This blog is for the friends and family of Kimberly Cook, RN who want to follow her adventures serving at Nueva Vida Clinic in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua. Welcome!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Acostumbrándome (Accustoming Myself)

I am getting to the part in the adjustment process of beginning to feel more comfortable and familiar with my surroundings and the reality of living in Ciudad Sandino, Managua, Nicaragua. I smiled to myself while swimming in the pool on Thanksgiving, all the while thinking, “It’s late November and I am swimming outside in 80 degree weather!” and praising God. Although living here has not been easy and there are hurdles to jump every day, I thank God often that he brought me to Nicaragua. I consider it a privilege and a blessing to be here.

Although I am becoming more comfortable with living here, I am simultaneously missing home. It is different than the culture shock I experienced when I first got here. One of the phases of culture shock is rejection of the new culture, and I experienced many thoughts and feelings of rejection. Now that I have been here for about 2 and a half months, and in comparison to the excitement I felt when I first arrived, life is becoming more routine. I still encounter new situations, learn new words, meet new people, and am confronted with a culture very different from my own every day. There are some things I am truly looking forward to experiencing when I return in January, such as visiting more parts of Nicaragua, living with a Nicaraguan host family (I’ll go into more detail re. this in the last paragraph), growing in relationships, and continuing to learn the language and culture. Yet I am definitely missing home. Most of all, I miss the people who know my past and know me. I was recently reminded by a wise woman that although I miss the people who know me well, since living in a different country, I am different. I will most likely realize that the people who knew me well before I left will not know me as intimately when I return, because I am changed. I know that this holds truth. I also know that my family and best friends will continue to support me, and will want to learn how my worldview and I have changed by living here. And because I have only been here for two and a half months, they still know me better than anyone other than God. When I am feeling particularly lonely and homesick, I remember that God knows me the best of anyone, and he is always with me. He will always know me intimately, no matter how much I change. This gives me great comfort.

Although I greatly value my relationships with my family and close friends back home, relationships that I am forming here have already begun to change me. My views on poverty and living in poverty have changed in part because of the relationships I have begun here. Instead of viewing poverty as an abstract concept that I have a responsibility to change, I see it as a problem that impacts all areas of life in the country of my friends. I have also come to appreciate that poverty is a concept that integrates social, environmental, and financial areas. Just because a person doesn’t have money themselves to buy extra food and clothing does not mean that they are living in poverty. One of the beautiful things I have observed here is the importance of living together as family and depending upon your family. Oftentimes, the support of family brings individuals through difficult times.

Family is the base component of life here in Nicaragua. Multiple generations of family members often live in the same home, passing time and life together. The grandmother is a natural ‘babysitter’ (although I imagine it is incredibly difficult for older women to spend their whole day watching little kids!). Some Nicaraguan working-aged women have jobs outside the home, although many stay home to tend to the full-time work of maintaining the home, cooking meals, washing clothes, and raising children. Some sell food and other items from their homes or from a stand nearby. The unemployment/underemployment rate in Ciudad Sandino is 80% (meaning that 80% of the working age population has no job or earns less than minimum wage), so a man is blessed if he is able to find a job. Families attend youth group and church together, go to events together, and spend time together most nights and weekends. They do not schedule family dinners or family game nights because it is built into their culture. It is how they live life – as a family.

From left to right: Amalia my host mom, me, Karen my host sister, and a host cousin (she was painting the house and is speckled with paint)

I and many others have been praying for weeks now for a good host family for me to live with when I return to Nicaragua on January 5th. Thanks be to God that he has provided one! I visited the family and the home yesterday, and it seems like it will be a wonderful fit for me. As it is with many Nicaraguan families, it is unclear exactly who lives in the home and who is visiting. I know that I will have a host mom, grandma, sister (she is 23 also!), and 2 teenage host brothers. I think that some aunts, uncles, and cousins of my host siblings also live in the house. More family lives nearby and comes to visit often. I met some of the family members yesterday and saw the house I will be living in. They seem like a wonderful family and the house is nice. I will have my own room with a double bed – I am truly looking forward to sleeping in a nicer bed! I will not have internet access in the home, but there is a ‘cyber’ 2 blocks away, so I will be able to update my blog every 2-3 weeks and answer emails. I have a feeling that I will get along really well with my host sister and that we will become close friends. She is in college, is not married, and has no kids – something very rare for a 23 year old woman in Ciudad Sandino. We already have a lot in common!

I have a lot to look forward to when I come back to Nicaragua in January. For the time being, I am counting down the days until I come home for Christmas (my plane arrives late on December 15th). There is nothing like being with your loved ones over the holidays. After spending a Thanksgiving away from family, I will appreciate all the more being home for Christmas, and will pray for those who are not home. It will be more than worth being cold in Michigan (it’s already 90 degrees during the day here!) to pass the holidays with my family and best friends.

I am including some pictures below of some of my experiences in the past few weeks. I visited the mountain village of El Porvenir for the first time 3 weeks ago, and absolutely loved it. JHC brings medical brigades there to hold medical clinics, because the closest Nicaraguan Ministry of Health Post is a long distance from the village. I assessed and triaged patients during the clinic hours.

A group of girls who had finished their school day and whom I chatted with while we were waiting for the Ambulancia's engine (the old Land Cruiser we drove to El Porvenir) to cool down. A group of boys at El Porvenir posing for a picture on a cart being hauled by cattle.
An El Porvenir sunrise view from my cot on the porch where we slept. It was beautiful but it got very cold at night.
Sunrise at El Porvenir.
Dancing with the 'single ladies' in the clinic: Me, Inja the dentist, Nila the clinic's cleaner and cook, and Leah a volunteer who works in the pharmacy.
Volcán Masaya, an active volcano in Masaya that fumes sulfur. We visit Masaya with brigades that come to JHC from the States.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tica Travels

I went to visit Scott, a friend from Hope College, in Costa Rica (Tica) this past week. It was great to see him, and I got to relax and enjoy the natural beauty there. Although I was only in Costa Rica for three full days and spent two days on the Tica Bus, a bus that travels between Central American countries, I felt refreshed after my short getaway.

While in Costa Rica, I spent a lot of time outdoors. Scott is finishing up six months of volunteering as a 'resident naturalist' at San Luis Ecolodge in Monteverde, Costa Rica. It is located in the mountains and the area is considered a cloud forest. It is heavily populated by wildlife, including an astounding variety of bird, butterfly, and plant species. The weather was cloudy, rainy, and cold the first two days, but became sunny and a little warmer the third day. I also slept incredibly well on my comfortable mattress (plus, there were no roosters crowing at 4:30 am!). I took a nap daily.

The three highlights of the trip were milking a cow for the first time, touring a coffee farm, and hiking up to Catarata San Luis, the second largest waterfall in Costa Rica.

Milking a cow for the first time. I was pretty good at it...maybe because cow farming is in my genes!

A coffee plant. The beans are not yet ripe.

Grinding the whole coffee bean in an old fashioned grinding apparatus.

Catarata San Luis

I wish I could write in greater detail, but I need to get some sleep because a medical brigade from Alaska is here this week and we have been incredibly busy. Tomorrow at 8am we leave for El Porvenir, in the mountains of Nicaragua, to see the coffee plantation and cooperative and to conduct medical clinics Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. It is about a four hour drive through the mountains, so we will arrive around midday tomorrow and leave Friday after lunch. I will take pictures to share when I return! Hasta la proxima vez.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Las Montañas

As a birthday gift from the Jubilee House Community to Felicia (volunteer coordinator), Paul (volunteer), and me, we went to a cloud forest in the mountains of Nicaragua this past Saturday. There were only five of us (Felica, Paul, Leah, Coury, and me), so we were able drive the Kia. Compared to the ambulancias, the Kia is a luxury car. It is actually fairly new and nice, and we were able to jam out with the CD player and sound system. It took us about 3 hours to drive from Managua to Selva Negra, a coffee plantation and resort area with an abundance of hiking trails.

Selva Negra is located in North Central Nicaragua in the Matagalpa and Jinotega Highlands. The mountain road between Matagalpa and Jinotega is known as one of the most scenic roads in Nicaragua, and I agree. It was a breathtaking drive through mountain towns and past coffee plantations on a road that weaves through the mountains. As we climbed in altitude, the air turned ‘fresca’ (cool) and we saw more horses with carts and women carrying wide umbrellas. It is a completely different culture and environment compared to the busy, dusty, and loud streets of Managua. It was beautiful and tranquil, although life in Ciudad Sandino and the city of Managua is very rich as well. I am truly appreciating and enjoying life here. The pictures of me hiking over a creek and overlooking the mountains were taken by Leah, another volunteer.

We arrived at about 11:30am and decided to eat lunch at the Selva Negra restaurant before hiking the trails. Because we had a fixed amount of money to spend on food and had to eat lunch anyways, it seemed like the way to go. However, the food was ‘rico’ (rich/delicious) and we were all very full by the time we were done eating. The Selva Negra restaurant uses fresh ingredients, including some of their own beef and pork. I ordered café con leche (coffee and milk) for starters…since I was at a coffee plantation, I had to try their coffee! It was clean, rich, and absolutely delicious. As a table, we split the cheese and ham sampler. This included about three different types of ham and at least six different cheeses. I thought I was back in Italy! The cheese was wonderful. For the main course, Felicia and I split a farm raised bacon cheeseburger (that’s right, Dad!) and German sausages with German potatoes and Sauerkraut. During the second part of the 19th century, many Germans immigrated to the east coast of Nicaragua to develop gold mines. However, after establishing themselves in Nicaragua and noticing the perfect mountain climate for coffee cultivation in Matagalpa, many switched their interests to coffee cultivation. Therefore, German roots are present in the Matagalpa-Jinotega highlands, and Selva Negra is owned by a German family. After the meal, we were each given a fresh orange for dessert. I ate mine on the drive home after our hike, and it was one of the best oranges I have eaten in Nicaragua.

After becoming very full from the comida rica (delicious/rich food), we set off on a hike up a steep mountain trail. The cloud forest was beautiful. We saw gigantic trees with roots winding up their trunks, banana trees, coffee plants, butterflies, brightly colored flowers, gurgling mountain streams, and breathtaking mountain views. Pictured to the left is a banana pod. We hiked for about three hours total, about a third of it up the side of a mountain. I loved every minute of it. I decided that I am going back for a weekend before I leave, and I will stay in the youth hostel for a couple of nights – it costs only about $8 a night! There is also a beautiful chapel in the resort area, a banquet/dancing room, gardens, a gazebo, a pond, and varying sizes of cottages/rooms for rent.

Today is my birthday (!!!), and we are going dancing at El Bosque ('the forest') tonight. I am very excited! I have been to El Bosque two times before and it is always a blast! It is a huge covered open air bar with a large dance floor. Half of the music is played by a band and the other half is DJ. The music is a mixture of traditional Latin dance music with some modern popular Latin songs. Every once in awhile, they play a few early to mid '90s slow dance songs in English. I have improved my Latin dance skills and am usually found on the dance floor. Sometimes I dance with one of the guys in our group, but I have just as much fun dancing with a group of girls. Last weekend, Leah and I went to the market with Nila's daughter (Nila works at the clinic) and her best friend. We had so much fun shopping. We also went to a secondhand store where I bought two pairs of jean capris (I didn't bring any jeans with me and realized that I need them!) and a birthday tank top.

¡Hasta la próxima vez!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

La Tierra (The Land/Soil)

I am finally becoming comfortable with Nica (short for Nicaragua) being my HOME for the next ten to eleven months. At first, the widespread and colossal differences between my home in Michigan and my new home here were overwhelming. I wondered, “How am I going to live here for ten months or a year? I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it!” Yet I am becoming accustomed to the things that were incredibly difficult for me at first and beginning to appreciate the depth of life and culture here.

The most difficult aspect to adapt to was the abundance of dirt. I am accustomed to relatively clean cars, clean floors, clean clothing, clean streets…the list goes on. The vehicles that the volunteers use here are NOT clean because it is impossible to keep them clean, considering the roads in Ciudad Sandino and Nueva Vida are covered in mud and dirt even if they are paved. We drive 3 old Toyota Land Cruisers (we call them ‘ambulancias’ because they used to be used as ambulances in Nica), all with mechanical transmission. The ‘youngest’ is a 2000, the middle aged is a 1998, and the Vieja (‘old woman’ in Spanish) is so old that its year is not known among the volunteers. This is the vehicle I drive – yes, I am driving an old manual transmission! – to and from the clinic every day.
I would eventually like to post a video of part of the transit to and from the clinic to give you a better idea of the intense ‘off-road’ drive through Nueva Vida. There are potholes filled with muddy water so deep that the driver has to maneuver carefully through the pothole in order to get through. This can be difficult when there are children walking in the streets, stray dogs running in front of the car, and men and women with food stands set up on the side of the road. I think that after learning to drive the manual transmission Vieja in Nueva Vida during the rainy season, I can drive almost anywhere!

Although I deep cleaned my room 2 weekends ago (as well as switch my bed to a twin size to free up more space in my room) and plan to sweep it weekly, dirt accumulates surprisingly quickly on cement floors! Additionally, my windows are screens with thin glass panes on the outside that one can close to help keep out rain when necessary. But dust still travels through the screens, adding to the accumulation. I cannot imagine what it will be like during the dry season! The entire living area in the dormitory is cement floored, so dirt accumulation is an issue throughout the dorm. We have wonderful women who clean the common area/kitchen for us once a week, which definitely helps. Additionally, I scrubbed the shower 2 weekends ago because no one knew how long it had been since it had been cleaned (which means it was at least 8 months!).It was also incredibly difficult for me to get used to having less storage space, because I love organization and a ‘pretty’ room! I brought along some easy to assemble plastic shelving units with me and was provided a small desk without any drawers. I need to use my suitcases under my bed for extra storage. I got the idea from Felicia, the volunteer coordinator, to stack two plastic Coca-Cola crates on top of each other (we have extra crates in the dorm) and top it with a hard surface (I am currently using cardboard) to function as a nightstand. It is very different from what I am accustomed to, but it is beginning to feel like home!

We are incredibly blessed to have a washing machine in the dorm, because this is a luxury in Ciudad Sandino. Here, people wash their clothing by hand and hang it to dry. I should start a collection of clothing line photos, because they are so colorful and fun! There is no reason to have a clothing dryer here because it is hot enough to hang your clothes on the line to dry. It is more difficult in the rainy season because if the clothing line is not covered, the clothing takes a long time to dry due to recurring rains. We have a clothing line inside the first floor of the dorm (all of the walls surrounding the downstairs common room are screens), but good luck getting your clothes dry on very humid or rainy days! The clothes come out smelling not quite clean. We can’t figure out if it is because of the incredibly cheap laundry detergent we have at the dorm, because we air dry our clothing in a humid climate, or a mixture of both.

Although Nicas have to work very hard to keep their homes and workplaces clean, I have seen many hardworking women sweeping. They sweep inside their homes and the sidewalks outside of their homes. Doña Conchita, the woman who maintains the outside of the clinic and opens the gate for cars to enter and exit, keeps the cement entrance swept immaculately. She also sweeps the dirt ground surrounding the entrance to keep it looking nice. Nila, our incredible ‘housekeeper’ in the clinic, is constantly mopping the mud and dirt off the floors to keep them clean. The clinic always smells wonderful! Although she has arthritis in her elbows from years of cleaning, she puts in a full day of hard work. She arrives at 8am and mops, restocks supplies and sterilization tubs, prepares coffee and a snack for the employees, does clinic laundry, and cleans anything and everything. She takes an hour for lunch and a siesta which helps sustain her throughout the rest of the afternoon until 5pm, when the clinic closes. Although I have not yet become close with many Nica women, Nila strikes me as the quintessential Nica woman. She is hardworking, lighthearted, and joyful, yet carries many burdens. Nila is a widow and has many children. She works fulltime to make the money to support her family, and most nights and weekends are devoted to caring for the children and fulfilling household duties.
Something wonderful happened this morning at the clinic. I was filling out a new chart and assessing an 8 day old baby girl. Her parents had not yet chosen a name for her. Henry suggested my name, saying "Kimberly is a very good nurse, and this would be a good name for the baby girl". 'Kimberly' is my Spanish name because 'Kim' is difficult for Spanish speakers to pronounce, and Kimberly is a well-known name in Nicaragua. I laughed and told the parents, "There are many good names to choose from, for instance Sara or Juanita or other popular names. Take your time while I am filling out the chart to think about it". A couple of minutes later, the parents had finished deciding on a first and second name. Here in Nicaragua, children are given two names (nombres). They also have two last names (apellidos), the father's first last name and the mother's first last name. Guess what name the parents chose? Kimberly de los Angeles. Now I have a beautiful Nica baby girl named after me! I am pictured with her and her mother to the left.

In my next blog entry, I will continue to describe difficulties and joys I have experienced here during the adaptation process. Rest assured that I am becoming accustomed to the difficulties, and the joys are becoming more apparent with each new day!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Un Dia en la Vida (Parte 2)

To continue 'A Day in the Life'...

When I arrive at the clinic a little after 8am, I help Danelia and Henri assess and triage patients. The pediatrician comes Mon.-Fri. from 8:30 to 10:30 am, so there are lots of sick babies and children who come in to see the pediatrician in the mornings. There are also lots of nebulizations and injections that the pediatrician orders, and I administer these. Asthma and congestion from allergies are major problems here. In Nueva Vida (the impoverished community where the clinic is located), food is oftentimes cooked over a fire inside the house, so the house becomes smoky. Additionally, there is dust in the air, a humid climate, lots of stray dogs traveling the neighborhood, and family members smoking inside the house. Overweight and obesity are also big problems in Nicaragua. Fifty percent of the population is overweight or obese. This issue is complex, but stems from a variety of factors including lack of money to buy healthy foods, lack of availability of vegetables, cultural preferences regarding food, and lack of education and value of healthful eating. Many children also have infections, especially parasitic infections due to contaminated water or lack of proper hygiene and an unhygienic environment.
After checking in and assessing patients (in the room pictured here) and administering nebulizations and injections, I am sometimes able to shadow the pediatrician. I have learned a lot from the minimal amount of time I have observed him. He speaks some English, understands the complexity of providing health care for the impoverished, and provides holistic assessment and treatment to patients and their families. I have been incredibly thankful for the time I have spent observing him, and have learned a lot. Additionally, I spoke with him today about topics for patient education. I plan to gather educational supplies, construct care plans, and begin patient education within the next couple of weeks. I will be focusing on hygiene, proper nutrition, reducing environmental triggers for asthma and allergies, and automedication (patients treating themselves with medication without consulting a doctor).

At around 11:30 or 12:00, we head back to the house for lunch. We eat lunch in the JHC (Jubilee House Community) house, which is very close to the dormitory in the same gated community. Kathleen, Mike, their three boys, and Sarah (all members of JHC) live there. Lunch consists of leftovers from dinner the night before, or if there are no leftovers, rice and beans. White rice and red beans are a staple here, and are delicious when made Nica style! We usually head back to the clinic at 1:00pm, but Leah (another long term volunteer who arrived here the same day as me) and I are beginning daily Spanish lessons tomorrow from 1-2pm with a woman who works here for JHC. We are very excited to get some formal instruction and have an hour devoted to learning Spanish each weekday!

Depending upon the day of the week, there are different physicians and specialists at the clinic. The general practice physician comes daily from 2:30 until 5:00 pm. He is a jolly, funny, knowledgeable man whom I truly enjoy observing and interacting with. The orthopedist comes Wed. and Fri. from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm. He provides wonderful care, and has been administering an experimental treatment to his arthritic patients for seven or eight years. It consists of an injection with lidocaine and a mixture of minerals that is very effective to reduce pain and inflammation when combined with diet and lifestyle modifications. The dentist comes Monday afternoons and Tuesday and Thursday for most of the day. She is a young Nicaraguan woman who looks like she is 22 but is actually about 29 years old! (I have yet to post pictures of the dental equipment available, but plan to take pictures of the dentist's room for readers who are interested :-)). The optometrist comes Friday mornings along with two optometry students. As you can imagine, Friday mornings are a very busy time with the pediatrician, orthopedist, and optometrist all available! Additionally, we have a lab tech who works every afternoon.

When I arrive at the clinic in the afternoon, I help Danelia and Henri check in and assess patients there to see the general practitioner. There are many patients with type II diabetes and many with hypertension. I have already seen a few patients with blood glucose levels in the 500’s within my 2 weeks of working at the clinic! (For those of you not familiar with the norms, this is VERY high). It is very difficult, if not impossible, for diabetics in Nueva Vida to regulate their blood glucose levels due to a lack of availability and money for glucometer supplies and insulin. Although they have monthly appointments with the physician, this is not sufficient to keep their diabetes well controlled. By the time they arrive at the clinic, many are already experiencing symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis such as dizziness, increased respirations, vomiting and upset stomach, and increased urination and thirst. Last week, I had the opportunity to start an IV on a patient in diabetic ketoacidosis. Although it is scary stuff, it is a great learning experience for me. Although patients with chronic hypertension have monthly control appointments, blood pressure is oftentimes poorly controlled. Patients come into the clinic complaining of dizziness, headaches, and hot flashes. One woman last week had a blood pressure of 200/130!

After assisting with check-in and assessment, I shadow the general practice physician and administer injections and nebulizations as needed. I have learned a lot from the general practioner, especially pertaining to parasites, fungal infections, viral vs. bacterial infections, hypertension, and diabetes. I have seen many different types of skin lesions and infections. I have also learned a TON of medical Spanish words, although there are many more yet to be learned. It is fascinating to learn so much in a days’ work, but by the end of the day I am exhausted and ready to relax.
There is about an hour and a half between work and dinnertime to finish whatever needs to be done and to relax a little (dormitory photo to the left). I usually eat a small snack (I am famished by the time I get back to the dorm!), put on some comfy clothes, and journal for a little while, read my Bible, exercise, or just hang out. Dinnertime can never come too soon, because we are always really hungry and Kathleen makes great food! We eat dinner together in the JHC house. It is always a balanced meal with a vegetable and main dish, and sometimes another side dish. We have had a couple birthdays since I have been here (this is pretty much the only time we get dessert), and the cakes are delicious! The volunteers rotate dish duty each night – Leah and I share dish duty Tuesday and Thursday nights. I do not mind dish duty, especially since I didn’t have to make dinner! Because Kathleen will be gone for the next 3 weeks visiting the States with Daniel on college visits, I will be making dinner for everyone once a week. I am excited to be cooking for others once again!

After dinner, there is about an hour and a half to hang out before I get ready for bed. During this time, I look up Spanish words that I didn’t know during the workday, journal or read my Bible, answer emails/write blog entries, or just hang out in the dorm kitchen/common area (pictured at left) with the other volunteers. There is usually a game going on in the common area if I would like to join, but oftentimes I like to take it easy at night and spend time in my room. I cherish the alone time that I have at night.

In my next entry, I hope to write about the adaptation process as well as the challenges and joys of serving here. ¡Hasta la próxima vez! (Until next time!)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Un Dia en la Vida

I have been here for over a week now, and am beginning to become accustomed to how incredibly different it is from home. My typical weekday is as follows:
Wake up at 6:00 or 6:30, depending upon whether or not I am working out in the AM. Work out using a Jillian Michaels work out DVD while sweating profusely due to the high humidity, although the mornings are much cooler than the rest of the day. Hop in the shower (the shower walls are composed of stone and cement, and the shower and bathroom floor is very dirty. I hope to scrub it this weekend!) Additionally, our shower curtain is basically two big pieces of plastic connected at the top, so water escapes easily from the shower onto the bathroom floor. I also hope to buy a different shower curtain this weekend at the grocery store. After showering and putting on my scrubs, I take some time to pray to refocus and surrender my day to God. Then, I make coffee (the coffee we have at the dorm is REALLY good because it is from a farm in the mountains who belongs to the farming Co-op here at Center for Development in Central America-CDCA) and usually eggs, toast (yummy homemade bread that is delivered weekly), and fruit. There are various types of fruit here and Nicaraguans are famous for their fruit juices. A couple of times a week, the women who work here at CDCA make fresh fruit juice that is incredibly delicious.

At around 8am, it is time to drive to the clinic. We take one of the three available 'ambulancias', old Nicaraguan ambulances that were donated to CDCA. Their names are 'Vieja' (old woman), '98', and '2000'. They are all basically dirty, old Land Cruisers with mechanical transmission and two bench seats in the back. Felicia, the volunteer coordinator, is teaching Leah (another long term volunteer) and me how to drive the stick shift. We are learning on the Vieja because the gears are very easy to differentiate. I did really well during my first lesson this Monday, thanks to all of my experience shifting gears while riding dirtbike on Grandma and Grandpa Cook's farm! Driving through Nueva Vida, where the clinic is located, is quite the experience. As I mentioned before, it is the rainy season here in Nicaragua and the roads are covered with potholes, many of them large enough for a truck to get stuck in if the driver doesn't accelerate sufficiently! Yesterday, it poured for most of the morning, and when we drove back to CDCA for lunch, the streets were literally flooded with water. The people had to walk through dirty, moving water that was deeper than their ankles. Of course, the kids were playing in the water pouring out of pipes in the low areas of Nueva Vida. It was quite a sight to witness!

The clinic walls were recently painted by a well-known artist from Managua, and are very beautiful. The clinic is a sanctuary for me and for others in the midst of a very poor city.
Nila (far left in the photo), the woman who cleans the clinic, makes the coffee, organizes, and makes us all smile, is wonderful at keeping the clinic spic and span despite all of the mud and dust that gets stomped in. Henri works as a medical tech in the clinic. He is a former war medic and is very talented with wound care and injections (he uses a little lidocaine to take away some of the sting). He always has a 'chiste' (joke) for everyone and keeps me laughing. He also loves to educate me about Nicaragua's past and present, the healthcare system, and Nicaraguan culture and medical sayings. Danelia(far right) is the angel of the clinic and basically runs the place. She has worked there for ten years, is very knowledgeable, and knows how to get things done. Additionally, she is a lot of fun and an incredibly sweet woman with a strong faith in God.

It is getting late and I need to get some sleep, but I hope to finish the rest of 'un dia en la vida' within the next couple of days to give you a more complete picture of a day in my life. ¡Hasta luego! (Until later!)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I'm here!

I wanted to post an update and inform you all that I am here safely and getting adjusted little by little. The flight and car ride to Ciudad Sandino went well. The volunteer coordinator, along with two of the organization founders' teenage son, picked me up at the airport. There were no issues getting through customs and my bags didn't even get searched! I was allowed two checked bags 50 lb. maximum each and one carry-on, and my bags were 49.5 and 50.0 pounds!) The drive from the airport to the Jubilee House Community in Ciudad Sandino was a cultural lesson in and of itself. Many stop signs are disregarded, there are cars swerving in and out of traffic, and street vendors sell trinkets, juice, and food at traffic lights as they stand in the middle of the street between lines of traffic. There are plenty of motorcycles and even some horse drawn carts. The highway that we take from Managua to Ciudad Sandino runs east-west along Lake Managua, then northeast from Managua (up a big hill- you are entering into mountainous territory) into Ciudad Sandino. Ciudad Sandino is located about 10km northeast of the city center of Managua.
Managua is very poor, Ciudad Sandino is a very poor part of the greater Managua area, and Nueva Vida is the poorest area within Ciudad Sandino. While Ciudad Sandino began as a resettlement community for Managuans after the major earthquake in 1972, Nueva Vida is the most recent resettlement community designated by the Nicaraguan government after Hurricane Mitch struck in 1998. The clinic where I am working is located in Nueva Vida. The streets of Nueva Vida are paved with cinderblock type pavement, but because it is the rainy season, the streets are covered in dirt and have huge potholes filled with mud puddles. The people's homes are sided with makeshift wood, which leaves huge gaps in the siding, and tin roofs. They usually have one sink, which is located outside on the porch, and the water is filled with bacteria due to the substandard plumbing.
Good news - I am living in a dorm type facility with a great system for purifying drinking water, indoor plumbing, and intact walls and ceilings. I have my own room with a queen sized bed (and a real mattress, although very old), cement floors and walls, a nightstand, a good fan, an overhead light and a lamp, and screened windows through which I can hear the rain, insects, birds, dogs, and monkeys (yes, we do have 2 monkeys here on the property!) The food is WONDERFUL. We ate black bean enchiladas last night complete with scallions, tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, olives, and cheese. It was one of the other long term volunteers' birthdays yesterday, so we had chocolate cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting for dessert (AMAZING!)
Well, that's it for tonight...I'm really tired and am headed to bed soon. More to come soon!