Math Use Declines in Many Areas of the Country

April 2, 2007

I saw this confusing yet scary headline on Yahoo! News.  I was envisioning parts of the country where they no longer use addition or subtraction.  No more counting money, or miles, or hours.  Then I looked again and realized that it was meth use that had declined, not math.  Still, I got a kick out of envisioning what the decline of math use in some parts of the country might look like.

On another note, I turned my master’s thesis in today.  Whoo-hoo!  That means you can look forward to more posts on the sexual purity movement, drawn from the finalized thesis.  I know. You are the edge of your seats.

And I’m home from Nicaragua, but missing my friends there (but not the dust).  My hives (yes, I had five days of hives while there) are gone.  Great memories, even with the hives, remain.

From Nicaragua – Random Thoughts, Small World.

March 27, 2007

I am in Nicaragua with my mom.  It is her first time leaving the country. It is wonderful, stressful, overwhelming.  My mom is very extroverted and would love to talk to everyone although she doesn´t speak Spanish. I am introverted and don´t like to draw attention to my U.S. American self so this makes for an interesting mix.  I am translating for her the best I can and trying not to cringe at how much attention it draws to us to say so much to so many people.  Neither way is better, just different.  It wouldn´t be a problem if I didn´t have to do the translation.  But, then again, when she talks there is no pressure on me to be talkative. Not that I am silent – I am just not one to make random conversation. Especially in Spanish which is difficult in the first place. 

Interestingly, no one here – that is, my Nicaraguan friends – seems even remotely interested in my life, so if I want to say something, I have to volunteer it. And to just volunteer random information about my life isn´t so much my style.  No questions like “How is school going?”  Not about school, work, religion, politics, cats, etc.  I wonder if it is a language barrier although I really don´t think so.  But, my host family does love to see pictures of my life and asked about my grandma who was sick when I was here last time.  I guess I don´t mind, but for all the talk of being close friends and family (as in host family) I feel like no one here knows me well.  Or cares to that much.  I have told this to my friend Francisco who speaks English and he seems to have no explanation for lack of interest in my life. He blames it in part on his lack of English, except that he is perfectly fluent, so that doesn´t really explain it.  But whatever. Not a big deal.  Just a tad sad, given how interested I am in the lives of my friends here. It is nice when it is reciprocal.

I love the sun and the weather.  I have a slight sunburn, but I would take that any day over snow.  The weather makes me feel much better – the warmth and the sun life my spirits.  Even mixed with the large amount of dust.

We visited the school where I worked two summers ago. I enjoyed it and the children were kind and welcoming, as were the teachers.

There was a funny, yet at least for me a somewhat painful experience with some of the gifts I brought for my (host) family and friends here. Bringing gifts in the first place is a funny thing because of course they cost me money that I wouldn´t normally spend.  It is a difficult balance between wanting to show my appreciation for the kind and wonderful welcoming spirit that I am shown by people here, and realizing that my resources are not only greater than what most folks have here, but are in a sense built in some part on the backs of Nicaraguans and other “developing” countries who make the cheap things that I buy, and who have suffered greatly under the dreadful hegemony of the United States over the years. Yet, I also don´t want to come across as Elizabeth Santa Claus trotting in from the U.S. bearing gifts.  It is a funny and hard balance for me.  So anyway, I thought it would be nice to buy the two families and the one friend I am closest with here things from Boston or Harvard.  So I got shirts from Hidden Sweets, a store in Harvard Square. But when I gave the shirt to my friend Francisco we discovered that the company that made the shirts (Gildan) is the company he works out here in Nicaragua.  The shirt was made by a different factory but same company in Honduras.  It is an exploitive company that pushes workers hard, underpays them, requires too much overtime, and is generally an unpleasant place to work.  So here I am giving someone who I care about very much a shirt as a gift from this dreadful company that exploits the workers of which he is one.  I feel like I am not doing a good job of communicating why this felt so weird, but it did.  Francisco, bless his heart, thought it was mostly funny.  He has a good spirit and seems relatively at peace with things and his family thought it was funny too.  But I hated it – it represented exactly what I don´t like about being from the U.S. – that difference that I would like so much to minimize.  It isn´t like I run around feeling guilty all the time in Nicaragua.  But I think I would be remiss not to be aware of the differences in life in Nicaragua and life in the United States and the reasons for those differences and the way that I am privileged by those inequalities between our countries.

More later.  I have a lot to say but I think marathon posts are no fun to read.  I´ll share more when I have time.

Sonrisas – Elizabeth

Preparing to go to Nicaragua – Nicaragua Packing List

March 18, 2007

I leave for Nicaragua in four days. I’m so looking forward to it. I have been very very sick the last week with the flu and an attack of killer cold sores, but I seem to be recovering fast enough that I should be able to go. Being sick has put me more behind on the thesis than would be ideal, but I’m trying to work diligently and get it done before I leave.

Because I know how helpful it would have been for me to have a good packing list prior to living in Nicaragua in the Summer of 2005, and because I need to pack for this time anyway, I’m posting my packing list here. This is a list for someone who does not plan on camping or going out and doing things in rainforests or such. A little walking – yes. Hiking up a volcano – no.

  • If you can’t pick it up and run 50 meters with it, it is too much.  Err on the side of light.  You can probably buy what you need there if you decide against something and MUST have it.
  • Backpack with a waterproof cover
  • Light poncho or raincoat
  • Umbrella, particularly if it is the rainy season
  • Sunglasses and a sun hat (if sun hats are your thing)
  • Sunscreen
  • All summer clothes except for a pair of tennis shoes, some socks, a sweatshirt, and one pair of heavier jeans. Everything else should be light and summer-y. You will sweat ALL THE TIME. Something to consider in what clothes you pack.
  • If you are staying a short time (1-2 weeks) try to pack enough underwear so you won’t have to wash clothes, which is done by hand (by you or someone you pay). If you are staying longer, still pack lots of underwear since the need for clean underwear often determines when you have to finally do clothes.
  • Towelettes. Most showers are cold in Nicaragua, unless you are in a hotel in which case sometimes showers are heated in creative ways often involving electricity and wires in your shower. I like Ponds towelettes but really any kind can do to get the dust and sweat off of your skin in between showers.
  • Bring a few wash cloths – you will get dusty and if you are wearing sandals, you will have a lot of dirt to wipe off of your feet (if you are into clean feet). Also helpful when you use the wet towelettes to dry off since they get a little soapy sometimes and you want to get that off.
  • I would also suggest bringing especially strong face wash since many skin types are not used to so much sweat, dust, and sun. I broke out while I was there and you can get some things at the grocery store, but if you have a special kind of wash you prefer, bring that. You may not be be able to find just what you are looking for.
  • As needed: Toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving supplies, makeup, hairdryer, shampoo, conditioner, soap, small hand mirror (there were no mirrors in the house of the family I stayed with). Avoid fragranced items, they attract insects. You can buy most of these basic things in Nicaragua in most towns if you forget something.
  • Mosquito repellent with a high % of deet (Edit several years later – Now that I have a small child and I am aware of the risks of deet, I would use Badger Bug Balm and Bug Spray as primary, bringing deet along as backup if bugs get particularly bad.)
  • Antibacterial gel
  • A mosquito net or tent
  • Camera and if you need film, bring as much as you need. You can buy batteries if you are near a good sized town – not out in the middle of no where.
  • Swimming suit/shorts.
  • Towel and wash cloths (unless you are staying in an especially nice hotel).
  • One of those things from a camping store with a compass, thermometer, and watch on it (I found very helpful).
  • Rehydration salts, Immodium AD, antimalarial medicine, antibiotics,Tylenol or Ibuprofen, antiseptic, Band-Aids, hydrocortisone, vitamins, birth control, etc. Leave prescription medication in its container with dosage information.
  • If you wear classes or contacts and need your glasses to see, bring extra pair of glasses. Bring contact cleaning and storage solution.
  • Bring some U.S. dollars to exchange in airport for cordobas. There are ATMs in many bigger towns in Shell gas stations and at some banks, although the fee will probably be about $5. ATMs can be down for days, thus the reason to bring some cash to start with. Try not to care large amounts of cash on you if you can help it. Keep some cash and credit cards separate so if one stash is somehow lost or stolen or lost, you have a backup.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries.
  • Day pack if you need to carry a few things with you but don’t want to take your huge backpack.
  • Spanish books/phrase books to help with language, English reading material if you want to read books or magazines. It isn’t common to find things written in English, although sometimes there are book exchanges at touristy places (San Juan Del Sur, for instance).
  • Earplugs if the roosters crowing at 4am every morning will bother you.
  • Notebook/pens/pencils (you can also buy these in most medium sized towns).
  • I didn’t use a money belt while I was there, and never had any trouble, but it does sound like a good idea now that I think about it.
  • Bring copies of your passport, airline ticket, drivers license, student I.D., hostel card, ISIC card, etc. Give your copies to someone you are traveling with or put them in a separate piece of luggage. Another option is to make “virtual” copies and hold them in your e-mail inbox should you need them.
  • A few ziplock bags in various sizes. This will help with leaks, things getting, and all sort of things you probably can’t think of yet
  • Locks for your Pack – a small, code lock (preferred over key locks which can get too easily lost.) Depending on the sorts of places you will be staying, you may want to bring a metal cord that you can also use to lock your bag to the bed or desk or something.
  • If you are going to be there a long time, you may want to bring an inflatable mattress.  I did not do this and after several months had bruises on my hips from sleeping on “mattresses” that were not quite as soft as I was used to. While I’m sure you can buy an air mattress in Nicaragua, they aren’t on every street corner. But don’t bring this if you are hiking around all over the place.  They are bulky.
  • The Moon Handbooks Guide to Nicaragua.  Far better than the Footprint guide.
  • Checkout which is all about packing light and well.

I’ll add to this if I realize I forgot something…

It’s gonna get up to 48 degrees on Saturday!

February 28, 2007

This makes me so happy.  It is 41 now and it feels so nice out. Well, at least nicer. I still have a hard time saying “nice” and “48 degrees” in one sentence. When we first moved to Boston, I would have been ready to start putting my winter clothes away – March is almost here, right? Spring should be here soon!

But I have learned to appreciate the non-miserable weather, love the sun, but not get my hopes up. Because it can always blizzard in May here. Like it did our second year leaving here.

But guess how hot it will be in Nicaragua March 22-31 when I am there? Hot! Whoo-hoo! When I lived there, it took me several weeks to get used to sweating all the time. Like dripping, wet, yucky sweating. That is just how it is.  All the time, pretty much.  But I did get used to it and I would always prefer that to coldness.

Just my thoughts on the weather today.  Because I know you wanted to know.

And I will be blogging live from Nicaragua while I am there.  I’m so looking forward to it! I just hope my friends and family aren’t completely shocked when they realize I have forgotten Spanish.  Aye! I need to find a tutor fast.

Volunteer in Nicaragua

January 11, 2007

I spent the summer of 2005 working at an elementary school in Nicaragua. I lived next door to the principal of the school with the nicest family ever. The school would LOVE to have another volunteer or string of volunteer teachers. I taught reading to students who needed extra help, but what you would do is very flexible.

If you or someone you know has thought about working/volunteering abroad, consider being in touch with me and I would really like to help arrange something in Nicaragua – two weeks minimum, ideally a month or more. This is a great alternative to paying some organization to arrange a job/housing.

The cost involves a small donation to the school (flexible $100-$200ish), $50-$60/week room and board, and your plane ticket. The school is especially interested in someone who can teach dance or something else artsy, as they certainly cannot afford teachers to do this and the children love it.

There is also the opportunity (for small fees) to take dance lessons in traditional Nicaraguan dance, Nicaraguan cooking lessons, to get sewing lessons, or Spanish lessons. There is also the possibility to work with a domestic violence prevention program, or to design some other creative or flexible option via the connections I have and through friends of friends. I am visiting in March and will make most arrangements then, but all involved people have email and things can also be arranged that way.

You do not need to speak Spanish – but must get some basics before you go and be willing to learn on the job. My Spanish was very average/basic and it still went great. I learned so much and found the people to be so kind and flexible. This is most ideal for someone who is very flexible and doesn’t need a parent-like organization to support them through the travels. I did not find safety to be a problem – basic precautions do the trick. Please email if you are interested, or would like to discuss more, and feel free to share with folks you think might be interested. I will want to check two references just to make sure I don’t hook my host family and the school up with someone shady.

The school is in Diriamba (about 40 min. from Managua) and I lived in Jinotepe. You might have the option of living in Diriamba or Jinotepe, depending on how things go and what your preferences are. Email is elizabeth199 at gmail .com.

**Note that when I imported my blog from Blogger to WordPress the picture/caption alignment got out of wack and I’m not committed enough to refigure things so that everything lines up correctly. This is why the descriptions are not where they should be. Sorry.***

This was my wonderful room in Jinotepe. It was huge and by the end I didn’t even notice the bugs and did away with the net.

This is Ballet Folklorico. Amazing dancing and a very big thing in Jinotepe. You can get lessons if you go. You know you want to wear one of those outfits.

This was some sort of festival or carnival where the children dressed up. I thought this guy looked pretty slick.

This may not immediately look hilarious, but it is. They start teaching children how to do traditional dancing VERY young. Like way before they can possibly remember particular moves. Watching them try to do these dances was the highlight of my day. It would definitely win on America’s Funniest Home Videos.

This might be another “you have to be there” funny thing, but this is a PLASTIC fountain in the middle of a very old city called Rivas. I just cannot imagine what would inspire someone to install this plastic ugly fountain across from a very old church in the middle of a very old town. Notice that it is plastic and meant to imitate wood. And see the flamingo/swan hybrid birds in the middle?

I will post more pictures sometime. I have pretty ones too. Not just funny ones.

*Note, I just notied that Joseph Santos-Lyons posted a call for volunteers in Mexico on his blog shortly before I posted this. I hadn’t seen that before this post and certainly didn’t post in order to compete! :)