The Tortilla Challenge!

Tortillas in Nicaragua are a way of life. They give nutrition to almost every Nicaraguan. They are cheap, simple to make or buy, and a main part of most meals. Three simple ingredients of corn, water, and salt make up a large part of the Nicaraguan diet. The typical tortilla venta, store, sells their tortillas for 2 Córdobas, which means you can buy about 13 tortillas for a dollar. At home tortillas were a standard in my refrigerator, to whip up a quick breakfast burrito or for taco night; however, I rarely thought about what they were made of or where they were from. I would just buy tortillas because they are cheap and easy to have in the house.

However, during my time living in Batahola, I have noticed a lot of discussion about how tortillas are made. Near our house, there are two tortilla ladies.   One uses freshly ground corn and the other uses Maseca, which is corn flour. This seemingly simple difference causes a lot of controversy here in Batahola. My host family strongly believes in only buying the corn tortillas, but I have been buying the corn flour ones since that lady lives closer. With all this controversy I decided to have a blind taste test! Here are the results:

7 People Correctly Identified the Difference Between Maseca and Maíz

13 People Did Not Correctly Identify the Difference Between Maseca and Maíz

I myself (not included in the 20 people) could also not identify the difference! However, all people when asked said they prefer tortillas from maíz.



Taking a Break in the Campo!

While Managua is a wonderful and lively city, it is very very hot.  Coming from Chicago, I do not think I realized how hot it truly would be.  As we enter into October, and all the pictures of fall have been entering social media, I have been longing for fall.  So this weekend, I grabbed my backpack and headed up to San Nicolas to visit our co-VMM volunteers Alli and Kyle!  Throughout orientation we were able to hear from the old volunteers are all about life in San Nicolas, so I had been eager to see it for myself! I love that our volunteer organization for our work at the CCBN, VMM, has provided us with this cross country community.  After accidentally taking a routeada, which is a bus that takes stops instead of an express, I arrived in the beautiful village of San Nicolas.

Visiting San Nicolas was such a wonderful treat!  The weather was crisp and fall like.  We made homemade lemonade from their lemon tree and ate mangos from their garden!  I also picked passion fruit from their vines and we used basil in our homemade pizza.  It was such a refreshing experience to be truly living in a creative and natural way.  Instead of just ordering a pizza as we would have at home, we made dough and sauce from scratch. We discussed many recipes we could make going to the venta or from their garden because the grocery store is an hour away by bus.  Living on the campo seems to be very fun and allowing for a lot of creativity in Kyle and Alli.

I am grateful we have this other community to visit and learn from during our time here at Nicaragua.  I feel it is an opportunity to take a break from city life, and really live the mission of VMM of living simply.



Read More About Life in San Nicolas Here:

Shopping at the Venta

Recently, I was talking to my uncle about life in Batahola. I was explaining him how I go to one person’s house to buy fruit and veggies, another to buy beans or tortillas, and another to buy anything from bread to beans to soap. While I was trying to explain this, he just could not seem to grasp it. I figured this concept of shopping at what are known as “ventas” or “pulperias” is probably foreign to many of us, as it was to me just a few months before.

Since many people in Nicaragua work in the informal economy, many of our neighbors have stores in their homes. These stores sell anything and everything from matches, produce, meat, tortillas, piñatas or clothes. Instead of shopping in the super market, it is much cheaper and faster to go to the venta. When I am in the middle of cooking, and realize I need one more tomato, I run to the fruit man’s house, which is about one block away. In the morning, if I want to whip up an egg, I walk to the tortilla lady’s house and buy one egg. One egg is 4 Córdobas, or $1.78 a dozen. It has been an adjustment to buying food in smaller amounts more frequently; I practically go to the fruit venta everyday! However, I enjoy the social experience of shopping at the venta and getting out of the house and walking around the community. Here are some pictures of our tortilla lady’s store!


The Art of Dynamicas and Company Culture at CCBN!

How many meetings do you go to that start with a group of employees singing songs and playing musical chairs? Because that is how the CCBN teachers meeting started yesterday!

We all know what ice breakers are, which here in Spanish are called “dynamicas”.  These often hated introduction activities in my past experiences of college orientation or leadership retreats, are embraced here at the Center as a way of learning, starting a meeting, and removing barriers to begin different workshops.  Since beginning at the Center, I have done more ice breakers than a camp counselor does. The enthusiasm and emphasis placed on dynamicas made me reflect on the company culture of the Center. Since so much of the employment world now in the United States is all about company culture, it is something I have really enjoyed observing here at CCBN.  Little things, such as our weekly Monday priority meetings, where employees share their focus for the week, or the love of ice breakers and creating a comfortable space for employees and community members truly reflects the mission and culture of the center.  I am excited to be a part of a staff that takes the time to focus on getting to know each other and create a team based environment.  To be honest, I have even learned to enjoy the fun of ice breakers!



Hello, how may I help you? The Inside Workings of a Nicaraguan Call Center!

While we have all heard of outsourcing, especially for customer service industries or manufacturing of many companies we all use, the discussion here in Nicaragua about call centers is very different of that in the United States.  In the United States, the common themes are that outsourcing is bad, they should be hiring people from the United States etc.  Here in Nicaragua, call centers are a source of employment, income, and dream jobs. We have heard from many of our English students that their dream job would be to work at a call center.  In addition, we use this landmark as the directions to our house and the center.  With all this discussion of the call center, we felt we had to learn more!

As we have met many of our neighbors, one neighbor known by customers as “Donald”, was walking past our house.  After chatting with him on the porch, we learned he works in a call center.  We expressed our interest to see the center, so he invited us to lunch at their cafeteria.  While we were not able to enter the call center floor, we were able to see the environment and learn quite a bit!

The old United States’ Embassy, located only a few blocks away from the center, is now home to Sitel.  According to Sitel’s website, Sitel “serves 62 countries, whilst sharing one common passion- to make every customer experience memorable”.  The Sitel call center in Managua is the home of Capital One, Cricket, and Money Works’ customer services lines.

So what does that experience look like for the young adults of Managua working in these call centers?  While many people do not like the job, and many people quit everyday, the young people of Managua all want these jobs. Why is that?  Working in a call center pays about $500 a month, which for Nicaragua is a very high salary.  With this high of a salary, many call center employees are able to save for school or help their families.  Employees work 24/7 365 days a year, no matter if it is a Nicaraguan holiday or an American holiday; however, they are paid extra on Nicaraguan holidays.  Most employees get two days off a week, but the center is always running!  To work in a call center, there is an extensive English interviewing process, followed by a month long training program.

The majority of the employees are Nicaraguan, except higher up officials.  Our neighbor estimated that of the 2,000 employees almost 75% are between the ages of 20 and 35. Call centers provide an opportunity for English speaking Nicaraguans, both who grew up here or who have been deported from the United States, a high paying job.  The unfortunate reality is that there are not other alternatives in the Managuan job market, especially since many people work in the informal sector.

Call centers continue to be a growing and appealing industry here in Nicaragua.  Which makes me wonder, where are the customer service lines I call most located? And more importantly, what will happen to this growing middle class if the companies decide to move?



IMG_4119-1 IMG_4123

Pictures taken at the Sitel Call Center, better known as the old US Embassy



Kermesse 2015: Batahola’s Annual Community Fundraiser

This past Sunday was the Center’s annual fundraiser, the Kermesse. For Natasha and me, the event was a fantastic introduction to the Batahola community.  It was incredible to see the way that everyone came together to contribute to the event. Each class made a food or beverage item to sell, including vigoron (cabbage salad, boiled yuca, and chicharrones), arroz con leche (rice pudding), and many delicious frescos (fruit drinks). The Kermesse also featured traditional music and dance performances, face-painting, hula hooping, karaoke, raffles and a dunk tank.

Overall, Kermesse 2015 was a great success. Thanks to the generosity of the community of Batahola and all of those who attended, we were able to raise over $2,500 to support the scholarship programs at the center, a $200 increase from last year! We’re very grateful for the hard work of everyone that made this event possible.


IMG_9732 IMG_9737 IMG_9741 IMG_9708  IMG_9340 (2)IMG_9387IMG_9514 IMG_9659 

Adios Kelsey and Erika!

As Kelsey and Erika wrap up their final days here the center, we want to take this opportunity to say gracias for their hard work planning our orientation.  We feel well-prepared to start teaching English class and begin our work at the center.  This weekend, we will be busy at the Kermes, CCBN’s annual fundraising event.  We, as do many people of the Batahola family, want to say thank you for your wonderful work and orientation! Good luck in your new jobs, and your little birds are ready to fly free!  We are excited to have begun teaching English class and learn more about the center.  There has been much to learn, starting with the basics of where our house is.  But we are confident that in time and with the wonderful assistance of our coworkers, we will learn, share, and enjoy these next two years!


Natasha and Clare

Photo: A Gran Despedida to Kelsey and Erika


Volunteers from Spain give the gift of music

For the month of August, the Center welcomes 2 volunteers from Spain, Bertha and Nacho. They will be focused on giving individual music classes here as well as putting on a concert before they leave. Throughout the day, you can hear them teaching or playing incredible duets, and it’s been a privilege to have them here!!IMG_8858



-Erika C.