Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Warning: long, introspective post ahead

Most of you are probably aware that I was in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua from 1999-2001. To this day, whenever someone finds out, they tend to perk up and ask "How was it?" and I automatically give a generic response like "I'm really glad I did it" or "It was a great experience" because I don't have it in me to try to explain it to someone else, to take two years and three months of joys and sorrows and fun and frustration and put it into words. I kept a journal the whole time I was there, and I haven't opened it, until today. Why? Partly because my departure and return to the United States was a very emotional time for me, and I haven't ever felt like delving into it. So, why did I open it? Today when I got home from work, there was a package waiting for me. My sitemate Paige and her husband, who is from the small community where Paige and I lived, went back to visit and I took advantage of their trip to send some gifts and letters to my host family and friends from the town. Keeping in touch has been difficult, mainly because there is no mail service to rural Nicaragua. The package I received today contained some letters and gifts that people had sent back to me via Paige, and of course, a bag of rosquilla. For those of you unfamiliar with rosquilla, they are cornmeal-based cookies that are extremely popular in Nicaragua, but definitely an acquired taste. The letters were so sweet and so touching, filled with memories, gossip, and statements like “You are part of our family. Come back soon.” I didn’t actually help anyone, and it wasn’t “the toughest job you’ll ever love,” it was more like, “hey, find yourself something to do and we’ll see you in a couple of years,” but realizing that just the fact that my being there, in some small way, touched the lives of all of these people made the whole thing worth it. So, what’s in the journal? A lot of things I had forgotten about. And lists like these:

Favorite Things About Nicaragua:
My friends
Having kids around all the time
watching novelas with the whole family
the sound of a rainstorm on a tin roof
greasy (but yummy) food
weak, sugary coffee
riding horses
warm, fresh tortillas
blue and white uniforms on schoolchildren
dancing lessons in la sala
Flor De Caña (Nicaraguan rum)
the smell of the woodstoves
the buses, especially chasing after one and jumping in the back
the stars on a clear night
vaccinating chickens
fresh air, beautiful scenery
piñata parties
wild monkeys and sea turtles
finally feeling like I fit in

Least Favorite Things About Nicaragua:
the latrine
having to iron everything
no mail service
skinny, starving street dogs
lard in all my food
how everyone believes that it’s bad to bathe when you’re sweaty
everyone gossiping about you
eating when I’m already full because it’s rude to say no
no alone time
pregnant girls
lying, cheating men
being constantly worried about getting robbed, mugged, etc.
having nothing to do
feeling like I can’t be myself
everyone asking me for money
rats and big spiders
Constant diarrhea
Everyone calling me fat

So there you have it. That’s what it was like.

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