Ilana Hipshman

Did you have an apodo during service?

ili, ila, ilanisima, (ilanita to my host father only)

Site and Sector:

Health sector. 2 years in Rancho Grande, Matagalpa, and a third year in the city of Matagalpa.

Project assignment: 

a. Sustainable public health education and promotion
b. Cultural exchange

Project reality:

a. Survival
b. Cultural exchange
c. Sustainable public health education and promotion

Most and/or least useful thing/experience brought into country: 

Most useful was my patience from having taken care of small children for most of my life, and a small, cheap backpack that I’d bought at REI.  Least useful was my propensity to let the needs of others come before my own. And any high-heeled shoes.

What do you wish you had done here?

Had a youth group.  Gone to the Atlantic Coast, climbed all the volcanoes, visited more volunteers in their sites, done more running races in country.

Most creative way you killed time in your site:

Going for long, long, long, long, walks in the mountains. We’re talking upwards of 4 hours. When I came back from those days everyone in town would stare at me because they knew I was being loca. Once I came back soaking wet because it had been pouring the last 30 minutes of the walk. Another time I had fallen down a hillside and my entire back and legs were caked in mud.  My host family really didn’t approve of my excursions, so I would try and clean myself up as much as possible before going into the house. Inevitably there would be those tiny green plant pieces that are fuzzy and stick to everything somewhere on me, and my host grandmother, who is the most observant person on the planet, would always blow my cover, “Ilana! Usted andaba en el campo!??” Oy vey.

What books/podcasts/shows/movies did you get hooked on during your service that you would like to recommend to other volunteers?

I read as many books as I could, of all kinds.  I would listen to endless music while I did other things like knit or draw – lots of Chopin and Shostakovich, Lana del Rey, the Anthology of Great American Folk Music, Beyonce, Frank Ocean, the soundtracks to “devine secrets of the ya-ya sisterhood” and “O, Brother. Where art thou”, Modest Mouse all the time forever, Chance the Rapper, and a great CD called “Himalayan Roots” by Bharat Nepali Party, to name a few.  The podcasts I most enjoyed were Meet the Composer, The Moth, and This American Life.

Most Nicaraguan habit you’ll take home with you:

Engaging in vulnerability, generosity, and genuine caring with perfect strangers.  Being late to everything. Eeek!   Not leaving the house because it’s raining.  All the sign language, particularly the nose scrunch and lip point.  Giving people things that are “mine” when they say they like them.

What will you miss six months from now?

Absolutely, positively, everything. With one glaring exception:

What will you not miss six months from now?

Harassment from the men.

How have you changed during your service?

Positively: I have become more “me” than I was, and more proud of “me”. I am more daring, more confident in my abilities, more centered in my emotions. I also think I got better at being in the moment… I still spend a lot of time thinking about the future, probably more than I would like, but I spend far, far less time dwelling on the past than I used to. Less than positively: I am more flaky in terms of daily communications and doing things that I say I will, when I say I will. But I am aware and working on it. My seated posture has mostly gone to hell, and I absolutely can’t work an 8-hour day.

Did you ever want to ET?

Yes. In the first few months of 2016, I was planning on leaving. I very nearly did. The week before I was leaving, I met the man who is currently my boyfriend, along with a wonderful group of friends, and found a salsa class, and I stayed, and now I don’t want to leave (Again).

Big plans for your readjustment allowance?

In no particular order:  a bicycle, paying off school loans, visiting friends and family, dance and art classes.

What’s next? 

That’s what my father asks me every time I talk to him on the phone :).  As of now: working and helping my dear friend take care of her first, brand new, baby.  I have a one-way ticket to Scotland for January 10th, 2017. Besides that, I suppose anything could happen…

Final words of advice:

Remember that we are not here to “save” or even to “help” anyone. If anything, YOU will be saved, and helped, so: remain humble. Allow the Nicaraguan context to be yours, just for this short time. If you are truly able to do that, from it will spring your ability to assist in making positive changes in your community that will last. Make an effort to viscerally enjoy everything – grab this culture and hold it to your chest. Stuff your pockets with it. Capture still-frames of it and study them. Fill your ears with the language, the music, and the stories. Do this enough and it will become your heart, and I promise you, you will be the better for it.