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IamA Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua...and I'm struggling. AMA!

Jun 9th 2014 by deacachimba • 18 Questions • 1650 Points

I'm a PCV in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I live in a rural area and I primarily work with the schools. I have been in country for nearly 11 months. I live with a host family, take bucket baths, eat rice and beans, the whole nine-yards. I have been really homesick recently and sometimes wonder what the hell I'm doing here. AMA.

(Anything I write on this thread is of my own personal opinion and not the opinion of Peace Corps or my host country government)

My Proof: http://imgur.com/MwwUZf8

Edit: Whoa, didn't realize this was going to be so popular. I'll try to answer all the questions I can.

Edit: I am shocked at how many people have reached out to me on this thread. I really do appreciate it, especially all those from the PC community. It was really powerful to see that kind of support. I think I should make some things clear though. I had a couple motivations for posting. The first was to help reaffirm my purpose as a PCV. I know that the more I talk about PC and my experiences, the better I feel about what I'm doing here. I have been in a rough patch, which is normal, and the reactions to this post has catapulted me out of it. So thank you for that! But the other motivation was to talk about a genuine experience Peace Corps volunteers can have. Am I struggling? Yes, I think everyone in Peace Corps struggles in some way. That's what makes this job so challenging, and so worth it. My original post makes it sound like I was complaining about the bucket shower, rice and beans, and living with a host family. In sincerity, all of those details were mentioned for context. Do I hate taking bucket baths and eating rice and beans? Absolutely not. I crave gallo pinto after a long morning of teaching and cold bucket-baths are life savers in the heat. Thank you all for your interest. I have a renewed outlook on my life here, and I will come back to this post often to remind me of how lucky I am to have this opportunity. Que le vaya bien.

Q:

What does a typical day look like for you there?

A:

I wake up at 5am under my mosquito net. My host mom has been up for an hour already and I can smell the coffee and my lunch being made. I go take a cold bucket shower. Our shower is a small room surrounded by cinder block walls with a 3 inch PVC pipe in the corner of the floor for the water to drain. There's a 50 gallon tub in the corner which I filled the night before because there usually isn't water between 4am and 6pm. I get dressed, grab some coffee and some bread then head to the bus terminal to take a bus to one of my 3 rural, multi-grade schools. The bus drops me off and I walk with my students and two other teachers about 15 minutes to the 2-room school. I teach from 7pm to noon, then walk back to where the bus drops me off. The bus doesn't come until 2:30 so I have about 2 hours to kill. I listen to music or read. I get back to my house, strip all of my clothes off, dying of heat and sit in front of my fan until I've cooled down. I eat, then depending on the day, I teach a free community English class in the afternoons, or I'll go get a coffee and the national paper at the local comedor (cafe). I spend the rest of the day shooting the shit with my neighbors, writing, playing guitar, or spending money at the local cyber cafe. I eat dinner around 7pm and then it's back under the mosquito net at 9pm or 10pm.


Q:

I had a solar charger to charge my iPod. No power or water at my site.

A:

I charge when there is electricity, but I also have a small solar panel battery charger that works great. Saved me in the campo one time when I ran out of cell battery.


Q:

Hey, guys, sorry for not having a question as a response. I just wanted to give a little perspective to someone having a bad time in the PC when I knew exactly what they were going through. I apologize for not following the AMA rules. I rarely post on reddit and I should have realized my mistake. I shall be much more cognizant in the future!

Returned Peace Corps Volunteer here. Look at the three goals of the Peace Corps:

  1. To learn about your host country.

  2. To share with your host country who you, ie, Americans, are.

  3. To teach Americans about the host country you were in when you return.

Notice that the goals say nothing about saving the world. You are there for YOU. Stick through your service and it will be amazingly rewarding. Here's what you'll get:

  1. Crazy stories (although you should be judicious about telling people you were a PCV). I got malaria. Hilarious story. My two day beer run? A riot. The aural witnessing of two lonely donkeys finding each other and making sweet, loud love at 2am. Hysterical.

  2. Time. Lots of lovely time. I read 325 books in my 2 years. Honestly, when will I ever have the time to read "Atlas Shrugged" or "The Qur'an"? Answer: never.

  3. A deep appreciation of how blessed we are to live in America. When you have no electricity and read by candlelight, when it's 120 degrees and you have to go do your job (my sector was education), or have to go to the well to draw your own water (mercifully not me but others in my group), you realize all we have and take for granted as Americans.

Stick with it and it will be more rewarding than you can imagine when you return to the States.

A:

I needed that. Thanks!


Q:

Hey, hang in there. My best friend went through the same thing when she was deployed to Malawi (hit her the first hot season she was out there and then again the first wet season, 7 months and 10 months), but she stuck it through and found it incredibly rewarding.

Take a vacation, get out of your village for a bit, go find some expats to party with. Take a real shower. Spend some time on the Internet chatting with friends and family over Skype. Not awake? Wake their asses up. Make it over this hump, you'll be on the back-stretch soon.

A:

Thanks! I really do appreciate the support. I have been in my site for too long without coming back up for air, so to speak. I'm just learning now that getting out of site for a weekend and meeting up with other PCV's is the key to sanity. I haven't had a hot shower in 3 months.


Q:

My cousin is in West Africa right now. You work for almost nothing but do a whole lot of good. Hang in there, you're doing something that will be enormously rewarding in the long run.

A:

Thanks!


Q:

So... Hows it goin?

A:

Well, at the moment we've got running water and electricity, so it's just peachy. Broadly speaking, my life for the past 10-11 months has been on a pendulum swing of emotions. My perspective of how successful I am can change day to day or sometimes hour to hour. I'm currently dealing with a mild bacteria infection, but too many PCV's like to talk about what's shooting out of their butt-holes, so I won't get into that.


Q:

What surprises you the most about Nicaragua? I'll be visiting in September, we should totally hang out.

A:

I'm surprised how different the country is, considering it's roughly the same size of New York state. Geographically and culturally it's just amazing. I have been able to travel quite a bit, and some of the waterfalls, beaches, rain forests, and volcanoes continue to surprise me. Granted, I don't go to the touristy spots, a lot of the places I go to require machetes, a tent, and the ability to speak with locals. I haven't been to the Atlantic coast yet, but other volunteers say it's like a completely different world out there. They speak creole or criollo out there along with some other indigenous languages. Oh, and traveling can be sooo cheap, if you're willing to cram on a refurbished school bus for a few hours. PM me if you need some advice in September!


Q:

Hey, Im interested in joining after college so I was wondering what are some things i should consider before joining? Also what should i do to strengthen my application if i do decide to join?

A:

Well, I would say directly after college is one of the best times to do it. I graduated and was on a plane to Nicaragua in less than 2 months. They say this a lot throughout the application process, but really ask yourself how flexible you are in terms of your living situation and work environment for the next two years. Even though you might get the country you were hoping for and working in the program you dreamed of (which is never a guarantee) you still have no clue where you will live, who you will be working with, etc. You just have to be okay with not knowing where you'll end up. It takes some guts to get on a plane and put yourself in a situation with so few certainties, but that's also what has made this experience great. Also, don't worry too much about language, if you already have a basic level in a second language, show that you have made an effort to better your skills. Take more classes if you can. I would say the majority of sectors work with youth in some capacity, so maybe try to get some volunteer experience working in youth development: Boys and Girls Club, summer camps, or tutoring. Otherwise, read as much as you can and try to get as many perspectives from RPCV's (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) as you can.


Q:

Would you recommend becoming a PCV to someone who is interested?

A:

Yes. If you are adventurous, curious about the world, open-minded, not afraid to fail or look like a fool, want to be challenged in a multitude of ways, and have two years to give, I would highly encourage you to join.


Q:

presuming your from a first word country - how hard did the differences in life style and culture of the people your helping hit you?

A:

I went through several phases. At first it was a bit of a shock I will admit, but also new and exciting. Then I felt guilty, because even though I come from pretty humble backgrounds in the USA, the number of opportunities I had growing up far outnumber what is available here. Then after reasoning with my guilt, I tried to wrap my head around the culture of Nicaragua, which is quite complicated. There are a lot intricacies that you can only pick up if you live here with a Nica family, and I'm still struggling with some. They are very family centered and there isn't much personal, private time allowed, so as someone who is naturally introverted, coming from a culture where personal space is valued, it has been difficult. Being the only 'gringo' in my town, I definitely feel like I live in a fishbowl. People are always staring at me. I have no anonymity. There are people in my town that yell out my name when they see me in the street and I have never met them before. One last thing that I still struggle with is the Machismo or misogyny. My life is probably a lot easier since I'm a male, but the machista behavior is sometimes pushed on you, which makes me uncomfortable. With time though, as I have gotten to know my community better and have bettered my language skills, I can advocate for my beliefs and start a conversation about gender issues, which is rarely talked about here.


Q:

While"in the fish bowl" have you had people approach you as the key to 1) getting something from the states, or 2)getting themselves or a loved one into the states?

A:

More often than you think. The first question people asked me when I got here was whether I was single. The second thing they said was they have a daughter, sister, niece, etc. who wanted to go to the states. A volunteer friend of mine was recently offered $7,000 from a Nica to marry his daughter. He declined, obviously.


Q:

Where and how do you poop?

A:

At school, I poop in a hole. At home, we have a basic flush toilet. It's quite a luxury actually.


Q:

What made you decide to join the Peace Corps?

A:

I wanted to have an adventure while applying my degree. I wanted to become fluent in another language, which happened to be the same language I studied in college. More idealistically, I wanted to make a positive difference, but I would say that 50% of my motivation to join the Peace Corps was for the personal and professional benefits I would get from it, and the other 50% was giving back to a community that needed help. I considered AmeriCorps as well, because I recognized there are communities in the USA that need help, but I wanted to start an international career and I figured this would be the best way to do that.


Q:

Is it worth doing everything your doing ? I mean in your eyes do you take pride in what your doing

A:

Is it worth doing 'everything' I'm doing? Depends if you're a big picture type of thinker. Every experience is a valuable one right? I'm sure when I eventually go back to the USA, I will feel accomplished. If not for helping the development of beautiful, yet disadvantage country, then for my own personal growth. I'm proud to be a PCV. It's a great privilege to represent your country and develop relationships with people I would have never met, but I do doubt, almost everyday, if what I do will make a lasting difference in my community, if any.


Q:

I came in at Novice High, and now I'm probably speaking at Advanced Low.

This sounds like a formal level. Is that a Peace Corps thing, or something from where you are from? I am from the US, and although I am not really involved in foreign language courses or the like, have never heard of "Novice High" or "Advanced Low".

A:

Yeah, its the Peace Corps official language scale. I'm not sure if it is unique to PC though. I have heard of other language rubrics that have a 1-10 scale, one being lowest level of language skills.


Q:

Also from the US, there is a rating scale that you can get by taking a computerized test. I'm an interpreter and the agency I work for paid for it, took under an hour. It's an oral assessment.

A:

Yeah, over the course of the three month training we had 3 oral language interviews to gauge our progress.


Q:

Where in Nicaragua are you? I went on a service trip two summers ago to a rural community near Siuna, and it was awesome! Even though I was only there for 3 weeks I really miss it, I'm sure that whenever you go back home or somewhere else, you'll miss it too. We were working with an NGO called Bridges to Community (BTC) that does awesome work with rural communities, and I think they employ some former Peace Corps members who worked in the area. We had two BTC staff members who were our guides the entire time basically (as well as working with lots of other staff, engineers, etc.). One is Nicaraguan and the other is American and a former Peace Corps volunteer who did most of her work in Nicaragua.

Deacachimba!

A:

Yep, I've heard of you guys. Another NGO called Bridges to Prosperity came out and built a suspension bridge near my town, and I helped a bit with translation. I'm up in the mountains, near the center of the country. Don't want to get too specific. ;)


Q:

I'm having a wedding reception in Nicaragua this fall! I'll be there for around 10 days. Where do i need to go when i'm not spending time with the future in-laws?

A:

Depends on what part of the country you'll be in. More towards Granada? I highly suggest La Laguna de Apoyo and Volcan Masaya. That area has a lot of very cool artisan work, hammocks and handmade furniture for example. I bought a handmade acoustic guitar from a guy in Masaya. More north towards Leon? The beaches are nice there, the cathedral is a must see, and if you're feeling adventurous you could go volcano boarding at Cerro Negro. If you're in Matagalpa, Selva Negra or Cascada Blanca would be a good day trip. In Rivas, pretty much all the beaches there are incredible, definitely more touristy there. There's a lot to see.