Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cultural Whiplash

Being in the Peace Corps requires you to be able to fluidly handle rapid changes from one type of environment to another. They should probably include it as a requirement in the job description. I´m not just talking about the fact that during the rainy season you might at any moment be soaking wet when not minutes before you were slathering yourself with sunscreen for protection from Nicaragua´s brutal midday rays. Nor am I refering just to the reality that a volunteer, especially an Ag volunteer, should be prepared to walk through mud, over rocks, or across a field at virtually any moment, regardless of how he or she is dressed or what activity was planned for the day. No, the most difficult transitions are those that remind us of the differences between the way of life that most Americans are accustomed to and the way that the majority of Nicaraguans live.

This week was a case in point. Finally, after three long months of training, three months of language classes and technical trainings and living with a rural host family, we have made it to official volunteer status. (Hooray!) We spent the last half of this week in Managua in order to complete some final administrative tasks and to receive briefings from the US embassy to Nicaragua and from USAID. During this time we´ve been staying in a hotel, a really nice hotel, close to the Peace Corps office. We´ve been going to meetings in air-conditioned offices where everyone is dressed in business casual attire. Yesterday, our Swearing In ceremony took place in a really nice hotel. Afterwards we had a dinner at the home of one of the Country Directors for Peace Corps Nicaragua. She served us all kinds of foods I hadn´t expected to see for the next two years - goat cheese, spaghetti with meat sauce, olives, red wine. It was almost painful how much like America her house felt - despite the fact that her backyard was filled with tropical plants and surrounded by razor wire.

During this short trip, I seem to have developed a severe case of cultural whiplash. I´d just started to adjust to living in a house whose kitchen has no floor, rarely seeing a flushing toilet, and eating rice and beans three times a day when I was whisked away to a posh B and B with hot showers and a swimming pool. Three nights ago I was sleeping under a mosquito net and praying I wouldn´t have to get up to use the latrine in the middle of the night. Last night I was drinking rum and cokes by the pool and eating Pizza Hut and sushi (delivered to the hotel, free of charge).

This morning I´m enjoying a few more minutes of free wireless internet before I go to eat an American-style breakfast and then head out for my site. I feel very ready to do this job - or at least I did until they teased me with air conditioning and cable TV - but I´m expecting to have to decompress for a while once I get to my site. It´s not the campo lifestyle that´s the hard part - it´s the back and forthing that really gets me out of whack.


Cathy said...

Congratulations---official PCV!

hannah said...

oh boy, i feel you. as for me, i feel like i've fallen into an eternal culture shock - it's here to stay, because I am.