A Day in the Life of a Small Business Development (“Pequeños Negocios”) Trainee in Nicaragua

 

 

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7:00 AM – Wake up to the alarm on my phone*

Shower (cold) and shave (often without a mirror, and it is very hard to clean the razor blade because there isn’t much water pressure in the faucet, if you have a faucet at all)

Breakfast (could be rice and beans, bread, an egg, or maybe some cheese and some cooked plantains, accompanied by a hot or cold drink with added sugar, like coffee or refresco de melon)

Brush your teeth, walk to class (about a 5 minute walk through town to the house of one of the other Trainees in my town)

8:00 AM – Noon: Spanish class, and not like in high school either, because our teachers do not speak English so it is 100% in Spanish

Noon – Return to my host family house for lunch, which usually consists of rice, beans, a meat, plantains, and maybe a tortilla, along with a sweet drink like a refresco de papaya or Tang

1:00 PM – Back to class. In the afternoon we do more practical activities with our Spanish, so we may be interviewing small business owners in town, co-teaching an entrepreneurship class at a local school, or leading a youth group in the development of a new product that they are going to sell during Semana Santa (the week leading up to Easter Sunday)

4:00 PM – Class is over for the day. Either I return home and start doing homework, we go out and introduce ourselves to someone new in town, we work together on one of our projects, or we take a walk to a nearby town to see a new site or see the other Trainees in those towns

6:30 ish – Dinner, typically more rice and/or beans, plantains, tortillas, or cheese, accompanied by a sugary drink

After dinner I finish any homework I have. Homework is usually work in a grammar book, reading articles in the newspaper, writing in Spanish, or having a conversation with my host family and taking notes on the conversation to discuss in class the next day. In addition, we assigned readings, in English, for our business and entrepreneurship classes, which meet about twice a week.

9:00 – Get into bed, read a little bit, go to sleep

*My phone is quite the antiquity. It has an “old-fashioned” nine digit keypad, and it doesn’t even have the T9 word guessing application, so to type “ok” I need to type 6-6-6 space 5-5. It brings back memories of Junior year of high school.

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What’s the weather like?

Hot and sunny during the day. Cloudy in the morning, windy at night. It has drizzled a grand total of one time since I arrived. Other than that, no precipitation. Apparently April and May are brutally hot, then the rainy season starts in June and lasts until the end of the year.

Do I live in a mud hut?

Nope. In fact mud huts are explicitly banned for Peace Corps Nicaragua because they can house an insect called the Chagga. These little critters can carry a fatal parasite (if untreated after being bitten).

The house I live in is very nice. On the first floor it has a kitchen, dining area, and living room area with a flatscreen tv. It has plaster walls that are brightly painted, and there are tons of pictures, paintings, and ceramics all over the walls. On the second floor there are three bedrooms and a wrap-around balcony that I am particularly fond of. Connected to the house is the family store where they sell local ceramic pottery and other trinkets.

Do I have water, electric, internet?

Yes, yes, and no. We have running water in my house. However, my host family tells me it can go out, so they do keep big garbage cans full of water as a contingency. We have electricity too, and it has only gone out once since I have arrived. We don’t have internet in the house, but you can buy a little USB card for your computer that gets you unlimited internet over the 3G network for $20 USD a month. If you don’t have that you have to go to one of the cybers in town to use their computers, or find a café or restaurant with WiFi (rare).

How big is my town?

San Juan de Oriente is small. The municipality has approx. 7,500 people, and there are 3,000 – 5,000 in the vicinity of the town proper. The rest live out in the campo. We have a cemetery, town hall, small police station, a few small schools, a medical center, one childrens’ park, a basketball court, a soccer/baseball field, a cyber, one Catholic church, and five Evangelical churches. There are no banks, pharmacies, post offices, firehouses, hospitals, or supermarkets. If you want something like a soda, cigarettes, bread, or chips, you can go to one of the abundant bodegas in town. If you want meat other than chicken, or you want fruits or vegetables, you will need to go to another town. You can’t even buy a beer in San Juan de Oriente. However, what we do have is ceramic pottery. The people of San Juan are well known for maintaining pre-Columbian traditions of pottery making. In the local area they draw clay from the ground, refine it, make statues, fire them, paint them, and then sell them. Some people work in the pre-Columbian tradition and others work in more modern styles. I think it all looks great, and they have a lot of pride in the art that they make here.

How do you get out of San Juan?

Getting out of San Juan de Oriente is pretty easy, considering how small the town is. Catarina and Niquinohomo, two larger towns with Trainees, are both within walking distance. You can also take a motor-taxi (little taxi with three wheels) in the local area for a cheap price. Anything further, such as the department capital, Managua, or other cities of interest like Granada, Rivas, and San Juan del Sur, you need to take a bus. Luckily San Juan is right on the major highway in Nicaragua, so busses pass frequently and they are cheap to take. The busses are ran by the government. There are also private micro-busses and taxis, but I have not taken one of those yet.

I hope this clears up a lot of the questions people have about what life is like as a Trainee in Peace Corps Nicaragua Small Business Development.

Masaya Volcano, as seen from the rim of the crater

Masaya Volcano, as seen from the rim of the crater

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