Training Ends, Volunteering Begins

It has been some time since my last post, mostly because the end of our training has kept me busy. After we returned from our site visits, we turned in our final portfolio, which consisted of personal essays, our teaching philosophy, and sample lesson plans to showcase what we have learned during training. We organized a student workshop and a teacher workshop as capstones to our youth group and our work with counterparts, and we had our final Spanish language exam. We had an entire week of training on preparing us for our sites and for service. Then, after goodbyes from our training families, students, and coworkers, we all headed to Managua on Sunday. Monday was our swearing-in at a hotel and convention center next to a mall. We all packed into a couple of Peace Corps vehicles in front of our hotel at 8 and practically bounced to the convention center, we had so much nervous energy. We spent about 45 minutes taking pictures and greeting our host families as some of them showed up for the ceremony. The hall was very bright and clean in the same way that hotel rooms are, and we all filed in just before 9. We had a host family ceremony first, and I got to present my host mom Consuelo with a certificate thanking her for her support for the last 11 weeks. A quick break for refreshments, then the US Ambassador to Nicaragua came and presided over the second half; our swearing-in as volunteers. The Ambassador and Peace Corps country director gave speeches and then two volunteers (one of which was me) gave short speeches on our behalf. It was a wonderful ceremony and I was glad that Consuelo was able to make it. I took her over to the food court for a quick pizza lunch before she headed back home. Our country director invited us all over to her house for a big thanksgiving dinner that evening, where we all enjoyed excessive amounts of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, and pumpkin pie, among many other things.

Photo op with the Ambassador after swearing in

It was a lovely gesture, but felt more like a big, special dinner than Thanksgiving. I am realizing that since arriving here, time has come unhinged from any of the normal patterns that have surrounded me for my entire life. From the changing of the seasons to holiday traditions, I have almost nothing familiar with which to pin the passing of time down. Seeing the Christmas decorations up around Managua this past week was also strange. It felt like some strange ritual that shared all of the external symbols of Christmas but none of the meaning or identity of the Christmas that I have known. I guess it doesn’t feel sad, exactly. Just odd and surreal. Like I’ve crossed into another dimension that is separated from the passage of time as I’ve always come to understand it.

The next morning we all began departing and finding our ways to site. My trip to the island was fairly straightforward, though because of the timing of my various forms of transportation, I didn’t arrive until 7 hours after I had left. The change from full schedules and structure to one of complete freedom is comfortable, but a bit disorienting. The reason that we don’t have much to do at first is that school is just ending for the year. Normally our main work will be to be co-planning and co-teaching English classes, but at the moment, there’s nothing to do. This is intentional on the part of Peace Corps to give us time to integrate in the community and learn about how we can be most helpful before getting into the nuts and bolts, but it presents its own challenges. This morning I intended to run, but decided to let myself sleep in until 7:30 because of all the traveling I had done the day before. I had breakfast and alternated between planning my day and reading. I had met a man on the bus on my way into town the night before who offered to show me around a bit today, so I went to find him at 9. Chatted with his kind wife until he returned from an errand, then he took me over to meet two Canadian volunteers living nearby. They weren’t around, but at least now I know where they live. On my way back I introduced myself to several more people and bought some paper and a folder. I began to organize the heap of information I had been collecting since visiting my site a few weeks ago on the loose blank sheets of paper. On each one I’m writing information about a certain sector, like community organizations, schools, transportation, and families. Hopefully this will help me remember and find the nearly one hundred names I’ve already been told. Then I had lunch and read for a bit. (I’m reading ‘The Undercover Economist’ at the moment*) When I started feeling the afternoon sleepy slump looming (anyone else hit a wall between 2 and 4 pm?), I got out of the hammock and headed back to the Canadian volunteers’ house. No luck this time either, but I stopped by a wonderful American couple’s house and spoke with Lisa about her work in an NGO and life on the island. May start helping her with her garden next week. Next I went to the internet center and worked out a deal to pay $5/month for unlimited internet access. That should be nice. Then the bakery for some bread and back home to sit with my host mom on the bench across the street for a bit. More reading and writing this post. I’m gonna try to join in on some soccer games in the field near my house if I can find out when they happen. Otherwise I’ll be reading, relaxing, walking around, meeting people, exploring, and learning as much as possible about my community. I’m uploading some final pictures into my training photo album, then will start using exclusively the new permanent site album.

*I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading an excellently written explanation of many of the basic tools of economic analysis. The only disappointment was the three pages in which the author, Tim Harford, briefly writes a biased, reductionist, unintelligent and misleading critique of environmentalism. I’ve never found a book that I liked so much with three so poorly thought out pages smack in the middle. Ah well. Still worth a read.

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