It's hard to put into words just how welcoming our Nicaraguan host families have been. All of the UK volunteers are living in full home stays, which means we get adopted into new families for the ten week placement. Whilst it was daunting to be taken from the hostel where we had our induction training and unceremoniously dropped in the streets of Masaya, it's definitely the best way to have the full community experience.
My roommate and I were immediately made to feel part of the family. As soon as we stepped into the house we had five children clamouring for attention from their new 'sisters'. The first thing they showed us was a framed photo of the volunteers who stayed with them during the last cycle, which illustrated just how much the families value their partnership with Progressio. Our dog walks us to work every day, and although we've only been here a short time we call our host mother 'madre'. At the weekend, another host mother took all eighteen of us out to see (and attempt) some traditional Nicaraguan dancing. Staying with families is the best way to get fully integrated into the community, which is an extended family in itself. Everyone knows everyone in Masaya, and we've been introduced to so many people whilst spending evenings sitting on the front porch.
However, it was daunting to be separated from the rest of the British volunteers and thrust into an entirely unknown culture, with new food, new customs, and new people. It's definitely been an adjustment process. We came here with varying levels of Spanish, and our host families don't speak English. The language barrier can be a challenge but it turns out joking and dancing can translate across any language. Speaking of dancing, Nicaraguan nights are wildly different to those in Britain. You can always hear music drifting in from a nearby fiesta, and a night where you're not woken up by dogs or roosters is a rare occasion. This has resulted in some very sleepy British volunteers, but it's such an exciting atmosphere. Although it's the rainy season here, there hasn't been much rain recently so many houses cannot access running water. We've quickly adapted to bucket showers, and gained a good understanding of how frustrating it is to not have a consistent water supply.
This main benefit of the home stays is this deeper understanding of the culture. Masaya has an incredibly supportive atmosphere, and when we get home from work it's common to find community meetings to discuss construction plans or preparations for national celebrations. Although we're building eco-latrines in El Pochote, from speaking to the people of Masaya at these meetings we've seen that they are supportive of the significance of our work towards environmental sustainability. It's brilliant getting a more accurate sense of the community and an extra family at the same time.
Written by ICS volunteer Katie Exell