It’s hard to believe I have been living in Nicaragua for almost three months now! I have finally adjusted to my new home (although still adjusting to the blazing heat), new community, and new family. I finally feel confident using the public transportation system, further increasing my street smarts. I even learned to drive a huge stick shift micro and can maneuver through the crazy drivers of Managua. Every day is a new adventure living in a foreign country, and I have come to embrace every single moment. My thirteen-month contract seemed like an incredibly long commitment at first, but now, it does not seem long enough.
Manna Project International provides Program Directors with the opportunity to foster stronger relationships and engage in complete cultural immersion through week-long homestays with members from the community. This past week, I stayed with one of my English students, María, and grew close to her family. They welcomed me with open arms, and I felt completely at home. I had such a wonderful experience and promised to return to visit soon.
Here are some highlights from my homestay week:
After my programs are finished for the day, I catch a ride into the community with the micro and walk to María’s house with some of my students. She welcomes me into her home and shows me my new room for the next five nights. Her six-year-old daughter, Nicole, is letting me sleep in her room while she shares a bed with María and her husband. There are seven people living in a three-bedroom house, so I am very lucky to have my own room.
Today is the day before my birthday, and I am excited to share it with my new Nica family. When I arrive, some of my students are at Maria’s house getting dressed up and cooking a huge dinner. We hop in the back of the truck en route to another community member’s house. It turns out that María, one of my other students, and my fellow Program Directors have organized a surprise birthday party for me! I was completely taken by surprise and am so thankful they remembered! We ate homemade fried chicken, gallo pinto, pico de gallo, and cooked yucca (a very typical Nicaraguan dish). It's probably the best meal I have eaten yet in my time here. I spent the rest of the night listening to the guitar (mostly listening since none of us sing very well) and dancing with the niños. I am thankful to live and work in such a tight-knit community.
I wake up to the smell of fried eggs, (more) gallo pinto, and fresh fruit served with avena con leche - a drink made with oatmeal and cinnamon. María introduces me to all the animals living around her house, including talking parrots, pigs, birds, dogs, cats, and roosters. She also grows many different kinds of spices in her garden to use for cooking. We play the card game, UNO, with Nicole. I already understand how to play and don’t have to go through trying to understand the Spanish translation for the rules of the game. Later, we walk to English class together to prepare for the upcoming exam next week.
Nicole and I share my favorite Nicaraguan dish for breakfast – NACATAMALES! Nacatamales are a dish consisting of chicken, pork, rice, and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves. Mariá serves us homemade fresh calala (passion fruit) juice. Perfect start to the day. While Nicole is getting ready for dance class, I chat with Maria’s father in law about Nicaraguan culture, politics, and economics. He speaks fast, so I have to constantly remind him to speak slower so I can understand. I promise to practice my vocabulary for when I return next time.
We catch two different buses to get to Nicole’s dance studio in Managua in the afternoon. During the middle of the day, the chicken buses tend to be overly crowded and cramped to the point where you cannot move.
After about an hour, Nicole finished dance class and we meet up with Maria’s friend Lupe and Program Director, Sanjana, who is also doing a homestay. We take another bus to Salvador Allende, a nearby boardwalk with a stunning view of Lake Managua. I order a batido from my favorite smoothie shack and eat too many pupusas (another common Nicaraguan dish made with corn, beans, and meat). After taking many pictures and selfies, we head home. Nicole, María, and I watch the movie Me Before You with English subtitles, and I have to hold in my tears because this is the saddest movie I have ever watched.
I have to go back to the Manna house today, but I do not want to leave my new family. I have grown so close to María and Nicole over the past week. Spending a week in the community gave me a new perspective on how community members live. I am overwhelmingly thankful to be part of this community. These are the little things that make me feel like I am at home.
Until next time,