Questival 2017

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Managua

This is our third week of work in the public hospitals of Managua, the capitol city of Nicaragua. My partner, Ray, and I are stationed at Hospital Infantil Fernando Vellez Pais, although today we visited the nearby Hospital Lenin Fonseca to assess their equipment needs and work on several machines. These past few weeks have been markedly different from our time in Granada, so I would like to use this post to highlight what we’ve learned and what else we hope to accomplish.

First, you need to understand Managua. When Nicaragua was still developing as a nation half a century ago and needed to select a capitol, Granada and Leon both thought they deserved to host the national government (yup, they were rivals back then). After much argument and posturing, they compromised and chose the small city of Managua as a suitably neutral location. Since then, it has grown into the largest and most populous city in Nicaragua with over two million inhabitants. It was the primary site of the Nicaraguan revolutions and remains representative of much of the country’s history.

The streets here wind without purpose and most of them are unnamed. If you’ve ever heard the U2 song “Where the Streets Have No Names”, it was released a year after the band visited Managua. Furthermore, the houses have no numbers meaning that asking for directions and sending mail is a headache. The general lack of organization and sheer size of the city has made it difficult for us to get our bearings, but we have gotten by all right so far. Taxis, buses, and cars compete for space in the two-lane arterials and their exhaust fumes fill the air. Our morning commute is undoubtedly the most stressful part of my day. We arrive at the bus stop at 7:20 and wait with around ten other people scanning the oncoming traffic for bus number 110. When it arrives, we jostle for position and try to get a spot on the bus which is always already crammed full. The other commuters have done this long enough that they have no qualms cutting in front of you and boxing you out. Older women are the worst offenders as they know that there will be no repercussions for their actions. We have learned to be polite yet assertive so as to ensure a spot on the bus without attracting too much undue attention, i.e. more attention than our skin color and scrubs already attract. Apparently Nicaraguan people have seen Asian people only in myths and legends, so Ray gets plenty of stares in any public place.

We avoid attracting undue attention because Managua is far and away the most dangerous city in Nicaragua. Nicaragua is thought of as the safest country in Central America, but only in relative terms. Robbery and delinquency are commonplace and other crimes are on the rise. For instance, a growing problem is that taxi drivers and their accomplices will isolate individual travelers and rob them, sometimes driving them to an ATM and forcing them to withdraw all of their money. To top it off, Ray and I live in what is allegedly a relatively unsafe neighborhood, albeit in a relatively safe house within that neighborhood. I did not consider myself particularly street smart before entering the program, but after hearing countless warnings from coworkers and the homestay family Ray and I have adapted to the danger and change of pace in our new home. We now know just about every trick in the book and have not yet been harassed or robbed. With luck, we can make it the rest of the trip without incident.

Anyways, let’s talk about the reason we came to Nicaragua in the first place. Hospital Vellez Pais is, as you might imagine, pretty different from a hospital in the United States. First and foremost, it is public. Most of the hospitals and “centros de salud” in Nicaragua are government-funded and free to the public. This might sound great, but the government is poor so the hospitals are overcrowded and underequipped. The private hospitals in Managua are world-class, but cost just as much as a hospital in the United States. From an engineer’s perspective, the hospital lacks many of the machines it needs as well as the resources to purchase replacement machines or key components. Many of the equipment saw years of use in the United States, Canada, or Europe before being donated to the third world, and many of these machines arrive in poor condition and without manuals in Spanish. Our second-biggest challenge is trying to help the hospital as much as we can with the limited resources available to us. Sometimes this means combining the parts from two broken machines to form one working machine. In other cases we can use our $50 EWH budget to purchase the less expensive components, such as fuses and cable terminals. However, the machines that we have been unable to fix have been missing a transducer or other key component that would cost thousands of dollars to replace. In these cases, we have no choice but to throw in the towel and accept that it is beyond repair.

The only challenge I consider greater than that is the language barrier. My Spanish is passable and Ray’s is about as good as mine, but there is a stark contrast between using Spanish for a month in Granada and as a traveler and using Spanish to interview hospital personnel and identify needs. When we first arrived we strove to introduce ourselves to as much of the staff as possible to make our work easier down the road. However, the doctors and nurses here are on a tight schedule and do not speak slowly for the benefit of a gringo and a chino. It is also easy to come off as a little dull when you ask someone to repeat what they just said and struggle to speak about more technical matters, so we really only win people’s trust when we fix a machine in their department. After that, they are more willing to answer our questions about the machines and respect our ability to help them. On the bright side, my technical vocabulary is now fairly extensive. I don’t consider myself fluent by any means, but damned if I can’t tell you how to say screwdriver or electrosurgery unit.

We work in the hospital’s maintenance department in the workshop of two electromedical technicians, Juan and Roger. Both of them have over ten years of experience and are capable of solving just about any problem the hospital encounters, as long as they have the parts for it. However, the pace of work in the department is much more relaxed than in the United States and our coworkers spend much of their day reading the newspaper and joking with each other. In contrast, Ray and I had no prior experience with medical equipment, but we are much more motivated to actively seek out the hospital’s equipment needs. With Juan and Roger’s expertise and Ray and I’s work ethic, I have been satisfied with what we have been able to contribute so far.

Anyways, this post has dragged on for long enough. As I mentioned, we visited a different hospital today but will address that in a later entry. Stay posted, and don’t forget to visit Facebook for the photos I’ve uploaded so far.

Concepcion

In the middle of Lake Nicaragua there exists the island consisting of two active volcanoes known as la Isla de Ometepe. This past Saturday five other members of the program and myself attempted to summit Concepcion, the larger of the two. It stands at around 1600 meters and is covered by dense jungle until a lookout of sorts at the 1000-meter mark. We had heard that it was a difficult climb to the top but were intrigued by the promise of tropical rainforest, howler monkeys, and igneous rocks that feel warm to the touch due to the volcanic activity.

After our Friday hospital visit in Granada we hopped on the bus to Rivas, took a taxi to San Jorge, and boarded a makeshift ferry to Ometepe’s port city of Moyogalpa. Since the death of several lost hikers, Nicaragua’s tourism office requires all groups hiking Concepcion to hire a guide for the day to show the way. We hired ours, got some dinner, purchased food and water for the hike, and went right to sleep to prepare for the agreed upon 4:30 AM departure. The next morning we stumbled out of the hostel, caught a bus to the trailhead 4 kilometers away, and scarfed down the bananas and corn flakes we had purchased the night before. We started to hike through the fertile farmland surrounding the base of the volcano, which was mostly flat and amounted to 45 minutes of brisk walking.

At the end, the terrain abruptly transitioned into a steep incline shielded by trees, vines, boulders, and other obstacles. We diminished our pace slightly, but not enough to avoid exhausting ourselves on the difficult climb. Even the student on the Duke track and field team, who runs 10-15 miles a day, was having difficulty navigating the winding and muddy slope. We eventually realized we were pushing too hard and agreed to slow down and take more frequent water breaks. Our guide thankfully agreed, promising that a manageable pace was crucial if we were to take the crater.

At about 500 meters I first noticed the warning signs of an impending migraine. For those fortunate enough to never have experienced one, some typical symptoms of a migraine include the loss of vision to a field of shimmering lights, acute headache, and nausea. All of these symptoms are exacerbated by light, sound, and strenuous exercise, and unfortunately climbing a volcano at sunrise through howler monkey territory involves all three. I tried to continue drinking water and focus only on the next step, but I could feel the nausea in particular growing all the time. By 600 meters I called to the lead hiker to stop and promptly lost my breakfast to the side of the trail. Everyone expressed their concern and asked if I wanted to go back, but I managed to convince them to allow me to continue to at least the lookout point at 1000 meters. This was partly due to pride and partly to me not wanting to delay the group, but mostly because you don’t get to climb a volcano in the middle of a lake every day and I wanted to get the most of my $12. I had to power through the nausea but we did arrive at the lookout some time later.

I was more than a little relieved to break the tree line and look down over the surrounding country and Lake Nicaragua. The view was therapeutic and as we sat down to eat I realized how hungry I was. We drank more of our recommended 3 liters of water and opened up our bags of snacks. Among the selection were Ritz crackers, tortillas with jelly, and the Nicaraguan versions of Fruit Loops and Doritos. As we finished our lunch and listened to our guide describe the remaining 600 meters to the crater, I realized that I had made a huge mistake. I had held my symptoms at bay long enough for lunch, but as soon as I stood up I began to feel them more than ever. Nausea returned and this time brought its friends, head pain and loss of vision. I immediately knew that completing the ascent was out of the question for me. I vomited up a good portion of the food I had just consumed and informed my companions of my predicament. We agreed that I would remain at the lookout to recover while they completed the climb. There were several other groups of students from our program hiking the mountain that same day, so we figured that I should have company in an hour or two. I wished them good luck and watched them disappear into the clouds.

The wind and rain began to pick up, prompting me to take my waterproof shell from my backpack, put it on, and curl up in a ball. Even so, the wind chill was intense and I found myself shivering in the cold. I decided to move below the tree line and find a more sheltered position. As I went about doing so, I noticed that my symptoms had persisted this whole time. I threw up once more to the side of the trail and pressed on down the mountain. Just then, my symptoms decided to peak. Fleeing the weather had caused me to lose just about all vision and develop one hell of a headache, so I had no choice but to stop in my tracks and wait it out. My best remedy for migraines in the past always been to simply lie down and try to sleep, so I did just that. Flashing back to a wilderness survival course I took one summer on the Hood Canal, I proceeded to use my backpack as a pillow, curl up into the fetal position, cover myself with a few ferns, and fall asleep on the side of the volcano. I think I was out for about 20 minutes until the howler monkeys woke me up again. The good news was that my vision had returned and my headache seemed a little better. The bad news was that I was shivering even more than before. I knew just how dangerous hypothermia could be, so I reviewed my options. Recognizing that I had enough food and water to last me the rest of the day and that I needed to generate some body heat, I decided to continue down the mountain on my own. I figured that I informed the rest of my group as such and concentrated on following the trail. Claro (the cell phone company we use here in Nicaragua) may offer the strangest phone plan I have ever seen. However, their phones get reception in the strangest of places and I really have to hand it to them for allowing me to remain in contact with hikers elsewhere on the mountain.

The descent was surprisingly pleasant. I was feeling better and being alone allowed me to really appreciate the majesty of my environment. More than anything, I had not yet realized how much sheer sound the jungle’s wildlife could produce. Between the birds, cicadas, howler monkeys, and the omnipresent wind, it was almost deafening. I found myself alone for the first time in three weeks and gladly used the opportunity to reflect on my time here so far. When I was interrupted by a group of hikers ascending the mountain, I was momentarily annoyed. Then I recognized them as other students from my program, and cheerfully explained to them the events of the day so far. They were initially concerned, but concluded that I had done what I needed to do. I told them that I planned to continue the descent on my own, and they agreed to let me go so long as I was feeling better and confident in my ability to navigate my way down the mountain. I was, and we parted ways. This happened several times more as I ran into other groups of people I knew from my program or as travelers from Germany and Ireland I had met on the ferry the day before.

I continued down the slope, making sure to follow the trail closely. When there was a fork in the trail, I turned and faced the mountain once again to remember what path we had taken while ascending. I reached the bottom of the steep section without incident and enjoyed the relief to my quadriceps as they found more level terrain. I relaxed a little, but took note of the fact that I was running low on water. As I made my way through the farmland made fertile by the volcanic soil, I started to scan the small houses for signs of a refrigerator that might contain refreshment. I made it to the trailhead and took a quick selfie to send to my group to assure them of my safety, only to remember that I only had the Claro phone.

I turned onto the main road and came across a house connected to power lines. Feeling a little dehydrated, I approached the elderly woman and two children standing in the front yard. The woman looked tired after a life of tolling the land (she was still holding a machete) and did not look enthused to see me. I explained to her my predicament as best I could, asking if I could buy something to drink. She opened the refrigerator inside to reveal an enticing assortment of water, Gatorade, and Coca-Cola but shut it again when I said that I only had 30 cordobas remaining. When I persisted, she led me back outside and pointed to a small tree that had fallen nearby. After much discussion and gesticulation, I understood her offer: she would give me two Gatorades provided that I use her machete to chop the tree into firewood. I, of course, immediately accepted her offer and began hacking away at the wood. Let’s just say that machetes were not intended to be used as axes, but about 20 minutes of manual labor later I was handed two glistening bottles of orange Gatorade. I drank most of it on the spot. Judging from my pit stains, I probably took in a net gain of about 300 mL of fluid. I regret nothing.

I left the house and continued the four-kilometer walk to Moyogalpa. A local told me that the next bus would come in an hour, but I managed to catch a ride from a group of friendly Canadians that were headed the same direction. At long last, I stumbled into town and returned to the hostel. Nobody was home, so I collected some money from my room and set off in search of food and lots of it. I ended up finding a cheap comedor with delicious huevos rancheros, and as I was finishing my meal I saw some of the students who had gone hiking returning to town. We had all enjoyed Concepcion, and laughed about how my hike had began so terribly and ended up being quite an adventure. I am thankful that I managed to remain calm and return safely, and that day will be one that I will never forget.

ILLUSIONS, Michael…

Yesterday, the 30th of May, was Mother’s Day in Nicaragua. Vendors selling cakes and roses lined the streets of Granada and the building we use for classes was roped off for a night of food, music and dancing. Our homestay family alone includes four mothers so Ray and I enjoyed a family dinner consisting of, believe it or not, asian-style fried rice and red Fanta. After the meal, Rosario brought out an enormous rectangular cake she had bought in Managua earlier that day. We sang the Spanish version of “Happy Birthday” which in fact does not mention birthdays at all but only that “queremos pastel” (we want cake!). Fortunately, it still had the same tune as “Happy Birthday” so I was able to lip-sync my way through it while clapping enthusiastically. The had a light and fluffy frosting that was only a little a little bit sweet, so it earned full marks in my book.

After dessert, the family turned on some music and we talked in the living room. Soon enough, the young children of the house announced that they had “trucos”, or tricks, to perform for the family. Alejandro demonstrated some impressive sleight of hand in a trick where he held a coin in each hand, then quickly flipped them over while throwing one coin to the other hand. One of the girls then laid out nine napkins in a 3 x 3 grid, then turned around and asked us to point to one. They turned around, and almost immediately pointed to the napkin we chose. As I suspected, the trick was to have an accomplice (in this case her sister) place a water bottle somewhere on one napkin off to the side to indicate the location of the napkin we chose. It was all good fun, and the mothers looked proudly on as their children performed for the family. Of course, when they had finished the family looked to me and Ray and asked if we had tricks of our own.

Five minutes later, I asked them for a deck to use for a card trick that I may or may not have learned when I asked to use the restroom and instead grabbed my computer and googled “easy magic trick”. Since magic, of course, is primarily a matter of showmanship, I did my best to hype up my performance in broken Spanish. I told the family that since there were four mothers with us to celebrate Mothers Day, I would summon the four queens from their respective positions in the deck. I handed the deck to Rosario, the grandmother and most senior of the four, and asked her to cut the deck into two piles however she liked. I then asked her to cut each of the two piles again to give four piles of roughly equal size. When she had done so I took each of the four piles and took three cards from the top of the deck and moved them to the bottom, and then dealt the next three cards onto the tops of the other three piles. When all was said and done, I asked Rosario to reveal the top card of each deck. Sure enough, I made good on my promise and each was a queen. Amidst thunderous applause I gave each of the four mothers a queen and told them that the trick was my Mother’s Day gift to them.

The Magician’s Alliance will surely blacklist me for this, but the trick is actually incredibly easy to do. All you need to do is make sure that the top four cards of the deck are the four queens (or four of any card you want, go ahead and use kings if it’s Father’s Day). Then, when the spectator cuts the deck keep track of the pile from the top of the deck and make sure to handle that pile last. When you do, the four queens will be the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh cards so that you deal a queen onto the top of each pile in the final step. Abracadabra.

Anyways, it turns out that Nicaraguans love magic tricks just as much as any other people, perhaps more. If you ever have the opportunity to visit, make sure to learn a few card tricks before you leave just in case.

Remember that one time when it rained?

Even after four hours’ worth of vocabulary and verbs from this morning’s Spanish classes, the two words I remember best came up after we went home for the day. These are: escoba, Spanish for broom, and tempesta, Spanish for storm. I’m sure I learned both words long ago and forget them shortly afterwards. However, I doubt I will forget them any time soon.

When Ray and I got back from the school, we looked at the gray clouds in the distance and noted that it would probably rain later tonight. At approximately 5:30 PM, I saw myself in the mirror and decided that I was long overdue for a shave. After borrowing a small hand mirror from Felix I lathered up with shaving cream and carefully guided one of my disposable razors from home across my face. Of course, the storm chose that moment to unleash torrential rain and intermittent lightning and thunder upon our humble abode. The power went out and I was left clutching a mirror in one hand and a razor in the other, half shaven and still covered in shaving cream. I went to open the door to our room to make it easier to find my flashlight in the dim lighting. Vanessa was rounding up her children with a flashlight of her own, and the three of them burst out in laughter to see me, disoriented and covered in shaving cream, stumbling through the house.

Fortunately, the power came back on soon enough and without hesitation I ran back to the bathroom with my razor to finish the job. When I came back out a few minutes later, it was raining so hard that the garden in the middle of the house was flooding. For some context, our homestay family’s house has a garden in the middle that is not covered by the roof. It is lined with small troughs that ensure that the garden can drain properly, at least under normal conditions. These troughs were overflowing with water, threatening to flood the adjacent hallways and rooms. I would like to think that I have seen enough rain in my lifetime, but the rain coming through the opening in the roof was without a doubt the most rain I had ever seen in terms of sheer volume per unit time. The closest I can remember is when my father took my brothers and I to Florida to watch the launch of a space shuttle, and we got caught in the rain while unloading our luggage from our car to the hotel. My mother talks sometimes of the monsoons she saw in the Philippines, and I think I finally understand what she was talking about. Our homestay family, joined by Ray and I, frantically grabbed buckets to start bailing water.

With fairly minimal communication, we formulated a strategy. We had five or six buckets available to us, some large and some small. Some would use the small buckets to scoop water out of the troughs and fill the larger buckets to the brim, after which others would carry the large buckets to the driveway and dump the water down the gradually sloped surface and out of the house. Still others would use brooms to sweep the water on the floor along the same route, a technique that worked surprisingly well. At first I was assigned to carrying the larger buckets, but as the older women grew tired I took up a broom and guided the water out the door. The water spilling out of the troughs maintained a water level of about a centimeter above the floor, so I had plenty of time and plenty of water with which to perfect my technique. After tonight, maybe I should quit the program and become a pro hockey player.

After doing this for 90 minutes (not an exaggeration), the rainfall died down to a rate that the drains could handle. By that point, we were drenched in a mixture of water and sweat from head to toe. The nine of us put down our buckets and brooms and enjoyed a collective sigh of relief. Rosario thanked us for helping, and even started a round of applause. Ray gratefully collapsed onto his bed while I hopped in the shower, redundant as that may seem.

Today was a good, if difficult, day. I will remember at least two of the words I learned today, and I will never underestimate the Rainy Season again. If you have the opportunity to help a family save their house from flooding, then try your best to do so. 10/10 would recommend.

Felix

One of our homestay family’s children is named Felix. He is the Nicaraguan equivalent of a senior in high school and thus the closest to my own age. He goes to school about a block away from our language school and we take more or less the same route.

Felix is a good kid. He is intelligent, patient, and funny. He was the first person with whom Ray and I had an extended conversation and he helped me feel at home almost immediately. He wants to be a computer engineer although his dream job would be to work for Konami, the Japanese video game company. He says that he usually finishes his homework relatively quickly and often plays an hour of Metal Gear Solid before he gets bored. He says that he learns new games quickly and that once you know a single console, the hand-eye coordination and rapid decision-making skills required are more or less universal. He enjoys sports games in particular, and avoids horror games because they keep him up at night.

Felix offers a wealth of information about life in Granada to which we would otherwise be unable to access. He tells us about life as a student in a Nicaraguan high school: how the students are rewarded for being studious or punished for being disruptive, how the boys and girls joke and flirt, and how the administration tries to keep the students in line. The boys are rowdy enough, but the teachers are not afraid to speak their mind. If you throw a ball of paper at a teacher, the teacher will throw it back at you and won’t hesitate to speak exactly what is on his or her mind. Felix studies hard and tries to mind his own business, and as a result manages to stay out of trouble for the most part.

Good grades and diligent studying are necessary to receive una beca, or a scholarship. It seems that the scholarships to universities in Nicaragua are based almost exclusively on merit and offered to students that demonstrate their aptitude. Although his family could probably afford to send him to the university in Managua, Felix genuinely enjoys learning and wouldn’t mind receiving a scholarship himself. His English is very respectable and he is taking German classes as well. According to his aunt, he enjoys learning the most difficult languages. I mentioned to him that if we wanted to study engineering, then he might apply to schools in the United States that could offer him need-based financial aid as well. He said that he wouldn’t mind studying and working in the United States, but that it would be a world apart from what he was used to. In any case he has the intelligence and drive to end up where he wants, wherever that may be.

First impressions, long overdue

Today is technically my second full day in Nicaragua. We arrived Thursday night, and by the time I finish this monster of an inaugural blog entry it will be Saturday night. To anyone who ends up reading this blog, hello there. I am an engineering student from Duke University participating in Engineering World Health’s 2013 Summer Institute in Nicaragua. Our team of about 20 students will spend the next four weeks in Granada, NIcaragua living in homestays and taking classes in Spanish and medical instrumentation and repair. We will then split up into pairs to work in hospitals all over Nicaragua for another month. I plan to use this blog as a way to unwind in the evening and to recount my experience to my family and friends. Although I’ve never kept a journal, I hope that writing for a short block of time every evening will be refreshing and therapeutic. I’ve heard plenty of criticism of my writing, so please forgive me if these posts are hard to follow. I prefer to write in English, but maybe as my Spanish improves I’ll try to be bilingual. I can’t think of anything else to say before I begin, so BUCKLE UP.

I was probably the first of our group to leave home, taking a red eye flight on Wednesday Night from Seattle to Miami and arriving in the early hours of Thursday morning. I managed maybe three hours of sleep, but had to stay awake for about ten hours before the connecting flight to Managua to watch my backpack. By the time Charlotte and Ray showed up at Gate J3 I had seen almost the entire airport, hotel and all. When I looked up from the water fountain to see Ray’s chipper face down the corridor, I realized how nice it is to see a familiar face after even less than a day of solitude, sleep deprivation, and boredom. Two days into the trip, I can confidently say now that boredom will not be a concern of mine for the next two months.

The flight from Miami to Managua was very good. I sat with Charlotte and Akshay, with Ray and Chas a few rows behind us. The stewardesses were nice, the food was decent, and the flight landed early. When we got off the plane and rushed to make the 5 PM bus to Granada, I got my first taste of Nicaragua.

I stumbled my way through a conversation with the immigration officer, hauled my baggage onto the conveyor belt for customs, and walked through the double doors into the waiting area for arrivals. I think that the thing that struck me the most was not the number but, for lack of a better word, the density of people. The room was full, families and strangers alike pressed together near the doors scanning the line of travelers for their family. We certainly drew plenty of stares between the five of us. The rest of our group was waiting some distance apart from the locals, noticeably uncomfortable in the oppressive heat. I was sweating as heavily as anyone, coming from a cool Seattle May. We joined them about ten minutes before the bus arrived, so before we knew it we were in one of many retired yellow school buses that had by one way or another made its way to Nicaragua.

Around this time, I realized that I had the family camera in my backpack and put it to use. After wrestling with WordPress for some time, I think I have figured out how to embed pictures with captions in blog posts to better convey what I have seen.

Front of the bus.

Front of the bus.

For a visual learner like myself, the bus ride was as good an introduction to Nicaragua as I would get. The bus itself was easily large enough to accommodate twenty college students and their baggage, and had maroon stripes and black letters painted on the sides. In fact, there were many, many yellow school buses on the road repainted in some way to disguise their former purpose. They now serve as the primary means of transportation in the country in numbers that rival the number of taxis and other cars combined. On the highways, the buses are packed full with as many passengers as possible to the point of overflowing. Motorcycles and bicycles are evidently far more affordable, as they drive at slower speeds near the shoulder of the highway. The men use their motorcycles’ superior maneuverability to zip in and out of traffic without batting an eye. This happens surprisingly often, even when a single-seat motorcycle (no more than a dirt bike) carries two or even three passengers.

The drivers communicate by honking their horns. This is not limited to honking angrily when someone cuts you off, as in the majority of the United States. They honk to say hello, they honk to say goodbye, they honk to warn the merging motorcycle, and they honk in anger at the pedestrians jaywalking across the highway. They say that the biggest cause of injury and death among travelers in developing countries is motor vehicle accidents, and I pray that I hear plenty more honking if I forget to look both ways before crossing the street. I’m trying to be careful, but there aren’t many rules of the road here.

Nicaragua, known as the “land of lakes and volcanoes”, certainly has plenty of variety in terms of landscape. Managua and Granada border Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua, respectively, so there are some very nice views if you know where to look and are willing to climb some stairs. There are several active and passive volcanoes in the area as well, so the land has so far lived up to its namesake. Most of the land is at least lightly forested, with long grass and dark soil. Away from the major cities and highways, the roads are made of dirt and horses are a common means of transportation.

The drive to Granada took about an hour and a half due to heavy traffic. The city is interesting and our homestay family very hospitable. I could easily spend hours writing about the city and our homestay family, so I will defer these until a later entry.

Yesterday morning we went to the school for the first time to take a placement test for Spanish classes and hear an orientation presentation from Alex, one of our two on-the-ground-coordinators. A troupe of dancers from the local studio came to perform a traditional folk dance in our classroom, and it was hard to watch without smiling. Afterwards we had some free time to explore the city during which we walked to calle la calzada, which is apparently one of the nicest (not to mention tourist-friendly) areas of the city. Akshay made friends with the owner of a restaurant/sports bar while we weren’t looking, so we promised him to eat there today while watching the champions league final. Soccer and baseball are the most popular sports here (although I have seen several basketball courts), so it comes as no surprise that everyone watches the champions league. I saw plenty of Barcelona jerseys, one Dortmund jersey, and zero Bayern jerseys but I think they care far more about the game than the outcome.

There is still more to tell, but that’s all I have in me for now. This should be the longest of my posts. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more about Nicaragua.