First Week in Words

I’ve decided to write up my first few experiences so that the videos can be supplemental to this post, and not the other way around.

What can I say about my first week here? Well, I can start by using some adjectives: busy, beautiful, disturbing, tiring, inspiring, simple, complicated. So many conflicting words to describe my initial perceptions, but all of them have their place.

What I did

My first week was spent in the office on Monday, on various site visits on Tuesday through Thursday and then back in the office on Friday. Let’s first talk a little about the office.

Coming from my previous experiences with what I’d call the “Latin American condition” (i.e. general tardiness, lack of organization and planning), I was blown away by the efficiency of the office. Each employee functions as a part of a well-oiled machine. It’s no wonder the organization I work for gets so much done and serves so many people. For example, I’ve already done an interview, written a story, and worked on a grant proposal.

These experiences would qualify as busy, tiring, and inspiring. The work is hard and fast-paced which tires me out, but also inspires me to do more. Physically, the office is quite inspiring, as well as modern. Most things are done electronically and everyone can easily get in touch with each other between offices. Information databases are digital and information can be extracted upon command. My office has its own desk, air conditioning, wireless internet, a filing cabinet, and a seat in front of it for visitors and meetings. This is a welcome and interesting step up from my previous experience.

However, outside the office walls is a whole different story. I didn’t think you could get poorer than Paraguay. Boy was I wrong.

What I saw

Borrowing some statistics from internet references, it appears that 49% of the population is below the poverty line. To me though it seems like about 75%. Perhaps that’s just my point of view coming from the barrio in which I live, which is very poor. Very few homes have sufficient shelter. Most have 4 walls, but are not structurally sealed-off from the elements. Neither are the doors, leading to an eternal dust problem. This doesn’t surprise me though, and it shouldn’t surprise many of my readers with third world experience because this is how it is in many poor countries. But I digress.

The poverty is very palpable here. You can feel it in the mannerisms of the people. The way they eat many starches and other filling, but not necessarily nutritious, foods. Their sheepishness. Their focus on survival rather than improving their standard of living. This is where the adjective “disturbing” comes in.

Palpable Poverty
A common convenience store, usually with a living shack connected to the back.

But amidst the poverty, there is great beauty. On my way to a job site in the southeastern departamento, or state, of Nicaragua this past week, the local bus that my co-worker and I were on drove through a winding ascent and descent through a mountainous landscape with deep valleys blanketed with greenery. Being so close to the equator, Nicaragua receives very direct sunlight as opposed to the way in which the Sun softly brushes the Northern Hemisphere. For that reason, vegetation is dense and thriving. Sitting close to the window on the two hour ride south, I semi-lucidly watched the jungle go by far below.

Green sights with the specter of Mombacho

As I like to think of it, between jungles lie the cities, not the other way around. It seems to me that the cities to the south are warmer. This explains the somewhat sluggish lifestyle of the inhabitants. Old men and women sit on rickety old folding chairs in their doorways with their fruits and vegetables on display atop a ratty blanket or canvas. Horsedrawn carriages take passengers from one landmark to another (more to come on giving directions in Nicaragua…) So in contrast to life within the office, life outside the office is slow.

So that’s pretty much all. More insights, pictures, musings, and general narratives to come.

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