the fairness of the distribution. Because of this, Pope decided, and we conferred, that it was best to let the local Nicaraguan teachers be in charge of distributing the clothes. We helped separate out all the clothes and then watched as they divvied them out to the children who came to the school the most, based on their sizes and likes and dislikes. Overall, the process went very well and there were almost no mishaps.

Our goal for the next coming weeks is to work with the local teachers to create a more structured and constantly innovative cirriculum that will engage and challenge the children. We want to devise games and projects that are educational as well as fun. We also want to make sure that we aren't stepping on the Nicaraguan teachers' feet but rather working together with them, since locally led education will be the most effective and sustainable in the long-term. Other goals for the school include: making the soccer field more bare-foot friendly, further structure for the tutoring group, deveoping a nutrition class with a local health clinic volunteer and hopefully at some point planning a field trip with the children. As for our own personal goals, we hope to get started on some Spanish tutoring in the next week, as well as continue to meet and bond with the local people here, and see more of Nicaragua.

It has been great having Quinn down here with us. He has been helping with the tutoring and has become the official soccer coach for the children. He has also saved us from several scorpions- even getting bit by one of them. We will be sorry to see him leave in a week and a half as he has definitely bonded with the children here and been a spirited component of the trip.

We are writing to you from a little hexagonal brick building in the center of a lush and green
countryside. The wind is blowing strong, giving us a bit of a break from the heat, and we are off to go enjoy another day with the kids. We hope to write again later in the week, before we leave for a trip we are planning to the island of Ometepe.

Un Abrazo,
Jane (Juana) and A (Alejandra)

To see our photo album for the trip, go to: