Nicaragua

Living Conditions

Communications

Mail

Mail between the United States and Nicaragua is dependable and takes about two weeks. Your address during training in Nicaragua will be as follows: 


“Your Name,” PCT
Voluntario del Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 3256
Managua, Nicaragua
Central America

Once your site has been identified, you will be responsible for sending the address to family and friends if you decide to have your mail delivered directly there.

Telephones

It is best to purchase a cellphone in-country and with knowledge of which services are available in a given project site. Most Volunteers purchase inexpensive cellphones costing $20–$40. To make international calls, many Volunteers visit Internet cafes in order to use Skype or Gmail services, which are more economical. If you would like to bring an iPhone or other smartphone, consult with your carrier to determine your options.

Internet

Most Volunteers choose to bring a personal laptop computer. Local Internet providers exist in the capital and in nearly all major cities. As a result, cities and towns throughout the country have Internet cafes that offer access to the public by the hour for a small fee. Many of the Internet cafes have Skype and Gmail chat/phone call capabilities. Most Volunteers have regular access to email. For most Volunteers, email is the primary form of communication with friends and family in the States.

Housing and Site Location

Housing can consist of small wooden, adobe, or cement block structures; some may have personal or community wells and others intermittent running water. Electric current in Nicaragua is the same as the United States, running 110 volts. Most Volunteer homes have electricity and running water or wells. However, both electric and water service may be intermittent. Volunteers in very rural sites may have to haul water to their homes from communal pumps for their daily water supply. Because of the importance of community integration and for your own safety and security, you are required to live with a host family for the duration of your Volunteer service. Couples are also required to live with host families. Program staff will identify a family, usually a local community leader or someone well-known by your project counterparts, with whom you will live initially. The experience of sharing day-to-day life with a Nicaraguan family will hasten your cultural adaptation and will help you appreciate Nicaraguan culture. Your personal safety will also be enhanced when the community sees you as a part of a local family. As this housing policy is a mandatory and non-negotiable requirement, it is important to think about this commitment and your ability to be flexible enough to live with a family in basic conditions.

Living Allowance and Money Management

Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. However, Volunteers often wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. For this, credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs. 

Food and Diet

The staples of the Nicaraguan diet are beans, rice, eggs, dairy products, meats, and foods made with corn (e.g., tortillas, nacatamales, and pinolillo, a popular beverage made with ground corn and cocoa). A wide variety of fruits and vegetables are grown locally, from cabbages and carrots to pineapples and papayas. Their availability varies by the season and access to markets. As a result of the endemic poverty in Nicaragua, most Nicaraguans’ daily diet consists of gallo pinto, a mixture of red beans and rice fried in vegetable oil, which might be accompanied by corn tortillas, cabbage salad, a small amount of red meat or chicken, or locally made salty cheese. Most dairy products are made in a traditional fashion in rural settings and, thus, are not pasteurized. 

The food generally is not spicy, and many Volunteers find that Nicaraguans use too much oil, salt, and sugar for their tastes. Many Volunteers enjoy frescos—a concoction of freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices mixed with water and sugar that come in many distinct flavors. In coastal areas, Volunteers find fresh fish and occasionally even lobster or shrimp. Beef, pork, and chicken are widely available throughout the country, but cuts of red meat differ greatly from those found in the United States. It is difficult to find meats that meet U.S. standards for flavor and quality. It is possible to maintain a vegetarian diet in Nicaragua. However, there is greater variety and availability of certain food items in Managua than in outlying areas. It is important to note that Nicaragua is a beef producing country, and some Nicaraguans, particularly in rural areas, will not understand vegetarianism. 

As a vegetarian, you will need to develop a culturally sensitive approach to declining meat products. Since you will be living with a Nicaraguan family during training and for the duration of your service, you will be immediately exposed to Nicaraguan eating habits and methods of food preparation. Host families receive information regarding any special dietary concerns. Although the families are generally quite accommodating, you should be prepared to have less control over your diet while living with a host family. 

Some Volunteers cook for themselves to have more control over their diets. Volunteers who cook enjoy exploring new ways to use the local foods available, and often share these recipes with their Nicaraguan friends and family. There is even a recipe book written by Volunteers.

Transportation

Most Volunteers travel in Nicaragua on commercial public buses; a very small number of sites are accessible by ferry or panga (passenger only) boats. For the vast majority of Volunteers, traveling to and from their site entails a ride in an old school bus, which may be overcrowded and slow, though schedules are set and buses typically depart at scheduled times. At more rural sites, Volunteers may be required to travel in converted flatbed trucks, as the rough terrain makes bus passage impossible. Volunteers are not permitted to own, drive, or ride on motorcycles or to own or drive other motorized vehicles at any time during their service. Violation of these policies may be grounds for termination of service. Most Volunteers get around their site and visit nearby communities on foot or use locally available transportation methods. Some Volunteers find that travel by bicycle is the most practical way to get around and purchase a bicycle with their settling-in allowance. Though bicycles bought locally are not of the same quality as those available in the United States, they are more than sufficient for Volunteer transportation needs. If you choose to ride a bike, helmet use is mandatory. Noncompliance with the Peace Corps mandatory helmet use policy can be grounds for administrative separation. In very few instances, Volunteers own or rent horses to travel from home to isolated communities and farms. You should familiarize yourself with your site and consult your program manager regarding appropriate methods of transportation.

Social Activities

Social activities will vary depending on where you are located and the size of your site. Nicaraguans are generally kind and open, with celebrations of all types being common. You are encouraged to become a part of your community and participate in family celebrations, local dances, and folkloric activities as long as they occur in safe environments. The U.S. Marines are credited with popularizing baseball in Nicaragua in the early 1900s, and it is now the national sport. Most communities have baseball teams and weekend games. Soccer is also wildly popular and volleyball, too, continues to grow in popularity throughout the country among both men and women. You will be expected to fully integrate into your community. This means you will spend the vast majority of your time in your Peace Corps site, including weekends and most of your free time. Volunteers occasionally visit nearby Volunteers or go to a regional center to watch a movie, use the Internet, have a special meal, buy supplies, or just relax in a place with air conditioning. Volunteers are discouraged from spending leisure time in Managua because of the expense and security concerns. Peace Corps/Nicaragua maintains strict policies regarding trips away from site.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Although you may work in an informal setting, you will be expected to act and dress professionally. Inappropriate dress, like inappropriate behavior, is something that can set Volunteers apart from their communities. The best guideline is to dress as your Nicaraguan colleagues do. You should bring casual professional attire for all venues when you are working. Appropriate attire may include cotton pants (chinos), nice buttoned shirts and/or blouses, and cotton skirts or dresses for women (not mini length). Neat blue jeans (dark and not bleached out) are acceptable and used by a number of professionals, including teachers. Neither shorts nor faded T-shirts are appropriate for Volunteers in the workplace. Dresses or shirts that are tight or spaghetti-strap tank tops are also not appropriate work attire. Comfortable walking shoes or sandals are suitable; however, Nicaraguans view outdoor sandals as inappropriate for the work environment. Visible body piercings (other than earrings for women) and long hair on men are not generally accepted in professional settings. Wearing facial piercings may make it more difficult to integrate into your community. Earrings and ponytails are not permitted for male Volunteers during service. All PCVs should keep their hair neat and clean throughout service.