I just finished up my sixth week of training, which means I’ve only got five weeks left until swearing-in and the beginning of my service! My volunteer visit last week was a much needed break from the grind of training. Me and Hana, another girl in my training group, were both staying with Matt and Jess, so we made the trip up there together. It was fairly uneventful save for one unusual situation on the bus. A man sat down in the seat next to me and would not stop staring. This is a really common occurrence for me and something that I normally tolerate really well, but this dude was way in my in my business. (I generally can’t walk ten feet without having someone catcalling me. They’ll yell at me from halfway around the block, make kissing noises, hiss at me, and yell every single English phrase they know, which is my personal favorite because they usually have no idea what they are saying. Last night I got “hello, good morning, fine, super duper.” If that doesn’t make me want to drop everything and runaway with unidentified vago on the street I don’t know what will.) At first he was just leaning halfway across the aisle staring, which I can pretty easily ignore. Then he started telling me the three English phrases he knows, which I won’t repeat here. Normally when someone does this I’ll answer them in English, and when they can’t understand switch to Spanish and make them feel like a jackass for not being able to speak English. This is generally really effective, especially if the guy is in front of his friends cause they’ll start harassing him more than I was. Yeah, that didn’t work here. I asked him to stop, still didn’t work. Finally, he made the fatal error and grabbed my arm. Dude, not a smart move. I was about to open up a can of whoopass on this asshole when I thought of a better plan. I got the entire back half of the bus to stare so intently at this guy that he actually had to get up and stand in the front of the bus he felt so uncomfortable. Oh sweet victory.
After we arrived in Somoto we spent the afternoon hiking at a really cool canyon in the area. The ‘we’ I refer to was actually the largest parade of gringos I think the town has ever seen. There was me, Hana, Matt, and Jess, as well as Nico from my training group and Leigh-Anne, the volunteer he was visiting, another Peace Corps small business volunteer, two backpackers, and two other girls writing for a travel book. It was nothing short of an entourage. We hiked for about 20 minutes until we got to the river and then had to boulder our way into the rest of the canyon. It was absolutely pristine and beautiful. On our way out I noticed ropes being thrown down the side of the canyon wall next to a Nicaraguan flag stuck in the middle of the cliff. Apparently, there’s a family that lives above the canyon, and they have to repel down to the river to bathe, wash clothes, and collect water. Sure enough, a couple of guys started descending down the ropes into the river. I still maintain that you have to be criminally insane to live like that, but I guess I’ve heard of stranger family traditions.
Monday and Tuesday we shadowed Matt and Jess at work. Because I was with a married couple, I got to pick and choose what I wanted to do, so I got to see a lot of different working environments. I got to see the Centro de Salud, or the health center that most communities have, and SILAIS, which is more like the health department and is only in the department capitals. I also got to visit a Casa Materna with Jess and Leigh-Anne, the other health volunteer living in the area. Casa Maternas are for pregnant women and are located all over Nicaragua, usually close to a Centro de Salud or hospital. Because Nicaragua is so rural, it’s not uncommon for a pregnant woman to have to walk 5, 10, 15 hours for an institutionalized birth. As a result, home births assisted by a partera (a midwife, usually with no training, formal or informal) are really common, which leads to the very high maternal and child morbidity rates in the country. Casa Maternas give pregnant women a free place to stay for 2-4 weeks before giving birth, so they can avoid home births or walking large distances while in labor. I also helped give a charla to a youth group in a rural community. Tuesday afternoon I went out with a group from the University College of Dublin that does work every year in Nicaragua. We checked out a small health center they had helped build the previous year and talked to some members of the community that the health center served. I also got to see the finished product of a stove project that another PCV had done in the homes. It was just a better engineered stove that heated things much faster, burned less wood, and had a chimney to keep the entire house from filling up with smoke. The cool thing about it was that it was a fairly simple and inexpensive project, yet something that the families used every day and seemed very pleased with the results. We also went to another part of Somoto to begin the scoping process for their project this summer.
The site visit was good because I got to see a good majority of the types of projects that volunteers usually work with. It was also nice just to have a reminder that training is only a short portion of my service and in a few short weeks I’ll be living independently and actually doing the type of work that I came here to do. As sad as it is, probably the best part of the site visit was getting to eat semi-american food. After six weeks of eating whatever my host family serves me that day (my favorite hysterical meal so far is the lunch I get every once and a while consisting of rice, pasta, bread, and plantains. No joke.) I cannot describe how absolutely glorious that tuna salad sandwich on WHEAT BREAD was. I almost cried it was so good.
I returned to training with mixed emotions. I definitely had missed my host family and it was nice to get back to them. Part of me was super fired up to bust my ass working through the last half of training, but the other part of me felt absolutely tortured to be sitting back in classes after I had seen how good it is on the other side. I know that training is really important and I honestly wouldn’t change anything about it even if I could, but that doesn’t make it any easier while I’m in the middle of it. At least I’ve been told that the second half of training flies by.
After returning from our volunteer site visits we got the packet of all the available sites that we will be placed in, and Saturday we got to put down our site preferences. We find out our sites on March 16th, and I cannot wait. They tell you not to get too attached to any site or sites because there’s absolutely no guarantee that you’ll get any of your choices, but I did the typical thing and completely threw that good advice straight out the window. I have my heart absolutely set on one site. I was already leaning towards this site before I saw the project descriptions because it’s a larger site in the mountains, but once I saw the projects I would be working on I was hooked. Seriously, it screams industrial engineer. I honestly feel fairly confident that I’ll get the site, especially because I can make a better case for it than anyone else, but I’m still terrified that I won’t get it and will have to cry and make a huge scene in front of everyone. I know that I’ll be fine just about anywhere, but I’m totally keeping my fingers crossed that I get what I want.
On Wednesday I gave my first solo charla in the school. Imagine having to give an hour-long lesson to a classroom of 50 students ranging in age from 9 to 12. Ok, now picture doing it in Spanish. Ummm, yeah, it was definitely a back-up pair of underwear type of day for me. Thankfully, the stars were aligned that day and I killed it. I lucked out and got what was probably the best behaved classroom in all of Nicaragua, but I had also put a lot of work into my charla and walked in very well prepared. The kids enjoyed the lesson and activities, and I definitely felt fairly confident and at ease with my Spanish. It was nice to have my hard work pay off, but it was even nicer to feel like I was actually doing something. I don’t believe for a hot second that my water charla is actually going to make any sort of a difference in anyone’s life, but just getting to do something that didn’t involve me sitting in Spanish class or in my technical trainings was a very refreshing change of pace.
I’m definitely in the home stretch for training, thank god. Next week is HIV/AIDS week, so we get to stay in Managua and Chinandega for the week. The following week we find out our site assignments, and then the next week we get to visit our future sites. Then we’ve got another week of class, and then the last week I get to spend with my host family at the island. (There’s a family farm on the island in the middle of the largest freshwater lake in the Americas. The island has two volcanoes on it. If that’s not enough, there’s also apparently another lake inside one of the volcanoes. Sweet.) After that we get sworn in as volunteers and then the real adventure begins. Until next time…