I wake up in my new house… painted green walls and a real tiled floor. There is a bathroom in the inside of my house, I can pee indoors now. Life is good. Joni Mitchell plays on my tiny pink speakers and flies are scattered around my camping stove I was too lazy to clean the night before. I sit on a plastic chair in my make shift outdoor kitchen; have my coffee and whatever food smells slightly less than questionable. I throw on clothes that will forever have a smell of humid, warm butter and I unlock the padlocks from my thick, barred walls and head out the door. The contrast of the sun hitting the concrete houses and tin roofs somehow make the polluted water colorfully shimmer in the dirt roads. I am heading to the health center, praying they will not make me give a charla. Charlas, or lectures, make up a large portion of the health position, but after a year they are still the bane of my existence. You stand awkwardly in front of a room of people forcing them to listen to your broken Spanish over topics in which I have not been educated. I am not a nurse, though people still think I am. I have learned my way around the pharmacy like the back of my hand, but still have not learned the prayers, songs and hand gestures of the numerous religious fiestas that have overtaken the town. I just mouth the word ‘watermelon’ repeatedly and somehow end up performing a petite version of the ‘YMCA’ dance instead of the Hail Mary.
Everything is more intense here… life is a big ball of bipolar and I am trapped inside. Your extreme highs turn into painful happiness hangovers, your dreams of changing or improving anything are constantly shattered by lack of communication and cultural differences; just because something is important to you, does not mean it’s important to somebody else. I just heard from a man that the drunks, or bolos, have been going into my garden at the Casa Materna nightly and destroying the plants because they can. Watching your hard work be destroyed by an ugly disease that you can’t change is both disheartening and maddening. However, Altagracia is an amazing and progressive town. There is a gay/ transgendered community, the women know how to party and the Nurses put full effort into promoting HIV/AIDS testing, Pap smears, and STD testing… all of which can be extremely taboo in various parts of the country. Many women refuse to take the pap as it will allegedly give them diseases and rob their virginity. There are so many myths that surround this culture, it’s like were living back in the 50s when cigarettes were prescribed as a stress reliever. And the things that get you sick are of course the obvious; not believing in god, not wearing shoes, and mixing hot and cold… never, ever take a cold shower or a cold drink after working in the fields, this leads to cancer and arthritis.
I ran into my ex and his family the other day, Tarzan. There’s a whole other story there, but we will leave that and many others for my post PC blog/telanovela series on Lifetime. He saw me walking by his house and called me over; he was sick and pretty frightened as the men here do not get ill, or least rarely admit to those feelings. His stomach was in agonizing pain and he had admitted to me that the night before he had drank enough to kill a horse… a mixture of beer, rum and homemade liquor, which is known to be lethal. He is a fully committed alcoholic, like so many men here, and I feel like I have been watching a man I once thought I loved, slowly kill himself. He truly is beautiful when he’s sober, but unfortunately he doesn’t see the same. Dating an alcoholic — another experience I never expected to go through. Sitting on the ground, holding his hand as he lay in his hammock with a bag of medicinal herbs made by his mother, his parents suddenly start screaming at each other because his mother let him eat watermelon. The boy consumes five bottles of toxic Guarro the night before, his organs are potentially failing because of this, but it was the slice of watermelon that caused him to fall ill. I just sat there pretending I didn’t understand the conversation and wondering how I constantly put myself in these situations. It was painful to leave him behind in that state, but if I stayed he would’ve pulled me down with him. I hope he finds a balance in his life, but I do fear I will hear his name one day on the public announcements that travel through the town by a man and his bullhorn.
The one phrase almost any PCV will state or agree with is that ‘the highs are highs and the lows are lows’. My energy has been drained the past few weeks, like a sleeping pill I can’t shake. I feel like my Spanish is somehow regressing and I wonder if I will accomplish anything of extreme value in my short time here. There is so much to be done; finding a reason for the alarming rate of kidney disease/failure, breast cancer screening, youth projects, water campaigns, health fairs to promote…everything, but the most simple of tasks can take months or years to complete. Sometimes it feels like I am a kid in this beautiful, sparkling candy store, but the floor is made of broken glass and I misplaced my shoes.
It’s a slow time of year with all of the fiestas and school vacations, so I have been giving English classes to one of the boys at Si a La Vida. He’s picked up a few phrases, but it will take him a long while to catch on. Whenever he gets confused, I simply explain everything clearly in Spanish. I realized that we did not learn this way. There was no English allowed during our training, if we were confused… well, go grab a snack and cry about it in the bathroom. I thought of how awful it would be for him to fly to North America with such little English, be thrown in with a host family that he won’t be able to understand, and after three weeks, throw him to the wind and make him give lectures in a local health center. My first thought… I could never, ever do that. My second thought… that is exactly what I did and am living every day. No wonder I feel like a hot mess that can’t get out of bed somedays.
This shit is hard.
The days are flying by, I have a weird lump in my left armpit, my feet and home-performed haircuts are just offensive, and some of my moles have started to bleed. I am still struggling with Spanish and have made numerous fatal blunders… accidentally calling my overly religious host mom a lesbian, asking my 6th grade class if ‘we were all on the same vagina’, telling nurses that a boy ‘turned off’ in the emergency room, and while trying to be sexy and coy, accidentally telling a boy I just met that I wanted to sit on him. I’ve realized at the end of the day that the rather uncomfortable underwear I was wearing, were in fact, not mine. I have a site mate that provokes unforeseen adventures through a chain of bad decisions, but we somehow keep each other sane at the same time. She has found me raccoon-eyed and crying on my floor, drinking spoiled wine right out of the box, while playing ‘Hold On’ by Wilson Philips on repeat. It was a sight no one should’ve seen, yet she is somehow still friends with me. Not everyone is so lucky to have a friend that will bring over beverages and video clips of Full House to cheer a girl up. I give a high five to the people without site mates who are completely detached from society. I really don’t think I would have lasted.
Though my honeymoon phase of the Peace Corps has ended, you would still have to pull me out of here kicking and screaming. The past year has been one of the most emotional, random and exciting times of my life. The things I have experienced most people only read about in books and it still seems surreal that this is both my job and my life. Last night, as three of us sat on a front stoop watching our town light things on fire in the name of the virgin, we were joking how it feels like we were all cast in a Nicaraguan version of the ‘Truman Show’. As we pondered living our lives under the microscope of our community we remembered the guy that rides around the park in circles all day, the women that sit peacefully in their rocking chairs day in and day out, and all noticed another man that had just walked by for the 3rd time, holding 4 ice cream cones that had still not melted. Maybe we are on to something…
Nana emoticon…ready for hot water and the holidays.