Friday, July 27, 2012

Who Needs Google When you Have Ulises?

Tuesday was spent visiting three schools.  We counted that we stopped six times to find a rural school, but Ulises says, "Who needs Google, when they have Ulises?"  Actually, when asking Ulises about different things in Nicaragua he would not know so we'd turn to Google.  So.... maybe it should be "who needs Ulises, when we have Google?"  Sleeping in the van does not help us find the schools!  Wake up, Ulises:)
The first traffic stop. Shockingly our driver passed someone when there was a solid yellow line! I think we passed at least 20 vehicles that way...on the way there.
We visited two schools in Chichigalpa, the Special School and Francisca Gonzalez, and one school in El Realajo.  Did we mention that involved two stops by the police that included one ticket for the driver?  We had no idea that there were any rules that were enforced on the roads based on our experiences, but there are a few!  The rural school is El Realajo had 11 students present in the one classroom that was holding class that day (another teacher had gone to another town for a meeting so no class.)  The very kind and eager to learn teacher said that she has 37 students in the 4th grade, but most students do not come to school every day as they have to help their parents by chopping firewood, fishing, or working in the fields.  She wants to be part of the Diplamato and is eager to learn how to teach students with disabilities.  She currently stays after school on Wednesdays to work with some students with disabilities so she can focus on their needs.

Wednesday was another busy day as we headed to the port town of Corinto.  The buses you see in the police photo above were shipped to Corinto.  Today we saw a line of small cars that were ready to go.
We visited three schools in Corinto, Ruben Dario, Sara Luisa Marquero, and the Special School.  It is difficult for us to see the special school tucked away behind the other school.  This is still common in Nicaragua.  The students at the special school had a range of disabilities, and there were only 6 students present at the school today.  The teacher said that there are 3 other classrooms, but the students did not show up.  Last week was a holiday week for the schools so many students have not come to school this week.
Traffic stop number 2. Just checking registration it seemed. Check out the row of buses that had just been shipped to Nicaragua.
Google Ulises pumping water at a Corinto school. This is where the water is.
Beth with one of the student from the Especial School in Corinto.

Julie and Mitzi then headed back to the Leon Deaf School to pick up surveys from the teachers. Mariella gave Mitzi a name sign and the students gave Julie lots of Nicaraguan hugs "adios".  It's very difficult for Julie to leave those students each time so luckily the tears blended in with the sweat rolling down her face.
We were able to find time for the best iced coffee in Leon at Barbaro!!!
We need to remember where to get the best iced coffee in Leon. What a treat!

Chacraseca and La Paz Centro

Being in Nicaragua, we were very fortunate to have internet without interruption for six days in a row.  That ended on Wednesday afternoon so we were not able to keep up with things.  We went to a restaurant near la Casa de Protocolo called Barbaro that had free wifi.  We looked so geeky with all of us on our iPads! :-)
The four of us enjoying hummus and nachos at Barbaro
Thursday morning began at 3:30 a.m. for Mitzi as she headed to Des Moines for a conference.  Beth, Kris and I went to Emily Sendin's non-profit school in Chacraseca.  This is a rural subsistence farming community where the average family wage is $2/day.  The students and teachers here were clean, well-dressed and eager to work.  It was great to see a school with books and even creative materials.
A student making a book of vocabulary and pictures-- the teacher was fantastic!
One of the 13 schools in Chacraseca-- all of them have been built with private funding.

World map painted on the wall

Then went to La Paz Centro to visit the Special School.  The students were being sent home at 11:00 so the teachers could prepare for a meeting the next day, but they were nice enough to stay for 10 minutes to let us observe their teaching.  Then we were able to go to another school which also had no students, but the teachers were willing to complete surveys.  Following that school visit, our driver surprised us by taking us to the Miramar Beach for 5 minutes. This is a well-known beach for surfing and vacations in March! On the way there, we saw many, many houses made with tin and old black trash bags right next to such a beautiful beach.
Special School in La Paz Centro.
FINALLY !! Got the picture of the tractor in the street as another mode of transportation. We kept missing it.

It was 12:40, and we still had not eaten! Around 1:15, we arrived at UNAN-Leon La Preppa for a meeting with the Dean of the college.  There was no food that we could eat at the outdoor "student center" so we survived a little longer on Coke Zero and Oreos.  After a very productive meeting with Francisco, the Dean of the College, we had one more place to stop. Boy were we exhausted and extremely hungry at this point----roughly 3:50pm.  Our final school visit was at Los Pipitos, a Nicaraguan organization that supports children with disabilities. We did get to meet the one Speech Pathologist in Leon. Then, FINALLY, around 4:45, we sat down to eat at El Convento hotel. Our waiter must have thought we were starving and nearly ate all of the warm bread in the restaurant.  :-)
After we were finished eating and walking along the streets of Leon, we ran into Ulises!  This was the second time we randomly ran into him in the city.  (We were avoiding going back to la Casa because Maria would expect us to eat again.)  We had one last walk near the Cathedral before heading back to pack all the pottery and hammocks!  Then, the real adventure began..... trying to communicate our plans to Maria ourselves in Spanish or with the Cuban who knew little English as our translator.  We could only laugh!
One last sunset in Leon (at 5:30 p.m.)-- and-- another look at the electrical wires.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Modes of Transportation

Today we headed to Chichigalpa to visit rural schools. When we arrived at our first school, Especial School, we were turned away as we did not have permission from the Ministerio of Education in Chichigalpa. Therefore, we headed to the Administration building (asking for directions in Nicaragua means asking anyone on the street if they know where your destination is because there are no addresses in Nicaragua).  Once there, we received the proper documentation which was a hand written document signed by the the Ministerio of Education Lic. Hugo A. Ulloa Lopez.
While we waited, we began taking photos of the different types of transportation used in this small community.

pedal trike taxi
bicycle and car
Oxen and cart
There are usually 2 people on a bike. This little guys was taking a nap.

Tiring work!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Monday in the Schools

Indiana came from UNAN-Leon this morning to take us to the schools for our first visits and observations.  As things go here, they don't go as planned!  When she arrived, she explained that the schools were getting out at noon so we could visit both schools in the morning.  I think this worked well for Julie as we were able to visit her favorite, the Deaf school in the afternoon.
The first school we visited was the Special School, Centro De Especial-Leon where we met up with Ulises so he could translate.  We had planned to have two of us in each room to observe to establish interrater reliability. However, after a long wait and Indiana talking to the school administrator, we were allowed to go in to the classrooms, but needed to go alone and without a translator. Once, we saw the size of the classrooms, we understood why we needed to go into the classrooms alone as the rooms were very small- approximately 15 feet x 20 feet with a range 5-6 students with a teacher and an assistant.
We all had very different experiences in the four classrooms that we were in with children with varying abilities.  The students were also fascinated by the visitors to their classrooms.
During the 30 minute morning snack and recess, we were able to meet many students.  Mitzi and Kris were guided in imitation by a very enthusiastic student who gave physical prompts when we needed to adjust our responses.  We also watched several boys signing to teach another student how to be the goalie for a soccer game.  During the break, students had rice, tortillas and  juice.
Mitzi and a student at the Special School in Leon enjoying recess.
Our Dancing Friend at the Special School
Waiting to do his part cleaning the yard.

Getting some instruction before the soccer game begins.

After recess, we all had the opportunity to visit one more classroom each at the Special School and then on to the next school, Coleciao Madre Maria Luisa in Leon.  We were greeted warmly at this private school and were able to visit both primary and secondary classrooms.  The busy classrooms had 15-20 students with both general education and students in special education.

We enjoyed an hour in the classrooms before school was dismissing for the day at noon.  Our morning consisted of two eventful visits to schools which were not air conditioned and most of the time without fans.  The heat isn't something that you can prepare for and describing the heat won't do it justice!

Juan, Julie, Loryin & Mariella
The afternoon school visit was to the Deaf School project-- which was part of Julie's first trip this summer and an earlier blog.  This time was fantastic to see the students again and to have them asking if I was going to be teaching them & doing activities with them.  They asked about Jonathan & Maia too.  Each of the teachers was trying at least one activity we had demonstrated in June which made me very, very happy.  The students also tried spelling my name-- which is significant because they all know my name sign but in June we really emphasized the need to know how to spell people's complete names.  :-)   There wasn't much of a breeze but seeing the students again was very invigorating for me!

Squished in the back seat of a cab on the way back to la Casa de Protocolo

We are one step closer to getting Beth, Mitzi & Kris to ride Nicaraguan public transportation:  we got a cab driver who said he could take four people, no problem.  The four of us were squished in the back seat.  It's all part of the experience!

Fireworks and Roosters

The LOUD sounds of Nicaragua are never ending.  Ulises said that when he came to the United States, it was so quiet. Well, now we understand why! The noise is constant...Car horns, motorcycles, music, birds, animals, people everywhere, and fireworks. FIREWORKS have a new place in our hearts since being in Leon. For the past few days we could hear a firework now and then throughout the day, but last night was unforgettable. There were a few fireworks here and there in the evening, but around midnight the blasting began. I thought someone was bombing Casa de Protocolo. I actually opened the door at 12:36am to make sure the place was still standing. Finally about 3am the continuous fireworks stopped, but at 5am, they were in full force again. Then, the rooster began to crow. Are you kidding me? Sleep was over at that point. Mitzi and I were laughing and asking ourselves "Why? I just don't understand."

Then, following breakfast we were informed that July 23 is a day of celebration called the Hereoes and Martires  (1959-2012) "Su Sangre Sonstiene La Dignidad Historicia Mov. Estudiantil". This is a day when four college students were killed while protesting against Somoza's army.   On the second anniversary of the massacre, Carlos Fonseca founded the FSLN.  It is now called the Day of the University Students (and classes were cancelled).
Now the running joke is.....Which would you prefer fireworks or roosters??

Monday, July 23, 2012

One more day.....

of getting acclimated to Nicaragua.

It's been a gradual process for Mitzi, Beth & Kris.  Touring the beautiful city of Granada,  buying hammocks and touring the Islets.  Making pottery in San Juan de Oriente and eating in Catarina by the Apoyo Lagoon.  Then, a day in Leon to get used to the intense heat, a bit of Nicaragua's tumultuous history and the many unique noises and smells.

Today, we found a quaint little coffee shop around the block where we ordered lattes and slices of pie for brunch.  Kris, Mitzi & Beth went to the Ortiz Art Museum to see the world renowned paintings from Picasso that are not protected from the heat and humidity.

Then, thanks to bilingual Emily Sendin from Miami-Dade college who is staying at la Casa de Protocolo, we were able to arrange transportation in a camioneta to go to the beach.
The camioneta is a small cattle truck used for public transportation that is usually very crowded with people. We had our own private camioneta that was hot, sweaty and bumpy but without other people landing on our laps. :-)

At Las Penitas, we spent time at Playa Roca and then at Suyapa Beach.  This was the perfect opportunity for Beth, Kris & Mitzi to order fish with its bones and head still attached.  They decided on lobster which they say was delicious.  (For everyone's benefit, I joined them later). While the sunset wasn't as beautiful as other evenings, we did get to see a small rainbow and some awesome surfers.

This was all part of the plan to expose my colleagues to the beauty of Nicaragua while seeing some stark realities of the rampant poverty.  We have our papers organized and we are ready to see the Special School tomorrow.  Hopefully, we will also get a schedule for the rest of the week too.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

1st Day in Leon

As we woke this morning, the dreaded "cold" shower was all we could think about! We were glad the anticipation was worse than the actual experience. Mitzi even referred to the shower as "refreshing!"

Following breakfast Kris, Mitzi and Beth headed for a short jaunt around the Leon Cathedral as Julie met with colleagues from University of Connecticut. Marie Coppola is a Linguistic Psychologist who is well known for her research on Nicaraguan Sign Language.  Never underestimate the power of networking.  At the Association of College Educators for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing I met with a graduate assistant and we were visiting about international research.  He was able to make connections with the research team that is currently looking at families who only use home signs with their deaf children.  After two hours of visiting it was clear we could have spent days talking about projects in Nicaragua.
Let's just say the heat and humidity in Leon is intense! Yesterday in Granada we had cloud cover, so it was tolerable, but today was the real deal and it was brutal. And, this is "winter" right now.

People, people and more people. Ulises was our tour guide as we walked through the city of Leon. A few places we visited today were El Convento -- beautiful hotel, UNAN Administrative Building, Revolutionary Museum with an amazing guide, ending on a hot tin roof!

Trip Advisor would give Ulises a better rating today as a tour guide.  He interpreted for us at the Museum of the Revolution which was no easy task.  The guide was a Sandanista who had fought in many battles during the war, there were two other tours going on simultaneously, while the normal LOUD Nicaraguan sounds of car horns and sound systems competed for our attention.  In order to understand the complexities it really is important to understand the basics of Nicaraguan history.  Since its independence from Spain, Nicaragua has experienced constant wars and natural disasters.

Somoza..... Sandino..... Sandanista.... guerillas...... William Walker.....  U.S. military presence.... embargo.... Iran-Contra.....    These are all words/concepts that involve the United States domination in Latin America and warrant further study.
Mitzi, Kris, Beth, Julie, Ulises on top of the Museum of the Revolution with the Cathedral and volcanoes in the background. (this would never pass security inspections in the U.S.)
Our afternoon was topped off with a very relaxing and cool visit to Hollywood Pizza. What is better than a cold Coca-Cola and cheese sticks!!!  Then, we went to the grocery store and bought chocolate!!
An air-conditioned restaurant and time to pull out the electronics. :-)
Exhausted....exhausted....exhausted! That it what we feel at the end of today!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Managua to Granada to Leon

We had a busy day with very eventful drives from Managua to Granada and then to Leon tonight. Cars, bikes, horses, buses, people all share the same roads with no apparent rules to the road.  After arriving in Granada, we went to Cafe de las Sonrisas which you can learn more about in Julie's previous blog.  We stayed there quite a while talking about hammocks and enjoying the cafe. What an amazing place that is providing a great environment to work for individuals who are deaf.  As things go, we had to talk to several people, but have ordered some hammocks that Ulises will be going back to pick up on Sunday.  Thanks Ulises!  It was great to have him along to assist especially when trying to order food.
Next it was on to the Monna Lisa for lunch and to Lake Nicaragua where we rode on a boat to see the islets and the huge homes that people have built on these tiny islands.  We were also stopped by some Nicaraguan students who wanted their picture taken with us for their thesis about tourists.  We must look obvious.  They said "whiskey" instead of "cheese" when smiling for pictures....interesting.
Ulises is a hopeless tour guide, great with the language, but don't ask him about what type a tree that is or fish that you will find or even what the green small fruit like things are that the street vendors are selling, he doesn't know.  In fact, I asked him if he really lived here.  We had a great day and were really glad that he was along!
Next it was on to try making pottery with Julie winning that competition with the only piece of pottery that was in tact.  We had a wonderful time learning about the process of making the pottery and the time that goes into each piece.  Click here for a video of Julie Making Pottery at Duilios
Next it was on to Catarina that overlooks the lagoon and beautiful views of Granada and beyond.
Finally, another adventure in the van to Leon and now we are settling here after finding out that we were expected tomorrow.  Luckily they have room for us tonight.
What an adventure the first day has been.  We seem to have landed in the olfactory  capital of the world.  Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Escuela de Sordos

As I prepare to leave  for the second trip to Nicaragua, I have been reflecting on the very different purposes of the trips.

We have a small school project for young deaf students in Leon.  They meet from around 2-5 in the afternoon and there are three classrooms.  As with everything in Nicaragua, people do the best they can with what they have.  After the fourth trip, the teachers became more receptive to different teaching strategies even if they are not able to make the changes as fast as I would like.  Much of it is cultural and will not change.  The wisdom is knowing the difference between what we can impact and the courage to persevere.
I have been strongly encouraging Jonathan to come with me on the trip because the teachers and the students need to see a successful, independent, intelligent deaf adult. While we brought fun activities and great teaching ideas, having them interact with Jonathan was amazing!  The deaf adults could not believe that Jonathan was able to read & write and go to school !!   The students could not understand how he left his mom and dad and was able to travel alone.  The teachers were astonished that Jonathan was from a deaf family and had a natural, complete first language in American Sign Language. He explained how his parents raised him bilingually with ASL and then posted English words all over the house.  Hopefully the teachers can see now why I've been so adamant about them signing all the time--- the students need access to language !
Deaf students from Gallaudet University-- backpacking through Central America
We were also able to meet up with four deaf students from Gallaudet University who were backpacking through Central America.  They did not know a word of Spanish when they arrived in Panama but have picked some up in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. They were actually able to come to the school one afternoon and captivated everyone's attention.  I'm not sure I've ever seen the students (or the teachers) so attentive!  Mariella kept asking about how they know so much and how they can do these things by themselves!  This is the cultural piece that is difficult because with such high unemployment, people with disabilities--including the deaf-- usually live with their families for the rest of their lives.
Mariella is spelling out her name-- and adding some flowers!
We showed "Math-U-See" which could have been "Teachers-finally see".  :-)   The color-coded blocks are so important for any student-- but especially deaf students.  The students enjoyed playing Bingo for the first time and really enjoyed the "Elephant Game."  Some students do not know how to spell their own name and most do not know each others' names.  We definitely spent time on that!!
Our goal for the school has changed over the years.  We thought we might want to look at expanding to older students but fundraising is always an issue.  We buy pottery and bring it back to sell in the U.S.  We need to raise $1000/month to pay the teachers and we are in the home of a lovely 85 year old woman.   Our goal now is to try and prepare these students as much as possible for the ability to maybe transfer to a deaf residential school in Managua when they are older.  One of our former students has done that and has the potential to maybe one day go to Gallaudet!  We saw Leonela near the cinema one night and we hardly recognized her !!  I have so many stories about her and she has a special place in my heart.
That was the primary purpose of the first trip.
Part of the "Faculty Research International" grant was to expose faculty to international research in an area that someone already had an established relationship.  Now........ as part of the grant we are able to go assess schools in the Leon department of Nicaragua.  This will inform our training modules for a diplomado in special education with our sister university. (more on that later).

Right now as I type, I can imagine that Kris, Beth & Mitzi are still trying to stuff things in their suitcases as they embark on this new adventure!
Jonathan, Marta, Lidia, Nubia, Adolfo, Martiza, Julie, Gladis
Julie Delkamiller