This weekend I had minor crisis of vanity. It occurred at an event I was attending in Somotillo, where I realized that the man I was watching on stage could not only “shake it” like Shakira (and naturally, far better than I ever could), but also looked more fantastic than I could ever dream of looking in a neon pink mid-drift, white spandex leggings, and sky-high stilettos. As I glanced down at my khaki shorts covering my incapable of “shaking it” hips, my loose black t-shirt, and my “as flat as physically possible” sandals, I was suddenly and acutely aware of how “un-fabulous” I am. Now, you may be wondering why my weekend involved dancing men in spandex (and if you are not, I would like to spend more of my weekends with you). My unusual entertainment was a result of the “Miss Gay Somotillo Showcase” I was able to attend Saturday night. So there I sat, pondering my lack of fabulousness, which then quickly shifted to pondering the fact that I was comparing myself to a fabulous gay man, which then shifted to pondering the fact that I was in a position to ponder such things in such an unlikely place as Nicaragua, all while unavoidably humming along to the Gloria Estefan playing in the background. My pre-service packet’s cultural summary of Nicaragua, describing it as a “traditional and generally conservative culture” had certainly not alluded to activities such as this, perhaps I should have focused on the use of the word generally. Yet another of my preconceived notions, pleasantly proved fallible. Since arriving here in January, I have had quite a few of these moments (and unfortunately I am not referring to watching men dance in spandex). Other notable revelations have included (I know, the listing thing is getting old. I promise to come up with a better format…eventually):
I am not as tough as Survivorman. I had thought, or more had hoped I suppose, that I would approach this whole Peace Corps bit as ascetically as possible. An authentic Peace Corps, living in the middle of the jungle, severed from the “modern world,” with nothing but choppy Spanish, love, bountiful hugs, and a hut with a hammock experience (says, err, types the girl from her laptop -in English-, while listening to her Ipod -in English-, parked behind her electrically powered fan, who will later be watching "Arrested Development" -in English- from her electrically powered DVD player while laying on her bed, in her four-walled house). As it turns out, I have not gone from suburban princess to austere monk overnight, or in five months for that matter. At first, I was slightly disappointed with myself, cringing the first night I watched a DVD in English, or busted out my Ipod, or (gasp) bought a cell phone. However, I have since come to peace with my continual use of technology and English, and am gratefully humbled by what a wimp I have proven to be. Call me a sell-out if you like, though I am still showering with livestock, which should count for something.
There is much more to Spanish than, “Me llamo Katie.” There is also “Soy Katie” or “Mi nombre es Katie” or for the more creative speaker, “Mi nombre es cualquier quiere.” I had thought that by the end of my three-month training I would be nothing short of fluent. The more optimistic reader may view this notion as optimistic, though I, and likely as well as the rest of you, recognize my miscalculation of language learning as well, dim. Whichever, my “journey” with español has proved to be rocky, slow, and frustrating. Five months in, and yes, I am still regularly citing my dictionary, confusing el’s with la’s, and frequently (and at this point shamelessly) saying, “No entiendo, podría hablar mas despacio.” It turns out I am not a language genius, and Spanish is more challenging than a crossword puzzle.
Mosquitoes are not to be messed with. As I discovered a month ago, dengue does exist, and insect repellent (though toxic, and awful, and disgusting) is worth wearing when compared to a week’s stay in the hospital thanks to a bout with the not so mythical “bone-breaker” disease (OFF!®:1, Katie:0).
Much to the pleasure of my Grandpa, I am carnivore. While I managed to maintain my vegetarian diet for the first four months in country, I have since (sparingly) started eating meat again. Though I am now living a lie in Los Limones, where my community continues to be baffled by the fact (well, now myth I suppose) that I only eat rice, beans, and tortilla (“¿No come carne? ¿Ni pescado? ¿ Ni pollo? ¿Ni cerdo? ¿Ni queso, crema, ni leche?”). I am still sleeping well at night, telling myself that the innocent animals I have been consuming are free-range, cruelty free, and lived a happy life until ending up on my hamburger bun. Don’t tell PETA.
Cultural ties are stronger than shoelaces. In spite of my anthropology professors´ best efforts, I have been a self-proclaimed culture cynic for years. And was certain that I would come here and all of my thoughts on the invalidity of culture and the oneness of humanity would be affirmed. That I would have many a moments in which I could pat myself on the back for my worldly knowledge in spite of my undeniable lack of “worldliness.” I had always viewed culture as somewhat of a dirty word, equating it with other labels such nationality, ethnicity, religion, hair-color, shoe size, astrological sign, etc. Believing that man is far too complex to massively categorize, I’ve been reluctant to accept these labels (I think that word may be a cliché now, whoops), rendering them all equally flawed. In addition, I simply don’t like them (I know, amazing logic). They are divisive. Distracting man by their promises of security, superiority, and comfort and deterring him from recognizing his humanity (cue all anthropologists’ far superior counter arguments). Sorry, I didn’t mean to make this a podium for my humanity spiel. What I’m trying to get at, is my new found faith, or more so, recognition of culture‘s validity. I suppose I had been almost denying the weight of its existence. Assuming that culture was merely a social construction, I had imagined that the cultural differences I was to discover in Nicaragua would be, for lack of a better word, fluffy. What I have found however, is that our cultural differences are extremely profound, and practices which I had come to think of as human nature (and therefore innate) are not present here. Practices I am familiar with because of the culture I was raised in. Conclusively, I am a product of United States’ culture ( spikes!), and I have some serious cultural ties to that culture (gasp!). Well more ties to, suburban, central/southern United States’ culture… but you catch my drift. Moreover, that dirty word, culture, is very real. This is not to say that I have abandoned all of my previous, arguably naïve ideals of the oneness of humanity. Because culture is a force much stronger than I had imagined, the planes in which we (Nicaraguans and I) are able to communicate and relate are that much more profound. Therefore, said sentiment has in many ways been reaffirmed, specifically in the kindness I’ve been shown, the patience and understanding I’ve encountered (you try talking to me in Spanish day in and day out with a smile on your face), and the love (love so present that you can almost breathe it) that I’ve witnessed and experienced. Things that, in spite of cultural and language barriers, beautifully translate.
Speaking of things that beautifully and easily translate, Van Morrison, who I’m listening to right now, the man is a universal truth. Disagree with me if you will, abash yet another of my unfounded beliefs, I welcome you. However, I can confidently say, that while I have abandoned my vegetarianism, anti-culturism (I realize this is not a word, but for the sake of the -ism), and many other things I have once held dear, I will never abandon my belief in Van Morrison and “Tupelo Honey.” End of story.
Ok, stepping off the soapbox, or whatever that was now. I need to go prepare the 90-minute STD charla I’ll be giving to a room full of 11 year olds tomorrow (per request of the teacher). Thanks to all for sending thoughts, prayers, good vibrations and whatever else my way during the whole dengue saga. I attribute much of my speedy recovery to your kindness.
Peace, love, and Van Morrison,