We’re Not in Kansas Anymore…

For nearly two weeks now, I’ve slept under a mosquito net hanging from the tin roof that sounds like a mellow snare drum when it rains. My host mother makes fun of me for washing my hair in the backyard during late afternoon storms, but I don’t want to be the one who uses the last of the family’s water supply for the day. She runs the house (and the neighborhood, for that matter) and her name is Auxiliadora, but everyone calls her “Chilo.” She has a son named Francisco who visits daily but lives in the next town over, and a daughter named Chilito, who sleeps in the room across the hall from me with her five year old son, Diego. Diego is my best friend.

Diego and Isaac working on their ball skills.

Diego and Isaac working on their ball skills.

Most evenings, I walk home from Spanish class, and as soon as I turn onto the street where I’m staying, Diego drops his toy tyrannosaurus and runs down the street yelling, “Nickelodeon!” before giving me a monster hug. Even after four hours of struggling through Spanish verbs & vocabulary, it’s hard to feel down when Diego and his amigos insist on playing “Frisbique” until dinner. Chilo is a wonderful cook who refuses to let me go to bed or leave the house without a generous serving of gallo-pinto (beans mixed in rice), fried plantains and whatever fresh juice she’s fixed for the day.

Most mornings, I pile into a large van (called a microbus) packed literally nose to nose with Nicaraguans, and hold my breath until I arrive at the bottom of the barrio, Tempisque. From my drop-off point, I walk half an hour up the smokey valley toward Volcan Masaya, whose toxic gases turn children’s hair blond and limit local crops to pineapple and pitahaya (dragonfruit). I may very well be wrong, but from the look of things, many families in Tempisque have to choose between feeding their dogs and feeding their children.

DoggieWhile my heart breaks for each dog I see with its skin stretched tight across its ribcage and collapsed stomach, my mornings are instantly brightened by infectious laughter of the children. Despite their permanently soiled clothing and near complete lack of dental hygiene, the group of over 100 kids between the ages of four & ten love to play games on their donated Samsung tablets, and will read for hours if they have someone listening to them. Though I often leave the Panama School exhausted from my active duties as class jungle gym (praise Allah for lice repellent shampoo), I don’t think I could ever tire of the affection Nicaraguan children show.

Panama School

Jorge has a tough job looking after all of the young students. Especially since there are only 8 donated tablets to be “shared” among all hundred of them.

I intend to update this blog with volcano adventures, Gato burgers, and bathroom humor more frequently than every two weeks, but staying connected over WiFi or 4G simply isn’t as big of a thing here… And I must admit, it feels pretty good.

No Sleep ’til Managua

As of now, I know Nicaragua only as a swirling collection of texts, photos and stories carefully groomed by those who have been there before me. Some say it is a dangerous place, while others tell me the country is changing. I believe both sides, but continue to tell myself to worry less and focus on the realm of things within my control. Sure, any mosquito that bites me could be carrying the incurable dengue fever, but all I can do is lather the DEET on thick and embrace my new surroundings. I have nearly 80 days to soak up everything this place and its people are willing to share, and I hope to share the experience right back with my family and friends. Thank you all so much for your support!

As I write this, I’m flying through the night somewhere between Denver and Miami, losing one hour to every half hour we’re in the air because of the time change. Time travel can be tough on the body, but at least I’ll get to see the Nicaraguan countryside in the daylight on the drive to La Mariposa, in San Juan De La Concepcion. Since I have little notion of what to expect over these first few days (or when I’ll next have WiFi), I’ll share a couple of my favorite trinkets that will be making the journey with me.

 

1) 1947 Indian Half-Rupee

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An unexpected good luck charm given to me by a family friend who, in his own words, has worked all his life only to save up for the next big adventure. This etched Indian Half-Rupee** has been around the world with Will, including atop many a Nicaraguan volcano, so he made me promise to bring it home safely in a few months.

**The coin is dated 1947, which is the year India gained her independence from the Redcoats.

 

2) Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal

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My sister and I grew up competing to see who could read the existing Harry Potter series fastest before each new book was released. I swear if I didn’t win every time, she surely cheated by puppy-guarding the 3rd book well after she’d finished it. It’s only right then that she got me the Spanish translation of Book 1, for me to read to the kids at the school where I will be helping out on weekdays. I’ll rely on the little ones to be ruthless on me for missed accents and mispronunciations.

 

3) Fujifilm Instax 210

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I was raised in a family full of cameras and, to this day, cannot get enough of all the old Polaroids at Grandma’s house. So imagine my surprise when I read on the La Mariposa website that visitors to the region are asked to be considerate and use cameras sparingly because so few local families can afford such luxuries. At first, I was bummed because I enjoy taking pictures while traveling, but as I continued to sift through our old family photos, I decided that if there was an affordable way to do it, I would love to thank the local families for hosting me by offering them Polaroid-esque portraits of their loved ones. Fortunately, Fujifilm now offers a high quality Polaroid alternative at a significantly lower price. I brought exactly 100 instant-film exposures with me and will be quite anxious to see how the idea is received.

Much love to you all! Thanks for reading.