My Eye-dentity

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To look someone in the eye means to face them without fear.  There is even a wikihow page on how to do it.  Every romance story (or rom-com movie) has a piece where the couples gazes into each other eyes.  Mother and teachers claim to have eyes in the back of their heads.  Eye contact is an important social skill in the culture that we live in.  This is leads me to say: my eyes are different than yours.

People that have known me for years or for minutes have commented on my left eye.  Other people have never noticed anything different about this eye compared to my right eye.  This post is to give information to those of you who have been curious but too “polite” to ask!

My eye itself: my left eye has a misshaped pupil, is smaller, a different shape, and a different color than my right eye.  My right eye is a typical, hazel-green eye (although it still needs glasses or contacts to see!).  My eyes also don’t always track together, meaning that I can consiously choose whether or not my brain pays attention to the input from my left eye.  I also have realy bad vision with my left eye, and no peripheral vision at all on my left side.  That’s why I miss left turns, often run into things on my left side, and don’t notice people or ignore them (oops) if they are on my left side.  I have colobomatus microphthalmia, which means that my eye wasn’t fully developed when I was born.

Colobomatus microphthalmia:  This is an X-linked trait that basically means the malformation of the eye.  There is a spectrum in which a person with coloboma may bever even know, but other people with the microphthamlia part may be born without an eye.  Many people with this condition are also born with other physical or mental challenges.

Here are some links to other stories of people with similar, although more extreme, conditions: Click here on the little line–>  

My eye story:  When I was young, I was blind in one eye.  To be honest, I am not sure if I could ever not see at all, or if my brain just didn’t use my left eye because using the right eye is still easier.  I had to wear an eye patch on the right eye (decorated with panda stickers, of course) to give my left eye a workout.  I was pretty much the most stubborn kid, and the eye patch was pretty uncomfortable and unattractive, so I didn’t wear it as often as my parents would have liked.  If I wore it out of the house, people would ask if I had been hit in the face because it looks like a big, weird eye bandaid.  Now I am happy to say that there are much cooler eye patches out there!  I saw a little boy with a spider man eye patch once, and he was definitely a stud. Props to whoever made eye patches cool.  Little kids notice everything, and my first day of kindergarten, no one wanted to play with me because “my eye was weird”.  I had never thought of myself as weird or different before, so it was kind of a shock to me.  Throughout middle school, I was really self conscious about my eye and tried prosthetic contacts to make both eyes look like they were the same shape.  Come to find out, my ordinary greenish-hazelish colored functional eye was a really hard color to match!  I eventually decided that the prosthetic lens looked like a glass eye, which freaked me out more than my actual eye (disclaimer: glass eyes are cool and I know people that have them.  Prosthetic lenses just weren’t for me).  I eventually settled into wearing normal contacts and glasses.  In high school I even came up with a story about how an alien names Toswald was living in my eye.  You know, normal stuff.

How I feel:  My eyes aren’t really a big deal to me.  I don’t mind when people ask me about them.  In fact, I would rather have people know about them so that when my lack of peripheral vision or depth perception comes into play, they have a clue that I really don’t see them and I am not just purposefully ignoring them.  Or that when I’m outside sometimes I close one eye because it’s too bright, it’s not some creepy perma-wink.  My eyes don’t really effect my life that much, although I know I have (literally) a different perspective on the world.

My challenge: People that look different than you do are people too.  Teach your kindergartners to play with everyone, no matter what they look like.  Ask people in a polite way why they are the way they are.  Honesty and curiosity go a long way.

I am happy with how I see myself and how I see the world.  I just wanted to share because this has come up lately with new people I’ve met, and I realize that more people are probably curious but haven’t had the chance to ask.

My Year

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This year was FILLED with experiences that I will never forget.  It has been a year of exploring the world and myself, growth, change, and growing pains.  Here is what I learned:

1. You can never have too many families.  Visiting Spain, Germany, Austria, and Nicaragua, I was hosted by many wonderful people.  Mothers with great advice, fathers that tease you, and little siblings that remind you what life is about…even if they get in trouble for trying to take a wheelbarrow indoors!  Cheers to the wonderful people that made me feel welcome, and of course my true Oregon family that welcomed me home.

2.  Learn by doing, not by sitting.  I learned a million times more (okay, well I am still bad at math) about Spanish, culture, myself, and people by interacting with “the real world”.  College tells us that “the real world” is something that we will experience after we graduate, and come to dislike.  I am here to say that “the real world” is all around us even now, and it is wonderful and horrible and confusing and inspiring all at the same time.  It’s time for me to stop watching minutes tick by in the classroom, pop my college bubble, and venture beyond!

3.  Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

4.  How to be truly happy for others.

5. I am strong, intelligent, and can accomplish anything.  Traveling alone as a woman really taught me that I have a great sense of adventure, a great sense of when to be cautious, and even a growing sense of direction (I navigated through Europe the old fashioned way, without a Smart phone).  I learned that I can be flexible, adaptable, and a decision maker.  Watch out, world!

In all honestly, this has probably been the most challenging year of my life.  I am challenged by the things I saw, who I am, and what I can do to change myself and the world for the better.

The Story Continues.

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For me, it is easy to adapt to a new setting and way of life, but extremely difficult to readjust back into the Oregonian life that I left behind when I stepped off of that famous PDX carpet and onto the plane. In all honesty, I was in no way ready to leave Nicaragua. I know that 7 weeks is hardly enough to understand a culture different than my own. In fact, 7 weeks is just long enough to make friends, and become comfortable. I had just gotten into my projects and started to understand how AMOS works, and was only on the surface of getting to know my co-workers because of my shyness in Spanish. Personality sometimes changes with language. Weird, right? Anyways, I knew the people well enough to understand that they were wonderful, incredible, and passionate people working towards a great cause. But not long enough to really talk to them or spend time with them, which is a tragedy because of how lovely of people I know they are. I surveyed enough people in the campo to begin to understand their hopes for music in the future, but not long enough to help put any plans into action. I taught one music workshop and learned that I wish I could teach a hundred, or a series, or teach others to teach and create their own projects and workshops. I grew a great passion for a mariachi band that I only met for three days, but we shared a musical and teaching experience that left me feeling pumped, and ready for more. I stayed in the campo long enough to know that I really know nothing about the daily life there, and long enough to remember that there are beautiful people worth knowing in all corners of the earth. What I am saying with this long winded paragraoh is that I was only in Nicaragua long enough to experience the beginning, and see only a snippet of all I could see. It felt like my time was cut short, and gone before I knew it.

In Nicaragua, I knew there were many social cues that I didn’t pick up on, and many cultural norms that I didn’t participate in. I never used their “vos” form of Spanish, still feel extremely unnatural when pointing at something with my lips, and always forgot to offer to share my snacks with people around me. Whoops. But coming back to the United States has been way more difficult even though I understand mostly every social situation thrown at me, and can handle it in the culturally appropriate way.

Even so, with my mixture of Central America and Europe in the past 7 months, I feel a bit at odds with the society I should be familiar with. For instance, while walking around the tiny town of Newberg, I was incredibly aware of my surroundings; every car, dog, passerby were all accounted for in my safety-traveler brain. To a point of paranoia. When taking my jog on the beach, it was startling to me that no one whistled or offered any catcalls. Not that I miss that, but the lack of attention made me feel invisible. Before, I never had a chance of blending in.

Coming home the first night, I was shocked at how convenient everything was. I ran out of toilet paper, and reached under the sink to get another roll. My hands felt dry, so I reached over and used the lotion sitting on my nightstand. There is running water 24 hours a day. Toilets flush, and I even have one located in my own house. Showers are inside. And they are warm? I have more than one towel. If I need to talk to someone, I can use my internet or my cell phone. Everything I wanted was right there, inches away from my fingertips.

Back to the showers. Should I feel guilty that I can shower as long as I want? Or that my water is hot? Do I even use the hot water? If I turn the water off between soap and shampoo, it seems much more conventional. I finally compromised with using the warm water, but trying to take the fastest shower possible. Even after a week, I feel strange and slightly guilty every time I step into my heated shower.

I can drive a car, and don’t need to wait for confusing public transport, or sit on the back of a motorcycle in a leather jacket and 95 degree weather. While all these things may seem like luxuries to you, or even just normal daily activities, they send my mind into a frenzy and give me a strange feeling that just hasn’t gone away.

All of these things lead me to the thoughts that many people have after witnessing rural poverty. Why was it me born in the middle class family in the USA? Why is my childhood bedroom bigger than many peoples’ entire houses? Why is it me that was born into the life with a pantry full of snacks, and education through high school, and drinkable tap water? It took me a long time to realize that being middle class isn’t wrong. It is part of who I am and part of how I grew up, but I don’t have a lot more consolation other than that. And the next expected questions: Is my life better because I have more? Is their life better because it is simpler? Are they happy? Are we happy? I don’t have any answers, although I know there is merit to living simply and there is comfort in having food on your table. From my observations I think that I have many more opportunities for jobs, education, travel, and lifestyle than women my age in Nicaragua. I also feel like he culture I grew up with is more respectful to women, and in most ways I feel like I am treated equally to men. I met few women in the rural communities, and my guess is that this is because they don’t often have opportunities like I would imagine them. Again, is this wrong? Are they content with their lives because that is how their culture is? I wonder if they would prefer to learn a profession, or work somewhere rather than in their house. I wonder if I would rather spend my life taking care of my family and children instead of searching for my own career. And in all honesty, I do want answers to these questions. I just don’t have a clue where I will find them.

Being thrown from one world to the other is overwhelming. One minute you are talking about how to measure women’s empowerment, and the next you are talking about what stares are having great sales, and what cute clothes your friend bought on their shopping spree. One moment you are wearing your flip flops walking on the dirt road and stuck behind a small herd of cows, and the next you are slipping on your flip flops at a nail salon after a pedicure. It is a rattling experience, or at least it is for me. And at this point, how can I even stand going to the mall, or justify spending $40 on a dress when I know I have more in my closet. Material things start to haunt you, and money doesn’t make any sense.

I never know what to say when people ask me about Nicaragua and what I did there. I like to brag about the awesome mariachi band I worked with, or tell them about turtles laying eggs on the beach. These answers are easy to understand. There is no way I can even begin to describe my time in Nicaragua, the communities I saw, or my home-stay experience. I loved it all. I really, really loved it all. I want to represent Nicaragua in a positive light, and don’t know how to bring up their situation of poverty. I want my listeners to see Nicaragua as the beautiful place that it is, without them thinking it is dirty or dangerous. When I show people a picture of the house I lived in, I don’t want them to be impressed that I was able to live there for 2 months. People live like this every day, and it’s not a matter of “sticking it out”. I just want to show a true picture of Nicaragua and not have people think their lives are better or worse because of what they have and where they live.

I also know that while I think I have a clear idea of how life is in the rural communities, or a grasp of rural poverty, I am probably completely off. I was only there for a short time, and the shorted the time the more skewed the perception is. I also am still having a rough time processing the campo, and still don’t know what to think or feel or do about campo life, or of there is a way I should feel or act.

I have been in a bad mood since I got off the plane. I am angry and frustrated, and usually for no reason. I know this is just a sign of reverse culture shock, but I wish I could just get it over with and be a happy person again. I don’t know how to process my experience yet, and I know that the processing will take more time than I would like. I wish I could make someone else understand how it was, but I know that there are no words to explain, even if they were game to sit and listen for that long.

Being back is the weirdest feeling. I feel so out of place, and have the feeling that I just want to go home. But I really can’t even think of where home is. I just am uncomfortable in every setting. The only times I am comfortable are when I am reading books, because I feel like I am in their world and not my own. So many of my thoughts just don’t translate, and my brain is in the process of deciding whether to shut them down, keep them swirling around, or actually do something about them. Until that happens, I will be stuck in this state. Unfortunately, I know it can take months, or even longer, to really readjust. It is such a hard change for me that every time I think about traveling somewhere new, I have enormous impending second thoughts of doom thinking about the time returning “home” afterwards. Somehow, it is still worth it. At this very point in time, I feel absolutely horrible in many ways. But I wouldn’t change my time in Nicaragua for the world, and I know it.

Nicaragua In My Own Words

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In Nicaragua, I was too busy having the time of my life to write about, so here are some highlights and insights from my 7 week dip into life in Nicaragua.

The Organization: I went to Nicaragua for a few different reasons. One was to intern with AMOS Health and Hope, a public health organization that works with rural communities to make health more accessible. I emphasize the word “with” because while the point is bringing health and a better quality of life, it is even more important to empower these rural communities to do so themselves. AMOS does this through educating in each project they are involved in, whether that be installing water filters, teaching mothers about proper nutrition to avoid anemia, or teaching the Health Promoters selected by each community to provide medical advice and services. My favorite part about AMOS is that they only go to communities when invited and properly solicited, rather than distributing the services or items they see fit to people they think may need them. AMOS is sure to only go where they are wanted, and work with the community in each step of the process.

The Work: As you can imagine, a public health organization is not the first place you would expect a 21 year old girl with an irrational fear of doctors and all things medical to intern. Luckily, I wasn’t the one doing the anemia testing (finger pricks, yikes!), but instead was the music volunteer. I did a variety of things. For one, I helped create a new “himnario”, or songbook, for the AMOS staff and health promoters to use in their devotionals that happen together each Friday (which I prefer to call “nomnom lunch” due to the delicious lunch we eat together as a community afterwards. Thanks, cooks!). To create this songbook, I surveyed the staff and health promoters to learn about their worship preferences, and created a collaboration of all suggestions. I also left them with some resources to be able to learn and teach these songs to each other. In addition, I created and gave a survey to members of the rural communities about their musical culture and musical dreams, in the event that AMOS adds a musical element to the programs they already run. I was ecstatic to learn that music is a common bond I share with many of the people I met, and for many of the same reasons. One man described his community as “pura musica”, pure music. Another girl told me that music could help give purpose to the many youth that turn to addictive behaviors. And yet another young woman told me that for her, music was the art of relaxation. I loved learning the beautiful ideas of the people I met, and know that there is so much more to learn from them, and share with them. At the end of my project, I made some recommendations to AMOS about how they can include music in their organization.

The Research Project: The reason I had the opportunity to go to Nicaragua is because of the Richter Scholars grant. For this grant, I came up with my own research project that includes documenting the “Alabanzas”, or praise songs, that Nicaraguan use in worship. Once written in notation, I will create a bilingual songbook so that North Americans and Central Americans alike can worship and make music together, regardless of language barriers. I learned that few worship songs are “Nicaraguan”, and met many creative musicians that write their own music, sometimes even on the spot.

The Boy: Yes, there is a boy. And no, he is not Nicaraguan. My boyfriend Cameron has been volunteering with AMOS for a year, and introduced me to this beautiful country on the back of a motorcycle, on sandy shores, through rainy downpours, and many dusty walks. I feel completely privileged to have seen a slice of his life for the past year, and am so thankful for all the trips and places that he planned especially for me. 7 weeks is clearly not long enough to explore the entirety of a new country, but I got a great crash course of the beauty that Nicaragua has to offer thanks to him. Not to mention all the care and compassion he showed every time I got sick, or dehydrated, or panicked on the back of a moto.

The Homestay: I can’t even begin to describe how I feel about my homestay. It is nothing like I had imagined. I had my own little house, slept under a bug net, played with a four year old and nine year old, watched old Mexican sitcoms and the most dramatic telenovelas (extremely melodramatic “soap operas”) , played with a feisty puppy, ate amazing rice, beans, and plantains every day, and shared a living space with some very lovely people. As I read this, there are really no words to describe how happy I was to feel comfortable with them and how accepting they were of me, despite me being quite shy. There were moments I didn’t exactly know what to do with, such as how loud it is when it rains on a tin roof, or showering outside for the first time, but everything I thought would be a difficulty for me (such as using a latrine) I soon learned didn’t matter, and were easy to adapt to. Material things are such a crazy concept in different contexts, and I am still learning about the realities of poverty and how it goes so much deeper than the material.

The highlights: Favorite things are hard to choose, especially when I thoroughly enjoyed so much. But some things were so grand they must be mentioned.
1. Teaching a music workshop to a Mariachi band in a rural community.
2. Watching sea turtles lay their eggs!
3. Going to the beach for the weekend and playing in the WARM water.
4. Reading “The Lorax” out loud in Spanish (Cameron has a great Lorax voice) followed by a boys vs. girls trash pick up activity to teach about sanitation and taking care of the environment. P.S. It was a tie between the boys and girls.

The Campo: Going to the campo basically means spending time in the rural communities. They are certainly different from Managua, and I suspect that each community is unique in its own way. I got to visit three of them, and each time experienced a way of living I wasn’t used to. The pace of life is slower, the houses are different, the roads were unpaved, the food was simple, and the people were shocked that I knew Spanish. I can’t do any justice speaking about the campo here, it really is an experience of its own. After going on short-term missions, people often come back with the perception that the people living in poverty have so little, yet are so happy. While this may be true, it is not the impression that I got. For example, we installed water filters for one community. While some people were happy to help us and hopeful of the changes the filters could bring, others were hesitant to sign up. The unclean water that they have bring bacteria, diarrhea, and diseases to the families all the time, especially young children. I met many young men close to my age, but almost never came across young women. Most men that I met worked in the field or on a farm. I am not saying that they aren’t happy and that they don’t make do with what they have, but I am saying that I know in my life, especially as a woman, I have many opportunities to learn job skills, make important connections, live where I want, and get as good of an education as I set my mind to. I am happy, too, but sometimes I am also sad or angry or confused or content, just as I suspect people in rural communities deal with the same range of emotions as any human. The poverty cycle just makes it much more difficult for them to change their situation. Anyways, the rambling continues, but all in all, the campo was a great learning experience as I got a glimpse of what life is like for others.

Nicaragua was a blast. I could tell you how I spent hours in an old school bus on the way to teach a music class, or how men whistled at me on the streets, or how I was bit by a dog, or how I helped install water filters. I can tell you that I played tag with little kids, or saw countless lakes and volcanoes, or translated for English and Spanish speakers for my first time. I had the best smoothie of my life, and tried a new fruit I have never heard of, and spent every day with my blonde best friend that speaks Spanish way better than me. I think we all know that experiences like these have to be lived, and can’t be explained in full, though I wish I could document each breathtaking moment to share.

Vamos a La Playa

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That’s right, we went to the beach!!!  On the weekends, Cameron and I have been able to get out and see more of Nicaragua.  They call it the land of lakes and volcanoes for good reason!  Managua, though not the most beautiful capitol city (in my own opinion) certainly does have some of the most beautiful scenery!  As we flew in on the plane there was a spewing volcano, and even on the motorcycle ride to the grocery store we pass Lake Managua.  Breathtaking!

Anyways, we went to La Boquita on my first weekend here.  THE BEACH!!!!!  Oregonians, can you believe there are beaches where the water is warm enough to swim?  Crazy.  It is still incredible to me that I can actually where a swim suit and not a rain coat when I stand next to the ocean.

 

We also went with all the volunteers participating the the AMOS Global Health Practicum to the Laguna de Apoyo.  This is a lake formed in the same way as our own Crater Lake in Oregon.  It is so deep that no one has ever been able to find out exactly how deep it is!  Later we went to another park to get a better view of the lake.  The colors of the nature were so bright it seemed unreal!

 

 

Un Día Típico

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This post was a comment from Cameron after I posted about what a typical day is like in Spain.  Now that I am in Nicaragua, I understand that he was correct!  It is quite the change from the partying and siesta schedule in Spain, and even the scheduled-to-the-minute feel that my life is normally like in the United States.  And somehow I am exhausted enough to go to bed at 8:30!

Just to give you an idea as to what I’m up to and what to expect when you get to Nicaragua, here is a typical Nicaraguan city schedule for comparison.

5:00 A.M.- 6:00 A.M. Wake up, shower, get dressed.

6:20 A.M. – Breakfast, typically gallo-pinto, scrambled eggs and or cheese.

6:40 A.M. – Walk, take bus or moto-taxi to work

7:00 A.M.- Work

12:00 P.M. -Lunch Break. Lunch is sacred to Nicaraguans. Whatever you are doing you stop and you sit and eat a large meal and talk with friends. No lunch on the go. This is by far the biggest meal of the day.

1:00 P.M. – 1:30 P.M. Work starts again.

4:30 PM- Work gets out. Go home by bus, moto-taxi, or foot. If you are going out this is the time to do it.

5:00 P.M. – 6:00 P.M. -Dinner. Smaller than lunch. Bigger than breakfast

(This is when we usually play with our little nephews, go to the grocery store, pick up our laundry, or do whatever.  The recent popular activity at our house is to do an exercise video with John, our host sister, and little nephews.  It is pretty hilarious as a bystander.)

7:00 P.M. – 8:00 P.M. Buses stop running. People come home unless they are staying out dancing or drinking. Time to socialize with neighbors and family.

8:30 P.M. – 9:00 P.M. Bed time.

 

Nicaragua at Last!

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Hello to the few blog readers I have!  Clearly I am not very good about keeping the world updated, considering in my last post I was in Spain, and I have been in 6 new countries since then.  Either way, let us skip ahead to the here and now.  The here: a neighborhood called Nejapa on the outskirts of Managua, Nicaragua.  The now: coming close to the end of my second week here. 

Nejapa is different from anywhere I have been before, but for some reason it was easy to feel at home right away.  Like any girl from middle-class USA life, I was a little concerned about how I would react to showering outside or with a bucket, going to the bathroom in a latrine, and sleeping under a mosquito net.  I instantly learned that none of this stuff is a big deal.  Other than the fact that it is really difficult to wash shampoo out of your hair with a bowl rather that a shower spigot, this way of life is simpler but somehow more relaxing.  Even though I am constantly occupied, I don’t feel like I am running a marathon while balancing six spinning plates in order to accomplish everything I want to do that day.

My favorite part of the day is when I get to go home and see Manolo, the 2ish month old puppy of my host family.  Other than that, I do really enjoy my host family and neighbors.  Cameron and I went over to our neighbors/grandmas/cousins house and played guitar and violin for them, and Carlos (my new co-volunteer worker and cousin) told me that they are now my fans. 

I have spent most of my time working in the office at AMOS, but next week I am going to be joining a delegation out in the campo to work on a water filter project, and hopefully do some music interviews and surveys.  Here is a nifty video of the biosand water filters that we will be working with.  I am slightly nervous about the translating that I will be doing, but I figure that I am creative so if I don’t understand I can at least fabricate some good things to tell people…