On arrival at Heathrow Airport, two rhetorical questions were uttered by all UK volunteers almost instantly: “What are we doing?” and “Why am I actually doing this?” (Expletives removed here). As we edged closer to Nicaragua on our 18-hour journey, these questions were repeated several times (the bumpy flight was not at all helpful).
While the above sounds negative so far, this is just an honest view of what most volunteers were feeling on our first day. However, adapting to the surroundings has been easy, mainly due to the beauty of this country, but more significantly because of the warm welcome our host families and the community have given us. If anything this has just reinforced the reasons why we are here.
Being bilingual, it was slightly easier for me to get to know my host family as communication was not a barrier. But this did not stop the family from being warm and welcoming to the UK volunteer sharing my room (a non-Spanish speaker) and they still continue to ask me if he is doing okay. The family told us from the moment we walked in (after giving us a much needed hug), that we were their sons and to make their home our home. They fed us, showed us the house and introduced us to the rest of their family. My host parents have 10 sons who are all married and have an average of three children per son. As they are the grandparents, our host home is pretty much the social hub of the area, with kids and adults of all ages running in and out all day.
You notice the lifestyle changes almost instantly; using a latrine, having a bucket shower, eating a similar meal three times a day seven days a week, sweating profusely, and living with every insect and creature known to mankind are just a few of the things we are all coping with and adapting to. I felt I was prepared for this and ready to tackle any change to my lifestyle with a Clint Eastwoodish ease. While I do believe that I have adapted, it is not until you live the life the local population in Parcila live every day that you truly realise and appreciate the life we have in the United Kingdom.
Having lived here for just five days, I can safely say us Europeans are truly a lazy bunch. We take everything for granted, from having our clothes and dishes washed in a machine to the excess food we binge eat and waste. Life also starts and finishes relatively early here, however it is far more productive and fulfilling than a day spent in front of a computer where you are just a brick in an ever increasing concrete jungle. Our day starts at about 5am with a jog from one house to the other, followed by a bucket shower (cold yet refreshing) and a hearty breakfast with a strong and sweet coffee. This is followed by teaching the Nicaraguan volunteers English, and vice-versa. After an hour’s lunch break (another carbohydrate filled meal), the day continues with event planning and learning about the purposes and benefits of building the eco-stoves, eco-ovens and water filters. My day concludes with a dip in the river, followed by a lovingly cooked meal and a card game, which I call ‘Nicaraguan Hearts’, with the father of the house.
One of my first conversations with my host father was on “happiness”. We initially started chatting about the Progressio ICS programme and how a lot of volunteers, like myself, are here to do something good but are also slightly lost or confused about where life is heading. He is a very honest man and his first words when we started chatting were “I may be poor, but I know and feel happy” - I couldn’t have agreed more. If you look at their daily routine, while simple, it has all the main ingredients of a content life - enough food to feed a family of 50 (fresh eggs, chicken, meat, milk), 10 children all married with kids and always around each other, and weather most of us in the UK would dream of for more than just two days in the year.
In terms of work, our first week has been relatively calm, planning our community events on climate change, reforestation and gender equality, as well as planning and setting out the schedule for building the eco-stoves, eco-ovens and water filters. I think we are all glad the first week has been calm as it has given us time to settle in, get to know our host family and community and adapt to this small change in lifestyle before the hard work begins.
To conclude, it has been a good week. It is not easy adapting to a life so different yet the views, the people and the hike we were lucky to go on this morning more than make up for the lack of ‘Western facilities’.
Written by ICS volunteer Pradeep Karnani (or Pepe as I am now being referred to by the local volunteers)