At a Crossroads

Every year the Peace Corps has a series of regional meetings on Safety & Security. The León/Chinandega meeting was last week while I was on Ometepe, so the Peace Corps kindly asked me to attend the meeting in Estelí. The meeting was yesterday morning, and I left with one overwhelming feeling: Who were all those people? There were a lot of Volunteers, especially from the two new groups, that I did not know. And during the meeting, the Country Director mentioned the Close-of-Service Conference for Nica 62 – the group that entered Nicaragua directly before my group. I can’t believe that they are leaving soon. I look at them as my misfit older brothers and sisters. Once they go, we are next! But nonetheless, I left the meeting having realized that we have seen the ascent of Nica 63. With 62 in their twilight (sorry guys, but you are lame ducks), and us right at one-year, we are the alpha dogs. 63 is the group leading committees, 63 is being asked to present at workshops, and 63 is in full project execution mode. We are now asked to give training sessions to the new groups that come in, not 62 so much anymore, and not 64 yet. But despite our position, I personally feel like I am at a bit of a crossroads. I don’t feel unguided or lost; I just feel that now being more than halfway up the mountain volcano and having the summit crater in sight, I have a number of paths ahead of me, and I need to decide which to take and how I will get down afterwards. Let me try to explain:

Peace Corps training is a mix of language classes, practical application, training sessions developed by the local staff, and DC-mandated training sessions. Take a guess at my opinion of the DC-mandated sessions.

I do not remember the exact session, but in one of the DC sessions they talked about our mental state of mind and how it would fluctuate. They even handed out of graph showing how we would feel at each month of our service. It looked like a roller coaster. I found it asinine. How could they know how I would feel at any given point in the future!? Peter facilitated the session for us, so I took to calling it “Peter’s Cycle of Misery.” One thing that stands out on the graph is the profound dip in happiness at the one year mark. I doubted that one just as much as the other ups and downs, but other Volunteers did warn us that they all had a rough time at the one year point.

Bruised Face with DrinkWell, it’s true. I alluded to it in a post two weeks ago. My particular dip came literally right at a year in country, after I got back from Florida. A few things conspired to make me unhappy. It lasted for about two months. I’ve certainly bounced back though and I am feeling good about my year to come (it’s really only 11 months now, and from what I hear the wind-down at the end can have a long tail). However, I do feel like I am at a bit of a crossroads. Although I feel good about the year to come, I don’t exactly see it clearly. Looking back, I’m glad about all the people I have met and efforts I have made toward my project goals. However, I definitely want to see sustainable results, which is what I am considering as I look forward. I feel good to know that I made it over the “one-year hump” and I have a whole other year to meet goals.

So what sort of projects do I see in my future:

  • In regards to my three cooperatives, transitioning from training them to helping them transform themselves into successful enterprises that are putting skills to use and can continue to do so into the future
  • I love giving my monthly teacher trainings. It is one of my favorite projects. However, they are highly theoretical. I always give teaching tips, but I have no idea if the teachers are actually using a practical methodology. I am going to try to visit, in the classroom, as many of the teachers as possible. It will be difficult from a purely time perspective, but I am going to try.
  • Maybe try to do some more financial education/community banking – and I actually got a lead on this today (I have a lot of thoughts on these topics, but I have been saving them in the hopes that I get some more experience and can share more fully developed thoughts)
  • Offering sessions on marketing and online marketing for the León tourism industry (there are a lot of great local offerings, but the functionaries lack the marketing skills to attract tourists). I would just need to find a counterpart to work with on organization and strategy, as well as a qualified co-trainer.
  • Follow-up with some of the more remote business owners from the tourism development workshop last week, plus work with Dave and his client in Mateare to connect them with tour agencies in León that would like to offer tours to Momotombito
  • Leverage the work done with my university counterparts to see if I can help incubate more value-added production/manufacturing in León

And I will give credit where credit is due. Looking over my mid-service feedback from our Program Director Georgia, she doesn’t stimulated a lot of these ideas. She’s good. She’s very good.

Isla Juan Venado Salinas Grandes Beach Volcan Cosigüina Volcan San Cristobal Volcan Telica Momotombo Momotombito Nagarote León Viejo Jiquilillo Beach Wetlands of Chinandega Climb the Cathedral Ruben Darío Museum (which is a block from my house) Myths and Legends Museum Botanical Gardens

Eric and Georgia are on the map!

My overwhelming preoccupation with all of this is balancing the time needed with my work in the schools, especially when things ramp up before the business competitions in the second semester (we have inter-semester vacation in two weeks, and after that we will be kicking into high gear to plan and get the student groups ready for the competitions). Juggling my projects earlier this year got a bit rough, especially with my need to study (I have an official August 7th test day now). However, it is also motivational to see that my only preoccupation is time. A year ago it would have been social and communicative. How would I have built the network to execute projects and successfully handle communicating with everyone? So overall, I am optimistic.

Despite my optimism, I think that some people in my group are still having a hard time. We recently lost two members of Small Business 63 (we came in with 17 and now we are down to 11), and their departure is definitely hurting their closest friends in the group. A number of other members have recently lost family members, and other people are having problems in their communities. Another guy broke his wrist in a rain storm, plenty of other people are experiencing health problems, and it seems that a particularly virulent strain of jock itch is plaguing a majority of the male members of the group. Recently, I’ve been trying to stay in touch with a few members of the group a bit better just to help group cohesion and make sure everyone is doing OK and doesn’t need any help.

And I don’t just have work goals for the next year. I also have travel goals. Once I get past the GMAT I will definitely be spreading my wings (as much as the cramped buses allow). As I mentioned last week, the longer I am here the more I want to see and experience.

I still have the Occidente Bucket List, first formulated with my dearly departed site-mate, Joanna:

Mangroves with Trainees 65Sadly, Joanna never completed the list, and I doubt I will either. Since I have been to the mangroves in Poneloya I have less desire to go to Isla Juan Venado or the wetlands of Chinandega. I hear they are very similar. Plus, I haven’t exactly heard great things about the San Cristobal hike other than the sheer thrill of conquer, so I doubt I will actively search for a way to make it up there. I definitely plan on making it to the other locations though.

And I also have a list of other places in Nicaragua that I want to visit outside of my region:

  • The department of Boaco and the site of my fellow Blue Hen, Tom Ford
  • My friend Joe’s site, which gets rave reviews up in Matagalpa (I want to make my way up there on July 4th)
  • A few more outings in Estelí, especially Miraflor (cooperative of farming and tourism cooperatives in the moutains)
  • El Crucero (pleasant eco-lodge area in the highlands of Managua)
  • Caribbean Coast (December trip in the works)
Tom and Nicaragua's BFF Jimmy Carter

Tom and Nicaragua’s BFF Jimmy Carter

And those are just on my essential-gotta visit-list. I’ve also got a secondary list:

  • See the sites in Managua a bit more so I don’t think of it as so much of a dump anymore
  • Isla Zapatera (petroglyphs!)
  • Department of Nueva Segovia and hiking the tallest mountain in Nicaragua (both waaaaaay up north nestled up against the Honduran border)
  • Plus a number of places I want to visit/explore again
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