A Snippet of my PCV life...

I was asked to write a welcome letter for the Nicaragua Handbook! This is a document given to applicants to provide them with a bit more information about Peace Corps Nicaragua. In this document, there is a section when PCVs write words of encouragement to the invitees. Here is what I wrote:

CONGRATS! I remember receiving my invitation like it was yesterday. I immediately started researching everything I could find on Nicaragua. Since I had already spent most of the application process exhausting various RPCVs with my detailed questions, I poured over websites, newspaper articles, blogs, really just about anything I could find related to my future home. After a few weeks of devouring everything I could get my hands on, I finally realized that when I actually moved to Nicaragua I would find out all this information first hand!  It's great to "be prepared" but looking back, more of that research time should've been spent eating soft-pretzels, dark chocolate, baby spinach, Thai food, exploring New York City, spending time with my grandparents and small cousins, and enjoying the small mechanical wonders of my life back home (washing machine, AC, DVR, wifi everywhere).

Another big congrats on having the patience and flexibility to make it this far through the process! Don't lose that, it will come in handy throughout training and volunteer service. As will a positive attitude and the ability to think outside the box. Just so we're clear, your being invited to serve as a community health volunteer in amazing country, filled with the most generous people, and at the same time heart-wrenching poverty. Tourists may come spend a week to enjoy the breathtaking natural wonders and well-preserved colonial cities. Short-term volunteers may come to donate tangible items or help with a small construction project. Although you'll have time to see the sights and help with various projects, YOU as a PCV are being asked to dedicate 2 full years integrating yourself in Nicaraguan culture and customs, living as the locals do, sharing stories about your life back home, laughing with your friends over the good times, lending a helping hand during the hard times, all while contributing to improving the health of vulnerable groups in Nicaragua. There's lots of work to be done considering the rising rates of teen pregnancy, new HIV cases, and maternal  and infant deaths.  These topics will be amongst the obstacles you face in your daily work. But your work might also mean learning the history behindPurisima, helping your host sister memorize a Ruben Dario poem, coaching a friend through a rough patch in his relationship, starting a community bank, or cooking your favorite dish for your neighbors.

As a Maternal and Child Health Volunteer, I lived in a large departmental capital of Chinandega. It was exactly what I wanted in a site.  I wanted to be busy and have lots of opportunities to work with different health related organizations. There's plenty of work between the 11 health centers, numerous NGOs and non profits, and the 2 casa maternas. Theres no "normal" day for me and I love the flexibility that I have in my schedule! Every day I'm working on a different project or event with a different group. Some of the projects I'll remember most include: An HIV themed street play where a youth group acted out the play while young musicians played background music; introducing yoga therapy for children to my local branch of Los Pipitos (an NGO that works with disabled children); helping a group of 20 dynamic youth promoters prepare for their radio show related to sexual and reproductive themes; and planning a HIV fair in our new mall with others PCVs. I also managed to find secondary activities with an academy of music, a local salsa dance group, and a few peace corps committees. Outside of work, I have an amazing Nica family, considerate and wonderful neighbors. I really have come to crave nica food, salsa dancing and can even play a few Nicaraguan folk songs on my violin. When I need to de-stress I've been able to hang out with the phenomenal people (Nicas and PCVs) who have become a part of the strong support system that I have here in country. I've made a pretty happy life for myself in the time that I've been here.  With any luck, these people will continue to be a involved in my life for many, many years to come. And since every single person in Nicaragua seems to have a Facebook account, I'm sure that will help immensely with the communication process after I leave!

So, by now you're probably thinking, how can I pack everything I might ever need if my life will include so many things. I remember making lists upon lists of things I should remember to pack based on PCV, RPCV, and other recommendations. Surprisingly enough, my baggage wasn't overweight when I boarded the plane for staging. I'm pretty sure I wanted to bring my own kitchen sink! (you know, just in case they didn't sell one in country). Packing for 2 years seemed incredibly overwhelming then, but really Nicaragua has everything you need (and even some of the things you want!). So, don't worry. You'll find a way to get what you need and, most importantly, you'll learn to be happy with what you have.

A few things that have helped to keep me sane are:
My Laptop- I Love sharing music /photos from back home with my nicaraguan friends
Dresses & Mascara- Which help me feel pretty and feminine even when i'm sweaty and covered in dirt and dust
Rosin & Sheet Music- Very necessary when I'm teaching the violin to my students
Dancing Shoes- For when I'm dancing Salsa and Bachata with friends
Uno cards & Decks of Cards- My neighbors love to play and learn new games!

There's so much more so say about being a PCV in Nicaragua, but i'll leave some stuff for you to figure out once you're here. In your hands you have an invitation to serve in Nicaragua. In your future awaits an amazing adventure. Just know this adventure will be filled with smiles, tears, sweat, challenges, change, development and (hopefully) personal satisfaction. Your Peace Corps  experience will be everything you make it and not the least as you expect it to be- and that's the beauty of Peace Corps.

Lindsey Leslie
Maternal & Child Health Volunteer
Nica 55 (2011-2013)
Chinandega, Chinandega

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