101 MORE Things I’ve Learned in My Time in Nicaragua (now with links!)

27 Jul

1. Nicaragua is really hot

2. Matagalpa is much, much less hot, and actually rather pleasant

I didn’t fully appreciate this until I left Matagalpa for a weekend and was reminded of how dang warm the rest of this country can get

3. Soorya and I killed it over our 4 weeks in the hospital

33 Devices fixed/cleaned/maintained to only 3 abandoned

Fixed devices included compressor/nebulizer, electrosurgical unit, fluorescent lamp, infant scale, infant warmer, infusion pump, lensometer, microscope, phototherapy lamp, pulse oximeter, suction machine/aspirator, device support stands, and even a floor fan

4. People like lists

5. If I ever move to Nicaragua to start a business, it will be in hair gel

Every male in this country, regardless of age or hair length, uses about a half a jar every day

6. I could not have asked for a better home stay or nicer home stay mother than the one we had in Matagalpa; Nereyda you are an excellent cook and such a gracious host (and you have some pretty beautiful children too)

7. I will not be eating rice and beans (together, at least) for a very long time

Other than Chipotle of course, I’m not stupid

8. A 2-liter bottle and 1.5-liter bottle of water are not even close to enough for a “bucket shower” when the water gets shut off

9. Nicaraguan people litter everywhere (mostly out of bus windows)

10. Hammocks are the most relaxing way to spend your time

11. Having hairy arms and legs gives you a shield from bug bites (feet are still vulnerable though)

12. Some Australian guy named Alex, who volunteered at Surfing Turtle Lodge, may be the nicest, most genuine human being on the planet

13. How hypocritical and ironic people were regarding the Boston Marathon bomber being on the Rolling Stones cover

This girl (who I don’t know and am not Facebook friends with, but this still popped up on my news feed) was the prime example; you realize you’re adding to the problem your complaining about and just giving him more attention, way to go with those 19 likes though

14. I’m not very good at volleyball

15. Regardless of your age, size, athleticism, or whatever, you WILL look stupid trying to hit a piñata, and it WILL be funny

Accept it and laugh at yourself like the rest of us

16. Vegetarians (solely based on my experience of having 3 meals a day with one for the past 9 and a half weeks, sorry Soorya) don’t know how to use a knife

I don’t know if this is from lack of necessity (what Soorya told me once) or what, but I didn’t know someone could look so helpless with a knife (no offense, simply an observation)

17. On that note (sorry again Soorya), I’ve never been so glad to eat meat than after spending so much time with a vegetarian

Meat is delicious and amazing and delicious and I will eat it every day until I die

18. I plan on reading the Game of Thrones series

19. The Game of Thrones series is actually called A Song of Ice and Fire, and Game of Thrones is simply the name of the first book

I’d always though GOT was the name of the series

20. I like to say things/people are the “best ever”

21. Lebron James is the best basketball player of all time, Louis CK is the best comedian of all time, Dave Chappelle is the funniest person of all time (slight distinction there), Ken Griffey Jr. is the most talented baseball player of all time, and Bo Jackson is the best athlete of all time

22. Roosters crow and dogs bark constantly, each night, starting around 3 or 4 am in Matagalpa

23. Nicaraguan women almost exclusively wear their hair up (generally in a ponytail), especially during the day

24. Guys on the street (crazy, drunk, and/or homeless) love asking for high-fives or handshakes, and it breaks my heart to leave them hanging (yay hygiene!) because of my love for a good high-five

25. I am competitive (knew this before, I’ve just been reminded of it at random times)

26. I don’t like to lose at Jenga

27. Nicaragua has 3 types of beer: Toña, Victoria, and Victoria Frost (my personal favorite being the classic Victoria)

28. Showers in Matagalpa are cold at any time of day

29. I’m fairly certain that it’s too late to start and child, and that crystal meff ruins lives (more inside jokes, wheeee!)

30. Nicaraguans will wear almost any t-shirt they can afford, and almost never know what it says (or so I assume)

The best example was the shirt that said “I get it up…and in the hole” with a picture of a girl holding a golf pin in between the two phrases being worn by our super nice and warmhearted canyon tour guide; the two did not go together.  My other favorite was a Cane’s Chicken Fingers shirt, the restaurant in Lexington.

31. Taxis here will have 2 or 3 different customers (going to different destinations) in the cab at once

The fares are a flat rate, so I suppose this makes sense and is more efficient

32. How to cook gallo pinto (super easy)

33. How to cook Chancho con Yuca (less easy)

34. How to cook Vigorón (very similar to Chancho con Yuca)

35. Nicaraguans wash their lettuce with bleach

36. A group of kids in Granada with rocks in their hands at 1:30 in the morning do not want to play catch with those rocks

37. How to wash my clothes by hand

38. How to fully appreciate a washing machine and dryer

39. July 19th, Nicaraguan Liberation/Revolution Day, is NOT the day to try to travel around the country

40. How to fix an infant scale

41. How to cut your hand on an infant scale

42. You never throw ANYTHING away in a hospital unless you’re absolutely positive it’s broken, and even then you use it for spare parts

I was amazed at how resourceful Omar could be, and realized that all the stuff he saved from broken equipment came in handy on a daily basis

43. How to trek through the beautiful Somoto Canyon

44. Walking through a murky riverbed is like a blind, helpless waltz in shoes 6 sizes to big…with rocks in the way

45. The quickest way to get down a volcano

46. To lay down and look at the stars every once in a while

47. The Volcano Café in León makes one of the best burgers I’ve ever had

48. The end of Season 3 of Game of Thrones has the biggest “what the fuck” moment of any show I’ve ever watched, and I know this is likely true for you too (this video is a spoiler, so only click on this if you’re caught up, but if you are, this is amazing and was exactly my reaction…credit to Will Beyer for showing me that)

Though I’d probably say it’s a tie with the Season 4 finale of Breaking Bad, though their WTF qualities are for two very different reasons

49. I have songs associated with most of the people on this trip, something I’ve never really done or realized with a group of people before

50. Living with bugs crawling and flying around your bedroom is just something you get used to

51. You can flush a toilet by simply pouring a bucket of water into it

This is at least the case for Nicaraguan toilets, I’m not sure if they’re made differently to allow this because water gets shut off so regularly here.  Don’t blame me if you overflow your toilet trying to do this at home.

52. After not having regular internet for a month, how truly crippling and distracting it can be

53. I fully plan on seeing the Dave Chappelle live at the Oddball Comedy Festival in Tinley Park, IL (just need to firm up the plans and tickets with Wesley when I get home)

If I do, the events of the past 21 and change years leading up to that were and will be exactly what they needed to be.  Side note, Flight of the Concords will be there too, yay.

54. What a dance party in a tree house in a Nicaraguan jungle is like (lots of hats, climbing poles, and falling through floors)

55. The proper way to enjoy a Nicaraguan baseball game


56. What Cashew Lady was actually selling (quesillos)

57. My hair grew really slowly here

Generally after not getting a cut for over 2 months, it gets pretty shaggy, but it’s still a relatively short length.  I don’t really have a theory here, but maybe it’s the climate, or maybe it’s because I’ve taken fewer showers here than I usually do (maybe hair is like plants, the more you water it the more it grows…these are the things I think about).

58. What it’s like to live (literally) under an avocado tree

59. How to fix and clean a microscope (wayyyy more lenses than I realized)

60. How to replace the bulbs and transformers and clean the wheels of a phototherapy lamp

61. There are a surprising number of fat/chubby Nicaraguans, and they are definitely the norm compared to a “skinny person”

I’m not sure whether it’s a cultural difference (America is still really fat, not disputing that, I’m talking more of media/entertainment/advertisements portraying people as skinny) or the fact that they eat a lot of fatty/fried foods and drink sugary drinks, and I’m not judging them, this is simply an observation.  While I was initially surprised by this, as Nicaragua is a “developing nation” after all, I should point out that this is mostly in the cities where I see this, and is less of the case out in the much poorer parts of the country.

62. Lola, our pet parrot, either really loves or really hates the rain

Whenever it rains, she does not shut up and makes quite a racket of whistling and other bird noises (similar to gulls/seabirds).

63. How to clean a motor

64. Jacks from Cincinnati are all over Nicaragua (and likely the world, too, because we’re awesome)

65. The thing making the obnoxiously loud fireworks noise is a huge, shotgun looking thing

66. How to clean a nebulizer

67. How to clean a nebulizer some more

68. Where the best Italian restaurant in Matagalpa is (La Vita e Bella)

69. Matagalpa has really good coffee

70. I wish I drank coffee more so I could appreciate really good coffee

71. Being tall is uncomfortable in Nicaragua

72. How great tanks are (the thing you wear, not the thing that goes bang)

73. 95% of Nicaragua is under the age of 30

74. 49% of statistics are made up, often to make a point

75. I hate the Cardinals but respect the hell out of how good and consistent they are

This is an amazingly frustrating mix because every damn player (veteran or guy in his first year or two in the league) seems to have a 3 ERA or an above .300 batting average

76. The new National album is amazing

77. The same goes for the Purity Ring album, Shrines; finally got around to listening to it, and man is it good

78. Matt Berninger went to St. X; I knew he was a Cincy guy, but didn’t realize he went to X

79. Most of these things from the Trayvon Martin case

Our legal system is what it is and while the whole situation is tragic, it seems the jury really only had one choice, the one they made, and while I thought this before reading this article/survey, it was interesting hearing about the rest of the story.  And yes, I understand a lot of those questions are asked in a bias manner, but the entire coverage of the case was biased from the other side as well.

80. How good The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand is, particularly the end/last sentence (finally!)

81. Matagalpa is super hilly, which makes running in Matagalpa a real blast

82. Most Matagalpans stare at white people when they run

83. Every Matagalpan and their mother stares at white people when they run shirtless

84. The Chinese government are a bunch of big dumb dummies

85. How truly excited I was to go live and teach in China for a year

Having something taken away from you makes you appreciate what you had (or in my case what I could have had), so this was some pretty darn frustrating news, and it’s back to square one when I get home.  Such is life.

86. At this point, looks like I’ll be in Cincinnati for the foreseeable future; I’m going to apply to some stuff in Hong Kong, but will likely be looking for a job when I get home, preferably in Cincy or Nashville

I still want to do the teach-in-China or somewhere else abroad at some point, but China isn’t an option until I’m 24, so waiting may be for the best (save some money, learn some Chinese, etc.).

87. Uploading a blog post takes much longer than I anticipated

88. In a close race with playing golf and going to a Reds game, traveling is the thing I most enjoy doing, and hope I am fortunate enough to continue doing it the rest of my life

89. How to be/live dirty and not give a damn

90. I’m not sure whether it feels like I’ve been in Nicaragua for a very long time, or if my time here flew by

This is a strange feeling, and generally when you come to the end of your journey (whether that’s a trip, college, or whatever) it feels much quicker than you thought, but while I’m only one day from leaving, thinking back to my time in Granada seems like forever ago.  This is a weird combination of the two extremes that I don’t usually feel (maybe that’s a good thing, as it allows me to appreciate the entirety of it).

91. Installing the back panel (containing the replacement for this outlet) of an infant warmer, with a neonate on it in need of the device you are in the middle of fixing, is unbelievably nerve-racking and satisfying all at once

92. Parrot bites don’t hurt (super strong claws though)

93. I packed way too many clothes

Though in my defense, I would have worn all the clothes I brought, I just chose not to wear some of the softer/nicer shirts I brought because I didn’t want to wash (and damage) them here.  I’ve simply realized that if I could go back and pack again, I probably would have brought about 60% of the stuff I ended up bringing.

94. I am an amazing Flip Cup motivational speaker

95. Nothing is more frustrating than a screw that won’t cooperate, whether it be stripped, stuck from corrosion, or too hard to reach

96. What my heart beat looks like

97. Nicaraguan people say “ch ch” to get your attention

If you’re not used to it, it is quite off-putting and rude, but after hearing it almost every day it’s something you realize they all do.

98. A whole mess of personal stuff

99. This was one of the most unforgettable two months of my life and I’m so glad I had this opportunity and decided to do it

100.  That being said, I’m ready to come home

101.  How to look at my blog “stats”

As of this post, this blog has had 695 views, way more than I could have ever expected or anticipated.  You guys are amazing and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you reading and supporting this trip as I was trying to raise money to come here, preparing for the trip, and then along the way.  I hope you have enjoyed reading about my time in Nicaragua and that I did a halfway decent job of explaining how amazing and rewarding this experience truly was.  I couldn’t have done it without all of your support and I am eternally grateful.



FSLN 34/19 and Our Weekend on the Beach

24 Jul

Allow me to explain, as I’m sure you’re now wondering what FSLN 34/19 means.  I was just as confused, particularly because I saw it all over posters and t-shirts last week in Matagalpa.  Well.  FSLN stands for Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, meaning literally Front Sandinista Liberation National, or Sandinista National Liberation Front (Sandinista is the ruling political party in Nicaragua, led by Daniel Ortega).  The 34 stands for the 34th anniversary of the revolution of the FSLN party over the Somoza dynasty in 1979, and 19 stands for July 19th, the National Liberation/Revolution Day.  Wednesday (the 17th) after work, Omar, our technician who we work with in the hospital, asked us if we wanted to take the shuttle from work to see the parade that goes through downtown Matagalpa to kick off the celebrations, so of course we accepted his invitation.  The city is pretty small (relative to cities in more developed countries, though still pretty big in Nicaraguan standards) so the parade didn’t take long to see, as we walked along the route at a pace slightly faster than the parade itself.  There were lots of drumming and dancing and some floats; very festive and lots of excitement surrounding the entire day and weekend.









Seeing as Friday was a holiday, we were given the day off from work, so we left Matagalpa early (around 6:30am) to get to León, where we would then travel about 40 minutes to a town on the shore called Poneloya, where we would then take a little boat to this hostel called Surfing Turtle Lodge.  We had some worries earlier in the week about getting to León, seeing as it was a holiday and all, and feared that the buses wouldn’t be running on their normal schedule to their normal destinations.  To avoid this, or at least find out so we could prepare accordingly, we asked our home stay mother Thursday night if she could call the bus company and ask what the deal would be the next day; they picked up and said THEY DIDN’T KNOW!!  I laughed out loud (more of a snarky chuckle, but still) when I heard this.  You may be an underdeveloped country, but you are basically the only bus company in the country and you dictate all of the travel, and you don’t know if a bus will be going from Matagalpa to León, two major cities, the NIGHT BEFORE?!  They told us to call back in the morning and they would know, and of course when we called back, they didn’t answer, which added to their increasing credibility.  Oh well, different places have different standards, realize this and move on.

So we left our house at 6:30am, not knowing if we could get a bus to León or not, and realized upon arriving at the bus station that the buses were only going to Managua, so we caught the 7 o’clock bus to Managua, arriving around 10.  We then realized (thanks to a super nice Nicaraguan guy who spoke English) there were no buses in this station going to León, so we took a cab to another bus stop, where we could take a microbus to León.  Leaving around 11, we got to León around 12:45pm.

I’m going to take this time to pause my story of the day’s travels to talk about the burger I had in León; it was in the Volcano Café, the restaurant attached to Big Foot Hostel (the hostel that partners with Surfing Turtle Lodge, and who we used to go volcano boarding), and it was called the Heavy Duty Double Burger.  For 160 Cordobas (about $6), it came on a huge bun with two patties, two fried eggs, lots of ham, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and mayonnaise.  The pictures below should do a pretty decent job in illustrating how monstrous it was, though it cannot due justice to how magically delicious it was; hands down one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, and I’m literally salivating thinking about it (writing this while hungry isn’t helping either).



If you ever go to León, find this café and eat this burger (they have a single burger option, and one without the bacon and egg if you want a bit of a smaller portion, but if you don’t want bacon and egg on your burger, stop reading this because I no longer want to know you).

Lunch ended around 1:45pm, we grabbed some snacks at the grocery store, and took a cab to where we thought a bus would come pick us up to take us the 20 km to Poneloya.  Liberation Day!  Which means no buses!  Or so we were told.  The bus would have been about a dollar or so, but a cab driver offered to take us for about $4, so we hesitantly agreed, not convinced the public buses weren’t running, as we’d seen some buses driving around the city (we missed the shuttle that Surfing Turtle provides at 10:30; it’s usually not this difficult to get there).  We got to Poneloya around 2:30pm, took a $1 boat ride across this narrow strip of water, and walked along a shore for about 15 minutes before finally arriving at the hostel at 3:30 in the afternoon.  What should have been less than 4 hours of traveling turned into 9 hours, so the beach and the waves were a welcome site.


The weekend was lovely.  Lots of lounging in hammocks, reading, swimming in the ocean, eating overpriced (the hostel was our only nearby source of anything whatsoever) but delicious food, and playing volleyball.  I realized I’m not so good at volleyball, which was frustrating, particularly in the sand, but it was fun laying out for balls and at least trying to maintain a rally or pull off a spike, and I tried to have as much fun as I could (which is generally only so much when I’m not good at something…yay competitive spirit!).


One of the highlights of the weekend was getting to know one of the volunteer staff members, an Australian guy named Alex.  He was in his mid-20s and was traveling through Central America and the US for a few months, and was spending about 6 or 7 weeks volunteering at Surfing Turtle (you get a free room and free food).  He was one of the nicest, most friendly people I’ve ever encountered, and was genuinely interested in every person he met the entire weekend.  Also he had a breathtaking beard.


Friday night we sat outside by a fire (which Charlotte and I made, because the staff was terrible at it…“Let’s just throw a bunch of gas on some logs, ooooooo, prettyyyy”; no idiots, this isn’t ‘Nam, there are rules) and chatted and hung on the beach.  Saturday night we joined in on a giant game (got up to 10 v. 10) of Flip Cup put on by the hostel, which was a ton of fun and went on for about 10 games or so.  Sunday we got back to Matagalpa around 5 after a much easier day of travel.


Work got a bit more exciting last week when I was able to get into the hospital and see our work being put to use again.  On Wednesday, Omar brought in the back panel of some unidentified machine and showed me that the part of the panel where the power source plugged in had caught on fire and burnt a hole (see below) through the plastic.

Burnt outlet with its working replacementImage

I looked around the workshop for a similar looking outlet, found one, replaced it, and soldered some wires together so the new outlet would work.

Wires used and soldered to make all necessary connectionsImage

The next day Omar asked if it was ready, and upon me saying yes and asking what it was for, he said he would show me.  We walked to the neonatal ward of the hospital, stopped outside a room containing three or four newborns, put on some robes, and he told me to go in and install the panel onto the back of one of the infant warmers that currently had a baby sleeping and receiving treatment on it.  I hooked up the wires and screwed in the panel, all while this sick neonate was sleeping a foot from my head; the new outlet worked, the machine turned on, and our job was done.  While going around to collect dirty nebulizers got me into the hospital a bit, this was the first time I’d had real firsthand experience seeing where some of our work was going; the same baby was also being treated by one of the phototherapy lamps we fixed as well.  Pretty cool.

Other than this, more nebulizer cleaning and preventative maintenance.  We’ve also done some cleaning and painting of some parts that have been around our workshop that accompany actual equipment, as they’re often old, rusty, dirty, and unattractive.  When staff members see equipment (or accompanying parts) that looks old and unattractive, they might be less inclined to use it or might mistrust it, so maintaining this somewhat decent appearance is almost as important as the fixes themselves.

The legs of the stand still need to be fixed, but the painting is a startImage

We also started all of our paperwork this week, as we leave at the end of the week and need to get it done: inventory, work assessment forms for each device we’ve looked at (not just fixed, everything), hospital assessment form, needs-finding form (interview a staff member on what the hospital needs).  We’ve done some of this as we’ve gone along, especially keeping track of all of our devices, but we haven’t done any of the actual forms themselves, so much of this week has been typing all this up (inventory especially took a long time).  Less exciting than the fixes, but understandably necessary.

We get together on Saturday for our EWH conference in Managua, and then everybody takes off on Sunday.  I’m on the morning flight, so I’ll be back in the States Sunday afternoon.  I’ve got one more “list” to upload, so that’ll be up Friday or Saturday, and then I’ll have one more entry to post about the rest of this week, the conference, and maybe some reflection on the trip as a whole.

3 days left.  Crazy stuff.

Cañon de Somoto (lots of pictures!), Done with My Books, and Work Keeps Rollin’

16 Jul

In the first few pages of my guidebook there’s a picture of a guy jumping off some rocks into a pool of water below.  It’s a pretty intense and thrilling picture and as soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to do it; whatever it was.  It turned out that he was doing Canyon Jumping, also called Canyon Touring, in the small and somewhat isolated city of Somoto.  Somoto is about an hour and a half north of Estelí (and less than 5km from the Honduras border), which is about two hours northwest of Matagalpa.  Friday after work Soorya and I took a bus to Estelí, where we stayed at a hostel that partners with a family who does tours of the Somoto Canyon; Graham and Josh are living and working in Estelí and wanted to do the canyon tour as well so we met up with them and one other kid (Ray) from Managua who came up to join us.  Saturday morning we had breakfast and took the 7:30am bus to Somoto, arriving around 9:30am.  The head of the family who runs our tour, Henry Soriano, met us at the bus station (where I ran into Jack from Cincinnati again! – he lives 20 minutes away with his group and they decided to finally do the Somoto Canyon this particular weekend, when they could have done it at any point in their 10 weeks here; crazy stuff) and took us in a cab to his house, where we could drop off our stuff, change, and get ready for the hike.  They told us to leave everything behind other than a bottle of water, sunscreen, and camera (they had a large waterproof bag that kept these safe from the water).


There were two tour options, standard (4 hours) and long (5-6 hours), costing $25 and $30 respectively, with all equipment and lunch included, and we opted for the long tour, as the extra $5 seemed worth it.  More details about the Sorianos (super nice, definitely recommend using them if you ever find yourself in Somoto) and the tour can be found here.  Around 10:30am, Graham, Josh, Soorya, Ray, and myself took a cab to the entrance of the canyon with our two guides Luis and Ismael.  They seemed to be in their 40s or so, and could not have been nicer; whenever we saw people along the route or in the canyon, Ismael would offer a jovial “Buenos dias” or “como está?” with a big smile and a friendly wave.  They also carried all our stuff and told us that whenever we needed anything or wanted to take pictures to not hesitate to ask; they took several group photos and were very chatty throughout the day, as well.

So with water shoes (I just wore my light running shoes, which worked perfectly), a swimsuit, and lifejacket on, and my water, a few snacks, and camera in the waterproof bag carried by Luis, we started our journey around 10:30am.

Where we first entered the canyon/river


We began walking along and across the river, which turned out to easily be the most difficult part of the hike; the water was muddy and thus very murky, so each step was blind.  Some rocks were big enough when the water was shallow to jut out of the water, but even in shallow water, you couldn’t see where rocks were or were not, so this made walking very slow, clumsy, and painful (lots of banging legs into rocks and falling over).  When it would get deep enough (thigh-high or so) we would lay down and float using our life jackets.


This continued on for about 2 hours, as depths would change (some parts were deep enough that we could no longer stand) and we would switch between hiking along the bank and wading/swimming/floating down the river (based on how dangerous rapids were).  Very relaxing.  Very beautiful.  And oh so tranquilo.


Twice we stopped to do “jumps” into the water, both from about 5 meters.  I asked our guides how high the jumps would get, as we’d heard they ranged from 3 meters up to 20, but he said that the water was too high today which would prevent us from reaching the points where we could climb up to do the big jumps, so the highest we would get would be about 5 or 10.

Where we took our first jump – around 4 or 5 meters


I was a little disappointed, as I was looking forward to at least seeing what a 20 meter jump looked like (that’s almost 66 feet), as I had gone into the day saying I wanted to go for it.  The end of the day made up for some of this disappointment however, but more on that soon.

Exploring the banks of the river


Hey there, guy fishing


Where the two rivers, Tapacali (left) and Comali (right, from Honduras), come together to form Rio Coco


Around 1 o’clock we walked ashore and started our hike to the “lookout”; we wandered through the trees for about a half hour (passing Luis’s farm – corn and beans – and house along the way, giving a handful of cattle some stare-downs) before reaching the top of a cliff with a little hut built to observe the canyon.  You can see from the picture below how beautiful of a view it really was, and it more than lived up to its name.

The view from the lookout


The next step in the tour was completely unexpected, the scariest, but also one of the coolest in retrospect.  After we left the lookout we started to climb down the cliff of the canyon; and by down I mean straight down.  We were holding on to trees and vines as we walked down paths that were steeper than a staircase, and at one point we had to hold onto a rope while walking down the side of the cliff (our bodies were almost perpendicular to the vertical cliff) and another time we did something similar with the root of a tree; letting go or a slip of the hand would have been a very painful fall down.  The descent took about a half hour, but we reached the bottom, only realizing then (after being all the way up at the lookout, which was essentially directly above our heads now) how impressive our feat actually was.

Reaching the bottom, we found another group jumping into the river, and we realized our disappointment of not being able to try the 20 meter jump would be made-up somewhat by a 13-15 meter jump.  The group of about 30 Americans were mostly doing a 8-10 meter jump, but we saw a few kids walk up to a much higher point.



We asked our guide how high this was and he gave us the 13-15m estimate, so we made our way across the river to climb up to that point.  I thought about doing the 10m as a warm up, but didn’t want to waste my time on the behavior and activities of children.

Jumping! – where blue lifejacket-guy is standing is the 15m jump, and around where the other two people are is a 10m jump



As I was making my way up, there was one poor girl in the group who had made it to the 8-10m jump but was too afraid to finally make the leap.  Her idiot group of friends kept trying to egg her on by doing repeated countdowns from 10, 5, and 3 seconds, which I’m sure made it worse for her.  She didn’t end up jumping, and I felt embarrassed and bad that she had to do that in front of all her friends and random strangers.  I reached the 15m peak, looked down, talked to a guy up there who’d just done it and was about to go again, asked where I was supposed to land, lined it up, and stepped off.  There was a part of the cliff below that you had to clear, so I jumped out a bit, and you don’t realize that you’re more scared during the jump than before, but that of course is when it’s too late.  Arms were waved, some shouting was likely done, and I hit the water with ease; I was expecting it to hurt some, but it didn’t really, as I quickly swam to shore and made my way back to go again.  Round two left me with slight bruise on my hand as I hit the water a little harder and I guess my hands were one of the things to have a solid impact.

End of the canyon (we came from the left)


After the second jump, we had to leave so we could have lunch and catch the last bus out of Somoto at 5pm.  We did some more swimming/floating for another 20 minutes or so, before leaving the river and canyon and hiking 45 minutes back to the house.  Lunch, which we ordered at the start of the day, was hot and ready right when we got back, and was a huge, delicious portion of food.


The tour was supposed to take 5-6 hours, and between starting around 10:30am, entering the river around 10:50am, leaving the canyon around 3pm, and getting to the house around 4pm, we were right on schedule.  I loved every minute of it (minus the big dumb rocks in the big dumb murky water that were big and dumb and painful, fuck you rocks), and with the hiking, swimming, climbing, jumping, amazing views, guides, food, and experience, it was more than worth the $30 and probably my favorite activity I’ve done in Nicaragua so far.  Thanks Somoto and thanks Sorianos.

Not sure why the left side of this pic is blurry, but there’s the crew (LtR: Luis, Josh, Ray, Soorya, Graham, Ismael, Stud)



The last few days at work have been a little more focused on cleaning and preventative maintenance than actual repairs.  Friday there was an infusion pump with a broken door, so after repairing the springs on the inside that controlled the lever (which keeps the IV tube closed when the door is open) and replacing the door itself, it functioned properly.

What the springs holding the lever open/closed should look like


The white piece holding the springs broke off, and the screw broke as well, so I had to saw off the part still containing the screw


I glued the broken piece (which holds the springs) to the piece I had just sawed off (to give it enough length), and added the nail to give it more structural strength


Glued back on


Added tape for more strength/stability, and boom, working lever again


Door missing the piece that pushes the lever back up (when the door is closed, to open the flow and allow it to be controlled by the machine/rollers)


Door we replaced it with (from a machine with a broken pressure sensor)


Today Soorya got done fixing another phototherapy lamp after replacing bulbs, replacing some transformers, and cleaning the exterior/interior/wheels.  We didn’t have the proper transformers to replace all 5 bulbs with UV bulbs, so he put 2 UV bulbs in the middle with the two working transformers we had, and put the 3 new (lower voltage) transformers on the ends to power 3 normal fluorescent bulbs.  While it’s not ideal, white light still was wavelengths that can be used, or are close to the wavelengths used to jumpstart bilirubin production in infants, so this is the best we could do.  Yesterday and today I cleaned the exterior, interior, and motor of four more nebulizers, though it was gratifying seeing them being put to use, as Omar asked me to help him come around with him today to drop off some of the now clean and working nebulizers in some of the patient rooms and pick up some of the dirty ones.  We walked into rooms with several sick or disfigured infants who were in need of these machines in order to effectively deliver and receive their medicine.  This was the first time I’d seen where our fixes were going, and will hopefully be able to see more of this in the future.  It gives some perspective and satisfaction as to the difference we’re actually making, and not just sitting in a back workshop actin’ a fool on some broken equipment.

Dirt and dead bug cleaning


So far Soorya and I are up to 23 devices either fixed, checked, or cleaned/maintained, meaning they’ve come into our office for some reason and we’ve done the necessary things (fixing, cleaning, maintenance) to get them back into the hospital.

On Sunday I finished The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, after starting a few weeks ago.  I’d tried to read it over the last three summers, and I have now done something in about three weeks that I couldn’t do in three years.  Not only is the book incredibly well written, with amazing imagery and character development, but the plot continued to change and intertwine, and the close of the book was particularly good (especially the last line, after all the events, and entire book for that matter, leading up to it).

I don’t know if I underestimated how much I was going to embrace reading, or how much free time I would have on my hands, but not only was I not expecting to finish four books, I was definitely not expecting this 694 page, 311,596 word, small font, small margin, beast to be one of them; but low and behold, I’m done and out of books.  I bought Catch-22 right before I left and Robyn bought me the first Game of Thrones book as a part of my “care-package” but I thought four was setting the bar way too high so I didn’t bring them (but plan on reading both as soon as I get home).  Silly Jacky.  Soorya brought Heart of Darkness though, so I’m going to start reading that, though I don’t know how long that will last me.  I may have to reread Cat’s Cradle or The Sun Also Rises, something else I’ve never done (reread an entire book that is; I’d only read about 5/7 of The Fountainhead the first time).  I’m starting to brainstorm books I want to read when I get home, so I’d appreciate any recommendations people might have.  Right now I’ve got Catch-22, The Brothers Karamazov, Winter’s Bone, Ender’s Game (read this in high school but need to reread), Slaughterhouse-Five, All the King’s Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Game of Thrones, but I would love any recommendations or suggestions you guys might have.  Please, send them my way.

Fixes, Volcano Boarding and Jack from Cincinnati, and 6 Hours of Lavado de Ropas

11 Jul

So it’s been a week since my last post, and business as usual carries on at the hospital.  On Thursday, Soorya and I managed to get four fixes done, which is a decent number to get done in a week, so this was huge for one day.  Granted, not every “fix” was super intense or complicated, but whenever we get something out of our workshop and back into the hospital, it’s a satisfying feeling and a success.  Fix number one was a pulse oximeter that wouldn’t turn on.  I opened the housing and cleaned and disconnected and then reconnected all the wires inside and then tried again and the device turned on.  As I was reassembling it, the device would have trouble turning on correctly, but I noticed this was because one of the connections in particular was coming apart, so I made sure to secure it and keep it secure when closing the housing back up.  The front panel was missing the parts to screw on to the housing, so it had to be held on by electrical tape.


Fix number two was an air compressor/nebulizer that despite turning on, was outputting air at a relatively low strength, which is likely the reason the hospital deemed it broken or unusable.  Upon investigating the motor, we found that there was corrosion on the diaphragm/piston and air valves, which would result in some air leaking.  We cleaned this corrosion and other components of the motor and the inside of the device, and found that the output air pressure was definitely stronger.

Cleaning the motor


Fix number three was the easiest of the day, as we just needed to find the proper/specific type of tubing for an infusion pump.  Upon finding the tube, the pump worked, so we cleaned it and moved on.


Fix number four was another pulse oximeter and was also quite easy.  The front panel was open and there was something rattling inside, which were likely the reasons it was in our shop.  I simply snapped the panel back on and it fit just fine, and then upon opening up the housing, found that the thing rattling around was a jumper.  The pins it went to were all bent, so I straightened the pins and replaced the jumper onto the pins/jumper socket.  The housing was cleaned internally and externally and upon reassembly everything worked fine.  As you can see, these weren’t the most complex things to fix in the world, but they are all things that were in our workshop for a reason and needed to be checked, so we’re glad we could fulfill that role.  We did have one device we had to abandon though, our first real encounter with something that was beyond fixing; it was an infusion pump that would turn on but the occlusion alarm would go off when there was no blockage in the tubing and so no fluid would flow (the mechanism is halted by the occlusion alarm).  We guessed that there might be an issue with the pressure sensor in the device, and were forced to give up and move on.

This week has been similarly successful, as we have fixed a microscope, infant scale, fluorescent lamp, and cleaned/maintained three nebulizers.  We are also nearly complete with fixing a suction machine/aspirator, phototherapy lamp, and another microscope.  The microscope wouldn’t turn on, but upon cleaning the prongs of the light bulb (using sandpaper to wipe off corrosion) the light turned on.  However, the lenses and eyepieces were a disaster so needed desperate cleaning, and some of the lenses (this goes for most of the microscopes we’ve fixed so far) were beyond cleaning/repair and new ones need to be purchased in order to be used effectively.

What it takes to clean an eyepiece


I then moved on to an infant scale that was stuck and the arrow thing that is supposed to balance wouldn’t go down all the way.  I removed the exterior of the scale and found that two screws had come lose from one side of the balance, causing it to lean back and become off-kilter; screwing these back in leveled the balance and allowed it to work properly.  However, upon reattaching the exterior and screwing in the screws and bolts, the scale got stuck again, which made me realize there was a bolt that was pushing up against an internal component and making the balance get stuck.  This only occurred when it was screwed in completely, so to prevent it from rattling around while not screwing it in all the way, Omar attached epoxy to the tip of the bolt to keep it in place.  There was also a lot of brown corrosion/rust on the inside from wear over the years, so I cleaned this along with the exterior.


This was a successful fix, but the most annoying so far, because when I was trying to calibrate the scale by sliding one of the pieces on the front panel, it got stuck, and upon pushing it, it came free and I jammed my finger into the metal panel and got a cut along on my left middle finger about the length of the nail.  Things got a little bloody, but I cleaned myself up and so far things are healing nicely (all things considered, like the fact that I’m using my hands all day and hit my fingers on EVERYTHING).


Soorya fixed the fluorescent lamp pretty much on his own, which entailed replacing some of the bulbs as well as one of the sets of terminals (where the bulb locks into place) and cleaning the wheels.

The three nebulizers were all very similar in their appearance, and needed to be cleaned as part of regular maintenance.  This consisted of removing the spout, fan guard, and elements that cover the motor and soaking them in water and detergent before cleaning them with a toothbrush.




I began working on a suction machine today, and am basically done, just have some final cleaning to do tomorrow before it heads back into the hospital for use.  It wouldn’t turn on initially, and upon investigating I quickly realized the fuses were blown.  Seeing as we don’t have the proper spare fuses, Omar showed us we could simply solder copper wire from one end of the fuse to the other and it would work again; low and behold, I soldered on the wire to each of the two fuses and the device turned on.


However, it still wouldn’t provide suction, and looking in the motor I realized there was a buildup of dust and corrosion.  Cleaning the motor and re-lubricating the vanes (the pieces that create the suction and go in the four slots in the pictures below), the suction was back to working properly.  You taught us well on that one Ron, good work.

Dirty, sticky motor


Clean, lubricated motor


Alex comes tomorrow for our weekly (or bi-weekly) On-The-Ground-Coordinator visit (Kevin came last Tuesday), which means an extra set of hands in the workshop for part of the day and a free lunch somewhere in the city!  We get up to $10 and I will certainly be getting my money’s worth.  After work it’s off to Esteli to stay the night before heading up to Somoto Saturday morning for canyon touring/jumping, which you can read more about here and here.

This past weekend we went to Leon for the huge tourist attraction, volcano boarding.  The whole group was there minus about 6 of us, with some people not wanting to come or simply being too far to make the trip.  While we’re hard at work to stay busy, we had a lot of fun spending the first month together, so reuniting was something we were all looking forward to and enjoyed.  We got to Leon around 6 after a two and a half hour bus ride after work on Friday, and spent the first night hanging out and getting dinner at the hostel.  We signed up for the 1:30 boarding the next day (morning was fully booked), and set off around 2:30 (took the morning group a little while to get back, no biggy) to finally see what all the fuss was about.

Here’s a great video of what the whole day was like (excellent song choice, cue Always Sunny or Ferris Bueller reference).  Our boards were subtley different because they’re constantly modifying it, but everything else was pretty much the same.



We got to the volcano around 3:15, were given our equipment (bag with goggles and orange full-body jumpsuit and a board made of plywood and some strategically placed metal and plastic), and began the hike up the volcano.  It usually take about 40 minutes to an hour, but we had to stop at one point to wait to see what a looming set of rain clouds would do (don’t want to be on top of a mountain with a metal board when there’s lightning).


During our wait, we talked up some of the other group members and found a kid named Jack who was from Cincinnati.  He went to Moeller and is entering his third year at Dayton (where I was supposed to go before hearing I got off the Vandy waiting list), and is in Nicaragua for 10 weeks working on sustainable engineering projects.  Jacks from Cincinnati unite!


We got to the top of the volcano and the view was breathtaking.  You could see for miles in every direction, and there was plenty of flat ground on top that you could walk around and see the different surrounding landscapes, even being able to look down into the volcano’s crater.  This ended up being my favorite part of the experience.



We reconvened after 10 minutes or so of walking around the peak, and got our lesson on how to use the boards and go down safely.  We suited up, got in position, and took turns in two lines, each person in a line going down one at a time.




I don’t want to say I was disappointed, but I was a little underwhelmed, simply because I could not figure out that fucking board.  I did everything they had told us to do, and was trying to go as fast as I could (they clocked your speed with a radar gun), but could not figure out how to go straight.  I kept veering right, which caused me to crash twice (it was soft, no bumps or bruises), and despite my attempts to use my weight or feet to stay straight, I continued turning as I went down.  Others had a similar problem, so it seems that you either got it or you didn’t.  I didn’t.  I wish I’d been able to go again, because then I think I may have figured it out.  Oh well, I enjoyed the hike and the experience of riding down, just wish I had been able to work the board.



If you’re wondering how the volcano lends itself to boarding like this, it’s actually a pretty cool explanation.  The crater is angled in such a way that it shoots out in one direction so that all the large rocks land on one side of the mountain; however, the wind blows opposite of the blast direction, so it carries all the sand and smaller rocks to the other side, leaving the other side covered in this soft material (you can literally run down the volcano on this sandy rock).  So essentially the volcano is split into two sides; rocky and sandy.  Very cool and very unique.

We got home Sunday and on Monday I started my first (and hopefully only) venture with washing my clothes by hand (I had paid to have others wash my clothes in Granada).  Nereyda, our host mom, told us to buy powdered detergent and scrubbing soap, so I started (after getting a tutorial from Nereyda) by separating my clothes into three piles: whites, colors, and darks.  I hadn’t washed my clothes since the last week or so in Granada, meaning I had about three or four weeks of clothes, which is most of the things I brought.  So you fill a bucket with water and sprinkle in some detergent (not much, just a few shakes) and mix it in the water; for the whites, add a splash of bleach.  You then add the clothes and let them soak overnight, before washing and rinsing the following day.  The setup for washing is a washboard and a large sink directly next to it; the sink has a faucet that is essentially always on as you scoop water onto the washboard as needed with a small bowl.  You start by taking the piece of clothing out of the bucket, rinsing out the detergent with the scoop-from-sink-with-bowl method, scrubbing and squeezing until most of the detergent rinses out.  You then take the washing soap, rubbing all surfaces of the item, adding water and scrubbing throughout (for a shirt, for example, you rub soap on the front and back of the exterior, scrub and rinse, turn it inside out, rub soap on the front and back of the interior, scrub and rinse) and then rinsing until all the soap is gone.  You then squeeze out all the water, shake it a few times, and hang it to dry.  Tuesday I woke up before work to get started, spent about 45 minutes in the morning, spent 2 hours before dinner after work, then about 3 hours after dinner.  Close to six hours of washing.  Back pain.  Blisters on my hands.  And what appears to be damaged clothes.  It’s part of being here and makes me appreciate something as common and simple as a washer and dryer; hopefully washing and drying my clothes at home will get them properly clean and restore their softness, but I can already feel and see them start to fade and stretch, but oh well.  More things to be grateful for.

Sorry for the delay in getting this post up; I try to make up for it with plenty of pictures (and more than enough words), so thanks for being patient.  Somoto should be quite the adventure (despite the fact that someone died earlier this week exploring the canyon without a guide, but we’ll have a more than experienced guide and safety equipment, so not too worried; sorry I left that detail out of our Skype chat Dad, though I think you know why I did you big worrier you) so I’ll be sure to come back with my full assessment and of course pictures.  You all are amazing, I can’t thank you enough for all of the positive feedback and continuing to read.  Oh, and I finally watched the last two episodes of Season 3 of Game of Thrones now that I have regular internet.  HOLY FUCKING SHIT!  That’s all I can or will say, no spoilers.  Mind blown.

No More China…for now, The Day-to-Day, and Fixing Stuff

4 Jul

Well this blog is supposed to be about Nicaragua, but it’s also about Jack in Nicaragua, and the biggest thing to happen to Jack this week is me losing my upcoming job in China.  As some of you know, I was planning on moving to China in October to teach English for a year.  I found a company through the Vanderbilt career website (which gave me reason to trust them), and a good friend from high school (David Spooner) and I applied, both got in, and accepted the role right before I left for Nicaragua.  I signed a contract two days before I left to start October 1, 2013 and work a full year.  A few weeks later Dave and I received our housing assignment, informing us we would be living together and working in the city of Shenzhen.  We couldn’t have been more excited (particularly because another good friend, Nick Weaver, also applied and got in after we did, and was strongly considering coming as well), and things were coming together nicely in preparation for October.  Well on Monday I received this email from the company (LKE, Lion King Education Group):

Dear Jack,

It is with a heavy heart that I write this email to you.

Because of a new visa law that has taken effect in China today, July 1, 2013, LKE International Education will no longer be able to hire you as an EFL Teacher. I received word about this today.

LKE gives its teachers two different types of visas. To qualify for the work visa, or Z visa, all applicants must have a Bachelor’s degree in any field, have two years of full-time work experience, and must be at least 24 years of age.

The experience requirement is pretty flexible, but the age and education level are rigid requirements. These requirements are not set by me or LKE, but rather ones that are set by the Chinese government. I can tell you now that all other education companies like ours have had to work with this restriction as well. If you do not meet the age requirement, we cannot help you obtain the Z visa.

We had been telling all of our candidates under the age of 24 to get a one year multiple-entry travel visa. You would have been required to leave China every 90 days; most likely you would have gone to Hong Kong for a day or so. Our company would have paid for all costs associated with getting you there (airfare/train, hotel). Again, all other education groups like ours dealt with this in the same way. To my knowledge, none of our previous American teachers under the age of 24 have had an issue of working with a tourist visa. I have personally asked my superiors in China.

However, this new visa law now imposes harsher penalties on those working without the official work visa, including a fine that has increased by twenty times for the employee and the company. There would also be the chance of imprisonment for 5-15 days. Because we do not wish to risk the safety or good public records of our teachers, LKE can no longer hire anyone under the age of 24.

I cannot tell you how upsetting it was to receive this news today and I am so sorry to have to tell you this. I personally think it is ridiculous that China has an age minimum of 24 for work visas. In general, I think the Chinese government follows a rule of thumb that looks like this: average age upon graduation = 22; plus two years of related, full-time work experience = 24. I think that China needs to get rid of this outdated rule.  It was our wish, that in the future, all teachers, regardless of age, will be able to obtain the Z visa.

I want to thank you for your interest in our position and for the time you invested with me and the rest of the International Programs team.  I will put your application “on hold.” If you are to turn 24 and are still interested in the position, please contact me and we will pick up the hiring process from where you left off.


So that’s that.  Saying I’m frustrated is putting it lightly.  First of all, if this law went into effect on Monday, this means it was passed well before then, so the company should have known this day was coming.  To put us through the entire application and hiring process, only to pull the rug out months later seems like something that could have been avoided.  I have sent these questions on to LKE so hopefully I get some answers soon.  Secondly, my income, living arrangement, and most importantly plan for next year is now gone and there’s seemingly nothing I can do about it; now it’s back to square one trying to figure out life after Nicaragua.

Dave and I haven’t totally given up hope on teaching abroad however, as we’re now looking into teaching elsewhere in China (other companies advertise to recent college graduates, so we’re looking into whether the situation is just LKE’s fault, or is something for all companies who recruit for teachers in China, as LKE implied) as well as Korea and Japan.  We’re hesitant to go through the hiring process again before we know we can legally be there, so we’re getting these questions answered now to avoid something like this happening again.

While this plan was a little unorthodox, it was something I was genuinely excited about for a number of reasons (which I won’t get into now that for the time being it’s not happening, and that would just make sad/frustrated Jack even more sad and frustrated), so seeing it taken away like this has not been the easiest to deal with.

Anyway, life goes on and I’ll figure something out.  Back to Nicaragua.  We arrived at the hospital on Monday just before 8 and as promised, Omar was there waiting for us, and he was not what I was expecting.  I heard the name Omar (who worked with EWH last year, and does a whole mess of things around the hospital) and I pictured a short, fat, old man with a mustache, but instead I found a 26-year-old kid who’s only been at the hospital three years.  Super nice.  Super laid back.  Very patient with mine and Soorya’s Spanish, and very good at his job.

Our hospital


The workshop is already filled with broken equipment, including neonatal phototherapy lamps, patient monitors, microscopes, infant incubators, and several others, so there will be no shortage of work for the immediate future (unless Soorya and I beast mode and fix everything in a week, which will likely happen).

The workshop




We asked Omar where he wanted us to start, and he said the microscopes, as these are very useful pieces of equipment, are generally easy fixes, and there were several in the workshop.  We got to work on our first microscope, realizing quickly that it would turn on (a little green light came on) but the light wouldn’t turn on because it was missing a light bulb.

Our first task – the oh-so-intimidating microscope



After taking apart the housing for the bulb, we inserted a new bulb and the microscope now worked (this turned out to be a lot more work, as there was a much simpler way to replace the bulb, oh well).


We did some cleaning of the housing and lenses, and the microscope was ready – though Omar only has one microscope bulb and is waiting for more, so once we get more then it’ll go back into the hospital, as we need the one working bulb to test the other broken microscopes.


Microscope number two was a little more challenging, as the light wouldn’t turn on with the working bulb.  After some troubleshooting, we realized current wasn’t reaching the contact point for the bulb prongs, explaining why it wouldn’t light.  There was corrosion on the metal contacts themselves (the things that touch the prongs of the bulb), as well as the points where the wires carrying the current met the metal contacts.  We tried to clean this corrosion, but it was stuck together and the only option we had was to remove the wire containing the corrosion.  We did this, soldered on a new wire, cut off a piece of the metal contacts, soldered this to our new wires, and inserted it back into the housing.  Current was now reaching the points where the bulb would be inserted, and when we turned it on, the bulb lit up.  Success!

Microscope #2 – slightly more complicated than cleaning and inserting a new bulb (though we still did that too)


(I forgot to take more pictures mid-fix, but under that white piece is our newly soldered-on wire connected to the metal piece, which is the contact point for the light bulb.  We did this for each side to create the two contacts for the two bulb prongs.  Springs were inserted under the metal piece to push it up into the bulb prongs to ensure contact)


We did some internal cleaning, as well as extensive lens cleaning as these were quite dirty.  It’s a very old microscope, so it’s not perfect, but now at least it is working.


We next moved onto a neonatal phototherapy lamp, which uses UV light to kick start the breakdown and digestion of bilirubin in neonates who are unable initially to do so at birth.  When we started, none of the lights would turn on, so after investigating and troubleshooting, we found one of the fuses had blown; replacing it, the lamp turned on but two of the bulbs weren’t turning on.


Inserting two new bulbs, now only one bulb wouldn’t turn on; we checked this bulb elsewhere, and determined it was working, so the problem was with the current being delivered to the bulb.  We then tested the transformer hooked up to this socket and found it was blown, so we took a number of transformers from a similar broken lamp in the workshop, testing them to see if we could find a working one.  After two attempts, we in fact found a working transformer, hooked it up, inserted the working bulbs, and all five turned on!

The wily broken transformer


A fully functioning phototherapy lamp – satisfaction at its finest


We finished by cleaning the casters (wheels) that are used to roll the lamp around, as lots of hair and string had gotten caught in the axles and was preventing the wheels from turning freely.  A very gratifying, patient, and step-by-step fix.

I’ve got one more wheel to clean tomorrow, so I’m not sure what lies ahead, but I’ll keep the updates coming; it’s nice to finally get to work and get some fixes under our belt.  Another nice thing about working in the hospital is the free lunches for staff members; all you need is a plate and glass and they fill them with the meal and juice of the day.  We’ve had rice/beans/tortillas one day and chicken and sausage rice with a side of chopped tomatoes the other (after buying lunch like a couple of dummies on Monday); the beauty of meal number two is that Soorya is a vegetarian, so two helpings for me!  We leave when Omar leaves, at 3, so it’s a pretty quick, but busy 7 hour day.

Life in Matagalpa keeps rolling on.  Off to Leon this weekend to reunite with the EWH clan for volcano boarding and who knows what else.  And since I wrote this Wednesday but am posting it on Thursday, Happy America Day everybody!  Hooray for the freedom and stuff.  Thanks for reading and I’ll be back soon.  Homer Bailey and Shin-Soo Choo. That is all.

Facing Death…Again!, A New City, and Our First Day at the Hospital

30 Jun

Today is Saturday, our third day in our new city of Matagalpa.  Just for some idea of where everyone else went, we have people in Matagalpa (Soorya and I), Managua (Matt M and Ray), Estelí (Graham and Josh), Chinandega (Mary Kate, Allie, and Kendall), San Carlos (Dan and Chas), Juigalpa (Akshay and Matt B), Boaco (Mark and Karthik), Diriamba (Hannah and Charlotte), Masaya (Evan and Kasper), and Jinotepe (Lucas and Ringo).  I might have those last two mixed up, they switched midway through the first month and I can’t remember who ended up where.  Anyway, I’ll begin my telling of the transition from Granada to Matagalpa by first recounting our final, and probably most eventful night in Granada.  So despite the fact that Ron left Wednesday morning and our device lectures were over, we still had Spanish class that morning followed by some briefings from Kevin and Alex on what transportation would be like to our city and who we were expected to meet at the hospital on Friday.

Our last Spanish class!


We then had “lab,” where Alex and Kevin shared their experiences of their time in the Summer Institute (Alex was in Nicaragua last year, Kevin was in Tanzania three years ago).  Each had very different, but rewarding summers, and while they set the bar pretty high with their repairs and time in the second month, it intimidated but excited us – or me at least – for what was ahead.  This all ended around 4, followed by a “surprise” from the Spanish school; while we were listening to Kevin and Alex talk about their trips, the teachers had been setting up cake, ice cream, drinks, and a piñata outside.

The piñata is this way, right?


We spent the next hour and a half watching blindfolded idiots (myself included) helplessly swing at the moving piñata, hitting at about a 40% rate.  When the surprisingly popular “99 Things I’ve Learned in Nicaragua,” releases its Volume 2 Edition in a few weeks, you can bet that one thing on that list is that anyone, regardless of how athletic or talented they are, will look stupid and hilarious trying to hit a piñata.  We had the will though, so we found a way and finally broke open that damn piñata (it was the car from the Pixar movie, Cars; I never saw it, but I think his name is Flash McQueen, or McLightning, or McKeown, not sure, something like that).

The aftermath


This was followed by awkward dancing with each other, as well as the Spanish teachers, before finally ending around 5:30pm; we then spent the next 10 minutes talking to and trying to convince Arielka and Xiomara (my Spanish teachers, and the only two who were close to our age, Arielka being 19 and Xiomara being 22) to come out with us that night.  They wanted to, but couldn’t know for sure because they didn’t live in Granada and needed to find a friend to stay with, I wouldn’t find out until later if they would be out or not.

I also want to give a shout out to Cashew Lady, as she has been called for the last couple of weeks; every day during our device lectures, almost like clockwork, she would walk by our building and yell out “kaaaayyyyy-seeewwwwwsss”.  Our lectures were outside (under cover and in the shade, we’re not crazy) so we could hear her every time she came by and couldn’t help but laugh and wonder what she was actually selling (we thought it sounded like “cashews,” hence the title Cashew lady).  Well on the final day, before our party, we sat outside waiting for her to come by so we could go investigate.  Alas, she made her daily rounds and some of the people in our class ran down to meet her and buy what she had wrapped up in the bin on top of her head…….Quesillos!  They are little tortillas wraps filled with cheese, cream, and hers had onions.  We bought some, and while they were not good, at all, the mystery was solved.  God speed, Cashew Lady.

After dinner and some packing, we went out to start our last night in Granada around 8 o’clock.  We went to our favorite – that means cheapest, 2 for 1 mojitos for about a $1.50 total, 2 for 1 margaritas for $2.50 – bar and were pleasantly surprised to see Arielka and Xiomara show up with some of our classmates.  The night was a blast, and I think both sides, teachers and students, really enjoyed seeing each other outside of class; we would have fun and were all very friendly in class, but we really had fun letting loose outside of class (thanks alcohol, you never let me down).  We chatted, drank, and danced until around 1:30 when we all went home.

Ah, and here you thought the night was over.  Nuh uh.  Sorry Mom and Dad, you’re going to hate this story ahead of time, but know now that I’m fine along with everyone else involved.  So we started to walk back, a walk we’d done close to a dozen times before (though rarely that late), and had never had any problems; as we started to talk to one of the security guards roaming the streets, a group of about 8 kids (probably ranging from 16-20 years old) started to walk up and talk to us.  We figured they were in a gang based on how they were acting and talking, but we felt safe in the well lit part of the street, with other people on the block and the security guard with us (Mark, Dan, Soorya, Lucas, and myself).  They walked off after a few minutes, and it was then that we started to walk Mark home; he lived about 3 blocks west of the main street (where I lived), which was also the street where the security guards would roam.  We dropped him off, and as we started to walk back, the gang turned the corner, forcing us to turn up the street parallel to the main street instead of letting us get the two blocks back to the main street.  We noticed that most of them had rocks in their hands, and upon seeing this, Dan, Soorya, and I started to run.  Lucas, however, got cornered and immediately surrendered his wallet; they walked up, hit him over the head with a small rock, pulled his shirt and belt off, and told him to run.  They threw a rock at him as he ran, hitting him in the elbow.  We turned around and saw this, but one of the gang members was following us down the street holding a knife with a blade about 10 inches long.  We knew Lucas needed help, and we wanted to go back, but there was nothing we could do against this kid with the knife and the rest of the gang waiting with rocks, so we kept jogging.  We saw Lucas start to jog after us, upon which we went to return to him; knife guy turned the corner and left us alone.  We saw there was some blood trickling from his head and he had a scrape on his elbow from the thrown rock.  We asked what happened and what they had taken, and he said only his wallet, belt, and shirt, and that he only had a credit card and ID in the wallet and barely any money.  We called his mother right away to cancel his card, though it took him a little while to remember her number; we thought this meant he had a concussion, but after getting treated that night and doctors determining he did not, this was likely from the shock of the situation.  We went straight to Alex’s home stay, where he then called all the right people and took Lucas in a cab to the hospital in Managua to get treated.  We finally got home around 3 am, with Dan, Soorya, and I having no physical damage, and Lucas having the one cut on his head and elbow.  I saw him the next morning and he looked and seemed totally fine, though he described it as the scariest moment of his life.  I don’t know if I could pin down mine, but I believe him when he said this.  You handled yourself really well, all things considered, Lucas.  Ladies are going to love that story.  Also, looking back we’ve wondered if there was anything we could have done differently, and the simple answer is take a cab home.  But because we’d done that walk so many times at night before, and there were five and later four of us, we felt okay with what we were doing.  Hindsight is 20-20 and all we can do is live, learn, and grow.

Thursday morning we met at the school around 10 to travel to our new cities, with Soorya and I traveling with Josh and Graham.  We dropped them off around 1 before getting to Matagalpa around 2:30 in the afternoon.

Adios Julio! Gracias por todo!


Our new home stay is great.  Not to say that our old one was bad, but this new one is definitely a step up.  Soorya and I have our own rooms, we have two hammocks in our yard, the mother speaks broken English and one of her sons speaks fluent English, we have a parrot named Lola (who lives right outside my room and chirps away), I finally have a dresser (no more suitcase living!), we have decent wifi (thanks neighbors), the temperature is much cooler (you lived up to your reputation Matagalpa, good work), and while I was told there would be a mango tree, I haven’t found it yet, but instead found a huge avocado tree that rains down avocados on the roof of my room; I’ll take it.

The view from our yard


Our yard, complete with hammocks, parrots, and avocado trees


My room


The food is definitely better here too, though we’ve only paid for two meals a day here, as opposed to having all three meals included at our home stays last month, so we’re left to our own devices for lunch.  I went out yesterday, but the mother offered to make lunch for us for 50 Cordobas, which we took her up on today.  Lots of food and lots of good food for only $2, but it still feels strange paying for one meal and getting the other two free; kind of takes the whole “home” feeling out of home stay, but the quality and quantity of food is great, so no complaints here.  The mother’s name is Nereyda and she lives with her two sons Aldo (29) and Oliver (25); there is another American girl named Alyssa, but I’ve only seen her once so I’m not totally sure what she’s doing in Matagalpa or how long she’ll be here.  From what I can tell she looks like she’s in her mid-20s or so, other than that she’s a mystery, but Burt Macklin is on the case so hopefully answers come soon.

Friday was our first day of work at the César Amador Molina Hospital, but it was a little underwhelming.  We showed up right at 8 and spent the first hour waiting for the hospital director to meet with us and start getting us acclimated with hospital.  He handed us off to his sub-director, who took us around the hospital and gave us a few brief introductions.  We went to find the one and only technician in the hospital, the guy we’ll be working with the most, named Omar, but we quickly learned he was on vacation until Monday so we couldn’t start on any repairs (perfect timing, way to go team).  We finished our tour, met some more people, and got inserted into their security system, but after that we were basically left on our own.  The sub-director had left us, and we couldn’t find anyone who could tell us what we could do.  We found the one doctor we’d met who spoke a little English, and asked if their was anything we could do around the hospital but he didn’t totally understand and told us everything was okay (language barrier at its finest despite his broken English).  We went back to Omar’s office, but seeing as he was the only one with keys there was nothing more we could do so a little before 11 Soorya and I had nothing to do but go home and try again on Monday.  I felt awkward taking pictures on our first day, but I’ll take some as the weeks go on so you can see what our hospital is like and some of the things Soorya and I will be working on.

I’ve spent a little time walking around Matagalpa, but it appears to be a much larger city than Granada, so I think it’ll take more time to explore than Granada.  More Nicaraguans staring at white people, that’s most of what I’ve gathered so far.  Now that I have regular internet (though it hasn’t worked all day today, so not sure how consistent it’ll be) I should be able to upload posts more easily, so if you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.  Wish me luck with my first real day of work on Monday and I’ll be back with an update soon, likely Monday or Tuesday.  Love you all and Go Reds!

Lebron, Baseball, Tree Houses, and The End of an Era

26 Jun

Well it’s been a little while since my last “normal” entry, but I was working on my extra special list, so I thought it would be okay to take a few days off.  But alas!  I’m back, and with all the updates you could ever want.  Last time we talked was last Tuesday, as the Heat were getting ready for Game 6 of the NBA Finals.  Nothing much to say about the game, the Heat won in pretty standard fashion setting up Game 7, which I’m sure you know they won as well.  If you don’t understand the sarcasm in that sentence because you didn’t watch Game 6, my heart breaks for you.  Of course, most people who care enough about me to read my blog are people who likely watch sports, but for those who didn’t watch the game, again, heartbreaking.  The angst of watching the first three quarters, plus the intensity and satisfaction of watching the best player in the world be the best player in the world and claw his team back into a game that seemed almost out of hand, only to lose himself again in the closing minutes was a psychological and literal ride (lots of moving and leaning in my rocking chair in my home stay).  With 30 seconds to play there was a stoppage of time and the camera focused on the Heat huddle, namely – and obviously – on Lebron.  He looked dejected and disoriented, with the genuine look of doubt on his face as to how his team could possibly come back from 5 down against one of the best coached and free throw shooting teams in the league.  I thought the game was lost, and on camera it looked like Lebron did too.  But miracles happen.  And Ray Allen (aka Jesus Shuttlesworth) happens.  Lebron hits the three to put them within 2, Kawhi misses a free throw, Chris Bosh gets the most important rebound of his career, and Ray Allen hits the most important shot (let alone 3-pointer) of his illustrious and legendary career.  Overtime belonged to the Heat before it even started, though it still took some correct no-calls (in regulation and overtime) and the most important block of Chris Bosh’s career to force Game 7.

I can’t imagine what the hype leading into Game 7 was like; I’m usually in the States, and somewhere with regularly accessible cable or internet for games like that (though I don’t know that I’ve ever been alive for a game with so much on the line and so much anticipation) so I am usually bombarded and overloaded with the garbage that spills out of ESPN and all the talking heads giving their two cents about why Lebron’s apple-cutting technique isn’t what it should be.  While I usually hate all the hype, publicity, and media coverage that precedes this game, it also adds an unusual anticipation to the game that I hadn’t really realized (or strangely missed and appreciated) until I removed myself from it.  I said it in my list but I’ll say it again here: Lebron has the chance to be the best player of all time, and at this rate I think he will be.  He’s in his prime, will be for the next 5-7 years (he’s only 28 people; Michael was 35 when he won his last championship), and he needs to play like the best player alive, and of all time, in situations like Game 7 if he wants that to hold true.  These are unreasonable and unfair comparisons for one, 28-year-old man, but these are also things that he deserves.  He’s that good.  And he proved it in Game 7 – and then some.  37 points, 12 boards, 5 threes, a perfect 8 for 8 from the line, and jumper after jumper capped by the dagger that put the Heat up 4 with 28 seconds to play.  The best coach alive and the most fundamentally sound team in the league used two outstanding (and that’s an understatement, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard get after it, particularly Leonard, dude is a superstar) defenders to try and stop James throughout the series, and for the most part they were relatively successful, but Lebron did what he had to do.  He adjusted, trusted his game and the countless hours of work he had put into it, and delivered when he and his team needed it.  And now he’s a back-to-back champion.  Congrats Lebron (and Ray Allen, and Dwayne, and Birdman).

And then Friday came, and life rolled on.  In the last week or two we’ve moved on and covered batteries, bottled gases, anesthesia machines, scales/balances, centrifuges, microtomes (device that slices tissue for microscopic examination), water baths, microscopes, autoclaves (sterilizers), incubators, and lab ovens.  Along with the literature we’ve been provided, Ron, our lecturer, continues to provide us with the types/varieties of these devices, their structure, common problems that occur, and testing/servicing that can be done to fix it.  Today, Tuesday the 25th, was our last day of medical equipment class, as Ron leaves tomorrow to return to his home and day job in Canada.  Spending quite literally all day (he was in my 4 hour Spanish class, taught lecture for 2 hours, then supervised lab for the next 2 hours) with Ron gave me a unique insight into a kind, genuine man who knows anything and everything about his field, is a true master of his craft, and cares deeply for the developing world.  This of course meant he got an insight into me, the outspoken and potentially (likely) obnoxious kid who sat next to him in Spanish class and in the back of his lectures.  I hope he enjoyed his time here as much as we (I confidently speak for the whole class when I say we) enjoyed having him here, and he did more than enough to prepare us for phase two of our journeys next month.  Thanks for everything Ron.

Back to Friday.  So we left Granada at 6:30 in the morning to arrive at a hospital in Managua, and this hospital visit did not go as smoothly as the others.  We showed up around 8, were escorted into a small conference room, but then spent the next hour or so waiting for things to get organized and to split off into our two groups (one tour group, and one group to stay and investigate broken equipment).  We got ahold of some equipment, so while we waited for our hospital guide we got to work at taking apart and trouble shooting the machines.  We had an ESU (electrosurgery unit) and a patient monitor, with the former not being able to turn on and the later reportedly returning high blood pressure.  We attempted to clean the ESU, as it appeared that some dust had built up and was interrupting some of the circuit connections, and I’m not positive whether we got it to work or not (I was in the second tour group, so I didn’t see the end result, and I spent most of my time focusing on the patient monitor, so I didn’t have much focus on the ESU anyway).  To troubleshoot the patient monitor, we began testing the cables to see if their were any breaks or faulty connections; we found that bending one of the cords gave noise, which would result in high heart rate (as the machine would count the peaks of the ECG graph, with the noise adding more peaks).  This, along with some other troubleshooting and testing, made us conclude that we’d been misinformed, and the problem wasn’t high blood pressure, but instead high heart rate; fixing and/or replacing the noisy cable fixed this problem.


After the hospital visit I returned to Granada, napped, and woke up for the highlight of the weekend: a Granada baseball game!  For monetary purposes, and because traveling makes tired Jack tired, I decided to stay in Granada this weekend, but this allowed me to do things in and around the city, like attend the game.  The game started at 6, and we were there by 5:45 ready for some good old fashioned “America’s Pastime”.  One of our Spanish teachers had told us the stadium was BYOB so we stopped off at a convenient store and picked up some beer and snacks, and upon arriving and paying for our tickets, we found this was in fact the case, and waltzed right in with our food and 12-pack.  You rock Nicaragua.


Granada was playing Leon, and we spent all 9 innings enjoying the expectedly good baseball, the “band” (two guys with horns and two guys with drums), the wild Nicaraguan fans, the sunset, and the warming but delicious beers.  We couldn’t know this ahead of time, but upon entering we realized there were 3 seating options (though we were only informed of 2): normal, especial, and what I call Nicaraguan.  There were seats behind the plate that stretched from one dugout to the other that were the normal, a box that was closed off that were the “especial,” and then bleacher seats along the baseline that were packed with local Nicaraguans.  There were some Nicaraguans in the normal seats, but almost all were off in the bleachers (which I may add, was fenced off from the normal seats, kind of strange).  My pictures below should help.  Granada won 4-0, and by 8:30 or so we were off to downtown Granada for a night on the town.


Saturday I woke up and a group of about 10 of us took a shuttle from Granada to a hostel about 10 minutes outside of Granada called El Poste Rojo (for those of you that don’t habla español, that means The Red Post…you’re welcome), also called the Tree House Hostel.  It was built by some tree house loving guy around 10 years ago and is managed and run by 3 or 4 Americans and Europeans in their 20s.  One kid from Indiana was only 21 and had just started working a few weeks ago; not totally sure how these people came into this life or this job, but it seemed like quite the way to live (not sure if I mean this in a good way or a bad way).


The hostel is literally set up in the jungle, with a trail leading up rocks and dirt to reach the dorms, and a bridge that hangs over the trees is needed to reach the hammocks.  This is where we stayed, as it seemed like the most fun (and cheapest) way to spend the night.


The hostel was hosting a full moon party, where the guests (and maybe some outsiders, though I don’t think so) gathered for lots of fun music and dancing.  It was an interesting group of people (too many shirtless dudes) but everyone was having fun so we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.


We woke up Sunday, caught the free shuttle back to town, and I spent Sunday and Monday relaxing, studying, wandering the city some, and reading.  I finished Cat’s Cradle a week or two ago, and am now back to The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.  I’ve started this book once, attempting to read it over 3 summers.  I read 502 of the 694 pages, but decided I’d forgotten too much to keep reading it, setting it aside for new books like The Sun Also Rises, World War Z, and Cat’s Cradle.  But I’m back.  And already 280 pages through; and man does that lady know how to paint a picture.  The 694 pages are stuffed with small margins and tiny words, and she uses intense metaphors and incredibly in-depth descriptions to paint beautiful and enchanting pictures in a vast and elaborate story.  I’ve even resorted to using a notecard as my bookmark, upon which I’ve been writing all the important characters that I think might show up again, and quick blurbs about them.  So far it may be the smartest thing I’ve ever done, behind my sock gloves I used on Volcan Concepcion.  More later on Ayn and Howard Roark as things progress.

Despite Ron leaving and our lectures being over, we still have one more Spanish class in the morning and a lab in the afternoon.  But then that’s it!  Thursday we say goodbye to our homestays, to Granada, and to each other, and we head off to our respective cities.  After spending 9 hours a day during the week (often more when we would meet up at night) and then traveling (so spending literally all day) on the weekends with most of the people in this group, we’ve gotten to know each other very well and very quickly, and it’s been a truly fun experience with a truly fun group of people.  We’ve discussed meeting up on weekends in some centrally located cities for more funtivities, but not seeing these people every day I can sincerely say I’m going to miss them.

The next time I upload anything I’ll be in Matagalpa, so that will be a full status report on the city (apparently much, much cooler – temperature – than Granada), our new homestay (supposedly we have a mango tree in our backyard!), and our hospital.  Also, I uploaded about 175 pictures to Facebook, though I’m sure most of you saw them by now if you’re reading this.  Thanks for continuing to read, you guys are the best, and I mean that.

99 Things I’ve Learned (So Far) in Nicaragua

20 Jun
  1. Nicaragua is really hot.
  2. Nicaragua is really hot.
  3. Learning another language is my number one goal in life (other than dunking and shooting under par, of course).
  4. Hey, books are fun (genuinely didn’t know this before, I’ve read more books in these 3 weeks than I have in the last 3 years).
  5. Making decisions is hard.
  6. Claro (phone company in Nicaragua) are a bunch of assholes.
  7. Canadians really say out and about like oot and aboot (you’re the man, Ron).
  8. Nicaraguan hospitals are in complete disarray and in desperate need of help.
  9. Planning trips is a hassle and annoying.
  10. Planning trips is a giant hassle and especially annoying when 20 people are involved.
  11. Nel/Nelson/Nelson Mandela are all ways to say NO in Nicaraguan slang.
  12. What an infant incubator is and how it works.
  13. There are a lot of things on this list that most people won’t  totally understand.  (“I love inside jokes…I’d love to be a part of one someday.” – Michael Scott)
  14. Every person from Seattle knows how to throw a frisbee; it’s just something they’re born with, like Europeans with soccer, or Canadians with being afraid of the dark.
  15. 30-year-old Danish men are sharks at poker and players at the bar.
  16. Those were two of them.
  17. Baseball is a really big deal in Latin America.
  18. Hiking a volcano is an exhausting and terrifying thrill.
  19. People other than my parents actually read my blog (thanks other 2 readers!…and thanks to you too Mom and Dad!)
  20. According to the statistics of our group, 1 in 8 people you meet will have lived in Singapore at some point in their life.
  21. Doing the worm with your arms is easy.  All you do is curl your fingers, lift the elbow, pop the shoulder, and extend your arms.  Done.  (There’s a Quick Start Guide if there’s any confusion.)
  22. There’s another one.
  23. The NL Central is the best (or at least most top-heavy) division in baseball.  The Wild Card play-in game may very well be two teams from the Central.
  24. Being in nature reminds me of Pokemon Snap way more than I ever anticipated.
  25. I really want to play Pokemon Snap.
  26. “Unplugging” yourself is a gratifying and freeing feeling, man.
  27. You can never have too much shoulders.
  28. Gallo Pinto is a simple, delicious Nicaraguan dish made of rice and beans.
  29. Any delicious food gets exhausting to eat if you have it every day.
  30. Beach House is sensational, and I can’t remember the last song I was grasped by after a first listen the way I was by Myth, off of their album Bloom.
  31. Absence (distance? I don’t remember how the exact phrase goes) makes the heart grow stronger…we’ll be together again soon enough Bluths, Starks, Lanisters, and Morgans, I miss you too.
  32. The drive to Durham is about 8 hours from Cincinnati, 8 hours from Nashville, but less than 5 from Baltimore.  When I say I’ll come visit, you better believe it Dukies.
  33. Lebron James is the greatest basketball player of all time (I’ve been saying it for a while now, just want to take this opportunity to repeat my point).
  34. I’m posting this the day of Game 7, before the series has been decided, but I’m so confident they’ll win that I’m posting it before I know the outcome.  Lebron will lead them to victory, and if he doesn’t and the Heat lose the series then 33 will be something I’ve unlearned in Nicaragua.
  35. Going to a bar for a night in Nicaragua costs about a quarter of what it does in the States.  And a cab home costs about 80 cents.
  36. I care about sports more than I realized.
  37. Running 16 miles at 5 o’clock in the morning sounds like the worst thing you could ever do ever.
  38. Nothing will expedite getting to know someone or a group of people quite like traveling with them.
  39. The Nicaraguan currency, the Cordoba, is pronounced COR-do-ba, with emphasis on “cor”.  Yes, it does sound much better saying it cor-DO-ba, I agree.
  40. There’s a secret society of women (and maybe men, still under investigation) who sell cashews and other life supplies and have their own dialect to communicate amongst themselves…kaaaaaa-sooooooos
  41. Nothing is sadder than a stray dog, which Nicaragua has by the dozen.
  42. People are really smart.
  43. You always leave a note.
  44. How an aspirator works and how to fix it.
  45. Independent and recreational writing is a genuinely fun chore.
  46. Speaking and learning Spanish is hard…learning Mandarin will be a breeze though.
  47. T9 is the best thing to ever happen to cell phones.  Not having it is the worst thing that has ever happened to cell phones (guess which one I have).
  48. Nicaraguans stare at white people.  Everywhere.
  49. Jack and Robyn will spend a lot of money to see The National at The Ryman.
  50. Monkeys like avocadoes and boats.
  51. Tearing apart a cooked fish with your bare hands is a rewarding, savage, and delicious experience.
  52. Loud noises that sound like gunshots (they’re actually fireworks) are perfectly acceptable at ANY time of day or night in Granada.
  53. I’m a fortunate person surrounded by amazing people and opportunities (I knew this before, but it’s nice to be reminded of it, which I am on a daily basis here…you forget this sometimes when you’re home and living comfortably).
  54. Sunsets are pretty.
  55. Horse and buggy are quite common in Nicaragua.
  56. There’s a bitter, book-loving, sarcastic, and anal woman who owns a lovely little bookstore/café in San Juan del Sur called El Gato Negro.
  57. Ayn Rand puts a lot of words in her books.
  58. Terri Hyans is a saint of a woman.
  59. “Booze cruise” has a lot of interpretations.
  60. Nicaraguans can hire men (armed with clubs) to ride around their block at night, blowing whistles to try and keep crime from occurring in their neighborhood.
  61. Don’t take recommendations from grumpy hostel owners.
  62. Gorgeous hipsters are meant for each other, and finding out later they are in fact together makes the heart feel good.  The same goes for pale people.
  63. I like to talk about my music festival experiences a little too much.
  64. Writing a blog is really hard.
  65. Writing a blog is really easy; all you do is make up random lists where you try to be witty and funny.
  66. Regardless of what time I have to wake up, I will forever be a night owl.
  67. Hands-on and visual learning is the most effective way for the average college student to learn (engineers at least).
  68. Multiple showers a day is a true luxury (as is showering every day for that matter).  Let’s throw hot water in there while we’re at it.  Get some potatoes and a nice, meaty bone, and you got yourself a stew brewing.
  69. Washing machines and dryers are a luxury.
  70. Refrigerators are a luxury.
  71. Air conditioning is a luxury.
  72. Being able to flush your toilet paper is a luxury?  I don’t know, it’s not really that annoying, just gross to have to pull it up and throw it away somewhere else.
  73. Nicaraguan girls named Arielka who teach Spanish are heavenly.
  74. There are few things more unsettling than watching a fire performer on the street next to your table drop the stuff he is throwing around…multiple times.
  75. Nicaraguan break dance groups use kids in their acts.  Kids who spin on their heads and are thrown into backflips by other members of the group.
  76. Tourists come to Nicaragua.  Not oodles and oodles, but more than I was expecting.
  77. Is it (fantasy) football season yet?
  78. I like the new Vampire Weekend album.
  79. I need to get Random Access Memories and Yeezus (I might have to actually pay money for music, scary thought, I know).
  80. How to build a flashlight and a DC power supply/converter from scratch.
  81. How to travel in Nicaragua.
  82. How not to travel in Nicaragua.
  83. Smoking a cigar makes you look cool.  And that’s why people smoke cigars (words of wisdom courtesy of Graham Miller).
  84. Sunscreen can expire.
  85. Scrubs are the most comfortable clothing made by man.
  86. Accepting people as they are and not focusing on flaws makes spending time with them, getting to know them, and enjoying their company much easier, and this is a much more rewarding way to live.
  87. Cat’s Cradle is the only book I’ve every picked up that I thought I could, and wanted to read in a day.  Anyone have another Kurt Vonnegut book for me to read?
  88. I really like to whistle, and do it a lot.
  89. Bus drivers here communicate with each other via honking.
  90. Nicaraguan hospitals have murals of women breastfeeding all over the hospital.  I’m looking at you Rivas.  I’m not denying it’s a beautiful act of nature, but there is such thing as too many breastfeeding murals (I put the limit at the painting of the breast mountains with breast clouds overhead, raining down milk on women breastfeeding).
  91. If you don’t write stuff down when you think of it, you won’t remember it later.
  92. Stop signs are optional in Nicaragua.
  93. Jack doesn’t like the sun, and the sun doesn’t like Jack.
  94. 24 people can in fact fit in a van meant for 15.
  95. There are not enough hours in the day.
  96. People who read entire lists are pretty damn bored
  97. I’m not sure why I picked 99 (why not 100, or 101, or 63?).
  98. I’m shocked I was able to come up with 98 other things to put on this list.
  99. Making lists is hard.

More Volcanoes, Ojo de Agua, and Facing Death

18 Jun

The busy weeks continue followed by bliss-filled, but tiring weekends.  This Friday we visited the hospital here in Granada, called Amistad de Japones (Friendship with Japan), which was donated by the Japanese government.  While it was a little cleaner than the hospital in Rivas, it was more of the same: wild animals in the halls, frustrated and helpless looking people waiting for treatment, a guy in handcuffs next to a guy holding a machine gun, broken and old hospital items stacked up in some of the hallways, and more equipment needing repair.  Like last week, we split into two groups, half walking through the hospital while the other half worked on some of the broken pieces.  I started doing the later, as we went and looked at their broken autoclave, or sterilizer, which had a heating element that had blown up and needed to be replaced.  We then cleaned a compressor by taking off some of the housing and wiping away dust, and replacing some of the Teflon used to seal off the screws and bolts.  Much of the stuff we did was more observational for learning purposes, as we didn’t need 5 sets of hands to clean one compressor, and the autoclave fix was a little over our heads, but it was good to see some of the things that are needed in a typical hospital.  The other group that was working on equipment (our 10 person group split into two smaller groups) had something a little more rewarding and interesting, however.  The hospital had a broken fetal monitor, as the power cord had been clipped, so our team cut off the power cord and took it out of the housing, then took the rest of the cord and inserted it into the machine (essentially shortening the cord, removing the portion from the break to the machine).  It took all three and a half hours while we were there, so two groups worked on it throughout the day but we were able to successfully fix it and used the monitor on ourselves.  The picture below is me looking at my own heartbeat (something I’d never done before, pretty neat) on the machine we fixed; way to go team, I’m proud of us.


Our tour through the hospital wasn’t nearly as interesting as last week, as the guy giving our tour didn’t totally understand why we were there, taking us to see things like the laundry room, the generator that powers the hospital in case of power failures, the storage of the hospital, and the X-ray department (which is much too complicated and dangerous to handle).  Seeing the hospital gave us some insight, but seeing some more of the stuff we have been learning about and would potentially be working on would have been more practical, but it seemed there was a simple misunderstanding of what we wanted to see.  Oh well.


After the visit, we returned home, ate, packed, and were off to the Island of Ometepe, a beautiful (I took 152 pictures this weekend) and exotic little island of around 40,000 people in Lake Nicaragua formed by the two volcanoes that make up most of the island.  We didn’t have class Monday so we were planning on being there Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, heading home on Monday.  The two volcanoes on Ometepe are Concepcion and Maderas, Concepcion being the larger of the two (1610 meters and 1394 meters) and the only one that is currently active (it’s last major eruption was in 2005, but it has small eruptions about once a year).  Hiking these volcanoes is one of the major attractions for the island, and this is precisely what we did on Saturday after arriving Friday night in the port city of Moyogalpa.  Depending on how far you go, the hike can take 8-10 hours round trip, so in order to maximize our day and avoid doing the hike in the middle of the day when it was super hot, we (Graham, Akshay, Matt M, Lucas, Kevin, and myself) woke up at 4:30 am to start our hike.  Meeting our guide (Omar) outside our hostel at 4:50, we walked into town, “had breakfast” (a banana each, and a bag of Corn Flakes amongs the 6 of us, one handful at a time), caught a bus that took us the base of the volcano, and began our hike around 5:30.


The first 45 minutes or so were mostly flat, seeing some cows and horses outside the forest, and then monkeys as we began to enter the forest.  Once in the forest, the hike steadily increased in its steepness and thus difficulty; this may have been one of the more physically demanding things I’ve ever done, as it was like going up steps that zig zagged through the trees.  We were all in decent shape, but we all admitted this was much more difficult that we expected, taking breaks every 15 minutes or so (Lucas runs track/cross country for Duke and was even struggling a bit, and Matt had to stop once or twice to throw up those delicious Corn Flakes).  To our own admission and blame, we started a little faster than we should have, but quickly learned to slow down and take our time up such a difficult hike.  Pacing people, it’s the name of the game.


Hard work pays off though, and we were paid handsomely with a breathtaking view of the island and surrounding below, reaching the 1000m lookout point around 8 or so.  We stopped to rest and snack on the things we’d brought for lunch (Snickers, crackers, chips, some fruit, trail mix, raisin bread), and look down on the island and reflect on what we’d just accomplished.  Hiking is a cruel mistress; it’s grueling and you hate it while you’re doing it, but the experience, sense of accomplishment, and reward upon reaching the top seems worth it.  Our work was not done though, as we still had to take our shot at reaching the top.  Matt decided to stay behind, as he still wasn’t feeling well, but the other 5 of us and Omar wanted to continue on, so around 8:30 we made our way up the mountain.


Before beginning, Omar warned us this portion of the hike, while it was 400m shorter, was 3 or 4 times more difficult in terms of the actual climbing.  He was not wrong.  The first 200m or so were flat-ish as the grassy portion of the hillside began to transition into volcanic rock (solid rock that was firmly a part of the mountain, loose rocks that slipped out, and sandy pieces of rock).  As we went on, the rocks got more frequent, they got steeper, and they got more slippery.  Each step had to be sure-footed, as most blind steps would be on slippery sand or a loose rock; in order to prevent my slipping backward, I spent most of the time on all fours, though this left me with the fear of slipping and hitting my face on the rocks right in front of me.  I should also point out that my shoes for the hike were an old pair of sneakers that I didn’t mind getting dirty, but had zero traction, so stepping on the wet rocks was not the easiest.  Even when I would step on a solid piece of rock, I could feel the shoe slip a bit, and because of how steep the terrain was, and the fact this it was all rock in every direction, any trip would best case result in a lot of very serious, very painful injuries.


I like to thing I’ve lived a pretty eventful 22 years, but I’ve never really been faced with a realistic potential of dying, and while this may be a slight overstatement or exaggeration of the situation, it was the closest I’ve every come to “facing death”.   Any major slip would likely result in death, and slipping was a frequent occurrence if not using extreme care and caution, so in my mind my fear seemed qualified.  We weren’t afraid to admit either, as Lucas, Graham, and I expressed these thoughts as things got more and more intense, and at the 1350m mark, we talked it out and decided it would be best not to continue on.  The terrain, according to Omar, only got more slippery and a little steeper as we went on, and we still had to descend this wet and unstable mountain side.  While reaching the top would have been quite the accomplishment, and I think very doable if we had on the proper footwear, it didn’t mean enough to the group to keep pushing on and continue putting ourselves at risk for 260 more meters, with the descent back waiting after that.

After deciding to turn around at the 1350m mark, we slowly made our way down the rocks, walking sideways with one or both hands on the rocks to keep our balance and catch ourselves should we slip.  My whole body was wet (sweating all day plus rain throughout the day plus the moisture of being in the cloud that constantly surrounds the volcano’s peak) and I had no gloves, so I used my extra pair of socks to protect my hands when grabbing rocks and falling backward.  Smartest thing I’ve thought of in a long time.  Engineering, problem solving, look out people.


We made it back to the 1000m lookout around 10:30 or 11, where we decided to take an alternate route back down the volcano that would take us back to Moyogalpa, so we wouldn’t have to wait for a bus or taxi back to town.  This descent was much less steep and “foresty,” as we spent much more time on hillsides, seeing some cows and horses along our way.  We stopped to look into a valley/cliff thing about a third of the way down, when we then felt the ground begin to shake.  On an active volcano.  Uh oh.  It was a slight tremor and lasted about three seconds, and the guide was noticeably flustered, which gave me obvious reason to worry; 10 seconds after the shake, he got a call from his boss telling him to get down as soon as he could.  They couldn’t tell for sure what the cause was at the time, but we later found out there was an earthquake (6.5 or so) on the mainland in Managua, and this was a ripple effect from that quake.  We were still in a state of anxious fear however, so we made our way down the rest of the volcano at an increased pace, reaching the ground around 12:30, before walking back through some woods and farms before returning to the town around 1:30.  5:30 to 1:30, 8 hours of hiking and walking, 1350m up and 1350m back down, a realistic chance of dying, the ripples of an earthquake while on an active volcano, sunburn, and some very sore feet, calves, and legs.  All for $12.  Worth every penny and then some.

We were obviously exhausted, but had to catch a bus to the other side of the island, where we stayed Saturday and Sunday night.  We got there around 3:30, checked in, and were off to the beach.  Floating in the perfectly cool freshwater was what had been driving me throughout the hike, and my daydreams came true, as I spent the next 2 hours relaxing and swimming on the beach.  Saturday night we walked from our town, Santa Cruz, to the neighboring town of Balgue in search of a dinner option, and were rewarded by a small restaurant along the road called La Campestre, a quaint little joint with delicious everything.  Juices, guacamole (some of the best I’ve ever had), tomato salad, hummus, pastas, thai green curry (what I ordered), and crepes (also what I ordered, a banana flambé with ice cream to be exact).  Everyone at the table of 10 people loved their meal, and many people went back for more the second night (I stayed at the hostel to watch the Heat be bad at basketball, not happy with Lebron right now).  At the end of the meal the owner, a British guy named Ben, offered us shots of moonshine for 25 cordobas (that’s a dollar, yay) each and the first was on the house.  Smooth and delicious, thanks Ben.

Sunday was more beach time in the morning, before heading off to the Ojo de Agua, a manmade pool that is fed by crystal clear natural spring water in the middle of the forest.  I’ve included a picture, but they don’t do justice to how serene and beautiful this place and the water in the pool truly were.  And this feeling was exponentially more rewarding because we walked an hour, hour and a half to get there from our hostel (about 6 km away).  We spent two hours swimming, floating, drinking coconut water from actual coconuts, and doing jumping frisbee catches in the 80m long pool, wanting to be nowhere else in the world other than that pool on that day on that island in that country.  More blissful moments in Nicaragua.


There aren’t traditional cities or towns other than the port city – which is about 4 square blocks of one-story buildings – so there weren’t many nightlife options, but we still managed to acquire some alcohol and have fun at our hostel both nights amongst our group.  More bonding moments in Nicaragua.

Monday was travel back to Granada, and between the bus to the ferry, the ferry itself, cab to Rivas, and bus from Rivas to Granada, it took around 5 hours.  Not terrible, but pretty exhausting in the hot Nicaraguan sun.  Class resumes again tomorrow, Tuesday, which is hopefully when I can get this uploaded.  We leave a week from this coming Thursday for our respective cities and hospitals so it’s crunch time for both Spanish and medical device instruction.  Not sure what this weekend has in store, but for money saving purposes I may stay in Granada.  To be determined.  Thanks for reading everybody, I hope it’s worth the read and you’re not tired of Jack writing and stories yet.  Let me know if there are any questions or topics you want me to answer or talk about.  Go Reds.

So that’s what a Nicaraguan hospital is like…

11 Jun

Well it’s been a full week since my last entry, so I apologize for that…I’ll try to not let it happen again.  This simply means I’ve been busy, and that’s a good thing.  Lots be happening.  So I wrote my last post on Tuesday, and it has been business as usual in the classroom.  Spanish rolls on, as we took our first test today to see if we’re ready to move on to the next level.  We have been focusing on the use of ser/estar, por/para, regular and irregular present tense verb conjugations, and some standard vocab (family, occupations, body parts), and what awaits next is the different ways to use verbs in past and future tense.  In lecture we’ve discussed infant incubators and infant warmers, respiration rate/apnea monitors, phototherapy devices, electrosurgery tools, and suction machines (aspirators).  We’ve begun to include several more pictures and drawings, so either through conversation or reading mine and other blogs (as I know they in fact do), our supervisors took the feedback and made some adjustments.  Nice work Ron and Alex.  Lab is finally starting to get more handsy and involved, as we’re beginning to build practical circuits that we might need to use or repair next month when we’re on our own.  Last week we built a flashlight from perfboard (a blank circuit board), two batteries and a battery case, wires, a switch, and an LED light.  This week we’ve begun to build a variable power supply that can convert AC power (what is generated and output by power plants and what comes out of a wall socket) for DC usage (what is used to charge batteries and power almost every piece of medical equipment).

This past Friday we made our first hospital visit, meeting at a hospital in Rivas around 8 am.  For those of you who don’t know, Rivas is about an hour and a half from Granada.  Where we live.  Which meant a 5:30am wake up to meet at the school just before 6:30am to bus down together.  We were then treated to a bus with maybe 14 comfortable seats for the 23 of us plus the driver.  There was the will so there was a way, and us engineers managed to fit all 24 bodies in the van plus all the bags we needed to travel after our visit.

The clown car


So we get to Rivas just before 8, and spend the next 4 hours touring the hospital and getting a feel for what a typical repair shop might be like (taking shifts, half the class touring while the other was in the repair shop).  The point of the tour was for us to finally see some of the instruments we’d been learning about, as well as get a feel for the conditions in a typical Nicaraguan hospital.  We spent about 2 hours wandering the hospital looking at fetal monitors, instrument sterilizers, fetal warmers and incubators, among other things, and we quickly realized that most of the equipment, if it was working, had at least one aspect that was either broken or not functioning quite right.  It seems a lot of work done by doctors in diagnosing patients is done under the thought that “this will have to do.” I had no idea until then how bad these or any hospital could be; there were flies in essentially every room, lights were out, walls, floors, and furniture were dirty, sinks and bathrooms weren’t working, and sanitation was terrible (germs and bacteria are usually a big deal in hospitals).  Things and conditions that would be unacceptable in the States are routine and expected here.  A scary, eye-opening, and devastating thing to think about, and something that reassured my decision to come and do this.  These people need all the help they can get.


Next to many of the main wings (which were essentially right next to each other) was a series of hallways leading back to the workshop, where piles on piles of old or broken hospital items (chairs, rolling beds, incubators, fans, desks, mattresses, trashcans) were all stacked up, as the hospital simply has nothing to do with it all.  The workshop itself was 90% storage and garbage dump, 10% repair workspace, as broken machines of every type, and in multiples, were strewn about and stacked on each other.  Spare parts and screws to god knows what were everywhere you looked.  Everything was dirty, with dust on and in everything, and there was even an eggshell in one of the box of screws (seems about right).  I have no idea what next month will hold in Matagalpa, but seeing as this hospital in Rivas was “typical,” I should have my hands full trying to get as much functioning equipment back into the doctor’s hands as possible.

After the hospital visit, we bussed from Rivas down to San Juan del Sur, where we spent Friday night and Saturday night in the town, returning by bus (through Rivas to Granada) on Sunday.  We spent much of Saturday on the beach, and took a pretty cheap boat tour out into the ocean to see the sunset and get a good view of the gorgeous coast.  We got back to Granada on Sunday around 4:30pm, just in time to eat dinner and watch the Heat blow out the Spurs to revenge Game 1.  Tiago Splitter.  That is all.  Unfortunately the Spurs returned the favor tonight with an even larger blowout thanks to absolutely absurd shooting from Danny Green and Gary Neal.  Saw that coming.  Lebron has been lackluster the last two games (while still managing to make a game-altering play in Game 2) and needs to become more aggressive.  Kawhi Leonard is a beast, but you’re Lebron James.  Act like it.

The harbor/beach in San Juan del Sur


Double Rainbow


Cloudy Sunset


More training this week and a hospital visit to a local Granada hospital on Friday, before heading off to the busy and overwhelmingly intriguing island of Ometepe this weekend.  I miss and love you all, but am loving my time here and couldn’t be more pleased or reassured about my decision to dedicate two months of my life to this cause.