I’m home.

I know this because I am writing this post from a brand-new Mac, and because:

  • There are no sups who chatter loudly outside my room beginning at 5:30 am
  • My cell phone no longer resembles a toy phone, and it no longer has stickers on the back.
  • No one calls me to detail their diarreah
  • I am not at all concerned about how the guys from Bombas y Motores are going to be paid for the Bevil grant project in San Geronimo
  • we just had Indian take-out for dinner. And it was so good.
  • I’m wearing a sweater.
  • its night-time, and I don’t feel the need to cover my legs with leggings and feet with socks so I don’t get bitten
  • Maribel has not called me in six hours. This is a record for the last few months, and a reality for the next few.
  • When I pee, I can throw the toilet paper in the toilet. Yet, I still hesitate, looking for the trash.
  • No vols are calling asking me to send them DVDs, fix their MovieMaker, or trouble shoot their Flip Cams.
  • No Youth Counterparts are calling asking me to let them bring extra people to such and such event.
  • No sups are calling asking about sending vols to buy materials to X community.
  • No Plan people are calling asking how many juices to order for that upcoming meeting.
  • No Amigos On-Call is calling asking for updated medical reports.
  • No host moms are calling to report their vol ate lunch.
  • No sups are calling to ask me about flea bites, mosquito bites, swollen bites, scabies bites, and other kinds of bites.
  • No Doc is calling to tell me the weekly bill.
  • Generally, no one is calling.
  • There are baby carrots, sweet bell peppers, snap pees, heirloom tomatoes, and cherries in the fridge.
  • There is an assortment of meats in the freezer, gourmet cheese in the fridge door, and leftover Indian from dinner.
  • Sammy is playing music in his study, and I feel like watching Law and Order, or CSI.

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Just saying….

It’s paradise.

I’m at the Corn Islands, with my bestie Maribel, and her kids; and my cousin Brandon; and my Mom. They’ve all gone to sleep, but I’m still at the lodge, listening to the bright blue waves crash upon the white sand beaches below me, and chewing on the ice leftover from my tropical mango-lime drink.

Its been a week full of emotions. First the vols leaving. Then the Participatory Evals with youth. Hearing about community evals from sups. Sending sups on their ways into the world after a night of dancing. Hugging Tanika goodbye, pretending we’ll see each other soon for apple juice and broken internet. Mom coming, Maribel deciding to come to Little Corn, demanding they let Maribel’s five year old daughter on the plane to Little Corn even though there were no spaces….

It’s an amazing thing, to ride in the airplane with a five yr old who is on her first plane ride. As we lifted into the air, Yasira screamed, “Chelsey, estamos en el cielo!/chelsey, we’re in the sky!” and then… “Chelsey, las casas parecen de hormigas!/Chelsey, the houses look like ant houses!” And upon arrival to our cabin on little corn, “Chelsey, que maravilla es la vida aqui!/Chelsey, how incredible IS life here!” And then, in the ocean, “Look what I learned to do! Hold my breath when the waves come, and jump!”

I just hope we’re all able, me included, to approach life with such gusto and energy and wonder.

And so here I sit, them all asleep, listening to gentle waves crash. Palm trees waving, and the moon illuminating the water. People I love are fast asleep, and I am listening to research interviews, editing photos, and getting ready to read what my Mom and I call a “junk book.”*  Couldn’t, and doesn’t really get better. And my computer will soon die, so off to read junk books and listen to the ocean!

Buenas noches….


*(For those of you who don’t know, this is a book that you can get lost in, requires zero thinking, generally has embossed lettering and you can buy in an airport. This name was initiated by my parental units when I was a kid- for every junk book, I had to read a “quality” book. A quality book was like the Hardy Boys, or the Boxcar Children, or Little House on the Prairie. It was not Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, or Pippi. Another time, we can get into the gendered merritts of these qualifications).

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Little Corn Island, We’re coming!

I can’t write much, because I’m in a freezing cold hotel room and my fingers are getting chilled.

Things are finishing. The sups finished, my APD went home. We had final meetings, did last minute paperwork, and my mom came.

We took the Matagalpa vols home to their parents in Boaco, and today I met the Ecuador girls at the airport after their summer in Ecuador.

And tomorrow? Me, my mom, my cousin… and…. MARIBEL and KIDS are headed to the CORN ISLANDS! OMG! I’m ecstatic that MB actually ended up coming- its going to be a dream!

We had to do some serious finageling to get everyone tickets on the plane, which left my mother with her mouth hanging open at MB and I after we convinced them to change a name on a ticket (impossible they said! clearly possible, we said! and we were right.) and then to give Yasira a ticket even though there were no seats left (impossible they said! clearly possible, we said, and we were right!)

So, I’ll let you all know how this tropical paradise is…

And oh, ps, I’m on crutches. Ankle gave out when I was galavanting down the steps of our staff house, delighted to have found the vest I left. And now all of Teustepe knows, my ankle is, again, purple and swollen, and I’m on crutches that appear to have been made in the 1980s . Oh, the life….

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Project Update # 3



This last week in communities has been a very special time for volunteers, as they put the finishing touches on community projects and take advantage of every last moment to spend with dear friends and family. The corn fields have just begun to yield ripe corn, and volunteers are eating corn on the cob just after its pulled from the plants, and making fresh, hot corn tamales with their host moms. It has been especially rainy, and volunteers and youth have responded by playing in the mud, dancing in the rain, and puddle jumping! This last week of campamentos has been focused on finishing final projects, and on the Right to Education. Media communities came together to share drafts of their final projects, with themes ranging from game shows to immigration stories, activism around machisimo to stop motions about children’s rights. Winding through the mountains of Boaco, volunteers and youth on the arts project have been seen busy at work painting colorful murals on the sides of many schools and community buildings.


This morning, host moms and youth counterparts turned best friends poured into Teustepe, leaving a mountainous heap of backpacks at the entrance to a balloon-decorated hall. Together, they recounted summer memories, shared final media and art projects, and told stories of the summertime. The tone was festive, yet somewhat subdued, as everyone knew that soon enough the time would come for volunteers to board the yellow school bus and drive away, and for host families and youth counterparts to stay behind, waving and remembering. And that moment did come, and it came with embraces no one wanted to end, and many tears. In the short time we’ve been here, people who were strangers seven weeks ago call each other son, daughter, sister, Mama, Papa, friend. In seven weeks, what were ideas have blossomed into community based initiatives and what were forgotten stories have been remembered in media projects. In seven weeks, volunteers have adjusted to a 7 pm bedtime and a 5 am wakeup, and in seven weeks, Spanish language has sky rocketed. In seven weeks, volunteers have given hundreds of campamentos on children’s rights and sparked energy for the formation of youth groups. In seven weeks, the Boaco volunteers wriggled their way into the hearts of twenty six communities nestled in the lush green mountains and likewise, those communities wound themselves tightly and lovingly around the volunteers. It is with mixed feelings we embark upon debriefing and the journey home: volunteers are excited to regale their families with stories and memories, to share pictures and projects and lessons learned- and at the same time, we all kind of wish we could have just a few more weeks in this magical place called Boaco.


So, to all the families about to receive home our dear Boaco volunteers, thank you. We cannot imagine a more inspired, creative, fun-loving, dedicated group of young people. When they walk off the plane in a few days, ask them about their community based initiatives and murals and videos, but mostly, ask them about the way their host mom laughed. Find out if they like the wet, squeaky cuajada for the dry, flaky kind. Talk to them about rising with the sun when they hear the roosters crow and someone chopping wood. Listen to what inspired them, and which youth they loved collaborating most with. Ask them about the way the light crept into their house through the wood slats early in the morning. Look at their pictures, cherish their memories. And from all of us and from their youth counterparts, friends, sisters, brothers, and Nicaraguan Moms and Dads, please give them big, giant hugs. We’ll miss them dearly- thank you for sharing your brilliant young people with us! It’s been magical.



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It’s Date Night

It’s date night for us vol-less Senior Staffers. We had sushi at the trendiest of restaurants tonight, and took in a a movie- Water for Elephants. We needed this after a long day of paperwork, punctuated by Ensas with lime and tall glasses of ice.

Nope, we’re not in Teustepe anymore. I mean, we will return tomorrow. However, today and yesterday are about respite. Goodness knows we needed it after the despedida and debriefing in Granada.

The despedida was, as always, a crying mess of vols and host families and youth counterparts. After a brief celebration and memory sharing, and a failed attempt to watch final media projects in a space that was too light to let us actually see them when they were projected, we sang a boom chicka boom, and then… it was time. I hate this particular time. It’s always evidenced by the top of the bus filling up with backpacks. It’s evidenced by crying host moms and wailing volunteers. It’s a mob of people who love each other and know that in only seconds, they will be torn apart.

Perhaps the hardest to witness was the five boys of El Crucero. Micheal, a vol, Rafael, a vol, and their 3 youth counterparts- Ramiro, Jainer, and Samir, have been inseparable. And I do mean inseparable. As in, they perhaps spent more than 2 waking hours apart a day for the last 7 weeks. They laughed, they called Micheal by his last name, they made a video about immigration, they inaugurated their CBI with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Mostly, they were just a group of 5 teenage boys trying to figure out this big world together. I’ve rarely seen youth counterparts and vols bond quite like those five did. It was inspirational. And so, imagine tearing them apart.

First, Rafa comes to me. Then Micheal. Both asking to please, please bring these three vols to debriefing. I say no. Then comes Jainer, followed by Ramiro and Samir. Please, they say. Their faces, all five faces of five tall, lanky teenage boys, streaked with tears, their eyes puffy. I couldn’t say no. I just couldn’t. Which is why I have an APD to help me sometimes make sure I don’t do things like allow those three boys on a bus to debriefing. Instead, they grasped each other so tight I thought we’d never pry them apart. They looked into each others eyes and cried. They kissed each others’ foreheads. It was one of the most difficult goodbye’s I’ve seen in eight summers of watching vols and youth and host families say goodbye.

So, they boarded the bus. The day then passed in a blur, Granada and buying things and pizza dinners and evaluations and boat trips. 24 hours later, we were in a candle lighting ceremony.

I couldn’t believe how this one went, it was so special. In a convent in Granada, we all sat in a circle. In a bilingual ceremony, each person present lit their candle from a center candle and spoke about their experience. And boy, did people cry. I’m always impressed at this point in the summer, when it becomes apparent some who struggled learned from their mistakes, when those who did not get along all summer declare a sibling like love for their partners, when people talk about reflections and dreams and ideas.

Afterwards, interestingly, everyone got up and hugged each other. And then there were more tears. It was kind of stunning. I’ve never seen a candlelight ceremony that so naturally ends in hugging like that. Beautiful.

At which point we realized we would need to scrape a whole lot of wax from the floor. So we sent the majority of them to the hotel to pack, and a few vols and staff stayed behind with me to scrape wax droplets from the floor of the convent with coins. We hope the nuns don’t get angry with us!

And the next thing I knew, we were sending the last of them through security, and calling to let the on-call system know they were in the air. We had a passport scare or two, and we had to get the hotel across the way to sell us two loaves of bread at 4:40 am when the vols ate more than we thought for breakfast,  but what would AMIGOS be if you didn’t need to convince a hotel staff member that selling two loaves of bread at 4:40 in the morning to a random person not staying at the hotel was the best course of action?

And now, they are gone. Its so final.

I can hardly believe this part of my AMIGOS summers is over. I don’t get another group of vols, I don’t get another group of youth and vols to sing with whenever I want. My truck rides to pick up sick vols in the middle of the night are now memories, not realities. I can forget the emergency on-call number I have had memorized for several years now, because I won’t be the one calling it.

Sure, AMIGOS will always be there. It will always be part of me. Most of my good friends are AMIGOS. I’m writing a dissertation about AMIGOS. I am who I am because of AMIGOS.

But field summers, you’re what made me. And I will miss you. I will miss the grittiness of phone calls at 6 am under bug nets, during which volunteers explain they waited until it was 6 to call, since they’ve been up since 4:30 am with their host family. I will miss the staff meetings, and the intense inspiration drawn from an idea sparked by a staff member and a poster paper. I will miss the jars of peanut butter supervisors consume with vigor on the weekend, and the single restaraunt in Teustepe, Imperial. There’s so much I will miss.

It makes my heart break, seeing this end. Knowing I won’t be the one to convene these beautiful youth next year, nor the one to receive phone calls about vols from host moms who want to chat. I’ve gotten so much inspiration, love, creativity, passion, hope from this project- thank you.

I could write forever about my undying love for Boaco. But, I have to go do paperwork. The summer ain’t over yet.

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Oh, to be on the back of a truck….

There are not really words to describe that feeling, of being on the back of a truck, on really bumpy, really rocky roads, winding through the communities in the mountains outside of Teustepe. The wind rushes past your ears, and your hair flies in the air. You can stand up in the back of Alfredo’s truck, and the sides of the truck are high, so you can lean up against them. Its bright red and yellow, and cheery.

There are deep curves you come around, and rivers to cross. At the rivers, often there are hundreds of butterflies, flying in a swirl of green and yellow, that disburse into the air when you drive by. There are wild horses, running ahead of you and dissapearing into the foliage before you can ever see them. There are these yellow flowers covering the campo, kind of like mustard flowers, but not, and they turn the bright green mountains a beautiful yellow.

When you come upon a community, everyone waves and shouts out to the truck driver. In a lot of communities, people know my name, so they shout out some version of it, like Chechi, or Chexy, or Cheesti, or something. And sometimes there is a bunch of little kids who run after the truck, waving. Every once in a while, too, there are vols walking down the road with youth counterparts, or carrying water with their host moms, or hanging out on the steps with their youth counterparts.

It’s stunning, all this that passes by in a whir. It’s particularly good when you’re coming down the mountain, home after a day in communities. Today it was me and Rita in the back of Alfredo’s truck, after working with a regional group of media makers in Las Palomas. We were tired, but satisfied. We decided to ride in the back.

This is also an excellent time for life stories, deep thoughts, and gossip of all kinds. We talked about sups, about youth, about projects in communities, about CBI issues. Rita, our staff counterpart, is pretty awesome because she can give me the inside scoop- the things the youth and community members won’t tell me, they will tell Rita. And Rita will tell me! It’s like have a spy, someone to explain to me what’s actually going on. So we talked, and talked, and talked.

Again, I just can’t explain the rush of this back of the truck gossip. Its like you’re surrounded by utter lush green beauty, you watch the national bird flitting about, and you also see flocks of brilliantly green parrots, and sometimes jack rabbits crossing the road. There’s something regal about all this, about standing in a truck, in the wind, watching all this rush by. It makes it all feel…. real. That’s when I feel like a “real” Project Director, a “real” Researcher, a “real” something or another. It’s gritty, and sometimes bugs fly in your mouth, but its so awesome. Stunningly, amazingly, awesomely, awesome.

This video in no way does that incredibly awesome, real, gritty, down to earth feeling justice, but here’s a shot at what I see, when I’m coming down the mountain from community visits….it’s truly magic.

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New Videos!

Vols and youth counterparts talk about their experiences, and lead youth group games!

A few moments and thoughts from vols from yesterday, when I did a day of community visits with Regional Director of Plan, Donahi.

And lastly, Boom Chicka Boom. We must sing it. Every time we come together. And in case you were wondering how it goes…. And now, the vols are singing it in their campamentos, and I get to communities and kids are singing it… incredible.

Words of encouragement from Selene’s mom to Selene, who is a vol in Ecuador and from one of our host communities in Boaco.

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