Thursday, March 31, 2011

Where do you work?

Another American is also volunteering at the school. He is teaching an English class for an hour every morning. I help out whenever I’m around. The other day, kids were interviewing each other,
“What is your job?”
“Do you like it?”
“Where do you work?”
Claudia asked me all the questions in English, and tried to write down the answers in English as well.
I answered,
“I am a teacher.”
“yes. I love it.”
“I work in the School of Hope.”
I looked at her paper to make sure she included all necessary words.  Her last answer read, “She works in esperanza” which translates to “She works in hope”.
I don’t think Claudia could possibly have said it any better. I work in hope.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Learning Curve

I can’t begin to write down all the things I’ve learned in the last 5 weeks. (I also can’t believe that I’ve almost been here for 5 weeks) But... Here’s a start.
1.    The problems were here long before I arrived and will be here long after I leave.
I arrived with a real sense of urgency- A need to do something- to make things “better”. I learned that I need to be patient. There are limits to what I personally can do and should do. There are also limits to what the organization as a whole can do. However whatever I can do, I certainly will.

 2.     I learned how to dance.
Yup with an audience of at least 20 kids during lunch at school last week. And yes, Yarseth a teacher at school made sure to get out my flip cam to catch it in action. No one has succeeded in teaching me how to move my hips however. I have 3 more months to learn that.

(The big wave is to the cooks in the kitchen who of course gathered around to watch as well)

3.     I learned you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped.
What does a new home, a new job, and a free education going to do for a family who likes their house, doesn’t want a boss or structured hours of a different job, and couldn’t care less if the kids go to school? Absolutely nothing. Perhaps that’s really pessimistic view, and perhaps my attitude should be to try harder. Or perhaps the right answer is to find others in the country (80% of the population lives in poverty) to help. Or perhaps there isn’t a right answer.

I don't mean for this to sound too pessimistic. The kids in the program don't fall in this category. An excited enthusiastic group of 300 kids come to school the school of hope every day. More than 100 attend our program every week. They soak up everything they possibly can with 

4.     When a Nicaraguan says its hot out, its really hot.
So according to the Nicaraguans “summer” has arrived.  As far as I was concerned, its been summer for the past 5 weeks. However, apparently, the 97 degrees and humidity is the real sign of summer. It cools off to a lovely 88 at night though.

5.     There are dangerous critters here who will attack- even if they don’t feel threatened.
Laura, the executive director from LTN, was here for a visit. I woke up to thrashing and “oww, oww”! We turned the light on to see a scorpion curling its tail on the edge of the bed. She was stung by this supposedly “little” scorpion in the middle of the night. I’m not really okay with scorpions period- much less in my bedroom making sneak attacks in the middle of the night. Luckily, the symptoms are a numb, tingly tongue, and other exacerbated bee sting symptoms. Its also lucky that Laura was so brave.  Nope we weren't brave enough to hunt him down and kill it outselves. We went to wake up Leo, the guard who guards the hotel to take care of it for us. I hope that’s my first and last scorpion encounter.

6.     The best way to learn a language is to be forced into a situation where you have to try and speak it.
There are so many ways to communicate. Facial expressions. Motions. Words. Songs. Silence. Yup. I’ve used them all. And then some. I’ve learned the best way to learn is to put myself out there, forget about the embarrassment and the countless mistakes along the way and simply try. 

7.    All tropical fruit just simply tastes better here in Nicaragua. Period.

Enough of this for now. There will certainly be part two!

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Trip to Halle's Field

Halle's Field is an oasis for the kids from La Chureca.  Hands shot up and kids jumped out of their seats when Norman and I went around to the classes the day before (yup. kids are notified the day before or the day of if they want to go on a field trip. Parental permission doesn't exist down here) to ask if anyone was interested in going up to Halle's Field.

And what's so exciting about Halle's Field? Its an open field complex about 25 minutes away from La Chureca. There is open space to simply run, laugh, play and not worry about medical waste, syringes and broken glass lying around on the field.

Well that seemed simple enough to me. Even though nothing in Nicaragua is simple to figure out logistically, the day worked out perfectly for the kids!

Who is Halle and why does he have a field here in Nicaragua? He's an ex-pat who has been down in Nicaragua for 12 years now. He built a pretty impressive complex over the past 12 years that provides a safe place for kids to come play (mostly soccer and baseball). There are also classrooms for enrichment, and a computer lab for computer classes. its a pretty impressive place (It also served as the perfect location for our wedding 2 weeks ago!) People embrace service in all different ways shapes and forms down here!

Here is a little video of different clips from our day playing at Halle's Field.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Live in La Chureca

If you click the link, - Live in La Chureca It takes you to the Lacrosse the nations site, where I posted a bunch of pictures and video of the kids in action during the program last week. Hopefully it gives you a better idea of what I do every day, and also gives you an idea of our "field" and space at school.

The video below is a name game that we played this week. The kids focused on eye contact and saying each other's names before passing the balls. We played this game all the time in the 3rd and 4th grade class in which I student taught this fall. Im very lucky that all of my passions are colliding down here in Nicaragua and I'm able to use so many different experiences and ideas from my lacrosse experiences, teaching experiences, and my own education to create this curriculum.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Gracias Adios

I told this story to Raquel and Gerson(the daughter of the family who owns the hotel who i've befriended and her boyfriend) the other day and they thought it was hysterical. They insisted that I share it with my friends and family back in the States. Here goes…
During my first four church services (all in my first week here in Nica) I was lost to say the least. I tried desperately to pick up a word, or two that I understood. Time and time again, I heard “Gracias Adios” or “Thank you, Good-bye”. This happened at least 15 times a service. Church proceeded to continue for another hour, sometimes two, before it seemed appropriate to be saying “Thank you goodbye”.  I just couldn’t figure out the point of the premature goodbye, 15 times a service. During my 4th church service here, I was handed a bible that was translated- one column in English, one column in Spanish. Quite quickly I discovered, that church wasn’t filled with many premature departures, but simply  “Thanks to God”.  “Gracias a Dios” actually translates to “Thank you God”. The learning curve down here is huge. Oops.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Part-time Program Director, Part-time Weddding Planner

Don’t worry Dad, it wasn’t my wedding. 
But why not throw a wedding in 36 hours? Brad (the co-founder of LTN) and Laura (the executive director of LTN) decided that the next time they were in Nicaragua they would throw a wedding for Magaly and Noel. The couple live in La Chureca and have been together for 7 years. They raise a happy family of 3 kids, and desperately wanted to get married, but never thought twice about it because they didn’t have means to do so. Brad and Laura wanted to throw them a little celebration and cover the minimal expenses to allow them to officially get “married”. A little celebration?  We should have known better. Nothing is “little” here in Nicaragua.
Emma, a friend from teaching at Breakthrough the past two summers came down to visit during her spring break from grad school. Thank goodness she was here. Her Spanish speaking expertise, willingness to go with the flow, attention to details, and genuine excitement to dive into any and every project made her an integral and necessary part of the wedding planning team.
So in a matter of 36 hours, Laura, Emma and I needed to figure out:
A location
A wedding dress
A cake
A pastor
A bus to transport family members
A civil ceremony-to make it official
A lawyer
And witnesses to testify

And somehow-we pulled it all off. 
Papa Cisneros, the owner of the hotel, and lawyer of the ceremony
We began with the civil ceremony at the hotel. William Cisneros, the father of the family who owns the hotel, also happens to be a lawyer. Convenient. The couple was lectured about proper marriage rights, only between a man and a woman. The husband is to raise money to provide for his family, while the wife is supposed to take care of the family and have children. Witnesses proudly stated their support, papers were signed and the wedding was official.
THEN for the fun celebration. We hired a bus to drive the family to the wedding. 50 family members of the bride and groom showed up! Laura, Emma and I drove up with Magaly and her maid of honor. Brad was in charge of the groom. The beautiful celebration took place at Halle’s field, a sport complex 30 minutes outside of town. It’s run by an ex-pat who has been down in Nica for 12 years, and opens his home and land up to kids who want a safe place to come and play.  The beautiful covered porch on the grounds was perfect for the wedding.

The ceremony was absolutely beautiful. 

 We had the exact right about of food, and had one piece of the really classy Nicaraguan wedding cake left over. 
"Feliz Boda" Happy Wedding!

Everything worked out perfectly. Including the cake fight that the groom started. We all left completely filled with joy, and completely covered in icing. Thanks to a group from Denver that was down with Brad, the set up, food and clean up happened quickly and (seemingly) effortlessly.

Brad, Laura, and the happy family
This wedding wasn’t sponsored by any organization. We didn’t try to put it in a box and claim that it was solving any problems or fitting under the mission of any organization. This was simply a vision by Laura and Brad to reach out to Nicaraguan friends as fellow human beings full of love, dreams and desires. It was such a joy to watch 50 family members simply enjoy each other’s company for the evening. Who knows if the family has ever been together like that before?
Trust me, they were all happy. Nicaraguans just don't smile in Pictures...

So I took pictures of every combination of all 50 family members at the wedding. I stood with my camera at the ready as the bride and groom led me around, and asked me to take photo after photo.  I have 660 pictures from the wedding. They asked if they could trouble me to print out some pictures of the family so they can proudly hang them up in their homes. I watched the families interact, both through the lens of my camera, and through my own eyes. I can’t begin to express the power of the love and togetherness that I was surrounded by on Wednesday.

Wedding planners stepping back to take it all in...
And we asked Magaly what Nicaraguan wedding traditions were? What did she want in the ceremony? What was important to her? She responded, ‘being with her family, being happy, celebrating with everyone who she cares about’.  Though the perfect evening didn’t even come close to breaking the bank, it was worth every penny to see how happy and proud it made this “forgotten” portion of the community.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Christian and Johnny

Johnny and Christian caught 87 consecutive passes yesterday. They called me over to count for them. It tested my Spanish counting ability, but I got all the way to 87 as well. Here is a picture of the proud partners after their accomplishment. Can you tell I get excited about all the little things? Surrounded by so much despair, the little things are exactly what I get excited about.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cumpaneros de Cumplidos

It’s amazing to see the difference a week makes. Our Nicaraguan coaches are amazing. The premise of this new curriculum is to help the students enrolled in the program realize that playing a sport can also teach you a lot about life as well. It began simply today with a contract created by the children based on respect, participation and effort. The life skill for the day was learning how to support each other. 

 At the beginning of every practice, starting today, each student is given a compaƱero de cumplidos, or “partner for praise”. Each individual has the responsibility to watch his or her partner throughout practice and think of a compliment to share with them by the end of practice. The group lined up in two straight lines and shook the hand of the person across from them- their new partner for the day today.

And then the playing began. We played two quick games of 4 v. 4 scrimmage. Here are two pictures of the faceoff and a very happy nino after scoring the winning goal. 


After the kids were finished played, they met with their partner at different places spread out all over our field. Even though many were shy to give a compliment to a classmate of the opposite sex, Miguel, the coach, and I were eventually able to coax a few encouraging words out of each of them.  Each individual couldn’t help but smile as they heard something nice being spoken about them. And I couldn’t help but smile listening to it. Below are partners posing proudly after “praising” each other. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Power of Play

I went to all of the practices last week to watch and learn and then think about how the life skills curriculum is going to evolve. Norman, one of the coaches came over to me to tell me that they had a lot of trouble with this one girl last year. I was thinking "trouble" in the disobedient mischevious sense. I looked at who he was pointing to, but it was this girl who seemed scared to move a muscle. I couldn't imagine how she was causing "trouble". I learned that she was too shy and scared to even try. I went over to her, smiled and asked in my very broken Spanish if I could help.  Within a few minutes and a little encouragement, she was throwing and catching consistently. As praise and encouragement spilled out of my mouth, a huge grin broke onto her face. I'm realizing that this program has had a profound impact on a number of these kids, and has the potential to help not only the mischievous boys, but also the lost, shy girls as well. I can't wait to watch her grow.

Pictures to come this week!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Traveling Church Brigade

We need a name. Something more catchy than the traveling church brigade, but a name is definitely necessary. Bismark asked me if I wanted to go to El Crucero with him yesterday. Of course I said yes. I’m not passing up an opportunity to see part of the country.
So Bismark, his guitar playing “brother” from church and his wife and 3 kids came to pick me up yesterday. We met the pastor at some random gas station along the way and off we went.
No. I’m not here in Nicaragua as a missionary. By any stretch. The traveling church brigade simply creates opportunities for people who want to worship to be able to. That- I can be a part of. I have trouble with the concept of missionaries who feel it’s their duty to convert others to their beliefs and interests, insisting on the “right” way to worship and the “right” God to believe in. The traveling church brigade simply provides an opportunity for others to worship. Traveling with Bismark and the crew simply gives me an opportunity to see parts of the country that I otherwise wouldnt, and meet incredible people.

We drove for 45 minutes to this gorgeous mountain top community. The temperature was 12 degrees (celcius) colder and incredibly windy. It was no longer shorts and short sleeves weather, but the Nicaraguans who live there don’t have warm clothing. They don’t have anything.
Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere- next to Haiti. More than half of the population here lives in poverty. Half. Its hard to believe that its not just one small community that I’m working with in La Chureca.  The poverty is everywhere.

The sun was setting into the ocean as they began the service. Yup. I got to make my speech in front of this congregation as well. White people clearly don’t make it to El Crucero very often. I tried to sit discreetly in the back and just listen, but everyone turned to watch me instead of the preacher.
The kids loved my camera- partly, because it made them the center of attention for a few seconds, but also because they got to look at the picture afterwards and see themselves.  Difficult to get my head around, but there is no way these people had any sort of mirrors around their houses, and it was probably a rare opportunity to be able to see themselves.
The people of the congregation eagerly and gratefully accepted clothing donations after the service. Beautiful, peaceful, heartwrenching and hopeful.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Bismark, my reliable, wonderful, punctual (hard to come by here!) taxi driver picked me up from school on Wednesday. That day, the car was full. His entire family, mother, 3 kids, wife, church member and all were all in the car. Nope his car isn’t really big enough to fit all 8 of us, but we fit just the same. Being intimidated by large groups of people who only speak Spanish, I squeezed in, thanked them and kept my mouth shut.
Halfway home to the hotel, I gained the confidence to ask where they were going. All I understood was “we’re going to listen to my friend from church play the guitar. Do you have time? Do you want to come?” Time is something that I have a lot of, so of course I said yes.
I found myself in the middle of a 2 ½ hour long church service on Wednesday night. I think there were about 15 people in the congregation. Not a huge crowd, but an enthusiastic group worshipping none the less.
I can’t begin to pretend that I followed everything that happened, but at one point Bismark went up to read a passage, and then introduced his “friend from Pennsylvania” and invited me up to the front to speak. I looked around the room to see if he might be referring to his other friend from Pennsylvania. Nope. He was definitely talking about me.
Mind you, there wasn’t a single English speaker in the room. So I tentatively walked to the front of the church to address the congregation and make a little speech in Spanish about my work in La Chureca with the School of Hope. Ah!
Yet the sermon hit home. The pastor (in Spanish anyway so this was my interpretation) said that the color of your skin, the language you speak or the amount of money is not important. What is really important is the size of your heart and what you do for others. That I can relate to.
After 2 ½ hours of bopping to Spanish hymns that I didn’t know the words to, and listening to a sermon about the “sister in Pennsylvania” I headed home. Everything I hear in Spanish gets translated to English in my head. Its exhausting!
Now I know the word for church- iglesia. Good to know.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hola de Managua

Hola de Managua!  My first 5 days here in Managua have been amazing. I’ve been greeted with humble hospitality everywhere I go. Even though I’m here alone, being surrounded by many gracious Nicaraguans has made for an easier transition. I’m settled, content and diving into things. I’m staying at Hotel Cisneros, a local hotel run by a wonderful family.  They have 3 kids who are in their late 20’s and 30’s who speak English, and have taken me in. Though I’m here to learn Spanish, it’s very nice to have someone to turn to when I really get stuck. I have a beautiful room with a fridge so I’m able to “cook” some of my own meals and eat a bowl of cereal in the hammock right outside my door to start out my days. Not bad at all.
Bismark, a taxi driver and friend helps me get from one place to another. Unfortunately, the neighborhood that I’m in here in Managua is not safe enough for me to walk around alone.  He knows the area really well, and is very patient with my Spanish. I look forward to getting to know him and being able to communicate better in time.
I went to Escuela de Esperanza, The School of Hope, in the trash dump for the first time on Monday. Whether the first or the 50th time, the sight doesn’t become any easier to stomach. I hope I never grow comfortable with the sight. Nothing about people sorting through trash for a living should ever be comfortable.
This will really surprise those of you who know me well, but I LOVE the time that I spend in the school. Luckily I speak the universal “kid” language. Either they don’t know, don’t understand or don’t care that my Spanish skills are less than ideal. I’m grateful for their acceptance. The kids are equally excited to receive a smile a pat on the back or any sort of reassurance whether in the classroom or on the lacrosse field. They crave attention, love and comfort just like any other kid anywhere in the world. That, we have in common.
I hope to transition to being called “Carrie” (with rolled r’s of course) from the whistle and “gringa” (white girl), which is how I’m currently addressed. A lot of “voluntourism” comes through the school during the week. Many missionaries and trips come into the community for a grand tour one afternoon, pick up a few kids, build something and then leave. I think I’ll have to earn my name by showing them that I’m hanging around for a little while.  I sure hope it happens sooner rather than later.
The lacrosse program today was a beautiful mess. Overeager, teenage boys collided with some mothers who also attend the school to play for 40 minutes. I observed the coaches to get an idea of what the program currently is and see the potential of the program as we start to incorporate life skills into the program. The kids are clearly really intrigued by the sport and desire to learn more about it. I’m excited to be here and make that possible. Norman and Miguel, our Nicaraguan coaches are extremely excited about the program and can’t wait to have a little help!
Soon to come:
·      A list of awkaward hysterical Spanish blunders. Yup its only be 5 days and there is already a long list
·      A little history on the community, and why a place like this actually exists
·      Pictures!

If I can talk anyone into snail mail (I know a few of you are already hooked like I am), here is my address:
Carrie Sparkes
Hotel Cisneros
Sector Bolonia; CST
 2c, al sur 1/2c  al Este #555
Managua, Nicaragua

I will DEFINITELY write back, but I can’t promise how reliable the Nicaraguan postal service is. I guess there’s only one way to find out.