From the airport we went to “Casa Blanca,” the house where we’ll be doing orientation and also the home of Compañeros, Inc. Compañeros is a social enterprise NGO (non-governmental organization) that organizes and facilitates short-term volunteer service and cross-cultural learning experiences in Central America. Our country coordinator, Dalena, works with Compañeros, and this year we’re partnering with the organization on a variety of activities, including a mini-service project in Managua that gets underway on Friday (more on that in the next blog post).
At Casa Blanca we got some quick overnight survival tips, most notably a lively demonstration and practice on how to meet, greet and address our Nicaraguan hosts, and then we met the families who are welcoming us into their Managua homes for the next four days. After introductions and proper Nica-style greetings (cheek kissing, shoulder/arm patting, hand touching or handshakes) we went in pairs, threesomes and foursomes to our hosts’ homes, all of which are located within a 4-block radius of Casa Blanca.
Thursday was a full day of orientation, including health, safety and security concerns; customs and cultural issues; communication, both verbal and non; host family expectations; scheduling and logistics; and academic requirements. We even got to dance a little, thanks to Compañeros president and founder Gonzalo, who shared some great insights from the perspective of a North American resident of Nicaragua. By the end of the day we were able to identify and describe, game-show style, a number of important new words and concepts that are likely to become part of our daily lives in the coming weeks and months.
With equal parts laughter and perspiration, weariness and anticipation, we concluded our first full day together in Nicaragua and went back to our hosts’ homes for dinner, conversation and plenty of rest in preparation for our mini-service project tomorrow. With Compañeros’ guidance and sponsorship, we’ll be plunging right into “service learning” by helping build two houses in two days.
Stay tuned, y ¡hasta luego!
Co-leaders Lisa and Jen