Piropos – Why They’re A Problem

I can remember the first time I was catcalled. Growing up in a small, religious community where I was rarely allowed out into the world, I was almost oblivious to catcalling. Almost. I knew about it but hadn’t experienced it for myself then. The first time it happened was in Nicaragua. I became acutely aware of how a man, a stranger, saw my body.

Oooohhh Morenaaa. *whistles* Baby!

My skin crawled and despite being violated, I felt torn. If I yelled at him, would he attack me? If he became aggressive, it would be my fault for saying something, but I didn’t want to keep walking with my head down and in silence.

I am not alone in this. I was inspired to finally speak on this topic because of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, the woman creating the art series Stop Telling Women to Smile, which is amazing. Tatyana Falalizadeh is an illustrator/painter based in Brooklyn who creates portraits of women with captions to address gender-based harassment and posts them in public spaces. STWTS has started in Brooklyn in the fall of 2012.

I deserve to be respected.

It is an on-going, traveling series and will gradually include many countries and many women participants.

 

 

It’s fearless and, although I may not be able to do exactly what she’s doing, I can tell you the perspective from women here, in Nicaragua…

Here, catcalls are called piropos, meaning “compliments.” I can tell you I am not complimented when I hear, “Hola, Morena,” which means “Hey, brown girl.” I don’t feel great when Nicaraguans tell me how great I will taste or demand I give them my number.  They make hissing sounds at me, like ssss ssss, to try and get my attention. As a matter of fact, I take it as a high offense when I hear, “Oy, Negrita.” I’m sure you can imagine what that means. They say it under their breath, knowing it’s not okay to say. Yet, they defend catcalling, citing it’s their culture and I cannot understand it because I’m a foreigner. I think my favorite excuse so far has been, “If I don’t tell you that you look nice, how will you know?”

I fight piropos in my own way by flipping the catcall on its head. If a man says to me, “Hey, sexy,” I say, “Hey, ugly” in the exact same tone and voice right back. Usually, it shocks him into silence. In my site, where I live, I confronted the men in my community. By men, I mean young men and sometimes school boys. I said, “My name is Janae. Not ‘Baby.’ Not ‘Morena.’ I live here. I work here. You know that. Call me by my name. You don’t have to say that to me. I am here to help. Respect me.” Would you believe that they did? I do not get catcalled at all in my site after that and it’s wonderful, but anytime I traverse outside the small town, I am reminded again that I am seen first for my body and as a human second.

Street harassment is a problem that’s experienced worldwide. The largest study of its kind has shown that 84 percent of women, across 22 countries, experience street harassment before the age of 17—and that figure is even higher in Britain. A woman in New York City recorded over 10 hours of footage, which shows her being catcalled 108 times. Then, after the video was posted, she received rape threats.

 

Street harassment is not a gender problem as male volunteers have stories of being harassed as well; however, it is definitely a heavier weight on the shoulders of women.

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KPCC

In Mexico City, a group of women calling themselves Hijas de Violencia (Daughters of Violence) are “fighting street harassers with confetti guns and punk rock.” Literally, when someone catcalls them, they pull out a karaoke-like mic and start singing “Sexista Punk” and shoot guns of confetti at their assaulters.

These men know what they’re doing is not appropriate, cool or appreciated. Read what this man says about it.   However, maybe their judgment is faulty because if the roles were switched they would enjoy it. Don’t believe me? Watch this woman reverse-catcall men. Terra Lopez, a Sacramento-based artist and lead singer of Rituals of Mine, has released her project, This is What It Feels Like, an audio art exhibit in which participants walk through a dimmed hallway to the sound of men catcalling them, with varying levels of harassment and objectification.  She says men have left the exhibit in tears.

Catcalling is invasive. It’s disrespectful. It’s UNwanted. It does not add to a woman’s day. In fact, it’s a repressive blanket of negativity on a woman’s self-consciousness and attitude. It’s not a compliment. It’s a violation. The idea that catcalling a woman will in some way make her give her number or drop her panties is both delusional and concerning. If I were to ask a man how many times his catcalling has been successful, I am almost positive the answer will be zero percent. So why do they do it? I have no idea.

Street harassment is illegal here, but no one calls the police on the men who still do it. Women feel it’s easier to ignore it or it’s just too ingrained in the culture. In the States, it won’t be marked as a criminal offense for fear of violating the First Amendment, but that doesn’t mean women should roll over and take it. We are not obligated to like it, accept it or acknowledge it. To believe it’s okay for men to catcall and get aggressive when they’re ignored or that women should be appreciative is sad and you need to read this blog post again.

Catcalling is street harassment. There is no other word for it and street harassment is a social problem. How do we rid the world of this social problem once and for all? I can think of one answer: education. It’s probably difficult to squeeze this topic into seminars or conferences that reach the grownup audience and for it to be taken seriously, but it can be easily discussed in schools and taught to younger, more receptive minds. It’s not too late for grown men to understand though. The proof is in the museum and the men who join the feminist movement, but we need to teach children too. They are the future and educating them will guarantee, at the very least, that there will be hope for the next generation.

 

Loaded COS Guns

The closer volunteers come to ending their service, the more often they feel figurative loaded guns pointed to their heads. By figurative, I mean questions or statements that make them feel both intimidated and overwhelmed. I’m going to touch on a few of them and I hope you find it enlightening.

Telling a volunteer, “I bet you’re glad to be coming home” gives the connotation that America is better. While I do miss my family and am excited to be moving forward in my life, I am heartbroken about leaving Nicaragua. It’s bittersweet, not just sweet, and you’d do best to acknowledge the loss that comes with leaving the country as much as going back to your own country ESPECIALLY given this current political climate. There are great things about living in the states, but believing that life in the states is better is false. Try, “Are you excited to be coming home?” By making it a question, you’re allowing the volunteers to tell you the fullness of their emotion and you’re no longer assuming how they feel.

 

“Ready to enter back into real life?” Sigh. This is terribly unfortunate because every day of my life as a volunteer has been real. My real life has been filled with regular things like yours. Sure, I hear roosters in the morning, go to a different kind of work, don’t have running water and drink mango juice made from a mango my mom pulled from the tree in the back, BUT that is my real life. Try, “Are you ready to adjust back to your life in the states?” More than likely no, the volunteers are not ready, but the question is less aggressive and more open to the life differences.

 

“What are you doing after Peace Corps?” Jesus. This is the bazooka of loaded guns. This is SO hard to answer. There are so many options. PCVs can extend their service, become PCVLs (Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders), go to grad school, get jobs, continue living in Nicaragua, go backpacking and travel the world some more OR they just don’t know! Most times, all those things are swirling around in their minds and they’re waiting to hear back from someone to confirm what exactly they can do. Do NOT ask them this. It’s an additional head trip that makes them feel both anxiety for having to give you an answer and shame if they don’t have a good enough answer for you. Try, “What are you thinking about doing after the Peace Corps?” This allows the room to share thoughts, not concrete, definitive plans with the baggage of disappointment or shame if those plans don’t work out.

 

“I know you’re ready to come back.” You don’t know anything! You’re assuming a lot and none of that matters because whether I’m ready or not, I have to do something. I have to choose between extending my service and seeing all the people I’ve come in with leave or going back home, risking giving up the only job I’ve ever loved and fighting to find something similar or continuing to travel. But to assume I’m ready is a farce. I’m not ready for anything, but I must move forward.

 

“Do you think you made a difference in your service?” Woah. That’s getting really deep and really fast. I like to think I’ve made a difference. I like to think I haven’t wasted two years not making a difference, but that word is a matter of perspective. I don’t know what you mean. Do you mean a difference in that I’ve taught students what it means to be an entrepreneur? Then yes. If you mean difference as in building my community a bank or a well, then no. Try, “What are some things you’re proud of in your service?” That’s much easier to ask. Although it’s difficult to choose which one thing I am most proud of, I can certainly think of a few things that have moved me, changed my mind and burned bright in my memory. I’m proud I haven’t quit. I’m proud of my Spanish level improving. I’m proud of the impact I’ve made in my community and in my Nicaraguan home.

 

“Why does it matter if you’re ___ (Black, LGBT, Hispanic/LatinX, etc.)? That shouldn’t affect your work.” You’re kidding right? How could it not? The Peace Corps is so personal, how could my identity not affect my service? Try, “How did being [insert identity] affect your service?” You’ll be surprised what you hear.

 

“Are you two going to continue dating?” Whether you’re asking about a PCV and a local or a PCV with another PCV, you’re rude. This is not appropriate. No. No. No. No. Even if they have the answer to that question, they don’t have to give that answer to you. Try asking what their separate plans are and then make your own inference from that.

 

“Going to move back in with your parents?” Again, Rude! Plus, see statement three. We don’t know! Nothing is certain right now so don’t make it worse by asking this. Try, “How did Peace Corps help you make future decisions?” That way you can learn what few things I am clear on.

 

“What was your service like?” This is impossible and puts more stress than necessary on the volunteers. How can they tell you their life story in Peace Corps in five minutes? How can you condense two years into a quick sound bite? I’ll tell you how–you can’t. Try asking about a specific moment or saying, “When can we meet for coffee to catch up? I’d like to hear about your experience.” This is much better because it allows the PCVs to think and fully process what they want to say and actually have time to give you an in-depth answer, not a five-minute synopsis.

There are a lot of things you just can’t understand unless you’ve served as a volunteer, but, hopefully, this post gives you some guidance. COS is stressful enough. Don’t add to that. Just be there and support the volunteer in your life as best as you can. Less questions, more support.

Preparing to Finish My Service

Last week I finished my Close of Service (COS) conference. It was three days of telling Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) how to bring our service to a close, what paperwork we need to turn in for the government to let us leave, what qualifies as medical clearance and giving us time to say goodbye to each other. Sure, we have essentially three months left in-country, BUT to see all PCVs from our group in one place is next to impossible so the conference is likely our one and only chance. We live spread out throughout the entire country, in various small sites (not always department) which are sometimes difficult to get to and we work several different jobs. So logistically, between work, paperwork for COS, saying goodbye to our respective sites and doing all the things we’ve planned to do before we leave Nicaragua, we won’t be seeing each other again.

COS was… draining. There are so many words that can describe it, but for me, it was overwhelming. I wasn’t emotional about saying goodbye. We celebrated every night via a PC Prom, Karaoke singing and hugs. The sessions were good and informative so I didn’t feel unprepared. It was just so much and to see a path to the end was relieving while simultaneously being overwhelming, BUT I’m thankful. I want to get home. I miss it so much, but I am not ready to say goodbye to my host family and leave Nicaragua behind.

All in all, the conference is an inevitable part of a volunteer’s service and it’s different for everyone. For me, it was overwhelming and I’m glad to be back in site, armed with all the information I need and ready to get to the finish line that I will cross in three months.

We went from this

to this. 2 years made a real difference.

Working a Medical Brigade

I have always wanted to work a medical brigade, but as an Entrepreneurship Volunteer, I often find out about the brigades when they’re already full. I thought I would end my service without ever getting to do a brigade and, oddly, the second to the last day, an opportunity for me to do one showed up! To say I was ecstatic is an understatement. I was flying on air.

I was brought on as a medical translator with seven other volunteers to work alongside doctors and nurses from the North Parkersburg Baptist Church while they give anyone living in Rancho Grande, Matagalpa (the community where we were working) medical care. Over three days, we helped over 800 people ranging in age from 12 days old to 96 years old! This church has been coming to Nicaragua for over ten years. They partnered with the Baptist church in the community to weigh the people who wanted care. Then the patients moved forward to the open basketball arena outside the clinic to talk to a church member who could speak Spanish to tell her their three major concerns. There were two waiting places, one solely for medical concerns and the other for dental concerns. After that, they waited. While they waited, children could receive fluoride treatments.

Once inside, the patients visited one of three triage tables. We did our best to help them with their diagnoses, giving medicine and/or vitamins and getting them out of the clinic without passing them to the three doctors. (One of the doctors was Nicaraguan and volunteered to help.) If the triage women couldn’t help, the patients either went to the Lab Ladies to get a blood or urine test, the Ultrasound room to see inside their bodies or one of the three doctors. The dental room had its own waiting room and own procedures. There was also a small room for eye exams, to give out free glasses and breathing treatments.

I was a little nervous because I don’t know medical words, but I made a cheat sheet for myself and found that I knew more Spanish than I thought. This week was the biggest boost for my confidence in my Spanish. So many people said I spoke great Spanish and were amazed that I sounded like them. The first day in triage was cool. I found my way and we helped over two hundred people.

On the second day, I worked between the ultrasound room and the pharmacy to organize the crates of medicine the doctors brought with them. That was amazing! I got to tell several pregnant women the sex of their child. To know that the women could be as far along as eight months pregnant and hadn’t visited a clinic because they couldn’t afford it was distressing, but we helped them not only get pictures of their babies but let them know the sex and gave them prenatal vitamins. Seeing a baby move on an ultrasound screen is amazing! In the states, I would never have an opportunity to be that close to a stranger and be inside such a private moment. It was a blessing to see a stranger be brought to tears as I translated English to Spanish and helped her see her unborn child or gently show where cysts of the kidneys were and explain that the patient needed to visit a specialist. Plus, I LOVE organizing and organizing a pharmacy teaches you a lot about medicine. It made me feel very helpful.

The last day I spent working with the Lab Ladies and they were great. We literally worked from sun up to past sun down. Esterlin, one of the young women being groomed as a successor for the clinic, and Nancy, the church member from the states, and I were the last to leave the clinic. We had a group hug and I helped them both communicate a message of gratefulness and love to each other. They cried and we closed the door with the hopes that we would see each other again next year.

In total, we helped over 800 people! In three days, we gave over 184 lab exams, pulled 162 teeth, gave 60 glasses, performed 41 ultrasounds and assisted with about 20 breathing treatments.

God is amazing. Even though my entire body was sore from the 20-minute walk up and down hills we had to do every morning and night to get back to our dorms and even

though my brain was drained, at the end of the day, the work was so fulfilling, I would gladly do it again. I hope I see everyone I’ve met again.

P.S. I wish I’d taken more pictures but alas, I was working really hard… too hard to remember to capture all the moments with my camera.

Long Distance Relationships & The Peace Corps

I met my soulmate before I left for the Peace Corps and, at the time, the thought of being anything more than casual associates was farfetched. Now, three months away from finishing my two-year service, we’re planning to get married.

Long distance relationships in the Peace Corps is possible, contrary to traditional belief, and I want to tell you how I make it work.

So, what keeps you over the distance for someone you barely know?

My boyfriend and I met six months before I was to leave my home country for Nicaragua for two years. He was the first man to express happiness and encouragement when I told him I joined the Peace Corps instead of acting like I was going to live on a different planet.

Like any other relationship, there had been issues between us and, with the distance, we really had to want to resolve them. Whenever there was a problem, we addressed it immediately instead of letting it fester. So we had to constantly ask ourselves if the relationship was worth it. You have to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Is it worth the cost?

I wasn’t always sure it was. We started as friends and, with time, we decided we wanted to be more serious. Once we became exclusive, our relationship became that much harder.

Sometimes, I had to choose work over talking to him.

Some days, the community lost power and there was no internet to call him.

Often times, I would be too tired to talk to him when I finished work for the day.

I had to be completely honest, admit when I messed up and give him assurance that even in my failure, my heart still wanted him.

But. It. Was. Worth. It.

Ask yourself, is he or she worth it?

A long distance relationship in the Peace Corps is not only possible but I think it is necessary.

Why? Because I am a better volunteer as a result of my relationship with my significant other. It has made our friendship even stronger.

It was an emotional journey. Yes, we did have fights. Jealousy did strike a few times and there were several nights when I chose him over sleep. Occasionally, my relationship weighed on my social life BUT through it all, progress was made.

He got to know me as I evolved and became a stronger volunteer and a better woman.

Now, we’re moving towards marriage and I only have a few months left of my service.

Here are a few key ways that I think help make a long distance relationship in the Peace Corps work:

  1. Want it. We wanted to be exclusive and I wanted him.
  2. Be transparent. Tell everyone you have a boyfriend. Hold yourself accountable. Being in close confines with other volunteers is tempting. These people understand exactly what you’re going through and will always get it, sometimes more than your significant other BUT remember number 1.
  3. Make time for your partner. Show him/her that no matter what, you’re willing to prioritize your relationship even though, at the moment, your job comes first.
  4. Be honest about your needs and don’t be intimidated by the distance. The hundreds or thousands of miles between you won’t matter so much if your hearts are close.
  5. Visit. My boyfriend visited me in Nicaragua and I visited him when I went home for Christmas.
  6. Make plans. Know that the distance can’t and shouldn’t be forever.
  7. Use technology. I don’t know what I would have done if I was in a country without Wi-Fi. For the first few months of my service, there wasn’t any Wi-Fi in the park or my house and it made talking a real effort, but thankfully that changed after a few months of integration.
  8. Be on the same page. We both love to travel. We both love art. He is a musician. I’m a writer. He’s in a fraternity. I’m in a sorority. We’re both black. Sure, there are differences between us, but one the most important things in life is that we’re always on the same page.
  9. Support each other. There were times when being so far away made me cry. There were times when I felt frustrated because I was going through something only a Peace Corps Volunteer could understand. There were times when he felt like I didn’t have enough time for him or he was worried because I was sick and far away. But we both stepped up in those feelings and supported each other through it.
  10. Pray. My boyfriend and I are Christians and praying is an important component of being together. We pray for each other every night and try to pray together. I have a devotional life on my own, but knowing that my boyfriend is praying for me and for us to be in God’s Will gives me even more peace knowing that we are doing this together. Whether you believe in God or not, it definitely takes something higher than yourself to sustain in a difficult situation.

It’s a common belief, theory and some say fact that 70% of volunteers find love in the Peace Corps. Whether with a local, a fellow volunteer or, like me, back home.

Was it easy?

No.

Did I miss him?

A whole bunch.

Was it worth it?

Heck. Yes. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. These two years have allowed me to fall in love with the best friend I didn’t know I needed and now we’re getting ready for marriage.

If you’re considering the Peace Corps and you have a significant other, don’t count the relationship out. Distance makes the heart grow fonder and you may find that distance makes the love grow deeper as well.

Reverse Culture Shock

I’d been home twice during my Peace Corps tenure in Nicaragua. The first time, I went after serving just a little under a year and the second time was after living in Nicaragua for a year and nine months.

What I remember about the first trip was worrying about not staying too long so my Spanish wouldn’t revert while I was gone. I didn’t worry too much about anything else and when it was time to return, I remember hugging my parents and leaving again with no difficulty at all.

This second time however was beyond difficult. I remember with distinction the moment I set foot in New Jersey. My layover in Houston was easy. I spoke in Spanish the entire time I was there from ordering food to returning to my terminal. But New Jersey felt foreign, from its artificial lighting to the incredible amount of white people and the absence of Spanish. I remember thinking to myself, “I want to go home” and I didn’t mean North Carolina. I meant Estelí, Nicaragua with Madre Vilma and my little cement bedroom where I’d been living for almost two years. That home.

I ended up missing my flight and having to spend the night in the airport. No, that wasn’t fun, but it gave me silence to think. I really consider Nicaragua my home now and the thought made me instantly feel guilty, like somehow I had betrayed my country.

How could the country of my birth feel like a too tight skin? It was itchy, uncomfortable and hot. I didn’t like the way all the air was controlled. I felt either too hot or too cold. I hated how everyone was on their phones and not interacting. I kept forgetting there was a sewage system and it was safe to flush my toilet paper. There wasn’t any smell of food I recognized or Latin music playing in the background. The entire country felt eerily quiet. And the one that is most selfish is that I missed how people acknowledged me.

In Nicaragua, I am seen. Whether for my foreignness or the respect I received for my membership in my community, there is no time when people walk past me and ignore me. But in the United States they do. Here, I feel valued and accomplished. I am both respected for being here, working hard in my community, having a degree (which 90% in my community don’t have) and my intellect.

In America, I’m just another black girl.

Going back, I felt the coolness of being a nobody again and I didn’t like it. I don’t think that makes me egocentric at all. It’s just the truth.

My family, on several different occasions, looked at me strangely while I was home. Or told me, “You are not Nicaraguan.” But I feel like I am. From my Nica-isms like pointing at things with my lips to not understanding American pop culture references to the random times I would try to translate something directly from Spanish to English and it didn’t translate well. For example, we were talking about me knowing someone and, to try to remember, I asked, “Is she pale?” My family immediately looked at me strangely and laughed. “Pale? Do you mean is she light-skinned?” I felt embarrassed and tried to explain. Being pale-skinned in Nicaragua is a way of identifying someone. They’re chele. It’s more than being black or white.

But how can I explain an entirely different culture? Or how much that culture means to me?

My holidays have been spent somewhere between feeling like an imposter and feeling guilty for using things that are of minor convenience like taking a bath, knowing that amount of water could give my family in Nicaragua clean water for a month.

I’ve embraced the Nicaraguan ways. Pointing with your lips is faster than pointing with your hands. Saying “how” (como) instead of saying “what?” (que) is more polite when you don’t understand something. Knowing your actual neighbors and being a large family is economically better and it means you don’t ever have to worry about not having enough to live on.

Things in Nicaragua makes sense to me while the only other place I’ve known in the entire world is starting to make none… and I have to reconcile that with myself in the next three months because I’m about to close my service. That makes me scared and nervous. How will my first home welcome me? How will I feel knowing I won’t return to my second home for, at the very minimum, a year?

I have heard from other Peace Corps Volunteers that your community never forgets you, that serving gives you a permanent home in the country of your service and I am both grateful and heartbroken that I will be leaving soon.

I can remember first arriving in Nicaragua and feeling like a sticker that has been awkwardly pasted somewhere it’s not supposed to be. I remember confronting how I felt about my blackness, people touching my hair and never being able to hide. But those things have made me face myself and now, I feel more myself in Nicaragua – from my natural hair, my looks and my acceptance of two tongues – than I have ever felt in the United States.

Who knew reverse culture shock would be this hard?

 

Affinity Groups

One of the biggest markers for success in any organization is to not only be diverse but acknowledging and supporting those differences. Peace Corps, as a global organization has since it’s conception has made strides to stay current, be aware of the growing diversity within volunteers and support those who are in need of support.

One example of that was the approval of an affinity group within Peace Corps Nicaragua. An affinity group is a group of people who come together to safely share experiences around specific identity markers (such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, age, etc.). As a member of the Diversity Committee, we’ve seen and discussed the diversity that happens within our race, gender, sexual orientation and life experiences within Peace Corps. Unfortunately, that’s not always highlighted.

Our first affinity group  was centered around race and how volunteers identify. We hope to have more in the future around sexual orientation, class, religion and even more. It was hard to plan and a lot of time and effort went into the invitation, the activities, and the overall spirit of the event but in the end, it was worth it. It was a huge success. We started with an icebreaker called, “What I want You To Know.” Each identity group had to write on a flip chart: 1. What we want you to know about our group, 2. What we never want to see, hear or experience again as a member of this group, 3. What we want our allies to do. Here’s an example of what the black female group wrote because there was no black male in attendance.

IMG_63602After that, we created norms/rules to govern the conversations and interactions for the entire day and every affinity group we’d have in the future. Of the rules, my favorite was “send love” and “address not attack”. We defined words and acknowledged the purpose before getting into reflection activities. Separately, each identity group discussed 4 topics: Identity, Discrimination, Ally, and Support. We asked questions like how they identify, what experiences led them to that identity marker, what the word ally means, what does support look and feel like within Peace Corps. After that, we had lunch together and overall relaxed, even more, getting to know one another. After lunch, we came together as one group and discussed the difference answers  from each question. Then we created an action plan from the answers. If this is what you need to feel supported, what can Peace Corps do and what can you do as a volunteer? We invited two Headquarter representatives who were in Nicaragua to lead staff through a week-long long diversity training, to attend the action planning. It was great to share ideas and come together with an actual plan to propose to PC Nicaragua and PC as a whole. Afterward, one young lady brought her keyboard and sung Hello – Adele, Change is Going to Coe – Sam Cook, Woman’s Worth – Alicia Keys and more. We sang along and ended the day with greater bonds than we had before the event.

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I am overwhelming proud of those who attended and thankful that my voice was used as a change agent. I am so proud of everyone who showed up and all the voices we heard. I am proud of my agency and I am proud to have been here to see the beauty in so many volunteers feeling heard, supported and empowered. Peace Corps’ main purpose is to promote peace and friendship between host country nationals and the United States. I don’t know a better way to do that than to acknowledge the differences amongst Americans, learn about the different cultures and share it with every Nicaraguan we encounter.

#squadgoals

#mypeacecorps

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Half Done Service

If this what life looks like from the halfway mark, it looks great!

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If you’ve have made it this far you really are the chosen few! By this time you have probably gotten sick, experience some form of depression, visited home or experienced the holidays the Nica way, lost several of your fellow PCVs to ETs, Med Evacs, and more. Most likely several of your fellow PCVs are in relationships or have had relations with Nicas and other PCVs. So let’s take a moment and reflect. What have I learned so far?
Amongst many other things, I learned selflessness, problem-solving skills, appreciation of my own culture and most importantly a better awareness of myself.

Unlike many volunteers, I had never been outside of the country before. Therefore, I didn’t know what to expect. I couldn’t speak another language, although I took many Spanish classes in the States and I was unsure of proper behaviors in respecting other cultures customs while maintaining my own. It was tough for me but not as tough as it could be, because I kept an open mind. I learned how to see life through someone else’s eyes. There is a lot of poverty here. Suddenly, things like brand new shoes lost their significant meaning when I could have my old shoes repaired for cheaper good as new. I began to understand my grandparent’s beliefs of using things completely up. I also found contentment in the little things. I never knew I would prefer the smell of fresh air in my sheets from drying on a line than the downy sheet used in the dryer. I also never knew having little can make a family have much. What I mean is that even though my family had to share the same towels and could only afford to eat three times a day, no more, they were happy with that. They were happy with a TV that was ten times bigger than a flat screen TV and content without a radio or iPhone. Their phones worked just fine and without many things to do in the town, the friendships grew deeper. You have to start over as a PCV, beginning as a foreigner, untrustworthy and without a true understanding of the language. Then slowly you became a part of the family and apart of the community. Little kids know your name and you know the hidden gems of your town. Without noticing, you’re referring to Nicaragua as home. You speak like a Nica and even foster many Nica gestures. Life becomes simpler, easier and altogether more worthwhile because you are accepted and appreciated. This is life at the halfway mark. A slow infusion of yourself with others and another Country to call home. You realize just how fast a year went by and realize the second will fly even faster. But all in all, you are happy and content in the moment should be appreciated as it is often very hard to achieve.

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Leon Cathedral. You’re not allowed to wear shoes up there.

Here’s to one year down and another one flying just as fast!

Palo de Mayo

The end of May is an exciting time in Nicaraguan culture. Every last weekend of May, this year May 27-29th is Maypole or Palo de Mayo. Palo de Mayo is a festival and an old Afrocaribbean dance (with sensual movements) that forms part of the culture of several communities in the current RAAS area (Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur). Bluefields is the most important scenario for this event.  Vibrant Caribbean rhythms and colorful processions, marks the start of the Palo de Mayo festival, a tribute to Mayaya African goddess of fertility. This celebration dates from the early nineteenth century, is an adaptation of the British tradition who celebrated the first day of May with a feast.

It is considered the highest expression of culture and tradition of the Caribbean of Nicaragua, the first of May starts with a presentation around a tree which is decorated with colored ribbons and around which dances are performed as welcome to the rainy season , production and new life. Throughout the month, there are festivals, dances, and presentations. Then on the weekend, each neighborhood dresses up and dances in the street on the absolute last day of May is Tululu. This year, I reached out to other Peace Corps volunteers who live in the area for a connect because I wanted to dance in the parade. I was given an official handmade outfit and a few days prior learned the traditional dance. It was amazing. We walked around the entire city and danced in the streets for about 3 hours. It was fun and exciting to be with people who look like me.