Going home

There is something about being deep in the northern mountains of Nicaragua that induces me into a mindset of reflectivity. I am not sure if it is the change of atmosphere at an elevation of 1,400 meters or the vibe that I receive from being centered in the middle of a wet tropical forest. Yet, in that moment of clarity, I feel as though I am focused more on my breathing, while simultaneously I can sense the interconnectedness that I share with the natural world around me. I finally have the chance to turn off the mental switch that I’ve grown so accustomed to throughout daily life in the city of León. Not that my life is anywhere near monotonous, I find it extraordinary that my role feels so secure within my family, work, and social spectrums. All I have ever known about my independent adult life has been defined in Nicaragua, I have been shaped by Nicaragua through customs, habits, and traditions that have formed my routine lifestyle. Eight months ago, I would have found it incomprehensible that my daily patterns could flow as naturally as they do now.

Chilled by the brisk evening breeze with a piece of the universe peering out at me through a break and the clouds, I find it time to acknowledge the fact that I will soon return to the place I once called home. The moment is approaching when I will have to leave behind the people and places in which I have fabricated a newfound version of myself. And as my eyes begin to soak up water like a sponge, I now know that the only thing I can do is continue to elicit as much positivity through the rest of my experiences without over thinking that this time may very well be the “last time.” Though I try my hardest to live in the moment, I can’t help but to think, “how will the new me fit into life back at home?” The answer that has been silently knocking on my door tells me “just perfectly,” because the majority of the people I used to spend my time with have not had similar experiences and may not even notice the change I see in myself. I have answered that calling, I will continue to transcend who I am into the next possible stages in life regardless of who I am around or what setting I am in. I have too made a promise to myself: I will one day return to Nicaragua.

Semana Santa

Being in León was a spectacular way to carry out the final moments of Semana Santa. Liveliness fills the streets, and one can sense the national Nicaraguan pride that shines in the grin of many. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to participate in a near century year old tradition with the family of my best friend, Isidro. His family lives on “La Calle de las Alfombras”, where each year several families sweep the streets, sell sweets, and, most of all, make beautiful murals made out of sawdust called alfombras, or rugs. In the evening, thousands of people come to gaze at the various murals created, all with their own special touch. The process can be long and brutal in the hot sun, but it was quite a surprise to see how simple it is with such magnificent pieces of art as the final product. I am no artist, but the fellow neighbors who have been doing this art since youth were more than willing to teach me the proper techniques.

After digging out old pieces of 2×4, we arranged them into a rectangle style box that we proceeded to fill with sawdust. In order to have a base for the project, we doused the sawdust with water, constantly leveling it out until we had a think, solid base. It took over 2 hours of spraying water from the hose to sufficiently dampen the entire area. In order to create all of the different colors, we mixed ink with water and then massaged it into plain colored sawdust. Electric blues, hot pinks, greens like a fresh cut lawn, and oranges the color of sunset emerged from an exciting yet extremely messy process. My hands still appear to have a tint of green on them! All of the neighbors share the colors they created with one another in order to have more variety. Once the artists has outlined the dynamics of the mural, I was given what seemed to be the most complicated task possible, to form the face. Yet with a heavy amount of instruction, I learned how to maneuver my fingers and knuckles with pressure upon the sawdust to form the eyes, nose, and lips. Accompanied by more guidance, we filled in the different sections of the mural designated by the drawing we crafted into the sawdust base with the colors available. From there, we were able to use a rang of materials that others had brought including: volcanic black sand from nearby Poneloya beach, a white chalk powder, and glitter. Following these magic touches and touch-ups, surfaced one of the most beautiful pieces of art I’ve ever seen (partially because I took part in creating it).

As I previously stated, I am no artist. Before coming to Nicaragua, I thought that I had it all figured out. My heart lied passionately within the STEM field, to the extent that anything contrary I was as a diversion. I was so caught up with progressing my knowledge within the sciences that I subconsciously was ignoring a goldmine of information waiting at my backdoor, silently knocking as if awaiting no response. The minute I came here and started speaking a new language, the world of linguistics entered that door, filling my reality with more perplexity. Teaching English ignited an unknown curiosity that I know have upon my own language, constantly comparing it to Spanish, wondering how over centuries communication came to develop the way it has: simple in practice, yet complex in theory. Nevertheless, becoming immersed in the Nicaraguan culture has allowed me to continue to explore the other side of my brain, one that I kept dormant for too long. Whether it is from participating in activities like the creation of alfombras to taking salsa and bachata classes, the arts have become an area of knowledge that I wish to continue to pursue throughout my life. I am grateful that I have taken the time to invite part of the vastness of knowledge into my reality, and I will continue to do so with open arms, an open mind, and an open heart.

How taking a year off before college actually better prepares you than high school did part 1

We all share a similar fear in life that simplifies down to not keeping up with the rest of the people around you. You go on a walk with someone and, if they are walking too fast, you generally tend to speed up and/or expect them to slow down. Life is more comfortable that way, when we are at the same pace, we are generally on the same page. One of my biggest fears before taking a year off was that fact that I wouldn’t be keeping up with the rest of the crowd. I would forget my mathematics, physics, maybe I would even forget how to study, leading me to not be prepared for the college years that lingered ahead. Though I had been under the impression that high school was designed to prepare for college, it was until I began my gap year that I uncovered a methodology that gave insight on how to measure said “readiness” for higher education. I would like to share this methodology with you, but rather in a way where I can take you through my journey first. As the experience of growth is different for everyone, it is appropriate to then generalize my experiences on how they can be applied to any student taking a break in between very crucial times of studies.

As humans, we are constantly seeking some form of structure in our lives. Generally, when you ask a young adult where they see themselves in 10 years, they will respond in the following order: have a good paying job, have my own house, be married, and they might even add on an having kid or two. The good paying job refers to financial stability, the house represents shelter security, the marriage represents relationship stability, and arguably the kids even represent reproductive security. Imagine, some of the most fundamental ways of life put together in a structure all right before your eyes. Sounds pleasing, right? I am spending my year abroad in León, Nicaragua working with a non-governmental organization known as Amigos de Las Americas. This partnership was facilitated by Tufts University, where I had been previously accepted and intended to attend that coming year. Now my question is, why would a highly-selective university send the students that they have just chosen so far away from their very own campus? That is because they have already figured out the formula of this methodology and they can see it’s potential. Working with multiple organizations, I have an overarching structure that allows me to feel comfortable. However, with the globalization of the world and the substantially growing volunteerism industry, anyone can search for similar structure that I personally didn’t work as hard to find. But what you might not have expected is that there is a mental structure that exists less when on a gap year. All throughout high school, you are taught how to learn, the teacher takes control of the learning style within the classroom. Though they may try to work with different types of learning styles, you are the only one that has your type of learning style. It’s like a fingerprint, only your brain is absorbing the world around you and that can be done in countless ways. When on a gap year, my learning environment changed from a classroom to a country, and I was able to open my mind up to it in a way that only I knew how to do.

4 Places You Can’t Miss in León, Nicaragua

I’ve always wanted to write a travel blog or something of that nature and now that I have been living in León for more than half of a year I feel somewhat qualified to do so. The list that I have composed is in no particular order, just the “off the map” places that many of the tourists tend to miss here in the city of León. They are also some of my favorite places that I’ve been able to share with the help of the kindhearted Nicaraguans who are always more than willing to share their beautiful city with me. I dedicate this to all of them.

Jardin Botanico

Right, you guessed it, there really is a botanical garden just outside of León. Few tourists really ever pass through this way, yet it makes a beautiful afternoon walk through some of the different types of ecosystems that flourish throughout Nicaragua. From picking up the fragrances of dry and wet tropical forests to learning some new Spanish plant-vocabulary, this is the perfect place to get out of the busy city for a few hours as well as an educational hub for knowledge seekers. Take the caminota from the esquina of the Revolutionary War Museum all of the way to La Salle, get off and its about a 10 minute walk recto on the left. If you don’t mind spending an extra dollar or two, take a taxi (you may want to get their phone number, chances are you wont find one for the way back). Costs about 100 cords for foreigners but if you’re skin is dark and you speak well enough Spanish you may be able to pass right on through (not in my case).

Bus Pelón

As soon as the sun sets, take a ride on Bus Pelón to get a full tour of the city of León. You won’t miss it – a bus without a roof decorated with holiday lights strung down the walkway. It’s a perfect way to beat the afternoon heat and mosquitos during dusk, hang with some locals, or chat with your date. Costs 10 cordobas, find it in front of the Museum of the Revolution where it comes and goes every hour. Feel free to let the salsa music flow through your body, get up and dance, and get off randomly for an adventure if it looks and feels right.

Baseball Stadium

What better way to immerse yourself in another country’s culture than at a baseball game? Plus, baseball is the national sport here in Nicaragua, it is played more frequently than soccer throughout the entire country. Tickets are cheap, anywhere from 10 to 30 cordobas. Don’t worry about bringing food or beer because there will be every type of street food vendor at your service. Make some friends, Nicaraguans will love to explain to you what the score is or who’s up to bat. Chances are their cousin, uncle, or nephew will be out on the field playing, too. Take a taxi so you don’t get lost.

El Fortín

Want to catch a sunrise or sunset? Take a taxi driver to “El Fortín” for a breathtaking view of the entire city of León as well as the volcanic landscape surrounding the city. Take a tour  for a dollar to learn about this history of this archaic building that served as a prison and one point. The taxi driver will charge you extra if you make him wait too long, so time your arrival for about a 20 minute ride from the center to catch a marvelous sunset over the ocean.

Shaping Success

I think one of the most prominent principles I have learned and am still learning everyday is how to define success. Success can be looked at as a friendship, as it is constantly up for reevaluation. A friend can be someone who you wave to every morning, exchanging a small set of words and going on your way, or it can be someone in which you share every waking moment of your life with. Like experiences, success can be remembered, but eventually if you greet someone every time you walk in their office you will also make a long lasting impression on them. Thus, what may initially go unnoticed can be one of the most successful things that you accomplish.

While volunteering abroad, I have acknowledged that I am a part of a growing industry that doesn’t always succeed. In fact, the majority of it is set up for failure. Why? The reason is that I will always receive more than I can possibly give to my host organization. Therefore, success is easier to define in terms of my personal growth. Are my Spanish skills growing rapidly? Yes. Am I participating in the local culture? Yes. Needless to say, there are a multitude of benefits waiting for me back at home after participating in a service learning program. The only question is, how am I being successful at my place of work? This is the very reason I came here. Sure, I go into my English classes everyday and teach hundreds of students how to use my native language. Yet, at the same time, I am by far not qualified to do so. I would never be allowed to walk into a high school classroom in the United States and just start teaching. What justifies my ability to do that here in Nicaragua? Though the knowledge I give can be sustainable and I have made some impressive accomplishments, when I leave there will be classes that no longer continue. In turn, I have had to seek for other outlets in which I can be successful within the institution that I work for.

My first steps were just to sit, listen, and begin learning. Then, and only then, was I able to start inquiring about ideas in which we could implement to improve the institution. I worked within the fabric of a Community Based Initiative Process, designed by the organization I work with Amigos de las Americas. I redirected how I saw success within the framework of being a facilitator when working on a specific project, allowing the current employees at the institution to take the leadership roles. I just recently was able to move forward from the Amigos standard. Again, a state of redefining success, I joined the new ecological committee. What I like most about my involvement in this committee is that it is very minimal. I am able to present, plan, and implement ideas, yet when I leave they will continue flawlessly without my support. This has given me hindsight on how I want to continue working throughout the following semester, continuously refining my definition of success.

Home is not always where the heart is…

When faced with the option of going home during my nine months in Nicaragua, I immediately rejected the idea because, at the time, it didn’t feel intuitively like that was the correct decision. To this day, I don’t feel like my inner-self led me astray. I knew that by the midway point in my life here, I wouldn’t be able to fathom leaving behind the family I have developed such a strong bond with, the friends that I have built a foundation with, and the community that I have worked with and will continue to serve. One of the biggest fears that came to mind upon actually going home, when this is all over, is the possibility that I will not be able to explain my experience to others, especially members of my family. Sure, I can spit hundreds if not thousands of words at anyone, but the emotions I have felt may be stuck in a reality that only I can access. I consider myself to be a deep thinker that, whenever possible, seeks for a solution to any problem that I may face. Thus, the dualistic solution that could conquer the tasks of both remaining attentive and dedicated in my space here as well as sharing my feelings with loved ones was simple: they would have to come here and experience it with me. Coincidence or not, around the time when I came to this self-declared epiphany, my mom was on her way to Nicaragua to come visit me for the New Year.

To be entirely honest, it felt good to finally hug someone. I mean a real hug, not just the two second hello or goodbye, but rather the warm, tears of joy accompanied hug. Upon seeing my mother, I immediately was flooded with all of the emotions of when I first got to Nicaragua and realized I might not see her again for nine months. Of course, these were the emotions of love and fear, but what most significant that made a long lasting impact on me were the emotions of remembering all of the things that I took for granted. There are the ones that are hard to admit, because it takes looking in the mirror and acknowledging a fault, but nobody wants to have to look at themselves negatively. In turn, I wanted to show my gratitude to her for making the trip to witness a part of my new life, but also for laying my solid foundation for the years to come. I remember carting her luggage around the airport, doing everything I could so she didn’t have to lift a finger. From the airport, we made base in Granada where we gazed at colonial architecture, wined and dined at variety of restaurants, and sat lakeside and poolside beating the heat while catching up on four months of lost time together. In my opinion, the highlights of our time included showing off some of my fairly new Spanish skill set, giving my mom a taste of the local dishes, and the overall relaxed manner of vacationing we were doing, totally Nica style.

Though it was hard to say goodbye, I felt that the week we shared together was a positive learning experience for both of us. It was nice to hear my mom reflect of her experiences here with me. She told me how life in Nicaragua was very similar to life in the U.S. back in the Seventies. Her arguments for this are because there are people walking around selling packs of cigarettes and an assortment of small indulgences from boxes over their shoulder, families in the back of trucks cruising down the street, and just an overall sense of the laid back functionality of society. I will be forever grateful to be able to tell her countless stories in which she can build a solid mental image about. There is no doubt that we have the foundation for proper reflection together to continue learning even when this gap year is considered “over.”

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Islander

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Facing nearly a month off of work, I was quick to rationalize that this was the only time I would be able to make the trip to the east coast of Nicaragua. I came here with the goal in mind to learn everything I possibly could about this country. After being here for over four months now, I feel as though I will never be able to see it all, but my overall objective is to take in as much information as possible before I depart. From the countless stories and conversations I have been apart of, it appeared to me that I would be stepping off of the plane into another world. To say the least, I explored many worlds along the Caribbean: the world of language, the underwater world, and the world of friendship. From the feelings of “I could live here forever” to “get me the hell off of this island,” living in paradise, or on the Likki Corn Island, for two solid weeks taught me a series of many important life lessons that in turn have prepared me for my second phase in my life abroad. Needless to say, I am eager to get back to work this semester, now with more concrete ambitions and goals for the road ahead.

Coincidence or not, upon arriving to the airport, I made friends with the person whom I would be taking a scuba diving course with, sharing not only a dorm room but also a bunkbed, and joining together upon every mealtime for the first days on the island. His name is Mitja like “nice to meet ya” as he told me and continued to do so with nearly every new person we encountered. Trust me, this was hilarious, and sometimes the person we were meeting would even beat us to the punch line. It was fascinating to be able to meet people from all different parts of the world. This is something that I had never really experienced in my hometown, now opening up a wide array of perspectives and traditions that I never knew existed. Germans (Mitja), Canadians, Dutch, and Australians were the nationalities that I encountered most frequently. I was surprised by the fact that it was rare to meet someone from the United States. Based on the population of each of those countries, one would expect to encounter more “Americans” but I guess we aren’t that well traveled. Many other parts of the world have us beat. On a positive note, I noticed that many Germans are almost expected to speak English, and surprisingly enough Mitja spoke at a level in which we could speak at any level of intellectualism desired. Anyways, it was great to have a friend with me to commence our adventures into a new environment. Especially during the holidays, which were tough at times, I had already established a family to mock what I would normally experience back at home. I am visualizing Christmas Day, where we had a table of 12 and an excellent chicken dinner prepared by a Cuban restaurant down the street. That night, we shared many laughs while simultaneously competing at our favorite card games (which everyone played differently based on region). My contribution and family favorite, Rummy, hit it off, leading me to believe I was back at home surrounded by the people I love. The magic about developing these close relationships in such a short amount of time was undeniably the best way I could have come to an end of an exciting and eventful year.

It was great to be able to interact with Nicaraguan locals who have very different stories and an overall way of life than I am accustomed to. Come to think of it, the Nicaraguans on the island don’t really consider themselves a part of the rest of the country. It seems as though the majority spoke a mixture of Spanish, English, Creole, and Mestizo. Reminiscing, I remember that I could initially understand the Spanish better than the English, I never would have pictured that scenario 4 months ago. The first night, we went out to a locally run joint called “Reggae Bar.” Met with a few looks upon entering the door, we were quickly welcomed to games of pool with the Caribbean Nicas. Looking back, we were easy to beat and would pay for the pool table, but we also showed deep inquiries into their lives, an aspect I continued to further explore. As a card game enthusiast, I saw a group of locals huddled in the corner throwing money, cards, and going from silence to yelling in matter of seconds (it was all in good fun). I skated my way nearby and stood watching the card game. After about 10 rounds, I slapped some money down on the table and joined in. I have to admit, I was met with strange looks and noticed a few poorly hidden smirks. Luckily, I can pick up on card games pretty fast, so within a few rounds I actually won a game. Somehow, I started winning round after round, which was very short-lived unfortunately and I left the table after returning to zero. However, I had respectively earned a head nod each time I saw any of the players cruising the island thereafter. It felt good to share a common tradition on the island, and accompanied with one of the local employees where I was staying, we brought it back to the hostel and taught all of our new companions. After many long nights of pool and cards, I picked up on the language and accent without even realizing it. When I noticed my self saying tree instead of three and speaking in a different dialect of my own language in a way I would originally consider informal such as “me is just a passing by now, todo tranquilo my friend,” I had an epiphany about language that never occurred to me before. It came from a deep place of intellect, something I haven’t yet entirely understood. However, I plan to continue to pick and prod and this feeling until I can decipher its significance.

Of course, I have to put the island cuisine on a spotlight. Being that my grandma here is a famous fritanga (fryer) and she has passed on her infamous cooking skills to her daughter, I strongly prefer to eat at home. When I am away, I tend to seek out the least fancy-looking restaurants that are run out of someone’s home. I have come to the involuntary conclusion that Nicaraguans believe that there is no reason to focus on ambience if the food being served makes you gasp “riquísimo!!!” I’m talking drooling at the table while waiting for your food, it smells that good. I prefer smell over looks any day, just saying. Where do I even start? The most famous traditional dish on the island is called Ron Don. It’s also referenced by some as Run Down, but I have a feeling that was just a bunch of expats trying to make it their own. What makes this dish special like many others on the island is that the main ingredient is derived from the very plentiful coconut. With a coconut based broth, the flavor of all of the other ingredients is brought out by cooking this stew over an open fire. But what really makes this dish one of a kind is that you can basically use whatever is available or the cheapest on the island at the time. Every Saturday, there is a shipment of food that comes on a barge which determines the types of vegetables available. Then, whatever the catch of the day is determines the meat. One day at the infamous beach party, we went out and caught fish and dumped them whole into a monstrous cauldron with coconut milk, potatoes, and plantains, a savory stew for everyone to enjoy. Another day, we took loads of lobster, yucca, potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, plantains and coconut milk and had the meal of a king. It fed about 16 people that night and didn’t cost more than 50 U.S. dollars. Lobster is so plentiful on the island that you can get it with garlic sauce, tomato sauce, curry sauce, jalapeño sauce, grilled, fried, and any other way you could possibly think of, including ceviche. One morning, I spent 100 cordobas (about $3.40) and had the breakfast of champions: lobster scrambled eggs, gallo pinto, a fruit bowl, toasted coconut bread, and a tall glass of juice. Too bad I found that place on my last morning, or I would have gone there every single day, it was that appetizing.

To be truthful, the main reason I came to the Little Corn Island was to scuba dive. During my first week there, I completed the PADI Open Water Certification Course, enabling me to dive to the depth of 18 meters. The first day was the least exciting, as we had to sit in a room and watch movies on scuba diving theory (yes, that is a thing). It was basically a drawn out version of all of the skills and safety measures we would be completing, nearly impossible to pay attention to on a cloudless day. Continuing on, we went for our first skills dive to practice breathing underwater. I went in with a complete and utter sense of confidence, of course. However, immediately after submerging into the water breathing out of the regulator, my instincts kicked in and I freaked out. I don’t think I ever knew the true feeling of anxiety until that point in my life. My lungs felt as though after every breath, there was no satisfaction and that I was going to drown. I quickly learned that I had to empty my lungs of air as much as I could before taking another slow breath it. That aspect deeply frightened me at first. After a few more attempts, I got the hang of it and we went for the first dive. Our diving instructor told me that as soon as I saw the beauty of the coral reefs, I would forget about everything else in the world. Sure enough, he was spot on. The moment I laid eyes on these underwater fortresses, my breathing pattern regulated and I felt a strong sense of absolute bliss. I saw so many different types of fish before my eyes, blasting the most intrinsic and mesmerizing blues, greens, yellows, purples, you name it. I gliding through the water, doing front flips and backflips, picking up a handful of white sand and letting it trickle through my fingertips, and observing an array of sea anemones and a nurse shark in the process. During the following 4 days, we completed several skills such as taking our mask off, replacing it and clearing the water out afterwards, using our partners extra regulator to get air in an “emergency” scenario, and navigating to ocean floor with an underwater compass. Some of these skills were a bit stressful, which an instructor pointed out to me is the exact opposite of how diving is supposed to feel, how ironic. Once we completed the course and got certified, we decided to do a night dive. It felt like an expedition, as our group of about six people each had their own flashlight to use underwater. We uncovered two massive green sea turtles, lobsters, an octopus, a stingray, and many strange looking fish. Half way through the dive, we all kneeled down in the sand and turned our flashlights off. It was a bit bone-chilling to not be able to see my hand in front of my face, underwater. Nevertheless, as soon as we started rapidly moving our hands throughout the water, we were able to see the bioluminescence of the plankton, a stunning, lightning blue. That moment was hands down one of the most miraculous in my life. I would have never been able to witness such a feat of nature if it weren’t for my desire to explore a world unknown to my senses. Similarly, I wouldn’t have been able to create the friendships I did, gorge in the seafood, or experience the endless possibilities of language if it hadn’t been for my passion for the exploration of knowledge and experience. I promise to myself that I will never let that go.

This is the end

I still can not fathom that today is my first day of vacation from my internship here in Nicaragua. It is only December 10th and I am not scheduled to return until January 18th. Though work was slowing down the past few weeks, due to the students wrapping up exams, I am going to miss teaching English as well as accompanying my fellow colleagues to meetings, workshops, and conferences. I almost feel a sense of loss of purpose, what am I supposed to do now? Not that I am not returning next year, I will simply be longing for the morning chats with the family I have made over the past three months. Luckily, I was able to join all of the staff for their end of the year celebrations. In order to commemorate all of the hard work done over the year, we had a banquet filled with engaging dynamicas, Nica food, and, of course, the local cerveza Toña. Upon request by my supervisor, I was prompted to join in on a huge game of musical chairs. Round after round, I was surprised on how long I had lasted in this game. I came to notice how the other players were cheating by jumping over the chairs or dancing in front of one chair without moving at all. Well, I had some tricks up my sleeve too. During the last round, the technology professor jumped over the chair when the music stopped! Without thinking, I snatched the chair from under him and he landed hard in the dirt. I sat down in the chair, and was surprised by the reaction I had from the crowd. Everyone at the party was screaming with laughter and joy. I was ecstatically congratulated while walking back to my table, high fives all around. And, hey, I even won a Toña.

Eats

Hunger at its finest is a natural human instinct, but what ignites the desire within humans to create food so pleasing to the senses? Has this yearning for flavor overtime coincided with the development of evolutionary traits, such as our tastebuds? I have come to ponder the idea of food typical to the multitude of cultures we have on this planet, perhaps more frequently during these last three months in Nicaragua. It is certain that my love for Nicaragua cuisine has prompted this very post, yet it alone keeps me returning home every night at six to indulge in the miraculous dinner that my host family cooks for me. As a fairly new traveler — right now being my first time out of the U.S. — I have not failed to keep my senses keen and active during my walks through the city of León. I am constantly in search of a new dish to try, whether in simply be a customary snack or the authentic street food. Luckily, my host grandma sells food out in the street in front of our house, so if I’m feeling lazy, my craving can be satisfied three steps away. Needless to say, I have made it a goal of mine to taste the majority of typical Nica comida throughout the region I live in.

However, it isn’t just the act of eating the food that can paint this picture. At work, one of my good friends and coworkers, Isidro, also sells food from his house on weekends. As the school year was coming to an end, all the maestros planned on having a small celebration to commence the long year. It was Isidro’s job to cook the food for over twenty people, and he appointed me as his co-chef (what a professional title I have given myself). We were preparing to make sopa de res, or beef soup, a soup much more exquisite than normally made in the U.S. I say this due to the influx of ingredients that goes into this soup. Isn’t it just beef? No, here in Nicaragua full plátanos (bananas), elotes (ears of corn), yucca (plant root), and repollo (cabbage) make their way into sopa de res, along with many others. I was bursting with joy, as eating the common food here was one thing, but being able to create it seemed much more pleasurable. I was now building relationships, experiencing culture, and learning a new skill, all through the process of cooking. After cutting the meat and vegetables for hours on end, we realized that the wood burning stove would not cook this massive pot of soup fast enough, so we made a fire outside and, with the help of a few large rocks, we had a relatively unstable placement for our concoction. At one point, while stocking the fire, a rock slipped and the entire cauldron nearly tipped over. Luckily for us, a few blisters later and we managed to stabilize our campfire setup once again. We now have an anxiety ridden story to tell all of friends and family. My point is, cooking has brought us together on another level which can only be achieved by an intercambio of cultures. During a student party the following week, we made a traditional dish called Caballo Bayo, a great continuation for our exchange of ways of life. We now have plans to get together again so I can show Isidro how to cook a typical dish from the United States, an activity that will further strengthen out relationship and appreciation for other cultures.

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Sopa de Res

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!Mira los plátanos!

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Caballo Bayo

Living Abroad During an Election Cycle or Two…

I began writing a tidbit about the presidential election that I was planning on posting on social media. Thereafter, I decided that I wanted to channel my emotions through another outlet. I thought it would be healthier to write a blog post, something that comes off less hostile and is viewed as a place for reflection. Even so, I wanted to be clear that I won’t be doing much editing of this post. I want a flow of thought to be demonstrated, rather than a precisely articulated memorandum. This is a very sensitive topic as of late, especially among the people from the United States, so I will give it about week or so before posting.

When I was back at Tufts preparing for my year abroad, we had a workshop titled “Living Abroad During an Election Cycle.” It was one of the more informal gatherings that we had together, as we met each other with smiles from across the room fueled by the excitement of upcoming departure. We sat slouched in our chairs, contemplating with laughter how we would talk about the U.S. political system with our future host families, friends, and colleagues. We were prepped on how to approach telling others who we were voting for, given information on how to vote absentee if we pleased to do so, and given time to question about the political spheres of influence in the countries we were going to. It was a safe space to share our thoughts and feelings with people whom we were growing a bond with.

As it turns out, Nicaragua actually had a presidential election two days prior to the one in the United States. I was struck with much excitement due to my eagerness to witness an election in another country. After being told that the Department of State issued a warning not to attend political rallies because of violence, my very nature had my brain planning on the rallies that I would attend. As I spent more time with the citizens here in Nicaragua, we began getting more comfortable with talk of politics, and both knew that the other’s country had an upcoming election. A few days before the election, in my advanced English adult class, one of the students asked me if I was going to vote. Noticing that this was an interesting topic to my students, I jumped on right away in order to get them to practice speaking in English. During individual work time, I approached each of the students and asked them if they were going to vote. Needless to say, not a single one of us in that room planned to vote for our presidential election. I could feel the eerie sense of political disenfranchisement floating around the room. I then met eyes with my most advanced English student, who continued to say that “We have no liberty. At least you get two choices.”

Walking home that night, I noticed that I couldn’t get his statement out of my head. I knew Nicaragua was under control of a dictator before I arrived, and I knew even more when my host dad told me “We already know the results,” the night before the election. I began to feel guilty about the fact that we get two choices and the very people that I currently live with, work with, or simply just coexist with only have one. The guilt of not deciding to participate lingered for a while, until I reassured myself I was conscious in my decision making process and would not question myself. I don’t like either of the presidential candidates and would not have been able to justifiably vote for either one. I do not associate myself as a democrat or a republican and, as a matter of fact, I completely disassociate myself with any political label. Though, I have been told that a majority of my views seem to be liberal. Thus, the humanitarian side of me decided that Hillary would be the better option, as it is obvious that she was more concerned with human rights during her campaign. This needs to be acknowledged no matter what “side” one decides to be on. I also was under the impression, especially after the DNC shenanigans in the primaries, the the Clinton Foundation was powerful enough to win the election hands down. I went to sleep with Donald Trump in the lead, but woke up thinking that we now have the first female president and that now I could disconnect from corporate media again and continue my life here in Nicaragua.

As I don’t have access to internet connection, I met my host mom with a glance in the morning and noticed the disgust behind her eyes. I proceeded to ask her who won and she only said one word to me “Trump.” With disbelief, I muddled with the power cord to get the TV working again and sat with a blank face zoning in and out of CNN for 30 minutes straight. I, along with a majority of democrats had succumb to the single story that Hillary would win just do to the fact that we believed in some of the things that she said. My stomach dropped and anger began to mull around inside, feeling its effects throughout my entire body. As I wanted to share my feelings of surprise with others, I was met with the fear that I would be told I couldn’t have feelings about the election because I did not participate. I then thought about the fact that I had been continuously told that “not voting at all is a vote for Donald Trump.” What makes me disgusted about this statement is that it is yet another single story that has been perpetuated with little to no thought about what this statement holds true. I believe it is harmful to keep this false narrative alive, as it is extremely offensive to those who’s values may lie outside of the current direction of our political system.

Moving forward, I would like to express what I was met with upon arrival to work on Wednesday morning. “Felicitaciones, Donald Trump es el nuevo presidente de Los Estados Unidos,” a coworker shouts at me, as if I was the one who made it happen. I was constantly pressured on who I had voted for and why/how Donald Trump had won. I had to look each of my colleagues in their face and try to simultaneously explain the reason that I did not support Trump and the entire political system in general. All of the comfort back at Tufts had vanished. The space safe was gone, the excitement and laughter were gone, and, in the moment, the support system was gone. I was now solely associated with the negative comments Trump had made throughout his presidential campaign due to the fact that I am from the United States. My morals, values, and thoughts “on the issues” no longer mattered due to my appearance. Here in Nicaragua there were no political rallies that I know of, there was no uprising of the opposition, and especially there was nothing contrary to the expectation of the citizens. Everything was much more subtle, yet all of this was now occurring in my home country. I don’t really have much to conclude with, besides the fact that I am going to continue living my life here in Nicaragua serving the people I have come to fully appreciate. I would recommend this to all of my friends and family back at home and abroad, as that is the best way we can spread peace and prosperity. This is what humanity is about, let’s keep it that way.