By Conor Sanchez
In response to Michaela’s post yesterday reflecting on how much has changed in a year, I decided to write a post about what hasn’t changed. Believe it or not, some things prevail even after moving from a bustling city like D.C. (the capital of the wealthiest country on Earth) to one of the lesser known regions of a developing country (the second poorest in our hemisphere).
1. Our basic needs are being met – We still have running water and electricity on a pretty consistent basis. I’ve visited four countries in Africa with Peace Corps Volunteers and have also stayed with a friend while he was serving the Dominican Republic. For these Volunteers, water came once a week, if at all, forcing them to store it in huge tanks, fetch it from a nearby well, or shower in rivers. Our experience is by no means Posh Corps, but it’s not exactly Hard Corps either…
2. I’m still embarrassingly addicted to coffee – I can adapt to change. Cold showers? Fine. Tight living quarters? Ok. Living in a climate that is so humid you have to use a lighter to light matches? Whatever. But when it comes to coffee in the morning, I’m pretty useless without it. It was actually one of my biggest concerns before coming here. Even going to countries that produce great coffee won’t guarantee you access to the good stuff (I learned this the hard way in Kenya, which exports all its good coffee). Much to my relief, Nicaragua not only produces some of the world’s best coffee, but they also keep plenty of it for themselves.
3. We walk everywhere – We didn’t own a car in D.C. so walking was a fact of life. In fact, it made life that much easier since we weren’t worrying about burglaries, gas, insurance, and repairs. In Nueva Guinea, we also do a fair share of walking since we can’t drive motorized vehicles, can’t take rides on the back of motorcycles, and can’t afford to take taxis everyday. So instead, “vamos en la once,” as they say here.
4. We eat pretty healthy – Our food staples may be a lot simpler, but we haven’t had to sacrifice fresh veggies, fruits, and lean meats. Beets and carrots, my personal faves, might as well as be the national vegetables here.
5. We network – Some people loath at this word. But maybe if we called it “building a community of practice,” be it socializing with people in your field of work, attending a conference, or seeking out individuals with whom your work might overlap, people might warm up to it. When we left D.C. and joined the Peace Corps, we thought this concept might become less relevant, but actually, it’s about 90% of what we’ve been doing; meeting and socializing with other English teachers from our community. There was only so much we could do inside the classroom since we arrived at the tail end of the school year, so instead we’ve been working to get teachers to interact with each other more. In the New Year we hope to hold our first of many meetings that bring teachers together to “talk shop,” share teaching concerns, and identify ways to improve their practice.
6. We work to improve our own skills – Economic development isn’t some random blip in our work history; it’s something we both hope to make a central part of our careers. So it’s important to take stock of our own weaknesses and work to improve them. This means taking risks and learning from our mistakes to better inform our work in the long-run.
7. We (try to) exercise daily – At first this was difficult because Pre-Service Training provided little free time to do anything outside of learning Spanish, teaching, and leading a youth group. Then we moved to our permanent site where we started to build a more solid routine. But we also share a living room with a family, so we’re limited on when we can use it. Fortunately, we found a gym that does Insanity every night at 6:30 pm, which doubles as language practice since we tend to linger around after class to chat about how awesome Sean T is.
8. We treat ourselves – Just as we did in the United States, we make sure to take time to enjoy life, whether it’s having a Toña or two on a Friday night, going on a date to the local fritanga, or taking advantage of our time in Managua by going to see a movie or eating at some American chain like Subway.
9. We still keep up with the news – We might not have Internet in our home, but we have access to it daily (either at the university that I teach at or in the central park, which has free WiFi), and we make a point to stay informed.
10. We miss New Mexico – If D.C. felt far from home, you can only imagine where that leaves us now. This was my first Christmas without biscochitos and I wasn’t very happy about it. Both sets of parents still live in Santa Fe, so we are still very much attached to our home-state.
Happy New Year! Hope you’re as excited for 2015 as we are!