March 1st marked my one year anniversary of arriving in Nicaragua, once around the sun. As I have consistently noted in my updates, it has been a challenging, tumultuous, and incredibly rewarding year. As I reflect back on the past revolution, I am proud to acknowledge and recognize how much I really have developed and matured since leaving North America to begin my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Professionally I have grown a tremendous amount: growth in my capacity to interact and effectively navigate within a foreign culture in a foreign language; growth in my ability to coach professors as well as teach within the classroom. Personally I have changed dramatically; I have come to know myself at a much more intimate and authentic level, and in doing so have finally allowed myself to develop a level of self-compassion I have not had since before leaving for India in 2014.
While perhaps not always happy from day to day here in Nicaragua, my happiness and gratitude for living and serving here has remained constant – there is no place I would rather be than serving my community of San Juan del Rio Coco, and I look forward to the 14 months to come.
Visiting Home, Transitioning Back
Soon after writing my last update in December I returned home to the states to spend two weeks with my family. Words simply cannot describe how gratifying, relieving, and rejuvenating it was to be home. The typical day began with practicing yoga alongside my parents, followed by another physical activity such as swimming or going for a long walk, and relaxed conversations throughout the day, all interspersed with cooking and enjoying meals together.
The two weeks passed far two quickly, and the transition back to Nicaragua was much harder than I could have anticipated. I’m not proud to admit that my last glimpse of home eclipsed by the plane door as I boarded January 1st was filled not with the anxious enthusiasm and zealous gleam in the eye I had when leaving to begin my service 10 months earlier, but with melancholic angst and tired anticipation; I boarded knowing full well the honeymoon was over, what I was leaving behind, and what I was returning to.
January was a difficult transition for me. I returned feeling as lonely and isolated as I’ve ever felt. However, good news: February was good to me.
Photos (clockwise from left): Presenting to a middle school class while home in Grand Junction on the Peace Corps, my service, and Nicaragua more generally; all the Stubler men (father, uncle, cousin) catching up over a family breakfast ; hut tripping near Telluride with two of my best childhood friends.
I returned in January in the middle of Nicaragua’s summer break, the break between school years, meaning I did not have work within the classroom. I also returned in the middle of the coffee harvest, meaning the businesses I had been working with were simply too over capacity to dedicate time towards business advising sessions. No doubt this unexpected drought of work, especially compared to the constant stream of work I had experienced from the day I arrived in San Juan del Rio Coco to the day I left for home, contributed to the challenging transition I experienced.
However, February brought with it the new school year, and with it the purpose and fulfillment my work brings. It felt so good to get back into the classroom and get acquainted with the students I will be spending the next year with. And in starting classes again from scratch, I was pleasantly surprised in how far I have come; comparing my ability to interact with, direct, and effectively teach students today with my abilities upon arriving in site really is night and day. I no longer feel lost and dependent upon my counterparts in the classroom, but now feel independent, competent, and productive.
But that is not to say the transition was been entirely smooth. The weekend before classes began, professors across the country (including myself and all other Entrepreneurial Education Volunteers) were notified by the Ministry of Education that the entire curriculum used last year was being discarded and replaced with an entirely new curriculum, a vague and confusing curriculum filled with content for which professors did not have experience or knowledge and without additional resources to learn how to teach it. The weekend before classes began! Moreover, class rosters and schedules were still not determined upon arriving at school the first day, and it took one of my schools until the third week to finally put together and finalize a class schedule. Moreover, the first week of classes in one of my rural schools was only attended by three students across ALL high school grades, as the rest of the students were still busy harvesting coffee. While the challenges remain constant, my ability to navigate them has improved dramatically; situations like these that would have caused me stress and frustration a year ago I am now able to move through calmly and effectively (though perhaps still with frustrations from time to time).
One of my students really likes my tattoo, and decided to draw it on one of his classmates – quite the surprise to see it on her arm as I walked into the classroom!
The coffee harvest largely culminated after the first week of February, providing the business owners whom I advise to catch their breath after a hectic few months. With the end of the harvest I was able to revitalize my advising work, and like returning to the classroom I found my renewed work advising businesses to be grounding and motivating.
Most exciting has been my work helping to introduce farmers in the region to turmeric and vanilla. In late January I met a farmer while traveling in southern Nicaragua who recently started growing turmeric and vanilla alongside coffee with success and who now has interest in expanding production of these crops nationwide; upon returning to San Juan del Rio Coco I helped to coordinate a meeting between him and dozens of farmers in my community, and am now helping to organize San Juan’s first major planting (and hopefully harvest) of turmeric and vanilla. San Juan’s economy is unsettlingly and painfully isolated to coffee (painful in years like the one we find ourselves in today when the price of coffee plummets, as it impacts EVERY aspect of life for ALL community members). My hope is that introducing new crops to San Juan will help to begin diversifying the community’s economy in order to strengthen, protect, and and improve the economic opportunities for all community members. I’m really excited to continue my work in this regard moving forward!
Peace Corps Committees
At the end of last year I applied and was accepted to serve on Peace Corps Nicaragua’s Gender and Development Committee and Diversity Committee. Both committees are organized and operated by Nicaraguan volunteers from every sector and cohort, meaning that in addition to business volunteers I will have the opportunity to work alongside volunteers from the environment, english, and health sectors from all four cohorts (a new cohort arrives every 6-months), an opportunity to interact and work alongside volunteers whom I would otherwise not have the opportunity to work with. Moreover, committees empower volunteers to more effectively work in areas outside of their project focus within their communities.
The Gender and Development Committee works to promote gender equity amongst Nicaraguans and Peace Corps Volunteers through organizing and providing camps, technical trainings, and resources. We envision a world where power, respect, and opportunity are no longer gendered, and actively work to create this world through our service. Last month I helped a volunteer run a mini Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), which brought together ~20 high school aged girls to discuss feminism, gender equity, sexuality, and other topics. I led sessions discussing sexuality and the difference between sex and gender, and also led a yoga class with the girls in the morning. Spending the weekend working with this group of girls was one of the most uplifting and rewarding experiences I have had as a Peace Corps volunteer, and I am really excited to begin dedicating more time and energy towards gender equity work. I recently wrote a blog post for GAD titled The Constraints of Language which can be viewed here – https://pcnicagad.wordpress.com.
The Diversity Committee is focused on creating a culture and environment within Peace Corps Nicaragua that supports and empowers each volunteer to feel welcome within an inclusive community. We do this work through providing trainings to Peace Corps staff and retreats and resources for Peace Corps volunteers. We also work to highlight and honor the diversity of Nicaraguans and articulate its importance.
PC Nicaragua Diversity Committee
Gender equity, anti-racism, and the promotion of diverse and inclusive ideas/ideologies are themes for which I am very passionate, and I have already found great fulfillment in having a space dedicated to these issues where I can dig into this meaningful work alongside like-minded volunteers. I’m really looking forward to working more within these committees for the remainder of my service.
I continue to feel strong and healthy. I’ve been fortunate to have only been seriously sick once this past year, an unusually low number relative to other volunteers. My daily asana practice continues to be one of the most enjoyable and grounding parts of my day to day life, and I continue to find challenge and benefit from my mediation practice. Towards the end of last year I finally began setting aside personal time for reading and have found it to provide an intellectual stimulation I sorely missed my first 6 months of service; perhaps the two favorite books I have read since arriving in Nicaragua have been The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol Adams and Aprho-Ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters by Aph Ko and Syl Ko. In addition to books I also really enjoy listening to podcasts as I cook, work in the garden, travel on buses, etc., with some of my favorite programs including Intercepted with Jeremy Scahill, The Rich Roll Podcast, and AlternativeRadio.
I continue to take advantage of opportunities to explore and deepen my understanding of Nicaragua as they present themselves. Below are a number of photos from recent travels!
As I close every update, I really do welcome any and all responses, no matter how short or long. These updates are meant to maintain contact with my family, biological and chosen, and I relish hearing updates from your end as well!