Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My Peace Corps journey is officially over. Unfortunately, I was medically separated from the Peace Corps due herniated discs in my spine that could not be adequately treated in country. Health wise, I did not have the best of luck in country: MRSA, tarantula bites, multiple flea infestations, scabies, and numerous parasites and amoebas and to top it all off a back injury prove that. However I miss it terribly and would do it over again in a heartbeat. Leaving halfway through my service meant leaving projects unfinished and not seeing all the beauty and wonder Nicaragua has to offer but I had no choice. Upon returning home in February, my father was diagnosed with cancer and I knew that I would not be able to function worrying about his health and my own thousands of miles away. In a way, I am thankful for the medical separation because it took away the stress and regret over quitting. I hate quitting and it tears me up that I did not get to spend more time in Nicaragua working, improving Spanish, and getting to know more incredible people. There are so many beautiful things about Nicaragua. I strongly suggest visiting Nicaragua and Peace Corps also. At times when feeling down and envious over my fellow PCV’s posts and pictures, I remember the good times I had there and hug the greatest souvenir of all, my sweet Nicaraguan puppy.

Adiós Nicaragua and Peace Corps, thank you for teaching me so much like flexibility, listening skills, Spanish, and forcing my introverted shy self to be an outgoing, extrovert. I will treasure this experience for the rest of my life and am forever grateful to you for introducing me to my soul mate, Risa Pepita. 
Risa and I in the USA! 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

I don’t know what it is about them, but I love them. All. Four legs, two eyes, two ears, one wet nose, one wagging tail and I am smitten. All my life, I have loved dogs, even before I ever had one in my life. For example, as a dog-less kid, posters of puppies adorned my walls. Therefore, living in a country where overpopulation of dogs is common breaks my heart. Too many dogs roam the streets with protruding ribs and empty bellies searching for food. They’re feral, aggressive and fighting to survive. Some have mange and barnacle like blisters where fur should be, some have gashes from dog fights, and some females have sagging nipples from litter after litter. It is an awful thing, to see the creature you the love the most neglected, abused, and slowly dying. I can’t stand it.

A few days ago, I saw the sickest looking dog of my life. Just writing about him now fills my eyes with tears and heart with regret for not doing more for him. He was so thin that his ribs and hip bones showed and so emaciated that that his back legs touched when walking, half of his fur was missing and in its place was barnacle like crusted mange, he was also bleeding from various gashes, and skin was so infected, his stomach and genital area looked charred. He roamed the bus station looking for scraps of food, patiently staring at people hoping for some mercy. He was totally ignored and helpless.  I instantly began to cry upon seeing him. Immediately, I bought him a cooked chicken leg and wing. I was afraid that maybe he’d scarf the entire thing down too fast causing him to vomit so I gave it to him bit by bit. In the middle of a busy, crowded bus station, people looked at me like I was crazy. There I was, squatting in between buses feeding a filthy, sick animal an expensive meal while sobbing. I also gave him fresh clean water and tried to catch him to take him to a vet to be put down or saved if possible. But it was clear that his time on the streets has made him distrust people so as quickly as he could he dodged my attempts and I lost him.  My cab arrived and I cried for the entire half hour ride to the Peace Corps office in Managua.

I cry often over the state of animals here. I just cannot help but think how easily this could have been Risa’s life, how she is the product of parents living this life and what her litter-mates are like now, if alive at all. Risa was so sick and neglected when I first got her. Two different vets told me that she would not live but I persisted and today she is just as every dog should be; happy, healthy, and loved.
Sweet Risa!

Since arriving, I wanted to do something for the dogs here. But my little Spanish and shy nature prevented me initially. Now I am fed up. I tried telling myself the tired and pathetic excuse of “It’s cultural and animals serve a different purpose here” but that never sat well with me. Honestly, its bullshit! NEGLECT IS ABUSE. I have never agreed with cultural relativism and will never let culture excuse cruelty. All living creatures are born with the universal right to live without suffering.   

I have had many conversations with various people in my site about my dog. Many people marvel at how healthy and pretty she is and think that she is a pure bred dog. When I tell them that she is a mixed breed and explain that she looks nice because she eats daily, gets bathed, and acts tame because she is treated well, I always receive looks of surprise or “this gringa (white girl) is crazy.” I also tell people that she is spayed and explain the benefits of it. They’re small steps but worth taking especially in places that disguise cruelty as culture. 

To help make a difference for dogs in Nicaragua, donate to Granada Animal Outreach and Casa Lupita!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

I've been living in the Nicaragua for a year now which has made me nostalgic and feel the need to look back on the last year. 

January 2012: Enjoyed beautiful traditional dances at Diriamba's Fiestas San Patronales. 
February 2012: Visited Volcano Masaya. This is a photo looking down into the crater. The crater is so large that in order to get a photo of it all, you need to be in an airplane. Also this volcano is very active. Here it is steaming awful smelling sulfur and often shoots rocks and debris out. 

March 2012: Left training and nearly burned myself making No Bake cookies on the wood burning stove, in the corner there.This is a shot of the first house I lived in here. 

 April 2012: I moved to Somoto, Madriz and began my service. 
 May 2012: Friends and I swam through the beautiful Somoto Canyon! In this photo, a few Nicaraguan children were about to jump off the cliff. I did not to that. It's like 25 meters high!
 May 2012: I took care of this adorable kitten for my host brother that gave me fleas. 
 June 2012: I beheaded a cockroach after throwing my Chaco sandal at it. Other cool things happened but I'm really proud of this.  
 July 2012: A few of my favorite girls who I work with performed traditional dances at a festival in town. 
August 2012: My best friend Tonya and sister Crystal came to visit. And I took in that adorable puppy (in my arms here) who came on vacation with us too. Here we all are in beautiful Granada.

September 2012: My world is temporarily shattered when a thief steals my puppy. This photo was used on her Missing Dog flyers that advertised a monetary reward. The thief returned her for the reward so I had to pay him to get my own dog back. Jerk. 

Ocotober 2012: Awesome friends and I celebrated my birthday in beautiful Playa Gigante. Also, I held a random baby sea turtle that had hatched and was instinctively crawling his way to the water. Sara and I helped him out a little since he was lost on the rocks. 

November 2012: I met my first centipede here after he entered my room without an invite. Watch out, they sting, have venom, and are supposedly very aggressive. 

December 2012: I ended the year by returning home to gorgeous Washington state and reunited with my Lab loves. They didn't forget me at all! :)

Here's to a happy and healthy 2013 for us all... four legged friends included of course! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Anyone who knows me would agree that it is an understatement to call me an “animal person.” Animal fanatic or Dog lover are more accurate terms. Therefore, one of the biggest challenges of living and working in a developing country is seeing the vast amounts of helpless, starving, and suffering dogs and cats that roam the streets. Some are strays. Some have homes but live with families who can barely afford to feed themselves let alone buy anti-flea shampoo or kibble.  Seeing animals hurt, makes me hurt. I will restrain myself from providing further details of the horrible conditions that some animals suffer here. Most days I can barely stand to witness it, myself.  

Which is why I was delighted to find out about Casa Lupita, an animal clinic that provides free sterilizations and consultations.  Every Thursday, they offer free consultations and every Friday is sterilization day.  My puppy, Risa was spayed at Casa Lupita on November 9th for free. Free is one of the sweetest words to lay upon a Peace Corps Volunteer ears, it probably beats love. So Risa and I made the long, 6 hour bus trip down to Granada to get her spayed. I can’t begin to explain my overprotective nature I have when it comes to my baby girl, Risa, therefore, I did my research and checked this place out. I read numerous reviews and annoyingly sent its founder and manager a myriad of questions. All were positive.

Happy and healthy a few days after her surgery!
Casa Lupita and its staff treated my puppy and I wonderfully. She received anesthesia via a machine during her operation which is not standard here. Yes, that is right. Anesthesia is expensive so some veterinarians do these invasive operations without it. Poor animals. The veterinarian who did Risa’s operation was very skilled. Her incision was very small and he used dis-solvable, internal stitches therefore a cone was not necessary.  She also received a dose of antibiotics to prevent infection as well as pain medicine. She was groggy for a few days, sniffed and licked the incision a few times but quickly forgot about it. She has had no complications and is back to her playful self.

Another awesome and heartwarming part of this experience was seeing Casa Lupita’s impact on the community.  There was a line of Nicaraguans and their pets waiting before they opened their doors. Every Friday, it is like this. When I told people in Somoto that I was getting my dog sterilized, almost all were against it. It is not the custom here despite the massive overpopulation of dogs and cats.

Casa Lupita runs solely on donations through its funding USA organization Building New Hope that was founded by a former Peace Corps Volunteer. Best of all, you can donate online! Please do so, to help those who can’t help themselves, street animals. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

First and foremost, I love being a woman. Despite sexism, machismo, and the ever-ruling patriarchy, I am happy to be a woman. This does not mean that I do not acknowledge the challenges that come with having two breasts and a vagina. I have studied gender in school and continue to follow women’s political issues around the world. I know all about the horror and heartache that some women experience and the assumptions that result from merely possessing female anatomy. These challenges vary in intensity from culture to culture.

For instance, I did not expect making friends near my age in my site to be so difficult. Plenty of men want to be my friend but usually, even if married or taken, their intentions are clear. Furthermore, I know my reputation might suffer from friendships with only males in my site despite everyone in my site thinking that I am married to another male Peace Corps volunteer here. Maybe its paranoia but I cannot risk it. I have almost 2 years left and a lot of hope left to do more, to integrate more, and to learn more. It is clear that the Madonna complex is strong here and to work successfully within this culture, I submit. I do something that I tried so hard my entire life to not, I care about what others think. A lot. It matters here, especially for a woman. If my reputation slips, so will my influence.

However, it is a different story for my two male site-mates. Women and men pursue their friendships. Even when the women make their sexual intentions clear or they are surrounded by women. No one second guesses their quality of character. Their influence does not weaken hell it might even strengthen in the eyes of other men. I joke that they are called “El Gringo Divino” meaning "The Divine White Man" in English. Their male anatomy provides them with entitlements. Que Suerte! (What luck!)  

To a feminist desperately wanting equality for all, gender imbalance is obvious here. One day each week, I teach a health class at an at-risk youth center. I love it there. The kids, the energy, and the program are all energizing. From my time there, I cannot help but notice the stark difference between the boys and girls when it comes to answering my questions, participating, even reading aloud. The boys nearly knock each other over trying to answer first and sometimes even argue over who gets to read which sentence out loud. On the other hand, the girls are another story. If boys are present and I ask a girl a direct question, usually she retreats, looks down then around at her class mates before looking back at me and refusing to speak. When only in a group of girls, they are slightly more outgoing, more secure but still reluctant and shy. Sadly, I doubt the girls grow out of it. Proof of this is my experience working with both adult males and females here.  Males usually ask and answer questions, some even challenge me. Women, usually need to be encouraged or their answers to be guided.

Cutest feminist I know, Risa!
Regardless, I still prefer womanhood even in the Peace Corps. I get to talk about intimate health issues with other women easily and I get to inspire young girls to say their opinions out loud. I am an example to the young girls in my classes who shy away from answering questions in front of boys that they too have a voice. I am beyond grateful to be a representation of that and even more so to encourage it in the girls and women here. It makes all the challenges here both gender related or not totally worth it.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

All apologies for not blogging for a while. I have been debating what to write about next. I know I can write about work, how my puppy was dog-napped (she’s back and safe now), or even how much fun I had while my sister and friends from home visited. But lately, my head and heart has been occupied with missing home and my family there so I’m writing about that. Before reading the following post, please keep in mind, I am not depressed (so don’t freak out, Dad) and am not going to quit Peace Corps and move home (so don’t get excited, Dad).  Enjoy my diary entry on missing Washington. If you have never been, I strongly suggest you add a trip to Western Washington to your bucket list. In my eyes, there is not a more magical or comforting place on earth.

I left my beautiful homeland, Washington state January 10, 2012. I have been away from its emerald, dove gray, and marine blue enchantments for almost 10 months now. It hurts. Physically and emotionally. Despite having lived in Colorado for 5 years and Kenya for a semester, I have never been away from my home and family this long. It sucks. I miss the rain, the mist that never leaves the air even on days it does not rain, and the water soaked, mossy earth that feels as if you’re walking upon foam but most of all I miss my family, crazy jumping labs and all. There have been brief moments where Nicaragua has reminded me of home. These moments overtake my senses and flush my eyes with tears.

For example, last week I spent a few days in the cool mountains of Selva Negra, Matagalpa. Believing that nowhere in Nicaragua can get cold, I laughed off my family’s advice to bring a sweater for both Risa and I. Upon entering Selva Negra, I was immediately reminded of home. It is this beautiful hotel nestled in the mountains and overgrown forest with plentiful tall trees so dense that at times you can’t see the horizon and moss grows everywhere. Also, it was actually cold. I shivered for the first time in 10 months while there. Here, I experienced the most intense and heart wrenching bout of homesickness.  One early morning while taking Risa for her daily walk, we stepped off the concrete path onto earth only to step upon the same water soaked, mossy earth like in Western Washington. As my feet sunk into the earth, a bittersweet bolt of nostalgia shot through my body and upon reaching my face, it filled my eyes with tears momentarily. For that second, I swear I smelled Washington; fresh rain drops upon pine and fir trees. All Washingtonians know that wonderful scent after it rains. Equally pristine and wild. No tree shaped air freshener or Yankee Candle can mimic it exactly. I couldn’t handle it and immediately stepped back onto the concrete.  It was torture, to be teased with something that felt so much like home while knowing you are nowhere near it.

On December 18th, I will return to the unbeatable beauty of the Pacific Northwest. That is 78 days from now. In 78 days, I will inhale the fresh Washington air. In 78 days, I will smile while my feet sink into the mossy earth. Best of all, in 78 days I will embrace my father, my sister, and my adorable labs in the shadow of majestic Mount Rainier. 78 days from now, I will finally be treated for my homesick-ness.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

 One of the hardest parts about leaving for Peace Corps was leaving my two adorable and silly labs behind. Knowing I would miss them terribly and that my life would not be complete without a four-legged friend, I had always planned on getting a dog in service and I even created a Peace Corps puppy fund before leaving. Last week, I went to my sitemate’s house to hang out and was surprised to find a teeny and skittish puppy hiding behind a cabinet. Immediately, I freaked out and wanted to chinear (rock like a baby) this puppy. Upon seeing my reaction to her, his family offered her to me. One look at her face while she was in my arms and I knew I couldn't say “no.” Dreams really do come true; I now have the cutest puppy in all of Central America.

Originally, I had named her Lupita because I thought it was an adorable name and did not know that giving a dog a human name is like an insult in Nicaraguan culture. Therefore, I changed her name to Risa (ree-sa) which means laughter because that is exactly what she adds to my life. Thankfully, I live with a very loving family here that have welcomed Risa with open arms. My host mother calls her "mi nieta" (my granddaughter) and my host brother calls her "mi sobrina" (my niece). I understand the full responsibility of having a dog here and plan on bringing her everywhere I can with me including the USA when I end my service in 2014.

Enjoy the photos of her cute-ness! I wish you all the happiness that my little Risa has already brought to my life here. 


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