Sunday, July 13, 2008

Thinking back to Nicaragua

I've been answering questions for a prospective Chacocente volunteer by email. She sent me a list of questions that were easy enough to answer. But the last question, "what was your favorite part?" was really bittersweet and really took me back into my memories of my time there. Life there was just so MUCH. Everything was intense: the sun, the loudness of peoples' voices, the strength of their opinions, the poverty, the separation from family and friends, the pace of teaching school, the commute, the religion of one of my host families. I resisted remembering if there WAS a favorite part, but when I did I got a big feeling in my gut, you know? Tears in my eyes. There's a lot from this experience I have yet to work through.

Here's what I wrote to the prospective volunteer in response to her emailed question "What was your favorite part?". I'm really glad I was asked. Since sending my response to her, which I've posted below, I've begun seeing a counselor in part to talk through my experience of living in Nicaragua, and of coming back to this country.


My favorite part:

This was hard to think of because it was such an intense experience and so colored by loneliness and frustration and being overwhelmed. I did not have an adequate support system to help me confront the poverty I lived in, to help me do my job in the school, to ask me how I was and just sit with me and listen and encourage me. There weren't enough people saying, "how are you? you're doing a great job. thank you! keep up the good work!"

Anyway, the best parts were in the Project. I loved being outside so often. It's just beautiful. Sunsets, the stars, the sounds of animals and the lush greenery (I liked the rainy season best, Marchish to Octoberish), the crops sloping up and down soft hills, the kids running through the corn, cuddling in hammocks with kids, having my students fall asleep in my lap as I chatted with their parents in the cool evenings. I liked going home with Yamileth and watching soap operas with her mom, both of us with our tired, washed feet propped up on chairs, sipping sweet coffee together. I liked rinsing the shampoo out of my hair at the end of a long hot dusty day under a luke-warm tap with good water pressure in an outside shower made from concrete with a view of the sky and plaintain trees and of the haphazard corrugated steel roof of Yamileth's house. I liked biking through fields stretching far to either side with the mountains distant beyond and a volcano smoking to the west, I liked walking to the post office alone to mail long letters to my now-fiancee and then stopping by my favorite vendor on the way to the second bus to pick up my favorite cosa de horno, cornbread. I'm really getting choked up writing this. These were the moments I felt alive. Also hiding in the tall grass to get alone time, or chatting in a dark room with Yamileth and her son in the next bed after lights out but before falling asleep.

How long are you planning to go for? I was there for 9 months. If I had had a friend with me, someone like those 2 volunteers who came for 2 months in the middle of my time there and became my friends, I could have stayed for the whole 12 months I had committed to. Other volunteers in the past who have stayed the whole 10 or 12 months spent a whole month in the middle visiting home to rest. Everyone's different so you should just search yourself and make your own decision. I look forward to your next set of questions.


1 comment:

J said...

hi rachel,
i stumbled upon your blog by googling "chacocente." i've went there twice in 2006 and was deeply changed by the experience. i still think of it often, and reading your post about the things you remembered and liked best really stirred me again.
i have so many questions to ask you about the project and the children, drop me an email if you'd like.
i also struggled with adjusting back into my american life after being there, and i wasn't there nearly as long as you were!
anyway, thanks for sharing, i look forward to hearing from you, if you like.