Monday, September 29, 2014

A Boat Ride Away (Orinoco, Nicaragua)

It was a thicker morning fog than usual when I stepped out of my room at Miss Ingrid's home and onto the wet grass. I had been teaching here for several weeks at this point, but today was special in that I was leaving Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua, and travelling to the nearby (but not so nearby) community of Orinoco. For context, let me kindly note that I do indeed currently live in Istanbul, but my experiences teaching in Nicaragua, however brief (one month placement), still resonate deeply with me. It was, after all, only a few months ago that I was there. On this particular day, I was part of a delegation from Pearl Lagoon that was heading up a teaching conference. Primarily, the delegation was composed of teachers from the Pearl Lagoon community, but my friend Kevin, a Peace Corps volunteer, and I were also asked to tag along. I fully intend to write more about my experiences in Pearl Lagoon, but this post on Orinoco should serve as a small indication of what life was like there for me.

Transportation in rural Nicaragua, on the Caribbean Coast, is done primarily by boat. So, at the break of dawn I walked with some purpose and a touch of nerves towards the dock. A small boat, a panga, was waiting, which was borrowed from the mayor of Pearl Lagoon for this particular excursion. A 45 minute, bumpy boat ride later and we had arrived at the shores of Orinoco.

The boat pulled away, and we understood that it would be back later that day. I tried to imagine where my location was on google maps, if it even existed on there. The seclusion of communities like Orinoco cause immeasurable struggle for them, but in this moment there was a small beauty in it.

Orinoco is known as the "capital of the Garifuna peoples in Nicaragua." The Garifuna are descendants from West and Central Africa as well as the Caribbean. They have a rich culture and history, and I felt nothing short of blessed to be welcomed into their community. The Garifuna peoples are primarily now in Central America in Nicaragua and countries bordering Nicaragua.

The air was still dense with fog which added a freshness to the day, but also a touch of blur to my photos.

The community itself probably has a population of a few thousand, and the fact that there are no roads allowed the very intimate opportunity to walk along the paths, weaving in and out of the houses and community buildings. There is a health centre there, and I understood that electricity is supplied most days from 10am until midnight. However, my experience living in neighbouring (and larger) Pearl Lagoon would inform me that this can be a bit optimistic at times. Power and water could go out for days at a time with simply nothing to be done about it. Many of the elders in Pearl Lagoon spoke of Orinoco fondly as a place that resembled what Pearl Lagoon used to be, before its push towards modernization and development.

As Kevin and I were some of the first people to arrive, we walked around the school's grounds and attempted to mentally plan out our day.

We began the day as most people do in Nicaragua, with prayer and song. After this we spent the morning doing various activities where I was primarily helping out with organization and encouraging participation. About 50 or so teachers had made the trip from around the Pearl Lagoon community to the school grounds of Orinoco. I can recall the day with almost surreal clarity. I especially recall our lunch, which featured some local vegetables like cassava, accompanied by some seasoned turtle (a delicacy in the region).

The afternoon was my time to shine. I led a seminar, that turned out to be hours in length, on effective teaching of reading comprehension, which also focused on 3-part lesson planning, learning goals and success criteria, and a handful of other tips that were still fresh in my mind from teacher's college.

I can only hope that my lesson was useful to those who were there, but I know with certainty that the whole process was invaluable to me. The municipal director of Pearl Lagoon bestowed a lot of confidence and faith in my that day, and for that I am for ever grateful. In the time before we departed back to Pearl Lagoon, we celebrated our day's achievements. How? With traditional dance and a beverage, of course.

I've always been astounded at the amount of places I hadn't ever heard of that I now can personally associate with personal memories that I'll never forget. Orinoco, Nicaragua now holds one of these places in my mind. Certainly not without their struggles, the people of Orinoco had such an innate happiness - without those modern items that most people in the Western world "couldn't live without." If nothing else, teaching here for the day kindly reminded me that what we really "can't live without" is kindness, perseverance, and an unbreakable sense of hope. 

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