Just a little over a year ago, before I came to Nicaragua, I absolutely loathed the question, “Why did you decide to join the Peace Corps?” I felt like people wanted to hear my reasons and pass judgement if they agreed with my decision or not. And even more so, for anyone asking me that question that her or himself did not do the Peace Corps, they probably could have deduced my answer by simply asking themselves, “Why haven’t I joined the Peace Corps?”
More than a year later, I internally cringe when anyone, American, Nicaraguan, or otherwise, asks me, “Do you like Nicaragua?” or, “Would you do it all over again?” Again, I just feel like they are such loaded questions which may at times be asked so that cross-examiner can pass judgement. Plus, there are so many angles from which you can answer these questions.
However, to put the issues to rest, I’m willing to answer them once and for all here.
Do you like Nicaragua?
Yes and no. No, I would never say to a Nicaraguan to her face, “No, I do not like your country.” And there are things about Nicaragua that I absolutely love. Diverse natural beauty, a general lack of violence and fear (for the most part), a people who care about the environment and its preservation, and a country appreciative of its cultural heritage (a la Darío), to start.
But of course there are things I dislike to. Suspect number one is the food. For the most part it is not good. Their tastes and my tastes are different. Very different. Sometimes dinner-table and rocking chair topics of conversation bore me as well. There is also a lot of stray trash in the streets, parks, and other green areas, and the government can take a lackadaisical approach to this, as well as a myriad of other social problems. Not to mention, we’re pushin’ 100 on the mercury every day here this time of year.
However easy it is to list out and focus on the cons, I think that the pros outweigh. I like Nicaragua. I feel fortunate that the Peace Corps chose this country for me to serve in.
Would you do it all over again?
I see this question as being synonymous with, “Are you happy with your service so far?” or, “Are you happy that you made the choice to become a Volunteer?” And I think the question has a clear answer: Yes, I am happy that I chose to become a Volunteer. At this point, if I weren’t, I would have already quit. And yes, if it were Labor Day 2013 all over again and I had to decide, knowing what I know now, I would still say yes.
That being said, I do consider myself very fortunate to be living in León. I am afforded a lot of amenities that many Volunteers around the world do not get, like a nice house with Wi-Fi, electricity and (usually running water), cultural events, restaurants, a movie theater with an attached Burger King, and even an art museum around the corner from my house with Picassos permanently on display. However, sometimes I get a little down about being a Volunteer in a large tourist-centric city. Whereas my friends are treated like special guests day in and day out for two years, sometimes I feel a little forgotten, even by my own host family. That’s not exactly what you expect when you think Peace Corps. Ultimately though, the pros, I think, far outweigh the cons again in this case; plus, being in a large city gives me so much more opportunities and abilities to reach and help more people.
As for my work, there are a multitude of frustrations. Many of them are institutional, and others are more interpersonal and steeped in culture. Nevertheless, I’ve developed an attitude of perseverance and I am not discouraged from my work even though I am aware of the fact that I can’t change Nicaragua; that I am not truly able to put this country on a path to developmental success. I really do think that I am helping the people that I work with. In addition, I think my time here is making me a better person. I like that I am more patient, my Spanish has improved (a Nicaraguan that I haven’t seen in many months just told me that that other day in fact), and I can handle challenging situations better.
That’s all not to mention that I am happy and healthy here. I certainly have less stress than when I was with EY, plus I can eat fairly healthy and within my budget if I choose to, and since I bike around for work a lot I’ve lost 35 pounds since coming here (put a few back on two weeks ago in Florida though, as some locals have been so gracious to point out).
Bonus Question: Would I join the Peace Corps for another two years in another country?
This one is easier to answer: No, I would not. First of all, I think I’ve got it so good in León that I think I would be disappointed nearly anywhere else. Plus I have other aspirations in life. I maybe want to emprender on my own merits one day. And although I’m not put off by the small and limited reach I have for my two years here, I would like to see if I can do something to supersede those limitations of development in the future and accelerate the velocity at which the world is becoming a better place. Some good ‘ole Tikun Olam.