Saturday, August 05, 2006

I'm a Volunteer

After eleven weeks of training, we were finally able to swear in as Nicaragua 41 Small Business Volunteers. I can't say that I felt completely comfortable leaving the schedule of training, but we were all ready to start our service as the end of training was a bit repetitive and we were all looking forward to being closer to living alone.

Week 10 was spent in Niquinohomo. Our last week we had some classes, but really it was a chance to say goodbye to our training families and towns. I was definitely looking forward to moving, but it was hard to say goodbye to my family and friends in Niquinohomo. My family had a goodbye party for three of us, complete with a piƱata and every kid on the block, and my mom wouldn't let me leave without at least two plastic bags for my trip and my new town. I don't think I convinced my family that I could indeed wash my own clothes and cook my own meals. When I told them I could do both, it was always met with skeptical looks, so I assured my mom that I would call with my address so that at least she could send me the bread she bakes every Saturday.

Our last week of training was spent in Managua where we had many of the creature comforts we had been missing. Think: air conditioning, McDonalds, Burger King, movie theater. It was a comfortable "vacation" from our normal living arangements. On Friday of our last week, we swore in as Volunteers. It was a real nice ceremony with our training families, Peace Corps staff, US Embassy representative, and Nicaraguan government representative. Several people spoke before we sang both national anthems and took the Peace Corps oath in both Spanish and English. At the end, we were official volunteers.

I spent the rest of the weekend in Managua before leaving for Palacaguina. There were four of us that were able to take the same bus north which was nice to have some company for the three hour trip. Especially since as we approached our towns we were all pretty nervous. I was glad I had the opportunity to visit before arriving, but it was a scary thought that I was really on my own now in my new town. I got off the bus, got my bags and that was it, I was in my town where I would spend the next two years.

Though I've been going to the school and trying to stay busy, my first two weeks have been pretty slow and I anticipate the first few months to be the same. My primary job will be teaching in two schools. The Nicaraguan school year ends in December, so the first few months of my service are designed to give me a chance to get to the know the town, the schools, and my students (and in many cases learn Spanish) before having to formally teach. In January/February I'll begin teaching a junior achievement type course to the equivalent of 11th graders. Until then, I get to observe in the schools and give "charlas" to the students I'll teach in the coming year.

I'll also be working with a youth group that a former volunteer started. I'm still not sure what I'll be doing with the group, but right now I go to the meeting place just about every night to play ping-pong with the kids who are all around 14-18 years old.

For the most part, I've had a much easier time easing into the town than I had anticipated, and things are going really well. My Spanish surely isn't great, but I tested out at a fairly high level considering my entry level, and I'm much more comfortable with my ability. Partly, I'm simply more comfortable going through my day and only understanding a certain percentage of what's said to me, but it gets a little better each day and I can generally fumble through most conversations. The next test will be finding a house to rent and actually understanding/writing a contract with the landlord. I envision no problems with that task.

I had planned on posting the pictures of my training town while I was in Managua. Unfortunately, two weeks before getting to Managua, my camera was stolen while I was eating lunch during a training session. I have a few pictures that I had saved on a jump drive, but the rest were lost. As for pictures of Palacaguina, I hope to borrow a friend's camera for a day to take and post some pictures online.