Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Other Side

Before leaving Nicaragua I talked about returning to the U.S. with other volunteers and referred to it as “the other side”.  Although I had returned home twice during my 2 years of service, my return trip back was completely different.  In the last year of my service I think I finally grasped just how special Nicaragua is and how much I loved my life lifestyle during service.

Reverse culture shock is something Peace Corps tries to prepare you for as you close your service, but honestly it hasn’t been an issue.  Of course I’ve done silly things like address people in Spanish when they clearly don’t speak the language.  I’ve gone through a drive through and passed the order window with out even realizing it and wound up at the pay window with nothing ordered in my name.  Little American conveniences that are new or I haven’t used in quite some time tend to surprise me. 

The transition from Nica to AZ and then on to South Carolina for grad school was quick, but honestly I don’t know if I would have had it any other way, now that I’m here.  I like having a new focus and meeting new people immediately. I’ve never been good at sitting in limbo and twiddling my thumbs for very long.  I arrived in SC a week ago now with hopes of moving in to a place right away, but with nothing available, my roommate Chalin and I are renting a house from some undergrads who are gone for the summer.  Low and behold our third night in the house we didn’t have electricity because they forgot to pay the electric bill.  Another week went by and the water went out.  I swear it was like Nica all over again, but honestly I didn’t mind it.  I found it quite comical actually that here I am in the U.S. and this doesn’t even phase me anymore.

What I don’t find comical is how much everything costs!  I can’t even remember what things cost before I left for Nica for a comparison, but I sure as heck don’t remember toothpaste costing $5 or a dinner out being so darn expensive.  Granted everything was so cheap in Nica and I was used to dealing in cordobas that I’m flabbergasted every time I take dollar bills out to pay for something.  Spending $20 in Nica was a huge purchase.  I find myself comparing prices of things on craigslist as I buy things for my new life in Columbia, SC to have a better understanding of what things cost. 
Now that I’ve crossed over to the other side I am starting to realize the impact that living two years abroad had on me.  The number one thing that drives me crazy in the U.S. is the amount of time people spend on their smart phones instead of interacting with the people around them.  I look around me at a bar and realize that there is more virtual communication going on than face-to-face.  A new application I just learned about called Tendr lets people search for a girl/guy by distance from them, their picture on their profile, and friends in common.  It’s basically replacing organic chemistry that exists between two people.  I am clearly not a supporter and grossed out by the amount of young men and women utilizing the app.  I am clearly behind on several trends including Dub Step and smashbox burgers.

What I do find comfort in is my spanish class.  My Peace Corps friend and fellow classmate, Chalin, and I have a high-level Spanish class all to ourselves.  The first day of class we just had an hour and a half conversation about our Peace Corps experience, which felt awesome!  I hadn’t spoken more than a few words since landing from Nica and it was such a release!  It was also very comforting that I could understand absolutely everything my teacher was saying in perfect Spanish because I had a hard time understanding many Nicaraguans at some points.  I also had lunch with a graduate of my program from Chile and we spoke the entire time in Spanish with complete understanding of each others' idioms!  What a great feeling to know my Spanish training will translate across countries even though I spoke quite a bit of slang over the last 2 years.
Our first night out in Columbia with the gang!

It’s also amazing to have my buddy Chalin as we go through this transition together.  We speak in Spanish and understand what’s going through the other one’s mind.  We both get overly excited about silly first world conveniences and the variety of food available.  We can even share the cost of books!
Besides my stomach being upset from all the rich foods and feeling freezing wherever I go due to my lack of exposure to AC, I’m doing pretty well.  I really enjoy the people in my program so far and we have bonded already.  It’s the end of week one and I can’t even count on my hands the number of times we’ve all hung out.  I was stoaked when a few class mates, Will and Kristen, wanted to go trail running with me through a state park this past weekend. It also sounds like there are a few surfers in the group so I won’t be alone in hunting down waves.  This weekend a large group of us are heading to Adam's lake house for  three nights for some water skiing, booze cruisin and bonding time!  Almost feels like Peace Corps group all over again!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


"I must be a mermaid.  I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living."- Anais Nin

This quote is at the top of mind as I transition back in to living in the U.S.  I have to say my greatest fear in life is to live with out depth, intention and awareness.  This is quite possibly the worst thing that could happen - to lead a shallow life.

I reflect on all the memories and experiences that awakened much of the inner mermaid in me during my time in Nicaragua.  Not only the connection with the ocean, but the interaction with raw nature, living simply and with out excess, my personal growth and reflection, as well as all the deep interactions with many people.  I was literally a fish out of water when I arrived and some how I've linked the two worlds to feel more like I belong on land and in water.  The challenges I faced forced me to grow and dig a bit deeper.  There is a sense of accomplishment in realizing that I was the happiest(and still am) living in Nicaragua with out all the amenities that I once thought were necessary.  The daily adventures and challenges kept me engaged, alive, and aware.   Even after two years in Nica, life was unpredictable.   Every day held something new and I realize that is how I want to live from here on out.

I will not let myself be complacent.  Impermanence is a word that has also come up lately.  My time in Nica had an expiration date, but then again doesn't everything?  Not all relationships, jobs, life challenges are meant to last and isn't that what makes life so interesting?  and unpredictable? and impermanent?  the one thing that we can rely on is change.  But we owe it to impermanence for helping us grow because each time we make an adjustment we are thrust in to that space of the unknown where we must dig inside to get ourselves through. And although it sometimes is scary or painful, doesn't it always reward us with enlightenment and a lesson learned when we come out on top?  It's powerful stuff. (one of my Peace Crops theme songs)

Although I was not 100% ready to leave Nicaragua I know that I was getting really comfortable in my lifestyle and work.  Not that I would have ever felt complacent, but I am inviting the next step and challenge to make sure that I keep growing as I go forward.  I also know now that the lifestyle I had in Nica is something I want to mesh in to my future.  Grad School will challenge me in different ways and one of them will be to not loose sight of all that I have grasped during my time abroad.  My feelings about the ocean, the people I met, and the Nica culture will never change and I intend to push to keep those feelings strong and cherish their impact.

My journey ahead may have a more practical set up in comparison to the Peace Corps, but I will push myself out of my comfort zone every chance I get.  I will also make it back to the all so familiar Latin American scene come my study abroad in Guadalajara, Mexico and internship in South America to challenge myself in completely different ways.

As I transition I see many differences in values between Nicaragua and the U.S. , which makes me appreciate and also frustrated with our country.  This is where I want to be aware.  To not fall in to the typical work, eat, work out and sleep routine that we all have seen too often.  I will not become a part of the rat race and can say after my experience in Nica that this goal is very doable.  In fact you just have to manifest it for yourself.  I met individuals who made their dreams of starting an eco-lodge and NGO to rebuild an impoverished community a reality.  They have been truly inspiring along with many others.

I see how quickly we race around in the U.S. and judge ourselves if not every second is productive.  I do the same, but have gotten better at just soaking up the present, whatever it may hold.  When I head out to surf, I say," that every day on the water is a good day", waves or no waves.  Obviously I'd like to catch a wave, but what about just sitting on my board past the break soaking in the scenery?  Maybe in my previous life I wouldn't have thought that as productive.

I look at my calendar and realize the only thing I have noted is the first day of classes for my International MBA Program on June 3rd and a wedding for my friend Julia in Philly on July 19th.  This freaks me out, but also gives me a wealth of excitement as this new journey unravels.  And no I probably won't be surfing or hiking volcanos with as much frequency, but the beauty of not knowing what will fill my calendar is exciting.

On Chinandega's oceans is where I met a wealth of amazing individuals who will forever be with me.  I gained myself the nick name of weekend mermaid as I would show up each weekend to surf with out fail.  I promise to make it back to this place that literally stole my heart.  I also promise to return to the ocean as much as possible to re-wet my scales and remember what makes me tick and keeps me alive.  I promise to stay aware, alive and to challenge myself do live deeper and to never approach shallow waters.

Shout out to my friend Chris for capturing my last great surf in Nica!  Chris is also the gal that did all the work to produce the Artesenia del Mar jewelry catalogue and is now continuing to work with the ladies.  Check out her work at

**My friend Ryan gifted me this song and told me it reminded him of me a few days before I left country and I've been listening to it non-stop since. Vampire Weekend- Unbelievers reminds me of my move back the states and what the future may hold.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


This is what I feel as I come to the end of my service-Pure gratitude for my placement in this beautiful country in the city of Chinandega.  I am grateful for the people that have crossed my path and become key components to my experience here.

I have met amazing individuals that have helped me to re-define the meaning of living fully and whole-heartedly.  I have learned to love more freely, judge my self a little less, and define a good day as having a personal connection whether it be with myself or someone else.  This place and the people I have become close with(Nicas, Volunteers, and ex-pats) have forever changed me, and I am grateful for that.  I still love the great outdoors and the ocean, but with a greater intensity and appreciation than ever.  I feel I have become a more pure, uncluttered, down to earth version of the gal that left the states two years ago. 

I have immense gratitude for the counterparts and organizations that helped me to make my dream of improving the lives of Latin American women a reality. I have worked with women entrepreneurs in meeting their personal and professional goals.  I have influenced business owners, youth and educators.  I have loved many Nicaraguan people and they have changed me eternally.  I have surfed and salsa danced my heart out.  I have challenged myself in so many ways- emotionally, physically and intellectually.  I came in to this experience with an open mind and heart, to fill it up with much more than I thought I ever could.  I am so very grateful for this.

I am grateful that the people I have worked with have chosen to express their gratitude for me in various ways.  The ladies of Pro Mujer put on a house party with loud salsa music, friend chicken, soda and a gift of a turtle statue: I only like the first of those four things, but I’m so grateful!  I love that this is how they show me how grateful they were for my two years of working closely with them. 

Regret is not a word I like to use, mainly because I don’t believe it exists; it’s simply an unhealthy form of dwelling in the past.  Everything happens for a reason and you learn from it.  As I reflect back on my service and begin to put on paper what these 2 years meant, I contemplate if there is anything that I have left undone, but there isn’t.  I am grateful for every ounce of sadness, discomfort, rejection, joy, accomplishment and triumph I experienced.  Because the harder times help me to grow and realize just how grateful I am for all the wonderful things in my life.

I am grateful to have experienced living in a developing country and realize just how great we have it in the U.S. and where our values could be considered out of whack. I can say I truly have loved living here and I’m hesitant to re-immerse myself in the first world, but I’m grateful that I have that opportunity to do so if I chose.  I can’t tell you how many Nicaraguans have asked me to take them with me to the U.S., jokingly, but with all seriousness.

I am grateful that the stars aligned and I will be studying at the University of South Carolina in an internationally focused MBA program that fits me perfectly.  I’m grateful that I will be traveling back to Latin America with in nine months as I continue to study and feed my craving to travel.  I’m grateful that my position with Peace Corps and my past experiences has helped me to obtain a scholarship in the process.

I am grateful for all the friends and family back home who have supported me and even made their way down to see my life in Nicaragua.  I am grateful that you all have taken an interest in what I chose to do with my life for two years here in Nicaragua.  Thank you.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Love is in the Air

The final weekend of Semana Santa I made my way back home to Chinandega for Holly’s wedding on Saturday the 31st.   This wedding, unlike any other I have been to,  triggered something with in me and for the first time I saw for my own eyes what I would like to have one day.

As I pass Kim, Holly and her sisters on the way to prep for the wedding my heart skips a beat and I start getting excited for the festivities.  When I pull on to the Coco Loco property a wave of comfort and belonging engulfs me.  I was not sure if I was going to make the wedding on time with Semana Santa traffic and the stress falls from my shoulders.  Holly’s surfer friends greet me with white pore cleansing face masks as they play the guitar in hammocks on the front porch of their cabana.  Instantly loving Holly and Kim’s families and friends we head to where the wedding will take place at La Bahia owned by our friends Jimmy and Lisa just down the beach.  We walk in greeted by a beautiful ocean view and familiar faces.  Holly and Kim brew their own beer and made an amazingly hoppy beer for the occasion to accompany Lisa’s signature cocktail-passionfruit and rum.  Non-traditionally we all mingle over drinks with the bride and the groom before the ceremony.   Holly is wearing a simple white Marilyn Monroe style dress to her knees.  My jewelry ladies made a beautiful necklace of shells that covered Holly’s chest.  Her matching earrings and bracelet also have the same sea-foam beads that match Kim’s linen shirt.

Casually around sunset we all walk barefoot down to the edge of the property covered in birch trees looking  out over the bay where we surf.  Under a simple halapa Holly and Kim share their vows with each other, just them, no on else was involved in the ceremony.  Holly’s sister and Kim’s brother each share a special story about when they met their siblings’ spouse-to-be.  Their puppy Lobo was waits patiently in the half circle of folks that gathered around to witness the event.  At the couples signal he runs up with the rings tied to his collar.  Instead of “I-dos” Holly and Kim had made a wedding wine of calala, honey and gang to toast with.  We raise or hand carved glasses of jicaro seeds to toast to the couple's future together.

As the sun sets photos were taken, we smoked cigars and sipped our wine with the newly wed couple.  After the sun sets we make our way back to the pool for a candle lit dinner made by the amazing staff of Coco Loco.  They served fish tropical from the fisherman, nacatamales made by Victor’s mother, local leafy greens and much more.  Coco Loco's famous carrot-almond-cacao cake is served for desert just before the dance party. 

Jackie, Nikki and I make moves to get people going and before ya knew the entire wedding party is on the dance floor and the host Jimmy is pouring rum in to everyone’s mouth as he makes is way around the dance floor.  At one point the groom stops him abruptly and makes him par-take in his own activity.  One of Holly’s friends performs a break dance and every one has their chance to show-off inside the dance circle. 

Finally we make our way back to Coco Loco along the moonlit beach only to find ourselves back at the beach for skinny dipping.  The bioluminescence I had experienced on the Atlantic coast earlier in the week were even more intensified.  As we swim out to sea a continuous glow follows our bodies.

It was a beautiful wedding. It was small, simple, intimate, and real.  No unnecessary people were there or extra words said that didn’t need to be said.  Everyone felt the same about the bride and groom and the amount of love that they bring to the community.  Everything was connected, from the waves behind the couple as they married, to the brew served, to the jewelry made by local shells that Holly wore.  It was personal beyond words for everyone who came and shared the joy.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Semana Santa East Coast Style

This year Semana Santa feel on the last week in March which Noelle, Chalin, Ryan and I decided to treat ourselves to one last big trip.  We took off on Friday to Little Corn Island.  I had been twice before to spend a few days with my mom and Kevin when he visisted, but was never able to finish my Scuba Diving certification.  This time, I was determined and so glad I made the investment.  The four of us hippies had a sweet group dynamic and an amazing time together on this island of no shirts or shoes. The four of us snuggled up in a cabin at Casa Iguana enjoying basil mojitos and our own little private stretch of beach.  Granted this time around I didn’t linger on the beach as much I spent underwater exploring. 

When I tried scuba diving the last time I was on Little Corn I immediately feel in love with the underwater world.  There is an immense difference form snorkeling and free diving versus floating at the ocean bottom amongst sea creatures and their habitat.  Since I’m typically in to more “high impact” sports I wasn’t sure if I was going to get hooked or not, but my obsession with the sea took over.  The mermaid in me found complete serenity floating over the coral reefs and ducking under shelves and arches searching for sea life. Some of the highlights where encountering a ancient female sea turtle with the enormous amount of barnacles on her back revealing her age.  On that same dive we saw Dolphins before diving down and could hear their clicking noises underwater and enormous puffer fish with one eye When I was finally certified I went on a night dive which proved to be magical as  we turned off our flood lights to see the bioluminescence which were activated with each kick of my fin.  I swam amongst various sea turtles that decided to leave the comfort of the caves in the coral as I passed over them.  My last dive Chalin and I went with a dive master who was hunting Lionfish with a spear gun since they are not native to these islands.  As he killed and collected more fish the blood started to attract other creatures, two of them being Nurse Sharks.  As they tracked the sent you could see their bodies twitcing back and forth.  It was a feeding frenzy as the dive master fed them the fish one by one of the end of his spear.  Even though he was handing over their prey dead, the sharks still acted like they were on the hunt which was amazing to see as we floated only feet above them.

The diving was truly amazing, but Noelle and I got a sweet snorkel sesh in as well where we saw an enormous Eagle Ray. When I wasn’t pruning in the salt water or on the boat I was playing volleyball, chillen, or stuffing my face with amazingly fresh seafood. 

The four of us conveniently were in the same place as far as pursuing grad school after Peace Corps and agreed that this would be our last shebang before hunkering down to save for school.  In fact the night we decided to go all out with a big group and eat at the nicest place for dinner was the evening I checked my email on Ryan’s phone to find out that I had been awarded a merit scholarship to USC cutting my tuition in half!  The trip was an awesome chance to process all of these changes and opportunities before me.  We drank well ate like Kings for no more than $8 a night.  We indulged in margaritas, crack Pina coladas, run down seafood soup, lobster, coconut bread French toast, pork ribs and so much more.

I left Little Corn with a clearer view of what my next few years were going to look like and finalized that I could live with my buddy Chalin at USC after 5 nights of living on top of each other in our little cabin.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Since January I have been working on a social impact project called ChatSalud, which was started by a group of Peace Corps Health Volunteers.  I can't take credit for the innovative idea as that was all health volunteers, but I was asked to get involved in ChatSalud to leverage my finance background and sort out the project's finances.  

 ChatSalud is a free and anonymous text messaging service to educate rural and urban Nicaraguans on safe sex practices, HIV AIDS prevention, and reproductive health in rural areas via text messages.  One thing that was surprising to me when arriving to Nica is that everyone has a cell phone, whether they have electricity or not.  It’s pretty common to bum electricity off a neighbor or business to charge your cell phone and everyone has one.  There fore about 90% of Nicaragua can be reached via their cell phone and have service to access ChatSalud.  Users text a message to the mainframe and then receive a menu with a list of topics they can read about via text. The user and system keep going back and forth in a "pin-pong" like fashion until the user is satisfied with the information.  Of course these text messages and mainframes cost money so we have been working on getting investors to buy in.   We believe this system will be extrememly successful given that one of the largest barriers to sexual health education is “pena”.  This Spanish world does not directly translate well to English, but basically means embarrassment.  Nicaraguans don’t like to talk about subjects such as sex, sexually-transmitted diseases, or contraceptives.  Also most rural Nicaragua communities are so small that every one knows everyone’s business.  If a young girl were to walk to the health clinic, every one in her town would know and possibly start roomers.  We hope ChatSalud’s anonymous system, to the point that we can’t even see the number texting in to the system, will help break down this barrier known as pena.

We have already had buy-in from a company called CRONOs who has sponsored servers for the mainframe.  Also one of the largest cellphone service providers Claro has agreed to sponsor all incoming and outgoing text messages, which alleviates a huge expense.  Several Nicaragua universities have provided student programs to help set-up the system and keep it running in a sustainable manner. The next step was to meet with NGOs in Nicaragua that work in the health, women's rights advocation, HIV AIDS and technology sectors.  To name a few that were present: Red Cross Nicaragua, Pro Mujer, ASONVISIDA, Teran Foundation.  We met a the Word Bank where Nishant(ring leader) presented ChatSalud and how we hope to launch a three month pilot to start.  Everyone was extremely receptive and thought it was a great idea!  We formed committees to share responsibilities such as management, content development and advertising as we want this project to eventually be owned by Nicaraguans, not us volunteers.  It was amazing to see about 30 of Nica's most influential business men, NGOs, and academics gathered around an oval table at the World Bank! It's been amazing to be a part of something so entrepreneurial and innovative in the social sector.  Sadly I won't see the project all the way through since I will be leaving soon for grad school, but I hope that I find myself looking at a similar opportunity to get involved in the future in the social impact space.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Taking it Rural

My readers I’m sure have picked up by now that the city of Chinandega where I live is a large city.  It doesn’t mean that it is on par with even a small city in the U.S. by any means, but it has grown a ton since I arrive almost 2 years ago.  We now have a mall with a food court, movie theatre, casino and restaurants.  Two Nicaraguan “5 star” hotels have been built for businessmen and tourists to stay in luxury.  We now have a few cafes and nice restaurants with air conditioning, one of them being a sushi joint.  This may not sound like a big deal to you, but it is for Nica!

Chinandega’s growth is exciting, but it has also voluntarily pushed me to take my work more rural.  I was already traveling frequently to rural beaches to work with the women of Artesenia del Mar and Waves of Hope, but I’ve stepped up my traveling in the new year.  I have been working with Pro Mujer Micro Finance Institution to take my trainings up north to train rural women entrepreneurs in business management skills.  In addition I am also working with the NGO CSMMO, which is basically Chinandega Services for the Movement of Women in Business(translated).  I blogged about them back in the beginning of the year when we elected several women’s cooperatives to receive foreign funds based on their goals to reinvest in their coop. 

Now I am traveling with a Nicaraguan counterpart Candelaria to visit these cooperatives in different parts of rural Chinandega and Leon to offer 2-day workshops.  The women self-organize in their community to host the training and offer lunch to the 20 women invited.  We performed our first training in Jicaral, Leon inviting women from two small communities focusing on self-esteem, the meaning of being a women in society, goal-setting, client service, marketing, accounting, budgeting and saving over the span of two days.  As many of you know, this was my passion before ever coming to Nica, to empower women to take control of their lives and create a future for themselves and their children.  I have become even more passionate about this type of aid after arriving in country and witnessing just how negative the effect of machismo can have on Nicaraguan women.

I loved getting to know these women over the two days, personally getting to know them, their lives, their goals, and being serenaded by an 80 year with a heck of a voice.   At one point we played a version of musical chairs to keep the women from falling asleep in the heat.  Picture women ranging from age 18 to 80 running around to grab the last seat and at one point breaking a plastic chair because they jumped in to it with such force.  It was one of those moments down here where everything almost freezes and I take a step back to look around at my setting of lively Nica women, the wilderness around us, the smell of baho cooking for lunch and the sound of bachata playing in the background.  My mind flicks back in time to what I thought Peace Corps would be before accepting this position and I smile, knowing that the decisions I have made have helped me to create this reality.

I won’t know how many of the women will actually implement what I taught them or if their financial situations will improve, but that’s the nature of the work.  I think after two years I’ve finally become OK with that and realized it’s the experience for not only myself, but for them that matters most.  I know that I loved sitting around over lunch and talking and listening to music.  I know that at the very least they walked away with a better idea of how to track their expenses, a design they created for branding their business, and a goal to work towards.  I had to travel 2 hours each way on a sweaty school bus to get to them each day, but it was so worth it.  The cooking was awesome and I am always well taken care of when around Nica women.  At the end of the training the woman who hosted sent us out in to her yard with a long stick to knock fresh cohote fruit out of her trees to take home.  It reminded me of when a piñata finally breaks and candy goes spewing everywhere as we scrambled to not let the fruit linger on the ground for too long. Cohote is a small green fruit that can be sweat/sour depending on its ripeness, but always better when rolled in salt.

Before I knew it I was back in Chinandega in time to make dinner and then head to the city of Leon in a microbus for salsa dancing with the Chinandega Salsa group.  It was almost culture shock to go from a rural community to turn around and be at a salsa dance club in the city of Leon just hours later surrounded by foreigners and Nicaraguan University students.  That has been the nature of my service here.  I have been lucky to have opportunities and experiences to appreciate everything this country has to offer.  I am really going to miss working with the women, natural beauty, waves, salsa, traveling, friends I've made, food and so much more.  It finally set in that I have created my reality here.  I have created a new life that will be hard to uproot once again.