I arrived here in Nicaragua 15 short months ago. I am currently serving in the Peace Corps (www.peacecorps.gov) as a community health educator. As a Peace Corps volunteer, my primary goal is to provide technical assistance to the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health.
I work directly with local doctors in the city of Chinandega (pop. 440,000) giving classes, workshops and info sessions about HIV/AIDS to pregnant women, to students, to commercial sex workers and to other high-risk populations in the community.
We teach them about the different ways they can protect themselves from HIV infection and how they can help to fight the stigma and discrimination that exists in their community surrounding the disease. We facilitate HIV support groups, coordinate outreach projects with local and international NGOs, and train youth promoters to do our jobs when we’re gone.
Every day I wake up with this primary technical goal in mind, but the Peace Corps has two other equally important goals: First, to promote a better understanding of Americans among the people of Nicaragua and, second, to promote a better understanding of Nicaraguans among Americans.
Promoting intercultural understanding has definitely been the most enriching part of my Peace Corps Service thus far. I have woken up in Nicaragua over 400 times, each time opening my eyes to a beautiful country, full of incredibly hard-working and generous people. Every day I wake up to discover something new and interesting about Nicaraguan culture, and I usually discover something new about myself, as well.
Waking up is actually a very important part of the day in Nicaragua. The first thing my co-workers ask in the morning is, “Cmo amaneci hoy?” or, “How did you wake up today?” My answer definitely varies depending on the morning, but I may respond with, “Very well, thanks to God,” or “Terribly, I’m dying from this unsupportable heat.”
I mean, I wake up differently every daytoday maybe I woke up at 5 a.m. to a religious procession passing by my house, parishioners from the local church honoring the Virgin Mary with slightly off-key singing, homemade fireworks, a bass drum and an eight-piece brass band.
Or maybe I woke up to the cheerful shrieks of kids passing my house on their way to class. Maybe I woke up sweating profusely because the power went out and my fan just stopped spinning. Maybe it was the urban rooster crowing in the tire workshop across the street. It might have been the trash truck crawling down the street with a man in the back banging loudly on a steel barrel, calling for me to get up and get my basura out to the curb!
Most often I wake up to the sound of the street vendors literally singing the praises of their own homemade cheeses, fried plantains, tortillas, or hand-picked mangos and pineapples.
Whatever the circumstances, I wake up fully aware that “I’m not in Farmington anymore” How fortunate I am to be living in this incredible Central American city, surrounded by sugar-cane fields, active volcanoes and the strongest UV-rays this world has to offer! I am living just a few miles from the beach and the swimable warm waters of the Pacific Ocean (this isn’t your frigid North Atlantic, folks).
But you know what? Being here and experiencing all of these new things has made me appreciate exactly what it is that I miss about home. I miss waking up in December (or March for that matter), looking out the window and knowing that we’ll have a snow day.
I miss waking up in the spring and smelling the mud, I miss summer afternoons at the lake, swimming and canoeing in the clean, cool, fresh water, and I especially miss the beautiful fall leaves and seeing my steamy breath escape from my mouth as I cheer on the home team at Caldwell Field.
For as many times as I have woken up to my new and exciting Nicaraguan life, the most important fact I have woken up to is that I never knew how much I love Maine until I left!
Carrie Shumway attended Mt. Blue High School, graduating in 2000. She graduated in 2004 from Fordham University, Bronx, N.Y. Her parents still live in Farmington where her mother, Carol, is the head of the Music Department for SAD 9 and her father, Alan, is pastor at the Waterville First Baptist Church. Her younger brother, Tim, will graduate from UMF in May, and her older sister, Sarah, is an editor at Dutton Children’s Books in New York City. The family has lived in Farmington for 22 years.