I´m headed down to Managua in the morning to meet up with my Dad and brother, who are visiting for two weeks. We have big plans to travel to the as-of-yet-unknown-to-me southern lands of Granada and Isla Omotepe.
Their visit coincides with my halfway mark in my grant. Last week I filled out an extensive mid-grant report, and I thought I would share some excerpts. Some things thing I like about how Fulbright evaluates their program is that they are very hands off, I evaluate according to the goals and project I designed for myself. They also ask for lots of feedback that is passed on to future grantees. I found the mid-grant reports from former grantees in Nicaragua very helpful when preparing to come here, so I tried to be very detailed in filling out my form.
Here´s my advice for future travellers in Nicaragua (are you reading, family?)
Changes to Adjust to Local Culture
Everyone talks about Nica time, and so when I arrived I thought I was prepared mentally for no one to arrive on time, classes to start an hour late or not at all, and transportation to run on a lack of schedule. When all these things proved true it didn’t bother me at first, but after getting more involved and invested in my project it has started to bother me more. It’s important to me to arrive on time, so that if anyone is waiting it is me and not the person I am asking to meet me, but it means I have to be understanding when I feel sometimes like I do more waiting than working. Something to take inspiration from is how patient the people here are; they wait hours for busses or services without exasperation. So I always carry around something to read, and practice embracing sponteneity as well as patience.
Social Cultural Adjustment
If you want to form good or solid friendships with Nicaraguans you need to have patience, because only time will tell you who is a friend and who is just waiting to ask you for money, or to ask you out, or wants some other form of a favor. “Simple” friendships don’t easily exist with such a large cultural and economical gap. Even in a city that feels modern, it’s a dog-eat-dog world here, and everyone is thinking of how they can get ahead. Foreigners mean money and that means ahead. That being said, I feel confident that I have a solid group of Nicaraguan friends who I hope I will keep in touch with for a long time, and am happy to help out when I can. I did have to learn to stand my ground and tell people no, I can’t help them, and be ok with the fact that they weren’t interested in spending time with me after that. In working relationships, communication has been a struggle for me. The bureaucracy and catty politics within institutions is complicated. It’s a stretch in patience and self control not to express my frustration in the wrong situations, especially when it seems clear that the people involved are hurting themselves or their projects in the process. I have been frustrated recently with social games and manipulation, but while it is frustrating it’s important not to let it prevent you from making the contacts and friends you need.
Strategies for getting acquainted to the culture
Be open, and play the role of a naïve traveler without being one. Even if you have heard seven times over the list of traditional drinks for example, allow the person you are talking to the honor of an attentive listener. People here are proud of their culture and history, and even if they are telling you things you already have heard, it is as important for them to entertain you as for you to listen. I talk to everyone, eat everything (without a single problem), and have learned to accept gifts graciously. The people here are very generous, and at first I was hesitant to accept gifts from people who sometimes obviously have so little. But it is far worse to refuse a gift – you risk offending a person greatly – so accept and start scheming about how to get them back by returning another favor or gift. Also, talk to foreigners who have traveled to Nicaragua as much as you can before you arrive, but keep an open mind. Your experience will be unique.
Also, I have recently been uploading more photos and videos on flickr, mostly of the reforestation project. Expect to see some of Dad and Brian soon…