Arroz con Piña!

Delicious, sugary and cold refreshing “refrescos” fruit juices are a large part of culture in Nicaragua. Learning how to drink one is also a cultural lesson. These drinks are sold in plastic bags, which to a newcomer can be confusing. First you bite the corner of the bag, and then you attempt to balance the bag or not spill the brightly colored juice on your clothes while you drink it. I learned recently that the reason the juice is served in bags is because during the war there was little access to supplies, thus plastic bags became very popular and more accessible than cans or plastic. The habit has stuck and now must things are sold in baggies!

Having enjoyed various types of frescos here: passion fruit, dragon fruit, rose hibiscus, orange and more, I decided I wanted to learn how to make one! I hit the market, bought a pineapple, and called upon my Nicaraguan cooking teaching, my English student and neighbor! This rice with pineapple drink may sound a little strange, but don’t knock it until you try it! Here is the recipe:


2 Liters of Water

1 Pineapple

1 Cup Rice

1 Tbsp of Raspberry Flavored Juice (this does not have much flavor and is more for color, can be left out!)

Sugar to taste


  1. Slice and cube pineapple
  2. Put water, pineapple and rice in pot
  3. Cook until rice is thick and pineapple has softened, about 15 minutes
  4. Allow mixture to cool
  5. Blend mixture
  6. Add sugar to your liking and raspberry juice
  7. Drain Mixture
  8. Add ice and enjoy!

Photo of the Day

This week, our English class had a special guest– Yubelka, a former English student who studied with Sam and Andrea in 2012. Yubelka is now taking English classes at the Universidad Centroamericana, and eventually hopes to complete her masters in Canada. She shared some words of wisdom about language learning and encouraged our students to continue with their English studies.


Yubelka and I with some of the students from our class

El Mercado Oriental

I love going to any type of market. I love buying large quantities of cheap produce, random knick-knacks, browsing odd items, so obviously when I learned the largest market in Central America is located in Managua, I had to go. I have now gone twice, and to say the least it is overwhelming! I wish I had photos to share with you, but under strict instructions from every Nicaraguan I told I want to go to the Mercado Oriental, I did not bring anything valuable.

The first time I went to the fruit and veggie section and the electronic section, with a mission of buying a new blender. There are a few sayings about the Mercado Oriental, everything is cheaper at the market and if you can’t find it there, you can’t find it in Nicaragua. My neighbor and her son were kind enough to take this gringa to the market, which is an adventure for sure! When we arrived in the electronic section, her son did all the bargaining and would not let me talk so we would not get charged a higher price. To arrive at this part of the market, we walked past tens of thousands of fruits and vegetables. Every vendor selling the same thing, at the same price yelling out “TOMMATTOOS, PEPPPERRS, COOORRN. WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?? GOOD PRICES GOOD PRICES!!” Wanting to look at everything was a challenge, because you have to walk around rocks, mud and garbage. All of my senses were overwhelmed by the noise, the smells and navigating the market pathways.

The second time I went, I went with two CCBN employees to shop for decorations for the upcoming carnival for violence prevention in Batahola. I have never been to an Oriental Trading Company catalog warehouse, but I imagine this is what it would look like. There were booths and booths and more booths of piñatas, candy, and all sorts of plastic trinkets for goodie bags. Brightly colored beads, hats, papers, and again people yelling out “what are you looking for, great prices”. My coworkers were very conscience of protecting the gringa and guiding me through this market. I could see how it is very easy to get lost because there are about 20 different piñata vendors. As we passed through the used closing section, which is mostly clothes from the United States, we headed to the fabric section where there were more fabric options then I have ever seen in my life. Again the noises and the sights overwhelmed my senses. I was eager to look at everything, but instead focused on not getting hit by the tomato cart passing through.

The Mercado Oriental is truly an experience for a blonde young lady; I am glad to have explored this market with some locals who know their way around! And from my experience, it really seems you can buy anything at the Mercado Oriental.



Women’s Personal Goal Workshop

During my time at the Center, I have had the pleasure of accompanying and participating in a women’s workshop focused on personal goals. During six sessions, a group of about ten women and two interns from the University of Central America, have come together, formed bonds, and learned about their goals. The themes of each workshop focused on different necessary aspects to completing one’s goals. We learned about self-esteem, the difference between goals and dreams, and planned out goals including time frames, necessary resources, and ways of measuring them. Then each woman had individual meetings to discus their progress and plans for the future.

I truly hope each of these women complete their goal, ranging from learning to make pizza or taking a dance class, because I have seen a clear transformation in this group of women. They have become more confident, made new friends, and learned to focus on themselves. Many of these women are mothers and grandmothers. They have worked, cooked and cleaned their whole lives for their family. While setting their goals, the facilitators assured that they were personal goals, truly a goal that is for them because it is something that will make them happier; not a goal for their children, husband or household. The safe space that this workshop created for the group allowed the women to reflect, share and set new goals for their future. I am very grateful to have been a participant in this group and know that when I see these women in the Center, or the neighborhood we will remember the wonderful workshop we shared together.

10986459_1077974498903984_6851993690295655199_nWomen’s Personal Goal Group Featured With Our #YoSoyCCBN (I am CCBN) Campaign for the Upcoming Vocational Fair!



Celebrating Sister Margie

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In our short time here, we’ve already seen the incredible impact Sister Margie Navarro continues to have on the Batahola community. I’ve heard so many stories from co-workers and community members about Sister Margie’s talent for listening and bringing people together Today, staff and students at the Center continue to work tirelessly to carry on her legacy.

Last week at the Center, we celebrated Sister Margie’s birthday with a concert in her memory, featuring performances from the dance group New Dawn, the Angel Torrellas Chorus, the Margarita Navarro Orchestra, the Center’s guitar classes, a guitar group from the organization Musical para Vivir and a special appearance from the University of Costa Rica’s guitar orchestra.  The concert marked my first performance with the orchestra and second with the choir! The Arts and Culture area at the Center also organized a special exhibition of photos from Sister Margie’s early days in Batahola.



Photo of the Day


This week, students from Batahola’s guitar class came together with youth from a nearby non-profit Musica para Vivir (Music for Life) for a guitar workshop, facilitated by Nineth Larios, the guitar teacher at the Center, and Ernesto Bonilla from Musica para Vivir. The workshop was an opportunity for students to learn more about their teacher’s personal journeys with music and engage in a variety of dynamic activities with fellow learners.
In the above picture, students are participating in an activity called “Sound Painting.”  First, the instructor divided students into groups and gave each group a different sounds to play. Then students took turns “painting” with sound by gesturing to the various groups.


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!