As a Peace Corps volunteer, I have felt the pressure to hold grand events and train hundreds of teachers the latest strategy and technique to disperse knowledge. Many times what I have gained the most from, however, has been the small time spent planting one tree, the group of 8 elementary schoolers who have learned about recycling, or the community members that are surprised about my ideas and experiences. Since entering the community I have always tried to be inclusive and approachable to many of the community members. I have had earnest conversations and shared my views while absorbing many of theirs. With more trust I have been able to hear more about the human experience in Nicaragua and more specifically the small town that I live in Jinotega.
In my original house I lived with a woman about my mothers age who was a professor at the high school. She lived alone with her 8 year old daughter with another daughter attending university in the capital city of Managua. Her name is Zayra Rivera, she has two masters degrees and more impressively had more energy than any of the people I’ve met here so far. Zayra took care of the house, her daughter, and me (as if that last one were an easy affair to take on alone). Aside from doing all of this she is a prominent and respected member of the community who is a positive role model for all youth and especially the young girls within the town.
One day while eating with Zayra’s family they felt confident enough to start asking me questions that seemed to have been on their minds for some time. They asked me why people from the United States don’t like piropos (street “compliments”). They were referring to another male volunteer in this instance but also mentioned female volunteers as well.
It took me a few seconds to formulate why I don’t really care for them and to try and respond generally to cover other volunteers as well. I said, “For me I would rather someone acknowledge my personality and who I am rather than what you see on the streets walking by me.” It sounded simple to me but the two women seemed interested about what I had said and thought before responding, “We thought that you were all just being sensitive.” After that the three of use erupted in laughter and I asked if the people here like piropos and they said sometimes it makes them feel nice.
From this conversation I realized that there are certain cultural things that I should not try to impose but rather figure out the specific person and specific case before intervening. There are many other parts of the country where piropos are not fun and there are definitely instances in my town when they are vile as well. I have learned that I need to create a space for dialogue instead of just assuming that everyone knows what street harassment is and that we should already have moved beyond it. This taught me that I need to remain open to understanding here in order to create positive gender equality with them.
The conversation ended with an equally serious question from my friends, “Why do gringos always have such big backpacks?”
– CJ Sanchez
Peace Corps Nicaragua ENV 66
GAD Committee Member