I woke up and ate beans and plantains for breakfast. Tania and I then met up and walked across the bridge over the muddy river to the other side of town. I could see a mother and her kids washing clothes by the water's edge. When we first started walking, I breathed in deeply because the air was cool. Before I new it, the sun came out and started beating down on us. We arrived at a private school where Tania said I would be observing a spelling bee that her public school students would be competing in. We arrived at the school, and I went to use the bathroom. Students from all directions came to greet Tania. When I came back, she mentioned to me that my short hair made her students think that I looked like a boy. Others thought I was Spanish. I'll take the second one as a compliment.
We walked into a large classroom with about 50 teachers and students. I introduced myself as the new Peace Corps TEFL volunteer to the English teachers, and they asked me how I liked it in the northern part of the country. One of the male teachers then voluntold me to help judge the spelling bee, since the American family that was supposed to do so could not make it. He gave me a list of about 100 words in different categories, like "verbs" and "articles of clothing", and then asked me to ensure that the students were spelling the words correctly. The most challenging part of the judging the spelling bee was ensuring that students were pronouncing their "m's" or "n's", or their "b's" and "p's". For example, I asked one of Tania's students to repeat her pronunciation of the word "backpack" because the letters "p" and the "b" sound pretty similar in Spanish. She ended up getting it right.
In the end, the private school students won the competition. I don't have anything new to add to the idea that private school students are usually better prepared than public school students here. I wish it weren't this way, but it's definitely like this in the U.S. It's usually those with better financial resources who are better able to provide educations for their children. At the end, I gave medals to the top placing students, and crowned the king and queen bee with two plastic, bedazzled crowns. The king had come up about 7 times (more than any other student), and had spelled each word perfectly, albeit a bit quickly. He reminded me of my brother because he spoke so fast and was obviously smart. The spelling bee queen had a perfect accent. I had asked her why she sounded so American, and she said that it was because she had lived in California. They were all really sweet kids.
After I took the first picture with a student, the rest of the students asked to take a picture with me. I went from being an intimidating Spanish boy to a normal woman who the kids wanted to take photos with. It was lots of fun, but I couldn't stop thinking of how much I know the public school students wanted to win. This is why I'm here, though: to help public school students. A private school teacher approached me at the end of the spelling bee to see if I could also come talk to her kids about the importance of learning English, and I happily obliged. It's nice to feel useful here, just for being able to speak English. I ended up giving my phone number to her and other English teachers, and they said assured me that they would be using me as much as they could to help their students. "¡Te vamos a sacar el jugo!" (We're going to use you as much as we can!), they said, half-jokingly.
Tania and I then went for a snack. She had a guilira (corn cake) with cream and cuajada. I wasn't as hungry, so I sipped on an orange soda in a glass bottle that cost 45 cents. I told her how I felt about the spelling bee, and she also seemed a bit let down that her students hadn't won either. There's always next time, though. Tania and I then parted ways, and then I went to meet up with a local group that advocates for lgbtq rights. I introduced myself to two young men there, and then I ended up speaking for over an hour with a male to female trans lawyer who is a part of the organization. She was also a sociologist, and I enjoyed hearing about the brave transformation she has made and how it affects her life in Nicaragua. She talked most of the time, and I just soaked up all of her eloquent, theoretical, profound thoughts. I then mentioned to her that Wellesley College (my alma mater) was in an article in the New York Times recently. I had just read the article, titled "When Women Become Men at Wellesley", before coming to Matagalpa. Simply put, this piece asks the question: "Should female to male students be allowed admission to women's college's?". After asking this question, the article reveals that one cannot see this issue in black and white. As a senior there, I didn't notice nearly as many transgender students as I feel there are now, and I'm very happy about that. I thought it was cool that we had non-gender conforming bathrooms and that I was able to meet people who identified outside of the gender binary. As the article says, the female to male students are able to understand what it's like to grow up as a woman, and I feel like it's this personal understanding that's a very important contributor to how one navigates life before, during, and after attending a women's college. Before reading this article, I had never thought that male to female individuals would want to apply, so I'm still processing how this affects who should be admitted to women's colleges.
I love the idea of attending a women's college because I was put down in high school for being too 'smart' and 'vocal' by the boys in my class. Being an athlete helped me fit in, but that should not be the case. Going to a women's college definitely made me more confidence in myself because I was finally in a place where being an intelligent, outspoken female leader was a good thing. I also love the idea of my women's college as a place that should welcome those who identify outside of gender binaries, though. My main concern is safety. At a women's college, I felt consistently safer. This is something that female-to-male transgender students may understand and relate to. It was nice to not have to wonder nearly as much if I would be sexually assaulted while entering an elevator or walking through a dimly lit parking lot at night (as I thought about almost every day in Boston). Yes, it's only for four years, and it flew by, but I would want all women to be able to be afforded this level of safety and confidence for this short time. Being there made me think of the world in ways that will stay with me forever.
I'm very protective of the idea of a women's college, but I'm more for the idea of a non-cisgender male institution, until men across the board are able to treat women as individuals and not as objects whose bodies and rights they have consistently felt the need to control. Once women can go jogging anywhere without wondering if they should have bought pepperspray, and once a woman (or queer/non-gender conforming individual) can run for President without having people think twice about this sort of gender identification, then we will not need institutions like Wellesley.
Tania basically had to pull me away from talking with this amazing trans individual about my thoughts on all-women's colleges, and then we went to her house so that I could help her with an essay. Pretty soon it started raining, and the power went out, so we chatted and played with her son until the power went out. The rain got worse and worse, and the lightning almost shook the house. By the time I went home, I could see one of the main roads was completely demolished. Rocks and dirt had washed everywhere. The river was also nearly flooding, but people were outside for a stroll, continuing their lives after this slight pause. And so it goes here.