Thursday, November 20, 2008


As exciting as the U.S. elections were, Nicaragua´s might be even more exciting (or crazy and dangerous, depending on your perspective). The mayoral elections here were held on November 9th. Here in Corinto, the result were interesting. The night of the elections, the Sandinista party announced victory and started to celebrate, only to find that the Liberal party also had declared victory and started their own celebration parade. The following day I had a friend who decided to hang out with the crowd in front of the election center. I call him every hour for updates and here were the results.

10 am - Liberals won.
11 am - Sandinistas won.
12 pm - Liberals won.
1 pm - Sandinistas won.
2 pm - Liberals won.

And it pretty much went on like that for the rest of the day and the following days. A couple of days ago they unoficially announced that the Sandinistas won, but the Liberals are still disputing it. Also, this race is interesting to me because the candidate for mayor was the director at my health center so I knew him well.

The good thing about Corinto, is that it hasnt turned into violence like the race has in Managua. The Liberals are claiming fraud and are fighting with the Sandinistas. Whats so interesting to me is that this is all over a mayoral election! But, it is the first election since Sandinista Daniel Ortega has been back in power so both parties are fired up about it. One thing I´ve learned here is that political parties are something that runs deep. The civil war here in the 80s was to some extent (although not completely) the Liberals vs. Sandinistas (of course with the U.S. meddling hand in there making everything much more violent). As a result, people here are VERY political and get very emotional about elections.

I am completely safe here in Corinto. We have been told by the Peace Corps office to stay out of Managua until this issue gets resolved. Hopefully things will resolve themselves soon and everyone can go back to normal life. The following is a NY Times article about the protests. In my opinion, it paints the picture a little more dramatically than it is, but I havent been in Managua in the past few days.

here is the link

Claims of a Rigged Vote Foment Bitter Protests in Nicaragua

Monday, October 20, 2008


I think that is my most frequently used title of my blogposts, "Rain". The good news is that the rain (seems like it) has stopped! October is the rainiest month in Nicaragua, and I would imagine most of Central America. It is also the month that God decides to close the water spout and not let it rain for another 6 months. Let me explain. The rainy season starts in may and it gradually rains more and more until October. October is characterized by gray skies and weeks where it only stops raining for 1 hour at a time. We just went through one of those weeks (compounded by Tropical Storm Number 16, which apparently never got big enough to deserve a name). Last week it was constantly raining including one day where it literally torrentially downpoured for 12 straight hours. During this month, there is no such thing as dry clothes, everything has a nice damp feeling to it. But, miracle of miracles, yesterday and today have been super sunny and no rain. Although this is not a confirmed end to the rainy season (and since I am writing a blog about it we will probably have another week of torrential downpours) it sure feels like it. The odd thing about the end to the rainy season is that its not gradual. One day it pours all day, the next day its sunny and then you don´t see rain again until may. Its like God realizes he accidentally left the garden hose on and abruptly shuts it off. Anyways, heres hoping that the rains have stopped so that my clothes stop smelling moldy and the risk of me showing up to work soaking wet are slim to none.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My month...

The last four weeks or so have seemed like a bit of a haze. I feel like a lot has been going on but at the same time, I haven´t done much.

Part of this has to do with my focus on my post-Peace Corps life. After a couple of months of working here as a Community Health volunteer I decided I want to get my Masters of Public Health when I finish Peace Corps. So in the past couple of months I have been researching different schools I might go to. And realizing that application deadlines for fall 2009 are in December I realized I also have to take the GRE! So the past month I have dedicated a good amount of time to the GRE (hoping my test scores will make up for my unmotivated/unfocused undergrad experience). It was fun being a student again and learning college level things. And the vocab study has proven to be a little easier based on the spanish vocab I know (although the spanish meanings trick you on a few english words). I´ll be taking the GRE in October so I felt that September was my month to buckle down and study. At first I thought being in Nicaragua and studying for the GRE would be difficult, but since I dont have TV or internet in my house it has proven much easier! All was going great with my studies until...

I got sick with who knows what. The last weekend in August I woke up one morning with a fever. I felt fine the rest of the day, then when I went to bed I had a fever. This continued for a couple of days, fever and body pains at night and feeling fine during the day. After 5 straight days I figured I should get some tests done. I did, and nothing came back. Meanwhile, the fever and body pains continued but now not only at night. I went and visited the Peace Corps doctor who said I must have an infection in my lungs (by this point, my lungs were hurting too, and my tonsils were quite swollen). He put me on amoxicilin, and that didnt do anything and I continued with the fever (about 2 weeks of fever for those of you keeping score at home) so he put me on a stronger antibiotic. Finally, that seemed to work. I started those pills at the beginning of this week and I have steadily improved. I feel about 95% healthy at this point which is a huge improvement from the previous part of this month. Yesterday I started to get a rash on my body, leading everyone (including myself) to conclude that I must have had Dengue Fever this whole time. Although my symptoms dont match up exactly, Dengue Fever is chararcterized by a rash at the end that looks exactly like the rash I have right now. Dengue is passed by mosquitos and there is no treatment or cure. (Although I´m not sure if I had Dengue, learn about it here You just have to ride out the symptoms: body pains and fever, ending with a rash. Dengue can be dangerous but only when someone has gotten it multiple times. Since this is my first time, and I´m 6 months from leaving, I think I´m safe! Anyways, I´m not sure if you are interested in my health or not, but this has dominated my life for the past couple of weeks. It was difficult for me to be working because I felt weak during the day. I tried studying for the GRE, but vocab just doesn´t stick in the brain when you have an intense headache!

Anyways...thats been my life for the past couple of weeks. Gracias a Dios, I feel better now, which is great because tomorrow I am taking a trip to Costa Rica to visit my sister! It will be a 12+ hour bus ride, but worth it since I hardly ever have a chance to see her and her husband. I´ll take lots of pics and try to blog about it when I get back. I hope all is well with everyone. It was Central American Independence day on the 14th and 15th, so Happy Independence Day!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Peace Corps Budget Problems...

Some of you may have already heard me complain about budget problems in Peace Corps Nicaragua. Not only is our stipend very out of date (using lasts year prices when many basic goods like rice and beans have more than doubled in price, although PC Nicaragua is currently fixing our stipend issue) but lots of other things like our subscription to Newsweek (free stacks of the magazine in the office every week) and a yearly conference for all the volunteers in country are being cancelled. Katrina, the other Peace Corps Volunteer in Corinto with me, brought the following article to my attention. As I assumed, Peace Corps Nicaragua isnt the only country with serious budget problems. The unfortunate thing is that most politicians (and Americans) look favorably on the Peace Corps and had had plans to expand it. But for international economic problems it is less possible. To me, its a simple issue of getting your priorities straight...

Peace Corps to Pare Ranks of Volunteers:
Despite Bush's Goal of Doubling Program's Size, Tight Budget Forces Cuts
By Christopher LeeWashington Post Staff WriterFriday, August 22, 2008; A15

Peace Corps, the popular service program that President Bush once promised to double in size, is preparing to cut back on new volunteers and consolidate recruiting offices as it pares other costs amid an increasingly tight budget, according to agency officials.

The program, which has a budget of $330.8 million, is facing an anticipated shortfall of about $18 million this fiscal year and next, officials say. Much of the gap can be attributed to the declining value of the dollar overseas and the rising cost of energy and other commodities, officials said. That inflates expenses for overseas leases, volunteer living costs and salaries for staff abroad, most of whom are paid in local currencies.

Those factors "have materially reduced our available resources and spending power," Peace Corps Director Ronald A. Tschetter wrote in a July 22 letter to
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the program. "Tough budgetary decisions must be made now in order to ensure a financially healthy agency next fiscal year," he added.

The agency estimates its foreign- currency-related losses at $9.2 million for fiscal 2008 alone, spokeswoman Amanda Beck said yesterday.

In part, the program is caught in the political standoff between lawmakers and the president over the federal budget. If, as seems likely, Democrats delay final passage of the spending bills that fund the government until after Bush leaves office next year, programs such as the Peace Corps could be forced to operate at current funding levels indefinitely, administration officials said.

Beck said the agency could experience another $9 million in losses in fiscal 2009 in a "worst-case scenario" in which the agency has to operate under a year-long continuing resolution.

But that scenario is very unlikely, McCollum said yesterday, noting that her subcommittee has signed off on the agency's $343.5 million budget request and its Senate counterpart has approved $337 million.

"It's only going to be a short amount of time before a new budget gets through, and the Congress is committed to moving Peace Corps in an upward direction," she said, adding that the agency should ask for short-term supplemental funding if it needs it.

Beck said the "best course of action" would be for Congress to approve the president's full budget request.
In a July 21 letter to Tschetter, McCollum wrote that she had "serious doubts" about the agency's plan to close regional recruiting offices in Minneapolis and Denver by Jan. 1.

"It is my goal to see a growing number of highly qualified, diverse and determined Americans of all ages committing themselves to serve our country as Peace Corps volunteers," she wrote. "Achieving this goal will require . . . a strong nationwide recruiting presence."

Tschetter described the closures as "mergers" with other offices in Chicago and Dallas that are part of a move toward a "field-based recruiting model" expected to save $1.5 million. Thirteen people will be reassigned to other jobs in the agency, officials said.

The tight fiscal climate also means an anticipated scaling back in new volunteers next year by 400, wiping out planned growth and leaving the overall number of volunteers at about 8,000, according to Tschetter. Volunteers serve for 27 months and are paid a stipend of about $2,500 annually.

Managers at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington have been asked to cut their budgets by 15.5 percent. The agency even plans to stop providing copies of
Newsweek magazine to volunteers in the field, something it has done since the 1980s. (Newsweek is owned by The Washington Post Co., parent company of The Washington Post.)

"It just seemed like an extravagance," Beck said. "Everything is under consideration, including the director's travel."

Kevin Quigley, president of the National Peace Corps Association, a nonprofit group of former volunteers, said, "I worry about what the [budgetary] implications are for the next president, who we anticipate will have plans to expand Peace Corps."

Established in 1961 by President Kennedy, the Peace Corps provides skilled volunteers to other countries while promoting mutual understanding between Americans and people of other nations. About 190,000 volunteers have served in 139 countries since its inception.

The 8,079 volunteers today number the most in 37 years but are far fewer than the goal of 14,000 by fiscal 2007 that Bush set in his 2002 State of the Union speech.

Expanding the program remains a popular idea.
Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has pledged to double the size of the Peace Corps by 2011. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), his Republican counterpart, has praised national service and said there should have been a stronger national push to encourage people to join the Peace Corps and other volunteer organizations after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Another visit!

You guys must think, does Paul work there in Nicaragua or just roam around travelling Nicaragua like a vagabond? Well, a little of both I guess! Last week I had a great friend come visit me (we´ve been friends since we were 4 and I made sure to point that out to all Nicas, they were quite am I!).

Anyways, this trip was a little more work and a little less vagabond then other visits I had. Partially due to my lack of vacation days and my friend´s flexibility, we did a weekend trip to Granada and then spent the week working/hanging out in Corinto. It was great because she got a great idea of what my life is like here (both work and play) and got to meet all the people important to me here. While in the area of Granada I got to go to one of the more beautiful places in Nicaragua that I still had never been too, the Mirador de Catarina. It overlooks a volcano crater lake (I had visited the lake part on my parent´s visit, but never been to the overlook), and as you can tell is very beautiful...

One day while we were in Corinto,we decided to do a little day trip to Leon (1.5 hour bus ride away, and my favorite city in Nicaragua). The biggest cathedral in Central America in in the central park there. Here is a pic from the top of the cathedral looking at another church in Leon and some volcanoes in the distance.

While in Granada, we visited Volcano Mombacho where you can go ziplining. They are long cords connected between trees and you hook yourself on and essentially glide through the trees. I had been ziplining once before, but this time they let us do some crazy stunts such as hanging upside down!

And going two at a time...

I like this pic that my friend took because it sort of captures my life here. I am always on a bike. My work is not stationary, it always takes me from the hospital, to someones house, to the mayors office, to a youth group meeting, etc. And my mode of transportation, and the mode of transportation of most people in Corinto, is by bike. My bike is rickety and old, but I love it (most of the time). Some of my friends here have lovingly nicknamed it my ¨Mercedes-Benz¨. I love the fact that I get everywhere by bike, but sometimes at midday I would love a real Mercedes-Benz with air-conditioning. Biking to work in the states is possible, but not as easy as it is here, so I´ll enjoy it while I can.

As always, friend visits are great because I get to share Nicaragua with them. Peace Corps has had the same 3 goals since John F. Kennedy started the program in 1961.
  1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
When I have friends visiting me, I get to share the things that I have learned about Nicaragua, and they get to experience it firsthand, which is what the 3rd goal is all about.

Now, its back to normal life. Hopefully, I´ll be able to get work back into high gear quickly before the heavy rains start in september an interrupt everything!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Visiting or living in another country it is always interesting to observe the culture and traditions. These traditions are usually strongest regarding important life events (ie. weddings, funerals).

Unfortunately, I have gotten to witness firsthand the traditions regarding the death of a loved one here in Nicaragua. I had been to one funeral here before but it was of the grandma of an acquantaince so I just went to the funeral mass. Sadly, yesterday there was a death here that literally hit much closer to home. My neighbor, David, 35 yrs old, died suddenly of a heart attack in the middle of the night.

David had been Mr. Fix-It in my house, helping me get everything in order when I moved in and helping me with anything from a broken toliet to a falty light switch. His wife, I have always considered my ¨mom¨ of the neighborhood who can help me answer questions such as ¨How get out ______ stain¨ and always brings me extras of the food she makes. Two of David´s kids are my best friends from the neighborhood whom I have gone to play baseball, go running or just hang out in the hammocks in my house. Anyways, needless to say, I consider them a great family and this was a devastating blow to them.

In Nicaragua, from the time a person dies, the body is not to be left alone, and typically should always be with the family. For this reason, the night immediately after the death, the family has a vela in their home. This is very similar to a wake but with a few important differences. The family rents plastic chairs by the hundreds (businesses that rent plastic chairs for all types of events are plentiful) and puts them in front of their house. Around 7, or dusk, people start to show up to accompany the family. The body is in an open casket in the front room of the family house and as people show up they give their condolescences to the family and pray at the body. It is customary that the people coming to visit the family will give them bread or coffee grains. This is because the family is expected to make coffee and give a piece of bread to all of the guests throughout the night. The main difference between a vela and a wake is that the vela doesnt end until the sunrises the next day. Although, this is not to say that everyone stays that long. The closer you are to the family, or person that died, the longer you would stay.

There is an exception to this rule. Homeless drunks are prevalent in Nicaragua. The drunks show up for the free bread and coffee and end up staying the whole night drinking. It is considered very acceptable to drink alcohol at the vela. The idea of the vela is to accompany the family at all costs, so neighborhood teenagers will set up a table and play cards all night. Although an American might consider drinking and playing cards at a wake very offensive, it is not offensive here and it is very much a part of the vela. I said to a woman that I was at the vela with, ¨Its great that there are so many people here to support the family, but I really dont like that the drunks show up, to me its a lack of respect to the family¨, the woman looked at me a bit funny as if she had never imagined the concept of a vela without drunks. She responded ¨The drunks are needed because they lighten the mood a little bit and they make sure that the family is accompanied until the sunrises¨. I guess the drunks do serve a purpose in town...

I stayed at the vela until about 2am which seemed to me like an appropriate time for a close neighbor who had a 8am meeting the next day. There are all sorts of interesting beliefs associated with the vela, the family has to be with the body all night so that bad spirits don´t prevent the soul from reaching heaven. Also, (with varying degrees of who believes this 100%) it is considered dangerous for anyone who is pregnant or with an unhealed cut to go to a vela. This is because the body emits something that if it enters a living body through a cut can kill them. Generally, people with cuts have to cover them, and pregnant women either stay away or cover their stomach in a sheet.

The vela ends at sunrise and then the preparations for the funeral begin. In the case of David´s funeral, it was at 2pm. Friends and family meet at the family´s house a half hour before the mass and then there is a procession carrying the body to the church. After the mass, there is another procession through town that ends at the bus stop. At the bus stop, the family will have rented 3 or 4 buses to take all the people to the cementery (in the case of Corinto, since it is a fairly small island, the cementery is on the mainland, about a 10 min drive away). At the gravesite, a close family member nails the coffin shut which is generally very emotional, and then close male family members lower the casket into the hole with rope and take turns with a shovel filling in the hole. Also very emotional.

Anyways, that is the typical funeral here in Corinto. I think in bigger cities here there might be traditions closer to U.S. style. For those of you that are religious, pray for David´s family, they will have a rough time emotionally and making ends meet for a while.

What is interesting about living in a different country/culture, is that on the surface things are very different, but being there with the family at this funeral, you realize that all humans have the exact same feelings and emotions.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


As my loyal readers know, we are trying to raise money for the construction of the Adolescent Clinic here in Corinto. Well the best way for any teenage in the world to raise money is to have a party (more or less like a high school social...but with a few differences).

Xiomara and I, with the help of our loyal team of youth, went around town arranging all the details, buying soda to sell, paying the DJ, asking permission from the police, and reserving the location. Although, this was sort of like a high school social, people not in high school also go to it. And since the drinking age is 18, and there are a lot of people here in high school over 18, any time you throw a party, you have to serve beer or else no one will come. I was hestitant to serve beer because this was a fundraiser for an ADOLESCENT Clinic, and I didnt want people to get the wrong impression. But people convinced me that without beer, theres no party. And all we had to do was make sure we didnt serve to minors.

We were nervous the day of the party for many reasons. We had invested a certain amount of money in just DJ, soda, beer, and reserving the location. Which means, if a certain amount of people didnt show up, we would lose money. Another big worry was rain. Its the rainy season here, and if its raining people dont leave their houses. So if it rained that night, we would have lost a lot of money. didnt rain.

I volunteered/was assigned to be the bartender at the event. I forgot how much fun it is to be the bartender, even if I was only serving cans of beer and bottle of coke. I got to relive my college bartender days for a brief moment. Unfotunately, tips are not customary in this culture...

The DJ pumped reggaeton, salsa, bachata and carribean music the whole night and the place filled up quite nicely. We sold all the drinks we needed to sell and had enough people come that we made money. It was a success but we need to do about 20 other events like it to make the money we need! But now that we know how to throw a party, we´ll be able to make more money in the future. In the meantime, my life as a Peace Corps Volunteers has become party/event planner (and part-time bartender) and I´m enjoying it!