The whirlwind of Christmas is behind me and I just thought I could recount some of my past adventures with you’all… Before Christmas, we wound down the school year. I was surprised at how little formal assessment there was to finish up, and it seems that everyone who showed up over the year got pretty good grades. Graduation from Sixth grade is a big deal because kids move to high school from there, and also traditionally it was the last grade required by the government. That has just changed, and now each student is supposed to finish 9th grade although there is no enforcement. There are kids who quit coming to school every year to help their families or because school is too far away.
Then, I went to the US for Christmas, and recharged my batteries a little. I started by seeing family and enjoying the better aspects of life. It was funny to be in awe of some of the silly comforts in life. For example, I saw a post on Facebook saying that a PC friend was having reverse culture shock. I thought to myself that driving around in a nice car listening to NPR was not so tough; for me, I was just enjoying a vacation in a different place. I also went skiing, saw live music, slept on a couch, saw friends, and drank good beer. I really had a great time and was able to just relax for awhile without some of the pressures of Nicaragua on my shoulders. I didn’t hand-wash a single article of clothing, I only spoke a little Spanish on a ski lift, was never woken up by my neighbors music, I didn’t have to take any public transportation (unless flagging down a nice pizza delivery guy on New Year’s counts), nobody stared at me, and the lights never went out.
My return ticket sent me to Costa Rica to enjoy a little Central American R&R before coming back to site. In San Jose, I used couchsurfing.org to find a couple people to go out with one night, and also spent one night at a computer programmer’s house who showed off his new health kick of weighing each of his six meals a day according to type of food - while chain smoking. I also went to some more touristy spots, including Manuel Antonio National Park, which put the summer crowds at some of the US national parks to shame. It is a biological hot spot where there is enough rain on the Pacific Coast to support rain forest, which is primarily found on the East Coast. It happens to be on a stretch of pretty beaches, with many easy to spot mammals, and easily accessible to a weekender or the un-intrepid tourist. For these reasons, the park was wall to wall people.
I also went to a nature reserve opened initially by Quakers on the continental divide. Started in the Vietnam War days, the Quakers were looking for a way out of the US, and so decided to raise dairy cows on the hills. Realizing that there was an abundance of cloud forest in the area, a biologist helped them start caring and managing the land, promoting year round water and biodiversity. The place became a tourist mecca when National Geographic declared this reserve the best place on earth to see the quetzal, a type of pretty bird. (Yes, I saw one by dawdling near a tour group who had paid for a guide and looking up when they did) Anyways, today there is plenty more than bird watching to do here, however I had no money or friends with which to share a bungee or kayaking experience, so I just hoofed it around the cloud forest for a couple of days. On the top of one hill is the TV towers for most of the networks in the area, I hiked up, took advantage of the lack of fencing to do something I had always wanted to, and climbed one of the towers (not to the top, it was too windy!). A cloud forest is essentially a swamp on the side (or top) of a hill. It is super green; there are about 40 types of trees, and then many hundreds of plants that live on the branches of the trees, so everything is beautifully and dramatically draped over and on top of itself.
When I got back to site after vacation, things got a little crazy. Despite my best efforts, I had little success planning summer camp with my expected volunteers until it actually started. Settling in to town took quite awhile (beans cook for about 4 hours on my stove, for example) and by the 13th, I had a soccer game and then got peer pressured by my team to drink after the game. That night, some other volunteers came to site to take part in the neighboring town’s religious event, which starts with a walk from my town. The next day, we started off and made it to Esquipulas without a hitch, although I talked to a seminary in training who told me the Catholic Church has no problem with holed condoms. By the time I got back on the 15th, I was pretty unprepared for camp to begin that day, so I was pretty lucky that almost none of the kids took my radio announcements or permission slips I gave to each of them seriously enough to show up. So, I spent afternoon going door to door looking for kids, which was exactly what I had hoped to avoid. The next day, about 50 showed up.
Camp was a lot of controlled chaos, where we had events and a timeframe set up and could only hope that we stuck to it at all. Some of the events were tough just for the sheer number of kids, although this year went better than the last. I was able to get some help from some Young Life workers, which is an international Christian organization which has an office in town. Their help really came in handy maintaining discipline, thinking up different games on the fly when the kids were bored with the planned activity, and to explain the activities in ways that make the most sense to the kids. For example, basing the explanation of a new game on their shared experience really helped make some of them smoother. Anyways, the school year is starting up again, so I will be back to working a more fixed schedule and have more on my plate.