Squat toilets: a lesson in cultural preparedness

Ifrane Morocco is called the “little Switzerland of Morocco”. It is indeed a picturesque (and in many respects) european style town capped off with snow. The Grand Hotel or, as the local university students call it “Jay-Ash,” is a very typical haunt for young thirsty academics, a poorly ventilated and overpriced basement nightclub. It was in this typical club on a typical Friday night that a typical american exchange student first encountered a veritable rubix cube of plumbing: the squat toilet. The student was me. This story is true. Proceed with caution, because we are about to go down the rabbit hole so to speak.

Upon my discovery, a resounding and inappropriately loud “nooooooope” reverberated off the faux marble walls. And slowly I marched into the stall. The toilet itself is more like a sink played into the floor with two plateaus to place your feet, thats it. After a solid minute of just staring into the black hole that lay before me I decided to finally “do the deed” I pulled down my pants and squatted, but it was not that simple.

Should I aim for the hole? Or is anywhere in the shallow bowl fair game? How do I make sure nothing falls out and into my pants? Do I squat all the way down to rest on my haunches or do I stop halfway? Guessing, I squatted down to my haunches aimed for the bulls eye one hand pulling my levi’s forward and the other on the door. Partially because there was no lock and partially for stability.

The movement itself passed without an incident until I found myself reaching for toilet paper. There was none. I called to my friend outside dreading his response.

“Alex! Is there toilet paper in the other stall?”

“No buddy sorry”

“Is there at least soap”


“petit bebe jesus sauvez-moi”

Let’s just say it was a messy ending to a messy night.

Here are my tips to the first time squatter

1. Do what feels comfortable if you need to put your hand on a wall or hold your pants, do it.

2. Do not drink and squat. You don’t need that kind of fear in your life.

3. Anywhere in the bowl is fine except for the foot rests. Also the faucet and bucket is for flushing, about half the bucket full of water poured down the drain will do the trick.

4. Come prepared. Always carry a small container of tissues and hand sanitizer.

5. As a last resort use your non dominant hand.

Soccer? I think you mean futbol.

Coming from the United States to Chile, I knew that soccer was the national sport and Chile’s team performed well at the last world cup. Beyond that, I know very little about soccer. Growing up in the U.S. there were always a multitude of sports available to play as a child. From basketball to baseball to crew, Americans are known to be exceptional at many sports. Soccer however, is not one of them. A three sport athlete of Football, Baseball, and Racquetball in high school, I had not played in an organized soccer game since I was roughly 8 years old. Sports wise, coming to Chile was quite the wake up call.

The first day of orientation, I began talking to a boy from Medellin, Colombia. Immediately, he started talking to me about soccer. Unable to tell him more than who a few teams are in the Barclay’s Premier League, he began to realize that I did not play soccer.

“How can you even live with yourself!?” He asked me in Spanish. “Soccer is why I wake up every morning, nothing makes me happier than going out onto the field and scoring Golazo’s with my friends.” From that point on, I knew this was going to be a culture shock that I did not expect.

Whether I’ve met kids from Chile, Colombia, France, Morocco, Nicaragua, and more, they all have one thing in common: they grew up playing soccer. Being the gringo of the group, I have been teased with the stereotypical “American’s are only good at the sports they invented” line over and over. But the biggest thing about it is, it couldn’t be more true. To my horror, my friends decided to organize soccer games twice a week on a turf field nearby. Even though they knew I hadn’t played soccer, they welcomed me to come play with open arms. The first game I played in however, felt like a final exam for a course that I didn’t attend once. Unable to control the ball or make quality passes, the European’s and Latin’s we’re astounded by how bad I was at soccer.

Since, I have made a concerted effort to become serviceable at the sport. With the help of my friends and the continuation of playing for an hour and a half twice a week, I feel that I am experiencing a part of the South American culture that the common tourist never will. Sometimes, the best experiences can come from where you least expect them and personally, I am thrilled that I get to compete at the world’s most popular game with people from all corners of the globe.


Long Live the King of Thailand


This is a picture of the King that hangs above the entrance to my classroom on the second floor of the political science building at Thammasat University. There is another one inside, and one of his wife the Queen as well.

Images of the King are numerous across the country. As soon as one leaves the parking lot at the large airport outside of town that services most international flights they pass under a large overpass with a huge picture of him that is lit at night, greeting you before anything else can.

Every Thai household has numerous pictures of him. They seem to be most common near the entry ways, but in most houses I have been in they have one in almost every room, oftentimes hanging on the wall amongst the family portraits, or sometimes just above the family portraits in a row of his own.

Many cab drivers keep images of him somewhere on the dashboard, and restaurants all have them hanging around the seating area.

There will be huge structures that look like monuments in the median of the road throughout the city, and when you pass particularly big ones in a taxi the driver will look at it and take his hands off the steering wheel to press them together and give a slight bow as we drive by. The same happens on a bus. You can look around and see about half the people on the bus do the exact same thing.

Every day at 6:00 p.m., if you are near a large public space, the national anthem is blared over loudspeakers. If you happen to be near a TV then you will notice all the normal programming cut out and head straight to the national anthem on the hour as well. The screens play a series of photographs of the King, interspersed with patriotic clips that often portray military might, like jets flying through the sky.

I’m told it’s irrelevant to religion, and a Thai person would revere the King where he was Buddhist, Muslim, or any other religion. The vast majority of Thai people that I am around every day are Buddhist, but I will look forward to examining that more closely when I head North in a couple weeks where there is more religious diversity.

Here is a clip of what shows on TV with the audio of the anthem as well, so you can experience it for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBDKah2nnvw

And, since words aren’t coming easy, this is largely the feeling it evokes in me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1N77NaxlGlU (definitely the “We’re not in Kansas anymore than the Good witch/Bad witch commentary. No veiled political statements here, only appreciation at a culture that is far different than my own!).

*For more Thailand posts you can follow my blog too! You can find it at peregrinefrissell.com.

Walking hand in hand with my mothers

I sat on the veranda yesterday afternoon. Above me the sky darkened, clouds drifting and merging until they became one threatening entity. The thunder rolled across the sky as soft gusts began to filter through the town. Slowly, sparsely the rain drops began to fall, warming up for the torrent of rain that soon followed. This is a storm in Africa. Now that we are into the rainy season, storms drift in and out unpredictably. When it rain in Uganda, everything stops. People are chased inside and the streets become quiet. Even the roosters, goats and cows that mingle along the streets are quiet-or at least you can’t hear them over the rain. The rain is a welcome relief after that weeks of dust and heat.

The rain has meant digging. We’ve been busy working with the Bulyantete women digging up the fields. We also spent some time planting maize with the women of Mayindo. Most mornings have been spent in Bulyantete digging. Tony keeps telling me that I’m in for serious work this next month as there is a lot of land to cultivate. But I don’t mind, I love it. We use hoes here instead of a tractor or tiller. The work has the opposite effect on me-instead of tiring, I leave the fields buzzing with a strange jolt of energy that I only find when gardening/farming. As I dig, my mind wanders, my mothers and sisters chatter around me. Luganda fills the air. I can’t understand much of anything-occasionally my name, Namubiru, comes up. I can only guess at what’s being said. Despite my lack of understanding, I find it comforting. We may not be able to understand one another, but there’s mutual happiness. I look forward each morning to seeing them. It’s a funny thing, becoming close with people with so little words exchanged. After the first morning digging, the women sent me home with gifts of food. I knew better than to refuse but it left me troubled. They need the food so much more than I do and yet, here they were giving some to me. I fought back tears on the bodaboda ride home, somewhat unsuccessfully. I’m sure some Ugandans in the passing cars were puzzled by the crying Mzungu on the bodaboda. I didn’t understand and was overwhelmed by the gratitude shown by the gifts. I simple thank you would have been more than enough. I genuinely enjoy being there and working. I suppose it’s a character flaw of mine, but I’ve never been particularly great at accepting thanks with any sort of grace. After a good cry and Andrew’s explanation, I began to understand. It is their character to give to show gratitude. They gave what they did to show how important I am to them. And that, that is powerful. The women, without few words and little understanding, have become my mothers and my sisters whom I love. This is what grassroots volunteering is and what all development work should be. None of the giant, impersonal systems that dominate the development field. Development is more than money or structure or formulas–it’s getting to truly know those you are trying to uplift. It’s knowing their characters- which one of them is the dancer or singer or comedian or the one that’s always laughing. That’s where the seeds of change get their start.

The new land and crops will bring in much needed income for both the women and Hopeline. It will mostly be maize, which requires little water. The effects of climate change have made an already water scarce environment even more vulnerable. The past few seasons have seen too much rain and not enough. Hopefully this season will be different.

After my time with the women, they walk down the dirt paths with us to the main road where we meet either Tiif or Bower (our bodaboda drivers-their names may be misspelled). Often, one will take my hand as we stroll, unhurried down the path. And I’m overcome by joy at being here, worlds away from home, walking hand in hand with my mothers.

*(I, of course, have not forgotten my family and friends at home. I love and miss them dearly and do not mean to imply any differently. My heart has simply grown to hold my Ugandan family as well.)

Beneath the mango tree

The internet cafe where I sit now is a fair distance from my house and
usually leaves me dusty and sweaty but not today. The rain has blessed
all with it’s sweet, cool presence. Before today, rain fell shortly in
pockets, but today it lingers and is a much needed relief from the hot
and dry weather. The past week has been especially dusty. I returned
home from the projects orange which incited much laughter from Tony.
Red dirt is my new accessory these days-which is just fine with me.

I began the week at the medical clinic where I was tasked with handing
out medication. Many were for malaria. The treatment of malaria here
is just like a common cold in the states. Overall cases and deaths
from malaria are much lower in the area. The drugs in Uganda come from
India and are less effective than those you would find in the US. This
means that more pills must be given out making it a challenge to keep
medications stocked. I also learned how to test for HIV and malaria.
After showing me twice, the doctor was more than willing to let me
poke a stranger-me, a history major. I passed that day as I’m a bit
hesitant about poking people with needles however small, but I suspect
I’ll be testing patients no problem by the end of my time here. I
enjoy working at the clinic, learning and building important skills
that I wouldn’t gain anywhere else.

This week we said goodbye to Jacky. Her impact upon Hopeline and the
family cannot be put into words. Though she will return later this
year, her presence is still very much missed. The last two days of the
week we spent with the Mayindo and Bulyantete women, celebrating
Jacky’s time here and saying goodbye. At Mayindo, I learned how to
prepare matooke the traditional way. The process of peeling and
wrapping the matooke in banana leaves is precise and your performance
is used to judge whether or not you’re ready for a husband. I’m not
sure it’s used so much anymore, but much laughter was had at my poor
wrapping skills. I did alright at making kabalagala (sort of like
banana pancakes), so perhaps I’d make an okay wife.

At Bulyantete, I made chapatis. I love chapatis, so I was more than
willing to learn. It’s something I will definitely be making at home.
Part way through the day, we walked to the to get water. The distance
traveled everyday, 4 or more times a day, just for water is
outstanding. With any luck, construction on a new, better positioned
well will begin this week. The Bulyantete women recently began a brick
making business, for which water is essential. The new well will make
there work a bit easier.

We spent the last few hours of our week in the shade of a mango tree,
with thunder and rain showers circling our spot among the trees. Good
food, laughter and love filled the air as the women said goodbye, if
only for a little while, to a friend and sister. Tomorrow, I begin my
time volunteering alone until the next volunteer arrives at the end of
this month. It’s sure to be a challenging but enlightening week as I
get know everyone a bit better. Thus far, it’s been hard to tell where
the students are in their education as well as where the ladies are
with English. I’m hoping to share a bit of basketball with the boys
this week, but we’ll have to see. For now, I’m enjoying the last few
hours of my Sunday in the cool aftermath of the rain.

Mzungu, bodabodas, and soul-shaking welcomes

I’m not sure where to begin. My first week in Uganda has been nothing short of amazing. There is so much to convey from only a week. I’m finding it hard to remember that I’ve been here only a week, it feels like forever. I’ve been amazed at how naturally I’ve flowed into this life and to the work. I already know leaving will be among the hardest things I have had to do in my life. The people I live with and the children, women and boys that I work with, have already made their way into my heart. The amount of love and sincere welcome I have experienced have broken me open. The Western hardness that I’ve carried because our culture is so lacking in the warmth that Uganda espouses, has disappeared completely. It was instant, the connections I have made here. I was originally only supposed to volunteer the first month, but I will be staying with Hopeline for the second month as well and I couldn’t be happier.

Hopeline runs two women’s groups, a boys’ group, a school and helps with a medical center in the villages. Tony, the director, is the most selfless, strong and giving person I have ever met. What he is trying to do for his home village is amazing. The women have unimaginably difficult lives, full of work and much misery. Tony and Hopeline have given them the little step up they need to begin to better their lives. Through basket making, chicken coops, wells or the impending brick making business, the women have been able to gain much need income. Many of the women work on Mehta’s sugar cane plantations outside of Lugazi. They must rise early in the morning (4-5am) in order to maybe get work. Lateness is not tolerated. Even if they manage to gain work for the day, often their labor can be cancelled if they fail to find enough sugar cane in the fields. At the end of the month, the most they can expect is 20,000 shillings, or about $8. No one can live on that. Not even here. Often they must look into their children eyes and tell them that there won’t be any food that day. In these circumstances, schooling is but a lofty wish. Yet, despite the hardship of their lives, they have welcomed me with open arms and souls. The welcome ceremony from the women was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. Singing, dancing, hugs, and words of welcome were showed upon me. At one point they expressed ‘who are we to host a mzungu like you?’-how do you respond to something like that? For me, it’s more like, ‘who am I to be here with you?’. During the welcome is the hardest I have ever worked to keep from breaking down completely and that was only because I did not want to send the wrong message with my tears. At that time I was completely at a loss as to how I could possibly help the women, but after speaking with Jacky (the volunteer coordinator/co-director of Hopeline), I will be able to put some of my money towards the Bulyantete women’s group to purchase chickens, build a well, and begin a brick building business. I hope to teach them English as well, but I’m still puzzling out how to do that best.

KKoba school has been great. The goal at Kkoba is education, but also to build confidence and foster socialization. The attitude in the villages is bleak. Alcohol and hopelessness is rampant and no child can possibly thrive under those conditions. That is why Kkoba is so important for the kids. Giving kids even a little education in combination with the confidence that gain from interaction with mzungus, their teachers and classmates dramatically improves their lives. Someone who has a bit of education and confidence will fair much better than someone who doesn’t. So far I’ve played with the children (volleyball and bubbles), taught them about the the life cycle of butterflies as well as a bit of addition in the form of a game called math mountain. I hope to teach them more English, math and random science things.

We travel to our projects on the back of bodabodas (motorcycles), which are a main form of transportation here. I loved it from the start. I love whizzing past the lush fields and smiling children waving and screaming ‘mzungu, mzungu-bye mzungu!'(mzungu is the word for foreigner/white person-which is a kick in the pants for me, being that I’m mixed) There is nothing else like it. The group of children that gather in my courtyard grows day by day. Motokas(toys cars), coloring and general play are what I come home to after my time at the projects.

By the end of the week, I had never needed a weekend more. I was beat-mentally, emotionally and physically. I love the work I’m doing, don’t get me wrong, but it is tiring-especially since it was only my first week. I’m not even sure how to capture the poverty. I haven’t written directly about it yet because it’s simply everywhere, all the time. It’s there in the barefoot children at KKoba, it’s in the women who are struggling to feed their families, it’s in the men who were not able to attend school and it’s in the children who greet me on my porch, one of whom will look up at me after I ask about his day to say: ‘it was bad, I don’t have a toy airplane, the dirt burns my feet and I haven’t eaten today’. It’s enough to crush the soul. But it also inspires and strengthens me to do what ever I can to create hope. That is what I get to do- teach and give whatever I can so that maybe, just maybe, hope will grow.

I Never Would Have Guessed

It’s been a minute since I talked about actually teaching. To bring you up to speed/remind you, a teacher at Sovann Komar went on maternity leave earlier than anticipated. I was given her English class to teach for three hours each afternoon. 18 boys. 5 girls. All 5-7 years old. Ironically this was also the class I had bonded with the least. I taught them the same amount of time that I taught the other classes.. something just didn’t click. I was pretty terrified to take them on full time.

I’ve now been teaching the cuties (or monsters, it all depends on the moment) for 5 weeks. I think. Really not sure about that. BUT, I can safely, confidently, 100% say that I love them. I absolutely love them. Shocked I’m typing it, but it’s the truth.

Starting out was pretty rough. I couldn’t really discipline or control them because the language barrier was too strong. On top of that if I WERE to get upset with them, I wouldn’t be able to tell them what they did wrong. That drives me nuts. I didn’t see a point in getting upset when nothing would change because I literally couldn’t explain what they needed to change. My teaching assistant is a wonderful woman who also doesn’t speak much English. Often times she takes care of the disciplining, but it’s somewhat unnerving not understanding what’s happening. Regardless, I had no idea how anything was going to work.

Step one was to learn names. Names might be my biggest issue here. I cannot pronounce anything correctly, and they all sound so similar to me. It was especially hard when I was going between so many classes, but once I had a constant group- I was determined. The first week I tried to understand what they were saying when I asked each child what their name was. They were either so quiet, said their surname as well, or just didn’t speak clearly enough for me to understand. The only way to learn how to say things here for me is to have them written in English. I had the principal come in and write all of the kids’ names on their activity books. I then took a picture of each child and wrote their name onto the picture. I’m actually really excited to have all of those pictures with me forever. Naturally they all did some ridiculous pose; it shows their personalities. I love it. And I know all of their names now. (It’s a much larger victory for me than I’m making it out to be.) Chill.

I quickly discovered sitting and listening wasn’t going to fly for the cuties/monsters. They’re young. They don’t want to stay in one spot, and I am actually very ok with that. I wouldn’t have liked that style of learning either. When they start to move around a lot or talk with each other I have them stand up and do some kind of dance. “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” is a good one, as is “The Hokey Pokey”.. I’ll have to video tape it. They’re so funny. I also taught them “Dah Jellyfish” which is a song from the summer camp I work at. Somehow they end up falling during every song. Every song. Whatever, it gets them more focused. Have I mentioned how hilarious they are..

I also play a lot of games. They get really determined to know things when winning (+ a high five) is on the line. I play a lot of racing games where they have to get to a certain flashcard first, or where they have to hop on one foot to a specific colored mat. Issues arise when I have played someone more than once. Everyone runs towards me and starts kid-yelling in Khmer. It’s precious.

Now that I’ve had them for a bit, I know how each of them works. I know who is way ahead and who won’t understand what. I like that. I never thought about how it would feel starting to individually understand students’ abilities but it makes me feel like we’re one big team. I’m constantly rooting for them, and there is a small connection in understanding how they operate. I’m acutely aware of what questions go to whom, and I try to help as much or as little as possible depending on the student.

We went swimming on Wednesday, and if I thought I had seen them excited before I was very wrong. They were CRAZY, even more so than usual. I tried to control them but honestly, I was laughing too hard- which just reinforced whatever ridiculous thing they were doing. I’m the worst. It was happiness in its purest form. There were two rectangular inflatable pools and some plastic balls and they could not have had more fun. It was really cool to watch- not only because they were having the best time in the world, but also because I had originally been so scared to take them on. The class I thought I liked the least is now MY class…. and I love each of those little goons. I never ever ever thought I would enjoy having this class like I do, and that in itself has been a pretty cool lesson.

Above all, this has made me crazy excited to get back to the U.S. and talk with kids in English again. I want to get to know my goons here so much more than I can because of the language at this point. I’m not going to take the ability to know a kid’s favorite color for granted ever again.
Great news though, I started taking Khmer lessons. So maybe, MAYBE…. I can start to learn more about them. And also communicate with my assistant. Ideal.

Everything is going swell, guys! Thanks for reading. The photos are hilaaaaarious, check ‘em out.


In the past two decades I am so humbled to say I’ve had support as I have grown, developed, and matured in the good graces of my family and people who I’m incredibly thankful to call friends.  My time abroad in Greece has now been a little over two months and the amount of experience I’ve gained is so difficult to put into words.  The last few weeks I’ve traveled to Rome and different parts of Greece, a country I find myself speechless and in awe of everyday.  Not only the beautiful landscape of the sea a short hike away from my residence, but also the mountainous areas that hold amazing beauty.  This experience is unique as I mentioned in my last blog the country’s political standing and many changes occurring.  I have found it difficult to see the poverty and the struggle of the country because of the area I live in and of course, it is not a great or safe place to go and look for the suffering of others due to economic down fall.  The neighborhood Agia Paraskevi is where a place where the country’s deficit has not caused too many repercussions due to the wealth and luxury of the area before the crisis.

However, I have crossed paths twice now with demonstrations in the city center of Athens, called Monistraki, and have witnessed a variety of protesters.  The first protest I witnessed weekend after the Greek elections concluded and people dressed in all black carrying banners and wooden batons walked and chanted down the street.  In shock of what was taking place around me I thought it best not to whip out my phone and take pictures or video and simple kept walking.  The cultural environment surprisingly made me feel intuitive and wanting to know what was the reason for this, and I’m sad to report I never found out exactly the reasons for the people coming together this way.  The other demonstration was much more of a rally or almost “town meeting” type of gathering.  I remember as I was headed down to the metro after having spent an afternoon walking around the city center trying my best to fit in with the busyness of the people of Athens.  Banners were strung across the railings of the top of the metro entrance in front of the capital building I remember seeing the first weekend in Athens.  People weren’t chanting, people weren’t dressed in a uniform color of clothing and the day was shifting from late afternoon to evening.  The two events I cannot forget even though they were a pinch of a moment in time coming in and out of my physical presence in the blink of an eye.  The even stranger part for both moments’ people ebbed and flowed through the sidewalks and in and out of the metro as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on around them.  And they just kept moving forward.

As always be kind,


Neature and Life Lessons

One of the most common things I’d heard about studying abroad – along with “It’s the best!” “You have to do it!!” etc. – was that you learn a lot about yourself. Now, I’m not one who naturally stops and reflects on stuff like, “Who am I?” But as I’ve been here in Nicaragua, surrounded by the unfamiliar, that’s a question I keep finding answers to. For example, living in Montana, it’s super common to claim what you like to do as hiking, skiing, and other nature-focused activities. I usually say those things too, but these last couple weeks really solidified that I love nature. I spend my weeks in Managua, a decently large, busy, modern city. It’s not until I get outside of the city until I realize how much I miss seeing countryside, forests, mountains or small towns. The last two weekends I’ve gotten a healthy dose of nature and am feeling rejuvenated.

Last Friday morning, the 6 of us girls from the U.S. hopped into a mini bus to go on an ISEP-sponsored weekend outing! Hooray! We drove about 3 hours towards the north/central part of Nica. Along the way our driver played love ballads from the 80s. They got old pretty quickly, and I had “My Heart Will Go On” stuck in my head for the next couple days. The city gave way to open, hilly countryside. This time of year it’s all brownish/yellow, but I still find it beautiful. We drove by coffee plantations, farms and ranches. We entered Matagalpa, a small city among forested hills. A few kilometers up, we arrived at our destination: Selva Negra (Black Jungle). I think it’s described as an ecolodge. I didn’t exactly know what that meant, but I’m now thinking it’s an environmentally-focused campground sorta thang. There are cabins for the guests connected by little roads and trails with gardens, ponds, and swings dispersed throughout the area. It’s all very tree-y and green. There are a bunch of trails that start right by the cabins and wind through the jungle and up the mountain. I loved it. It is so tranquil, the air is so fresh, everything smells good, I wanted to take a picture of everything I saw, I didn’t want to go inside, I told the girls I may not go back to Managua, and so forth. When we arrived it was sunny but not hot, later it got foggy, then it rained [all night]. I had this odd feeling…I don’t know if I remember how to describe it…I almost felt chilly! Haha it felt so good to wear a light jacket and pants and to sleep with a blanket!

On Friday afternoon, we did this sweet hike up a mountain that overlooked the valley and Matagalpa. At the top, they have constructed a huge cross and statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The clouds moved in as we reached the top, so it felt like we were in the clouds! It was raining, but a very soft, mist-like rain. It felt lovely. On Saturday, we took the trails from the cabins into the jungle. The rain had cleared up but it remained nice and cool. We were just surrounded by green and these great big trees. Some of the trees have these crazy roots that are above the ground and wind into loops. Others have trunks that look like they’re made up of dozens of smaller vines that have wound together so tightly that they’re now one being. It’s a magical world J We didn’t see any creatures, which is probably good. If I would’ve seen a monkey I don’t know how well I’d respond. Those things are creepy! Anyway, Selva Negra is beautiful and I am so glad I was able to spend the weekend there.

I’m learning another important lesson about myself (and the world). I’m seeing firsthand how good I have it as an American. Life is so easy. Not for everyone in the US, I realize that, but wow. I am incredibly blessed and it is hard to see how the majority of the people in the world live. It legitimately hurts my heart. And it makes me think – how should I be using my time here? Yes, there are definitely wonderful places to see and adventures to be had, but there are also so many people in need! I can’t just be here, living the rich Nicaraguan life and ignore these people’s realities. Feeling convicted, I asked Mary Helen (who works at the International Office and basically knows all) how I can volunteer. The next day, I was touring an elementary school, and two days later I was teaching English classes. The school is called Brazos de Amor (Arms of Love). It was created by this Nicaraguan couple in a poor neighborhood on the edge of Managua. The neighborhood has rutted dirt roads, lots of stray dogs, trash all over, and small houses that always have laundry hanging on the clothesline. The school has a couple hundred students or so, from kindergarten to 6th grade. They wear uniforms (blue pants and a white collared shirt) and look adorable. But they come from tough situations. The director was telling me that the majority of students come from a single-parent household or are raised by step-parents. Many are abused and/or malnourished. There are behavior problems. They don’t have to come to school, but they do. The school is an amazing place. I am so grateful that I can meet these kids and the teachers who work there. When I taught on Thursday, the classes were so good! They were engaged and received me warmly. When I was leaving the 2nd grade classroom, a couple girls came up to give me a goodbye hug. Promptly, the entire class was on its feet, mobbing me as they tried to give me a hug. Their teacher was nearly prying them away. Holy cow. I think that’s how it feels when your heart melts. I will teach each class, 1st-6th, for one hour a week. I don’t know how much those few English classes will help them, but I will do my best. And I will love them and pray for them. These children, because they were born to a certain family in a certain country, have a reality that is foreign to me. It’s not fair. But it can still be beautiful. I believe they have more to teach me about life and joy and perseverance than I can teach about the language.

So, my fellow Americans, enjoy what you’ve got.

Greetings from Nica,

Ellie Hoffman


Ireland at a Glance

Greetings all!

My first impression of Ireland is ‘wild’. Not wild as in cool, but almost feral, though that might be a bit too strong. Everything man-made in Ireland, from its buildings, to its sidewalks, to its urban landscape is constantly being reclaimed by nature. Reclaimed, or maybe absorbed is the right word. There’s a harmony in effect, between humanity and this vast land that it has inhabited for thousands of years. I completely understand why myth and cultural knowledge is so prevalent here. And it is beautiful. If Montana is ‘untamed’ then Ireland is ‘wild’.

But metaphysical ramblings aside, Ireland is grand. They say that here – grand, instead of good or great. For all that they say Western Europe is similar to America in terms of world view, there are some noticeable differences. Not that that’s a bad thing, its just fun to stop and realize once in a while that you’re in a foreign country. For me, who, before this, had never been outside the United States and Canada, I like to be reminded everyday that I’m a world away. It puts things in perspective.

University College Cork is still a college though. I still go to classes, meet up with friends, study, write essays. But there are some fun differences. For one, the student government is a lot more present here. Apparently campaigns are really big. Not just elections, but campaigns to get things changed. It can be something serious like the fight for marriage equality to something silly, like trying to get the Cadbury Wispa candybar reinstated (they succeeded by the way and everyone here is really proud of that fact). In Montana, no matter how much Americans are very proud of their 1st Amendment right to assemble and petition however they like, we don’t do things like that. I remember one instance in my time at UM when there was an actual assembly to students to protest something. Maybe it says something about our attitudes towards protesters. I don’t know and I cannot judge on this, but I think the difference is something that might be worth looking into, especially for us in GLI.

I really love it here though, especially the archaeology. There’s just so much of it! And the Archaeology Department is grand with good people. All in all, I’m really glad I’m in Cork, Ireland.