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Va Pue Magazine

Peace Corps Nicaragua stories of service.

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Magic Exists in the Streets of Leon

Denise / Nica 68 / TEFL

It is the grinding roar of the engine, the sound of unapologetic power that seduces me. My name is Denise and I am a public transit addict. I am weakened by strength of its massive buses. They are without question the most powerful beasts blasting through the streets of Leon and I ride those fire-breathing dragons in true Daenerys fashion. I am indeed one with Dios es mi Rey.

I watch my cobrador servant as he hangs without effort from the front stair. Dale, suave, la vuelta, el terminal, I imitate his inflection and admire his unabashed arrogance and agility. I imagine that he acts upon my will as he controls the movement of the bus and dominates the weaker subjects in need of the transport that he is offering. He opens his hands for the fare without so much as a glance or acknowledgement of their humanity. One dare not meet his glance.

Humbly their meager coins are dropped in his strong hand. All look down or away, they are at his mercy. Somehow his sharp eye and keen memory recorded those who have submitted and those that have not. Attempts to outwit my cobrador are futile. He will tap your shoulder and you will submit just as the others.

I ride my dragon with respect as we barrel along at unimaginable speeds. Our chofer knows that he is the supreme leader of the streets behind that wheel. 30,000 pounds of rattling metal sheets hit the curve at speeds that demand you brace your position. But be not deceived, it is the cobrador’s magic that dictates the pace. He sees what lies ahead. Or who stands ahead. His whistles hold the secrets. He gives the hand signal, hits the side of the monster to signal the next move in a language known only between those two.

The magic gives him the power to jump from the moving beast, cross its mighty path, punch a timecard, and run until the timing allows him to effortlessly retain his rightful place on the steps, again hanging from the entry point. And the bus never stops once during this ritual. Should his keen observation see a traffic conundrum ahead, the cobrador sprints ahead two blocks to inform the lesser vehicles that Dios es mi Rey approaches and to bow humbly, allowing it to pass without delay. What is any of this if not magic?

I imagine that the magic is all for my purposes. I must get to my destination in a manner suited for a Peace Corps Volunteer. As I descend from my dragon and the cobrador grips my hand to guide me from that last step, I acknowledge him and his service to me. He never meets my glance, but we quietly know that his magic is what I need to begin my magic.

La Laguna Encantada

Steven / Nica 68 / TEFL

Interview with Julio Francisco Sanches about the origin story of the Laguna de Masaya

Buenas tardes, mi nombre es Julio Francisco Sánchez, originario de aquí de Masatepe, y a continuación les voy a hablar sobre la historia de la origen de la laguna, la cual tiene mucha relación una serpiente. Cuenta la historia que en el tiempo antes de la colonización, antes de que llegaran los españoles acá a Nicaragua, las comunidades indígenas se asentaban siempre a la orilla de los lagos, de las lagunas y los ríos. Una comunidad dirigida por un cacique, un cacique llamado Masatepelt en lenguaje Nahual, se asentaba en una zona bastante boscosa, ellos vivían en esta región de lo que ahora es Masatepe, pero mientras ellos estaban viviendo empezaron a tener problemas con una serpiente que salía del bosque, de un gran bosque, frondoso y verde, un bosque con árboles muy, muy grandes.

La serpiente cada vez asaltaba la comunidad, a la comunidad indígena, se robaba a las jovencitas, se robaba los niños, las raptaba y se las llevaba. Entonces, el cacique para ponerle fin a este azote de la serpiente decidieron atraparla, siempre el dirigía junto con los guerreros de su comunidad—atraparon a la serpiente y la amarraban
en un árbol y intentaban matarla muchas veces pero no lo lograban, era casi una serpiente mágica, o bien dicho, una serpiente mágica, una serpiente bruja, que la intentaban matar y no moría- entonces, la intentaban matar y siempre regresaba y seguía haciendo daño a la comunidad.

Entonces el cacique de la región habló con el chamán, con el brujo de la localidad, el médico brujo de esa misma comunidad para ver qué podían hacer para ponerle fin a este problema porque ellos no querían viajar, ya dejaron de ser nómadas y se asentaron en el local. Entonces le propuso una solución al problema, que tenían que atraparla en un árbol específico en medio del bosque pero no tenían que amarrarla con cuerdas, ni con cadenas, ni con nada que se le pareciera sino que tenía que ser con una cuerda especial hecha con los cabellos de una doncella virgen, de una indita virgen. Entonces procedieron a hacerlo, a buscar a una doncella virgen y a quitarle sus cabellos para elaborar la cuerda, el mecate con cual iban a amarrar la serpiente, entonces atraparon a la serpiente una vez hecha la cuerda y buscaron ese árbol que estaba en el centro del bosque para ir a amarrarla.

Así que amarraron a la serpiente con la cuerda hecha con los cabellos de la doncella virgen y la serpiente no se pudo soltar, intentó, intentó, pero no se pudo soltar—entonces ella, en su desesperación, vomitó un huevo, el huevo cayó y se rompió, pero el huevo no era otra serpiente sino que se formó un pequeño charco, justo al romperse el huevo se empezó a crear ese charco, el charco empezó a crecer, a crecer y a crecer, y como estaba la serpiente en el centro de ese bosque, lo cubrió completamente, hasta que formó lo que hoy es la laguna de Masaya, o la laguna de Venecia, como se conoce acá. Entonces, una vez cubierto ya el bosque, se formó lo que es la laguna de Masaya, y dicen las personas que la serpiente aún está viviendo ahí, de ahí que esa serpiente tiene esa laguna encantada para que siempre estén llegando personas, las que llegan a bañarse, y se quedan ahogadas ahí.

The Brujeria of La Mica

Kate Crowley / Nica 68 / ENV

It’s meet-your-counterpart day but as my counterpart has not yet arrived, I am learning about my future site from my fellow PCVs’ counterparts. Unexpectedly, all
anyone has to offer about Diriá is its high per capita of brujas. All my language professor told me was that it had a nice park! All this brujeria wasn’t in my site packet.

The sister pueblos of Diriá and Diriomo both straddle the carretera, Diriá to the north, and Diriomo to the south. More or less, that is. After living in Diriá for a year, sometimes a coin flip is still as good as my guess when it comes to
deciding what comarcas belong to which municipalities. Both pueblos are named after Diriagen, an indomitable leader of the indigenous Nahautl
people. Despite being overwhelmingly Catholic, the area retains a strong connection to pre-Columbian traditions and beliefs.

At times, the references to these old beliefs are tongue-in-cheek: each pueblo has at least one bar with a bruja-related name. But more often than not, people in these pueblos are unironic in their beliefs. While I have never heard a witch walking the streets hawking her potions or seen a front-door sign stating Hay Maldiciones, I’ve heard many second- and third-hand stories of witches. The most prevalent belief I discovered was that of the micas. Micas are witches that have the power to turn themselves into animals, most often monkeys. Online research tells me the legend of the micas is also known as La Mona, Mona Bruja, or Mico Brujo.

Micas turn into monkeys in order to take surprise revenge on their enemies. In some versions of the legend, micas are usually taking revenge on their ex-lovers. Who’s going to expect that innocent looking monkey to be his ex-girlfriend? Jokes on you, señor (she never liked that mustache anyway).

Pre-Columbian legends of the Nahual people described shamans with the powers to turn into different animals, sometimes with sinister motives. The arrival of Europeans in Mesoamerica brought the concept of medieval witches, and the blending of the legends produced the female micas known today around Central America. I’ve always been fascinated by the subtle ways misogyny makes itself known in culture, and witches are a dramatic example. I find it quite interesting
that before European arrival, the idea of magical people doing sinister deeds was not gendered, something to remember when we think about everyday instances of misogyny here in Nicaragua and get tempted to stereotype cultures.

Halfway through my service I have unfortunately not learned to cast any curses, which is quite a disappointment as someone who has always aspired to be Hermione Granger. I did however go to a witch’s house once—she had an absurd amount of animals in her tiny backyard (horse, cows, goats, pigs, turkeys, cats, dogs), and was generous enough to gift me a few sacos of poop for my compost. Crossing my fingers for enchanted ayote.

Did You Hear That?

Denise Hollingsworth / Nica 68 / TEFL

Did you hear that? Indeed. Your ears are not deceiving you. The rattling sound
you hear are the sounds of the wagon of skeletonized slaves pulled by long-gone oxen. Legend has it that La Carreta Nagua is driven by the Skeleton of Death, and represents the death and terror as the Spanish conquerors passed through villages enslaving the indigenous people, leaving a path of destruction. Legend says
that the passing of the wagon now foreshadows a death in the community.

Such legends and myths are wonderfully illustrated in the Museo de Mitos y Leyendas in León. The museum is conveniently located just south of Leon’s center in the former prison, locally known as “Prison 21.” The museum’s founder, Carmen Toruño de Garcia (1918-2011) was born in Posoltega, Chinandega, Nicaragua and lived there most of her life. It was there that her ideas to preserve the legends of her culture took root. The detailed depictions of the legends were initially housed in her home but as the exhibit grew, it was obvious that a larger more public space was required.

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Greeting you at the entrance is one of the largest gigantonas in the world. In case you missed the memo, gigantonas are parodies of the Spanish women who were romanticized by Spanish colonial culture. A smaller version of the gigantonas dance through the streets through the Purisima accompanied by an animated drummer and el Enano Cabezón.

Once you regain your composure from your giant gigantona sighting, you will notice the tank that the FSLN stole from the National Guard in the liberation of the City of León in 1979, as well as the illustrations of Somoza torture victims on the outer prison walls. And all this before you ever enter the actual museum, no less.

Once inside, you will be intrigued by the tales of the Flying Woman, Pancho Ñato, La Yeguita, and many others. The life-size illustrations are charming, shocking and fascinating–all at the same time. There are even sound effects guaranteed to chill you to the bone.

For a nominal sum of 20 cords for locals (that includes PCVs, that was my prevailing argument) and 50 cords for tourists, you will, in essence, receive two guided tours. Your guide will provide a history of “Prison 21” while also providing details of
each legend. An interesting cross-section of history for a small price.

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Happy 2 years, Nica 67

Happy Anniversary, Nica 67. Two years in, three months to go.

13 Types of Houses Volunteers Call Home Sweet Home

Peace Corps Stories

“In Mongolia, you might live in a ger; in Swaziland, it could be a rondavel. Just as each Volunteer experience is different, so is each house.” (read more)

11 Sunrises Worth Waking Up For

Peace Corps Stories

“Whether you’re a Volunteer in Costa Rica or Cameroon, Jamaica or Georgia, Tonga or Togo, there is one constant of Peace Corps service: you’re going to see some pretty awesome sunrises.” (read see more)

Happy 2 Years Nica 66

Nica 66

Happy Anniversary Nica 66.  Two years in, three months to go.

6 reasons why Peace Corps blogging is meaningful work

Emily / Nica 64 / TEFL

“As countries around the world seek to advance and connect, Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) of the 21st century have access to technology than their predecessors never dreamed of.

But with the power of access comes great responsibility; the Peace Corps blog was born. Volunteers often start blogging strong. Their excitement fuels updates, committing cultural faux pas provide easy and hilarious content, and everything seems so new… for a while.

Then an incredible transition happens. Through integration, gaining cultural understanding and the simple passing of time, a PCV’s host country becomes a little more like home. Volunteers might say later that this is when they really started to feel like they hit their stride, but it is also often where their blogging faded away. It doesn’t have to be though.” (read more)

8 reasons Millennials make great Peace Corps Volunteers

Conor / Nica 64 / TEFL

“Millennials – that tech-savvy, selfie-taking, debt-ridden cohort born between 1980 and the mid-2000s – are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Welcome.

Despite all the negative things that have been said about us – we’re narcissistic, spoiled and entitled – a consensus is now growing that recognizes us as a hard-working generation that wants to make a positive social impact” (read more)

Tales from the TEFL Certificate Program: “We Are Learning Together”

Andrew and Emily / Nica 64 / TEFL

“So what did you think about our last class?”

“It was OK. I really liked the Walk-to-the-line activity, but I don’t know if they completely understand possessive adjectives.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Every time we gave an example with a possessive, they seemed to wait for one student to move, and then they followed. I think they were just mimicking him.”

“Good observation. What can we do about that? Do you want to re-teach the material, or try a different assessment to see where individual students are?”

I would like to do a review of the material. But how?”

“Well, let’s look for some ideas here in the TEFL Manual. What do you think about this one?”

Almost every co-planning session we have with one of our counterparts begins with some variation of this conversation.  Looking back on the first half of our service, we recognize that it’s conversations like these that are the heart of the TEFL program in Nicaragua.

Nicaraguita, A Poem

Samantha / Peace Corps Stories

Oh Nicaragua, Nicaraguita
That girl at the bar said you have no culture

But I know
Culture is not something can see in colorful cloth or folk dances

But something you taste, like the dust that lines your mouth in April before the rains start
Like the ash baked into tortillas
And those small strawberries that come down from the mountain once a year

And culture is something you smell
Like the elote blackening in the street
The red and black paint drying on telephone poles
And the trash burning outside

It’s something you hear
Like the cars with the speakers tied on top, announcing a funeral
The sound of a plump mango falling from the tree
And every adios as you walk by

It’s something you feel
Like the warm hand of a stranger, inviting you in
The bumps on the road, as you pass by the mountains
And the ache of your heart, once you’ve left

Peace Corps held a poetry contest in 2015 that received more than 800 submissions from Volunteers in the field and returned Volunteers. Samantha Austin’s poem received the runner-up prize in the returned Peace Corps Volunteer Category. Austin was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua from 2010-12.

*Originally published on http://www.peacecorps.gov

Two is Twice as Tuani

Emily and Andrew / Nica 64 / TEFL

“Like any applicant and wannabe Peace Corps Volunteer, hours were spent scouring the Internet and talking with any RPCV to gather information and get a glimpse into what was to come. We were looking for something a little different though: information about serving as a couple.” (read more)

What it’s Like to Serve as a Queer Volunteer

Char / Nica 64 / TEFL

“I don’t want to go to Nicaragua,” I grumbled to my mom as I sat in the passenger’s seat, wrinkling my nose. She had just asked me if I was excited about my new Peace Corps assignment. I still wasn’t sure if I would actually go, but I said yes, for the moment.” (read more)

Instagram: Sweet Tamale Day

via @peacecorpsnicaragua: Repost @haleyyyjules: “Sweet Tamale day! #tamale #hostfamily #nicaragua #peacecorpsnicaragua”

Entrance Interview: Thomas, TEFL 68

Who are you?

Thomas Bagby Orange… (*dramatic pause*) Jr.

What do you like to go by?

Thomas, Tom, TO, Orange and/or any variation.

Where do you call home?

Glen Allen, VA

Why did you join the Peace Corps? Continue reading “Entrance Interview: Thomas, TEFL 68”

Instagram: Teacher Life

via @peacecorpsnicaragua: Repost @snrtasolecita: “Teacher Adrian with 11th graders today in Chin City. 🙌 #peacecorpsnicaragua” #peacecorps #teacherlife #tefl

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