Pre-Service Training Update
Diacachimba!! Where have the last two months gone! I’m already finishing up my seventh week in Nicaragua, marking the halfway point for my Pre-Service Training. In short – so far, so good!! I’ve really enjoyed my first ~two months in Nicaragua, and am growing and developing so much every day; I have so much to learn!
To give you a bit of background, I’ll start with a short explanation of Pre-Service Training (PST), the stage of Peace Corps service I am currently working through. PST defines the first thirteen weeks of an aspiring Peace Corps Volunteers’ service, with the purpose of providing every volunteer with the skills, knowledge, and tools to be successful in their following two years of service. Training is focused on language acquisition, technical skills pertaining to the volunteer’s sector (in my case, Entrepreneurship Education), cross-cultural education and community integration, as well as trainings on personal health, safety, and administrative policies. I attend core (non-business trainings) with all 35 volunteers that make up Peace Corps Nicaragua 69 (from both Entrepreneurial Education and Health Sectors), and attend technical trainings (specific to business) with the other 14 entrepreneurial education volunteers. While in PST we are still not considered volunteers but rather trainees; we must successfully complete PST to qualify to be Volunteers, at which point we will be officially sworn in and begin our service in our respective new communities.
Many volunteers characterize PST as the most challenging and uncomfortable time of their service. And at times it has been challenging; we are kept in a constant state of exploration and immersion which can be draining, not to mention everything is happening in a foreign language. My mood and perspective continues to be a roller coaster; some days, especially early on, I sat with existential questions about why I am here and where I should be – questions made more challenging by the political state of things back home. Other days I feel on top of the world, convinced that I am in the right place at the right time. However, generally speaking, I thrive within these types of intense programs/schedules, and am relishing the opportunity to have such a fast paced and intentional space for personal growth and development.
In the words of my favorite sayings: “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing grows there.” Being uprooted and divorced from comfort has been a daily experience the last seven weeks, but it has already facilitated immense personal changes – I could not be more grateful nor more excited for what is to come.
The 35 Volunteers of Peace Corps Nicaragua 69
Home Stay // Cultural Transition
Throughout PST trainees live in communities with two to four other volunteers where they receive language classes and complete aspects of their technical training. I am living in a very small community in the department of Masaya, the smallest of any Peace Corps Nica 69 Volunteer. For some perspective, my pueblo has five main roads: three running North-South, and two East-West. It is undoubtedly the smallest town I have ever spent time in, and some days have been challenging. However, in recent weeks, I have come to appreciate the pueblo more and more, and the intimate relationships and unique opportunities it provides.
My host family has been truly phenomenal. I have been fortunate to live with a number of host families throughout my travels, and can unequivocally say that the dynamics of this host family exceed all others. My host-family consists of a mother, Doña Janet, and two host-sisters, Diana (26) and Regina (22), though dozens of other host-brothers, -sister-in-laws, -nephews, and -father pass through daily. I’ve really enjoyed the small family size (relative to the living conditions of other volunteers) as it has given me the opportunity to develop more intimate and intentional relationships with the three women with whom I live.
The house is modest, but nice, and filled with contradictions and surprises. For example, while our beans are cooked on a fire outside, a weak internet connection is afforded indoors. Access to water is interminable, so meals are prepared and dishes washed using a reserve tub of water filled when there is access, and the type of shower (whether ‘normal’ or bucket) is dependent on access to water – I never know what I’m going to get! Perhaps the greatest initial challenge within my homestay was learning how to sleep amongst the cacophony in which I am immersed. Some sounds I am growing accustomed to: the omnipresent barking of dogs that fills every night without fail (what on earth are they always barking at? Ha!); the roosters (one of which lives feet from my window) who begin to greet the new day (or perhaps bid farewell to the previous) like clockwork at 1:30am, then rest for two hours or so before resuming up their songs in earnest around 4am; the chattering of bat wings above the fortress of my mosquito net that fill my room as they dart in and out (not to mention waking up to their guano scattered around the room in the morning). Other sounds have been simply too explosive to adapt to thus far: the reverberating CRASHES of mangos falling on the zinc roof, or the extended bouts of cat fights or cat intercourse that plays my zinc roof like an instrument at the intersection of a washboard, tambourine, symbols, and drum set.
My greatest apprehension or concern moving into my service was maintaining my vegan diet in a culturally sensitive and respectful manner that wouldn’t sacrifice my ability to sincerely integrate into my host community. Thankfully, my host family has been incredibly accommodating, empowering, and supportive! The entire family reacted positively upon learning that I am Vegan; my host mother expressed excitement at learning new recipes (I even taught her how to cook Eggplant for her first time!), while my host sisters both exclaimed how nice it would be to eat a healthier diet through reducing their consumption of meat the next three months. Wow! More often than not the Latin Americans I have shared conversations with have not heard of veganism, let alone associate it with health benefits. And the food really has been excellent; Doña Janet has been amazing at providing me with a diverse and consistent arrangement of vegetables to accompany Gallo Pinto, the Nicaraguan staple of red beans and rice – yum!
I have particularly enjoyed the opportunity to develop my Spanish and cultural integration through the activities my host family members have invited me to enjoy with them. Whether it be accompanying Doña Janet to night church services in the humble living rooms of members of her congregation or attending morning church services outside beneath a canopy of a Cacao trees, to going on long hikes with my host-sister and host-nephews (all of whom are close to my age), to playing Monopoly in Spanish with my host-sister and her friends, to simply sharing family meals.
In addition to the warm and open embrace I have received from my host family, I have been so humbled by the way the entire town has welcomed me into their lives. While I think a big part of this has been the result of the amiable Nicaraguan culture as well as the small size of our town, more than anything I attribute it to the amount of time I have committed to living in Nicaragua. As soon as community members learn that I will be living here not for a few weeks or even a few months but for over two years, the way they interact with me is flipped on its head. I can feel the change in respect and attention they give me, and it has already opened up so many doors and opportunities I don’t think would be possible if I was simply studying abroad or spending a comparable amount of time here. As such, I am already feeling more immersed and welcome than I have ever felt in a foreign country, and I am so excited for how this immersion will continue to develop and deepen in the years to come.
((pro tip – hover your mouse over photos grouped together to see captions, and click on them to expand, read full caption, and scroll through all photos in each section))
Now for a quick introduction into what I am actually doing here. My official position is labeled as an Entrepreneurship Education Volunteer. I will be working with a number of Nicaraguan high school teachers coaching and empowering them to better understand and more effectively teach 10th and 11th grade students about entrepreneurship and financial management more generally; outside of the class I will be working as a consultant with small-business owners and NGOs.
Beyond simply attending weekly trainings covering these topics, I have already begun putting these skills and projects into practice in my community. I co-plan and co-teach 11th grade Entrepreneurship classes in Spanish with a professor in my local community, have (with the help of the other two volunteers living in my community) formed a youth group of twelve high schoolers to run them through how to create a product, develop a business plan, and introduce their product into their local market, and am planning a Teacher Training with the other fourteen Entrepreneurial Education trainees in my cohort to provide to high school teachers across our department next month.
The teaching environment is incredibly challenging. My class packs over 60 students in a dilapidated classroom suffocated with the ambient noises of PE being taught alongside the classroom’s open windows (which stay open to better manage the sweltering heat). My co-teacher has no formal education in our class’s subject and largely does not have the resources to gain this knowledge independently. The classroom standards and expectations have been devastatingly low, and student’s only attend school for half the day. I am filled with guilt when comparing the educational environment of these students with my childhood experiences, and am so grateful for the opportunity to work towards strengthening and enhancing the educational opportunities of Nicaraguan students over the next two years and, more importantly, working to empower my counterpart teachers to maintain and expand these changes for decades to come.
Throughout training I’ve also had the opportunity to make a few day trips and begin exploring Nicaragua beyond my local community. More specifically, I’ve swam in a nearby volcanic lake three times (twice with my host sister, once with PC Nica 69 trainees), and visited Granada twice (first with my host sister, later with PC Nica 69 trainees). It has been nice to have days out of site without immediate responsibilities and the opportunity to more fully integrate into the Nicaraguan culture. I’m really looking forward to deepening my exposure to and understanding of Nicaragua over the next two years; as always, there is so much to learn and see!
Regina and I enjoying coconut meat in Granada
Four Year Veggieversary
Last Thursday, April 6th, marked my 4 year Veggieversary, meaning it has been 4 years since I last ate the flesh of another animal. It is a benchmark that gives me tremendous satisfaction, and one that holds more personal significance than my birthday (a day I now use to celebrate my mother, as she did all the work!!)
It is interesting, and something I never would have guessed, but I feel like the greatest internal change I can pinpoint since beginning my PC service has been the reification and increase in my passion/commitment to animal rights and liberation. As mentioned above, my greatest concern regarding my Peace Corps service was how to successfully maintain my ethical values and personal identity while striving to integrate as effectively as possible into my newfound community; this concern has led me to think more closely about my commitment to animal liberation, and the more I have explored my rationale for being vegan and advocating for non-human animal rights, the stronger my convictions have become. I am convinced that no other change has the potential to more dramatically and positively change the world and champion the expansion of intersectional justice than the spread and implementation of a vegan diet the world over. Moreover, I have come to understand the consumption of animal products to be more intimately and inextricably connected with the world’s gravest social ills and systems of oppression than any other issue, save our economic system.
Rather than use this blog post as a pro-plant-protein-plug, I’ll leave it at that for now. However, if you have any interest in transitioning to a plant based diet but have not yet taken that step, I’m always eager to share resources, ideas, and support! Furthermore, If you have any interest in continuing this conversation, I’m always interested and open!
Instead, I will leave you with a quote from Thomas Edison: “Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.”
Four Years Meat Free!!! Picture taken on the main street of my pueblo.
If all goes according to plan, my next update will come sometime in June after officially being sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and re-locating to the community in which I will spend the next two years. In the meantime, if you have any personal updates to pass my way, I’d love to hear them!!
Love and Light,