I try to stay busy. During any given week I work with my counterparts, teach computer classes and entrepreneurship, visit the businesses I advise, work on my sexual health study or my basic grain market project, and spend time hanging out in the park with kids in my community. When all my projects are written out on paper, it would seem that I do a pretty good job of staying busy. Maybe, if I lived somewhere else, that would be true. When you take into account, however, that over the last few weeks the closest I've come to having a normal class was running into a bunch of my students sitting on the steps of the gazebo in the park and talking to them about fixed and variable costs for ten minutes, or that it routinely takes a month to get a meeting (read: find the person you are looking for actually occupying their office, even after you've fixed a time to get together) and in that meeting you're as likely to be sent off on a four hour trip to meet with someone else as to have your simple question answered, things look a little different.
Now, free time is both the boon and bane of the Peace Corps existence. It can recharge your week or leave you feeling unproductive, lonely and far from home. By far my favorite place to while away the hours is my hammock. I purchased my hammock from a volunteer who was finishing his Peace Corps service just a few weeks before swore in and moved north. It is made of denim and, while it is occasionally a bit warm, distinguishes itself by its durability, lack of pressure points (or line leaving strings), and ability to keep mosquitoes from biting me from behind. It is also large enough that, when temperatures are a bit cooler or it is raining, I can pull up the sides and wrap myself into a cocoon. My hammock is the linchpin of my free time. When I am traveling or working and become tired or frustrated the thought that crosses my mind is almost always, “I can't wait to be back in my hammock.” In the scene below, everything is organized for easy access from my hammock.
1) My guitar is the newest member of the free-time team. She was a birthday present to myself and, being from the department of Esteli, I think of her as the norteña girl everyone keeps trying to hook me up with. She is slightly less polished and professional looking than her cousins from Masaya (down south), but that's what I love about her. It should be noted that I'm not much of a guitar player, but that is exactly why Veera (that's her name) is such a great part of the team. Learning the guitar is something I can work on every day and listen to myself improve. Besides the calming quality of music, slow progress does wonders for my emotional state.
2) Six years ago I was sitting at my desk in what we called the fishbowl, 141 Fitzhugh, my first-year college dorm. It was called the fishbowl because its only window opened out to a walkway from which passersby could peer into our room. I assume it was a weekend because everyone was out except for my roommate and I, who were both hard at work. Finally, needing a break, we wandered up to an on-grounds convenience store called Cross-roads where I purchased my first cup of coffee. In the years since, coffee has come to be my favorite time passing aid, facilitating both countless hours of conversation and quiet reflection. Here in Nicaragua it has been no different. If I am puzzling through the details of life here in Jícaro or escaping into the memory of adventures past, there is usually a cup of coffee to the right of my hammock. (Hat-tip to both Chaka Market-Bridge and Rise Up Coffee, check them out!).
3) My free time is usually accompanied by a stack of books. I like to keep my options open. In the year I spent at home prior to coming to Nicaragua, I did a pretty good job of cluttering up my mom's kitchen table with an assortment of journals and reading material. Now my books usually occupy a plastic chair within and easy arm's reach of my favorite spot. The lineup changes from time to time, sometimes including my computer or a new magazine, but the basics are about the same. (Everything pictured here is highly recommended.)
The key to making free time a positive force in my Peace Corps life has been aimless purpose. The idea of killing time has never done me any good. I feel guilty about killing time. I prefer to use my free time for some purpose, however trivial or oft-changing that purpose may be. When I practice guitar I'm learning something. Having a cup of coffee in my hand helps me organize my thoughts into something coherent and my stack of books provides new inputs to be organized. But as I said before, it hinges on the hammock, on having a place where aimless purpose can be relaxing and rejuvenating regardless of what is going on in the wider world.