Danny's Guest Blogging: Part Three: Reflections

>> Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Holly and Paul were two of my best friends in high school.  We have kept in touch since then, but our AIM chats and emails about their life in Nicaragua could not accurately convey just how much their lives have changed while serving in the Peace Corps.

Holly and Paul, without even realizing it, have become quite proficient at Spanish.  The moment that best illustrates this is when Holly and I were patronizing the fine establishment known as Tip Top. I stood alongside and watched as Holly and Tip Top lady discussed in Spanish the several different combinations of main courses and sides in the family meal, and after this two minute conversation, Holly turns to me and asks, "Does that sound good to you?"

Perhaps Holly assumed I was paying attention during my two Spanish courses in high school, but most likely, she didn't even realize that she was speaking in Spanish--ordering food in Spanish is commonplace, something she does every day.  I doubt Holly and Paul realize how impressive it is to a uni-lingual observer such as myself that they are able to communicate with people in two different languages while I can barely do it in one.

The transportation system in Nicaragua was also quite foreign to me. I expected standing-room only, hot and sweaty Nicaraguan buses where roosters and people ride side-by-side, but I didn't expect that all in one day, we would utilize every mode of transportation ever invented: we took a boat back to Bluefields, a cab to the airport, a plane to Managua, and a school bus back to Masaya.  It's not even the varying forms of transportation--it's also the entire system for making reservations.  When I want to fly somewhere I go to expedia.com.  When they want to get around in Nicaragua, they go to the airport or bus terminal or harbor and hope the plane/bus/boat isn't full yet.  If it's not, they are awarded with their very own boarding pass, which I'm pretty sure was incorrectly taken literally by a Bluefields Airport worker at some point.

Nicaragua is an amazing place; it would make a great vacation spot or even a fun place to live if you approach the area with the right expectations.  I visited expecting to see how the other half lives. Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the hemisphere, and certain areas are debilitatingly poor and dangerous--places where trash lines the side of the roads, and bums sleep on every sidewalk.  But there are comparable areas in every major American city too.

While Nicaragua does have impoverished areas, it also has beach areas and panoramic views that rival anything America's coastal cities have to offer.  Still, though, Nicaragua will not provide you with the creature comforts of America--but, as far as I'm concerned, that's the entire point.  If you're accustomed to eating McDonald's every day and having food brought to you (which, admittedly, I have been in the past) and going from one air conditioned place to another, then you're probably not going to like it.  But if you're willing to step outside of your boundaries then you'll likely discover that not only can you get by with way less, you might even be happier.

It is possible that my one week stay does not give me the authority to speak on this matter.  I had my own personal translators and photographers following me around for the duration of my short stay,
and they used their knowledge of the area to keep me out of trouble and show me the best that Nicaragua had to offer.   My week in Nicaragua was a vacation--I knew the poverty, the cold showers, and the muggy weather were temporary, and once I left I'd return to a familiar and comfortable America.  Holly and Paul don't have that luxury.  Still, though, I feel that the Peace Corps experience--both the good and the bad, and I know Holly has a list of the bads--is invaluable and will pay meaningful if not financial dividends later in life.


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