By Michaela Sanchez
Trying to prepare for the Peace Corps is impossible. When we told people that we were leaving, the question we kept getting was, “Are you ready?” ” Yes!” we would say enthusiastically, not really knowing what that meant.
Nothing in life has ever prepared me for this experience. “What the hell did I just sign up for?” is a thought that crossed my mind a lot this week as well as, “Good thing that gecko is on my wall; he is eating all the mosquitos.”
We arrived in Managua on Wednesday, August 13 and immediately started our Pre-Service Orientation at the Best Western Las Mercedes for three days. Peace Corps eased us into hardship at an American hotel with air-conditioning, hot water, delicious food, a gym, and a gigantic pool!
I remember being a little surprised at how calm I felt during the last few days at home in New Mexico. In fact, I was completely relaxed the morning we left Albuquerque for Washington, D.C. Even a 2:00 am wake up call on our departure date had little effect on me. In my previous job, I was known for being super calm. Nothing could phase me. Then we got our assigned host families for our Pre-Service Training.
I have never had so much anxiety in my life as I did on Saturday, August 16, the day we were dropped off at the houses of our host families. My home was in the department of Masaya, located about an hour outside of Managua. It became clear very quickly, after meeting my host family, that in fact, I did not speak a word of Spanish. Conor had been feeding me a few phrases to say but nothing stuck. After a while he resulted to consoling: “You’re going to be fine. Write every night about this experience and in three months you’ll look back and laugh at all this.”
After one week in at my home in my little town, I am feeling much better. Receiving six hours of Spanish instructions each day and living with a family that doesn’t know a single word in English, I have seen my Spanish sky rocket – granted, this says little since I started from zero. Just learning how to say bathroom felt like the sea had parted.
I’m able to communicate with my host-mom but it’s far from pretty. If you translated my sentences, you might hear something akin to, “I walk to bus now in the evening?” My host-mom is incredibly patient with me and somehow manages to translate what I am trying to say into comprehensible Spanish. Everyday she tells me, “poco a poco” (little by little).
There have been tough days. Earlier this week, I had a day in which I rolled my ankle on the way to catch the bus and got a typhoid shot in my arm that screamed with pain. On top of all this I got to see Conor for just six hours after we had gone four days apart. When our sessions for the day ended, we had to say goodbye all over again.
And yet, I’m incredibly happy. I don’t speak the language fluently (yet), the food is really hard to get used to, there is no hot water, I am sleeping under a mosquito net, and somehow I can see passed it all. I keep thinking about the person I aspire to become – bilingual, capable, resilient, unflappable – and I’m invigorated by the challenge. It also helps that Volunteers a year into their service keep saying that after we’re sworn in officially as Peace Corps Volunteers in November (right now we’re considered aspirantes or trainees), we’ll look back on this time and be able to see how much we’ve progressed.
Much more to come soon, but por ahora, todo bien. I have even mastered the bucket bath – cold water and all.