By Conor Sanchez
Writing on this blog has become a challenge. At the beginning everything was new and fresh, vastly different from my life back in the States, so much so that I could usually predict what someone reading back at home would find intriguing. Now, I’ve become so accustomed to things that it’s hard for me to know what readers might consider interesting.
My old “unusual” is my new “usual.”
Of course, I still recall the difference between life in the States versus life in rural Nicaragua. It’s just that things that once struck me as strange, I now regard as fairly hum-drum. I’m reminded of how much has changed only when a piece of America finds its way into our new Nicaraguan bubble. Care packages, visitors, or Facebooks posts are a good way of measuring the adjustment we’ve made in a little under than a year.
When Michaela’s parents and sister visited in July, they pointed out things I constantly acknowledged my first few weeks in country. Horse-drawn carts on the country’s biggest highway, pedestrians darting out into oncoming traffic, pigs and chickens running around freely, dogs sleeping in the streets, and unmonitored children playing inches away from a busy road – I know these are things most Americans aren’t used to seeing on a daily basis, but to me, they’re part of the scenery.
Throughout their visit, I started to think of more things that no longer strike me as unconventional. Eating lunch at a comedor (an eatery) that may or may not end up giving me a bacterial infection or a parasite? Normal. Waiting 30 minutes to an hour for a meeting to start? Normal. Getting stuck in a huge parade of buses slowly making their way to the capital to celebrate the country’s 1979 overthrow of a brutal dictator, turning a 4 hour journey into a 6 hour one? Also, normal. Being stared at while walking down the street or doing pretty much anything that entails being alive? Definitely, normal.
Normal means being socially or culturally accepted and it has definitely taken us every bit of a year to truly understand that. I remember a year ago thinking we had so far to go, especially in terms of speaking Spanish fluently and teaching English as a foreign language. But I also knew it would take a while for me to feel at home with my surroundings. Everything was very far from normal. The idea of ever feeling socially and culturally accepted, which is something every Peace Corps Volunteer at least strives towards, was as daunting as it sounds.
But time and patience have a way of resolving things on their own. Although I’ll always be a gringo in this town, I am indeed a member of its community and, increasingly, an integrated one. The people I see on a regular basis are my friends, my fellow teachers, and my students. I’ve actually reached the point where I have to avoid Calle Principal if I’m in a hurry or else I get stopped every couple of blocks.
I remember the first few months of service counting down the days until I’d be leaving town. I loved going to visit Managua or a touristy place like Leon or Granada. While I still really do love those cities, I find myself not wanting to leave. I recognized this change a few weeks ago after breathing a sigh of relief upon returning to Nueva Guinea from a weekend teaching in Masaya. I looked at our calendar to see if we had any trips coming up and was relieved to see that I wouldn’t have to travel until the end of August, and that’s a trip to Bluefields to help out with a leadership camp, so at least I’ll stay on this side of the country.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised (we have now been here a year) but it seemed to happen overnight, as if I woke up one morning and suddenly felt at home. I have my restaurants, my morning routines, my classes. More importantly, I have some great friendships. Monday through Thursday is non-stop teaching, but on the weekends we get out to explore, visit with our host family, play soccer, or wander through town catching up with people. Wednesdays are turning into karaoke nights with fellow teachers (one of whom loves Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” so much he insists on singing it six or seven times, and then once in Spanish).
So even though I feel less inspired to write about every little unusual thing that happens, I take it as a sign that we are not only accustomed to our surroundings, but that we are finally feeling at home.
All in all, a year into service, we’re feeling pretty good.