A few weeks ago, I went over to one of my counterparts' houses to plan our class. Usually we do a group planning session at my house, but every once in a while something comes up— in my schedule or in one of theirs. I've been working with this counterpart for over a year now, so I've come to know her, her husband (who teaches at another of my schools), and their six-year-old son pretty well. Her son, Nazer, is a smart, confident, little kid who is quite fond of me and loves to tell me what he's doing even if I'm in the middle of planning class with his mom. When I got to the house that day, Nazer was playing with a battery-powered car that moved forward and backward when directed by an attached remote control. He explained how it worked and told me that the batteries were almost dead. We gave it a little nudge in the direction we wanted it to go and managed to get it working. When we started planning our class his mom sent him outside to play so that we could focus on the lesson.
About ten minutes later, I hear Nazer screaming at the top of his lungs: ¡Avión! ¡Avión!. Then, he comes running into the house, still screaming, with one hand above his head pointing to the sky. “¡Avión! ¡Avión! ¡Es un avión!” He ran in a few circles and then headed back out the door. I tried to go back to planning the lesson, but I could still hear him out in the street. Curiosity got the getter of me and I got up and walked outside. Sure enough, there was an airplane, way above the clouds, cruising through the sky. Truth be told, it is the first airplane I have seen in the sky over Jícaro in the twenty months I've lived here.
I became aware of the lack of airplanes in the sky over northern Nicaragua maybe six months ago. I was standing in one of my schools looking out over the hills and was struck by the emptiness of the clear blue sky. Even if I had seen the plane that caught Nazer's attention, I probably wouldn't have noticed the little spec of white moving silently through the sky. I suspect you wouldn't have either. If we had, I know it wouldn't have prompted us to run around the neighborhood shouting at the top of our lungs. I can only wonder how Nazer would react to visiting the airport in Managua or, better yet, standing in the park at the end of the runway of Reagan Natl. Airport in DC and watching the planes drop out of the sky over his head.
What we see, what we notice, and how we react to them are functions of our experiences. I notice things now that would never have caught my eye two years ago. There are also many things that I see every day, things that once caused me to stop and take note, that now slide right past my eyes as if they were so normal that they barely warrant recognition. Not only does this have implications for the way we interact with the place we live from day to day, it has huge work implications for someone like myself who aspires to plan and evaluate development programs and interventions. To have any idea how a project is likely to go, you have to be able to see it the way its participants are going to see it. One of the quotes on my refrigerator, stolen I believe from the 2011 Time 100 profile of Cory Booker, says, “You can best serve what you know.” I firmly believe this to be true and it is one of the lessons I hope I don't forget when I leave Peace Corps.