At the entrance, we met up with the other twenty or so environment volunteers. It had only been about a week, but I was happy to see them. I’ve always been curious to see how their tasks differ from those of our TEFL group. I had the chance to catch up with some of them, and apparently they co-plan and co-teach as well. Oh, and they help plant gardens. I want to plant gardens. We were all packed into the white Peace Corps land rovers, and I sat in the front while rearranging the water jugs so that more of us could sit in the back. As we drove us off to our training site, we passed lush vegetation and palm trees. “This feels like Jurassic Park!” I said to everyone. Then Jen joked with me that we were about to see dinosaurs, but that no one had told me. I would have believed her if it were night time and raining.
We arrived at the observatory, and helped the staff by carrying a jug of purified water to the site. We all took pictures of the surrounding lakes, city, and tar fields. “So…where’s the volcano?” I asked Emily . We guessed that some distant ant hill-looking mound must be Volcán Masaya. I was expecting to see an imposing, thunderous, Mordor-like scene. Nope. We still hadn’t gone hiking yet, so I held off our expectations a bit longer. The day’s presentations soon began, including presentations on the volunteer trajectory. Presenters told us how we might feel throughout the course of our 27-month service. Volunteers’ emotions ebb and flow (just like any normal human being’s) throughout their service. We were apparently in the honeymoon stage still, because we have only been here for 3 weeks. At some point we will probably feel frustrated with ourselves and begin to question if we really are meant to be here. Throughout this presentation, I kept thinking that like is a rollercoaster wherever you are, whether you’re in the U.S. or In Nicaragua. I’ll undoubtedly have to remind myself why I’m here.
The presenter gave us some pretty valid points. He talked about adjusting to Peace Corps service and how ironic it is that he came to Nicaragua as an agricultural volunteer with grand plans-but he couldn’t even sharpen a machete. He told a story of another volunteer who jumped head first into a barrel full of water when his family told him that it was there for him to bathe with. He didn’t know that he was supposed to take a cup and scoop the water over his head. “It’s funny how Peace Corps volunteers come into a community knowing about 100 years of development history, yet they can’t even bathe themselves.” Touché. This reminds me of how novel an idea it was for me to wash my underwear by hand. I had done it before as a kid, but only to see what it was like. Now I did it because our host families didn’t have to wash my underwear. Just a quick scrub on the concrete washboard is enough, followed by a two-hour long drying session on my tin roof. It wasn’t the most riveting thing in the world to wash my underwear, but it was strangely satisfying to control exactly how my clothes could be washed. It felt almost as therapeutic as cooking does for me. I like to be able to control the ingredients I use and to be able to control the process of creating a dish as simple as spaghetti. I haven’t done much cooking since I’ve been here. It’s been pretty nice to have a family cook for me. I feel spoiled.
Anyway, we had our session on diversity in the Peace Corps regarding race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. We learned that Peace Corps Nicaragua was chosen to be one of the pilot countries that would begin accepting same-sex couples to serve. This initiative arose because apparently there was a committed female couple who chose to do the Peace Corps. One was sent to Ecuador, and her partner was sent to Africa. After the volunteer in Ecuador explained her situation to the Director in Ecuador, the Director vouched for the woman in Africa to come join her partner in Ecuador. After filling out a bunch of paperwork, they were able to be reunited. Super cool. I asked if the same-sex couples had to be married, because marriage is a heteronormative institution (which I am impartial to at the moment). It turns out that they only have to be in a committed relationship, and it is the same case with heterosexual couples as well now. It’s nice to know that these changes are being made within this government organization.
So, about that volcano, huh? After snacking on our PB&J sandwiches and pizza, we jumped into the Land Rovers and arrived at the mouth (?) of the volcano. We all hurried toward it to see the bottom, but, just as disappointing as it is to see the Golden Gate Bridge on an extremely cloudy day, we could barely see anything. We could just tell that there was a huge, gaping hole made of pink rock, and there was a huge, white cloud of sulfuric gas coming out of it. It smelled like rotten eggs. We took selfies with one another in between coughs. We had an hour to explore, and we didn’t want to keep filling our lungs with toxic gases so we hiked up to another viewpoint. We walked for about 20 minutes along the spine of a green hill. After reaching the top, we were welcomed by a panoramic view of Granada, volcanoes, lagoons, and mountains. This was the view that I’d been waiting for. “We live here. For two years!” Emily said. Yup! It was finally starting to hit us that we were really living here and that we weren’t just on vacation. I still don’t think I’ve completely acknowledged the fact that I’m here. Right now, two years feels like forever. It’s been going by fast, though. I can’t believe it’s September (said every teacher, ever).
The heat during the hike was blistering, but the breeze and emerald view tempered our complaints. It was my favorite experiences so far in this country. We carefully slid down the hill made of loose volcanic rock, and then we had to wait about 20 minutes for our bus back home. I was parched. On the one day I absolutely should have brought a water bottle, I decided against it. I was afraid I’d forget it somewhere. After several buses headed for other towns passed us, we half-jokingly started yelling “MASATEPE MASATEPE!” to incoming buses. After several rejections, we finally boarded the pimped out school bus. By pimped out, I mean it was clean, it had decals of its destination cities on the front, and handle bars on the inside. I paid 20 cordobas (about 80 cents) for the 30-minute ride home. Thankfully I was able to sit down after a woman carrying a loaf of white bread and a basket vacated her seat. Finally, we were home, sweet home. I jumped out of the emergency exit and felt a sigh of relief upon exiting the bus. Surviving those jam-packed bus rides always feels like a huge accomplishment.
I felt so happy when I came home to my bucket bath. Just feeling the cool splash of water was almost enough to make me want to cry tears of joy! It’s moments like these that make me feel like I’m finally in the right place at the right time. As if all of the overwhelming, ridiculous, unnecessary things I’ve gone through in the past two years led to this point: a bucket bath after a hot day. The relief was so instant, especially with the lack of air conditioning. It’s so satisfying to control exactly how much water can quench your body. It reminded me of when I’d come home after gymnastics as a kid and pour a bucket of water (or two) over my head to beat the summer heat. Little Char had air conditioning, though. Now Char isn’t so little, but she feels like a child sometimes in this country. Everything is new and she is rethinking the most basic tasks.