Tag Archives: Peace Corps Nicaragua

I love the rain the most

I love the rain here. One moment is calm, dry, and hot…the next a small but steady rain settles in. It tinks and pinks off my tin roof. But the small steady drizzle doesn’t last long. Within minutes it is pouring. Hard. Loud. Beautiful. Powerful. The sound and smells overwhelm me. The dry, cracked ground rejoices for the deep drink.

The down pour don’t seem to last for long. Just when your mind begins to get used to the overwhelming amount of water tumbling out of the sky, it lightens again. The drizzle may continue for a bit with another down pour cycle to follow or it may fizzle out, leaving that after-rain-smell that calms my heart.

I feel like my experiences with culture and language here in Nicaragua are similar to the cycles of rain I’ve witnessed the first few weeks. Most of the time I’m dry, cracked, thirsty for understanding why things/risks/habits are the way they are here. They’re not bad, just very new, different, and foreign. In reality, I can’t even make sense of what is good/bad/fine/normal/etc. yet. I’m still in the first stages of adapting to a new culture, with a mix of the honeymoon stage and the beginnings of culture shock. Between the new language, new family, new home, new food, new customs, new work, new sleeping schedules, new levels of noise, new eating/bathing/cleanliness standards…it’s a lot to take in.

Then occasionally, a drizzle comes.

I learn new words; a bridge to communication. I learn new rituals; a bridge to connection. I get a glimpse of what’s going on around me and a tiny bit of potential understanding.

There have even been a few down pours – moments where I’m able to move past the newness and just recognize the beauty. Family gathered together to celebrate the baptism and birthday of Diego. Blowing bubbles with a three-year-old cousin. Andres embarrassing our ten-year-old cousin by dancing in the streets. My host mom telling me over and over again not to be sad that Andres is gone through the week or anxious that I won’t learn enough Spanish. Getting up with the rosters and the sun and greeting then both with yoga. Listening to a conversation in Spanish and knowing some of what is being said and being able to reply in Spanish to keep the conversation going.

In some ways, in those moments of clarity and insight, I feel more alive than I have in years. Perhaps it’s the stark contrast between the dry, thirsty days where I have no idea what’s going on that makes it so. Regardless, those moments where understanding and connection pour into my soul leave me feeling a little more whole.

And when the rain stops, I hold on to those moments and smell that after-rain-smell, and I know it’s the first step of creating a home for myself in this new land for the next two years.

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Chai and Connecting

When your brain is working hard it’s important to remember to be kind to yourself. Taking deep breaths, listening to music, repeating a mantra, and connecting with loved ones are some of the ways we’ve tried to take care of ourselves this first week at our training sites. Adjustment takes time and we’re still just beginning this adventure.

Andrés and I are enjoying spending the weekend together after training separately during the week. We’re trying to talk together in English as little as possible. We’re trying for about an hour of English a day using a timer on our watch…yikes!! Mostly, we’re just spending time being with and supporting one another through these first encounters with another culture.

This afternoon we ventured to the training town Andrés is staying in for a quick reprieve with wifi and a chai-tea, to try to buy phones to use during our service here, and to briefly meet his host family. At the café, we got to call home for the first time and it was so good to connect with a few of our US family members. After our errands it’s back to my host family tonight and tomorrow for more food, the baptism of my host sobrino (nephew), and a local festival of “artisanal and gastronomic splendor.”

Life is good here in Nica at end of PST week 1. We still have so much to learn and so far to go, but that’s part of the fun.

Foto del día 23-08-2014 a la(s) 12:19

Risking Something New

I’ve never knowingly and willingly made so many mistakes in my entire life.  After our orientation with our entire Nica 644 group at a nice hotel in Managua, we left the safety of English and the comfort of American-ish living.  This past Saturday, I was welcomed into the home of my host mother in a small pueblo in the department of Masaya.

The home stay is a core component of Pre-Service Training (PST in Peace Corps acronym lingo).  We are separated from our new friends in our cohort, including couples being split up, and placed in individual homes to live for the next three months.  As Andrés mentioned in one of his previous posts, during these three months we are receiving intensive language and cultural training.  There are three other trainees in my pueblo, although we each have our own family to live with.  The four of us have language classes with our instructor through the week.  While we have some PC staff trainings weekly, when we are not in class, our time is spent with our host families – ALL IN SPANISH!

The first few days with my host family were such a mix of extremely hard to extremely fun.  Most of the trainees have a base level of Spanish knowledge when they enter PST.  Mine is almost non-existent.  From meals, bucket showers, power outages, games w/kiddos, and learning how to flush the toilet, to hanging up my mosquito net, asking for the keys to my room, simple pleasantries like “thank you,” or “how was your day,” we are doing it all in Spanish.  Even my language professora only speaks the local language.  No English.  Nada.

As hard as this sounds, its purpose is to completely immerse us in the language.  It’s apparently the best way to learn a language. I’m loving it so far!  We’ll see where my language knowledge is in a few weeks.

Just imagine what I sound like now…..

When my head is exploding from all the knowledge being given to us:

Emily: “I have sleepiness. I can bed a little?”

Or when I’m trying to ask if it’s OK if I take a shower at that moment:

Emily: “I need [insert motions of Emily miming “taking a shower” here].
Mama: “You need a shower?”
Emily: “Yes.  You need a shower.”
Mama: “No.  Not, I need a shower, you need a shower.”
Emily: “Yes.  You need a shower.”

I have to play a TON of charades.

Or trying to tell my host mother that I’m leaving to walk to the bus stop.
Emily:  “I walk a bus.”

You see my problema?  Thankfully my host family just laughs and I try again.

Just before heading to Staging, I had the privilege of receiving my Evangelist Blessing from a long-time mentor and friend.  It’s a sacrament in my church, a special prayer of advice and wisdom said for a person often at a time of great transition in their life.  While my blessing had many wonderful bits of advice, the main part that is constantly on my mind these first few days is to let go of my fears and embrace my strengths.

I have a lot of fears here – of making such silly mistakes with language, being away from my husband, not being able to do this.

But I also have a lot of strengths. I love learning!  I’m putting my all into my Spanish classes and trying to speak even if I don’t know the correct way to say what I want to say.  I listen to the corrections and then I immediately imitate the sounds and phrasings until I get it right.  At night, I’m studying new vocabulary and how to use certain tenses.  I constantly practice with my host family.  I may not be able to understand most of what is said to me, but I just laugh and ask them to repeat it, as they do for me.  Eventually (with a lot of charades thrown in the mix) we get there.

You don’t have to know much Spanish to play with a 4-year-old.  Or smile and thank your host mother for the food.  Or play with the older kids in the family.  Although there are not many universal things about culture, there are some that transcend it.

Poco a poco – little by little, bit by bit – I will piece this together.  As scared as I was upon my arrival, I’m really enjoying this opportunity.  I’m laughing a lot, eating way too much, and learning more than I probably recognize.

Mistakes can be a step forward.

Que le vaya bien!  (May you journey well)

When have you had the courage to risk something new, even if it meant making a mistake?

2 Piñatas + 6 Games of Ping-Pong + 8 Meals = Un Buen Día

I’ve never seen such gigantic pots in my life.  In fact, I’ve only seen one pot comes close, which is at my father in-law’s cabin down in Cave in Rock, IL.  Today I witnessed two enormous pots full of food for fiestas with familia.  What a way to be welcomed into the family!

Today was my first full day living at my training site.  As TEFL teacher trainers, Emily and I are placed in separate small towns (pueblos) approximately 15 minutes away from each other in the Masaya department.  Peace Corps Nicaragua assigns married couples to separate training families primarily to help with language acquisition, which makes a lot of sense in our situation given that I have much more Spanish experience than Emily.  We will meet up twice this week for all-staff trainings, and will be able to spend the following weekends together, but for the time being we are focused on bonding with our host families.

Doña Juana has adopted me for the next twelve weeks of training, which means I now have older siblings!  My brother Osman (40 y/o) and sister Taniana (31 y/o) both are living at home.  They are very kind, welcoming, generous people.  In fact, I think Osman is sleeping in front of the TV in the living room, because I think they gave me his room.  I look forward to posting more updates about them in the following weeks.

This morning, after a light breakfast of bread and coffee, I hopped in Osman’s car to go to the finca para comer.  To be honest, I wasn’t 100% sure what he meant by finca, but since we were going there to eat I was pretty stoked.  We drove about 10 minutes out of town, and turned right down a dirt driveway lined with plantain trees.  Turns out that was Osman meant by “Vamos a la finca para comer” was that we were going to his (our?) cousin Ricardo’s beautiful piece of land out in the country for an all-day food and family fest to celebrate the birthday of another one of our cousins.  Over the next six hours I ate a bowl of pork sopa consumido, received a botany/fruits of Nicargua taste-testing tour of la finca from Ricardo, ate freshly fried pork chicharrones with corn tortillas, won five out of six hotly contested ping-pong matches against Ricardo and his son, ate a gigantic plate of Nicaraguan style chop suey with pork, watched little cousins destroy a bunny piñata, and ate birthday cake. 

If you were sensing a pork theme, that is because the family purchased and prepared two whole pigs to feed the birthday bunch.  We were a big crew, and even the biggest pot I’ve seen in my life only barely contained enough chop suey to feed us all.  The wonderful afternoon of family and conversation ended with me promising Ricardo and his wife that I would bring Emily to visit la finca before we finish our training.  I think our chances are good, since they throw a party there every time there is a birthday in the family. 

After la finca, Osman drove Doña Juana and I to a one-year-old birthday party for a family friend.  Although the setting for this was much more humble, there was still the same immense pot full of food to feed the 30+ people who gathered around the dirt yard of the corrugated steel hut/house.  We were fed vigoron, a national dish of Nicaragua with (you guessed it) pork served over a bed of yucca, topped with a cabbage slaw.  While we were eating cake outside and watched more small Nicaraguan children obliterate pretty cardboard animals, Doña Juana, my new mom, turned to me and said “See, we don’t just eat gallo pinto for every meal.  We ate all day, and didn’t have rice or beans once!” 

It’s only been one day, and already Doña Juana is exhibiting maternal psychic abilities by assuaging my unvoiced foodie fears.  However, I’d gladly trade gastronomic monotony any day for the feeling that I am a part of a family.  After today I get the feeling that I may not have to make that choice.

¡Bievenidos a Nicaragua!

It is with great excitement, anticipation, and confidence in the Nicaragua Peace Corps team that I write to you this inaugural blog post from Managua, Nicaragua.  Woo hoo!  Our group of 41 TEFL and Environmental Education trainees have been gathered at a beautiful hotel minutes from the Managua Airport since noon on Wednesday to participate in an all-cohort, four-day orientation retreat.  So far our days have been jam packed with learning all about what our future will be like as Peace Corps (PC) Nicaragua trainees.  We are considered trainees, or “aspirantes,” until we complete our 12 week Pre-Service Training. If we have been successful in our training then we will be sworn in as volunteers. I want to share with you how I feel right now:

Honestly, so far Emily and I have had nothing but positive vibes from the staff and the trainings we’ve had so far.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Our Country Director for Nicaragua is one of the most experienced, highly regarded Country Directors in the Peace Corps.  A former Peace Corps volunteer, he has served as a Country Director on three previous occasions, including Guatemala throughout most of the 80s, and Nicaragua in the late 90s.
  • Our Training Director has been coordinating, creating, and leading PC trainings for decades, mainly in Nicaragua.
  • Nicaragua was one first posts to utilize the community-based training model, which is now a best practice used throughout the world.
  • Before working with the Peace Corps, our Safety & Security coordinator worked for the US Embassy in Managua.
  • My Spanish language/culture facilitator has been teaching Spanish with the Peace Corps for 17 years
  • The Spanish language training program looks incredible! We will be split into groups of 3-4 trainees of similar levels, and engage in intensive, community-based training for six hours a day, four days a week, for the next 12 weeks.
  • Our TEFL trainers have extensive experience teaching English, and have prepared some excellent, well-organized materials to support us in learning the technical skills for our job. We will start training in classrooms, working with counterpart teachers, in three weeks!
  • All of this adds up to and early termination rate of 7% for PC Nicaragua volunteers, vastly better than the Peace Corps worldwide average of ~28%.

Additionally, Emily and I feel that we are starting to bond with many of our fellow trainees. This orientation has been so informative and helpful, and has instilled a tremendous amount of confidence in us. For any concerned parties out there, I hope this post has instill confidence in you, too 🙂

Stay tuned for updates regarding our experience in Pre-Service Training, as we will be shipped off to live with our host families after the retreat!