It’s no wonder she’s the Philanthropist of the Month. Corey Haynes, TEFL 64, invited me to come write about the school months ago, and I’ve continued to write about it because I haven’t found any other schools quite like it. Hope is the Go Abroad Foundation’s Pledge Beneficiary of October, which means any donations that go through this blog post will go to the school. We’ve all have amazing teachers we haven’t thanked enough, and here’s a chance to help out an amazing teacher, principal, mother, and more! Anything is appreciated! Thank you ❤
It’s tough being the new kid in town, especially when you’re teaching abroad. You no longer have your best friends on speed dial to join your Game of Thrones binge watching sessions, so you have to start from scratch. If only there was friendship speed dating in every corner of the world. For now, you’ve got to go forth, where plenty of teachers have gone before, and integrate into your community. Read my latest Go Abroad post here!
I came to Nicaragua on August 13th, 2014, and after three months of Peace Corps training, we wrote letters to ourselves that we would not open until two years later.
Our boss recommended that we put a few dollars inside, and I’m glad I did. After having $200 a month to spend on feeding and taking care of myself, $20 feels like a fortune! At our Close of Service Conference, during which we begin to wrap up our service, we just opened up our time capsules with letters to ourselves. It’s interesting to see what I was thinking two years ago. Here’s what my letter said.
“October 31st, 2014.
Congratulations on making it through training. It may feel as if you didn’t make a difference in three months, but after having talked to your youth group, you did. Elena, on of your students, reminded you that it’s not the English you taught, but the self confidence you gave them. You made the idea of learning English less scary.
Also, you came here thinking you’d have to be closeted and you know that’s not true after having been in Matagalpa. There’s lots of work to be done, and you already have people there who are missing you.
During tough times, just think of how much you’ve grown after having lived here. In ten years, you’ll be so happy you decided to move here. It’s great feeling useful here, just for being able to speak English. You’ve also already given a workshop on Gender and Equitable Teaching to your teammates, and you rapped in Spanish for your ‘Ready to Serve’ presentation at the end of training.
You’ve hiked a volcano, hiked down to a volcanic crater and swam in its lagoon twice, you’ve swam in the Pacific Ocean after teaching three different classes for the first time in León, and you’ve cooked bacon twice. You’ve met up with Raquel Saenz, who inspires you to keep traveling, learning, and teaching.
Keep up your spirit of adventure and positive attitude. Keep blogging to let the world know what it’s really like. Keep working for the kids, teachers, queer people, and people of Nicaragua. It’s not all about you even if it feels that way.”
I didn’t think I’d keep blogging, and I also didn’t think I’d shift from having a career in teaching to pursuing a career in social media marketing within the travel industry. It’s been a wild ride for the past two years and I’ve grown so much. I’ll be ending my Peace Corps Nicaragua service sometime around October 25th, 2016.
Our rights can change with the stamp of a passport. LGBT travelers have a heightened awareness of safe spaces, whether at home or abroad, and for good reason. Safe spaces can be as simple as bathrooms. In Tennessee, a lesbian was kicked out of a girl’s bathroom for “looking like a boy.”
While being gay is legal has been legal in Nicaragua since 2008 (yay?) and I’ve come out to countless strangers here, homophobia still exists. I’ve still been called a cochona (dyke) in the street after I’ve shaved the sides of my head, and I’ve heard my male students call each other cochones (fags) for wearing earrings or growing their hair out. It’s not until I explain to people (Peace Corps staff included) about how these terms are offensive that they think twice about using them.
On a trip to El Castillo, Nicaragua (population: 1,500), which is a seven-hour bus ride and surreal three-hour boat ride from Managua, I didn’t expect to find any queers. I expected to see a remote part of the country, and tour the Spanish Castle built centuries ago to guard the area from pirates.
I stumbled upon an unexpected treasure, though: Yamil, the dazzling, kind, and vivacious owner of Border’s Café. He cooks the best vegetable curry in the country and makes deliciously creamy mango milkshakes. He also happens to be openly gay, and has survived multiple assaults because of it.
Why would an assault survivor stay in a rural community and run an LGBT-friendly business? I asked myself when I met him. This interview will show you the definition of resiliency, and will inspire you to support LGBT friendly businesses. They aren’t just found in cities.
Where are you from and where have you been? Tell me about yourself.
Yamil: My mother (in featured image above), and owner of the local Nena Lodge, adopted me when I was 11 years old. When I was a student, I was ambitious—in good and bad ways. I didn’t get the best grades, but I always wanted to open up a bar, a café, or a restaurant. My mom told me that I had to learn to be responsible, and that if I got my grades up, she’d send me to study architecture in Panama. I bumped my grades up to 85%, and went there. I’ve also lived in Costa Rica. It’s not so homophobic over there.
Whoever said that Instagram is only a place to post poolside selfies and photos of deliciously greasy In-and-out burgers hasn’t discovered the creative potential of this application.
While I, too, post selfies and pictures of papaya and chile smoothies I make on my @vulnerabletraveleraccount, I’ve connected with other travelers I otherwise wouldn’t have met through it. Instagram helps me connect with others and with myself, since the photos I post are so personal to me and reflect the roller coaster ride that is Peace Corps Nicaragua.
I also use instagram to be more creative in a non-creative environment. While I teach art classes and enjoy sketching alongside my students, there isn’t much of an artistic community in my city. While there are remnants of murals along the city walls, there are no galleries or art museums—only private studios. I can, however, connect with other people who share my interests online, whether they’re artists or not. Since I use hashtags like #travel, my posts make the feeds people from anywhere in the world can peruse.
One of my followers, @zorrathexplorer, found me and liked and commented on my photos. I looked through the photos of a two-week trip she’d taken with her ex-girlfriend to Japan, and an unassuming photo stopped me in my tracks. It was of an older Japanese woman, sitting by a metal grill in an Okonomiyaki restaurant in Hiroshima.
Her confident yet resigned pose left me spellbound. She rested one arm on her lap and her other elbow rested on top of the table. Something about the way she didn’t feel compelled to smile gave the photo a raw feeling. Her vermillion apron juxtaposed playfully with the drab, nearly mechanical background. The photo had not the quality of a dream, but of the memory of a dream. It was foreign yet familiar.
I hadn’t painted anything in three months (the last being a portrait of my mother), but within three seconds, I knew I had to paint this woman. I expressed this interest in the comments, and Ally emailed me the original. We also chatted about her travels, and she gave me the story behind the photo, explaining that she’d taken it on her iphone 4.
This was one of the most detailed paintings I’d ever done. I’d done portraits of Nicaraguans before, and I tend to focus more on the shades and shapes I see rather than the details in my subjects. For my Japanese painting, the squares and straight edges of the kitchen’s tables, frames, and coffee machine called for me to use a ruler. It was fitting to be accurate and precise in a painting set in Japan. When I visited Tokyo and Kyoto in 2013, I marveled at how organized everything seemed. I didn’t see a single piece of garbage on the floor, and the metro ran impeccably smoothly. My painting brought this appreciation to life.
Three weeks of painting later, I wasn’t quite satisfied with the result. On a trip to the Solentiname Islands’ artist colonies, I showed the portrait to Maria Guevara, a painter and owner of the Hotel Celentiname and asked for her feedback. She liked how my portrait depicted the woman at rest in her surroundings. “The only thing I’d change is that I’d make the background darker so that she pops out more. Does that make sense?” When I looked at Maria’s landscape paintings, I noticed that the areas behind the houses she created were very dark, and this effect gave the houses a three dimensional effect.
Now this painting is sitting in my kitchen. This unapologetic working woman reminds me not only of Japan, but of how social media has connected me with others and with my sense of creativity.
As my friend Laura Higgs says, the Global Education field can lead you to work in diverse areas like the Peace Corps (and vice versa, many of her colleagues decided to go into global education because of their time in the Peace Corps).
Laura works for Rotary and is based in Chicago. We met online through Twitter while discussing mental health, female empowerment, and Texas. We haven’t met in person yet, but hopefully we will once my service ends. Check out my interview on her page, where I share my advice and experience as a Diversity Trainer in the Peace Corps!