Yesterday was a long day. I'm so used to my little north-American style of life that being here was a total choc. I must admit it. For the first two weeks, everything was fine. I didn't mind men whistling me when I passed by. I've been warned as well as the quality and quantity of food among other things.
Then, two weeks after I have settled down, I went to my first official meetings with my new supervisors on Friday at 9am. First major cultural choc. My immediate supervisor told me last week that he would pick me up at 8:45. He was more than late. He arrived around 9:05am. I ride in the back seat of the motorcycle. I loved the ride, but my helmet was too big so I was worried of losing it. My new workplace is 20-minutes out of Somoto by car, but it took us over 30 minutes on his bike. Once there, the other supervisor hasn't arrived yet. This is just life here. Time has a different meaning here.
While waiting, my supervisor introduced me to the photography class. They was about 10 kids aged 12-17, coming from the local community. Many have neither running water, nor electricity at home and have to walk up to 3 hours to get to school on unsafe muddy path, no lighted, or paved.
I introduced myself to the kids and they did the same. I think it must be odd for them to see an Asian-looking Canadian in their class, who speaks Spanish with a heavy accent making lots of grammatical errors. But they seem motivated to be in class, except when they were throwing stuffs at each other. I thought the level of difficulties of the class was too high for the younger kids and too theoretical with a lack of visual support. Especially in a photo class, but this was just my first impression. It might work well too. We all have different ways of teaching and learning. And as an outsider, I should observe more, than draw conclusions later. Otherwise, I would sound really imperialistic or something like that.
Then, my supervisor came to fetch me for the meeting. I'm not too sure of the time, but it must have been around 10am. The meeting lasted about 30 minutes with no real conclusion as to what would be my mandate. I just know that I'll be doing a "memoria fotografica" for the tourism project. Nothing about photography with kids, neither communication work for my organization. Details that were not in the initial mandate I was handed out in Canada.
Then, as there was still time before lunch, they put me in the producers' tourism meeting and I felt that I really didn't belong there. They were talking about how to develop tourism in the rural area of Totopalga, but, for example, they were developing on the concept of North American tourism. For them, the concept of taking vacations is so different from ours. They thought that in North America, travelling for vacations to relax, to have a change of locations, to recharge one's batteries is funny. I can understand them, sometimes I just feel the same, but it is clear that the ideas are tinted by biases.
The meeting ended around noon, but people were observing me, especially men who are not disguising it. I went out to chat with a fellow Canadian who is an entomologist and she too is living a similar situation.
For lunch, we had the choice between beef or chicken. We both opted for beef, but it was a challenge to eat it. There was a lot of rice, some cabbage and a tortilla. I felt so bad to have waste some food, I won't do it again next week. Everyone emptied their place quit quickly except for me. I decided that we would join the workers to eat at their table, I'm wondering if it wasn't too intrusive from my part. I wanted to socialize a bit and trying to integrate myself to the locals, but it's really not easy.
One observation my roommate made was that Nicas are not open to the world. They seldom ask questions about where we are from, how's life in our country, unless they don't want to show that they are preying. They are so many things that we need to learn about one another. We are culturally so different and our ways of communications too. I'm a pretty shy person, yet social person. I like to feel that, somehow, there is a use for me to be here. I am willing to help, I would do the job I'm sure. The only thing is that I need to work out those communications skills and that we land on a common ground of understanding.
Anyhow, after lunch, they were a debate on how I would go back to Somoto, my city while I'm here as he would have to make a detour before heading back. At the end, I went to the countryside with him, in really remote area to send out the news to the kids that they were no classes on Monday. We ride on uneven, back road. They aren't even roads, just beaten paths. I have to go through steep roads (the climb was quit something), through rivers (no bridge), muddy paths where we among sunk in, and so on. Kids living out there do not have access to running water, nor electricity. It was quit an eye opener. I enjoyed the ride highly, although I felt really bad for my supervisor who put a lot of effort on bringing up the bike, along with me on the road.
The ride back was much smoother as we didn't have to go out of the main road in the woods. The view was gorgeous, lots of green mountains. Cacti were very high and in strange shape. It can easily reach 3-meters high. That was the highlight of the day.
I did felt like a dead weight yesterday, but I would contribute to better the community. I just have to prove myself and to observe more, listen more. Let's hope I can make a difference, no matter how little it is. I know that the pace of life is much more different here; there is a lot of talk. Now it needs to be concretized. It's cultural, that's what people keep telling me. Culture, it does play a huge difference and we have to learn to deal with that.
This is just the beginning...