I have been in Nicaragua since last Wednesday. However, I only really felt like I got here on Saturday when I arrived at my host family in San Juan de Oriente, Masaya. Before that we were at a hotel in Managua, and we barely left the hotel until we departed for Masaya. When we got to the hotel Wednesday afternoon one of the girls in my group, “Nica 63,” exclaimed, “Finally!” exasperated. I don’t see why. We were put on a bus in DC that morning, flew to Miami, made an easy connection, arrived in Managua two and a half hours later, where we were greeted and put on another bus to the hotel training site. It really wasn’t that much of an ordeal, except a ridiculously early departure from the hotel we were all staying at in Logan Circle. We were at the hotel in time for a late lunch.
I’m very pleased to be part of Nica 63. There are 38 of us. Roughly half of us are in the Small Business Development sector, and the other half are in Health. I think I am older than the median Trainee, but there are some Trainees older than me as well, and everyone is getting along very well. Once we are sworn in and become Volunteers in three months I think there will be roughly 180 Volunteers around Nicaragua.
If you want to visit me and my host family it is really easy to get here. I live in a nice house right on the Pan-American Highway, which runs from Alaska to Patagonia with only one gap in southern Panama. Just join up with the highway (probably somewhere in Mexico if you are coming from the East Coast) and just keep going until you get to Nicaragua. In the Department of Masaya look for signs for San Juan de Oriente. Mine is the pink house with two floors right at the main entrance to the town. I like to call it the Big Pink. As you pull up make sure you honk your horn, rev the engine, set off firecrackers, blare the radio, have your car backfire, or just do something else raucous. It seems to be the traditional thing to do right in front of my house.
San Juan de Oriente is a small village. It is well known for its handcrafted ceramics, which is a pre-Columbian tradition here. I have not been to a single house here that does not have at least a few colorful ceramics up on the walls or around the house, and there must be at least 50 shops or housefronts selling artesanias de ceramicas. Ceramics is such an important part of the culture here that most of the sidewalks have fragments of broken tiles deliberately impressed into their surfaces.
Including me, there are four Trainees in this pueblo. We will be here for three months until we are sworn in as Volunteers and we go to our permanent sites. The four of us have one language and culture teacher here. I think 4:1 is a great ratio and in my life was only matched by my smallest of honors classes at Delaware. All of the other small business trainees are in nearby towns, most of them within walking distance. They are actually in 3:1 learning groups. San Juan is also close to Laguna de Apoyo and the viewpoint overlooking the laguna in the town of Catarina. Laguna de Apoyo is a crater lake. Beautiful blue waters, and supposedly there are live fumaroles at the bottom of the lake. From the “mirador” (which means viewpoint in Spanish) you can also see the city of Granada, Lake Nicaragua, and a large, active volcano (I think it is called Mombacho).
My family is very nice. There are five of us in the house, including me. A young woman, her father, her six-year-old son, and her three-year-old niece. They run a ceramics shop connected to the house, and there are always a lot of people coming and going since they have a lot of friends and even more aunts, uncles, and cousins. Right before I left the house to make this post there were a bunch of American tourists in my house thinking about buying some of the pottery for sale. My family also tells me that this coming Saturday I am accompanying them to a wedding in the department capital, which they seem very excited about.
To anyone who is worried/concerned about me, rest assured that I am very safe and happy here. I am fed well, I live in a nice house, and everyone in the village is very friendly, and I think genuinely very happy to be able to host us in the town. The Peace Corps staff also seems very competent at their duties. It is hot and only getting hotter as we approach April, the apex of the summer here, and it is very loud as well, but I have a small fan in my bedroom and I sleep with earplugs that work very well. In the house we have electricity and telivision (I find the cartoons the easiest shows to understand – Discovery Kids has become my favorite chanel), two toilets with running water and one shower as well. The water is cold in the morning (it is actually warmer in the evening because the sun heats up the tank during the day), but it is better than my friends who have to take “bucket showers.” My family even tells me that we are getting internet in the house this week, but for now I have to use the local “cyber.” That’s fine though. 15 minutes costs less than 20 cents when you convert the Córdobas to US dollars.
I think most people are more interested in what I am going to be doing in Nicaragua, as opposed to my welfare. I won’t know for sure until I find out and visit my permanent site (I am only in San Juan for training, and I will find out my permanent site later during training). Small business activities in a department where they grow sugar cane or tobacco may vary significantly from here in San Juan or along the Caribbean coast. However, I can give you a strong flavor of what I will be doing by my training activities here in San Juan. In addition to Spanish classes, my time is occupied by the following:
- Co-planning and co-teaching entrepreneurship classes, in Spanish, to 10th graders
- Leading a youth group in the invention and production of an innovative product for sale in the community
- Going around the town and interviewing small business owners about their business and the local economic climate. Once I gather sufficient information I will begin to provide advice on improvements, best practices, and other ideas for the businesses.
- Establishing a community bank, which acts as a credit union. It will give villagers access to a savings institution as well as credit at affordable rates.
Hopefully by this weekend I will have a cell phone with a Nicaraguan number. My number will be 8713-1385. I think that the country code is +505. I will be able to receive all calls for free, no matter what country they are made in. In addition, I can send and receives international texts for free. However, these will cost you according to your plan (I don’t think that international texts cost much).
I’m actively keeping a journal (which I am already writing a lot of in Spanish), so I will try to write more blog posts soon, as well as put up pictures and videos (the problem with those is upload time on the computers in the cyber). Feel free to post comments on this blog, send me an e-mail, or Facebook me. I’m trying not to go to the cyber every day, but I should be able to respond before long.