Dec ’17 Update
Happy Holidays, Happy Solstice, Happy 2018! I’m moving through my tenth month of living in Nicaragua, and my seventh month of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I’m happy, healthy, fulfilled, and grateful for the experiences I’ve had and those to come.
Since my last update I have really settled down and come to feel at home within San Juan del Rio Coco. Moving to live with a new family has been tremendously rewarding and liberating, and in time I have come to feel much more comfortable and at peace within the community. It seems much of the tumultuous turbulence experienced throughout my first months in site has finally settled down; I no longer feel like I am changing from day to day, and am getting back to feeling grounded, familiar, and comfortable with Who I Am.
And to be clear, that is not to say the challenges have gone away. The climate, for example, precipitates constant challenges. The rainy season brought with it a deep and constant moisture that left all of my fabric/cotton possessions festering with mold, as well as frequently causing key bridges and byways to be impassable beneath flooded waters. The rainy season has just recently finished, and has given way to a deep wet cold, allowing me to see my breath as I crawl beneath my bed covers at night. Irregardless of climate challenges, consecutive days without electricity complicates communication, food storage, and work in general, as does the austere access to water.
Main bridge connecting my community to the rest of Nicaragua – Heavy rains leave it impassable
While the challenges have not gone away, I have simply come to adapt to them. Living with these challenges (and countless others) has become my new norm, and no longer seems to be pushing me to adapt and transform beyond my comfort zone – perhaps because my comfort zone has greatly expanded. I have come to be more mellow with myself and others, more intellectually flexible, and more willing and able to see a multitude of grays in between black and white.
Moreover, these challenges have brought me closer to my community members; the shared difficulties makes the shared blessings that much sweeter. From excitedly talking with women about the opportunity to finally dry washed clothes on the line when the sun unexpectedly peeks between rain clouds, to the communal cheers that erupt across the city when the electricity comes back on after a significant stretch without.
I continue to enjoy my work with counterpart professors in and outside the classroom teaching entrepreneurship to high school seniors. A highlight from this work has been the planning and organizing of business plan competitions at the local, municipal, departmental (Nicaraguan departments are analogous to states in the US), and national levels. A main goal of the course is to empower students to develop a creative product or service and teach them how to write their own business plan; the business plan competition serves as the capstone of the course, motivating students throughout the school year. The winners from each competition continue on to compete at the next level, finishing with the national competition between 12 teams from across the country. I particularly enjoyed working with the winners from the municipal level to prepare them to compete at the departmental level, a big deal for my students who all live far outside the departmental capital.
The school year culminated in early December with school graduation ceremonies. I was invited as an honorary guest to each celebration, and was filled with pride watching the excited seniors walk across the stage to receive their diploma. These celebrations have a variety of noticeable differences from US graduations, one of the most prominent being the long march through town to a church service attended by all graduating students and their families before the graduation. I was surprised and honored when asked to lead the San Lucas graduation march alongside the school principal.
San Juan del Rio Coco’s winning team at the departmental business plan competition
Celebrating high school graduation with two of my favorite students
Outside of the classroom I had the opportunity to work with Nicaraguan youth as a counselor at two different camps. The first was Congreso, which brought together junior year students from every department in Nicaragua for a four day camp focused on fomenting creativity and leadership. The camp was held at an isolated camp in Northern Nicaragua, complete with bunkbeds, fireside chats, communal cafeteria meals, the works. I thoroughly enjoyed serving as a camp counselor, and digging into intimate conversations with youth groups focused on personal aspects of their lives.
I also helped to put on a one day camp in site called CHACA (Chavalos a Caballeros, which translates to Teenage Boys to Adults). The camp taught lessons ranging from the importance of supporting a wife/partner with domestic chores, condom usage, the importance of diversity and inclusive language, and child rearing tools/resources. The camp provided a safe forum for these teenagers to have discussions generally seen as taboo within the community, and for them to ask questions and find answers regarding relationships and sexual health. It was really rewarding to work with these boys on such a personal level, and I plan on committing more time and energy towards youth mentorship outside of the classroom in my months of service to come.
Campers at Congreso representing every department in Nicaragua
Leading a team building activity at Camp CHACA
As the school year has wound down, I have begun dedicating more and more energy towards business advising within the community. I am now working closely with a young agricultural product company to help them develop their own business plan, as well as with a passionate entrepreneur to help him write a business plan and start his own business in the months to come. Working closely with adults in business advising has been a nice balance to my work with youth in the classroom, and I have really enjoyed how the two aspects of my job complement one another.
As I have become more and more settled and grounded within San Juan del Rio Coco, I have begun exploring some of Nicaragua’s abundant beauty with other Peace Corps Nicaragua Volunteers. It has been nice to get out of site, see other sides and dimensions of Nicaragua and Nicaraguans, and grow closer with other Volunteers. The three travel highlights from my first seven months of service have been Volcano Hikes in Chinandega, canyoning Somoto Cañon in Madriz, and a Peace Corps retreat high in Northern Jinotega.
Beginning the long hike up Volcán San Cristóbal, Nicaragua’s tallest volcano
Canyoning Somoto Cañon
Peñas Blancas, Jinotega – Northern Nicaragua
Stay in Touch!
As I end every update, I really do welcome and encourage your responses. I send these updates in part as a solicitation for you to do the same; please never feel a need to provide a comprehensive update (though they are most certainly welcome) – even just a few sentences and a friendly hello really do mean the world to me.
Visiting a fellow PCV for a traditional festival in Masaya
Güirila – Sweet tortillas made from fresh (rather than dried) maize
Quibuto mornings – I often sit and watch the valley’s early morning clouds burn off before class
A classic Nicaraguan mural depicting “Molotov Man”, a famous photo of the revolution
San Juan del Río Coco’s championship baseball game