Thursday, July 16, 2009

Site Visit

This past week I finally got to see the community where I’ll be living for the next two years. Site visit is the week we’ve been waiting for since training began 10 weeks ago. Last Friday the 17 of us traveled to Esteli to meet with our community counterparts, and the following day each counterpart-volunteer pair left separately. I felt so sick with nerves that during the bus ride to my site I thought I might have to ask the bus driver to pull over so I could be sick. Thankfully that did not happen.

My counterpart, Don Paulo, took me to his house and his wife served me some very sweet coffee and bread she had baked. I started to relax a little. Then the two of them walked me over to the house where I’ll be staying for my first six weeks before I’m allowed to live on my own. When I met my new host mom I started to really feel good about the site. She was great, so funny and warm. “No tenga pena, Laurie,” she told me. “Sientese como en su casa.” Basically, Don’t be shy with us, Our house is your house. My new host mom, Dona Ester is a teacher in the local school. She is a single mom with three grown kids. The two boys work in the fields every day, and my host sister recently graduated with a degree in Small Agriculture. I’m really excited to get to know her better, especially since we’re close to the same age and in the same field.

Here´s the house where I´ll be living

From what I could tell in my short visit, the town is going to be great for me. It is small – only about 100 families. They absolutely loved the previous volunteer, which is great because she really seems to have paved the way for me. “The last volunteer went running a lot, so the people are used to that,” they told me. Great. “And she loved to dance. So we’ll expect you to get down at the fiestas.” Amazing. “And the last volunteer was very independent. She liked to live alone. We’ve got a little house all picked out for you.” Incredible. “We can’t wait to bake with you, since the last volunteer was really into baking.” Perfect way to get integrated into the community.

Some replacement volunteers I’ve talked to have said that they didn’t like being compared to the volunteer before them. So far, I just feel lucky that I don’t have to explain myself. The people in my town understand what the Peace Corps is, more or less, and what types of projects I might be doing. Even more importantly, they are really excited to have me there, since they have such warm feelings towards the volunteer who was there before me.

My host grandma making coajada

It’s very hard to tell what kind of work I’ll be doing in the community, though I think that’s true of every site. The community really lacks organization, since there is a lot of tension and mistrust between the two political parties. Apparently, the hostility is so intense that Sandinistas won’t come to a meeting if they know that Liberals will be there and vice versa. That might make community organizing a bit difficult. I’m very optimistic, though, and I have a lot of ideas for how to get started gaining confianza.

Otherwise, I’m pretty excited to live in my town. It is on the road between Esteli and Jinotega, which means that buses come by frequently. There are also several volunteers within an easy walk, bus ride, bike ride, or horseback ride. Yes, horseback. I will be living in Nicaragua’s Wild West. The department of Jinotega is serious cowboy country. I saw a lot of cowboy hats, boots, and of course, cows. My host family has two, so I’ll be drinking fresh raw milk and eating a soft cheese called coajada every day. I already learned how to make the cheese with my host grandmother.

This is my host mom

I can already tell that I will be fiending for vegetables in my site, since I didn’t eat a single one in my four days there. But I am also really impressed with the self-sufficiency of my town. People grow corn and beans, and they keep cows. Their diet primarily consists of corn tortillas, boiled beans, and milk. I get the sense that if this town were completely cut off from the outside world, that not a whole lot would change. They’ve only had electricity for the past 8 years and running water only for the past 4.

This is our living room

I’m really excited to go back and get comfortable in my new home, but I’m also really sad to be leaving Fatima. When I came back yesterday I felt like I was coming home. I had really missed my Fatima host mom’s cooking. I was so happy to have a big cabbage salad and a plate of fruit waiting for me here. I certainly won’t forget how good this family has been to me during my training.

Into it – only two weeks of training left!
Sad about it – having to leave the friends I’ve made in training

1 comment:

Cathy said...

Host mom and host mom---gets a little confusing. You might want to call them "Fatima host Mom" and "El Coyolito host Mom". Anyway, did you ever do a story on your Fatima host family? It would be nice to see photos of them, too, if they are willing.

Your new site looks beautiful. Hope you have a great experience there. Can't wait to hear more!