Next, I headed out to Daniel’s house for my interview with Don Howard, the Director of Peace Corps Nicaragua. I arrived a half hour early by accident, so Daniel and I just sat in the living room and watched TV as we sat in our rocking chairs. His host mom has a little store in the house, and I asked her what her most popular items were for sale. “Gaseosa”, or soda, is one of her top sellers. I then explained to her what a novelty soda with actual sugar is in the U.S., such as the “throwback” versions of Pepsi and Mountain Dew. The only difference is that they are made with real sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup. The interview was more of an informal chat with Don Howard. He had served with the Peace Corps in Guatemala and worked with the Peace Corps in Bolivia. I want to be like him in that he has worked in several Latin American countries for the cause of social justice. We chatted about Boston, his previous firefighting experience, and about the fact that so many of us had been to Ecuador. I thanked him for also mentioning on our first day of training that the Peace Corps’ office was safe zone for lgbtq individuals. Not every workplace that has such an explicitly open policy. We also talked about the new same-sex couple initiative that PC Nicaragua is taking on. I’m glad he took the time to get to know us each individually.
After the interview, I went to the Palí (Supermarket) and bought some Pepsi, grapefruit soda, plantain chips, and Chickies (delectable chocolate cookies) for my party later that night. After managing to stick the huge 3 liter bottle of Pepsi into the fridge, I ate lunch and went to get my haircut. I walked into the Unisex salon down the street, hoping it wouldn’t be so crowded. I had an hour before I had to go to training. It was lunch time, so luckily, I had the salon to myself. I didn’t even know how much it would cost, but since these salons are family-owned, I knew it wouldn’t be much. An older woman with arched eyebrows, a bun, and a calm demeanor had me sit down and draped me in the black cloak. I just wanted a trim, since I don’t have much hair on my head to begin with. My head was getting hot lately with so much hair, and I just wanted less of it. A younger woman, who I’m guessing was my hairdresser’s daughter, was playing with her one-year-old son. I would be getting a similar haircut to his, they joked. They also joked that I needed to watch out because I would find an “amante”, or lover, very soon. Ha ha ha! I’m used to laughing along at this. “Why do you have such short hair?” her daughter asked me. “She has the face for it”, her mother replied. I explained that I had long hair in high school, but I always had it up in a pony tail because I played sports. Also, my hair would get tangled super easily. I cannot see myself growing my hair out. I tried once, in college, and I’ll just say that was not my classiest year. I just wanted to cut my hair as short as I could because I immediately feel cooler (as in less hot) without so much hair trapping my body heat.
When my haircut was finished, I asked her to pluck my eyebrows. Instead of plucking them, she used some sort of mini buzzer that didn’t hurt at all. I couldn’t believe that hair removal could be so painless. It made me feel silly for having waxed, plucked, and worst of all, threading my eyebrows. We chatted about my English teaching, and about my hairdresser’s trip to NYC. Her husband is fascinated by the cold, but she couldn’t stand it. I told her that I’d rather be hot than cold as well. In total, the haircut and eyebrows cost $3. In the U.S., it would have cost me at least $30. Also, this isn’t something I would be able to do typically in the U.S. during a workday. I am really enjoying having free time during the day to do this kind of things. I still accomplish what I need to accomplish, but I’m not stuck at a desk at all day waiting for 5 pm to roll around.
Around 1:30 I met the other volunteers at the Puesto (our bus stop) to head to San Juan de Faro, a private school near the even smaller town of Catarina. We boarded our pimped out school bus and the entire ride I kept wiping off the hairs from my neck and my ears that my hairdresser failed to dust off. I put on the blue dangly earrings that Robin made me for my cumpleaños. Because we are basically the same person, she read my mind when I had complained to myself that I only had studded earrings. Once we got to training, Donald (one of our training specialists) had all of the TEFLeros sing happy birthday to me. It’s always awkward when people sing happy birthday to you. Should you look up? Down? Stare at people? Smile and wave? Giggle? I think I did all of those. It was still nice to have people sing to me on a Wednesday-it definitely spiced up the work week and I felt loved.
Right after training, the 5 of us Masatepinos had to book it back to town to teach our first adult English class at 5 pm. We had been asked to hold these classes by the tourism office with the goal of getting more adults to speak in conversational, business-oriented Spanish. We had been told that 20 people had signed up. By 5 pm, we had one student. Because Nicaraguan time permits people to arrive 10-15 minutes late to everything, we continued to wait. Students were also still getting out of work. By the time we began around 5:15, there were still less than 10 participants. We introduced ourselves, and had the adults introduce themselves in English. There were people from their late 20s to their 50s in the class, and they were all at different levels. Some couldn’t introduce themselves, while others could read our dialogs perfectly. One thing I noticed was that people aren’t really used to talking about what they want to get out of classes here. Because the education system is based off of a lecture-based approach, it was hard for us to ask the participants what they came to the class to learn for the next 6 weeks. Crickets.
Because I’ve become used to the lack of participation across different ages, I started a running list of suggestions. Did people want to learn how to order in a restaurant? Talk about the local folklore to tourists? Then, slowly, they began adding their thoughts. One man asked us to teach a lesson on going to the bank. I’ve found that when I teach lessons here, I often have to illustrate several examples of what I want to see before children and adults share their thoughts. We focused on pronunciation of the word “church” during our dialogue. Since the Catholic Church is a main tourist attraction in the town, we want them to be able to say “I suggest you visit the church” to tourists. Since in Spanish the last letters are emphasized less than the first letters, it was tough for them to not say “Chur” or “Chursh”. The sentence “I should go to church” was a tongue-twister for them, and understandably so. In English, consonants have a lot more emphasis. Spanish is a smoother, more sensual language by far. English is direct.
By 6:15, I said my goodbyes and headed back to the house. I had 15 minutes to prepare for my birthday party. By 6:30, some Peace Corps volunteers had arrived with snacks as well as two of my youth group members. We set out our plates of chips and guacamole, cookies, and plantain chips, then took them outside. It began to rain, so we had to rush everything inside. I didn’t think anyone else would come because of the downpour. It rains almost every night here, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise. We went into the living room and quietly made small talk while the radio played reggaeton. Elena, my youth group member, asked me what I had planned for my party. “Spontaneity”, I said. I hadn’t planned anything. I just wanted to be with friends on my birthday, but we just needed more friends to get there. About an hour later, the rain stopped. People started coming in and breathing life into the party. Pretty soon, the living room was bursting with chatter. I was happy to no longer sit and wait for people.
Just as I was catching up with Elena, the lights went out. We all kept talking as if we never even needed the light to begin with. I asked Elena to share some of the local folkloric ghost stories with me. Whenever I hear ghost stories, my eyes tear up. I never really cry, but my eyes water. It’s a strange reaction I have. Maybe it’s because I’ve never even come close to having a supernatural experience, so when I hear about them, I’m overwhelmed and intrigued by them. One of the stories involves a “good” white dog and a bad “black dog” that follow people around. If the white dog is with you, it will protect you from harm. Another story is about a woman with high heels who haunts the towns. You can hear her jump onto the tin roofs and walk around town, searching for men to lure in. These stories are ridiculous yet fun to listen to at the same time because at any one point you could see a white or black dog, or you could hear someone with heels walking behind you in the dark. All of a sudden, you become part of a folkloric tale. I love listening to them because I didn’t grow up in a superstitious family, so this is my dose of escaping reality and pragmatism.
After the lights came back on, my host mom immediately turned the music up and told us to dance. It reminded me of how my friend Lourdes made us all my get up and dance after we had all cooked an insanely filling thanksgiving meal at Wellesley. My host mom’s stereo system flooded the room with salsa music, and soon we were singing along to Marc Anthony’s “Vivir mi vida”. That was soon replaced by 1970’s disco music, such as the unforgettable “I will survive”. I had so much fun dancing with all of these people who I had met less than a month ago. Because we all share such a common experience of interacting with foreigners, I feel as if I’ve known them for longer. We all danced our hearts out, and as usual, we all got really sweaty. I couldn’t wait to take my bucket bath after all this, but in the meantime, I was loving life. By 9 pm, most of the people had left because that’s the typical curfew time. I didn’t get a birthday cake, and I wasn’t around my old family or old friends, but I still had a blast.