First Week as a Volunteer

Well, it has been a kind of strange, depressed first week. Mostly due to a combination of being under the weather and having no structure to guide my activities throughout the day. I knew this was going to be a challenge, but I didn’t really anticipate not feeling well while trying to combat it. I have no friends yet, and my host family is usually either working or sitting around in front of our house taking turns holding the baby and chatting with the passers-by. I’ve been trying to do a couple of things per day to get myself out into the community more, but it’s easier said than done when I don’t have a job and don’t know people. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and watching TV shows (Arrested Development) that I have on my computer. I’ve gotten myself up to go running a couple of mornings, but the excuse of recovering from a sinus/headcold has been a powerful incentive to sleep in.

Some successes have been stopping by my school and talking to a couple of teachers who are just finishing up the year, joining the local soccer team, signing up to teach a couple of English classes at the community center starting next week, and starting to introduce myself to random people I run across when I do venture out of the house. The soccer team is going to be an excellent way to keep active, meet other people near to my age, and start making my presence known in the community. Unfortunately, the soccer field we practice on is pretty rough, with lots of boulders, rocks, potholes and dirt on it. I rolled my ankle pretty badly during my first practice.

Got to be extra careful running around on this field...

So today I’m limping around, cursing my lack of care on the field and hoping that I can recover in time to play in my first soccer game on Sunday. The coach told me that I could play, but I don’t know if they quite get that I’m not good at soccer. I guess we’ll see how it plays out. I’m just thankful that they’re accepting and my ankle doesn’t look seriously damaged. I anticipate that as I heal up and my virus passes, that things will start looking up. This part of service was always going to be one of the hardest, so I’ve just got to try to keep busy and sane until things start falling into place. In the meantime, here’s a collection of random observations I’ve made this week, for your enjoyment:

The ducks are wandering up into our dining room much more frequently these days. I wonder what’s prompting these expeditions? Are they getting restless, or is there just less food in the patio this week?

My little cousins get along better than any 7 and 9 year-olds that I’ve ever seen. When they play there is perfect sharing and turn-taking, polite suggestions and acceptance of those suggestions, and inclusion for all participants. I must learn how they became so pleasant. Also, they say the darndest things. I’m trying to write some of their chatter down, but it’s difficult to capture. More on that later.

My host mom is a fun woman. An example: I was unsure about how to deal with bathroom etiquette when there is no door to knock before entering, just a hanging curtain that separates the dining area from the toilet and shower. I asked her how I should check to see if someone else is in there and she answered: “Just yell ‘Here I come!’”

Some of my fellow volunteers and I shared that we often feel a sense of awkwardness here, partly because of lengthy silences and partly because we often misinterpret or just miss altogether what was said. At least with the silences I am learning that it’s less about awkwardness and more about a different pace here that causes our discomfort. I stumbled upon this realization a few days ago when I joined my host sister out on the bench in front of the house. I was tired of being inside reading all day, so I decided that I would just sit with her and her baby son, Kenneth, until they did something different. For the first ten minutes we just watched and played with Kenneth, but when a friend stopped by and picked him up and took him inside, it was just the two of us. The next five minutes were pretty quiet except for a couple of comments about the weather or Kenneth. I asked about her older sister and she explained that they had different fathers. More silence. Then she asked me about my family and I explained. Silence. She asked some question about American culture and I responded. I asked about Nica culture and got an answer. Silence. After about 25 minutes, we have progressed through the same amount of content that a normal American conversation will use in 2 minutes and 24 seconds. But what exactly is our hurry? Here, we’ve got all the time in the world. So I’m learning to slow down, to alter my assumptions about pacing and just settle into the silences as a comfortable and enjoyable part of conversation and life. I’m beginning to realize that those moments fill up with all sorts of little details, like what the chickens are doing on the side of the road, who’s walking by, what the wind is doing, the birds and the bench upon which I’m sitting. I’ve got a lot to learn still, but I’m making progress.

Watch where you set your hand in this country. It may be in the midst of a small gathering of biting ants.

Even in Nicaragua, it’s a small world. Crossing over on the ferry last Thursday, I was chatting with some tourists and explained that I was a Peace Corps volunteer and a man to my left asked if he heard that right. I looked at him and recognized him from somewhere. He said he worked for Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington DC and he was one of the people who prepared us before our departure to Nicaragua. I had run across the man who oversees all of Peace Corps Central America. He and his travel companion chatted with me and paid my taxi ride to Rivas. Made my day.

I’ve now read ‘The Undercover Economist,’ ‘The Hours,’ and am just finishing ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ since arriving here 6 days ago. I’m gonna need more books.

The television is finicky. We only get two channels(2 and 4) but the first time I tried to watch it by myself I didn’t know this. I pushed the ‘next channel’ button on the remote and the whole TV shut off and wouldn’t turn back on. I sat there, puzzling about what had just happened and trying to turn it back on with the power button for a few moments. Finally, I unplugged it and plugged it into the other outlet and turned it on. Worked just fine, but it was on channel 3, so there was no signal. I turned it back to channel 2 and it showed for half a second before the set died again. Unplug. Plug in again. Turn it on. I’m sticking with Channel 2 from now on.

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