A medical brigade from the States came to my site the first week in December and a couple PCV friends and I helped translate for them. We were able to recount stories and medical conditions to the doctors and nurse practitioners that would have been lost in translation otherwise. Speaking the language yields “confianza,” or trust between the patient and health professional, and I was able to talk to women frankly about their health, such as their right to negotiate condom use during sex, as well as how to put one on correctly. The doctors and nurses were extremely grateful for our services and we all learned from each other. For instance, I learned about the harm of consistent dehydration over a long period of time, and why amas de casa–house wives–need to get out in the sun more (bone health).
Living in Nicaragua and speaking Spanish on a daily basis (while frequently getting the quintessential squinty nose when a Nica can’t understand me, or while my counterpart still introduces me as, “here’s Lauren, she can’t speak Spanish, so listen extra closely”) makes it easy to forget that I actually DO speak Spanish and that an activity like translating would have been impossible for me to do when I first got to country. There’s a hilarious new blog out there called What Should Peace Corps Volunteers Call Me, which has several spot-on examples of the trials and tribulations of Peace Corps service. When I was asked to translate for the brigade, I immediately thought of this entry:
As some of you might know, when I came to Nicaragua exactly one year and eleven months ago from today, I only spoke basic Spanish. On a scale from Novice low, medium, high; Intermediate low, medium high; Advanced low, medium, high; and Superior, I was a Novice-Low Spanish speaker. It has been quite the journey since then.
My training buddies Ashley, Emily, and I were in it together. I’ll never forget the first day in training, having had just finished our first language class, and realizing how long we had to go, we all sat together in the park and two thirds of us cried right there on the park bench while the third sat awkwardly patting the others’ backs (wild guess which third I was). Though to be fair, I did break down, it just came later.
But we did it! After months of language classes, we finally made it into intermediate land and swore in as Peace Corps Volunteers having achieved a Spanish level of Intermediate-Low.
Now, after two whole years, at our Close of Service Conference (December 4-7), we finally had another Language Proficiency Interview. The Language Proficiency Interview, or LPI, is a half hour conversation with a Peace Corps language facilitator, in which you must demonstrate your range of language abilities, through a variety of tenses, vocabulary, and your ability to ask and answer questions.
Well, on December 5, the moment of truth came. Was I still an intermediate Spanish speaker after two years? Did I lie on all of my resumes when I said I was an advanced Spanish speaker? They had us all get into a single-file line to receive our scores one by one. I was nervous as I stepped up to get my score….
But pleasantly surprised….
After two years of Peace Corps service I can officially say that I speak Spanish! There’s still room for improvement, but I’m incredibly satisfied with my level. Pero más de todo, espero continuar mis estudios cuando regrese a los Estados en marzo.