Saturday, May 28, 2011

Peace Corps Reform

I encourage all PCVs and RPCVs to look at this article by Gal Beckerman in the Boston Globe.

'The Peace Corps: What is it for?'

The article makes reference to a 20-point reform plan proposed by a couple of RPCVs who both served multiple stints with Peace Corps. The plan is obviously well-researched and crafted with loving hands, but the authors do not shy away from addressing structural problems with the Peace Corps that need to be addressed if the agency is to continue to be relevant 50 years on. Please read it and pass it along.

Here is a link to the plan on the Peace Corps wiki.

Ludlam and Hirschoff's Peace Corps Reform Plan

Friday, May 27, 2011

Apartment Hunting

If all goes according to plan, I will be spending a third year in Nicaragua. My close of service date is set for July 29th, 2011, but I have asked for an extension of service until August of 2012. In my third year I will be splitting time between the Peace Corps office in Managua and the Nicaragua office of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN. In order to do this work, I will need to move to Managua. So I spent my last visit to the capital searching for housing.

Amazingly, two days of apartment hunting left me even more deeply infatuated with this country. At first I hadn’t a clue how to go about looking for a place to live. There is a Craigslist here, but it isn’t much used except for vacation rentals. So I started asking around.

First I talked to a friend from Esteli, who referred me to a woman she knows who rents rooms in Managua. I called her, and she told me that she didn’t have any rooms available, but she would happily escort me on visits to a few places that she was aware of. So I spent the afternoon driving around with this very sweet Esteliana, looking at rooms in people’s houses and apartments for rent in a neighborhood near the Peace Corps office. As we cruised through the neighborhood she asked people on the street if they knew anyone who was renting rooms nearby, and I started making a list of things that would never happen in the US while apartment hunting.

1. A person you have never met before offers to be your chauffeur as you look at different housing options.
2. You ask people on the street if their neighbors are renting rooms in their houses, and they tell you ‘Yes.’

The following day I had an appointment in our medical office. While I was there, I thought, I might as well ask this doctor if she knows anyone who rents rooms, since this seems to be the way it’s done. She referred me to a friend of hers who lives right down the street from the Peace Corps office. I went there, and the woman there showed me a very nice room with a private entrance, bathroom and kitchen. She told me that she could help me negotiate a good price for my laundry with the family’s maid. I added to my list.

3. Laundry service is offered as part of your rent.

The last place I visited was a beautiful, sprawling ranch outside of the city. I found it by asking the owner of a guesthouse I had once stayed in if she or anyone she knew rented rooms in Managua. It turned out that her brother and his wife had a big house with rooms available. Their children were all grown, and they were hoping to rent one or more rooms. I took a taxi to their house, where I added more items to my list of things that never happen in the US while looking for an apartment:

4. The taxi driver waits for you to look at a place without charging for the wait time.
5. Your landlords offer to be like a second family to you, should you choose to rent from them.
6. On the way back from the apartment showing, while stuck in rush hour traffic, you buy cashews from a street vendor out the window of the taxi.

I haven’t decided where I’m going to live yet, but the process of looking for a place has been unexpectedly enjoyable.