Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Day in the Life...

To give a glimpse of what life is like here, and what I see/hear/do every day, I thought I would go through aspects of daily life piece by piece and describe what it is like to live in Nicaragua:

Food: One word: carbohydrates. All meals contain rice, potatoes, tortillas, or white bread. Simple starches abound, as do plantains and bananas. Bananas used to be my favorite fruit, but I think that could very well change at the end of these two years. Did I mention that bananas and plantains are constipating?? Well, they are. Nicaraguans also like to fry everything. People here mainly opt for the cheaper food options, and those aren’t always the healthiest. I have yet to see wheat bread, or a child eating something other than saltines or cookies for a snack. As a vegetarian though, I’ve been pretty happy: beans, mangoes, papaya, melon, tomatoes, cucumber, pumpkin, squash… My host family has been very accommodating; some families have no fruit or veggies in sight from what I’ve heard. Despite Nicaragua being a prime coffee growing spot, instant coffee is what everyone drinks. I can’t describe how much I am craving a 20 oz. drip coffee from the US… I have been dreaming about coffee beans (perhaps effects from our Malaria medication which induces dreams). Lunch is the biggest meal of the day here, and food is always prepared by the women (including me!)

Weather: Not as hot as I had imagined, actually. I think it has been somewhere in the mid to high 80s F most days. The one thing that I cannot stand however is the WIND. The wind has been so intense the past few weeks that boats have been advised to not navigate on Lake Nicaragua, and some small cars have had accidents crossing long stretches of freeway. I’m not sure what speed the winds have been exactly, but in Alaska terminology, they are at least “gale force.” The ground here is so dry that dust, or “polvo” is everywhere. And I mean everywhere. In my ears, in my eyes, my hair, in my suitcase, on my clothes, on my books, on my shoes… Cleaning it all up makes no sense, because a few minutes later, it will be covered again. My room has lots of wind and polvo blowing in and out since there is no glass over the window, and a large space between the roof and the walls. When I go running, going against the wind is also a challenge, and I’m afraid of being hit in the eye with a large rock (yes, it happens). I think I’ve already lost a sock to the wind. The clothespin holding it on the line lost the battle and I think my sock is now in the neighbor’s yard.

Clothes: As I hinted above, clothes are washed by hand and hung dry. My host family washed my clothes the first week, but now I have chosen to take over. These Nicaraguan women don’t know the meaning of “delicate cycle.” We use a big bar of blue soap to wash, which smells sort of like some sort of ointment you would put on a rash… The other day, I took a towel out of my suitcase that I had brought from the States, and it smelled like Tide and Downy, and I almost broke down…haha Not really…. I actually really enjoy washing clothes by hand. You can pay attention to where there are stains and make sure to get them out, and it’s really much more satisfying than simply pushing a button on a machine. The outdoor sink area is also a great place to hang-out for 45 minutes washing my clothes from the week. It has a great view of the sky, and I can see all the stars if I wash them at night. I have never seen stars as clearly as I can here. Also, a few notes about Nicaraguan clothes. The majority of the clothes are the t-shirts that didn’t sell at American second-hand stores. It’s actually pretty fun walking around and seeing the different t-shirts which often say something hilarious in English (“Best Grandmother Ever” on a teenage boy, “Made in America,” “Harvard University” on a homeless man…) My host family also has a mini-store in the front of their house, and they sell some of these old second-hand t-shirts. I went through and folded all of them the other day and about died of laughter. There were lots of University t-shirts, 5 and 10K run t-shirts from some random NGO in Vermont, church club t-shirts from Ohio, a breast cancer fundraiser one from Florida… But the funny ones were a few with words in English: “Naked and Hungry” (???) and another that had a picture of a rocking chair, then a caption that read, “I rock.” If I could take pictures of these people when I see them, I would start a collection.

Sleep: I am exhausted all the time here. I don’t think Nicaraguans ever sleep. It is such a contrast to Spain where getting up at 8 am was “the crack of dawn” and the siesta nap was almost mandatory. Here, rising at 6 am is normal, if not sleeping in a little bit. Some people only have running water for a few hours very early in the morning, so they (aka the women) are up from 3 to 5 am collecting water for the day. There is so much to do right when you get up: collect water for the day, heat water for coffee, sweep, start breakfast, shower… My family also rents out their large empty lot as a parking lot for neighbors, so they are up to let the first car in at 6 am. I get up at 5:45 usually to go running before P.Corps class at 8. No one takes naps here, not even my four-year-old little host sister. I crash at usually around 8:30 or 9 pm. I don’t think I’ve done that since I was in elementary school. All the other P.Corps trainees do the same. One of the things that I am SO happy I brought with me is earplugs. They are a necessity here since the street outside is filled nightly with honking, noisy cars, loud music from the neighbors and passing cars, fireworks, barking dogs, and worst of all – whistles. There are night watchmen here that patrol the streets all night long to watch out for suspicious activity. They each carry a whistle and they blow it in a certain pattern to communicate with the other watchman ALL NIGHT LONG. And they are not shy about it. I can’t count the number of times I have been woken up (earplugs and everything) at 4 am to the sound of an obnoxious whistle going off directly outside my window. Looking on the bright side, I guess I know my street is safe…

P.Corps Training: We are about to enter week four of training, and the language “facilitators” that were giving my language level classes, are now leaving us on our own (yes!) We now get to plan our own weekly schedules, and as long as we still get done what we are supposed to (a certain number of educational talks in the health center, schools, and with our youth group) then we are on our own! It’s going to be really nice to have our own time to work on assignments, do readings, and explore the town. Today we had a large P.Corps session on culture shock. I think that the culture shock I’m experiencing here is much different than what I experienced in Spain. The initial “honeymoon period” did not exist for me here in Nicaragua – it was more of an initial shock. I have slowly been adapting ever since, and am feeling pretty comfortable and happy in my routine so far. I know the far greater and more intense transition will come when I finally am assigned to my site and settle in for two years…

Fun fact No. 1: today I met a fellow Alaskan here in Nicaragua! She is also a P.Corps volunteer who has been here for some time. She is an environmental education volunteer from south central Alaska. Small world! Fun fact No. 2: Valentines Day here is not just for lovers, it’s known as “Love and Friendship Day.” Much more inclusive holiday. Hasta pronto…

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