Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bless Us Oh Lord for These Thy Gifts...

Wednesday 8/10/10

I’ve been home now for two days, and it’s still hard for me to fathom my two months in Nicaragua. I’m still exhausted, emotional, and confused by many parts of my experience. Navigating through my thoughts and emotions and the life I lived while in Nicaragua compared with my life here has turned out to be a much more trying journey than the 15+ hours of travel it took me to get home. Many aspects of myself have grown and changed, but at the same time I’m fundamentally the same and can see myself with greater clarity.

Before arriving in Nicaragua the word I focused on was risk, that traveling to a third world country that I had little experience in outside of textbooks was a risk that I was willing to take and necessary to my development as a human being and a disciple of Christ. During my time in Nicaragua, I was faced with many negative situations that tested my faith and showed me a side of Nicaraguan life that’s tough and not so pretty (I decided to emit most of these experiences from my blog). I often found myself frustrated with the religious experience I was having in the midst of terrible human suffering and a loss of innocence in a city full of crime, sex, and poverty. However, at the same time I was witnessing incredible beauty- the beauty of the landscape, the people, and above all the beauty of the human spirit and the relationship with the divine. Before my time in Batahola I prayed all the time, but my prayers consisted of “Lord, Please help me to…” “Lord, I want…” “Lord, I need…” Plain and simple, coming to Batahola taught me how to pray and more specifically how to give thanks. Being surrounded by people who constantly praise God and instead of asking Him for things thank Him for all of the blessings that they have received and simply ask Him to bless others was something extraordinary. I found myself thanking God for every moment, transforming my life into a life with God as opposed to a life that God watched unravel from a safe distance. All parts of my life were given greater meaning and significance, and nothing was taken for granted. I am able to appreciate the infinite number of blessings in my life, and feel grateful for them as opposed to asking for more and more and more. This may seem overly basic, but a large part of my “transformation” was owed to spending time with my host family around the kitchen table. (I was not supposed to eat three meals a day with my family, but I did just to spend more time around them.) Every meal began with grace, and by grace I mean prayers deep from the heart about all of God’s blessings and constant presence in our lives. Many times it was our prayers that sparked the most interesting conversations during dinner. My “despedida” or final goodbye dinner with my host family was a little too much for me to handle on Saturday night, but when it came time to say grace I opted to go. All of my previous graces had been in English, and it had been a semi-joke within my family. However, this time I was prepared to pray in Spanish and even brought a copy of my grace to give to my family. Here is the English translation and I think it sums up my experience in a way:

Prayer Before Dinner for my Nicaraguan Family

Thank you Lord for all of the blessings that you have given us in our lives
Thank you for each experience, each moment- the lessons that we learn
Thank you for this nourishment and food, for our health, and for the love we have for each other and this land
Thank you for the time we have together to share our blessings, our talents, and our stories
Please utilize our talents in order to transform the world in which we live into Your Kingdom
And use our talents in Your name to defeat injustices and to show our love for You


Me and the Family- Gerardo, Sarita, and Maria Eugenia

The Final Countdown

Friday 8/6/07
This week has been even busier than usual, and I am undergoing the most bittersweet feelings as it is evident my summer in Nicaragua is coming to an end. Both my third and final sessions with the Scholarship Students occurred this week, my last day in Nueva Vida was Wednesday, and today was my final conversation class (I will miss Marcos, Gladys, Erick, Belkys, Maria, Dolores, Alfred, Deyvi, and Albert so much it’s not even funny).

Conversation Class

As discussed earlier, Sunday was the third session with the Scholarship Students. The session was entitled Woven Narratives: From Individual to Community and it can be best described as a beautiful disaster. The goals for the students were to: finish the mural tour, publicly present their personal narratives using “Rivers of Life” as their guides, and make connections between their personal narratives and their collective/community narrative. Prior to the session I had been told two contrasting stances about having a session on Día de Santo Domingo. 1) It would be perfectly fine because all of the Scholarship Students would still be willing to come because not many Nicaraguans care too much about Día de Santo Domingo 2) It would be ill-informed and a cultural faux pas to hold a session on this day because it is such an important religious holiday to the majority of Catholic Nicaraguans. Upon asking the group of twelve, all but one student said they would be willing to attend. Therefore, despite the premonitory feeling I had deep down I decided to stick to the Sunday schedule and have the session on a holiday. Apparently, it serves me right because at 1:30 (we were starting early to finish the mural tour) there were 0 scholarship students. At 1:45 there were two, and by 2:00 there were five. The big 5, Melvin, and myself decided that at 2:00 it was time to get the show on the road. Unfortunately, the guard at the center put the brakes on when we were not allowed entrance because of a mishap with scheduling. At 2:10 we returned to the classroom, and at this point I was feeling a bit crestfallen because I had spent 2 days creating CCBN Mural Trivia but I decided to continue onward. I scrapped the agenda and split the group into two groups of 3 (yes there were 6 students in the end!). The students had 10 minutes to review their “Rivers of Life”- the visual guide of the moments in life that students think define their existence- and then I made the decision that each student would have to make a presentation that would last 5 minutes minimum and they would be videotaped. It was a tough task, but I thought they would be able to handle it. However, never in my wildest dreams would they have handled it so well. The first student to present, much to his horror, was Maycol. Maycol normally becomes shy, quiet, and speaks very rapidly when he is in front of groups. His presentation ended up being 10 minutes long! It was well thought out and started with his childhood and ended with his future goals, and it was deeply personal and moving. I’m not going to share his personal story now (or any of the other students because it’s not my place), but his struggles, how he is working through them, and the role of the center in helping him improve his life situation was truly inspirational. Then afterwards the personal narratives of José Ángel, Ariel, Ana, Sharon, and Emma were just as powerful and real. There were tears and hugs, and I was so proud and impressed by each one of them. The session ended with a presentation by Melvin about the mission and history of the center and the lives of the founders Fr. Ángel Torrellas O.P. and Sr. Margie Navarro, CSJ. I was also equally blown away by Melvin’s presentation. All in all, though half the class missed out I felt something very special occurred in that room on Sunday. I was talking about the session with José Angel afterwards, and he said he felt like a huge weight had lifted from his shoulders and now he is full of confidence and has a greater level of trust and understanding with the rest of the scholarship students that participated that had not existed previously. That was just what I needed to hear.

We decided collectively that since I was leaving in a week, that a final more formal presentation in front of certain members of the Administrative Team on Thursday at 2:00 that really emphasized the values of the students and the importance of the center in their lives would be fine. My next two days were devoted to planning the event: making certificates and friendship bracelets, sending out invitations to the Administrative Team and the instructors in the center (Special Thanks to Amanda), and holding a two-hour make up session with the students who did not attend on Sunday.

Wednesday was a nice day to take my mind off the presentations, as Gerardo and I finished the mural on the clinic in Nueva Vida. It was a great day full of painting, and pictures, and saying goodbye to new friends. Actually, making new friends too… We had lunch at Jubilee House (the compound for Bucknell Students and other volunteers) and Gerardo and I had the chance to play with a monkey named Bella! It was so much fun! The day ended with a celebratory dinner back at the house and chocolate bon bons! I was so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience Gerardo’s work every Wednesday, and to meet people in a different community while spreading the mission of the Center.

Final Day at the Mural


Then came Thursday. I still have mixed feelings about what happened on “the big day”. The morning was spent finalizing the certificates with stamps and signatures (they were legit). By the time 1:45 rolled around I did not know how to feel, but I knew that what happened during the final presentations was out of my hands. At 2:00 our list of attendees was two scholarship students, Amanda, Melvin, and no audience- and that’s when I became worried. At 2:30 we had an audience of fifteen including all members of the administrative team, and five scholarship students who were no longer comfortable presenting their personal narratives- and that’s when I became distressed. The students were upset because they were not aware in advance that some of the members of the audience were going to be there, and I take full responsibility for that. Thankfully, after some pep talk from Melvin and my introduction about what occurred during the past three weeks and the goals of the project, four of them got their game faces on and presented shortened and edited versions of their narratives. They were competing with the sounds of a ridiculously loud air conditioner and a torrential downpour outside, but what they shared was enough to initiate a fruitful question and answer session with the audience after the awards were presented. I was pleased, because what the students did was by no means easy and the audience was able to recognize the need for a program about sharing personal narratives and honing leadership skills within the community. I’m all about sustainability, and it turns out that even though I am no longer going to be physically present in the Batahola Community, Melvin has fallen in love with this project and he and Amanda have decided to take it on with a little more help from me and with the full support of Jennifer (the coordinator of the Center) behind them. They are hoping to work with different groups within the center such as the dancers and the chorus, and I can’t wait to see what happens. It’s just going to be ridiculously difficult to leave…

Jennifer and Melvin with His Award

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

¡Feliz Día de Santo Domingo!

Sunday 8/1/10

During my conversation class on Friday morning, before the learners began creating imaginary creatures like Pepe the Worm and ElephantCat and playing Apples to Apples, we had a discussion about plans for the weekend to incorporate the future tense into our learning. This was the first time I really heard information about Día de Santo Domingo (I had previously heard there was a holiday today, but I had not known what it was or the significance to Catholics in Managua.) The story behind the holiday, according to my fellow conversationalists and Catholics Marcos and Gladys as well as, goes as follows: Sometime a little over 100 years ago in a rural part of Managua called Las Sierritas a farmer by the name of Vincente Aburto was cutting down trees when he found a small statuette of an unknown saint inside of a tree trunk. In an effort to identify the saint, Vincente (and his curious neighbors) brought the statuette to a local church where the priest told them that it was the image of Saint Dominic de Guzmán. The men decided it had to be some sort of sign, and left the statuette inside the church for the night. However, upon returning to Las Sierritas the group found the statuette in the exact same location it was in the first place! Astounded, they returned to the priest to tell him what they had seen, and the priest said it was impossible that the statue had returned because he had locked it away. The men ran to the church to find that the statuette really was no longer there! The mysterious movement of the statuette of Saint Dominic made the priest believe that the image wanted to remain in Las Sierritas. He told Vincente and his neighbors to build a home for the image at the site it was discovered, and have Saint Dominic visit Managua every year accompanied by dances and happiness. Since the fourth of August is the day of Saint Dominic according to the Catholic calendar the period from the first until the tenth of August was chosen as a time of celebration. Over the years, the tradition of having a procession to move Saint Dominic from Las Sierritas into the center of Managua grew in popularity and “Minguito” began to be interpreted as a bringer of miracles and the new patron saint of the city.

Each July 31st, the same statuette is taken off its altar and placed on a pedestal where it is protected by a glass capsule and surrounded with colorful artificial flowers and feathers. At 6 AM the next morning there is a mass followed by the start of the procession and special events for Saint Dominic. Thousands of people participate in these events, and either accompany “Minguito” on the walk to the Santo Domingo church in the center of the City or simply watch from the side of the road. The most notable and important participants in the events are called “promisers”. The “promisers” are individuals who made promises to Saint Dominic to take part in the procession after prayers to the saint were answered and miracles occurred. The promisers wear colorful traditional attire and perform a special dance of Saint Dominic. In addition, the pedestal is carried on the shoulders of many of the promisers, who do not carry the pedastal in a straight line because they move and sway with the music.

Watching all of these events unfold on the Canal 10 Noticias- the odd costumes and dancing, the drinking, the excess, the bullfighting, and the injuries- I’m not quite sure how to feel about this holiday dedicated to Saint Dominic who I consider to be very important as the founder of the Order of the Preachers and whose teaching is the basis for my educational experience at Providence College. My host family is Evangelical, and therefore like many Nicaraguans Día de Santo Domingo is simply a day off where Catholics (many of whom are intoxicated) perform odd rituals. Maria Eugenia told me last week “Oh yeah, Sunday is a holiday but we try to stay in the house because the streets will get too crazy and dangerous.” I was not told that the streets would be filled with “crazy” Catholics. I’m wondering if there is a fine line between religious fervor and all out tomfoolery. I think Día de Santo Domingo is a fascinating mix of culture and a desire to dance and worship. However, I don’t know if it is borderline idol-worship because I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. Old men, women, teenagers, young children all swaying back and forth, singing, and following this giant bright orange arc of the covenant looking vessel with a tiny statue under glass.

My concerns were slightly appeased by the homily at mass tonight. The Friar used the Second Reading from Colossians 3:1-5 to explain the way a Catholic should act during Día de Santo Domingo and every day. The reading states:

“Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry. 
Stop lying to one another,
since you have taken off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its creator. 
Here there is not Greek and Jew,
circumcision and uncircumcision,
barbarian, Scythian, slave, free;
but Christ is all and in all.”

He asked us to reflect on our actions during the day. Were they Christ-like in the way that we showed our devotion to “Minguito”? Did we give in to some of our passions and desires? He advised us to avoid the temptation to take part in the excesses and focus on the devotional part of the holiday. The gist of the homily was WWJD because we are all reflections of Him. My major fault of the day was that Jesus most likely would not have scheduled His third session with the scholarship students on a Sunday and one of the most important religious holidays of the year. More on this later…

Chocolate Charities- To Give or Not to Give

Saturday 7/31/10
Today I had the opportunity to travel to the City of Masaya with Sarita and Maria Eugenia for a little sight seeing and shopping. I was super excited since I don’t get out much. We woke up at 6:30 to take a microbus from la Universidad Centroamericana. The 17km trip was about 45 minutes long, and I was just happy to have a seat. Masaya is known as the “City of Flowers” and is the center of Nicaragua’s artesanía production. Upon entering the city it was noticeably different from Managua, with cobbled streets, fresh air, potted plants, and beautiful architecture. It is home to two exotic craft markets, which were our focus for the day. The Mercado Nacional de Artesanía or Mercado Viejo (Old Market) is located behind grandiose castle-like walls and is full of what felt like hundreds of stalls and vendors selling items from your “basic” hammock to turtles that have sadly undergone taxidermy. We spent the day perusing the shops and bartering with vendors, but we had little intention of purchasing anything.

On the walk back to the bus station, in one of her supreme acts of generosity Maria Eugenia bought me two large chocolate frosted donuts with sprinkles. Now, the majority of my experience has been receiving far more than I need and I am supremely grateful and humbled by the overwhelming kindness. However, there is only so much donut that I can handle. So we gave my second donut to an elderly man dressed in ragged clothing and lying on the street. He did not ask us for anything when we walked by, but Maria Eugenia nonchalantly went up to him and asked, “Excuse me sir, would you like this donut?” He smiled the biggest toothless grin I have ever seen and told us that he could not remember the last time he tasted chocolate, and sent us health and blessings from God. Our experience with the man on the street was only a minute, but it got me thinking about charity. I’ve always struggled with when to give and not to give, but the prevalence of poverty here makes the “struggle” daily. Nicaraguan culture is a culture of dependency; it’s sad but that is the way that the majority of the population have learned to live their lives. Walking the streets you have children running up to you with little grass creations that they have weaved, tugging on your clothing and telling you they need money. Sitting on the bus you have people stand up and start speeches about how so in so is in the hospital and the bill cannot be paid, and a frequent visitor to Ruta 114 is a blind man who plays songs on an accordion and asks for your extra change. People who have lost limbs sit in wheelchairs in the middle of the streets at stoplights and approach your car and knock on the windows. This question “to give or not to give” often turns into a lose-lose situation for me. I either give money and feel guilty because I think that they money is not going towards something positive, or I don’t give money and feel guilty for not doing anything. I have been warned by numerous people not to give to the children especially, because it aids the development of bad habits early in life and they most likely give the money they make to lazy parents that don’t want to work. Seeing the man with the donut, I’m thinking maybe I should just carry around tons of food with me in my final week here and anyone who asks for money I should just give him or her a power bar instead. At least when I give food I know that it can only be used as food- well maybe it could be bartered for other items??? I was hoping I would somehow come to a solution to this problem in a conclusion to this post, but apparently I’m going to have to ponder this one.

Friendship Bracelets Fixing the Wrong Kind of Friendly

Friday 7/30/10

My final friendship bracelet making class just ended and it’s starting to become real to me that I’m going to have to leave the Center soon. Over the past three weeks I’ve been having two-hour friendship bracelet making classes on Friday afternoons in the Crafts Corner of the library thanks to the librarian Arlen and the support of a scholarship student Ariel. I brought 2 giant bags of friendship bracelet string down here with me, and “Knots for Nicaragua Part 2” was actually supposed to be an afternoon dedicated to friendship bracelet instruction and construction for the youth in the center. Alas, that one time event happened to occur on an extremely hot Wednesday 5 weeks ago hours prior to a hospitalization caused by dehydration and a stomach virus. I thought the event was a loss, because I was having difficulty instructing the kids in Spanish and I had to rush out on them after only teaching them one bracelet pattern. However, weeks after I found myself being constantly bombarded with the inquiries of kids (especially a pair of sisters Stefany 9 and Juelkis 11) in the community about when the next class was going to be. I decided to take action and met with Arlen to schedule the class as a weekly activity. The class size and make-up varied every week, but there were always between 20 and 30 enthusiastic kids ready to learn about friendship bracelets. For those kids who attended every class, they made it from your basic Chinese Staircase all the way to the Cherokee and I was so proud of their work ethic. I even found out that Gerardo had students that were arriving an hour late to his painting class because of friendship bracelets- oops!

The classes were certainly tiring though, with just Ariel and I running around to the constant yell of “¡Muchacha!” and “¡Muchacho!” Which to me translates as “Hey lady/guy!” and I still don’t know how I feel about the fact that I respond to that title. Reflecting on levels of respect and politeness, I think today’s class was particularly stressful and frustrating. The class consisted of twelve boys between the ages of 10 and 12 and four young girls. The boys were consistently making snide remarks and side comments about me, even to the extent of addressing me directly as “Gringa”, telling me they “love me” in English, and asking me if I will move to Nicaragua for them. It was not all twelve of the boys, however, the fact that even within the walls of the Center a few young boys feel that is acceptable to act in this manner makes me ill. Even though my summer in Nicaragua is almost over, I still cannot get over the way that men treat women here. There is a bright spot though. Each time a boy would call me “gringa” or “chela” (“white girl” or “light-skinned girl”) Ariel- who is 17 and very shy- would chastise, “Her name is Hollis so call her Hollis.” Having Ariel help me out with the class has made me realize how important the scholarship students are as role models in the center. Ariel has an important role in the lives of the kids in the library- far more important than me- even though he may not fully recognize it. (That is why I think the personal narrative project is so important and I can’t wait to see the final results this week!) Rudeness and all, I think taking the time to do the friendship bracelet classes were worth it even though some of my other projects, like the Google Map project, have been put on the backburner because of time constraints. It’s great to be able to share a skill as simple as making bracelets with string, and see that kids are enjoying themselves and getting something positive out of the class.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Take the A Train- Nica to Manhattan

This week was more full of the arts for me than usual. On Monday, after turning in my informe to Jennifer and Gretchen I was invited to go with Amanda and 15 students to the Teatro Justo Rufino Garay. The Teatro Garay is one of the only two existing theatres in Managua (Julia you need to get down here and make some theatre magic!) We saw a play entitled “La Revuelta” (The Revolt) that, as an outsider in both culture and language, was a little difficult to follow but powerful nonetheless. Here is what the English translation of the program says:

“The theater Justo Rufino Garay is staging “The Revolt”, the text of the Argentine playwright Santiago Serrano, which exposes the drama of a timeless rural family, under the domination of a powerful domineering mother who loved her more than feared her.
Since this woman's physical disability is all powerful and becomes the burden of her children, her disability is idealized and mystified and she is able to dump her sadism on those around her. In the end, she is even able to commit murder in the name of "freedom."
Through this story of passion, vengeance, lack of principles and abandonment of ideals, "the struggle for power is stark, it gives opportunities for dialogue, nor to agree on certain points to be able to build something," says the author.
Lucero Millan, director of Justo Rufino Garay, in recent years has been sadly proving that Nicaragua is again a deeply polarized country, where the prevailing ideas silence the ideas of others. In this sense Millán mentions the definition of "fanaticism" and a heightened passion, unrestrained and persistent, particularly to a religious cause, political or otherwise, and a surpassing of rationality to the point of killing to defend their own beliefs.

Committed to society

‘We as a theater group are committed to the context in which we live and have the sole desire to help this society become increasingly open, democratic and tolerant to all, without distinction of social class, religion, political position, ideology , the ethnic, or the cultural; we need to contribute to a culture of tolerance and acceptance without any fear of the game and exchange of ideas, there needs to be a diversity of opinion and respect and consideration of differences, "he says.
Millán notes that the staging of The Revolt is a humble contribution of a group of artists to debate a central issue in Nicaragua today.
"We love Nicaragua, we love its people, are part of it, we need not spend so much energy into disunity, we think it is time to consider a joint project of nation that will benefit us all equally, which together contribute to creating a culture of tolerance,’ he stresses. “

I think that the most impressive part of this show was what occurred after. (Although the acting was incredibly powerful.) The director Lucero came to talk to the group along with the actors and discussed the issues and topics presented in the play. The students ,albeit young (I shouldn’t have thought their opinions would not have been as strong because of their age but for some reason I did), presented their opinions in very mature and thoughtful ways. Topics came up about the machismo culture and a stifling of the opinions of women in particular, and there was a lot of discussion about the respect of diverse opinions. I couldn’t help but think of my fellow Smith Fellow (ha) Julia the entire time, and how theatre really has unlimited potential to fuel social change. Unfortunately, the actors were quite upset with the group because there were only 15 people in attendance in a theatre that seats 100. The theatre was specifically opened on Monday afternoon for everyone in the neighborhood of Batahola (not just in the center). One of the actors mentioned that it was a disgrace to himself and the other actors to perform to so many empty seats, and in all honesty he was absolutely right. (This is a problem I’ve noticed a lot involving the Center. There are often incredible activities going on, but there is such a lack of publicizing and advertising that many people miss out on things.) It truly would have been an amazing experience to see 100 members of the Batahola Community express their opinions about the show; however, at the same time I feel that those 15 students and myself and Amanda really did get a lot out of the production.

In addition to theatre, concerts filled a significant amount of my schedule this week. On Sunday and Monday, because of a lack of time I only was able to catch the first half an hour of concerts put on by a visiting orchestra from Spain that was founded by Fr. Angel (one of the founders of CCBN) many years ago. However, I did have the opportunity to go to the Teatro Nacional Rubén Darío for the second time on Tuesday night (the first time I went was last week with my friend Erick to witness the final exams of his peers from UPoli who are Opera majors). The Teatro Nacional is the primary of the two theatres in Managua, and Nicaraguans are especially thankful and proud of the Teatro Nacional. The Teatro Nacional managed to survive the ’72 earthquake and the fall of the Somoza dictatorship. After the FSLN took over in 1979, instead of destroying the Teatro Nacional , which was designed by Mrs. Somoza after the Kennedy Center, the government decided to open the teatro to the general public and create a space to embrace the arts. Sitting in the Crystal Room of the theatre under giant chandeliers was certainly a surreal experience. The orchestra was magnificent, and so was the Chorus from the center (also founded by Fr. Angel). The fact that I can witness such beauty because of my connection to the center continues to astound me. The concert on Tuesday was followed by a Jazz concert on Wednesday night put on in the center by a few members of the orchestra. Even though I thought the Orchestra’s concert was impressive, the Jazz concert was truly something to behold. Just imagine: 7 Spanish musicians- trumpet, cello, percussion, flute, clarinet, OBOE, and a singer- playing the smoothest jazz you’ve ever heard. The woman who was singing had this great soulful voice- and they did songs like Duke Ellington’s “Take the A-Train” in English. Again, I was taken to places outside of Nicaragua, while at the same time being completely astounded by this crazy country and my crazy experience.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Feliz Cumpleaños a Ti...

One would think that spending your 20th birthday in a foreign country without your family and close friends would be a lamentable situation. However, my birthday here was unforgettable because of all of the incredible people in my life here. I spent all of Saturday afternoon with David, and he gave me a tour of the National Plaza and the Port of Salvador Allende. The tour was more of a refresher from my time here in March, but it was far more interesting to hear about the history behind the buildings from someone Nicaraguan who holds incredible pride for his country and his people. (Added bonus: he told me a great story about how he took his first steps in front of the monument to Carlos Fonseca in the plaza. I later was shown a picture so it’s legit!) Little to my knowledge, my time downtown was part of a clever ploy to keep me out of Batahola. My family had told me that the 24th was a day to celebrate grandparents in Nicaragua (Why wouldn’t I believe that?) and that we were going to take a taxi to another neighborhood and go to a party to dance with the elderly friends of Gerardo. I don’t know why, but I had 100% belief in the fact that this “Fiesta de Abuelos” was the plan for my Saturday night. (I’m pretty sure it was the excited text message-“Are you pumped to dance with old men???” in Spanish of course- from my host sister that sealed the deal. ) I didn’t want to change my outfit for this party, but I was coaxed by Maria Eugenia (though I didn’t feel the need to bathe after a day in the dusty streets of Managua- yeah great). Gerardo, Sarita, and I left to go get a taxi (which is in the same direction as Amanda and Greta’s house so there was no reason for me to suspect anything). Gerardo said he had to ask Amanda a question and after being led into the house and into the Salón de Belleza I still did not suspect a thing (no joke).
Then: ¡Feliz Cumpleaños!
Yes, there was a surprise party for me and Ciro (one of the muchachos from the neighborhood who turned 23)! The room was full of my new friends in Batahola: and there was cake, and food, and dancing, and music- all of the basic ingredients for a good party. Amanda, Greta, and the muchachos had planned the whole thing. I got to wear a sparkly tiara that said Happy Birthday on it and everything. It was a great night! (followed by an early morning)

Gerardo, Sarita, Me, and Greta at the Surprise Party

The actual day of my birthday (July 25th) was the “Día de Deportivas” (Day of Sports). Amanda planned this day in order to utilize my history with volleyball in some way after the plan to start a sports league for girls did not take form. The games started a little after 9 and I was the referee of the volleyball tournament (Of course I wore my tiara again because it’s not like I don’t get enough attention already for being a tall gringa.) There were only three teams, but the athletes were passionate and very comical at points. (Fights over calls are easily won when you have a whistle. haha) After volleyball there was a soccer tournament, and because of a lack of teams and combined with the heat we decided it was best to cancel basketball. Danza- the group of folkloric dancers- ended up winning both tournaments with certificates and medals as prizes. The “Day of Sports”, even with the few problems that occurred with teams, was very successful.

The Intensity of Competition

Miss Referee

Me and Amanda

After the tournament, I got to have a special birthday lunch with Gerardo full of vegetables and pitalla juice (my favorite!). He was supposed to go with MariaEugenia and Sarita to a birthday party for my cousin Javier (previously planned to be another dual birthday party, but I had my duties as a referee to attend to. I felt awful because apparently a “Go Diego, Go” piñata was bought for me.) but that morning when he found out that I was just going to eat tortillas by myself in the kitchen he said he couldn’t stand the thought of me being alone for lunch on my birthday. I honestly cannot express how much Gerardo and his family mean to me. They constantly tell me how much of a pleasure it is to spend time with me, but the feeling is more than mutual. I thank God every day that I have chances to spend time with them.

An excellent lunch was followed with my second session with the scholarship students. The second session was entitled “The Basic Elements of Public Speech”. The goals were:

- To continue the process of making the scholarship students comfortable when speaking in public
- To introduce the students to the basic elements of public speech
- To continue to reflect upon personal narratives
- To review the history of the CCBN

I gave the students 5 minutes to review the personal narratives of their imaginary creatures, and then they made 2 minutes presentations about their creatures while I recorded video. After the presentations, Greta presented her personal narrative in a manner opposite to which a person should present themselves in public. I asked the students to tell me what they thought was odd about Greta’s presentation and we discussed the 10 basics of public speaking: 1) Body Language 2) Articulation 3) Pronunciation 4) Tone of Voice 5) Rhythm of Words 6) Pauses 7) Volume 8) Quality 9) Changing Elements of Voice 10) Emotion. Then, we reviewed the videos of the students on my laptop and analyzed the presentations of each student with a +/Δ list. (This is something I learned in PSP 101. When analyzing something you don’t do a list of positives and negatives you do a list of positives and things that might need to be changed, because negatives don’t accomplish anything positive.) The students analyzed and critiqued each other openly and told me that seeing themselves was incredibly helpful. We didn’t follow the agenda exactly, and I hadn’t planned to take video of the students and show them but at the last second I realized how much Sarita videotaping me while I practiced my presentation about personal narratives had helped me. The session ended with half of the mural tour in the center. Melvin and Rigo did great jobs, and served as examples as how to present yourself in front of an audience. The students were even asking questions about the murals! Overall, it was an excellent second session.

I got to have a really nice birthday phone call with my real family (because there is no internet in my house) before I left for mass at 6, and when I returned my family had a birthday dinner for me including a delicious homemade chocolate cake. This was the first birthday I’ve had where I never actually received a material object as a gift, but I think for the first time in my life (yes I’ve had selfish and materialistic tendencies during my life) I felt that I received far more than I could have asked for or deserved. My entire experience here has been incredible, and that is because of all of the people who have come into my life here. Scratch that, that is because of the people who have let me come into their lives. It’s going to be so hard to leave in two weeks.