sábado, 12 de septiembre de 2009

Getting into the Groove

After a week or two of living in the same place, falling into a routine is inevitable. Everything, from the food to the classes, begins to look and feel more or less the same as it did the day before. This has more advantages than disadvantages. With the monotony comes both continuity and familiarity, two elements essential to creating a sense of belonging. Having a full "work week" this week from Monday to Friday gave us students the chance to adjust to Nicaraguan culture and our individual host families.

The sun comes up shortly after 5:00 A.M. here in Nicaragua, and by 6:00, it is already bright as noonday. Roosters, church bells, honking cars, and host family members wake us up each day long before our alarm clocks chime. The quality of each student's respective breakfast experience varies from host family to host family. My best breakfast consisted of pancakes served with bananas and papaya, but in general, breakfasts are more mundane than that. Gallo pinto (rice and beans) with tortillas and green cantelope is about average for most of us.

Many of us faced our biggest challenges adapting to our host families this week, and mealtimes have occasionally proved problematic. Popular student government leader Kyle Quinn described one of his experiences this way: "Every morning at breakfast, my host family would give me this bowl of fruit. I didn't want to offend them, so I always ate every bite of it - and then the next morning, they would give me an even bigger serving. By the fourth day, the bowl was so huge that I just couldn't eat it all. I finally had to break down and tell my family that I didn't even like cantelope in the first place!" By the end of this "routine" week, however, we students had either successfully communicated our eating preferences to our families or have made peace with what is put on our plates.

Classes with Dr. Bryant begin around 8:00 in the morning. A typical class contains a discussion of Nicaraguan legends (often involving headless Spanish priests and gigantic golden crabs), a discussion of Nicaraguan history, presentations on notable Nicaraguans by the students, and a lesson in colloquialisms and local vocabulary. Our next two classes of the day feature authentic Nicaraguan professors and focus on improving our Spanish. All three classes are taught entirely in Spanish, and we finish up shortly before noon.

The rest of the daylight hours are spent eating lunch with our host families and doing volunteer work in the afternoons. One group of four students works every day at Carita Feliz, a school with hundreds of local students, while the other group plans art projects for students at Los Pipitos, a school for children with mental or physical disabilities. These afternoons are hectic and taxing but ultimately rewarding. In the following photo, students are working together to build a paper chain at Los Pipitos.

Evenings are typically quiet and consist of homework, host family downtime, or cruising the local cafes with other students. It gets dark shortly after 6:00 P.M., so during the work week no one stays out much later than 9:00 P.M. or so.

Despite all of the good that comes with routines, however, by the weekend, everyone was ready for a change of scenery. In my next blog post, I will write about our next series of weekend adventures.

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